Sunday, 9 August 2015

The Counterinsurgent's Constitution: Law in the Age of Small Wars - Ganesh Sitaraman

This review was published in Military Review magazine.
Title: The Counterinsurgent's Constitution: Law in the Age of Small Wars
Author: Ganesh Sitaraman
ISBN: 978-0-19-993031-9
Pages: 328
Publisher: Oxford University Press 

Mr Sitaraman has written a book that tackles the complex issue of the application of law not only during the execution/prosecution of small wars in the modern age but also the development of said law from the ground up. He has approached his subject via three distinct 'gates' in which each provide background and structure for the subsequent; this method presents and develops his arguments. His sections: The Law of War, From War to Peace and The Reconstruction of Order are in and of themselves incredibly complex and worthy of comprehensive individual examination. 

The author's central theme throughout the book focusses upon the critical interdependence between the three pillars of his Counterinsurgency Constitution: legitimacy, law and war. While undertaking counterinsurgent operations, all three of these aspects must be approached concurrently if the counterinsurgent is to achieve conditions whereby they can revert responsibility back to the central government, police and national judiciary and, ultimately, stand-down operations. As one progresses through his book it becomes increasingly clear how challenging and difficult to achieve are the tenants that he is espousing; indeed, he is, in effect providing a framework within which the nature of warfare as traditionally understood is realigned. 

The ideas are presented to the reader in a linear fashion but with multiple 'lanes'. That is to say, the author identifies a concept and pursues it to a logical and linear conclusion, facilitating understanding for the reader. However, he does so with multiple concepts concurrently in order to better clarify the interdependence of his ideas (or as he suggests, the 'organic nature' of the law, war and society). His concepts are not new, nor are they particularly recent in development, but they are unique to a western population, government and military steeped in traditions of symmetric war and relatively quick fixes to issues. 

This is an engaging and challenging read both for the concepts that it espouses and the nature of its presentation. It is definitely a 'thinking' book and he uses it to focus attention on what is, for many in the West, a new and difficult way of war; one that is specifically suited to the asymmetric arena. He acknowledges that he does not have the definitive answers and certainly that international law has not kept pace with the changing nature of warfare. Additionally, he alludes to, but does not speak specifically about, the fact that not only has the nature of war changed in and of itself, but also the level of tolerance amongst society (both within the conflict zones and domestic populations of the engaging militaries). As an aspect of law and conflict the counterinsurgent has now to manage expectations in a world of instant information and 'sound bite' attention spans. Strongly recommended.

The Liberty Incident Revealed: The Definitive Account of the 1967 Israeli Attack on the U.S. Navy Spy Ship - A Jay Cristol

This review has been published in the Canadian Naval Review.
Title: The Liberty Incident Revealed: The Definitive Account of the 1967 Israeli Attack on the U.S. Navy Spy Ship
Author: A Jay Cristol
ISBN: 978-1-61251-340-9
Publisher: Naval Institute Press
Pages: 392
Photographs/maps: 14 b/w//3 

On June 8, 1967, during the height of the Arab-Israeli ‘6 Day War’, units of the Israeli Air Force and Navy attacked the US intelligence gathering vessel “Liberty”, torpedoing and strafing said ship multiple times; the result was significant damage to the ship, 34 dead and 171 wounded. Given that the ship was in international waters (12-14 NM off of the Sinai Peninsula), the attack deliberate and the fact that she was openly identifying itself as an American ship, significant controversy resulted that has continued to play itself out over the succeeding years regarding the reasoning behind Israel’s actions. 

This most recent edition of Cristol’s book expands upon his original copy by incorporating additional material that has been declassified in the intervening years (his original book was published in 2002). The author makes it clear at the outset of his position that the attack was made in honest error by the Israeli’s as a result of a series of internal communication and Command and Control failures. These errors were compounded by concurrent failures within the US naval communications system. The tragedy was made all the more poignant by the fact that the Liberty itself was exactly where she had been ordered to be and undertaking activities that she had been directed to perform. 

Cristol has included verbatim texts from the flight recorders between Israeli Air Controllers and their pilots as well as the same for Israeli naval assets as they track onto target. It is very clear that there was significant confusion amongst Israeli Commanders regarding the nationality of the ship; potential identification went from Egyptian to Soviet to American. Working back from this the author describes in detail not only the operational deficiencies within the US and Israeli Command systems but also the subjective factors that influenced decision making. The Israeli Navy was the poor stepchild of the Israeli military with the Army and Airforce consistently receiving the lion’s share of funding and public recognition. Further exacerbating this, inter-service relations between the airforce and navy were very poor; thus Naval Commanders were actively looking for an opportunity to grab some of the glory from the war before it was too late. 

Cristol’s investigation of this aspect of the incident is fascinating as it reinforces the impact of the ‘human factor’ and the ‘fog of war’ on the derailment of the effective execution of operations. Further, the potential escalation as a result of this misunderstanding threatened to spin into a global conflagration between the US and Soviet Union as the US suspected that it was a Soviet submarine that had attacked the Liberty. 

The book is very well written with a logical and well founded thesis. The author acknowledges the arguments of those who feel that the attack was in fact deliberate on the part of the Israeli’s and refutes their points through studied and well-structured argument. His inclusion of copies of the official reports as well as the transcripts of the communication logs between the Naval and Air assets of the Israeli forces and their command centre provides excellent insight for the reader into the confusion and dysfunction existing within both the US and Israeli militaries. The production value of the book is very good and it is an excellent read relating to a side incident often overlooked in the histories of the 6 Day War.