Kashmir: An old conflict flares up again

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The conflict between India and Pakistan over the northern state of Kashmir has been going on since independence from the British and the partition of India in 1947. There have been three major bouts of fighting over the region and another between India and China. The latter has faded into the background, but the conflict over the areas held by India and Pakistan has lasted for over seventy years and there is no prospect of a resolution anytime soon. This is before we consider an insurgency against Indian rule within Indian-administered Kashmir, which began in 1989, but is divided over whether Kashmir should be independent or part of Pakistan. According to India, the insurgency has Pakistan’s fingerprints all over it, and most of the insurgents are reportedly Pakistani and Afghan in origin, but more recently, Kashmiri separatists have emerged as a result of India’s handling of their part of the territory. On the 14th of February a suicide bomber killed at least forty Indian troops in Pulwama district of Indian-administered Kashmir. It was the deadliest attack there and the worst in India for over a decade. The bomber was Kashmiri but the attack was claimed by Jaish-e-Muhammed (JEM), an Islamist group based in Pakistan that has alleged links to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency.

The Pulwama attack triggered an air raid into Pakistani territory that targeted an alleged JEM base, in turn prompting a Pakistani air raid and subsequent air battle in which two Indian jets were shot down. One of the pilots was captured but in a show of goodwill was quickly released. Despite this, fighting resumed across the line of control (LOC) in Kashmir on the 1st of March. This is the most serious escalation since the ‘Kargil war’ in 1999, which involved air and ground forces after Pakistan sent troops over the LOC, and brought to a halt after an intervention by President Clinton pressured Pakistan to withdraw. Yet, not even during the Kargil escalation did India send its planes into undisputed Pakistani territory.

There is one other difference between 1999 and today. Then, both countries had tested nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Today, they both have the ability to engage in an all-out nuclear war. This is unlikely to happen, but the potential is chilling. It is tempting to compare their nuclear rivalry to that of the United States and the Soviet Union, or their regional rivalry to that of Saudi Arabia and Iran, but in truth, it is unlike either. The rivalry between the two superpowers was ideological and political, that between India and Pakistan is political and religious. Saudi Arabia and Iran have a religious rivalry that is a malign influence on the relations between them and on the politics of the Middle East, but neither possesses nuclear weapons. Crucially, only India and Pakistan share a land border and have a history of actually fighting each other. While all three rivalries have been bitterly contested, that between India and Pakistan has been violent from the outset and has permeated their history as modern states. It is for this reason that a localised insurgency and bi-state rivalry is one of the most dangerous on earth.

While the nuclear war is a spectre that looms over the current crisis the worst impact is likely to be in Indian administered-Kashmir and across the LOC. Pakistan is commonly understood to be backing the insurgency, which India has cracked down on harshly, including after the Pulwama attack when separatist and religious leaders were rounded up and extra paramilitaries sent in. The insurgency now involves more Kashmiri’s and is morphing from an Islamist one that arguably has Islamabad’s fingerprints all over it to a separatist one that is a reaction to heavy-handed Indian rule and human rights abuses. Islamist violence within India by groups based in Pakistan has consistently infuriated India, and understandably so, but a Kashmiri revolt is another matter altogether and is potentially more damaging. This is a far cry from the time of partition, when the Maharaga of the Princely state of Jammu and Kashmir sought protection from India after Pakistan sent troops into Kashmir. The leaders of India and Pakistan are playing a dangerous game in the style of their predecessors, and while air battles between nuclear armed states are attention grabbing, and posturing to their respective audiences a given, their actions over the Kashmir dispute are escalating a conflict that is costing Kashmir dear.

For more information regarding this blog see:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10537286

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/1399992/A-brief-history-of-the-Kashmir-conflict.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/mar/02/kashmir-india-pakistan-stand-off-war-border

https://www.economist.com/leaders/2019/02/28/india-and-pakistan-should-stop-playing-with-fire

Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator.

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Venezuela: A Crisis Escalates

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In the lists of conflicts to watch in 2019 the usual suspects make an entry: Syria, Afghanistan and potential conflicts between the United States and China, or Iran. Some are ongoing conflicts that have caused great harm, while others are possible catastrophes that might happen. One of the potential conflicts discussed is Venezuela, a country that has collapsed economically and is undergoing a political crisis that has now escalated. The risk of a further escalation to armed conflict is very real. Some violent dissent has already taken place and has been brutally suppressed.

A small number of Venezuelans in exile have called for military intervention and leading hawks in the Trump administration have not ruled it out. Some of the country’s neighbours are furious at President Maduro’s government due to a flood of refugees fleeing impoverishment and food shortages. As it stands, the military continues to back a failing President, whose re-election in 2018 was dubious at best and followed a questionable one in 2013. In January of this year a new contender emerged from Venezuela’s fractious opposition: Juan Guaidó, the Chairman of the National Assembly of Venezuela. Mr Guaidó has declared himself as the interim President and called for new elections. This is at a time of ongoing protests over the plight of the country and its people.

