Ukraine: In defense of a “total war” in the east

Ukraine did not oppress or attack its Donbass or Crimean citizens, and yet they took up arms against the government. (A disorderly but civilian-led, non-violent, constitutional change in central government doesn’t qualify as a legitimate cause of secession, particularly when even the former president’s power base in eastern Ukraine overwhelmingly also supported his removal.) Ukraine has held back in Crimea because it was unprepared and secessionist sentiment was much higher there. Ukraine’s government has also held back in the east until now, for the most part, to try to find a political solution and to spare the lives of innocent local civilians wherever possible, particularly since most of them initially opposed the secessions being foisted on them by radicals and Russian infiltrators.

That time has come and gone, and Russian interference continues unabated. Something has to be done to recover rebellious territories that pre-emptively took up arms against their country without warning or cause.

President Poroshenko’s announcement last weekend was that Ukraine is “ready for total war” against the eastern secessionist zones, after much restraint and persistently separatist-sabotaged negotiations.

Total and overwhelming force against armed, insurgent separatists is morally acceptable in the recovery of territory when the government has done nothing to warrant its secession and no peaceful efforts to achieve partition have been attempted. The Ukrainian government is no more “fascist” (as Russian media claims daily) than Abraham Lincoln for trying to end these illegitimate and violent secessions. 

And the specially-elected Poroshenko government and newly elected parliament are legitimate governing authorities elected by free, fair, and popular vote in the non-insurrectionist vast majority of the country. Rebel blockades of the 2014 special Ukrainian elections in their small zones of control are not an impediment to the legitimacy of the elections, in the same way President Lincoln’s 1864 re-election was legitimate despite the non-participation of Union-occupied secessionist states and Confederate-controlled rebel states.

In addition to overwhelming force, Ukraine can also legitimately engage in economic warfare against the insurrectionist areas, as part of the “total war” strategy. Suspension of services, economic blockades, general sanctions, and the like are all regularly deployed tools of warfare. Poroshenko’s cancellation this week of various banking, governmental, and pension services in rebel-held areas is a long-overdue step that most governments would have taken sooner, restraint or no.

People in areas in an active state of insurrection and secession cannot reasonably expect to receive continued government services and pensions, regardless of combatant status. If they have now set their clocks to Moscow time, they can also get Moscow to replace all their abruptly deactivated ATM cards. Hundreds of thousands of people have already fled the combat zones (whether to Russia or to government areas).
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Libya: Will Cyrenaica (or what’s left of it) secede?

If the world switches its recognition from the newly-unconstitutional but 2014-elected and eastern-based House of Representatives (HOR) government to the rump, western-based, Islamist-aligned, 2012-elected transitional “General National Congress” (the GNC, which should have ended already), tribal authorities in the vast, eastern Cyrenaica territory say they will secede from Libya.

I doubt the international community at large is likely to make such a switch, but if things keep deteriorating that might not be needed to trigger the threatened separation…

A council representing the tribes of the eastern coastal region of Barqa [the Arabic name for Cyrenaica] said that it would be obliged to declare the independence of the region in case the international community and the residents of the Libyan capital Tripoli had recognised the congress, instead of the recently-elected House of Representatives.

“We will have to return to the 1949 constitution,” the council added in a statement. Before 1949, Libya was divided into three autonomous regions, including the eastern region of Barqa [Cyrenaica].

 
Although Tobruk, the current refuge of the “House of Representatives” government, was previously outfitted (decades ago) the royal capital of Libya and could probably stand in again in a pinch if necessary, it’s pretty hard for me to imagine an independent Cyrenaica that doesn’t include Benghazi, its biggest city.

On the military side, the three biggest cities in Libya as a whole — Tripoli, Benghazi, and Misrata respectively — are under full or partial control of the pro-GNC faction and their various aligned Islamist-leaning militias. And the pro-HOR/Hifter forces in Benghazi are reportedly being utterly wrecked by the pro-GNC forces, even while armed with fighter jets and supported by the Egyptian military: In the past month, eighty percent of all deaths (military, Islamist, and civilians) in Benghazi have been from the military or Hifterite militias, according to Agence France Presse, based on Red Crescent and hospital accounts.

Even Tobruk’s calm has been punctured by bombing attacks on temporary government facilities, which began on October 29. (And nearby Derna has reportedly officially fallen this week to a newly recognized ISIS affiliate led by several hundred Libyan combat veterans of ISIS’s Syria/Iraq war.) Perhaps they want to secede, but the pro-HOR tribal authorities of Cyrenaica might not have much territorial control left soon, without a full-scale foreign intervention. And nobody really has the energy or time for that at the moment, including the governments strongly opposed to the GNC backers.

Map of the three pre-1963 Libyan provinces approximated over a map of present-day subdivisions. (Credit: Spesh531 - Wikimedia)

Map of the three pre-1963 Libyan provinces approximated over a map of present-day subdivisions. (Credit: Spesh531 – Wikimedia)

Securing loose arms

Besides regular domestic gun control and gun safety, there’s also been a growing concern since the fallout from arming the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s as to what happens to those weapons (and bigger, military-grade hardware) once they go overseas into war zones. So how to solve that? Lots of solutions are being floated, and The Economist has an extended rundown on them:

Technological tweaks may be able to make possible weapons that stop working after a certain period of time, or can only be used by specific people or in particular places. Proponents of such technologies believe they have the potential to succeed where political and legislative attempts at arms control have failed…

I suspect — and this is sort of alluded to in the article linked above — that the major flaw in these concepts is that the secondary market, particularly in developing nations, doesn’t acquire the weapons until maybe 15 years after they were sold to the primary buyers.

I’m not an expert by any means, but just from reading news descriptions of the equipment seen in various ongoing conflicts, I think they end up having a use lifespan of 20-30 years (depending on the type of weapons). So most of the technologies being developed now could probably be hacked or eliminated in refurbishment by the time the secondary market was using them.

It would be like selling safes with fifteen-years-behind-state-of-the-art security to third world banks and then being surprised that ten years after they were first cracked in the first world, people were able to crack them all over the third world and make off with lots of money.

I guess then the question becomes whether this high-tech approach is better than doing nothing. Letting top of the line U.S. weapons systems and light arms fall into the wrong hands is something to be avoided, but this may not actually be solvable. And other, older weapons that can’t be traced (or even new issues of old models by less scrupulous manufacturers in some countries) are likely to be fueling wars for many years still to come. The people selling the tech are pitching this as a panacea that will succeed where legal measures have failed. I don’t buy that.