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Friday’s Reading List

By Taylor Marvin

Henri Julien, 'Étude pour La Chasse-galerie'. Via Wikimedia.

Henri Julien, ‘Étude pour La Chasse-galerie’. Via Wikimedia.

What I read this week:

The parallels between Argentina and Venezuela’s crises, both drive by the “dead-hand control” of the political ideologies of chavismo and kirchnerismo. Relatedly, Argentine policies are adrift as inflation spiral looms.

After David Axe’s recent piece on the Brazilian Air Force’s efforts to police the vast Amazon, Colin M. Snider has a very interesting article on the relation between statebuilding in the Amazon and narratives of the need for securing Brazilian territory. I think Snider’s point about regional power also applies to the NAe São Paulothe region’s one aircraft carrier.

Is the Iranian Revolutionary Guard limiting economic projects?

Egypt’s new political order: “not one dictatorial person but a host of dictatorial institutions” (via Daniel Larison).

And I have more linkage on conflict and political violence at PVGlance.

Naseer Shamma – Travelling Souls.

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Institutionalizing Mexico’s Self-Defense Groups

By Taylor Marvin

Earlier this week leaders of community self-defense militias fighting drug cartels in the western Mexican state of Michoacán accepted a new cooperation agreement with the Mexican government. The deal, which calls for temporarily integrating militia members into the existing part-time Rural Defense Corps and municipal police, represents a bid by the administration of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to re-exert government control over the conflict between cartel members and vigilantes, which in recent weeks threatened to escalate into open warfare. Under the terms of the agreement members of the self-defense forces, or fuerzas autodefensas, must register their members and weapons with the government, turn in weapons deemed illegal, coordinate their actions with formal security forces, and if qualified may join local police. While the agreement is a major step towards the ‘institutionalization’ of the vigilante groups, it is unclear if the government will be able to exert meaningful control over the militias.

Over a year ago Michoacán communities organized to protect themselves from the rapes, kidnapping, extortions, and murders carried out by the Knights Templar cartel, which holds sway over much of the region. A quasi-religious group that unconvincingly claims to protect ordinary Mexican, the methamphetamine-trafficking Caballeros Templarios functioned as something like a parallel state in regions of Michoacán but is locked in a violent struggle with the Mexican government, rival cartels, and now the vigilantes.

The Peña Nieto administration had previously tacitly accepted the militias, apparently viewing them as a hands-off means of controlling cartel violence. But after violence between the Knights and vigilantes escalated this month — with the autodefensas seizing several towns and disarming local police they believed to be corruptly aiding the cartels — the Mexican government dispatched 9,000 soldiers and federal police to Michoacán, demanding that the militias disarm and place their faith in federal security forces. Militia leaders initially refused, despite their professed gratitude for the federal intervention, saying that they would only stand down after top-ranking Knights were eliminated. It is no coincidence that the deal came hours after the arrest of Dionisio Loya Plancarte, the Knights’ third-highest ranking leader and usual spokesman.

At least on paper, the agreement benefits both the vigilantes and the Mexican government. While the self-defense groups may lose some weapons deemed illegal by security forces, it is unclear if the Mexican government is actually committed to confiscating illegal arms and it has said it will provide the militias with communications and transportation equipment. The agreement will also allow the autodefensas to preserve their organizational ability to protect themselves, making it more difficult for the cartels to punish members for defying them — fear of future retribution was a major barrier to vigilantes agreeing to the government’s previous demand that they disband, disarm, and join local police forces. For its part the deal is an attractive middle path for the Peña Nieto administration. Turning a blind eye to the militias would mean an unacceptable admission that the Mexican government has no real ability to police its most dangerous regions and that, in the words of autodefensa leader Dr. José Manuel Mireles, “the failed state was no longer a myth.” But forcibly disarming self-defense groups could be a bloody fight, again put federal security forces in the uncomfortable position of killing ordinary Mexicans, and risk the perception that the government tolerates murderous cartels but not those defending their communities.

Institutionalizing the autodefensas, even if only nominally, allows the Peña Nieto administration to save face and try to refocus international attention on Mexico’s economic potential rather than violence. The move may also lead to greater security gains than relying on local police or federal security forces alone. Counterinsurgency strategy stresses the importance of local security forces operating within a population, who have access to information and first-hand understanding of community social structures that outside counterinsurgents do not. This same logic, when applied to Mexico’s muddled counter-cartel and arguably counterinsurgency campaign, suggests that the militias could continue to be a more effective bulwark against the cartels than federal security forces. Self-defense groups also have more staying power in the community, helping break the cycle of crackdowns followed by the flight and slow re-infiltration of organized crime.

