Category: Global Issues

Global Issues

’82 of ’96?

Oxford’s Avi Shlaim argues in the IHT that instead of comparisons the 1982 war:

the more instructive comparison is between the recent incursion and the strangely named Operation Grapes of Wrath, which the Labor prime minister Shimon Peres mounted in April 1996…

In both cases the main aim of the operation was to break Hezbollah – and in both cases the aim was unrealistic.

In 1996 the idea was to put pressure on the civilians of southern Lebanon, so that they would put pressure on the government of Lebanon, so that it would put pressure on the Syrian government which, finally, would curb Hezbollah and grant immunity to Israeli forces in southern Lebanon. In short, the plan was to compel Syria to act as an Israeli gendarme in Lebanon. Syria did not oblige and Hezbollah went from strength to strength.

The original aim of the present campaign was said to be to destroy Hezbollah. This aim, too, is completely unrealistic. No amount of external military pressure can bring about the forcible disarming of Hezbollah. The Lebanese government is a fragile coalition that includes two Hezbollah representatives. The writ of the Lebanese Army does not extend to the south and an attempt to disarm Hezbollah there would probably provoke a revolt from the Shiite rank and file.

He continues by paralleling the killing of 102 refugees in 1996 with the deaths of last weekend, both in Qana, (the former resulting in an immediate US arranged ceasefire), and concludes that:

As in 1982, the effect of this savage assault on the Lebanese people will be to breed a new generation of angry young men dedicated to resistance.

Again, speaking to the long term strategic costs of civilian casualties.

Global Issues

Civil war or internal armed conflict?

Lots of recent talk (again) about whether Iraq is a civil war. In part, fuelled by the following exchange (DoD link down):

Q: Is the country closer to a civil war?

SEC. RUMSFELD: Oh, I don’t know. You know, I thought about that last night, and just musing over the words, the phrase, and what constitutes it. If you think of our Civil War, this is really very different. If you think of civil wars in other countries, this is really quite different.

But is it really this subjective? There is a relatively established academic discourse on civil war – as a word, a phrase, and what constitutes it. Surely it can tell us something?

I have had the good fortune of doing my requisite year of IR data coding (in my case counting the rivers that cross every international border) at the Center for the Study of Civil War at PRIO. Along with SPIRI, they are responsible for compiling the data sets used for large-N studies of inter and intra state conflict. By the standard coding definition a civil war is an internal conflict that results in at least 1,000 combat-related fatalities, 5% of which are sustained by government and rebel forces. Another definition puts the bar at 25.

These thresholds have of course long been surpassed in Iraq. If this is the case though, then why haven’t we been calling this a civil war for the past two years?

Several months ago, I asked this of an old colleague who is far better versed in the discourse than I. A particularly interesting response from a particularly wise Norwegian is worth quoting:

What we see in Iraq is absolutely an armed internal conflict, but it is not a war. By drawing this distinction I want to separate between two modes of political violence: Civil War is actively pursuing an ultimate objective, in this case the government of Iraq, through all means available, and Armed conflict, as we see now, is a political conflict where the careful appliance of violence is useful in order to signal resolve and in order to temporarily avoid some sort of outcome.

By this characterization, he views the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an armed conflict rather than a war. Iraq, by this measure, should therefore be considered not a civil war, but an Internal Armed Conflict. This can of course evolve as the interest of various parties emerge, and it perhaps already has.

While there are political/strategic reasons for and against labeling Iraq as a particular type of conflict, these labels, as used in academia, are relatively well established. Because the Iraqi conflict does not look like the US civil war, is a pretty silly defense for not calling a spade a spade, or at least something that looks quite similar to a spade…

Global Issues

When is a war a proxy?

This interesting quote was in Monday’s lead WaPo piece on the Middle East:

“It’s really a proxy war between the United States and Iran,” said David J. Rothkopf, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author of “Running the World,” a book on U.S. foreign policy. “When viewed in that context, it puts everything in a different light.”

