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Justice, Security and Rule of Law: The Pakistani-India Conflict

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Introduction

On July 17, 2014 China and Russia issued a joint statement stating their intention of creating a new world order. That same statement supported India’s long-standing bid to replace one of the United Nations Security Council’s five permanent members. July 17th is historically relevant as it is the same day the U.S. joined the European Union in imposing sanctions on Russia for its illegal annexation of Crimea, a mere hours later Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was downed by Russian mercenaries over Ukraine, followed by the announcement of the inception of the New Development Bank or The BRICS, named for its founders – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. While the intention of creating a new world, one radically different from that envisioned when the United Nations was created in 1948, appears to be well underway, India, which is busy defending its Kashmir region, has been left behind as Russia and China court the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, a long-term and strategically-positioned ally of the United States.

The Pakistani Government

Pakistan is essential to curbing terrorist activities by the Taliban, the Haqqani network and other designated terrorist groups operating in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Pakistan’s military and its notoriously violent intelligence service, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), have been training and funding several terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan and India. The ISI aids these organisations by harboring terrorists, eradicating perceived enemies or those opposed to their cause, including India, Israel, the U.S., the United Kingdom and other NATO members. Pakistan harbors terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Omar, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Jaish-e-Mohammed and Sipah-e-Sahaba.

These groups interfere with NATO operations in Afghanistan; with Operation Inherent Resolve in Syria by providing training, weapons and fighters; and they have engaged in unconventional warfare along the border of India’s Kashmir state. These groups are responsible for the decades long terrorism campaign in Kashmir and the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks.

Human Rights Watch has determined the ISI and Pakistani army actively aid the Taliban by “…soliciting funding for the Taliban, bankrolling Taliban operations, providing diplomatic support as the Taliban’s virtual emissaries abroad, arranging training for Taliban fighters, recruiting skilled and unskilled manpower to serve in Taliban armies, planning and directing offensives, providing and facilitating shipments of ammunition and fuel, and on several occasions apparently directly providing combat support.”

ISI orchestrates its proxies to exert its influence in Pakistan, as well as in neighboring Afghanistan, Syria and India. The ISI also protected Osama bin-Laden, who lived a mere 100 kilometers outside of the Pakistani capital of Islamabad for years, before being assassinated by U.S. Naval Special Forces on May 2, 2011.

FBI Satellite imagery evidences the existence of several terrorist camps in Pakistan, some of which are jihadist madrasa schools.

The disconnect is that the civilian Pakistani government operates without control over the ISI, and its army.

“[T]he civilian government there [Pakistan] doesn’t control military policy, strategic policy… but the army and the intelligence service do…. and they have denied the obvious, postponed this reckoning for years with so many terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda,” confirmed Chris Alexander, Canadian Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and former Canadian ambassador to Afghanistan.

Given the opportunity, the Pakistani Taliban would overthrow the Pakistani government and introduce a radical Islamist regime. Pakistani authorities fear that the Afghan Taliban could join forces with the Pakistani Taliban.

The Fragile U.S.-Pakistani Relationship

Following 9.11 Pakistan became a critical partner in the U.S.’s counterattack on al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda’s ally, the Afghan Taliban. The relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan has been a difficult one, at best, owing to the fact that the civilian government exerts little or no control over the ISI and the Pakistani army. Since 2001, the U.S. has provided extensive funding, now subject to conditions, to facilitate a stronger civilian Pakistani government empowered to take measures towards eradicating terrorism and the support of terrorism within its borders. Between September 11, 2001 and the end of 2008 the U.S. provided Pakistan with $11 billion in assistance.

In return, the civilian Pakistani government permits the U.S. to use its airspace; allows overland access to Afghanistan; and, to the extent possible, employs its police and paramilitary organizations to capture al-Qaeda activists.

Nonetheless, as of 2008 Pakistan was “…with the possible exception of Iran, perhaps the world’s most active sponsor of terrorist groups… aiding groups that pose a direct threat to the U.S… Pakistan is probably today’s most active sponsor of terrorism,” opined Daniel Byman, in an analysis published by the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Due to a poor return on investment, as well as concerns about differing goals, nuclear proliferation, political instability, and Pakistan’s role as sanctuary for al Qaeda and Afghan insurgents, the U.S. has been modified its aid policy.

Thus, the 2009 Kerry-Lugar legislation tripled nonmilitary aid to $1.5 billion per year as a long-term pledge to the people of Pakistan, it delinked military from nonmilitary aid, and conditioned military aid on certification that Pakistani security forces are (1) working to prevent al Qaeda and associated terrorist groups from operating on Pakistani territory; (2) working to deny the Afghan Taliban sanctuary in Pakistan; and (3) refraining from interfering in Pakistan’s political and judicial processes.

At a September 2011 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Admiral Mike Mullen, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, asserted that, “Pakistani duplicity puts in jeopardy not only the frayed U.S.-Pakistani partnership against terrorism but also the outcome to the decade-old war in Afghanistan.”

In July 2016 Sen. John McCain, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee, met with former Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari. They agreed that it is in the interest of peace and stability that Pakistan continue playing its role in the fight against the global threat of terrorism. Mr. Zardari insisted that Pakistan is a victim of terrorism itself and would never support it, while Mr. McCain acknowledged the Pakistani government’s sacrifices in the fight against terrorism.

Afterwards, Sen. McCain wrote in a July 26th article that, “By taking on all terrorist groups operating in its territory, Pakistan will find that the U.S. remains willing and able to assist in this fight and develop an enduring strategic partnership. The sooner the U.S., Pakistan and Afghanistan get down to the business of fighting their common terrorist enemies together, no matter where they hide, the better off the nations, the region and the world will be.”

On August 29th the U.S. communicated its refusal to subsidize Pakistan’s purchase of 16 used F-16 fighter jets.

Building upon the U.S.-Pakistan Strategic Dialogue, on September 19th U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Pakistani Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif to discuss the countries’ strong and long-term bilateral partnership. Mr. Kerry reiterated the need for Pakistan to prevent any terrorist from using Pakistani territory as a safe haven. Mr. Kerry stressed the need for restraint in nuclear weapons programs.

Mr. Kerry commended Mr. Sharif on recent efforts by Pakistani security forces to counter violent extremism, for 40 years of hosting Afghan refugees, for restoring macroeconomic stability, and for cooperating on climate change priorities.

On October 7th the White House rejected a demand from several legislators that the U.S. Secretary of State designate Pakistan a “terrorist state”.

Competing Claims in the Kashmir Region

As for the Muslim-majority region of Kashmir, India, Pakistan, and China have competing claims. While China has never engaged in overt action over the dispute, Pakistan and India have engaged in escalating violence in the Kashmir region along the Pakistani and Indian border. Most recently, in September, India blamed Pakistan-based militant groups for an attack in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 18 soldiers, the deadliest assault there in years. India retaliated with cross-border “surgical strikes” against suspected militants in Pakistan killing two people.

One of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s diplomats warned that Pakistan would look to China and Russia if the U.S. fails to reconsider its position on the escalating Pak-India Kashmir conflict.

At a September 19th meeting, Pakistani Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Zardari and Mr. Kerry expressed concern as to the recent violence in Kashmir, and the need for both sides to diplomatically reduce tensions. Mr. Zardari stated that Pakistan wants to resolve the Kashmir issue through dialogue.

The next day U.S. State Department spokesperson, John Kirby, issued a statement that the U.S. will not intervene in the Kashmir dispute and asked both the Indian and Pakistan governments resolve it through ‘meaningful dialogue’.

