Last Thursday the Atlantic Council hosted an event “Prospects for Ending the Civil War in Libya,” moderated by Karim Mezran. The event featured Nebras Attia, human rights activist, Federica Saini Fasanotti, nonresident scholar at the Brookings Institution, Azza Maghur, senior lawyer at Maghur & Partners, Jason Pack, executive director of the US-Libya Business Association, and Ambassador Jonathan Winer, former US Special Envoy for Libya.
Ambassador Winer said that of the three actors vying for control of the country, no party has legitimacy among the Libyan people. Elections to determine sovereignty. Both Fayez Sarraj (Government of National Accord or GNA) and Aguila Saleh Issa (House of Representatives or HOR) reached out to international powers for help in facilitating elections, while military strongman Haftar refused to negotiate. Winer believes that the joint Tunisian, Algerian and Egyptian efforts to facilitate a Libya-Libya solution have some potential to re-energize negotiations, but he is not overly optimistic about their potential for success. The most foreign governments can do to encourage a favorable solution is to consolidate support behind one body instead of the divided foreign support for different militias. Winer maintains that US involvement in Libya is aimed at inclusivity reflecting local interests, though efforts are often thwarted by lack of cooperation and willingness to take orders from foreigners. He sees little indication that the Trump administration will pursue a policy towards Libya different than his predecessor.
When asked why she was skeptical about the Libyan Political Agreement that aimed to establish the GNA, Maghur replied she was not only skeptical of it, but that she knows it is a failure. The agreement is not realistic because it lacks transparency, inclusivity, and a clear start date. The agreement only makes the international community happy, and if they want to make the Libyan people happy they need to include them in the process.
As a lawyer in Libya, Maghur sees the judicial system as a strong tool for reunifying the nation. It is a venerable institution that survived the dictatorship and will survive the civil war. The criminal courts are very effective, but improvements are needed in the civil courts.
Fasanotti said Libyans need to develop a sense of nationality and to accept the country’s diversity as a strength. Although nobody wants a divided Libya, the three regions have existed since Italian colonization and are a good place to start. She imagines a federal system that capitalizes on the strengths of each region and celebrates their differences. When asked her opinion on Italian policy towards Libya she stressed its consistency: Italian government support for the GNA is unwavering. Unlike Ambassador Winer, she does not believe that reopening the Italian embassy in Libya is a good idea for security reasons, and because it might be vulnerable to exploitation by military strongman Haftar.
Attia criticized the international community for viewing the Libyan crisis in its own terms. She said that outside actors do not see the real issues affecting Libyan communities. She encourages people in power to reach out to cities and communities to ask what they need help with, supporting a bottom up approach as the best course of action to support Libya. Internationals are not solving the real problems in Libya. Youth is the most vulnerable population sector, at risk of extremism unless someone steps in and engages them with alternatives.
Pack described the proxy war in Libya as a situation where everyone wants to get control of the ‘Libya file,’ either to amp up their international status or to influence developments in a future, more stable, Libya. The Russians seek to limit American influence in the conflict, gain a warm water port, and potentially “trade” Libya for leverage in Syria or Crimea. Pack believes that a viable future for Libya requires heavy handed American intervention, both to consolidate foreign influence behind one actor and to support legitimacy on the ground with capacity building in every sector. He sees the private sector as a potential tool for the Trump administration to incentivize development that creates jobs and infrastructure while increasing bilateral ties between the US and Libya.
Donald Trump’s first budget proposal is like his tweets: intentionally exaggerated to attract attention. There is no way this budget will pass Congress, where it gores as many Republicans as it does Democrats. The boost in Defense, Homeland Security, and Veterans Affairs–three of the more amply funded and least efficient US government agencies–aims to please those terrified of the threat from what Trump wants to call violent Islamic extremism, which kills fewer Americans than lightening strikes.
Trump is also preparing for the negotiation with Congress by anchoring his budget on the extreme right, knowing the outcome will be somewhere in the middle. This is classic Trump negotiating behavior, and has potential to gain him support from the Tea Party Republicans. They are none too happy with Ryancare, which amends but does not repeal or replace Obamacare, no matter how often Republicans repeat that phrase.
