The situation in Syria is a dire state. Since the uprising began in March, 2011, over 60,000 Syrians have been killed and 600,000 displaced. With a recent petition by 58 UN member states to refer Syria to the ICC and the head of Syria’s opposition invited to Moscow, Bashar al-Assad’s days in power are numbered.
What would a post Assad Syria look like? Would it even be Peaceful? The sad reality is that the killing has just begun. Assad bears sole responsibility for starting the unrest, but he does not bear sole responsibility for crimes already committed or for crimes yet to come. We will bear witness to the world’s next genocide against the 2.5 million Alawites and possibly other ethnic minorities. As the bloodshed continues, Syria is now entrenched along ethic and sectarian lines. Despite being a Sunni majority country, Syria’s economic, political and military leaders hail from the Alawite minority.
When Assad’s father Hafez came to power in 1970, he brought the Alawites from being persecuted to a group in the highest corridors of power. When the Arab Spring begun, it brought up animosity and hatred of the Alawites that have been brewing for over 40 years. Memories of the 1982 Sunni Rebellion that was violently crushed were still very fresh in people’s minds. This, added with the bloody government crackdown is deepening the sectarian divide. The government has been cracking down and enforcing collective punishment on entire Sunni neighborhoods. The victims are mostly civilian men, women and children.
Since the members of the Sunni majority bore the brunt of the regime’s injustices, they now form the largest force in the opposition. Let’s look at the potential scale of the problem. There are 2.5 million Alawites at risk of being slaughtered in a post Assad Syria. The violence against Alawites is already increasing and there is no end in sight. Human Rights Watch have documented attacks by opposition forces on Alawite places of worship. The rebels have been criticized for committing mass atrocities against pro Assad forces, including beheadings of civilians and even children.
It is not just the Alawites that we should be concerned about. Christians are also getting worried. Extremist fighters that have infiltrated the rebels’ ranks are not only fighting to rid Syria of Assad, but also to religiously cleanse it. Though the official slogan of the Free Syrian Army still remains “we are one people of one country,” those within its ranks are chanting “Christians to Beirut and Alawites to their graves.” Christians fear that their fate would be similar to Iraqi Christians who were forced out of Iraq by war and terrorism. Christians have legitimate cause for their fears. The Christian population in the city of Horns is now down to just 400 form over 80,000 at the beginning of the civil war.
Countries and media outlets from around the world have continued to question why the West have not done more to intervene in Syria. Why haven’t America been reluctant to give the rebels weapons or even enforce a no fly zone to tighten the noose around Assad’s regime? Qatar has renewed its calls for an Arab led military intervention in Syria. if diplomatic efforts fail to bring an end to the crisis. I would like to ask this question, if there was a military intervention that ousted Assad, would the same countries intervene again to stop the imminent genocide that would be sure to take place? Its a catch 22 isn’t it? If there wasn’t an intervention more people would surly die. If there was a intervention, a greater number of people might die. Think back to the bloody civil war between the Sunnis and Shias in post Saddam Iraq. The West and its allies in the Middle East do not have the resources nor stomach to militarily intervene twice in Syria. Perhaps a military intervention as enticing as it may be would not be such a good idea after all.
What can governments do to prevent this potential genocide from happening? First, they must make it clear to the Syrian opposition that they must strictly abide to international humanitarian law. Those groups that target Alawites and other minorities should be denied funds and other forms of support. Second, foreign governments should make every effort to hold all perpetrators of mass atrocities responsible for their actions and bring them to justice in the International Criminal Court no matter which side they are on. There need to be more personnel on the ground to document atrocities and collect evidence for future persecution. This sounds great on paper right? It is very noble, but it will be very hard to enforce and will a negligible impact on the atrocities committed.
With the potential of genocide looming in the horizon, we might see the fragmentation of a post Assad Syria. The Alawites will retreat to their stronghold along Syria’s Mediterranean coast with the strategic port of Lattakia at the center. The Sunni majority will occupy the eastern and southern parts of the country by the Iraqi border. Even the Kurds might declare an enclave along the Turkish border. The situation is getting very complicated and dire. How will the crisis in Syria end? How much blood must be shed? The world can only wait and see.
