I could easily cheer the climate change agreement reached yesterday in Paris: it is the first to gain universal adherence, it starts the process of limiting greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, it makes a big down payment on helping poorer countries join the process, it sends a strong signal to finance and industry about future directions, it is a big win for President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry, and it arguably initiates a process that will ratchet up restraints on emissions for decades to come.
But the sad fact is that the agreement does not do what many scientists think necessary to avoid catastrophic outcomes: limit future increases in global temperatures to 2 degrees centigrade or less. So yes, the agreement may be a turning point, and it is certainly a remarkable example of global governance aiming to meet the challenge of a long-term problem. It may even avoid the worst of the impacts global warming might have caused. But it won’t prevent island countries from being inundated and even submerged, or ferocious storms from ravaging many parts of the world. Nor will it prevent the United States and other countries with long coastlines from needing to spend fortunes to protect property and infrastructure, if they don’t want to lose to both to rising sea levels.
This is one of those triumphs that needs to be seen in perspective. Both what it achieves and what it fails to achieve are significant. But no agreement would have been far worse. Failure would have poisoned the subject for another decade or more, as politicians would have hesitated to revive it once more from its deathbed.
So the bar may be low, but getting over it is better than not getting over it. In foreign policy, that is cause enough for celebration.
- Toward a “Reaganov” Russia: Assessing trends in Russian national security policy after Putin | Monday, October 5th | 10:00 – 11:30 | Brookings | REGISTER TO ATTEND | During their recent speeches before the United Nations General Assembly, Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama traded strong words on issues from Ukraine to arms control to Syria. The exchange between the two presidents unfolded as questions about Russia’s long-term foreign policy ambitions and grand strategy return to the forefront of policy debate. To better understand what lies ahead in Russian foreign and security policy, analysts must explore variances between Russian strategic culture and the agenda put forward by President Putin. Disentangling these differences will be crucial for U.S. policy planning of the future. Brookings Senior Fellow Clifford Gaddy joins Michael O’Hanlon, author of “The Future of Land Warfare,” to discuss their research on the issue, focusing on five possible paradigms for the future of Russian grand strategy. Former ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer, presently the director of the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative at Brookings, will also participate in the panel.
- United States and China: Trends in Military Competition | Monday, October 5th | 12:00 – 1:00 | RAND Corporation | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Over the past two decades, China has poured resources into upgrading its military. This modernization, coupled with China’s increasingly assertive position in the waters surrounding the mainland, has caused concern in Washington and capitals across Asia. Recently, a team of RAND researchers led by Eric Heginbotham released The U.S.-China Military Scorecard report. This study is the broadest and most rigorous assessment to date of relative U.S. and Chinese military capabilities based entirely on unclassified sources. Join us to discuss the evolution of Chinese military capabilities in specific domains (air and missile, maritime, space, cyber, and nuclear) and the overall trend in the regional military balance over time; how Chinese relative gains could affect the strategic decision-making of Chinese leaders; steps the United States can take to limit the impact of a growing Chinese military on deterrence and other U.S. strategic interests. Eric Heginbotham is a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation specializing in East Asian security issues.
- Nuclear Weapons in the Middle East | Tuesday, October 6th | 10:00 – 11:30 | Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Join The Center for Transatlantic Relations in a discussion on nuclear Middle East. This discussion with feature Yair Evron, professor emeritus, Department of Political Science, Tel-Aviv University and senior research associate for the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel-Aviv. Additionally, Ambassador Robert E. Hunter, senior fellow for Center for Transatlantic Relations will participate in the discussion.
- The Pivotal Moment: How the Iran Deal Frames America’s Foreign Policy Choices | Tuesday, October 6th | 12:00 – 1:00 | The Heritage Foundation | REGISTER TO ATTEND | At the core of the debate over the Iran deal are two distinct visions of what American foreign policy should be. In contrast to the politicized efforts to frame foreign affairs as a choice between isolationism, regime change, or some nebulous choice in between, the controversy over the efficacy of the Vienna Agreement represents the real difference between the alternatives being offered to the American people. This discussion aims to frame the distinctions between progressive and conservative foreign policy and the choice they represent for the nation as it considers what kind of statecraft to expect from the next administration. Speakers include: Colin Dueck, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Research Institute, and Kim Holmes, Distinguished fellow, The Heritage Foundation.
