Peace picks Nov 23-27

  1. The “Pitiless” War: A Strategy After the Paris Attacks | Monday November 23rd | 10:00 – 11:15 | German Marshall Fund | REGISTER TO ATTEND | In the aftermath of the November 13 terrorist attacks in Paris committed by the self-proclaimed Islamic State group (ISIS), French President François Hollande declared that “….we are going to lead a war which will be pitiless.” What is the proper military, intelligence, and diplomatic response to counter to these recent brutal attacks against Western targets? What role will the United States play going forward? What does Europe need to do differently to meet this threat? What should the transatlantic alliance do about Syria and Iraq? With Hollande scheduled to meet U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington on November 24, and with these questions in mind, The German Marshall Fund of the Unites States (GMF) is pleased to invite you to an on-the-record discussion. Speakers include: Ambassador James Franklin Jeffrey, Philip Solondz Distinguished Fellow, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Matthew G. Olsen, Former Director, National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC); Derek Chollet, Counselor and Senior Advisor for Security and Defense Policy, The German Marshall Fund of the United States; Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.
  2. The Deteriorating State of Human Rights in China | Monday, November 23rd | 12:00 – 1:30 | CATO Institute | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Since assuming the presidency of China in 2013, Xi Jinping has become the most powerful Chinese leader since Mao Zedong, centralizing his authority over the Communist Party, the military, and the government. Eminent scholars and civil rights activists from China will describe the deterioration of human rights under Xi’s rule, citing the rise of arbitrary arrests and detentions; a crackdown on academic freedom; the persecution of some ethnic groups; and increasing restrictions on journalists, the internet, religious organizations, and other groups in civil society. The speakers will discuss those developments within the context of other policies, including a new national security law, an anti-corruption campaign, and economic measures in the face of a significant growth slowdown. Speakers include: Chen Guangcheng, Visiting Fellow, Catholic University; Teng Biao, Associate, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard Kennedy School; and Wei Jingsheng, Chairman, Wei Jingsheng Foundation; with comments by Xia Yeliang, Visiting Fellow, Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, Cato Institute; moderated by Ian Vasquez, Director, Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity, Cato Institute.
  3. Understanding ISIS: Paris, Beirut, and U.S. Policy Webinar | Monday, November 23rd |4:00 – 5:00| Institute for Policy Studies | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Terrorism survives wars, people don’t. Last week’s attacks in Paris left over 100 people dead. In Beirut, car bombs killed 43 people. Shortly before these attacks, President Obama defended his “war on terror” and said that ISIS was contained. As the civilian death toll rises and the refugee crisis grows, the U.S. global war on terror continues — and continues to fail, ultimately because you can’t bomb terrorism out of existence. In this 1-hour webinar, IPS Middle East expert Phyllis Bennis will discuss the new developments in Paris and Beirut, in the refugee crisis in Europe and the U.S., and discuss solutions that promote true diplomacy over military action.
  4. A New Cold War? The West and Russia | Monday, November 23rd | 5:30pm | Foreign Policy Research Institute | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the prospect of protracted confrontation between Russia and the West has so far met with an uncertain response on the part of the West. Has a new  Cold War begun, and how should America and its allies respond?  Nikolas Gvosdev, a frequent commentator on Russian and Eurasian affairs will explore these issues. He was the Editor of The National Interest magazine and  a Senior Fellow at The Nixon Center in Washington, D.C. He received his doctorate from St Antony’s College, Oxford University, where he studied on a Rhodes Scholarship. His work has appeared in such outlets as Foreign Affairs, The Financial  TimesThe  Los Angeles Times, and Orbis, and he has appeared as a commentator on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, National Public Radio, and BBC.
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Dayton plus 20, again

Here are the conclusions I offered at the Dayton Peace Accords at 20 Conference in Dayton, Ohio, which ended yesterday:

