Syria: “Boots on the Ground” After All? By Tobias Borck

We will have “no boots on the ground” in Syria – that is the great mantra governments in Washington and London are repeating at almost every possible occasion. Even when American and British military action against Syria was imminent in September 2013 so as to punish Bashar al-Assad’s regime for the use of chemical weapons, Barack Obama and David Cameron made clear that putting “boots on the ground” was not up for discussion.

Just last week, in his speech at West Point, Obama felt compelled to tell the world again that he had “made a decision that we should not put American troops” into Syria and that he believed “that is the right decision.” Nobody disagrees, not even the Syrian opposition. They may be demanding more anti-tank and anti-aircraft guns, they may even welcome Western air support, but they certainly don’t want American or British soldiers to take on the Assad regime on their behalf.

But there may come a time when all this insistence of “no boots on the ground” no longer matters. There may come a time when Obama and Cameron (or their successors) send their uniformed men and women into Syria after all – or at least vote in the UN Security Council that other nations should send theirs. When these “boots”, wherever they may come from, are placed “on the ground” in Syria, it will not be to fight Assad. That remains – and will most likely remain – out of the question. Instead, it will be to keep the peace, to stabilise Syria and to make sure that a political settlement can be implemented.

The war in Syria will end with a political solution, no side can win a military victory. Obama and Cameron repeat that fact almost more frequently than their “no boots” mantra. In fact, there is wide-spread agreement within the international community that a political settlement is the only way to end the nightmare of the Syrian people.

Let us cast our minds forward and imagine a scenario where such a political settlement has actually been reached. The regime and the opposition sign a document, the newspapers print pictures of handshakes. But what next? Syria is in ruins. Aleppo, Homs, Damascus’ suburbs – everything has been reduced to rubble after years of barrel bombs, shelling and gunfire. Millions of Syrians are displaced, everyone has experienced monumental loss and is irrevocably scarred for life, physically or mentally. And there are inevitably some groups, probably the radical Islamists, that are not done yet, that want to keep killing and destroying.

This future Syria will need serious state-building and some kind of peacekeeping force to provide the necessary security. America and Britain will not have to shoulder this task alone; that is the responsibility of the UN – Russia, the EU, the Arab League, perhaps even Iran will need to help. But it may not be enough to deploy a few thousand Blue Helmet troops from India, Nepal, Indonesia or Spain as in the UN’s ongoing peacekeeping mission in Lebanon. This is not to disparage the quality of these troops or their achievements. But if groups like al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra, or the even more extreme Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) linger on, American and British soldiers may have to step up.

American and British militaries are the only ones with the necessary training, equipment and experience to battle an opponent like ISIS. They did it successfully during the surge in Iraq in 2007-08 when they fought al-Qaeda, ISIS’s predecessor, into a corner. The Iraqi case should also be a warning. Since American and British troops have left Iraq, radical Islamists have experienced their own little surge. ISIS currently controls parts of Fallujah and Ramadi and suicide bombers terrorise the people of Baghdad. The Iraqi military, although trained by America and Britain and outfitted with Apache helicopters, drones and hellfire missiles, has made little progress against the extremists.

There will be “no boots on the ground” – this mantra will hold true as long as the war rages in Syria. But when the agony of the Syrian people finally ends and a political solution to the conflict is reached, it may become untenable. A UN peacekeeping mission may be needed to help rebuild the country and American and British soldiers may have to do the heavy lifting, to once again take up the battle with radical Islamists. We should be ready.

Weapons for peace? The West needs to convince Assad that he cannot win, by Tobias Borck

The war in Syria has to end in a political solution. This is one of the very few things that most members of the international community agree on. In his recent speech at West Point, US President Barack Obama made clear that that “no military solution that can eliminate the terrible suffering any time soon.”[i] The Russian Foreign Ministry agrees the lack of any progress on a political settlement of the war only “results in more deaths and suffering in Syria every day.”[ii] The Speaker of Iran’s parliament, Ali Lrijani, emphasises the need for “negotiations and dialogue,”[iii] and UK Foreign Secretary William Hague thinks that all sides need to “reach an inclusive political settlement that takes into account the needs and aspirations of all Syria’s communities.”[iv]

 

A political solution to the war in Syria is of course not a new idea. Neither is the apparent consensus within the international community that it is the only viable option to end the bloodshed. Peace initiatives, talks, and talks of talks are a constant by-product of the war. Nevertheless, it took almost three years just to get representatives from the regime and the opposition to sit down together in the same room at the UN in Geneva. For a few days in January and February 2014 there was a small glimmer of hope. It was quickly extinguished, though, and Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN’s chairman of the negotiations, apologised to the Syrian people that the talks hadn’t “helped them very much.”[v]

 

In the months since the Geneva conference virtually no progress has been made to find a political settlement. Instead around 200 Syrians die every day, adding to the war’s death toll that has already exceeded 150,000.[vi]

 

There are of course several reasons for why a political solution to the conflict remains elusive. The opposition is famously fragmented and al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamists act as powerful spoilers. Perhaps the most crucial reason, however, is that Bashar al-Assad still thinks that he can win the war. This year, his forces have made some territorial gains, and although a total military victory is nigh on impossible, so is a total defeat. This is why the Geneva talks failed and why no new negotiations have happened. A political solution requires compromises and the Assad regime simply doesn’t see the need to make any at the moment.

