Showing posts tagged as "International Crisis Group"

Showing posts tagged International Crisis Group

26 Mar
The Next Round in Gaza
Middle East Report N°149 | 25 Mar 2014
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
The ceasefire between Israel and Gaza has eroded during the past several months and recently threatened to come to an abrupt end. The day after three members of Islamic Jihad were killed by Israel in a border clash on 11 March 2014, the group, apparently in coordination with Hamas, launched the largest salvo of rockets toward Israel since the last major escalation (known in Israel as Operation Pillar of Defence), in November 2012. In a little over a day’s mediation, Egypt restored quiet. But with Hamas’s fortunes declining and Gaza suffering its worst isolation and economic constriction in years, it is likely a matter of time until a flare-up escalates to major conflagration – unless the sides reach an understanding to extend a fragile quiet. Given Hamas’s isolation and worsening relations with Cairo, it is hard to imagine full implementation of the ceasefire Egypt brokered to end the 2012 fighting. But a rump deal, comprised of that ceasefire’s core elements, still could lessen the chance that Hamas and Israel will be dragged into a conflict neither currently desires, while helping both to secure advantages beyond the Gaza-Israel theatre.
Periodic escalations between Israel and Gaza militants are the rule, not the exception. Their shared border has witnessed regular, low-scale violence punctuated by short, intense escalations, typically when one or both sides feel the implicit rules of engagement have been undercut. Hamas and Israel have been headed toward such a clash since 3 July 2013, when Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was deposed, and Cairo, as part of its campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi-jihadis in Sinai, initiated a push to further isolate Gaza by closing the tunnels under its border with Egypt. Among Hamas’s limited tools for dealing with its downward spiral is directly participating in a military escalation in the hope that a new crisis would bring about at least temporary alleviation of the closure; call the world’s attention to the resultant economic distress; increase sympathy for the territory in Egypt and elsewhere; and embarrass Egypt’s leaders about their role in immiserating Gaza.
For the time being, Hamas has rejected this option, as it cannot afford a new round of hostilities. It is politically isolated and in severe economic distress. It can neither count on Egypt’s sympathies nor easily rearm during or after a future crisis. Hamas is hamstrung by the burdens of governance and by the fact that it would bear the brunt of any Israeli offensive. As a result, it chose a softer and less risky alternative this month: giving greater leeway to other factions that wish to attack Israel.
Islamic Jihad, with its massive retaliation for the killing of its militants, saw an opportunity to push to the forefront of the national struggle. In contrast with Hamas, it demonstrated continuing fidelity to the principle of resistance, and, by negotiating a ceasefire directly with Egypt, emerged from Hamas’s shadow, positioning itself as a regional player. Hamas too saw an advantage in the escalation: sending a message that Gaza would not remain passive in the face of isolation and misery.
Hamas leaders reasoned, accurately, that so long as they stayed out of the conflagration and the rocket fire was limited in distance and duration, a major operation would be avoided. Israel also calculated correctly, calibrating its pressure on Gaza so as to signal its seriousness to Hamas, but not strike it so hard as to provoke a much larger confrontation or threaten its control, to which Israel sees no desirable and realistic alternative. Such assessments are fraught with risk. Neither side currently wants a large-scale confrontation, and both hope to maintain or at least extend a fragile equilibrium, but the two major Israeli operations in the past six years, and numerous mini-escalations in between, demonstrate the likelihood of an eventual miscalculation.
If neither side wants to fight, neither do they intend to press for peace. Both are convinced the next round is coming, so will not take militarily disadvantageous steps. But while far from a robust ceasefire, they could unilaterally implement a more limited arrangement that satisfies core, short-terms needs. Gaza has three. What passes for normal life requires sufficient fuel, particularly diesel for electricity; building materials that enable economic activity and maintain basic infrastructure; and a reliably open Gaza-Egypt crossing at Rafah, for entry and egress of persons (goods are provided by Israel). For Israel, the key is stopping rockets. Neither side can get all it wants: Gazans likely will continue to find the border area off limits, fishing zones constricted and, most important, imports restricted and exports blocked – as they have been, increasingly, since the second intifada. Israel, under any scenario except an unlikely Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, cannot completely stop rockets that have been falling on its territory for nearly as long. However, both sides can regain what they in the past have demonstrated a willingness to live with.
A realistic assessment requires acknowledging that military operations will continue on both sides. The question, for now, is how to keep these within relatively narrow bounds, thus saving lives and creating space for dealing with broader political issues. The more Hamas can provide a semblance of Gaza’s basic needs, the better it will be able to enforce a political consensus among the factions to stop the vast majority of rockets and halt entirely the firing of those with the longest ranges and heaviest payloads. Its police can handle much of the rest, though they cannot prevent every freelancer attempting an attack without factional approval.
Meanwhile, Palestinians, Israelis and the international community can lay the groundwork for Palestinian reconciliation and rebuild the fundamentals of a peace process in which both sides have long since lost hope. More broadly, what is good for Gaza, and even Hamas, could turn out to be good as well for Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. With the U.S. looking to extend Israeli-Palestinian negotiations past April, Abbas could demand steps to ease Gaza’s closure and improve its economy as a condition. That would improve his standing in Gaza, especially important now that his detractors within Fatah, particularly those from Gaza, are openly campaigning against him. Israel, should it accept Abbas’s demands, could earn credit for taking action that reduces the risk of a new escalation, while lowering the other costs it might have to pay to extend talks.
In all things Israeli-Palestinian, even modest goals are highly ambitious, and in Gaza, doubly so. Within a fluid and evolving region, Gaza is a venue where various states and actors play out their allegiances and rivalries, including Salafis of several stripes; Egypt; the Muslim Brotherhood in the form of its local affiliate, Hamas; Iran; Hizbollah; the Gulf states; and claimants to power within Fatah. It is a central impediment to a more durable ceasefire agreement that while neither Israel nor Hamas now has what it wants, both have what matters most to them in the short term. Israel has a ceasefire, albeit imperfectly upheld; Hamas has control of Gaza, even if under difficult conditions. Neither wishes to give even a little more for what it already has. But if they do not, both could lose what they now possess.
Jerusalem/Gaza City/Brussels, 25 March 2014
FULL REPORT
Photo: amillionwaystob/flickr