Well, I suppose it does. But is this a productive illumination? What are the consequences of viewing the current violence as a US-Iranian proxy war? It seems to me that it may raise more questions that it answers. Some quick thoughts:

First, of course, if Hezbollah is a proxy of Iran, Israel must to some degree be a proxy of the US. It depends how we define proxy, but an argument can be made that military assistance constitutes a degree of support on either side. Control is a whole other issue though, and is likely limited for both. This deterministically dichotomous characterization also certainly has implications for a potential mediated settlement. Does this mean that the US and Iran will be the principle actors in a diplomatic solution? Will we see a US-Iranian middle eastern summit, with Israel and Hezbollah relegated to ‘proxy’ status? While this is highly unlikely, the proxy war idea as it relates to US support of Israel is surely representative of a shift in potential US ‘honest broker’ status.

Second, perhaps more problematic, is that prioritizing the proxy war label supposes that Iranian-US relations are more destabilizing to the region than the issues that have been at the centre of the conflict for the past 30 years. Of course this dynamic has been present, but certainly not the principle antagonising factor. How does this escalation, if indicative of a proxy, interrelate with the main historic elements of the conflict?

Third, how does this characterization fit with Bush’s wider regional policy? While there are to some degree competing harder and softer versions, an overarching push towards large scale change in the region is a cross cutting element. Iran, I suppose, could be playing a hearts and minds response to this desired democratic reform/regime change. If this is the case, they are likely succeeding, with public opinion in the region becoming more aggressively pro Hezbollah. How, however, does this impact the manner in which the conflict will be resolved and how does is effect broader US regional policy? The two may not be complementary, as the former may a have long term negative impact on the latter. Certainly it should alter the calculus regarding civilian casualties? It also alters the US strategic consequences of the shifting democratic will of the region.

Other thoughts? Is this escalation just a US-Iranian proxy war? Is this a useful lens with which to view the present violence?

Global Issues, US Politics

Haas lets down his guard

hmm, well, granted Haass has been a vocal critic of Bush foreign policy ever since leaving the State Department, but this is surely not a good sign…

Haass, the former Bush aide who leads the Council on Foreign Relations, laughed at the president’s public optimism. “An opportunity?” Haass said with an incredulous tone. “Lord, spare me. I don’t laugh a lot. That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long time. If this is an opportunity, what’s Iraq? A once-in-a-lifetime chance?”

(h/t KD)

Cdn Politics, Global Issues

Irshad Manji

A mentor of the Trudeau Foundation, with which I am associated, describes a recent meeting, overlapping ominously with the bombings in India and the start of the Lebanese escalation.

Two weeks ago, I joined 99 other “Muslim leaders of tomorrow” who gathered in Copenhagen to debate how Islam and the West could enrich each other. We came from the United States, Canada, Australia and across Europe. Brace yourself, the statements made may shock you:

Man from the Netherlands: “We, as Muslims, need to look in the mirror instead of blaming everybody else!”

Woman from
Germany: “I don’t have an identity crisis. I’m Western and Muslim and grateful to be both.”

Organizer from the United States: “None of my fellow Americans signed up to speak about integration. They don’t see it as their priority. I think this means Muslim immigrants have it better in the U.S. than in Europe.”

Imam from Britain: “The minute a woman becomes an imam, I will be the first to pray at her feet.”

I am curious what oxbloggers think of her. She is certainly a controversial figure. Perhaps more well known internationally than she is in her home county, Canada. I agree wholeheartedly with her principle stance, that Islam must modernise, particularly with regard to women’s rights, and that this modernization must begin with a recognition that many of the most unjust aspects of religion are rooted in human misinterpretations. However, I find that while the message is correct, rare, and valuable, she often doesn’t adequately discuss the policy implications to her message. Much like I feel about many neoconservative positions, I agree with the ends, but not by any and all means.