Mr Maduro’s Presidency has been extremely harmful to Venezuela. He inherited the Presidency from his socialist mentor, Hugo Chavez, and since then has run the country into the ground. His years in power have seen him consolidate that power, curb political opposition and comprehensively wreck Venezuela’s economy, driving over three million people abroad as those that are left face the prospect of starvation. It is little wonder that people are on the streets, or that contenders such as Mr Guaidó are reduced to street politics. The problems besetting Venezuela are not new and had come to a head in 2014 but Mr Maduro has battled on, putting cronies in positions of power and taking care of the Generals. He has also blamed outside influences, including the United States, for Venezuela’s woes, the clarion call of many a failed government or regime. In fact, and not forgetting limited economic sanctions by the United States, the sources of Venezuela’s troubles are primarily domestic. Clearly, Maduro should go.

The crisis in Venezuela is one that is economic as well as political. There is the reliance on oil as the primary export and this makes the economy dependent on fluctuations in oil prices. This is exacerbated by loans undertaken in anticipation of future oil sales, a common problem when state-building and large oil reserves go together. The economy has been propped up by loans from China and Russia, while significant oil exports go to the United States. A decline in oil prices has effectively crippled the economy, while the social reforms championed by Hugo Chafez have drained the coffers, making everyone poorer in the long run.

Yet, as a crisis drives the country to the brink of armed conflict, the geopolitical divide of Maduro’s friends and enemies looms large on the horizon with competing narratives that we have heard before and are well worn. On his side are countries that include Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, Cuba and Bolivia. Opposed are the United States, Canada, Australia and most South American governments. The EU has called for more elections although some members, such as the United Kingdom, have backed Mr Guaidó (a break in protocol as the UK recognises countries, not governments). The division is actually in the interests of no one, particularly the people most likely to suffer as a consequence: Venezuelans. There has been the expected sabre-rattling from the United States and Russia, the latter flying in two Tupolev bombers to make a point, while Washington’s hawks have hinted at ‘consequences’. For either to become involved militarily in Venezuela would be foolhardy and counterproductive. Their characteristic bluster is unhelpful. Foreign governments would do well to follow the policy that the British themselves failed to follow: recognise countries, not governments. Ultimately, Venezuelans should choose their leader. The current crisis has occurred because the incumbent leader has ignored the established rules in the country for electing its leader and changed the structure of governance to ensure that he remains in power, despite a catastrophic economic and social collapse.

An exit is not difficult, the opposition has said that Maduro can leave and there is only hubris to justify his staying in place. It is one thing to berate the likes of the United States and EU, or choose to be in an alternative political order alongside the likes of Russia and China, but rejecting regional cooperation by announcing the intent to leave the Organisation of American States is another. Nor can one claim to have won an election when the opposition is banned from participating as this amounts to rubber stamping the result before the election is held. Should Maduro leave then Mr Guaidó becomes an interim President only and it is down to him to ensure that elections are held. It is then down to the newly elected President and their government to set about making economic reforms and accept the aid that will put Venezuela on its feet.

For more information regarding this blog see:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/feb/02/venezuela-juan-guaido-interim-president-political-trouble-outside-interference

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-47053701

https://www.crisisgroup.org/global/10-conflicts-watch-2019

https://www.cfr.org/blog/top-conflicts-watch-2019-venezuela

Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator.

 

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Syria: Endgame Nigh?

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Politicians in the West and leaders in the Middle East appear to have come to terms with the dominance of President Assad in Syria. Not only has the Assad regime survived a war that at one point saw it losing control of the majority of the major cities and rebel encroachment into Damascus, but support for the moderates within the opposition has dissipated, leaving them with few allies of any note. All that remains of the western supported opposition is a handful of groups in Idlib province and those attached to the Kurdish dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The dominant forces in Idlib province are Islamists and jihadists and the Kurds hold sway over much of northern Syria except for the north-west, where there is a mixed Turkish and Syrian rebel control. ISIS retains a sliver of territory in the east, sandwiched between government and SDF forces. There are many reasons for Assad’s survival, but the most critical has been the backing of friends such as Hezbollah, Iran and Russia with few qualms about military intervention. Support for the revolutionaries came in the form of words and a smattering of radios and small-arms, unless they showed enough organisation and commitment to Islamism to warrant support from Turkey, Qatar or Saudi Arabia. The military might of the West was only deployed when ISIS emerged as a major actor and a threat to the Kurds of Syria and Iraq. Assad’s dominance in the government controlled areas is unquestioned as long as he retains the support of his allies but flashpoints still remain in what has become an internationalised war.

