Normative Narratives


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Conflict Watch: The Political “Solution” in Syria, and the Syrian End-Game

A comment made practically in jest by Secretary of State John Kerry, has become the centerpiece of the international communities “solution” to holding Assad accountable for chemical weapons attacks:

“He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week — turn it over, all of it, without delay and allow the full and total accounting, but he isn’t about to do it and it can’t be done,” Mr. Kerry said.

Mr. Kerry’s remarks, especially the reference to the short window of time, underscored the urgency of the administration’s preparations for a strike, and it did not appear to signal a shift in policy. The State Department’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, later clarified in an e-mail to reporters that Mr. Kerry was simply “making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied using.”

“His (Kerry’s) point was that this brutal dictator with a history of playing fast and loose with the facts cannot be trusted to turn over chemical weapons, otherwise he would have done so long ago. That’s why the world faces this moment.”

Officials in Syria embraced the idea, as did Britain, France, the United Nations and even some Republican lawmakers in Washington.

President Obama called a proposal by Russia on Monday to avert a United States military strike on Syria over chemical weapons use “a potentially positive development” but said he would continue to press for military action to keep the pressure up. But he said that “if we don’t maintain and move forward with a credible threat of military pressure, I do not think we will actually get the kind of agreement I would like to see.”

In another interview with NBC News, Mr. Obama said he would take the Russian proposal “with a grain of salt initially.” But he told the network that if Syrian officials accept the Russian proposal, “then this could potentially be a significant breakthrough.”

Reacting to another comment by Mr. Kerry — that any attack on Syria would be “unbelievably small” — Mr. Obama said any attack would not be felt like a “pinprick” in Syria.

“The U.S. does not do pinpricks,” he said in the NBC interview. “Our military is the greatest the world has ever known. And when we take even limited strikes, it has an impact on a country like Syria.”

I do not think dismantling Assad’s chemical stockpile is a bad idea, this should certainly be part of any long-term geopolitical strategy for a post-Assad Syria. But the idea that Assad will grant the international community full and unfettered access anywhere in Syria, or that such a mission would even be reasonably safe during a civil war, is ludicrous.  John Kerry said Assad lied to his face about using scud missiles to his face and is “a man without credibility”. Assad is not a man we can trust; even if he was, he may not even have the ability to give full access and cooperation to the international community. This so called “solution” is a non-plan as it is not credible and does not address the root causes of the problem in Syria.

For all of the tough rhetoric from Assad, it is very clear that Syria’s ability to strike back at the U.S. is virtually non-existent. Assad’s forces themselves are rightfully scared of the prospect of American military intervention, and the opportunities it will open up for the Syrian rebels (last week I advocated pairing U.S. military strikes with a redoubled effort to consolidate opposition power / rooting out extremist factions by creating Syrian national rebel army. For the record, I still believe more intelligence must be made available to the public to prove Assad’s forces used the chemical weapons themselves). 

Although commanders spoke of unspecified plans to fight back against U.S. attacks, junior service members described the notion of actually taking on U.S. forces as absurd.

“Our small warships are spread around the coast on full alert, and why? To confront the U.S. destroyers? I feel like I’m living in a bad movie,” said a Syrian Navy sailor reached on a vessel in the Mediterranean.

“Of course I’m worried. I know we don’t really have anything to confront the Americans. All we have is God.”

Obama is correct to take the stance he is taking; if Assad wants to avoid military strikes he must commit to a political resolution in Syria. The U.S. is not intending a “pin-prick”, even limited strikes over the course of 60 (or 90 if he gets a congressional extension) combined with redoubled efforts by the Syrian opposition could help turn the tide of the war.

If the ultimate goal is a pluralistic and democratic Syria, it would be wrong at this point to back away from military intervention. Assad continues to receive support from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah. The opposition has received empty promises from Western allies and fierce fighting from extremist-linked allies. If the U.S. has any hopes of separating out extremist and legitimate factions in the Syrian opposition and truly pressure Assad to come to the bargaining table, it must maintain a “political-transition-or-military-strike” approach to Syria, while continuing to enhance the capacity of a parallel Syrian military and government to assume the power void in post-Assad Syria. 

The Syrian opposition and the Gulf Arab States have already opposed the proposed Syrian chemical arms deal:

Gulf Arab states said on Tuesday a Russian proposal calling for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons to win a reprieve from U.S. military strikes would not stop bloodshed in Syria.

“We’ve heard of the initiative … It’s all about chemical weapons but doesn’t stop the spilling of the blood of the Syrian people,” Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed al-Khalifa told a news conference in Jeddah.

If the international community wants any chance of having political capital in a post-Assad Syria, it must not renege on it’s commitments to the Syrian opposition now, when after years of inaction meaningful assistance appeared to imminent. Doing so would further sour already strained Western-opposition relations, and bolster the power of extremist groups who have willingly participated in the civil war (not out of the kindness of their hearts mind you, they will try to seize power for their role in the civil war unless a more powerful Syrian national rebel army exists to oppose them).

The Syrian civil war is at a cross-roads, or more like a stalemate that fosters misery, chaos, death, human rights violations and economic decline. It is time for all sides to stop posing behind their positions and try to find mutual ground. Both the international community and Assad wish to avoid U.S.-backed military intervention. The international community and the Syrian opposition want Assad to step down. To reconcile these positions, Assad could agree to hand over his chemical weapons stockpile and move forward with a road-map to democracy in Syria. However, If Assad is interested only in retaining power–which all signs indicate he is–the U.S. and its allies must ultimately show their hand as well and fully commit to overthrowing Assad with force.

There is no long term solution for Syria which involves Assad staying in power–only more years of lost economic growth and death. If the international community is truly interested in a pluralistic and democratic Syria, it must lay the groundwork right now. Failure to do so will mean that either Assad remains in power, or extremist factions fill the power-void after Assad’s ouster. We cannot turn our backs on the legitimate Syrian opposition, who only want the ability to live meaningful lives with dignity and freedom–things generally taken for granted in modernized democratic society. We cannot send the message that political Islam and democracy are irreconcilable, and that jihad is the only path to empowerment for young Muslims. This precedent has already been set in Egypt, it cannot be allowed to be driven home in Syria.