India and China

India could look to neighboring China for support. China will outwardly try to remain neutral. While China and India share a fear of expanding terrorist networks, Pakistan is critical to China’s $46 billion “One Belt, One Road” trade route running from Pakistan’s Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea to China’s landlocked Xinjiang Province. This initiative, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was designed to expand China’s Asian economic and political outreach, as well as providing it with access to a sea route for trade.

“The conventional wisdom is that China will intensify support to Islamabad amid rising India-Pakistan tension. China will want to reiterate its commitment to Pakistan and express its strong support, particularly if Beijing starts to worry that India’s more muscular approach towards Pakistan could entail efforts to undercut or even sabotage the China-funded China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project,” stated Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South and Southeast Asia at the Woodrow Wilson Centre.

India has worked to deepen its military cooperation with the U.S. In June the U.S. granted India “major defence partner” status, potentially paving the way for a transfer of U.S. military “dual-use” technologies, used to develop strategic weapons, such as ballistic missiles. The arms deal has a price tag of $9 billion. The deal was not totally one-sided. On August 30th the two countries signed a logistics sharing pact under which their militaries can use each other’s military bases.

Sino-Pakistani Relations 

China has significantly increased defence cooperation with Pakistan. While China already is Pakistan’s primary source of weapons, and responsible for building Pakistan’s nuclear reactors, only recently has China resumed sharing strategic weapons technology; a practice that ceased in the 1990s under U.S. pressure.

On March 9, 2015, Pakistan tested its Shaheen-3 intermediate-range, land-based surface-to-surface ballistic missile. Capable of delivering a conventional or nuclear warhead, the Shaheen-3 has a range of 2750 km- 1700 miles, and a circular error probable of less 40 meters, making it the most accurate ballistic missile of its class in the world.

The transport erector launcher used to launch the missile is believed to have been sourced by China as it bore similarity to a launcher transferred in 2011 by China to North Korea.

The Shaheen-3 was developed in response to India’s Agni-III. Capable of delivering a conventional or nuclear warhead, the Agni-III has a range of 3,500 km- 5,000 km, and a circular error probable of 40 meters. Since then India has tested two more advanced variants of intercontinental ballistic missiles, the Agni-V and Agni-VI. Using multiple independent re-entry vehicles, the AGNI-VI can simultaneously deliver multiple nuclear warheads reaching targets as far 6,000 km away.

In 2015, China introduced 10 MIRV variants of its DF-5 ICBM, which are similar in capability to the Agni-V and Agni-Vi. It is believed that China has shared this technology with Pakistan.

Seeking to match India’s development of second-strike capabilities through land, air and sea-based delivery systems, in 2015, Pakistan’s acquired eight Type 041 diesel-electric attack submarines from China that can be armed with nuclear-capable Babur cruise missiles.

Pakistan and Russia

In 2007 Pakistan and Russia reestablished diplomat ties. While the raison d’être was ostensibly a joint interest in defeating the Taliban, recent events evidence the rationale as being multi-faceted.

In 2014 Moscow lifted a longstanding ban on arms sales to Pakistan. In 2015 the two countries signed a defence deal, including a sale to Pakistan of four Russian Mil Mi-35M attack helicopters to replace Pakistan’s aging U.S.-made AH-1 Cobras.

In 2015 Russian agreed to invest $2 billion to construct a North-South gas pipeline to transfer liquefied natural gas from Pakistani port city Karachi to Lahore, in the Punjab Province. Having an energy shortage, the pipeline could supply 30 percent of the Pakistani population with energy. The first phase is expected to be finished by December 2017.

After an August 8th blast killed at least 70 people at a hospital in Quetta, a city located near the Afghanistan border, Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin stated, “We decisively condemn this cynical, inhumane crime… I’d like to reiterate that the Russian side is ready to bolster cooperation with Pakistani partners in the fight against terrorism.”

In September, the Russian and Pakistani armies conducted “mutual special drills in mountainous terrain” in the eastern Punjab province, a neighboring province to Kashmir region.

“Moscow and Islamabad are interested in deepening military-to-military relations,” stated Qazi Khalilullah, Pakistan’s ambassador to Moscow.

Russia further invited Pakistan to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Russia has expressed a desire in joining CPEC.

The India-Russo Relationship

In 2010, Mr. Putin stated that “Russia is not maintaining military cooperation with Pakistan as it takes into account the concerns of Indian partners.”

Following an October 23, 2013 meeting between India’s then Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and Mr. Putin concerning Pakistan, Mr. Putin issued a strongly-worded statement that “states that provide aid, abetment and shelter for such terrorist activities are themselves as guilty as the actual perpetrators of terrorism”.

But, over the last two years things have radically changed. As Russia now considers Pakistan a partner on just about every level, Russo-Indian relations have experienced a downward trend. In 2015, under a pre-existing agreement Russia was to build and finance 12 nuclear power plants in India, Russia unilaterally doubled the number of plants to be built all at a significantly higher cost.

Now, Mr. Putin has grown angry over India’s augmenting its Russian-Indian defense agreement with assistance from the U.S. and other Western nations. That angry was made manifest after Russia announced a three-fold cost increase and a five-year delay in procuring for India’s fourth aircraft carrier, and delays in fulfilling a multibillion-dollar agreement to provide an India with a fifth generation fighter jet.

“By engaging with Pakistan, Russia leaves New Delhi with a hard choice: to honor its strategic commitment to Russia and make concessions or to observe Russian-Pakistani rapprochement, which could potentially erode India’s military advantage,” observed Moscow-based political analyst Dmitriy Frolovskiy.

Nuclear Proliferation

Advances in China, Pakistan and India’s strategic weapons programmes have significantly elevated the danger of nuclear conflict because they threaten “to blur nuclear thresholds and elevate the risk of inadvertent nuclear escalation due to misperception”, according to a June study by the U.S. Strategic Studies Institute.

“Pakistan has rapidly expanded its nuclear arsenal and reportedly developed new tactical nuclear weapons. Not to be outdone, India continues to modernise its nuclear triad,” confirmed Sen. McCain.

In the 2013 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Yearbook, India and Pakistan were the only two unrecognised nuclear powers that are currently expanding their arsenals and delivery systems.

“The nuclear arms race in South Asia has its own logic but China’s growing military sophistication has pushed India and the U.S. closer, which has further cemented the China-Pakistan alliance. This has implications for the nuclear dynamic as well,” observed Harsh V. Pant, professor of international relations at King’s College London.

There are two doctrines which have governed nuclear armament. The oldest is the Doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) whereby neither country engages in direct military confrontation with the other. Rather, aggressions are taken out in proxy wars staged in other less powerful countries. The second and newer doctrine is that of Mutual Assured Security (MAS), a condition in which neither party has the intention or capability to exercise a unilateral advantage over the other. Neither Pakistan nor India play by these rules as reflected in a 2014 paper released by the Australian Institute of International Affairs:

“The largely-accepted and comforting notion that Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) permits stability at higher levels of conflict (even as it facilitates instability at lower levels) does not apply in the India-Pakistan dynamic. The validity of the Stability-Instability Paradox (SIP) rests on a number of assumptions which existed during the Cold War, but are not present in the Indo-Pakistani security environment. The preconditions required in order for the SIP to hold are:

• That the sides involved are rational actors;

• That the side which threatens first-use has unambiguous red lines to prevent the accidental tripping of nuclear thresholds; and

• That there are minimum levels of communication and mutual understanding between the actors so as to minimise chances of miscommunication and misinterpretation.”

The study concluded, “With tactical nuclear weapons and anti-ballistic missile defence technology entering the equation, the nuclear ladder is getting ever-shorter and the region is fast becoming a tinderbox.”