Global Issues

Making Aid Work

A good discussion in the latest Boston Review on the state of development thinking. One of the things that bugs me about the MSM aid debate is the lack of intellectual and practical context. It often feels as if commentators, particularly those against raising development assistance levels, are stuck in 1970’s aid mentalities (as if what we are still discussing is simply the distribution of excess grains to ‘starving Africans’). These voices discuss aid as if it is their rational voices pitted against the soft hearts incessantly pushing for more money. The truth of course, is that development, not unlike peacebuilding/making, is an incredibly difficult project. Those that do and study development are the first to recognize this, and have been working for the past 30 years on mechanisms for delivering assistance more effectively. Yes there have been systemic failures, corruption and malpractice. But to say that this negates the efforts that have saved millions of lives is absurd. We increasingly know what kind of aid works. We know that cuts costs lives and that relatively minimal increases in funding of certain initiatives can get us to the MDGs. While the Boston review issue does not reflect the full spectrum of development voices, it is a nice survey of some significant positions.

Global Issues

Like him of hate him…

Fisk’s ‘Farewell to Beirut’ is a beautifully written portrait of the city from someone who has spent much of the past 30 years in its streets. One sided, certainly, but at least in this piece, his voice is free of polemic:

Yet they are a fine, educated, moral people whose generosity amazes every foreigner, whose gentleness puts any Westerner to shame, and whose suffering we almost always ignore.

They look like us, the people of Beirut. They have light-coloured skin and speak beautiful English and French. They travel the world. Their women are gorgeous and their food exquisite.

But what are we saying of their fate today as the Israelis — in some of their cruellest attacks on this city and the surrounding countryside — tear them from their homes, bomb them on river bridges, cut them off from food and water and electricity?
We say that they started this latest war, and we compare their appalling casualties — more than 300 in all of Lebanon by last night — with Israel’s 34 dead, as if the figures are the same.

And then, most disgraceful of all, we leave the Lebanese to their fate like a diseased people and spend our time evacuating our precious foreigners while tut-tutting about Israel’s “disproportionate” response to the capture of its soldiers by Hezbollah.

I must say, that this last comment is one that has bothered me as well. The domestic talk of Canadian and US evacuation (and claims to citizenship) seems at times immorally void of what is being left behind. No easy answer I know, but the rush to get our own out seems strangely removed from the events they are escaping.

And on the destruction of civilian infrastructure, he is measured, but distressed:

And now it is being unbuilt. The Martyr Rafiq Hariri International Airport has been attacked three times by the Israelis, its shopping malls vibrating to the missiles that thunder into the runways and fuel depots. Hariri’s transnational highway viaduct has been broken by Israeli bombers. Most of his motorway bridges have been destroyed. The Roman-style lighthouse has been smashed by a missile from an Apache helicopter. Only this small jewel of a restaurant in the centre of Beirut has been spared. So far.

It is the slums of Haret Hreik and Ghobeiri and Shiyah that have been pounded to dust, sending a quarter of a million Shiite Muslims to schools and abandoned parks across the city. Here, indeed, was the headquarters of Hezbollah, another of those “centres of world terror” the West keeps discovering in Muslim lands.Here lived Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the Party of God’s leader, a ruthless, caustic, calculating man, and Sheikh Mohammed Fadlallah, among the wisest and most eloquent of clerics, and many of Hezbollah’s top military planners — including, no doubt, the men who planned over many months the capture of the two Israeli soldiers last Wednesday.

But did the tens of thousands of poor who live here deserve this act of mass punishment? For a country that boasts of its pinpoint accuracy — a doubtful notion in any case, but that’s not the issue — what does this act of destruction tell us about Israel? Or about ourselves?

The whole thing is worth a read. More on the potential strategic costs of such civilian infastructure damage and casualties tomorrow.

