A Way Out in Ukraine?

Sören Behnke is a Research Fellow at the Foreign Policy Circle based in Berlin and is currently enrolled in the ‘Military Studies’ M.A. at the University of Potsdam.

As Winter is settling in across eastern Europe, the war in Ukraine seems to be literally freezing. Some analysts have taken this together with Russia’s worsening economic situation as indicators, that Moscow might be looking for a way out of the conflict in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region.

A graphical overview of the War Zone by Marktaff, ZomBear (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International).

A graphical overview of the War Zone by Marktaff, ZomBear (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International via Wikimedia Commons).

Over the last few weeks Moscow’s tone has turned noticeably more conciliatory, going as far as reminding the Kyiv government, that the Donbas region is part of Ukraine, for which they should take on economic responsibility. Russia already has to cope with financing the Crimea region, in which it’s heavily investing into infrastructure development and modernisation, which by August 2014 made up for at least $4.5 billion. Obviously Moscow has no appetite for further financial investment in the once beloved ‘Novorossiya‘ region and thus is trying to get Kyiv to lift it’s economic and financial blockade of the self-proclaimed ‘Republics’. The latter of which has been especially hurtful to what little of an economy is left in the Donbas, as the Russian state run news agency ITAR-TASS notes.

As it could be routinely observed during this conflict, the shift in Russian policy has been visible in a shift in the official and semi-official language employed by Russian officials and news stations, as Vladimir Socor notes in a Analysis for the Jamestown Foundation: “During the month of November, Kremlin-controlled television channels wound down their previously intense propagation of the ‘Novorossiya’ project” (see also Vladimir Socor, “Moldova: Russia’s Next Target if the West Falters in Ukraine (Part Two)“, Eurasia Daily Monitor 11, Issue 98, May 27, 2014). “Russian President Vladimir Putin had not mentioned ‘Novorossiya’ and ‘statehood for Ukraine’s South-East’ since the end of August, but the propaganda outlets persisted longer. The Novorossiya project’s political, military, and ideological exponents have been switched off by now.”

The rift between the Kremlin and the leaderships of the self-proclaimed ‘Republics’ in eastern Ukraine has become more visible over the last month, as the Kremlin recalled prominent Russian figures like the infamous Igor Girkin, also known by his popular alias ‘Strelkov‘. This led to a media clash of sorts, between the nationalist elements like Girkin and his supporters, which the Kremlin employed in the early stages of the Russian-backed insurgency, and the official Kremlin outlets. Another point in this case came, when Russian President Vladimir Putin didn’t mention the ‘Novorossya’ in his annual address to the two chambers of Russian parliament in early December, instead focusing only on Crimea and it’s spiritual significance for the Russian Federation.

So what does this tactical shift in the Russian political language signify for the war in Ukraine?

Even though the seizure and annexation of Crimea may have been planned for long ahead as Andrei Illarionov noted in his speech to the NATO Assembly in Lithuania in May 2014, the Russian intervention in the Donbas regions seems to have been rather impromptu and improvised. It might have been, that the Kremlin for some time considered the idea of welcoming these regions into the Russian Federation as well, or was at least publicly ambiguous about it, this is clearly over by now. The Kremlin has seen is strategy of dividing the Ukrainian populace backfire in recent months when public opinion polls showed a growing support for the Ukrainian State and a commitment to the West. This clearly collides with Russia’s strategic imperative of having a at least neutral or defunct Ukrainian State at it’s border, serving as a geographical buffer between itself and the West. Carving out the eastern chunk of Ukraine would make the situation worse for Russia, as the rest of Ukraine would probably become even more committed to joining the EU and possibly even the NATO. Therefore it seems that the Kremlin has settled into the idea of con-federalisation of Ukraine, which would make it’s central government too weak to join the EU and/or the NATO and retain Russia’s influence, an idea it successfully advocated during the Minsk Peace Talks.

In the weeks leading up to the last meeting of the Contact Group on December 24th combat operations nearly halted, indicating the desire of all parties to at least explore political and diplomatic options. Russia signaled it’s interest in a political solution, which in the words of Russian foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov would have to include a ‘constitutional reform‘ in Ukraine, while probably retaining the option of resuming military operations if no deal was to be reached. As the meetings resulted in nothing more than a prisoner exchange between the self-proclaimed ‘Republics’ and the Ukrainian government, the latter part seems to have materialised, and news of renewed violence came shortly after the failed deliberations.

And though it may seem that Russia’s economic woes taken together with the conciliatory signs may signal a breakthrough in the making, it is unlikely that the Kremlin will alter it’s stance on Crimea. This after all is a fact neither the Western nor the Ukrainian government seem willing to accept. Herein lies the main problem for any political solution to the war in Ukraine, because Putin practically overcommitted himself to Crimea by calling it a holy place for Russia in his state of the nation address in December. Putins position inside the Russian system of power rests on his ability to act as a intermediary between different rivalling factions, or clans as they sometimes are called. By overcommitting like this he signalled to his peers and rivals that whatever the cost, he won’t let Crimea be taken from Russia, basically tying his own personal success to Russia’s newest province.

Thus any political solution of the war in Ukraine from a Russian point of view would have to include the West to at least ignore the question of the legal status of Crimea. Obviously this would be hard to swallow for most western leaders, even though a solution could stop short of the west actually accepting Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The scenario for this could lie somewhere along the lines of the Israeli-Syrian Golan Heights Case: no official recognition, no finalised peace deal, but a somewhat stable working relationship. But as long as the Ukrainian government still believes in succeeding with it’s military operations in the Donbas region, it understandably won’t consider giving in to Russia’s demands. And the western States, clinging to the somewhat overrated notion of credibility in international affairs, is not willing to accept Russia breaking one of the most important rules of the concert of Nation-States, namely the territorial integrity of each of them, which they believe might inspire other states elsewhere to probe into the same misbehaviour.

This leads to a paradoxical situation on the ground. Russia, even though it obviously does not seem interested in taking on the burden of more economically unstable provinces, has to keep up support for the self-proclaimed Republics because it needs them as a bargaining chip in any possible deal with Ukraine and the West. And Kyiv, still hoping for any kind of significant military support by the West, won’t give in to a diplomatic process as long as there is hope for altering the facts on the ground in taking away this bargaining chip in Ukraine’s eastern provinces. Not to speak of the different rebel factions and warlords, who clearly do have their own reasons for keeping the hostilities alive.

Currently all the involved parties do have a interest in continuing the war of attrition in the Donbas region, and the NATO states, that could easily alter the fortune of Ukraine, remain indecisive. This means that all the conciliatory signs aside, and in spite all the fruits a political solution could yield, this war will most likely drag on throughout 2015.

Posted in English, Russia, Sören Behnke, Security Policy, States and Regions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cartoon of the month: Tell me …

The journalist2

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This cartoon was drawn by Israeli cartoonist Shlomo Cohen. He was born in 1943 in Israel, and studied art at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. He works as political cartoonist for the newspaper “Israel Hayom“, producing daily cartoons. For additional cartoons by Shlomo Cohen check out his page on Cartoon Movement or his Facebook page.

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Posted in Cartoon, English | Tagged , | 1 Comment

The Brazilian Navy: Green Water or Blue?

by Paul Pryce. Paul Pryce is a Junior Research Fellow at the Atlantic Council of Canada. With degrees in political science from universities on both sides of the pond, he has previously worked in conflict resolution as a Research Fellow with the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly and as an infantryman in the Canadian Forces. His current research interests include African security issues and NATO-Russia relations.

Although much attention has been directed toward the uncertain fate of the Mistral-class amphibious assault ships that were being built in Saint-Nazaire, France for export to Russia, there has been considerably less reporting on Brazil’s quiet naval expansion. The Brazilian Navy has frequently been dubbed a ‘green-water’ force to distinguish it from conventional ‘blue-water’ or ‘brown-water’ navies. Whereas a blue-water navy is concerned with operations on the high seas and engaging in far-ranging expeditions, brown-water navies are geared toward patrolling the shallow waters of the coastline or riverine warfare. Green-water navies, however, mix both capabilities, focusing mainly on securing a country’s littorals but also retaining the ability to venture out into the deep waters of the oceans.

For several decades, this green-water label has been accurate to the Brazilian Navy. Although possessing a vast array of inland patrol ships and river troop transports to exert sovereignty over Brazil’s many rivers and drainage basins, the Brazilian Navy also boasts the BNS Sao Paulo, a Clemenceau-class aircraft carrier purchased from France in 2000. But there has recently been a shift in Brazil’s maritime priorities, suggesting that it may soon be more accurate to regard the Brazilian Navy as a blue-water force with some lingering vestiges of brown-water capabilities. Begun under Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, President of Brazil from 2003 until 2011, and intensified under the Dilma Rouseff’s current government, Brazil has been on a shopping spree for military hardware. Although this has included procuring 36 Gripen NG multirole fighter aircraft from Saab for use by the Brazilian Air Force, much of the recent contracts have pertained to the purchase of vessels intended to modernize the Brazilian Navy.

Brazil’s five Type 209 diesel-electric attack submarines, acquired from Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft, will be joined by four Scorpène-class diesel-electric attack submarines to be built domestically with completion of the first vessel expected in 2017. In March 2013, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff inaugurated a domestic shipyard at which Brazil’s first nuclear-powered submarine – the fittingly named BNS Alvaro Alberto – will be built with French support. Delivery of the completed vessel is not expected until 2025 but the success of the project would bring Brazil into a very small club of countries with operational nuclear-powered submarines: the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, India, and China.

The Barroso-class corvette commissioned in late 2008 also seems to have inspired a new series of ships for the Brazilian Navy. The domestic shipbuilder Arsenal de Marinha do Rio de Janeiro has been contracted to build four vessels based on the design of the Barroso-class but with “stealth capabilities” and which will possess both anti-ship and anti-air armaments. Delivery of the first of these new stealth corvettes is expected in 2019 and as such many specific details about the design are currently unknown. Furthermore, delivery of two new Macaé-class offshore patrol vessels is expected in 2015, while an additional two will be delivered in 2016-2017, bringing Brazil’s fleet of these patrol vessels to seven in total.

But why is there this rapid buildup in maritime forces for Brazil? To some degree, these new procurement projects are intended to offset the Brazilian Navy’s diminished capabilities following the retirement of 21 vessels between 1996 and 2005. This would not explain the focus on vessels with longer-range expeditionary capabilities, though. Some observers may attribute the acquisition of ships with capabilities clearly not intended for the patrol of inland waterways, such as the new “stealth-capable” Barroso-class corvettes, to the threat posed by Guinea-Bissau’s instability. That Lusophone West African country, which has been dubbed a “narco-state”, has been a major hub in the international drug trade; Colombian cocaine often makes its way to Guinea-Bissau from the Brazilian coast, only to then be exported onward to Europe. But President José Mário Vaz, who was elected by a decisive margin to lead Guinea-Bissau in May 2014, has quickly moved to crackdown on corruption in the Bissau-Guinean military and seems set to make counter-trafficking a priority during his term in office. Even if Brazilian policymakers believe it may be necessary to exert a stronger presence in the South Atlantic to discourage narcotics trafficking, a nuclear-powered attack submarine is not at all the right tool for the task.

Rather, it seems most likely that there are two principal factors motivating Brazil’s naval procurement projects. With regard to BNS Alvaro Alberto and the potential acquisition of a second aircraft carrier, Brazil craves the prestige of at least appearing to be the leading maritime power in the Southern Hemisphere. Participation in major international maritime exercises, such as the IBSAMAR series conducted jointly with Indian and South African forces, are intended to promote a view of Brazil as a power that ought to be respected and consulted, particularly as Brazilian policymakers continue to pursue a permanent seat for their country on the United Nations Security Council. More importantly, however, the shipbuilding projects on which Brazil has embarked are intended to build up domestic industry and contribute to economic growth.

Brazil is already attracting considerable interest as a shipbuilder. In September 2014, the Angolan Navy placed an order for seven Macaé-class offshore patrol vessels, with four to be built at Brazilian shipyards. Over the past several years, Brazil has exported various vessels and equipment for use by the Namibian Navy. Equatorial Guinea has expressed its intent to acquire a Barroso-class corvette from Brazil for counter-piracy purposes. The A-29 Super Tucano, a turboprop aircraft intended for close air support and aerial reconnaissance, is produced by Brazilian manufacturer Embraer and has been exported for use in roughly a dozen national air forces. If Brazilian industry is successful in producing submarines and stealth corvettes, demand for Brazilian military hardware will only grow, generating impressive revenue and creating many jobs.

