Peace picks October 26-30

  1. 20th Anniversary of Dayton Peace Accords Series – The Balkan Wars of the 1990s: Reflection and Reconciliation | Monday, October 26th | 10:00-12:00 | Johns Hopkins, SAIS | REGISTER TO ATTEND | This event is hosted by SAIS’s Center for Transatlantic Relations (CTR), which is a non-profit research center that engages opinion leaders on contemporary challenges facing Europe and North America. The goal of the Center is to strengthen and reorient transatlantic relations to the dynamics of a globalizing world. Panelists: Thomas J. Miller, Former U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina; Robert E. Hunter, Former U.S. Ambassador to NATO; and Robert M. Beecroft, Former OSCE Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Moderator: Sasha Toperich, CTR SAIS Senior Fellow and Director, Mediterranean Basin Initiative.
  2. Putin’s Crimea Gamble: Russia, Ukraine, and the New Cold War | Monday, October 26th | 10:30-12:00 | Brookings | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Since the time of Catherine the Great, Crimea has been a global tinderbox. Most recently, the world was stunned when the forces of Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded and seized Crimea in March 2014. In the months since, Putin’s actions in Crimea, eastern Ukraine and, more recently, in Syria have provoked a sharp deterioration in East-West relations. Basic questions have been raised about Putin’s provocative policies, his motivations, and the future of U.S.-Russian relations—and whether the world has now entered a new Cold War.On October 26, the Foreign Policy program at Brookings will host Nonresident Senior Fellow Marvin Kalb for the launch of his new book, Imperial Gamble: Putin, Ukraine, and the New Cold War (Brookings Institution Press, 2015). In Imperial Gamble, Kalb examines Putin’s actions in Ukraine, the impact on East-West relations, and how the future of the post-Cold War world hangs on the controversial decisions of one reckless autocrat, Vladimir Putin. Joining the discussion are Thomas Friedman, The New York Times columnist, and Nina Khrushcheva, professor of international relations at The New School. Brookings President Strobe Talbott will provide introductory remarks, and Martin Indyk, Brookings executive vice president, will moderate the discussion.
  3. A Global or Regional Future for Central Asia? | Tuesday, October 27th | 9:00-10:30 | CSIS | RSVP: | The United States, China and Russia have developed competing visions for Central Asia. The U.S. and China both use the imagery of the Silk Road to describe their visions, but thus far dialogue between the two countries remains modest in scope and pace. At the same time, Russian-Chinese collaboration on Central Asia is growing quickly. What may be the future development of U.S.-Russia-China relationship in Central Asia? And why is Central Asia important for international security more broadly? Featuring: Ivan Safranchuk, Deputy Director of the Institute of Contemporary International Studies, Diplomatic Academy (Moscow); with Jeffrey Mankoff, Acting Director and Senior Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program, CSIS, as discussant. The conversation will be moderated by Olga Oliker, Director and Senior Adviser, Russia and Eurasia Program, CSIS.
  4. Indonesia in the changing world: A conversation with President Joko Widodo of Indonesia | Tuesday, October 27th | 11:00-12:00 | Brookings | For more info: | On October 27, the Center for East Asia Policy Studies at Brookings will host President Joko Widodo of Indonesia for a discussion on the role of Indonesia in the changing world, focusing on economic opportunities and reforms, geopolitics, ASEAN, and international commitments. Brookings President Strobe Talbott will provide introductions and Congressman Brad Sherman of California will deliver opening remarks. Director of the Center for East Asia Policy Studies Richard Bush will moderate the discussion and conclude with his closing remarks. President Widodo took office in October 2014, defeating his opponent through an unprecedented, volunteer-based campaign that called for government reforms. Previously, he served as the governor of Jakarta (2012-2014) and as the mayor of Surakarta (2005-2012).
  5.  Captured News Media: The Case of Turkey | Tuesday, October 27th | 12:00-2:00 | Center for International Media Assistance | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Media capture –the systemic governance problem where political leaders and media owners work together in a symbiotic but mutually corrupting relationship – is a growing concern for media development around the world. It is becoming the dominant model of organization in a growing number of media markets, raising worrisome questions. Looking at the media market in Turkey as a case study, how does media capture affect journalists on the ground? What are the implications of media capture on Turkey’s upcoming elections? Join the Center for International Media Assistance at the National Endowment for Democracy in launching its latest report, “Captured News Media: The Case of Turkey” with an expert panel discussion featuring report author Andrew Finkel, Gönül Tol, Amberin Zaman, and Richard Kraemer.
