Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 61

ISIS, again. Kobane was a great success in the reconquista that followed ISIS’ earlier pushes in Northern Syria. It seems that it has been just taken back by the armies of the Caliphate.

ISIS is also elsewhere, and it seems that it suffered a defeat in Libya in the last weeks. Foreign Policy reports on the battle in Derna, where ISIS was expelled by a (very) heterogeneous coalition including DMSC (Mujahideen Shura Council, linked to al-Qaeda) and the Libyan National Army.

In the meanwhile, in Europe, tensions are building up on the Eastern border. The US has been strengthening its NATO allies with increasing military support, by support meaning weapons. The last shipment involved about 250 tanks under a new plan devised by the Pentagon (or for) with allies.

Tensions in the real world, tensions in the virtual one. China is allegedly behind hacking the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) in the US, with a wealth of data on government employees. But attribution, when it comes to China, becomes a delicate diplomatic issue and no final culprit is yet revealed.

Finally, we keep suggesting military vehicles that you might be desire to get to solve traffic problems, loading requirements, and so on. This comes directly from Star Wars.


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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 43

Conflict in Libya rages, ISIL is apparantly gaining ground, the Egyptian Air Force bombed Derna, Benghazi and Sirte. Making sense of what happens is tough, and as Libya seems to descend into chaos, The Atlantic’s Matt Schiavenza wonders if the country is turning into Iraq.

Debate on what to do in Libya also rages. While countries debate what to do, it is also important to look back at what they did in the very recent past. Glenn Greeenwald on The Intercept looks with the usually critical eye at the failures of the intervention in Libya of 2011.

In the meanwhile, the cease-fire is hardly holding in Ukraine.  The BBC reports “live” on the events and also provides useful maps. If anything, the crisis in Eastern Europe brought “old” geopolitics back.

With a eye on the risks of escalating the conflict and at the successes of the past, Fred Kaplan on Slate ponders how to defeat Putin. It does not require going to war, but rather thinking about a recasted version of containment.

Venus in Arms is attentive to how war is portrayed in the arts. Last week we featured a post focusing  on Clint Eastwood’s war movies. This is an interview with American Sniper’s screenwriter on what it means to write movies about war (and other stuff).

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 20

Also this week we focus on main global crises, devoting a specific attention to the NATO Summit in Wales.

Steven Saideman highlights an alternative view regarding NATO and the “burden sharing problem”. Despite NATO countries do not spend equally on defense, the military operation in Afghanistan reveals the significant contribution provided by Canadians and Europeans (and yes, ISAF doesn’t’ stand for “I Saw Americans Fight”). In addition, the post is “a reaction to the ideas that the allies are completely flaky and that the US is engaged in Europe due to its charitable nature”.

On NATO summit we also suggest the analysis by Professor Michael Clark, who illustrates future challenges and tasks. The emergence of a “new NATO” is the main issue at the stake. Forthcoming events in Ukraine will represent the first hard test for assessing the effective development of a “new” structure. In the meanwhile, here you can find a fact sheet of the Wales Summit.

ISIS (or IS or ISIL) has been seriously harmed by the US airstrikes. However, global media have probably underestimated the role played by the Syrian Kurds (YPG) as well as by the PKK forces in the fight against ISIS. Here you find a recent account.

The National Interest reviews the controversial debate over the F35. Several key arguments (pro et contra the acquisition) are reported. Among them, the impact of the China’s investment in anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities on a short range tactical fighter like the JSF is something that deserves attention.

Finally, James Johnson illustrates a very important and complex issue: the economics of reclining the airplane seat (a major source of problems and even clashes for travellers). Transaction costs, property rights and externalization can help but they don’t solve the problem. Therefore, further analyses are required…

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 19

After long holiday, Venus in Arms is back. The summer has been intense, if not for Venus, at least for its creators (who tried to finish a book manuscript). And it was a very eventful – to say the least – August indeed in international politics. With clashes in Gaza stopping, attention remained directed to two major fronts. The first is Ukraine, where signs of unfreezing seem to emerge as this post is being published. The last days were still pretty tough, and with the President of the European Council in pectore, Polish PM Donald Tusk, calling for Europe not to fall into the traps that led to the Nazi invasion (of Poland) in September 1939 and Vladimir Putin sending “humanitarian aid” in Eastern Ukraine, the situation is still very uncertain. One of the constitutive elements of this uncertainty is “how far will Putin go”: Royal United Services Institute’s experts examine possible military strategies of Russia towards Ukraine.

In the meanwhile, Iraq and Syria are still on fire. The Islamic State’s fast appearance on the geopolitical map has been striking and left most observers as well as policy-makers pretty unsettled. President Obama’s prudence also surprised (and/or annoyed) those who wanted decisive action by the US. An article of a couple of weeks ago, however, sheds light on the domestic constraints to a more forceful US approach against ISIL.

