Tag Archives: Bashar al-Assad

Morality and Practicality: America’s Syrian Intervention

What if Obama’s plan — to punish Bashar al-Assad for his criminal use of chemical weapons by destroying his capability to employ them again — is too much of a success? The answer hinges on what Washington considers a victory.

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap]s President Obama makes his case to the American Congress about intervention in Syria, his administration must confront contingencies and plan for unforeseeable challenges. Yet the most pressing question is not what might happen if something goes wrong. Quite the opposite. What if Obama’s plan — to punish Bashar al-Assad for his criminal use of chemical weapons by destroying his capability to employ them again — is too much of a success? The answer hinges on what Washington considers a victory.

On 3 September US Secretary of State muddied the waters of intervention, sending what TIME magazine called “mixed messages” against a congressional prohibition on the use of American soldiers in Syria: the feared “boots on the ground” option. In front of Congress, Kerry testified that “in the event Syria imploded, for instance, or in the event there was a threat of a chemical weapons cache falling into the hands of al-Nusra or someone else and it was clearly in the interest of our allies and all of us, the British, the French and others, to prevent those weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of the worst elements, I don’t want to take off the table an option that might or might not be available to a president of the United States to secure our country.”

There is a real chance that airstrikes, if targeted effectively, could help topple Assad’s government, at the very least providing a much needed morale boost and significant breathing room for the mixed rebel front. Such inputs, when factored into the complexities of war in Syria, may lead to unforeseeable and magnified results. In such an environment of uncertainty, a clear definition of American objectives is needed. Yet such a framework has not been debated adequately.

What does the White House count as a “success” in its proposed intervention plan? Knocking out Assad’s future capability to employ his heinous arsenal, a strategic military objective? Or punishing the Syrian regime, a moral goal? Although subtle, the difference between these two outcomes is important, and has been confused in both Congress and the broader discussion. One can be achieved without extensive military involvement, the other cannot. If the answer lies in a murky middle ground — as it seems to be for now — the implications could be deep.

Discussion of a moral imperative to intervene in response to Assad’s most recent chemical war crime — since when has the killing 100,000 citizens, over two years, not been a war crime? — is dangerous because of this ambiguity. When morality becomes intermingled with strategy the result is a tendency towards escalation, as recent American history in Iraq has shown. And when the phrases “humanitarian intervention” and “protecting American interests” are used in the same breath, there is little doubt that such a co-mingling of objectives has arisen.

Limits become fuzzy when generals and politicians are fueled by lofty and noble principles. What is in the national interest, and what is in the human interest, drift closer together until two become one. True humanists must demand full intervention, the destruction of Assad’s military capability so that he will release his murderous grasp on power: No man who willingly kills 100,000 of his citizens has a right to rule. If humanity is national policy, as Washington’s rhetoric implies, where does the national interest end?

It is in this unsuspectingly ambiguous environment that Kerry’s statements become incredibly pertinent. If the United States goes through with its plans for intervention, it will be faced with the tough task of placing limits on its action. The hybrid policy of morality and military practicality handicaps this process, and could lead to an overstepping of acceptable boundaries. A few more tomahawk missiles in key sites could mean the difference between Assad’s survival or his end. If the latter becomes reality, the feared Syrian power vacuum becomes reality as well and with it serious questions of who controls the regime’s remaining military technologies. If such a possibility comes to pass, Kerry’s intimations may become all too concrete, as the spiral of American “national interest” unwinds.

Before Obama, his cabinet, and the American Congress make any decision regarding intervention in Syria, they must confront their own definitions of success. They need to grapple with their motivations for involvement, and their ultimate objectives. For if they continue to confuse morality with strategy, and work in the middle, the results could be just as Kerry described.

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Photo Credit: stephen_medlock

#6 Brad Bosserman On The Crisis In Syria

In this episode of Debrief, James Sheehan is joined by Brad Bosserman, Director of the MENA Initiative at NDN in Washington, DC.

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You can subscribe to our podcasts on iTunes.

James and Brad discuss the role that the US can play in rebuilding Syria along with the significance of chemical weapons and the influence of extremist organizations.

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Brad is a Policy Analyst at NDN and the New Policy Institute where he serves as Director of the Middle East and North Africa Initiative. He has published reports on a wide range of national security and international relations topics at the Johns Hopkins University, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Roosevelt Institute, and the New Policy Institute. He contributed a chapter to the recently published book US Iranian Strategic Competition, and his analysis and commentary has appeared in The Hill, The Boston Globe, Salon, The Jerusalem Post, The Jerusalem Review of Near East Affairs, Huffington Post, and elsewhere. .

MENA Initiative and NDN

Follow James (@JSheehanDC) and Brad (@BradEEB)on twitter.

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Photo credit: FreedomHouse2

Netanyahu ha davvero perso le elezioni?

L’annuncio della sconfitta del Likud di Benjamin Netanyahu, alle ultime elezioni israeliane, sembra sostanziare una valutazione poco prudente. In realtà il premier uscente ha perso qualche seggio, ma si è rafforzato rispetto alle vittoriose consultazioni di quattro anni fa. 

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[dropcap]R[/dropcap]ispecchiando l’antico detto yiddish “tre partiti ogni due ebrei”, le elezioni per il rinnovo della Knesset hanno consegnato a Israele un quadro di grande frammentazione politica. Il premier uscente Benjamin Netanyahu conserva il primo posto, ma il suo partito risulta numericamente indebolito rispetto alle consultazioni del 2009. Il successo del candidato centrista Yair Lapid è la vera – e indiscutibile – sorpresa delle ultime elezioni. Effettivamente, non si è verificato l’ulteriore spostamento a destra previsto da buona parte degli osservatori: l’estremista Naftali Bennett, che ha attirato su di sé l’attenzione per buona parte della campagna elettorale, non ha ottenuto l’exploit preventivato da più parti. Piuttosto, la formazione di estrema destra ha sottratto voti a Likud-Beitenu, la lista del premier uscente.

D’altro canto, osservando attentamente i risultati sembra ardito sostenere la tesi di un’avanzata delle forze moderate e progressiste. Aggregando i dati per ‘gruppi ideologici’, emerge che le formazioni di destra hanno effettivamente perso ben 6 seggi alla Knesset. Allo stesso modo, le formazioni di centro hanno perso un altro parlamentare. Pertanto, ad una analisi più oculata, si rileva come il successo ottenuto da Yesh Atid, il partito di Lapid, abbia semplicemente occupato la posizione ideologica ed elettorale lasciata vacante dal forte arretramento di Kadima (che, infatti, ha subito una perdita di 24 seggi su 26). Gli ultimi 7 seggi a disposizione sono stati occupati, in gran parte, dalla sinistra – i laburisti e Meretz –, e dagli ultra-ortodossi di Giudaismo Unito nella Torah, che ha conquistato 2 deputati in più rispetto al 2009. In sintesi, lo spostamento avvenuto a favore del centro-sinistra è stato di 4 miseri seggi: insufficienti per formare una coalizione anti-Likud, e imprimere così una svolta politica rispetto ai governi degli ultimi anni.