- Children of Monsters: An Inquiry into the Sons and Daughters of Dictators | Tuesday, October 6th | 1:00 | Institute of World Politics | REGISTER TO ATTEND |Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be the child of a Stalin or Hitler, a Mao or Castro, or Pol Pot? National Review’s Jay Nordlinger asked himself this. The result is Children of Monsters: An Inquiry into the Sons and Daughters of Dictators, an astonishing survey of the progeny of 20 dictators. Some were loyalists who admired their father. Some actually succeed as dictator. A few were critics, even defectors. What they have in common, Nordlinger shows, is the prison house of tainted privilege and the legacy of dubious deference.
- India and Pakistan: From Talks to Crisis and Back Again | Wednesday, October 8th | 8:30 – 10:00 | Carnegie Endowment for International Peace | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The last few months have witnessed nascent efforts to restart high-level bilateral talks between Delhi and Islamabad dashed again by political maneuvering in both capitals. In addition, there has been an uptick in violence along the Line of Control in Kashmir and muscular signaling from both sides. Why has the latest effort between India and Pakistan to talk about the myriad issues between them fallen apart? What can we discern about the approach of Indian Prime Minister Modi toward Pakistan? How do civil-military politics in Pakistan inform its approach toward India? Are the two states doomed to a perpetual state of ‘not war, not peace,’ or is there hope for a way forward? Huma Yusuf , Wilson Center, and Aparna Pande, Hudson Institute, will discuss. Carnegie’s George Perkovich will moderate.
- What can Myanmar’s Elections tell us about Political Transitions? | Wednesday, October 7th | 9:30- 11:00 | Advancing Democratic Elections and Political Transitions consortium | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Elections are critical junctures in many transitions, providing clarity on whether a political transition is advancing or retreating – and Myanmar’s November 8, 2015 parliamentary elections promise to be such a watershed moment for the country’s potential democratic transition. Speakers Include: John Brandon, Senior Director at The Asia Foundation, Jennifer Whatley, Division Vice President, Civil Society & Governance at World Learning, Robert Herman, Vice President for Regional Programs at Freedom House, Jonathan Stonestreet, Associate Director of the Democracy Program at The Carter Center, Eric Bjornlund, President of Democracy International.
- A Saudi Arabian Defense Doctrine for a New Era | Thursday, October 8th | 10:00 – 11:30 | CSIS | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Saudi Arabia has in recent years consolidated its place as the preeminent Arab leader, regional stabilizer, and critical bulwark against terrorism and a nuclear Iran. The Kingdom’s growing security responsibilities require rapid and substantial military investments. Prince Sultan bin Khaled Al Faisal and Nawaf Obaid, visiting fellow and associate lecturer at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, will outline a comprehensive Saudi Arabian Defense Doctrine for a new era and explain why the Kingdom is likely to double down on defense and national security capabilities in the next decade.
- The EU Migration Crisis | Thursday, October 8th | 2:30 – 4:00 |Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies | REGISTER TO ATTEND |Dean Vali Nasr and The Human Security Iniative of the Foreign Policy Insitute Invite you to a panel discussion on The EU Migration Crisis. Speakers include: Michel Gabaudan, president, Refugees International, Reka Szemerkeny, Ambassador, Hungary, Peter Wittig, Ambassador, Germany.
- Democracy Rebooted: The Future of Technology in Elections | Friday, October 9th | Atlantic Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | As technology plays an increasingly dominant part of our lives, its role in elections has come under scrutiny. We are at a crucial moment to review the policies that influence elections and the technology we use to execute them. Why can we call a car, book a hotel, and pay bills on our phones, yet elections are often still implemented with pen and paper? Legitimacy, access, credibility, and trust are the issues that will require policymakers and technologists to carefully script the implementation of technology in our elections. Speakers include: Governor Jon Huntsman, Chairman Atlantic Council, Secretary Madeline Albright, David Rothkopf, CEO and Editor-in-Chief FP Group, Pat Merloe, Director, Electoral Programs, National Democratic Institute, Mark Malloch Brown, Former Deputy Secretary General, UN, Matthew Masterson, Commissioner, Electoral Assistance Commission, Tadjoudine Ali-Diabacte, Deputy Director, Electoral Assistance Division, UNDPA, Justice Jose Antonio Dias Toffolio, President, Supreme Electoral Court, Brazil, Manish Tewari, Former Minister of Information, India.