The matter of Idlib province remains unresolved. With the exception of SDF-held Raqqa, Idlib is the only major city outside of government control. Fighting continues there between Hayat Tahrir al Aham (HTS) and other rebel groups, with HTS spending more time fighting other rebel groups, including the Turkish-backed National Liberation Front (NLF), than it does the regime in its efforts to control all of the region. During the latter part of 2018 there was a series of assassinations of rebel leaders. The province is also subject to attack from government and allied forces, with an offensive in 2018 put on hold after an agreement between Turkey and Syria. An important part of this was that Turkey would help deal with the al-Qaeda linked HTS through its backing of the coalition of rebel groups that form the NLF. A government offensive that many, including this writer, expected to take place in 2018 remains a dangerous possibility.

The other major territory outside of government control is that controlled by the Kurds and the SDF. The threatened withdrawal of US forces has resulted in much debate over the US role in the Middle East and the impact on Kurdish allies and the ISIS foe. This is despite the fact that no US withdrawal has actually begun or is actually certain to take place in the near future. Kurdish gains in the war, earned alongside opposition allies, came only after they came close to losing all their territory to ISIS and the Syrian Kurds had quickly ceased their military opposition to the Assad regime early in the war. More damaging to Kurdish interests has been the loss of Afrin and the threat to Manbij by Turkey and opposition groups linked to them. It is of little surprise that they are seeking support from the government as the greater threat to the Syrian Kurds is not the government but Turkey and its Islamist allies. This is linked to Ankara’s ongoing and underreported battle with the PKK in eastern Turkey as Ankara does not distinguish between the separatist PKK in Turkey and PYD in Syria, seeing both Kurdish groups as one and the same. Nor should the strained relationship between the Kurdish and Arab members of the SDF alliance be discounted. They allied under US auspices as a counter to ISIS, which has been comprehensively crushed, and attention will turn to who rules the predominantly Arab areas controlled by the SDF.

The above are the two major flashpoints that represent a risk of conflict escalation as the government does not control all of Syria yet and the future of Idlib province and the Syrian Kurds is of interest to both the governments in Ankara and Damascus, whom hold a mutual distain. There is also a third problem that may arise in the future should the Assad regime retain control and fail to reform and that is the reliance on former opposition fighters in the Sunni areas of Syria. Prior to 2011 there was at least a shared idea of what it was to be Syrian but the sectarian differences that have emerged as a consequence of the war and the propaganda and actions of the participants involved in it have meant that the differences in ethnicity, class and religion are more sharply drawn. This can be overcome, but only as part of a wider approach to rebuilding the nation of Syria.

For more information regarding this blog see:

https://www.france24.com/en/20190104-syria-bashar-al-assad-diplomacy-uae-russia-iran-arab-league-saudi-arabia

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2019/01/05/assads-long-road-to-international-rehabilitation/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.9435babc96d8

https://www.acleddata.com/2018/12/21/radical-relations-hayat-tahrir-al-sham-and-syrias-many-islamist-groups/

https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/article223970380.html

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/dec/28/syrian-kurdish-militia-manbij-turkey

Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator.

 

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The Ukraine: Between War and Peace

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The conflict in Ukraine began in 2014 and affects an estimated 4.4 million people, with the UN recording over 10,000 deaths. Of these 2,530 were civilians and another 9,000 civilians were injured. According to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, thirty-seven civilians have been killed this year so far and another 163 injured. While the conflict is generally seen as ‘frozen’ due to the lack of major assaults or campaigns by either side, the civilian deaths indicate otherwise: the conflict may be ‘paused’ and out of the headlines, but the consequences continue as displaced civilians from the conflict number over 2.5 million and the OSCE continues to report ceasefire violations along the frontline between Ukrainian forces and the separatists. Between the 17th and 30th of September monitors reported almost 9,000 ceasefire violations, a reduction of 10,000 on the previous two-week reporting period. The ‘contact’ line between government forces and the separatists cuts through the south-eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk and the separatist controlled area is generally referred to as the ‘Donbass’. In a throwback to Cold-War conflicts, the 500 km contact line is riddled with mines.

Despite reports of deliveries of ‘defensive weapons’ by the United States, prisoner exchanges and the ceasefire agreed at the Minsk II talks, the fighting in south-eastern Ukraine is continuing with sporadic exchanges of fire and no end in sight. The separatists of the Donbass remain entrenched in an enclave that is dependent on Russian support, while the government is unable to defeat them and continues to have its own problems with corruption that date back to before the Maiden protests. It has had its credit cut off by both the EU and the IMF and is unpopular amongst the electorate. While this blog maintains that the origins of the conflict lay in internal division over whether the Ukraine leant to the west, with membership of the EU and NATO, or to the east with Russia, the hand of the Kremlin was blatantly present in the fostering and support of the separatists in the east and the annexation of Crimea. The latter has been treated as a fait-accompli, of which little can be done except for strong international protest and sanctions. An unspoken yet consistent rule of international relations is that the US and Russia never confront each other directly on the battlefield, preferring to support proxies and supply weapons to client states. While this has the undeniable benefit of preventing a cataclysmic major war, it also allows for such actions as the annexation  of Crimea, or to call it as it was, the occupation of sovereign national territory by another government. This broke another all-too frequently broken rule in international relations: international borders are deemed to be inviolable.