In definitiva, parlare di una sconfitta di Netanyahu, sulla scorta di buona parte della stampa internazionale (e non) ‘liberal’, sembra poco prudente. Bibi, come è affettuosamente chiamato il primo ministro israeliano, governa da quasi quattro anni il paese, godendo di un consenso personale che supera il 50%. Nonostante la sua coalizione, con i russi di Yisrael Beiteinu, abbia sofferto un calo elettorale, rimane comunque indispensabile per la formazione di qualsiasi formazione di governo. Inoltre, il PIL israeliano ha registrato tassi di crescita del 4.7% nel 2011; dal 2009, inoltre, più nessun israeliano è stato vittima di attentati terroristici che, in precedenza, scandivano macabramente la quotidianità dello Stato di Israele. Netanyahu, pertanto, è percepito dall’opinione pubblica come una guida forte e autorevole, la cui necessità è avvertita in maniera sempre più impellente, dati gli ultimi sviluppi nella regione mediorientale. Infatti, l’instabilità della regione – e quindi l’allontanarsi delle prospettive di pace – rimane da sempre il vero grande alleato della destra israeliana.

Il quadro regionale sembra confermare i timori di chi auspica uno Stato ebraico armato e sulla difensiva. L’Iran, ormai da sette anni, persevera nella sua politica di minacce e dichiarazioni bellicose, così da permettere a Netanyahu di evocare il pericolo di una shoah nucleare. La Turchia di Erdoğan, ormai lanciata verso la conquista dell’egemonia del Mediterraneo islamico, ha mutato il suo approccio accomodante verso Israele, trasformandosi in un potente, sebbene non ostile, avversario regionale. Infine, l’Egitto dei Fratelli Musulmani e i tumulti della guerra civile siriana aggiungono ulteriori motivi di preoccupazione ed elementi di instabilità: in quest’ultimo caso, ad esempio, la caduta del regime di Bashar al-Assad aprirebbe scenari completamente inediti, a cui Israele dovrebbe riadattare le proprie posizioni strategiche pur di conservare l’equilibrio e la pace regionale.

Anche sul fronte interno, relativamente al conflitto israelo-palestinese, il leader israeliano potrebbe continuare ad agire sulle divisioni interne all’ANP, e insistere sulla minaccia rappresentata da Hamas. Difatti, l’operazione militare Pillar of Defense lanciata dalle forze armate israeliane nel novembre scorso, è stato uno pseudo-conflitto – nonostante le centinaia di vittime – dal punto di vista tattico e strategico: da una parte, Hamas ha sempre evitato e respinto il confronto diretto con l’esercito israeliano, che avrebbe come unica conseguenza la distruzione del partito islamista; dall’altra, Netanyahu ha dimostrato di non avere nessuna intenzione di rioccupare Gaza, dato che l’operazione costerebbe eccessivamente in termini umani, elettorali e militari, essendo peraltro inutile dal punto di vista della sicurezza. Pertanto, mantenere lo status quo nella striscia di Gaza rientra tra gli interessi di tutti i contendenti: in primis, da parte della destra israeliana che, insistendo ed ergendosi ad alfiere della sicurezza e della risolutezza militare, guadagna voti ogniqualvolta si affievoliscono le speranze di pace; in secondo luogo, anche di Hamas che, sfruttando la radicalizzazione del conflitto, rafforza l’egemonia e il controllo sui palestinesi, sottraendo consenso ai moderati di Fatah. Purtroppo, a quanto pare, l’unico attore che ci perde in questo ignobile gioco delle parti è il popolo palestinese assediato all’interno della striscia di Gaza.

In conclusione, la strada di Netanyahu non è, quindi, così in salita. Di sicuro, formare una coalizione che coinvolgerà i centristi, una parte degli ultra-ortodossi e l’estrema destra non sarà impresa agevole. Tuttavia, il premier può contare sulla minaccia del ritorno alle urne, visto che una campagna elettorale incentrata sul tema della governabilità non potrebbe che favorire il proprio partito. Diversa, invece, appare la posizione di Yair Lapid: se il nuovo protagonista della politica israeliana deciderà di partecipare al nuovo governo, lo farà ponendo alcune condizioni essenziali, quali la riapertura dei colloqui di pace (sebbene sul tema ci sia da registrare una posizione piuttosto ambigua, concernente l’irrinunciabilità agli insediamenti coloniali in Cisgiordania). Una volta accettata tale condizione, Netanyahu sarà costretto a dimostrare all’opinione pubblica israeliana di essere seriamente interessato a perseguire sulla strada del negoziato con Hamas e Fatah. Lapid, di conseguenza, dovrà dimostrare di essere anche un abile politico, oltre che un ottimo e accattivante comunicatore da campagna elettorale.

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Photo Credit: todogaceta.com

12 Predictions For 2013

From the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute, the forthcoming Israeli elections, and the health of the EU, Frazier Fathers makes 12 predictions for 2013…

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1)  Shots Fired in the Eastern Seas?

As the excellent articles by Hsin-Yi Lo (Part 1 and Part 2 ) illustrated, the disputes between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands are rooted in the two country’s histories. Following the election of the Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party many signs point to relations with China over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands deteriorating in 2013. In its election manifesto the LDP called for the deployment of “civil servants”  to the islands to maintain Japanese control which of course will elicit a harsh response from China. Whether the new Prime Minister will carry out these election promises remains to be seen but all the pieces are in place for a tense year in the Seas of East Asia.

Prediction: Tensions in the South China Sea and surrounding areas remain high throughout 2013 with repeated clashes (both direct and indirect) between Chinese and Japanese paramilitary organizations (coast guard/police and protesters/fishermen). The tit for tat will continue through the year with escalating intensity and expanding into economic and military realms. That being said, both sides will stop short of opening fire on the other.

2) Bibi 2.0

If the polls are to be believed, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party appears to be headed to re-election in January. What does this mean for the Middle East? Not a whole lot; the status quo will remain with the Palestinians, the rhetoric over Iran’s nuclear program will continue (more on that later) and relations with Israel’s neighbours will remain frosty at best. Nothing will change and the Middle East will spend another year in purgatory.

Prediction: Settlement construction continues, peace process remains derailed, rocket attacks from Gaza remain a threat and relations with Washington, Europe and the rest of the Mid-East remain on ice.

3) Off the Cliff or into the Ceiling?

Although the negotiations between President Obama and House Republicans to avoid the potentially disastrous consequences may result in a deal before the January 1st cliff, this will not be the end of the US budgetary clashes. According to many estimates, the United States government will reach the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling sometime in the first quarter of 2013 after delaying tactics by the treasury. It is unlikely that any debt deal struck in the final days of December will be forward thinking enough to resolve this debt ceiling issue and as result American politics will likely immediately fallback into partisan deadlock after a brief detour for a gun control debate.

Prediction: President Obama’s agenda in almost every major policy area will be stuck in gridlock as Congress’s dysfunctional characteristics continue through 2013 towards the Midterm 2014 elections.