On January 14, 2012, 58 UN Member States coordinated by Switzerland petitioned the UN Security Council to refer the current crisis in Syria to the International Criminal Court for investigation and possible prosecution. Over 60,000 Syrians have died since the uprising begun in March 2011 and 600,000 have become refugees. War crimes and crimes against humanity have clearly been committed by both sides; a referral to the ICC is long overdue. Why does the ICC need the UN Security Council’s referral? Syria is not a party to the ICC and thus, the court has no jurisdiction to indict its citizens without referral by the UN Security Council.
With Russian, Chinese and even American vetoes standing in the way, would an ICC referral even happen? The short answer is not likely. However, there might be light at the end of that tunnel. China has reversed its objection to ICC referrals twice in the past, allowing the referral of Sudan over Darfur in 2005 and allowing the referral of Libya in 2011. China might be persuaded once again to reverse its position if lobbied by the Gulf States whom China relies on oil and energy. Some analysts note that the Russian evacuation of its civilians marks a turning point in its policies towards Syria. It signifies a growing distrust in Assad’s ability to hold on to power. With enough time and international pressure Russia at least abstain from voting if a resolution on a Syrian referral is voted upon. Last of all, The United States has not openly supported a referral to the ICC. This is mainly due to senior government officials feeling uneasy about the speed in which the ICC prosecutor dealt with the Libyan case. The United States has taken many steps in improving relations with the ICC, abstaining from the Sudan referral and voting in favor of the Libyan referral. With enough time and persuasion, its reservations will subside.
The question should not be if Syria would be referred to the ICC, the question is when. The UN Security Council, might not pass if put to a vote today but, given the deteriorating situation in Syria and enough international pressure, Assad will be indicted by the ICC by the end of the year at the latest. If the ICC indicts Assad or even a prospect of an arrest warrant would have significant impacts. It would encourage greater number of defectors from Assad’s regime thus weakening it of core supporters and expertise. It would discourage the use of chemical and biological weapons. The use of these weapons would raise criminality to a whole new level warranting high level prosecutions. The prospect of an ICC referral would act as deterrence for both sides to commit further crimes and force military leaders to take greater care in supervising operations to make sure they don’t become the center of investigations.
My critics would say an ICC referral wouldn’t make a difference. They have a point. Syria has completely ignored calls from the international community to tone down the violence and work towards a transitional government. The ICC is just another insignificant voice calling for change. There is a significant time lag between indictment and prosecution and even if that happens, Assad and his entourage could escape to a country who has not signed the Rome Statute in Latin America where he would be untouchable. I on the other hand have great faith in humanity and truly believe the prospect of an ICC referral could mark the turning point in building peace in Syria. Peace building is not the work of one nation; it requires the contributions from all nations united by our multilateral institutions.
We should not celebrate just yet. An ICC referral would quicken Assad’s downfall and lead to a post Assad Syria. What happens then? Commentators predict the departure of Assad would create the world’s next genocide. I will address this issue in an upcoming blog post. Stay tuned.
There is a new kid in town and its name is the People’s Republic of China. Its entrance into the rich and elite foreign aid club has redefined the foundations of foreign aid. At last summer’s Conference of the Forum on Africa China Cooperation, the mighty dragon has pledged $20 billion USD over the next three years for infrastructure and agricultural development.
China’s entrance into Africa is at the forefront in the rapid shift taking place in global giving. The four BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India and China) are giving to countries who have traditionally relied on the western OECD-DAC donors, the so called “old guard” of foreign aid. China is the largest of the new emerging donors and gives out more aid than the World Bank. As mentioned in a previous post, the BRICs are reshaping the foreign aid landscape. the OECD-DAC countries are loosing their monopoly on foreign aid. The BRICs are seeing tremendous growth in their foreign aid expediters. Its philosophy on foreign aid is based on mutual assistance and benefits. They see themselves and development partners instead of donors. They preach a policy of non interference and do not attach policy conditions on their foreign aid.
