October 29, 2007

Prime Minister Ghedi Resigns: Fuel or sand to the flame?

Somalia has been in a state of political disarray since the 1991 civil war. In 2004, more than 20 warlords agreed to meet in Nairobi to discuss the possibility of a federalist government in the hopes of uniting the country and putting an end to the 13 years of bloodshed and famine. Leaders agreed on a transitional power sharing government between the two largest clans, the Darod and the Hawiye. Since Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed had declared the northern region of Puntland an autonomous area in 1998, it was agreed that Yusuf would become president and he would select a prime minister from the Hawiye clan, Ali Mohammed Gheti. This arrangement would be congruent with the power sharing deal needed for the transitional government to be solidified. Ethiopia showed their support of the new government by offering their support for quelling the insurgencies that were plaguing the country.

While the interim government was established, Mogadishu, the capital was still under the control of various warlords, thus creating an atmosphere of chaos and lawlessness. That was until June of 2006 when The Union of Islamic courts, a judicial system funded by the powerful business community, has created a fighting force to promote Islamic law over the region in an attempt to bring order to Mogadishu. While the imposition of Islamic law meant amputations and other human rights violations, those living in UIC control areas enjoyed some degree of peace. Just one month after the takeover of Mogadishu, Ethiopian troops are spotted entering the country under the request of the transition government to gain control of the city. In response to this, the UIC leadership declares a Holy War against the Ethiopian troops. Fighting between Ethiopian and Somali troops against Islamist rebels have continued to carry on, however the ferocity of the fighting has hit an all time high in recent weeks.

Despite the efforts of Ghedi and Yusuf, it has become apparent that they are unable to reach a cease fire between the two factions and have reached a political deadlock. Under pressure from President Yusuf and the parliament, Prime Minster Ghedi has agreed to step down. President Yusuf accepted his resignation. “With respect to the situation the country is undergoing, the humanitarian catastrophe facing us, and the longstanding deadlock among us, I welcome the resignation” (New York Times).

The real question that faces Somalia now is whether Ghedi’s resignation will inflame the conflict or help the government quell it? With Ghedi’s absence, the government won’t be bogged down by competing clan interests and might become more effective. In addition to this, the Hawiye have expressed that Ghedi was not their frist choice for the Prime ministership, giving them the new opportunity of voting for someone that would better represent their interests. However, this could also mean that the Hawiye will become more united against Yusuf’s transitional government and create more chaos. The Ethiopians are of course a state with vested interest in the conflict, they share a large border with Somalia and the conflict may very well spill over and create conflicts in their own borders. The contagiousness of the conflict is not the only concern of the Ethiopians, the influx of refugees have put a strain on their infrastructure and threatened the stability of their border control.

October 22, 2007

Musharraf and Bhutto: US Pipedream or Reality?

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (seen left), ready to come out of self imposed exile, returned to her homeland on Thursday the 19th. She was welcomed by thousands of members of the Pakistan’s People’s Party (PPP), and the throngs of supporters was so dense that the motorcade was forced to a crawl. A jubilant Bhutto sat on the top of a two-story bus and greeted her countrymen. The scene soon erupted into utter chaos as two bombs were detonated killing over one hundred people. The night of celebration had turned into a nightmare that will undoubtedly become forever ingrained in the memory of Karachi’s citizens. The loss of any human life to conflict is a tragedy; especially when the victims are innocent bystanders. Understanding these horrific acts of terror has become an obsession; to understand seems paramount for closure. However, an examination of any act of terrorism always involves the question “why?” In order to answer the why, it is necessary to examine the political atmosphere and how this attack is so significant. A combination of civil unrest, political instability and the reluctance of a military leader to share power with an adversary could be a very fair explanation for these recent outbreaks of violence in the region.

Bhutto comes from one of the world’s most famous political dynasties, comparable to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty in India. She was educated at Harvard and Oxford, and has overcome almost insurmountable obstacles to become the political powerhouse she is today. She was twice elected to the prime ministership, 1988-1990 and 1993-1996, however on both instances she was dismissed by the President on charges of corruption, of which she has never been convicted and claims the charges were politically motivated. In 1999, Bhutto fled to Dubai amid serious allegations of corruption in order to escape an almost assured prison sentence. She has become increasingly unpopular among Islamic extremists for her liberal democratic position and her advocacy for women’s rights; in addition her strengthened alliance with the United States government has incensed her conservative rivals. While her ideological base has stirred the political pot, her new amnesty deal with President Musharraf has also caused some political backlash. The deal was brokered as part of a package of requests that Bhutto was negotiating pending her power sharing deal with Musharraf. Along with the amnesty agreement for her alleged corruption charges, Bhutto has requested that Musharraf amend the Pakistani constitution to allow her to serve a third term as prime minister and that Musharraf surrender his political ability to dissolve parliament. While Musharraf has not agreed to the last item, his approval of her amnesty is partly responsible for his recent decline in popularity.