Consider the statement made by Air Marshal Shahid Latif, a retired senior commander in the Pakistan Air Force, which confirmed that “Now, India doesn’t have its safe heavens anymore. It’s all a reaction to India, which has now gone even for tests of extra-regional missiles. It sends a [very] loud message: If you hurt us, we are going to hurt you back!”

Conclusion

This growing tensions in the Kashmir region are fueling further regional destabilization and polarization. The U.S. has thus far stated that mutual dialogue is the only viable solution. As for China, its interest in Pakistan and India is pecuniary. While Russia does not share the same interest in Kashmir as it is not a border country, the key to Russian restraint in Pakistan may lie in Russia’s lucrative financial relationships with China, India and Pakistan.

With The BRICS Summit taking place this weekend in India, it is doubtful that the group will do little more than reiterate its position against terrorism. Through diplomatic channels, however, as Beijing has no desire for bordering Kashmir to fall in the hands of Islamic extremists, China may hold the key to pushing both countries to reduce tensions.

A second logical solution would be for India and Pakistan to present their territorial dispute to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, to which both countries are member states.

About the Author

Cynthia M. Lardner is an American journalist living in The Hague focusing on geopolitics. Ms. Lardner is a contributing editor for Tuck Magazine and E – The Magazine for Today’s Executive Female Executive, and her blogs are read in over 37 countries. As a thought leader in the area of foreign policy, her philosophy is to collectively influence conscious global thinking. Ms. Lardner holds degrees in journalism, law, and counseling psychology.

Sources

Dobbins, James, and Khalilzad, Zalmay, “Pakistan Holds the Key to Peace in Afghanistan”, January 11, 2016, Rand Corp, as found on the www at http://www.rand.org/blog/2016/01/pakistan-holds-the-key-to-peace-in-afghanistan.html.

Frolovskiy, Dmitriy, “What’s Behind Russia’s Rapprochement With Pakistan?”, May 14, 2016, The Diplomat, as found on the www at http://thediplomat.com/2016/05/whats-behind-russias-rapprochement-with-pakistan/.

Jose, Khemta Hannah, “MAD IN SOUTH ASIA: INDIA-PAKISTAN RIVALRY”, February 6, 2014, Australian Institute of International Affairs, as found on the www at http://www.internationalaffairs.org.au/australian_outlook/mad-in-south-asia-india-pakistan-rivalry/.

McCain, John, “America ignores Pakistan at its peril, 2016, July 26 Financial Times, as found on the www at https://www.ft.com/content/d97ccbe8-527e-11e6-9664-e0bdc13c3bef.

“NATO and Afghanistan”, June 14, 2016, NATO, as found on the www at http://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_8189.htm.

“Secretary Kerry’s Meeting With Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif”, September 20, 2016, Office of the Spokesperson, U.S. State Department, as found on the www at http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2016/09/262159.htm.

Williams, Christine, “Pakistan: State Sponsor of Terrorism”, April 7, 2014, Gatestone Institute, as found on the www at https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/4250/pakistan-sponsor-terrorism.

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Inside the Mind of Vladimir Putin

Putin.CoverBy:  Cynthia M. Lardner

Introduction

The Russian Federation, when examined as the antagonist, views itself as having been left disconnected from post-World War Two Europe. Russia believes itself to be irrevocably tied to Europe dating back to the Byzantine Era.  When the Cold War ended Russia expected to be accepted by the West. This never fully materialized, leaving Russian President Vladimir Putin feeling dismembered. With heightening geopolitical tensions, especially in the European Union, it is critical to understand Mr. Putin’s long term strategy. When events over the last three years are examined together, not only does there exists a threat of conflict on European soil and cyberwar but, there also exists a very real threat to the Western world of another new genre of warfare:  economic warfare.

The Lavrov Statement

Understanding what Mr. Putin was and is thinking can now be best understood in the context of a March 3, 2016 statement by Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs:

“While the rapidly developing Moscow state naturally played an increasing role in European affairs, the European countries had apprehensions about the nascent giant in the East and tried to isolate it whenever possible and prevent it from taking part in Europe’s most important affairs.

During at least the past two centuries any attempts to unite Europe without Russia and against it have inevitably led to grim tragedies, the consequences of which were always overcome with the decisive participation of our country (Emphasis Added).”

Emphasizing Russia’s growing relationship with China and its other partners, including the BRICS, Lavrov stated that globalisation has led to the United States and the European Union’s demise as the leading global economic powers and political influencers, and to the emergence of “new and large centres of power”.

This was followed by the assertion that, “A reliable solution to the problems of the modern world can only be achieved through serious and honest cooperation between the leading states and their associations in order to address common challenges.”

Lavrov concluded that, “[W]e are not seeking confrontation with the United States, or the European Union, or NATO. On the contrary, Russia is open to the widest possible cooperation with its Western partners. We continue to believe that the best way to ensure the interests of the peoples living in Europe is to form a common economic and humanitarian space from the Atlantic to the Pacific, so that the newly formed Eurasian Economic Union could be an integrating link between Europe and Asia Pacific.”

Sino-Russian Partnership

Perhaps then it is ultimately not just what Mr. Putin is thinking but, also what the aspirations are of Chinese President Xi Jinping, with respect, not as to the Middle East, but as to Europe.  When events are read together, the two countries share expansionist and extremist policies, each with their own set of alliances, under which both countries aspire to wield greater global leadership.

A contemporary starting place for analyzing the Sino-Russian relationship is July 17, 2014, when a number of seemingly unrelated events occurred.  The day prior, the European Union imposed economic sanctions against the Russia Federation for its annexation of Crimea in violation of international law and the 1994 Budapest Agreement, followed by President Barack Obama announcing that the United States was also imposing sanctions; ultimately toppling the ruble.  Hours later, a Malaysian plane was shot down over the Ukraine by Russian mercenaries. This was quickly followed by a statement released by China, Russia, India, Brazil and South Africa, representing 40% of the world’s population, that they were implementing the New Development Bank or The BRICS, to provide funding to those countries previously unable to secure financing for essential sustainable infrastructures from the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Six months later, on February 2, 2015, obscured by an international community divided over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, China struck a potentially deadly blow to global financial stability when it announced that it was not only moving ahead in launching its Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) but that it was expanding to welcome founding members from the West, of which all 28 NATO members, save the United States, joined within months.  There are now 56 AIIB member nations and another 30 countries awaiting approval.

“The founding and opening of the AIIB also means a great deal to the reform of the global economic governance system,” stated Mr. Jinping at the January 16, 2016 AIIB inauguration.

The AIIB and its ‘junior partner’, The BRICS, were set up to compete with the WB and IMF, intending to ultimately issue its own currency to devalue the Euro and the dollar.

“The BRICS is expected to usher in a pair of institutions, a development bank and a currency reserve fund, that they hope will diminish Western control of the global financial system,” stated Stewart M. Patrick, director of CFR’s International Institutions and Global Governance Program.

“The AIIB is a challenge to the existing global economic order,” stated Robert Kahn, Steven A. Tananbaum Senior Fellow for International Economics.

Such would be the case if China and its partners called in their portion of the United States National Debt; $17.6 trillion dollars or 15.9%.

In addition, China and Russia, two of the five permanent United Nations Security Council (UNSC) members, along with India, issued a statement supporting India’s bid for one of the five permanent UNSC seats.

The statement declared that the three nations, with China at the helm, would “build a more just, fair and stable international political and economic order” and a ““multi-polar” world”.   Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi proclaimed, “We advocate the principle of partnership rather than alliance.”

In late 2015 Mr. Jinping made a state visit to Great Britain. India Prime Minister Naranda Modi made state visits to 28 countries.  In Great Britain and beyond, China and India secured many private and public sector contracts.  India’s state visits were partially motivated by its previous lack of cordial diplomatic relations with North African and the Middle East; regions India needs to to support its claim that it is a global leader meriting a permanent UNSC seat.

