Secretary of State John Kerry’s powerful speech this afternoon makes it all too clear that the U.S. is progressing toward military strikes on Syria. There is dire humanitarian need, with the gassing of civilians being only the latest atrocity. Yet the Obama administration’s choice of tactics to meet that need are too limited; intervention by cruise missile will not sufficiently protect civilians and is therefore not ethically defensible. Writing for the Huffington Post today, Jeff McMahan lays out the ethical framework for assessing the potential U.S. strikes on Syria. Given the Syrian government’s attacks on its civilians, strikes intended “to […]

Prepping the international community for U.S. military strikes on Syria, the Obama administration, through Secretary of State John Kerry, invoked moral terms: “The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity.” The British government raised the argument a level further today, claiming that “the legal basis for military action would be humanitarian intervention.” And yet all signs point to an intervention narrowly focused on the Syrian military’s ability to deliver chemical weapons attacks. Nicholas Kristof sums up the rationale succinctly: “It would reinforce the international norm against weapons […]

For more than a year, the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its People’s Defense Forces (YPG) have exercised state-like power in the Kurdish regions of Syria. Supported by Iran with weapons and ammunition moved through central Iraq, the PYD—a Syrian affiliate of Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)—controls large parts of the border region between the Kurdish areas of Syria, Turkey and Iraq. Activists criticizing or not cooperating with the PYD have been abducted, tortured and sometimes killed. The PYD imposes taxes on gasoline, collects border fees and has established a system of courts. Since summer 2012, the Syrian regime has […]

This month, Saudi Arabia reportedly offered to buy up to $15 billion worth of Russian arms if Russia would reduce its support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. In an email interview, Andrej Kreutz, an expert on Russia-Middle East relations and adjunct assistant professor at the University of Calgary, explained the recent trajectory of Russian-Saudi relations. WPR: What has been the trajectory of Russian-Saudi relations in the past few years? Andrej Kreutz: Between 2003 and 2010, there was some noticeable rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Russia, which have historically had somewhat conflicting, albeit nuanced, relations. Major signs of this gradual warming […]

American presidential elections often provide a forum to air differences on military strength between the opposing candidates and their parties. This was particularly true after Vietnam, when a clear distinction between the Republican and Democratic approaches to defense took shape. The GOP favored robust military spending, took a hard line toward the Soviet Union, was skeptical of international organizations and placed less stress on treaties to promote American security. Democrats, by contrast, emphasized international organizations, diplomacy and the promotion of collective and humanitarian interests. By the 1980s, the Republican notion clearly resonated more deeply with the American public: Ronald Reagan […]

It is now something of a cliche to note that Turkey’s foreign policy mantra of “zero problems” has given way to problems everywhere Ankara looks. Nowhere is that truer than in the Turkey-Iran relationship, which has been buffeted from all sides over the past three years, reaching its lowest ebb with the two sides’ diametrically opposed positions in the stalemated Syrian civil war. In that time, Turkey and Iran have increasingly vied for influence across the region. In Iraq, Turkey backed the losing electoral bloc in the 2010 elections, and currently shelters fugitive Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi. By contrast, […]

World Citizen: Syrian War Stirs Up Kurdish Anxiety in Turkey and Iraq

Among the many ways in which the Syrian civil war could radically reshape the Middle East, there is one that had, until recently, received little attention. Amid the chaos, Syria’s long-oppressed Kurds have decided to move toward autonomy. In addition, the intensifying fighting between Syrian Kurds and the Islamist militants of the Syrian opposition have prompted Kurdish leaders in neighboring Iraq to suggest they might intervene to help their brethren in Syria. The two developments are stoking fear among countries that are home to large Kurdish populations. These governments have always viewed the notion of an independent Kurdish state not […]

Next month, Sri Lanka’s northern province, which until four years ago was the site of a devastating war between the central government and ethnic Tamil separatists, will hold its first postwar provincial elections. In an email interview, Alan Keenan, senior analyst and Sri Lanka project director at International Crisis Group, discussed the trajectory of Sri Lanka’s politics and governance since the end of the civil war. WPR: How has the end of the war affected the political standing of Tamils in Sri Lanka? Alan Keenan: The political standing of Tamils has been weakened since the end of the war, despite […]

