Normative Narratives


3 Comments

Conflict Watch: RIP R2P, International Humanitarian Law

 

Original article:

Warplanes level a hospital in the rebel-held half of Aleppo, Syria, killing one of the city’s last pediatricians. A Saudi-led military coalition bombs a hospital in Yemen. In Afghanistan, American aircraft pummel a hospital mistaken for a Taliban redoubt.

The rules of war, enshrined for decades, require hospitals to be treated as sanctuaries from war — and for health workers to be left alone to do their jobs.

But on today’s battlefields, attacks on hospitals and ambulances, surgeons, nurses and midwives have become common, punctuating what aid workers and United Nations officials describe as a new low in the savagery of war.

On Tuesday [5/3], the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution to remind warring parties everywhere of the rules, demanding protection for those who provide health care and accountability for violators. The measure urged member states to conduct independent investigations and prosecute those found responsible for violations “in accordance with domestic and international law.”

But the resolution also raised an awkward question: Can the world’s most powerful countries be expected to enforce the rules when they and their allies are accused of flouting them?

The failure to uphold decades-old international humanitarian law stems from the failure to uphold a more recently established principle–the Responsibility to Protect (R2P)–which states:

Sovereignty no longer exclusively protects States from foreign interference; it is a charge of responsibility where States are accountable for the welfare of their people.

  1. The State carries the primary responsibility for protecting populations from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing, and their incitement;
  2. The international community has a responsibility to encourage and assist States in fulfilling this responsibility;
  3. The international community has a responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other means to protect populations from these crimes. If a State is manifestly failing to protect its populations, the international community must be prepared to take collective action to protect populations, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

To be fair, the rise of non-state actors (terrorists) in conflict has made it harder to uphold humanitarian law–these parties do not play by the rules. But typically poor governance is a cause of terrorism, not a result of it. Regardless, the R2P is focused on the role of the state; if the R2P should be invoked when a state fails to protect its population from war crimes, how then can it not be invoked when the state is the primary perpetrator of such crimes?

Failure to uphold the R2P has enabled the current hurting stalemate in Syria, so rife with violations of international humanitarian law that we no longer bat an eye when a story comes across our news feed. You may be asking what exactly is International Humanitarian Law? What is human rights law? There is a lot of overlap, so a quick crash course:

International humanitarian law is also known as the law of war or the law of armed conflict.

It is important to differentiate between international humanitarian law and human rights law. While some of their rules are similar, these two bodies of law have developed separately and are contained in different treaties. In particular, human rights law – unlike international humanitarian law – applies in peacetime, and many of its provisions may be suspended during an armed conflict.

International humanitarian law protects those who do not take part in the fighting, such as civilians and medical and religious military personnel.

Essentially, international humanitarian law exists to protect certain human rights of non-aggressors in conflict zones. Human rights are broader (economic / social, political / civil, cultural), and are also applicable during times of peace. Upholding human rights obligations is the key to preventing conflict (positive peace), upholding humanitarian law is meant to protect people’s rights when prevention fails.

It is not my contention that, absent the R2P, we would not see such blatant violations of international humanitarian law. The R2P was crafted in response to the realities of modern warfare, which is dominated by protracted social conflicts (as opposed to the interstate wars of old). The R2P is a positive, an innovation in international governance, but it has proven itself toothless. When the international community fails to adequately respond to the greatest violations of the R2P (when states themselves are the perpetrators of war crimes and violate international humanitarian law), it enables new conflicts to emerge and existing ones to fester by signaling that at the end of the day, when there are no other options but the use force, state sovereignty still trumps human rights. The R2P was just the naming of the beast–you still have to slay it.    

Early detection of human rights violations through the U.N.’s Human Rights Upfront (HRuF) initiative and a greater focus on preventative peacebuiding are important advancements in international governance.  But when a ruler is willing to plunge his country into civil war to hang onto his rule, the R2P must be there to counter him. The R2P should be the mechanism through which we alter the war calculus of such tyrants. Without this deterrent, the effectiveness of HRuF and preventative peacebuilding initiatives are severely curtailed.

The playbook for tyrannical rulers to resist democratic movements has been laid out by Assad–plunge your country into civil war, wait for terrorists to fill the power void of your failed state, and position yourself as the only actor who can fight the terrorists. 

Then, when the international community calls for a political transition to end the fighting, the very parties that went to war to resist the will of the people (In this case Russia, Iran, and Assad himself)–parties with zero democratic credentials themselves–have the gall to invoke the idea of self-determination / respecting the will of the people.

This perversion of the concept of self-determination is particularly infuriating, given the incredible damage caused by an initial unwillingness to even engage the peoples democratic aspirations with dialogue instead of violence. Even if such calls did represent a legitimate pivot towards democratic values (which they most certainly do not), of course no meaningful election could ever take place in a war-zone. 