Secretary Kerry said that the public is right to debate the costs and benefits of limited strikes in Syria. But we must remember that we are not talking about “boots on the ground” or any other prolonged effort. We are talking about upholding international law, not some “red-line” Obama made up. “You’ve got to draw lines and there are consequences for crossing those lines.” “You’d say, ‘don’t do anything’. We believe that’s dangerous, and we will face this down the road in some more significant way if we are not prepared to take some sort of stand now.” The Syrian civil war cannot be left to fester unattended–the consequences currently are catastrophic for Syria and its neighbors and in the future could be for the world.

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G20 Kicks-Off Today, A Number of Hot-Topic Issues to be Discussed by World Leaders

G20 Russia 2013

From the international financial and monetary systems to international tax-evasion to armed conflicts, the worlds leaders are getting together to figure out how to minimize human rights violations and hold parties accountable for their violations.

The ultimate goal is to put in place global and national policies needed for sustainable human development in the 21st century–an ambitious goal indeed! Difficulty must not deter our normative visions for the future; as a global community we must attack these issues proactively and in a preventative nature whenever possible.

I urge the NN community to stay up-to-date on G20 related news. I will be sure to write a blog upon the conclusion of the G20 leaders summit.


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Conflict Watch: Weighing in on Prospective U.S. Military Strikes in Syria

Up until this point, chemical attack allegations in Syria have been a “blame-game” dominated by circumstantial evidence, hypothetical questions / appeals to logic, murky details, and classified information. The Assad regime has blamed “terrorists”, as they have for the duration of the civil war, for launching chemical attacks. Why would we launch these attacks when UN investigators were in the country, they argue? Western powers do not believe the opposition has the capacity to launch such attacks, and blames the Assad regime of offering too little too late when it came to international investigations (this argument has been refuted by chemical weapons experts, which alongside congressional uncertainty, further complicates U.S. military intervention).

The UK dropping out of military strikes, as well as the lack of NATO, Arab League, or U.N.S.C. authorization, makes it difficult to frame a military strike as part of a global coalition. President Obama has assured war-weary Americans there will be “no boots on the ground”, and that a strike will not lead to another long-term entanglement in the region. However, direct military strikes–particularly without broad international support–will naturally lead to further engagement, particularly if  Western / American / Israeli interests are targeted in retaliation.

I actually agree with Speaker Boehner; we need more information on what intelligence the administration has and how strikes fit into Americas long term geopolitical strategy in the Middle-East. In the face of the sequester and looming budget / debt ceiling debates, how will these strikes be financed? The constraints that military spending impose on other fiscal policies affect all American’s; the citizens of this great country deserve more conclusive evidence the Assad regime used chemical weapons. Basing strikes on classified “knowledge” from unknown (to regular people) sources should not satisfy anyone’s need for a transparent and inclusive debate / decision making process leading up to possible military intervention.

Common sense tells us to wait a few days, in order to drum up more international support and get more intelligence from U.N. investigators. There is no sense rushing into action that–despite President Obama’s words and wishes–has inherent long term implications on U.S. military, foreign and fiscal policiesIt seems clear that either the Assad regime or more radical segments of the opposition as responsible for the chemical attacks in Syria. We must determine conclusively who committed this crime against humanity and hold them accountable. 

There has been a lot of talk about precedents being set; if we do not respond to the use of chemical weapons, then international laws banning their use carry very little weight. I agree with this argument, but military decisions should not be made hastily or emotionally. There is no question Bashar al-Assad is a thug who has mercilessly killed tens of thousands of his countrymen and driven well over 1 million Syrians into other countries as refugees, imposing the myriad costs of Syria’s Civil War on the region in an attempt to retain his families 4 decade rule in Syria. I also do not believe a political solution is possible, as Assad believes his rule in Syria is based on something resembling the mandate of heaven.

But the question still remains–did Assad carry out these chemical strikes? If we cannot rule out the possibility that opposition forces used chemical weapons, then a much more dangerous precedent may inadvertently be set–that extremist’s can solicit a military response by using chemical weapons on the very people they are supposed to be fighting for. While this is not what I think happened, we must be certain before making decisions with long term and unforeseeable ramifications. 

Financial considerations should ultimately be secondary once conclusive evidence is presented implicating who is responsible for these attacks. “We cannot afford to hold perpetrators of crimes humanity accountable” is not an acceptable excuse for inaction from the international community. Once conclusive evidence implicating Assad in chemical weapons attacks circulates (or at very least exonerating extremist factions within the Syrian opposition of involvement in said attacks), international intervention can be justified on any number of international law / treaty violations and/or R2P.

In an attempt to isolate these radical segments of the Syrian opposition, plans for creating a national Syrian rebel army have circulated, angering Islamist factions in the opposition:

Syria’s Western-backed political opposition plans to create the nucleus of a national army to bring order to the disparate rebel forces battling President Bashar al-Assad and counter the strength of al Qaeda-linked rebel brigades.

The latest attempt to unite the rebels coincides with fierce debates in Washington and other Western capitals over whether and how to boost support for Assad’s opponents after an alleged chemical weapons attack by government forces on Wednesday.

Chaos among opposition forces and al-Qaeda’s growing role are barriers to any intervention.

Plans for an army are still under wraps but details began emerging earlier this month before the gas attack. It has the blessing of the rebels’ patronSaudi Arabia, which took over as the main regional backer of Assad’s foes earlier this year.

Momentum behind the new force comes from Saudi Arabia and Western nations who, alarmed by the growth of radical Islamists in rebel-held areas, have thrown their weight behind the Syrian Coalition, hoping it could help stem their power.

“Once we get the (battle)field organized, then everything will be organized,” he said. “This will be the army of the new Syria. We want to integrate its ranks and unify the sources of funding and arms,” the Syrian National Coalition member said.

Western-backed rebels say the new structure might be modeled on U.S.-backed militias, known as “Awakening Councils”, which drove al Qaeda from Iraq’s Anbar region six years ago.

The leader of one moderate Islamist brigade, which operates in several parts of the country, said he supported the proposal, but would not say if his fighters would join.

Leaders of more radical groups see it as a Western-backed plot to fight them. “They are undermining the work of all of us. They want to throw it in the bin, as if it never happened,” said a senior commander in Homs province.

Opposition political sources were careful not to portray the new army as a challenge to Islamists, but a senior official said it would only welcome them if they left their brigades.

“This will be an army like any other army in the world. When you join it you leave your beliefs outside. Islamists can join as individuals, not as Islamists.”

The new body is not an alliance of brigades, as in previous attempts to unify insurgency groups; individual fighters will be expected to leave their units to sign up.