 

If the USA, Russia, the UK, Iran or the rest of the international community are serious about their commitment to a political solution, they will have to convince Assad that there is no alternative to negotiations, that he cannot win the war. There are two options of how this can be done: through diplomatic or military pressure.

 

Russia and Iran hold the key to the diplomatic option. They have the greatest sway over the Assad regime. Without their financial, military and political support, Assad would be in serious trouble. However, this support in the absence of any concessions by the regime in the political process suggests that Russia and Iran are ultimately unwilling to use their leverage over Assad.

 

The only meaningful concession the regime has made since the beginning of the conflict was the deal to give up its chemical weapons, and Russia played a decisive role in this. But it is also important to remember that the deal was only reached after Obama’s infamous ‘red line’ had been crossed with the chemical weapons attack in August 2013. Russian pressure on Assad may have been important, but American missiles pointing at Syria surely helped as well.

 

“When you fear for your life, then you are going to trade,”[vii] says Alistair Burt, a former UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. To make Assad fear for his life and to bring him to the negotiating table, it may therefore be necessary to renew the military pressure on his regime by stepping up support for the opposition forces.

 

It is a sad reality that political solutions to end wars often only become possible through temporary escalation. The example of the war in Bosnia Herzegovina demonstrates this. Here, a brutal war raged for three years. All initiatives for a political settlement failed. Then, in 1995, NATO support enabled a Croat-Bosnian alliance to make significant advances against the Bosnian Serbs. However, NATO did not allow a total Croat-Bosnian victory. This would only have resulted in more ethnic cleansing, this time with the Bosnian Serbs as the main victims. Instead all sides were brought together to negotiate and the Dayton Agreement was reached.

 

The objective of empowering opposition forces in Syria should therefore not be to defeat the Assad regime, but merely to convince him that he cannot win the war. A western military involvement of the same scale as NATO’s Bosnia operation is currently unthinkable in Syria. There is no political will to launch missile strikes, an air campaign, much less a full-scale invasion. However, the USA and its European allies can certainly provide the armed opposition with the military equipment and training it needs to tackle the regime’s tanks and airplanes. In his West Point speech Obama suggested that operations in this direction are already underway.

 

So far, the Obama administration has been extremely cautious in its military support for the opposition, mainly out of fear that American weapons could fall into the hands of radical Islamists. This risk is of course difficult to eliminate, but it should also not be overstated. One of the main reasons why groups such as al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant have become so influential in Syria is their military effectiveness, not their extremist ideologies. Increasing the military capability of more moderate groups could therefore also limit the influence of the radical Islamist.

 

The war in Syria has to end in a political solution. Ultimately it of course appears counter-intuitive to feed additional weapons into a war that has already killed so many people. American weapons in the hands of opposition forces will inevitably be used to kill more. But as long as Russian and Iranian influence, for whatever reasons, is not enough to convince Assad to make concessions, it may be the only way to create the conditions for meaningful negotiations.



[i] BBC (2014) “Obama West Point Speech in Full with Analysis.” BBC Online, 29 May. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-27606537 [Accessed 31 May 2014].

[ii] Voice of Russia (2014) “Russia Urges Setting of Date for New Round of Syria Talks in Geneva.” Voice of Russia, 15 May. http://voiceofrussia.com/news/2014_05_15/Russia-urges-to-set-date-for-new-round-of-Syria-talks-in-Geneva-0341/ [Accessed 31 May 2014].

[iii] Press TV (2014) “Iran Backs Political Solution to Syria: Larijani.” Press TV, 5 May. http://www.presstv.com/detail/2014/05/05/361455/iran-backs-political-solution-to-syria/ [Accessed 31 May 2014].

[iv] Hague, W. (2014) “Foreign Secretary William Hague to the Montreux Peace Talks on Syria.” Gov.com, 22 January. https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/foreign-secretary-statement-to-geneva-conference-on-syria [Accessed 31 May 2014].

[v] Maigua, P. (2014) “Syrian Peace Talks Adjourned Indefinitely.” United Nations Radio, 15 February. http://www.unmultimedia.org/radio/english/2014/02/syrian-peace-talks-adjourned-indefinitely/#.U2J5dl6CTwI [Accessed 31 May 2014].

[vi] Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (2014) Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Facebook. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/syriahroe?fref=ts [Accessed 31 May 2014].

[vii] Burt, A. (2014) Interview. London, 4 March.

