Conflict matters

I did something yesterday morning I don’t usually do:  I went to a discussion of the Millenium Development Goals (MDGs to the initiated).  The goals fixed in 2000 were supposed to be achieved by 2015.  So that UN is working on a new set for then.

The existing goals focus on canonical development issues:  eradicating poverty, universal primary education, improving maternal health, reducing child mortality, and combating disease, with a dollop of gender equality and women’s empowerment as well as environmental sustainability.  Then a cherry of global partnership to top it off.  The exercise has been a useful one, with some real progress made.

But the conflict, peacebuilding and statebuilding communities were left out last time around.  So the Alliance for Peacebuilding,  John Filson moderating, convened the meeting yesterday to discuss the obstacles to including conflict issues and how they might be overcome. Speakers included Molly Elgin-Cossart of the Center for American Progress, UN Millennium Campaign adviser Ravi Karkara, women’s empowerment advocate Karen Mulhauser, and the State Department’s Charles Call.  Read more

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Barack Obama needs to recalibrate

The Syrian opposition delegation at the UN-hosted Geneva 2 talks today tabled its Statement of Principles (for those who read Arabic, and now also in English).

The Coalition (Etilaf) office in Washington writes that this lays out

…its vision for the political solution in Syria. It emphasizes the priorities of peace, democratization, reconciliation, inclusivity, and reconstruction, among other important guiding principles of the transition and post-transition period. The government delegation did not demonstrate either the will or the mandate to discuss these principles.

Our delegation’s position is to pursue the negotiating process to implement in full the Geneva Communique, including the important principles of ending violence and combating terror, but in order to do so both legally and practically, the establishment of the transitional governing body, by mutual consent of both sides, is necessary and required. We believe the attached document serves not only the parties to these negotiations, but also the full interests and aspirations of all Syrians. The government must be prepared to implement in full the Geneva Communique, UN Security Council Resolution 2118, and this statement of principles, beginning with the establishment of the transitional governing body, in order to participate meaningfully in this process to begin to set the stage for a political solution in Syria. Read more

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The art and not the article

Nuclear talks with Iran start again February 18 in Vienna.  This time the objective is a comprehensive agreement to replace the Joint Plan of Action initiated in January for six months and possibly to be renewed for another six months.

There are two routes to the fissile material needed to make nuclear weapons:  enrichment of uranium (in Iran’s case using centrifuges) to above 90% U238 (in nature it occurs mainly as the isotope U235, containing three fewer neutrons); or production of plutonium 239, which is generated by irradiating U235 in a reactor and then “reprocessing” the spent fuel to separate plutonium.  Ideally, if you don’t want someone to have nuclear weapons you would block both these routes:  no enrichment and no plutonium production.

That is what my friends at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), led by Eric Edelman and Dennis Ross, prefer in their  Assessment of the Interim Deal with Iran.  They don’t like the Joint Plan of Action because it exchanges a limited freeze and small rollback on nuclear facilities for a limited freeze and small rollback of sanctions.  Their detailed critique is well worth reading.  They fear, echoing the Israelis, that there will be no comprehensive agreement and that the Obama administration will settle for extending the interim deal indefinitely, leaving Iran with a substantial nuclear capability even if no nuclear weapons.  They want a big rollback of enrichment and reprocessing capabilities in Iran, with stringent limits imposed ad infinitum. Read more

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Small states and the power of pragmatism

Kosovo Foreign  Minister Enver Hoxhaj has kindly provided a copy of his remarks prepared for SAIS last week.  They seem to me to merit publication in their entirety.  I’ll of course be glad to publish the remarks of others as well on the dialogue process between Pristina and Belgrade.

Small States and the Power of Pragmatism: Kosovo’s Approach to the Dialogue with Serbia


Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kosovo

 A small state like Kosovo is obliged to think how to define its role in international affairs and how to conduct its foreign affairs in a way it can advance its vital interests. For small states that have limited military, economic, and demographic resources, it is essential to adapt a smart and pragmatic foreign policy. Being smart for small states means undertaking actions that increase the likelihood for success, utilize the available resources and capacities. In this context, pragmatism means a combination of realist and practical approaches to foreign affairs with strategic reliance on idealism. Pragmatism is not about being strong or weak, but it is about taking the right decisions in right time. Pragmatism is to adapt but maintain strategic vision and policy coherence. It is about making short-term compromises for long-term triumphs. It is about getting what you want, while also addressing other parties concerns. The current dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia under the EU facilitation is a quintessential example of the pragmatic and smart approach of a small state like Kosovo. The normalization dialogue has been considered historic and a breakthrough achievement. It has been considered a success of EU foreign policy, and a merit of constructive approach of both Kosovo and Serbia.