1. A New Climate for Peace: Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risks (Report Launch) | Monday, June 22nd | 3:00-5:00 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The ultimate “threat multiplier,” climate change is increasing the challenges facing the U.S. development, diplomatic, and security communities. “A New Climate for Peace: Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risks,” an independent report commissioned by the members of the G7, identifies seven compound climate-fragility risks that pose serious threats to stability in the decades ahead. Join leaders from the development, diplomatic, and security communities and the report’s coauthors for the U.S. launch of a “New Climate for Peace.” The high-level interagency panel will explore how these climate-fragility challenges are changing the way the United States and its partners work, and will also identify opportunities for joint action to address them. Speakers include: Alexander Carius, Co-Founder and Managing Director, adelphi, Geoffrey D. Dabelko, Senior Advisor, Environmental Change and Security Program, Professor and Director of Environmental Studies, Ohio University; Former ECSP Director, Roger-Mark De Souza, Director of Population, Environmental Security, and Resilience, Wilson Center, Alice Hill, Senior Director for Resilience Policy, National Security Council, White House, Christian Holmes, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Economic Growth, Education and Environment, and Global Water Coordinator, U.S. Agency for International Development, Melanie Nakagawa, Policy Planning Staff, Office of the U.S. Secretary of State, Andrew Selee, Executive Vice President and Senior Advisor to the Mexico Institute, Jonathan White, Rear Admiral, Oceanographer and Navigator of the Navy, Director of Task Force Climate Change, U.S. Navy, and David Yang, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, U.S. Agency for International Development.
2. Turkey, the Kurds, and the Middle East: What the Turkish Elections Portend for the Region’s Future | Tuesday, June 23rd | 10:00-11:30 | The Hudson Institute | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The recent Turkish elections indicated the strength of Turkish democracy. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bid for unrivaled executive power was rejected by Turkey’s voters, demonstrating the growing political power of the country’s largest minority group, the Kurds. Commentary on Turkish politics typically focuses on Islamism, Erdogan’s ambition, the nature of the Justice and Development party, and the various political scandals of the last few years. The reality is that more significant changes in the country are going relatively unnoticed. Turkey’s shifting demographics—rising Kurdish birth rates and lower Turkish birth rates—suggest that this key NATO ally is undergoing a fundamental transformation. What does this mean for Turkey and the rest of the Middle East, particularly countries that have large Kurdish populations including Iraq, Syria, and Iran? What challenges and opportunities will this present to American policymakers in the coming years? Speakers include: former U.S. ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey; Tolga Tanis, the Washington correspondent for the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet; Gonul Tol, founding director of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies; and Eric B. Brown, Hudson Institute senior fellow and co-editor of Current Trends in Islamist Ideology. Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Lee Smith will moderate the discussion.
3. Envisioning the Future of Urban Warfare | Tuesday, June 23rd | 3:00-4:30 | Atlantic Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Approximately sixty percent of humanity will live in urban areas in the near future. These billions of people will not just inhabit cities, but megacities that will be economic, cultural, and political centers – and potential conflict zones. Conventional discussions about the future of warfare often fail to capture the epic challenge of preparing for – and preventing – urban warfare in megacities. With that in mind, the Art of Future Warfare project will host a discussion on Envisioning the Future of Urban Warfare. It will be the capstone to a war-art challenge calling for graphic novel, or comic book, illustrations revealing what urban warfare might look like in the 2040s and 2050s. To address this important topic, Max Brooks, New York Times bestselling author of World War Z, will join Jon Chang, the writer of the Black Powder Red Earth series, along with the winner of the contest. The best illustrations will be on display for all to see and the panelists will discuss the battleground that is expected to encompass sixty percent of all people in the near future. Most importantly, they will tell us what we should worry about, and what is merely conjecture.
4. The Challenges of Democratization and Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe | Wednesday, June 24th | 10:00-12:00 | National Endowment for Democracy | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Nearly two years after the new constitution was signed into law, Zimbabwe’s democratic progress remains stalled and the economy is again in crisis. Please join us for a panel discussion to identify the challenges that must be overcome in order to reverse Zimbabwe’s current trajectory as well as explore opportunities for local and international actors to encourage political reform and economic recovery. Panelists include: Ambassador Bruce Wharton, United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Ibbo Mandaza, Executive Chairperson, SAPES Trust, Tawanda Mutasah, International human rights lawyer, Charles Msipa, Former President, Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries. Moderated by Imani Countess, Regional Director for Africa, Solidarity Center. Introductory remarks by Dave Peterson, Senior Director for Africa, National Endowment for Democracy.