The United States has decided to support this unlikely union in order to promote political stability in Pakistan, since the US needs a strong Pakistan and a pro-United States leadership to help them in the war on terror. Given their troubled past as political opponents I am very skeptical about the success of this arrangement. Helene Cooper from the New York Times states: “The administration concluded over the summer that a power sharing deal with Bhutto might be the only way the General Musharraf could keep from being toppled”. In addition, if parliament would no longer be subject to dissolution that would be a positive step towards democracy. However, as this is a political issue, it has equal potential to becoming a catalyst for civil war in Pakistan. The bombing of Bhutto’s procession on Thursday, is a very good indication of not only the lack of control of these terrorist groups in Pakistan, but the ferocity of extremist dissent on the matter. Baitullah Mehsud, a member of a terrorist cell based in Pakistan commented: “We don’t accept President General Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto because they only protect the US interest and see things through it’s glasses”. This of course further emphasizes how shortsighted and politically backward this deal is.

If Musharraf and Bhutto succeed in creating a power sharing government, there is a potential that terrorist attacks would be revitalized. New York Times reports: “State Department bureaucrats also fret that her turbulent past will further inflame an already volatile country”. However, there is also serious doubt that this power-sharing government will even be successful on the most basic level. Bruce Reidel: “The backroom deal I think is going to explode in our face….Ms Bhutto and Mr Musharraf detest each other and the concept that they can somehow work collaboratively is a real stretch”. If there is a constant power struggle in this co-operative government, the war on terror could be forestalled, which of course is counterintuitive for the United States, since their reason for supporting Bhutto was to strengthen the Pakistani government (as seen with President Bush at right).

This new government backed by Bhutto has the potential of bringing democratic principles: “The Pakistan People’s Party and I represent everything they (terrorists) fear the most- modernization, democracy, equality for women, information and technology. We represent the future of a modern Pakistan, a future that has no place in it for ignorance and terrorism”. However, the potential for destabilizing the region is a viable threat, this civil war has a very high contagion effect and could very well spread to other vulnerable regions such as Kashnmir, threatening their fragile relations with Inda. This transition of power should be monitored, Western powers can only hope that Musharraf’s government will be able to handle a civil uprising without resorting to Martial Law. If Musharraf declares a state of emergency which would also mean canceling upcoming elections, the United States would be politically and normatively obligated to withdraw aid. This power sharing deal seems more like an accelerant towards conflict, my only hope is that whatever damage comes of this, be curtailed quickly.

October 08, 2007

Private Military Corporations: Well Oiled Machine or Rogue Organization?

Mercenary groups have been a part of war zones for over two thousand years, dating back to 664 BCE in ancient Greece. Over the centuries, mercenary groups have become offshoots of corporations that produce military hardware. However, since 2005, the American government has begun to rely on private military corporations (PMCs) to fill in the logistical gaps left by the United States Armed Forces. For example, an American led, NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) mission to Afghanistan (2001) hired a Ukrainian mercenary group to airlift them to the site. This was due in part because Afghanistan is considered outside NATO’s theater of action and did not have the resources to transport troops to that location. While these groups are able to handle military shortcomings, there are major normative and legal complications that may arise. International law is unclear on how to properly prosecute a war criminal who is not a part of a recognized, uniformed, standing army; these individuals are considered civilians for all intents and purposes. Although, illegal combatants are often held at Guantanamo Bay on the island of Cuba, why are the held at a different standard? I believe that while these mercenary groups are without a normative mandate, they can be of great use to the United States if properly regulated and scrutinized.

Blackwater was founded in 1997 by former United States Navy Seal, Erik Prince (seen above). Before 2001, their contracts with the United States government were valued at less than one million dollars; since 2001, however, they have now exceeded one billion dollars. Why the increase? Iraq has been a very difficult war to fight, given the unconventional tactics that are used, such as suicide bombing; therefore Marines have been deployed to pacify the countryside, leaving diplomats and senior civilians unprotected. The federal government has sought to remedy the situation by contracting Blackwater USA to perform said functions instead. Just this year, Blackwater has 1,800 convoy missions. While this has alleviated some logistical pressure for the armed forces, Blackwater has been involved in numerous fire fights, of which, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs and Department Spokesman Sean McCormack has not divulged any data, stating that: “…only a very small fraction, very small fraction, that have involved any sort of use of force”. The most recent occurred last month in al-Nissor square in Baghdad. While protecting a convoy, Blackwater employees were involved in the shooting of eleven Iraqi civilians. Mr. Prince insists that the convoy guards were merely defending themselves. Iraqis have demanded a full inquiry into the incident.

