Tag: civil wars

What Shapes Public Attitudes Toward Hosting Syrian Refugees – And How They Can Change

Guest post by Tiffany S. Chu, Alex Braithwaite, Faten Ghosn, and Justin Curtis

Plans to fund a border wall at the U.S.-Mexico border are troubling D.C. politics. During his campaign for the presidency, candidate Trump promised a wall would be built to reduce security issues he associated with existing border policy. In the longest government shutdown in history, Democrats in Congress refused President Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion in funding for such a wall. While the government eventually reopened, ongoing negotiations in Congress to reach a border security deal ahead of another shutdown seem unlikely to reach an agreement that will please the President. In the meantime, troops have been deployed to stop a so-called migrant caravan from crossing the border while anti-wall rallies are held only a mile away.

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Is Syria Infecting the Middle East?

800px-Azaz_Syria_during_the_Syrian_Civil_War_Missing_front_of_HouseThis is a guest post by Peter S. Henne. Peter received his PhD from Georgetown University in May 2013, and was a Fellow at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia during 2012-2013. His research focuses on religion and foreign policy; he has also written on terrorism and religious conflict.

A recent article in The New York Times illustrates much of what, in my opinion, is concerning about US debate over the crisis in Syria. The piece makes the bold claim that the conflict in Syria is not only affecting the region, it is infecting it with sectarian tensions. The authors use dramatic language, like “a contagious sectarian conflict,” “shaking the foundations of countries cobbled together,” and “simmering” ethnic tensions in the region.

The authors committed a bit of a taste faux pas by combining public health, architectural and cooking metaphors in one relatively short article. But if readers can get beyond these overwrought images, they might notice another thing: there’s not much evidence to back up their broad claims. Continue reading

The Tragedy of Fragmented Rebellion

Guest Post by Lindsay Heger and Wendy Wong.

In a recent and rare speech, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad dug in his heels. While nobody could have realistically expected him to simply walk away from his post or even give much ground to the opposition, negotiations seemed possible. After all, the rebels had made several recent and promising military advances. In December the Obama administration acknowledged the rebel movement as representative of the Syrian people, increasing pressure on Assad to step down. Even Russian officials, who seemed loyal to a fault, had begun showing signs of reversing course. Yet Assad’s speech seemed to ignore all these developments. Instead, he rallied Syrians to oust who he calls terrorists and criminals, while giving no indication that he planned on doing anything short of fomenting continued violence.

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Men with Guns (Goma)

First off, this is my first post.  Thanks to Dan and the rest of the crowd for inviting me, though I fear they – and Duck readers – may soon tire of hearing about how building effective control over a given territory is just really damn hard.  But, then again, why else would one invite an Africanist comparativist to hang out on an IR blog?

So Goma fell to rebels yesterday.  In the midst of war in Gaza, the loss of the largest city in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo didn’t make it onto All Things Considered, merited a few sentences on Newshour, and, so far as I’ve heard from others, didn’t get mentioned on CNN or the networks.  It’s very hard to figure out if that’s just general neglect of DRC, or if we’ve reached the point where the media has just thrown up its hands and declared the place done.

We know little about the motley band going under the name of the March 23rd movement (for what we do know, see here).  It’s been around for only 18months, it’s grown from a starting size of 200-300 to a few thousand men, and it’s currently headed by Bosco Ntaganda, who’s under ICC indictment for war crimes and is generally seen as a Rwanda proxy.  All are betting that Rwanda and Uganda are behind this most recent offensive.  If so, their support likely comes in the form of a big bag of money, as it’s hard to imagine any other way Ntaganda could have knit together a force out of the shattered landscape of rebel bands in eastern DRC.  Laura Seay and Jason Stearns are the people to trust for Congo analysis, but I’ll make two predictions:

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Lessons from Syria…thus far…

The violence in Syria is spiking. 1,600 killed in the past week and 100,000 new refugees in the past month. After a year-and-a-half of violence, the UN reports that there are now more than 230,000 refugees, 1.2 million internally displaced persons, more than 2.5 million in need of humanitarian aid. Lakhdar Brahimi, the new UN/Arab League envoy called the violence “staggering.” Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo yesterday condemned Assad’s “crimes against humanity.”