Many Syrians initially welcomed the Islamists for bringing order to the chaos of rebel-held territories, but growing resentment of their puritanical rule could win popular sympathy for any new force that challenges them.

Activists in the northern, rebel-held provinces, where Islamists are most powerful, say those criticizing the Islamists are threatened or imprisoned.

“We have challenged Assad when he was strong, and now we are being bullied by radicals who are not even Syrians in our Syria,” said an activist in Aleppo who declined to be named.

With weapons and money flooding into the country, a class of warlords has emerged, including Islamists, who have grown powerful on arms deals and oil smuggling. Activists in the north complain of high levels of theft, bullying and thuggery.

“With this army the Coalition will have a military force on the ground, one that is composed of the best Syrian fighters,” said a Syrian rebel commander in a powerful brigade that has fighters across Syria.

In the meantime, most agree that the disparate groups should work together, at least in temporary alliances against Assad’s troops. But they share a skepticism that the new group will ever see the light of day, or have much impact if it does.

“During this revolution we have seen many great ideas and many great attempts destroyed because of mismanagement. The Free Syrian Army is an example of this. As long as the roots of the problems are not solved, then nothing will change.”

“They are all failed projects; there is no awareness among those leading this revolution and also there is no clear strategy. In addition to this you have got the hesitation from the West. As long as this continues, this will be a failed project.”

A national Syrian rebel army is a good idea for overcoming extremist’s influence–who are often not of Syrian origins themselves–that have tried to hijack the legitimate grievances which originally spurred the Syrian revolution . This Army will require adequate financing and training from Western backers if it is to fulfill its goals.

However, one must be suspicious of Saudi Arabia’s intentions in funding this army. Despite being “pro-Western”, Saudi Arabia and many other Middle-Eastern monarchies are fundamentally opposed to the ideas of political Islam, as highlighted by support for the Egyptian Military Coup and it’s “interim government”. It must be made crystal clear in the rebel army’s enabling legislation that the army exists to uphold the will of all Syrian people, is accountable to the Syrian people and it’s future democratic government, and is committed to a pluralistic democratic Syria and international human rights norms. Any Islamist in favor of these goals is free to join the national Syrian rebel army, provided they renounce ties and allegiances to other groups–a precondition for joining any effective and unified army.  

The last thing we need is another military backed authoritarian regime posing as democracy. These “democracies” ultimately undermine the ability for effective democracy to take root, by reinforcing the misconception that democracy and political Islam are irreconcilable.  

It would be tactically advantageous to have this rebel army armed and ready to capitalize after any U.S. led military strikes should such strikes ever occur. It seems like the timing is not right for these two military strategies to synergize, unless this army has been in the works for some time now under-wraps and is almost ready to be rolled out (which is unlikely). It makes sense now for Obama to wait at least a week before taking any action, in order to rally international support for military strikes at the upcoming G-20 talks in Moscow.


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Conflict Watch: Edward Snowden Offered Asylum in Latin America, and “Legitimate” Democratic Leadership

Original Article:

“Bolivia offered asylum on Saturday to former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden, joining leftist allies Venezuela and Nicaragua in defiance of Washington, which is demanding his arrest for divulging details of secret U.S. surveillance programs.

Snowden, 30, is believed to be holed up in the transit area of Moscow’s Sheremetyevo international airport and has been trying to find a country that would take him since he landed from Hong Kong on June 23.

Bolivian President Evo Morales had said earlier this week that he would consider granting asylum to Snowden. But he took a harder line on Saturday, angered that some European countries banned his plane from their airspace this week on suspicion it carried Snowden.”

“”I want to tell … the Europeans and Americans that last night I was thinking that as a fair protest, I want to say that now in fact we are going to give asylum to that American who is being persecuted by his fellow Americans,” Morales said during a visit to the town of Chipaya.

“If we receive a legal request, we will grant asylum,” he said. Bolivia’s Foreign Ministry was not immediately available to comment on whether a formal asylum request had been received.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro also offered refuge to Snowden late Friday. Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, speaking in Managua, said he would gladly give Snowden asylum in Nicaragua ‘if circumstances permit.’ He did not say what those circumstances might be.

Nicaragua, one of the poorest countries in the Americas, has benefited greatly from financial support from Venezuela, and Ortega was a staunch ally of Chavez.

“Russia has shown signs of growing impatience over Snowden’s stay in Moscow. Its deputy foreign minister said on Thursday that Snowden had not sought asylum in that country and needed to choose a place to go.

Moscow has made clear that the longer he stays, the greater the risk of the diplomatic standoff over his fate causing lasting damage to relations with Washington.

Both Russia’s Foreign Ministry and President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman declined to comment on Venezuela’s offer.

‘This is not our affair,’ spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Reuters.”

“The White House declined to comment. But one U.S. official familiar with the matter, who asked for anonymity, said: ‘It’s fair to say in general that U.S. officials have been pressuring governments where Snowden might try to go to do the right thing here.”

“Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous leader and a former union leader for the country’s coca leaf farmers, and Maduro both condemned the U.S. spy programs that Snowden revealed and said he deserved protection.

‘Who is the guilty one? A young man … who denounces war plans, or the U.S. government which launches bombs and arms the terrorist Syrian opposition against the people and legitimate President Bashar al-Assad?’ Maduro asked, to applause and cheers from ranks of military officers at a parade.

‘Who is the terrorist? Who is the global delinquent?’

A bid by Snowden for Icelandic citizenship hit an impasse on Friday when the country’s parliament voted not to debate the issue before its summer recess.”

“Ex-intelligence contractor Edward Snowden has been charged with espionage and theft of government records after exposing a massive National Security Agency surveillance program known as PRISM.”

The Snowden issue is a loaded one, with national security and civil liberties implications. The U.S. government has had its hands full trying to balance the democratic principles of transparency and freedom of information with the national security responsibilities that modern warfare imposes on governments.

While PRISM was the first such program revealed, I think many people probably assumed that certain steps had been taken since 9/11 to ramp up intelligence gathering as part of a broader anti-terrorism mandate. In addition, intelligence gathering programs such as PRISM do not appear to be uniquely American.

“U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, on July 1 in Brunei series of meetings held during the East Asian correspondent conference. Asked about the recent burst of the U.S. National Security Agency of the EU institutions as well as some of the leaders of allies wiretapping issue, Kerry said that such behavior for most countries and there is nothing ‘unusual.'”