  6. Global Security: What Does Gender Have to Do With It? | Tuesday, October 27th | 2:00-5:30 | US Institute for Peace | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The imperative for women to participate fully in decisions about peace and security won unprecedented recognition 15 years ago with the U.N. Security Council’s adoption of Resolution 1325 calling for members to craft national plans to accomplish that objective. Now, the new U.N. Strategic Development Goals declare women’s equality as a precondition to resolving many of the world’s national and regional crises. Please join the U.S. Institute of Peace and the five Nordic Embassies on Oct. 27 for a discussion with Nordic representatives that have helped pave the way on the connections between gender and security.Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden are ranked as the top five countries in the 2014 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index ratings. The discussion at USIP will explore the Nordic countries’ approach to gender equality and to global security more broadly. This event will celebrate the 15th anniversary of the landmark UNSC Resolution 1325 and the underlying principle that gender equality is at the core of peace and security. Speakers include: Mr. Geir H. Haarde, Ambassador of Iceland to the United States and Former President of the Nordic Council; Ms. Elisabeth Rehn, Former Minister of Defense of Finland and Independent Expert of the High Level Advisory Group for the Global Review on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325; Ambassador Dag Nylander, Norwegian Special Envoy to Colombia; Captain Anna Björsson, Gender Advisor at the Swedish Armed Forces Headquarters; Brigadier Flemming Kent Vesterby Agerskov, Chief at the Regional Command South and former Director of the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force Shafafiyat; and Ms. Carla Koppell, Chief Strategy Officer at U.S. Agency for International Development. Ambassador Donald Steinberg, President and CEO of World Learning, will moderate. Join the conversation on Twitter with #1325at15. A reception sponsored by the Nordic Embassies will follow the event from 4:00 pm – 5:30 pm.
  7. Democratizing Under Fire: Can Tunisia Show the Way? | Wednesday, October 28th | 10:00-11:30 | US Institute of Peace | REGISTER TO ATTEND | As Tunisia struggles to build a stable democracy from its 2011 Arab Spring revolution, it must overcome terrorist attacks, high unemployment, a refugee crisis and the threat of social turmoil. The stakes are region-wide, as Tunisia remains the only one of five Arab Spring countries to be treading a non-violent, democratic path. A critical figure in Tunisia’s evolution—Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of the Islamist movement Nahda—visits USIP, together with the Center for the Study of Islamic Democracy, on October 28 to discuss how his country can consolidate its progress.Tunisia’s success or failure in building a peaceful democracy is central to U.S. and international interests in a stable North Africa, Middle East and Arab world—an importance recognized this month by the award of the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize to key mediators in the country’s political struggle. After two attacks by militant gunmen killed scores of people and crimped the country’s vital tourist economy this year, the government imposed a state of emergency—a step that raised fears among many Tunisians about a return to the country’s decades of authoritarian, police-enforced rule.Disillusion among young Tunisians has made the country one of the biggest recruiting grounds for violent militant groups such as ISIS. As Tunisian youth circulate to battlefields in the Middle East—and as this nation of 11 million people hosts one million or more refugees from the civil war in neighboring Libya—how can Tunisia manage its borders, improve its security, prevent violence, and also strengthen democratic politics?In discussing these questions, Sheikh Ghannouchi is a vital voice. His movement, Nahda, led the first post-revolution government, which wrote the country’s new, more democratic, constitution. It is now a coalition partner in the secularist government led by President Beji Caid Essebsi. Sheikh Ghannouchi will deliver remarks on the challenges facing his homeland and its region. He then will join Ambassador William Taylor and author Robin Wright in a discussion that will include questions from the audience. Join the question on Twitter with #USIPTunisia.
  8. Minorities in the Syrian War and Implications for U.S. Policy | Wednesday, October 28th | 12:30-1:45 | Johns Hopkins SAIS – Rome Building | RSVP: | The Middle East Studies program hosts Faysal Itani, Resident Fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council, to speak on this subject.