So what have we learned over the past year-and-a-half?

First, despite all the complaints about the era of hyper-interventionism and the fears of R2P run amok, the default response by the international community — especially in complex environments — tends to be restraint. Libya appears to be the exception, not the rule. Neither the Obama administration nor the U.S. military wants any part of an intervention in Syria, the Security Council is deadlocked leaving the UN Secretary General, his special envoy, and the UN observer missions little leverage to alter conditions on the ground. Lots of talk, lots of posturing, but not much effect. In all of these regards, Syria is no different than Bosnia in 1992, or 1993, or 1994.

Second, major external military intervention likely would have significant costs — the conflict would likely escalate and lead to spill-over effects.

Third, limited (or no) intervention also likely will have significant costs — the conflict has escalated and does havespill-over effects.

In other words, the best argument for the current international response to date is that its the least worst option. That may well change…

…because, fourth, it looks like Assad’s regime is likely to become even more ruthless in the weeks and months to come. All of our indicators of the likelihood of mass atrocity events are present in Syria — a minority regime that is under acute military, political, and economic distress and one that has engaged in prior mass atrocities/genocide. It really can get worse.

Jon Lee Anderson’s reporting on the gruesome events ten days ago:

What happened in Daraya follows a pattern that is becoming chillingly routine. Last Saturday, after a withering five-day bombardment, Syrian Army forces entered Daraya and conducted a “mopping-up” operation. What occurred there can only be imagined, but the results are visible in YouTube videos that have been uploaded by activists in the days since then: hundreds of bodies piled up inside houses, in basements, and in a mosque. Many of the bodies were those of young men of fighting age, but there were also children there, and at least one toddler. Many of the victims, as in so many other body-dumps showing up in the environs of Damascus in recent weeks, bore the telltale signs of bullets to the head, fired close-up, execution-style.

Finally, while tipping points are difficult to predict, Assad’s escalation of violence against civilians, if unchecked will generate a new wave of political demands on the United States and others to do more — probably a lot more. A lesson from Bosnia two decades ago is that conflict duration coupled with spikes in intensity of violence against civilians eventually alter the political, moral, and strategic calculations about intervention. This is where the new era of intervention does come in. It may make generals nervous and realists uncomfortable, but global attitudes and norms on civilian violence have changed. We may not live in a world where “Never Again” is sufficiently strong enough to mobilize preventive or early response, but we do live in a world where “Enough is enough” eventually is triggered — my sense is that it’s just a matter of time…and lives.

Podcast No. 2: Phil Arena on Formal Models, Civil Wars, and the Democratic Peace

The second episode of the Duck of Minerva Podcast just went live.

A reminder: I am running the podcast feed on a separate blog. You can subscribe to our podcasts either via that blog’s Feedburner feed or its original atom feed (to do so within iTunes, go to “Advanced” and then choose “Subscribe to Podcast” and paste the feed URL). Individual episodes may be downloaded from the Podcasts tab.

UPDATE: no, the interview is not over an hour long. Most of that is dead space. Fixing now. Note that NBN handles the technical details on the SF podcast, so don’t expect this kind of amateur-hour theatrics on that side of things.

UPDATE 2: should be ok now. If you subscribe through iTunes, you may need to delete the feed and resubscribe.

Negotiating with the Taliban

He’s not alone, of course, but scholar Gilles Dorronsoro is quite pessimistic about the Afghan surge and ongoing counterinsurgency campaign:

The current counterinsurgency campaign shows little signs of accomplishing its mission. The surge is not enough to reverse the Taliban’s gains, or the quick decline of the Karzai government. Pakistan’s lack of support makes the Taliban sanctuary there a major strategic problem.

More troops and the latest strategy have failed to make progress. The war is not conclusive in the south — where stabilization could take years—and the Taliban is gaining momentum in the north.