Combined with current external realities–budget strained and war weary democracies are (for various reasons) not as committed in the fight for democracy as authoritarian regimes are against it–a tyrant will more often than not be able stay in power, at a huge cost to the people, the country, and the region.

This message–that the purported global champions of democracy and human rights cannot be counted on to support you (while the governments you oppose, which have the military advantage to begin with, will get significant external help)–is the only thing that can stem the tide of global democratizationThis cannot be the message (that through our actions) the U.S and E.U. sends to people with democratic aspirations. Democratization is the only path towards modernization and sustainable development–it is truly “the worst form of government, except for all the others” as Winston Churchill famously stated.

Which is why I call for more military spending by wealthier democracies (and more evenly distributed, America should cut back) and U.N.Security Council reform. Acting preventatively is always the best option, when it is still an option. But when prevention fails, we cannot simply throw our hands up an say “oh well, prevention is not an option, guess there is nothing we can do.” In the face of slaughter, words ring hollow and inaction carries a cost as well.


Leave a comment

Conflict Watch: The Imperfect But Neccesary Fight Against ISIS

 

In the week following the unveiling of the new American-led anti-ISIS plan, one thing has become clear. This plan, while theoretically sound, will be very difficult to implement.

Regional allies have been reluctant to commit to specific responsibilities in the fight against ISIS. This reluctance highlights some American hubris that I failed to account for in my previous post. Even if taking on specific responsibilities is ultimately in these countries best interests, America cannot simply delegate responsibilities to other countries and decide for them that they will accept them. Generally speaking, the dearth of political will, lukewarm attitudes towards American intervention, and protracted grievances between potential allies are to blame for these seemingly irrational responses.

But despite these issues, the American plan is still the best way forward in a less than ideal situation. For sustainable peace and development, what is known in the conflict resolution field as “positive peace”, a pluralistic, inclusive, human rights based approach to development is needed. This is, unfortunately, far from the current reality in the Middle East.

However, in order for development to take hold, there must be “negative peace”–an absence of fighting. And it is fostering negative peace that the American plan is primarily focused on. There are elements of positive peacebuilding–capacity building for allies that share American values of pluralism and human rights–but these are secondary to the goal of “degrading and ultimately defeating ISIS”. “Negative peace” is a necessary precondition for “positive peace” to truly take hold. The foundations of “positive” peace can be laid, but in order for it’s benefits to reach people–to begin the process of sustainable human development–an atmosphere of security / “negative peace” must exist.

Ideally, “positive peace” is built preventatively; should conflict erupt, the partnerships and trust needed to negotiate an end to the fighting already exist. There is nothing “ideal” about the fight against ISIS; the group moves with blinding speed, destroying everything that opposes its radical version of Islam. To do nothing would amount to a de-facto death sentence for anyone who dares to oppose ISIS, while enabling the group to cement it’s control in the region. This would make “negative peace” even more difficult to attain.

Unfortunately, it is too late for preventative peacebuilding in the fight against ISIS. The American-led plan must try to simultaneously build “positive” and “negative” peace–admittedly a difficult task. To this end, the plan must be inclusive of all Muslims, Sunni and Shiite (as well as minority groups). Furthermore, it must minimize actions that ISIS can use as anti-Western propaganda–something the group has proved itself adept at.

This fight against ISIS will not be quick or easy. It would be easier if regional allies would take stronger stands and commit to specific responsibilities in the fight against ISIS, but early indications suggest this is currently not the reality. Short of putting boots on the ground, America must make up for the current shortfalls of our regional partners. If we do not, no one else will, and the ISIS threat will become even more difficult to confront.


22 Comments

Conflict Watch: Protracted Social Conflict and Preventative Peacebuilding

I usually focus on a specific conflict on Tuesdays, but today I would like to do something a little bit different. I want to focus on the possible benefits of scaling up preventative peacebuilding operations around the world, specifically by USAID and the U.S. D.o.D. by focusing on D.I.M.E (diplomatic, intelligence, military, economic) intervention.

This post highlights a recent project of mine, similar to my post on Flexible Credit Lines (FCL). I will pull out some choice quotes from a recent paper of mine, and then provide a link for the full thing for anybody interested. It is a bit long, but the introduction summarizes the whole argument very nicely

“War is expensive, both in terms of economic and humanitarian costs. There was a time in history when war was a profitable venture. War was an opportunity to mobilize a nation’s factors of production, and through greater productivity and taxation a war could help jump-start a stagnant economy (think of post-depression WWII production in the U.S.). While these wars tended to be very violent, they were at least “tractable”; fighting remained mostly on agreed upon battlefields, and the war was eventually ended by a binding treaty which all sides respected.

