A resident of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk carries a box of humanitarian supplies distributed by UNRWA, in Damascus, Syria. Feb. 24, 2014 (AP Photo by UNRWA).

In mid-July, the U.N. Security Council unanimously voted to allow humanitarian aid delivery to Syrians in rebel-held areas without Syrian government consent, through four border crossings from Turkey, Iraq and Jordan. In an email interview, Dr. Hannah Vaughan-Lee, a humanitarian practitioner and academic, discussed the challenges ahead for the cross-border aid operation. WPR: Besides ongoing fighting, what obstacles do convoys face bringing aid to rebel-held areas in Syria? Hannah Vaughan-Lee: Crossing the border into Syria is only the first in a series of steps for delivering assistance to conflict-affected populations in rebel-held areas. One immediate and ongoing challenge will be […]

For human health, war is hell. One could pick any past or present conflict to illustrate how war damages health. Armed conflicts kill, injure and traumatize people; wreck health infrastructure and services; and expose populations to diseases. People flee war’s dangers, often only to live a desperate, destitute existence. This parade of health horribles appears once again in the ongoing Syrian conflict, widely recognized as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. The Syrian case demonstrates many common responses to health crises spawned by war: identifying civilian death and suffering; providing humanitarian assistance; emphasizing respect for human rights and civilian […]

An often neglected but fundamentally important victim of conflict is the physical manifestations of a community, a people, a nation—their heritage. The cultural heritage of France and Belgium was utterly devastated during World War I, epitomized by the burning of the medieval library at Leuven and destruction of the cathedral of Rheims. A century later conflicts in states such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria continue to be characterized by the destruction of cultural heritage. So how far have we come in protecting cultural heritage from the devastating effects of war? Over the past century, surprisingly far, and at the same […]

For the better part of their existence, the global anti-war and the environmentalist movements have typically existed side by side, each pursuing noble but separate aims. Today, however, a new trend has become apparent: the mutually reinforcing interaction between human violence and planetary change. No longer can peace and the environment be seen as separate issues. Consequently, no longer can the two movements merely work side by side; they must work as one. From Violent Conflict to Environmental Stress Data collection on war-related environmental effects is dangerous, complex and costly, meaning that our understanding of the environmental impact of war […]

French police officers detain a suspected jihadists during a raid in Strasbourg, France, May 13, 2014 (AP photo by Jean Francois Badias).

Europe’s strategic situation is simultaneously precarious and curiously comfortable. From eastern Ukraine to northern Africa, conflicts crowd in on the European Union (EU). Yet the bloc’s security may actually benefit from the ongoing instability in cases such as Ukraine, Mali and even Syria. The longer these conflicts absorb the energies of potential foes, ranging from Russian President Vladimir Putin to various Islamist radical groups, the less likely they are to menace the EU directly. Europeans have little or no appetite to get involved in these wars, leading critics to grumble that they refuse to fight for their interests. But it […]

Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Riad al-Malki listens to a statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council at the U.N. headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, July 23, 2014 (AP Photo/Keystone, Martial Trezzini).

As the death toll in Gaza rises to over 730 Palestinians and 32 Israeli soldiers, legal definitions of what is permissible in war have been bitterly contested. International law defines war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Geneva Conventions and the Rome Statute, but in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though both sides are guilty of violations, the classifications are difficult to apply. The exceedingly high and disproportionate number of civilian casualties in Gaza has prompted Palestinian calls to seek redress from the International Criminal Court (ICC). But legally, proportionality is not determined by a comparison of the number of casualties […]

Israeli soldiers work on a tank near the Israel and Gaza border, July 24, 2014 (AP photo by Dusan Vranic).

The ultimate domestic political repercussions of a military conflict don’t become clear until the fighting stops, the smoke clears and emotions begin to cool. But political tremors don’t wait for a cease-fire. In Israel, the outbreak of the current confrontation with Hamas in the Gaza Strip has fractured a major political alliance and caused at least one sudden high-level personnel change. But so far there is no indication that Israel’s internal political landscape will be dramatically transformed by the latest traumatic and controversial chapter in the country’s history. Much will depend, of course, on how the fighting ends, but so […]

Sudan People's Liberation Army soldiers move toward frontline positions near Pana Kuach, Unity State, South Sudan, May 11, 2012 photo (AP Photo by Pete Muller).

Seven months after fighting broke out between the government of South Sudan and anti-government forces, the conflict is at a stalemate, both on the battlefield and at the negotiating table. Unlike the early days of the conflict, when cities like Bor, Bentiu and Malakal changed hands multiple times, the status quo has largely held since the onset of the rainy season in May. The Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)—the East African regional organization that spearheaded the peace process between Sudan and now-independent South Sudan in the 1990s—has taken the lead to bring the government, represented by the ruling Sudan People’s […]

Members of Anti-balaka, a Christian militia, Bangui, Central African Republic, Feb. 26, 2014 (AP photo via Kyodo by Tomoaki Nakano).

