If implemented the Russian proposal for Syria to turn over its chemical weapons to international monitors for destruction offers the possibility a win-win solution. Syria is pressured into giving up its chemical weapons, and the international norm against the use of these weapons is strengthened. The Obama administration avoids the prospects of political defeat at home and the risks of renewed military intervention in the Middle East.
France is introducing a resolution at the UN Security Council to implement the Russian proposal and mobilize international action against the chemical attacks. The French resolution demands that Syria disclose its chemical stockpiles and place them under international control. It also condemns the August 21 massacre and calls for International Criminal Court action against those responsible.
The implications of the latest developments are many:
- Threat-based diplomacy can be effective. There is no doubt that Obama’s threat of military attack, and the worldwide effort to prevent that action, played a key role in catalyzing Russia’s involvement and pressuring Syria to consider the deal.
- U.S. domestic political opposition to military strikes limited the administration’s options, forced a time-consuming debate that allowed time for diplomatic maneuvering, and increased the President’s receptivity to non-military solutions.
- The United States can benefit from working with Russia in seeking diplomatic solutions to difficult international security challenges.
- If the Syrian chemical weapons plan is implemented it could open the door for diplomacy to end the war, with the U.S. and Russia renewing their cooperation in pushing for a ceasefire and a negotiated solution.
- The Syria deal could provide an opening for diplomatic cooperation with Iran. Tehran has announced its support for the Russian proposal and could be asked to participate in assuring its implementation. This could pave the way for negotiations to limit Iran’s nuclear program.
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Among the many negative consequences of the proposed American military intervention in Syria is the diversion of attention away from the crimes committed by Syrian military forces toward the actions being planned by the United States. The world’s television screens are filled with images of the debate about an American strike, not the consequences of the chemical massacre committed by the Syrian army. The main story line is the military action planned by Obama – not the crimes committed by Assad.
The bombing of Syria risks turning Assad and his supporters into victims rather than perpetrators. As the missiles strike, media images will show civilians killed by American weapons rather than those who died in the chemical attacks. The focus will be on U.S. policy rather than the continuing crimes of the Assad regime.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Obama and his advisers still have time to turn away from their ill-advised military plan toward a more effective multilateral strategy that would have broad international support. The alternative approach I have proposed would apply pressure against those responsible for the chemical attacks while intensifying diplomatic efforts to end the war. It would focus attention where it belongs, on prohibiting chemical weapons and ending the war, rather than on American military intervention.
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Yes, there must be consequences for those who ordered the chemical weapons massacre in Syria, but this is not an argument for military strikes. Robust options are available for mobilizing international pressure against the Assad regime and seeking an end to the killing. The United States should:
Provide the evidence
- Give a detailed report to the UN Security Council and the world media of the evidence it claims to possess identifying the Syrian political and military leaders responsible for the chemical attacks; clarify the inconsistencies in the information that has been presented to date,
- Support continued and more thorough investigation by UN inspectors to develop further evidence of precisely what happened and who was responsible for the massacre.
Apply international pressure
- Seek approval of resolutions at the UN Security Council, the Arab League and other international bodies condemning the chemical massacre as a war crime and a crime against humanity,
- Urge the UN Security Council to impose targeted sanctions against those who are found to be responsible for the massacre,
- Urge the Security Council to refer the Syrian chemical attacks to the International Criminal Court with an expedited mandate for gaining further criminal evidence and issuing indictments against those responsible,
- Apply additional U.S. sanctions against the Assad regime, cancelling all business dealings and barring from U.S. markets any governments or firms that enable or finance Syrian government atrocities,
- Work with European governments and other countries to urge the imposition of similar sanctions.
Pursue diplomatic options
- Engage with Russia and Iran to seek their support in a coordinated strategy to take international legal action against those responsible for the chemical massacre and to encourage a negotiated end to the Syrian civil war,
- Renew and intensify pressure on the Syrian government and rebel forces to participate in the proposed Geneva II peace negotiations, toward the goal of reaching a ceasefire and agreement for dividing power in Syria,
- Increase humanitarian aid to provide support for the growing number of refugees from Syria.
Posted in Sanctions and Security, Syria | 3 Comments »
Kenneth Katzman’s latest assessment of international sanctions against Iran is mind-blowing, even for someone as jaded on the topic as I am. Those of us who follow the subject have known for years that sanctions on Iran are completely irrational, a form of what Richard Haass calls “sanctioning madness,” a policy that is pursued for its own sake without consideration of its demonstrated failure.
The list of sanctions and penalties against Iran seems endless. Katzman needs 50 pages just to describe all of them. In exhaustive detail he reviews the dozens of laws, regulations and executive orders that apply to almost every form of interaction with Iran, and that also impose penalties on those from other countries, requiring them to reduce or sever trade with Iran if they want to do business in the U.S.
What have all these sanctions wrought? Read for yourself:
- “There is a consensus that U.S. and U.N. sanctions have not, to date, accomplished their core strategic objective of compelling Iran to verifiably limit its nuclear development to purely peaceful purposes.”
- “International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports have said that Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium more rapidly continues to expand, as does its stockpile of 20% enriched uranium. And, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified on March 12, 2013, that Iran ‘is expanding the scale, reach, and sophistication of its ballistic missile arsenal.’”
- “Sanctions do not appear to have materially reduced Iran’s capability to finance and provide arms to militant movements in the Middle East and to Syria.”
- “A congressionally-mandated Defense Department report of April 2012 called into question whether sanctions would erode Iran’s conventional military capabilities.”