As Patricio Asfura-Heim and Ralph H. Espach wrote in Foreign Affairs last summer, while “self-defense groups have often proved vulnerable to co-optation by criminal and insurgent groups” they are also a valuable means of bolstering formal security forces. Across the globe informal vigilante groups are more closely tied to the communities they intend to protect than police or soldiers, often enjoy greater legitimacy within their communities than local or central governments, and while outside of strict state control are not necessarily any more corruptible than state security forces. As Asfura-Heim and Espach write:

A growing body of research suggests that when states are unable or unwilling to provide security, local self-defense groups may be an imperfect but effective alternative. These forces are much cheaper and faster to assemble than formal police and army units, and they can quickly muster large numbers of men to secure isolated communities. Whereas outside forces need years to get to know the geography and residents of an area, local self-defense groups start with a leg up. Moreover, since these groups are motivated to protect their families and communities, they tend to be less predatory and to have higher morale than state security forces … Finally, when the state cooperates with self-defense groups, it can use those ties to reach out to isolated communities and provide them with public services.

It’s easy to say that Mexico should rely on formal security forces, and not community militias, for policing. But the autodefensas’ existence is due to the security vacuum that allowed cartels to essentially control many communities in the first place. If corrupt of ineffective local police and remote federal security forces could not effectively police Michoacán communities then, it is difficult to argue that they will be able to do so in the near future. Asfura-Heim and Espach end their piece with the recommendation that the Peña Nieto administration reach out to and institutionalize the self-defense groups, as it now has.

But even if successfully implemented, the agreement between the government and the self-defense groups doesn’t address the risks associated tolerating vigilantes. The Peña Nieto administration’s policy of tacitly accepting the militias was feared to indirectly condone uncontrollable retributory violence that may or may not be targeted at cartel members, weaken state authority, endanger local governments, and run the risk that individual self-defense groups could turn to trafficking and other illicit activities to sustain themselves. Indeed, the forerunner of the Knights Templars, La Familia Michoacana, grew out of religiously-inspired community defense groups, and right-wing paramilitaries with their roots in military-supported self-defense pacts were responsible for some of the worst atrocities in Colombia’s long armed conflict. If some self-defense groups are actually linked to rival cartels, as many fear, the government’s deal means indirectly allying with some criminal organizations to fight others.

“Outsourcing” security to semi-official militias remains an admission that the Mexican state cannot apply accountability or the rule of law throughout its territory. Given the Mexican state’s inability to impose order in some regions, this admission may be a necessary one. But unless the federal government can firmly exercise control over the self-defense groups’ actions, all the risks associated with communal violence will persist. While Peña Nieto may prefer to keep international eyes on his country’s growing economy, a Mexican state so frustrated with its inability to provide security that it accepts unaccountable vigilantism at the cost of its own legitimacy is not likely to resolve Mexico’s problems.

Friday’s Reading List

By Taylor Marvin

Jean-Paul Laurens, 'The Byzantine Emperor Honorius,' 1880. Via Wikimedia.

Jean-Paul Laurens, ‘The Byzantine Emperor Honorius,’ 1880. Via Wikimedia.

What I read this week:

Autumn of the Patriarch: Why the ghost of Hugo Chávez still haunts Venezuela.

Do the military operations of the past year in Mali and CAR herald France’s re-emergence as a major global power, and is America ready for a more muscular partner in Paris?

Why Iranian President Rouhani’s nuclear diplomacy is inhibiting social reforms (via Blogs of War | Iran).

Tom Nichols hosts a USAF ICBM officer’s chilling remembrance of the fear, anger, and helplessness of September 11, 2001.

Both Politico and Sally Jenkins have pessimistic takes on the Sochi Winter Olympics.

From today, more linkage at PVGlance.

Piano Magic – The Fun of the Century.

The Impossible Dilemma of Mexico’s Vigilantes

Map via Wikimedia.

Map via Wikimedia.

