The CSS Blog Network

Colombia’s Landmark Agreement: The End of 50 Years of War?

People march with Columbian flags

Ahí va Colombia…Courtesy Lucho Molina/flickr

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 27 June 2016.

While a final peace accord is likely still a few weeks away, Colombia’s government and FARC guerrillas reached a momentous agreement on June 23. The consensus on the last of five substantive items in negotiations taking place in Havana, Cuba, since 2012 delineates conditions for a permanent ceasefire and the demobilization of the guerrilla movement, which had been by far the thorniest issue on the agenda. Though the parties have decided that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” the accompanying Havana ceremony had the feel of the end of a 50-year war that has killed over 200,000 people and displaced six million.

Attending the ceremony was Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos; FARC Commander Timoleón Jiménez; Cuban President Raúl Castro and Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende (representing the two guarantor countries); United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other senior UN officials; Presidents Nicholas Maduro of Venezuela and Michelle Bachelet of Chile; and many other world leaders and envoys. The impressive lineup sent a clear political message: no one should harbor doubts about the possibility of a peace agreement being signed, and the international community will put its weight behind it to ensure its success.

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Is it Time to Scrap the Minsk Agreement?

Hand-shakeOn June 22, Ambassador John Herbst and David Kramer debated whether we should bury the Minsk agreement, the troubled ceasefire agreement in Ukraine, at an Atlantic Council event in Washington, DC. Their remarks have been adapted from the debate.

It’s Time to Scrap the Minsk Agreement

By David J. Kramer

The Minsk ceasefire agreement, signed February 15, 2015, by the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France, along with representatives from the OSCE and from Russian-occupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk (DNR and LNR, respectively), is simply not working. It is time to scrap it and make clear to Russia, through a declaration from Western nations, that sanctions will remain in place—and will be increased over time—unless Russia meets several key conditions. These include withdrawal of its forces and weapons from Ukraine (including Crimea), respect of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, control of the border restored to Ukrainian authorities, and the return to Ukraine of those citizens it kidnapped from Ukrainian territory. Further negotiations with Moscow are pointless given that Russian officials won’t even acknowledge the presence of their forces on Ukrainian soil.

There have not been any new sanctions imposed on Russia despite its failure to live up to a single condition under the Minsk accord. Instead, a number of European leaders, led by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, along with the French parliament and others, have irresponsibly called for an easing if not outright lifting of sanctions. Without German Chancellor Angela Merkel, renewal of EU sanctions would be in jeopardy.

Defenders of Minsk argue it has reduced the fighting. In fact, more than four thousand Ukrainians have been killed since the second Minsk deal was signed last year, almost half the number of total casualties since Russia invaded Ukraine in late February 2014. A serious uptick in fighting in the past two months further belies the claim that Minsk has preserved the peace.

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The Eurasian Union: Rising or Shooting Star?

Peligroso Putin

Peligroso Putin, Madrid 2008, Courtesy David/flickr

This article was originally published by the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) in June 2016.

Russia’s recession and its geopolitical standoff with the West are taking their toll on the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). During a summit of the EAEU’s leaders in Astana on 31 May, several participants voiced concerns over the union’s poor economic performance. And Moscow’s reaction to the recent flare-up of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict cast doubts for Armenia on the security benefits of EAEU membership.

Against this backdrop, 18 months after the launch of the EAEU, its member states are demonstrating increasing resistance to Moscow’s vision of Eurasian integration. As a result, its success will largely depend on Russia’s leverage – positive and negative – over its smaller partners.

Looming stick, dwindling carrot

The launch of the EAEU was overshadowed by two developments. First, Russian pressure on Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine in the context of the finalisation of Association Agreements with the EU and accession to the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), culminating with the annexation of Crimea and a Moscow-backed insurgency in the Donbas; and, second, the global slump of commodity prices and the enforcement of Western economic sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, leading to a slowdown of the Russian economy (the ultimate guarantor of the union’s economic success). In this context, EAEU accession was perceived by its signatories as a bitter pill that could not be refused.