Inception of The BRICS and AIIB has raised global concerns.  The Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights is investigating whether projected project financing by The BRICS and the AIIB would include safeguards to preclude human rights violations, such as slave or child labor, underpayment of wages, forced evictions, and detentions.  Further concern exists over a lack of articulated environmental and anticorruption standards.  These concerns were manifest in previous projects funded by the Chinese government.

Syria

As time went on, the events of 2014 and 2015 fell off the front pages, replaced by news story about the Syrian War and the related terrorist attacks in California, Paris and Brussels.

Russia’s September 2015 entry into the Syrian War was reported to insure that Mr. Putin’s ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, remained in power.  It is questionable whether Mr. Putin’s move was a smokescreen allowing him to achieve another objective:  destabilizing the European Union.

Russian bombing in Syria was targeted in and around Aleppo, near the Turkish border.  NATO and other leaders asserted that Russia had weaponized Syrians; escalating the number of refugee seekers. The refugee crisis has created widespread dissension within Europe, which has been struggling to cope with the staggering numbers of refugees.  There are 4,883,643 Syrian refugees registered by the United Nations; making it the largest humanitarian crisis the world has faced since World War II.

Munich Security Conference

At the February 12-14, 2016 Munich Security Conference (MSC), Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev’s echoed Lavrov’s statements; calling the state of diplomacy between Russia and the West a new Cold War.  NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander General Philip Breedlove disagreed.

A Syrian ceasefire was negotiated at the MSC to allow participants time to reconvene in March to further discuss a nonmilitary resolution, and so that humanitarian aid could be delivered to Syria.

At the MSC conference, the issue of Russia’s failure to honor the Minsk Protocol, intended to resolve the Russian-Ukrainian conflict was raised.

On March 14, 2016, as the parties reconvened in Geneva, Russia only announced that it was pulling out of Syria at the same time Russian-backed separatists staged one their biggest Ukrainian offenses, fueling speculation as to Mr. Putin’s long range motives.

Europe and the United States

Mr. Putin’s goal is to undermine the European Union by causing destabilization as the European Union represents democracy, is based on Rule of Law, and is ideologically different from Russia, stated Anne Applebaum, Pulitzer Prize Russian Scholar, Director of the Transitions Forum at the Legatum Institute, and an adjunct fellow of the Center for European Policy Analysis.

European and United States’ domestic and foreign policy has caused dissension within and between nations.  Natalie Nougayrède, a foreign affairs commentator for The Guardian, explained:

This year is one that arguably offers Russia an unprecedented window of opportunity to push that demand. The refugee crisis threatens key EU institutions, a referendum looms on the UK’s relationship to Europe, the Franco-German couple is in dire straits, Angela Merkel is politically weakened, Ukraine is unstable, populist movements are spreading throughout the continent, the Balkans are experiencing new tensions, and the US is busy with an election campaign imbued with isolationism.

“Europe when united is a problem for them [the Russians]. It doesn’t work when the whole of Europe joins together,” stated Applebaum.

“Closer cooperation between the EU and its eastern European partners – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine – is a key element in EU foreign relations,” states the European Union’s website.

Meanwhile, Russia has strengthened its relationships with Western Europe and Germany.  In 2014 Mr. Putin stated, “I expect that the citizens of Germany will also support the aspiration of the Russians, of historical Russia, to restore unity.”  Presently, an estimated 10-15% of all Germans support Mr. Putin.

Mr. Putin’s authoritarian leadership is also admired by Czech Republic President Miloš Zeman, Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and Serbian Prime Minister Alexander Vucic.

Then there is Poland; with Russia and Ukraine on its east and Germany and the Baltics on its west, it is a natural target for Russia.  The United States is building a missile defense shield in Poland due to be operational in 2018; stating it was to protect against Iranian aggressions.  Russia objected, stating that the shield is being built to protect the West from an attack by Russia.

Russia, having the world’s largest nuclear arsenal supported by a sprawling military and civilian nuclear industry, boycotted the March 31-April 1 Nuclear Security Summit, sparking concern as to whether Russia has or might sell nuclear weapons or weapon making materials to a terrorist organization.

Igor Ivanov, former Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, stated that, “The risk of confrontation with the use of nuclear weapons in Europe is higher than in the 1980s.”

Ukraine and the European Union

The conflict between Rule of Law and the Russian plutocracy is playing out in Ukraine and the Baltic region.

In 2012 Ukraine requested member state status in the European Union.  While there is no indication that Ukraine will be accepted as a European Union member, as part of the association agreement between Ukraine and the European Union, the European Union is removing trade barriers with Ukraine.

“Ukraine has tied into mainstream European culture and life,” stated Applebaum.

“We can express our identity in the framework of the European Union,” reflected Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich, Chief Rabbi of Ukraine.

Mr. Putin disagreed, stating, “Our concerns are understandable because we are not simply close neighbours but, as I have said many times already, we are one people… Millions of Russians and Russian-speaking people live in Ukraine and will continue to do so. Russia will always defend their interests using political, diplomatic and legal means.”

Rebutting Mr. Putin’s assertion, Rabbi Bleich stated that 60% of Ukraine’s fighters are native Russian speakers.

Mr. Putin additionally stated that, “Russia has its legitimate concerns in the framework of trilateral negotiations initiated by Russia, EU and Ukraine on gas issues and trade and economic implications of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement implementation” as Ukraine is the trade route by which oil is exported by Russia to Western Europe.

“We should recognize that the Ukraine is within the Russian sphere of influence,” stated Vaidotas Verba, the Lithuanian Ambassador to the Netherlands.

Russia, Ukraine, the Baltic States and NATO

Since 1994 Ukraine has been a NATO alliance partner.  In 2010 Ukraine unsuccessfully sought to accede to NATO.  The request was denied due to the Ukrainian government’s failure to adhere to Rule of Law.

Olena Sotnyk, a newly elected Ukrainian Parliament member and Head of the Subcommittee on the Approximation of Ukrainian legislation to EU Law, stated “… that new parliament is striving to adhere to Rule of Law via implementation of a good number of legislative initiatives in the fields of human rights protection and anti-corruption, initiatives that only two years ago seemed unrealistic in the Ukrainian realities.”

In 2014, following a change in governance, Ukraine renewed its request to accede to NATO.  While Ukraine has not been invited to participate in accession talks, it is a partner nation of NATO.  In addition, of the 21 other countries belonging to NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, several have also expressed interest in acceding to NATO member nation status.  Presently, only Montenegro has been invited by NATO to participate in accession talks.

Every country has the right “to belong or not to belong to international organizations, to be or not to be a party to bilateral or multilateral treaties including the right to be or not to be a party to treaties of alliance,” according to Article I of the Helsinki Final Act, which established the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  All the OSCE member states, including Russia, have sworn to uphold this principle.

Since 2015 NATO has increased its presence in Ukraine and throughout the Baltic States; Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

“The reason why NATO is adapting its military posture, especially in the eastern part of the Alliance, is Russia’s military buildup over several years… In the Barents Sea, the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and now also in the Mediterranean. That’s one of the reasons why we are adapting both by increasing the readiness of our forces but also by increasing our presence in the Eastern part of our Alliance,” stated Stoltenberg.

Russia interpreted NATO’s eastern expansion as a sign of open hostility and warned that it will retaliate.

“We believe that NATO’s policy towards Russia remains unfriendly and generally obdurate,” stated Medvedev at the MSC.