There is also the matter of trust, a commodity in business and politics that when abused is quickly lost. Largely forgotten in the case of Ukraine is the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances, which guaranteed the territorial integrity and independence of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. This allowed them to give up former Soviet nuclear weapons on their territory and was signed by the Russian Federation and the UK and US. The agreement was a boon for nuclear non-proliferation but its violation sent a signal to any countries considering disarmament in the future that guarantees of territorial integrity cannot be taken at face value.

Such concerns may be lost on the victims of a conflict that was utterly avoidable and is currently deadlocked. While future escalation cannot be ruled out, a major military campaign by the government carries the hazard of harming a population it considers to be Ukrainian and the separatists are more concerned with holding the line and state-building. The latter are also heavily dependent on the reluctant support of the Kremlin to survive, as even with the government’s problems in raising troops its forces are stronger than those of the rebels. The way forward is in dialogue and pursuing the fruits of Minsk II further, while tackling the wider geo-political situation that has enabled the conflict in Ukraine in the first place. For progress to be made a lot has to give, the government of Ukraine needs serious reform and the separatists have to relinquish their pseudo-nationhood, both of which are big asks. The political solution to Ukraine’s tragedy also lays in the badly damaged relationship between Russia and the US and EU, to which Ukraine has fallen victim spectacularly (see earlier blogs for more on this). This is an even bigger ask that requires competent and pragmatic statecraft towards scaling back a confrontation that affects Eastern Europe in general and has raised tensions to a level not seen since the 1990s.

For more information regarding this blog see:

https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/03/1003891

https://www.osce.org/ukrainecrisis

https://www.economist.com/europe/2018/10/13/an-end-to-the-war-in-eastern-ukraine-looks-as-far-away-as-ever

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ukraine._Memorandum_on_Security_Assurances

http://www.transconflict.com/2018/08/is-a-ukrainian-peace-agreement-possible-088/

Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator.

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Syria: Danger Ahead

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To say that 2018 has been a good year for the Assad regime and its allies would be a major understatement, for outside of the areas held by the Kurdish dominated SDF and pockets of areas held by a diminished ISIS, the only remaining area of active opposition to the regime is rebel-held Idlib province. The reverse is true for the divided and myriad groups of the opposition, whom have been hammered into submission in southern Syria and Eastern Ghouta, with those unwilling to submit to Syrian government control bussed of to Idlib province. A concern of analysts and commentators of the Syrian War has been the impending government assault on Idlib province, which has loomed as a potential disaster ever since the regime and its allies began to reassert control over Syria. This has been prevented only by the campaigns to defeat the rebels elsewhere and take control of all of the country’s major cities. There is only one city outside of the SDF and Kurdish controlled areas remaining outside of regime control: Idlib. There is also little doubt as to what is going to happen next: a crushing assault on Idlib province.

There are two major concerns regarding the upcoming offensive, the first is the humanitarian impact, the second the danger of further escalation.

There are estimated to be some three million people in Idlib province, where there is also between 20,000-50,000 rebel fighters (estimates of rebels fighters are notoriously difficult), some of which are jihadist (Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and Hurras al-Din), others that are backed by Turkey (the National Liberation Front), and many more foreign fighters, including those of the Turkistan Islamic Party. There has been infighting between them, with assassinations taking place, and it should be noted that treating them as a unified ‘opposition’, or attempting to reduce them to categories of ‘moderate’, ‘Islamist’, and ‘jihadist’ does not convey the complexity of the differences and relationships between the rebel groups. As has been the case throughout the war, the rebels are divided, while the regime and its allies work as a unified whole. This has allowed the regime and its allies to defeat individual rebel groups that control a given area or town and move on to the next. Whatever their stripe, the rebels within Idlib province include those that are hard-line jihadists or have refused to surrender elsewhere and opted to relocate to the area, knowing that there was a possibility of facing another offensive.  A particularly disturbing development has been in the propaganda war that has accompanied the fighting, where the Assad regime and its Russian allies have disseminated allegations that the West plans to stage fake chemical attacks to discredit the regime. This is not only before an offensive that the regime and its allies have denied is being planned, but also a clumsy effort to deflect any blame from the regime should chemical weapons be deployed. The three million civilians in the area are faced with a crushing conventional assault similar to those that have taken place elsewhere in an effort to crush any resistance from hardened rebel fighters, with the denials for chemical weapons use already in place before their use, and nowhere for people to flee to. A summit between Russia, Iran and Turkey that took place this week has failed to alleviate concerns over the impending offensive into what is the last of four ‘de-escalation zones’, the others already having fallen to the regime. The chances of intervention on behalf of the population are slim, the US-backed Southern Front, once deemed as ‘moderate’ and eligible for western support, was left to the mercies of the regime and its allies earlier this year. A significant number of the rebels in Idlib province are jihadists that evince absolutely no support from the West, whose concerns are over the civilians about to be caught up in the fighting.

