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Is Libya the New Stage for Putin’s Attempted Peacemaking?

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This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 2 March 2017.

Renewed efforts are now underway to overcome the gridlock in Libya’s peace process. The United Nations’ special representative to Libya, Martin Kobler, and neighboring states are in separate talks with the country’s various factions in an attempt to keep the peace process alive and prevent an escalation of tensions. The latest actor to enter the fray is Russian President Vladimir Putin, who could play a major role in getting key players to remain at the negotiating table.

The UN-brokered Libyan Political Agreement, which aimed to unite rival factions, appeared to be on the verge of collapse late last year. Implementation of the agreement, which was signed in Shirkat, Morocco, in December 2015, had come to a virtual standstill. The Government of National Accord (GNA) established under the agreement and led by Fayez al-Serraj still lacks a legitimate mandate to govern.

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The Contemporary Shadow of the Scramble for Africa

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This article was published by VoxEU.org on 1 March 2017.

The Scramble for Africa has contributed to economic, social, and political underdevelopment by spurring ethnic-tainted civil conflict and discrimination and by shaping the ethnic composition, size, shape and landlocked status of the newly independent states. This column, taken from a recent VoxEU eBook, summarises the key findings of studies that use high-resolution geo-referenced data and econometric methods to estimate the long-lasting impact of the various aspects of the Scramble for Africa.

Editor’s note: This column first appeared as a chapter in the Vox eBook, The Long Economic and Political Shadow of History, Volume 2, available to download here.

When economists debate the long-lasting legacies of colonisation, the discussion usually revolves around the establishment of those ‘extractive’ colonial institutions that outlasted independence (e.g. Acemoglu et al. 2001), the underinvestment in infrastructure (e.g. Jedwab and Moradi 2016), the identity of colonial power (e.g. La Porta et al. 2008) and the coloniser’s influence on early human capital (Easterly and Levine 2016).1 Following the influential work of Nunn (2008), recent works have explored the deleterious long-lasting consequences of Africa’s slave trades (see Nunn 2016, for an overview). Yet, between the slave-trade period (1400-1800) and the arrival of the colonisers at the end of the 19th century, the Scramble for Africa stands out as a watershed event in the continent’s history. The partitioning of Africa by Europeans starts, roughly, in the 1860s and is completed by the early 1900s. The colonial powers signed hundreds of treaties, which involved drawing on maps the boundaries of colonies, protectorates, and ‘free-trade’ areas of a largely unexplored and mysterious continent (see Wesseling 1996 for a thorough discussion).2 In this context it is perhaps not surprising that many influential scholars of the African historiography (e.g. Asiwaju 1985, Wesseling 1996, Herbst 2000) and a plethora of case studies suggest that the most consequential aspect of European involvement in Africa was not colonisation per se, but the erratic border designation that took place in European capitals in the late 19th century.

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Ambling Blindly Back into the Mountains: 5 Hard Questions for the Next Phase of Afghanistan

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This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 23 February 2017.

Gen. John Nicholson, who commands the American-led international military force in Afghanistan, recently made headlines when he called for “a few thousand” more troops and a deeper American commitment to the fight in Afghanistan in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month.

This echoes the calls from a number of other analysts, as well as from senior government officials. The recently departed national security advisor, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — who once served as the senior intelligence officer for the U.S.-led campaign in Afghanistan — seemed to support greater commitment to the region. As they say, personnel is policy: Flynn appointed senior National Security Council staffers who called for engagement in Afghanistan to potentially continue another five to ten years. There’s good reason to think these beliefs might be shared by incoming national security advisor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, given his substantial investment in Afghanistan.

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The New Arab–Israeli Alliance

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This article was originally published by World Affairs on 20 January 2017.

During the early years of the Obama administration, conventional wisdom in Washington held that the Israeli–Palestinian conflict trumped everything else in the Middle East, that no problem could be resolved until that one was out of the way. “Without doubt,” former president Jimmy Carter said, “the path to peace in the Middle East goes through Jerusalem.” The reason, said his former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, now a professor of foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University, is because, “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the single most combustible and galvanizing issue in the Arab world”.

Similar views were expressed across the political spectrum, from President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to Defense Secretary Chuck Hegel and General David Petraeus.

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For America, 2016 Was the Year of the Commando

Special Operation Soldiers of the United States Army Special Operations Command

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This article was published by War is Boring on 5 January 2017.

They could be found on the outskirts of Sirte, Libya, supporting local militia fighters, and in Mukalla, Yemen, backing troops from the United Arab Emirates. At Saakow, a remote outpost in southern Somalia, they assisted local commandos in killing several members of the terror group Al Shabab.

Around the cities of Jarabulus and Al-Rai in northern Syria, they partnered with both Turkish soldiers and Syrian militias, while also embedding with Kurdish YPG fighters and the Syrian Democratic Forces. Across the border in Iraq, still others joined the fight to liberate the city of Mosul. And in Afghanistan, they assisted indigenous forces in various missions, just as they have every year since 2001.

For America, 2016 may have been the year of the commando. In one conflict zone after another across the northern tier of Africa and the Greater Middle East, U.S. special operations forces — aka SOF — waged their particular brand of low-profile warfare.

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