What Will Shock the World? Waiting for Syria’s Srebrenica by Tobias Borck

The bombing of the Ain Jalout school in Aleppo, on 30 April 2014, encapsulates the horror of the war in Syria. The air strike, carried out by the Syrian military, killed more than 20 people, half of them children. That day, the school was hosting an exhibition of drawings and paintings, in which the students had depicted their dreams – most of them featured the war, death and destruction.[1]

James Bays, reporting for Al-Jazeera, said that the attack on the Ain Jalout school “should shock the world.”[2] But will the shock be big enough to change the attitude of the international community, or rather, the strategies of the five permanent members (P5) of the UN Security Council? Valerie Amos, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, expressed her outrage calling the bombing of the school, and other attacks targeting civilians, “a flagrant violation of the basic tenants of war.”[3] Ultimately, however, the attack is unlikely to change anything.

Syria’s war has entered its fourth year. The killing, maiming and displacement of ordinary Syrians have become a daily occurrence, causing unspeakable human suffering. James Clapper, United States Director of National Intelligence, has recently called the humanitarian situation in Syria “an apocalyptic disaster.” Since the beginning of the war in March 2011, more than 150,000 people have been killed,[4] among them more than 11,000 children.[5] 2.7 million Syrians have fled the country;[6] a further 6.5 million were forced to leave their homes but remain in Syria.[7]

We Are Waiting

The strategy of the western P5 members towards Syria, led by the USA, appears to be based on waiting and monitoring the situation. But what is it that Barack Obama’s government is waiting for?

Despite recent territorial gains for Bashar al-Assad’s forces, a military victory for any side in the conflict is unlikely. The Geneva peace talks, chaired by UN Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, ended without significant results in February 2014. Back then, Brahimi called on all parties involved to decide whether “they want this process to take place or not.”[8] In the absence of any tangible further developments since, the answer seems to be: no. Brahimi himself is expected to resign in the coming months, particularly if presidential elections in Syria planned for June are going ahead. President Bashar al-Assad has recently confirmed his stand for reelection and it is widely believed he will win.[9]

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council Resolution 2139[10] from February 2014, continues to be violated with impunity by all sides in the conflict. The resolution demanded an end to all attacks against civilians, and unrestricted access for humanitarian agencies within the countries. While the resolution is legally binding under International Law, it does not stipulate any consequences for noncompliance or measures for its enforcement. Any advances towards a more robust resolution continue to be blocked by Russia.[11]

To improve their own position and to convince Assad that there can be no military solution to the conflict, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC), the opposition’s leadership in exile, continues to lobby western governments to provide opposition forces with much needed military equipment. In an interview with Exeter students, Walid Saffour, the SNC’s UK ambassador, expressed his belief that the Free Syrian Army (FSA) could make significant progress on the ground “if we have got adequate arms to stop two things: the tanks and the aircraft.”[12]

Next week, Ahmad Jarba, the SNC’s president will visit Washington, not least in an attempt to convince the US government to arm the FSA with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. Whether he will succeed, however, is uncertain. Apart from some limited shipments of weapons, the Obama administration has thus far been extremely cautious in providing military equipment to opposition forces. The main reason for this reluctance is the fear that American weapons could fall into the hands of radical Islamists.[13]

What Are We Waiting For?

What, then could change US policy towards Syria? A review of some of the US-led military interventions and wars in past decades, suggests that changes in US strategy are often influenced by specific events. With regard to the US interventions in Lebanon (1982), Bosnia Herzegovina (1995), Kosovo (1999), Afghanistan (2001), Iraq (2003), and Libya (2011), it is possible to identify crucial turning points for US strategy. With the exception of the war in Afghanistan, which was a direct response to the terror attacks of 11 September 2001, these events were not in themselves the sufficient or sole reason for respective US governments to launch interventions. They did not occur in a vacuum, but rather in a continuum of conflicts within the individual countries or – in the case of 9/11 – within the context of global developments. They were the last straws that broke the proverbial camel’s back and convinced the US presidents Reagan, Clinton, Bush and Obama that military action, or at least military support for one side in the conflict, was unavoidable.

In 1982, Ronald Reagan’s decision to send almost 2,000 US Marines to Lebanon came days after the Sabra and Shatila massacre in September. At this point, Lebanon’s civil war had already devastated the country for seven years. In August, a contingent of US marines had briefly deployed to Lebanon as part of a multinational force to supervise the withdrawal of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation from the country. They left on 10 September. A week later, between 16-18 September, a Christian militia – with, at the very least, the quiet acceptance of the occupying Israeli army – killed between 700 and 3,000 Palestinian refugees. The images of the massacre’s aftermath went around the world and promoted Reagan’s formation of a new multinational force tasked with supporting the Lebanese government. The intervention was ultimately unsuccessful and ended in the horrific terror attack on the US Marines’ barracks in October 1983. The war continued until 1990.[14]