The Next Round in Gaza

Middle East Report N°149 | 25 Mar 2014

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

The ceasefire between Israel and Gaza has eroded during the past several months and recently threatened to come to an abrupt end. The day after three members of Islamic Jihad were killed by Israel in a border clash on 11 March 2014, the group, apparently in coordination with Hamas, launched the largest salvo of rockets toward Israel since the last major escalation (known in Israel as Operation Pillar of Defence), in November 2012. In a little over a day’s mediation, Egypt restored quiet. But with Hamas’s fortunes declining and Gaza suffering its worst isolation and economic constriction in years, it is likely a matter of time until a flare-up escalates to major conflagration – unless the sides reach an understanding to extend a fragile quiet. Given Hamas’s isolation and worsening relations with Cairo, it is hard to imagine full implementation of the ceasefire Egypt brokered to end the 2012 fighting. But a rump deal, comprised of that ceasefire’s core elements, still could lessen the chance that Hamas and Israel will be dragged into a conflict neither currently desires, while helping both to secure advantages beyond the Gaza-Israel theatre.

Periodic escalations between Israel and Gaza militants are the rule, not the exception. Their shared border has witnessed regular, low-scale violence punctuated by short, intense escalations, typically when one or both sides feel the implicit rules of engagement have been undercut. Hamas and Israel have been headed toward such a clash since 3 July 2013, when Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was deposed, and Cairo, as part of its campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi-jihadis in Sinai, initiated a push to further isolate Gaza by closing the tunnels under its border with Egypt. Among Hamas’s limited tools for dealing with its downward spiral is directly participating in a military escalation in the hope that a new crisis would bring about at least temporary alleviation of the closure; call the world’s attention to the resultant economic distress; increase sympathy for the territory in Egypt and elsewhere; and embarrass Egypt’s leaders about their role in immiserating Gaza.

