Tag Archives: war

Are Russia and NATO on a Path to War?

Following the downing of a Russian aircraft by Turkish F-16 fighter jets, the international media quickly speculated that Russia and Turkey were on a warpath. Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), called for an emergency meeting of the group, a move which Russia described as an escalation. The downing of the Russian jet marks the first direct engagement between NATO and Russian forces since the end of the Cold War.

The issue at the heart of the current crisis was the subject of intense dispute. The Russian government maintains that the Russian aircraft were striking Islamic State targets in northern Syria, when Turkish fighter jets engaged and shot down a Russian plane. Turkey maintains that Russia was striking Turkmen rebel forces, repeatedly crossing into Turkish airspace and ignoring multiple warnings to leave Turkish airspace before being fired on. Turkish President Recept Tayyip Erdogan condemned the event, which he said was provoked by a Russian violation of Turkish airspace and an infringement of Turkish sovereignty. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov implied the act was premeditated, stating that the downing “looks very much like a planned provocation.” He ordered the deployment of Russian anti-aircraft batteries to Syria.

In addressing the situation, US President Barak Obama called on both Russia and Turkey to “take measures to avoid escalation.” But Russian intervention in Syria has complicated American and NATO allies efforts to fight the Islamic State in Syria. American strategy has been to oppose both ISIS and the Syrian government, supporting rebel forces in the region and striking ISIS targets from the air. Russian intervention has centered on supporting the Syrian government. While the Russian government maintains that its intervention is focused on defeating ISIS, Russian airstrikes have been condemned by the West for primarily targeting anti-government forces.

What do you think? Are NATO and Russia on a path to war? How might the situation in Turkey (and relatedly in Syria) be resolved to prevent further escalation?

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Reconsidering US Intervention in Iraq

Ahmed Chalabi, who previously served as interim Minister of Oil and Deputy Prime Minister in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, died yesterday. Chalabi was a Shiite Iraqi who studied in the United States, ultimately becoming a key adviser for the neoconservative advisers who shaped President George W. Bush’s Iraq policy. He is perhaps most well-known for his role in pushing for US intervention to remove Hussein from power in 2003. Indeed, Chalabi was a key asset for the US intelligence agencies, asserting that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

A 2006 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that “false information” from Chalabi and other members of the Iraqi National Congress “was used to support key intelligence community assessments on Iraq and was widely distributed in intelligence products prior to the war.” It found that the group “attempted to influence United States policy on Iraq by providing false information through defectors directed at convincing the United States that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had links to terrorists.”

What do you think? Knowing what we do now about Hussein’s regime in Iraq, was US intervention to remove Hussein warranted? Should the United States have invaded Iraq? Why?

Addressing Tensions on the Korean Peninsula

High-ranking security representatives from the governments of North and South Korea met yesterday, attempting to walk-back a two week period of escalating tensions. The meetings came at the request of the North Korean government, just a day after it threatened “total war” with South Korea. Observers suggest that the North Korean regime may be becoming increasingly unstable, and some fear that war remains a strong possibility between the two states.

What do you think? Is war between North Korea and South Korea likely? What, if anything, might be done to prevent direct military conflict between the two countries? And given historical US support for South Korea and Chinese support for North Korea, what global implications might increasing tensions on the Korean peninsula have?

The Resurgence of the Ukrainian Crisis

Ukraine’s Prime Minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, was on CNN yesterday and claimed that there were 10,000 Russian soldiers on Ukrainian soil. As part of a plea to the West to help train and equip the Ukrainian military, he also suggested the Minsk Protocol was still viable. Negotiated in late 2014, the Minsk agreement included provisions establishing a ceasefire in Ukraine and mandated the withdrawal of heavy weapons and combat aircraft from  a “line of contact” crossing the eastern part of the country.

To date, the West has been hesitant to take a more proactive stance against Russia. At the G-7 summit over the weekend, US President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement agreeing to leave economic sanctions against Russia in place until the Minsk Protocol was fully implemented. At the same time, Jeb Bush, a likely Republican candidate for the Presidency, issued a blistering statement in Germany yesterday, suggesting that President Obama’s permissive stance towards Russia precipitated the crisis in Ukraine, and demanding the United States take a more aggressive posture towards Russia.