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has won the presidential election against Soumaila Cisse in Mali, the West African country that made headlines in the past year and a half for its military coup and an international intervention to oust Islamist rebels. But while Cisse conceded Monday night in a peaceful conclusion to an election that some feared was coming too soon, many barriers remain in the way of the fulfillment of Keita’s campaign promise of unifying the country. Andrew Lebovich, Sahel consultant with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa and an expert on Mali, said Keita, who was prime minister from […]

There will be many eulogies for Sergio Vieira de Mello in the weeks ahead. Next Monday, Aug. 19, marks the 10th anniversary of the death of the charismatic Brazilian United Nations official in Baghdad. The veteran of humanitarian and peacekeeping missions from Sudan to Timor-Leste had reluctantly taken the post of U.N. special representative to Iraq after the U.S. and its allies toppled Saddam Hussein. When a suicide-bomber killed him and 21 of his colleagues in an attack on their lightly guarded headquarters, U.N. officials were traumatized. He remains a totemic figure for the organization today. His admirers will doubtless […]

As the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) shifts to a training and advisory role in Afghanistan in preparation for the planned end of its mission in 2014, the Afghan air force has had difficulty replacing the air support capabilities previously supplied by international forces. In an email interview, Gary Owen, the pen name of an analyst and development worker in Afghanistan who has written on the readiness of the Afghan air force, explained the force’s history and current capabilities. WPR: When was the last time Afghanistan had a functioning air force? Gary Owen: The history of the Afghan air force […]

Five years ago, Georgian forces crossed into the Moscow-backed separatist territory of South Ossetia, seeking to clamp down on attacks against ethnic Georgian villages along the de facto boundaries and re-establish authority over the breakaway region. Russia’s response was swift: Its troops poured into South Ossetia, pushing out Georgia’s overmatched military. When the guns were finally silenced after the short but fierce war, hundreds had been killed or wounded and tens of thousands of civilians were displaced. Although the global community refused to follow Moscow’s lead in recognizing the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgia’s other separatist province, the […]

Since the birth of the transnational Salafi jihadist movement in Afghanistan during the 1980s, its leaders have refined a strategy based on “swarming.” Jihadists tied to or inspired by al-Qaida look for a conflict where locals are fighting a repressive or ineffective regime, preferably one seen as an outside, impious force. Jihadists then flock to the conflict and join local fighters, cast the clash in religious terms, push the locals toward the Salafist position associated with al-Qaida and, if possible, take over the resistance. Their goal is creation of an independent “emirate” to inspire other jihadists and, eventually, re-create the […]

High-value natural resources have historically been associated with dozens of armed conflicts, millions of deaths and the collapse of several peace processes, and both case studies and statistical evidence confirm that such resources play a role in sparking and fueling armed civil conflict. According to recent research, between 1970 and 2008 the portion of armed civil conflicts that were in some way related to high-value natural resources ranged from 30-60 percent each year. Why is peace so difficult to achieve and sustain in the presence of these resources? High-value natural resources can directly increase the risk of conflict in a […]

Last week, Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi visited the White House for talks with U.S. President Barack Obama regarding counterterrorism and Yemen’s democratic transition. In an email interview, Danya Greenfield, deputy director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East and head of the Yemen Policy Initiative at the Atlantic Council, explained the recent history and current state of the U.S.-Yemen relationship. WPR: How does the U.S. relationship with President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi compare with its relationship with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh? Danya Greenfield: The United States’ working relationship with Hadi is far more positive, transparent […]

Diplomatic Fallout: Will the U.N. Respect or Offend Mali’s National Pride?

Experts on post-conflict reconstruction don’t talk much about the idea of honor. They emphasize worthy but bloodless concepts like good governance instead. Yet appealing to national pride can do wonders for a politician aiming to inspire the citizens of a war-damaged country. In Mali, for instance, it has worked for Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, a veteran politician who is on course to be the country’s next president. He has promised to restore “the honor of Mali” after its collapse into civil war in 2012, during which Tuareg separatists and Islamists seized the north of the country, necessitating an intervention by France […]

Last month, a war crimes tribunal in Bangladesh handed down a guilty verdict against Islamist party leader Ghulam Azam, its fifth conviction of a prominent political figure for involvement in atrocities committed during the country’s 1971 war for independence. In an email interview, Zakia Afrin, an adjunct professor in international law at Golden Gate University who focuses on intra-state conflict and peacebuilding, discussed the state of Bangladesh’s war crimes trials and the lessons they yield for other contexts. WPR: How well have Bangladesh’s war crimes trials succeeded in terms of providing a fair and legitimate legal process? Zakia Afrin: As […]