Medvedev’s statement conflicts with Stoltenberg’s contemporaneous statement that, “This illustrates there are some challenges in the relationship between NATO and Russia. It is exactly these challenges that make it important to keep channels of political dialogue with Russia. They are open, we meet in different formats, on different levels, we meet at the ambassadors’ level in Brussels, and the NATO Russia Council meeting we are exploring to convene is at the ambassadors’ level. I met several times with Minister Lavrov. So we meet and we discuss. But so far we have not been able to agree on how to convene a NRC [the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission] meeting.”

“I’m afraid that Putin will create a really big crisis, like pick a fight with NATO,” stated Applebaum.

Such a crisis could include offensive action in the Baltic States, where there is a heavy concentration of ethnic Russians.  Ethnic Russians represent 14.3% of the Lithuanian population; 27.6% of Latvia’s population; and 24% of Estonia’s population.  Mr. Putin has previously stated that Russia has the right to intervene to protect the rights of ethnic Russians in neighbouring countries.

The United States is preparing for a Russian invasion in Ukraine or elsewhere in the Baltic region, as evidenced by a Pentagon statement that the United States was deploying an armored brigade to the Baltic region, with two more brigades to follow in 2017.

Considering such potentialities, NATO and Russia have agreed to meet.

“[T]here will be no return to business as usual until Russia again respects international law,” stated Stoltenberg.

The Game of Thrones

Irrespective of ideological differences, after the Cold War Era, Russia and the West shifted from the Doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction to that of Mutual Assured Security (MAS); where neither party has the intention or capability to exercise a unilateral advantage over the other.  It is now uncertain whether Russia intends to abide by MAS.

Conditions never favored full adaptation of MAS.  Celeste A. Wallander, an associate professor in the American University School of International Service, a fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia/Ukraine/Eurasia, explained:

The problem with the U.S. position is that Russia is not confident that conditions for strategic stability are met, and therefore they are not. Since strategic stability is a condition in which both parties are confident that each retains a secure retaliatory capability, if either is not confident, the equation is at risk. To put it another way, it does not help in a crisis.  If the United States is confident that no military strike could put Russia’s ability to retaliate at risk if Russia believes that it would have to preempt for survival.  Because Russian analysts take this seriously, U.S. policy needs to take this seriously.

“What we are dealing with is a conflict between a western philosophy in which international relations should be based on the Rule of Law, and the Russian one which tends to think in terms of power and zones of influence.  The view that the world order should be based on the rule of law, is very much the view of a militarily impotent Europe and more in particular that of small countries dependent on international trade such as the Netherlands.  The realistic school of American foreign policy on the other hand entertains no such illusions and views diplomacy as the application of power by nonmilitary means,” stated Joost Dirkzwager, a retired Kingdom of the Netherlands career diplomat.

That same analysis as to “zones of influence” can be applied to China, and to a lesser degree, India.  Although Russian and Chinese foreign and military policies differ radically, they operate under a similar ideology. While China is a superpower, Russia, due to its economic decline, is not.  Yet, the two countries are working together, with Beijing wielding the greater influence.

When read as a whole, not only does there exist the threat of conflict on European or even on United States soil and cyberwar with China and Russia but, there also exists a very real threat to the West of a new genre of warfare:  economic warfare.

About the Author

Cynthia M. Lardner is a journalist, holding degrees in journalism, law, and counseling psychology. Her blogs are read in over 37 countries.  As a thought leader in the area of foreign policy, her philosophy is to collectively influence conscious global thinking. Living in Den Hague or The Hague, she is currently looking for a challenging position in foreign policy, journalism, or social justice.

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Benitez, Jorge, “Alliance at Risk | Strengthening European Defense in an Age of Turbulence and Competition”, February 26, 2016, Brent Snowcroft Center, Atlantic Council, as found on the www at http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/#.VtVjGSaHeg8.

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Courtney, William, and Jensen, Daniel, “How Putin Could Make Russia Great Again”, , March 21, 2016, Newsweek, as found on the www at http://europe.newsweek.com/how-putin-could-make-russi-great-again-438070?rm=eu.

Durso, James, “Is That An Ian Fleming Novel Or Just Another Putin Scheme?”, March 17, 2016, Forbes, as found on the www at http://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2016/03/17/putin-scheme-czech-republic/#1fa54de774b5.

Edwards, Lee, “Poland Is Key to a Safe Europe, and Putin Knows It”, September 24, 2015, as found on the www at http://dailysignal.com/2015/09/24/poland-is-key-to-a-safe-europe-and-putin-knows-it/.

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“Geopolitical Meltdown”, Game of Thrones Meets House of Cards, April 9, 2015, as found on the www at https://cynthiamlardner.wordpress.com; and at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/game-thrones-meets-house-cards-geopoliticalmeltdown-cynthia?trk=mp-reader-card.

Huggler, Justin, “Putin ‘privately threatened to invade Poland, Romania and the Baltic states'”, September 18, 2014, as found on the www at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/11106195/Putin-privately-threatened-to-invade-Poland-Romania-and-the-Baltic-states.html.

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Masters, Jonathan, “The Russian Military”, September 28, 2016, Council on Foreign Relations, as found on the www at http://www.cfr.org/russian-federation/russian-military/p33758 (Russia was also suspended from the Group of Eight or G8, comprised of world’s seven of the world’s wealthiest nations and the European Union.).

Medvedev, Dimitry, “Speech by Dmitry Medvedev at MSC 2016”, February 13, 2016, Voltaire, as found on the www at http://www.voltairenet.org/article190255.html.

Ng, Teddy, “India and Russia back China’s call for ‘new world order’:  Foreign ministers of two nations meet Chinese counterpart in Beijing as China ‘seeks to counterbalance US influence’ in the Asia-Pacific”, February 3, 2015, South China Daily Post, as found on the www at http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/1699900/india-russia-back-call-new-world-order.

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Stanton, Jenny, “Putin hopes to destabilise Germany by fuelling tensions over migrants, intelligence chiefs claim.” March 11, Daily Mail, as found on the www at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3487603/Putin-hopes-destabilise-Germany-fuelling-tensions-migrants-intelligence-chiefs-claim.html#ixzz43WbWoexA.

 

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“Transcript: Putin says Russia will protect the rights of Russians abroad,” March 18, 2014, Washington Post, as found on the www at https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/transcript-putin-says-russia-will-protect-the-rights-of-russians-abroad/2014/03/18/432a1e60-ae99-11e3-a49e-76adc9210f19_story.html.

 

Wallander, Celeste, “Mutually Assured Stability: Establishing US-Russia Security Relations for a New Century”, July 29, 2013, Atlantic Council, as found on the www at http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/publications/issue-briefs/mutually-assured-stability-establishing-us-russia-security-relations-for-a-new-century, citing, http://www.atlanticcouncil.org/images/publications/Mutually_Assured_Stability.pdf.

“Why China is creating a new “World Bank” for Asia”, November 11, 2014, The Economist, as found on the www at http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2014/11/economist-explains-6.

 

The Case for a Syrian Coalition Government

Syria1

Introduction

Syria belongs to the Syrian people.  That is the most basic of truths.  Syria must be returned to its people.

Historically, Syria goes back to the ‘era of the Levant’ and, in fact, Syria translates to Levant[i].  Levant is significant to the ideology and public relations campaign undertake by the IS, also referred to as ISIS and ISIL. So significant is Syria to IS, especially its oil rich fields, that IS established a second capital in the once modern Syrian city of Raqqa.

Syria’s capital of Damascus, an area yet to be devastated by IS, is one of mankind’s longest continuously inhabited cities. Damascus was also the seat of the Umayyad Caliphate and of an Egyptian sultanate.  The concept of the Caliphate is central to IS’ current recruitment strategies.

