This week’s peace picks

As the weekly “peace picks” post has been taking me too long to assemble, and this week I’ve let it slide until Monday morning, I’m going to try doing less formatting and more cutting and pasting.  As always, best to check the sponsoring organizations’ websites for registration, cost, RSVP and other information.  And don’t forget the Middle East Institute’s annual conference at the Grand Hyatt November 17.  The week is heavy on Afghanistan:

1.  “Building a Strategy on North Korean Human Rights: International Perspectives”
Hosted By: U.S.-Korea Institute at SAIS and Database Center for North Korean Human Rights
Tuesday, November 15, 9:00 AM – 2:30 PM
Location: Kenney Auditorium, The Nitze Building (main building)
Summary: Kim Moon-soo, governor of the Gyeonggi province in South Korea, will deliver the keynote address at 9:30 a.m. For a full conference agenda, visit To RSVP, visit

2. Afghanistan in 2011: A Survey of the Afghan People

Webcast: This event will be webcast live beginning at 9:30am on November 15, 2011 at

On November 15, the U.S. Institute of Peace will host the Washington launch of The Asia Foundation’s “Afghanistan in 2011: A Survey of the Afghan People” — the broadest, most comprehensive public opinion poll in the country. The report covers all 34 provinces, with candid data gleaned from face-to-face interviews with more than 6,000 Afghan citizens on security, corruption, women’s rights, development, the economy, and negotiating with the Taliban.

This marks the seventh in the Foundation’s series of surveys in Afghanistan; taken together they provide a barometer of Afghan public opinion over time. With support from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the findings help inform national leaders, scholars, donors and the policymaking community focused on Afghanistan and the region. Join USIP and The Asia Foundation for a presentation of this year’s findings, and analysis of what the seven years of findings indicate for Afghanistan’s recent past, and the country’s future.

This event will feature the following speakers:

  • David Arnold, introduction
    The Asia Foundation
  • Tariq Osman, panelist
    Program Director, Kabul
    The Asia Foundation
  • Sunil Pillai, panelist
    Technical Adviser, Kabul
    The Asia Foundation
  • Sheilagh Henry, panelist
    Deputy Country Representative, Kabul
    The Asia Foundation
  • Andrew Wilder, moderator
    Director, Afghanistan and Pakistan Programs
    United States Institute of Peace

3.  Can Less be More in Afghanistan? State-building Lessons from the Past to Guide the Future

USIP, November 17, 10-noon

Ten years after the U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan initiated a new, post-Taliban order, the success and sustainability of the international community’s ambitious state-building project is being questioned. Though billed as transformative, it is unclear whether the state-building investments and reforms of the past decade can be sustained, or will represent a job half-done.

With the Afghan engagement now at a critical juncture, marked by the convening of another Bonn conference in early December, international donor assistance budgets to Afghanistan are declining, prompting a need to look back as well as forward. Why has deeper and broader engagement been repeatedly attempted despite concern that many efforts have had limited and sometimes counter-productive effects? How can lessons from the past help to identify reasonable ways forward? Please join USIP for a discussion with a panel of leading experts to discuss this important topic at a critical juncture in the state-building history of Afghanistan.

  • Astri Suhrke, panelist
    Senior Researcher, Chr. Michelsen Institute
    Author, When Less is More: the International Project in Afghanistan
  • J. Alexander Thier, panelist
    Assistant to the Administrator and Director, Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs
    U.S. Agency for International Development
  • Michael Semple, panelist
    2011-2012 Carr Center Fellow
    Harvard Kennedy School
  • Andrew Wilder, moderator
    Director, Afghanistan and Pakistan Programs
    United States Institute of Peace

4.  Afghan Perspectives on Post-Transition

Featuring remarks by Mr. Mohammad Haneef Atmar
  • Thursday, Nov 17, 2011 | 10:30 am – 11:30 am

The Center for Strategic and International Studies presents

Afghan Perspectives on Post-Transition

featuring remarks by

Mr. Mohammad Haneef Atmar
Former Afghan Minister of Interior

Sponsored by ANHAM

Thursday, November 17, 2011
10:30AM – 11:30AM

CSIS B1 Conference Center
CSIS 1800 K. St. NW, Washington, DC 20006

CSIS will present the first in a series of speeches and Q&A sessions on perspectives for Afghan governance and issues following the 2014 transition. Our speaker for this first event is Mr. Mohammad Haneef Atmar. Mr. Atmar served as one of Afghanistan’s leading Ministers during his terms in office as the Minister of Interior (2008-2010), Minister of Education (2006-2008) and as Minister of Rural Rehabilitation and Development (2002-2006).  We hope you can join us or send a representative.