  • Context matters. Dayton was not just about Bosnia but represented a test of the West’s effort to achieve a Europe whole and free at the start of the post-Cold War era. That’s one reason it got the attention it did.
  • US leadership was critical, but so too were the local, European and Russian contributions. Even when it leads, the US needs partners and has to work with whoever is available.
  • Getting both the civilian and military elements of US power pointed towards a clear goal is extraordinarily difficult. Dick Holbrooke excelled at it.
  • Negotiating with your own people and lining things up can be the hardest part of a negotiation. A lot was agreed before Dayton, both within the US government and within the international contact group, that was crucial to the ultimate agreement.
  • Two subjects are often neglected, including at Dayton: economics and rule of law. They should not be left aside, the first because resources are always an issue and the second because it is vital and takes so long to establish.
  • Dayton worked because it provided opportunities for powersharing and local autonomy.
  • It is these vital characteristics of 1995 that are causing problems twenty years later.
  • Inclusivity matters in ending a war, even if it makes statebuilding more difficult.
  • Clear, shared goals are important, but so too is the process for getting to them.
  • Timing is particularly important. It is not clear, for example, that Syria is ripe for a negotiated settlement. Bosnia was, largely due to the Federation offensive and Milosevic’s need for an end to the war.

The war did end but the ethnoterritorial conflict continues even today. Bosnia remains far from the ideals its young people, several of whom spoke at Dayton, cherish: tolerance, respect, equality and cooperation. The ways forward are clear, but precisely how to achieve them is not:

  • The Reform Agenda the EU, IMF and IBRD are pursuing is part of the solution, in particular if privatization is conducted in transparent ways that prevent state assets falling into the hands of crony capitalists.
  • Corruption is a major issue, but how to get it under control is not clear.
  • An independent judiciary is vital to accountability. The referendum proposed in Republika Srpska would undermine the state judiciary and weaken prospects for accountability.
  • Political reforms that go beyond the Reform Agenda will be necessary. This should include changes to the electoral system that encourage more accountability, like single-member electoral constituencies.
  • Separate ethnic education is an unfortunate and persistent consequence of the war. Integrated education in magnet schools (offering, for example, science, technology, engineering and mathematics or education in English) is one possible path towards a solution.
  • Increased respect for human rights–both of individuals and groups–is important for all.

While these needs are clear, the balance between international and Bosnian efforts is not. Some think the international community has to be more forceful than it has been in the last decade. Others think responsibility now lies principally with the Bosnians, who should get international support, principally through the European Union.

While progress in recent years has been slow and serious obstacles remain, I believe that 20 years from now Bosnia and Herzegovina will be an established member in good standing of both NATO and the European Union. That is a worthy objective that should motivate both the Bosnians and the international community.

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Reform without institutional change

The Center for Transatlantic Relations conference on Twenty Years after Dayton: Prospects for Progress in Reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina wrapped up yesterday. Here are ten of my main takeaways:

  1. The Reform Agenda the Europeans, the IMF and the World Bank are pursuing contains lots of good initiatives that Bosnian politicians of all stripes warmly welcome, hoping they will generate the prosperity so sorely lacking since the financial crisis of 2007/8 (or at least a large flow of IFI and EU funding).
  2. Focus on the Reform Agenda has driven political and institutional reform, without which it is hard to picture much improvement in the functionality of government in Bosnia, off the agenda, at least for the moment.
  3. The leadership of the two Bosnian sub-state entities, Republika Srpska (RS) and the Federation, are happy with this, as it blocks any effort to strengthen the state and empowers them to collaborate in fulfilling the demands for policy reform from the EU and the international financial institutions in ways that don’t endanger the powers that be.
  4. Policy collaboration between the entities is frequent and substantial but unlikely to bring about any serious institutional change.
  5. Republika Srpska continues to try to use the threat of holding a vague and tendentious referendum on the High Representative and the state judiciary to extract concessions from the Europeans in the “structured dialogue” on the judiciary.
  6. Serbs (even within the RS) are however not united in supporting the referendum, though I imagine it will pass overwhelmingly if held (since many of those opposed won’t vote).
  7. The lure of eventual EU membership is unlikely to be strong enough to prevent the referendum from being held; RS President Dodik is aiming to neuter the Bosnian state judiciary, not to enter the EU.
  8. If the referendum passes, the Americans would want to respond with some vigor, but it is not clear the EU would join in.
  9. Referendum or not, the RS is progressing towards its goal of accumulating all the sovereign power it thinks itself entitled to under the Dayton constitution.
  10. The state government could end up lacking the authority required to negotiate and implement the acquis communitaire, making the EU accession of Bosnia and Herzegovina highly unlikely unless there is a serious effort at institutional reform and strengthening state competences, including the authority of its judiciary throughout the country.

