Month: August 2012

Autopilot to a crash landing

Kurt Bassuener of the Democratization Policy Council, who lives and works in Sarajevo, reacted to my latest on Bosnia with a letter too detailed and interesting to hide in a comment, but stop reading here if you are not interested in the Balkans:

Hi Dan,

Bosnia and Herzegovina is at risk.  I stand by my conclusion  that any dissolution will be violent.  My colleague Bodo Weber and the Atlantic Initiative’s Vlado Azinović, as you know, enumerated the potential conflict factors last October in our security risk analysis.  The situation has worsened since.

You’re dead right to note Sandžak as a factor. I am certain that the distinct minority who espouse a Bosniak {Muslim} national state have it in mind as part of the equation.  Republika Srpska President Dodik wouldn’t care because

a) it wouldn’t come out of the territory he controls,

b) it would strengthen his position vis-a-vis Belgrade.

But a Bosniak state would be exceedingly hard to sell – it would have to be presented as a fait accompli, saving what could be saved.  The last time it was tried, in 1993 with the besieged Republic of BiH fighting both the Serb Republic Army and the Croat Defense Force, the Bosniaks still refused, despite the adverse conditions.

Were I good at detachment, I could almost enjoy watching the political circus here. It looks as if Dodik has assembled the votes to oust Social Democratic Party (SDP) leader Zlatko Lagumdžija from his post as foreign minister.  For the past seven months, Lagumdžija has effectively acted as an unwitting agent of Dodik’s agenda. Now that total political chaos reigns in the Federation, Dodik is demonstrating who’s boss by demanding his ministry back.

This was an Icarus experience for Lagumdžija.  He apparently thought he could lead the Federation in such a way as to compete with the RS and exercise equal influence in the state.  Haris Silajdžić, albeit from a different post, held similar pretensions in the last government.  But given the diffusion of power in the Federation, as well as the view from Banja Luka that state competences inherently infringe on entity competences, whoever rules the RS effectively rules the state by default. The  SDP is likely to get hammered in the local elections.  The sense of betrayal among its voter base is massive.

In a conversation with a friend recently, I remarked that Lagumdžija had served Dodik’s agenda, albeit I doubt he saw it that way. My friend’s retort was that he thought that Croat political leader Čović had done that.  But Čović at least recognized he was getting into a subservient relationship with Dodik, in the hope that he’ll get the crumbs of a divided BiH – de jure or de facto.

I knew when this state-level government was formed that nothing could be done, given its configuration – at least nothing real. Lagumdžija is pushing for anything that will allow for BiH to apply for EU candidacy, however hopeless that application would be at present on both sides of the equation.  Hence the ridiculous deal on how to implement the Sejdić-Finci European Court of Human Rights ruling of December 2009. While it might not put wind in his sails politically, I suspect the EU would jump at the chance to take any Sejdić-Finci arrangement to declare progress.

The fun part of all of this is that Dodik can be forgiven for banking on intra-Bosniak political fratricide as a force multiplier for his playing the long game toward independence – delegitimizing the state, “proving” it’s impossible (with dependable help from within the Bosnian Federation) to the EU (with a lot of uptake among the continentals – especially the European Commission). But it probably won’t be the Federation’s party leaders who literally call the shots when it boils over – and it will if this continues. It’s more likely to be veterans’ organizations or other parallel structures.

So while you’re probably right that there is little interest in recognizing an independent RS, at least in most Western capitals, there is also no will to shift out of the bureaucratic autopilot we’re in, which ultimately ends in violence. That would make this that much worse. Only external actors are in a position to arrest this trajectory.  They’re just not willing to do so. The bill will still land on their doorstep, whether they want to admit that to themselves or not. Total myopia…

Germany recently laid down two markers in rapid succession – the Ambassador said OHR has a negative effect in BiH and Germany announced its withdrawal from EUFOR. The number of troops is insignificant – three, as I understand. But the point was to make clear that the time for executive mandates is past.  The Chapter 7 mandate comes up for renewal by the Security Council in November. Significantly, Dodik has embraced ending the EUFOR mandate for the first time. Previously, the RS had been for keeping EUFOR while closing OHR. The Russians are all for booting both OHR and EUFOR. In Banja Luka last month, the Russian Ambassador mooted BiH/RS joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.