- “U.S. and international sanctions have not, to date, had a measurable effect on human rights practices in Iran.”
While sanctions have had no impact in changing Iran’s nuclear policies, they are devastating the Iranian economy. The results of sanctions, according to Katzman, include falling oil revenues and production, shrinking GDP per capita, a collapsing currency, rising inflation, and declining industrial production—in short an economic disaster that is causing serious hardships for millions of Iranians.
Despite this record of failure, some members of Congress are sponsoring legislation to pile on even more sanctions – jeopardizing the diplomatic opportunity presented by the election of an Iranian President, Hassan Rouhani, who has indicated a desire to engage productively on the nuclear issue.
Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
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In his statement condemning the violence in Egypt President Obama has asked his national security team to assess the implications of the military’s assault against its own people. There is no need for long deliberations. The likely consequences are uniformly grim.
This is a grave setback for the cause of democracy and the prospects for nonviolent change. From the blood of the many ‘martyrs’ killed by the military will grow seeds of revenge and retaliatory violence. Chaos and terror will likely spread in Egypt and beyond.
The military may be able to kill and imprison the leaders of the Islamic Brotherhood, but they will not be able to crush the broader Islamic movement, or alter the fact that Islam has been and remains the dominant political force in Egypt and most Arab countries.
The slaughter now underway undermines the hope for democratic politics in Egypt and most of the Arab world. No Islamic political leader in the region will be able to argue credibly that the methods of democracy are a viable path to progress.
The same is true for the use of nonviolent methods of change. The dreams of the youth who led the unarmed revolution have turned into a nightmare, their bright hopes shattered by mass killing in the streets. Few will believe any longer in the power of nonviolence.
President Obama should take more forceful action, joining with other nations to seek a quick end to military rule and a return to civilian rule.
Posted in Arab Spring, Nonviolence | 1 Comment »
The Egyptian revolution is being crushed and I grieve for what is being lost. That glorious unarmed uprising that so inspired the world is now being gunned down by the armed forces. I grieve especially for the people of Egypt and the dangers that lie ahead unless something is to done to save the day.
The army’s massacre of dozens of people on July 28 was an unspeakable crime, equivalent to the horrors of the Mubarak era. It will go down in Egypt’s history as a day of infamy. I fear it could be one of those cruel turning points in history, when a gathering tide of lawlessness and instability burst into violence. The sense of foreboding is palpable.
The military’s brutality and lies are a grave menace to Egypt’s future. They make the incompetence and authoritarianism of the Morsi government seem mild by comparison. The Muslim Brothers are the main target of attack now, but all of free Egypt is in jeopardy.
Mohammed El Baradei and other liberals have finally criticized the military, but they must go further. I can imagine what Gandhi would say to them. Resign your posts. No one should continue to serve the military regime or follow any of their directives. Mass civil disobedience is the only solution in this emergency, not only in the streets but in pervasive refusal to accept military authority.
The military has gone beyond acceptable moral and legal bounds and must be forced to yield power. The Obama administration should work with the Arab League through the United Nations to support the creation of a broadly representative independent civilian authority in Egypt that guarantees the participation of all social forces, including the Brotherhood. Secular and liberal forces must work with the Brothers and the Salafists to establish an interim government and decide a road map to the future.
The international community should provide help to get such a political process started and must insist that the military turn over authority as soon as it is established. If the army refuses to yield power all U.S. and international assistance for the generals should cease.
Those who say the Muslim Brothers are not prepared or inclined for war do not understand the rage boiling over from the army’s repression. The deadly descending spiral of violence-begetting-violence is beginning, and may soon get out of hand as it did in Syria. Until now the Brothers have been very reluctant to use force, but there is likely a limit to their endurance, as for all people. Arms and materials for making bombs are readily available in the region.
The time to act is now, before it is too late.
Posted in Arab Spring, Nonviolence, Peace History, Syria | 7 Comments »
It’s a military coup, and it’s a tragedy for the Egyptian revolution. The Morsi government was certainly incompetent and increasingly authoritarian, but the army had no legal or constitutional authority to remove from office and arrest a legitimately elected president.
The Egypt revolution began in January 2011 with great promise and in 18 days overturned the Mubarak dictatorship through unarmed struggle that inspired the world. As a scholar and practitioner of nonviolent action I was eager to learn how the mostly young urban activists had sparked massive nonviolent protests across the country. I visited Egypt twice in the months after the revolution, helped to organize a conference at the University of Cairo on “lessons from the unarmed revolution,” interviewed dozens of young revolutionaries along with journalists and political observers, and wrote several chapters of a book trying to analyze and apply the lessons of Egypt to the study and practice of nonviolent civil resistance. Now I’m not sure what to write.
The military has taken power again, and we are staring into the abyss of a dangerous and uncertain future. The security forces brutally suppressed initial protests from Muslim Brotherhood members. So far the Brotherhood has remained officially committed to nonviolent methods. On Friday the Brotherhood organized massive occupation-style rallies and civil resistance actions.
The Brotherhood has said it will accept early presidential elections but it wants Morsi released and has rejected the military’s hurried and poorly planned outline for a new constitutional process, as have many other Egypt political parties, secular as well as religious.
If the Brotherhood is excluded from power after having won three straight elections, violence is likely to erupt. Already some angry voices have called for armed jihad. The scenario looks disturbingly like Algeria, where in 1992 the Islamist FLN coalition won an electoral victory but was prevented from taking office, prompting a bloody civil war that continued through the decade and took as many as 200,000 lives. Political strife has torn apart Syria. Let’s hope Egypt does not suffer the same fate.
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