Please RSVP by clicking here

5.  Sudan & South Sudan: United States and United Nations Engagement
November 17, 2011 | 1:00 pm – 2:30 pm

Please join the Better World Campaign,

the United Nations Association of the USA and National Capital Area Chapter

for a panel discussion on

Sudan & South Sudan: United States and United Nations Engagement



Princeton Lyman

U.S. Special Envoy to Sudan


Francois Grignon

 UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations

moderated by

Peter Yeo
Executive Director of The Better World Campaign

Thursday, November 17, 2011

1:00– 2:30 p.m.

2103 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, DC

a light lunch will be served


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Why I skipped Veterans’ Day

I skipped a Veterans’ Day post, as I find it difficult to imagine what I could say in tribute to the troops that hasn’t been said by others.  But this from ThinkProgress has provoked me:

The speaker is Tennessee State Representative Womick, yes speaking on Veterans’ Day.

Womick is following in a long tradition. As California Attorney General Earle Warren (yes, the one who was later Chief Justice) put it when he advocated internment of Japanese Americans during World War II:

The Japanese situation as it exists in this state today may well be the Achilles heel of the entire civilian defense effort.

Japanese Americans went on to fight courageously for the United States in World War II, including many whose families were interned.  The Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team was highly decorated regiment, including 21 Medal of Honor recipients.

Womick’s sentiments are not uniquely American.  Bashar al Assad feels the same way about protesters against his regime (as Qaddafi did), though admittedly torturing and killing them is worse than expelling them from the U.S. Army or interning them.

Worse, but only in degree. The underlying sentiment is the same: distrust of people because of who they are, no matter what they do (or do not do).  This is gross intolerance, and it is far more pervasive today than we like to admit.

I’m sure Mr. Womick gives a rousing Veterans’ Day speech.  I was glad not to post it.

PS:  As luck(?) would have it, someone sent me this today:

If you think this funny, you are on the wrong website.

I repeat: gross intolerance, far more pervasive today than we like to admit. Here is the antidote:

In case there is doubt, I am referring to the first minute or two of this clip, not the endorsement of Barack Obama in the last minute or so.

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Good news and bad

It is good news that Jerry Gallucci has taken up the challenge of seriously assessing the Ahtisaari plan provisions for north Kosovo.  This is a first:  a hard look at what it contains and how, from a northern Kosovo Serb perspective, it falls short or requires additional clarification.  I don’t mean by this that I agree with what Jerry says, especially on the courts, applicable law and some other matters, but his is definitely a step forward. And well-crafted to boot.  Please read before reacting.  But by all means react:  it would be a good idea for one or more of the capable think-tanks in Pristina to react point by point.

Gallucci couches his suggestions for improvements (from the north Kosovo Serb perspective still) in terms of implementation plans, rather than “Ahtisaari plus” or other formulations calculated to excite immediate rejection in Pristina.  That is also good.  But he continues to want “status neutrality.”  He thinks Belgrade can refuse to accept Kosovo as sovereign and independent but gain all the substantial benefits that the Ahtisaari plan offers (and then some).

That’s the bad news.  The ongoing quarrel over collection of customs at the north Kosovo border crossings with Serbia should by now have convinced everyone that lack of clarity about sovereignty and borders is a bad idea.  I don’t know any two countries with a border that is not agreed and demarcated who have good relations.  Belgrade and Pristina are not going to be an exception to the rule.

I fully accept that Belgrade will never bilaterally recognize Kosovo–the politicians there have repeated this line so often they can’t back up.  Fortunately, they don’t need to.  They just need to ask the Russians to stop blocking UN General Assembly membership for Kosovo, which requires a positive recommendation from the UN Security Council.

Eighty-five states have now recognized Kosovo.  It will not be long before the recognizers outnumber the non-recognizers in the General Assembly, which could then move to make Kosovo a non-member state (the status Palestine is now seeking).  Even within the EU, more than one of the non-recognizers may reconsider as governments there change.