For the time being, Hamas has rejected this option, as it cannot afford a new round of hostilities. It is politically isolated and in severe economic distress. It can neither count on Egypt’s sympathies nor easily rearm during or after a future crisis. Hamas is hamstrung by the burdens of governance and by the fact that it would bear the brunt of any Israeli offensive. As a result, it chose a softer and less risky alternative this month: giving greater leeway to other factions that wish to attack Israel.

Islamic Jihad, with its massive retaliation for the killing of its militants, saw an opportunity to push to the forefront of the national struggle. In contrast with Hamas, it demonstrated continuing fidelity to the principle of resistance, and, by negotiating a ceasefire directly with Egypt, emerged from Hamas’s shadow, positioning itself as a regional player. Hamas too saw an advantage in the escalation: sending a message that Gaza would not remain passive in the face of isolation and misery.

Hamas leaders reasoned, accurately, that so long as they stayed out of the conflagration and the rocket fire was limited in distance and duration, a major operation would be avoided. Israel also calculated correctly, calibrating its pressure on Gaza so as to signal its seriousness to Hamas, but not strike it so hard as to provoke a much larger confrontation or threaten its control, to which Israel sees no desirable and realistic alternative. Such assessments are fraught with risk. Neither side currently wants a large-scale confrontation, and both hope to maintain or at least extend a fragile equilibrium, but the two major Israeli operations in the past six years, and numerous mini-escalations in between, demonstrate the likelihood of an eventual miscalculation.

If neither side wants to fight, neither do they intend to press for peace. Both are convinced the next round is coming, so will not take militarily disadvantageous steps. But while far from a robust ceasefire, they could unilaterally implement a more limited arrangement that satisfies core, short-terms needs. Gaza has three. What passes for normal life requires sufficient fuel, particularly diesel for electricity; building materials that enable economic activity and maintain basic infrastructure; and a reliably open Gaza-Egypt crossing at Rafah, for entry and egress of persons (goods are provided by Israel). For Israel, the key is stopping rockets. Neither side can get all it wants: Gazans likely will continue to find the border area off limits, fishing zones constricted and, most important, imports restricted and exports blocked – as they have been, increasingly, since the second intifada. Israel, under any scenario except an unlikely Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, cannot completely stop rockets that have been falling on its territory for nearly as long. However, both sides can regain what they in the past have demonstrated a willingness to live with.

A realistic assessment requires acknowledging that military operations will continue on both sides. The question, for now, is how to keep these within relatively narrow bounds, thus saving lives and creating space for dealing with broader political issues. The more Hamas can provide a semblance of Gaza’s basic needs, the better it will be able to enforce a political consensus among the factions to stop the vast majority of rockets and halt entirely the firing of those with the longest ranges and heaviest payloads. Its police can handle much of the rest, though they cannot prevent every freelancer attempting an attack without factional approval.

Meanwhile, Palestinians, Israelis and the international community can lay the groundwork for Palestinian reconciliation and rebuild the fundamentals of a peace process in which both sides have long since lost hope. More broadly, what is good for Gaza, and even Hamas, could turn out to be good as well for Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. With the U.S. looking to extend Israeli-Palestinian negotiations past April, Abbas could demand steps to ease Gaza’s closure and improve its economy as a condition. That would improve his standing in Gaza, especially important now that his detractors within Fatah, particularly those from Gaza, are openly campaigning against him. Israel, should it accept Abbas’s demands, could earn credit for taking action that reduces the risk of a new escalation, while lowering the other costs it might have to pay to extend talks.