In Bosnia Herzegovina, the US-led NATO interventions only occurred after the Srebrenica massacre in July 1995. The war had begun in 1992 and had already cost tens of thousands of deaths. A UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR), with limited US participation, was deployed in 1992, but only had a mandate to protect certain areas, not to use force to stop the fighting. UNPROFOR’s ineffectiveness was exposed when Bosnian Serb forces overran the Muslim town of Srebrenica on 11 July 1995 and killed more than 7,000 Bosnian Muslims. Days after the massacre, NATO agreed to take a tougher stand to defend other safe areas and in August launched a decisive campaign to end the war.[15]

In Kosovo, two widely publicised massacres by Serbian forces against Kosovo Albanians in Prekaz and Racak played a critical role in the prelude to NATO’s US-led military intervention. After the Prekaz massacre, in which 53 Albanians were killed on 5 March 1998, the USA intensified its efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. Two days after the attack, US Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright announced that “We are not going to stand by and watch the Serbian authorities do in Kosovo what they can no longer get away with doing in Bosnia.’’[16] Nine months later, after 45 Albanians were killed in the Racak massacre on 15 January 1999, the USA and its European allies decided that diplomacy alone was no longer enough. In March, NATO’s military intervention began.[17]

The US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were not preceded by massacres in those countries, but by the terror attacks in New York and Washington DC on 11 September 2001. These attacks were decidedly more instrumental in the US government’s decision to launch military operations than any of the events outlined above, especially in the case of Afghanistan. However, both Afghanistan and Iraq were on the USA’s foreign policy agenda long before 2001. In 1998, the Clinton administration authorised missile strikes against suspected bases of Osama bin Ladin in Afghanistan.[18] In Iraq, the USA played the leading role in maintaining no-fly zones over both the north and the south of the country throughout the 1990s. Regime change in Iraq was certainly identified as a US objective before 9/11, especially among the neoconservative establishment. Yet, it took 9/11 to create the momentum to launch a military campaign.[19]

Finally, NATO’s intervention in Libya is a rare example of where the threat of a massacre was sufficient for the USA and its allies to launch military intervention. In March 2011, Gaddafi’s forces were advancing on Benghazi, the origin of popular protests against the regime and the stronghold for the armed rebellion. Obama later explained his decision to support NATO’s intervention: “I refused to wait for the images of slaughter and mass graves before taking action.”[20]

These six events – the atrocities in Sabra and Shatila, Srebrenica, and Prekaz and Recak, the attacks of 9/11, and the potential massacre in Benghazi – were unique in themselves and specific to their respective contexts. There is no particular threshold, no definitive number of casualties that forces US presidents to opt for military intervention. However, these events are united in the fact that they represented significant turning points for US strategy. It is important to note that these events did not necessarily lead to international consensus in favour of military intervention – the Kosovo intervention happened despite vehement Russian opposition.[21] Although Russia may have more of an invested interest in Syria than it did in Kosovo, this suggests that deadlock in the UN Security Council is not an insurmountable obstacle to military intervention.

The Waiting Continues

In Syria a turning point was almost reached in August 2013, when between 300-1,400 civilians were killed in a chemical weapons attack. For a few days US missile strikes against Syria seemed likely. However, diplomacy prevailed and the Assad regime agreed to the US-Russia brokered deal to give up its chemical weapons stockpiles.[22] Six months later, the international Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has removed the bulk of Syria’s declared chemical weapons arsenal.[23] The killing, however, continues unabated and with horrific consistency. In the week culminating in the Ain Jalout school bombing on 30 April 2014, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) had counted daily death tolls of 206, 270, 210, 265, 288, 223 and 284.[24] These figures are far from unusual for the war in Syria. The data published on the SOHR’s Facebook page shows very similar numbers for the past months, even years.

Alistair Burt, former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, suggests that this consistency is no accident. “We think Assad has learned perfectly well from his father that killing 20,000 people in Hama as in 1982 would not now be the right thing to do,” he said in an interview with Exeter students.[25] However, the death of 200-300 people a day appears to be a level that governments in Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Paris and London are prepared to sustain. The decisive turning point, Syria’s Sabra and Shatila or Srebrenica has not yet occurred. For the moment, “four, five thousand, six thousand people a month appears to be a figure that the world is prepared to stand,” says Burt.

In the absence of a turning point event in Syria, a terror attack originating in the country but carried out in one of Syria’s neighbours or even in Europe or the USA could potentially lead to a policy change by western governments. The proliferation of radical Islamist forces and groups linked to Al-Qaeda in Syria is well documented.[26] Thus far, these groups have concentrated on terrorising Syrian civilians. A day before the Ain Jalout school bombing, two car bombs by Al-Qaeda affiliated Jabhat Al-Nusra killed more than 50 civilians and injured hundreds in an area of Homs controlled by the Assad regime.[27]

However, it is far from certain that Al-Nusra, and other radical organisations active in Syria will continue to limit their operations to the battlefield within Syria. Matthew Olson, Director of the US National Counterterrorism Center told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in March 2014 that “Syria has become the preeminent location for independent or Al-Qaeda-aligned groups to recruit, train, and equip a growing number of extremists, some of whom we assess may seek to conduct external attacks.”[28]

It is clear that the current policy of the Obama administration and its allies in Europe is not leading to any meaningful changes in Syria. Chemical weapons may have been largely removed from the conflict, but the killing, maiming and displacement of ordinary Syrians continues at a horrifically consistent level. US and European strategy appears to be reduced to waiting, either for one side of the conflict to achieve an unlikely military victory, or for an atrocity that will make further inaction simply impossible.



