Centre for International Intervention http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii The Blog for the Centre for international intervention at the University of Surrey Fri, 01 Jun 2012 22:27:07 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Has Kofi Annan failed in Syria? http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2012/05/31/has-kofi-annan-failed-in-syria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=has-kofi-annan-failed-in-syria http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2012/05/31/has-kofi-annan-failed-in-syria/#comments Thu, 31 May 2012 08:50:13 +0000 Michael Aaronson http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/?p=232

This blog was first published by e-IR on 30 May and is available at: http://www.e-ir.info/

This might appear to be a naive question. The cold-blooded execution on 25 May in the town of Houla of over 100 civilians, including women and children, followed by the discovery on 30 May in Deir Ezzor of 13 bodies with their hands tied, some shot in the head, are but the latest examples of the atrocities committed against civilians in the Syrian crisis. Leaving aside the inevitable claim and counterclaim as to who was responsible for these outrages (although the UN’s 27 May Press Statement condemning the killings in Houla points the finger squarely at the Assad regime) it is clear that the relevant provisions of the “Annan Plan” (ceasefire, withdrawal of forces, guaranteed humanitarian access, and protection of civilians) have not come about. Even Kofi Annan himself, while striving to retain his neutrality as an impartial mediator, has warned that Syria is at a “tipping point”, while the increased incidence of explosions in and around Damascus and other violence across the country seems to presage Syria’s slide into civil war.

So one can see why some would argue that the Annan plan has failed. However it is important to retain a realistic perspective about how much a third-party mediator can hope to achieve, particularly when he or she is appointed in circumstances such as those faced by Annan. From the start of the Syrian crisis in March 2011 the UN Security Council has been divided over how to deal with it. This came to a head in February of this year when Russia and China vetoed a Resolution calling for the Syrian President to step down and this was described as “disgusting and shameful” by the US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice. The subsequent face-saving compromise was a joint appointment by the UN and the Arab League of Kofi Annan as the Special Envoy to the Syrian crisis. Annan’s first task, therefore, was to mediate, not between the Syrian regime and its opponents, but between the P5 members in the Security Council. He made it clear that if he were to succeed there could only be one effective mediation process and that all members of the UN needed to put their weight behind it. Only subsequently was he able to turn his attention to trying to establish common ground between the warring parties in Syria.

Again, it is important to understand that this is all a mediator can do: to help people who are unable or unwilling to talk to each other to see the advantages of doing so. The true extent of the mediator’s power is very dependent on the specific context. For example, when in early 2008 Annan was asked to intervene to help stop the violence threatening to drag Kenya into civil war following the contested presidential elections he was able to play a forceful role knowing that he had the full weight of the African Union, UN, and key donor governments behind him. In Syria four years later this unreserved international support has been denied him, despite his tireless diplomacy taking in visits to Moscow and Beijing as well as Arab capitals. The continuing role of the US-led and anti-regime “Friends of Syria” group, alongside unwavering Russian support for Assad, has undoubtedly complicated his task. In addition he has had to deal with a fragmented and much weaker opposition within Syria, compared to Kenya where he was mediating between two well matched opponents, neither of whom could reasonably hope to win if the violence continued unabated.

When the Annan mission started many poured scorn on it, asking how anyone could trust the Syrian Government to keep any promises it might make. It was claimed that a mediation process merely gave the regime a legitimacy it had long since ceased to merit. Again, subsequent events might suggest this scepticism was justified, but the harsh reality is that there was no other obvious strategy available. Encouraged by Russian and Chinese acquiescence over Libya, from the start of the crisis the US, UK, and France took an uncompromising stance with the Syrian government, from which they were eventually obliged to make a humiliating retreat. When the history of the Syrian crisis is written historians may suggest that had mediation being attempted much earlier – before the disaccord in the Security Council became so pernicious – it might have succeeded. When it did eventually come about it still offered a remote prospect of securing a halt to the fighting and the beginnings of an inclusive political process. Better to support that, surely, than to continue to shout ineffectually from the sidelines. In the absence of US willingness to mount a coercive military intervention – or of Russian willingness to persuade Assad that enough is enough and that he should step down – mediation may still be the only game in town.

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Euro-View: Mike Aaronson on NATO’s Chicago Summit. “Hybrid Threats — defending Europe against an un-seen enemy” http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2012/05/16/euro-view-mike-aaronson-on-nato%e2%80%99s-chicago-summit-hybrid-threats-%e2%80%94-defending-europe-against-an-un-seen-enemy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=euro-view-mike-aaronson-on-nato%25e2%2580%2599s-chicago-summit-hybrid-threats-%25e2%2580%2594-defending-europe-against-an-un-seen-enemy http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2012/05/16/euro-view-mike-aaronson-on-nato%e2%80%99s-chicago-summit-hybrid-threats-%e2%80%94-defending-europe-against-an-un-seen-enemy/#comments Wed, 16 May 2012 16:47:32 +0000 Michael Aaronson http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/?p=228

This piece is available on SecEUR: http://www.seceur.info/en/euro-view-mike-aaronson-on-natos-chicago-summit.html