The second concern is that of a wider escalation of the conflict, one that has been a concern for years due to the complexity of the Syrian War and the foreign alliances and rivalries that are involved. The potential for the conflict to expand beyond Syria’s borders and become a regional or international conflagration has always been high, yet this has not happened and has seen regional and international powers deploy and support military forces within Syria. A brutal and shameful truth of the Syrian War thus far has been that a significant number of combatants fighting there are not Syrian and are guided by their own interests and values, while Syria has been destroyed as a consequence. As regards Idlib province, Turkey has observation posts there, backs many of the rebels, and Ankara is fiercely opposed to the Assad regime. It is also bitterly opposed to the Syrian Kurds and occupies swathes of northern Syria. Turkish political cooperation with Russia and Iran may well lead to a pragmatic withdrawal of any forces in Idlib but this is far from guaranteed and will leave the question of Turkish occupation of northern Syria unresolved. There is also the problem of the potential use of chemical weapons by the regime during its offensive. The regime has always denied any previous use of chemical weapons, despite damning evidence to the contrary. Previous alleged use by the regime very nearly led to direct western intervention and a Russian brokered agreement to remove the regime’s chemical weapons arsenal, US airstrikes, and then joint military action by the US, France and the UK. The western powers have generally, and controversially, refrained from direct military action against the Assad regime, with the exception of punishing alleged chemical weapons use. This has set a precedent should it occur in the future, although any action will be restricted to punishment and not removal of the regime, which most reluctantly accept is winning the war.

The dangers of an improbable wider escalation will be lost on the people who may be about to be hammered by a crushing and brutal offensive to seize control of Idlib province, the last remaining rebel-held territory. A humanitarian disaster looms, and there appears to be little that will stop it.

For more information regarding this week’s blog see:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-45401474

https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/08/1018002

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/sep/08/turkey-warns-russia-idlib-attack-create-lake-of-blood

https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/middle-east/russia-and-syria-launch-at-least-a-dozen-air-strikes-in-idlib-1.3623059

Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator

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Syria: The 2018 Daraa Offensive

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If there was ever any doubt about the dominance of the Assad regime and its allies in the Syrian War the current offensive against opposition forces in the southern region of the Daraa governorate demonstrates the brutal truth that the government is winning its war. As hundreds of thousands of people flee towards the Jordanian border a pattern common to the offensives launched this year is being continued: the application of overwhelming force that compels rebels to acquiesce to piecemeal negotiated surrenders. The only thing that will stop it is outside intervention and there are no indications that this is coming. As has often been the case in Syria’s war, effective direct intervention only takes place if it serves the interests of the intervener.

The fall of Daraa to the regime will be another heavy blow to its opponents and also mean the demise of the Southern Front, an alliance of rebel groups allegedly backed by Jordan and the US and other gulf allies. It has been seen as the last hope for the ‘moderate’ opposition and had launched its own offensive against the government in 2017. Should the regime succeed in taking Daraa the opposition will lose the symbolic ‘cradle of the revolution’, where the protests against the Assad regime began after security forces arrested, tortured and killed young boys after they scrawled anti-regime graffiti. The current offensive is not done, but is likely to succeed, and has been subject to pauses while the rebel groups negotiate their surrender. Failure to do so results in continued bombardment until an agreement is reached and in the past these have meant a choice between forced relocation to Idlib province in the north or risking an offer to give up heavy weapons and stay when a vengeful government takes control.

Despite concerns that a government offensive in the south would trigger an intervention by the US, Jordan or Israel, this has not happened. We cannot know what is happening behind the scenes in the murky and secretive world of diplomacy but we can observe events on the ground. Key concerns for Israel and Jordan are their own security, for Israel it is the presence of Iranian proxies in the region, for Jordan the weight of refugees fleeing the fighting and the security of its border. It is highly likely that Israel has been given guarantees, brokered by Russia, that forces linked to Iran will not remain in the region, which will be garrisoned in the future by the Syrian Arab Army or local defence forces. Jordan is already host to over 1.3 million Syrians and despite strict border controls faces an influx from the estimated 250-330,000 refugees that are fleeing the current fighting. Unless Jordan is given support in providing aid to its refugee population, which also includes Palestinians from earlier crises, then the border will remain closed. The global and regional powers have an opportunity to step up and ensure that such support is provided and that it continues. This won’t resolve the issue of the violence in Syria, but it will mitigate the consequences of the fighting and provide much needed support for Jordan. Many words have been written about the consequences of Syria’s war and what should be done about it, but providing support to refugees is a moral necessity and doesn’t involve taking a side or deploying one’s own military.

