Tag: Zimbabwe

Peace picks June 22-26

The Azraq Wetlands in Jordan have shrunk to a minuscule fraction of their size due to over-pumping. Climate change could further exacerbate water shortages in the Middle East.

1. A New Climate for Peace: Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risks (Report Launch) | Monday, June 22nd | 3:00-5:00 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The ultimate “threat multiplier,” climate change is increasing the challenges facing the U.S. development, diplomatic, and security communities.  “A New Climate for Peace: Taking Action on Climate and Fragility Risks,” an independent report commissioned by the members of the G7, identifies seven compound climate-fragility risks that pose serious threats to stability in the decades ahead. Join leaders from the development, diplomatic, and security communities and the report’s coauthors for the U.S. launch of a “New Climate for Peace.” The high-level interagency panel will explore how these climate-fragility challenges are changing the way the United States and its partners work, and will also identify opportunities for joint action to address them. Speakers include: Alexander Carius, Co-Founder and Managing Director, adelphi, Geoffrey D. Dabelko, Senior Advisor, Environmental Change and Security Program, Professor and Director of Environmental Studies, Ohio University; Former ECSP Director, Roger-Mark De Souza, Director of Population, Environmental Security, and Resilience, Wilson Center, Alice Hill, Senior Director for Resilience Policy, National Security Council, White House, Christian Holmes, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Economic Growth, Education and Environment, and Global Water Coordinator, U.S. Agency for International Development, Melanie Nakagawa, Policy Planning Staff, Office of the U.S. Secretary of State, Andrew Selee, Executive Vice President and Senior Advisor to the Mexico Institute, Jonathan White, Rear Admiral, Oceanographer and Navigator of the Navy, Director of Task Force Climate Change, U.S. Navy, and David Yang, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance, U.S. Agency for International Development.

2. Turkey, the Kurds, and the Middle East: What the Turkish Elections Portend for the Region’s Future | Tuesday, June 23rd | 10:00-11:30 | The Hudson Institute | REGISTER TO ATTEND | The recent Turkish elections indicated the strength of Turkish democracy. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s bid for unrivaled executive power was rejected by Turkey’s voters, demonstrating the growing political power of the country’s largest minority group, the Kurds.  Commentary on Turkish politics typically focuses on Islamism, Erdogan’s ambition, the nature of the Justice and Development party, and the various political scandals of the last few years. The reality is that more significant changes in the country are going relatively unnoticed. Turkey’s shifting demographics—rising Kurdish birth rates and lower Turkish birth rates—suggest that this key NATO ally is undergoing a fundamental transformation. What does this mean for Turkey and the rest of the Middle East, particularly countries that have large Kurdish populations including Iraq, Syria, and Iran? What challenges and opportunities will this present to American policymakers in the coming years? Speakers include: former U.S. ambassador to Turkey James Jeffrey; Tolga Tanis, the Washington correspondent for the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet; Gonul Tol, founding director of the Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies; and Eric B. Brown, Hudson Institute senior fellow and co-editor of Current Trends in Islamist Ideology. Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Lee Smith will moderate the discussion.

3. Envisioning the Future of Urban Warfare | Tuesday, June 23rd | 3:00-4:30 | Atlantic Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Approximately sixty percent of humanity will live in urban areas in the near future. These billions of people will not just inhabit cities, but megacities that will be economic, cultural, and political centers – and potential conflict zones. Conventional discussions about the future of warfare often fail to capture the epic challenge of preparing for – and preventing – urban warfare in megacities. With that in mind, the Art of Future Warfare project will host a discussion on Envisioning the Future of Urban Warfare. It will be the capstone to a war-art challenge calling for graphic novel, or comic book, illustrations revealing what urban warfare might look like in the 2040s and 2050s. To address this important topic, Max Brooks, New York Times bestselling author of World War Z, will join Jon Chang, the writer of the Black Powder Red Earth series, along with the winner of the contest. The best illustrations will be on display for all to see and the panelists will discuss the battleground that is expected to encompass sixty percent of all people in the near future. Most importantly, they will tell us what we should worry about, and what is merely conjecture.

4. The Challenges of Democratization and Economic Recovery in Zimbabwe | Wednesday, June 24th | 10:00-12:00 | National Endowment for Democracy | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Nearly two years after the new constitution was signed into law, Zimbabwe’s democratic progress remains stalled and the economy is again in crisis. Please join us for a panel discussion to identify the challenges that must be overcome in order to reverse Zimbabwe’s current trajectory as well as explore opportunities for local and international actors to encourage political reform and economic recovery. Panelists include: Ambassador Bruce Wharton, United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Ibbo Mandaza, Executive Chairperson, SAPES Trust, Tawanda Mutasah, International human rights lawyer, Charles Msipa, Former President, Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries. Moderated by Imani Countess, Regional Director for Africa, Solidarity Center. Introductory remarks by Dave Peterson, Senior Director for Africa, National Endowment for Democracy.