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How to Deal with a ‘Rogue’ State: Engaging the Islamic Republic http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2012/04/19/how-to-deal-with-a-%e2%80%98rogue%e2%80%99-state-engaging-the-islamic-republic/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-to-deal-with-a-%25e2%2580%2598rogue%25e2%2580%2599-state-engaging-the-islamic-republic http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2012/04/19/how-to-deal-with-a-%e2%80%98rogue%e2%80%99-state-engaging-the-islamic-republic/#comments Thu, 19 Apr 2012 14:15:20 +0000 cii http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/?p=219

by John Turner

Three concerns confront policy makers and the international community in general when engaging with the Islamic Republic of Iran: Nuclear proliferation, the exportation of terrorism and the stability of Iraq. It may be reasonable, as many have done, to simply label Iran as a rogue state that defies the will of the international community, supports terror organisations and attempts to subvert the security of its neighbours. In fact Iran does indeed act in such a way. However, as much as contentious statements by Ahmadinejad and the fire brand speeches of the Ayatollahs may concern policy makers in the West and Arab world, these are not so much the boastings of a powerful regime. They are more reflective of the insecure actions of school yard bullies who are well aware that those around them may be catching on to the bluff. It is imperative to understand why Iran acts as it does. In doing so it may give clues as to how the international community should respond to the security questions that are posed when encountering Iran.

Revolutionary states have founding myths. For Iran its myth is based upon its credentials as an Islamic state, a vanguard of Islam itself. However, equally Iran’s governing elite have employed the idea that Iran is a state under siege to legitimise their leadership. They can point to the Iran-Iraq war in which the world largely supported Iraq, the overthrow of the democratically elected Musadeq in 1953 by CIA plotters and the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan as proof that it is indeed a country that has long been threatened by Western powers. The Iranian government is composed of a complex state apparatus that contains competing elements of a bold executive, a strong and often independent military elite and a squabbling clerical establishment, all competing for political space. Iran is caught between the hardliners and the reformers, those who see Iran as a state based on Islamic principles and a vanguard of Islam and those who wish for reform and desire to tend to the pragmatic issues of state management. What is more evident is that the people of Iran may no longer be willing to hold to the state’s founding myth and view the West as a significant threat to Iran. This was demonstrated through the uprisings that followed the 2009 elections.

The behaviour of the Iranian government is indicative of the legitimacy crisis it faces, not just from the domestic population but among the reformers within the government itself. Through denouncing Israel and the West, support for Hezbollah and the drive to obtain nuclear technology the governing elite seek to underscore their leadership credentials and convince the population that the regime can best serve the interests of its people. The pursuit of nuclear weapons not only proves the strength of the regime but becomes a guarantee of security.

Iran does have security concerns that cannot be dismissed. However, the way in which Iran asserts itself is often more reflective of the ruling elite’s insecurity than proof that Iran is a pariah state. Sitting on the side lines hoping events will develop favourably has historically been a stark gamble. Equally, however, intervention particularly military, can be even more hazardous. Iran is a highly developed civil society and contains a population that is well aware of Iran’s position in the world and its political circumstances. The people have demonstrated a desire for change even if they have not been willing to challenge the regime with such force as others in the region have. The regime in some ways is baiting the international community with its policies and rhetoric. Any attempt at applying force to Iran could potentially leave the population with little option but to embrace the regime that governs them. Stopping nuclear proliferation has proven to be relatively unsuccessful, and even using force in a tactical capacity to stop Iran from acquiring such technology would likely prove unsustainable in the long term. The other option is a full scale invasion of the country that no one is likely to endorse. It would be wise then of policy makers not to force the people to make a choice between reform and security, allowing them on their own terms to bring political change to the Islamic republic in the hope that in the future these policy concerns that confront the international community can be dealt with in a productive fashion.

As concerning as the security threat Iran poses appears upon first glance, it may be less dire than most imagine. The regime is largely blustering in regards to the threat it presents to Israel and its neighbours. Iranian influence in Iraq has been a reality since before Iraq was a state. However, as the Iran Iraq war proved this may not be all that significant, Iraqi Shias still fought for Saddam. As much as the international community rightly promotes non-proliferation, Iran is still a rational actor that privileges its own survival and security. Any attempt on the part of the regime to aggress against its neighbours would almost certainly bring ruin to the nation. Additionally, al-Qaeda and the Sunni terrorist organisations that concern the rest of the world are equally dangerous to Iran, meaning that the idea that Iran would supply these types of organisations with nuclear weapons is largely overstated. Change in Iran will not come as swiftly as it did in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. But it is the assertion here that change will most certainly come if the international community has the patience to let it occur. In this case, no intervention may well be the best intervention.

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Syria, a Proxy Conflict in the Middle East Cold War http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2012/03/28/syria-a-proxy-conflict-in-the-middle-east-cold-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syria-a-proxy-conflict-in-the-middle-east-cold-war http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2012/03/28/syria-a-proxy-conflict-in-the-middle-east-cold-war/#comments Wed, 28 Mar 2012 12:03:31 +0000 cii http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/?p=206

by John Turner

The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iranmarked the beginning of the second Middle East Cold War. Saudi Arabia and Iran along with their allies have been engaged in cold confrontation since that time. However, in large part this began to thaw in the years following the election of Muhammad Khatami to the Iranian presidency in 1997. Recent events, most notably the Arab Spring along with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, have renewed old tensions.  Some have argued that the uprising in Syria has now set the country up to be a proxy conflict in a renewed Cold War between Russia and the West, dividing the world along the lines of Iran, Syria and Hezbollah on the one hand and Saudi Arabia and most of the Arab states on the other. Indeed Syria is in danger of becoming a proxy conflict in a cold war, but this conflict is not reflective of the Cold War that consumed the world in the 20th century. It is rather a Middle East Cold War. It is driven not by external actors seeking to exploit regional uncertainty for advantage, but by internal rivalries that position the world’s great powers, the US, EU, Russia and China, in an awkward position, actors who for the most part prefer regional stability.