Of concern, however, are Brazil’s long-term intentions with regard to the construction of BNS Alvaro Alberto. There are few navies in the world with the infrastructure and know-how necessary to successfully operate one or more aircraft carriers; after all, the club of those countries with aircraft carriers in service is limited to just nine. But the export of nuclear-powered attack submarines would undermine the international community’s non-proliferation treaty and could potentially harm international peace and stability. The Islamic Republic of Iran has been rumoured to occasionally entertain plans to obtain a nuclear-powered submarine, while the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has allegedly expressed a private interest in obtaining Soviet-era nuclear-powered submarines from the Russian Federation. This is not to say that Brazilian authorities would consider exporting such vessels to Iran, North Korea or other such regimes, but there is certainly a market for future submarines modelled on BNS Alvaro Alberto. It will be necessary to keep a very close eye on the Brazilian shipbuilding and nuclear industries in the 2030s, especially as domestic demand for this class of vessel is satisfied.

A plate on the Brasilian submarine rescue ship BNS K11 Felinto Perry.

A plate on the Brasilian submarine rescue ship BNS K11 Felinto Perry.

To obtain a deeper understanding of Brazil’s long-term strategic goals and to perhaps exert some degree of influence over Brazilian arms exports, it would be advisable for NATO to seek a partnership with the country. In August 2013, a partnership was established between NATO and Colombia, demonstrating that the Alliance certainly is interested in security affairs in the South Atlantic. Brazil could also contribute much know-how to NATO members, especially as the Alliance attempts to find its place post-Afghanistan. Clearly, there is much work to be done in the area of trust-building if such a partnership is to be found prior to the expected completion of BNS Alvaro Alberto: as Colombian officials visited with NATO counterparts to discuss the partnership, Brazilian policymakers were among those Latin American figures who condemned Colombia for the initiative.

Partnering with Brazil will be very challenging diplomatically, but it is an effort that must be made. This rising power will soon find itself with a blue-water navy and, as such, military vessels flying the Brazilian ensign will become an increasingly frequent sight in the South Atlantic.

Posted in Brazil, English, International, Paul Pryce, Sea Powers, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Kurdistan is Full of Arab Refugees, And Kurds Can’t Agree on How to Treat Them – Part 1/2

by Kevin Knodell. He is a freelance journalist based in Tacoma, Washington, USA. He currently coordinates and edits War is Boring’s Iraq field coverage with an international team of journalists. You can follow him on twitter at @KJKnodell

This is an expanded version of a feature originally published at War is Boring at Medium.com. Due to safety concerns, several names have been altered and contributing journalists left anonymous

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Iraq Refugee Crisis

An Iraqi Arab at a refugee camp in the Kurdish village of Bahari Taza

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In February, fighting between Islamic State militants and the Iraqi army drove 41-year-old Salam, a Sunni Arab, from his home in Babil province. He fled with his family to the town of Salahadin, believing it to be safe. He was wrong: the Iraqi army collapsed, Islamic State captured the city of Mosul … and kept advancing. Salam and his family fled again — this time to the safest place he could think of: Iraqi Kurdistan.

Thousands of refugees had the same idea. Salam looked around for somewhere to live in the increasingly crowded autonomous region. No luck at first. He and his family were standing in front of a real estate office in the Kurdish village of Piramagrun when a local man approached them. The Kurd said he had an unfinished house where the family could stay. “He offered it to us to stay in for free,” Salam says. They have water for only a couple hours per day. They borrow electricity from the Kurdish neighbors. Salam says he and his family are incredibly thankful for the Kurds’ generosity. “The people around here, our neighbors, they are very kind and they are helping us by giving us ice, sometimes food. So they are very nice and hospitable,” he says.

But not all Kurds are as welcoming to Arabs as the people of Piramagrun. In many places, the refugees have been greeted with suspicion. Some Kurds see all of them as potential terrorists and after decades of oppression and displacement at the hands of Saddam Hussein, are unhappy to see them taking shelter in Kurdistan. Now, some people in the region fear that the fight against radical jihadists could morph into a race war between Kurds and Arabs.

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On November 19, a car bomb detonated in the Iraqi Kurdish capital of Erbil, killing four and wounding ten or more. The blast shattered the relative safety the city has enjoyed for years — it was the first terrorist attack in the heart of Kurdish capital (though an earlier bombing in August 2014 hit the outskirts) since the war with the militants began. Kurdish officials said Islamic State was almost certainly the culprit — and acknowledged that there’s a strong possibility the bomber entered Kurdistan under the guise of being a refugee. Some Kurds took to the streets. Photos and video emerged on social media of Kurds vandalizing cars belonging to Arabs living in Erbil.

Car bomb attack in Erbil, August 2014.

Car bomb attack in Erbil, August 2014.

Many Kurds see this fight as a continuation of their blood feud with Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athists. Some of Islamic State’s most efficient fighters are former members of Hussein’s army and intelligence services — men that carried out mass killings of Kurds in the 1980s and early 90s. But many of these Arabs have lived and worked in the Kurdish region since before Islamic State invaded. The war has torn apart what were once some of Iraq’s most diverse and tolerant communities. A lot of Kurds want to see the Arabs leave. At the same time, many Kurds who’ve taken in Arab refugees insist they have a duty to help them. In the midst of this debate, many Arabs are wondering what that means for their future.

• • •

The Kurds vs Saddam Hussein
Iraq has always been a culturally diverse region, long before any borders were drawn. The various ethnic and religious groups often came into conflict over land and resources. But they would also often trade with each other, work alongside each other, intermarry, and formed mixed communities.

After World War I the British reorganized the former Ottoman Empire, including what would become Iraq. In 1921, the British installed King Faisal bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashimi, a Syrian Hashemite monarch as the king of “The British Mandate of Iraq“. In 1932, the Kingdom of Iraq became independent nation. Iraq experienced a succession of military coups until 1968, when the Arab nationalist Ba’ath Party took power. Throughout this turmoil, Kurdish Peshmerga guerrillas and political activists in the north launched a series of insurrections against rulers in Baghdad. As a culturally distinct group, they had always felt as though they had been left out after the western powers divided up the remnants of the Ottoman Empire.

The Ba’athists promoted the “Arabization” of Iraq’s resource rich northern provinces, encouraging Arabs to settle in cities and towns like Kirkuk. This sometimes meant forcing out Kurds and Turkmen who’d lived there for generations to make room. The Kurds pushed back, intensifying their struggle. But future Ba’athist ruler Saddam Hussein would prove unlike any other foe they had yet encountered. Hussein was an ambitious — and ruthless — Ba’athist party enforcer. Like most influential Ba’athists, he was a Sunni Arab. He had grown up in the ethnically mixed city of Tikrit. As an adult, he maneuvered his way into power in the Ba’athist party by spreading suspicion and fear, turning friends against each other, and killing anyone who stood in his way. He aggressively pursued the interests of his own Sunni Arab al-Bu Nasir tribe. He was an unabashed racist — he hated Shia Muslims, Jews, Turkmen, and Kurds. His rule was categorized by the ruthless repression of ethnic and cultural groups. He also exploited ethnic and tribal differences to pit opponents against each other while he consolidated his own power.

anfal-001

His rise to power became complete 1979 when he finally became Iraq’s ruler. Unsurprisingly, when Iran and Iraq went to war, most Kurdish fighters sided with the Iranians against Hussein. The Ba’athists ramped up Arabization efforts. In 1986, Hussein launched the al-Anfal Campaign, a brutal genocide aimed at ridding Northern Iraq of the Kurds. The campaign also targeted Iraqi Assyrians, Shabaks, Turkmens, Yazidis, Mandeans, and Jews. In 1988, Iraqi aircraft armed with chemical weapons to attack the Kurdish town of Halabja. It was the worst chemical weapon attack in history. His troops killed 5,000 Kurdish people. In all during the al-Anfal Campaign, as many as 182,000 people were killed, overwhelmingly Kurds. Kurdish refugees fled into the Iraqi mountains and to neighboring Turkey and Iran. Saddam Hussein continued to stockpile weapons and building opulent palaces in his own honor.

But then he invaded his oil rich neighbor Kuwait, leading to the Persian Gulf War. US-President George H.W. Bush deployed a massive American force to liberate Kuwait and crush the Iraqi Army. The US sent out radio broadcast encouraging Iraq’s southern Shia Arabs and Northern Kurds to rebel. Seeing Hussein weakened emboldened them enough to begin duel uprisings. To the rebels’ shock, the US didn’t push into Baghdad and pulled it’s forces back, leaving the Ba’athists in power. Hussein ruthlessly crushed the rebellion, once again driving the Kurds into the mountains. Helicopters strafed refugees as they tried to make their way north. At least, the no-fly zone over Iraqi Kurdistan protected the refugees and allowed the Kurds to forge a new identity. For the first time in decades, they were able to build a home for themselves and they elected their own leaders. The Peshmerga also began organizing themselves into a regional defense force. They also formed their own security and intelligence agency, the Asayish.

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Being Arab In The New Kurdistan
In 2003, Kurdish Peshmerga fought alongside American paratroopers to help topple the Ba’athist regime. Since then, Iraqi Kurdistan has become increasingly more autonomous. The Kurds also gained power in Baghdad, electing representatives to the national parliament. As sectarian violence gripped the rest of the nation, Kurdistan flourished. The Kurds built schools, hotels, and night clubs. They courted international investment, particularly in the energy sector. As a relative beacon of stability, Kurdistan attracted Arabs looking to get away from the fighting. In particular it was popular for Iraqis working for coalition forces like interpreters, who often would spend off time there, or lay low when insurgents threatened them. But many Arabs came for other reasons.

Ramiza, a human rights worker, is a Sunni Arab who married a Kurdish man. They have two children. She’s lived in Kurdistan since 2010. Overall, she has a good life in Kurdistan. She has a loving and supportive husband, lots of friends, and a safe home for her children. But even though it’s now her home, she’s often felt like an outsider. “I remember that my first experience, you can’t really call it racism, but Kurds like to know you like them, that you respect their history and that you don’t like Saddam Hussein from the first conversation you ever have with them,” she explains. She says that when she began working at a foreign NGO’s office in Kurdisan, the other staff—all Kurds—wouldn’t reply to her “good mornings” and “hellos”. It wasn’t until two months later when she started speaking Kurdish that she got started to get a response.

Arab refugee children from Sammarah in Iraqi Kurdistan

Arab refugee children from Sammarah in Iraqi Kurdistan

She says Kurds are often very defensive. “Once they hear that you are Arab they’re like, ‘Hmm, so you like Saddam’. It’s like, no, we don’t all like Saddam and not all of us are Ba’athist and we respect you guys,” she explains. “But they wouldn’t take the step to know you or to have any conversation with you until you show a real attempt to speak Kurdish,” she says. Attitudes toward Arabs are often expressed in subtle ways. For instance, sometimes when Kurds don’t want to use the word “Arab”, they’ll instead say “the people who eat dates”. It’s a complicated dynamic, because there are many exceptions. “[It’s] not Arabs in general actually … it’s Arabs from Iraq, from this part of Iraq”, she explains. “Because Kurds have no problems with Arabs from Syria, from Lebanon, any other country. Just Iraq”.

• • •

The Cab Ride From Hell
Dirar is a 24-year-old tech specialist from Kirkuk. His mother is an Iraqi Turkman and his estranged father is a Sunni Arab. His official paperwork identifies him as a Sunni Arab, but Dirar says he considers himself an Iraqi first. He lives and works in the Kurdistan.

“I was taking a taxi from Kirkuk to Sulaymaniyah when I got stopped at the Chamchamal checkpoint”, he recounts. This checkpoint is on the border of Iraqi-Kurdistan. “I had just been visiting my family in Kirkuk, because I [was] leaving the country for a few days for work”, he explains. “The security man at the checkpoint took my passport, my residency card and my Asayish card”, he recounts. The Asayish card, issued by the Kurdish security agency certifies that the Asayish have vetted him and don’t deem him a security risk. The Kurdish guard told the taxi driver to unload Dirar’s bags. He told the cabbie that Dirar would be staying at the checkpoint. But the taxi driver—also a Kurd—refused. “[He] said he would wait, even though he had a full taxi”, says Dirar.