  9. Implications for Afghanistan: The Taliban Seizure of Kunduz | Wednesday, October 28th | 2:30-4:30 | US Institute of Peace | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The Taliban’s two-week seizure of Kunduz in September revealed weaknesses in Afghanistan’s security forces and unforeseen Taliban capabilities. It has generated deep concerns about stability, security, the future of the peace process, and underappreciated humanitarian issues. On October 28, USIP will convene experts to analyze Kunduz and its fallout, including President Obama’s decision to extend the U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan beyond 2016. The fall of the northern city of Kunduz to the Taliban ignited serious concerns about the ability of the Afghan National Security Forces to maintain stability in their country. While Afghan forces recaptured Kunduz with international support, Taliban forces continue to pressure other northern cities while carrying out operations elsewhere.The government in Kabul and its backers are re-evaluating how security is provided. President Obama announced a reversal of his decision to remove all U.S. combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2016, saying that 5,500 would remain. While that decision had been under long discussion, it seems that Kunduz forced the issue. Meanwhile, pro-government factional leaders are urging Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to rearm local militias against the Taliban. Many analysts say predatory actions by existing militias were part of the problem in Kunduz. Since the takeover, reports of human rights abuses and humanitarian problems are emerging from Kunduz, and the Afghan government and international community seem ill-prepared to deal with the humanitarian crisis.Finally, the fall of Kunduz was a blow to Afghanistan’s “national unity” government, which so far has given the impression of being more focused on internal rivalries than on its core responsibilities. How did divisions within the government contribute to the fall of Kunduz? And might the city’s ordeal prompt better internal coordination?Please join USIP on Wednesday October 28 for a discussion among experts on these questions and what they may mean for stability in Afghanistan. Speakers include: Belquis Ahmadi, Senior Program Officer Asia Center, U.S. Institute of Peace; Deedee Derksen, King’s College London, Author, The Politics of Disarmament and Rearmament in Afghanistan; Ali Jalali, Distinguished Professor, National Defense University, Former Interior Minister of Afghanistan; and Christopher D. Kolenda, Former Senior Advisor on Afghanistan and Pakistan, Department of Defense. Scott Smith, Director for Afghanistan & Central Asia at USIP, will moderate.
  10. What is Next for Human Rights in Iran? | Thursday, October 29th | 2:00-3:30 | Freedom House | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Hassan Rouhani’s presidency has coincided with a deterioration of human rights. At least 800 individuals have been executed in 2015 – the highest number in 25 years. Over a thousand prisoners of conscience remain in Iranian jails, including American citizens, and many after serving their terms. Iran also has blocked efforts by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate abuses inside the country.Please join us for a discussion of the state of human rights in Iran today, and how the United States, the United Nations, and the international community should respond. Speakers include: Ahmed Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran; Daniel Calingaert, Executive Vice President, Freedom House; and Mehrangiz Kar, Award-winning human rights lawyer and author. Carol Morello, Washington Post correspondent, will moderate.
  11. New Challenges to the Laws of War: A Discussion with Ambassador Valentin Zellweger | Friday, October 30th | 9:00-10:30 | REGISTER TO ATTEND | New technologies have altered the way nations conduct armed conflict. Advanced cyber techniques and autonomous weapons systems are two salient examples, and nations can wield these tools to great effect. As these technologies proliferate, international bodies need to consider how existing legal frameworks keep pace with on-the-ground realities.
    Join Ambassador Valentin Zellweger, Director General for International Law and Legal Advisor at the Swiss Foreign Ministry and a group of leading experts for a discussion on how the challenges posed by modern technology can be addressed within the existing laws of armed conflict (LOAC) framework. Ambassador Zellweger will particularly draw from past experiences, such as the regulation of private military and security companies in the Montreux process, in order to illustrate ways to address new challenges in LOAC. Other panelists include: Colonel Gary Brown, Professor of Cyber Security, Marine Corps University; Catherine Lotrionte, Director of the Institute for Law, Science and Global Security, Georgetown University; and David Simon, Counsel, Sidley Austin, LLP. Light refreshments will be served at 10:30 AM following the panel.
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Countering the ISIS narrative