NATO’s role in the two crises is still uncertain, and NATO troops moving eastwards these days are not (yet?) a clear clue of the alliance’s intentions.  Foreign Policy magazine’s David Francis reports on the troubles of the Alliance. A good read-ahead for the NATO Summit that will take place in Wales later this week.

The inevitable focus on Ukraine and the Middle But should not obscure that other events are unfolding. The Guardian reports on US action in Somalia to disrupt the al-Shabab network organization, which is far from being defeated according to the same report.

Finally, (the return of ?) power politics in Asia. New Indian PM Narendra Modi visited Tokyo and called for close cooperation between the two countries so that they can better cope with the growing Chinese presence in the region. More than twenty years  after the end of the Cold War, is it really time for the realization for an extended version of John Mearsheimer’s “back to the future”?



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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 11

Celebrations for D-Day went by without major breakthroughs on Ukraine. “Unfreezing” between the two presidents does not yet have clear consequences. The New York Times accounts the 15 minutes of their interactions here. More a narrative than a thorough analysis. It is not meant as a critique, quite the contrary: some many words spent on the Ukrainian crisis, so little yet accomplished.

Technology features heavily in modern warfare and Venus in Arms Top 5 follows the trend. Though not linked to defense in this specific occurrence, there has been a quite hot debate on the machine that apparently passed the Turing Test. Slate’s David Auerbach reminds us not to go too fast on the issue. For those who grew up with the Skynet fear and the chance of the good Terminator (Arnold Schwarzenegger) saving us from intelligent machines, this might be good news.

The evolution of AI and robotics, in any case, remain one of the top issues in defense matters. Our (senior…) fellow defense blog War on the Rocks features its own view on the topic, and this is a great review on war’s new grammar. After the debate in the 90s and early 2000s on how the RMA was changing the way of warfare, let’s be ready for endless (but often very interesting) discussions on AI, robotics and future war.

A new project by Glenn Greenwald (who was one of the leading journalists in the Snowden case) on journalism in the era of information society: It’s called First Look Media and here you can find one piece on the Guantanamo Bay affair (the issue: why is not closed yet, notwithstanding Obama’s declarations?). Stay in touch, Greenwald has some talent for opening Pandora’s boxes. If not this time, in future work.

To conclude, less words and more (beautiful) pictures. The New Yorker features a slideshow a photos on Burma. The shots portray an area of the country where an insurgency against the government was staged in the past years by the K.I.A.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 10 (D-Day Special Edition)

June 6, 1944 was D-Day. Today’s Top 5 is about memory of that event and the months that followed, through articles, books, and movies. Skip if you are into breaking news, as the most important event for current affairs related to that event (will Obama and Putin talk about Ukraine at the celebrations taking place in Normandy this coming Friday?) has to happen yet.


Antony Beevor’s book on D-Day is a classic account in the tradition of British military historians. That is, a cunning narrative full of details about what happened, how individual men contributed to shape the set of events that led to the liberation of Europe. Which had started in Sicily a year before, but Normandy was THE front.


The US Army features an extraordinary website on D-Day. There are videos, original pictures, and original documents. The maps of the beaches assaulted are really worth, and they stimulate a vacation on the areas of landing in Normandy. It is about memory, and beautiful sceneries. Oysters and cider help.


The Guardian provides amazing interactive photographs of D-day landings scenes in 1944 and now. You’ll find archive images taken before, during and after the operation Overlord.


Several movies featured the attack. But one stands out as a real classic: The Longest Day. Far from a masterpiece and abundant with rhetoric, its black-and-white scenes depict an engaging account of the largest seaborne invasion in military history.


Finally, have a look at the magnificent documentary “Dead Men’s Secrets” (History Channel) on the Operation Bodyguard, which was one of history’s greatest military deceptions. The aim was to mislead Hitler regarding the exact date and location of the invasion. An extraordinary success.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 9

First of all, Darth Vader. He lost. Not because of the return of the Jedi but in recent Ukrainian election. In a very dramatic scenario, take a look at this strange story. Anyway, from Alderan to Crimea, it is always a matter of power, empires and rebels. For a more serious analysis of the crisis in Ukraine see the ICG report “Running out of time”….

Harsh civil-military relations in France. The problems for the French cabinet are not limited to the shocking electoral success of the extreme right.  France’s top military chiefs threatened to resign, fearing new budget cuts. Their concern is related to the country’s ability to conduct operations in places like Mali and Central African Republic. This is not the best moment ever for President Hollande.

We suggest a quite interesting analysis on the forgotten never-ending crisis of Somalia. Despite the adoption of the inadequate label of “failed state” (which is a Weberian, Westphalian useless framework of analysis), the article provides an insightful outlook of the country, between greater expectations and Al Shabab.

Intelligence and incredible malfunctions. Here you’ll find the report of how the White House has mistakenly identified CIA chief in Afghanistan. As illustrated by “The Washington Post”: “The CIA’s top officer in Kabul was exposed Saturday by the White House when his name was inadvertently included on a list provided to news organizations of senior U.S. officials participating in President Obama’s surprise visit with U.S. troops”. What a surprise…(in the meanwhile Obama announced the plan to keep almost 10.000 troops after 2014).

