Peace Picks April 7 – 11

1. Political Parties and Nigeria’s Electoral Process

Monday, April 7 | 10am – 12pm

2nd Floor Conference Room, Center for Strategic and International Studies; 1616 Rhode Island Ave. NW

Join us for a discussion of the critical roles and responsibilities of Nigeria’s political leaders, candidates, and party supporters in laying the foundations for peaceful, credible elections in 2015.  We will hear from the leaders of the two main parties about their plans for the primary contests, and their strategies for enforcing good conduct among candidates, promoting issue-based rather than personality-driven campaigning, ensuring a tone of moderation in the debates, and encouraging respect for the election outcome. This conference is part of an ongoing series, supported by the Ford Foundation, bringing Nigerian officials, civil society activists, and opinion leaders to Washington, D.C. to engage with U.S. policymakers and Africa experts on how best to ensure that Nigeria’s 2015 elections are free, fair, and peaceful.

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Prime Minister of Shiastan

I don’t generally write about elections in advance, since whatever you say is bound to be dated (and more than likely wrong) once the votes are counted.  But the Iraq parliamentary election April 30 is important enough to merit some comment.  And it is far enough in advance that I can write off any mistakes to things that occurred after the post.

The current expectation is that Prime Minister Maliki will do well in his campaign for a third mandate.  He may not match the 90 seats his State of Law got in 2010, but the prevailing consensus of both his supporters and opponents is that 80-90 is well within reach.  A plurality seems assured.  This is a bit surprising, given the challenge to his rule Sunnis have been mounting in Anbar and Ninewa, where Al Qaeda has taken over substantial areas.  But Maliki’s belligerent stance towards the Sunni gives him credibility with Shia, who are fed up with extremist Sunni attacks and will want to express their view at the polls.  Even 60-70 seats would put Maliki in the driver’s seat after the election, because changes in the electoral law (provincial electoral districts and open lists) have ensured that smaller parties have a good chance of doing better than in the past, thus fragmenting the opposition.  The Iraqiyya list that beat him last time by two votes has been evaporating.

Some think government formation might take a long time, as it did last time around.  That is certainly a possibility, but if Maliki gets the largest number of seats for his own State of Law and manages to hold the Shia alliance together he can hope to shortcircuit the process by coopting smaller parties and independents as well as taking on board some more moderate Sunnis.  The Kurdish parties would then have no choice but to hop on board, before the train leaves the station.

What might upset Maliki’s apple cart?   Two things:  Iran and Najaf.   Both want the Shia united.  But Tehran has become concerned that Maliki is getting too strong.  Iran has suffered in the past from a strong executive in Iraq and is therefore not wedded to Maliki.  Najaf, that is the marjariya (Shia religious authorities) are thought not to be keen on Maliki either, as he has failed to deliver services to the Shia poor, or most others for that matter.  If either Najaf or Iran decides that the Maliki cannot unite the Shia block, they might defenestrate him and manage it with someone else.  Maliki himself last time around set a precedent by forming a government without having the largest number of seats (he assembled his coalition post-election).

That however is unlikely.  Maliki, who has proven himself a master at political maneuver, will more likely keep the Shia united, pick off some Sunnis and present the Kurds with a virtual fait accompli.

The trouble is government formation in this fashion might be the end of Iraq.  The Kurds, who are resentful of Maliki’s failure to keep promises they say he made last time around, might well take the occasion to conduct a referendum on the status of Kurdistan, especially if there is no settlement of their oil disputes with Baghdad.  Independence would pass overwhelmingly.  If that happens, the Sunnis will not be sticking around:  there would be a giant uprising in Anbar, Saladin and Ninewa.  Maliki would react by trying to crack down on both Kurds and Sunnis, but there is no reason to believe the Iraqi security forces would be able or even willing.  A big election victory for Maliki would thus become Pyrrhic.  He would become prime minister of Shiastan.

Even if Iraq does not break up as a result of a third Maliki mandate, the sectarian and ethnic strains will be dramatic.  Maliki’s inclinations are to centralize power.  That is precisely the wrong direction to go in if something like democracy is to survive in Iraq.

A more favorable outcome would require a cross-sectarian, interethnic alliance of major Shia blocs (other than State of Law) with Sunnis and Kurds, backing an alternative to Maliki.  This is unlikely, since it would require a quick and definitive choice of a speaker of parliament, president and prime minister, one of each flavor, then a quick distribution of ministerial slots, with Maliki and his plurality trying to block the effort at every turn.  Unlike political leaders in more mature democracies, he cannot expect a quiet retirement, or a turn in opposition.  He has chased several Sunni leaders out of power and into Kurdistan, where people told me last week they would be happy to welcome Maliki as well.  From his perspective, that’s not an attractive proposition.