Oh, how I wish I am wrong. But that’s how I see the situation.

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Is there a best option for Syria?

On Monday, the Brookings Institution hosted ‘A look at the policy options in war-torn Syria’, a panel discussion featuring Daniel Byman, Senior Fellow and Research Director at Brookings’ Center for Middle East Policy; Kenneth Pollack, Senior Fellow at Brookings; Will McCants, Senior Fellow and Director of Brookings’ U.S. Relations with the Islamic World project; and Tamara Cofman Wittes, Senior Fellow and Director at Brookings’ CMEP. Michael O’Hanlon, Senior Fellow and Research Director for Foreign Policy at Brookings, moderated as well as contributing his own views.

Each of the panellists proposed a policy for Syria. As the discussion wound up, Pollack acknowledged that though each argued that their policy was the best for future action, and could present numerous pieces of evidence to support their argument, ‘best’ in the case of the Syrian crisis is a relative term. The only real locus of disagreement between the panellists is how they evaluate risk, possibility of implementation, and potential for success, rather than over the meat of what must politically and militarily be accomplished for the country. No one wants to see the conflict endure, nor does anyone wish to see ISIS given the space to breathe or the humanitarian crisis to wear on.

Some of the policies proposed differ pretty significantly.

O’Hanlon has opted for a confederal model, or an ink-spot approach. Taking some inspiration from the Bosnian case, he envisions autonomous zones of governance with their own security forces, in order to combat Assad and ISIS both. He believes these zones will allow for bridges to be built with both Turkey and Russia, as they can prioritize relations with the zones closest to them politically, e.g. the Russians with an Alawite sector in the northwest, where Assad potentially could stay in power as well. This model would require moderate numbers of NATO boots on the ground.

Pollack, meanwhile, operates within the assumption of a unified Syria. Having analysed third-party resolutions to other civil wars, he proposed building an alternative army: large, conventional, trained outside Syria, and only good enough to face off the so-so forces of ISIS and Assad. This falls within a three-step program. First, with this army we need to create a military stalemate; then a power-sharing agreement needs to be forged, reflecting the relative power of all parties. Finally, long-term guarantees need to be established, including protection of minorities’ rights. The key is not to withdraw once military success is achieved, and to ensure the maintenance of those guarantees.

Byman, concerned with implementing policies only half-way in such an unstable environment, opts for a less intensive one: containment of local instability. This includes the more conventional border security, counterterrorism assistance, and weakening ISIS through limited air support for local ground troops. It also means better management of refugee camps, policing them with an eye to extremist threats, and providing for refugees, aiming for their integration into society in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan. He acknowledges this only ‘staunches the bleeding’ rather than ends the conflict, but this at least is lower in cost than other policies.

McCants provides the ISIS view, noting that since the Syrian crisis began, the fledgling state has deployed the same tactic several times to gain control of cities and regions. It infiltrates, assassinates or imprisons those who oppose it, and proceeds to impose its rule through brutally violent tactics. These are laid out in a terror theorist’s manual, The Management of Savagery. ISIS has been able to take advantage of regional governments collapsing, as in Iraq after the US withdrawal. Previously it had been driven underground by the US army and nearly destroyed. It is able to exploit power vacuums. McCants added that a weakness of the confederal model is that it increases the enclaves’ vulnerability to ISIS tactics, especially if regional allies (e.g. Jordan, Turkey) are not sufficiently committed.

Wittes reviewed Obama’s foreign policy, noting that all his strategies have ‘foundered on the realities of a disordered region’. There has long been a gap in understanding between Washington and local actors: for instance, the Obama administration has always discounted Syria, while in local view, it is of utmost strategic and political importance. Wittes traces the current regional crisis to two underlying problems, of order and of authority. ISIS also springs from these underlying problems, which are reflected in the conflict over the role of Islam in politics. She proposes convening a regional security dialogue. The Vienna talks focus on external actors’ interests, sacrificing an accounting problems within the region.