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Peace Picks February 10-14

1. Iran’s Tumultuous Revolution: 35 Years Later

Monday, February 10 | 11am – 12:30pm

6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center; 1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW


Presented by The Middle East Program of the Woodrow Wilson Center and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Shaul Bakhash
Clarence J. Robinson: Professor of History, George Mason University 

Mehdi Khalaji
Senior Fellow, Washington Institute for Near East Policy

John Limbert
Distinguished Professor of International Affairs, United States Naval Academy

Karim Sadjadpour
Senior Associate, Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Haleh Esfandiari
Director, Middle East Program, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

There will be a live webcast of this event.

2. Aghanistan Development Goals: 2014 and Beyond

Monday, February 10 | 12:15pm – 1:45pm

New America Foundation, 1899 L Street NW Suite 400


The drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan, together with the forming of a new Government of Afghanistan following the upcoming elections scheduled for this April, will present new challenges for the United States in how it can most effectively deliver assistance in Afghanistan.

What are the challenges and how will the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) approach them? How will USAID build on the successes it has achieved over the past ten years? Furthermore, as USAID assistance transitions to longer-term development with a focus on health, education, gender, and economic growth led by agriculture, how will the agency continue to conduct effective oversight and monitoring in an ever evolving environment to ensure that U.S. taxpayers’ funds are used effectively?

One of the people that can help address those concerns is Donald “Larry” Sampler Jr., who was recently sworn in as the Assistant to the Administrator for USAID’s Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, officially taking over responsibility for two countries with the largest USAID budgets. Mr. Sampler will make remarks regarding these issues, which will be followed by a panel discussion to explore these and other questions further.  For the discussion, Mr. Sampler will be joined by the U.S. State Department’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Jarrett Blanc, who works on international partnership, reconciliation, and political transition issues.

The New America Foundation is pleased to host this dialogue about the U.S. government’s development goals in Afghanistan both in 2014, a year of many transitions in the country, and beyond.

Donald “Larry” Sampler, Jr.
Assistant to the Administrator, Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, U.S. Agency for International Development

Jarrett Blanc
Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. Department of State

Omar Samad
Senior Central Asia Fellow, New America Foundation
Former Afghan Ambassador to Canada and France

There will be a live webcast of this event here.

3. Champions for Justice: Bahrain’s Prisoners of Conscience

Hosted by Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain and Creative Peace Initiatives

Tuesday, February 11 | 11am – 1pm

Abramson Founders Room, SIS Building, American University; 4400 Massachusetts Ave NW 

To RSVP, please e-mail

Dr. Jeff Bachman, SIS Professor and Director of Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs Program

11 – 11:30am – Q&A segment featuring:

Matar Ebrahim Matar
Political activist, Former Opposition Leader and Member of the Bahraini Parliament

11:45 – 1pm – Panel featuring:

Joshh Colangelo-Bryan, Pro Bono Attorney for Imprisoned Human Rights Activist Nabeel Raja, Consultant for Human Rights Watch

Brian Dooley, Director of Human Rights Defenders Programs at Human Rights First

Dr. Shadi Mokhtari, SIS Professor focused on Human Rights, Middle East Politics, and Political Islam

4. Understanding the Continuing Violence in Iraq

Tuesday, February 11 | 12pm

Hayek Auditorium, Cato Institute; 1000 Massachusetts Ave NW


More than three years after the departure of U.S. combat troops from Iraq, a determined insurgency rages against the government led by Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. Violence has claimed thousands of lives. Some question whether the Iraqi government can maintain control of several major cities, including Fallujah, the scene of some of the toughest fighting during the eight-year-long U.S. war in Iraq. Some of Maliki’s critics accuse him of stoking the unrest by refusing to make concessions to minority groups in Iraq, in particular Iraq’s Sunni Arab community. Others say that the prime minister should firmly reassert his authority by going after violent extremism and deterring others from supporting the insurgency. The panelists will consider several questions, including: What explains the continuing violence in Iraq? Can Iraq’s disparate communities unite behind a strong central government? And what role, if any, should the United States play?

Douglas Ollivant
, Senior National Security Fellow, the New America Foundation

Harith Hasan, Author of Imagining the Nation: Nationalism, Sectarianism and Socio-political Conflict in Iraq 

Christopher Preble, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute

Moderated by
Justin Logan, Director of Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute.

Watch this event online at

Luncheon to follow this event.

5. Achieving Greater Inclusion in post-Arab Spring Countries

Tuesday, February 11 | 2pm – 3:30pm

Saul/Zilkha Rooms, Brookings Institution; 1775 Massachusetts Ave NW


The Arab Spring was about political and economic inclusiveness. Three years later, the outcomes of the revolutions have been mixed. In Morocco, the king responded by revising the constitution, carrying out free parliamentary elections and letting the winning party form a new government. In Tunisia, political parties debated on a new constitution for nearly three years and now a neutral government has been appointed to supervise elections. Meanwhile, in Egypt, the struggle between Islamists and secular-nationalists has turned violent, weakening economic growth and increasing unemployment.