At the State Department, a 29% cut in a single year will pretty much devastate normal diplomacy, even if the Secretary of State will never find his wings clipped. State has a lot of fixed costs in embassies where the heat, air conditioning, and guard forces need to be fully funded. It also has salaries that need to be paid, as well as routine allowances, moving costs, tuition for kids whose parents are stationed abroad, and the costs of services to other US government agencies resident in our embassies.
I had 36 of those when I was Deputy Chief of Mission and Charge’ d’Affaires in Rome. Ninety per cent of the personnel there were either from other agencies or servicing them, including a large contingent from the Defense Department. They would scream loudly if their services were cut by 29%, never mind the 50% or more that is likely because of the fixed costs.
Yesterday in Japan Secretary Tillerson justified the State Department cuts this way:
…as time goes by, there will be fewer military conflicts that the US will be directly engaged in. And second, that as we become more effective in our aid programs, that we will also be attracting resources from other countries, allies, and other sources as well to contribute in our development aid and our disaster assistance.
This is a ridiculous way to justify a first-year cut, especially as Trump has just deployed another 1000 troops to Syria and Tillerson himself is threatening war against North Korea. We face at least another decade of war and post-war transition in the Middle East (not only Syria but also Yemen, Iraq, and Libya). We can expect South Korea to handle most of the post-war requirements on the Korean Peninsula, but the notion that no burdens will fall to the US is not credible. Besides, other countries follow those who lead, not those who cut back.
In one sense, we shouldn’t worry too much: it isn’t all going to happen. Congress won’t let Meals on Wheels and other social welfare programs die, though it may well allow the National Endowment for the Arts, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the United States Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars to go under or get starvation budgets. State and USAID should do better than that, as they have stronger constituencies in Congress.
But even if State gets back much of its money, our diplomatic corps and foreign assistance workers will suffer demoralization. They already weren’t in high spirits during the last of the Obama years, as the President let Syria go to hell, the pivot to the Asia Pacific faltered, and whole continents were ignored (especially Africa and Latin America). For good reasons, the State Department and the US Agency for International Development believe they are in the front lines of defending American interests globally: they issue visas, try to get foreign governments on board with whatever the President wants, and ensure that America participates in efforts to reduce poverty and discourage extremism worldwide.
Besides the cuts to State and AID, many domestic cuts will affect America’s role in the world. The 31% cut to EPA is intended in part to hamstring its efforts on global warming. The 6% cut at the Department of Energy will likely have that impact too. The Treasury cut (4%) apparently includes its important foreign assistance, which is vital to helping other countries set up Finance Ministries that can conduct serious growth-promoting macroeconomic policies and cooperate with the US in law enforcement, including economic sanctions.
The net effect is this: even if corrected in Congress, the Trump Administration budget announced yesterday will have a devastating impact on America’s influence in the world, over and above the disrespect in which the President himself is held in many countries. It should be taken seriously but not literally. America is not going to be great again on the global stage under this administration.
Kosovo’s Albanian leadership–President, Prime Minister, and Speaker of the Parliament–have decided to proceed with building the country’s national army, even though their proposition lacks Serb support and has made at least some in NATO and the US embassy uncomfortable. The impatience is easy to understand: Serb refusal to go along has blocked this move for years, even as pressure to complete Kosovo’s sovereignty has grown in the Albanian part of the electorate. NATO isn’t going to stick around forever, though its commitment to Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity will remain vital to both.
What about the wisdom of this move?
I would certainly have preferred the conversion to a serious security force be undertaken with Serb support, or at least abstention. That’s what Pristina has been trying to do for several years. But Belgrade is opposed and controls enough Serb votes inside the Kosovo parliament to block a constitutional amendment, even if some Kosovo Serbs could be convinced. Patience has not won the day. Now the Albanian political leadership is proceeding with what we call in negotiation theory their “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement” (BATNA).
The proposal to move forward is legislative, not constitutional. I won’t comment on the legalities–that’s not my forte.
The outcome of this maneuver depends in part on Belgrade’s BATNA. Serbia will certainly appeal to the international community to block the Albanians from proceeding. It will likely use the votes it controls in Kosovo’s parliament to block other legislation. It may stiffen its resistance to re-integration of the Serb-majority north of the country. It could even move tanks to the boundary/border and threaten intervention if there is any harm to Serbs in Kosovo, though that would set up an unwelcome confrontation with NATO.