The concerns of Israel and Jordan aside, the Daraa offensive will rumble on and is likely to be another success for the government and its allies in a war in which the cold realism of strategic necessity has become the norm. Securing the south will have the same tragic consequences as elsewhere, the airstrikes have been ramped up, hospitals and civilians are being hit, as is the case in every aerial bombardment, and pauses take place only to allow for the piecemeal surrender of rebel groups. The regime doesn’t control the south yet, but it almost certain that it will unless there is an intervention on behalf of the rebels, which regional strategic concerns will ultimately prevent as no one wants to be dragged into the quagmire of a wider war.

For more information regarding this week’s blog see:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-44723087

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/24/youre-on-your-own-us-tells-syrian-rebels-as-assad-goes-on-offensive

http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/why-jordan-worried-about-assads-daraa-offensive-971045248

https://reliefweb.int/report/jordan/syrian-refugees-jordan-protection-overview-january-2018

Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator

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Yemen: The Battle for Hudaydah

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The multi-faceted conflict in Yemen has thus far cost over ten thousand lives and left 75% of the population in need of humanitarian assistance. It has roots in the 2011 ‘Arab Spring’ but fighting did not begin until 2014 when Houthi rebels seized control of the western part of the country, including the capital, Sanaa. In 2015 Saudi Arabia and a coalition of Arab states, backed by the US, UK, and France, began airstrikes against the Houthis. While both Al-Qaeda and the ISIS have a presence in the country and there have been splits in the rival sides the conflict is dominated by the war between the rebel Houthis and the Yemeni government.

On the 12th June the Saudi-led coalition began their offensive on the city of Hudaydah (also known as Hodeidah), a strategically important port controlled by the Houthis and one through which food and humanitarian aid reaches a population on the brink of starvation. The offensive to take the city has been paused while the UN Special Envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, attempts to mediate between the warring parties and broker a deal whereby the UN takes control of the port. Should the talks be successful the Houthis will lose control of one of their two most important strategic assets (the other being the capital, Sanaa) but avoid a major battle for the city. Should the talks fail, then the coalition, which includes the forces of the UAE and Yemen, will resume its offensive and there will be a battle for a city of 600,000 people and the crippling of a crucial route for an estimated 80% of supplies into Yemen. The stakes are high and the pause is short, due to last into early July. Humanitarian organisations have been unanimously unequivocal about the consequences of the port being shut down by fighting, stating that it will lead to the displacement of city’s population and tip the impoverished people of Yemen into starvation.

Strategic considerations will be high amongst the concerns of the protagonists. The Saudis allege that the port is a transit route for Iranian supplied weapons, including the missiles that the Houthis fire into Saudi Arabia, while the Houthis and Iran vehemently deny this, claiming that the missiles are from captured government stocks. The port is a key asset either way, and controlling it means controlling a substantial proportion of the flow of goods and aid entering Yemen. There are also reasons for the sides to avoid a protracted battle for Hudaydah and the UN is offering them both a way out. A battle for the city would be destructive for both sides as while the airpower of the coalition would prove decisive Houthi forces are currently in control and would be able to exact a cost in any ground assault. In the wider political context, the coalition has been under pressure from its western backers due to discontent in the West over the use of western supplied weapons in its campaign. These concerns, however, will come secondary to strategic considerations as the support is unlikely to be cut off and without concrete action from western governments the only limit on the use of coalition airpower is words of protest and warring parties tend not to listen to criticism. As accurate as the weapons used may be, the outcome of every recent battle for a city in the Middle East between government forces backed by airpower against insurgents has been the destruction of the city.

As it stands, the talks over the future of Hudaydah have stalled, reportedly due to the Houthis wishing to retain a presence in the port while the UN controls it and the government insisting that all their forces be withdrawn. The pause in the coalition offensive is temporary and it will not become a ceasefire without an agreement being reached that will definitively stop an offensive that could break the military deadlock between the two sides and change the course of the conflict. The consequences of the continuation of the offensive are predicted to be dire for both the city and the country.

For more information regarding this week’s blog see:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-44466574

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jun/29/un-talks-help-stall-saudi-led-assault-on-strategic-yemen-port

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/yemen-hodeidah-latest-saudi-arabia-uae-coalition-airstrikes-houthis-a8421651.html

https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/06/1012032

Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator

 

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The 2018 Global Peace Index: Implications for Conflict Resolution

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The 2018 Global Peace Index (GPI) is a useful tool for identifying which countries and regions are having the most negative impact on the overall global state of peace, particularly when the trends are considered over time.

