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Kofi Annan

Tag Archives | Kofi Annan

The Arab League: To Dissolve or not to Dissolve

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Jean-Marc Ferré
Jean-Marc Ferré

Jean-Marc Ferré

From the inability to speak with one voice, a lack of shared norms, and being chronically conflict prone, one must wonder how the Arab League has managed to exist for as long as it has. Suspending, then either reinventing or dissolving the Arab League seems to be the best route in addressing future conflicts within the region.

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Remembering Ambassador Rodger Davies

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United Nations buffer zone in Cyprus. Eskinder Debebe/UN

“[Ambassador] Rodger Davies embodied the qualities and spirit which mark an American. He chose an unusual profession, a profession which required that to serve his country he leave his home but never forget it.” – Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, August 21, 1974

United Nations buffer zone in Cyprus. Eskinder Debebe/UN

On July 10, 1974, Ambassador Rodger Davies, the newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to Cyprus, presented his credentials in Nicosia. He arrived on the small island at a tumultuous time with the ambitious goal of fostering a fair, long-term peace agreement between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots. Six weeks later, on August 19, 1974, Amb. Davies was assassinated. A sniper from 100 yards away shot him in the chest as he tried to keep his staff safe during a violent rally outside the embassy. The sniper was a member of the Greek Cypriot paramilitary group, EOKA-B, responsible for the coup d’état that overthrew the government just one month before.

Some thirty-eight years later, the same cultural and political tensions that led to the assassination of Amb. Davies, and prompted the arrival of Turkish peacekeeping troops continue to divide the island to the detriment of its people, its national security, its financial stability and its future economic opportunities. The history of this discord holds the key to reuniting the two faces of Cyprus and commencing a new era of peaceful co-existence.

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Post-Assad Syria: A Region in Turmoil

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A Free Syrian Army fighter takes cover during clashes with the Syrian Army in the Salaheddine neighbourhood of central Aleppo on August 7, 2012. Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

Syria is in dire straits. The once regal and prosperous cities of Damascus and Aleppo have now become the primary battlefields of the Syrian Army against opposition forces.

A Free Syrian Army fighter takes cover during clashes with the Syrian Army in the Salaheddine neighbourhood of central Aleppo on August 7, 2012. Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

Since the start of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, the calm and serenity of both Damascus and Aleppo were often touted by the Syrian regime to the world as indicators of Syrian stability. The swift change from peace to turmoil however, has happened almost overnight, with President Assad describing the current battle in Aleppo as decisive of Syria’s fate. The massive explosion which occurred on July 18 in the heart of the Syrian regime’s security organization in Damascus killed a number of people within Assad’s security and military inner circle, shocking the Syrian government and severely shaking the stability of the regime’s pillars.

Despite support from allies such as Iran, Russia and China, Assad’s days and those of his regime seem numbered. The rapid changes occurring at ground level within Syria bear testament to the fact, that the world, together with the Syrians, has started envisioning a post-Assad Syria. That being said, there is a very fine line between the dream of democracy and the nightmare of civil war – both of which may very well happen in a post-Assad Syria. What would the aftermath of a regime collapse in Syria be? Will the country follow in the footsteps of Libya? Or will it fall into civil war the way Lebanon did in the 1970s?

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Barack Obama’s ‘Intelligence Finding’ and the Syrian Civil War

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President Barack Obama with advisors including Tom Donilon, Jacob Lew and Denis McDonough in the Oval Office. Pete Souza/White House

The revelation about President Barack Obama’s decision to provide secret American aid to Syria’s rebel forces is a game changer.

President Barack Obama with advisors including Tom Donilon, Jacob Lew and Denis McDonough in the Oval Office. Pete Souza/White House

The presidential order, known as an “intelligence finding” in the world of espionage, authorizes the CIA to support armed groups fighting to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s government. But it threatens far more than the regime in Damascus. The disclosure took its first casualty immediately. Kofi Annan, the special envoy to Syria, promptly announced his resignation, bitterly protesting that the UN Security Council had become a forum for “finger-pointing and name-calling.” Annan blamed all sides directly involved in the Syrian conflict, including local combatants and their foreign backers. But the timing of his resignation was striking. For he knew that with the CIA helping Syria’s armed groups, America’s Arab allies joining in and the Security Council deadlocked, he was redundant.

President Obama’s order to supply CIA aid to anti-government forces in Syria has echoes of an earlier secret order signed by President Jimmy Carter, also a Democrat, in July 1979. Carter’s fateful decision was the start of a CIA-led operation to back Mujahideen groups then fighting the Communist government in Afghanistan. As I discuss the episode in my book Breeding Ground: Afghanistan and the Origins of Islamist Terrorism, the operation, launched with a modest aid package, became a multi-billion dollar war project against the Communist regime in Kabul and the Soviet Union, whose forces invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. In the following year, Carter was defeated by Ronald Reagan, who went for broke, pouring money and weapons into Afghanistan against the Soviet occupation forces to the bitter end.