Admission to the UNGA as a nonmember state won’t do much more for Kosovo than it will do for the Palestinians.  It would be far better for Pristina and Belgrade to reach a real agreement, not only on how the Ahtisaari plan is to be implemented but also on status, which would then allow Serbia to pursue its ambition of EU membership without the ball and chain called Kosovo attached to its ankle.

Gallucci gives some reason for optimism on the status question, which is really two questions:

1) who are the properly constituted, democratic authorities in Kosovo?

2) are they sovereign and independent?

He goes so far as to say, “North Kosovo remains part of Kosovo, and that Kosovo’s territorial and political integrity be maintained.”  His discussion of the Ahtisaari plan implementation includes participation by the north Kosovo Serbs in the Pristina institutions, which at least answers the first question definitively.

Here’s some more good news:  the IMF says Kosovo’s policies are broadly on track, 2012 growth will be 4% and inflation is moderating.  It is ironic of course that this corner of the euro zone is avoiding the problems bedeviling the bigger boys.  My advice to Pristina:  governing well is the best revenge.

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Syria still needs nonviolence

Today’s suspension of Syria from the Arab League will be seen by some as irrelevant, even risible.  Who would even want to be a member of an organization as feckless as the one that 10 days ago reached an agreement with President Bashar al Assad to end the violence, only to see him turn around and gun down hundreds of protesters? Nor does the Arab League have a great record of achievement elsewhere, and many of its members would arguably respond to protesters in much the same way as Bashar has.

But that misses the point.  The key to ending Bashar al Assad’s reign of terror in Syria is to attack his legitimacy.  Anything that contributes, even marginally, to that end has to be counted as positive.  International legitimacy is important to autocrats.  Bashar certainly doesn’t care much about the Arab League–if he did he would not have so blatantly violated the agreement he reached with it–but if the League did not act at this point it would certainly redound to his benefit.

Assistant Secretary of State Feltman testified this week with admirable clarity about U.S. goals and strategy:  we want to see protesters protected, Bashar out, and a transition to democracy begun.  But he was also appropriately modest about our capacity to get what we want.  Our primary leverage is through the European oil embargo, which seems to be holding, and other, mainly financial, sanctions, which are beginning to bite.  There is not, at the level of goals, much of a gap between the Administration and outside experts like Andrew Tabler, who also testified.

But Andrew did have some specific policy suggestions worthy of consideration:  formation of a Syria contact group, development of a strategy to peel away the regime’s supporters, helping the opposition unify and begin planning for transition, pushing for human rights monitors, preparing for military action and pressing for a Security Council resolution.

The Administration is certainly pursuing several of these already.  Feltman made it clear that international monitors is among them, as is helping the opposition.   Surely they already are thinking in terms of a strategy to peel away the regime’s supporters and are beginning to press again for Security Council action.

The one that gives me pause, and likely does likewise Feltman, is preparing for military action.  It would certainly be justified against a regime that is taking military action against its own citizens, but any visible preparation for international military action will encourage violent resistance inside Syria.  That is a bad idea.  As Feltman makes amply clear, Bashar al Assad is intentionally encouraging violent resistance, as it solidifies the security forces as well as his political support and gives him every reason to crack down forcefully.

Just as important:  there is not likely to be any military protection for the protesters, apart from welcoming those who flee along the border with Turkey.  Russia will block any authorization in the Security Council, the Europeans are exhausted after Libya and preoccupied with the euro crisis, and the Arab League is still far from asking for the use of force.  The Americans stand to gain a great deal from peaceful regime change in Syria, but violent change will risk ethnic and sectarian warfare with wide and potentially devastating regional consequences.

Bashar is finished, sooner or later.  We need to worry about making sure that what comes after is a democratic regime prepared to allow all Syrians a say in how they are governed.  That will be far easier to accomplish if the protests can be kept peaceful, no matter how violent the regime gets.  For those who doubt this proposition, I can only recommend Erica Chenoweth and Maria Stephan, Why Civil Resistance Works.

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Water, food, oil, gas: many problems, or one?

Last week, the Transatlantic Academy gathered a plethora of academics and policy makers to discuss the global competition for natural resources. Among several pressing issues, the panel placed particular emphasis on the interaction between different resources and the political and economic outcomes emerging from that “nexus.”

Particularly in the raw materials industry, resources are used in abundance to extract others, or in some cases to create new ones. Water is used to extract oil and gas. These three resources are used to raise corn, which itself is used to produce ethanol. And all the aforementioned resources are used to extract minerals. The web is obviously larger, but even this small picture illustrates what scholars and policy makers have come to label a “nexus of resources.”

