Maquina Lectora

Notes of a curious mind

Tag: Syria

Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos by Hardeep Singh Puri

The United Nations is an international organisation created in 1945 shortly after WWII to encourage resolution of international conflicts, to uphold international justice and to promote social progress. In the words of Dag Hammarskjöld, second UN secretary general, the United Nations was created not to lead mankind to heaven but to save humanity from hell.” Since 1945 the United Nations helped save millions from poverty and diseases, and from diseases and local wars and conflicts.  Today it has 193 country members and the challenges it faces are varied and vast.

Hardeep Singh Puri, an eminent Indian diplomat, Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013, is the author of Perilous Interventions: The Security Council and the Politics of Chaos. He served in the Security Council from 2011 to 2013, during which time a wave of political upheaval and civil wars swept whole regions and affected the lives of millions of people.

This book is a chronicle of the interventions the UN Security Council (UNSC) has made in the past few years, in deeply divided countries, from the perspective of an Indian diplomat, non-permanent member of the UNSC.  It deals with some of the most terrible events of our day, the overstepping of the mandate on Libya at the beginning of 2011, Russia’s unilateral decision to annex the Crimea from Ukraine, the lack of consensus among member-states in Syria, the use of force in Yemen, and finally with the doctrine Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which was endorsed by all member states of the United Nations at the 2005 World Summit.

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The Age of Jihad: Islamic State and the Great War for the Middle East by Partick Cockburn

“Even so, I never conceived that Isis was going to capture Mosul and most of northern and western Iraq. I had forgotten a golden rule when predicting the future in Iraq, which is to forecast the worst possible outcome.”, writes Partick Cockburn in his book The Age of Jihad: Islamic State and the Great War for the Middle East.

National identity, the sense of belonging to one nation, acts as a unifying force that gives social cohesion and maintains the identity and autonomy of a nation. If this cohesion no longer exists, the society collapses.  This can happen for different reasons, some have to do with ideology, some to do with the “Paradox of Plenty”, which shapes both the economic structure and political systems, especially in oil states like Iraq where a large-scale distributive and patronage – based system led to systemic corruption and instability.  A failed state increases sectarianism, it creates a fractionalised society that leaves a vacuum that can be filled by fanatical and violent movements.  Religion becomes a vehicle of protest and revolutionary change. Chaos and violence becomes unstoppable.

Since 2001, Partick Cockburn, a veteran war journalist, has written extensively about the Middle East in the Independent and the London Review of Books. He has provided reporting of the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, wars that have torn apart the Middle East and created the conditions in which Al-Qaeda and Islamic State have grown and flourished. He explains why Iraq was different from Afghanistan and how  what happened there since 2003 was going to transform the politics of all its neighbours.

Patrick Cockburn give us a brilliant narrative history through writings starting from 2001 to date. It is a thorough diary of events on the ground from the overthrow of the Taliban to the rise of the Islamic State group.

The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution

“This land”, wrote Camus for Algeria in 1956,  “will be populated solely by murderers and victims. Only the dead will be innocent.”

Patrick Cockburn, a foreign correspondent, has written an insightful, intelligent and depressing book about the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Cockburn, an experienced journalist, has reported from the Middle East for almost forty years. He has witnessed the civil war in Lebanon, the Gulf wars, the Afghan war and, now the Syrian war.

In “The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution”, Cockburn provides a brief but comprehensive history of Islamic State of Iraq (and the Levant (ISIS). The last “s” of “ISIS” comes from the Arabic word “al-Sham”, meaning Levant, a region that includes the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea from the Isthmus of Suez to the Taurus Mountains, including present-day Syria, Lebanon, western Jordan, Israel, and the Sinai in Egypt.

iSIS“ISIS”, writes Cockburn, “is the child of war. Its members seek to reshape the world around them by acts of violence. The movement’s toxic but potent mix of extreme religious beliefs and military skill is the outcome of the war in Iraq since the US invasion of 2003 and the war in Syria since 2011. Just as the violence in Iraq was ebbing, the war was revived by the Sunni Arabs in Syria. It is the government and media consensus in the West that the civil war in Iraq was reignited by the sectarian policies of Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad. In reality, it was the war in Syria that destabilized Iraq when jihadi groups like ISIS, then called al-Qaeda in Iraq, found a new battlefield where they could fight and flourish.”