What do you think? What factors are driving Russia’s intervention in Ukraine? Is Bush right? Should the United States take a more aggressive posture towards Russia? And if so, what exactly would that involve? What responsibility, if any, do the United States and the European Union have to address the resurgent crisis in Ukraine? Why?

Social Media and the New Frontiers of War

According to a press conference statement by US Air Force General Hawk Carlisle, a selfie posted to a social media sight by an ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) fighter led to a successful US airstrike against an ISIS command-and-control facility in Syria. The airstrike follows the announcement that between 10 and 13,000 ISIS fighters have been killed since US operations began, but that the overall strength of ISIS remained unaffected due to successful recruitment of new fighters by the organization.

ISIS has made effective use of social media to recruit new fighters, reaching a following of more than 200,000 through Twitter and other social media sites. But as the story suggests, the organization’s use of social media represents a double-edged sword, as it provides its opponents with intelligence regarding the organization’s operations and status.

What do you think? How has the use of social media affected the conduct of war in the 21st century? How will future conflicts (military, economic, or otherwise), look different as a result of social connectivity? How does the recent report of Chinese hacking into US federal employee databases fit into this context? And how should governments adapt to the new landscape?

The Long-Term Challenges of Syria and the Challenge of Multiple Crises

Syrian Children Crossing a Street

Syrian Children Crossing a Street

A report by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is drawing new attention to the impact of the ongoing crisis in Syria on the country’s youth. The report noted that some 5.5 million children require assistance because of war—a figure that has doubled in less than a year. Some 10,000 children have been killed in the conflict, many as the result of deliberate action on the part of combatants. The report also warned that children face “deep developmental and emotional scars” that will continue long after the fighting ends.

Simon Ingram, UNICEF’s Middle East and North Africa Regional Chief of Communication warned that, “Here we are talking about the hidden injuries, the hidden wounds that have been inflicted on children because of what they have experienced; the behavioral changes, the nightmares that they carry around with them – the way in which they can no longer function as normal children do.  And, this is an aspect of the crisis, which has been too often overlooked, but which is growing all the time.”

And yet as the crisis in the Crimea and Ukraine evolves, attention to Syria on the international scene appears to be waning. And more to the point, cooperation between the United States and Russia in attempting to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program appears to have been placed on the back burner after the two countries found themselves on opposite sides of the crisis in Crimea. The Ukrainian crisis has also helped to shape Turkey’s presidential elections, scheduled for March 30.

What do you think? Can reports like those issued this week by Unicef help to draw international attention back to the crisis in Syria? Are decision makers able to focus on multiple crises and issues—the situation in Syria, Ukraine/Crimea, Turkey, etc.—at the same time? Why? How do the breaking of multiple crises affect foreign policy decision making? What determines which issue rises to the fore?

Water Wars

The Tigris River

The Tigris River. Photo by Charles Fred

A NASA study released earlier this week concluded that freshwater losses in the Middle East are increasing. Using satellite data, scientists confirmed that between 2003 and 2010, the Tigris and Euphrates river basins (an area that includes parts of Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq, lost 144 cubic kilometers of stored freshwater, an area about the same size as the Dead Sea. Most of the losses are associated with increasing levels of freshwater consumption from groundwater stores.

Blogging at Foreign Policy, Marya Hannun notes that the countries implicated in the study already suffer from a high level of instability, resulting from border disputes, conflicts over Kurdish minorities, and ongoing conflicts in Syria and Iraq. Could disputes over water resources add to that list of irretraceable disputes?

Concerns over resource wars have longed plagued foreign policy makers. Indeed, water itself has been implicated in several recent conflicts, though most observers have concluded that water conflicts tend to arise as a result of other, preexisting tensions, rather than serving as the primary or proximate cause itself. Nevertheless, some fear that increasing demand for water may intensify existing concerns. Already, more than 780 million people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water. The US Director of National Intelligence in 2012 concluded that the risk of conflict over water would continue to increase, as water demand would outstrip supply by 40 percent by 2030.  A United nations Report concluded that 47 percent of the world’s population would be living in areas of high water stress by 2030. The hardest hit regions would be in the developing world, and particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, where Egypt, Israel, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen could all face scarce supplies.

What do you think? Will future wars be fought primarily over water? Or will we find solutions to address the impending water crisis? Take the poll below or leave a comment and let us know what you think.