The output from the GPI has to be considered carefully as a higher score for a country that is consistently performing well indicates reason for concern, it may still be more peaceful than one that has improved but has consistently performed poorly. A case in point is Spain, which recorded the fourth largest deterioration in peace (a change of 0.127) and dropped 10 places overall to 30th in the GPI rankings. This was mainly due to the political crisis over Catalonia, the government’s response and the polarisation of political attitudes in Spain. There had also been an increase in terrorist attacks in 2017. In contrast, Iraq recorded the third largest improvement in peacefulness (a change of –0.094), rising one place to 130th as a result of the defeat of ISIS and a stronger judiciary. While Spain’s troubles were a major upheaval for the country and may have serious ramifications in the future, they are far from the problems that Iraq faces. There is also the matter of Iraq having made significant gains in peacefulness yet being rewarded with only a small rise in position on the index, indicative of the wide gulf between countries that are peaceful and those that are not. Iraq has been in the bottom five performing countries since the 2013 GPI and remains there in the 2018 GPI.

There are significant differences between the top five and bottom five performing countries in the 2018 GPI. The top five are Iceland, New Zealand, Austria, Portugal and Denmark, while the bottom five are Somalia, Iraq, South Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria. That the latter five have been war torn in the long run goes a long way to explaining their positions in the index. The eight key pillars of positive peace (well functioning government, sound business environment, acceptance of the rights of others, good relations with neighbours, free flow of information, high levels of human capital, low levels of corruption, and equitable distribution of resources) are nigh on impossible to achieve in environments of intense and prolonged conflict. In the 2017 GPI the top performing countries were Iceland, New Zealand, Portugal, Austria, and Denmark, while the bottom five were Yemen, South Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria (Yemen was the sixth worse performing in the 2017 GPI and is highly likely to return to the bottom five in the 2019 GPI). The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region was the worst performing in both the 2017 and 2018 GPIs, while Europe was the highest performing in both GPIs. While two countries out of these ten fall outside of these two regions, the remaining eight are split between four high performing European and four low performing MENA countries. That war is bad for a country’s people and its economy is obvious to the point of banality, and the shallowest comparison of Europe and the MENA would quickly reveal a difference between them. The importance of the GPI conclusions is that they are data driven and based on a comprehensive and repeatable analysis that demonstrates the case through analysis that has depth and detail. We can see where countries and regions are getting it right and how they are doing so. The short answer is the eight pillars of peace.

This returns us to repeating an observation made previously that when tackling intractable and/or protracted conflicts the aim should be the attainment of positive peace alongside that of achieving a negative peace. The latter is an improvement to be sure, because absence of violence and the threat of violence is a step up from armed conflict in any situation, yet for a peace process to be genuinely sustainable the elements of positive peace need to be built in. Countries where an armed conflict has recently ended are notoriously vulnerable to re-escalation when promises such as power-sharing and representation are hard to live up to and a transition has to made from a conflict economy to a national one. The eight pillars are not a mere wish list from which to handpick a useful pillar or two to underpin peace agreements, they are an essential bare minimum by which a society can thrive and competing interests be balanced. Stopping the violence will be at the top of the list of priorities for mediators to any armed conflict, but as the violence is reduced and then ended the institutions that underpin an effective civil society need to be built up. This is particularly applicable to intrastate conflicts, such as those in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, South Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria.

For more information regarding this week’s blog see:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_Peace_Index

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/global-peace-index-2018

https://wordpress.com/post/turnerconflict.com/599

Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator

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The Singapore Summit: The Spectacle Has You

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It would be hard to miss the fact that there has been a summit in Singapore this week between US and North Korean leaders. The meeting of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un was an event heavy on spectacle and short on substance but historic nonetheless.

Historic, simply because this was the first time that the leaders of the two countries have sat down together to resolve the longstanding dispute between North Korea and the US with major ramifications for the Korean peninsula. High on the list was denuclearisation, a goal that Washington and Pyongyang view differently: for the US it means North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons, for North Korea it means the withdrawal of nuclear weapons and their threat of use from the peninsula entirely. The summit had built on a rapprochement between North and South Korea, who are technically still at war, and a major charm offensive by the regime of Kim Jong Un. It also came after an exchange of threats and insults between Trump and Kim, a misunderstanding of the meaning of the ‘Libya model’, the cancellation of the talks, then a period of engagement and optimism as the talks were put back on.

While both leaders have subsequently announced that the talks were a major success, the outcome was what many had expected. There is not much that can be achieved in a day in international diplomacy, even if there has been some groundwork beforehand, and what we got was a vague account of discussions and the signing of a joint declaration of a commitment to complete denuclearisation, both of which were short on detail. It represents a start to a more lengthy process that will also need to involve South Korea. The contents of the private conversation between the two leaders remains largely unsaid, so it is not possible for us to know what deals, if any, were made, which gives the two men a significant amount of leeway in making grand claims in the future.