4) Gaddafi 2.0

Most current reports state that Syrian President Assad is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. He is slowly losing the civil war – meaning eventually the rebels will get their hands on him and he will, if he is lucky, face a farce trial and be sent to the gallows. If he tries to make a break for freedom, it is likely that his Alawite allies will attempt to hand him over to the rebels in order to save their own skin. Either way things are bleak for Assad; more or less any scenario short of a NATO invasion and his capture by Western forces will result in the current Syrian President meeting an end that could match the grizzly end met by the late Colonel Gaddafi. This of course leaves the question of what happens next.

Prediction: President Assad meets a grizzly end, either at the hands of the rebels or his former supporters. After Assad is removed sporadic fighting continues as sectarian groups battle for supremacy as the Syrian National Council struggles to project power across the country.

5) An Islamist Paradise

2012 saw northern Mali seized by radical Islamist forces as fellow TRS contributor Peter Kelly provided insight on in his piece this past fall. Unfortunately a quick resolution to this situation seems less and less likely as US UN Ambassador Susan Rice was quoted as stating that the French intervention plans for Mali were “crap”. Even with a UN resolution passing on December 20, most experts predict that forces would not actually be ready to engage the Islamist forces until September or October. What this means is that for the next 8 to 10 months the region will continue to deteriorate, radical Islamist forces will be able to dig in and implement their harsh interpretation of Islam. The risk of another African refugee crisis erupting and spilling into the fragile neighbouring countries is real and the fact that border security is non-existent in this region means that there is nothing stopping the Islamists from just disappearing into the vastness of the Sahara.

Prediction:The 2013 year sees much of northern Mali still in the hands of Islamist extremists. The intervention, when it occurs, will meet quick success as most of the extremists will disappear into the desert and across porous borders following a short period of fighting.

6) Negotiating with Terrorists

With a June 2014 deadline for the official withdrawal of the majority of US combat troops from Afghanistan. It is clear that if there is any hope of stability for the region the Taliban will need to be negotiated with. In October the ongoing secret negotiations between the US and Taliban collapsed over a proposed prisoner swap. Now the stage is set for potential negotiations between the dysfunctional Afghan government and the Taliban in 2013.

Prediction: Attacks on NATO personnel and Afghan government personnel and facilities will continue with the annual “Spring Offensive” being particularly bloody. Negotiations will continue behind the scenes setting the stage for the 2014 elections where the Taliban will be on the ballot.

7) A Bigger but not Better EU

July 1, 2013 sees Croatia join the happy club that is the European Union. This is the same club that is expected to hover about 0% GDP growth over the year. Although Germany, the Baltic and Nordic nations continue to have strong finances and growth, they will continue to be dragged down by worries over Greek, Italian and Spanish debt. Although an agreement was reached over EU financial regulation and banking oversight it is unlikely that this will be enough to stabilize the union’s economic woes. The pivotal moments for Europe will likely come in the Italian and German elections which are set for February and September respectively. The outcome of these elections will likely determine the fate of the European Union.

Prediction: Pro-European centrist governments will manage to maintain power in both Germany and Italy but racial and ultra-national parties like the Five Star Movement will make large gains resulting in increased political instability and a channel for vocal opposition.

8) The Thin Red Line

Despite condemnation from the UN and Benjamin Netanyahu’s drawing red lines, 2013 appears to be when decisions need to be made. Of course, the red line was supposed to come in 2012 and before that in 2011 and the year before that. Why are the summer and fall of 2013 so important? First in March of 2013 both the IAEA and the various branches of US intelligence services are due to present reports on the status of the Iranian nuclear program to their respective governing bodies. Even if these reports are damning it is unlikely that any action will occur before the Iranian presidential elections that are set for June. Since President Ahmadinejad is term limited he will be replaced and the question becomes by whom, and with the backing of which mullah’s and governing faction will the new president come. Should a repeat of the 2009 election occur it is very unlikely that the US or Western powers will remain silent as Iranians protest in the streets. But if a new hardliner president is elected, and the nuclear program remains on track, strikes of Iranian nuclear facilities will likely move to the forefront.

Prediction: If a perceived hardliner wins the Iranian elections, air strikes will hit Iran’s nuclear facilities before the holiday season of 2013. If a “reformer” wins, 2014 will become the new “Red Line”.

9) What Global Warming?

Following “super storm Sandy” global warming once again moved back into the psyche of the American people and there was renewed hope that climate change would move back onto the policy agenda. The annual UN climate change talks in Doha this past November produced much talk but no actual agreement or actions beyond meeting and agreeing to meet again before the 2015 deadline. 2013 won’t change much either. As politicians all continue to struggle to restart the world economy, it would be foolish to expect any movement on the climate change file from any major CO2 producer.

Prediction: Another bad weather year around the world has people talking of climate change; no government from the major CO2 producing nations takes any concrete action.

10) Farewell Hugo

From personal and family experience I know that battling cancer is one of the toughest fights in a person’s life. Unfortunately for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, two cancer surgeries and the follow up complications which involved internal bleeding generally do not point to a good recovery. Even after recovering from surgery, President Chavez still likely faces chemotherapy or radiation treatment and likely at minimum several months of being largely unable to lead on a day to day basis. The fact that a successor has been chosen is an unfortunate sign that Chavez’s days as President could be numbered and what that means for Chavez’s socialist movement in Venezuela and other leftist movements in South and Central America is a question that will play out beyond 2013.

Prediction: President Chavez transfers power to his Vice President by the summer as persistent cancer treatments have him out of the country and unable to fulfill his duties.

11) Argentina Hits Rock Bottom…Again

In 2001, Argentina was bankrupt. Today, Argentina has become a key player in the international commodity markets while its exports have doubled from the $31 billion in 2001 and, if you listen to the government claims, all is well within the country. But things are not as good as they appear. In January it is expected that IMF will decide whether or not to censure Argentina over the reporting of inaccurate inflation and economic data. Since 2007, official inflation levels have averaged 8.8%, but many private and international economists peg it at approximately 20%. The government of Cristina de Kirchner seems prepared to continue its economic policies, including the nationalization of major foreign companies.

Prediction: The economic downward spiral of Argentina continues in 2013 as inflation continues to pressure the spending power of the average Argentinian. Meanwhile foreigners continue to fear additional nationalization of foreign companies in the footsteps of the Spanish oil company YPF, as a result FDI begins to decline.

12) Challenging the Dear Leader

With the election of President Park Geun-hye in South Korea, 2013 will see how Kim Jong-Un responds to his new female counterpart. Although Park has pledged to attempt to reengage North Korea, the recent rocket/ballistic missile launch and signs pointing to preparations being made for a nuclear test the question is whether the new Kim will attempt to engage with the South or continue to show his strength in 2013.

Prediction:  The first half of 2013 is relatively quiet from the North Koreans. But they start the summer with a bang by testing a nuclear weapon.

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Photo credit: John “Pathfinder” Lester

The Perils of International Recognition

The road to Palestinian independence and to a peaceful, Assad-free Syria seems to be significantly longer and bumpier still.

