You can count on ISIS to bring everyone together

The goal of ISIS may be the creation of a global caliphate but so far they’re mostly just promoting global unity — against them. Al Jazeera reports that the United Nations Security Council, which has been especially fiercely divided in recent years on how to handle international security and civil conflicts in the Middle East, North Africa, and Eastern Europe, had a rare moment of unanimity today on a resolution concerning ISIS, the powerful Syrian-Iraqi rebel faction.

The United Nations Security Council has taken a tough line against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria, blacklisting six people including the group’s spokesman and threatening sanctions against its financiers and weapons suppliers.

The 15-member council unanimously adopted on Friday a resolution that aims to weaken the Islamic State – an al-Qaeda splinter group that has seized swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria and declared a caliphate – and al-Qaeda’s Syrian wing Nusra Front.

 
Between the Syria bickering last year and the Ukraine crisis this year, this is a big step back toward cooperation on anything.

File photo of the United Nations Security Council.

File photo of the United Nations Security Council.

At the moment, the 15-member UN Security Council consists of the five Permanent Members with veto power (US, UK, France, Russia, China) and the following non-permanent members: Argentina, Australia, Luxembourg, South Korea, Rwanda, Chad, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania, and Nigeria.

It’s actually not hard to figure out why nearly all of these governments would have no reservations about condemning ISIS and working together against it.
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Why is the UN not in the Iraq intervention discussions?

In a new op-ed in Al Jazeera, Vartan Oskanian suggests that Iraq is ripe for a multilateral intervention against ISIS under the aegis of the United Nations. Oskanian, who served from 1998 to 2008 as Foreign Minister of Armenia and originally hails from Syria, is a longtime proponent of multilateralism in the Middle East and the world in general. He was one of the key figures in finagling post-Soviet Armenia’s (unusual) diplomatic position to be partially integrated with Europe and NATO but still strategically allied with and supported by Russia, without making everyone mad (a position Ukrainians right about now are probably wishing they could have secured).

In the essay, Oskanian outlines a number of reasons the UN should be involved, condemns the failure of everyone’s unilateralism in the region, and discusses the success of George H.W. Bush’s delimited intervention in Iraq with a multilateral coalition — and Soviet support. He also identifies some points where the Americans and Russians of today could cooperate in Iraq after the new low point reached in relations during the Crimea/Eastern Ukraine crises of this year.

One point that didn’t really come up in the essay is that this is one rare time when Russia and the United States both oppose the same faction, operating in two different countries. And China also isn’t a fan of non-state actors (and specifically jihadists) seizing large territories and oil fields. Usually, in the past 2 decades, vetoes from Russia or China (or both) have been the sticking point on suggested interventions in places.

But despite their discontent over alleged NATO overreach after they agreed to let an intervention resolution on Libya slide through in 2011, neither of them wants to see ISIS taking over parts of the region — which is the same position as the United States. Russia is selling military technology to both the Syrian and Iraqi governments already to help fight ISIS, and the the U.S. which doesn’t really support either government anymore still doesn’t want ISIS to gain strength within either country.

So why wouldn’t the 5 Major Powers (those with veto power) all agree on some kind of intervention — even a very limited one, probably in Iraq only — if it were brought to the UN Security Council? I mean, maybe they actually wouldn’t, but isn’t it worth trying? (That is, worth trying, if an intervention is going to happen at all. I don’t support such an intervention, but if it’s going to happen, it shouldn’t been unilateral.)

That in turn raises a good question. Why isn’t the UN even mentioned (publicly) in the US discussions on intervening in Iraq? Not even by the Obama Administration, which came into office rejecting the war and purporting to embrace international norms and multilateralism. Has everyone just totally given up on getting cooperation with Russia on anything ever again, at the UN or anywhere else? That’s going to get pretty self-fulfilling pretty quickly. Or has the administration just gone full unilateralist on us all?

Credit: NordNordWest, Spesh531 - Wikimedia

ISIS control on June 12, 2014. Credit: NordNordWest, Spesh531 – Wikimedia

Homs falls, end of Syria war near?

The two-year siege of the rebel “capital” in Syria ends in government victory as the city of Homs falls, quietly. UN-escorted busloads of rebel fighters from several factions retreated northward safely with families, in exchange for lifting two rebel sieges on Shia cities in another part of the country.

This civil war definitely looks like it’s almost over, as has been increasingly frequently suggested in world media.

UN finally approves 12k peacekeepers to Central African Republic

central-african-republic-mapBack in January the United Nations leadership had suggested that 10,000 more peacekeepers were needed in Central African Republican, but other mounting crises in more strategically prioritized places (Ukraine, for example) seem to have dragged out the process of authorizing them.