So, how does China’s foreign aid affect Africa? According to China’s first white paper on foreign aid, 45% percent of total Chinese aid goes to Africa. According to estimates, China’s total engagement with the developing world totals up to $25 billion USD China spends 60% of its foreign aid on interest free loans and concessional loans while the remaining 40% is spent on grants. Unlike the traditional DAC donors, whose aid is coordinated through their respective development agencies, Chinese aid is coordinated through its foreign missions. 61% of China’s aid is directed towards the recipient country’s economic infrastructure such as transportation, energy and communications which is essential to a country’s economic development and growth. Contrary to popular belief that the majority of Chinese aid exploits a country’s energy and natural resources, only 8.9% falls into this category.
Recipient countries like those in Africa have welcomed Chinese aid and investment. Since the recession in 2008, the foreign aid budgets of the traditional DAC donors have shrinked and more conditions have been placed on the aid dished out. China has great appeal to recipient countries, According to a study by the Economic Strategy Institute, China’s sheer competence and speed in which it is able to negotiate and execute its development programs is a central to its appeal. Across Africa Chinese aid is viewed very favourably with many countries showing approval rating over 60%. The president of South Africa Jacob Zuma praised China’s approach to Africa for being more preferable to western donors. “We are equals, and agreements entered into with China are for mutual gain.”
China faces criticisms that its policy in Africa is solely fueled by a hungry desire for natural resources. Critics point out that China dishes out aid to countries without taking into considerations the recipient’s human rights record or the transparency of its institutions. This might be impeding the efforts of Western donors to build stable, strong and transparent institutions in the region. It has also been pointed out that Chinese investments in Africa only benefitting Chinese industries and the people are not reaping on the benefit of these investments.
Is Chinese engagement in Africa better, just as bad or worse than the West? Dambisa Moyo in her book “Dead Aid” argues that the western donor countries have provided over $1 trillion USD in aid to Africa and it is not working. Africa is poorer and more in debt than it is 50 years ago. She suggests China’s method of engagement with Africa though not perfect could serve as a better alternative to the western model. In addition, is the west any better than China in its policies in Africa? China serves as a rival for Africa’s resources and influence.
Let’s face it, foreign aid is not given because countries have unlimited bank accounts. They are given to fulfill a donor country’s self interest. These include favorable considerations for corporations, business, trade, natural resources and political considerations. The West doesn’t give aid to promote democratic institutions and transparent governance. They have sent aid packages authoritarian countries from Zimbabwe to Libya to Pakistan and North Korea. Countries don’t go to Africa to make a difference, they go there to make a profit. China is no different. Maybe China’s approach will have a better impact in Africa in the next 50 years than the West had in the previous 50.
On December 20, 2012, the UN Security Council approved an African led military intervention force to oust the Islamist rebels currently controlling northern Mali. The area controlled by the rebels constitute 60% of Mali’s territory. The UNSC approved a one year mandate for the military force and urged it to “use all necessary measures” to help Mali recover its lost northern territory from “terrorist, extremist and armed groups.” The resolution was spearheaded by France was passed unanimously by the 15 member council. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) says it has 3,300 troops ready to be deployed to Mali. Although, any military operation is not expected to occur before September 2013.
The crisis begun on March 21, 2012, when Malian soldiers dissatisfied with the government’s handling of the Tuareg Rebellion mutinied and overthrew the government of Amadou Toumani Toure. During the coup, the Tuareg rebels launched an offensive capturing several key towns abandoned by the Malian army. On April 6, 2012, the Tuareg rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) declared the independence of Azawad. The international community refused to recognize this unilateral declaration of independence.
The current resolution would constitute the UNSC’s most assentive action dealing with the crisis in Mali. The international force would be known as the African led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA). Its first goal is to train Mali’s military forces. Acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which allows the UNSC to use force in the face of aggression and threats to international peace, the UNSC authorized nations to support Mali in recovering the northern areas under rebel control as well as supporting the Malian authorities in protecting their citizens and deliver humanitarian assistance. This resolution does not specify how the intervention will be financed causing diplomats to voice their displeasure.
It has dawned on the international community that the county may turn into a haven for terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda and its affiliates mirroring Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan. Thus, foreign intervention is reasonable. However, is the world ready to intervene and how would and intervention force look like? Whether the 3,300 soldiers proposed by ECOWAS can be reached is not clear. 13 of the 15 members of ECOWAS has already pledged to send soldiers. Observers are predicting that Nigeria who have formed the backbone of previous operations in Africa will play a support role with the lead being taken by the Malian forces. This intervention will have very different challenges compared to previous interventions. The African led International Support Mission in Mali will be faced with well armed Jihadists whose ranks are swelling with locals, including children. In addition, the arrival of foreign fighters and desert conditions have their own challenges. Last of all, the intervention forces faces significant logistical and transportations challenges as well.