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An important beginning

“The Day After” study, published this week, is intended to support a democratic transition in Syria.  The study was prepared by a “diverse group” of Syrian activists, including “Sunnis, Christians, Kurds, Alawites, and Druze; men and women; youth activists; and individuals with experience in the Free Syrian Army.”  Some are identified; others are not for security reasons.

While claiming not to be a “blueprint,” this is by far the most in-depth effort I have seen to explicate what Syria would need to do to begin a transition to democracy.  It breaks the issues down into six areas:

  • Rule of law
  • Transitional justice
  • Security sector reform
  • Electoral reform and forming a constituent assembly
  • Constitutional design
  • Economic restructuring and social policy

The approach is methodical:  context, challenges, and detailed recommendations, broken down into what needs to be done prior to the start of transition, the immediate priorities once Bashar al Asad is gone, and the first few months.  The underlying principles are unimpeachable:  accountability, transparency, participation, inclusiveness, and consensus.  Time lines and Gantt charts are included.

There are many good things about the approach.  The emphasis on rule of law is appropriate.  Establishing and maintaining order have been serious problems in most post-war situations.  There is good reason to expect the same in Syria, where support for the Assad regime has been substantial and sectarian tensions high.

Plans to deal with regime abuses through transitional justice mechanisms and to re-organize and reform the security services will therefore also be key priorities.  Some of the plans and organization suggested are obviously over-ambitious and too complex.  It seems unlikely to me that the Syrians are going to be able to manage these tasks on their own, without an international force to keep the peace in the meanwhile, but that is what “The Day After” seems to envision.

The political piece is also important.  The study foresees the election of a constituent assembly to write a new constitution.  It discusses options for the electoral system and recommends mixed system of proportional representation and some single-member districts.  It also considers options for closed (party) or open (individual preference votes) lists as well as mechanisms for ensuring women’s representation and inclusion of minorities.  While the time line is ambiguous, elections are not foreseen for 10-18 months following the fall of Asad.

The report is already so lengthy (133 pages) and comprehensive it seems churlish to complain about what is missing.  But that is precisely what I must do.  I would cite the following as the most important gaps:  the Syrian voice, the relationship of religion and politics, in-depth treatment of economic and social issues, and a clear idea of who would do all the many things recommended.

The report is written in the good contemporary American prose, bureaucratic variant.  It is clear, concise and sometimes eloquent, but it lacks any hint of a Syrian voice.   No doubt the Syrians involved discussed the issues and made the fundamental choices reflected in the document, but the technocratic tone and Western-style content is far too prominent to convince me this is a truly indigenous product.  I read Syrian activists every day.  No philologist would conclude that they wrote this paper.  I can only imagine what a Free Syrian Army soldier in Homs is going to think, once this fine example of bureaucratese is rendered into Arabic.

“The Day After” has no discussion of the relationship between religion and the state or religion and politics.  It puts forward as “supra-constitutional principles” two relevant ones:

  • Syria is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual, multi-sectarian society that respects its diversity….
  • The state is neutral toward religion, respects its values, and neither compels nor impedes religion among the people.

I’ll be delighted if it turns out that simple to deal with religion in Syria.  I might even hope that, having seen how difficult and divisive the issue is everywhere else in the Arab uprisings, Syrians will resolve it in this eminently sensible and liberal fashion.   But I suspect this facile veneer hides deep divisions, if not among the people writing this report then between them and the people carrying AKs in Aleppo.

Economic and social issues get short shrift, with recommendations that amount to “do the right thing”:  establish macroeconomic stability, get displaced people and refugees back to their homes, create strong institutions.  A lot more in-depth work will be needed on these issues.  There is no serious treatment of the merchant class that was the backbone of the Assad regime and little sign of awareness of the desperate economic and financial situation in which Syria will likely find itself when Bashar al Assad falls.  There is barely mention of civil society, which is simply assumed to exist in much of the rest of the report.  Nor is there any mention of one of the most fundamental requirements of all post-war societies:  getting people who have fought with each other talking and collaborating with each other.  Transitional justice is just one aspect of reconciliation.

As for who is going to do all the hundreds of things recommended, the paper is vague.  It talks about the need for a transitional regime, but it gives little hint where it would come from and how it might be constituted.  French President Francois Hollande’s appeal for formation of a government-in-waiting even before Asad’s departs makes a good deal of sense, since much of what “The Day After” recommends needs to be started now.