The politics of the Middle Eastare influenced by religion and sectarian divides, add to this ideological, ethnic and tribal tensions and the region is further complicated. The ideas of Arab nationalism, Islamic unity, foreign influence, as well as sectarian and ethnic divides have all plagued, undermined and at times strengthened the various states of the region. However, in spite of these persistent challenges to the sovereignty of individual states and the problems these have posed to political elites, the Middle East sub-state system can still be understood through the Westphalian lens. The Middle East Cold War is defined by state interests, however sectarian and ethnic divisions as well as ideological positions represent both the defining features of the Middle East Cold War and tools that are employed to fight it.

The influence of Iran on the Shia populations of the region, who represent a majority in Iraq and account for nearly 70% of the population of thePersian Gulf, has been a consistent concern for Arab leaders. Before the fall of the Iraqi regime in 2003 Iraq served as a buffer against Iranian hegemonic ambitions, real or imaginary. In fact, Iran had never successfully managed to convince the Shia to rebel against their Sunni masters, as was demonstrated most clearly during the Iran Iraq War 1980-1988. Jordan’s King Abdullah warned before the US led invasion of Iraq that if the Ba’ath regime in Bagdad were to be dismantled a Shia Crescent would engulf the region from Iran across Iraq into Lebanon and Syria. In reality, however, the Middle East Cold War has less to do with sectarian divisions and is linked rather to differing interpretations of regional politics. Iran and its affiliates are transformational actors seeking to limit Western influence and undermine Israel. The Status Quo Arab bloc seeks greater regional stability and is willing to tolerate US military presence as it serves as a security guarantor.

The Arab Spring represents both an opportunity and a danger to these cold war adversaries. Egyptwhich was once firmly bonded toSaudi Arabia, friendly to Western powers and committed to the Camp David Accords, is now an unknown. Iran may well have seen the prospects of an Islamist government in Egypt, though of Sunni origin, as an opportunity for stronger relations with that country and as well an opportunity to peel Egypt away from its traditional allies. The events inEgypt however were largely an Egyptian enterprise. Syria may not be quite so simple. Iran openly championed the revolutions in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Bahrain, heralding them as a blow to Western intrusion and a victory for Islam. However, no such cheerful praise was afforded the Syrian revolutionaries from Ahmadinejad or the Ayatollahs. With the uprising against Bashir al-Assad’s regime the tables to some extent are being turned onIran. Its erstwhile ally is under threat and the Arab bloc may itself see an opportunity to remove Iran’s most valuable ally. With the West unwilling, or more likely unable, to intervene in the crisis, regional players no doubt will. Saudi Arabian clerics have urged jihad against the Syrian regime and the Arab league has attempted to stop al-Assad’s crackdown. More concerning, however, may be that the Saudis are arming the Syrian Free Army through tribal channels in Iraq and Lebanon. At present,Iran may be less able to influence the conflict directly, apart from symbolic acts of sending war vessels to anchor in Syrian ports, but the regime has other friends. What appears evident is that the Syrian affair will not remain a domestic one. The intervention of outside powers may ensure the conflict endures for some time. Unlike Libya, Syria is a key strategic player in the Middle Eastand its fate represents both an opportunity and a peril to the states of the region that could well tip the balance in the Middle East Cold War. Some may see this as a positive development weakening Iran’s ability to stretch its influence into the heart of the Middle Eastand bringing an end to a bothersome and distasteful regime. However, the cost in humanitarian terms will likely be even higher than at present and the prospect for regional stability significantly diminished.

John Turner is a PhD candidate in the School of Politics 

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Rethinking International Intervention http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2012/03/22/rethinking-international-intervention/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rethinking-international-intervention http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2012/03/22/rethinking-international-intervention/#comments Thu, 22 Mar 2012 16:37:00 +0000 Michael Aaronson http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/?p=207

When the term “intervention” is used in the context of international crisis management people usually think of military intervention. That is a reflection of how narrow our view of intervention has become, in the context of the willingness of a generation of Western political leaders to launch military expeditions in far-off countries in response to threats of different kinds. Other, less coercive, forms of intervention such as diplomacy or mediation have been relatively neglected by politicians and academics alike. However the emphasis on coercive intervention, backed up by Chapter VII Resolutions in the Security Council, reflects a very Western-centric world view. While the Libyan case might appear to vindicate such an approach, that of Syria certainly does not.