“But Kerry also said that such behavior for most countries, and there is nothing ‘unusual.’ He said: ‘I would say there is international relations of any one country, when it comes to national security, will take a variety of actions and collect all kinds of information to safeguard national security, which for most countries, and there is nothing unusual.'”

Recent reports suggest that France has a similar program, as more likely than not does any government with adequate information and communication technology (ICT) and manpower / resources. So long as this information is used for legitimate purposes and not as a tool for invading privacy, I support intelligence gathering programs.

I am of the mind that if you live transparently/legitimately, and have nothing to hide, then there is no reason to be afraid of government intelligence gathering. There is certainly lots of information on me out there on the internet, none of which I am concerned about. While some of it could be potentially embarrassing, none of it is illegal, and I do not believe the U.S. governments intelligence gathering has an “embarrassment mandate”. When the U.S. government starts selling personal information to US Weekly, then I will be concerned with PRISM.

I am getting off track, as the Snowden case could certainly be explored over the course of many blogs. I would like to turn focus to the inexplicable statements by Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. It is not surprising to see a Venezuelan leader railing against the U.S. government. His predecessor Hugo Chavez was an adamant anti-American figure, and remains one of the most popular figures in the country despite the impediment of not being alive. Maduro has often made baseless claims of American-backed plots to undermine his Presidency in his short time as Venezuelan President. But this latest statement truly has me shaking my head:

‘Who is the guilty one? A young man … who denounces war plans, or the U.S. government which launches bombs and arms the terrorist Syrian opposition against the people and legitimate President Bashar al-Assad?’ Maduro asked, to applause and cheers from ranks of military officers at a parade.

‘Who is the terrorist? Who is the global delinquent?'”

The term “legitimate President”  has been tossed around a lot lately, mostly surrounding the military coup and ouster of former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.The term has been tossed around so much that I believe it has begun to lose its meaning, as highlighted by President Maduro’s anti-American rhetoric. This is unacceptable to us (me and my readers) here at NN, so I would like to set the record straight on what exactly constitutes a “legitimate presidency”

Where does legitimacy come from? In a democracy, a regimes legitimate claim to govern comes predominantly from the execution of free and fair elections. While this is obviously only the starting point of effective democracy, it is –as far as I can tell–an indispensable part of the democratic process.

Morsi was Egypt’s legitimate President not because he was a good leader or even particularly effective (it would appear he was not as calculating a politician as he or his supporters liked to imagine, unless his ultimate goal was martyrdom). Morsi was the legitimate leader because he and his constitution passed open and fair elections in Egypt.

The message being sent to Muslims everywhere by the coup in Egypt is simple–that democracy has no place for them. I cannot help but feel that the normative vision of a democratic and modernized Middle-East took a step backwards this past week. I can only hope that I am wrong, and the The Muslim Brotherhood is embraced as part of a pluralistic and democratic Egyptian government. While talks of a “road-map” to an inclusive democratic government are promising, actions speak louder than words. One has to question the Egyptian military’s commitment to a truly effective democracy, as it represents the strongest vested interest in Egypt that would ultimately lose power if effective democracy took hold.

Bashar-al Assad of Syria IS NOT a legitimate OR effective leader. He is illegitimate because he was never elected in a fair or free election (or any election at all for that matter), but instead succeeded his father in a hereditary autocracy that has lasted 40+ years. He is not effective for a number of reasons, chiefly because he managed to turn peaceful protests into a civil war and regional refugee crisis that has threatened regional stability in the Middle-East. While human rights violations have occurred on both sides of the Syrian Civil War, the majority of these violations have been perpetuated by Assad’s forces.

Regardless of how ineffectual Morsi’s rule was, he was more of a legitimate leader than Assad can ever hope to be at this point.

While it is true there are extremist factions amongst the Syrian opposition, the U.S and allies are taking all steps possible to ensure that military aid is channeled through the proper avenues. To claim that Assad is a “legitimate President” shows an alarming irrationality and hatred of America emanating from the Venezuelan government.

 

 

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Conflict Watch: In Africa, Preventative Peacebuilding Has It’s Day (Years? Decades?)

A While back, I wrote about the potential benefits of scaling up preventative peacebuilding programs globally. Rooted in protracted social conflict (PSC) theory, preventative peacebuilding aims at addressing the root causes of the majority of intrastate conflict, by addressing human rights violations that lead to violence before a conflict emerges. While this approach obviously has certain limitations, foremost of which is that it is completely ineffective in resolving an ongoing conflict (such as the Syrian Civil War), it has considerable benefits in situations where tensions are escalating but large-scale violent conflict has not yet enveloped the country (think present day Egypt).

A bit of background on PSC: Most new wars can be explained by 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.

PSC theory applied in another context connects human rights violations, conflict, and terrorism. Human rights violations lead to conflict as PSC presumes. When the government is unable to provide basic services and security to it citizens (or in some situations itself perpetuates human rights violations and insecurity), well funded extremist groups can fill this void, providing security, goods and services in exchange for goodwill, legitimacy, and cover (this is essentially how the Syrian Civil War has evolved). By empowering people and building resilient nations (a little UNDP plug), conflicts can be avoided and the breeding grounds for terrorism salted.

It seems as if world leaders have been convinced by PSC theory, and are willing to try putting money into preventative peacebuilding operations in Africa–ground-zero for human rights violations and intrastate conflict (Original article):

“This fall, the United States and Niger will bring together in that West African nation police officers, customs inspectors and other authorities from a half-dozen countries in the region to hone their collective skills in securing lightly guarded borders against heavily armed traffickers and terrorists.”

“Denmark has already forged a partnership with Burkina Faso to combat violent extremism, and backed it up with a war chest of $22 million over five years aimed at stifling the root causes of terrorism before they can bloom.”

“The two-day meeting here in this seaside city was organized by the Global Counterterrorism Forum, an organization of 29 countries and the European Union created two years ago with the State Department’s support to act as a clearinghouse of ideas and actions for civilian counterterrorism specialists.

One of the forum’s five areas of focus is the Sahel, with wealthier Western, Middle Eastern and Asian nations partnering with some of the continent’s poorest countries to address a range of issues. In this week’s closed meetings, officials discussed border surveillance, enhanced intelligence and police cooperation, the rule of law, arms trafficking and undercutting terrorists’ financial networks, according to a conference agenda and interviews with more than a dozen participants.

