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To Resolve the Syrian Crisis, Partition Is Necessary

Courtesy of fdecomite/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by YaleGlobal Online on 9 May 2017.

Russia has proposed de-escalation zones, and the international community should step up with an impartial partition plan for Syria

Syria was never a country whose 14 provinces and 8 main communities were voluntarily bonded together by secularism and tolerance. Not surprisingly the six-year civil war became violently sectarian and ethnic. At ceasefire talks on May 4 in Astana, Kazakhstan, Russia proposed four “de-escalation zones” with Iran, Turkey, and itself serving as guarantors. Yes, partition is necessary. But having three nations that greatly abet the strife serve as enforcers will not produce peace. An impartial plan must be formulated and implemented.

Since 1971, under father Hafez al-Assad and son Basher, Syria has been ruled by Alawites comprising 13 percent of the population. Through oppressive rule, they and their Shiite partners engendered among Sunnis, 74 percent of the population, a desire to extract retribution. Christians, Druze, Jews and Yezidis found a degree of security by bending to the Alawite leadership’s wishes, but thereby came to be seen as complicit. After the civil war broke out in March 2011, the Syrian president’s security agents increased imprisonment, torture and execution of dissidents. His air force launched barrel and hose bombs and chemical attacks on civilians.

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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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Living Off the Land: Food and the Logic of Violence in Civil War

Courtesy of 마음 심/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 6 February 2017.

Does food security increase the frequency of civilian killings in some developing countries? Or can it make such atrocities less likely? The answer to these questions depends on how troops and civilians view the prospects of long-term cooperation, and the strategies they employ.

Current theories on violence during civil war frequently associate it with previous enmities and discriminate violence. Yet, even within countries that are experiencing civil war, violence varies over space and time. Some villages might suffer many civilian killings by armed troops while others do not. These villages might go through years of relative peace followed by years of intense violence. New research shows that, in the developing world, food availability and farmland density can help explain violence against civilians.

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A Plan for Winding Down the Syrian Civil War: Surge, Freeze and Enforce

WarThis article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 30 September 2016.

Five years of horrendous conflict in Syria has given birth to a menacing array of threatening and destabilizing repercussions. From the rapid proliferation of terrorist groups, to mass civilian displacement and an international refugee crisis, not to mention the disintegration of a major nation state at the heart of the Middle East, the consequences of the conflict’s apparent intractability are clear for all to see.

Until now, the United States has adopted an inconsistent and largely half-hearted approach to the crisis. Despite publicly proclaiming that President Bashar al-Assad had lost his legitimacy in July 2011, the Obama administration has not once determinedly sought to push that political statement towards being a reality. Despite near-daily war crimes for over 1,800 days in a row, the United States has done little to prevent their continuation. Diplomatic statements of concern and non-binding and open-ended initiatives for dialogue based on non-existent trust have all fallen far short of what is necessary to at least slow the rate of killing and destruction.

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De-escalating South Sudan’s New Flare-up

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South Sudan Civil War, courtesy Surian Soosay/Flickr

This article was originally published by the International Crisis Group on 12 July 2016.

Violent clashes in the capital of South Sudan have soured the country’s fifth anniversary of independence. Hundreds of soldiers and civilians were killed in the four days after 7 July, including two Chinese peacekeepers. The confrontation threatens to destroy the fragile progress made toward implementing a 2015 peace agreement to end a two-year civil war. The deal had allowed some opposition soldiers back into the capital, Juba, and the clashes have been between them and units of the national army and presidential guard. The UN is protecting tens of thousands of civilians in its compounds around the city, one of which has been repeatedly hit.

In this Q&A, senior analyst for South Sudan, Casie Copeland, explains what is behind the fighting in Juba and what can help prevent the conflict spiralling out of control.

What triggered this recent spate of violence, and who is responsible?

The return to conflict was a growing danger, as Crisis Group noted in its 1 July statement on Preventing Renewed War in South Sudan. In the nine months that the ceasefire has been observed, forces have simply paused hostilities while remaining in close proximity: there has been no joint security oversight or move toward unification or demobilisation. This would have been an untenable status quo even if there had been political progress, which has not materialised.

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