By Taylor Marvin

In a move that the LA Times described as an attempt to head off “a mini-civil war,” last week the Mexican federal government announced that it would assume responsibility for security in regions of Michoacán. The western Mexican state has been torn by violence between the Knights Templar, or Caballeros Templarios, cartel and extralegal community self-defense groups, known as autodefensas. While the Mexican government had dispatched military forces to the state last year, the move to disarm both the militias and local police comes in contrast to president Enrique Peña Nieto’s previous tacit acceptance of the vigilante groups and campaign vow to withdrawal the military from the fight against the cartels. Clashes between the militias, local residents, and government forces — including one that left at least one civilian dead at the hands of soldiers — appeared to have subsided, but the government’s ability to disarm these groups remains in doubt. Autodefensa leaders have said that federal security forces are welcome, but they have not laid down their arms.

The methamphetamine-trafficking Knights Templar organization, which is seeped in salvationist evangelical Christian rhetoric, provides local social services, and enjoys a wide popular following in Michoacán, is essentially an extractive parallel local state in some regions, taxing commerce and reportedly planning to tax housing by the square foot. Also responsible for widespread rapes, extortions, and murders, the Knights Templar split off in 2010 from the now-largely defunt La Familia Michoacana cartel, a similarly evangelical organization which itself has its roots in local militia organizations.

In response to the government’s inability to provide security and the complicity and corruption of local police and officials, in recent years organized self-defense militias began to emerge in over a dozen Mexican states. Often enjoying considerable support from locals and armed with a motley of (illegal) automatic rifles, high-caliber sniper rifles, and shotguns, the vigilante groups have fought a series of gun battles with cartel members, seized several towns in Michoacán and Guerrero, and detained and disarmed local police believed to be working with the cartels. “We have detained the director of public security because he is involved with criminals and he knows who killed our commander,” claimed one militia spokesman last March.

For their part, in an obvious — but not necessarily untrue — effort to undermine the vigilantes’ popular support, the Knights Templar have accused the self-defense groups of working with a rival cartel, which their leaders deny. The Peña Nieto administration had previously tacitly accepted the vigilante groups, both as a means of improving local security and in recognition that federal authorities have little ability to actually control the popular groups, whose existence is due to local governments’ inability to provide security.

In contrast to his predecessor, Felipe Calderón, Peña Nieto has attempted to pursue a more hands-off anti-violence policy. Drug trafficking-related violence dramatically worsened after Calderón’s 2006 election, who launched a new policy of using the Mexican military — which was seen as more capable and less corrupt than police forces — to target cartel leaders. While these efforts led to the elimination of many cartel leaders, it also disrupted the delicate inter-cartel equilibrium and opened power vacuums that the cartels violently disputed. Since 2006, violence between cartels, local authorities, and the federal government is estimated to have killed over 70,000 people.

Peña Nieto campaigned on a promise to redirect anti-crime policy from targeting the cartel leadership towards efforts to halt the kidnappings and violence that affect ordinary Mexicans and to transfer responsibility for fighting the cartels from the military to a civilian gendarmerie, though these promises were often dismissed as evidence that Peña Nieto had no real strategy for or interest in tackling cartel violence. It was hoped that this new approach would led to a reduction in inter-cartel violence by once again tacitly accepting drug trafficking as long as the cartels kept their violence out of the public eye. However, the massive disruption of Calderón’s militarized drug war has led many cartels to branch out from their tradition drug trafficking to more violent criminal activities like kidnappings and extortion, as well as a general increase in criminality, and the murder rate does not appear to have fallen in Peña Nieto’s first year in office.

Whether the militias should be considered local insurgencies or not, the Peña Nieto administration appears to increasingly judge that it cannot tolerate the militias. In addition to complicating Peña Nieto’s international messaging efforts that stresses Mexico’s stability and business-friendliness, the militias’ checkpoints and unsanctioned retributory violence is a serious challenge to state authority — the government’s previous acceptance of the self-defense groups’ extralegal violence was essentially an admission that the Mexican state had no ability to or interest in actually governing its most violent regions. Worse, many have questioned whether illegal armed groups dedicated to vigilante justice are really any more stabilizing than the cartels, and highlighted the possibility that the autodefensas will become criminal organizations themselves. This is a very real fear. The militias’ rhetoric of community self-defense and regional pride is not that different from La Familia or the Knights Templar before then, and if federal authorities are not able quickly disband the self-defense groups their organization inertia may encourage their own self-sustaining extractive criminal activities. Similarly, it is also unclear who the vigilantes really are, and if the groups’ violence also includes covert score-settling by community members.