In all things Israeli-Palestinian, even modest goals are highly ambitious, and in Gaza, doubly so. Within a fluid and evolving region, Gaza is a venue where various states and actors play out their allegiances and rivalries, including Salafis of several stripes; Egypt; the Muslim Brotherhood in the form of its local affiliate, Hamas; Iran; Hizbollah; the Gulf states; and claimants to power within Fatah. It is a central impediment to a more durable ceasefire agreement that while neither Israel nor Hamas now has what it wants, both have what matters most to them in the short term. Israel has a ceasefire, albeit imperfectly upheld; Hamas has control of Gaza, even if under difficult conditions. Neither wishes to give even a little more for what it already has. But if they do not, both could lose what they now possess.

Jerusalem/Gaza City/Brussels, 25 March 2014

FULL REPORT

Photo: amillionwaystob/flickr

8 Nov
Check out Crisis Group’s Weekly Update, a summary of everything we have published over the past week.

Check out Crisis Group’s Weekly Update, a summary of everything we have published over the past week.

10 Oct
"Myanmar needs to delegitimise hate speech masquerading as economic nationalism. Such language is anti-democratic, encourages violence, causes instability and undermines much-needed economic development."

—Jim Della-Giacoma, Project Director for Asia at Crisis Group. Read full commentary here.

16 Sep
LINK

New Field Reporting & Analysis

A weekly roundup summarising everything we have published over the past week.

13 Sep
Pillay incurs Sri Lanka’s wrath | Alan Keenan
Concluding her recent fact-finding trip to Sri Lanka, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned that President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government was “heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction… despite the opportunity provided by the end of the war to construct a new vibrant, all-embracing state”.
Pillay’s statement cited a long and growing list of serious human rights problems, including “persistent impunity and the failure of rule of law”.
FULL ARTICLE (IOL News)
Photo: United Nations - Geneva

Pillay incurs Sri Lanka’s wrath | Alan Keenan

Concluding her recent fact-finding trip to Sri Lanka, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay warned that President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government was “heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction… despite the opportunity provided by the end of the war to construct a new vibrant, all-embracing state”.

Pillay’s statement cited a long and growing list of serious human rights problems, including “persistent impunity and the failure of rule of law”.

FULL ARTICLE (IOL News)

Photo: United Nations - Geneva

9 Sep
“Hablar solo de cárcel es simplista y provocador” | Semana
La canadiense Louise Arbour fue alta comisionada de las Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos y fiscal de los tribunales internacionales para la ex Yugoslavia y Ruanda. Desde 2009 preside el International Crisis Group (ICG), un prestigioso centro de análisis de conflictos. ICG presentó hace unos días el informe Justicia Transicional y los Diálogos de Paz en Colombia con una propuesta concreta sobre el modelo de Justicia Transicional en el país (ver semana.com). Arbour estuvo en Bogotá y habló con esta revista.  
ARTÍCULO COMPLETO (Semana)
Fotografía: Bryan Pocius/Flickr

“Hablar solo de cárcel es simplista y provocador” | Semana

La canadiense Louise Arbour fue alta comisionada de las Naciones Unidas para los Derechos Humanos y fiscal de los tribunales internacionales para la ex Yugoslavia y Ruanda. Desde 2009 preside el International Crisis Group (ICG), un prestigioso centro de análisis de conflictos. ICG presentó hace unos días el informe Justicia Transicional y los Diálogos de Paz en Colombia con una propuesta concreta sobre el modelo de Justicia Transicional en el país (ver semana.com). Arbour estuvo en Bogotá y habló con esta revista.

ARTÍCULO COMPLETO (Semana)

Fotografía: Bryan Pocius/Flickr

You Got a Better Idea? |  James Traub
I would like to believe — or maybe I would just like to pretend for a moment that I believe — that the many congressmen and foreign-policy sages who flat-out oppose President Barack Obama’s plan to bomb Syria in response to the regime’s use of poison gas have an alternative in mind. Surely they don’t think, “Let those crazy Muslims kill each other,” or “It’s none of our business.” That would be callous. It would be un-American.
FULL ARTICLE (Foreign Policy)
Photo: Devin Smith/Flickr

You Got a Better Idea? |  James Traub

I would like to believe — or maybe I would just like to pretend for a moment that I believe — that the many congressmen and foreign-policy sages who flat-out oppose President Barack Obama’s plan to bomb Syria in response to the regime’s use of poison gas have an alternative in mind. Surely they don’t think, “Let those crazy Muslims kill each other,” or “It’s none of our business.” That would be callous. It would be un-American.