[1] BBC (2014) “Syria Crisis: ‘Children Killed in Aleppo School Strike.” BBC Online, 30 April. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-27227791 [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[2] Al-Jazeera (2014) “Aleppo School Bombing Condemned by UN.” Al-Jazeera Online, 1 May. http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/05/aleppo-school-bombing-condemned-un-2014516372113604.html [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[3] Ibid.

[4] Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (2014) “More than 150,000 Martyred and Killed Since the Start of the Revolution.” Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Arabic website, 1 April. http://www.syriahr.com/index.php?option=com_news&nid=17296&Itemid=2&task=displaynews#.U2J3A16CTwJ [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[5] Salama, H., and Daragan, H. (2013) “Stolen Futures: The Hidden Toll of Child Casualties in Syria.” Oxford Research Group, 24 November. http://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/publications/briefing_papers_and_reports/stolen_futures [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[6] UNHRC (2014) “Syria Regional Refugee Response.” UNHRC, last updated 14 April. http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[7] USAID (2014) Syria – Complex Emergency: Fact Sheet #12, Fiscal Year 2014, April 10, 2014. Available at: http://www.usaid.gov/sites/default/files/documents/1866/syria_ce_fs12_04-10-2014.pdf [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[8] Maigua, P. (2014) “Syrian Peace Talks Adjourned Indefinitely.” United Nations Radio, 15 February. http://www.unmultimedia.org/radio/english/2014/02/syrian-peace-talks-adjourned-indefinitely/#.U2J5dl6CTwI [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[9] Charbonneau, L. (2014) “Search is on for Successor to Syria Peace Mediator Brahimi.” Reuters, 30 April. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/30/us-syria-crisis-brahimi-idUSBREA3T10A20140430 [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[10] United Nations Security Council (2014) “Full Text: UN Security Council Resolution 2139.” UN Watch, 22 February. http://blog.unwatch.org/index.php/2014/02/22/full-text-un-security-council-resolution-2139/ [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[11] Nichols, M. (2014) “UN Aid Chief Suggests Stronger Action Needed on Syria.” Reuters, 30 April. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/04/30/us-syria-crisis-aid-un-idUSBREA3T10B20140430 [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[12] Saffour, W. (2014) Interview. London, 4 March.

[13] Pecquet, J. (2014) “Syrian Opposition Looks to Congress for Military Boost.” Al-Monitor, 25 April. http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/04/syria-opposition-congress-military-boost.html [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[14] Azrael, J. R., and Payin, E. A. (1996) US and Russian Policymaking with Respect to the Use of Force. Santa Monica: RAND. Available at: http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/conf_proceedings/2007/CF129.pdf [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[15] Daalder, I. H. (1998) “Decision to Intervene: How the War in Bosnia Ended.” Brookings, December. http://www.brookings.edu/research/articles/1998/12/balkans-daalder [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[16] Erlanger, S. (1998) “Albright Warns Serbs on Kosovo Violence.” The New York Times, 8 March. http://www.nytimes.com/1998/03/08/world/albright-warns-serbs-on-kosovo-violence.html [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[17] BBC (2000) “Behind the Kosovo Crisis.” BBC Online, 12 March. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/674056.stm [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[18] BBC (2014) “Afghanistan Profile: Timeline.” BBC Online, last updated 8 April. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12024253 [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[19] BBC (2014) “Iraq Profile: Timeline.” BBC Online, last updated 1 May. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-14546763 [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[20] Cooper, H. (2011) “Obama Cites Limits of US Role in Libya.” The New York Times, 28 March. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/29/world/africa/29prexy.html?pagewanted=1&hp [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[21] BBC (1998) “Why Russia Opposes Intervention in Kosovo.” BBC Online, 13 October. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/111585.stm [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[22] BBC (2014) “Q&A: Syria Chemical Weapons Disarmament Deal.” BBC Online, last updated 30 January. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23876085 [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[23] BBC (2014) “Bulk of Syria’s Chemical Weapons ‘Removed’, Says Sigrid Kaag.” BBC Online, 27 April. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-27179365 [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[24] Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (2014) Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Facebook. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/syriahroe?fref=ts [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[25] Burt, A. (2014) Interview. London, 4 March.

[26] Jones, S. G. (2013) “Syria’s Growing Jihad.” Survival: Global Politics and Strategy 55 (4), pp. 53-72. Available at: https://www.iiss.org/en/publications/survival/sections/2013-94b0/survival–global-politics-and-strategy-august-september-2013-0b78/55-4-07-jones–seth-abcd [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[27] Human Rights Watch (2014) “Syria: Car Bombs, Mortars Hit Residential Areas.” Human Rights Watch, 1 May. http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/05/01/syria-car-bombs-mortars-hit-residential-areas [Accessed 4 May 2014].