5. Pirates, Islam, and U.S. Hostage Policy | Wednesday, June 24th | 12:00-1:00 | The Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND The Middle East Program and the Africa Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center present a conversation with Michael Scott Moore, freelance journalist, Spiegel Online and author. Moore will discuss his two and a half year ordeal as a captive of Somali pirates, with a focus on certain myths about hostage-taking.

6. Eradicating Boko Haram Sustainably: An Integrated Regional Approach | Wednesday, June 24th | 2:00-3:30 | The Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | In recent months, Boko Haram has expanded its raids from Northern Nigeria across the border into Northern Cameroon. The attacks, including attacks in March and April which killed numerous Cameroonian villagers, have mainly been attempts to obtain more supplies for the group. The spread of Boko Haram across borders highlights the need for regional cooperation to halt the group. This week, President Muhammadu Buhari of Nigeria announced plans to conduct talks with Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Benin to form a regional military force to combat Boko Haram. Join the Wilson Center for a meaningful discussion on ways to combat Boko Haram, both from the perspective of a U.S. official and a prominent Cameroonian activist who has traveled to the Far North of Cameroon, where Boko Haram attacks have been taking place. Speakers include: Kah Walla, President of Cameroon People’s Party, U.S. Official (to be confirmed).

7. Annual Global Missile Defense Conference | Thursday, June 25th | 8:30-5:00 | Atlantic Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Missile Defense is a critical element for the United States’ strategy to defend its homeland and its collaborative efforts to secure the territories of its allies and partners in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.  In each of these regions, the combination of increased volatility, if not conflict, and new deployments by potential adversaries of increasingly capable ballistic missiles has made missile defense collaboration all the more challenging and urgent. The Atlantic Council’s annual missile defense conference convenes leading missile defense and regional security experts to analyze the future trajectory of global missile defense issues. The conference focuses on how current and prospective geopolitical developments are shaping the requirements and opportunities for missile defense collaboration in Europe, the Middle East, and the Asia Pacific and will include a panel addressing the programmatic and technological challenges that define success and failure in missile defense programs. The conference will also feature an opening address by former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General James E. Cartwright.

8. Rouhani at Two Years: An Assessment on the Cusp of a Nuclear Deal | Thursday, June 25th | 12:00-1:00 | Wilson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND | During President Rouhani’s first two years in office, attention has understandably been focused on Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the P5+1. Yet these two years have also witnessed important developments—and conflicts—in the sphere of politics, the economy, human rights and social policy. Our panel will examine this broad spectrum of issues. Speakers include: Robin Wright, USIP-Wilson Center Distinguished Scholar, Suzanne Maloney, Interim Deputy Director and Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution and Karim Sadjadpour, Senior Associate, Middle East Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

9. Beyond Centrifuges: The Geopolitical Implications of an Iran Deal | Thursday, June 25th | 2:00-3:30 | Stimson Center | REGISTER TO ATTEND |As negotiators work towards a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran by the June 30th deadline, there is much more at stake for the U.S. than just centrifuges and sanctions. While a deal has been contested by U.S. allies in Israel and Saudi Arabia, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen says a deal could “rebalance American influence” and that “detente with Iran might better balance our efforts across the sectarian divide.”  How can a deal provide new options for the U.S. to resolve some of the most important challenges in the region? Join the National Iranian American Council at Stimson Center for a timely discussion with Peter Beinart, contributing editor for The Atlantic and National Journal; Fred Kaplan, War Stories columnist for Slate; Trita Parsi, President of the National Iranian American Council; and moderator Barbara Slavin, South Asia Center Senior Fellow for the Atlantic Council.

10. One Year Since Caliphate Declared: Combating ISIL | Thursday, June 25th | 6:30-8:00 | World Affairs Council | REGISTER TO ATTEND | Nearly a full year after it declared itself a caliphate, ISIL has greatly expanded its territory in Iraq and Syria, in addition to gaining the allegiance of terror networks around the globe. In the territory under their control they have effectively implemented a strict form of Sharia law, heavily utilizing corporal punishment as a means of enforcement, and they have been accused of committing genocide against ethnic and religious groups.  The question remains of how the United States’ and Coalition allies’ strategy will change to more effectively address the spread of ISIL’s ideology and their expansion of territory. Our speaker panel includes the knowledgeable and versed voices of Dr. Shadi Hamid; a current fellow at the Brookings Institution – Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World in the Center for Middle East Policy. Thomas Sanderson is the co-director and senior fellow in the Center for Strategic International Studies Transnational Threats Project.  Bryan Bender, defense editor for Politico, will moderate the discussion.