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The past two weeks have seen two significant developments in terms internationally recognized national legitimacy in the Middle East. On November 29, the United Nations General Assembly approved Palestine’s upgrade to non-member observer-state status, and on December 12, the United States and a number of other countries recognized the Syrian Opposition Coalition as the legitimate representative of the Syrian people. After 65 years of statelessness, the Palestinian people have inched closer than ever before to a juridical homeland, and after two years of increasingly brutal civil war, the international community has acknowledged that Bashar al-Assad and his Alawite regime no longer holds a mandate representative of the Syrian populace. In the West Bank and in northern Syria, however, things continue much as they have, despite what Barack Obama and Ban Ki Moon might say.

The past two weeks have also seen increased belligerence (political or otherwise) by the entrenched regimes that those actions were directed against; Israel and Syria’s Assad-controlled military. Israel’s parliament responded to Palestine’s nascent statehood by approving 2,000 new Israeli settlements in the A-1 zone of the West Bank, which not only drew the rancor of the international community, but also makes a contiguous Palestinian West Bank, with East Jerusalem as its capital, geographically unfeasible.  While the Israeli action seems a direct tit-for-tat (unilateral UN statehood-bid, unilateral annexation of previously untouchable territory) with significant political and diplomatic ramifications, any settlement construction would not begin for about two years, thus leaving the A-1 as a bargaining chip for the time being. The increased violence in Syria in the hours following the announcement of support by the US et al. for the SOC is a far direr situation. The Assad regime, perhaps sensing its back against a wall, reportedly began launching Scud missiles at rebel targets in the north of the country. And why shouldn’t they, given their most ardent supporter’s recent acknowledgement that there soon may be a Syria without Assad.

In addition to giving pause to rebel forces, should short-range ballistic missile use continue, Turkey, who also acknowledged the SOC as the legitimate representative body of the Syrian people and shares a long border with Syria, has also expressed their concern with regards to this development. NATO has responded in-kind, deploying 400 American troops and US-made Patriot missile batteries to southern Turkey.

Both of these developments came at something of an impasse. Mahmoud Abbas’ UN vote was a response to more than 20 years of failed peace talks with the Israelis, and a firm statement that the Palestinian cause no longer believed that the Israeli government, under Binyamin Netanyahu, was any longer pursuing a two-state solution in earnest. The US support of the SOC follows two years of escalating violence and civil war in Syria and only after it became apparent that Assad’s regime might not actually win. Protracted situations beg for drastic solutions, but in both of these instances, international recognition of ‘change’ may not simply be enough – correlated or no, Palestine’s observer status and the SOC’s recognition have only caused Israel and Assad to dig their heels in deeper.

What is clear is that international opinion does not factor much into the (perceived-to-be domestic) policy calculus of entrenched regimes, particularly in these circumstances. Assad did not respond to the SOC’s elevated status by buying an apartment in Paris, he increased his aggression. Netanyahu did not grudgingly acknowledge the “sovereignty” of the West Bank, he simply doubled down on his illegal settlement building and refocused his attention on Gaza and Cairo, where suddenly conversation seems a bit more productive.

Acknowledged, both of these situations are wildly disparate. A very hot civil war, versus a mostly cold secessionist conflict, call for different foreign policy prescriptions for every state or actor directly or peripherally involved. In both cases, international recognition may be a critical step on the path to juridical and empirical sovereignty. For the time being, however, the road to Palestinian independence and to a peaceful, Assad-free Syria seems to be significantly longer and bumpier still.

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Photo Credit: lilivanili

Cyberwarfare & Syria – Lessons from Dayr az-Zawr

Warfare may not require boots on the ground and jets in the sky, but instead could utilise ones and zeros and take the battlefield into cyberspace. Cyberwarfare should be considered when thinking about intervention in Syria. 

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[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ast Monday I attended a public event run by the UCL Debating Society discussing the pressing question of intervention in Syria. Presenting the argument for intervention was a group headed by Shiraz Maher of ICSR, recently interviewed in the most recent episode of Debrief. These reasons were articulated along a number of specific lines. Initially, appeals were made to the moral and legal duty to assist the people of Syria; repressed, tortured, displaced, and murdered by a wantonly violent and ruthless regime. It was further argued that intervention would substantially undermine Iranian dominance in the Arab World, a dominance bolstered by the removal of Saddam Hussein. Should the Assad regime fall, the strategic implications for Iran would be two-fold; not only eliminating a key military base, but also directly impacting the supply chain to Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. Ahmadinejad knows this, which is why members from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) were recently sent to Assad to lend their disturbing expertise in infiltrating and suppressing populations, in an effort to subdue the groundswell and divide the Free Syria Army (FSA). Concurrently, the Syrian government has sought to stir up sectarian violence within a country characterised by a hugely diverse cultural and religious mosaic, by supporting, funding, and arming Kurdish militants within its borders. Were Syria to descend into a full-blown civil war down sectarian lines, it would not only further destabilise the region and undermine the social movement, but also allow Assad to play the long-game until the 2014 ‘election’. The pre-designed outcome of which would almost certainly secure a further 14 years of the present regime, result in claims of legitimacy from Assad, and guarantee the further subjugation of the Syrian people. The final point raised in favour of intervention was in order to kerb the influx of Islamist groups into the country, who are currently seeking to exploit the security vacuum created by the last 19 months of conflict. Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups capitalised on similar situations in Iraq, with AQI witnessing a comeback in recent times, in Somalia, and more recently in Mali on the coattails of Tuareg nationalist rebels returning home after fighting for Gadhafi in Libya.

However, I do not wish to simply regurgitate the increasingly strong case for invention already made. Indeed my own stance on whether we should, or even could, intervene in Syria has chopped and changed over the last year and a half. I am familiar with many of the counter-arguments to intervention, including the militarisation of peace keeping, the risk of escalating violence further, perceived neo-colonist attitudes to world policing, the question of China and Russia, the danger of arming and supporting extremist groups, as well as the distinct geographical and demographical differences between Syria and any other conflict of the Arab Spring. However, with the death toll now over 30,000, I believe the time for negotiation, diplomacy, and debate alone has passed, and there is an increasing urgency for some form of decisive action to assist the people of Syria. In this vein, a number of options were proposed along the lines of funding, arming, and training of rebels, enforcing a no-fly zone and naval blockade in the region, or implementing an Arab lead international ‘peace-keeping’ force to secure a buffer zone for civilians along the Turkish border. At this point a few of the audience chimed in, advocating increased aid without military involvement. The naivety of this suggestion shocked me. Whilst the use, or threat, of military action should never be a casual, throw-away decision, and hopefully the last resort after all alternative avenues have been exhausted, we should not underestimate the nature of the beast and the reality of the situation we are dealing with here. This is a regime that detains and tortures children for daring to write anti-government graffiti or supply protestors with water, the likelihood of them nonchalantly permitting the flow of food, tents, and medicine through to the 1.5 million displaced citizens would be laughable, were the situation not so desperate.

