The shipment raises concerns about the viability of intervention in the Syrian crisis. The Yakhont system has advanced radar guidance systems that would enable the missile to evade ship defenses. The United States argues that the missile system would force any potential naval operations further off Syria’s coasts.
First, by following through on the sale agreed to in 2007, Russia demonstrates its ongoing support for and commitment to the Syrian regime. The sale highlights Russia’s desire to prevent possible Western intervention. It also suggests that Russia would likely oppose efforts to secure approval for such intervention through the United Nations Security Council.
Second, the sale may also raise concerns on the part of Israel about the potential transfer of weapons from Syria to its Hezbollah allies in Syria. Israel has already warned Syria that such a transfer would cross red line that could prompt a new wave of Israeli airstrikes against Syrian forces.
What do you think? Could Russia’s weapon sales to Syria undermine potential resolution of the Syrian crisis? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.
A Syrian mortar round explodes in the Turkish town of Akcakale.
On Wednesday, a Syrian mortar round landed in a Turkish village along the border between the two countries, killing five Turkish civilians. The incident sparked a sharp response from the government of Turkey, which launched a military operation shelling Syrian positions along the border.
Actors on both sides are attempting to manage the escalating crisis. Thousands of anti-war protesters on Friday took to the streets in Turkey, protesting against military conflict with Syria. The Turkish government also appears to be maintaining a proportional response, for fear that it not outrun the policies of its NATO allies. A statement by the United Nations Security Council condemned the Syrian mortar attack and urged parties to exercise restraint. The Russian government, arguably Syria’s closest ally, urged Syria to issue a statement describing the attack as a mistake.
In its efforts to respond to the Syrian attack, the Turkish government must walk a fine line. It seems clear that Turkey does not want the conflict with Syria to expand. Nor does the Syrian government, which is already engaged in a protracted civil war, want war with Turkey. The ability of two to manage the crisis would appear to rest on their ability to prevent the conflict from escalating. It seems likely that that Turkish government will attempt to keep its response proportionate to the original attack. As long as Syria perceives that response proportional, it will likely allow Turkey to proceed. But whether the two are able to manage the crisis, or whether the crisis outruns both their efforts, remains to be seen.
The Arab Spring, which began following the democratic revolution in Tunisia more than a year ago appears to have run around in Syria. The sharp response of the government—in marked contrast to the Tunisian and Egyptian responses but similar to that of Libya—has led to a standoff between government and opposition forces. President Bashar al-Assad, who has ruled Syria since 2000 when he succeed his father, Hafez al-Assad, as President, continues to assert that the revolt is part of a foreign plot driven by the Untied States and Israel and intended to destroy Syria. Meanwhile, the Syrian military has been engaged in operations to kill opposition forces, leading to escalating violence across the country.
The international community has struggled to develop a collective response to the crisis. Last week, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who had been serving as the Peace Envoy to Syria, suddenly resigned, asserting that Syria was not serious about peace and that the international community—and particularly the UN Security Council—was not sufficiently committed to do what was necessary to end fighting there. Several countries have taken individual steps. The United Kingdom last week announced it would expand non-military assistance to Syrian opposition groups, and the United States announced it would impose new sanctions on the Syrian government.
The failure of the international community to develop a coordinated response to the
China Vetoes UN Action on Syria
Syrian crisis illustrates the challenges of collective security in the international system. In such a system, each country is motivated to leave the costs of intervention (whether financial or the cost of human lives lost as soldiers die on the battlefield) to other countries. This was most clearly seen in the failure of the League of Nations to address Italian aggression in North Africa and the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. But a similar phenomenon can be seen in the failure of the Untied Nations Security Council to develop a coherent policy with respect to Syria today.
