Regional Stability

Austria’s Withdrawal from the Golan Heights: A Hasty Good-Bye

UNDOF Forces
UNDOF Forces. Photo: MATEUS_27:24&25/flickr.

On the 6th of June, after only two hours of reflection, the Austrian government ordered the withdrawal of its peacekeepers from the Golan Heights, thus ending its 39-year engagement in the area.  In an official statement, the 380 UN peacekeepers were pulled out because of the “continuing deterioration of the situation in the area.”

In the months leading up to the withdrawal, UN troops had witnessed increasing spill-over from the conflict in Syria, with mortars hitting the Israeli-controlled parts of the Golan Heights. When Syrian rebels seized control of the strategically important Quneitra border crossing between Syria and Israeli-controlled territory – albeit only for a short period of time – the possibility of the IDF crossing over into Syrian territory to secure Israel’s border became plausible. This is reportedly what led Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann to call for the withdrawal of Austrian troops.

Implications of Independence: Scottish Defence

Referendum consultation - press conference
Referendum consultation, press conference. Photo: Scottish Government/flickr.

When the Scottish National Party (SNP) won the majority of seats in the 2007 parliamentary elections, the movement for Scottish independence had finally gained momentum. With the referendum now set for 18 September 2014, the idea of an independent Scotland, once a distant dream of SNP-supporters, has now become a realistic possibility. Although opinion polls currently predict an outcome favoring “devolution-plus” – extensive regionalisation and decentralisation – rather than fully-fledged independence, the possible implications of a “Yes” vote are worth considering given the wide-ranging consequences of such a result, particularly in the area of defence.

A pro-independence decision would likely lead to uncertainty caused by a range of policy conundrums not only for Scotland but for the rest of the UK. In an effort to alleviate such fears, the Scottish government has announced that it will publish a White Paper on the possible future structure of an independent Scotland. But while the Scottish government has adopted an optimistic view, 10 Downing Street has already released a report emphasizing the possible negative repercussions, were Scotland to terminate the more than 300-year old Union.

Under the Radar: The M23 Rebellion in Eastern Congo

A camp set up by the DRC national army to protect Goma from the M23 rebel group. Photo: UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti

The ongoing conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has been one of the deadliest since World War II, with over 5 million casualties. Though the latest in a series of civil wars ended in 2003 and the transition to peace and democracy began in 2006, the mineral-rich eastern DRC continues to experience widespread violence. Behind the official front lines, fighting continues, with an ever-growing number of actors destabilizing an already fragile region. In recent months, it was the so-called M23 rebel movement that once again drew international attention to the DRC with its capture of Goma, a regional capital on the border with Rwanda.

Also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army, M23 named itself after the 23 March 2009 peace accord signed between the government of the DRC and the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), a rebel militia composed mostly of ethnic Tutsis. After the collapse of the peace deal, former CNDP leader Bosco “Terminator” Ntaganda, who in 2006 was indicted by the ICC for recruiting child soldiers, led the formation of this new rebel group, which is some 1,200 to 6,000 fighters-strong. Citing unfair treatment and an incomplete fulfillment of the peace deal, which saw the integration of the group into the Congolese army, M23 led a mutiny in April 2012. Heavy fighting ensued, which eventually led to the capture of Goma at the end of November – despite the presence of MONUSCO peacekeepers and Congolese troops. Eleven days after seizing the city, however, as part of a regionally brokered deal, M23 withdrew from Goma and agreed to observe a 20 km buffer zone around the city in exchange for a range of their demands being met, including the release of political prisoners.

Under the Radar: The Territorial Dispute between Guatemala and Belize

Border crossing from Belize at Melchor de Mencos, Guatemala
Border crossing from Belize at Melchor de Mencos, Guatemala. Photo: Lisa B/flickr

The late twentieth century saw a wave of democratic transitions in Latin America and Eastern Europe. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the former Soviet republics became independent states in their own right, while countries in Latin America began to break away from their colonial pasts, as well as from the dictatorships and civil wars that followed independence in the 19th century. While Huntington’s famous ‘third wave’ of democracy saw the emergence of democratic structures in previously autocratic regimes, unresolved territorial claims, border disputes and questions surrounding the relationship between self-determination and sovereignty continue to affect regional security in Latin America today.

Guatemala and Belize are two countries that have been embroiled in a territorial dispute over land and maritime boundaries since the 19th century. Guatemala  once claimed all of modern-day Belize (which it borders to the Northeast) as its territory, but today restricts its claims to the southern half of the country and its islands.

Under the Radar: the Crisis in Madagascar

Rally against Andry Rajoelina's installation
Rally against Andry Rajoelina’s installation. Photo: r1_lita/flickr.

Isolated for around 80 million years, the island of Madagascar is home to hundreds of animals and plants that exist nowhere else in the world. A biodiversity hotspot of exotic fauna and flora, the Indian Ocean island is often likened to paradise. Yet Madagascar continues to be rocked severe economic and political crises – problems that remain largely unnoticed by Western audiences.

Ever since the 2009 ouster of its democratically elected president Marc Ravalomanana, Madagascar has been paralyzed by a political stalemate that has brought the already impoverished island of 20 million people to the brink of economic collapse. Although progress made in recent reconciliation talks has led to Western donors to gradually resume development aid, the road back to democracy promises to be a rocky one.

The political upheavals began after dissident army officers took power in what was regarded by the international community as a coup d’état. Officially, President Ravalomanana stepped down following violent street protests led by opposition leader Andry Rajoelina – a self-made dairy tycoon – and handed power to the military which in turn transferred its authority to Rajoelina. This prompted Rajoelina to declare himself as president of the “High Transitional Authority” (HAT) and consolidate a tight grip on the country’s politics. Ravalomanana, by contrast, fled into self-imposed exile in South Africa and was prevented twice from returning to Madagascar where he was sentenced in absentia to life imprisonment for allegedly ordering the killing of protestors.