The question is: who has jurisdiction over this incident, if it is indeed a war crime? Former United States Ambassador, Paul Bremer, revised the CPA (Coalition Provisional Authority) order 17 to provide immunity to foreign contractors from prosecution under Iraqi law; therefore rendering Iraqi domestic jurisdiction inapplicable. When considering United States jurisdiction; there are two options, the War Crimes Act of 1996 and the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA). The War Crimes Act applies to criminal offenses committed by US military personnel and US nationals, specifically grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. No one has been convicted under this act to date. MEJA on the other hand, allows for the prosecution of persons “employed by or accompanying the armed forces”. This however, does not apply to non Department of Defense contracts such as those given to Blackwater (as seen right) by the State Department.

In response to these legal shortcomings, Secretary of State, Dr. Condoleezza Rice has ordered tighter controls of contractors and the House of Representatives has passed bill H.R. 3695 to freeze the number of private contractors in Iraq and bill S.G.674.IS to ensure transparency and accountability in military and security contracting. While these are seen as steps in the right direction, time will be the ultimate test of their effectiveness. PMC forces are employed by former service members therefore, there is a level of tactical experience that may put them at an advantage. In addition to this, PMC strategy involves small number of forces directed at specific goals or targets, in contrast to the tactics of the United States armed forces which emphasize strength of force through sheer numbers. However what the Unites States military lacks in small, well armed, veteran tactical teams, it makes up for in policing. Organizations such as Blackwater have no obligations to the Geneva convention and are not held accountable on threat of Court Martial. With bill S.G674.IS, transparency should ensure against human rights violations, making these organizations more trustworthy and beholding to a higher court. In summary, I believe that these groups can be an effective tool in modern warfare and with these new bills passed they will ensure that checks and balances are put into place to create a precedence in the international arena. In doing so, non-military/illegal combatants may someday be held to an international law and therefore discourage gross human rights violations.

October 04, 2007

Syria and Israel: Light fuse and run

The Middle East has long been the topic of hot debate among leaders of the Western world; states such as the United States of America, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the rest of the G8. Topics have ranged from oil and opium to Islam versus Judaism and terrorism. However, on Tuesday, October 2nd of 2007, relations between Israel and the rest of the Arab world became volatile. BBC news reported that an Israeli official publicly confirmed that Israel was indeed responsible for the air strike against Syria on September 6th, 2007. Israel claims that the attack was a preemptive strike on a target believed to have been an arms cache for the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah. Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad (seen right) stated that the target that had been bombed was a building under construction for military use, but had yet to be completed, thus resulting in no casualties. Others, such as Ynet news group claim that the air strike was likely a reconnaissance mission to determine whether or not Syria was developing a nuclear program with help from North Korea.

The legitimacy of a preemptive strike is questionable. For such an attack to be warranted, all that need be is the belief that a threat exists. Since Israel has failed to produce any conclusive evidence as to whether or not their target posed a tactical threat, the possibility of this merely being a reconnaissance mission seems closer to the truth. Nevertheless, when using a tactic such as the preemptive strike, states will most likely default to article 51 of the United Nations Charter which, in essence, allows member states to protect themselves from an eminent threat without having to go through the lengthy and timely bureaucratic system of approvals at the UN. This is potentially problematic, if this attack is brought to the General Assembly, it is likely that that United States will side with Israel in order to not incriminate themselves for the invasion of Iraq and to further pressure the Syrian government to hand over the leaders of Hamas. This polarization of power could incite even more instability in the region.

The other possibility of this attack that I have yet to address fully, is the chance that Israel was conducted a search of the area to confirm whether or not Syria was developing a nuclear program with North Korean assistance. On September 21st, Choe Tae Bok, Secretary of the Central Committee of the North’s ruling Worker’s Party and Saaeed Eleia Dawood, Director of the Organizational Department of Syria’s Baath Arab Socialist Party met in Pyongyang to discuss “issues of bilateral interest”. Korean Central News Agency did not elaborate on the specificities of the talks. While this in of itself is quite suspicious, given the proximity in dates of the air strike and the bilateral talks, Andrew Semmel, goes one step further. Acting United States deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear proliferation, reported that North Koreans were spotted in Syria on September 14th and that “he could not exclude that the network run by disgraced Pakistani nuclear scientist A.Q. Khan (seen left) may have been involved”. While both states have denied nuclear cooperation, United States officials are quite skeptical.
While Israel’s motive for the air strike still remains shrouded in mystery, the real concern is whether or not Syria will retaliate. President al-Assad stated in an interview with BBC correspondent Lyse Doucet “Retaliate doesn’t mean missile for missile or bomb for bomb. We have our means to retaliate, maybe politically, maybe in other ways. But we have the right to retaliate”. A renewed conflict between Israel and Syria would be detrimental to Middle East security, American attempts at nation building in Iraq, and has the potential to tempt Iran into fulfilling their desire to destroy Israel.
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