The security dilemma is most commonly avoided when one state agrees to pay a disproportionate share of the cost of action. Historically, this has fallen to the dominant powers in the global system, today, the United States. Where the United States has been willing to take on a leading role and pay a disproportionate share of the costs of intervention (such as in Afghanistan and in the first Persian Gulf War when Iraq invaded Kuwait), other countries are often willing to follow in order to lend credibility to the operation. Where the United States or other leading powers are unwilling to pay such a cost, intervention does not usually take place, regardless of the cost. Perhaps the most salient example of this occurred during the 1994 Rwandan genocide, when the United States declined to support African Union proposals to end the conflict, resulting the deaths of almost 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus in a 100-day bloodbath. In either case, the likelihood of intervention usually depends on the willingness of one country or a small group of countries to exercise leadership and pay a disproportionate cost of intervention.
Complicating the question further is the principle of non-intervention. The United Nations Charter guarantees the sovereign equality of nations and the “inalienable right” of States to “exercise their sovereignty and guarantees States’ “n States’ “inalienable right to complete freedom, the exercise of their sovereignty and the integrity of their national territory and … [to] freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” This sentiment was confirmed by General Assembly Resolution 2131, which established the principle of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of states. Simply put, this means that the international community should not interfere with the right of any specific government to rule, unless that rule poses a threat to international peace and stability.
The controversy, of course comes in defining what constitutes a threat to international peace and stability. Throughout the 1980s, for example, the UN General Assembly regularly passed resolutions condemning South Africa’s system of radicalized rule known as apartheid. The South African government (supported by the United States) asserted that such resolutions violated the principle of non-intervention in the domestic affairs of states. Consequently, efforts to isolate the South African state generally took the form of individual actions by specific states rather than a collective response on the part of the United Nations.
What do you think? Is the international community likely to intervene in Syria? Will the collective security dilemma prevail, preventing intervention? Should the United States act unilaterally to end Basar al-Assad’s rule? Or should it wait for the international community to come together? Or should the principle of non-intervention prevail, leaving Syria to determine its own path. Take the poll below to voice your opinion.
Images of rows of bodies in Houla, Syria–many of them women and children–were publicized by many media outlets on Saturday.
It is difficult to predict when policymakers will decide that “enough is enough” and it is time to intervene to stop genocide, mass starvation, and other humanitarian crises. Some crises, such as the Rwandan genocide, never produce that level of commitment, or “political will,” from the international community (or at least from one powerful actor with the means to stop the carnage). But widespread media coverage of particularly galling atrocities appears to be one catalyst for intervention. For example, in 1995 the massacre of 8,000 civilians in Srebrenica, along with the subsequent shelling of a Sarajevo marketplace, galvanized NATO countries to take military action against Bosnian Serbs.
So there is some reason to believe that the news today that Syrian government forces have massacred approximately 100 civilians (perhaps as many as 50 of them children) in the town of Houla, together with the presence of graphic video and pictures to tell the story, could have the ability to shock world leaders into finally taking serious action on Syria. So far, the UN has taken the largely ineffective steps of sponsoring an oft-violated ceasefire and sending unarmed monitors to watch the events unfold. As discussed previously in this blog, the UN Security Council has failed to take stronger action at least in part because Russia, a staunch ally of the Syrian government, has veto power over any Security Council resolution that might authorize force or harsh sanctions against the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
Political scientists have noted both the agenda-setting and framing power of the media. Agenda-setting refers to what the media chooses to cover (which can dictate what issues are on citizens’ and policymakers’ minds), while framing involves how the media chooses to cover an event (the “spin” that is given to the facts). Grotesque images paired with a clear identification of the guilty party–whether the full story is given or not–can be a powerful incentive for policymakers to take notice, particularly in democracies where they are accountable to the public. The rise of blogs, Twitter, cable news, and other outlets beyond traditional print or TV news outlets has made it more difficult for the media to act in conscious unison to promote an agenda, but has also made it possible for events and interpretations to travel farther and faster than ever before. (The unprecedented Kony 2012 campaign is but one example of the potential such media hold).
Whether today’s events in Syria will set off the kind of media firestorm that might force world leaders’ hands remains to be seen, but some leaders are already calling for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council, so it appears possible that we are approaching some sort of “tipping point” when it comes to Syria.