An intervention forces couldn’t come fast enough. Many observers have documented severe human rights violations occurring in northern Mali. The Tuareg rebels are imposing a very strict interpretation of Sharia Law. As punishment for stealing, they are hacking off people’s hands and feet. A newly released report by Amnesty International outlines crimes committed by “armed groups”towards civilians. It detailed sexual violence towards women, the use of intimidation against civilians who have engaged in behavior considered to be un-islamic and being flogged for having sex outside of marriage. The reports highlighted the use of children by armed groups and self defense militias. It is unclear whether these armed groups and militias are part of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad. If so, they have already violated many provisions of various UN treaties which they have promised to uphold in their declaration of independence.
Due to these human rights violations, the concept of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) has clearly entered the picture. Though, the current UNSC resolution has no mention of R2P. It did say that the international mission will assist the Malian authorities in recovering the northern areas under the control of the “terrorist, extremist and armed groups” and support the Malian authorities in protecting their population. This falls into the second pillar of R2P which states that the international community has the responsibility to help states protect its citizens. An intervention in Mali provides a conundrum to R2P doctrine and sets precedents for foreign intervention. If the Malian government is the only authority to protect its civilians in its territory including in Azawad but does not control that territory, than it means that it can not protect the civilians. Does it mean that the international community has the duty to help that state regain that lost territory if atrocities are clearly being committed? Let me take this one step further and ask you this, if a government does not control a territory, it can not protect the civilians there, does that mean the international community has the duty to restore a government’s sovereignty on that lost territory if there was no atrocities being committed? What problems might this create?
Personally, the intervention is a great idea and is a clear victory for multilateralism. International laws and the UN Charter is being respected. Whether the intervention improves the situation on the ground is another story worthy of its own blog post.
In the latest development of the dispute over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, Japan scrambled fighter jets after a Chinese Military Surveillance plane entered the airspace around the disputed islands. Japan considers this the first violation of Japanese airspace since Japan started keeping records decades ago. Chinese naval and Japanese Coastguard ships are embroiled in a game of cat and mouse in the waters surrounding the islands.
Relations between the two countries have been at its worst in decades. Most of this escalation is driven by national interests by both sides. However, as mentioned in a previous post, international law, which is supposed to help mediate disputes like this are making things more complicated and fueling the fire. Observers are asking, are countries of Asia really going to go to war over the uninhabited islands? Some have argued that this dispute is merely a piece of political theater fueled by the leadership transition in China and elections in Japan. In addition, Asia is too busy getting rich and does not have the time or the stamina to make war.
Some have argued that the dispute is a perfect distraction for China and Japan. China has enough problems at home and is not interested in escalating disputes abroad. China is only pressing its case so aggressively because if it does not than it appear to look weak in the eyes of its people and the world. Also, China is encouraging nationalism to distract its population from the social problems created by the country’s slowing economic growth, the growing gap between the rich and the poor and rampant corruption. Chinese nationalism over the islands has turned into an endorsement of the CCP who have hitched its legitimacy on preserving its territorial sovereignty and thus has become the Party’s raison d’etre.
Japan also has pretty big domestic problems as well. Japan has the weakest projected economic growth rates. It is facing an energy crisis from the fallout of Fukushima Disaster. Its defense industry is dying which poses a threat to national security. Therefore, the island dispute has captured the public imagination in both countries.
One important side affect of the dispute is the economic implications for both China and Japan. Japanese manufactures have poured almost 1 trillion USD into Chinese factories since 1990 and have created over 1.6 million jobs in China. Due to anti Japan sentiments and China Japan tensions, a survey by Reuters suggest that over 37% of Japanese corporations are reconsidering their investment strategies in China and may shift their factories elsewhere. Recent anti Japanese sentiments have hit Japanese sales in China. For example, Japanese automobile sales went down by 41% in September 2012 compared to the previous year while their market share in China decrease by 6%.