‘What’s encouraging is that the regional countries here recognize what kind of assistance they need and are able to define that’ said Michele Coduri, chief of the Swiss Foreign Ministry’s international security section. ‘That’s not always been the case.’

“A senior Malian official told the delegates that the Malian authorities had seized many suspected jihadists in the recent fighting. But he said the Malian military and police were not practiced in collecting evidence for criminal court proceedings, according to participants. As a result, only a handful of extremists have been prosecuted, he said.

‘These states need to build counterterrorism policies within legal frameworks,’ said Justin H. Siberell, a State Department counterterrorism specialist who led the American delegation. ‘Still, people feel a sense of urgency that these kind of things have to start happening.'”

It is heartening to see the developing and developed world working together to tackle the problem of terrorism and its underlying causes, as global security is the definition of a global public good (everyone benefits from it, therefore rife with “free-rider problems“, which seem to have been partially averted due to the seriousness and immediate impacts of the issues at hand, as opposed to say climate change which is a serious concern but not as immediate a threat). Conflict undermines the Rule of law and democracy, and inhibits economic and human development. Peace is a necessary precondition for sustainable human development.

It seems that the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities” is starting to catch-on in fields other than climate change. Western powers, realizing that foreign intervention is extremely costly and only incites further anti-Western sentiments (essentially adding fuel to the jihad fire), and that the results are unsustainable. By having regional forces fighting extremist factions, backed by Western intelligence, weaponry, and technical assistance, a more sustainable and inclusive global security balance emerges. Since everyone will have an important role to play in global security initiatives, a less imperialistic and more democratic decision making process should also follow this approach. Coordinated military operations could also help build the relationships needed for greater economic and social policy coherence at the international level.

It will ultimately be difficult to assess the effects of this program for a number of reasons. For one, the stated goals are long term and preventative–on a certain level it is impossible to say whether conflict did / didn’t occur due to these programs, as there are so many variables at play. Therefore, in order to test the efficacy of this project, I think we will ultimately have to look past just the security outcomes in Africa (while also still considering these as well). How this project affects overall standard of living, freedoms, and happiness in the region will ultimately be the yardstick by which we should judge this program. While this project is designed as a military endeavor, it is in reality a human development initiative.

I can’t help but think that this is the type of news that, while somewhat off the mainstream radar now, will in the future be credited with drastically changing the world for the better. I sure hope I’m right…

 

 


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Conflict Watch: (In Syria) Things Will Get Worse Before They Get Better

Perhaps nowhere does this old saying ring as true as in present day Syria. Two weeks ago I wrote about “The Deteriorating Syrian Civil War and Humanitarian Crisis” and since then things have not gotten any better on the ground. However, it seems that Western powers are finally organizing the support that legitimate factions of the Syrian opposition need to present a real threat to the Assad regime without relying on the help of extremist / terrorist organizations:

“Ministers from 11 countries including the United States, European and regional Sunni Muslim powers, held talks that Washington said should commit participants to direct all aid through the Western-backed Supreme Military Council, which it hopes can offset the growing power of jihadist rebel forces.”

“The meeting in Qatar brings together ministers of countries that support the anti-Assad rebels – France, Germany, Egypt, Italy, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Britain and the United States.”

“Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, whose country has been one of the most open backers of the anti-Assad rebels, said that supplying them with weapons was the only way to resolve the conflict.

“Force is necessary to achieve justice. And the provision of weapons is the only way to achieve peace in Syria’s case,” Sheikh Hamad told ministers at the start of the talks.

“We cannot wait due to disagreement among Security Council members over finding a solution to the problem,” he said. He also called on Lebanon’s government to halt intervention by Lebanese factions in the neighboring conflict.”

“‘We won’t get a political solution if Assad and his regime think they can eliminate all legitimate opposition by force, and so we do have to give assistance to that opposition,’ Secretary of State Kerry told reporters before the start of Saturday’s talks.”

“After a series of military offensives by Assad’s troops, including the recapture of a strategic border town two weeks ago, President Barack Obama said the United States would increase military support for the rebels

Two Gulf sources told Reuters on Saturday that Saudi Arabia, which has taken a lead role among Arab opponents of Assad, had also accelerated delivery of advanced weapons to the rebels.

‘In the past week there have been more arrivals of these advanced weapons. They are getting them more frequently,’ one source said, without giving details. Another Gulf source described them as ‘potentially balance-tipping’ supplies.”

One can only hope that this aid is not too little too late, and many questions emerge from the concerted arming of the Supreme Military Council by Western powers: Does the political will exist among the opposition to fill the power vacuum in a sustainable democratic fashion upon Assad’s removal? Would a new governing body protect the rights of minorities, including Alawites, in a post-conflict Syria? What will happen to the extremist factions the opposition once relied on (specifically al-Nursa)? Will these groups attempt to sabotage the Western backed opposition?

Despite all this uncertainty, one thing is clear; the Assad regime has lost all credibility and cannot remain in power / be allowed to run in future Syrian elections (having Assad involved in future elections would inherently distort the democratic process and risk reigniting the sectarian divide). It has also become clear that Russia will continue to honor its military contracts with Damascus, and that Assad has no problem turning the Syrian Civil War into a regional conflict if it helps his prospects:

“U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the meeting of 11 countries in Qatar was a chance to discuss “efforts to increase and coordinate support for the Syrian political and military opposition”. Kerry said Assad had allowed Iranian and Hezbollah fighters “to cross the lines from Lebanon and engage in the fight on the ground”.

“The Assad regime’s response to a legitimate global effort to try to have a peace conference was to in fact militarize the efforts and internationalize (the conflict) and make the region far more dangerous as a consequences,” he said.”

(In the spirit of fairness, the opposition is also guilty of turning the conflict into a regional one by enlisting other countries help–this is a reality of modern warfare especially in Africa and Middle-East where the sectarian / cultural divide–alongside human rights abuses–underpins the majority of conflicts in the region).

“President Michel Suleiman has called on the Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah movement to pull its guerrillas out of Syria, saying any further involvement in its neighbor’s civil war would fuel instability in Lebanon.” While coming from the right place, such a plea will ultimately be in vain–you cannot end a  2+ year old Civil War by shaming the fighters, as both sides believe they are fighting for a just cause.

