Freeing Prevention From Conflict: Investing in Sustaining Peace

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 21 April 2016.

As the preparations for the May 2016 United Nations General Assembly’s high-level debate on peace and security intensify, prevention seems to be on everyone’s lips. The three 2015 UN global peace and security reviews that frame the debate have conveyed a common message: that the political instruments, tools, and mechanisms the world body deploys to address violent conflict all attest to the failure of early prevention. All three reports, not surprisingly, recommended a greater focus on prevention. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his follow-on report on the recommendations of one of these reviews, by the High Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations (HIPPO), wholeheartedly endorsed this.

The skeptics among political observers and those who have followed UN reforms over the years should not be blamed for asking, “So, what’s new?” This is not the first time that the UN and its member states, coming to grips with the woeful shortcomings of their responses to old and emerging global threats, have rediscovered the virtues of prevention. Nothing concentrates the mind more than imminent crisis and once that danger dissipates so does the political will needed, they would argue, to make prevention the first port of call before the outbreak of violence.

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Wargaming in the Classroom: An Odyssey

Courtesy of Giacomo Salizzoni/flickr

This article was originally published by War On The Rocks on 19 April 2016.

Several years ago, as a new professor at the Marine Corps War College, I spent a huge amount of time putting together the best presentation on Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War ever presented at any war college at any time. After accounting for the 125-page a night reading limit, I had selected the perfect set of readings. These were reinforced by an unbelievably entrancing and informative lecture, and a slideshow employing stunning period visuals. My plan even set aside copious amounts of time for critical thinking, and what I knew would be an intense Socratic dialogue. Finally, in preparation for the expected bombardment of thoughtful student questions, I prepared myself by re-reading Thucydides’ master work, as well as over a dozen other historical works on the period.

Then, the big day arrived … and I failed miserably. » More

Russian Military Activity in Syria: March 15 – April 18, 2016

Aircraft Fighter Jet, courtesy mashleymorgan/flickr

This article was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) on 20 April 2016.

Russia remains a decisive actor in Syria despite announcing its limited drawdown on March 14. It has since reshaped the nature of its deployment and military operations in ways that continue to bolster the Assad regime’s position on the ground as well as at the negotiating table, while allowing Russia to maintain its strategic military foothold along the Eastern Mediterranean. Russian military contributions continue to shape the battlefield momentum of pro-regime operations through the deployment of alternative assets to theater such as advanced rotary wing attack aircraft. Russia retains the capacity to escalate its fixed-wing strikes to support pro-regime operations, as shown in operations against ISIS in Palmyra in late March and more recently against armed opposition forces in Aleppo.

Russian air operations pivoted once again to Aleppo as of April 6, following weeks of strikes primarily carried out in support of pro-regime ground operations against ISIS in central Homs Province. Pro-regime forces supported by Russian and regime airstrikes have resumed operations to encircle and besiege armed opposition forces in Aleppo City. Russian air operations have regularly targeted opposition-held terrain in Aleppo province throughout its air campaign in Syria, beginning condition-setting efforts for pro-regime operations to encircle and besiege Aleppo City as early as October 2015. Russian air support has been a pivotal component of pro-regime operations to encircle Aleppo City, bringing regime forces within five kilometers of besieging opposition forces inside the city as of February 2016.

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The World as Seen from Raqqa

A ‘JIHAD’ tag on a red wall. Courtesy Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Oxford Research Group in February 2016.

Summary

In an attempt to understand the psychology of the West’s adversaries in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, this briefing asks the question, what does the wider world look like when seen from within the Islamic State group? Setting to one side the enormous political and economic deficiencies of the ‘host’ countries of the Middle East, it examines some of the contemporary and historic perceptions of the West’s relations with the Islamic and Arab worlds, and how these may have influenced IS strategy, particularly its 2015 shift from territorial expansion to attacks on and within Western states.

Introduction

Al-Qaida has now been largely superseded by the so-called Islamic State (IS) and the new movement is proving to be uncomfortably resilient. In such circumstances it is a useful analytical tool to visualise how the world might appear from an IS perspective. This can all too easily prove controversial because it appears to give more credibility to a brutal and uncompromising movement than it even remotely deserves. Even so, it has a value and is an approach that should not be dismissed if one wants to try and understand the reasons for the resilience and use such reasoning to aid in developing policies that are more likely to ensure its decline.

This briefing seeks to do just that, and takes as an example the view of the world as it might be seen through the eyes of an utterly convinced supporter of the movement in Raqqa, the movement’s de facto capital in northern Syria, who might be engaged in the planning of its operations.

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Mediation Perspectives: Spoiler Alert – How Governments Can Undermine Peace Agreements

Pacman figure made with 9mm Parabellum cartridges about to eat the peace sign. Courtesy of Ragnar Jensen/flickr

Mediation Perspectives is a periodic blog entry provided by the CSS’ Mediation Support Team and occasional guest authors. Each entry is designed to highlight the utility of mediation approaches in dealing with violent political conflicts.

Most armed conflicts since the end of the Cold War have been civil wars. In contrast to wars between states, civil wars last longer – on average for seven to ten years – and usually end in some kind of settlement. Such settlements can result in mere ceasefires or, in more ideal cases, power-sharing agreements and genuine attempts to deal with the root causes of conflict. Yet one in two civil war settlements fail and violence reoccurs. Today’s blog provides one explanation for why this rate is so staggeringly high – the ‘spoiler’ role played by governments.

In most cases, peace deals in civil wars are signed when warring parties are weak, particularly the government. Military stalemate, exhaustion, and external pressure may encourage belligerents to settle at the negotiating table. Under such circumstances, a settlement is likely to be a compromise that still threatens some actors’ power, worldview and interests. As a result, they may try to undermine or ‘spoil’ the agreement in a way that allows them to reap the benefits they consider favorable, while not paying its designated price. The benefits may include retaining state power, gaining international or domestic recognition for committing to peace, continued exploitation of resources, and maintaining patronage networks, among many others.

Given these benefits, the underlying reasons why peace deals aren’t complied with are thus plentiful. Yet the media, as well as academia and its ‘spoiler theory’, all too often focus on the violent breaches of a peace and attribute blame to the rebel group. But since being a ‘spoiler’ works both ways, we’re left with a glaring question: How do governments impede or violate peace agreements and what non-violent means do they employ towards that end?

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