Sarah Chayes writes that the election in Afghanistan today may bring neither the stability nor the transition the West wants.  I fear much the same might be said about Iraq.  Both countries are in need of national dialogue and reconciliation.  But in Iraq the election definitely does matter, while in Afghanistan Sarah suggests that will not be the case.

Who is at risk?

SAIS student Stephen Pritchard, wo has cleared mines, reminds me that today is the United Nations’ International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. He also provided this powerful short film:

You and I are at risk, that’s who.

Requirements for a final Iran nuclear deal

Although Iran and the P5+1 seem to be adhering to their Joint Plan of Action, both sides face pressure to reach a final nuclear deal before the end of the six-month interim agreement, which began implementation in January. On Monday, the Brookings Institution hosted a panel discussion to discuss the Iran nuclear negotiations. The panelists were Senior Fellow Robert Einhorn, former special advisor to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Dennis Ross, counselor and William Davidson Distinguished Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; and Frank N. von Hippel, professor of public and international affairs, Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University. Brookings Senior Fellow Tamara Cofman Wittes, director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy, moderated.

Robert Einhorn: It is important to ask ourselves what the main goal of the agreement ought to be. Some argue that the main goal of an agreement should be to eliminate Iran’s capability to produce nuclear arms.  Given its technical knowhow, experience, and resources, Iran already has a nuclear weapons capability.

An agreement could however deter Iran’s leaders from ever making the decision to acquire nuclear weapons. Such an agreement would have three basic requirements:

    1. It would provide confidence that any steps by Iran to break out of an agreement and move towards nuclear weapons, whether at covert or at declared nuclear facilities, would be detected quickly.
    2. It would ensure that the period of time between initiation of breakout steps and the production of enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon would be long enough to enable the international community to intervene decisively to stop Iran.
    3. As a result of actions taken outside an agreement, Iran would get the clear message that any attempt to break out and make nuclear weapons would be met with a firm international response, including military force.

Each of these points is discussed in Bob’s Preventing a Nuclear-Armed Iran:  Requirements for a Comprehensive Nuclear Agreement.

Reaching an agreement that meets these three requirements will not be easy. Both President Obama and President Rouhani face strong domestic opposition that will limit their room for maneuver. No agreement that emerges from current negotiations will be ideal.

The true test for any agreement is how it compares to alternative approaches for dealing with the challenge of Iran’s nuclear program. One alternative is to ratchet up the sanctions until Iran makes major concessions. Another alternative is use of military force. Before we turn to these, we should make every effort to achieve an agreement that deters Iran by making the pathway towards acquiring nuclear weapons as detectable, lengthy, and risky as possible.

Dennis Ross: Bob’s report made a reference to the possible military dimensions of the Iranian program. He also mentioned the difficulty of getting Iranians to admit their weapons program. It is critical to expose what has been done in the past. It is difficult to forge an agreement if there are certain aspects of the program that are hidden. The Iranian narrative claims it is a peaceful program. It is not. If the deal does not take place, this should be part of the Western narrative: all along the Iranians had a program that was not peaceful. That will help to justify some of the steps we may take.

Bob makes the case that this is going to be an agreement where Iran will be able to enrich uranium in a limited way. This is important because in the event that diplomacy fails, we must demonstrate to the international community that what we offered was credible. If the Iranians turn the offer down, it will mean they are not satisfied with peaceful nuclear energy. We need to be in a position to unmask the Iranians if diplomacy fails.

Another way to affect the Iranians and strengthen deterrence measures is to lengthen the breakout time. If extended to twelve months, their program would be set back far enough that the steps they have to take would be daunting.  A longer breakout time will reduce their temptation to cheat.

To deter the Iranians from cheating, the consequences of cheating need to be clear. Bob mentioned a Security Council resolution, IAEA involvement, and Congressional authorization for the president to use force. The clearer we are on the consequences of cheating, the greater likelihood we will produce an agreement.

The key for the negotiations to be successful is to demonstrate to the Supreme Leader the consequences of not reaching an agreement. Historically, the Islamic Republic has only adjusted its behavior when the costs were high. The Supreme Leader needs to realize that the economic costs would be intolerable and the failure of diplomacy would trigger the use of force.

Frank von Hippel: The monitoring of Iran’s centrifuge production is not a traditional part of safeguards, but it is critical. As the US intelligence community says, a sneakout is more likely than a breakout. A sneakout would involve the production of extra centrifuges and installing them in an undeclared location.  We need confidence in the IAEA’s ability to keep track of all the components and centrifuges.

Iran’s enrichment program is symptomatic of a more general problem with the current nonproliferation regime. Centrifuge enrichment plants are inherently dual purpose. As long as it is considered legitimate for countries to build and control them nationally, the potential for nuclear weapons breakouts will spread to more countries.