The Brookings Institution hosted “Combating ISIS Propaganda Networks” Wednesday afternoon. Former ambassador and vice president of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Alberto Fernandez, presented his major findings and policy recommendations from his research into ISIS’s propaganda operations. Richard LeBaron, non-resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council, provided comments, while Brookings’ Will McCants, who has recently published The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State, moderated.

Fernandez examined how ISIS propaganda developed, the reasons for its appeal, and efforts being made to counter its narrative. He observed that the crisis in Syria gave ISIS a window through which it could become more global and creative in its propaganda efforts, which had previously been inward-looking and somewhat amateurish. Syria historically and culturally holds much significance for Arab Muslims, and the city which holds apocalyptic significance, Dabiq, falls within its boundaries. ISIS’s English-language magazine is called Dabiq, after al-Zarqawi focused on it in one of his speeches.

Syria is also the first social media war, or tweeted war, according to Fernandez. So 2013 became a turning point for ISIS propaganda, as it also then began expanding into English.

ISIS’s appeal is based on four things: emergency, agency, authenticity, and victory. In Fernandez’s view, all propaganda stems from a political reality. To be successful, it must remain connected to that reality. ISIS exploits the sense Muslims have of being besieged and slaughtered everywhere. It provides the aggrieved with the opportunity, the invitation, to do something about this. Its character – grim, austere, brimming with zealotry and brutal violence – underscores its claimed authenticity. Finally, it is able to show that it gets results: it wins battles, takes cities, and expands its territorial control.

Efforts to counter ISIS need to be as comprehensive as ISIS’s approach. Fernandez has five recommendations:

  • Recognize that ISIS is a political problem with a media dimension: the phenomenon is not reducible to social media, but is a real war.
  • Counter volume with volume: efforts need a comprehensive network, including the information and experience of Syrians on the ground.
  • Content needs to be multifaceted: different focuses and styles should be used, rather than attempting to find a single silver bullet that alone will undermine ISIS.
  • Efforts must account for the personal dimension of radicalization and seek to replicate the tight personal relationships ISIS creates.
  • There is value in better policing of space online.

LeBaron by and large agreed with Fernandez, while also highlighting that many counter-propaganda efforts don’t provide any alternate options for people who may be susceptible to ISIS’s message. LeBaron believes that “We are the counter-narrative,” that is, Western liberal capitalism and democracy, the way people live in a Western country like the US.

This may be true for young Muslims who have little familiarity with the West and grew up under autocratic regimes and weak economies. But it hardly seems a likely counter-narrative to the hundreds of young people, Muslims or converts, who were born and raised in Western countries and are nevertheless attracted to ISIS or similar ideologies. Any counter message, like any explanation, must account for the numerous different factors contributing to ISIS’s appeal.

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Yes, Mr. Obama, there is a Syrian opposition

The Middle East Institute, which graciously calls me one of its scholars, published this piece yesterday:

President Barack Obama has notoriously disparaged the moderate opposition as “farmers or dentists or maybe some radio reporters who didn’t have a lot of experience fighting.” The key question about the Syrian opposition is not whether it can fight — in fact many of its cadres are former Syrian army soldiers — but whether it can govern.

Based on a recent visit to Gaziantep — where the Syrian Interim Government (SIG) and many Syrian civil society organizations are headquartered — I believe the Syrian opposition could govern effectively in a part of Syria, if it were adequately protected from ground, artillery and air assault. Syrian opposition fighters would need to provide security on the ground, while the anti-ISIS Coalition would protect any designated area from regime airstrikes and barrel bombs.