In a world where resources are scarce, this interconnectivity presents problems for the global economy and creates political complications. Spikes in oil or food prices have ripple effects, and for this reason it is no longer appropriate to analyze resource markets in isolation. A nexus-driven approach must now be the standard.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the market for food, particularly agricultural goods. As the situation stands today, food production rates must increase dramatically to keep pace with projected population growth and dietary changes related to the rise of the middle class. And yet, for years, as Julie Howard from USAID points out, large fluctuations in food prices failed to capture the attention of policy makers as important political events. Only with the onset of the 2008-09 price spikes did governments begin to truly appreciate the impact of food security on international and intra-state politics.

Numerous factors account for the recent spikes in food prices, but several reports emphasize the role of the biofuels industry in particular. Paul Faeth, a fellow at CNA Corporation, points out that the amount of corn available for consumption compared to that used for ethanol production has decreased by 15% in the last ten years. Increasing demand for corn in the U.S. ethanol industry has contributed to global food shortages, and a recent UN report tacitly implicates this practice in the price spikes many associate with uprisings in the Arab world. Leaving the efficacy of biofuels aside, Howard insists this reality nonetheless begs for the elevation of food security to a higher rung on governments’ list of international assistance priorities.

Food security is also closely related to water supplies. Especially in arid regions such as the Middle East and North Africa, heavy agricultural irrigation can create what Andrew Martin of the New York Times called a twisted “quandary, as [countries] are forced to choose between growing more crops to feed an expanding population or preserving their already scant supply of water.” As a result, MENA countries have become dependent on food imports, exposing citizens to cruel scenarios in the event of sudden global food price increases.

Another high usage area for water is in oil and gas extraction. With the recent developments in fracking technology used in the shale gas industry, water footprints are expanding. The issue here, as Robert Kleinberg of Schlumberger-Doll points out, isn’t waste necessarily, since 100% of the water taken out of the ground after fracking can be sanitized and reused, although Kleinberg does mention that only 1/3 of water put in the ground is actually recoverable.

But as far as water waste goes, the natural gas industry pales in comparison to agriculture. The real problems with fracking are the environmental hazards associated with the process of extraction. Trucks spewing emissions transport water to extraction sites, which themselves suffer surface erosion. And, fracking leaves highly saline and often radioactive water in the ground, which can cycle into farm irrigation systems and other water supplies. For these reasons, as both Faeth and Kleinberg seem to accept, the astronomical potential of natural gas as a profitable and clean(er) fossil fuel must be harnessed to a regulatory scheme that requires producers to meet environmental standards, or else pay for the negative externalities.

Though I missed the final session on the geopolitics of energy, I can imagine that Faeth and Kleinberg also recognize shale’s strategic potential given the large reserves in the U.S. They seem to agree that energy independence is less important that efficiency, but domestic natural gas production could address both these issues.

Strategic considerations also abound when it comes to food security and regime stability in the Arab world. For all the concern about ethnic and sectarian tensions in MENA—undoubtedly fundamental sources of conflict in the region—perhaps Mathew Burrows from the National Intelligence Council is correct to argue that resource scarcity could be the deciding factor, tipping these frictions in the wrong direction.

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Context matters, and so does U.S. support

I gave a talk yesterday at West Virginia University’s Law School on U.S. policy towards democracy-seeking rebellions.  The star attraction at the conference was Erica Chenoweth, co-author of Why Civil Resistance Works:  The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.  Some of you will have seen my tweets summarizing her talk, which I won’t try to reproduce here.  Suffice it to say that she provides hard statistical evidence that nonviolent civil resistance really does work, even against the most repressive regimes, and she gives a coherent rationale for why.  She also notes that foreign monetary assistance does not appear to work well.

I was asked to address the U.S. policy response, in particular to the Arab Spring.  Here are my speaking notes, which of course do not represent exactly what I said:

West Virginia University

 November 10, 2011

1.  While I am an admirer of Dr. Chenoweth’s quantitative methodology, I am going to rely today on the much less impressive techniques of the historian and diplomat:  stories, I would call them, rather than “cases.”

2.  Arab spring is far from over yet, but I’ll try to focus on the transition phase:  that is, the phase after a regime falls and before a new one has yet emerged.