Modern day Syria emerged after World War I.  Under its October 24, 1945 Constitution, it was formed as a democratized parliamentary republic, with a full range of constitutional protections, and it was accepted as a United Nations member nation.

Following several military coups, under a December 1, 1961 constitutional referendum, Syria formally became the Arab Republic of Syria.

In 1963, the Ba’ath Party staged a coup d’etat, placing it into power, a position it has held ever since.  From 1963 through 2011, Syria suspended the constitutional protections granted its citizens.  Since 1963, it has not been considered a democratized nation.

From 1973 to 2000, as a Ba’ath party member, Hafez al-Assad was President.  He was succeeded by his son, Bashar al-Assad, also a Ba’ath party member, who remains Syria’s current President al-Assad was re-elected in a June 2014 referendum election under circumspect polling conditions[ii].

The Onset of Civil War

Protests in Syria started on January 26, 2011. Protesters called for political reforms and the re-instatement of their civil rights, as well as an end to the state of emergency, suspending their constitutional rights, which had been in place since 1963.  Civil war broke out on March 25, 2011[iii].

After the inception of Syria’s civil war, the United States, the European Union, Canada and the majority of the Arab League[iv] all called for President al-Assad to resign his presidency[v].  Widespread economic sanctions and travel restrictions were rapidly imposed by the West.

As of late 2013, the best known of the over 100 factions operating in Syria were:

Amid mounting humanitarian crises [the best known being the refugee crises in the European Union [vi]], on-going terrorist attacks in Syria are minimally attributable to at least five groups:

  • ISIS;
  • Non-Sunni Muslim extremists;
  • The al-Nursa Front led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, involved in the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack and Osama bin Laden’ successor. It has been reported that al-Zawahiri and Bakr are at odds with one another;
  • Sunni Muslims, constituting the majority of the its population, who oppose existing the government; and
  • The Syrian government.

 All are involved at some level with the ISIS, which is and has been playing a leading role in Syria (Emphasis added) [vii].

The damage and methods by which it was so brutally inflicted was recently summarized as follows:

TOTAL CASUALTIES (MINIMUM ESTIMATES)

Estimates range from 100,000 to 150,000 killed (as of March 2014)

9 Million displaced

Human rights abuses that have been confirmed include but are not limited to:

Chemical Weapons attacks on civilian areas

Barrel bombing civilian areas

Widespread use of rape as a weapon of war

Summary executions of prisoners, including children

Mutilation and display of corpses, including crucifixion

Torture, including of children [viii]

As one commentator wrote this week:

By releasing dozens of al-Qaeda prisoners in mid-2011, Assad helped give birth to a thriving Islamist insurgency, including an al-Qaeda affiliate. By then adopting a deliberate policy of not targeting IS, Assad directly facilitated that group’s recovery and explosion into the transnational “Caliphate” movement it claims to be today.

Meanwhile, the Assad regime has conducted a consistent policy of intentional mass killing of civilians – first with air strikes and ballistic missiles, then with barrel bombs and widely alleged use of chemical weapons.

Bashar al-Assad has professionalised and industrialised the use of detention and torture to “cleanse” his own population, while imposing dozens of medieval-style sieges on vulnerable populations. He has consistently flouted UN Security Council resolutions and according to some sources, has been responsible for 95% of all 111,000 civilian deaths since 2011 [ix].

President al-Assad has been cited by the United Nations as having committed war crimes but the International Criminal Court has yet to take jurisdiction[x].  “Asked if he believed Mr Assad should face prosecution at the International Criminal Court, Mr Cameron said: “People who break international law should be subject to international law[xi].””

The Scattered Pieces of the Syrian Front

Over the last few months, President al-Assad’s position in Syria has become increasingly detrimentally impacted.  First, it was released that President al-Assad had lost control over the government’s last oil field[xii].

Second, amidst a mounting refugee crisis in the European Union and beyond, it was released that the Syrian government was facilitating the issuance of passports for citizens both in and outside of Syria[xiii].   Historically, passports were all but impossible to obtain.  It’s as if Syria government has no interest in seeing its people return home[xiv].  This is form of Scientific Racism known as ethnic cleansing.  Like genocide, ethnic cleansing is a war crime.  Like the Palestinian people, the Syrian people want the right to return to their homelands as it existed prior to conflict erupting.

Third, and most significantly, is Russia’s military build-up in Syria[xv].  Russia, whose economy was decimated in 2014 as a result of economic sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States[xvi], was left with two primary assets[xvii]. Military support, including the sale of weapons and the training of troops, and energy, both its natural resources and its willingness to build nuclear power plants.  In the sale of armaments, Russia is second only to the United States.  Russia has long been known as the primary purveyor of weapons to ISIS, also referred to as IS and ISIL.

What was concerning was a BBC News commentator who, in early September announced that given Russia’s relationship with President al-Assad, Russian President Vladimir Putin could be a reliable bridge to the Syrian peace process whereas every other news report reflected growing international concern about Russia’s increasing military presence in Syria[xviii].

As early as September 5, 2015, “US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed concern to his Russian counterpart over reports of “an imminent enhanced Russian military build-up” in Syria[xix].” The day prior The New York Times reported “that US officials believed Russia had sent a military advance team to Syria[xx].”  Another report stated that Russian troops were actively engaging in combat alongside President Assad’s troops[xxi].

What we know for sure is that:

In the space of three weeks, Moscow has deployed at least 28 fighter jets, 14 helicopters, dozens of tanks, anti-aircraft missile systems and 2,000 troops into north-western Syria.

Russia’s claim that its forces are there only to target Islamic State should be taken with a large grain of salt [xxii].

“President Vladimir Putin has been coy on the subject, saying Russia is weighing various options, a statement that has fueled suspicions about the Kremlin’s intentions[xxiii].

That same news report opined as to President Putin’s intentions:

By playing with the possibility of joining the anti-IS coalition, Putin may hope to win a few key concessions. His main goal: the lifting of Western sanctions and the normalization of relations with the United States and the European Union, which have sunk to their lowest point since the Cold War amid the Ukrainian crisis. In addition, the Russian leader may be angling to make the West more receptive to Moscow’s involvement in Ukraine, while retaining influence in Syria [xxiv].

The Pentagon has been a bit more outspoken:

The U.S. intelligence community now thinks Russia may have embarked on its military buildup in Syria because Moscow believes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad may not be able to hang onto power and it wants to position itself to back a proxy if the regime were to collapse. It is a view shared by the Pentagon, Defense officials told CNN [xxv].

The Future of Syria

            There are no commentators or governments of the belief that President al-Assad can hold on to his presidency without concerted international support.  While the West has called for President al-Assad’s removal since 2011, the question has recently arisen as to whether President al-Assad should play some role in a transitional government, with that question only having arisen as way to pacify President Putin.

The United States intelligence community has raised key questions about Syria’s future:

U.S. intelligence still sees al-Assad’s collapse as likely to be several months away, though he has been considerably weakened over this year after losing of significant territory and directing an army that is increasingly demoralized.

The United States is trying to assess whether figures in Syria still exist who might be able to step in should al-Assad fall, a senior U.S. official told CNN, but for now doesn’t see a clear leader or dissident who could garner enough support inside Syria to take power.

The United States is concerned about the preservation of basic social structures and services that still exist in Damascus should al-Assad fall, since the regime’s implosion could open the door to a humanitarian disaster if ISIS or al Qaeda-affiliated militias were to move in [xxvi].

The Case for a Coalition Government       

This paper started out with the premise that Syria belongs to the Syrian people to whom it must be returned.  However, with its constitution supplanted since the early 1960s and over 100 Syrian factions all competing for at least local, if not regional control[xxvii], it lacks the infrastructure necessary to conduct fair elections, let along implement national governance.