Nonetheless, despite a purely humanitarian mission being wildly idealistic, I do admire the attempt at least to think further the polarised arguments presented or the common courses of action proposed. Indeed this made me reflect on what forms of alternative intervention, what differing strategies could be feasible, other than physical military engagement or diplomatic impotence. Specifically, what forms of intervention could minimise the regimes ability to slaughter it’s people, level the playing field between the Syrian army and the FSA rebels, reduce the necessity of international forces being deployed to Syria, whilst ensuring the Syrian people were masters of their own destiny. Today warfare, or indeed the mitigation of warfare, may not necessarily require the use of bullets and missiles or involve boots on the ground and jets in the sky, but instead could utilise ones and zeros and take the battlefield into cyberspace. While scholars, practitioners, and commentators disagree on Panetta’s alarmist assessment of a pending “cyber pearl harbor”, the utility of cyber weapons in modern conflict is not merely some matrix induced paranoia, but an empirical reality. In fact one of the most significant examples of how such cyber weapons have been utilised, actually unfolded in Syria five years ago. In 2007, the Israeli Air Force carpet bombed a nuclear facility on the outskirts of Dayr az-Zawr in North-East Syria, being built for Assad by the North Koreans. Significantly, the Syrian air defence system displayed a clear night sky when Israeli F15 and F16 fighter jets descended upon the site. Before any protection or retaliation was possible the mission was complete and jets had left Syrian airspace, no one could be rallied because instead of giving up the element of surprise the Israelis controlled what the Syrians saw by hacking their systems at Tall al-Abyad. How this was actually achieved remains debatable, however many believe it is likely that the Israeli attack was most likely preceded by a small ‘stealth’ unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). This would not have shown up on the radar, but would have intentionally flown into the Syrian radar beam and used the same open-ended radio frequency to transmit computer packets back to the radar’s computer, from there the Israelis were able to infiltrate the entire Syrian network. The malfunction warning sidestepped, a loop of a clear sky was played leaving Syrian defences completely redundant. The US have a similar cyber weapon code-named Senior Suter.

Given that five years ago the Soviet built Syrian air defence systems were infiltrated relatively easily and with such dramatically successful results, I wonder what role such techniques may play in conflicts in the future? Whilst international standards, legal frameworks, appropriate terminology, and notions of attribution and accountability are still in their relative infancy and often rather ill defined – the utility of such code in, say, minimising atrocities and protecting civilian lives by crippling state defences, military capabilities, and communications, for example, is perhaps something which should be considered. The supplementing of traditional kinetic warfare with cyber-attacks, either during or prior to engagement, will continue to grow in regularity and effectiveness as technologies develop and the strategic application of such weapons is better understood.

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Photo credit: Accretion Disc

Who Cares About Assad’s Cluster Bombs?

In 2012 the United Nations Mine Action Service has received appeals for funding for various Explosive Remnants of War clearance programmes reaching US$29.9 million, as of August 2012 they are US$25.1 million short of this target. Do we care about Assad’s cluster bombs?

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surviving cluster bombs

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Adding to a growing list of human right violations the Assad regime of Syria is now confirmed to have used cluster bombs in civilian areas. In response to a video and accusations that surfaced on a blog human rights organisations and reporters scrambled to verify whether cluster bombs had, in fact, been used in Syria.  Human Rights Watch has recently verified the allegations.

Why do cluster bombs matter when President Bashar Al-Assad has already garnered such a substantial record of human rights violations accusations? To begin with, the use of cluster bombs indicates a further flouting of humanitarian conventions by the Assad regime in its conflict with rebel forces. Already the regime has been accused of massacres in Houla and more recently Tremesh. It has responded to these indictments by denying that any massacres occurred, claiming that force was used only to put down an unlawful uprising, or by indicating that terrorists were responsible for the involved atrocities. Whether or not you believe these responses, they are potentially viable defences.

The use of cluster bombs in civilian areas, however, cannot be justified by asserting that rebels were being targeted. Widely, although not universally, accepted the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM) carries with it a massive weight of stigmatization for any country, including a non-signator, that uses them in a civilian area.

Opposition to cluster bombs is not founded so much on the effect of the bomblets that explode, but rather on the threat posed by those that do not. Unexploded bomblets remain after the conflict acting as de facto landmines. Their shape and colour often entices children to play with them. Their metal content may attract scavengers, particularly in a war-ravaged economy. The heavy toll that these indiscriminate weapons take on civilian populations outweighs, according to the CCM, any strategic benefit they may provide.

The effects of cluster munitions use on the terrain lasts long after the bombs have been dropped. Like areas that have been mined, those struck by cluster bombs cannot be used even after conflict ends until lengthy and expensive clearance has occurred. Post-conflict redevelopment of land and, more importantly, the return of people to their homes and normal lives in Syria may thus be delayed for years. Even 6 years after the Lebanon-Israeli war areas of Lebanon are yet to be opened to resettlement and redevelopment as a result of cluster bomb use by Israel. Based on current clearance rates it will take approximately another 6 years for the remaining 758 contaminated areas in Lebanon to be made safe. A 2008 study by Landmine Action put the cost in lost agricultural productivity in Lebanon due to cluster munitions contamination at US$22.6 million.

The effects of Assad’s use of cluster bombs on Syria’s economy will also be long lasting. Post-conflict mine and cluster munition clearance will need to be undertaken. Due to the cost of this activity and to the fact that Syria’s economy has been crippled, donor countries will most likely be involved. In 2011 such countries provided US$22.7 million for clearance of explosive remnants of war (ERW), including cluster munitions from government dropped bombs, in Libya.  However, according to organizations involved in ERW removal, this amount has not been nearly enough to complete the involved tasks. For 2012 the United Nations Mine Action Service has received appeals for funding for various ERW clearance programmes reaching US$29.9 million, as of August 2012 they are US$25.1 million short of this target.

Cluster bomb remnants in Syria will hold up development projects until clearance is completed. The international community will most likely be forced to pay the bill or to leave Syria hobbled. Sluggish economic growth and a large number of displaced people, problems worsened by cluster munition contamination, will increase the likelihood of continued conflict that might spread to other parts of the region despite hopes of the international community to keep it contained.

Finally, the use of cluster munitions further debases President Assad’s claims that he is just trying to hold his country together in the face of an illegitimate rebellion. The President’s decision to employ this type of weapon acts as a strong and irrefutable indication of the government’s disregard for the long-term well-being of the people. It provides further evidence that the maintenance of power at any cost is this regime’s top priority. Although not as horrifying or headline grabbing as his slaughter of women and children, the use of cluster bombs is a strong indicator of Assad’s ruthlessness.

Cluster bombs will continue to harm the Syrian people and disrupt their lives long after the battle has ended, presenting one more challenge to a society that has already faced too many.

A Strait Explanation For Russia’s Interest In Tartus (Part 1)

Why is Russia so interested in preventing Western intervention in Syria? The first of a two part feature examining the reasons behind Russia’s support of Bashar al-Assad’s regime. 

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Syria protestor

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To the West, Russian actions towards Syria can seem inexplicable, untrustworthy and trapped in the era of great power politics. In October 1939 Winston Churchill famously quipped ‘I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma…’. It seems things have not changed. Churchill offered a potential solution to his own concerns, however. ‘But perhaps there is a key. That key is Russian national interests’.[1] It is apparent that in the last 73 years nothing has changed.