Throughout the crisis the Assad regime has responded brutally to protests and shown little concern for human rights. Although crimes have also been committed by opposition forces, the independent report commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council is clear where the bulk of the blame lies. In response Western and some Arab leaders have called for Assad to go, and even the UN Secretary General has abandoned any attempt at neutrality. A significant humanitarian crisis has developed, with the Red Cross/ Red Crescent and other agencies denied access to sick and wounded people to provide emergency assistance. In the face of the regime’s intransigence and disagreement among the permanent members of the UN Security Council as to (a) who is to blame for the violence and (b) the justification for external intervention more generally the regime has so far been allowed to continue its repression of its own people with impunity. Attempts by the US, UK, and France to obtain a Security Council Resolution have so far been rebuffed by the Russians and the Chinese. Thus, unlike in the Libyan case, where condemnation of Gaddafi by Western and Arab leaders was followed by effective enforcement action authorised by UN SCRs 1970 and 1973, the strong words from Washington, London, and Doha have remained just that.

The deadlock among members of the international community has only now been loosened with the appointment of Kofi Annan as Joint Special Envoy to Syria of the UN and the Arab League. Arguably, Annan’s role has been as much to mediate between P5 members as between the Assad regime and its internal opponents. From the start he has highlighted the need for unity in the Security Council around an agenda which he has described as “to stop the violence, the human rights abuses and the killings and [to] get … unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance to the needy and of course the all-important issue of a political process that will lead to a democratic Syria fulfilling the aspirations of the Syrian people.” Since Annan started work Russian statements on the situation have become notably more conciliatory and the Chinese have also publically backed his mission. At last there appears to be some prospect of leverage that will allow the humanitarian situation to be addressed.

So in spite of all the earlier statements from the Western and Arab powers arguing for regime change the most realistic prospect now is that of an internationally-supported accommodation between the regime and its opponents. The alternative is military assistance to the opposition and the prospect of a long and bloody civil war, with civilians paying the heaviest price. Why has it taken so long for this position to be reached? Given the well-known and long established political differences among P5 members with regards to coercive intervention – not to mention the closeness of Russia’s relationship with Syria and their resentment at the way NATO interpreted UN SCR 1973 to bring about regime change in Libya – it was a major failure of diplomacy by P5 members to allow themselves to lock horns in the way they did. It is all too easy to be wise after the event, but a more effective strategy would surely have been to concentrate on the imperative of allowing access for the ICRC and other relief agencies to the wounded and sick, while trying to encourage some form of political dialogue. In other words, rather than seeking to agree a political position on the rights and wrongs of the crisis  the Security Council should have concentrated its efforts on persuading all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian and human rights law.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that an unrealistic mindset in some quarters about the nature, scope, and likelihood of success of international intervention – in this case an assumption that the threat of outside force could be used to influence the behaviour of a tyrannical regime – has hampered the international response to the current crisis. Western and some Arab leaders have rightly been concerned to address the appalling abuses of human rights and loss of life in Syria but in the absence of collective agreement to use the big stick there has – until the Annan mission, nearly a year after the crisis started – been no Plan B. If we are to intervene more effectively in future we need a more rounded view of “international intervention”: a better appreciation of the different tools available and a more realistic sense of what we as outsiders can hope to achieve. Building consensus around this in the Security Council – rather than blaming others because they take a different view to our own – would be a good place to start.

(This piece first appeared on e-ir on the 18th of March 2012)

Sir Michael Aaronson is a Professorial Research Fellow and Co-Director of cii – the Centre for International Intervention – at the University of Surrey in Guildford in the UK. Contact via:  m.aaronson@surrey.ac.uk @MikeAaronson@cii_surrey

 

 

 

 

 

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Syria: Accountability or Impunity? http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2012/03/04/syria-accountability-or-impunity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=syria-accountability-or-impunity http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2012/03/04/syria-accountability-or-impunity/#comments Sun, 04 Mar 2012 18:25:52 +0000 Michael Aaronson http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/?p=187

There has been much debate about the merits or otherwise of forcible intervention to stop the killings in the Syrian crisis. This has never looked likely, partly because of the Russian and Chinese veto in the UN Security Council but also because of the inherent difficulty of the task, not least given the fragmented nature of the Syrian opposition. Given the impotence of the international community to prevent mass atrocities against segments of the civilian population is there any hope that the threat of being held to account will encourage the regime to show restraint, or are they free to continue to act with impunity?

On Friday 2 March the UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki-Moon accused the Syrian Government of “systematically attacking its own people”. He said the regime’s assault on Homs the previous day had been “atrocious”; civilian losses had clearly been heavy and the UN continued to receive “grisly reports of summary executions, arbitrary detentions, and torture”. This was an important statement from the SG, marking as it did the end of any attempt at neutrality in the crisis.

The following day UK Prime Minister David Cameron accused the Assad regime of “butchering its own people” and warned: “We will make sure, as we did in Serbia, that there is a day of reckoning for those responsible…I have a clear message for those in authority in Syria: make a choice, turn your back on this criminal regime or face justice for the blood that is on your hands”. Former UK Foreign Office Minister and one-time Deputy UN Secretary-General Mark Malloch-Brown also claimed: “There will be accountability for this”.

Throughout the crisis the Syrian Government has claimed it is putting down acts of terrorism within its own jurisdiction, which in law it is entitled to do. However it must still abide by international human rights law, which among other things requires it to provide proper protection to the civilian population. Thus, in the face of increasing violence in Syria from March 2011 onwards the UN Human Rights Council appointed an independent commission “to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law”. In its second report, published on 22 February 2012, the commission found that “The [Syrian] Government has manifestly failed in its responsibility to protect its people… its forces have committed … widespread, systematic and gross human rights violations.”