“”There has always been the idea that there will be a political transition and there are differing views between members of the international community… what the steps are in the process. That is where there is more discussion ongoing,” a senior British official said.”

            The Syrian crisis presents an opportunity for the international community to come together and devise an interim coalition government.  The composition of a coalition government has not yet been explored, or at least not publicly so.  Should such a concept be entertained, there must regional representation from within Syria, a mechanism by which the voice of its refugees can be heard, and a lack of involvement by the United Nations Security Council.

This author has excluded the United Nations Security Council as two of its permanent members – Russia and China – have failed to join collective or coalition peacekeeping efforts in Syria.  Rather, any vote representing the position of the United Nations member nations must come from its General Assembly.  This raises the ancillary question of whether the United Nations Charter must be amended[xxviii].

As the United Nations has been criticized for failing to give a greater regional voice to those most affected by its decisions, the Arab League may be the effective at offering its collective vote, regional expertise and other assistance to a coalition government.

In addition, NATO, and other coalition forces[xxix] should remain ‘stakeholders’ in Syria until such time as the Syrian people have the infrastructure necessary for self-governance and until it is rendered safe for those displaced Syrian people wanting to return to their homeland.  We can all learn from Afghanistan from which peacekeeping troops withdrew before the country was properly stabilized and prepared for independent self-governance, including safeguarding its citizens’ human rights.

This begets the question as to what role Russia would play in resolving the Syrian crisis[xxx] and, more particularly, what role, if any, it would play in a transitional, coalition government[xxxi].  The one factor the international community has weighed most heavily against Russian involvement is that Russia is still backing President al-Assad[xxxii].

__________________

References

[i] Lardner, Cynthia, “ISIS Gone Corporate”, Game of Thrones Meets House of Cards,  June 19, 2015, as found on the www athttps://www.linkedin.com/pulse/isis-gone-corporate-cynthia-lardner-deverouxcleary-1?trk=mp-reader-card

[ii] The 2000 and 2007 referenda elections were devoid of any opposing candidate “Bashar al-Assad wins re-election in Syria as uprising against him rages on”, June 4, 2014, The Guardian, as found on the www athttp://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/04/bashar-al-assad-winds-reelection-in-landslide-victory (“Assad captures another seven-year term after winning almost 90% of the vote, with polling only held in government-held areas…Assad garnered 10,319,723 votes, or 88.7%.”).

Conditions within Syria at the time of the election were not conducive to a fair election in which the majority of Syrian’s did not or could not vote.  “Syria: The story of the conflict,” December 8, 2014, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-26116868 (“Almost 200,000 Syrians have lost their lives in the escalating conflict between forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to his rule. Syria’s bloody internal conflict has destroyed entire neighbourhoods and forced more than nine million people from their homes.

A further 6.5 million people, 50% of them children, are believed to be internally displaced within Syria, bringing the total number forced to flee their homes to more than 9.5 million – half the country’s population. An estimated 10.8 million are in need of humanitarian assistance inside Syria, with 4.6 million living in areas under siege or hard to access.”).

[iii] “Q&A: Syrian activist Suhair Atassi”, February 9, 2011, Al Jazeera, as found on the www athttp://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/2011/02/201129135657367367.html.

[iv] The Arab League consists of 22 members: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, State of Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.  Syria’s membership was suspended.  “Arab League suspends Syria”, November 12, 2011, CNN, as found on the www athttp://edition.cnn.com/2011/11/12/world/meast/syria-unrest/.

There are also four observer states:  Brasil, Venezuela, Eritrea, and India.

[v] Bassem Mroue, “Bashar Assad Resignation Called For By Syria Sit-In Activists”, April 18, 2011, The Huffington Post, Associated Press, as found on the www at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/04/18/bashar-assad-resignation-syria-protest_n_850657.html. See also “Syria: Mapping the conflict”, July 10 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22798391 (“Russia and the US disagree sharply on Syria. While Russia has backed the Syrian government, and provided it with arms, the US wants to see the removal of President Assad.”).

[vi] The European Union has received most of the Syrian refugees.

See eg Chappell, Bill, “Germany, France Announce Plans To Welcome Thousands Of Migrants”, September 7, 2015, NPR News, as found on the www athttp://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/09/07/438285460/germany-france-announce-plans-to-welcome-thousands-of-migrants?sc=17&f=1001&utm_source=iosnewsapp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=ap(“After a weekend in which tens of thousands of Syrian war refugees and other migrants reached Austria and Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany is putting 6 billion euros ($6.7 billion) toward coping with the influx, France has committed to receiving 24,000 migrants….”)

To date, the United States has only taken in approximately 1,000 Syrian refugees.  However, it recently indicated a statement that over the next twelve months, it would take in 10,000 Syrian refugees.  Edwards, Julia, “U.S. to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees: White House,” September 11, 2015, Reuters, as found on the www at http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/11/us-europe-migrants-whitehouse-idUSKCN0RA26220150911.

Conversely, the United States has born the greatest share of the cost in the fight against IS, with Great Britain’s expenditures falling second. “John Kerry to visit UK for Syria crisis talks,” September 15, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www athttp://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34264512 (“The US has allowed 1,500 Syrians to resettle since the start of the conflict, and the Obama administration has said a further 10,000 will be admitted over the next year.

According to the White House, the US is the single largest donor to the Syrian crisis response, having given over $4bn (£2.6bn) since it began.”).

[vii] Lardner, Cynthia, “ISIS Gone Corporate”, Game of Thrones Meets House of Cards,  June 19, 2015, as found on the www athttps://www.linkedin.com/pulse/isis-gone-corporate-cynthia-lardner-deverouxcleary-1?trk=mp-reader-card (Citations Omitted).

[viii] “IS, al-Qaeda, and how jihad uses chemical weapons,” September 16, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34262447.

[ix] Lister, Charles, “Viewpoint: West ‘walking into abyss’ on Syria”, September 28, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34371501.

[x] Id.

[xi] “David Cameron to call for new Syria peace drive at UN”, September 27, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-34372286.

[xii] ISIL captures last government oilfield in Syria, September 7, 2015, Al Jazeera, as found on the www at http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/09/isil-capture-parts-government-oilfield-syria-150907123935546.html; “ISIS captured Assad’s last oil field in Syria, activists say”, September 7, 2015, ABC News, as found on the www at http://www.cbsnews.com/news/isis-captures-last-oil-field-under-syrian-control/.

[xiii] Dawar, Anil, “Alarm as Syria sells 10,000 passports with few questions asked,” September 11, 2015, Express, as found on the www athttp://www.express.co.uk/news/world/604394/Alarm-Syria-sells-10000-passports-few-questions-asked.

[xiv] “How The Assad Regime Pushes Syrians Out, Fueling Refugee Surge”, September 14, 2015, NPR News, as found on the www athttp://www.npr.org/2015/09/14/440327641/how-the-assad-regime-pushes-syrians-out-fueling-refugee-surge?sc=17&f=1004&utm_source=iosnewsapp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=app.

[xv] Arshad, Mohammed, and Irish, John, “Russia seizes initiative in Syria crisis; France bombs Islamic State”, September 28, 2015, Reuters, as found on the www at http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/28/us-mideast-crisis-putin-usa-idUSKCN0RR0H820150928.