Today, the UN Security Council finally voted unanimously — another good sign of the total lack of importance to the major powers, since China and Russia have no countervailing interest against the dominant French there — to send 10,000 more peacekeeping troops and 1,800 police peacekeepers. Their primary focus will be to shore up the embattled capital, its internally displaced refugee population, and the transitional government. A million people (a fifth of the population) have been displaced, as roving religious militias and “self-defense” forces rove the countryside destroying villages in reciprocal attacks.

The need for fresh troops became particularly urgent as neighboring regional power Chad announced its intention to withdraw its forces from the 6,000 strong African Union multinational intervention force. (Most of that force will be replaced by the new UN force, rather than supplemented.) Chad’s move followed mounting accusations (which were probably true) that it was not a benevolently intervening impartial force but was rather a full-fledged party to the conflict.

Although it’s never been entirely clear just how much meddling Chad’s government was doing before the reciprocal atrocities in C.A.R. began last year, many Christian civilians on the ground had become convinced (rightly or wrongly) that Chad was taking sides and facilitating Muslim militia activities. As a result, various Christian militia groups had begun attacking Chadian peacekeepers more and more frequently, culminating in an alleged recent massacre of Christians (supposedly in self-defense) — all of which prompted their decision to depart. The UN’s newly expanded force will mostly be coming from other African nations, like the existing peacekeepers, but UN officials seem relieved to have Chad’s controversial troops out of the picture, without needing to ask them not to participate anymore.

Meanwhile, the better-trained and more experienced French peacekeeping troops are badly outnumbered for the task assigned, to the point that they have been accused of only protecting Christian refugees and watching without acting as Muslims have been murdered in front of them by the now dominant Christian militias (in an eerie parallel to the French force protecting retreating Hutu militias in 1994, at the end of the Rwandan genocide led by Hutu extremists). Other troops from the European Union, previously authorized at the UN, have largely not yet materialized, months later.

It’s clear a bigger force is needed in Central African Republic, and one at least as large as has just been authorized. But will it once again be too little too late?

More intervention troops to Central African Republic?

As the reciprocal mass killings continue to rage across the Central African Republic despite the rising numbers of regional African Union troops and existing French United Nations troops, the U.N. is now saying they may need at least ten thousand intervention troops, several thousand more than have already been ordered to the country. These troops, unlike many peacekeeping missions, are authorized to use proactive force to protect civilians and end violence.

The AU intervention force — which has already clashed repeatedly with protesters and militia groups over their conflicts-of-interest in the country — will soon be at 6,000. The UN has also already cleared 600 more intervention troops to come in from the European Union. Former colonial ruler France alone has 1,200 troops on the ground, mostly protecting key points in the capital, including refugees at the airport.

More than 1 in 5 people in the country has been forced to flee their homes, caught in the vengeful crossfire of Muslim and Christian militias after a rebel coalition was disbanded and went on a rampage last year. Unlike the reasonably cautious negotiation progress seen in next-door South Sudan, the C.A.R. has not seen much relief from the violence and humanitarian crisis, despite the efforts of a dozen leaders from across the region, who even secured the appointment of a new bridge-building president recently.

The large country, facing a refugee crisis of one million, will probably realistically require more than even ten thousand. But if the lengthy problems with the neighboring Congo missions are any indication, a United Nations force will always be under-manned relative to the scale and geography of the crisis. Plus, with the recent deaths of peacekeeping troops in South Sudan, while protecting refugees on a UN base, it’s going to be a tough sell right now to get countries to contribute boots on the ground.

Op-Ed: Chinese Peacekeepers in Africa?

Excerpt from my latest op-ed on the need for Chinese peacekeepers in South Sudan:

China has long been a major, if quiet, contributor of troops to United Nations peacekeeping missions around the world. In the violent aftermath of an alleged attempted coup this week in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, the time is ripe to think about changing that stance. As China rises in world status, it must also take on more global responsibilities.

The United Nations mission in South Sudan reported that 400-500 people were killed in street battles and crossfire, within the first two days alone. As many as 20,000 civilians may have sought refuge on UN bases in the country.

South Sudan became independent from the rest of Sudan by referendum in 2011, and its strongest foreign partner is China. That country buys 82% of South Sudan’s oil exports and provides infrastructural development investments. Indeed, China was a major player in securing the peaceful partition of Sudan last decade, as the largest trading partner of both states.

UN backs French peacekeepers into Central African Republic

After sectarian killings in the Central African Republic accelerated this week, leaving over a hundred dead on Thursday morning alone, the United Nations Security Council finally acted to authorize France to begin an active peacekeeping role, with its troops who were already on their way. Air and street patrols began today in the capital. The French troops join a small African Union force also on the ground already.

Background discussion: Episode 65.