Accordingly, the federal government has demanded that the local militias disarm and trust in federal security forces’ ability to protect them. Early last week the Mexican interior minister vowed that the federal government would pacify the region and urged self-defense group members to protect their community by joining local police forces or calling anti-crime tip lines. Unsurprisingly, many vigilantes see the federal government’s change of policy as a ‘betrayal.’ Given local police forces’ complicity in cartel violence — last year 18 bodies were uncovered in Michoacán after the confession of police officers working with cartels members — this plea is unlikely to convince many autodefensa members to lay down their arms.

The federal government’s position puts the vigilantes in an impossible dilemma. While militia leaders maintain that they will voluntarily disarm if the government restores public safety by decimating the Knights, after nearly a decade of cartel-related violence the Mexican government cannot credibly promise to protect militia members from retribution by the cartels. “If we give up our weapons without any of the drug cartel leaders having been detained, we are putting our families in danger because they will come and kill everyone, including the dogs,” one autodefensa leader in Michoacán told the BBC. In the absence of a believable federal commitment to protect them, self-defense group members are already committed — if federal security forces are unable to force the cartels out, the only way to survive their affiliation with the militias is to preserve their organizational ability to protect themselves.

But the government faces its own trap. “If soldiers continue to disarm the self-defense groups, the government will be accused of being complicit with the Knights Templar, but if it stops it will be accused of protecting paramilitary groups,” the New York Times recently wrote, citing analyst Alejandro Hope. After escalating violence forced its implicit acceptance of the militias out in to the open the Peña Nieto administration must do something to demonstrate that it can restore order, but it similarly cannot provide the local security the militias can. Indeed, it is unclear if the central government has any real ability to force a change in the local situation — as reports of federal troops standing by as autodefensa members occupied one town or openly cooperating with militia members indicate. The federal government’s need to both disarm the militias and provide permanent security — neither of which it appears to be capable of — puts the Peña Nieto administration in “an impossible bind,” in the words of James Bargent. Operations targeting the cartels will not restore public safety — as they have failed to do again and again — and eventually federal forces will leave and cartel members return. Turning a blind eye to the self-defense groups means further acceptance of communal violence, degrades state authority, and runs the risk that they will metastasize into overtly-criminal organizations. But if authorities are somehow able to peacefully disarm the autodefensas but cannot fill the security vacuum they leave, things will be worse, not better, for local residents subject to cartel retribution.

The organized self-defense groups are a reasonable response by Mexicans who understand that their government cannot protect them. But while tacit acceptance of the militias may be a tempting policy for the frustrated federal government, uncontrollable vigilantism is not a solution it can accept. So far, the lesson of the Michoacán crisis is that it takes a complete breakdown in state authority for the federal government to get serious about local security. This is not an encouraging message for ordinary Mexicans.

Friday’s Reading List

By Taylor Marvin

Nikolai Ge, ' Peter the Great Interrogating the Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich at Peterhof', 1871. Via Wikimeida.

Nikolai Ge, ‘Peter the Great Interrogating the Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich at Peterhof’, 1871. Via Wikimedia.

No posts this week, but what I read:

UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says lag in confronting climate change woes will be costly. “There has been a failure of government to address these solutions. If there is an alliance of companies that can bite off pieces of the puzzle, it might help.”

Why do so many of the emerging megacities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America remain so poor?

A Senate report finds that the September 2012 attack on the Benghazi consulate could have been prevented.

China’s near seas challenge.

Michael J. Mazarr sees the last two decades’ obsession with failed or weak states as a solution to the unusual concern of “what to do with a surplus of national power.”

As always, more linkage from early in the week at Political Violence @ a Glance.

Soap Kills – Leh Zaalen (Remix).

Friday’s Reading List

By Taylor Marvin

'Portrait of Juana Inés de la Cruz', 17th century. Via Wikimedia.

‘Portrait of Juana Inés de la Cruz’, 17th century. Via Wikimedia.

What I read this week:

An older piece, but nevertheless interesting: Why haven’t the FARC successfully used surface-to-air weapons in Colombia? Possible answers include difficulty acquiring or storing MANPADS, and difficultly using these weapons in the dense jungles FARC operates in.

Brazil in 2014: Will Rousseff change course?