Russian national interests motivate Moscow’s support of Bashar al-Assad, and they are numerous. They include the prospect of future arms sales to the regime and Syrian debt to the Russian state and businesses, debt which might not be honoured if Assad falls. They also include Russian influence in the Middle East and in the wider world, influence that may be bolstered by Russia’s ability to prevent Western intervention at will in the Middle East. Finally, Moscow has an interest in maintaining the international norm of non-intervention in the internal affairs of sovereign states, an already weakened norm that would be further degraded by Western intervention in Syria.[2] One major interest – an enduring one for Russia – has nevertheless been ignored in media coverage of Russian involvement in the Syrian crisis.[3]

That interest is in maintaining control over the Black Sea. For as long as Russia has existed, it has had an interest in the Black Sea and the Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits which control access to it. By extension, it has always had an interest in Anatolia, which straddles this maritime chokepoint. Russia and the Ottoman Empire fought thirteen separate wars from 1568 to 1918, many over control of the Black Sea, as Russia sought to assert its dominance over its southern neighbour. In 1695, Peter the Great used his newly created fleet to attack Ottoman positions and establish his dominance of the Sea of Azov on the northern coast of the Black Sea. Catherine the Great conducted several wars against the Ottomans in the 18th century, securing the Crimea and gaining a further foothold on the Black Sea. In 1827, a combined Anglo-French-Russian fleet decimated the Ottoman fleet at Navarino and in 1828-29 Nicholas I went to war against the Ottoman Empire after it closed the Dardanelles to Russian traffic.

In 1833 he again intervened in Ottoman affairs, this time to protect the Sultan’s government against internal rebellion and thereby secured the Treaty of Unkiar-Skelessi, which provided for closure of the straits in the event of a European war. This secured the Russian coastline in the event of a war against the British and their allies. From 1853-1857, the Crimean War was fought in part because of Nicholas I’s attempts to secure influence over the Ottoman Empire, at expense of the British and French, by becoming the guarantor of all its Orthodox Christian residents. Another war occurred in 1877-1878 as Russia sought to reclaim its access to the Black Sea, severely limited by the treaty ending the Crimean War.  Finally, the First World War saw the last war between the two states, but not the end of Russian interest in Anatolia.

When Turkey joined NATO in 1952, however, the ability of Russia to directly manipulate it by force diminished.  Russia turned to other methods to guarantee its access through the Bosporus and Dardanelles. It found the means to influence Turkey via Syria.[4] Syria and Turkey had strained relations for much of the 20th century resulting from such things as water rights, Syrian support for Kurdish rebels and the secular nature of the Turkish government, and the USSR sought to exploit this for its own benefit. Aid to Syria, already an associate of Moscow, increased significantly in the mid- to late-1950s.[5] Significant aid flows continued for the duration of the Cold War, even as regimes in Syria changed.

In 1971, the same year of Hafez al-Assad’s first visit to Moscow, the Soviet Union concluded a deal with Syria to establish a naval base at Tartus, in direct challenge to the U.S. Sixth Fleet’s dominance of the Mediterranean. By establishing a presence in the Mediterranean, the Soviet Union pushed a potential battlefield with the United States further from its borders. With the end of the Cold War, the naval rivalry which prompted such manoeuvres disappeared, but Russia’s attempts to influence its neighbours did not; Syrian aid continued to flow unabated.[6]

In 2009, by decree of then President Medvedev, Russia established its National Security Strategy to 2020.  The main objectives of this strategy are the ‘sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of the Russian Federation, and likewise the preservation of civil peace, political and social stability’.[7] To achieve these objectives Russia must guarantee the security of its borders, which requires a degree of influence over its neighbours, either through cooperative measures or otherwise.[8] In that vein, arms sales and economic assistance to Syria have continued to this day. These provide Russia some influence over the Assad regime and, it is hoped, some indirectly over Turkey.  This influence, and the control it helps give Russia over the Black Sea, is a key factor explaining Russia’s actions in the Syrian crisis. Its actions regarding Syria fit into a broader pattern of manoeuvres designed to secure Russian control over the Black Sea, and thereby guarantee the security of Russia’s borders.

Read the second part here.

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[1] Robert Heinl (1966), Dictionary of Military and Naval Quotations, (U.S. Naval Institute), p. 283.

[2] Andrej Kreutz (2007), ‘Russia and the Mediterranean Countries of the Arab East’, In Russia in the Middle East: Friend or Foe?, (Praeger Security International), http://psi.praeger.com/doc.aspx?d=/books/gpg/C9328/C9328-62.xml (accessed 16 July 2012); Dmitri Trenin, ‘Why Russia Supports Assad’, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/10/opinion/why-russia-supports-assad.html?_r=3&partner=rss&emc=rss (accessed 16 July 2012).

[3] Mark Katz mentions the relationship between the Tartus base and the Dardanelles and Bosporus, but argues that the base is designed to facilitate Russian power projection, rather than secure control of the Straits as an end in and of itself. See http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/07/10/moscows_marines_head_for_syria?page=full (accessed 16 July 2012).

[4] Kreutz (2007).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] http://rustrans.wikidot.com/russia-s-national-security-strategy-to-2020. See paragraph 35 (accessed 16 July 2012)
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The Syrian National Council Visits The UN

Whether the SNC’s New York press conference was just a dog-and-pony show to curry international legitimacy or if they also have actual influence on the ground in Syria remains to be seen.

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New York United Nations UN

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[dropcap]A[/dropcap]mid this week’s seemingly dramatic shift in the course of the Syrian civil war, a senior delegation from the Syrian National Council (SNC) came to U.N. headquarters in New York. The SNC is the Turkish-based umbrella organization for the various groups opposed to Bashar al-Assad. The group gave a press conference on Tuesday, a day before the startling attack on Assad’s inner circle that left three top officials dead. With the U.N. Observer Mission in Syria set to expire at the end of this week, the delegation had come to New York to push for a renewal of the mission as well as a U.N. Chapter VII resolution, which could pave the way for outside military intervention. Although the delegates accused the Observer Mission of being understaffed, they insisted  it was important to have observers on the ground recording what Assad’s regime was doing, and possibly deter atrocities by their presence. Seemingly resigned to Russia’s continued support of President Bashar al-Assad, they also told reporters they wanted the international community to increase pressure on Syria even with a divided U.N. Security Council.

The press conference focused on outlining the SNC’s plan for getting a Chapter VII resolution—a resolution that defines a state as a threat to international peace, therefore justifying the implementation of sanctions and possibly even outside military intervention—passed in the United Nations Security Council. The SNC delegation also touched lightly on the activities of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The two organizations are separate: The FSA is a paramilitary organization concerned with the military fight against Assad; The SNC is a political body that concentrates its activities on the international community and increasing diplomatic pressure on Assad.  Bassma Kodmani, head of foreign affairs for the Council, did give an overview of the current FSA strategy, which in recent weeks has started controlling territory for the first time since the uprising began. She said that the Syrian army is withdrawing from rural areas and into the major population centers, like Aleppo. The FSA is now taking control of these abandoned areas. Kodmani also mentioned a recent escalation in the number of defectors from the Syrian army.