But Syrians are so divided and distrustful of each other that it is hard to see how such a government could be formed and gain the confidence of most of the population.  Bashar al Asad has lost legitimacy, but it is not yet clear where and when it will reappear.  The notion that we are going to get through the Syrian transition without a major international effort, including peacekeepers, I find unconvincing, even though I know how difficult it would be to mount that effort.  But the alternative is a level of chaos and violence that we should want to avoid.

The usefulness of a report of this sort can lie in several directions:  its ideas may get picked up and incorporated into more official plans, the people who participated may take the wisdom they have gained into their other activities, it may help donor governments and other institutions understand better how they can help, it may stimulate other contributions.  “The Day After” is an important step forward.  But we are still at the beginning of planning for post-war Syria, not at the end.

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Exceptionally American

I might be tempted to do a full critique of the foreign policy portion of the Republican platform, which calls itself  “American exceptionalism.”  This is a phrase that has now become so all-encompassing, and so different in meaning to different people, that it is essentially meaningless.

But I won’t.  Instead I’ll stick with the section on national security strategy, which manages to treat the subject as an exclusively military preserve.  It starts well enough:

We will honor President Reagan’s legacy of peace through strength by advancing the most cost-effective programs and policies crucial to our national security, including our economic security and fiscal solvency.  To do that, we must honestly assess the threats facing this country, and we must be able to articulate candidly to the American people our priorities for the use of taxpayer dollars to address those threats.

Let’s leave aside the question of whether President Reagan gave a hoot about cost-effectiveness.  Let’s also leave aside the more recent presidency of George W. Bush, who used American strength mistakenly to go to war, weakening the nation in many ways.  Let’s instead look forward.  In the very next sentence the GOP abandons its focus on priorities and treats all threats as equal, and as military:

We must deter any adversary who would attack us or use terror as a tool of government. Every potential enemy must have no doubt that our capabilities, our commitment, and our will to defeat them are clear, unwavering, and unequivocal.

No hint here of risks arising from failed or failing states, epidemics, social unrest or economic failure.  All adversaries are equal.  There are no priorities, cost effectiveness is irrelevant, candid articulation is abandoned.

But then we turn to the section entitled “America’s Generosity: International Assistance that Makes a Difference.”  Ambivalence reigns again.  We are enormously generous, and for good reason:

Assistance should be seen as an alternative means of keeping the peace, far less costly in both dollars and human lives than military engagement.

Too bad that was forgotten in the national security section.  But then the GOP says foreign assistance should be done through the private sector and the Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC).  Never mind that the private sector relies heavily on the U.S. government to fund its efforts in a chaotic situation like Iraq in 2006/7.  Or that the risks to American national security arise less frequently in countries eligible for MCC assistance, which is intended for those who already committed to reforms.  Of course they aren’t completely immune:  MCC has spent $460 million in Mali, which is struggling now with a military coup and extreme Islamist insurgency despite the relatively benign track it was on.

I’ll be amused to see if the next Republican administration cuts off assistance to Mali, Yemen, South Sudan, or Pakistan because “aid money should follow positive outcomes, not pleas for more cash in the same corrupt official pockets.”  But don’t get me wrong:  I’m not an enthusiast for aid in general, and I do believe it should be used, sparingly, to further U.S. interests.  But that means it has to be used where we face national security risks, even under non-ideal conditions.

The problem with these bits of the Republican platform is not that they are entirely wrong but that they are inconsistent and self-contradictory.  They state bold principles that, if applied, would lead to dramatically different conclusions from the ones stated.  Reminds me a bit of some of the founding fathers, whose boldness on our being created equal did not translate into freeing the slaves.  Maybe that is what is exceptionally American.

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Bear hug

Milan Marinković of Niš continues his series on the new government in Belgrade: 

Last week Serbian defense minister Aleksandar Vučić spent a few days in his first official visit to Russia. After meeting with Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Rogozin, who previously served as ambassador to NATO, Vučić told media the two sides agreed to engage in defense industry cooperation. The project would involve joint participation in the international market. In relation to this, Vučić announced that Serbia was going to open a factory for manufacturing complex military systems.

The agreement is currently in the preliminary stage. An expert team should be formed soon to work out specific details. In Serbia analysts are divided on potential effects of the cooperation. Some believe it could benefit Serbia’s defense industry, which is already a successful exporter of military equipment to third-world countries.  Others are more cautious due to insufficient information and fear that Russia will obtain too much influence in Serbia.