Army’s ‘Pacific Pathways’ initiative sets up turf battle with Marines. Relatedly, maritime strategies and defense budgets.

A reviews of Robert Gates’ Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War by Greg Jaffee.

Jim O’Neill, creator of the BRIC grouping acronym, has a new term for the four large developing economies with young workforces, the MINTs — Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey. It is worth noting that while the BRICs’ total population is nearly 3 billion, the MINTs’ is just over 600 million. We also must give thanks for countries whose names begin with “I”, without which these neat acronyms would be impossible.

From earlier this week, more linkage at Political Violence @ a GlanceI also wrote a brief retrospective of PVG’s first full year this week.

Staff Benda Bilili – Osali Mabe.

CAR, Bangui, and the Capital as the Prize

By Taylor Marvin

Violent unrest in the Central African Republic continues. Nearly a million people have been internally displaced, nearly 60 percent of of the capital of Bangui have fled their home, and UN officials warn that half of the country’s population require immediate aid. Rural areas are reportedly nearly devoid of medical professionals, who have fled to the capital.

The current unrest in the landlocked central African country escalated in March of 2013, when a diverse rebel coalition termed Séléka seized the Bangui and  overthrew President François Bozizé. Fleeing the country, Bozizé was replaced as president by rebel leader Michel Djotodia (who may step down shortly), who in September disbanded Séléka but lost control of the disaffected fighters. Since then former Séléka rebels have rampaged through the countryside, opposed by anti-balaka, or anti-machete, militias. The conflict is frequently characterized as religious in nature: CAR is roughly 50 percent Christian and 15 percent Muslim, with both interim President Djotodia and most ex-Séléka fighters belonging to the country’s marginalized Muslim minority. “We will kill all the Muslims, and we will kill all of your livestock,” one militia leader reportedly told captured Muslims.

Citing fears of “genocide”, French and AU forces deployed to the country to halt the violence in early December under UN authorization with the goal of disarming both ex-Séléka fighters and militias, with the French occupying Bangui and Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian promising an “end to impunity” for militants. However, the violence has continued and French popular support for the military intervention in CAR is declining.

Challenging the common media narrative that the violence is driven by religious divides, Emily Mellgard writes that “the roots of the current conflict are, however, less religious than they are economic and political.” Arguing that political factions have mobilized their supporters by co-opting religious rhetoric, Mellgard concludes that “what is going on in the CAR is neither a jihad nor a crusade. It is rather a struggle for political power with Bangui as the prize.”

states_powerRegardless of how or how not religiously motivated the conflict is, this logic recalls an argument about Sub-Saharan African state formation advanced by Jeffrey Herbst in his book States and Power in Africa: Comparative Lessons in Authority and Control. After gaining independence from European colonial empires, Sub-Saharan African leaders made the deliberate decision to retain the hard colonial borders and most often capitals, even when these administrative units did not reflect local realities. Since postcolonial states were often weak, “basing boundaries on what each state actually controlled would result in the territory of most states becoming smaller,” something self-interested leaders unsurprisingly sought to avoid.

While this decision preserved the established means of state control and forestalled the possibility of destructive, boundary-redrawing interstate warfare, it, combined with the postwar consensus that states no longer have to earn their sovereignty — or the “overly optimistic hopes that domestic control and legitimate authority” follow sovereignty — left postcolonial African states unable to exert control over their nominal territory. Postcolonial governments also suffered military coups, and many African countries housed long-running insurgencies or independence-minded regions only nominally under state control. Interestingly, “African politics were the exact opposite of traditional political science models of domestic and international politics: the politics between countries was extremely well ordered (as opposed to the Hobbesian model of international relations), while domestic politics did not evidence many signs of stability.” With interstate warfare and violent boundary redrawing relatively rare in postcolonial Sub-Saharan Africa, leaders faced much greater danger from within than without.

Because of the dual challenges of weak states and the desire to avoid interstate conflict, the Organization of African Unity made the deliberate decision to award international legitimacy to any government that controlled a country’s capital city, regardless of how it came to power or how much territory it actually controlled. This offered African governments the benefits of international recognition while avoiding the costly need to exert control over their entire countries — something that was impossible for most African states, anyway. “Large countries such as Ethiopia, Zaire, and Angola at various times did lose control of parts of their territories to opponents,” Herbst writes, “but the international community always recognized whoever controlled Addis, Kinshasa, and Luanda as the unquestioned leaders of those territories.” This consensus was popular with the international community — not only did it support the postwar goal of preventing interstate war, but benchmarking legitimacy around control of the capital and its flashy public buildings simplified the narrative of postcolonial Africa into 50 or so sovereign states.