There are criticisms of course, and while President Trump may dismiss critics in characteristic style as ‘naysayers’, they are valid concerns. The first is that the leader of a Orwellian regime par excellence has been given equal footing with the President of the United States, which whatever people feel about Trump, is arguably the world’s most important liberal democracy. North Korea’s human rights record is abysmal to say the least, and human rights were unlikely to have been high on the summit agenda. By putting Kim in such a high profile meeting with Trump that could have been undertaken by subordinates risks legitimising a brutal regime notorious for its gulags. A second is that we have been here before in the yo-yoing of US-North Korea relations, with previous commitments to denuclearise broken and dreams of peace on the Korean peninsula left in tatters. The regime in the north actually did the opposite of what was agreed and developed the ability to launch long-range nuclear missiles, making it a genuine nuclear power. President Trump has also demonstrated distain for the agreements that have preceded his summit and had arrived while the fallout from the unilateral US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal continues. Good diplomacy involves building on what has been done before, not simply discarding or dismissing it out of hand and relying on leverage to create a new deal from the wreckage.

From the summit itself we have only really gained in terms of spectacle, with the world watching on the leaders got to grandstand and the gains remain to be seen. The goal of denuclearisation remains distant but the summit itself must be acknowledged as a potential stepping stone as part of a longer process. Where this will lead us is uncertain and requires statesmanship, commitment and the cooperation of a regime that acts with impunity at home and has been described as the world’s worst offender of human rights. Much will depend on how much the North is willing to give up its weapons and what the US has to offer that will address the regime’s economic problems. A recent announcement by the Trump administration that there will be no sanctions relief without a complete denuclearisation by the Kim regime indicates that the tough talking approach characteristic of Trump’s presidency will continue.

For more information regarding this week’s blog see:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-44451587

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/01/07/asia/kim-jong-un-bio-myth-fact-intl/index.html

https://globalnews.ca/news/4270347/trump-kim-singapore-summit-worth-it/

https://wordpress.com/post/turnerconflict.com/988

Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator

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The 2018 Global Peace Index: An Overview

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The Global Peace Index (GPI) is released annually and provides a ranking of 163 independent states and territories, covering 99.7% of the world’s population based on 23 quantitative and qualitative indicators. The key concept behind the GPI is the idea of the ‘positive peace’, one which underpins peace studies as a whole and has a strong influence on conflict resolution. Positive peace is better understood in relation to ‘negative peace’ where there is an ‘absence of violence or the fear of violence’, which can be achieved through non-peaceful means. Positive peace ‘is the attitudes, institutions and structures that create and maintain peaceful societies’. The GPI measures a country’s negative peace, thus the lower score, the better the ranking in the index.

Overall, the global level of peace has deteriorated by 0.27% over the last year with 92 countries deteriorating and 71 improving. This is consistent with a trend over the last decade of tensions, crises and conflicts that have contributed towards a decline of peacefulness that has been gradual and sustained. Over a ten year period battle deaths have increased by 264% and the global economic impact of violence in 2017 was equivalent to 12.4% of global GDP. This has increased by 16% since 2012 and the aftermath of the Arab uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and the start of the Syrian War. The MENA remains as the world’s least peaceful region, while Europe, which underwent a decline in peacefulness, remains the most peaceful.

While there are 23 indicators, these are grouped into three domains of peacefulness: ongoing domestic and international conflict, societal safety and security, and militarisation, giving a complete picture of a given country’s peacefulness in terms of its internal affairs and those with other states. One criticism that has been levelled at the GPI is that it allows for ‘freeloaders’ in global security, who will achieve low scores due to their non-interventionism while others are carrying the weight and have higher scores. Another is that there is no contextualisation behind the scores and a build up of a country’s military in response to problems in neighbouring countries would incur a score penalty similar to that of a build up in order to project power.  A third is that there are no indicators that relate specifically to violence towards women and children, a category that it would benefit the GPI to include. As regards the first two criticisms, the GPI is driven by impartial data that reflects an ongoing state of affairs and the choices that a given country makes regarding such things as its level of military involvement in world affairs, the percentage of its GDP devoted to its military, purchase and ownership of heavy weapons and so on. While the nuance behind this may be lost, the outcome of the analysis is the state of world affairs in relation to positive peace based on comparable data and an indication over time as to whether a given country is becoming more peaceful and stable or is becoming less peaceful and secure.

The UN Security Council countries, who wield the most clout in global politics, are a point of interest, particularly France, the UK and the US, as they are functioning liberal-democracies and thus have high levels of political participation and personal freedom. GPI scores, however, include such criteria as internal political problems, terrorist events, arms sales, the number of heavy weapons owned, and involvement in wars abroad. One indicator, nuclear and heavy weapons capabilities, is automatically graded at the highest (5) if a country possesses nuclear weapons. In terms of overall positions in the GPI, with 2017 positions in brackets for comparison, the positions of the big five are: the UK 57th (41st), France 61st (51st), China 112th (116th), the US 121st (114th) and Russia 154th (151st).

For more information regarding this week’s blog see:

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/global-peace-index-2018

https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Global-Peace-Index-2018-Snapshot.pdf

https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/Global-Peace-Index-2018-2.pdf

For last year’s blog on the 2017 GPI:

https://wordpress.com/post/turnerconflict.com/599

Dr Carl Turner, Site Coordinator

 

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