Dirar asked the guard why he couldn’t pass. “I told him I have a job in [Kurdistan], I have lived there for a year, all of my possessions are there, even my home, everything!” But the guard seemed unmoved. Instead of taking Dirar’s card to the office for the regular security check, the guard put all of Dirar’s papers in his pocket. “I asked him what the problem is and he starts to shout at me”, Dirar recounts. When the Kurdish cabbie asked the guard what was going on he shouted at the driver, telling him he was just a taxi driver and that it was none of his business.

“I was worried that he might give my papers to a taxi going to Kirkuk and tell them to hand the papers to the Kirkuk checkpoint. This is what they do to Arabs sometimes”. Dirar explains, “It would mean that I would have to go back to Kirkuk and would not be allowed into Kurdistan and to Sulaymaniyah”. At one point the guard told Dirar he should return later, that maybe he would be in a good mood and give Dirar the papers back. The guard made him wait for an hour. The driver waited with him. Dirar ultimately made it through, and the Kurdish driver got him where he needed to go. But the incident left a bitter taste in his mouth. “It is things like this… that makes me want to leave the country to go to Turkey or Europe and not come back”, Dirar says. “My family all put pressure on me because they want me to leave Kirkuk, Iraq and Kurdistan and find a better life somewhere else”.

• • •

Taking People In
Mosul is Iraq’s second largest city, as well as its most diverse. As a result, all of Iraq’s many ethnic groups and sects were represented in the refugee exodus when militants seized it in June. Iraqi Shias, Christians, and Yezidis fled fearing ethnic cleansing by the notoriously violent Sunni militants. But Sunni refugees also fled. Dirar explains that the Sunni Arabs are in a unique predicament. “Sunni people have a big problem with ISIS, because they kill everyone. They do not care about anyone”, he says. “The people have started to leave the cities because of both sides, because of ISIS and because the government bombs them. Both sides kill them”.

Five arab refugee families from Mosul live with a Kurdish friend in Shekhan

Five arab refugee families from Mosul live with a Kurdish friend in Shekhan

Bahari Taza, a small Kurdish village just a 20 minute drive from the frontline town of Jalawla, has taken in thousands of refugees. When War is Boring last visited Bahari Taza over 600 families were living there. When Islamic State seized Jalawla, it forced even more refugees to Bahari Taza.

The village head, Adnan Mohammed Ali, has made it a personal mission to care for the refugees. He’s spent his own money on food and supplies and urging his people to donate their time preparing meals for the refugees. The refugees find shelter wherever they can—whether it be in tents, unfinished construction sites, barns or any other space the people of Bahari Taza can spare. All around the town Arab, Kurdish and Turkmen refugees live side-by-side in these make-shift dwellings. Despite their differences, they all share the experience being displaced. War is Boring asked Ali why Bahari Taza had taken in all these people, many of them not even Kurds. Ali seemed confused by the question. He explained that as a human being, he didn’t see how he could do anything else.

Bahari Taza is just one of many communities to take in refugees. Some Kurdish families have opened their homes to Arab friends. Schools, mosques, and community centers have all become shelters for refugees.

• • •

Kurdish Hospitality
At the Sha’ab Chaikana — a tea house in Sulaymaniyah — Kurdish men frequently discuss the politics of the day as they play dominoes and backgamon and sip on their tea. The refugee situation is a common topic of discussion. Most express sympathy for the refugees. “All of Kurdistan is full of Arabs from the region, Christian, Muslim, Shia, Sunni all of the religions, and the Kurdish are known for helping. That’s a religious thing, a humanitarian thing”, Tofiq, a 41 year old journalist says. He says that he hopes that the Kurdish government is acting to help all those need help—regardless of where they’re from. Hussein, a local engineer, says he thinks they have an obligation to help the refugees. “We should help them because we were once refugees in the past”, he says. “So we know how they feel”.

But not everyone at the Chaikana agrees with this sentiment. Abdula, a 59 year old born and raised in Sulaymaniyah sees things very differently. “We are Kurdish. We want to separate from the camels and from the pigs—from the Arabs”, he tells War is Boring. “The Arabs, they do not have any culture. As a Kurd we have a culture”.

He’s not the only one. “I have had problems in taxis inside the city”, Dirar says. “I listen to them swearing at Arab people in the street, but because I can speak Kurdish they do not realize I am Arabic. … The taxi drivers are complaining about the refugees, because they say the rent gets put up because of them”, he explains. “The refugees will pay anything to get somewhere to live”.

Ramiza insists that that it’s unreasonable to blame the Arabs for driving up rates. “[If] I brought all my family from Baghdad to [Kurdistan] and I had money for that, I would pay $1.000 for an apartment, I would pay $5.000 a year for a private school”, she says. “I would do that and they [Kurds] would do the same because they have done the same. It’s not about me being Arab or them being Kurds”.

“The people think the Arabs make everything more expensive”, says Dirar. “Though really it’s the Kurdish people who own the property who are taking advantage of the Arab refugees.”

Posted in English, General Knowledge, Iraq, Kevin Knodell, Migration, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

“Africa is the battleground of the future”

Where the mountains meet the Sahel, in southern Algeria. (Photo by: Dennis Stauffer).

Where the mountains meet the Sahel, in southern Algeria. (Photo by: Dennis Stauffer).

In September, while visiting the headquarters of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US-President Barack Obama announced an expanded response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Referencing the 2,461 people who had since succumbed to the Ebola virus, Obama reaffirmed that Ebolas was “not just a threat to regional security — it’s a potential threat to global security if these countries break down, if their economies break down, if people panic”. In response, the US-president announced the creation of a military command center in Liberia to coordinate response, harnessing the US military’s capacity for command and control, logistics and engineering, Obama said. “Our armed services are better at that than any organization on earth.”

Obama’s promise was an important pledge of international support for a beleagured region, but it came with additional consequence: By calling upon the Department of Defense’s newest regional command, AFRICOM, Obama publicly invoked an arm of American military power largely unmentioned in public discussion. For some, the fact that a military command was now tasked with addressing a health crisis established a worrying tone for future interventions: No matter what the challenge — ranging from the environment and health crises, to development and security issues — the military would be the first stop. But as Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea continue to wage battle against a scourge projected to infect as many as 1.4 million by early 2015, observers prepared for their first look at AFRICOM.

Founded in 2007, the Department of Defense’s African Command (AFRICOM) was created after re-shuffling the wider command structure to address regional interests. As conceived, the command “builds defense capabilities, responds to crisis, and deters and defeats transnational threats in order to advance U.S. national interests and promote regional security, stability, and prosperity.” While Africa ranked low on American foreign policy priorities in the 1990s, the continent’s post-9/11 security landscape — coloured with the rise of non-state threats (terrorists or criminals) — combined with the region’s growing economic importance began to alter the strategic calculus in Washington.

US military responsibility in Africa was previously shared between EUCOM, based in Stuttgart, which tackled programming for 42 African states, and CENTCOM, responsible for another eight. Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sought to centralize this regional responsibility in an act scholars defined as “reducing the [bureaucratic and strategic] maze.”

As a harbinger of 2014’s fight against Ebola, AFRICOM’s framers were eager to stress key principles that would position AFRICOM generally: the interdependence of security and development, prioritizing conflict prevention to “warfighting”, and invoked a broader concept of “human security”, according to David E. Brown, a senior diplomatic advisor at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. The new command would also be organized around “nodes” spread throughout the continent, and would employ civilian officers, empowered directly below the military commanders, as “diplomatic, developmental and economic” envoys. Within the DoD, AFRICOM also carried the telling designation of Command Plus, which confered “broader soft power mandate” as well as comparatively larger personnel numbers compared to other US government agencies.

A group of service members, including Soldiers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Forward Engineering Support Team based in Wiesbaden, Germany, boards a U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules at Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport in Dakar, Senegal, Oct. 22, 2014. The engineers are bound for Liberia, where they will build medical treatment units as part of Operation United Assistance, the U.S. Agency for International Development-led, whole-of-government effort to respond to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

A group of service members, including Soldiers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Forward Engineering Support Team based in Wiesbaden, Germany, boards a U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules at Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport in Dakar, Senegal, Oct. 22, 2014. The engineers are bound for Liberia, where they will build medical treatment units as part of Operation United Assistance, the U.S. Agency for International Development-led, whole-of-government effort to respond to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Maj. Dale Greer)

AFRICOM was intended to “tackle the security challenges related to humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, disease, poverty, deforestation, building partnership capacities, civic action,” wrote then-Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Africa, Theresa Whelan, in 2007. Tellingly, the list of responsibilities ranged across both humanitarian and military domains.

But AFRICOM’s founding prompted scrutiny and criticism from both African leaders and international observers. Practically, proponents and critics were concerned about the budget. With such a broad suite of responsibilities, the command would require considerable funds, an echo of previous commitments consistently unmet. Back in 2004, the Bush administration crafted the African Contingency Training Assistance (ACOTA) program to support offensive military training and the provision of weapons to select African partners. According to research conducted by Eric Berman, however, ACOTA, much like its predecessor suffered from limited funding, affecting its depth and sustainability.

Beyond budgetary concerns, however, critics noted the haste with which AFRICOM was constructed. The truncated schedule left little opportunity for partner country collaboration or consultation. According to James Forest and Rebecca Crisp, a source on AFRICOM’s transition team told them: “I’ve never seen anything built so fast except in combat.”

Many worried about the militarization of US foreign assistance. Between 1998 and 2005, the percentage of official development assistance controlled by the Pentagon rose from 3.5 percent to 22 percent, a move that prompted former Defense Secretary Robert Gates to note: “It has become clear that America’s civilian institutions of diplomacy and development have been chronically undermanned and underfunded for far too long – relative to what we spend on the military, and more important, relative to the responsibilities and challenges our nation has around the world.”

Seven years later, AFRICOM’s responsibilities continue to expand. Obama’s Ebola response comes with a 750 million dollar expense account — necessary to address the health crisis, surely, but also clear investment opportunity for the US military to entrench. In late October, AFRICOM’s chief information officer discussed plans to lease a high-speed circuit to strengthen internet capacity for the military in Liberia — the announcement coming just weeks after plans for a connection between AFRICOM’s Stuttgart base and Dakar, Senegal were made public. Steadily, the racheting up of responsibilities, and AFRICOM’s role in a suite of special operations missions across the continent, has led to consistently higher yearly appropriations. Yet AFRICOM’s growth has received scant attention from local and international media, or the broader academic world.

In June 2014, in The New York Times Magazine, journalist Eliza Griswold profiled AFRICOM’s steadily growing operation in West Africa, accompanying Brigadier General James B. Linder to Niger where 12 Army Green Berets were training African troops to fight Al Qaeda and its affiliates. An hour further south by plane, the article notes, US Special Forces were deployed along the northern Nigerian border, where the Islamist extremist group, Boko Haram, was terrorizing civilians in the region.

“My job is to look at Africa and see where the threat to the United States is,” Linder told The New York Times, translating, more or less, AFRICOM’s motto on the continent. But Linder, who described his role as being “myopically focused” on threats, had a vast number of targets to chase. “I see Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Libyan problem set, Al Shabab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia, Benghazi and Darna.”

American Green Berets and Uganda People’s Defense Force soldiers at an airstrip in Obo, Central African Republic (Photo: Michael Christopher Brown for The New York Times).

American Green Berets and Uganda People’s Defense Force soldiers at an airstrip in Obo, Central African Republic (Photo: Michael Christopher Brown for The New York Times).

Linder arrived at AFRICOM just after the US embassy was stormed in Libya, and much of the article traces a familiar narrative: the fight to map the ripple effects of conflicts across the Sahel. “Instability in Libya is causing a lot of the instability in West Africa,” Linder told The New York Times. Perhaps missed in this conversation, however, were the inflection points created by the US military itself. AFRICOM was a key player in the joint strikes in Somalia and Libya (2013, the ongoing deployment of military advisors confronting the LRA in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the 80 military personnel in Chad in response to April 2014 abduction of more than 200 girls from Chibok, Nigeria. In addition, military leaders in Stuttgart surely had a hand in the drone assassination of Al Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane September 2014. Beyond numbers and the odd press release, little is know about these operations or the local responses to US presence.

If The New York Times story captured the nature and tone of AFRICOM’s operations, however, it illustrated an image of a waning United States military footprint. After wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American public has grown weary of convention military operations, opting instead for “small teams of men, in fleece jackets and sneakers, quietly fanning out across the African continent,” as Griswold wrote in June. In an interview soon after her story was published, Griswold compared the 700 special operations forces in Africa to the 100 members used to overthrow the Taliban in 2001. “These guys operate in small numbers and are extremely valuable,” she added.