There was indeed broad agreement across the panel on the need to incorporate local actors and local political realities into the solution, whether that meant Sunni Arab tribes, the opposition forces (including moderate Islamists), or regional governments. It is important as well that these policies include long-term political reconciliation and guarantees, whether through federated autonomy or power-sharing. Though generally unified on the need to combat ISIS militarily, the panelists also recognized that the underlying problem in Syria is Assad, his brutal war, and the power vacuum to which he has contributed.


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On Friday, the Middle East Institute hosted its 69th annual conference: ‘The Search for Stability & Opportunity: The Middle East in 2016’. The opening panel ‘Obama’s Mideast Legacy and the Next Administration’ discussed the President’s policies in the region and key issues for the next administration.

The panel featured Prem Kumar, vice president of the MENA Practice at Albright Stonebridge Group; Robin Wright, joint fellow at the US Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars; Michael Singh, Lane-Swig Senior Fellow and Managing Director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and Tamara Cofman Wittes, senior fellow and managing director at the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy. The discussion was moderated by Elise Labott, global affairs correspondent at CNN.

Labott noted that Obama began his presidency saying he would not engage in military interventions globally, but wound up presenting a different face to the UN General Assembly in September 2013. US policies abroad, he stated, are protecting allies, including with military force, maintaining safe access to oil and gas, pursuing counterterrorism goals, and preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

Kumar pointed out that Obama’s policy changed in response to the Arab Spring. The conflicts stemming from that event fundamentally are not about the US, but they made Obama identify the most vital national security interests, and where intervention was necessary. Considering risks and available allies, there was opportunity to intervene in Libya, but not in Syria. Obama’s most important legacy, in Kumar’s view, is the Iran deal, and its implementation will influence rebuilding the security architecture of the region.

Singh took a broad view: presidents have, from administration to administration, neglected to build a long-term strategy for the Middle East. Instead, it has been a series of tactics, as presidents simply react to their predecessor’s foreign policy. But these foreign policy issues are not partisan issues. We need to address the dual collapse of states and of the regional security architecture going forward.

Dwelling on military intervention and collapsed states, Wittes does not believe the current problems in Libya were created by NATO’s campaign, but by 42 years of Qaddafi rule – there was no true political system in Libya for decades. The US was wary of putting more investment into Libya post-intervention because of the example of Iraq. Wright disagreed: after its military success the international community fell through in ensuring political transition and sustained reconstruction. Libya should have been a success story, because of its small population and oil resources.

Tunisia, also with a small population, is comparable, but even its success has been limited. Lingering issues stem from long-term social, economic, and political problems, which certainly were not solved by the Arab Spring. Wright stated that the US has failed to address these in its foreign policy. The US needs to determine what the priority is: stability, or a new political order in the Middle East, stemming from more liberal values?

Syria is a central issue. Wittes pointed to the need to learn from past civil wars: we need to reach a negotiated settlement, enforced by outside parties, but with Syrians at the table. The Vienna talks can’t accomplish this. Wright stated the need for a three-pronged process: ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra need to be pushed back, so that Aleppo can be unified. Then a legitimate political process can take place, with local councils managing the liberated territories. Finally, the state needs to be rebuilt.

Wright also stated that the US needs to seriously consider the question of whether it wants to use its military and economic muscle to hold states like Syria (or Yemen, or Libya) together. If so, how would the US do that, in a regionally comprehensive manner?

None of the panelists believe the US no longer has interests to protect in the Middle East. There is fatigue, but the region has to be ‘rebuilt’. Local conflicts, as we continue to witness, have been globalized, and bring repercussions on a global level. Whether because of oil, economic and social development, conflict resolution, or the humanitarian refugee crisis, the US will need to continue to be involved.