5. Pirates, Islam, and U.S. Hostage Policy | Wednesday, June 24th | 12:00-1:00 | The Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Middle East Program and the Africa Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center present a conversation with Michael Scott Moore, freelance journalist, Spiegel Online and author. Moore will discuss his two and a half year ordeal as a captive of Somali pirates, with a focus on certain myths about hostage-taking.
6. Eradicating Boko Haram Sustainably: An Integrated Regional Approach | Wednesday, June 24th | 2:00-3:30 | The Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | In recent months, Boko Haram has expanded its raids from Northern Nigeria across the border into Northern Cameroon. The attacks, including attacks in March and April which killed numerous Cameroonian villagers, have mainly been attempts to obtain more supplies for the group. The spread of Boko Haram across borders highlights the need for regional cooperation to halt the group. This week, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria announced plans to conduct talks with Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin to form a regional military force to combat Boko Haram. Join the Wilson Center for a meaningful discussion on ways to combat Boko Haram, both from the perspective of a U.S. official and a prominent Cameroonian activist who has traveled to the Far North of Cameroon, where Boko Haram attacks have been taking place. Speakers include: Kah Walla, President of Cameroon People’s Party, U.S. Official (to be confirmed).
7. Annual Global Missile Defense Conference | Thursday, June 25th | 8:30-5:00 | Atlantic Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Missile Defense is a critical element for the United States’ strategy to defend its homeland and its collaborative efforts to secure the territories of its allies and partners in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. In each of these regions, the combination of increased volatility, if not conflict, and new deployments by potential adversaries of increasingly capable ballistic missiles has made missile defense collaboration all the more challenging and urgent. The Atlantic Council’s annual missile defense conference convenes leading missile defense and regional security experts to analyze the future trajectory of global missile defense issues. The conference focuses on how current and prospective geopolitical developments are shaping the requirements and opportunities for missile defense collaboration in Europe, the Middle East, and the Asia Pacific and will include a panel addressing the programmatic and technological challenges that define success and failure in missile defense programs. The conference will also feature an opening address by former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James E. Cartwright.
8. Rouhani at Two Years: An Assessment on the Cusp of a Nuclear Deal | Thursday, June 25th | 12:00-1:00 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | During President Rouhani’s first two years in office, attention has understandably been focused on Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the P5+1. Yet these two years have also witnessed important developments—and conflicts—in the sphere of politics, the economy, human rights and social policy. Our panel will examine this broad spectrum of issues. Speakers include: Robin Wright, USIP-Wilson Center Distinguished Scholar, Suzanne Maloney, Interim Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution and Karim Sadjadpour, Senior Associate, Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
9. Beyond Centrifuges: The Geopolitical Implications of an Iran Deal | Thursday, June 25th | 2:00-3:30 | Stimson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND |As negotiators work towards a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran by the June 30th deadline, there is much more at stake for the U.S. than just centrifuges and sanctions. While a deal has been contested by U.S. allies in Israel and Saudi Arabia, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen says a deal could “rebalance American influence” and that “detente with Iran might better balance our efforts across the sectarian divide.” How can a deal provide new options for the U.S. to resolve some of the most important challenges in the region? Join the National Iranian American Council at Stimson Center for a timely discussion with Peter Beinart, contributing editor for The Atlantic and National Journal; Fred Kaplan, War Stories columnist for Slate; Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council; and moderator Barbara Slavin, South Asia Center Senior Fellow for the Atlantic Council.
10. One Year Since Caliphate Declared: Combating ISIL | Thursday, June 25th | 6:30-8:00 | World Affairs Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Nearly a full year after it declared itself a caliphate, ISIL has greatly expanded its territory in Iraq and Syria, in addition to gaining the allegiance of terror networks around the globe. In the territory under their control they have effectively implemented a strict form of Sharia law, heavily utilizing corporal punishment as a means of enforcement, and they have been accused of committing genocide against ethnic and religious groups. The question remains of how the United States’ and Coalition allies’ strategy will change to more effectively address the spread of ISIL’s ideology and their expansion of territory. Our speaker panel includes the knowledgeable and versed voices of Dr. Shadi Hamid; a current fellow at the Brookings Institution – Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World in the Center for Middle East Policy. Thomas Sanderson is the co-director and senior fellow in the Center for Strategic International Studies Transnational Threats Project. Bryan Bender, defense editor for Politico, will moderate the discussion.
Kurir, a Belgrade tabloid, published this Friday interview with me today:
1. These days we saw again some really bad situations in Former Republic of Yugoslavia Macedonia, do You think that it can be more dangerous for all region, and why it happened?