Given AFRICOM’s relatively low profile, Linder’s comments were of particular interest in terms of scope and framing of AFRICOM’s operations. In conversation, Linder confirmed a sensitivity for an interdisciplinary focus while addressing questions of security and extremism in the regions. Included in this matrix of variables were Africa’s demographic shift, growing economic inequality and crises of climate change. But his discussion also carried a worrying historical echo: while Africa may have been ignored for generations, left to fester in the shadows of great power politics, the continent today represents a modern iteration of the generation old domino theory — a conceptual framework based on power vacuums, tipping points, and a potentially endless cycle of violence and reprisals. Such a system will require constant engagement — just the latest chapter in a war without end. “Africa is the battleground of the future,” Linder told The New York Times Magazine. But clearly this contest has begun.

Missing from many of the AFRICOM conversations, however, is discussion of some ideal stasis, or endpoint. As the DoD’s smallest command, AFRICOM is tasked with tracking a wide range of groups across an extensive and exacting territory. Beyond mapping this terrain, American forces are also expanding assistance programs to aid regional military and security forces. These efforts are further complicated by widespread corruption throughout many West African states. With frequent allegations of human rights violations against local armed forces, the US military is struggling to address insecurity without creating further unrest. In part, this comes through Congressional checks, such as the Leahy Amendment, intended to vet assistance to foreign security forces. But these restrictions have created tensions with some of the most critical partner nations.

A Green Beret teaching navigation techniques to soldiers from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (Photo: Michael Christopher Brown for The New York Times).

A Green Beret teaching navigation techniques to soldiers from the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (Photo: Michael Christopher Brown for The New York Times).

In an interview with the BBC this month, an AFRICOM spokesperson discussed Nigeria’s unexpected cancellation of its third and final training exercise this year. “We regret premature termination of this training, as it was to be the first in a larger planned project that would have trained additional units with the goal of helping the Nigerian Army build capacity to counter Boko Haram,” said the US Embassy in Abuja. Weeks earlier, the Nigerian Ambassador to the United States, Adebowale Adefuye, had expressed frustration with the “scope, nature and content” of US support, claiming that US assistance failed to provide the “lethal weapons” — such as attack helicopters — what would quell the aggressive Boko Haram. Given the allegations of human rights violations, the provision to weapons — not to mention deadly military materiels — is continuously contentious.

This recent crises sets a worrying tone for AFRICOM’s of tomorrow: in situations where significant security threats present, and a dearth of local partners exist, US forces may be forced to shoulder full responsibility for extensive missions. If these missions result in civilian casualties, AFRICOM will undoubtedly sew the very grievances that already alienate vulnerable populations, fueling a cycle of recruitment now known to feed extremist ranks.

Even if the United States — through AFRICOM — is proficient at training a new generation of African military officers, imparting clear “values, ethics and a military ethos”, the military is only part of this delicate equation. Careful to highlight the potential for AFRICOM to learn from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Griswold’s article leaves a series of complex political conversations undiscussed. In Nigeria, and particularly the hardscrabble borderlands that open into neighboring Niger, Chad, Cameroon and the Central Africa Republic, strengthening military will not stop the transit of guns and gunners, nor has it stopped today’s Boko Haram from using state boundaries to their advantage. To fight an enemy whose territory is fluid, requires a deeper fight against the kind of marginalization borne of political inequities.

As a result, the consequences of covert operations and their impact on political structures are perhaps the most vital to understand. Just last year former AFRICOM commander, General Carter Ham publicly acknowledged errors made in training Malian forces in 2012. An ally and partner country, Mali received extensive military training before those very troops, in 2013, overthrew the government and set in motion violence that required French-led United Nations operation in response. Training more capable soldiers is only helpful if they are fighting for the right side.

As AFRICOM continues to mature, it will have to push back against the perception formed at its very founding: “the United States was already armed with solutions worked out in Washington and the Pentagon, and had not taken into account the needs or strategic concerns of the African people it intended to support.” As history has shown, those needs and concerns are difficult to tease out at gunpoint.

Posted in Adam McCauley, DR Congo, English, History, International, Libya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Security Policy, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Transnistria: Russia’s pawn in the game for security

by Sandra Ivanov. Sandra Ivanov is from New Zealand with a postgraduate education in Peace and Conflict Studies. She is currently an editor of the blog “Conflict and Security“, and primarily works in the non-government sector. You can find her through Linkedin or follow her updates on Twitter.

Military conductor of Moldova's self-proclaimed separatist Dnestr region takes part in a military parade during the celebration of 20 years of self-styled independence in Tiraspol on September 2, 2010 (Photo: Vadim Denisov).

Military conductor of Moldova’s self-proclaimed separatist Dnestr region takes part in a military parade during the celebration of 20 years of self-styled independence in Tiraspol on September 2, 2010 (Photo: Vadim Denisov).

Transnistria (Transdniester Moldovan Republic/TDMR or in Russian, Pridnestrovskaya Moldovskaya Respublika/PMR) – popularly referred to as a Soviet open air museum, is a strip of land holding de facto independence sandwiched between Moldova and Ukraine in Eastern Europe. Not recognised by any sovereign state, it has split from the Republic of Moldova and operates with its own government, police, and military forces. Transnistrian citizens even hold their own passports, albeit only being able to use them internally. However, Transnistria would not be able to maintain its political bargaining power without heavy support from Big Bear Russia. In light of recent events in Crimea, and in Ukraine, Transnistria becomes an interesting historical case to explore how Russia’s strategic interests are injected into vulnerable territories.

Brief history: Lost without the hammer and sickle
The name Transnistria (literally translating to ‘over the River Dniester‘) was born out of an armed conflict in 1992. Before this time, the identity of ‘Transnistrian’ people did not exist. The crumbling of the Iron Curtain left Moldova divided. The right side of the bank felt that the end of the Soviet Union corresponded with deprivation and humiliation. Split into mainly three nationalities (Russian, Ukrainian, Moldovan), no group prominently stood out in society. Seeking to preserve the ideals of the Russian powers, the Moldovan declaration of sovereignty in 1990 made the Transnistrian leaders weary. They feared that Moldova, previously a region of Romania, would reunite because of common historical and linguistic roots. In response to the declaration, a separate congress convened declaring a ‘Transnistrian Republic’.

moldova-001The approximate four month war in 1992 is a ‘sacred’ event in Transnistrian history. The war is viewed as the justification for its separation from Moldova and a collective memory is perpetuated in society as “a war for truth, justice and independence“. This, with a combination of economic instability, military invasion and the Romanian issue, has been the official reason for violence. But behind the curtain, certain leaders at the time wanted to make the communist ideology thrive, entrenched in opposing democratic reform, an impetus for keeping the status quo dominated.

The 14th Soviet Army based in Transnistria at the time intervened, defeating Moldovan forces, and initiating a Russian brokered peace. From this point on around 1.000 – 1.500 peacekeepers have kept permanent positions securing borders between Chișinău and Ukraine. This allowed a continuation of Russian support in all areas of Transnistrian life – politics, economics and law enforcement systems. A type of Russian satellite state was born.

Interestingly, however Transnistria remains international. Russians, Ukrainians, and Moldovans, all take roughly a third of the population pie. At the time of ‘independence’, the urban population in Tiraspol was heavily Russophone. To take a sample, the birthplace of parliamentary deputies from the 2005-2010 legislatures shows this split. Out of the 42 officials, 11.9% were born in Moldova, 30.95% in Transnistria, 21.45% in Russia, and 19.05% in Ukraine. Even with its proclaimed ‘independence’, Transnistria remains unrecognised by the international community and is still part of the Republic of Moldova formally.

Russia’s Transnistria
Transnistria’s quest for sovereignty strengthens Russia’s strategic interests in Eastern Europe. A valuable base in the region, close to allies Serbia, and the Black Sea watching over Ukraine from two sides, Transnistria offers a position of power.

Russia has sponsored the birth of a regime by building parallel state structures and institutions – a dream come true for those leaders in Tiraspol. From economic, political, and military support, the region has experienced the luxury of operating as a separate entity. Big Bear has provided this cub, a ‘state’, but also the existence as a recognised ‘compatriot’ of the Russian Federation. In return, Transnistria can only offer its loyalty, adopting a Russian educational curriculum, where generations have been conditioned to see their region as part of a Slavic civilisation.

moldova-002The military interventions carried out by Big Bear in the post-Soviet space do not intend to achieve clear victories, but to keep breakaway regions in a state of limbo. Transnistria is one of many regions where the Russian Federation has involved itself to maintain international presence and power – South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and now Crimea. As an important foothold in the region, Russia has no intention of recognising Transnistria as its own state.

The economy of Transnistria has been sustained solely through the heavy support of Russia. Russia has granted privileges to businesses, allowed concessions for energy and gas consumption, and paved the way for strategic privatisation – but this has also comes with a price for Transnistria. The installation of political aides, and replacing local elites with the direct management of Russian intelligence forces has given Russia a direct hand into the operation of the region. The process of privatisation began in 2000 centred on the main beneficiaries being Russia. Everyone is a winner! Russian oligarchs buy local Transnistrian enterprises, they benefit from Russian subsidies to enrich themselves, and at the same time boost their profile by supporting ‘compatriots’.

While arbitrarily both sides seem to profit, a grim picture prevails for those that do not hold power. With over two decades of isolation, no scrutiny, and no public rights and freedoms, an economic and military conclave run by corrupt leaders with almost no counterbalancing measures has been created. If Transnistria is an example to go by, the conflicts of 2014 could fall into the very same black hole.

The Ukrainian relationship
The borders of Transnistria are infamous for their fluidity. Organised criminal groups and cunning leaders and business people exploit this loophole to smuggle goods and people to various places. It is used as a trade point into Western Europe from places such as Ukraine, through to Romania, and then to Turkey. Transnistria also gains counterfeit products from Ukraine, as well as being known to allow contraband in through the Ukrainian port of Illichivsk. Ukraine has made use of Transnistria to ship weapons for decades, and throughout the 1990s, Ukrainian weapons intended for illegal or politically sensitive markets were either airlifted to their destinations, or shipped from Odessa under Transnistrian custom seals.

However Ukraine’s stance on Transnistria changed after Viktor Yushchenko came into power following the Orange Revolution in 2005. Tough custom controls and new custom posts were put in place, which Transnistrian officials condemned as economic blockades or embargoes. Manned by Ukrainian and Moldovan officers, a deal was initiated which required Transnistrian companies to have official Moldovan stamps before exporting goods.

The Bendery border crossing between Transnistria and Moldova.

The Bendery border crossing between Transnistria and Moldova.

Ukraine is increasingly aiming towards joining the European Union, changing its foreign policy approaches to Transnistria accordingly. It is known for taking a stance of benevolent neutrality, and decisions towards Transnistria are dependent on if the government of the day is pro or anti-Russian. For example, relations between Ukraine and Transnistria relaxed when pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych assumed office in 2010. However, Ukraine has its intent clear on preserving Moldova’s territorial integrity. A few months into the Orange presidency, the ‘Yushchenko Plan’ was proposed as a solution to resolving the disputes in the Moldovan Republic. Interestingly, the plan did not mention the military presence of the Russians specifically, but it did suggest that the ‘peacekeeping’ forces presently stationed be replaced with an international force of military and civilian observers. It also did not directly allude to the federative status of Transnistria, and advised that the part of the territory be reintegrated with the same level of autonomy as previously done with Gagauzia.

More recently, Ukraine has seen Transnistria as a security threat. The annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014, and the outbreak of conflict in Eastern Ukraine by the pro-Russian ‘Donetsk People’s Republic‘ (DPR) movement have left Ukrainian officials weary about the Russian forces manning the border with Transnistria. Fears of potential Russian infiltration from Crimea and Eastern Ukraine through Transnistria could cut off Ukraine from the Black Sea and destabilise the region. In response to this uncertainty, Ukrainian defence forces have been deployed to the Odessa region. As a result, Transnistrian officials now travel abroad through Chisinau in the Moldovan territory, rather than Odessa as done previously. It is uncertain what approach Ukraine will take towards Transnistria, but it seems likely they will continue to use economic cooperation and diplomacy to leverage their influence in the region.