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Bosnia’s way forward

Here are the remarks I prepared for the conference at SAIS today and tomorrow on Twenty Years after Dayton: Prospects for Progress in Reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina:

1. I want first to thank my colleagues at the Center for Transatlantic Relations here at SAIS—Sasha Toperich and Dan Hamilton—for entrusting me with a privileged place on the program and the most difficult question to answer.
2. This I suspect is my “reward” for twenty years of thinking I really did know the way forward but then proving beyond any doubt that I was unable to find it.
3. Before and at Dayton, I thought the way forward involved ensuring that the Federation, which Dick Holbrooke had entrusted to my care in October 1994, could govern effectively.
4. At the fifth anniversary in 2000, I thought it lay in applying the European Convention on Human Rights, which had been incorporated into the Dayton constitution.
5. By the time of the 10th anniversary in 2005, I was sure it lay in revising that constitution, an effort pursued by Don Hays, Paul Williams and Bruce Hitchner under my aegis at the US Institute of Peace.
6. They helped the Bosnians produce what became known as the “April package” of constitutional amendments that failed in parliament by two votes in 2006.
7. I don’t remember what I was thinking in 2010 at the 15th anniversary, when I was busy moving from USIP to SAIS.
8. None of my previous impulses have succeeded, so this time around I’m going to offer you three different directions for a way forward in Bosnia. I do hope one of them pans out, but hope is not a policy. I’ll try also, at the end, to enunciate a policy, after considering three additional propositions that are not ways forward.
9. The first way forward is that old standby: constitutional change. A constitution distributes power. In Bosnia it distributes power in ways that enable ethnic nationalists to control the country and exploit their position for personal rather than societal gain.
10. We imposed the Dayton accords, but we imposed what the ethnic nationalist warring parties told us they could live with.
11. It is therefore unsurprising that one way or another, ethnic nationalists have dominated Bosnia almost continuously, making it ungovernable, since 1995.
12. Kresimir Zubak, then President of the Federation, gave me my first lesson in ethnic nationalism during the war. Serwer, he said, one man one vote will never work in Bosnia.
13. Though by far not the most extreme of ethnic nationalists, Zubak was still determined to prevent Croats from being “outvoted,” something he regarded as anti-democratic.
14. There is nothing I might wish for more than recognition and protection of equal individual rights in Bosnia today so that people could be outvoted without feeling bereft of their identity, but even the application of equal individual rights to the Sejdic Finci case has been a bridge too far for Zubak’s successors.
15. I have to conclude that constitutional change is not looking promising, even though it is the most direct and compelling route forward. The failure in 2006 and the more dismal failure at Butmir in 2010 have poisoned the well.
16. The second way forward is what the Europeans are calling reform. There is a nice thick document written by non-Bosnians that you can read to see what that means: reducing the public sector, improving the investment climate and making the labor market more flexible would be my summary.
17. The Bosnian political leadership has pledged the political will to get on with it. Combined with conditionality from the EU, the World Bank and IMF, I hope it works, though I hasten to add that it is likely to make things worse for many Bosnians before it makes them better.
18. Moreover, politicians have been relentlessly clever in blunting European pressure for reform and converting it into new opportunities for expropriation of state assets and opportunities for individual and party enrichment, as carefully documented in a paper written by Srdjan Blagovcanin and Boris Divjak published earlier this year by CTR.
19. I therefore regrettably doubt the European reform program as much as I doubt the prospects for constitutional change.
20. The third possible way forward is for the Bosnian people to demand change, along the lines of what has happened recently in Romania.
21. That is what appeared to be happening in the aftermath of the 2014 floods, but the plenums produced little in the way of serious political pressure for change and generated significant nostalgia for a more state-administered economy. I wouldn’t count that as the way forward.
22. If my three ways forward won’t work, that doesn’t mean someone else’s ideas won’t.
23. Some Croats want a third entity, claiming that would re-establish equality and enable them to participate more fully in the Bosnian state.
24. I don’t buy that. At Dayton the Croats got a very good deal: one-third of the state and one-half of the Federation.
25. That was when they were in the driver’s seat, providing the military force that enabled the Federation offensive to succeed in the summer of 1995 and controlling the flow of weapons and everything else from the Adriatic into central Bosnia.
26. Croats are now a smaller percentage of the population than they were before the war, they have lost their wartime stranglehold and military prowess counts for little within the region.
27. The third entity idea is hard to kill, but it is going nowhere.
28. Milorad Dodik also has a proposition: detaching his Republika Srpska from the judicial system of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the clear intention of preventing any prosecution of himself or his sidekicks and laying the basis for eventual secession, or if that is not possible a kind of complete autonomy like that of Taiwan. Read more

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