None of this will stop the Albanians I imagine. It will also be counter-productive, as it will make it harder for the Albanian political leadership to back down.
I’ll offer an alternative, one entirely within the capacity of the Belgrade and Pristina politicians to embark upon.
The kind of army Kosovo requires depends entirely on the threat environment it faces. If the threat from Serbia were removed, Kosovo could opt for a small, mobile armed force designed for international deployments. It would no longer need a ground force capable of resisting a Serbian incursion, at least for a few days. Instead Kosovo could begin to pay back an international community that has devoted massive resources to it.
The way to remove the Serbian threat is diplomatic recognition of Kosovo, in exchange for that smaller and more mobile Kosovo security force. If diplomatic recognition is a bridge too far, allowing Kosovo into the United Nations might suffice, but then exchange of diplomatic representatives with the rank of ambassador would still have to follow.
Neither of these moves is likely right now. Serbia will hold a presidential election April 2, with a possible second round April 16. Kosovo is not due for parliamentary elections until 2018, though they could come earlier. If they don’t, the period between April and December would be the best available time for a deal on the security forces and diplomatic recognition of some sort. The politicians in Pristina and Belgrade will know better than I do whether this is in the realm of the possible.
Failing a deal, we can expect heightened tensions, which are all too apparent throughout the Balkans, especially in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia. The Russians are doing their best to make things worse, by backing secessionist moves by Milorad Dodik’s Republika Srpska in Bosnia and undermining prospects for successful government formation in Macedonia. Washington, paralyzed by a messy political transition and lack of clarity about its foreign policy, is contributing to uncertainty. Brussels, preoccupied with Brexit as well as important elections in the Netherlands, France, and Germany is not doing any better.
Kosovo’s small security force is not an insoluble issue. But it will take a bit of imagination and risk-taking to resolve it in a way that satisfies at least some of the aspirations of both Serbs and Albanians. The time for courageous political leadership is nigh.
- Northern Ireland’s Lesson for Israeli-Palestinian Peace | Monday, March 13 | 1:00- 5:00pm | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | When Northern Ireland’s combatants finally made peace in the 1990s, they did so on a broad foundation of grassroots reconciliation and economic development work, built over more than a decade by the International Fund for Ireland. On March 13, the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Embassy of Ireland will gather former government officials, peacebuilding practitioners and scholars to examine what worked in advancing peace in Northern Ireland—and what lessons might be applied to the difficult process of peacemaking and peacebuilding between Israelis and Palestinians. Former Senator George Mitchell, who served as an envoy in both peace processes, will be the keynote speaker. The first panel on the International Fund for Ireland, will include Carol Cunningham of Unheard Voices, Melanie Greenberg of Alliance for Peacebuilding, Professor Brandon Hamber of Ulster University, and Adrian Johnston of the International Fund for Ireland. The second panel, on implications for Israeli-Palestinian peacebuilding, will include Joel Braunold of the Alliance for Middle East Peace, Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen of the United Institute of Peace, Father Josh Thomas of Kids4Peace, and Sarah Yerkes of Brookings.
- Regional Perspectives on US Policy in the Middle East | Monday, March 13 | 3:00- 4:30pm | Atlantic Council | Register Here | As the dust begins to settle after the transition of power in Washington, the spotlight is slowly moving to the administration’s policies toward the Middle East and North Africa. With the region already troubled by one of President Trump’s early executive orders and several phone calls and meetings with regional leaders, many unanswered questions remain about the direction of the relationship with the Middle East. Our distinguished panel will discuss how the region is watching, anticipating, and reacting to shifts in policy, including Kristin Diwan on the Gulf, Haykel Ben Mahfoudh and Karim Mezran on North Africa, A. Hellyer on Egypt, and Nicola Pedde on Iran. Will the Trump administration fulfill its campaign promise to re-assert its role in the Middle East? How will the president and Congress react to ongoing challenges and opportunities in Libya, Yemen, and Egypt? Will the president’s style have a significant impact on the relationship with hardline leaders in Syria, Iran, and others across the region? Please join us for a discussion of these and other issues of concern to the United States in the Middle East.