The place to be for ‘conflict experts’
An interesting way to examine the roots and importance of what is happening currently in Eastern Europe is by investigating some of the leaders in the self-proclaimed ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’. The following Russian officials have had some form of involvement with Transnistria. Mapping their movements to different regions of Europe which correspond with Russia’s strategic interests reveals some quite remarkable networks.

Vadim Shevtsov, Deputy Prime Minister of the 'DPR' between July and September 2014, with two Cossack gunmen (Photo: Harriet Salem).

Vadim Shevtsov, Deputy Prime Minister of the ‘DPR’ between July and September 2014, with two Cossack gunmen (Photo: Harriet Salem).

A former Soviet OMON police major, Vladimir Antyufeyev began using the name Vadim Shevtsov in 1991 after Latvia opened a criminal case against him for being part of a coup against the government. From 1992 to 2012, Shevtsov was the head of Transnistria’s ‘Ministry of State Security’, or ‘KGB’ as it is known. He was one of the closest people to the long-time ‘President’ of Transnistria, Igor Smirnov. Shevtsov recounted his time in Transnistria saying: “I think that I had accomplished my task over there. I single-handedly created from the ground a security structure, and it was the most effective one in the region”.

Shevtsov has played key roles in other places such as Ossetia, Chechnya, Abkhazia, and Crimea. Most recently, he held the post of ‘Deputy Prime Minister‘ of the ‘DPR’ between July and September 2014.

Igor Girkin or ‘Strelkov’ is a man with a history of taking part in secessionist military operations. He has participated in the wars in the former Yugoslavia, Chechnya, as well as Transnistria. From 1996 until March 2013, Girkin was in the FSB as a reserve colonel and intelligence officer. Involved in the annexation of Crimea, Grikin is also an assistant on security issues to self-proclaimed ‘Prime Minister’ of the ‘Republic of Crimea‘, Sergey Aksionov.

As one of the military leaders responsible for the insurgency of the Russian separatists in Ukraine, revelations of his thoughts were leaked through hacked emails. In 2010, Girkin mentioned that some of his friends were engaged in the ‘Ukrainian project’ and if they put in the effort, a Transnistrian scenario would be possible – referring to an option of secession without annexation. Girkin was the ‘DPR Minister of Defence’ from May until August 2014.

Alexander Borodai is the first ‘Prime Minister’ of the self-declared ‘DPR’, Borodai went over from Russia in the 1990s to fight in Transnistria’s war to safeguard the ethnic Russian population. He fought alongside with Girkin, and both of them have been closely tied with Shevtsov since the conflict. Before joining East Ukraine, he was a pivotal political strategist involved in the annexation of Crimea.

Outgoing 'Prime Minister' Alexander Borodai, left, shakes hands with Alexander Zakharchenko, who has been put forward as the new 'Prime Minister' of the self-declared "Donetsk People's Republic", after a press conference in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Thursday August 7, 2014. Alexander Borodai announced he was resigning Thursday and that he would act as an adviser to Zakharchenko, once he has been confirmed by the separatist legislature ( Photo: Sergei Grits).

Outgoing ‘Prime Minister’ Alexander Borodai, left, shakes hands with Alexander Zakharchenko, who has been put forward as the new ‘Prime Minister’ of the self-declared “Donetsk People’s Republic”, after a press conference in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Thursday August 7, 2014. Alexander Borodai announced he was resigning Thursday and that he would act as an adviser to Zakharchenko, once he has been confirmed by the separatist legislature ( Photo: Sergei Grits).

Olga Kulygina is also an interesting character to note here. A close personal friend of both Girkin and Borodai, she is a Russian agent who was involved in secret services operations in places such as Transnistria and Georgia, and was involved in the planning of the Ukrainian insurgency, as well as personally fighting in Sloviansk.

Aleksandr Karaman is currently the ‘Deputy Prime Minister’ for Social Issues of the ‘DPR’. Working closely with Shevtsov, Karaman was the ‘Vice-President’ of Transnistria between the years 1991 – 2001. He is also the protégé of Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin.

Andrey Pinchuk and Oleg Bereza both associates of Shevtsov, were in the Transnistrian Ministry of State Security. Pinchuk holds the position of ‘State Security Minister’, and Bereza is the ‘Internal Affairs Minister’ of the ‘DPR’. These two ministries were created under Shevtsov, and the pair has recruited former officers working in Kyiv who resigned or defected from positions in Ukraine’s ministries to join the ‘DPR’ movement – they have hired more than 1.000 new personnel to ‘maintain internal order’.

Questions of security: Back in the USSR
Transnistria is not just a concern for Russia and Ukraine, but its activities have potential international impacts on security. Most prominently are the region’s fragile and unmonitored borders. There is a lack of hard evidence, but the production and transport of weaponry in Transnistria has allegedly been supplied to conflict zones in Chechnya, the Balkans, and even to parts of Africa. The largest weapon stockpile left from the Soviet era in Southeast Europe is in fact located in Transnistria. Russian information reveals that the Russian 14th Army stationed in the region has 21.000 tonnes of equipment from such stockpiles.

Moldova’s lack of control over its breakaway region is affecting the country’s progress. There are no external security agencies operating in Transnistria, and INTERPOL has no influence making it an unpredictable stadium for organised crime. Prostitution has become a specific dilemma – it has affected surrounding countries such as Romania and Bulgaria in terms of their European Union membership.

moldova-005Moldova has been labelled the poorest country in Europe, and the region of Transnistria performs significantly higher economically than the state which legitimately exists. Transnistria is sustained by criminal activities which serve specific leaders. The prime example is former ‘President’ Igor Smirnov’s ‘Sheriff’ firm – this one company owns a chain of supermarkets, gas stations, a publishing house and mobile phone network, and even has its own sports arena costing twice the annual budget of Moldova.

The continual presence of Russian ‘peacekeepers’ is ironically one of the main barriers to fruitful negotiations over resolving what has been termed a ‘frozen conflict’. Transnistria is strategically invested and sustained by Russian Federation economic and political assistance, which without would all crumble. The current minimal level of international monitoring and oversight over Transnistria is worrying. There is a distinct lack of media attention on public opinion, or recordings of how people live their daily lives. The people in the region have different perspectives over the state of their region – to reintegrate with Moldova, to join Russia, or to become truly independent. In 1992, the separatists took over Moldovan police and government buildings to bring about a new regime. This is a similar scenario to what has happened in Crimea and the unfolding situation in Ukraine, and if Transnistria is a case to review, the international community will need to take action before Russia adds another de facto region to its list. For Transnistria, involvement from surrounding states and the European Union will be necessary to reduce Russia’s influence. But in order to change the course of the region’s history, the current military presence and loaded stockpiles will need to be the first thorns removed.

Posted in English, International, Moldova, Sandra Ivanov, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Iran Nuclear Talks: A Deal May Be Reached with Trust, but Not with Certainty

This article was published by “greatcharlie” (Twitter) – thanks for the permission to republish it.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Commander General (Sarlashkar) Mohammad Ali Jafari (on the photo below, right) stands close to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a ceremony. For hard-liners as Jafari, the failure to reach a deal by November 24th proved the West only wants Iran to surrender its nuclear program. Fears of US military action are gone. Hard-liners have gained even more of Khamenei’s attention on foreign policy.

Jafari-001

According to a November 25, 2014 New York Times article entitled “U.S. and Allies Extend Iran Nuclear Talks by 7 Months“, the US and partners in the P5+1 (the permanent five members of the UN Security Council — the US, United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China — plus Germany), to declare an extension for talks with Iran on its nuclear program until June 30, 2015. The extension came after a yearlong effort to reach a sustainable agreement with Iran to dismantle large parts of its nuclear infrastructure. There was no indication of why negotiators felt they could overcome political obstacles blocking a deal. Until very recently, negotiators from all sides insisted that the November 24, 2014 deadline for a deal was hard and fast.

The November 25th New York Times article explained the already extended high-level diplomacy over the Iranian nuclear program was arguably US President Barack Obama’s top foreign policy priority. The results on November 24th had to be a disappointment for him. Negotiators did not even agree on the framework for a comprehensive deal. In expressing hope that a deal could still be reached, US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters that a series of “new ideas surfaced” in the last several days of talks. He further stated “we would be fools to walk away,” because a temporary agreement curbing Iran’s program would remain in place while negotiations continued. Indeed, it has been reported that Iran has actually kept its end of the deal under the November 24, 2013 interim agreement, named the Joint Plan of Action, by reducing its stock of 20 percent enriched Uranium, not enriching Uranium above a purity of 5 percent and not installing more centrifuges in addition to other things. In extending the interim agreement, Iran has ensured itself sanctions relief, bringing it $700 million a month in money formerly frozen abroad. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani appeared on Iranian national television with a message of both reassurance and resistance. He told Iranians that a deal would end sanctions, but also said “the centrifuges are spinning and will never stop.” The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has rejected US demands for the deep reductions in Iran’s enrichment capability. His view may not change before a March 1, 2015 deadline for reaching a political agreement, the first phase in the seven-month extension.

For the hard-liners in Iran, the failure to reach an agreement proved the US and its allies were not negotiating honestly and simply wanted to take away Iran’s nuclear program. Iranian moderates however, seem to realize an authentic agreement that includes the removal of sanctions and an acceptable modification of Iran’s nuclear activities can be reached. Yet, they likely also worry that the failure to reach an agreement coupled with the lackluster US reaction over events in Iraq and Syria has strengthened hard-liners’ resolve, and worse, strengthened their position and influence with Khamenei. Threats made by the Obama administration to take military action if negotiations fail now ring hollow. Western negotiators remain concerned over how Iran will proceed with or without a deal. A deal would need to be made with the prayer that Tehran will not announce one day that it has a weapon.

Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif with High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton.

Iranian Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif with High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton.

 
Zarif Wants An Agreement to Resolve the Nuclear Issue in Tehran
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, was upbeat before reporters at a press conference on November 25, 2014 in Vienna saying with a broad smile that he was optimistic that in the next few months a solution would be found. He was quoted as saying “We don’t need seven months.” Zarif directed his words at the US Congress saying Iran would not be ending all of its nuclear activities. He explained “If you are looking for a zero sum game in nuclear negotiations, you are doomed to failure.” He also revealed that the step by step removal of sanctions was a stumbling block in the talks. Zarif apparently argued to the end in the talks that the sanctions must be lifted permanently and almost immediately.

For both Rouhani and Obama, the next seven months may be difficult to manage. Opponents of concessions of any kind have been gaining strength in both countries. It seems time has quickly passed since the summer of 2013 when considerable enthusiasm was created in Washington and other Western capitals over the potential of negotiations with Iran. Rouhani made an eloquent case for opening a dialogue with the US before and after his inauguration. Skepticism expressed in the US came mainly from Kerry. He made it clear that the warming of relations between the US and Iran did not mean that the US would back off its demands on Iran’s nuclear program. Kerry was also unequivocal about his willingness to shut down any talks if he discerned an effort to stall, misdirect, or deceive through the process. However, as the process got underway, there was a perceptible shift in the US position. US negotiators seemed to fall over themselves just to reach a nuclear deal with Iran. Talk of military action against Iran’s nuclear program has become a distant memory. Obama administration officials pleaded with Congress not to levy new sanctions against Iran because sanctions would not convince the Iranians to accede to US wishes. Simply put, the White House wanted to reach a deal, and US officials did not really hide that fact. Zarif apparently recognized the change in US attitude. He told the Iranian media, “There are indicators that John Kerry is inclined [to advance the nuclear matter in Iran’s interests].”

By that point, Zarif saw the real possibility of reaching an agreement with the P5+1 that Tehran could live with. He argued with hard-line elements in Tehran, including the leadership of the IRGC and hard-line political and religious leaders, that a deal would be beneficial to Iran. The hard-liners did not desire to engage in negotiations, particularly with the West and remained reluctant, but, in obedience to Khamenei, they did not oppose his efforts.

Zarif assures that Iran neither needs nor simply wants a nuclear weapons capability. That is to the best of his knowledge. He believes Iran’s size and strength and level of technological development makes it unnecessary to augment its power with nuclear weapons. Zarif believes the goal of Iran’s nuclear program was to produce fuel for its nuclear reactor. That argument has remained at the root of his efforts during the entire negotiation process. In a US television interview on July 13, 2014, he explained that nuclear weapons would likely reduce Iran’s security and influence in its region.