There are three possible areas in Syria where a protected and liberated zone might be established: in the south along the Jordanian border and the “green line” that separates the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from Syria; near Raqqa in eastern Syria; and/or in northern Syria along the Turkish border.

What reasons are there to believe the opposition could govern one or more of these areas?

First, Syrians in many opposition-controlled areas have already established forms of governance, including more than 400 local administrative councils, plus nine at the provincial level. The councils provide forums for dialogue and deliver public services, such as emergency and humanitarian relief, electricity, water and sanitation to millions of people. Some collect taxes and fees. Some have even established police forces and courts. Deraa governorate in the south boasts 76 local councils. Aleppo governorate in the north has some of the most active and well-structured.

What the local councils lack is adequate funding and strong connections to the SIG, which is trying to standardize electoral processes and other procedures. According to its Minister of Local Administration, the SIG needs $42 million to pay their salaries and $300 million to fund their priority efforts per year. Funding the local councils through the SIG would enhance its stature and legitimacy, giving it traction within Syria that it currently lacks.

Second, Western funding over the last four years has generated a wide array of externally-based but Syrian-staffed nongovernmental organizations. Some of these are elite organizations, run by well-educated Syrians who may lack the grassroots support the local administrative councils enjoy. However, others are managing to sponsor intercommunal dialogues, negotiating the release of kidnap victims, organizing women to prevent rape, discovering ways of enhancing livelihoods, providing first responders and ensuring respect for human rights.

Third, the local administrative councils and nongovernmental organizations are receiving significant support from Western donors and meeting tough requirements for accountability and transparency. The Assistance Coordination Unit, a quasi-nongovernmental organization established before the SIG, handled $200 million in Western assistance in 2014 and passed a tough international audit with flying colors. The Coalition-sponsored Syrian Recovery Trust Fund is finding useful ways to spend its $90 million in mostly Western contributions, often through the local councils.

Fourth, the SIG has begun to provide important services. The education ministry has administered high school examinations in opposition-controlled areas of Syria and among refugees for several years. It runs schools staffed by 25,000 volunteer teachers. The SIG health ministry has conducted a successful polio vaccination campaign. In November, the SIG will open a Free Syrian University with a faculty of about 160 professors and upwards of 4,000 students.

No one can prove they can govern effectively until trying to do it. But we have ample indications that the Syrian opposition, despite its many weaknesses, could at least begin to govern inside Syria if liberated areas can be protected from attack.

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Still no end in sight

Syrian President Assad’s surprise visit to Moscow confirms several things:

  • The Russians are backing him fully;
  • They intend to use the influence they gain to dictate a political outcome;
  • That political outcome will be a Potemkin transition with little or no participation by the Syrian opposition the US and its friends are supporting.

Those of us who once hoped Moscow would eventually abandon Assad were wrong. What the Russians clearly intend is to keep Assad in place, as no one else would be able or willing to guarantee their continued naval presence at Tartus and new air and land base at Latakia. President Putin is also sending a clear message to Washington: Russia is back in the Middle East and intends to stay there, no matter what the Syrian people or the Americans think.

Some see President Obama as “hesitant” in response. I don’t. He decided a long time ago that Syria was not worth a candle. If he thought US interests were directly threatened there, he would have done more long ago, as he did in Yemen (with drones and special forces), Iraq (with air attacks) and now most recently in Afghanistan, where he intends to keep thousands of American troops. The American air attacks are strictly focused on the Islamic State; extreme care is being taken to avoid “collateral damage.” This president is extremely disciplined. What others see as indecision is in fact a determination not to get involved on the ground in a country that does not directly threaten US national security.

I think he has made a big mistake, because it has been clear from the first that continuation of the war in Syria would lead to sectarian polarization and easy recruitment for extremists, even if no one predicted the emergence of the Islamic State. Assad is its godfather. His brutal repression of a peaceful civilian rebellion has caused dissatisfaction to flow towards the jihadis, not away from them.