- Report Launch: “The Other Side of the World” | Tuesday, March 14 | 2:00- 4:00pm | Center for Strategic and International Studies | Register Here | China’s growing interests in the Middle East, and the United States’ enduring interests in the Middle East, create challenges for two of the world’s most powerful nations. Should they seek more active collaboration? Are their goals for the future of the Middle East compatible? To discuss the implications of increasingly robust China-Middle East ties for U.S. interests, CSIS invites you to the launch of its new Brzezinski Institute Report: “The Other Side of the World: China, the United States, and the Struggle for Middle East Security.” The discussion will feature Carol Giacomo of The New York Times as well as CSIS experts Jon B. Alterman, Michael J. Green, Christopher K. Johnson, and Matthew P. Goodman.
- Why Tunisia Should Matter to the New U.S. Administration | Tuesday, March 14 | 3:00- 4:00pm | United States Institute of Peace | Register Here | Tunisia’s peaceful, though difficult, transition since the Arab Spring and its centrality in U.S.-supported efforts to stem terrorism punctuate its role as a major non-NATO ally of the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump “praised Tunisia’s stability and security,” in a Feb. 17 phone call with Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, according to a White House statement. Tunisian Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui will discuss the U.S. partnership and Tunisia’s own development and influence in the region, in a discussion at the U.S. Institute of Peace on Tuesday, March 14.
- America’s Role in the World: Congress and US Foreign Policy | Thursday, March 16 | 9:00-10:30am | Atlantic Council | Register Here | As the Trump administration continues to form its foreign policy and national security strategy, Congress has a distinct role of its own to play in shaping how the United States addresses emerging global threats and approaches its leadership role on the international stage. At this early stage, little is defined within the administration’s approach. Congress has an opportunity to help characterize what America’s role in world should be and how it aims to deal with issues in the Middle East, especially ISIS and Iran, China, and Russia. To help think through these issues, two Representatives with military backgrounds, Brad Wenstrup (R-OH) and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), will offer their perspectives on the United States leadership role and national security strategy in an environment of increasing global risks.
- Congressman Adam Kinzinger on America’s Role in the Middle East and the World | Friday, March 17 | 8:30am | Atlantic Council | Register Here | The United States faces a number of security challenges across the globe as well as increasing questions about what role the Trump Administration believes the United States should play on the international stage. Please join the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East for a conversation with Congressman Adam Kinzinger on America’s role in the world and in the Middle East in particular, and what we can expect from a Trump presidency in terms of foreign policy and national security. This event is part of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Strategy Task Force initiative, co-chaired by former US Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and former US National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley. In November 2016, the co-chairs published their Task Force Report that proposes a pragmatic and actionable Middle East roadmap that emphasizes the efforts of the people of the Middle East themselves supported by the long-term engagement of the international community, with an eye toward harnessing the region’s enormous human potential. The Task Force brought together a broad array of regional stakeholders and international experts to collaborate in identifying ways in which people in the Middle East can build and support governing institutions that offer legitimacy, opportunity, and an alternative to violence.
In a panel hosted on Tuesday, March 7 at the United States Institute of Peace, peacebuilding professionals assembled to discuss how to improve their field. The panel was moderated by Melanie Greenberg from Alliance for Peacebuilding and included Leslie Wingender from Mercy Corps, Isabella Jean from Collaborative Learning, Joe Hewitt from USIP, and Adrienne Lemon from Search for Common Ground.
Greenberg opened the panel by framing the conversation around how best to measure impact, tell stories, and make the case for peacebuilding. She asked the panelists to discuss challenges around design, learning, and monitoring and evaluation from their experience.
Lemon and Wingender both discussed challenges in the field working with diverse groups of country teams across different contexts. The challenges Lemon identified included how to address varying ideas of success and impact while maintaining an understanding of each context as well as how to capture long term changes in behavior and outcome to best tell a story. Similarly, Wingender felt that while there needed to be different monitoring and evaluation systems for different contexts, it is possible to make connections across localities to subsequently make the process of handing over programs and creating continuity easier.