[Nuclear weapons] doesn’t help anybody. The fact that everybody in the international community believes that mutual assured destruction, that is the way the United States, Russia and others, get, seek, peace and security, through having the possibility of destroying each other 100 times over, is simply mad. […] Have [nuclear weapons] made Pakistan safe? Have they made Israel safe? Have they made Russia safe? All these countries are susceptible. Now you have proof that nuclear weapons or no amount of military power makes you safe. So we need to live in a different paradigm. And that’s what we are calling for. — Mohammad Javad Zarif in “Meet the Press“, NBC News, July 13, 2014.

 
To prove Western claims about Iran’s nuclear program untrue, Zarif has proposed confidence-building measures and responded to proposals from the P5+1. However, firm limits to what he could commit to were set by Khamenei. As the November 24th deadline approached, Tehran apparently pulled the reign on Zarif tighter. Zarif undoubtedly recognized that other events in the region were having an impact on Khamenei’s thoughts on the negotiations. Threats of US military action had already dissipated. However, once the Obama administration displayed great reluctance to act militarily in Iraq in the face of monstrous actions by ISIS, fears were mitigated within all quarters in Tehran that the US would act militarily against Iran. Obama’s October 2014 letter to Khamenei may have further substantiated that view. With less worry that failed negotiations would lead to war, leaders in Tehran, particularly Khamenei and the hard-liners, saw no need to deal away any more of Iran’s nuclear program.

Hard-liners Strengthen Their Position with Khamenei
From the prism of hard-line elements in Tehran, the negotiation process has been a contest of wills. IRGC Commander General (Sarlashkar) Mohammad Ali Jafari stated: “All must help the negotiations team of our country and the foreign policy apparatus in order to create consensus and public unity at the current time in order to help them demand the fundamental rights of the nation of Iran in the nuclear field and stand against Arrogant [US] blackmail and greed during negotiations and meetings.” Yet, as the eagerness of the Obama administration to reach a deal became even apparent to them, the hard-liners watched, anticipating that the US would acquiesce to Iran’s demands. Previously, Iran contended with the administration of US President George W. Bush who threatened regime change and, hinted at a possible ground attack from Iraq. However, the Obama administration seemed less threatening and somewhat pliant to hard-liners. That perception was apparent in the reaction of Jafari to the negotiations latest outcome. He explained “The Americans’ surrender to the authority of Iran is apparent by their behavior in the region and in the [nuclear] negotiations, and the issues of the enemy in combat with Iran were fully felt. Of course, their excesses in some cases are due to their fierce temper.” Jafari still expressed no genuine interest in reaching a deal with the P5+1. He stated, “The main elements of our power are in the hands of God and country. We should not seek our dignity and authority from the foreigners.” He waxed on Iran’s potential to become a global power, and the need for a strategy to promote its interests and the Revolution worldwide. Jafari proffered, “Our problem is that we don’t have a broader outlook; the Supreme has also stressed this issue… If we don’t have a comprehensive and broader outlook, we will go wrong in all fields and decision-making, even the negotiations and nuclear issues.”

Jafari has always looked with a bad eye at the US military. He believes the US is in decline and wants Iran to acquire a broader outlook regarding its role in world affairs.

Jafari has always looked with a bad eye at the US military. He believes the US is in decline and wants Iran to acquire a broader outlook regarding its role in world affairs.

IRGC senior commanders have always looked with a bad eye at the size, power, and capabilities of the US military, and have wanted to surpass it in the Middle East and beyond. The IRGC and Iranian Armed Forces regularly declare their willingness to defend Iranian territory to the end and display Iran’s military capabilities. Jafari stated: “[The US and Israel] know well that they have been unable to take any military action against the Islamic Republic of Iran, and if they make any foolish move of this sort, there are many options on the table for Iran and deadly responses will be received.” Senior Military Adviser to the Supreme Leader, General (Sarlashkar) Yahya Rahim Safavi, stated, “With God’s grace, Iran’s army has transformed into a strong, experienced, and capable army twenty-five years after the [Iran-Iraq] war’s end, and is now considered a powerful army in Western Asia.” On Syria, the US has not interfered with Iran’s military forces on the ground and efforts to shape events there. Despite declaring red-lines on the use of chemical weapons in Syria and publicly accusing the Assad regime of using chemical weapons, the Obama administration expressed fears over placing “boots on the ground” and eventually declined to act. That led IRGC commanders in particular to publicly deride the US as being indecisive and predict it would be pliant to Iran’s demands. IRGC Quds Force Commander, General (Sarlashkar) Qassem Suleimani said of the US, “There was a day when the US used three options: political, economic, military. Today they lie and say ‘we have forced Iran to negotiate with sanctions’ or ‘the Islamic system is weaker’. Really, today, the US has the most debt of any country in the world. The US has also failed everywhere they have interfered militarily. From a political perspective, they are not accepted anywhere in the world. In a situation in which the US is considered the world’s greatest power, they are ruined in every dimension.”

In one of his early public statements on Iraq, Khamenei said, “The Dominant System [West], using the remnants of Saddam’s regime as the primary pawns and the prejudiced takfiri elements as the infantry, is seeking to disrupt Iraq’s peace and stability and threaten its territorial integrity.” Hard-liners apparently had to convince Khamenei that the Obama administration did not have the situation under control and was not moving with an assured step. Much as Zarif seemingly recognized, hard-line military and security officials apparently concluded uniformly that the US has no intention of attacking Iran if the nuclear talks fail. The hard-liners appear to have convinced Khamenei that Obama’s reluctance to fight ISIS showed he would be even more reluctant to face the IRGC, Iranian Armed Forces, and other security elements globally if the US attacked Iran’s nuclear program. The hard-liners also likely inferred from Obama’s reluctance he would not want to concurrently fight Iran and ISIS. Khamenei was able to see Iran was in, what Jafari would characterize as, a stronger position versus the US, even on the nuclear issue.

A maturing public relations apparatus in Khamenei’s office shaped official quotes from the Supreme Leader in response to the talks’ result. On Thursday November 27, 2014, Khamenei made it clear that he backed the extension of nuclear negotiations with the P5+1, and praised the negotiating team for its efforts. Khamenei expressed on his website, “For the same reasons I wasn’t against negotiations, I’m also not against the extension.” He characterized Iran’s negotiators as “hard-working and serious … [They] justly and honestly stood against words of force and bullying of the other side, and unlike the other side, they did not change their words every day.” In another message on his Twitter account, Khamenei stated “We accept fair and reasonable agreements. Where there’s bullying and excessive demands, all of Iran, people and officials, will not accept.”

An Iranian woman stands in front of the painted wall of the former U.S. Embassy on Nov. 4 in Tehran, the scene of a demonstration to mark the anniversary of its storming by student protesters that triggered a hostage crisis.

An Iranian woman stands in front of the painted wall of the former U.S. Embassy on Nov. 4 in Tehran, the scene of a demonstration to mark the anniversary of its storming by student protesters that triggered a hostage crisis.

However, in a more genuine manifestation of his feelings on the negotiations, Khamenei, in a November 25, 2014 meeting with Muslim clerics in Tehran, dismissed the diplomatic and economic pressure that world powers had brought to bear on his country over its nuclear ambitions. Khamenei said that the West had failed to bring Iran “to its knees.” On his website, he further stated that “In the nuclear issue, America and colonial European countries got together and did their best to bring the Islamic Republic to its knees, but they could not do so — and they will not be able to do so.” Several Twitter posts from an account used by Khamenei’s office, accused the West of meddling in the Middle East and using Sunni militant groups to thwart the Arab Spring uprisings with intra-Muslim infighting, “in line with arrogant [US] goals.” Some of Khamenei’s November 27th statements actually lapsed into the same aggressive tone. Khamenei said the US would be the biggest loser if the extended talks failed. He remarked “Know that whether or not we reach a nuclear agreement, Israel becomes more insecure day by day.” He then proclaimed, “Our people are willing to maintain their authority and values, and will bear the economic pressure.” Khamenei has stated repeatedly that Iran does not want a nuclear weapon. However, his statement likely came with caveats. If Khamenei, as the steward of Iran’s national security, felt a weapon was necessary for Iran’s security, he would build it and expect the Iranian people to faithfully overcome any Western efforts in response.

The Danger That Lurks: Real or Imagined?
Before the nuclear talks began, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) obtained information suggesting Iranian leaders are not completely opposed to developing a nuclear weapon. In an internal 2009 IAEA document, most of which was published by Institute for Science and International Security, is a section titled “Statements made by Iranian officials.” It states: “The Agency [IAEA] was informed that in April 1984 the then President of Iran, H.E. Ayatollah Khamenei declared, during a meeting of top-echelon political and security officials at the Presidential Palace in Tehran, that the spiritual leader Imam Khomeini had decided to reactivate the nuclear programme. According to Ayatollah Khamenei this was the only way to secure the very essence of the Islamic Revolution from the schemes of its enemies, especially the United States and Israel, and to prepare it for the emergence of Imam Mehdi. Ayatollah Khamenei further declared during the meeting, that a nuclear arsenal would serve Iran as a deterrent in the hands of God’s soldiers.” The November 2011 IAEA Safeguards Report described the emergence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program that peaked in 2002 and 2003, and then was abruptly halted. The IAEA report also presented information from UN Member States indicating aspects of this program continued or restarted after 2003 and may be on-going.

The concern among US and European negotiators is that hard-liners in Tehran are using the on-going nuclear talks to misdirect them, enabling elements of the Iranian government to pursue the covert weaponization of the nuclear program. Continued progress with the nuclear program has been a feature of Iran’s negotiations with the West since such talks began with the Bush administration. Iran may have the capability to engage in a dual-track approach to resolve problems over the nuclear issue with the West within the parameters of Khamenei’s concept of heroic flexibility. Rouhani and Zarif would take a path toward diplomacy to acquire concessions from the P5+1 while the IRGC, the Ministry of Defense, and other government elements secretly develop the ability to create a nuclear weapon. According to a May 27, 2014 Wall Street Journal article, Western intelligence agencies discovered Iran’s efforts to develop a nuclear device dated back to the late 1980s, at a Defense Ministry-linked physics research center in Tehran. According to the IAEA, Iran consolidated its weaponization researchers in the 1990s under an initiative called “AMAD Plan”, headed by Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, a nuclear engineer and senior member of the IRGC. The goal of the “AMAD Plan” was to procure dual-use technologies, developing nuclear detonators and conducting high-explosive experiments associated with compressing fissile material, according to Western intelligence agencies. “AMAD Plan’s” most intense period of activity was in 2002-2003, according to the IAEA, when Rouhani was Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council. The May 27th article asserted Fakhrizadeh has continued to oversee these disparate and highly compartmentalized activities under the auspices of Iran’s Organization of Defensive Innovation and Research, known by its Persian acronym, SPND.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry steps out as Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, EU envoy Catherine Ashton and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pose for photographers during their meeting in Vienna on Nov. 24, 2014.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry steps out as Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, EU envoy Catherine Ashton and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi pose for photographers during their meeting in Vienna on Nov. 24, 2014.

 
The Way Forward
While stumbling blocks are addressed, new approaches to ameliorate US concerns are being explored such as ways to provide the US with at least a year to discover if Iran was racing for a weapon, a standard that the US has set. Such steps could involve a combination of Iranian commitments to ship some of its nuclear stockpile to Russia, efforts to disconnect some of the country’s centrifuges in ways that would take considerable time to reverse, and limits on output that could be verified by international inspectors. However, efforts in that direction may not amount to much in the current political environment, particularly in Iran and the US. When it was announced that no deal was reached and negotiations would be extended, lawmakers in the Iranian Parliament erupted in chants “Death to America” after a lawmaker commenting on the deadline extension spoke of “the U.S.’s sabotaging efforts and its unreliability”. The lawmaker, Mohammad-Hassan Aboutorabi-Fard, who is the deputy speaker of the Parliament, said Iran had learned from the nuclear negotiations that it had a strong hand to play. “Today, we can speak to the U.S. and its allies with the tone of power,” he said in remarks quoted by the Fars News Agency. “A lesson can be taken from the recent nuclear talks that, for various reasons, the U.S. is not reliable.”