FULL ARTICLE (Foreign Policy)

Photo: Devin Smith/Flickr

6 Sep
"Police inefficiency and repression, combined with a citizenry increasingly taking security into its own hands, is bound to bring even more violence and instability."

—Crisis Group recent report The North Caucasus: The Challenges of Integration (III), Governance, Elections, Rule of Law 

The North Caucasus: The Challenges of Integration (III), Governance, Elections, Rule of Law
Moscow/Brussels   |   6 September 2013
Stronger democratic institutions are crucial to easing violence in Russia’s North Caucasus, where Europe’s worst armed conflict claimed at least 1,225 victims in 2012 and 495 in the first six months of 2013. 
The North Caucasus: The Challenges of Integration (III), Governance, Elections, Rule of Law, the third report by Crisis Group’s project for the troubled region, examines governmental, political and legal issues. Religious and ethnic conflicts, disputes over administrative boundaries, land and resources are important root causes of the deadly violence. These are exacerbated by the state’s incapacity to ensure fair political representation, an independent judiciary, adequate services and economic growth; and, most prominently in Chechnya and in Dagestan, repressive counter-insurgency strategies. A subsequent report on economic and social issues behind the conflicts will complete the series.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are:
Deficits of democratic legitimacy and accountability, grave human rights violations and officials’ impunity have contributed much to the spread of conflict and a sense of the state as often illegitimate, immoral and repressive. Salafis offer in its place an Islamist state they claim would be more virtuous and fair, a project many angered, disillusioned youths find attractive.
Authentic improvement in the quality of governance in the North Caucasus is only possible if democratic institutions, such as direct elections, independent judiciary and rule of law, are established. Fair elections, preceded by competitive political processes, are a prerequisite for holding state officials accountable. The non-competitive, indirect elections of governors by republic assemblies on tap this weekend in Dagestan and Ingushetia are a step backwards.
Effective checks and balances could help ensure the state is not captured by elites. The fight against criminal activities of clan networks should be vigorous and consistent, but strictly within the law. The first measures taken in Dagestan this year give grounds for optimism and should be continued.
The central government should ensure reasonable decentralisation, including greater fiscal and political autonomy of the region’s seven republic governments. It should also simplify bureaucratic procedures for local governments to receive and disburse funds and streamline reporting obligations, while strengthening the state’s monitoring capacity to combat corruption.
“A functioning federal system with a degree of decentralisation and appropriate regional representation in the federal legislature would facilitate the North Caucasus’s integration with the rest of Russia. September 8 elections could have offered a way to improve the quality of governance if held democratically’’, said Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, North Caucasus Project Director. “Such integration is essential for the country’s security, healthy ethnic relations and stability”.
“Conflict in the mainly non-ethnic Russian and Muslim North Caucasus is expressed through a violent insurgency and strained ethnic relations’’, said Paul Quinn-Judge, Europe and Central Asia Program Director. “But lack of democratic institutions, rule of law, and trust in the state fuel much of the instability and must be addressed for tensions eventually to cool”.
FULL REPORT  

The North Caucasus: The Challenges of Integration (III), Governance, Elections, Rule of Law

Moscow/Brussels   |   6 September 2013

Stronger democratic institutions are crucial to easing violence in Russia’s North Caucasus, where Europe’s worst armed conflict claimed at least 1,225 victims in 2012 and 495 in the first six months of 2013. 

The North Caucasus: The Challenges of Integration (III), Governance, Elections, Rule of Law, the third report by Crisis Group’s project for the troubled region, examines governmental, political and legal issues. Religious and ethnic conflicts, disputes over administrative boundaries, land and resources are important root causes of the deadly violence. These are exacerbated by the state’s incapacity to ensure fair political representation, an independent judiciary, adequate services and economic growth; and, most prominently in Chechnya and in Dagestan, repressive counter-insurgency strategies. A subsequent report on economic and social issues behind the conflicts will complete the series.