An important subset of international human rights law (although it has a longer history) is international humanitarian law, or the law of armed conflict. This only applies in situations of armed conflict, which may be at either international or national level. Despite the violent images that we have seen on our television screens the Syrian crisis does not (yet, at least) come into this category. It is significant that the independent commission “did not apply international humanitarian law for the purposes of the report” on the grounds that “it was unable to verify that the Free Syrian Army (FSA), local groups identifying themselves as such or other anti-Government armed groups had reached the necessary level of organization.” (Para 13)

In other words, the specific laws of war would appear not to apply in Syria at present, although this could change if the opposition was able to unite to the extent that it could fight a full-blown civil war against the regime. This has some implications in terms of the conduct required of the parties to the conflict. It also means no-one can be found guilty of war crimes – by definition if a war is not taking place. However, it makes no difference in terms of a government’s responsibilities to its own people: human rights law still obtains. The concept of the Responsibility to Protect, adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2005, is designed to prevent or arrest four kinds of mass atrocity crime: genocide, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. Even if the first three did not apply in the Syrian case, the fourth certainly could. From this flows the possibility of a referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) should there be prima facie evidence that crimes against humanity have been committed.

But unlike the Libyan case, where an ICC referral of the Gaddafi regime was part of UN Security Council Resolution 1970, no consensus exists within the Security Council for a similar referral with regards to Syria. This is not the only way that a case can come before the ICC (it may also be referred by a State party or be initiated by the Prosecutor on the basis of information received) but it is undoubtedly the fastest route. Thus it will certainly be some time before the warnings about accountability issued by David Cameron and Mark Malloch Brown are substantiated. In the meantime the sufferings of the civilian population of Syria will continue. As usual, it is the politics that matters most.

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Neutrality, Impartiality, and the Syrian Crisis http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2012/02/26/neutrality-impartiality-and-the-syrian-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=neutrality-impartiality-and-the-syrian-crisis http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2012/02/26/neutrality-impartiality-and-the-syrian-crisis/#comments Sun, 26 Feb 2012 12:22:47 +0000 Michael Aaronson http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/?p=174

People sometimes find it hard to grasp the difference between the concepts of impartiality and neutrality, as used in a humanitarian context. The current crisis in Syria shows the importance of distinguishing between the two.

The principle of impartiality, as articulated by the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, is about relieving the suffering of individuals based solely on need, and without discrimination as to nationality, race, religious beliefs, class, or political opinions. After the principle of humanity it is the most fundamental aspect of the very concept of humanitarianism.

Neutrality, on the other hand, is about not taking sides in a conflict or engaging in controversies of a political, racial, religious, or ideological nature. For the Red Cross/Red Crescent it is an important means to the end of being able to deliver impartial humanitarian assistance; of being able to access those in need of assistance on both sides of any conflict. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) describes this aspect of its role as being to provide “neutral, independent (another core principle) humanitarian assistance”.

Theoretically, at least, one can abandon strict neutrality but remain impartial: I can abhor your politics and blame you for starting a war, but still provide medical relief to your wounded as well as to those of your enemy. In practice speaking out in this way may make it much less likely you will allow me to provide impartial humanitarian assistance; it is how I am perceived by the parties to a conflict that matters, not only my intent. This is a dilemma faced by organisations such as international non-governmental organisations (INGOs), who feel the need to speak out on the basis of concerns about human rights but who also want to be able to provide help on the ground rather than just to shout from the sidelines.

How is this relevant to Syria? As the crisis deepens and the number of people suffering increases, the humanitarian imperative becomes more pressing. To existing concerns about systematic abuses of human rights has been added the fear of a major humanitarian catastrophe; food and medical supplies have been disrupted and the wounded are without help. However, Western governments such as the US, UK and France, have from the outset of the crisis felt obliged to abandon their neutrality and have taken positions highly critical of the Syrian regime. A consequence of this is that their ability to broker “humanitarian access”, i.e. to help the ICRC and other aid agencies to reach those in need of assistance, is reduced if not eliminated. Thus the calls from the “Friends of Syria” meeting in Tunis for “humanitarian corridors” is likely to fall on deaf ears in Damascus, given that these are accompanied by “strong condemnation” of the Assad regime and an expressed determination to step up sanctions on that regime. Thankfully the ICRC – working with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent – because it has remained neutral, is able to negotiate its own access and to carry out its task of evacuating the wounded and providing material assistance to the civilian population in an impartial way.

The lesson of this is that sometimes one has to remain neutral in order to be seen to be impartial. However, even a determined attempt at neutrality may fail. A good example is the work of the independent commission of enquiry established by the UN to investigate abuses of human rights in Syria since March 2011. Its second report, released on 22 February 2012, is a model of restrained, objective, evidence-based, analysis. It acknowledges that crimes have been committed both by Government and by opposition forces, although it makes clear its view, based on the evidence, that the latter are “not comparable in scale and organisation to those carried out by the State”. The report does not advocate, as have many at the UN, some form of forcible external intervention. On the contrary, it “recommends the initiation of an inclusive political dialogue, bringing together the government, the opposition, and other anti-government actors to negotiate an end to the violence, to ensure respect for human rights and to address the legitimate demands of the Syrian people. It is about as sensible an analysis of and prescription for the Syrian crisis as one could hope to read.