On the plus side the decrease of market share of Japanese products will provide an advantage for Chinese domestic products. However, it will also have a negative impact on the Chinese economy. Japanese firms as well as Chinese businesses that cater to Japanese visitors are being hit hard by the anti Japanese sentiments. In addition, people who work at these businesses are being called traitors by their countrymen. means that the Chinese workers who work there will loose their jobs.
Beijing contends that the economic repercussions of the dispute is a double edged sword, Japan has a lot more to loose. According to a report released by JP Morgan Chase in October, it estimated that the China Japan dispute will cause Japan’s GDP to shrink by 0.8% in 2012’s 4th quarter, down from zero growth in a previous forecast. In addition, car exports to China would drop by 70% in the final quarter of 2012. Analysts compare this to the economic impact suffered after the Tsunami in 2011. IMF Chief Christine Lagarde summed up the fears of the international economic community by emphasizing that Japan and China are the world’s second and third largest economies respectively, account for 20% of the world’s GDP and have a bilateral trade relationship worth $340 billion a year.
Beyond China and Japan, how will the dispute impact the rest of the world, especially the United States?
North Korea has successfully launched a rocket that put a satellite into orbit on December 12. This launch is timed perfectly to mark the first anniversary of the death of Kim Jong Il. The satellite is named Kwangmyongsong or Shining Star was a title given to the late Kim Jong Il. There are many reasons for the launch, many of which are domestic.
The young Kim Jong Un seeks to bolster his credentials as a leader of North Korea and a successful launch is a sure way to demonstrate his achievements during his first year in power. In addition, a successful launch will be a propaganda victory where for North Korea. It scores points in the inter Korea rivalry as South Korea has been experiencing several mishaps in launch their own satellite.
This launch has immense regional repercussions. Japan will be holding national elections in its lower house on December 16, 2012, which will determine the country’s next Prime Minister. Japanese voters are increasingly wary about threats to their security caused by Chinese expansionism and North Korean belligerence. Thus, they are more willing to support increased military expenditure. The launch will draw support for the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its leader Shinzo Abe might become Prime Minister again. In addition, support will increase for center right Japan Restoration Party (JRP). The LDP is expected to form a plurality but not a majority so Shinzo Abe will be inclined to form a coalition with the JRP and push the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) into obscurity.
For South Korea who will hold presidential elections on December 19, the launch will bolster support for conservative candidate Pak Geun-Hye over moderate candidate Moon Jae-in. Pak who is currently in the lead favors a policy of offering benefits to North Korea that is conditional upon its behavior. Moon advocates a softer approach of unconditional engagement with the North.
The launch drew strong condemnation from the UN Security Council who has issued a statement calling the launch a clear violation of previous Security Council resolutions. North Korea is currently banned from launching rockets by the UN and many western countries such as the US have warned North Korea of repercussions. North Korea has argued that it has a legitimate right to launch rockets.
In essence that is true. Though this current rocket test has only a satellite as a payload, North Korea now has the means to put launch long range ballistic missiles. In international law and norms, North Korea indeed has every right to protect itself from foreign aggression. This includes perfecting the technology to launch missiles. This achieves two purposes. First it acts as a deterrent to discourage an attack from the United States and its allies and second, it ensures that it has a capability to strike back in case of an attack.
In addition, there is not hierarchy in international law. It applies to every country. In the international community, One can not say that a law applies to one country but not another. In 2011, China launched 19 rockets into space, the US launched 18 and the Russian Federation sent 31. Thus, if rocket launches were against international law than rocket launches by these three countries would be illegal. If Russia, China and the US claim that their rocket launches are legitimate, than it is reasonable for North Korea to make the same claim. However, international law sometimes contradicts itself.
Currently, nuclear, missile and space programs symbolize strategic autonomy and national pride. Thus, it is no surprise that today’s proliferation threats come from countries that have come under increasing international pressure – North Korea, Iran and Pakistan. Thus, sanctions and further international pressure will not yield the long term moratorium that the international community desires.
Last of all, the international community need not be worried about an attack by North Korea even if it develops ICBMs with nuclear warheads that are capable of reaching the continental United States. This takes the realist assumption that all states are rational and want one thing, survival. Thus, North Korea will not attack South Korea, Japan or the United States because if it does, they will retaliate and overthrow the Kim Dynasty.