Confrontation and negotiation between Washington and Tehran are only part of the story. There are also parallel confrontations and negotiations within Washington and within Tehran. Those who are working for a diplomatic solution have to be aware of the domestic political constraints of their counterparts on the other side. Compromise will be necessary.

“Macedonia” is not exclusively Greek

Let me first grant to my critics that ancient Macedonia before the conquests of Alexander the Great was mostly in what is today the Hellenic Republic.  I have no doubt about that.  Never have.  But that in no way gives modern Greece exclusive rights to the term “Macedonia.”  Let me illustrate:

  1. The modern country that borders Greece to the north fancies itself the Republic of Macedonia.  There was no Republic of Macedonia in ancient Greece and no serious possibility of confusion with ancient Macedonia by the use of that term.
  2. According to the US Geological Survey, there are eight “locales” in the United States with “Macedonia,” in their names and 1519 other places (many churches, most not of the orthodox variety).
  3. There are 28 locales named Athens in the US, three of them towns.  Anyone in Greece objecting?
  4. In France, a macedoine is a fruit salad.  Want to make an issue of that?
  5. The United States calls one of its 50 states “New Mexico.”  Mexico’s official name is Estados Mexicanos Unidos.  There is a lot more history of irredentist claims across the Mexican/American border than across the Macedonia/Greece border.  I don’t know anyone who has bothered worrying about the names though, except that some Mexicans would like to get rid of the Estados Unidos part in their own official name.
  6. For those concerned about identity theft:  citizens of the United States call themselves “Americans.”  So do citizens of all the other countries of the Western Hemisphere.  I’ve never heard a citizen of the US claim exclusivity, though I have heard citizens of other countries object to the US usage.
  7. Macedonia under Alexander expanded into the territory of ancient Paeonia. That’s one of the many reasons he is termed the Great.  Aren’t those who want to limit the term to modern Greece depriving their hero of some of his glory?  How about the Egyptian city of Alexandria:  is that offensive?
  8. For those who find the recent architectural innovations in Skopje offensive, please visit Washington DC, which was built as the “New Rome” and mercilessly plundered late-18th century understanding of Greek and Roman architecture.  There is even an imitation of the coffered dome of Rome’s ancient Pantheon in the entrance hall of the National Gallery of Art, built however in the 20th century.
  9. Those who argue that Skopje should be satisfied with a name like “Republic of Upper Macedonia” need to explain why then Greece is vetoing membership in NATO, which would occur under the country’s UN-accepted name “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.”  The latter, which Greece has rightly accepted under the Interim Accord for many other purposes, is no less distant from the supposedly offensive “Macedonia” or “Republic of Macedonia.”  It has three or four “modifiers,” depending on how you count.
  10. The only excuse for making an issue of Macedonia’s name is if it were to lay claim to Greek territory. Amendment 1 of the constitution of the Republic of Macedonia reads:   “The Republic of Macedonia has no territorial pretensions towards any neighboring state.”

One of my antagonists on Twitter called me a clown for claiming Greece does not have an exclusive right to the term “Macedonia.”  But he wasn’t laughing.  I laughed at him.  Who’s the clown?

The role of civil society in Syria

Following ethnically polarized armed conflicts like the Bosnian War and the Sri Lankan civil war, academics, politicians, and practitioners have widely debated the role of civil society in conflict prevention, peacemaking, and post-conflict regeneration (Belloni, 2001; Orjuela, 2003).  Some argue (Rood, 2005) civil society groups in conflict areas have had an indirect, limited, and inconsequential impact on the macro-political process.  Other scholars argue (Fischer, 2006Paffenholz, 2010) that insufficient research has been undertaken to support any assumptions, positive or negative, about the effects of civil society.

For the past two months I have been part of a larger project to compile data on over 150 Syrian-led civil society organizations both inside and outside the country. The insights I gained from this research suggest that Syrian civil society is playing an important, supportive role in advancing conflict resolution and peace building.

Prior to the revolution, Syrian civil society generally consisted of state-controlled organizations. This was a result of the emergency law, which was enforced since the Baath party came to power in 1963. Between the 1960s and the late 1990s, little independent civil society activity existed in Syria. Most charities during that period consisted of community-based organizations and informal associations (Wael, 2012, 10).

By the time of the uprising, about 1,000 NGOs were registered with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor. Most of these organizations focused on welfare service provision, health, and women and children. One of the most prominent organizations was the Syria Trust for Development. Under the patronage of the First Lady Asma Assad, it included three distinct divisions: the Syrian Foundation for the Development of the Countryside (FIRDOs), the Youth and Early Childhood Division, and the Culture and Heritage Division. Its programs focused on economic growth, youth empowerment, and socio-cultural development, but they ceased operating in 2011 (Wael, 2012, 10). The Trust does, however, continue to organize small-scale relief and humanitarian work in regime-controlled areas (Syria Trust for Development).