Was Osama bin Laden a Sunni or Shiite Muslim? Can you identify the ruling sect in Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Syria?
Today’s Formula 1 race in Bahrain occurred without incident, but many observers had feared violence would mar the festivities. This is because Bahrain, like several other countries in the region, is experiencing ongoing unrest pitting anti-government protesters against the ruling authorities. And, as in other Middle Eastern countries, this clash has broken down along sectarian lines, with Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims vying for power.
While some Western commentators speak broadly of the “Arab and Muslim world,” painting with such broad strokes obscures many of the differences that help to make sense of the politics of today’s Middle East. A few examples:
* In Iraq, the Sunni minority (which was in power under Saddam Hussein) is now facing a resurgent Shiite majority which controls the parliament and much of the executive branch. This struggle involves political competition and violence, although one commentator argues much of the violence is really about jihadism rather than sectarianism.
* Like in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Bahrain’s minority Sunnis enjoy power over the majority Shiites. Sunnis have now mobilized to protect the regime and crack down on protesting Shiites.
* Saudi Arabia, a leading Sunni power, has intervened in Bahrain, Egypt, and Syria with military, economic, or political tools to help support the rise of Sunni actors and the defeat of Shiite forces.
Despite the importance of the Sunni-Shiite distinction in understanding today’s Middle East, many American policymakers (even some counter-terrorism officials) have displayed their ignorance on this point. See this Op-Ed piece from Congressional Quarterly national security editor Jeff Stein for examples drawn from Stein’s interviews with U.S. officials.
It’s easy to scoff at these answers, but can you do any better? Take this quiz on the differences between Sunni and Shiite Islam and see how well you do.
Is a UN peacekeeping mission the answer to Syria's ongoing violence? Or are lightly-armed "blue helmets" the wrong tool to get the job done?
The news from Syria remained grim this week as President Bashar-al Assad agreed in principle to accept UN envoy Kofi Annan’s 6-point peace plan, but showed no signs of implementing the plan. Violence between Syria’s security forces and rebels, which has claimed over 9,000 lives, continued unabated and was punctuated by gruesome video images of the crackdown. Today’s “Friends of Syria” meetingin Istanbul, attended by leaders from 83 countries, produced a communique that urged Assad to implement the Annan plan but did not officially recognize the opposition Syrian National Council or provide aid to the rebel Free Syrian Army.
The UN Security Council is unlikely to support military action to aid the rebels or overthrow the Assad regime since Russia and China strongly oppose such actions and enjoy veto power on the Security Council. (This entitles them to kill any proposed Security Council resolution simply by voting no). In the absence of stronger measures, some leaders are calling for a UN monitoring mission that can observe the implementation of a ceasefire and report violations in an objective way. Such a mission would fall within the category of UN peacekeeping, and in fact the UN’s peacekeeping department is currently “developing plans for a mission of about 250 unarmed, international observers to monitor the peace and hopefully to buy some time for political talks to forge a lasting settlement.”
An interesting post on Foreign Policy‘s Turtle Bay blog (which provides reporting from inside the UN by Colum Lynch) describes the planning for such a mission and assesses the likelihood that it will succeed. Lynch notes that we must learn lessons from the failed Arab League monitoring mission that saw 150 “poorly equipped, ill-trained” monitors withdraw from Syria in January. He cites Richard Gowan, an expert on U.N. peacekeeping at New York University’s Center for International Cooperation, who provides six operational criteria that must be met for a new UN monitoring mission to succeed. These criteria are: 1) freedom of movement, 2) a secure HQ and communications, 3) access to Syrian artillery and armor, 4) satellites and drones, 5) special investigators, and 6) an emergency exit strategy. Freedom of movement may be the most important criterion, and one that the Arab League mission sorely lacked:
“The Arab League observer mission was under constant supervision by Syrian security personnel, and could not travel to trouble-spots without their minders. To have even minimal credibility, the U.N. mission would need to be able to make monitoring visits on their own initiative. The team would need their own vehicles (probably armored 4x4s) and independent close-protection officers. The Syrian authorities will argue that the observers should notify them in advance of trips for safety’s sake. Nonetheless, the U.N, should insist on the right on to make spot-checks with 2-3 hours notice at most.”