And yet, predictably, when it was published its neutrality was sidelined as people interpreted it in line with their own political perspective. Thus, in the Western media it was reported under headlines such as “Syrian troops have killed more than 250 children, UN report finds” (The Guardian); “UN report says Syria committing war crimes” (Al Jazeera); “UN panel accuses Syrian government of crimes against humanity” (New York Times); “UN accuses Syria of gross systematic human rights violations” (BBC). These were not inaccurate, but hardly gave a rounded sense of what the report’s authors were trying to convey. For its part the Syrian government, in an earlier letter to the commission published as an annex to the report, stated “You have grossly exceeded your mandate by holding the Syrian government fully accountable for what has been going on in Syria, while you have given a blind eye to the violations of human rights committed by the terrorist groups … The commission immersed itself in the campaign against Syria in a clear violation of its mandate and the resolution establishing it.” Thus the considered and highly important recommendations of the commission have been lost in a war of words.

I said at the start of this piece that Syria showed the importance of distinguishing between impartiality and neutrality. The fact of the matter is, you cannot have it both ways: in a highly contested situation such as prevails in Syria if your primary concern is to relieve human suffering you will almost certainly have to restrain yourself politically and remain neutral, whatever you think about the rights and wrongs of the situation. If, on the other hand, you speak out against abuses of human rights you will probably have to accept you will no longer be seen as neutral, which may have consequences for your ability to intervene usefully. All “Friends of Syria” need to understand this if they are to make a meaningful contribution to ending the appalling human suffering in that country.

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The Interventionist Fallacy? http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2012/01/30/the-interventionist-fallacy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-interventionist-fallacy http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2012/01/30/the-interventionist-fallacy/#comments Mon, 30 Jan 2012 09:53:04 +0000 Michael Aaronson http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/?p=172

Right now it is impossible to watch the News on TV, to open a newspaper, or to go online, without coming across discussion about the merits or otherwise of international intervention in Syria and Iran. In the case of Syria the main driver is human protection in response to the government’s brutal crackdown on its citizens, whereas in Iran the issue revolves around the threat to international peace and security posed by the government’s continuing refusal to meet IAEA demands for transparency about its nuclear programme. Nevertheless a common element is an acceptance in Western policy, academic, and media circles that coercive intervention is a perfectly legitimate subject for discussion; one may be strongly for it, strongly against, or somewhere in between, but there is little if any questioning of why we are discussing this at all. Is this not rather odd?

If one looks at the history of intervention by powerful states in the affairs of relatively weak ones the track record is not good. We may have dominated the world during the colonial period but the postcolonial legacy demonstrates just how many problems our interventions created. Iraq, Palestine, Ireland, Nigeria – to name but a few – are all examples of less than enlightened and successful British intervention, never mind the efforts of the French, Belgians, Portuguese, Spanish, and others elsewhere. One might have expected the retreat from Empire to have been accompanied by some humility about the limitations of even Great Power when it is applied in someone else’s country. Unfortunately imperial hubris was merely carried forward into the interventions of the two Cold War powers, the USSR and the USA, and the tradition has continued in the unipolar world in which we have lived since 1989.

Thus, in more recent times we have on the one hand seen the emergence of concepts such as “humanitarian intervention” and “the responsibility to protect”, both premised on a belief that in the worst cases of human rights abuse coercive intervention is not only necessary and justified but has a reasonable prospect of success. On the other hand we have become accustomed – despite the prohibitions of international law – to the doctrine of pre-emption, as used to justify the Iraq intervention in 2003 and now perhaps at its apogee under the Obama administration with targeted assassinations, whether carried out by US Special Forces or by CIA drones.

My purpose is not to argue that all such interventions are necessarily wrong or bad, but rather to suggest how surprising it is that there is such a widespread presumption of success. Surely by now we should have learned that the world is a much more complex and messy place than we might once have understood, and that interfering with processes we do not fully understand carries a high degree of risk? Even if in the short term we appear to have hit the target, it is much harder to translate this into long-term success: look at Iraq. Do we really believe that coercive interventions in either Syria or Iran are likely to do more good than harm? If anyone wants to suggest that Libya proves the contrary I would advise them to wait a little longer before bringing this forward in evidence.

What all this suggests is that we need to pay more attention to studying ourselves – the interveners – rather than focusing exclusively on those “out there” in whose lives we intervene. Why does the presumption of success persist in our mindset? It is not that there isn’t plenty of evidence as to what works and what doesn’t; it is rather that so many decisions are taken in spite of what the evidence tells us. Afghanistan is a case in point. Surely no one with the slightest understanding of that country and its history could have thought that the strategy pursued by ISAF from 2003 onwards had any chance of success? And yet a succession of Generals, Ambassadors, Prime Ministers, and Presidents – even some journalists and academics – persuaded themselves that it could – why? Now that is a really interesting question but, like the child’s statement about the emperor’s new clothes, is not what people want to hear. And so the interventionist fallacy persists, and we continue to believe we can achieve more than we actually can. Will somebody please bring on the child who is not afraid to tell us the truth?