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ISIS’s Campaign in Turkey

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, painted portrait

Courtesy by thierry ehrmann/flickr

This article was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) on 30 June 2016.

ISIS is refocusing its strategy in Turkey towards destabilizing the Turkish state and isolating it from the West. ISIS has two main lines of effort in Turkey. The first is to incite an ethnic war between the Kurds and the Turkish state in order to weaken its opponents in northern Syria and regain freedom of action in southern Turkey. The second is to undermine the Turkish state and punish it for being part of the anti-ISIS coalition through attacks against western targets in Turkey. ISIS has more actively pursued this second line of effort by targeting Westerners in Istanbul beginning in early 2016 while continuing its campaign along the Syrian border. The triple suicide bombing at the Istanbul Ataturk Airport on June 28, 2016 supports ISIS’s stated strategic objectives of seizing Constantinople and undermining the Turkish state by harming the vital tourism industry, targeting infrastructure that connects Turkey to the West, and raising requirements for domestic security services. ISIS has not claimed any spectacular attacks against the state in Turkey in order to avoid a major domestic crackdown that would threaten its freedom of action as well as its cross-border mobility into Syria. Moreover, ISIS already accomplishes its objectives in Turkey through spectacular attacks without risking a claim.

ISIS’s evolved strategy in Turkey mirrors a corresponding shift in the policies pursued by Turkey towards the group. Turkey joined the international anti-ISIS coalition in September 2014 but initially avoided overt confrontation with ISIS. Turkey instead tolerated ISIS as a vector to apply indirect pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and hasten the overthrow of his regime by opposition groups supported by Turkey. ISIS also provided Turkey with a means to contain the Syrian Kurdish YPG, which Turkey views as an existential threat due its affiliation with secessionist agenda of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey’s reluctance to restrict cross-border flow of foreign fighters and supplies provided ISIS with an incentive to avoid conducting terrorist attacks inside the country and jeopardizing its freedom of movement through Turkey to Syria. Turkey altered its calculus after the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition deepened its cooperation with the Syrian Kurds throughout early 2015, enabling the YPG to secure major gains along the Syrian-Turkish Border. The prospect of further motion towards a contiguous autonomous zone in Northern Syria controlled by the Syrian Kurds prompted Turkey to deepen its own engagement with the coalition. The coalition also acted to encourage this decision through the use of alternating incentives and disincentives meant to influence decision-making in Ankara. The U.S. in particular modulated its provision of aircraft, missile defense systems, rocket artillery, and other high-end capabilities in order to generate a policy convergence on Syria.

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Somalia’s Al-Shabaab Down but Far from Out

You....Stop. Enough, we need these people

“You….Stop. Enough, we need these people” erected in-front of the Somali parliament building. Courtesy AMISOM Public Information/Flickr

This article was originally published by the International Crisis Group on 27 June 2016.

Somalia’s militant group, Al-Shabaab, has often defied its adversaries’ claims that it is in decline. In recent months, however, the movement has suffered setbacks, including territorial losses, high-ranking commanders killed and defections. The Somali Federal Government (SFG) and its internal, regional and international allies need to be clear-sighted about the reasons for these, and what they can do to stop another Al-Shabaab recovery.

Al-Shabaab’s set-backs – and fewer attacks by the movement during the Ramadan holy Muslim month of fasting than in previous years – are the result of three distinct and unrelated factors. First, an enhanced and largely externally directed and funded campaign including drone strikes has eliminated high-profile leaders and diminished its military capacity. Second, some of Somalia’s new federal units are demonstrating greater military effectiveness, even if they and the government still rely primarily on clan-based militias. Third, the Islamic State (IS) has challenged Al-Shabaab’s greatest internal vulnerability – its ideological cohesion.

Whether the Somali government and its allies can advance their cause will largely depend on greater agreement on priorities and coordination of action – no easy task, given the wide and diverse range of external and internal actors.

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