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The 2013 vintage in the peace vineyard

2013 has been a so-so vintage in the peace vineyard.

The Balkans saw improved relations between Serbia and Kosovo, progress by both towards the European Union and Croatian membership.  Albania managed a peaceful alternation in power.  But Bosnia and Macedonia remain enmired in long-running constitutional and nominal difficulties, respectively.  Slovenia, already a NATO and EU member, ran into financial problems, as did CyprusTurkey‘s long-serving and still politically dominant prime minister managed to get himself into trouble over a shopping center and corruption.

The former Soviet space has likewise seen contradictory developments:  Moldova‘s courageous push towards the EU, Ukraine‘s ongoing, nonviolent rebellion against tighter ties to Russia, and terrorist challenges to the Sochi Winter Olympics. Read more

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The world according to CFR

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) survey of prevention priorities for 2014 is out today.  Crowdsourced, it is pretty much the definition of elite conventional wisdom. Pundits of all stripes contribute.

The top tier includes contingencies with high impact and moderate likelihood (intensification of the Syrian civil war, a cyberattack on critical US infrastructure, attacks on the Iranian nuclear program or evidence of nuclear weapons intent, a mass casualty terrorist attack on the US or an ally, or a severe North Korean crisis) as well as those with moderate impact and high likelihood (in a word “instability” in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq or Jordan).  None merited the designation high impact and high likelihood, though many of us might have suggested Syria, Iraq  and Pakistan for that category. Read more

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Peace Picks July 22-26

1. Rouhani: Challenges at Home, Challenges Abroad, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Monday, July 22 / 9:00am – 11:30am

Venue: Woodrow Wilson Center

1300 Pennsylvania Ave., NW, Washington, D.C. 20004

Speakers: Bijan Khajehpour, Shervin Malekzadeh, Suzanne Maloney, Roberto Toscano, Ali Vaez, Shaul Bakhash

Six Iran experts discuss President-elect Rouhani’s domestic and foreign policy challenges.

Register for the event here:


Read more

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Prevent what?

Most of us who work on international affairs think it would be much better to use diplomacy to prevent bad things from happening rather than waiting until the aftermath and then cleaning up after the elephants, which all too often involves expensive military action.  But what precisely would that mean?  What do we need to prevent?

The Council on Foreign Relations survey of prevention priorities for 2013 was published last week, just in time to be forgotten in the Christmas rush and New Year’s lull.  It deserves notice, as it is one of the few nonpartisan attempts to define American national security priorities.  This year’s edition was in part crowd-sourced and categorizes contingencies on two dimensions:  impact on U.S. interests (high, medium, low) and likelihood (likely, plausible, unlikely).

Syria comes out on top in both dimensions.  That’s a no-brainer for likelihood, as the civil war has already reached catastrophic dimensions and is affecting the broader region.  Judging from Paul Stares’ video introduction to the survey, U.S. interests are ranked high in part because of the risk of use or loss of chemical weapons stocks.  I’d have ranked them high because of the importance of depriving Iran of its one truly reliable ally and bridge to Hizbollah, but that’s a quibble.

CFR ranks another six contingencies as high impact on U.S. interests and only plausible rather than likely.  This isn’t so useful, but Paul’s video comes to the rescue:  an Israeli military strike on Iran that would “embroil” the U.S. and conflict with China in the East or South China seas are his picks to talk about.  I find it peculiar that CFR does not treat what I would regard as certainly a plausible if not a likely contingency:  a U.S. attack on Iran.  There are few more important decisions President Obama will need to make than whether to use force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.  Certainly it is a far more challenging decision than whether to go to war against China in the territorial disputes it is generating with U.S. allies in Pacific.  I don’t know any foreign policy experts who would advise him to go in that direction.