Another crucial requirement that the Arab League mission lacked is a secure headquarters and communications:
“The Arab observers were headquartered in a hotel, and had [to] use Syrian communications systems to contact the Arab League in Cairo, inevitably compromising their reporting. A credible U.N. mission would need an independent base — off-limits to Syrian authorities — and the ability to send encrypted communications to New York. A neutral government such as Switzerland could provide military communications experts to support the mission. It might not take long for the Syrians (with Russian and Iranian help) to crack the codes, but this would at least signal the observers’ autonomy.”
What do you think? Is there any chance that these six requirements will be met, given that they require the acquiescence of the Syrian government? Is peacekeeping simply an inappropriate tool to consider in Syria today given the lack of a ceasefire and the inherent weakness of unarmed observers? Or is a UN observer mission the best hope we have for achieving peace in Syria?
The UN Security Council votes on a resolution endorsing an Arab League peace plan for Syria. The resolution was defeated by vetoes from Russia and China.
Yesterday’s veto, by Russia and China, of a UN Security Council resolution that would have condemned Syria’s crackdown on regime opponents and supported an Arab League plan to end the violence has provoked outrage from Western governments, human rights organizations, and international relations experts. The veto came amid a brutalcrackdownin the city of Homs that reportedly left over 200 people dead. Russia and China claim that the resolution unfairly singled out Syria’s government for blame and ignored the culpability of opposition fighters.
The Syria crisis is only the latest in a series of cases in which the UN has failed to act against atrocities seemingly condemned by its charter due to the veto power granted to the “Big Five” permanent members of the Security Council: the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, and China. If any of these five members votes against a Security Council resolution, the resolution is automatically defeated. (The Syria vote was 13 in favor and 2 opposed).
Even the UN’s strongest supporters have expressed great disappointment at this vote and have suggested that the UN has failed in one of its core missions. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon issued a statement saying the vote “undermines the role of the United Nations and the international community in this period when the Syrian authorities must hear a unified voice calling for an immediate end to its violence against the Syrian people.”
Middle East expert Marc Lynch likewise highlighted the serious implications–far beyond Syria–of this failure: ”…The failure of the UN to act, as Secretary General Ban Ki Moon suggested, harms the institution itself by revealing its inability to act in defense of the Charter’s promise. The next stages, whether military or not (and I expect not), will more resemble the Kosovo and Iraq campaigns which were launched without international legitimacy. This will significantly undermine the prospects that such actions will contribute to the positive development of international norms of atrocity prevention or the more controversial ‘responsibility to protect.’”
Is it time to drastically reform the UN, perhaps by eliminating the veto privileges of the Big Five, a group of countries that is increasingly unrepresentative of the international community at large? Does the Syria vote cast doubt on the continued utility of the UN as an instrument of international peace and security in the 21st century?
The UN Security Council has recently imposed sanctions on countries including Iran and North Korea, and is considering sanctions against Syria.
Yesterday the European Union banned all imports of Syrian oil in an effort to halt the Syrian government’s bloody crackdown on anti-regime demonstrators. In the past week or so the EU has also issued sanctions against Iran’s Al Quds military force due to its “technical and material support” for Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s rule and the UN has moved closer to sanctions against Syria’s leaders. Over the past few years, the United States, the UN, and other actors have sought to curtail Iran and North Korea’s nuclear programs through economic sanctions.
The prominence of economic sanctions as a tool of statecraft, together with the apparent intransigence of these sanctions’ targets such as North Korea, Iran, and Syria, raises serious questions. Are sanctions actually effective in pressuring governments to change their policies? Do they only harm the general population, or can they squeeze elites as well? How can sanctions be made more effective?