Post WWII, and more specifically post-Cold War, globalization has meant that interstate war is no longer justifiable on economic grounds. There is too much value in an open global economy for war to possibly be more valuable than peacefully trading with other countries. This shift did not occur by sheer luck or technological advance, although surely those factors played a role. It was political will that led to the globalization movement. Starting with the Marshall Plan after WWII, countries became too invested in one another as economic and political partners to pursue warfare between states. This has led to a drastic decline in interstate wars since WWII.”

“Most new wars, however, fall into Edward Azar’s theory of Protracted Social Conflict (PSC). According to Azar,”deprivation of human needs is the underlying source of PSC“. The sources, and therefore solutions to PSC often lay within a state, rather than across state borders, although this is not always the case, particularly in the context of regional insecurity. PSC also shifted some of the focus away from overtly violent conflicts, towards identifying potential future conflict zones based on underlying humanitarian grievances.”

“Not only different interests, but also differing views on trust, courtesy, and respect make international negotiations very delicate processes. “Multilateral negotiation is more difficult than domestic policy making because the relevant actors come from very different backgrounds, and they represent nations that have occasionally worked out very different procedures for handling similar problems”[1]. Different approaches to negotiation are more likely to work in different scenarios.

Traditionally, low context societies have engaged in “bargaining”, a negotiation process in which the other side is considered an adversary and, through cost-benefit analysis, the negotiator is expected to come up with the best terms for his constituents as quickly as possible. Trust is built after the fact by successful implementation of negotiated agreements.

High context societies, on the other hand, respond much better to “problem-solving” approaches to negotiation. This approach involves creating a relationship before meaningful negotiation can take place. Trust is a precondition for a durable agreement, not an end result of one. Problem solving “…is accomplished by and through intergroup contact involving a mutual search of issues, alternatives are developed  from both groups’ points of view, and evaluation of solutions is completed by the combined groups.” Essentially, problem-solving focuses on making mutually beneficial arrangements which are revealed through open dialogue.”

“Consider negotiation from an inter-temporal point of view. Period T is the period when a PSC boils over into an armed conflict. Generally, “bargaining” would begin during T (track I negotiations), while “problem-solving” would have already been in effect, through Track II and III negotiations, in Period T-1. Before bargaining even has a chance to succeed, trust must be built; therefore a negotiated resolution through bargaining will occur, at soonest, in period T+1.

Preventative peacebuilding, through problem-solving, which has been building relationships since T-1, allows meaningful negotiations to take place during period T (and hopefully have already created enough of a relationship between parties to avoid armed conflict altogether). Between T and T+1, bargainers from low-context societies become agitated with the lack of progress being made, while the high context side believes the low context side is being “disrespectful”. Likely, no trust will be built, or the trust will be very tentative.  Low context negotiators should place more emphasis and resources in preventative problem-solving, as it is much easier to build trust between opposing sides before violent conflict begins. By having the requisite relationships in places, much death and human suffering can be avoided.

The aim of peacebuilding is to foster social, economic, and political institutions and attitudes that will prevent these conflicts from turning violent. In effect, peacebuilding is the front line of preventive action.”

“The U.S. has a long history of nation building as a means of promoting national security and economic interests. Starting with the Marshal Plan after WWII, the connection between having strong geo-political and trade partners in all regions of the world has dominated American foreign policy.

This problem is clear when comparing the budgets of the U.S. Department of Defense and USAID. “The differences in approach and culture between the U.S. Departments of State and Defense are stark despite the fact that these organizations are members of the same team and share related national objectives.”  Defense has a budget much larger than the department of state. In 2012, USAIDs budget for was $51.6 billion, which was dwarfed by Defense’s $553 billion dollar budget.  Now admittedly Defense and State are not substitutes for one another, but complements; they are each more effective in different stages of conflict. Their budgets should not be equalized by any means, but when the D.o.D. has a budget ten times larger than USAID, and all the theoretical and empirical evidence points to the benefits of preventative peacebuilding when dealing with PSC, clearly some redistribution is in order.”

“The most significant aspect of scaling up will be paying for more diplomats and greater poverty reduction based aid. By having more diplomatic relationships in potential conflict areas, preemptive peacebuilding can save immeasurable money and lives compared to traditional military intervention and post-conflict reconstruction. The peace that comes from preemptive peacebuilding should be a more durable “positive peace”. By engaging in problem-solving, the root causes of PSC will be revealed, and the necessary trust needed for any negotiation to work will be forged simultaneously. It is also much more easy to justify the huge military budget of the U.S. if the military has a more pronounced and effective peacetime mandate.”

There you have it folks, my most recent work PSC and Preventative Peacebuilding. I did the best job I could of summarizing the main points of a larger work. For those of you who are interested, download the link at the end of this post for the whole paper.

POSC 5560 Final Paper