The Republican controlled Congress really has no interest in restoring or improving relations with Iran while it has a nuclear program. Congressional Republicans have threatened to impose new sanctions on Iran regardless of whether such action interfered with the nuclear talks. Obama will no longer be able to rely on Democratic leaders in the Senate to bottle up legislation that would require new sanctions. Mark Dubowitz, the executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told the New York Times, “I don’t think Congress is going to sit still.” He further stated, “There is a fear the administration is being played for time, and there will be a desire to express that in some form of a sanctions bill.” Disapproval over the renewed sanctions relief that had brought Iran $700 million a month in money formerly frozen abroad may very well compel Congress to levy new sanctions. If the nuclear negotiations failed, any outrage expressed after such an occurrence would simply amount to lip service. However, the use of military force would be unlikely given current circumstances in the Middle East and Obama’s disposition on it. There would be sanctions, but it is likely Tehran has already calculated what the consequences of such measures would be and how it could best mitigate their effects. Khamenei has assured that, if the extended talks fail, “the sky won’t fall to the ground.”

Evidence that the Iranian nuclear program has been militarized does not exist. Yet, despite what Zarif has argued, Khamenei and hard-line Iranian leaders may believe a nuclear weapon would make Iran more secure. At a minimum, they might seek the option to weaponize. Proceeding in that way would be very dangerous for Iran in the long-term. Iranian leaders know that when dealing with the US, ultimately, issues do not center on whoever occupies the Oval Office at any given time. Term-limits set by the US Constitution prevent Obama for serving a third term. As greatcharlie.com has cautioned more than once, striking a balance between demands for relief from economic sanctions and the gradual cessation of the nuclear program may not be at issue for the next US president. To the extent the US is a staunch ally of Israel and to a similar extent, Saudi Arabia, the next US president might decide to ameliorate the US approach, requiring new concessions from Iran, to include an immediate halt of its nuclear activities. A new demand might be made for Iran to surrender its nuclear program or face military action. If the current global perception that US leaders lack the will and power to act militarily still prevails in 2016, the next administration may not be able to compel outcomes on many issues with diplomacy or threats to use force. Favorable outcomes may result only from robust use of US military force.

An above average understanding of human nature and faith will be required to formulate a final decision on a deal under current circumstances. Clearly, some reasonable doubt exists, at least among Western partners in the P5+1, over whether the terms of a deal would be observed. With circumstances in the world seeming off-balance, George William Rutler, pastor of Saint Michael’s Church in New York City and author of Cloud of Witnesses, recently reminded greatcharlie.com of a live radio message by King George VI on New Year’s 1939, offering reassurance to his people. It would have an important effect on the listening public as they moved closer to war. King George VI acknowledged that there was uncertainty over what the new year would bring. He explained, “If it brings peace, how thankful we shall all be. If it brings us continued struggle we shall remain undaunted.” He went on to quote a poem from Minnie Haskins of the London School of Economics entitled “The Gate of the Year” (The Dessert, 1908). Given the situation, which the leaders of the P5+1 nations will face over the nuclear negotiations in 2015, it seems that the quote of the poem fits at the end of 2014.

I said to the man who stood at the Gate of the Year,
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’
And he replied, ‘Go out into the darkness, and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be better than light, and safer than a known way.’

Posted in English, Iran, Proliferation, Security Policy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cartoon of the month: 2015

boromand-001

This cartoon was drawn by Payam Boromand from Tehran, Iran. Born in 1984, he was graduated from Islamic Azad University, Faculty of Arts in 2007. He has been working as a cartoonist in Iranian newspapers and weekly magazines. Currently, he is working at the Etemaad and Peyvast magazine. For additional cartoons by Payam Boromand check out his page on Cartoon Movement.

Posted in Cartoon, English | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Double Top 5: Die erfolgreichsten Artikel auf Offiziere.ch in 2014

Rund 18’000 Besucher verfolgen monatlich die Veröffentlichungen auf Offiziere.ch, die von Wissenschaftlern, Juristen, internationalen Journalisten, Politikberatern und Militärangehörigen verschiedener Nationen geschrieben werden. Ungefähr ein Drittel unserer Leserschaft kommt aus Deutschland, ein weiteres Drittel aus der Schweiz und mehr als 6’000 Leser erreichen uns aus Ländern, die von Los Angeles bis nach Tokio reichen.

2014 ist auch ein Rekordjahr für Offiziere.ch. Noch nie wurden so viele Artikel veröffentlicht. Das war nur möglich durch die tatkräftige Unterstützung von rund 25 Autoren aus dem In- und Ausland. Auch im nächsten Jahr, 2015, möchten wir weiterhin qualitativ hochwertige Artikel veröffentlichen und freuen uns über Autoren, die unser Team bereichern wollen. Interesse? Einfach hier melden!

An dieser Stelle präsentieren wir die meist gelesenen Artikel innerhalb der letzten 365 Tage, die auf Offiziere.ch erschienen sind…

• • •

Top 5 der deutschsprachigen Artikel

Platz 1: Das „Biest“ – Polens Panzer der Zukunft
von Seka Smith (Politikberaterin)

PL-01.

PL-01

Seit dem Beitritt Polens zur NATO hat sich die Schlagkraft der polnischen Panzerverbände sukzessive verbessert, zuletzt mit dem Kauf von 128 deutschen Leopard 2A4-Kampfpanzern. Um die Abhängigkeit von Militärimporten zu verringern und ein gewinnträchtiges Produkt auf dem Weltmarkt anbieten zu können, ist Polen mit BAE Systems eine Technologiepartnerschaft eingegangen. Ziel ist die Entwicklung und Herstellung eines eigenen polnischen Panzerfahrzeuges, welches derzeit unter dem Codenamen “PL-01” entwickelt wird.

Platz 2: Ursula ist nicht die Böse
von Seka Smith (Politikberaterin)

NH90 - Mehrrollenhubschrauber.

NH90 – Mehrrollenhubschrauber

Als Ursula von der Leyen Bundesverteidigungsministerin wurde, nahm sie sich als erstes der besseren Vereinbarkeit von Familie und Soldatenberuf an. Dafür wurde sie von vielen Seiten kritisiert, aber auch gelobt. Doch wenig später war das Thema “Vereinbarkeit” bereits vergessen, als etliche und gravierende Pannen (ihrer Vorgänger) im Ministerium publik wurden.

Platz 3: Die Weiterentwicklung der Armee und die Infanterie
von Irène Thomann-Baur (Journalistin, Hptm aD, ehemals Generalsekretärin der Schweizerischen Offiziersgesellschaft (SOG))

Foto: Inf Bat 61

Foto: Inf Bat 61

“Quo vadis schweizer Infanterie?” könnte man den Artikel subsumieren, in dem das Gespräch zur zukünftigen Weiterentwicklung der Armee mit Vertretern der Miliz, dem Kommandanten einer Territorialregion und dem Kommandanten des Lehrverbandes Infanterie nachgezeichnet wird.

Platz 4: Projekt BODLUV 2020
von Patrick Truffer

Das Fliegerabwehr-Lenkwaffensystem BL 84 «Rapier» mit Mk1 Raketen.

Das Fliegerabwehr-Lenkwaffensystem BL 84 “Rapier” mit Mk1 Raketen

In der Volksabstimmung vom 18. Mai 2014 entschied sich die Mehrheit der Schweizer gegen die Beschaffung eines neuen Kampfflugzeuges. Damit ist die Geschichte einer schweizerischen JAS 39E Gripen zu Ende gegangen, bevor sie überhaupt angefangen hat. Damit wirkt die Fähigkeits- und Modernisierungslücke in der schweizer Luftverteidigung umso gravierender, wenn klar wird, dass auch die bodengestützte Luftverteidigung in bestimmten Bereichen ineffizient aufgestellt ist und dringend neue Waffenfähigkeiten zum Schutz des schweizerischen Territoriums notwendig sind.

Platz 5: “Wehrhafte Schweiz” – ein einmaliges historisches Filmdokument zur Schweizer Armee
von Memoriav.ch

Der Armeepavillon an der Expo'64 (© Musées lausannois).

Der Armeepavillon an der Expo’64 (© Musées lausannois)

Zum 50. Jubiläum der Expo’64 präsentierte Memoriav, der Verein zur Erhaltung des audiovisuellen Kulturguts der Schweiz, einzigartige audiovisuelle Schätze dieser unvergesslichen Landesausstellung in einem 360-Grad-Panorama-Kino auf dem Bundesplatz in Bern. Das Jubiläum ist deshalb so bedeutend, weil die Expo aus gesellschaftlicher und kultureller Sicht für die Schweiz von grösster Bedeutung war, indem sie ein Land zeigte, das sich am Scheideweg zwischen Tradition und Moderne, zwischen geistiger Landesverteidigung, kaltem Krieg und sozialem Wandel befand.

• • •

Top 5 der englischsprachigen Artikel:

Platz 1: Paranoid Russia is Creating Enemies Everywhere
von Nick Ottens (Journalist)

Russian president Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting in Novo-Ogaryovo, west of Moscow, November 14, 2013 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

Russian president Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting in Novo-Ogaryovo, west of Moscow, November 14, 2013 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

Russland schuf sich durch sein außenpolitisches Verhalten diejenigen Feinde, die es davor bereits überall zu sehen meinte. Der Blick der russischen Akteure, ist der von denjenigen, welche die Welt weiterhin im Kalten Kriege wähnen. So ist jedes Land, das nicht die Politik Russlands teilt, ein potentieller Widersacher der russischen Interessen. Nick Ottens bringt das Dilemma im Fazit auf den Punkt: “Wenn die Finnen in die NATO wollen oder die Ukrainer der Europäischen Union beitreten wollen, ist das ihre Sache und die der Organisationen. Niemand muss Russland um Erlaubnis fragen.”

Platz 2: Shadowy Terror Group ‘White Shroud’ Hits Back at ISIS
von Robert Beckhusen (Journalist)

ISIS forces execute unarmed Iraqi prisoners in mid-2014. YouTube screencap

ISIS forces execute unarmed Iraqi prisoners in mid-2014. YouTube screencap.

Die Terrororganisationen ISIS operiert nach dem bekannten Muster von Guerillaorganisationen: Schnell zuschlagen und schnell wieder weg sein. Diese Form der Kriegsführung erschwert es konventionellen Streitkräften erheblich, den Feind zu fassen und zu zerschlagen. Nun hat die ISIS aber einen neuen Feind erhalten, der nach demselben Muster handelt: Überwachung von potentiellen Terroristen, gezielte Angriffe und Tötungen.

Platz 3: Ukrainian Troops Deploy Crowdfunded Drones
von Robert Beckhusen (Journalist)

Aerial image of the Donetsk International Airport. SOS Army photo, end of October.

Aerial image of the Donetsk International Airport. SOS Army photo, end of October.

Der Krieg zwischen der Ukraine und der von Russland unterstützten Separatisten ist auch ein mit privaten Mitteln finanzierter Krieg. Beispielsweise wurden weltweit nicht nur medizinische Güter, Schutzwesten und Helme für die ukrainische Armee finanziert, sondern mittels einer Fundraisingkampagne auch neue Aufklärungsdrohnen beschafft.

Platz 4: What is ISIS?
von Jack A. Goldstone (Hazel Professor of Public Policy, George Mason University)

This image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, which is consistent with AP reporting, shows a convoy of vehicles and fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters in Iraq's Anbar Province.

This image posted on a militant website on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, which is consistent with AP reporting, shows a convoy of vehicles and fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) fighters in Iraq’s Anbar Province.

“ISIS ante portas!” müssten viele Menschen verängstigt geschrien haben, als wie aus dem nichts eine Organisation namens ISIS auftauchte und die Menschen in Syrien und im Irak mit Entführungen, Folter, Enthauptungen und Vergewaltigungen terrorisierte. Aber was ist die ISIS, wie ist sie entstanden und was motiviert jemanden, der Terrororganisation überhaupt beizutreten?

Platz 5: The Islamic World’s Westphalian Moment
von Chad M. Pillai (Major, US Army Capabilities Integration Center)

The Peace of Westphalia was a series of peace treaties signed between May and October 1648 in Osnabrück and Münster. These treaties ended the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) in the Holy Roman Empire, and the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648) between Spain and the Dutch Republic, with Spain formally recognizing the independence of the Dutch Republic. The image shows the Ratification of the Peace of Münster (Gerardter Borch, Münster, 1648).

The Peace of Westphalia was a series of peace treaties signed between May and October 1648 in Osnabrück and Münster. These treaties ended the Thirty Years’ War (1618–1648) in the Holy Roman Empire, and the Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648) between Spain and the Dutch Republic, with Spain formally recognizing the independence of the Dutch Republic. The image shows the Ratification of the Peace of Münster (Gerardter Borch, Münster, 1648).