The Russians will suffer the same backlash. The Islamic State has already threatened to take the fight inside Russia, where Putin’s repression of Chechnya and mistreatment of Crimean Tatars and other Russian Muslims will not doubt provide the jihadi cause with ample recruits. Russia has poked the hornets’ nest in Syria. Now the Sunni hornets will attack their antagonist. No doubt Putin will respond with repression that will help jihadi recruitment.

Obama has kept his distance from the Russian intervention. The Pentagon has negotiated an agreement intended to deconflict US and Russian air operations. That is necessary, even if it implies to some US acceptance of the Russian intervention. Any further moves to validate what the Russians are doing would embroil the US in a way guaranteed to offend America’s Gulf and other Sunni friends, especially Turkey (whose airspace Russia has repeatedly violated). Russia has made itself the spearhead of Shia influence in the Middle East. Washington will want to try to stay above the sectarian divide. It has no dog in the fight between Sunni and Shia extremists like the Islamic State and Hizbollah, which are both America’s enemies.

Intervention comes with obligations. Russia should now be expected to ante up for a substantial share of the international humanitarian assistance Syria requires. I think $1 billion per year would be appropriate. It should also be expected to pay for the lion’s share of the post-war reconstruction, as the US did in Iraq and Afghanistan. If you want to be treated as a major power, those are burdens that cannot be shirked.

The US is amping up its military supplies to the Syrian opposition forces, whose performance on the battlefield will now determine the outcome of this war. Both Moscow and Washington say there is no military solution in Syria, but both know that a political solution will be dramatically different if the regime can retake Aleppo and Idlib, which seem to be the main objectives of the current Russian-backed offensive by the Syrian army, its paramilitary partners, Hizbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The proxy war between the US and this alternate coalition has begun.

Poor Syria. Its people wanted freedom and got war. The Russian intervention is unlikely to end the fighting, because the Potemkin transition it intends won’t entice many to lay down their arms. There is still no end in sight.


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Kurdistan is simmering too

Last Wednesday I had the pleasure of discussing developments in Iraqi Kurdistan with Mustafa Gurbuz of George Mason University and the Rethink Institute and Namo Abdulla of Rudaw. Here is how it came out:

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The Balkans are simmering

Slow progress towards the EU and NATO is causing unrest in the Balkans. That means I get interview requests. Here are two and the promise of a third.

Pristina daily Gazeta Express today published a brief interview I did for Shpend Limoni yesterday. Here it is in English:

Q: Kosovo is passing through an unprecedented situation where opposition parties (VV-AAK-NISMA) are disrupting parliamentary sessions expressing their anger over EU brokered agreements with Serbia and demarcation of border with Montenegro. Opposition parties also threw tear gas canisters in Parliament Chamber a step which was condemned by EU and US diplomats. Is there any recipe how to resolve this deadlock?

A: I don’t have any recipes for how others govern their own countries, but I do hope that law and order will prevail and violence will lose the day. The Kosovo opposition needs to make its points peacefully, or risk both a crackdown by the state and a loss of support at the polls.

The opposition needs to win an election and form a government in order to decide what Kosovo should do. When they do, I doubt they will want to spoil the Brussels agreements, because Kosovo has a real stake in good relations with the EU, the US and Belgrade.

Q: Do you think that Kosovo institutions are able to find a solution or do we still need international involvement?

A: I tend to favor solutions arrived at by the Kosovo institutions, supported when needed by the international community. I find it hard to understand why people are excited about demarcation of the border with Montenegro, which is a vital step in establishing Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. I understand unhappiness with the most recent Brussels agreements, but the problems with them come mainly from the Ahtisaari Plan. There is no alternative to implementing that.

If I may quote Giulio Andreotti: il potere logora qui non c’e l’ha. Power wears out whoever hasn’t got it. I might hope the opposition parties in Kosovo would focus on how it intends to attract votes and govern more effectively than their competitors, rather than behavior that many citizens will find unappealing.

I did an interview Friday with Esmir Milavic of Sarajevo’s Face TV. I can’t vouch for the Bosnian voice over, but here it is:

And I talked yesterday with Voice of America about the demonstrations in Montenegro and Russian efforts to prevent its accession to NATO. I’ll post that too if and when I get a link or an embed code.