Syria is back in the the headlines (not that it was absent in recent years) and the conflict has returned to the agendas of regional and global stakeholders. With the help of Putin and his regular and private military operations, Assad has regained chunks of the territories ceded in the prior six years.
An attack on the Idlib area seems imminent, which may produce new waves of migrants and possible new gas attacks. At this point in the conflict Russia remains supportive of the regime, Turkey is concerned because of the Kurdish role, and Europe is anxiously wringing its proverbial hands.
This week’s questions are: Do we have to accommodate to a lasting role for the Assad regime, forgetting about his war crimes or not, and accept that he will have a role in Syria’s reconstruction. Or should we deny this, keeping supporting the troubled and fragmented militias, trying to limit Russia’s and/ or Turkey’s influence? We can assume that U.S. and EU interference will be quite limited.
The current administration of the United States pursues the (not unprecedented) policy of ignoring substituting or bypassing global and international norms to a new level. Recent examples include international trade treaties, the withdrawal from the Kyoto process, the pull-out from the 5 plus 1 Iran agreement, and the ongoing side-effects of these withdrawals.
It matters little whether current foreign policy is a continuation of traditional attitudes of exceptionalism, or if it is designed to win favour with certain domestic U.S. constituencies.
One of the more interesting issues is the phenomenon of secondary sanctions. This means that the U.S. administration does not only decide about which sanctions against who it wants to implement, but also tries to oblige companies from other countries to follow these ‘directions‘. If transnational companies do not accept this, they are threatened by sanctions themselves and may not be able to continue with commercial activities in the U.S., or with American partners.
While the global liberal order established after 1945 may be eroding, certain national regulations are being preserved, or even strengthened, especially in the U.S., China and to some extent, Russia.
This week’s questions are: a) is this acceptable? And b) what strategies and measures can be conceived to cope with this?
As expected, the first two weeks of the new US government were erratic. While governance by Twitter (and intermittently by judges) is something of a new political science concept, these first economic, social and cultural decisions are quite consistent with pre-election statements.
There is an ongoing debate in western and Asian capitals on how to respond. Wait and see? Making bold statements to indicate limits of the accessible? Trying to be friendly? What is your take?
– Prof. Klaus Segbers
One of the messiest spots in global politics is Syria. No one seems to know what to do, or what not to do, to stop the civil war with all its international and transnational spillover.
There are different fault-lines converging, and addressing just one of them doesn’t do the job. First, relatively peaceful and secular Syria has been turned into a sectarian fighting place. Increasingly, people identify themselves culturally. Second, and related, this is a space where Shia (the Alawites) and Sunni (IS and other militias) groups clash violently.
Third, this trend is exacerbated by the meddling of two competing regional regimes – Saudi Arabia, and Iran. Fourth, all but one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council are militarily involved. Fifth, some neighboring countries (Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey) may soon not be able to absorb the pressure of the fighting next door as well as the millions of refugees that have already arrived, or are on their way to Europe.
One of the core problems is that almost all of the external actors involved (except the Islamic State) are not so sure how decisively they want to be engaged. There is neither decisive intervention, nor clear non-intervention, but, mostly, meddling.
Do you see any option for progress, however small?
The agreement between Iran and the ‘5 + 1’ group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany) has been signed.
This seems to be good news for all parties involved for the following reasons: First, the economic sanctions against Iran will be lifted gradually. Second, the break-out options of a nuclear bomb for Iran will be reduced. Third, western and Russian economic cooperation with Iran now has the ability to blossom. And lastly, some people are now able to visualize potential for a more moderate influence by Iran in the neighborhood of MENA.
BUT, it is not quite clear if the agreement will actually be ratified. In Iran the highest leader Khamenei has verbalized some critical remarks, but he seems to be in overall support of the agreement.
The Israeli government is openly ranting about their unwillingness to form any agreement with Iran, just as they have in the past. The most difficult impediment the final ratification is facing is coming from Washington. Congress is very skeptical, and may try to de-rail this agreement after all.
(United Nations Photo/Flickr/Creative Commons)
As the host country for the United Nations, the United States have obliged themselves to act impartially. Now the White House has denied a visa to Iran’s chosen ambassador to the UN because he was part of the Muslim student group that seized the US embassy in Tehran in 1979.