Instead of being able to begin a withdrawal next summer, the United States could be forced to add more troops just to hold ground and compensate for our allies’ progressive withdrawal. Never mind turning back the Taliban’s gains.

He concludes that negotiation with the Taliban toward political solution is the only option. What are the prospects for negotiation — and for a successful outcome?

David Petraeus says this week that Afghan government and insurgent figures are already moving in that direction:

“There are very high-level Taliban leaders who have sought to reach out to the highest levels of the Afghan government and, indeed, have done that.

…certainly, we support them [initiatives by Karzai government] as we did in Iraq, as the U.K. did in Northern Ireland; this is how you end these kinds of insurgencies.”

The Taliban deny that any talks have occurred.

I suppose that could be read as good news since the Taliban may not want the Afghan people to think they would make common cause with its enemies. American hawks sometimes employ the same logic

Some westerners note that the alleged talks are merely “embryonic” and even Petraeus admits “This is very, very early stages, I don’t think you would yet call it negotiations, it is early discussions.”

Even if serious talks emerge, I’d hold off ordering the champagne to celebrate. First, the US and Afghan governments have established preconditions for talks that likely pose a huge hurdle to meaningful progress — insurgents must lay down their arms and accept the constitution. The Taliban likewise have stated their own preconditions — foreign troops must withdraw first.

Jeremy White says negotiations are ultimately doomed because the political solution the US has in mind fails to recognize the nature of the insurgency and may increase violence in the short-term as locals left out of payoff schemes launch attacks in order to get their fair share of any loot. He references his own on-the-ground research experiences to bolster these claims.

In any event, stay tuned. If everyone agrees (a big if) that the only solution can be political, then we have to hope for some sort of political solution. Right?

Peace Settlements May Do More Harm Than Good.


This is according to a new policy brief out from the Belfer Center at Harvard, in which Monica Duffy Toft details a study of 137 civil wars fought from 1940-2007. Toft finds that more civil wars are ending in negotiation these days than in stalemate or in victory by one side over the other, possibly reflecting the diplomatic norms promulgated across the globe by the conflict prevention sector. But:

Does the trend toward negotiations correlate with improved outcomes? The data suggest that it does not.

Civil War Recurrence. Wars ended through negotiated settlement are twice as likely to reignite as those ending in victory. These renewed conflicts are more likely to last longer than wars ended by other means. Further, recurring civil wars following negotiated settlements were roughly 50 percent more deadly. Not only does it matter that the war ended with victory but also who achieved that victory. The data show that rebel victories were more stable than government victories. Whereas 17 percent of wars ending in government victory recurred, only 6 percent of wars won by rebels did so.

Post–Civil War Politics. Negotiated settlements are associated with higher levels of authoritarianism over time. Incumbent governments faced with the likelihood of renewed war seem to sink precipitously into authoritarianism as they attempt to avert another round of fighting. Cease-fires/stalemates do not appear to have an impact on the level of autocracy or democracy. Although in general victory does not have much impact on regime type, the data suggest that when governments win, repression remains, whereas levels of autocracy decreased after rebel victories.

Post–Civil War Prosperity. Economic growth or decline is unrelated to the type of civil war settlement. Most of the states that suffered civil wars followed the same trajectory, with little divergence. The highest degree of divergence occurred among states whose civil wars ended with a rebel victory. These states suffered a decline in gross domestic product immediately following the war. Within ten years, however, they recovered, displaying the same level of economic performance as states whose civil wars ended in something other than a rebel victory.

What to do instead? Toft argues that policymakers are not stuck choosing between these two extremes but can manufacture strategies that draw on the elements off each that are likeliest to lead to both enduring peace and stable democracies: in short, a combination of benefits and credible threats in negotiated settlements. She also suggests an emphasis on security sector reform -incentivizing former armed groups to reintegrate into post-war society – be a key component of such settlements. The article-length version, just published in International Security, expands usefully on this point.

[cross-posted at Lawyers, Guns and Money]

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