On February 11, Global Economy and Development at Brookings will host a discussion on inclusive growth in the post-Arab Spring countries. The discussion will be based on a series of papers on the political economy of the Arab transitions and efforts to foster inclusive growth in the region. The papers are authored by Brookings scholars and their colleagues from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and present case studies from Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia.

Kemal Derviş
Vice President and Director, Global Economy and Development and The Edward M. Bernstein Scholar

Hafez Ghanem
Senior Fellow, Global Economy and Development

Daniela Gressani
Deputy Director, Middle East and Central Asia International Monetary Fund

Akihiko Koenuma
Director-General, Middle East and Europe Department Japan International Cooperation Agency

6. Inside Aleppo: New Tools for Understanding the Syrian Conflict

Thursday, February 13 | 8:30am – 9:30am

American Security Project, 1100 New York Ave NW

REGISTER by Wednesday, February 12th

The American Security Project will host Dr. David Kilcullen and Mr. Nate Rosenblatt of Caerus Associates who will provide a briefing on findings from what may be the most detailed, publicly available assessment of the ongoing conflict in Syria to date.

Findings will be based on four months of in-depth, time-series research from within Aleppo, Syria’s largest, most diverse, and most economically relevant city. Today, Aleppo is one of the most divided cities in the country. Tomorrow, its future may resemble that of other, large, non-capital cities in post-conflict Middle Eastern states such as Libya’s Benghazi or Iraq’s Mosul.

The presentation will examine research findings that suggest that while the national picture in Syria looks bleak, important insights gained at the city-level can help policymakers and scholars think of new ways of examining the trajectory of Syria’s conflict. In addition to findings specific to Syria, the presenters will be joined by Mr. Matt McNabb of First Mile Geo, who will discuss how innovative technologies can be leveraged for collecting, visualizing, and analyzing high-fidelity data from the first mile of conflict affected parts of the world.

Moderated by Stephen A. Cheney, Brigadier General USMC (Ret.)

Breakfast snacks and refreshments will be served at 8:00am

7. Soft Power in Countering Extremism from the Horn of Africa to the Western Sahel

Thursday, February 13 | 9am – 11am

Lindner Commons (Room 602), The Elliot School of International Affairs; 1957 E Sreett NW


The rise of radical Islamism and its ideological force have migrated from Somalia in the early 1990s westward through the northern part of Africa known as the Sahel. Crises related to religious extremism, including jihadism and the application of Shar’ia law, have spread rapidly from Somalia to Kenya and across the Sahel to Nigeria, Mali and Algeria with evidence of propagating radicalizing even diaspora populations living in the West.

The panelists, all experts in the role of communication and soft power in countering radicalization, will discuss and debate the strategic influence of Western powers, in particular the US and the UK, in changing the narrative toward stability, tolerance, and democratization.

About the Panelists
Sir Robert Fry
 is chairman of Albany Associates and former Deputy Commanding General of Coalition Forces in Iraq of the Royal Marines. He is involved in a number of boards and advisory roles to companies in the security and banking sectors throughout Europe, North America, and the Middle East. Currently, he is a visiting professor at Reading University and a visiting fellow at Oxford University.

Simon Haselock is co-founder and chief operating officer of Albany Associates. From 1995-96, he served as the NATO spokesman in Sarajevo and later as Media Commissioner in Kosovo. He went on to lead the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for Media Development in Iraq.

Alberto Fernandez is the coordinator of the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications at the U.S. State Department. Previously, he served as U.S. ambassador to Equatorial Guinea and chargé d’affaires to Sudan. His other posts include senior level public diplomacy positions at the embassies in Afghanistan, Jordan, and Syria. A veteran of the U.S. Army, Fernandez speaks fluent Spanish and Arabic through his training at the Defense Language Institute.

Todd Haskell is the director for Press and Public Diplomacy in the Bureau of African Affairs at the State Department. Previously, he served as a Public Affairs Officer in Santo Domingo, Johannesburg, and Ouagadougou. Other overseas assignments include Pakistan, the Philippines, Israel, and Mexico. He is a graduate of Georgetown University. 