The likely strengthening of military ties between Russia and Serbia is not a surprise. Shortly after becoming defense minister, Aleksandar Vučić said that Serbia, as a “militarily neutral country, will not join NATO or any other military alliance, but remains free to develop bilateral relationships with anyone. He praised good cooperation of the Serbian army with the Ohio National Guard, but criticized his predecessor for neglecting “other parts of the world” – notably Russia. Although Vučić’s narrative suggests that Belgrade is planning to keep on walking a thin line between East and West, for the moment it appears to be tacking East.

It is not only in defense affairs that Russo-Serbian relations are on the increase, but also in the economy. Russia says it is seriously interested to take part in vital infrastructure projects in Serbia as a major investor. The Serbian government has admitted it may have to sell several state-owned monopolies in order to reduce the ever growing budget deficit and public debt. Instead of private companies – either foreign or domestic – the most likely candidate to buy some of these is the Russian state. Russia is also frequently mentioned as a potential buyer of the steel factory in the town of Smederevo, which Serbia recently re-nationalized following the withdrawal of U.S. Steel from ownership of the factory.

Serbia is thus slowly but surely getting sucked into Russia’s sphere of influence.  Being almost devastated economically, Serbia is in no position – and generally has no reason – to antagonize any country, and certainly not one like Russia, which is a force to be reckoned with even when at its weakest. Serbia needs good relations with Moscow.  But having a good relationship is quite different from building a strategic partnership. If Serbia is still committed to European integration, as its government claims, then it must seek major allies among leading EU states as much as in the Kremlin.

A big part of the orientation towards Russia is based on populism.  Serbs love Russia, including many who also support the country’s bid for EU membership.  Vladimir Putin would no doubt win presidential elections in Serbia by a large margin if he were eligible to run.  At the same time, the ongoing economic crisis is making the EU look less attractive in the eyes of the Serbian public – as evidenced by latest opinion polls.

Russia’s deep pockets may help save Serbia in the short-term. The question is whether Serb affection for Russia will be good or bad for Serbia and its European ambitions in the long run.

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The antidote to a “huge trend of lying”

There is so much bad news from Syria that it counts as good news when someone undertakes a serious effort to document what is happening.  Mohammed al-Abdullah, a young Syrian living in Washington, is leading an effort to do just that at the Syria Justice and Accountability Centre.  He briefed on the nascent Centre, which will be located in Lyon, France, this morning at Brookings, with Tamara Wittes in the chair.

For now, the data is collected by other organizations, Syrian and international, before being mapped on the SJAC website. Data sources are vetted and documented.  It is the Centre’s intention to document all abuses, regardless of the perpetrators.  Eighteen governments are supporting the initiative, which grew out of a Hillary Clinton commitment to accountability.  There will be a donors conference in Morocco September 14.  IREX, Public International Law and Policy Group and No Peace Without Justice are SJAC partners.

The data will not generally provide the kind of legal basis needed for individual prosecutions.  But it will document what is going on, provide important leads and context, and will be useful in the future for memorialization.

It is also hoped that such documentation may reduce the likelihood of future revenge violence, in particular on a sectarian basis.  I frankly doubt that:  I don’t know of an instance in which documentation efforts have demonstrably reduced the likelihood of revenge, but if readers do I hope they will comment accordingly.  There is no sign yet of Alawite or Druze community openness to this initiative, even though it would be welcomed.

A number of interesting comments were made during the presentation.  One knowledgeable long-time observer of the Levant noted that there has been no documentation of the civil war or any serious reconciliation in Lebanon, but somehow everybody has agreed to forget, if not to forgive.  That admittedly seems unlikely in Syria, where the conflict is taking on an increasingly sectarian character.  It was noted that defectors from the Syrian army are more open to applying international humanitarian law once they join the revolution than civilians who take up arms, some of whom are bent on revenge.

Perhaps most tellingly it was noted that there is a “huge trend of lying” among Syrians, who may exaggerate what is going on, misrepresent their role in it, and even prevaricate about where they are located.  This alone makes the SJAC effort worthwhile.  The numbers are horrifying enough without exaggeration:  more than 22,000 killed and more or less the same number wounded.  And things are getting worse, not better.