A: Two things have happened in Macedonia: a wire-tapping scandal and a police raid on alleged Albanian insurgents. It seems to me the two things are distinct. Some other commentators believe they are related, in that the police may have acted to distract attention from the wire-tapping scandal. If that is what happened, the distraction failed.
I don’t know why either thing happened. We have not had the benefit of an in-depth investigation of either the wire-tapping or the police raid. The former seems to me more a domestic Macedonian issue, though I suspect there are other countries in the region with wire-tapping issues and some people believe a foreign intelligence service is involved in Macedonia. The alleged insurgents were Albanians, some of whom may have come from Kosovo, but their objectives and support network are not yet clear to me.
2. Albanian politicians again speak about project of Big Albania and that they will start to make it real. Is it the real treat for other countries in Balkans (for Serbia specific)?
A: Greater Albania is a bad idea whose time will never come. It would threaten not only Serbia but also Macedonia and Kosovo, whose constitution explicitly prohibits union with other countries. I don’t think Kosovar politicians are ready to move their capital to Tirana, or Albanian politicians ready to move their capital to Pristina. The US has consistently opposed Greater Albania and will continue to do so.
3. How Washington see this situation and what kind of relationship exist between Serbia and US in this moment?
A: You will have to ask American officials for their definitive view on this subject, but relations with Serbia seem to me pretty good. People in Washington appreciate the more pragmatic direction Belgrade has taken in recent years and want Serbia to progress in its accession negotiations with the European Union. At the same time, there are outstanding issues: Washington has recognized Kosovo and will expect Serbia to do so in the process of establishing good neighborly relations. Washington will also be interested in whether Serbia intends to proceed beyond Partnership for Peace to open a Membership Action Plan for NATO.
4. Our prime minister Aleksandar Vucic travel to America on Monday and he will meet with Vice President Joe Biden. What can Serbia expect from that meeting? Why is it important in this moment and which topics will be in focus?
A: Again you will have to ask US government officials, but I expect Washington to ask for Serbia to help maintain stability in the region by encouraging Serbs in Bosnia and Kosovo to integrate more into the country’s governing structures while continuing to enjoy the considerable benefits of decentralization in both countries. I imagine the Vice President may also ask about Serbia’s relations with Russia and NATO, especially in light of Russian aggression in Ukraine, and encourage Serbia to reduce its energy dependence on Russia. He will likely also ask about the ongoing investigation of the murder of the Bytyqi brothers, American citizens killed by Serbian security forces in 1999.
5. Does Mr. Biden help Serbia on its way to EU, and how?
A: I think the US has already been helpful in encouraging the EU to give Serbia candidacy and open accession negotiations. Mr. Biden has been particularly strong on these points, even before he became Vice President. Now it is up to Serbia to meet the requirements of the acquis communitaire as well as conform its foreign policy to European requirements.
6. How America sees relationship between Serbia and Russia?
A: Washington regards Serbia’s efforts to cozy up to Russia more with amusement than concern, except where Ukraine is concerned. That is a serious issue, one in which people in Washington think Belgrade should see clearly that Russia’s aggression is unacceptable and risks undermining Serbia’s own position on Kosovo. The “independence” and subsequent annexation of Crimea, as well as the supposed independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, should make Serbian officials think twice about their visits to Moscow.
7. Do You think that in one moment Serbia will turn its back to Russia and accept suggestion from Washington to supply itself with gas from Azerbaijan?
A: I don’t know. I imagine it depends in part on commercial terms to which I am not privy. But anyone in Belgrade should by now see clearly that excessive energy dependence on Russia undermines a country’s sovereignty and puts at risk its relations with the EU and the US. Serbia should be looking for long-term alternatives to Russian gas supplies and tying itself more tightly to the EU.
The Stimson Center held an event last week, entitled, Salafists And Sectarianism: Twitter And Communal Conflict In The Middle East. Speakers included Geneive Abdo, a Fellow at the Stimson Middle East Program, and Khalil al Anani, Adjunct Professor Johns Hopkins/SAIS, moderated by Mokhtar Awad, a Research Associate at the Center for American Progress.
The Shi’a-Sunni divide has become one of the most destabilizing factors in the Middle East—with no end in sight. The rise of the Salafist anti-Shi’a discourse is of great interest, as the movement has cleverly exploited the current sectarian conflict in Syria, with spillover effects into parts of Iraq and Lebanon that have succeeded in furthering their rhetorical and theological positions.