Can arming the rebels really help lead to a peaceful compromise? Honestly, I do not think so–I think the idea of a peaceful political transition in Syria is a pipe-dream. Even in the face of defeat, I do not believe Assad will step down–I think he will go down with the ship. His family has been in power in Syria for over four decades, Assad knows nothing else and probably believes his power in Syria borders on “divine right“. I believe that Western powers are building up the capacity of the Supreme Military Council to keep Assad’s forces busy, as a covert “Gadaffi-style assassination” is planned. This may be an extreme position to take, but it is the only realistic solution that does not involve more civil war, human suffering and regional instability.

Former U.S. general Wesley Clark is more optimistic that arming the opposition can lead to a political transition:

“Mr. Assad knows that Mr. Obama can be surprisingly resolute, as in his approval of drone strikes and the military operation to kill Osama bin Laden. While the United States begins to supply the rebels, there is a crucial opening for talks. Russia or China could recalculate and help lead Syria to a real peace process, as Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, a former Russian prime minister, did in Kosovo in 1999. Iran could emerge from a truce with Hezbollah’s power in Lebanon (and its strong links to Iran) intact.

The formula for diplomacy is clear: a cease-fire agreement; a United Nations presence; departure of foreign fighters; disarmament of Syrian fighters; international supervision of Syria’s military; a peaceful exit for Mr. Assad, his family and key supporters; a transitional government; and plans for a new Syria.

The conflict, and the diplomacy needed to end it, are likely to play out simultaneously. All parties will be recalculating their options and risks, so any assurance Mr. Obama gives Americans that he will limit our engagement would reduce the chances of success. This is a nerve-racking time, but the consequences of inaction are too high. Working together, America, Russia and China can halt Syria’s agony and the slide toward wider conflict. Mr. Obama’s decision might be the catalyst to get that done.”

I personally do not see Assad as this calculating figure, but time will tell which version of Assad is closer to the truth.

Of course arming the rebels is no slam-dunk. Even if Assad woke up tomorrow and decided he cannot win this war and would leave (which he will not), arming the rebels inevitably creates the risk that one day our own weapons will be used against us, regardless of how thoughtfully weapons are dispersed.

“As the United States and its Western allies move toward providing lethal aid to Syrian rebels, these secretive transfers give insight into an unregistered arms pipeline that is difficult to monitor or control. And while the system appears to succeed in moving arms across multiple borders and to select rebel groups, once inside Syria the flow branches out. Extremist fighters, some of them aligned with Al Qaeda, have the money to buy the newly arrived stock, and many rebels are willing to sell.”

Even if the arms go directly to the Supreme Military Council, there is no telling where they will end up after this conflict is over.

“For Russia — which has steadfastly supplied weapons and diplomatic cover to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria — this black-market flow is a case of bitter blowback. Many of the weapons Moscow proudly sold to Libya beginning in the Soviet era are now being shipped into the hands of rebels seeking to unseat another Kremlin ally.”

The U.S. learned a similar lesson when arms and training given to Al-Qaeda in the 1970s to oppose Soviet interests backfired.

It is impossible to know where the weapons will ultimately end up–underpinning the ongoing debate of arming the Syrian opposition. Think of the Western world’s “best case scenario”–a legitimate Syrian opposition assumes power following Assad’s removal and attempts to setup a democratic Syria. There is no telling how long that democracy will last (often first attempts at democracy fail). These weapons could be stockpiled by a pro-Western power, only to be lost in a future military coup. The existence of these weapons poses the possibility that they will fall into enemy hands at some point in the future–especially as the conflict becomes a memory and international attention focuses elsewhere.

Still, steps are being taken to ensure the arms are channeled to legitimate branches of the Syrian opposition. If in the future these weapons fall into enemy hands, that will have to be dealt with in the future. Perhaps newer technology, such as GPS or even a remote “kill-switch”, are possible for bigger-ticket items sent to the opposition. If anybody knows anything about how donors keep tabs on military aid be sure to let us know in the comment section.


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Conflict Watch: The U.S. is Teaching China How to be a World Power

“In remarks directed at China, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke Saturday of a “growing threat” of cyber-attacks against the United States and called on America and its allies to “establish international norms of responsible behavior in cyberspace.”

“The United States has expressed our concerns about the growing threat of cyberintrusions, some of which appear to be tied to the Chinese government and military,” he said in a speech largely devoted to the Obama administration’s defense posture in Asia.

“At the same time, Mr. Hagel stressed the need for more talks between the American and Chinese militaries to build trust and reduce the risk of miscalculation at a time of mounting rivalry.

His remarks were immediately challenged by a Chinese general in a question-and-answer session after his speech. A delegate to the conference, Maj. Gen. Yao Yunzhu, director of the Center for China-America Defense Relations at the Academy of Military Science in Beijing, said she was not convinced — and China was not convinced — that the United States wanted a “comprehensive” relationship with China. The new United States policy in Asia and the Pacific amounts to containment of China, General Yao said.”

Mr. Hagel responded that Washington wanted more transparency in military dealings with China. “You have to talk to each other, be direct with each other, be inclusive,” he said.”

Over all, he said, the United States will keep its “decisive military edge,” an oblique but distinct reference to American military superiority. China has announced an 11.2 percent increase in military spending this year, part of its rapid military modernization.

He stressed that new technologies would entail spending fewer resources in a smarter way, saying that the Navy had launched an experimental drone from an aircraft carrier last month for the first time. It was a feat, he said, that ushered in a new era of naval aviation. Unstated — but understood by many in the audience — was the fact that China just last year put into service its first aircraft carrier, an old Ukrainian vessel refitted by the Chinese.

Mr. Hagel also said the United States would deploy a solid-state laser aboard the Ponce, a naval vessel, next year. He said it would provide “an affordable answer” to counter threats like “missiles, swarming small boats and remotely piloted aircraft.”

The complex relationship between the U.S. and China has been a recurring theme here at NN. The two countries combined account for roughly 1/4 of the world’s population and 1/3 of global economic output. The relationship between the two countries has become even more important as technological advances continue to make the world “smaller”.

The new major threat to U.S. security is cyber-attacks. Not terrorists attacks on U.S. soil, not an invasion from a foreign enemy, but cyber-attacks. The world is connected through the internet and other satellite technologies, and there is no turning back from further integration. The problems facing the world in the 21st century require cooperation, coordination, and global governance. This is why we see so much emphasis on transparency and accountability in international relations, because what happens in one country has direct effects on other countries in today’s globalized world.