Global Issues

This is not WWIII

Niall Ferguson, fellow Jesuite, argues in the LA Times that:

Such language can — for now, at least — safely be dismissed as hyperbole.This crisis is not going to trigger another world war. Indeed, I do not expect it to produce even another Middle East war worthy of comparison with those of June 1967 or October 1973. In 1967, Israel fought four of its Arab neighbors — Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. In 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. Such combinations are very hard to imagine today.

The most important factor that he discusses seems to me to be:

Crucially, Washington’s consistent support for Israel is not matched by any great power support for Israel’s neighbors. During the Cold War, by contrast, the risk was that a Middle East war could spill over into a superpower conflict. Henry Kissinger, secretary of State in the twilight of the Nixon presidency, first heard the news of an Arab-Israeli war at 6:15 a.m. on Oct. 6, 1973. Half an hour later, he was on the phone to the Soviet ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Dobrynin. Two weeks later, Kissinger flew to Moscow to meet the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev.

He concludes that the stakes are quite different for Israel and for the US. That the prospect of a regional sectarian conflict has no ‘silver lining’ for US regional interests. And thus, that:

It may not be World War III. But the current crisis nevertheless calls for a much more urgent diplomatic effort than the Bush administration seems to have in mind.

Global Issues

The Justice of Jus in Bello

Human Rights Watch has a useful and balanced Q&A on the application of international humanitarian law to the current middle east violence. They answer questions such as whether Article 3 applies to both parties, and discuss the legality of many of the acts we have seen used by both sides – Hezbollah’s bombing of northern Israel, Islaeli bombing the Beirut airport etc. Perhaps most interesting is the question of civilian shields and subsequent casualties:

Can Israel attack neighbourhoods that house Hezbollah leaders or offices? And what are Hezbollah’s obligations regarding the use of civilian areas for military activities?

Where the targeting of a combatant takes place in an urban area, all parties must be aware of their obligations to protect the civilian population, as the bombing of urban areas significantly increases the risks to the civilian population. International humanitarian law obliges all belligerents to avoid harm to civilians or civilian objects.

The defending party – in the case of Beirut, Hezbollah – must take all necessary precautions to protect civilians against the dangers resulting from armed hostilities, and must never use the presence of civilians to shield themselves from attack. That requires positioning its military assets, troops, and commanders as much as possible outside of populated areas. The use of human shields is a war crime.

In calculating the legality of an attack on premises where a Hezbollah combatant is present, Israel must take the risk to civilians into account. It is not relieved from this obligation on the grounds that it considers Hezbollah responsible for having located legitimate military targets within or near populated areas or that Hezbollah may be using the civilian population as a shield. Even in situations of Hezbollah’s illegal location of military targets, or shielding, Israel must refrain from launching any attack that may be expected to cause excessive civilian loss in comparison to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated. That is, a violation by Hezbollah in this regard does not justify Israeli forces ignoring the civilian consequences of a planned attack. The intentional launch of an attack in an area without regard to the civilian consequences or in the knowledge that the harm to civilians would be disproportionately high compared to any definite military benefit to be achieved would be a serious violation of international humanitarian law and a war crime.

Several months ago I saw Yoram Dinstein speak at St. Anthony’s. As intelligent and seemingly reasonable as he was, I got the same feeling from him as I do from reading such applications of international law to asymmetric conflicts. I know that many feel that international law unduly constrains western soldiers against the conflict tactics of non-state actors. Dinstein’s argument, for example was that Israel does not legally have to give captured combatants POW status. Indeed, perhaps this and other shifts are proportionate and just, but that is another discussion.

Can this same argument be turned around though? These laws were designed for warring states with large traditional armies. Contemporary asymmetric warfare and terrorism grew out of a response to such state forces. Their tactics and strategies are designed to circumvent the traditional technocratic large scale warfare that only states can wage. Setting aside the moral arguments for each side, is the application of international law, developed by states and for states, to these groups just?