Mike Aaronson
30 January 2012

“Hitting the Target?” How New Capabilities are Shaping Contemporary International Intervention” takes place at the University of Surrey on 12 and 13 July 2012. http://www.ias.surrey.ac.uk/workshops/intervention/

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Was the International Intervention in Libya a Success? http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2011/10/31/was-the-international-intervention-in-libya-a-success/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=was-the-international-intervention-in-libya-a-success http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2011/10/31/was-the-international-intervention-in-libya-a-success/#comments Mon, 31 Oct 2011 16:23:59 +0000 Michael Aaronson http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/?p=161

With the passage of UN Security Council Resolution 2016 of 27 October and the statement on 28 October from the NATO Secretary-General announcing the end of NATO’s air campaign, the UN-mandated intervention in Libya is now officially at an end (although the UN Security Council, using the customary language, remains “actively seized of the matter”). Was it a success?

In an obvious sense, it is too early to say. Although the political objective of removing Gaddafi has been achieved the future of Libya is too uncertain for anyone to be able to predict whether the Security Council’s hopes for “the swift establishment of an inclusive, representative transitional Government…underpinned by a commitment to democracy, good governance, rule of law, national reconciliation and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms of all people in Libya” will be achieved. Arguably, Libya was a country about which the interveners knew very little at the start of the intervention, and know not much more as it ends. The spectre of “post-conflict” Iraq still looms large. On the other hand, the end of major hostilities does now mean that the UN and others can put “boots on the ground” to help in a significant way with the task of rebuilding the Libyan state.

The justification for the imposition of the no-fly zone that was at the heart of UNSCR 1973 of 17 March was the protection of civilians. This was in direct response to a brutal crackdown by Gaddafi’s forces to the initial protests against the regime, combined with terrifying threats to the insurgents from him and from his family members. The perception at the time of impending mass atrocities cannot be discounted and may well have been well-founded. The allied campaign was undoubtedly responsible for denying Gaddafi the opportunity to carry out his threats. Therefore, unsurprisingly, it is claimed now that the NATO-led intervention “was critical to saving many innocent lives”.  But this claim is unverifiable; no-one can say exactly what would have happened had, for example, the diplomatic rather than the military route been taken back in February and March. And what is certainly undeniable is the considerable cost of the conflict in terms of human lives lost on both sides – even though – as is regrettably the norm in current armed conflicts – this has not been counted with any precision. Thus US Vice-President Joe Biden’s claim, as reported in the New York Times,  that in achieving victory the US “didn’t lose a single life” sounds somewhat hollow, to say the least.

In addition the political cost to the interveners is perhaps yet to be fully counted. Achieving agreement in the Security Council to military intervention was a singular diplomatic success, made possible by the support from the Arab League and other regional bodies. But it very quickly became apparent that the aims of the intervention went beyond the protection of civilians in a narrow sense, and extended to the removal of the Gaddafi regime. Whether, as critics would claim, regime change was always an end in itself, or whether a judgement was made by the allies that protection could only be assured by the overthrow of the regime, the effects were seen in the subsequent refusal of the Security Council to adopt even a much watered-down Resolution on Syria, with explicit reference being made by e.g. the Russians who, along with the Chinese used their veto, to the way the allies had conducted the intervention in Libya.

In similar vein, the Libya intervention may have done damage to the emerging norm of the “Responsibility to Protect”, or R2P, as it is commonly known. This provides that when a state manifestly fails to protect its own people collective action may be authorised by the Security Council and international intervention may take place, up to and including the use of force. Advocates of R2P were encouraged that the early Security Council Resolution 1970 on Libya referred to the Libyan government’s “responsibility to protect” its own people and SCR 1973 used similar language; by implication, the action that was authorised fell under the R2P heading. And indeed, in many ways the Libyan situation fell into the category envisaged by R2P’s architects – although the suddenness with which the crisis emerged was unusual and meant decisions had to be taken with more haste than the system is perhaps designed to handle. However the way the campaign has played out – and in particular the different approach taken to other potential R2P interventions in Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen, has meant that R2P has certainly not been strengthened by Libya and may even have been weakened by it. Many will feel that these cases show that Great Power politics is still the determining factor in whether any intervention to prevent mass atrocities takes place, rather than that a new norm is emerging.

Militarily, although not without controversy in terms of, for example, the scrapping of the UK’s sole remaining aircraft carrier as part of the Strategic Defence Review, the campaign was clearly a success for US and other NATO militaries. Most significantly, it may mark a return to the belief that intervention mainly from the air based on vastly superior weaponry, in support of an indigenous uprising, is a relatively safe and assured way of bringing about regime change. This doctrine took a knock after the failures in Afghanistan, but was seen to work in Libya. Thus, to quote Joe Biden again: “this is more of the prescription for how to deal with the world as we go forward than it has been in the past”. However, a largely untold story in the Libya campaign is the role of Special Forces on the ground, which may have been quite significant. In addition Libya and Afghanistan are very different countries posing quite different issues in campaign terms; what works in one context may not in another. To quote Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr: “Great cases like hard cases make bad law. For great cases are called great, not by reason of their importance… but because of some accident of immediate overwhelming interest which appeals to the feelings and distorts the judgment”.

Perhaps only time will tell whether Libya turns out to have been a great case of international intervention or something rather less.