It is because of this that the U.S. is taking such a hard-line approach with China. The U.S. must have very conclusive evidence to continue to name the Chinese government and military as the source of many cyber-attacks in America. America’s leaders fully understand the complexity and importance of our relationship with China; it is because of this that the U.S. generally treads carefully with regards to China–we pick our battles.

But the U.S. is also making it abundantly clear that while national sovereignty may be enough to avoid international military intervention (as Russia and China continue to emphasize with regards to the Civil War in Syria), it is not a shield which a country aspiring to become a hegemonic power can hide behind.

Sustainable hegemonic power requires transparency and accountability. It requires a strong citizen base, with investments in human capital and overall enjoyment of life. It requires the freedoms and social capital needed for people to pursue meaningful lives, to innovate and push the frontiers of whatever industry their passion lies in. It requires a long-term vision of the world, and sustainable development policies to realize that vision. It requires post-modern values and an appreciation of human rights for all people in the world. And it requires a modernized military to back up your normative view of the world.

China is an economic power, but not yet a global power. Until China loosens the reigns of authoritarianism, and provides its people with the hope and optimism that equality of opportunity, social mobility, and freedom of expression bring, China will not realize it’s true growth potential. In recent years China has made great strides in reform and modernization, but in reality has only begun the process.

President Obama is set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on June 7th and 8th. “On his previous U.S. visit last February, President Xi proposed the concept of “a new type of relationship between major countries, a concept which was accepted in March 2013 by Tom Donilon, National Security Advisor to the President Obama. American Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, Secretary of State John Kerry and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey have all visited China recently and raised concerns over North Korea’s nuclear program, cyber security, trade and military communications.

We have not seen the U.S. accept many diplomatic initiatives proposed by China and perhaps the most pressing concern in U.S. circles centers on just what form the “new type of relationship between major countries” will take. The meeting is also a great opportunity for both sides to voice their concerns and reach some kind of consensus.”

President Obama will likely address President Xi directly over matters such as Cyber-security, the Korean Peninsula, and the Syrian Civil War. Part of being a global power is taking an active role in international affairs, and going beyond fulfilling the negative rights of a “do no harm” international policy.

The United States has almost a century of experience being a modernized hegemonic power; China can learn from our experiences and expedite the modernization process, or it can continue to hide behind the shield of “national sovereignty”, depressing its future growth potential.

If Xi wants to really change the relationship between China and the U.S., trusting that the U.S. has China’s best interests in mind is a good place to start. The U.S. is not trying to undermine Chinese development–the two countries are too interdependent on one another. The first step towards achieving Xi’s goal is building real trust and friendship between the countries leaders. 

Hopefully the meeting between the two reform-minded leaders will act as a catalyst to allow the U.S and China to begin building this relationship. The U.S. government can provide the Chinese government with the leeway and responsibility in global affairs it desires, if the Chinese government can prove it can be more transparent and accountable for its actions.

It will be interesting to see how each side views the talks, and what sort of changes in U.S.-Chinese relations occur.


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Conflict Watch: Two Very Different Approaches to Global Security

https://i1.wp.com/isthisafrica.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/GlobalMeal.jpg
President Obama had a very productive trip to the Middle-East this week. Say what you will about Obama’s domestic policy (I for one like his ideas, and believe he inherited a terrible situation and has been handicapped by the ineptitude of the U.S. Congress, but that’s another matter entirely and not the topic of this blog), but Obama has certainly been a very effective President in terms of diplomatic relations.

One area of diplomacy that the Obama administration has not historically been very effective is the Middle-East. Obama muddle relations with Israel early in his presidency when he condemned Israeli housing development in dispute lands in the West Bank. The territory in question has been seen as vital to a potential two-state solution between Israel and Palestine—Israeli development undermines the ability to potentially return the land to Palestinians as part of a negotiated settlement.

But in his most recent trip, Obama made headway in the contentious geopolitical arena that is the Middle-East. He renewed calls for a two-state solution, calling on the younger generation of Israelis and Palestinians to pressure their governments for a peaceful resolution. It may be cliché to say “the youth is the future”, but it is also accurate, and seeing as any durable two-state solution is at least years (if not decades) away, calling on the youth is an appropriate measure.

Obama fell short of calling for Israel to halt construction in the disputed land. He did call the construction “inappropriate”, but stated that halting construction should not be a precondition for negotiations.

Obama also visited Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, as a two-state solution requires two willing negotiation partners. Obama’s visit with Abbas was mainly symbolic—showing the U.S. stands with the Palestinian Authority, and that the government has an alternative other than aligning itself with extremists groups. The closer ties the Palestinian Authority has with the U.S., the better the chances of a two-state solution. The closer the ties with extremist factions within Hamas, the less likely such a solution will occur.

Perhaps most notably was the restoration of full diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey. Turkey and Israel had a history of close relations which stopped in 2010 after Israel boarded a Turkish ship attempting to bring supplies into disputed lands. The stand-off resulted in the deaths of 9 Turkish citizens and a suspension of diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey.

Obama was able to convince Prime Minister Netanyahu to apologize and offer compensation to the families who lost loved ones in the dispute. The apology was accepted, and full diplomatic ties were restored.

Turkey is an important geopolitical ally of the U.S., as is Israel. It can only be beneficial for regional and global security to have these two important partners on the same page.

President Obama also visited Jordan, another regional ally. During this visit, he pledged further financial support to Jordan, who receives thousands of Syrian refugees a day as civil war continues to envelop the country. This is the latest measure by the Obama administration to diminish Assad’s prospects by strengthening regional opposition, while still officially keeping the U.S. out of armed conflict.

Contrasting Obama’s proactive foreign policy agenda was Xi Jinping’s (the new Chinese President) speech in Moscow. Xi stated:

“We must respect the right of each country in the world to independently choose its path of development and oppose interference in the internal affairs of other countries,”          

These words mirrored a similar ideology of Vladimir Putin, Russia longtime President:

“Putin, who began a six-year term last May, has often criticized foreign interference in sovereign states.

Russia and China have resisted Western calls to pressure Syrian President Bashar al-Assad over the two-year-old civil conflict that has killed more than 70,000 people.

They both criticized the NATO bombing that helped rebels overthrow Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 and stood together in the Security Council in votes on the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs.

Both China and Russia have bristled at U.S. and European criticism of their human rights records.