However, Russia was the real elephant in the room. Moscow is a crucial supporter of the Assad regime and is dragging its feet in terms of either strengthening the Annan peace plan or abandoning their support of Damascus. After traveling to Moscow last week to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the SNC appears to have given up on changing Russian minds. Apparently there were “no positive encouraging signs” regarding support for stronger international action. While the SNC says that Russia “has an important role” to play, they are now more focused on persuading other members of the U.N. Security Council to act. But as a veto-wielding Permanent Member, Russia’s resistance could prove to be a major roadblock to SNC plans for a stronger stand from the United Nations.

The delegation was skeptical of the Kofi Annan plan, saying that it had actually “escalated killing” by giving the Assad regime a “blank check” to continue its crackdown without consequences. In addition to lacking teeth, the Annan didn’t have a clear time frame nor were there enough observers in the USMUS mission. Furthermore, the SNC criticized Annan for spending too much time talking to “Assad and his allies” and not “the Syrian people.”

Although the SNC delegates said they were committed to working through the United Nations, they also hinted at alternatives. Kodmani said that if there was “no possibility of working under legitimate UN Security Council architecture, then [we] need to explore other options.” In further questions about outside parties, Kodmani mentioned the Arab League—though she failed to outline any formal role the organization would play.

When questioned about plans for governing post-Assad Syria—including protection for minorities—the delegates said they were working on a detailed action plan but reiterated that their primary concern at the moment was removing the Assad family from power. The plan, known as the “Day After Project,” was being compiled by experts and policy makers and would provide a sketch of Syria after the fall of Assad. This comes in part as response to the failure of Libyan rebels to formulate a detailed plan for governance after the fall of Gaddafi. The Council also assured reporters that provisions were being made to secure the country’s chemical weapon stockpiles by a team headed by a defected former general.

After the progress the rebels have made in the last weeks, along with Wednesday’s devastating attack on Assad’s inner circle, the tide does seem to be shifting in favor of the SNC. But whether the SNC’s New York press conference was just a dog-and-pony show to curry international legitimacy or if they also have actual influence on the ground in Syria remains to be seen.

Iran Begins to Stumble

Desperate to fend-off the looming economic meltdown, the government has cut the value of its currency, cut its own oil consumption and cut refined oil imports, but it’s not enough.

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khamanei

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[dropcap]R[/dropcap]ostam Qasemi, the Iranian Oil Minister, may have been right when he said “there are many easy ways to sell oil”, but unfortunately for him Iran is quickly running out of them.

2012 has been a bad year for Iran: oil exports are tumbling, the western powers are not blinking, China is sitting on the fence rather than showing any support and their primary ally, Syria, is facing a civil war the government is looking increasingly likely to lose. Isolated, wounded and faced with a level of international and domestic threat not seen since the war with Iraq, Iran is starting to stumble.

The nuclear issue has become somewhat of a pyrrhic stand for Iran. Even should it win, it has long caused itself far more damage than the west will suffer should they complete an energy-producing nuclear reactor as they claim they are doing. It has come to the point that the Iranian government cannot afford to back down, and face international and domestic humiliation on the scale which could have them facing an extension of Syria’s collapse to civil unrest. But they cannot afford to keep going: Iran’s economy is crumbling. It is difficult to understate just how dire the situation Iran is facing is. Oil is absolutely crucial to Iran’s economy. They rely more absolutely on oil than most tax havens do on their tax-evasion industry and most international finance centres do on finance. Before the sanctions 88% of state revenue was oil-backed and 24% of the combined income of the entire country’s population was oil-backed. Iran was the second largest oil-producer in OPEC.

Now it is a different story. Even before the significant increase in sanctions this year the state’s oil revenue collapsed by 12.5%. The effect of a 10% cut in government spending is one many across the globe can understand in recent times. For comparison’s sake, Greece cut its spending by the same amount in 2011. Iran fell to forth amongst the OPEC producers, all before January 2012.

Since then, the pressure has stepped up. The US has increased the level and breadth of sanctions to effectively cut Iranian finance off from the outside world. Now it is increasingly difficult for any money to enter the state outside of cash and gold dealings, which of course cannot pay for large oil shipments unnoticed. The black market has blossomed to make up for the shortfall, sapping increasingly vital tax and tariff revenues from the government. The EU followed up these sanctions by cutting off London-based insurance for shipping dealing with Iran. Now no major tanker firm will touch Iran, leaving them only with their own state-owned shipping.

This would not be too much of an issue, the Iranian tankers are vast, but these sanctions are only the beginning. European states, which accounted for a third of all Iranian imports, have now cut off Iran completely. Turkey, one of the largest non-European consumers, has cut imports to 20%. Across Asia imports have been cut by 15-20%. This has largely been helped by China, which, coaxed on by the US with trade agreements and unthreatened by the precedent of economic warfare being waged on Iran, has cut imports by up to a half.

Iran claims this hurts the west more than it hurts them, but they’re wrong. No western state relies on Iranian oil for more than 10% of imports. Oil prices only rose by half a dollar following the latest raft of sanctions, a quarter of the rise shown when Norwegian oil rig workers went on strike earlier in the year. Meanwhile the Iranian government is running low on funds for everything. It can’t export its oil, but it can’t afford to store it. It can’t keep oil wells open, but closing them damages the reserves. It can’t afford to maintain the equipment for the old wells, but it can’t afford to open new ones or import the equipment necessary for them.

Desperate to fend-off the looming economic meltdown, the government has cut the value of its currency, cut its own oil consumption and cut refined oil imports, but it’s not enough. Not only the government is feeling the effects. Unable to afford many government services and subsidies the government has been unable to halt the rise of costs of everyday goods and booming inflation. Iranians on the street are struggling to get by as food costs spiral and their currency plummets, prompting many to use the black market to grab as many stable dollars as possible. The Iranian people may hate the west more than ever for the destruction of their livelihoods, but this will not comfort their government as it glances nervously towards the fate of its Syrian ally.

The stumble of Iran may well become a crawl, and prove that warfare between major powers has long shifted from that so many feared during the Cold War. Now warfare is either asymmetric or economic, fought with terrifying road-side bombs or crippling sanctions. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his government may well be a rat trapped in a corner, boxed in by threats they cannot possibly counter. As the government of Syria begins to face a civil war turning against them, so Iran faces an economic meltdown they cannot escape. China will watch on with apathy as Russia draws out the last life of Bashar al-Assad, but try as I might I cannot conceive of an escape plan for these leaders, and it may well be that they, like Saddam and Ghaddafi before them, cannot do so either.

#2: Free Syrian Army

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” I chose this particular photo because it’s one of those classic images of modern conflict: a young man and his machine gun against a backdrop of destruction. It places Syria in a visual narrative of war as we have come to recognize it.”
Torie Rose DeGhett (@trdeghett)

#2: A Free Syrian Army fighter carries a machine gun in Atareb.
Credit: Alessio Romenzi via the Telegraph.

Annan’s Syrian Failure – New Opportunities?

Options are very quickly being exhausted and real unified action will have to be taken; if only for the credibility of the so called international community.