[28] Olson, M. G. (2014) “Extremism and Sectarianism in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon.” Hearing Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 6 March. Available at: http://www.foreign.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/030614AM_Testimony%20-%20Matthew%20Olsen.pdf [Accessed 4 May 2014].

MStrat Student Trip to Brussels and Mons, Belgium 18-21 March 2014

The MStrat course recently undertook a field trip to Brussels and Mons between Tuesday 18 and Friday  21 March 2014.

The aims of the MStrat to Belgium were, among other things:

  • To gain an understanding of the institutional structure, policy-making and crisis-management processes, and main policy issues pertaining to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union External Action Service (EEAS).
  • To gain a non-NATO/EU perspective on the crisis in Syria, the Balkan region and Russia-EU relations, by visiting the Russian Permanent Delegation to the EU.

The MStrat trip was led by Dr. Sergio Catignani and accompanied by Dr. Daniel Steed and Ms. Roo Haywood-Smith.

Visit Highlights

The MStrat cohort visited NATO Headquarters where Mr Jonathan PARISH, Deputy Assistant Secretary General of the Defence Policy and Planning Division, spoke on the current political agenda and the future of NATO as well as on the key themes that the next NATO Summit in Wales will deal with this September. Moreover, Mr Patrick ANDREWS of Crisis Response Systems and Exercises, Operations Division gave a detailed presentation on NATO’s Crisis Management Operations and how NATO was currently reacting to the crisis in Ukraine.

Following the NATO Headquarters visit, the MStrat cohort was hosted by the Egmont Institute (The Royal Institute for International Affairs) in the Prince Albert Club, the Belgian Armed Forces’ All Ranks Club, where Professor Sven Biscop and Brig. (Ret.) Jo Coelmont gave respectively presentations on European Security and European Defence prospects during the “Age of European Austerity”.

The following two days saw the MStrat cohort visit the European External Action Service where, among others, Brig. Gen. Philippe Boutinaud, the Director of Cabinet of the European Union Military Committee Chairman, spoke on the EUMC’s role and decision-making processes and challenges particularly during international crises. Ms Joëlle JENNY, Director for Security Policy and Conflict Prevention, also gave a very insightful presentation on the ways in which the EU seeks to improve conflict prevention in global affairs particularly through upstream engagement activities and programmes.

At Supreme Headquarters Allied Europe, the MStrat cohort received several briefings including one on the workings of NATO’s Comprehensive Crisis and Operations Management Centre as well as how NATO is trying to improve its capabilities and activities relating to the comprehensive approach to conflict prevention and conflict resolution processes by British Army Brig. Gary Deakin and Dutch Ambassador Hans Wesseling. It also received a detailed briefing by a member of the European Union Staff Group on the EU’s “Operation Althea in Bosnia Herzegovnia” in order to prepare students’ for the next MSrat cohort trip to Bosnia Herzegovina, which is scheduled to take place in May 2014.

The MStrat delegation also had the unique privilege of receiving a detailed and lengthy briefing by the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander, General Sir Richard Shirreff, on the challenges that NATO countries face over the coming years. He also spoke at length on the Ukraine crisis and the key decision point that NATO countries face today as a result of Russia’s illegal annexation of the Crimea. His comments on the Ukraine crisis were especially poignant given the fact that the previous day the MStrat cohort had visited the Russian Federation’s Permanent Representation to the EU, where the Deputy Permanent Representative, Mr. Sergey Kopyrkin, provided a Russian perspective on issues such as the Ukraine and Syrian crises and the Russian Federation’s future relations with the EU and its constituent member states in light of the Ukraine crisis.

MStrat Staff and Student Visit to SHAPE, Mons on 21 March 2014

 

SSI Director Professor Sir Paul Newton to visit Johns Hopkins University

This week SSI Director Sir Paul Newton will help teach on a John’s Hopkins University field trip to France where US students led by a Prof Eliot Cohen will explore the causes and conduct of the First World War. In the centenary year of the outbreak of the ‘Great War’, serious students of applied strategy still have much to learn from this tragic failure of the international system.

The following week, Exeter MStrat students will conclude their visit to the EU and NATO HQ in Brussels with a 48 hour field trip with Prof Newton and Irish journalist Kevin Myers to the Somme battlefield.