Putin said in a foreign policy decree issued at the start of his new term that Russia would counter attempts to use human rights as a pretext for interference, and his government has cracked down on foreign-funded non-governmental organizations.”

I have often condemned Chinese and Russian position of national sovereignty above all else. Surely national sovereignty is an important safeguard for good governments against malicious foreign intervention, but it should not be a tool for corrupt and disingenuous leaders to stay in power.

This is an unfortunate if not unexpected position for the Chinese President to take. Recent actions implied that Xi may be more open to protection of human rights, as evidenced by his call to support a higher standard of living for Chinese citizens over economic growth. After this most recent trip to Moscow, it appears Xi is taking 2 steps forward and 1 step back on human rights.

This position held by Russia and China also directly undermines the Responsibility To Protect initiative of the United Nations:

“The Responsibility to Protect has three “pillars”.

  1. A state has a responsibility to protect its population from mass atrocities;
  2. The international community has a responsibility to assist the state to fulfill its primary responsibility;
  3. If the state fails to protect its citizens from mass atrocities and peaceful measures have failed, the international community has the responsibility to intervene through coercive measures such as economic sanctions. Military intervention is considered the last resort.[3][4]

R2P safeguards national sovereignty without compromising individual human rights. It states that it is the responsibility of a state to protect its citizen’s rights and in a case where a state cannot protect these rights, the international community will lend assistance.

In a case where the state refuses help or itself perpetuates human rights violations, the international community can impose sanctions and other means to deter such actions. As a last resort, the international community can use military intervention to stop “mass atrocities”.

It is not surprising that China and Russia fear an undermining of national sovereignty, as both nations have strong autocratic regimes (in practice, despite what formal democratic structures they may have).

However, China and Russia must abandon this slippery slope argument and realize there are different degrees of national sovereignty. The international community has no interest in interfering in Chinese and Russian affairs, but it does have an interest in intervening in state perpetuated human rights violations.

Not only are human rights violations deplorable on moral and ethical grounds, they also compromise regional and global security. Protracted Social Conflict theory places humanitarian grievances at the root of most of today’s armed conflicts—and this theory is overwhelmingly supported by both qualitative and quantitative analysis.

Human rights violations lead to instability, which can  create a breeding ground for terrorism. The inability to evoke R2P in Syria has led the opposition to be hijacked by extremist groups, confusing the legitimate humanitarian roots of the conflict with an opportunistic power grab. This has made assisting the Syrian opposition much more difficult than it otherwise could have been.

Ultimately, China and Russia have the same goals as the U.S. and Europe—prosperity and peace through an open international system. This is not the Cold War, where the two sides were so ideologically opposed that only one could survive (capitalism v. communism). Eventually, China and Russia will have to learn that in order to protect their interests, limits must be placed on national sovereignty.

A useful mechanism for checking national sovereignty already exists in R2P; the next great challenge will be getting China and Russia on board with this initiative.

Hopefully it does not take a large terrorist attack in Russia or China to open these countries eyes to the interrelation of human rights violations and global insecurity, but for the time being it seems that these two countries have (unsurprisingly) not changed their positions on national sovereignty and R2P.

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Conflict Watch: Syrian Rebels Advance, Assad’s Prospects Dim


(A video of Syrian’s burning a statue of Hazef-Al Assad, a symbol of the Assad families 40+ year rule in Syria)

 

Syrian rebels have made significant gains over the last few days, capturing strategic locations in their attempt to topple President Bashar-Al Assad. The Rebels seized the country’s largest hydro-electric dam, as well as military airports. Additionally, rebel troops have closed in on the capital city of Damascus, cutting off supply lines and highways on the way. While historically gains by the rebels have been short lived, as Assad has used aerial power to “shell” any areas the rebels captured, it seems that recent gains may be more sustainable. As Assad turns his focus towards fighting in Damascus, and his aerial supremacy is reduced, rebel gains in the periphery of the country (really anywhere not in firing range of Damascus) will become more permanent in general.

Cutting off the dam will compromise the ability of the Assad regime to provide water and energy to its loyal Alawite sect. If the advances at military airports are as significant as initial reports indicate, this could go a long way in forcing President Assad’s hand in negotiating a transfer of power in Syria. Aerial warfare has been the Assad regimes primary advantage in the 23 month Syrian civil war, without this advantage Assad prospects for military victory are virtually non-existent.

Without the ability to provide water, energy, food or security to Alawites, the regime may find its loyal supporters in a humanitarian crisis similar to the one currently affecting hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and internally displaced persons. Perhaps Alawite suffering will help convince Assad to negotiate in a way that suffering by the rest of Syrians has not.

Iran and Russia, Syria’s two strongest allies, have stated they will not send military help to the Assad regime. While one could question the legitimacy of these claims, it seems that without international help and in light of a diminishing aerial advantage, Assad will sooner rather than later realize he must negotiate with his opposition if he has any hopes of leaving the country alive (and if he hopes to secure the well-being of the Alawite minority he will leave behind).

The Syrian opposition has officially changed its message that Assad must step down in order for negotiations to begin. While it still remains firm that Assad must ultimately step down, it is willing to work with the President if it will help end the bloodshed in Syria. The opposition has offered to speak with Assad in a neutral country or in liberated areas of northern Syria.

It may seem counter-intuitive to increase military pressure while simultaneously offering a political solution to the civil war, yet this is a solid strategy. By appearing increasingly flexible, the opposition is putting the “ball in Assad’s court” in terms of ending the civil war. This will put pressure on Assad to come to the table, especially as his (Alawite) people are made to suffer and his military prospects seem increasingly bleak.

Of course, this potential for a political resolution rests on there being some element of rationality that so far has been absent from the Assad regime. Assad continues to refer to the opposition as “terrorists”, and has made no public which would leave us to believe he has backed off his position that he will never leave Syria. Still, Assad and his supporters ultimately live in the same world as us, and eventually Assad will face pressure from his own constituents to come to the bargaining table with the opposition.

Anything that weakens Assad’s position should help bring about a resolution to the Syrian civil war; a 23 month war that has claimed over 60,000 lives. Hopefully, a humanitarian crisis does not unfold for the Alawites, as most of them are innocent of any crime except being part of the group associated with Assad. However, cutting off vital supplies is certainly a tactic the opposition will consider in its attempt to “put the screws” to Assad and force him to negotiate his departure from power.

We will have to monitor the situation and see how it plays out, although advancements by the Syrian rebels are reason for cautious optimism.

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