Für Major Pillai steht die islamische Welt inmitten eines reinigenden Stahlgewitters, um es mit den Worten von Ernst Jünger zu beschreiben. Wie einst die Katholiken und Protestanten führen nun Sunniten und Schiiten ihren eigenen Dreissigjährigen Krieg, der einst viele Landstriche im Heiligen Römischen Reich Deutscher Nation verwüstete. Man kann nur hoffen, dass die Moslems ihren eigenen Westfälischen Frieden finden.

Posted in Armed Forces, English, General Knowledge, International, Iraq, Politics in General, Russia, Security Policy, Seka Smith, Switzerland, Ukraine | Leave a comment

Renewed Relevance and Visibility – Switzerland’s Chairmanship of the OSCE

by Stephanie Liechtenstein. She works as website editor for the quarterly journal “Security and Human Rights” and has held several positions in the OSCE Secretariat in Vienna (among them senior political assistant to the OSCE Secretary General) between 2003 and 2008.

This article was published on International Relations and Security Network (ISN) of the Center for Security Studies (CSS), at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) first. ISN is one of the world’s leading open access information services for both professionals and students who focus on international relations and security studies. It is jointly funded by the Swiss Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sports and ETH Zurich.

osce.-ContentPar-0023-Image.ContentParimage.0.1.gifWhile acting as the OSCE’s 2014 Chairman, has Switzerland been effective in handling the Ukraine crisis? Yes, says Stephanie Liechtenstein, and for three reasons – the resources Bern has dedicated to the task; its ability to act as an honest and neutral broker; and its capacity to lead under difficult circumstances.

When Switzerland took over the chairmanship of the OSCE on 1st January, it expected to take the helm of a split organization that was widely regarded as blocked, increasingly irrelevant and as being in the process of scaling down – but things turned out very differently. A major crisis broke out in Ukraine that called into question all normative foundations of European security and international law, and necessitated a large and rapid operational response. The OSCE – together with Switzerland as its Chair – suddenly went from obscurity into the spotlight.

Difficult Start
Under the tagline ‘creating a security community for the benefit of everyone‘, Bern initially prepared a well-balanced set of priorities for its chairmanship. For the first time in the organization’s history, Switzerland also formed a consecutive chairmanship with Serbia and presented a joint work-plan with the joint goals of improving reconciliation and cooperation in the Western Balkans and making as much headway as possible with the so-called Helsinki+40 Process. The latter sets out to achieve as many concrete deliverables as possible by the end of 2015 (the 40th anniversary of the Helsinki Final Act) on issues such as the future role of the OSCE and the creation of a united and indivisible security community. However, mounting tensions in Ukraine forced Switzerland to reorganize and refocus its chairmanship and assume the role of an active crisis manager for the most dangerous East-West confrontation on European soil since the end of the Cold War.

To dispel concerns about unusual military activities, 47 military and civilian personnel from 25 OSCE participating States unsuccesfully attempted to enter the Crimea region at the Armyansk crossing point on 6 March 2014. Two checkpoints have been set up, one by Ukrainian forces, and a second by unidentified military personnel.

To dispel concerns about unusual military activities, 47 military and civilian personnel from 25 OSCE participating States unsuccesfully attempted to enter the Crimea region at the Armyansk crossing point on 6 March 2014. Two checkpoints have been set up, one by Ukrainian forces, and a second by unidentified military personnel.

In this respect, the early part of Switzerland’s stewardship of the OSCE undoubtedly adds credibility to Walter Kemp’s argument that OSCE chairmanships are ultimately defined by their ability to deal with stormy weather. One of Bern’s first challenges was the intensifying stand-off between Russia and Ukraine over the Crimean peninsula. Germany and the United States initially hoped that the OSCE could serve as an “off-ramp” for Russia out of the crisis and suggested that Russian troops could return to their barracks while the OSCE sought to ensure minority rights for ethnic Russians living in Crimea. Yet, Russia decided against this and officially annexed Crimea on 18 March, handing the entire international community with a fait accompli. However, that’s not to say that Bern sat idly by as the Crimean crisis unfurled. On 24th February, Ambassador Tim Guldimann was appointed Personal Representative on Ukraine by the Swiss OSCE Chairperson-in-Office (CiO) and current Swiss President Didier Burkhalter. In this capacity, Guldimann at least succeeded in visiting Crimea at the beginning of March and made great efforts to facilitate dialogue and to help defuse tensions. However, Switzerland and the rest of the OSCE could only watch as Russia made inroads into Ukraine.

On top of the Crimea crisis, Switzerland was also confronted with criticism by the United States. Washington viewed a number of comments made by Switzerland’s personal representative on Ukraine as being too friendly and accommodating towards Russia (the Russian delegation to the OSCE was not available for interview). “One of the unique features of the OSCE is that it is grounded in a set of principles and is based on a comprehensive approach to security,” says Ambassador Daniel Baer, Permanent Representative of the US to the OSCE. “As OSCE Chair you have to lead the Organization and that leadership should be defined by strictly holding on to those principles and holding those responsible who are violating them.”

Crisis Management Begins
Criticism aside, Switzerland was nevertheless instrumental in initiating negotiations on a Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) to Ukraine. However, these efforts were initially complicated by Russia’s refusal to attend talks in Vienna. Indeed, Moscow’s attendance was only guaranteed after Didier Burkhalter helped to convince Vladimir Putin that such a mission could help to protect Russian speaking minorities in eastern Ukraine. That said, negotiations stalled several times over the following weeks and were only unblocked after being taken to the level of foreign ministers or heads of state. The main stumbling block related to the geographic scope of the mission’s deployment. While the West and Ukraine wanted the deployment to include Crimea, the Russian Federation was vehemently opposed to this proposal.

Alexander Hug, Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE SMM.

Alexander Hug, Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE SMM — read this interview with him by Stephanie Liechtenstein.

Ultimately, the deadlock could only be overcome with the deliberate use of ambiguous language in the final text of the mandate. Ambassador Thomas Greminger, Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the OSCE and Chairperson of the OSCE Permanent Council, describes the successful outcome of the negotiation process as a team effort between the Swiss Chairmanship and the German government. Indeed, the role played by Germany in this and subsequent efforts was crucial, given that Berlin “views the approach underlying the OSCE as consistent with the basic tenets of its foreign policy,” claims Ambassador Rüdiger Lüdeking, Permanent Representative of Germany to the OSCE.

Winter into Summer
With consensus finally reached on the 21st March, the OSCE began to prepare for its first large-scale mission in over a decade. The first monitors were deployed to Ukraine within 24 hours of the mandate’s approval by the Permanent Council in Vienna. According to Ambassador Christian Strohal, the Permanent Representative of Austria to the OSCE, Switzerland not only demonstrated leadership during the negotiations, it also helped the OSCE to gain considerable visibility and relevance. In addition, the fact that all 57 participating-states supported the decision provided the mission with a great deal of legitimacy and credibility. Over the next few months, the SMM was instrumental in providing impartial facts in an increasingly polarized conflict environment. SMM monitors were among the first on the scene of the Malaysia Airlines MH17 disaster, and used contacts on both sides of the conflict to facilitate expert investigations of the crash site.

The OSCE uses drones - Austrian-made Schiebel Camcopter S-100s - to monitor the Ukrainian-Russian border.

The OSCE uses drones – Austrian-made Schiebel Camcopter S-100s – to monitor the Ukrainian-Russian border.

Switzerland’s next attempt to deescalate the Ukraine crisis came at the beginning of May with a proposed “roadmap for concrete steps forward“. The roadmap was aimed at implementing the Geneva Joint Statement of 17th April signed by the US, EU, Ukraine and the Russian Federation. Widely regarded at the time as a diplomatic breakthrough, the Joint Statement called for a cessation of violence, the disarming of illegally armed groups, and vacation of illegally occupied buildings. The OSCE SMM was tasked with supporting these measures and working towards the establishment of a broad national dialogue. To support this, Switzerland proposed the initiation of a series of Ukrainian-owned National Dialogue Roundtables. However, the situation on the ground in Ukraine was not conducive to continuing the dialogue process beyond the 25 May elections. Fighting continued and two OSCE SMM teams were abducted and taken as hostages by rebels.

At this point, calls for the formation of a contact group (as suggested by CiO Burkhalter as early as 24 February during his briefing to the UN Security Council) gathered momentum. On 8 June, Burkhalter appointed the experienced Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini to accompany the talks of the Trilateral Contact Group, consisting of representatives of Ukraine, the Russian Federation and the OSCE. The Trilateral Contact Group, under the auspices of the OSCE, had the advantage of being able to hold regular video conferences with rebels and also face-to-face meetings with them in Minsk without offending either Kiev or Moscow. The group was also instrumental in negotiating access to the MH17 crash site alongside helping to negotiate the release of the OSCE monitors and eventually bringing about a ceasefire on 5 September.

Business as usual in Basel?
At the time of writting this article, the Swiss chairmanship is preparing to host the OSCE Ministerial Council (MC) meeting in Basel on 4-5 December. It’s a meeting that will be dominated by the Ukraine crisis and its impact on the principles of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act and the 2010 Astana Commemorative Declaration. “The OSCE MC in Basel cannot be business as usual,” stresses Walter Kemp of the International Peace Institute. It will also go a long way to determining the overall success of Switzerland’s Chairmanship of the OSCE. So what should be expected from the Basel MC meeting? “The Swiss OSCE Chairmanship wants to start a process that deals with core and basic questions of European security in the medium and long term,” explains Ambassador Greminger. One idea involves setting up and officially launching a Panel of Eminent Persons that could propose recommendations on how European security can be strengthened in light of the new challenges posed by the Ukraine crisis. In addition, the Swiss Chair wants to reinvigorate the Helsinki+40 Process by feeding the lessons learned from the Ukraine crisis in to this process (see “Ministerial Council Declaration No.1 on Further Steps in the Helsinki+40 Process“, 05.12.2014).

Switzerland will also table a number of draft decisions in each of the OSCE’s three security dimensions. Possible topics for MC decisions could be the issue of foreign fighters and kidnapping for ransom, disaster risk reduction, prevention of torture, strengthening mediation efforts in the OSCE area, combating transnational threats and a youth action plan (see here). Furthermore, the MC will have to take a decision on who will hold the OSCE chairmanship in 2016 and 2017, with Germany and Austria very strong candidates (see “Ministerial Decision No. 3 on the OSCE Chairmanship in the Year 2016“, 05.12.2014 and “Ministerial Decision No. 4 on the OSCE Chairmanship in the Year 2017“, 05.12.2014).

OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Basel on December 2014.

OSCE Ministerial Council meeting in Basel on December 2014.

 
A Successful Chairmanship?
Few (if any) OSCE chairmanships have had to deal with the chain of events that have befallen Switzerland in 2014. If anything, the challenges posed by the Ukraine crisis can only be compared to those faced by the 1999 Norwegian OSCE chairmanship as a result of the Kosovo crisis. Yet, Switzerland has succeeded in assuming leadership of the OSCE and acting as a broker between participating states. Indeed, it became increasingly clear over the course of the Swiss chairmanship that the OSCE had stepped in and filled a void in the high-level management of the Ukraine conflict. Other international organizations such as the EU or the UN were increasingly ruled out as they were either seen as ‘part of the problem’ by some or as not having the appropriate mandate by others.

Consequently, a number of factors help to explain Bern’s efficient handling of the Ukraine crisis. First, Switzerland was able to provide sufficient financial resources for its Chairmanship and could draw on a pool of experienced diplomats to support its activities. In addition, Swiss neutrality provided Bern with opportunities to act as an ‘honest broker’ between East and West. This is of particular relevance as the OSCE takes decisions by consensus and the core task of the OSCE chairmanship is to help build this among the 57 participating states. Finally, Didier Burkhalter’s role should not be downplayed. His status as OSCE Chairperson in Office (CiO), Swiss Foreign Minister and President of Switzerland has provided him gravitas and access to assume leadership under difficult circumstances.

In this context, Switzerland has significantly enhanced the international profile and relevance of the OSCE by focusing on the organization’s operational effectiveness and its role as a forum for high-level political dialogue. As Ambassador Strohal rightly says, “the OSCE and its core commitments are more relevant than ever. If the OSCE did not exist today, one would have to invent it.” The question is whether that would still be possible today.

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