8. A Mixed Picture: the Political and Economic Future of the Arab Transitions

Thursday, February 13 | 3:30pm – 5pm

12th Floor, Atlantic Council; 1030 15th Street NW


The last few tumultuous years in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, and Yemen present a complex picture of progress and setbacks. Three years after Egyptians successfully toppled a thirty-year old dictatorship, there are fears of a return to military-backed rule. In contrast to the bleaker picture from Cairo, Tunisians have successfully navigated political deadlock and approved a new constitution. Yemenis have concluded an inclusive National Dialogue process, and Libyans are gearing up to elect a constitution-drafting body and initiate their own national dialogue. While there are significant challenges ahead and security issues are paramount, citizens of all four countries are unlikely to continue to tolerate the corruption, mismanagement, and exclusion that characterized the pre-revolution era. Given this dynamic, what are we likely to see in the next few years?

Lina Khatib will describe key political trends that will shape the next phase of these transitions and Mohsin Khan will discuss the economic state of affairs and how these economies will fare moving forward. Placing the Arab awakening within the global context, Ellen Laipson will compare the Arab transitions to other previous cases of political and social upheaval.

This event also marks the release of two major Hariri Center publications: Mohsin Khan‘s Issue Brief, “The Economic Consequences of the Arab Spring,” and a report on “The State of the Arab Transitions” by Mirette F. Mabrouk and Stefanie Hausheer.

Lina Khatib

Carnegie Middle East Center

Ellen Laipson
President and CEO
Stimson Center

Mohsin Khan
Senior Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East
Atlantic Council

Moderated by
Mirette F. Mabrouk
Deputy Director for Regional Programs, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East
Atlantic Council

Please use the West Tower elevators when you arrive.
The event will be followed by a wine & cheese reception.

A live webcast of the event can be seen here

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Pragmatic Kosovo!

I enjoyed a conversation at SAIS yesterday with two of Kosovo’s finest:  Deputy Prime Minister Slobodan Petrovic and Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj.  Slobodan has led Serb participation in Kosovo’s government for the past three years, holding also the portfolio for local governance.  Enver, a political science professor, has participated in many of the international negotiations that Kosovo has undergone over the past twenty years.

The watchword was “pragmatic.”  Both speakers are clear about their goals.  Slobodan wants improvement in the lives of Serbs who live in Kosovo.  Enver wants the Kosovo state to have a well-recognized place in the international community.  They have worked together to achieve these goals, but both are ready to compromise along the way, so long as things keep moving in the right direction.

Enver thinks normalization of relations between Pristina and Belgrade means eventual mutual recognition and exchange of ambassadors, but for the moment Kosovo has taken what it could get:  an April agreement that recognized its constitution should govern in all of Kosovo and exchange of liaison officers located in the respective capitals’ European Union missions.  Belgrade won’t accept Kosovo passports, but it has accepted its identity cards.  The other “technical” agreements are also steps in the right direction.

Slobodan thinks the municipal elections held for the first time under Pristina’s authority in Serb-majority northern Kosovo were far from perfect:  intimidation and even assassination determined the outcome, which favored a Belgrade-sponsored Serb list.  But Petrovic’s Liberals got more votes than ever before and captured what seats they could.  The international community should have taken a stronger stand against irregularities and supported those who have been committed to the political process.  Next time, he hopes.

In the foreign minister’s view, Kosovo faces some difficult issues in 2014.  It wants to get into NATO’s Partnership for Peace but needs to overcome resistance from the Alliance’s non-recognizing members.  Kosovo also needs to decide the size, composition label for its security forces.  It has passed the halfway mark in gaining recognitions from members of the UN General Assembly and hopes to make it to the two-thirds mark, but it will still face a veto by Russia in the Security Council.  Kosovo hosts too many international missions.  The UN has been superfluous for some time; the OSCE is overstaffed and undertasked.

The EU rule of law mission is still necessary to handle sensitive cases like that of the recently arrested mayoral candidate Oliver Ivanovic, but the deputy foreign minister thought it important that the remaining cases of this sort be settled expeditiously.  In his view, 2014 will be important for the fall parliamentary elections.  A gentleman’s agreement to maintain reserved seats for Serbs and other minorities, which were to be phased out after two election cycles, should be respected, not abrogated.

Asked whether the Pristina/Belgrade agreement and recent election results might presage “Bosnia-ization” of Kosovo into two ethnically identified entities, both Slobodan and Enver think not.  The already functioning Serb municipalities south of the Ibar will not want to give up what they’ve gained.  The northern municipalities are beginning to see clearly that they will gain from operating under Pristina’s authority, as they will retain a good deal of local control as well as substantial resources.  If the agreement is implemented in good faith as written and the EU remains the guarantor, the risks are minimal.

I remember a time when I could not have imagined such a conversation.  Enver reminded our audience that the war was fought between the Serbian state and the Albanian population of Kosovo.  That may be true, but there were long periods when it seemed you could count on one hand the number of Albanians and Serbs willing to have a civilized conversation with each other.   Now more than a handful are using democratic institutions to govern together.  I know the challenges are still great, but pragmatic can go a long way with time.

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