The report’s major findings and recommendations are:

Deficits of democratic legitimacy and accountability, grave human rights violations and officials’ impunity have contributed much to the spread of conflict and a sense of the state as often illegitimate, immoral and repressive. Salafis offer in its place an Islamist state they claim would be more virtuous and fair, a project many angered, disillusioned youths find attractive.

Authentic improvement in the quality of governance in the North Caucasus is only possible if democratic institutions, such as direct elections, independent judiciary and rule of law, are established. Fair elections, preceded by competitive political processes, are a prerequisite for holding state officials accountable. The non-competitive, indirect elections of governors by republic assemblies on tap this weekend in Dagestan and Ingushetia are a step backwards.

Effective checks and balances could help ensure the state is not captured by elites. The fight against criminal activities of clan networks should be vigorous and consistent, but strictly within the law. The first measures taken in Dagestan this year give grounds for optimism and should be continued.

The central government should ensure reasonable decentralisation, including greater fiscal and political autonomy of the region’s seven republic governments. It should also simplify bureaucratic procedures for local governments to receive and disburse funds and streamline reporting obligations, while strengthening the state’s monitoring capacity to combat corruption.

“A functioning federal system with a degree of decentralisation and appropriate regional representation in the federal legislature would facilitate the North Caucasus’s integration with the rest of Russia. September 8 elections could have offered a way to improve the quality of governance if held democratically’’, said Ekaterina Sokirianskaia, North Caucasus Project Director. “Such integration is essential for the country’s security, healthy ethnic relations and stability”.

“Conflict in the mainly non-ethnic Russian and Muslim North Caucasus is expressed through a violent insurgency and strained ethnic relations’’, said Paul Quinn-Judge, Europe and Central Asia Program Director. “But lack of democratic institutions, rule of law, and trust in the state fuel much of the instability and must be addressed for tensions eventually to cool”.