Since the crisis, hundreds of non-state-sanctioned civil society organizations have sprung up across the country, initially to support the uprising. With increased violence, these organizations have restructured themselves to meet humanitarian relief needs such as food security, medical treatment, and refugee work (Brandenburg, 2014). As the conflict progresses, Syrian civil society has further developed with local coordinating committees emerging in towns and cities. These committees act as local-level governance structures in the absence of a functioning government.

At first glance, Syrian civil society seems largely disorganized, overlapping and uncoordinated. This is not the full picture. Syrian civil society is also slowly consolidating itself into more stable entities, strengthening its ability to respond to the humanitarian crisis (Brandenburg, 2014). Organizations such as Every Syrian and Najda Now International provide crucial aid to displaced Syrians through financial support, food distribution, and medical aid. Other organizations are positioning themselves to promote and facilitate participatory politics and peace building by educating Syrians about human rights, advocating interfaith dialogue, and fostering youth activism. Based in Beirut, Nuon raises community awareness and teaches Syrian youth about conflict resolution and negotiation techniques. Similarly, Relief and Reconciliation for Syria combines practical help with reconciliation and peace building. Syrian civil society is trying hard to mitigate the detrimental effects of the conflict.

Nonetheless, the challenges civil society organizations and local committees face are real. In addition to the absence of basic security, they suffer from a paucity of resources, the curtailment of utilities run from government-held zones, and often a lack of administrative capacity.

One of the biggest struggles for organizations inside and outside Syria is lack of coordination. Although each organization may function effectively in a localized context, fighting has fragmented the environment (Brandenburg, 2014). More steps are needed to create larger alliances between civil society organizations. Doing so would then facilitate relief distribution and the implementation of projects promoting conflict resolution and transitional justice.

The other major challenge Syrian civil society faces is exclusion from formal negotiations. The Geneva talks largely ignored and marginalized Syria’s civil society (Oxfam, 2014). Future talks need to be more inclusive (WILPF International 2014). By documenting violence, helping refugees, and raising awareness about the conflict through citizen journalism, Syrian civil society organizations have become experts about the realities on the ground (Brandenburg, 2014). From the beginning, they have been proactive participants in the uprising.

Any agreement reached through negotiations would be tenuous at best. Syrian civil society are the ones who will play a crucial role in implementing long-term decisions and establishing peace.

Belloni, Roberto. 2001. “Civil society and peacebuilding in Bosnia and Herzegovina.” Journal of Peace Research 38 (2): 163-180.

Brandenburg, Rachel. 2014. “Syria’s Civil Society: Wael Sawah on the Push for Influence.” February 27. (accessed March 23, 2014).

Fischer, Martina. 2006. “Civil Society in Conflict Transformation: Ambivalence, Potentials and Challenges.” Berghof Research Center for Constructive Conflict Management. (accessed March 23, 2014).

Integrity Research and Consultancy. “Summary Report: Syrian Women’s NGOs and Geneva II.” (January) London.’s%20NGOs%20and%20Geneva%20II%20(1).pdf (accessed March 23, 2014).

Local coordination committees of Syria. “About the LCCS.” Accessed March 23, 2014.

Orjuela, Camilla. 2003. “Building Peace in Sri Lanka: a Role for Civil Society?” Journal of Peace Research 40 (2): 195-212.

Oxfam. 2014. “Geneva II peace talks: Syrian women and civil society must be heard.” February. (accessed March 23, 2014).

Paffenholz, Thania. 2010. Civil Society and Peacebuilding (Working paper). (accessed March 23, 2014).

Pouligny, Béatrice. 2005. “Civil Society and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding: Ambiguities of International Programmes Aimed at Building ‘New’ Societies.” Security Dialogue 36 (4): 495-510.

Rood, Steven. 2005. “Forging Sustainable Peace in Mindanao: The Role of Civil Society.”  Policy Studies 17. (accessed March 23, 2014).

Ruiz de Elvira, Laura. 2013. “The Syrian Civil Society in the Face of Revolt.” October. (accessed March 23, 2014).

Sawah, Wael. 2012. “Syrian Civil Society Scene Prior to Syrian Revolution.” October. (accessed March 23, 2014).

The Syria Trust for Development. “Ongoing Projects.” Accessed March 23, 2014.

WILPF International. 2014. “Press release: Absence of women at Syria talks could jeopardize future peace.” January 22. (accessed March 23, 2014).

WILPF International. 2014. “Syrian women: the missing civil link to Geneva II peace talks.” January 23. (accessed March 23, 2014).

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