3.  I am thoroughly convinced of the efficacy of what Dr. Chenoweth calls civic resistance in the earlier phase.

4.  But things get much more complicated when that resistance has to turn into something more constructive.

5.  There are three cases already in the transition phase, more or less:  Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.  Each is quite different.

6.  In Tunisia, the autocrat left the scene quickly and the regime was pushed aside fairly easily.  First elections have already been held and there is a clear roadmap ahead.  A classic, fairly smooth case, with no sign of counter-revolution on the horizon.  Good chance of consolidating a democratic regime.

7.  In Egypt, the autocrat also left pretty quickly, but the regime was not pushed aside easily and the protesters called on the army to manage the transition.  It is doing so, but in a way that consolidates its control over some aspects of governance (security, foreign policy) and a big piece of the economy.  I’d say much less likelihood of success in the transition.  Might be rather like Serbia, where a similar deal was made with the security forces and the transition has been slow and halting as a result.

8.  In Libya, there was a violent revolution that has the advantage of having swept the old regime away completely, with foreign help.  There has been good leadership, decent planning and ample resources.  I give the Libyans a decent chance at success in consolidating a democracy, albeit less probability than Tunisia.

9.  What of Yemen, Syria and Bahrain, all of which are still in progress?

10.  Yemen has turned violent, even if the protesters themselves have stuck with nonviolence.  The odds of successful transition to democracy seem to be small, because the opposition to Saleh most likely to take power is the violent one, which is no more inclined to democracy than he is.

11.  Syria could be headed in the same direction, though there is still some hope of keeping it on a nonviolent course.  That’s vital for success.  Violence will lead to sectarian and ethnic breakdown (similar to Iraq) that will be difficult to overcome.

12.  Bahrain is an odd case.  The protesters have been nonviolent, but the crackdown was effective, unlike Syria and Yemen.  A lot depends on the Bassiouni commission report:  will it revive nonviolent resistance, or will the regime be able to keep the lid on?

13.  What of the other monarchies:  Morocco and Jordan?  Saudi Arabia and Oman?

14.  These four, each in its own way, is attempting to preempt resistance with reform, albeit minimal reform in the case of Riyadh.  So far, they are largely succeeding.

15.  I do think the monarchies have some advantage in this respect:  not because they are somehow nicer, but because their legitimacy is understood not to derive from elections but rather from heredity.

16.  It is much harder for a republic to claim that there is no need to change who is in power in order to reform the system.

17.  But that does not mean the monarchies will succeed forever.  The fact that all Saudi Arabia experts agree that it can’t happen there, that the succession is ensured, is a clear earlier indicator that it may well happen there.

18.  If I were advising the Saudis and the other monarchies, I would suggest they get ahead of the curve and stay ahead, by taking truly meaningful steps to redistribute power and ensure that their security services are shifting from protecting the rulers to protecting the ruled.

19.  If there is one mistake common to all the Arab Spring successes so far—and also to those places where rebellion is still in progress—it is the use of regime violence against the population.

20.  These guys need to learn that legitimacy comes from the people, who will be much more inclined to confer it on those who protect them than on those who attack them.

21.  We should also be thinking about how we can encourage security sector reform in advance of rebellion and revolution—it would be far cheaper and more effective than doing it after the fact.

22.  America should certainly be supporting those who demonstrate nonviolently for their rights, but I confess to doubts that it should be done through embassies.

23.  Robert Ford, our ambassador in Syria who has bravely gone to “observe” demonstrations, is the exception that proves the rule.

24.  The rule is that embassies need to stay on good terms with the host government, even if it is an autocracy.  They cannot be implicated in support to revolutionaries.

25.  Assistance to democracy and human rights advocates should flow not through embassies but through nongovernmental organizations, including the National Endowment for Democracy, the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute as well as non-American counterparts.

26.  The more these can be made distinct from our official representation, the better.

27.  America is condemned to spreading democracy.  If you really believe that all people are created equal, you have no choice but to sympathize with those who claim their rights.  But the specific modalities for when and how to do it depend a great deal on context.

PS:  In answer to a question, I said yes it can happen in Iran, but American efforts to support it there are problematic because of our fraught relationship with Tehran, which includes both concern about nuclear weapons and attempts to foment ethnic strife inside Iran.  In the end, I think Obama got the reaction to the Green Movement about right in the end:  rhetorical support without repainting it red, white and blue.

Chenoweth and Serwer at West Virgina University Law School November 10
Serwer at West Virginia University Law School November 10
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