FULL REPORT  

3 Sep
Syria Statement | International Crisis Group
Assuming the U.S. Congress authorises them, Washington (together with some allies) soon will launch military strikes against Syrian regime targets. If so, it will have taken such action for reasons largely divorced from the interests of the Syrian people.  The administration has cited the need to punish, deter and prevent use of chemical weapons - a defensible goal, though Syrians have suffered from far deadlier mass atrocities during the course of the conflict without this prompting much collective action in their defence. The administration also refers to the need, given President Obama’s asserted “redline” against use of chemical weapons, to protect Washington’s credibility - again an understandable objective though unlikely to resonate much with Syrians. Quite apart from talk of outrage, deterrence and restoring U.S. credibility, the priority must be the welfare of the Syrian people. Whether or not military strikes are ordered, this only can be achieved through imposition of a sustained ceasefire and widely accepted political transition.  
To precisely gauge in advance the impact of a U.S. military attack, regardless of its scope and of efforts to carefully calibrate it, by definition is a fool’s errand.  In a conflict that has settled into a deadly if familiar pattern - and in a region close to boiling point - it inevitably will introduce a powerful element of uncertainty.  Consequences almost certainly will be unpredictable.  Still, several observations can be made about what it might and might not do:
A military attack will not, nor can it, be met with even minimal international consensus; in this sense, the attempt to come up with solid evidence of regime use of chemical weapons, however necessary, also is futile.  Given the false pretences that informed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and, since then, regional and international polarisation coupled with the dynamics of the Syrian conflict itself, proof put forward by the U.S. will be insufficient to sway disbelievers and scepticism will be widespread.
It might discourage future use of chemical weapons by signalling even harsher punishment in the event of recidivism - an important achievement in and of itself.  Should the regime find itself fighting for its survival, however, that consideration might not weigh heavily.  Elements within the opposition also might be tempted to use such weapons and then blame the regime, precisely in order to provoke further U.S. intervention.
It could trigger violent escalation within Syria as the regime might exact revenge on rebels and rebel-held areas, while the opposition seeks to seize the opportunity to make its own gains.  
Major regional or international escalation (such as retaliatory actions by the regime, Iran or Hizbollah, notably against Israel) is possible but probably not likely given the risks involved, though this could depend on the scope of the strikes.
Military action, which the U.S. has stated will not aim at provoking the regime’s collapse, might not even have an enduring effect on the balance of power on the ground.  Indeed, the regime could register a propaganda victory, claiming it had stood fast against the U.S. and rallying domestic and regional opinion around an anti-Western, anti-imperialist mantra. 
Ultimately, the principal question regarding a possible military strike is whether diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict can be re-energised in its aftermath.  Smart money says they will not: in the wake of an attack they condemn as illegal and illegitimate, the regime and its allies arguably will not be in a mood to negotiate with the U.S. Carefully calibrating the strike to hurt enough to change their calculations but not enough to prompt retaliation or impede diplomacy is appealing in theory.  In practice, it almost certainly is not feasible. 
Whether or not the U.S. chooses to launch a military offensive, its responsibility should be to try to optimise chances of a diplomatic breakthrough.  This requires a two-fold effort lacking to date: developing a realistic compromise political offer as well as genuinely reaching out to both Russia and Iran in a manner capable of eliciting their interest - rather than investing in a prolonged conflict that has a seemingly bottomless capacity to escalate.  
In this spirit, the U.S. should present - and Syria’s allies should seriously and constructively consider - a proposal based on the following elements:
It is imperative to end this war. The escalation, regional instability and international entanglement its persistence unavoidably stimulates serve nobody’s interest.
The only exit is political. That requires far-reaching concessions and a lowering of demands from all parties. The sole viable outcome is a compromise that protects the interests of all Syrian constituencies and reflects rather than alters the regional strategic balance;
The Syrian crisis presents an important opportunity to test whether the U.S. and the Islamic Republic of Iran can work together on regional issues to restore stability;
A viable political outcome in Syria cannot be one in which the current leadership remains indefinitely in power but, beyond that, the U.S. can be flexible with regards to timing and specific modalities;
The U.S. is keen to avoid collapse of the Syrian state and the resulting political vacuum. The goal should thus be a transition that builds on existing institutions rather than replaces them. This is true notably with respect to the army;
Priority must be given to ensuring that no component of Syrian society is targeted for retaliation, discrimination or marginalisation in the context of a negotiated settlement.
Such a proposal should then form the basis for renewed efforts by Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint United Nations/Arab League envoy, and lead to rapid convening of a Geneva II conference. 
Debate over a possible strike - its wisdom, preferred scope and legitimacy in the absence of UN Security Council approval - has obscured and distracted from what ought to be the overriding international preoccupation: how to revitalise the search for a political settlement. Discussions about its legality aside, any contemplated military action should be judged based on whether it advances that goal or further postpones it. 
International Crisis Group
Photo: Matt Ortega/Flickr

Syria Statement | International Crisis Group

Assuming the U.S. Congress authorises them, Washington (together with some allies) soon will launch military strikes against Syrian regime targets. If so, it will have taken such action for reasons largely divorced from the interests of the Syrian people.  The administration has cited the need to punish, deter and prevent use of chemical weapons - a defensible goal, though Syrians have suffered from far deadlier mass atrocities during the course of the conflict without this prompting much collective action in their defence. The administration also refers to the need, given President Obama’s asserted “redline” against use of chemical weapons, to protect Washington’s credibility - again an understandable objective though unlikely to resonate much with Syrians. Quite apart from talk of outrage, deterrence and restoring U.S. credibility, the priority must be the welfare of the Syrian people. Whether or not military strikes are ordered, this only can be achieved through imposition of a sustained ceasefire and widely accepted political transition.  