Why Russia is Invading Ukraine by SSI Honorary Fellow, Professor Julian Lindley-French

Alphen, Netherlands. 3 March.  Article 30 of the May 2009 Russian National Security Strategy states, “Negative influences on the military security of the Russian Federation and its allies are aggravated by the departure from international agreements pertaining to arms limitation and reduction, and likewise by actions intended to disrupt the stability of systems of government and military administration…”  The Russian invasion this past weekend is blatant flouting of international law.  It is also a long-planned intervention that has been sitting in the files of the Russian Defence Ministry since at least 1991.  The grand strategic reason for the intervention is the determination of Moscow to reassert control over what it sees as Russia’s “near abroad” with Ukraine as its lynchpin.  However, there are five additional reasons why Moscow has seized the collapse of the Yanukovich regime as the moment to intervene – history, military strategy, military capability, politics and opportunity.

History:  Ukraine has always had a strong pull on the Russian mind as it is the spiritual home of the Russian Orthodox Church.  In 1954 Ukrainian-born Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev handed ‘control’ of the Crimea to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.  As Ukraine was then firmly under Moscow’s control the transfer mattered little, although it did mean the de facto shift of ethnic Russians and Tartars under the nominal administrative fiat of Kiev.  On Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 the transfer became a matter of both historical and strategic import to Moscow.  ‘Loss’ of Ukraine to the EU (and eventually NATO) would be the final humiliation to the Kremlin following two decades of perceived retreat since the end of the Cold War in 1989.

Military Strategy:  One of Russia’s long held strategic mantras has been the need to maintain a warm water naval base that could enable Russian influence in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.  Sevastopol has long provided just such a facility for the Black Seas Fleet, which is in fact the Russian Mediterranean Fleet.  The nature of the Russian military operation this weekend and the use of Special Forces to establish a bridgehead at Simferopol and Sevastopol Airports are indicative.  They point to a classic Russian expeditionary operation that creates and exploits local unrest to enable seizure of the seat of government as well as control of land, sea and air space.  The initial aim is to secure the Sevastopol base and its lines of supply and re-supply with Russia.

Military Capability: In 2010 Russia announced it would inject $775 billion into the professionalization and modernization of its armed forces.  This followed the disappointing performance of Russian forces in 2008 during Moscow’s seizure of parts of Georgia. The bulk of those new forces are established in the Central and Western Military Districts which abut the Ukrainian border.  The kit being worn by the deployed force demonstrates a mix of Special Forces (Spetsnaz) and specialised forces and reflects the effort Moscow has made to improve deployability of its elite professional forces.

Ukrainian forces have enjoyed no such modernization.  In any case the upper echelons of the Ukrainian military’s command chain are deeply split, as evinced by the defection this weekend by the Head of the Ukrainian Navy.  Many senior Ukrainian officers owe their appointment to Yanukovich.

Politics:  The Putin regime was established in 2000 and led to the cult of Putinism.  It is a regime that consolidates domestic power by appealing to nostalgic Russian notions of grandeur.  In particular the regime has endeavoured to recreate the sense of a Russia powerful enough to re-capture the influence Moscow enjoyed in the 1950s and 1960s at the height of the Soviet Union’s super-power.  The 2014 Sochi Olympics were very much part of the regime’s image-building.  In 2013 US Secretary of State John Kerry gave equal billing to Russia in the handling of the Syria crisis and enhanced the reputation of the regime at home.

Opportunity:  The Kremlin under Putin is first and foremost a strategic opportunist.  The withdrawal of two US Brigade Combat Teams from Europe may seem small in and of itself.  However, taken together with the ‘pivot’ to Asia and President Obama’s uncertain grip of grand strategy the US is no longer the stabilising force in Europe it once was.  The Kremlin also has contempt for ideas of ‘civil power’ built around Germany and the EU.  Moreover, Russia’s military renaissance has taken place in parallel with the West’s failures in both Afghanistan and Iraq.  The Kremlin is also acutely conscious of Europe’s economic travails and de facto disarmament with total defence spending in Europe down by minus 1.8% per annum since 2001.  Moreover, the refusal of all but two NATO European states to meet their obligation to spend 2% of GDP on defence has also led Moscow to conclude that Europeans lack the will and capability to block Moscow’s regional-strategic ambitions.

Implications for Russia and Ukraine:  The seizure of parts of Ukraine will in the short-term strengthen the grip of Putin over Russia.  However, Russia faces deep demographic and economic challenges which unless addressed will see Russia continue to fade as the West, China and others eclipse Moscow.

The east of Ukraine is very vulnerable.  Moscow has a cynical view of the use of power and will almost certainly use the concerns of ethnic Russians to justify an intervention that would straighten Russia’s strategic borders and thus consolidate the new Russian sphere of influence.

Recommendations: There is no quick fix available to Western policymakers.  However, Western allies must use all the non-military tools at their disposal to force the Kremlin to reconsider the costs versus the benefits of such action.  That will include use of international fora to build a countervailing coalition, possibly with China which dislikes sovereignty grabs.  All economic tools must be applied with sanctions imposed on key officials, with Aeroflot flights to Europe and North America suspended and Gazprom slowly removed from the European market.  The accounts of senior Russians outside of the the country must be frozen.  Finally, the US must re-position forces back in Europe, including the Baltic States and Europeans must commit to the re-building of their armed forces.