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The Death of Gaddafi: An Interview with Jason Ralph http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2011/10/21/the-death-of-gaddafi-an-interview-with-jason-ralph/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-death-of-gaddafi-an-interview-with-jason-ralph http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/2011/10/21/the-death-of-gaddafi-an-interview-with-jason-ralph/#comments Fri, 21 Oct 2011 13:18:17 +0000 Jack Holland http://www.uniofsurreyblogs.org.uk/cii/?p=146

October 21, 2011

Professor Jason Ralph (University of Leeds)
interviewed by
Dr Jack Holland (University of Surrey)

On the 9th of November, Professor Jason Ralph will visit the School of Politics and the Centre for International Intervention at Surrey to deliver a lecture on: International law, liberal interventionism and centre-left British foreign policies after Iraq.  In light of the recent death of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, Cii decided to interview Professor Ralph to gain some insights on events from the perspective of international law.  As well as international law, Professor Ralph has research interests in international society, American foreign policy, human rights and the war on terror.  He is the author of two previous books: Defending the Society of States and Beyond the Security Dilemma, as well as the forthcoming Law, War and the State of the American Exception with Oxford University Press. Professor Ralph is also a regular commentator on current affairs and has previously written on the death of Osama bin Laden on his blog: http://theamericanexception.wordpress.com/

“Jason, how similar are the deaths of Osama bin Laden and Muammar Gaddafi?”

I think we have to preface all this by saying we don’t know the exact details of both cases, but it seems to me there are some obvious differences that warrant comment. First Gaddafi’s death took place in the context of an ongoing non-international armed conflict, which has all the hallmarks of an civil war regulated by Common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.  (I know there’s international involvement but there’s grounds for saying this is a traditional civil war).  And in this sense it was to be expected and accepted that Gaddafi’s enemies would target him with lethal force.  There is a longstanding debate, however, on whether the US can, in any legal sense, be at war with a transnational network of terrorists.  Those that argue it cannot tend to argue that the targeting of OBL was unlawful because he was not in any sense an enemy combatant. The US therefore had an obligation to try to arrest him.

“How legal or illegal are both deaths? Does it matter if ‘local forces’ kill an enemy, or if it’s carried out by American/coalition troops? Does the NATO role in the killing (French airstrikes on vehicles carrying his closest and final supporters) equate to complicity or equal ‘guilt’ in Gaddafi’s death?”

Lots there, and I’m not a criminal lawyer.  But it seems to me that the issue of ‘local forces’ is legally irrelevant, even though it clearly is politically crucial.  If I’m right that this is a state of armed conflict covered by the Geneva Conventions then neither local nor international forces can kill an enemy prisoner of war.  The footage I saw on the BBC suggested Gaddafi was alive and in custody and a threat to no one.  He was a prisoner of war and a wanted war criminal.  I would have expected British, French, US, NATO, forces to have fulfilled their humanitarian obligations under the Geneva Conventions, which meant tending to Gaddafi’s wounds and then delivering him to justice before a Court.  There is an apologist view out there, (see Peter Popham in today’s Independent) which says, well you didn’t have to put up with Gaddafi, it is understandable if the rebels fighters executed Gaddafi.  Understandable? maybe.  Excusable? Not if they’re fighting for human rights and democracy.  I don’t know the exact facts of the case (we need the investigation that the UN has called for) but it seems to me the airstrikes were part of combat.  It’s the fact that Gaddafi was captured alive, was hors de combat, and in NTC custody when he died that is problematic.

“Why do you think the general public (in the UK at least) have been slower to condemn Gaddafi’s killing than they were Osama bin Laden’s? There’s no sign of Martin Luther King quotes going viral this time… Is it because Libyans are perceived to have killed Gaddafi? Or is it because of David Cameron’s argument that Gaddafi is guilty of murder in the UK?”

Possibly all these. I don’t really know. I think it relates to the point I make above, which is that Gaddafi’s death is not unexpected because there’s a clear case of armed conflict in Libya and people, including leaders, die in war.  That was not the case in Abbatobad and so people may wonder more why OBL wasn’t arrested.  That does not escape the fact that law preventing the execution of prisoners still applies in wartime and we must remember that, regardless of what we think about the person who has been captured.

“While there are obvious differences between the two killings (e.g. the location of Bin Laden’s death and the unilateral nature of the American’s decision), my concern is that the Libyan model will be read as the correct application of the original ‘Afghan model’: indigenous forces, supported by overwhelming air power (and Special Forces), killing their hated leader. In short, I’m concerned about the impact of framing Gaddafi’s demise as ‘a good death’.  Is this a concern that you share?”

I think you’re right Jack and that’s why I was disappointed in the Prime Minister’s reaction. I thought Obama was a little more measured.  There’s a couple of moves you make in this comment.  The first is independent of the way Gaddafi died, and that is to suggest the Libyan operation a model for future liberal interventions.  I think there’s a realism at work which is guarding against this.  David Miliband spoke at Leeds yesterday and separated Libya from Syria on realist grounds; and Rory Stewart is a constant advocate of a prudent, case-by-case approach.  But even if you accept Libya was a good war, (and this is the second move) you could still disagree that Gaddafi’s demise was ‘a good death’.  There’s a jus ad bellum and a jus in bello distinction here and the two need not (I’d argue must not) be conflated.  In my opinion Cameron would have looked much more statesmanlike if he had been more measured in his comments, remained silent, or backed the UN’s call for an investigation.

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