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The West is Playing with Fire in Syria

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Mass protest against Bashar al-Assad's government in Idlib, Syria. Source: Freedom House

Mass protest against Bashar al-Assad’s government in Idlib, Syria. Source: Freedom House

“Let’s be clear: Washington is pursuing regime change by civil war in Syria. The United States, Europe, and the Gulf states want regime change, so they are starving the regime in Damascus and feeding the opposition.”

– Joshua Landis, director of the Center for Middle East Studies.

While the UN remains paralyzed on whether to extend its observer mission, or impose sanctions, Syria is drifting quickly towards what the International Committee of the Red Cross calls “a state of civil war”, a declaration, with cataclysmic consequences, and which might radically change the rules of the game.

Finian Cunningham, Global Research’s Middle East and East Africa Correspondent, notes to the extent to which the Syrian uprising has been exploited, “the irony is that leading NATO members, the United States, Britain and France, as well as their Turkish and Arab allies, are the very parties that have deliberately created the precipice for all-out war in the Middle East.” It’s no longer a secret that Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey have been steadily, and from the early stages of the Syrian crisis, increasing the violence inside Syria, turning a blind eye to the dire, grim and ominous consequences which might leave Syria, like Libya, a mess, “shattered, divided, destitute, and at the complete mercy of the West’s corporate-financier interests.”

Asia Times correspondent, Pepe Escobar, writes “Certain countries are behaving like arsonists, especially Turkey, in continuing to offer a logistical base for mercenaries from ‘liberated’ Libya. Saudi Arabia providing the money to buy them weapons. As for Washington, London and Paris, they will continue to calibrate their tactics in the protracted anticipation of a NATO attack against Damascus.” Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other reactionary Gulf states are actively taking part in the covert operations and efforts to force regime change in Syria are serving American geopolitical objectives with the goal to neutralize American global competitors, namely, Russia and China.

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Obama’s Dwindling Options in Syria

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President Barack Obama in the White House press briefing room

As the Syrian conflict deepens, the Obama Administration is facing renewed calls to act before full-scale civil war erupts, with neo-conservatives in Washington pressing the administration to support anti-government rebels with military hardware.

President Barack Obama in the White House press briefing room

The President has been unwilling to do so and he has every reason to be wary of engaging in yet another Middle East conflict with no end in sight, and no exit strategy. Moreover, the President knows that such support would in the end likely prove futile, given China, Iran and Russia’s ongoing support for the Assad regime, the absence of unity among opposition groups, and the failure of the opposition to control any significant Syrian territory. China and Russia show no tangible sign of lending future support to any UN initiatives aimed at penalizing Mr. Assad. Moreover, the pendulum has clearly swung in his favor, as the Syrian army has routed the rebels from their previous strongholds and maintained their positions.

In the absence of any meaningful sustained military victories on the part of the rebels, there is real reason to question the wisdom of providing arms at this point in the conflict. Comparisons to NATO action in Libya are not relevant in this case. From a geographical, military, civilian, and state of play perspective, there really is little commonality that warrants a similar approach. Any coalition air campaign in Syria would result in collateral damage and the killing of civilians, would be counter-productive. In understanding why the Obama administration undertook the Libyan operation, it is helpful to remember the president’s statement at the time.

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In Response to Houla Massacre Australia Expels Syrian Diplomats

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Children killed in the Houla massacre. Source: Freedom House

Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr has expelled the Syrian Charge d’Affairs Jawdat Ali Syrian in the wake of the Houla massacre that have reportedly seen 32 children massacred in Syria in recent days.

Children killed in the Houla massacre. Source: Freedom House

He has said that Australians are “appalled at a regime that could connive in or organise the execution, the killing of men women and children.” Jawdat Ali has 72 hours to leave Australia. The decision follows Britain’s foreign secretary William Hague who has summoned the Syrian diplomat. Pressure is also mounting on the Obama administration to do more than sanctions in response to the more than year-long genocide occurring in Syria. Australia has expected the Syrian Government to cease military operations and abide by the ceasefire brokered by Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, the massacre of 92 people in the village of Houla has put to rest the ceasefire.

“This massacre of civilians in Haoula is a hideous and brutal crime,” Foreign Minister Carr has said. “In doing this we are more or less moving with our friends around the world. I expect other countries will be doing this overnight Australian time.” The measure is one that on the surface confirms that previous Australian condemnations and sanctions have failed to have any impact on the Al-Assad regime. Statements from the Australian Government in April 2011 condemned in the strongest possible terms human rights abuses at the hands of security forces in Syria. Interviewed at the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group in London, the former Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd announced Australia was imposing sanctions against Syria regardless of any United Nations Security Council (UNSC) actions or interventions.