From the perspective of program design and accountability measures, Hewitt and Jean saw the need to document failures, develop lessons learned, and maintain a rigorous monitoring and evaluation approach. Hewitt said that having a clear and transparent theory of change from the outset will result in huge payoffs in outcomes in the end. Developing a clear and nuanced theory of change also forces peacebuilders to become comfortable with failure and develop learning cultures, which serves to grow the field further.
Jean also emphasized a learning culture in her discussion of standards for the peacebuilding sector, a lack that makes it difficult to measure effectiveness. She also pointed to institutional behaviors as determining what type of data might be privileged over others and what information is solicited and valued, which in turn can affect how decision makers treat different evaluative exercises.
Another theme the panelists discussed was bright spots in their work and the collective impact. Lemon focused on prioritizing transparency and open discussion around monitoring and evaluation and data capture. Jean also discussed reflective exercises used to develop effectiveness criteria in the absence of standards. Wingender and Hewitt looked at integration efforts within the field designed to unify tools and knowledge across contexts. Wingender advocated for cross-sectional analysis to compare situations, better articulate a theory of change, and think through different programs and their goals. Hewitt praised the field’s consensus on the drivers of violence and armed conflict, pointing to broken or frayed social contracts as the main cause. He saw the opportunity for individual peacebuilding programs that operate at different parts of the state/society relationship to aggregate and address the broader structural conditions that add up to fragility.
The panelists also addressed the difficulties of creating vertical (state/society) and horizontal (within society) cohesion and bringing different identity groups together for peace. Hewitt noted that bringing people together who have historically been in conflict can and does work, but vertical and horizontal cohesion does not happen independent of state institutions. Jean said that single-identity work is also effective and saw the difficulty of vertical and horizontal cohesion when state structures restrict civil society space.
Another difficulty the field continues to face is in data gathering and sharing. Wingender highlighted the issue of putting technology ahead of ethics, saying it is difficult to share data while also providing protection. Lemon also pointed to caution in sharing data.
While America can’t seem to get enough of issues like healthcare and Trump’s Russia connection, North Korea is getting precious few electrons. It deserves more. The hermit kingdom, as we used to call it, is now a nuclear power developing ballistic missiles capable of reaching Japan if not yet the US. President Obama famously told then President-elect Trump that Pyongyang should be at the top of his to-do list.
That hasn’t happened. President Trump has demonstrated more interest in the cancellation of his erstwhile TV reality show than the launch of multiple missiles into the Sea of Japan. Except for a conversation with Japan’s Prime Minister and deployment of an anti-ballistic missile system to South Korea, there has been precious little public sign of White House interest in the issue.
That might be the good news. The last thing the world needs is one of Trump’s rapid fire decisions. Josh Rogin, who is smart and well-informed about these things, says the National Security Council deputies and principals are seized with the issues. They reportedly don’t like Pyongyang’s suggestion that it could stop the missile tests if the US abandoned its military exercises with South Korea, which the North regards as hostile.
Washington will naturally look to Beijing to bring additional pressure on Pyongyang. The Chinese have, however, already cut their coal imports from North Korea as well as many exports to their ill-behaved neighbor. Beijing hesitates to go further because the last thing it wants is the North Korean regime to collapse, which could send refugees fleeing into China and precipitate reunification with a South Korea allied with the US.
There aren’t a lot of other good options out there. Pyongyang has thousands of missiles and artillery pieces already pointed at Seoul. Any belligerent US or South Korean moves could trigger a horrendous barrage. Destroying a North Korean missile on the launch pad, as Ash Carter and Bill Perry proposed more than 10 years ago, has gotten far more difficult, because Pyongyang has made its missiles mobile. The US could agree to talk with the North Koreans, something candidate Trump suggested he would want to do as president. But it is not clear what such talks could do to improve the situation. Yielding to them now would confirm in Kim Jong-un’s perspective that missile tests get attention.
Regime survival is Pyongyang’s top priority. Possession of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles is arguably the best guarantee possible that the US and South Korea will not risk war. Even converting the armistice that ended the Korean War into a peace treaty with American, North Korean, and South Korean signatures would not match that, in particular for a regime committed to extreme self-reliance.
This is not a pretty picture: a real threat to American allies in the Pacific and very few options to manage it. Americans elected Donald Trump to deal with such a conundrum. Let’s see how he does.