Along with the history of rise of ISIS, Cockburn provides a critique of Western policy in Iraq and Syria.

“It was the US, Europe, and their regional allies in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and United Arab Emirates that created the conditions for the rise of ISIS.” The most serious, among the many mistakes that were made by the U.S., and the other foreign powers that backed the rebels since 2011, it was the belief that President Bashar al-Assad was going to be defeated. But in 2012 it was obvious that Assad would not fall. Cockburn says, “he [Assad] never controlled less than thirteen out of fourteen Syrian provincial capitals and was backed by Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah. Nevertheless, the only peace terms he was offered at the Geneva II peace talks in January 2014 was to leave power. He was not about to go, and ideal conditions were created for ISIS to prosper. The US and its allies are now trying to turn the Sunni communities in Iraq and Syria against the militants, but this will be difficult to do while these countries are convulsed by war.” The rise of ISIS and the caliphate “is the ultimate disaster” for America, Britain and the Western powers.

A while after the publication of the book, a declassified secret US intelligence report, written in August 2012, which was published by a conservative watchdog organisation called Judicial Watch, revealed that that the US not only anticipated the rise of IS, but also seems to suggest that it will be “positively interested” in the prospect of “Salafist principality” in eastern Syria, and indicates that “this is exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.”

After almost 100 years of being entangled in the region’s political conflicts, perhaps it is time tο review the Western interventions in the Middle East. They have resulted in nothing else than destruction, death hatred and division. Perhaps it is time for the people of the region to decide for their own future.

Verso books

Climate Change and the Risk of Conflict in the Middle East

A new report developed by the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), commissioned by The Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and launched this week in the Middle East, has found that climate change may hold serious implications for peace and security in the Levant. (Levant, made up of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and the occupied Palestinian territory).

 In a region already considered the world’s most waterscarce and where, in many places, demand for water already outstrips supply, climate models are predicting a hotter, drier and less predictable climate. Higher temperatures and less rainfall will reduce the flow of rivers and streams, slow the rate at which aquifers recharge, progressively raise sea levels and make the entire region more arid.

These climate changes will have a series of effects, particularly for agriculture and water management. For example, some analysts anticipate that the Euphrates Rives could shrink by 30% and Jordan River by 80% by the end of the century. They could also hold serious implications for peace in the region.

More specific the reports argues that climate change present a security threat in six distinct ways:

Threat 1Climate change may increase competition for scarce water resources, complicating peace agreements and be a factor in national instability.

Threat 2Climate change could further decrease local agricultural productivity and intensify food insecurity, thereby raising the stakes for the return or retention of occupied land.

Threat 3 Climate change may hinder economic growth, thereby worsening unemployment, poverty and social instability. In turn, potentially this could create the conditions for extremism of all kinds, increased crime and social breakdown.

Threat 4Climate change may lead to destabilizing forced migration and increased tensions over existing refugee populations.

Threat 5Perceptions of resources shrinking as a result of climate change could increase the militarization of strategic natural resources.

Threat 6 Inaction (if the international community is unable to come to a deal in Copenhagen) on climate change may lead to growing resentment and distrust of the West (and Israel) by Arab nations.

The report points out there is much that national governments and authorities, civil society and the international community can do address the challenge of climate change, and in so doing, address some of the threats it may pose to regional peace and security. They can foster a culture of conservation in the region, help communities and countries adapt to the impacts of climate change, work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and foster greater cooperation on their shared resources.

Update 2016: Before civil war broke out in Syria, the country suffered from a drought which was said to have been the worst ever recorded. The frequency and the intensity of dust storms has been increased significantly – about 1.5 million people were internally displaced as a result. The rural farming town of Dara’a was the focal point for protests in the early stages of the opposition movement last year – a place that was especially hard hit by five years of drought and water scarcity, with little assistance from the al-Assad regime. Drought did not cause the civil war, of course, but it was one of the reasons for the horror that followed.

Sources and further reading

Climatology of dust distribution over West Asia from homogenized remote sensing data

Understanding Syria: From Pre-Civil War to Post-Assad – The Atlantic, 10 December, 2013.

Syria: Climate Change, Drought and Social Unrest – The center for Climate and Security

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