Political scientists have addressed these questions and have arrived at some conclusions. While differences in data and methods have produced somewhat different findings, the basic empirical results are as follows. Economic sanctions are only successful in about a third of the cases in which they are used. The work of Hufbauer, Schott, and Elliot, as reviewed here, shows that sanctions are most effective if the goal is simply destabilization of a target state (a 52% success rate) but are less effective if the objective is modest policy change (33%) or major policy change (25%) by the target government. Some scholars are even more pessimistic, suggesting that Hufbauer, Schott and Elliot overestimate the success of sanctions; Robert Pape argues that only 5 of their 40 claimed successes actually stand up to scrutiny.
There is also evidence that economic sanctions worsen target governments’ respect for basic human rights. Dursun Peksen explains these findings as follows: “sanctions fail to attenuate the coercive capacity of the target elites and create more economic difficulties and political violence among ordinary citizens, [encouraging governments to] commit more human rights violations.” Similarly Reed Wood finds that “…sanctions threaten the stability of target incumbents, leading them to augment their level of repression in an effort to stabilize the regime, protect core supporters, minimize the threat posed by potential challengers, and suppress popular dissent.”
Studies have also shown that multilateral sanctions are more effective than unilateral sanctions, and that factors including the initial stability of the target state, the length of time sanctions are in place, and the extent of trade linkages between target and sender affect the success of sanctions. Sanctions may also be more effective when initiated by, and targeted against, democratic states.
Given this somewhat discouraging empirical evidence, should sanctions be utilized as frequently as they are today? What are the moral and practical implications of imposing broad-based economic sanctions as opposed to targeted “smart sanctions” against regime leaders? In the cases of Syria, Iran, and North Korea, what other policy instruments should be the fallback if sanctions prove ineffective?
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is believed to be responsible for the deaths of over 1,300 civilians since anti-regime protests began in March.
The news from Syria is growing more ominous by the day, with reports of continued bloody crackdowns on protesters, troops marching north for a major offensive, refugees fleeing across the border into Turkey, and the apparent use of Palestinians as cannon fodder against Israel as a diversionary tactic.
Meanwhile, the United Nations appears unable to take even modest steps to address the situation. Since Russia is a strong ally of Syria and is one of five countries (along with the U.S., Britain, France, and China) to possess veto power on the UN Security Council, it is widely believed that Russia would veto any resolution calling for economic sanctions or military force against Syria. Russia, China, and other Security Council members also believe that the U.S., France, and Britain have moved well beyond the UN mandate to protect civilians in Libya and are now seeking regime change. They oppose any condemnation of Syria that might open the door to another Libya-type intervention. Thus, French and British UN representatives have carefully worded their draft resolution on Syria to remove any potentially objectionable mention of sanctions or threats of intervention. In short, the resolution condemns Syria’s crackdown but contains no “teeth.” It is therefore unlikely to have any effect on the ground in Syria, where President Bashar al-Assad, like his father before him, is determined to crush any opposition that threatens his grip on power.
Is the UN Security Council, with its veto powers bestowed on the “Big 5″ victors from World War II, a relic of a bygone era that needs to be ditched or dramatically reformed? After all, we’ve seen this deadlock all too frequently before, with Russia and China blocking action on Kosovo and Darfur, and the U.S. vetoing any resolution that condemns Israel’s behavior. Will the UN stand by as a massacre unfolds in Syria? Does any global organization whose structure prevents it from acting against such atrocities deserve to call itself a protector of international peace and security? Does it even deserve to exist?
3. The International Monetary Fund approved a new $2.6 billion loan for Sri Lanka on Friday. The loan is intended to help Sri Lanka rebuild after its 25 year civil war, which ended several months ago after the government launched a series of attacks which incapacitated the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebel group. Despite the end of the fighting, however, the government continues to hold thousands of ethnic Tamils displaced by the fighting in detention camps. The detention of so many people led some human rights groups to condemn the IMF’s decision, arguing, as Human Rights Watch did, that the loan “is a reward for bad behavior, not an incentive to improve.” The United States and the United Kingdom both abstained from the decision, an unusual move for the two countries which collectively control almost 22 percent of the voting shares in the organization.