To precisely gauge in advance the impact of a U.S. military attack, regardless of its scope and of efforts to carefully calibrate it, by definition is a fool’s errand.  In a conflict that has settled into a deadly if familiar pattern - and in a region close to boiling point - it inevitably will introduce a powerful element of uncertainty.  Consequences almost certainly will be unpredictable.  Still, several observations can be made about what it might and might not do:

A military attack will not, nor can it, be met with even minimal international consensus; in this sense, the attempt to come up with solid evidence of regime use of chemical weapons, however necessary, also is futile.  Given the false pretences that informed the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and, since then, regional and international polarisation coupled with the dynamics of the Syrian conflict itself, proof put forward by the U.S. will be insufficient to sway disbelievers and scepticism will be widespread.

It might discourage future use of chemical weapons by signalling even harsher punishment in the event of recidivism - an important achievement in and of itself.  Should the regime find itself fighting for its survival, however, that consideration might not weigh heavily.  Elements within the opposition also might be tempted to use such weapons and then blame the regime, precisely in order to provoke further U.S. intervention.

It could trigger violent escalation within Syria as the regime might exact revenge on rebels and rebel-held areas, while the opposition seeks to seize the opportunity to make its own gains.  

Major regional or international escalation (such as retaliatory actions by the regime, Iran or Hizbollah, notably against Israel) is possible but probably not likely given the risks involved, though this could depend on the scope of the strikes.

Military action, which the U.S. has stated will not aim at provoking the regime’s collapse, might not even have an enduring effect on the balance of power on the ground.  Indeed, the regime could register a propaganda victory, claiming it had stood fast against the U.S. and rallying domestic and regional opinion around an anti-Western, anti-imperialist mantra. 

Ultimately, the principal question regarding a possible military strike is whether diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict can be re-energised in its aftermath.  Smart money says they will not: in the wake of an attack they condemn as illegal and illegitimate, the regime and its allies arguably will not be in a mood to negotiate with the U.S. Carefully calibrating the strike to hurt enough to change their calculations but not enough to prompt retaliation or impede diplomacy is appealing in theory.  In practice, it almost certainly is not feasible. 

Whether or not the U.S. chooses to launch a military offensive, its responsibility should be to try to optimise chances of a diplomatic breakthrough.  This requires a two-fold effort lacking to date: developing a realistic compromise political offer as well as genuinely reaching out to both Russia and Iran in a manner capable of eliciting their interest - rather than investing in a prolonged conflict that has a seemingly bottomless capacity to escalate.  

In this spirit, the U.S. should present - and Syria’s allies should seriously and constructively consider - a proposal based on the following elements:

It is imperative to end this war. The escalation, regional instability and international entanglement its persistence unavoidably stimulates serve nobody’s interest.

The only exit is political. That requires far-reaching concessions and a lowering of demands from all parties. The sole viable outcome is a compromise that protects the interests of all Syrian constituencies and reflects rather than alters the regional strategic balance;

The Syrian crisis presents an important opportunity to test whether the U.S. and the Islamic Republic of Iran can work together on regional issues to restore stability;

A viable political outcome in Syria cannot be one in which the current leadership remains indefinitely in power but, beyond that, the U.S. can be flexible with regards to timing and specific modalities;

The U.S. is keen to avoid collapse of the Syrian state and the resulting political vacuum. The goal should thus be a transition that builds on existing institutions rather than replaces them. This is true notably with respect to the army;

Priority must be given to ensuring that no component of Syrian society is targeted for retaliation, discrimination or marginalisation in the context of a negotiated settlement.

Such a proposal should then form the basis for renewed efforts by Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint United Nations/Arab League envoy, and lead to rapid convening of a Geneva II conference. 

Debate over a possible strike - its wisdom, preferred scope and legitimacy in the absence of UN Security Council approval - has obscured and distracted from what ought to be the overriding international preoccupation: how to revitalise the search for a political settlement. Discussions about its legality aside, any contemplated military action should be judged based on whether it advances that goal or further postpones it. 

International Crisis Group

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