It is striking that few of the other “plausible” and high-impact contingencies are amenable to purely military responses:

  • a highly disruptive cyberattack on U.S. critical infrastructure
  • a mass casualty attack on the U.S. homeland or on a treaty ally
  • severe internal instability in Pakistan, triggered by a civil-military crisis or terror attack

It is not easy to determine the origin of cyberattacks, and not clear that a military response would be appropriate or effective.  The same is also sometimes true of mass casualty attacks; our military response to 9/11 in Afghanistan has enmired the United States in its longest war to date, one where force is proving inadequate as a solution.  It is hard to imagine any military response to internal instability in Pakistan, though CFR offers as an additional low probability contingency a possible U.S. military confrontation with Islamabad “triggered by a terror attack or U.S. counterterror operations.”

In the “moderate” impact on U.S. interests, CFR ranks as highly likely “a major erosion of security in Afghanistan resulting from coalition drawdown.”  I’d certainly have put that in high impact category, as we’ve still got 100,000 troops in Afghanistan and a significant portion of them will still be there at the end of 2013.  In the “moderate” impact but merely plausible category CFR ranks:

  • a severe Indo-Pakistan crisis that carries risk of military escalation, triggered by a major terror attack
  • a severe North Korean crisis caused by another military provocation, internal political instability, or threatening nuclear weapons/ICBM-related activities
  • a significant increase in drug trafficking violence in Mexico that spills over into the United States
  • continuing political instability and emergence of a terrorist safe haven in Libya

Again there are limits to what we can do about most of these contingencies by conventional military means.  Only a North Korea crisis caused by military provocation or threats would rank be susceptible to a primarily military response.  The others call for diplomatic and civilian responses in at least a measure equal to the possible military ones.

CFR lets two “moderate” impact contingencies languish in the low probability category that I don’t think belong there:

  • political instability in Saudi Arabia that endangers global oil supplies
  • renewed unrest in the Kurdish dominated regions of Turkey and the Middle East

There is a very real possibility in Riyadh of a succession crisis, as the monarchy on the death of the king will likely move to a next generation of contenders.  Kurdish irredentist aspirations are already a big issue in Iraq and Syria.  It is hard to imagine this will not affect Iran and Turkey before the year is out.  Neither is amenable to a purely military response.

Most of the contingencies with “low” impact on U.S. interests are in Africa:

  • a deepening of violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo that involves military intervention from its neighbors
  • growing popular unrest and political instability in Sudan
  • military conflict between Sudan and South Sudan
  • renewed ethnic violence in Kenya surrounding March 2013 presidential election
  • widespread unrest in Zimbabwe surrounding the electoral process and/or the death of Robert Mugabe
  • failure of a multilateral intervention to push out Islamist groups from Mali’s north

This may tell us more about CFR and the United States than about the world.  Africa has little purchase on American sentiments, despite our half-Kenyan president.  All of these contingencies merit diplomatic attention, but none is likely to excite U.S. military responses of more than a purely emergency character, except for Mali.  If you’ve got a few Islamist terrorists, you can get some attention even if you are in Africa.

What’s missing from this list?  CFR mentions

…a third Palestinian intifada, a widespread popular unrest in China, escalation of a U.S.-Iran naval clash in the Persian Gulf, a Sino-Indian border crisis, onset of elections-related instability and violence in Ethiopia, unrest in Cuba following the death of Fidel Castro and/or incapacitation of Raul Castro, and widespread political unrest in Venezuela triggered by the death or incapacitation of Hugo Chavez.

I’d add intensification of the global economic slowdown (high probability, high impact), failure to do more about global warming (also high probability, delayed impact), demographic or financial implosion in Europe or Japan (and possibly even the U.S.), Russian crackdown on dissent, and resurgent Islamist extremism in Somalia.  But the first three of these are not one-year “contingencies,” which shows one limit of the CFR exercise.

I would also note that the world is arguably in better shape at the end of 2012 than ever before in history.  As The Spectator puts it:

Never has there been less hunger, less disease or more prosperity. The West remains in the economic doldrums, but most developing countries are charging ahead, and people are being lifted out of poverty at the fastest rate ever recorded. The death toll inflicted by war and natural disasters is also mercifully low. We are living in a golden age.

May it last.

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The street called straight

It would be a mistake for anyone to extrapolate from the current situation in Syria to an outcome.  It is, after all, in Damascus that the once main street (الشارع المستقيم‎) is only called straight.  But we are now approaching a denouement, however many more deviations may still occur.

The indicators are both internal and external.  You know your regime is in trouble when you can’t get to the capital’s main airport without going through rebel checkpoints, most of the border crossing points with Turkey and several important northern army bases are also in insurgent hands and the revolutionaries have grounded or destroyed something like 100 of your air force’s planes and helicopters.  It’s also trouble when the Americans start talking about the consequences if you use weapons of mass destruction and Jim Dobbins publishes a piece in the Financial Times suggesting ways in which intervention could be justified.  UN Envoy Brahimi’s recent tête-à-têtewith the Russian Foreign Minister and the U.S. Secretary of State should also give you pause.