For example, state armies argue that is it illegal to hide and fight amongst civilians. Further, they say that the resulting civilian casualties are an acceptable consequence of having to fight such illegal, and amoral, tactics. This, however, is exactly and predictably how weaker sides fight asymmetric urban war. We know this now, as we knew it before the Iraq war and before the strikes against Lebanon. I am not convinced that we can keep claiming that these civilian casualties, which are grossly disproportionate against the weaker side, are legally and morally justifiable under an international legal system that so greatly privileges our style of killing.

Does the application of international humanitarian law to asymmetric warfare give relative carte blanche to traditional armies? Does it matter?

Global Issues

Middle East escalations

For what it’s worth, here are some random bits and pieces from some of the blogs I frequent:

Jentleson argues that the conflict, as it has regularly since ‘48, requires external crisis management, and wonders whether the Bush Administration will/can play this role?

Marshall argues that the administration’s silence is born of over-extension and policy exhaustion.

Martin Peretz points out the, hmm, inconsistancy, in Siniora demanding that the United Nations and the United States impose a cease-fire on the combat between Israel and Hezbollah now, since Hezbollah have been lobbing rockets across Lebanon’s southern border into Israel for the entire time he has been PM.

Drezner clear-headedly remarks that the facts remain markedly fluid, with the NYT and WaPo reporting significantly different interpretations of how the Israeli attacks have affected Hezbollah’s political position in Lebanon?

Djerejian both worries of a major Israeli ground incursion and condemns the Secretary of State. Earlier in the week, he questioned, rightly in my mind, the foreseeable strategic effectiveness of a large scale Israeli military response to the kidnapping. (to which Frum scoffed, and Greg scoffed back)

Rosen has an interesting interview with Mark Perry, an American who has been hosting a dialogue with representatives of Hezbollah and former senior US and British policymakers for the past three years. He thinks this is a game of escalation that both sides will soon climb down from. (note: the interview was 3 days ago). Rosen also points out that Solana has just flown to Beirut for talks. As a fan of his EU foreign policy work, I think this is a positive development but obviously question his potential influence, particularly with Rice so conspicuously silent.

Jo-Anne Mort, in Israel, points out that the extent of the Hezbolla strikes have largely silenced the Arab League, because “Hezbollah has knowingly put the Lebanese gov’t –and people–at risk.” She then questions the US ability to serve as the needed diplomatic broker in each of ongoing the middle eastern crises – Lebanon, Palestine, Iran, Syria and Iraq.

Shadi Hamid, on Democracy Arsenal, in Egypt, points out the difference between ‘constructive instability’ and plain old instability.

Ygelsias maintains that the ‘real’ problem, when everything else is removed, is Palestinian anger.

Gandleman relays a note of thanks from a Lebanese Christian diaspora group to Israel.

Finally, I will quote from Clemmons’ argument because I both find it particularly interesting and would be curious what Oxbloggers think about it?:

Some in Israel viewed all three of these potential policy courses for the U.S. — a broad deal with the Arab Middle East, a new push on final status negotiations with the Palestinians, and a deal to actually negotiate directly with Iran — as negative for Israel.

The flamboyant, over the top reactions to attacks on Israel‘s miltiary check points and the abduction of soldiers — which I agree Israel must respond to — seem to be part establishing “bona fides” by Olmert — but far more important, REMOVING from the table important policy options that the U.S. might have pursued.

Israel is constraining American foreign policy in amazing and troubling ways by its actions. And a former senior CIA official and another senior Marine who are well-versed in both Israeli and broad Middle East affairs, agreed that serious strategists in Israel are more concerned about America tilting towards new bargains in the region than they are either about the challenge from Hamas or Hezbollah or showing that Olmert knows how to pull the trigger.

Another well respected and very serious national security public intellectual in the nation wrote this when I shared this thesis that Israeli actions were ultimately aimed at clipping American wings in the region. His response: “the thesis of your paper is right-on. whether intentional or coincidental, that is what is being done right now.”

Thoughts?