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GOP and Putin Find Common Ground: The Cold War

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President Barack Obama talks with President Dmitry Medvedev of the Russian Federation during their bilateral meeting in Seoul. Pete Souza/White House

Republican Presidential primary front-runner Mitt Romney declared Russia “without question, [is] our No. 1 geopolitical foe.”

President Barack Obama talks with President Dmitry Medvedev of the Russian Federation during their bilateral meeting in Seoul. Pete Souza/White House

That statement accompanied a larger criticism lobbied against President Obama and his hot mic slip last week with Russian President Dimitry Medvedev at the Seoul Nuclear Summit. During a press conference, Obama was overheard asking Medvedev, the soon-to-be Prime Minister, for more time and space regarding the U.S. missile defense system in Europe, stating that he would “have more flexibility” after the November elections. The days that followed have been a pile on by the Republican Party, who have been longtime critics of the President’s “Reset” diplomacy with Russia. Many on the right have called the incident in Seoul as further evidence of the President’s weakness on security and over willingness to compromise on U.S. interests and her allies.

Furthermore, the ever-elongating Republican primary dogfight has only made Obama’s gaffe fodder for political conservative punditry. And even after two decades have passed since the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, rhetoric of Moscow as once again an untrustworthy partner that should be held at an arms length and with a wary eye have resurfaced. Second up Republican Presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s campaign also jumped at the opportunity to jab at Obama. On the campaign trail in Wisconsin, the former Senator likened any compromise with Russia over the missile defense system as letting them “have their run of the table because America’s no longer in the business of protecting ourselves and our allies.”

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The Syrian Crisis Needs a Political Solution

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

More than a year after the onset of anti-regime protests, the Syrian uprising increasingly resembles a bloody marathon with no finish line on the horizon. With more than 7,000 people killed and ongoing deadly clashes between security forces and the armed opposition, the international community —splintered along geo-strategic lines — is still struggling to craft and establish a clear “road map” for Syria.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

The mission creep associated with the Libyan intervention, in addition to Syria’s superior defensive capabilities, has dampened the international community’s resolve for any decisive military intervention. Although the Syrian regime continues to enjoy strategic and operational support from external allies — especially Russia, China, and Iran — the Syrian opposition has yet to establish a coherent, unified, and effective front. Moreover, lingering fears about the prospect of a sectarian conflagration — and the emergence of a failed state at the heart of the Middle East — are keeping a significant proportion of the general population, especially in Aleppo and Damascus, away from the fervor of revolution.

Many Syrians are rethinking the wisdom of armed rebellion and external military assistance. As the revolution has dragged on for more than 12 harrowing months, the Assad regime has proven that it is somehow capable of hanging on for however long it takes, irrespective of the associated humanitarian, political, and material costs. Thus, there is a growing feeling that the only way forward is a political settlement under the auspices of the United Nations. This is precisely why we should welcome – with cautious optimism –Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan to end the crisis. So far, it seems that both the regime and the opposition are focused on creating facts on the ground in anticipation of an eventual settlement.

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Kenya’s New Constitution and Electoral Reforms

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The market in Kibera has grown in the last few years as the economy has boomed and incomes have risen. Source: The Economist

One of the most important questions facing Kenyans since the sobering aftermath of the 2008 post-election violence is how to put back together the fragile pieces of the country.

The market in Kibera has grown in the last few years as the economy has boomed and incomes have risen. Source: The Economist

Violence stemming from tribalism, historical inequalities and a plethora of economic injustices such as poverty, inequality, unemployment and youth underemployment, resulted in the eruption of devastation that is still fresh in the minds of many. Widespread controversy over the legitimacy of the 2007 election results produced the boiling point in which a cauldron of historical tensions unleashed its insidious rage, resulting in up to 2,000 people killed, over 300,000 people displaced and an estimated $1.5 billion in losses to the economy. However, a new constitution for Kenya has emerged as a guiding light for next year’s general election. The challenge now is how to hold the pieces put in place by the Constitution and implement the much needed reforms that it calls for.

Although much can be said about the ethnic and historical roots of the violence, equally important were missing checks and balances against the executive authority during the last election. Corruption continued to be widespread and unpunished under Kenya’s third president, Mwai Kibaki. He appointed six judges, two to the High Court, mere days before the election and he unilaterally picked the Election Commission for oversight. Even if the election results were indeed legitimate, the abuse of power in authority casts an ominous shadow over any semblance of accountability.

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