All sides in Central African Republic’s civil war are looking to a peace conference this week in Brazzaville, the capital of the neighboring Republic of Congo, in the hopes that it could yield a cease-fire agreement. Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso is presiding over the summit, which began yesterday and will run until July 23, under the auspices of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS). However, there are already major questions about what the meeting can actually achieve. As of the opening of the summit, it was still unclear who would be representing the main rebel group, Seleka. What’s […]

Editor’s note: This report was written before the outbreak of the hostilities between Israel and Hamas in the summer of 2014, and was subsequently updated to reflect developments as of publication.Israel’s threat environment has changed dramatically in recent years, so much so that the change can be characterized as transformative if not revolutionary. This is especially the case when compared to the regional environment Israel faced during its first decades, the 1950s and 1960s, when its defense doctrine was first articulated and its force structure was first conceived. This report will discuss these dramatic changes, identify the new challenges Israel […]

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks after closed-door nuclear talks, Vienna, Austria, July 15, 2014 (AP photo by Ronald Zak).

The original July 20 deadline for the P5+1 countries to reach a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran has come and gone. The negotiating parties have given themselves four more months to address what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday called “very real gaps in some areas.” The extension includes allowing Iran to access $2.8 billion of its restricted assets. Kerry, however, stressed that “the vast majority of its frozen oil revenues will remain inaccessible” and the United States will “continue to vigorously enforce the sanctions that remain in place.” That has many in Washington debating the effect of […]

A woman walks at the site of the crashed Malaysia Airlines passenger plane near the village of Rozsypne, eastern Ukraine, July 18, 2014 (AP photo by Dmitry Lovetsky).

Last week, I observed that the most striking feature of the Ukrainian crisis was “just how limited it remains to date.” This proved to be a grotesquely untimely remark. My basic point remains valid: Although Russia seemed ready to mount a full-scale incursion into eastern Ukraine as early as April, it avoided such an open challenge to the West. The U.S. and Europe reciprocated by limiting sanctions against Moscow in the second quarter of this year. But these signs of restraint have given way to chaos. Since roughly one week ago, pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have responded increasingly aggressively […]

A woman walks at the site of the crashed Malaysia Airlines passenger plane near the village of Rozsypne, eastern Ukraine, July 18, 2014 (AP photo by Dmitry Lovetsky).

Yesterday’s downing of Malaysian commercial airliner MH17 near Donetsk, killing 298 civilian passengers and crewmen, marks a shocking turn in the ongoing conflict over eastern Ukraine. New information is still coming out, but as of this writing we know that some of the passengers were researchers and activists heading to an international AIDS conference in Melbourne.* At least nine nationalities were represented on board, ranging from the Netherlands to the Philippines, and possibly, though the State Department has yet to confirm, some number of Americans. While nothing has been conclusively proven, all signs point to a surface-to-air missile launched by […]

Smoke rises after an Israeli missile strike in Gaza City, July 15, 2014 (AP photo by Adel Hana).

World attention is riveted by the ongoing violence between Israel and Hamas. After the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers and a retribution killing of a Palestinian youth, Israeli airstrikes on Gaza were followed by Hamas rocket barrages that reached as far as Tel Aviv. The two desperate enemies continue to pummel each other, seemingly seeking revenge rather than discernible political objectives. “The damage is already gruesome,” as Natan Sachs put it, “and bound to get worse.” Calls have arisen for a new Intifada across the Palestinian Territories on one side, and an Israeli ground invasion of the Hamas-ruled […]

Fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) during a parade in Raqqa, Syria, undated photo (AP photo by Raqqa Media Center).

Helicopters and expanded patrols now monitor Saudi Arabia’s 500-mile long northern border with Iraq. In early July, Riyadh sent 30,000 troops there, apparently steeling itself against the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which now calls itself the Islamic State. To many observers, it was a sign of Saudi Arabia reaping what it had sown. Private financial support to jihadi groups in Syria such as ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra—al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate—and others has been widely reported during Syria’s civil war. Funds coming from Saudis and Kuwaitis to the most hardline rebels in the conflict often underscored the […]

Military visitors from OSCE participating states wait at a checkpoint between Ukraine and Crimea, Armyansk, Ukraine, March 6, 2014 (OSCE photo licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution - No Derivative Works license).

Is Ukraine a promising model for the management of future international crises? At first glance, it looks like nothing of the sort. Kiev is in the middle of a bloody military campaign to regain control of towns and cities in the east of the country from pro-Russian rebels. More and more civilians have been caught in the crossfire. As Janek Lasocki of the European Council on Foreign Relations has noted, roughly 200,000 Ukrainian citizens have registered as internally displaced persons inside the country or moved to Russia. “In the past week alone,” he adds, “over 10,000 more have formally registered, […]

Kurdish President Massoud Barzani meets with U.S. Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr, Irbil, Iraq, Oct. 20, 2015 (U.S. Department of Defense photo).

It is no secret that the survival of Iraq within its current official borders is very much in doubt. The lightning-fast battlefield victories of the extremist Sunni group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)—which recently renamed itself the Islamic State and anointed itself as the new caliphate—have revived the old debate about a potential partition of the country. Iraq, a product of European colonial mapmaking, could split into three states: one Sunni, one Shiite and one Kurdish. But as Iraqis fret and international observers debate the country’s future, Israelis across the political spectrum have come forth to declare […]

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