Finally, we suggest this new blog on global politics and other stuff. “Relations International” has excellent contributors, so we have great expectations. There are already a lot of brilliant posts, from deterrence to Inigo Montoya (a luminous career for him, as we can see in “Homeland”…)

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – Week 6

There would still be a lot to read about the Ukraine crisis. The general impression is that – with a few exceptions – time had the effect of sobering up comments (on both sides of the preference spectrum) and letting more nuanced analyses emerge. This is one by King’s College Anatol Lieven, pragmatic though far from optimistic.

For 100 years after the outbreak of WWI, debate on its causes had been one of the liveliest topics in academic, and sometimes even policy, debates. No wonder there is a small resurgence this year, in coincidence of the anniversary. The Economist’s blog on religion and public policy assesses the claim made by (very) few but influential thinkers arguing that the decline in faith was a driver of war. Perhaps small explanatory power in the traditional sense, but nonetheless interesting argument.

From 1914 to 1994 and  then 2014, it’s election time in South Africa. Given the weight of the country in collective memory as far as important elections go, it is important to look for “how” they take place, not just their result. Which is quite a given, with the ANC super-favorite. Mail & Guardian explains some tricks for tactical voting, so that the ANC wins, but not too much.

Robots matter (and will matter more). Michael Horowitz talks about the prospects for the US on robotics, not very good apparently. This might the last of a long series of pieces on the decline of American power, which is nonetheless in relatively good shape. Still, it’s worth reading: it might as well be that these new technologies, contrarily to the most that have been traditionally used in warfare, have a very short process of catch-up.

Relatedly, this is an article about banning the use of drones for hunting purposes in New Mexico. The article is very short and, one might say, slightly off-topic. Still, it sheds light on how technologies that can have “dual” (or more) uses are increasingly accessible and in need of clear regulation. With drones rapidly evolving and being commercialized, the regulatory problem is here to stay. And the impact of technological innovation on “agency” in the security realm deserves further and thorough scrutiny.

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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – Week 4

Quite difficult not to start with Ukraine, with the crisis apparently escalating (again). In the midst of several commentaries, data can be useful. Fivethirtyeight provides the usual insightful analysis on which regions might be the next Crimea, according to electoral, polling and demographic data.

A movie by David Cronenberg, a few years ago, beautifully reconstructed Russian mafia penetration in London. But Russian money as well might play a role in influencing UK stance on the Ukraine crisis. On Jonathan Hopkin and Mark Blyth offer a bleak but interesting picture of the links between London as a financial center and Russian money.  A catch-phrase: “(…) the Ukraine crisis has crystallized a broader trend in British politics: the increasingly subordinate attitude of the government toward the capital’s super-rich, many of whom are not even British citizens”.

Military transformation is taking place pretty much everywhere these days, in least in rhetoric. Israel has a long reputation of translating words into practice in the field, and here you can find more info on where that transformation is going: in a few words, more cyber and less tanks.

The US Army is also thinking about how to prepare for future challenges. A post appeared on Rand Corporation’s website pushes for the Army to remain “ready for battle” and avoid transforming itself in an organization devoted to nation-building or peace-support operations.

Finally, legendary reporter Seymour M. Hersh explores the international dimension of the Syrian civil conflict, providing a detailed account on intelligence that led to the escalation of the crisis, and Obama’s threat to intervene because of the alleged regime’s use of chemical weapons in August 2013. Hersh lucidly argues that intelligence on Syrian rebels developing their own gas was available, and that Erdogan’s government in Turkey was much more involved in helping rebels than generally recognized.





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Top 5 by Venus in Arms – week 2

Looking back at the dramatic siege of Sarajevo after 20 years. Our advice is to read (again and again) probably the greatest paper ever written on the Bosnian war: “The Clandestine Political Economy of War and Peace in Bosnia” by Peter Andreas (here, gated). As stated by the author, the 1992–1995 war cannot be explained without taking into account the “critical role of smuggling practices and quasi-private criminal combatants”.

Current conflicts: Russia and Ukraine. Kyle Dropp and other scholars provide an interesting perspective on public opinion and military interventions. According to their post on The Monkey Cage, the less Americans know about Ukraine’s location, the more they want U.S. to intervene!

A lot of debate on elections in Afghanistan. We suggest two different broader views on the war. Steve Sternlieb emphasizes how inadequate revenue is threatening Afghanistan’s stability. While  Antony Cordesman warns against lack of strategic plans for the country.

The Atlantic” focuses on religion and violence, highlighting the interesting results of a recent report by the Pew Research Center. Surprisingly enough, some of the least religiously diverse countries also experience some of the most religious violence (here the post by Emma Green)

Final recommendation. “The Guardian” reveals new Russian plans of annexation! Is Venice in trouble? (Mmm, maybe the gigantic cruise ships are more dangerous than Putin for the “Serenissima”)


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