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This week’s peace picks

1. Indonesia’s Performance and Prospects, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Tuesday August 28, 12:00pm-2:00pm

Venue: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace , 1779 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036

Indonesia—the fourth most populous nation on earth and the world’s largest Muslim country—is a vibrant, decentralized democracy that has enjoyed rapid and resilient economic growth. What explains this success and will it continue? What impact, if any, will the 2014 presidential elections have on the country’s political and economic direction?

James Castle and William Wallace will join Carnegie’s Vikram Nehru to discuss Indonesia’s political and economic performance, as well as its prospects and challenges.

RSVP for this event here


2.  Turkey’s Partnership for Security: The Next Phase, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, Tuesday August 28, 12:00pm-2:00pm

Venue: Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, 901 N. Stuart Street, Suite 200, Arlington, VA 22203

The Potomac Institute for Policy Studies’ International Center for Terrorism Studies will host a panel discussion, “Turkey’s Partnership for Security: The Next Phase,” from 12 noon – 2 pm on Tuesday, August 28, at the Institute. Co-sponsors of this event include the Inter-University Center for Terrorism Studies and the Inter-University Center for Legal Studies of the International Law Institute. Attendance is by registration only; please see below for details.

Prof. Yonah Alexander 
Director, International Center for Terrorism Studies, Potomac Institute for Policy Studies
Prof. Sinan Ciddi 
Executive Director, Institute for Turkish Studies, Georgetown University
Dr. Harold Rhode 
Former Specialist for Middle Eastern Affairs, Office of Net Assessment, Pentagon
Additional panelists TBA
Closing Remarks:
Prof. Don Wallace, Jr. 
Chairman, International Law Institute

Registration is required for general audience and press attendance. Please provide name and affiliation to Evan Lundh, Research Coordinator, or 703-562-4522.


3.  Reality vs. Myth: What it’s Like to Live and Work in Post-Conflict Settings, Young Professionals in Foreign Policy, Tuesday August 28, 6:30pm-8:30pm

Venue: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1800 K Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20006


Doug Brooks, Preisdent
The founder of the International Stability Operations Association, he is a specialist in African security issues and has written extensively on the regulation and constructive utilization of the private sector for international stabilization, peacekeeping, and humanitarian missions.

Jessica Mueller , Director, Programs & Operations
Editor-in-Chief, Stability Operations Magazine
As part of the leadership team at ISOA, Jessica is responsible for managing the Association’s programs and operations including communications, advocacy efforts, events, member committees and standards. As the Editor-in-Chief of the Stability Operations Magazine, she is responsible for content, design and distribution.

Jason Kennedy, Manager, Membership & Business Development
Jason works on the ISOA leadership team to oversee member services, develop membership, and coordinate opportunites for members, potential members and strategic partners to engage with the Association and the stability operations industry. His responsibilities span membership, business development, marketing/communications and partnership building.

Naveed Bandali, Business Development Manager for the Pax Mondial Group
Naveed Bandali is Business Development Manager for the Pax Mondial Group, an international operational support and capacity building firm that specializes in risk management, construction, medical services, and mine action & training services.

RSVP for this event here


4. Inside Iran’s Nuclear Program, Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Wednesday, August 29, 12:00-2:00pm

Venue: Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 1828 L Street NW Suite 1050, Washington, D.C. 20036Stern Library and Conference Room

At a time when the possibility of military action against Iran’s nuclear program is being hotly debated, a clear understanding of what Tehran can do and what it may be hiding is vital. To better inform this discussion, The Washington Institute and the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University are copublishing a detailed, comprehensive, and interactive online glossary of terms related to Iran’s nuclear program and possible weaponization work. The new study, to be released this week, comes out just when the International Atomic Energy Agency is distributing its latest report on Iran in advance of the September 10 IAEA Board of Governors meeting in Vienna.

To discuss the new publication and the latest news on Iran’s nuclear activities, The Washington Institute will host a Policy Forum luncheon with the authors, Olli Heinonen and Simon Henderson.

Olli Heinonen, a senior fellow at the Belfer Center, previously served as deputy director-general and head of the Department of Safeguards at the IAEA, inspecting nuclear facilities in Iran and other countries.

Simon Henderson is the Baker fellow and director of the Gulf and Energy Policy Program at The Washington Institute. He has lived in both Pakistan and Iran and has written extensively on nuclear proliferation.

The event will be broadcast via livestream starting at 12:30pm here

RSVP for this event here

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