Washington and Moscow are now concluding that they really do share a common interest in preventing a radical Islamist takeover in Syria.  It’s about time.  Moscow has been unwise to continue to bank on Bashar al Asad as a bulwark against Sunni extremism.  Washington has been unwise to think it could steer the revolution in Syria in a democratic direction without making any major commitment in arms or military action.  If they can find common cause now, they may still have time and influence enough to prevent the worst from happening.

Pretty much the only important political document Moscow and Washington have agreed on since the Syria rebellion began is last June’s “action group”  communiqué.  That will be at least part of the basis for the current talks.  It foresees a Syrian state that

• Is genuinely democratic and pluralistic, giving space to established and newly emerging political actors to compete fairly and equally in elections. This also means that the commitment to multi-party democracy must be a lasting one, going beyond an initial round of elections.
• Complies with international standards on human rights, the independence of the judiciary, accountability of those in government and the rule of law. It is not enough just to enunciate such a commitment. There must be mechanisms available to the people to ensure that these commitments are kept by those in authority.
• Offers equal opportunities and chances for all. There is no room for sectarianism or discrimination on ethnic, religious, linguistic or any other grounds. Numerically smaller communities must be assured that their rights will be respected.

How to get there from here is hard to picture, but the goal is admirably clear.  The action group statement is also admirably clear on the steps to be taken to achieve a transition to such a state:

• The establishment of a transitional governing body which can establish a neutral environment in which the transition can take place. That means that the transitional governing body would exercise full executive powers. It could include members of the present government and the opposition and other groups and shall be formed on the basis of mutual consent.
• It is for the Syrian people to determine the future of the country. All groups and segments of society in Syria must be enabled to participate in a National Dialogue process. That process must not only be inclusive, it must also be meaningful—that is to say, its key outcomes must be implemented.
• On this basis, there can be a review of the constitutional order and the legal system. The result of constitutional drafting would be subject to popular approval.
• Once the new constitutional order is established, it is necessary to prepare for and conduct free and fair multi-party elections for the new institutions and offices that have been established.
• Women must be fully represented in all aspects of the transition.

It is that first step in the process that is both crucial and problematic:  the establishment of a transitional governing body with full executive powers.  What this suggests is an interim government fully empowered even with Bashar al Asad still in Damascus, as this “action group” transition plan makes no reference to his stepping aside (a key demand of the Syrian opposition and source of friction between Washington and Moscow).  This is not only hard to picture, but so far as I am aware has never been successfully attempted in the past.  I asked a knowledgeable person recently:  he could not think of an example.  The best I can come up with is the current coalition arrangements in Zimbabwe, where President Mugabe is still in place but a good deal of governing authority is in opposition hands.  That is not an encouraging precedent.

There are other problems with the idea of a negotiated transition.  Jebhat al Nusra, the Al Qaeda in Iraq franchise that operates in Syria, will not be interested in one.  They have two strong points:  lots of weapons and a reputation for fighting the regime (and avoiding exploitation of the population) that appears unequaled.  It will be hard for the Washington-favored Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces to compete with the more radical Sunni extremists who have been in the vanguard of the fight against Asad, using weapons paid for by wealthy Saudis and Qataris.

One thing might level the playing field:  an international intervention force, which the UN is just beginning to think about.  That is what was lacking in Libya, allowing extremists a much freer hand there than has been healthy either for American diplomats or the political transition.  But who would be willing to send troops into Syria at the end of this horrendous civil war, when revenge killing, the struggle for power and disorder will be at their peak?  Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been willing to pump money and arms to their favorites, but they are hardly suitable as impartial peacekeepers.  Turkey and Iran are viewed as protagonists within Syria, the former in favor of the rebellion and the latter against it.  Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia are hardly in a position to embark on a difficult foreign venture.  Europe and the United States do not want their own boots on the ground and will oppose Russian and Chinese troops in Syria.

As it has from the beginning, Syria poses far more problems than the international system can answer.  The guys with guns will control the transition in Syria, with consequences that could take the country far from the democratic transition that the action group would prefer.  Moscow and Washington will need to cooperate and  exert a lot of influence to prevent that from happening.

PS:  Having violated my general rule of always reading Mike Eisenstadt before publishing, the best I can do now is cite his piece on what a hard fall might look like.

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