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.

» More

Hidden Dangers: The Implications of the Global Health Security Agenda

Ebola Virus

The Ebola virus

This article was originally published by the Harvard International Review on 15 April 2016.

On the heels of the annual International Monetary Fund/World Bank conference and an Ebola-ridden year, the world is reminded of the significance of global health policy, not only for disease prevention but also for international relationships and the future direction of health care. Recent international health initiatives  have pragmatically stressed the importance of defense and economics. This slant, particularly in the relatively new Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA), raises questions about future approaches to global health. The GHSA has acquired significant funding for outbreak response, but its treatment of global health as an international security issue rather than a humanitarian one warrants a cautious assessment. » More

United Nations Peacekeeping and the Use of Force

Peacekeepers on Night Patrol to Stem Banditry in Darfur Camp, courtesy United Nations Photos/flickr

This article was originally published by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in April 2016.

The number of uniformed personnel serving in UN peace missions reached a new record in 2016, at almost 123,000. Following grave failings of UN missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, there is growing awareness within the UN of a widening disjoint between the expectations placed upon peacekeeping forces and what they can actually achieve. One aspect of the debate relates to the question of how robustly UN missions should operate in enforcing their mandate. In some quarters the resolute use of force is seen as the key to greater success. Almost three years ago the UN sent a Force Intervention Brigade to Congo with an explicit mandate to neutralise armed groups. An assessment of its record reveals that the brigade cannot be regarded as an organisational model worth replicating, and that peace-enforcing mandates do not necessarily lead to greater success in peacekeeping.

Three years ago, on 28 March 2013, the UN Security Council decided to send a 3,096-member Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) to eastern DR Congo (Resolution 2098). The move came in response to persistent difficulties in establishing peace in the region after the March 23 Movement (M23) was able to capture North Kivu’s provincial capital Goma in November 2012, unhindered by UN forces.

» More

A Reply to Mearsheimer

‘I want magic no realism’ on the street, courtesy Barnaby_S/flickr

Realism is divided into defensive and offensive realism. Defensive realists, such as Kenneth Waltz, claim that states pursue only as much power as the states around them have. They don’t want to dominate the international system but merely to be able to survive. Offensive realism, proposed by John Mearsheimer, challenges this perspective and maintains that states want to dominate the international system, at least to the point of becoming a regional hegemon. This is because, if they dominate, they will be secure from threats, as no other state will dare to challenge the hegemon. Defensive realists caution against this view, arguing that hegemony gives rise to balancing. Other states will do all they can to hold the hegemon in check. Power, in other words, creates counter-power. The international system strives for equilibrium. » More

We Need to Speak Honestly about Nuclear Threats

A section from Hieronymus Bosch’s The Last Judgement, Central Panel. Courtesy Steven Zucker/Flickr

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 11 April 2016.

The fourth and final Nuclear Security Summit meeting, held in Washington DC, has been the catalyst for a flood of op-eds bemoaning either the imminent emergence of sub-state groups as nuclear powers or the relative lack of progress that President Obama has made on reducing the number of U.S. nuclear weapons. Both of these views are shortsighted, ignoring the actual threat in context to contemporary national security issues. Despite decades of global terrorism and the continuing growth of nuclear power and weapons programs, there has not been a successful terrorist radiological or nuclear attack. And while the United States has reduced its military nuclear weapons stockpile by more than 90 percent since its peak in 1968, the dangers posed by nuclear weapon states continue to require a nuclear deterrent. These are inherently linked arguments, given the technology-centered discussions on radiological/nuclear threats. In both cases, actions to advance either agenda — that nuclear terrorism is an imminent threat and that U.S. nuclear stockpiles must be further reduced — need to be informed by risk calculations as well as cost-benefit analyses, rather than by worst-case assumptions.

Most recently, Gary Ackerman and James Halverson warn that recent activities by ISIL and other terrorist groups, combined with potential vulnerabilities of nuclear power facilities and other nuclear storage facilities, represent a serious threat. I don’t question that a few sub-state groups may be interested in obtaining radioactive material or even nuclear fissile material. With the constant drumbeat by U.S. government officials warning of the existential threat posed by terrorist nuclear devices since 2001, any half-awake violent extremist group would have to wonder as to whether this capability represented a useful tool. Joe Cirincione and others have been warning about potential nuclear terrorism for at least the past 15 years. The mantra has been, “it’s not a question of if, but when,” and that terrorists will use a nuclear device or a “dirty bomb” as soon as they can acquire one. And yet it remains a fact that even given motive, opportunity, and time, these sub-state groups have not done so.

» More

Page 2 of 371