Abdo presented an overview of the findings of her recent paper, including suggestions on the future of extremism and social media. She opened with the question of why now? The disruption of the longstanding political order in the Middle East, as well a shift in power dynamics from a Sunni ruled Arab world to increased Shi’a control, has led many Sunnis to believe that the survival of their sect is at stake. Beyond the search for land and power, Salafis truly believe that the Shi’a are not real Muslims, and are out to destroy Sunni believers.
This evolution of sectarian tension post-Arab Spring was not anticipated. She points to the example of Bahrain, where the revolts started as a peaceful reform movement with both Sunnis and Shi’as were protesting together. This has sadly not remained the case. The Salafis are interesting not only for the window they offer into the world of anti-Shia discourse, but also for their recent entrance into the political sphere. They are less violent than their jihadi counterparts and have a broad constituency. “Celebrity sheiks” have amassed giant followings on twitter, examples of whom include Adnan Al-Arour and Mohammad Al Arefe, who has 11.5 million followers on Twitter.
Khalil Al Anani underlined that violent Salafists are dominating the discourse. Non-violent ones are often overlooked, yet they are operating more and more in the public sphere, and have obvious mass appeal. The traditional Salafist traditional discourse is widely disseminated using modern technology. The anti-Shi’a discourse is not limited to the Salafists, and has been picked up by some others. The rise of Salafists goes hand in hand with the rise of sectarian tensions. It has also helped to empower non-state actors, by increasing their following. An example is Yemen, where the fight against the Houthis has been framed as the fight against Iran’s goals to recreate the Safavid empire and to butcher all the Ah’l-Sunnah.
Mokhtar Awad discussed social media use in the Arab world. Saudi Arabia has the highest Twitter penetration rates in the Middle East, accounting for over 40% of active twitter users in the region. However, there is an inherent problem with Twitter, as 140 characters does not lend itself to the expression of nuanced views. Islamist embrace of Twitter has fueled the sectarian divide, as their ideas are retweeted thousands of times, reaching hundreds of thousands of people. The online discourse is dominated by Salafists, as proved by the Islamic State’s embrace of Twitter and other social media tools as a means of gaining followers and disseminating their message. How does the Western world counter this messaging? Alternative narratives are needed to balance the discourse of extremism, yet who will provide this?
Dylan Clement, a Syria Program Assistant at the International Republican Institute, asked some good questions in responses to my pieces advocated Free Syria on protected areas inside the country. Here are his questions and my answers:
Q: Through its usage of chemical weapons, the regime has proven its willingness to break international norms and in particular defy the United States. With that in mind, how would the regime react when faced with the possibility an alternative Syrian government taking hold in these de facto no fly zones?
A: The regime would certainly test the will of those who say they will protect them. We would need to be prepared to respond with proportional force against whatever applied the test. The problem will be that the artillery, mortars or aircraft concerned may disappear, or be parked next to mosques or schools. Then we need to be prepare to widen the circle of targets. This might well lead to escalation that we would have to be prepared to match.
The elimination of the bulk of the regime’s chemical weapons is perhaps a better indicator of its response to threat than its continued use of chlorine.
Q: I’m not sure the opposition structures that exist, ie the SOC/SIG, are competent and cohesive enough to provide actual governance alternatives in these free areas inside the country…
A: I don’t think the SOC/SIG would in the first instance be responsible. It would have to be local councils. Their connections to the SOC/SIG are tenuous at best. It is their connections to local liberated communities that are important.
Q: What if [Jabhat al] Nusra takes refuge in these areas as well? Given the level of cooperation between Nusra and ‘moderate’ rebel groups up to this point (and the lack of precedent for civilian opposition leaders in denouncing al Qaeda), a situation may arise whereby the US is providing air cover for Nusra’s attacks against the regime. That would be awkward.
A: This is a serious question, as a successful protected area would necessarily attract Nusra or other extremists. The Syrian forces responsible for protection on the ground would have to take care of that issue. My understanding is that the US-trained forces are prepared to oppose Nusra and the Islamic State, and their logistic and financial train presumably provides the US with leverage to insist.
But we have to be careful. Treating all Islamists as enemies would only make things worse, and there is necessarily an area of ambiguity: is the guy with the beard who disapproves of women appearing in public Nusra, Islamic State or just a devout Muslim with conservative social views? There will be no way to avoid issues of that sort as things unfold in Syria.