[xvi] Lardner, Cynthia, Game of Thrones Meets House of Cards, April 9, 2015, as found on the www at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/game-thrones-meets-house-cards-geopoliticalmeltdown-cynthia?trk=mp-reader-card and at  https://cynthiamlardner.wordpress.com/game-of-thrones-geopolitical-meltdown/,

But see “Ukraine conflict: France hopes to end Russia sanctions”, September 7, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-34174382 (“French President Francois Hollande has said that following recent ceasefire progress in Ukraine he hopes to see the end of sanctions against Russia.” This is a bilateral or mutually beneficial move as, “EU sanctions and a subsequent Russian embargo have hurt many French and European companies.”).

[xvii][xvii] A third possible asset of the Russian government is its relationship with its wealthy neighbor China.  Oddly, this relationship is not explored in a single news article discussing Russia’s involvement is Syria.  It is well known that China lacks the energy necessary for its own people.  Syria is rich in natural resources.

Whether coincidental or not, China has visibly increased is naval presence.  Russia has a naval base on Syrian soil where, thus far, only large shipments have been received.  See Tikhonova, Polina, “Has Russia Just Entered Syrian Civil War?”  September 5, 2015, Value Walk, as found on the www athttp://www.valuewalk.com/2015/09/has-russia-just-entered-syrian-civil-war/.  See also Petras, James, “The Two Faces of Capitalism and Left Options”, September 7, 2015, Global Research, as found on the www athttp://www.globalresearch.ca/the-two-faces-of-capitalism-and-left-options/5474315 (“The US has mobilized its EU followers to impose crippling economic sanctions on the Russian state and private enterprises in order to weaken its oligarchical ruling class under President Vladimir Putin, force ‘regime change’ and return Russia to the status of the pillaged vassal state under Boris Yeltsin (1990-2000).

Russia’s capitalist state, dependent on the oil and gas industries and western investments and markets, has responded by building up its military defenses. Faced with a US-imposed economic blockade and the growing militarization of US clients on Russia’s periphery, Moscow is finally developing local industries to substitute for EU and US imports and establishing alternative trading partnerships with capitalist China, India, Islamist Iran and the center-left regimes in Latin America.”)

The most obvious evidence of Russia’s presence in the Syrian Civil War emerged in November 2013, when Russian newspaper Fontanka published an article, exposing the Slavonic Corps, consisting of mercenaries sent to Syria to protect Assad’s infrastructure, particularly his oil wells.

[xviii] “Syria: Mapping the conflict”, July 10 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22798391 (In July, it was reported that “Russia has sent advisers and hardware to Syria [and] had despatched an advance military team to Syria, as well as housing units and an air traffic control centre to an airfield.)

[xix] “Fighting around key Syria town ‘leaves 47 dead’ – activists”, September 5, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34165761.

[xx] Id.

[xxi] Brennan, Christopher, “US warns Putin’s foreign minister against dangers of increased aid to Syria’s Assad as reports claim that Russia is setting up ‘forward operating base’ in war-torn country”, September 6, 2015, The Daily Mail, as found on the www at http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3223951/US-warns-Putin-s-foreign-minister-against-dangers-increased-aid-Syria-s-Assad-reports-claim-Russia-setting-forward-operating-base-war-torn-country.html#ixzz3l9P1p8LA “Se(cretary of State John Kerry called Russian Foreign Minister on Saturday and warned that increased presence could lead to greater loss of life

Call comes amid unconfirmed reports that soldiers speaking Russian have been seen fighting anti-government rebels in Russian-made vehicles

The United States has warned Moscow about dangers of increased aid to the Syrian government amid multiple reports that Russian soldiers had begun participating in the country’s civil war.”).

[xxii] Lister, Charles, “Viewpoint: West ‘walking into abyss’ on Syria”, September 28, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-34371501.

[xxiii] “Toying with Russian troop deployment to Syria, Putin appears ready to reset relations with US”. September 7, 2015, as found on the www athttp://www.foxnews.com/world/2015/09/07/toying-with-russian-troop-deployment-to-syria-putin-appears-ready-to-reset/.

[xxiv] Id. See also “Syria conflict: US presses Russia on military build-up,” Supra Endnote xxvii (“Jonathan Marcus, BBC defence correspondent opined:

Russia’s backing for Mr Assad should be seen not as a vote of confidence in Syria’s embattled president but as an investment in a country where Rmkussia believes it can play out its foreign-policy role.

Indeed Mr Putin’s military deployments signal that he will not let the Assad regime fall. This does not mean Mr Assad will be there forever.

[xxv] Starr, Barbara, “U.S.: Russia may be seeking proxy in case Syria’s Assad falls”, September 26, 2015, CNN Politics, as found on the www at http://edition.cnn.com/2015/09/26/politics/syria-putin-russia-american-strategy/

[xxvi] Id.

[xxvii] “David Cameron to call for new Syria peace drive at UN”, September 27, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-34372286.

[xxviii] “A stronger UN: The Elders hold high-level talks in Liechtenstein”, September 7, 2015, The Elders, as found on the www athttp://www.theelders.org/article/stronger-un-elders-hold-high-level-talks-liechtenstein (Gro Harlem Brundtland, Deputy Chair of The Elders, said, “The UN is a vital part of our global security and governance infrastructure but it has to change – its present arrangements are neither normal nor reasonable.”).

[xxix] “Syria conflict: US presses Russia on military build-up,” September 16, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34263955 (“”Secretary Kerry also reaffirmed the US commitment to fight ISIL (Islamic State) with a coalition of more than 60 countries, of which Assad could never be a credible member, and emphasised the US would welcome a constructive Russian role in counter-ISIL efforts.”).

[xxx] “Syria conflict: Russia ‘to continue Assad military aid’”, September 15, 2015, BBC News, as found on the www at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34256389 (“Russian President Vladimir Putin has pledged continued military support for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad despite growing concerns over Moscow’s role in the war… The US would prefer to see more “constructive engagement” from Russia with the coalition against so-called Islamic State (IS), spokesman Josh Earnest said.”).

See also Wagner, Laura, “Putin Defends Russian Military Support For Syrian Regime”, September 15, 2015, NPR News, as found on the www athttp://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/09/15/440578356/putin-defends-russian-military-support-for-syrian-regime?sc=17&f=1001&utm_source=iosnewsapp&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=app (“Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday defended his decision to provide military assistance to the Syrian government, saying that cooperating with Bashar Assad’s regime is necessary in order to defeat ISIS…”)

[xxxi] Arshad, Mohammed, and Irish, John, “Russia seizes initiative in Syria crisis; France bombs Islamic State”, September 28, 2015, Reuters, as found on the www at http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/28/us-mideast-crisis-putin-usa-idUSKCN0RR0H820150928 (“Russia appeared to seize the initiative in international efforts to end the conflict in Syria…U.S. officials said Kerry was working on a new political initiative in New York that would include Russia and key regional powers.

It was announced in Baghdad that Russian military officials were working with counterparts from Iran, Syria and Iraq on intelligence and security cooperation to counter Islamic State, which has captured large areas of both Syria and Iraq.

The move was seen in the region as potentially giving Moscow more sway in the Middle East.

Russian President Vladimir Putin derided U.S. efforts to end the Syria war, which has driven a tide of refugees into neighboring states and Europe.

“We would welcome a common platform for collective action against the terrorists,” Putin said in an interview on Sunday on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

The United States, Britain and some other allies in recent days have softened demands that Assad immediately leave power, raising the possibility that he could stay during a transition.”).

[xxxii] Bays, James, “Russia steps up Syria support ‘to stop fall of Assad’”, September 26, 2015, Al Jazeera, as found on the www at http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2015/09/russia-troops-syria-stop-imminent-fall-assad-150926180925801.html (“Russia intends to step up its military involvement in Syria to prevent the “imminent” collapse of the Syrian government, the EU’s foreign policy chief [Federica Mogherini] has told Al Jazeera.”).