If Bangui really is the prize in CAR, this dynamic reflects the legitimizing power of control of the capital city. While Séléka’s victory was widely condemned and regional leaders were initially reluctant to recognize Djotodia as transitional leader, control of Bangui is a powerful legitimizing force for the interim government.

Chávez and Regional Leadership

By Taylor Marvin

Photo by Agência Brasil.

Photo by Agência Brasil.

While 2014 may be Latin America’s “year of elections” — with El Salvador, Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, Uruguay, and others all going to the presidential polls — 2013 was also a momentous year, marked by the death of Hugo Chávez. Venezuela’s president for over a decade, Chávez mobilized support from among the historically disenfranchised and defined himself as an opponent of both the United States and Venezuela’s traditional elites. Designating himself as the region’s voice of opposition to US “imperialism”, Chávez positioned himself as the vanguard of the wave of left-leaning governments elected across Latin America in the last decade, co-opting the wider turn towards the left as an extension of his own socialist “Bolivarian Revolution”. Combined with Venezuela’s oil wealth — and oil-funded international largesse — this ideological positioning allowed Chávez to claim a personal position as a leader of the Latin American left, a claim buttressed by his close personal relationship with the previous generation’s leading regional ideologue, Fidel Castro.

In an end of the year reflection the Christian Science Monitor writes that after his March 5th death “the region’s leftist movement lost its ideological and economic center of gravity” and asks which leader will replace Chávez as a Latin American figurehead:

“Who could fill Chávez’s shoes as a regional leader? Some point to Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff as the person to watch. This year Ms. Rousseff showed she wasn’t afraid to stand up to the US over allegations of National Security Agency spying, and she speaks to diverse leaders across the region. Thus far, however, she hasn’t shown an interest in taking on the role.”

But it isn’t clear if the “regional leader” of Latin America is a role that necessarily exists at all. In Latin America Brazil hosts the largest economy and is the only country with a reasonable hope of taking a leadership role in the global system or ever securing a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, but is divided by language from the rest of Latin America. Mexico, the region’s next largest economy, is beset by domestic criminal violence. Pundits talk of Germany’s Angela Merkel, and to a lesser extent France’s François Hollande, as the leaders of Europe, but only because this designation conflates Europe the region with the European Union, where Germany enjoys an institutional policy-setting role. In the absence of an interstate union like the EU, the entire notion of a “regional leader” makes less sense — no one speaks of a Middle Eastern or African regional political leader because of these region’s vast size, disparate societies, and fractious members. While Latin America is more culturally and politically homogenous than other global regions, with its population of over half a billion people and two major languages elevating one of Latin America’s national leaders to a leadership role across the entire region stems more from the desire for neat regional hierarchy than any real need for the role to exist.

Hugo Chávez’s self-appointed distinction as a regional leader drew from his own desire to take, or more accurately create, the role. As I wrote in March, Chávez’s leadership position in Latin American politics “was forged by Chávez’s narcissism, and there’s no reason for it to necessarily exist now that he is gone.” With Chávez absence, there is no requirement that another head of state will seek to take this regional leadership mantle in the same way that he attempted, regardless of whether they have the charisma, ideology, and political and economic capital to back it up.

Friday’s Reading List

By Taylor Marvin

'Zubdat-al Tawarikh', 1583. Via Wikimedia.

‘Zubdat-al Tawarikh’, 1583. Via Wikimedia.

What I read this week, and best wishes to readers in 2014:

Culture and memory in Franco’s Spain.

An interesting read on why, after spending millions on their development, the US military rarely uses less-than-lethal weapons.

A reminder that Russia is not the USSR.

Will Edrogan cause his own downfall?

Via Matt Duss, Israeli military intelligence “does not view Rohani’s election as a deception by Khamenei intended solely to mislead the West, but rather as an authentic leader who is creating an independent power center.”

An Israeli lawyer criss-crosses Jerusalem’s two parallel — and divided — cities.

Shashank Joshi passes along an interesting piece about India’s HAL Tejas fighter and a high-low mixed fighter force.

From earlier in the week, linkage on political violence at PVGlance.

Mélissa Laveaux – Chère Trahison.