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[dropcap]K[/dropcap]ofi Annan’s ambitious peace plan is rapidly reaching its unsurprising end. Despite reassurances from al-Assad that the ceasefire will take place, shelling continues. As Annan desperately tries to cling to his noble attempt at Syrian peace it might not be as bleak as everybody is making out. Is this the kick up the backside that the international community needs?

Even before the deadline for Annan’s six point plan loomed his plan was derided, branded as being doomed to fail. Editorials and features flooded blogs and newspapers as to why the plan would fail. Alain Juppe, the French Minister for Foreign and European Affiars, declared we were being duped by Syria over a week before Al-Assad had to withdraw forces. Nobody really had any faith in Annan’s plan bar crossing their fingers and praying, which may be a recurring theme in Syria.  It’s true, Annan’s  track record has been far from stellar. His history is scattered with failures, whether it be ignoring General Dalliers calls in Rwanda, standing by whilst massacres occurred in Srebrenica or the Oil-For-Food scandal which allowed for the propping up of Saddam Hussein’s government. Annan has continuously inadvertently tipped the balance in favour of those pursuing blood shed, apparently not learning.

It seems farcical then that anybody had any confidence in the plan to begin with, but then nobody really did. The six point plan was doomed for a number of reasons but most notably instead of looking at the root of the issue it legitimized Al-Assad’s rule. The plan was a mere rehashing of what China and Russia have been calling for. Russia in its attempt to prevent chaos has reiterated the value in the plan is that it doesn’t remove Al-Assad  from power, unlike the previous Arab League plan. Finally after 13 months of violence there has been a semblance of coherence that Al-Assad needs to go. It’s true that in any peaceful peace process both sides have to feel they haven’t lost, but history should have taught us you can’t bargain with a dictator.

Al-Assad has been well versed in hoop jumping and manipulating the situation to his liking. He has continuously provided a distorted rationale for the violence, providing perceivably good excuses for abhorrent behaviour. NATO and the US have made it painfully clear they had no immediate plans to intervene militarily, at least not overtly. Although non-intervention may be the best option, the security it provides Al-Assad’s bloody regime is not doing the citizens of Homs, Idlib or Aleppo any good. al-Assad played Erdogan for a fool utilizing the zero-problem ideology for an almost embarrassing length of time. The death of citizens in Lebanon and Turkey on Monday may have changed all that. Firing on Turkish ground not only means that under Article 51 of the UN Charter Turkey has the right to self defend, but as a linchpin in NATO it sullies the prospects of peaceful end to the situation.

Al-Assad’s manipulating has most importantly allowed him to consistently buy more time. The peace plan removed a certain degree of condemnation whilst his tirade continued, buying him even more time. It has definitely worked to his advantage, at least in the short term.  Al-Assad has relied on time but it has been the ally of all those involved, except of course for those losing homes and loved ones. It has allowed for the opposition to grow more and more extreme. But perhaps finally it has worked for the international community. They have come up with different plans time and time again but now may at last be the time to take a more serious look at other options.

Al-Assad is ensuring he’s going down guns blazing, guaranteeing the involvement of outside forces and essentially signing his own death warrant. With fewer and fewer options Turkey is seeking another UN Security Resolution on the situation. Despite the multiple efforts previously this attempt may make some headway. As the reality becomes even more apparent even China and Russia are beginning to readjust their viewpoints. Russia, Syria’s strongest ally, is beginning to lose patience.There has been further condemnation from the international community. US senators visiting refugee camps in Turkey are calling for a more obvious stance. William Hague has begun to pursue the idea of referring al-Assad to the International Criminal Court. As Annan’s plan has foundered, options are very quickly being exhausted and real unified action will have to be taken; if only for the credibility of the so called international community.

The Problems With Intervening In Syria

Intervening to protect Syrian civilians is not as simple as some have made it out to be.

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[dropcap]W[/dropcap]ith calls continuing for the West to do something about the mounting bloodshed in Syria, it is important to consider what an intervention would look like. While it is all well and good to say that “something must be done” in Syria, relatively little attention has been given to what that would be. As we shall see, any intervention will be troublesome.

The Pentagon has signalled that intervention would be an expensive endeavor. A report by the influential Brooking’s Institution says that an invasion and subsequent occupation of Syria would require at least 200,000 troops and cost $20-30bn a year. This is a major commitment at a time when western militaries are having to cut back in order to reduce budget deficits. For the US, this would wipe out the ‘savings’ the United States is making from withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. The situation would also likely be similar to the invasion of Iraq, with foreign troops facing widespread hostility and insurgency.

While advocates may argue that they aren’t suggesting a full-scale invasion of the type outlined above, this is what an intervention in Syria would require. While Senator McCain among others has argued that NATO can accomplish its goals with a repeat of the air campaign against Libya, it is doubtful that this will have the same result. Syria has a bigger population and many more cities than Libya, which is mostly desert with a few cities on the Mediterranean coast. With only a handful of major population centers, the campaign in Libya had much fewer targets. Secondly, the Syrian military is much larger and better armed than that Gaddafi’s was, including Russian-made anti-aircraft weapons, which could be a major threat to foreign aircraft. While in Libya the military was always neglected by Ghadafi and thus became a major source of discontent, the Syrian military is loyal to Assad, and made up largely of Alawites, who will want Assad to stay in power.

The Syrian opposition is nowhere near as strong as the one in Libya, and doesn’t control territory in the way the Libyan opposition controlled Benghazi and the eastern provinces of Libya. The Syrian opposition only controlled Homs, and has since lost it. If the Free Syrian Army is to defeat Assad they will need to hold a good percentage of Syria, and at least threaten the capital of Damascus. So far this is a pipe-dream and the only efforts in the capital have been isolated attacks. For these reasons intervention in Syria would be completely different to last year’s success in Libya. But we now know that even that success was close-run.

One suggestion for limited intervention is the idea of setting up ‘safe havens’ across the border in Turkey. Former Obama administration official Anne-Marie Slaughter has been a vocal proponent of setting up these zones to allow civilians to flee terror and for the opposition to build up its strength. Though this is a well-intentioned idea, in reality it would likely make the situation even worse. To many, Syria would be justified in invading said safe areas if an opposition army is planning to launch attacks from there. This could lead to a regional war that would drag in neighbouring countries.  It would also be very hard to enforce. Would NATO troops have to protect the border to make sure Syrian troops don’t cross it?

Another idea has been to send in Special Forces units to help the opposition. This had some success in Libya, where Qatari Special Forces worked closely with rebels. The image of Special Forces is at an all-time high right now after the successful raid on Osama bin Laden last year and other recent operations. But as blogger Robert Caruso points out, they are not “magical” and would also require substantial support units and aircraft.

Advocates of intervention need to clarify what intervention in Syria is supposed to achieve, and what the strategy would be. In Libya, the United States, France and Britain pressured the passing of a UN Security Council resolution that allowed intervention to protect civilians. But this was interpreted to mean regime change, something other states (including Russia) said fell outside the mandate. Those countries are unlikely to support a similar resolution on Syria as they feel they were misled last year. As in Libya, a mandate to protect civilians would inevitably lead to the realization that the Assad regime must be forced out. However this would be much more difficult than last years intervention, and may even make things worse.