Conclusions:  Over the medium-to-long term NATO allies must re-establish credible defence as part of a balanced economic, diplomatic and military influence effort in and around Europe.  Former US President Bill Clinton and former US Ambassador to NATO Nick Burns said yesterday that the enlargement of NATO to former members of the Soviet Bloc guaranteed their security.  This is correct to a point. Without the modernisation of Article 5 collective defence the value of NATO membership will over time erode and if Putin remains in power the Kremlin will exploit such weakness.

Julian Lindley-French

“Wargaming by the Rules: Two Days in the Life of NATO Legal Advisors” by Dr Aurel Sari

I have recently returned from RAF St Mawgan near Newquay in Cornwall, where I participated in the Allied Rapid Reaction Corps’ main exercise for this year, ARRCADE FUSION 2013. Running for a period of two weeks and involving over 2,000 military and civilian personnel, the exercise was designed to ensure that the ARRC maintains its operational readiness as part of the NATO Response Force.

 

As I knew from first-hand experience that Newquay gets a bit chilly at this time of the year, and having been advised to pack a ‘very warm’ sleeping bag, I arrived early in the morning kitted out like I was going on an Arctic expedition. It soon turned out that I erred on the side of caution by some margin, as the climate of the command and accommodation tents more closely resembled nearby Eden Project’s tropical biome than a windswept Cornish field in the middle of November.

 

Once I received my access pass and was given directions to the Brew Tent (serving coffee and tea, but bring your own mug), I was guided over to LEGAL—comprising two desks, four chairs, laptops and the legal advisors. And a supply of cookies and good humour.

 

This year, I specifically asked to be treated less as a visitor and more as another pair of hands on deck. Someone clearly got the message, as within the first five minutes of my arrival I was bombarded with about a dozen questions on a range of legal conundrums. Although the pace was not quite as relentless as I imagine it must be in real life operations, the questions kept rolling in at a steady rate throughout my two-day stay.

 

My participation in ARRCADE FUSION 2013 once again confirmed two important lessons. First, legal advisors deployed on operations must master a wide spectrum of international law. During the two days I spent with the ARRC, I was confronted with questions relating to the use of force, naval warfare, international refugee law, the law of neutrality, international human rights law, State responsibility, the classification of conflicts, various aspects of international humanitarian law, intelligence and the law of Chapter VII of the UN Charter. Quite a mix, really. Second, bringing together practitioners and academics in a setting such as this one offers real rewards to both sides. To me, the constant stream of legal problems requiring a more or less instant solution provided a refreshingly practical perspective on the law, while I believe my hosts benefitted from my expertise and second opinion in a number of subject areas. They certainly made me write memos.

 

Overall, participating in ARRCADE FUSION 2013 was a thoroughly enjoyable experience both personally and professionally, something of a cross between attending Glastonbury (save the music) and going on an international law field trip.

Paul Cornish – Recent Conferences and Events

Professor Paul Cornish spoke on ‘Professional Military Education in a Strategic Age’ at a conference sponsored by NATO and the UK Defence Academy at Wilton Park in May 2013. Later in May Professor Cornish spoke on ‘The Idea of a National Security Strategy’ at a conference in honour of Professor Colin Gray at the University of Reading.

Following the death of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich on Wednesday 22 May Professor Cornish published a short article on The Conversation UK; an independent, online source of news and opinion drawn from the academic and policy research community.

Professor Cornish’s article can be found on The Conversation’s website:

http://theconversation.com/the-duty-of-care-that-should-keep-our-armed-forces-safe-but-didnt-14645

 

 

Paul Newton: Learning to Operate in Complexity

It’s all well and good addressing the complexity of the modern security landscape in a theoretical way. It is an altogether richer experience if one can marry theory with the practical insight that comes from seeing – indeed being an integral part of – an endeavour that operates on a scale far beyond the confines of any university classroom-based simulation or work placement.

That is the unique experience students and staff at SSI enjoy thanks to a formal partnership between the Institute and NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps – the headquarters that recently returned from Kabul.

ARRC is a multi-national and increasingly inter-agency organisation. Several hundred strong, held on short notice and at a high state of preparedness to deploy, it exists to take strategic direction and translate that into plans and operations in any security setting from major war to humanitarian relief.

In a concept trialled last year, Exeter students on the MStrat programme will now experience analytical complexity and agile decision-making by taking part in ARRC’s annual mission rehearsals. In return, NATO staff have already exploited the rich academic expertise in Exeter’s growing applied strategy and security communities. This is a new model for academic/practitioner engagement – one that should be productive for both parties.

Paul Cornish meeting with NATO and more

In March Professor Paul Cornish took part in a meeting on NATO co-operation with the Asia-Pacific region at Wilton Park, the conference centre of the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Later in the month he spoke at a cyber-security conference in Beijing and attended the launch at Chatham House of the Tallinn Manual on the International Law applicable to Cyber Warfareedited by Professor Michael Schmitt.