Skip to content

Why Proxy Wars in the Middle East Are (Probably) Here to Stay

By Barbara F. Walter

Anti-aircraft fire over Sanaa, Yemen. By Ala'a Assamawy.

Anti-aircraft fire over Sanaa, Yemen. By Ala’a Assamawy.

Between 1992 and 2008, the duration of civil wars became significantly shorter than they have been at any time since 1945. The reason was simple. The end of the Cold War finally convinced the United States and the Soviet Union to stop funding proxy wars in small countries around the world. Money to rebels and to governments dried up and so did their ability to fight. The result? Combatants were suddenly willing to negotiate with each other and a greater number of wars were settled (e.g., Mozambique, Cambodia, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala).

This post-Cold War trend has reversed. Money is pouring in to all of the combatants on every side of every civil war in the Middle East and North Africa. This will almost certainly have two effects. One is that these wars will be longer than they otherwise would have been. Another is that serious attempts to negotiate are unlikely as long as funding continues.

Is there anything the U.S. can do to end proxy funding, especially from the major sources – Iran and Saudi Arabia? The answer is probably not.

Governments will continue to fund proxy wars as long as they believe there is an advantage to doing so. The advantage is real: if Iran can fund its preferred side to victory, it gains an advantage in its regional power struggle with Saudi Arabia. The same is true for Saudi Arabia.

Not only that, but the two sides are embroiled in a classic security dilemma. Both Iran and Saudi Arabia could remain uninvolved in the civil wars in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Libya, but doing so could also enable their rival to make gains at their expense. Proxy war is a way to protect oneself from this undesirable outcome.

There is a large literature in political science about how to halt a security dilemma. The problem is that these conditions don’t exist in the Middle East today. States will cooperate with each other but they’re much more likely to do so if they have, as Robert Jervis put it, “compatible ideologies, are similar ethnically, [or] have a common culture.” None of these conditions exist in Iran and Saudi Arabia today.

In addition, cooperation is more likely if the two states are not predisposed to view the other as hostile and if their governments feel relatively secure – two features that are again absent in both of the current regimes.

The one bit of hope we have is that economic inducements could make a difference. Jervis convincingly argued that cooperation between two rivals may still be possible if one can significantly increase the rewards to be gained from good behavior. Change the payoffs for intervening in a conflict versus staying out, and you change to incentives to keep meddling. I’m not an expert on foreign policy, but this is one calculation I would seek to manipulate to try to shorten these wars.

Focusing on ISIS’ Sexual Violence Misses the Bigger Picture

Guest post by Ariel Ahram

Women protest against Egypt's Supreme Council of Armed Forces in Tahrir Square in 2011. By Iokha.

Women protest against Egypt’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces in Tahrir Square in 2011. By Iokha.

The world has been horrified once again by the campaign of sexual violence launched by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). A UN representative expounded in May that “the brutalization of women and girls is central to [ISIS’s] ideology.” The New York Times ran a piece on ISIS’s “theology of rape,” discussing the sexual enslavement of captured Yezidi women and girls. Reports alleging that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS’s self-proclaimed emir, sexually abused Kayla Mueller, an American aid worker, followed closely behind.

But focusing on the abuse of women in ISIS’s territory distracts from the larger picture—an epidemic of sexual violence enveloping the entire Arab world. And ISIS is hardly the only perpetrator. Since 2011, both rebel group and state forces have deployed rape and sexual violence against their opponents and civilians alike. As has been the case in many other conflicts, the victims are not just women and girls, but also men and boys.

This is not the inevitable unleashing of prurient sexual urges in the midst of wartime. Nor does it represent the enactment of any particular theological principles. Rather, sexual violence largely serves distinct political and military functions. Viewing sexual violence through the lens of political economy, Jacqui True argues that war entails the assertion of control over production and reproductive resources. Wartime rape, then, represents a kind of expropriation of the enemies’ sexual property or breeding stock. When linked to prostitution and human trafficking, sexual violence provides an outright revenue stream. Dara Cohen shows how fighting groups use sexual violence to build internal unity cohesion. Large scale sexual violence is part of what Elisabeth Jean Wood calls a repertoire of violence. Thus, even when not directly ordered, it is still often tolerated by commanders in the field.

Sexual Violence and the Arab States

While IS has sought to shock Western sensibilities with its flagrant sexual violence, as Cohen, Wood, and Ragnhild Nordås find using cross-national statistical analysis, state forces often pose as great or greater a danger to many civilians. The Syrian government is probably the most egregious example. Pro-Assad forces, particularly the notorious shabiha militias, have systematically raped and sexually tortured regime opponents. Rape and pillaging are often accompanied by efforts to ethnically-cleanse Sunni Arabs and others suspected of harbouring rebel sympathies. In Iraq, pro-government Shi’ite militias and Kurdish security forces have similarly been accused of using rape and other forms of sexual violence to intimidate Sunni Arabs and precipitate the flight of civilians. In Egypt, General Abd al-Fatah es-Sisi’s military regime came to power claiming a mandate to impose and law and order and end a perceived rash of street crime, including rape. Yet Sisi’s government, according to a recent report by the International Federation for Human Rights, has intensified the use of sexual violence against political prisoners and regime opponents, including so-called “virginity tests.”

These types of sexual violence are hardly new. For decades human rights organizations had documented routine patterns of sexual violence against prisoners and detainees throughout the Arab world.  The use of sexual violence tended to intensify and expand when regimes faced immediate dangers. Rape and the threat of sexual humiliation was part of the elder Assad’s campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood in the early 1980s as well as Saddam Husayn’s genocidal ‘Anfal campaign in Kurdistan in the late 1980s. Faced with intense pressure since the outbreak of the revolts of 2011, regimes have made these techniques of repression more overt. Yet this violence has often proven counterproductive. The threat of sexual violation by government forces is one of the factors driving civilians into the arms of the rebels. ISIS’s sexual violence, as I have recently written, in many ways mirrors and mimics that of its state antagonists.

State Breaking, Population Displacement, and Sexual Violation

While state and rebel forces have used sexual violence for particular political purposes, the overall weakening of state authority across the Arab world has provided an opportunity to all kinds of criminal activities, including human trafficking and prostitution. This is especially the case where the collapse of state authority has left civilians at the mercy of various armed groups and contributed to massive population outflows, such as Syria, Libya, and Yemen.

According to the UN Refugee Agency, displaced and refugee populations are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. They have few economic resources and often are cut off from the protection of family or male kin. In 2013 alone the UN received 38,000 requests for help involving rape, domestic violence, harassment, and psychological abuse from Syrian refugees. With the displaced and refugee population from Syria alone surpassing 10 million in 2015, this number is sure to have increased. And again, while number from Syria is staggering, it should not overshadow the 1.8 million displaced in Iraq, 334,000 in Yemen, and 140,000 in Libya.

Faced with such challenges, families and individuals are subject to all kinds of abuses. They often see little choice but to enter the sex trade. Human trafficking networks have expanded across the Sahel, North Africa, and the Levant. A significant proportion of those trafficked are destined for prostitution.

Impact of Sexual Violence and the Risk of a Lost Generation

The exclusion of women has hampered economic and political development in the Arab world for decades. In 2005 the Arab Human Development Report concluded that, “In public life, cultural, legal, social, economic and political factors impede women’s equal access to education, health, job opportunities, citizenship rights and representation. In private life, traditional patterns of upbringing and discriminatory family and personal status laws perpetuate inequality and subordination. At a time when the Arab world needs to build and tap the capabilities of all its peoples, fully half its human potential is often stifled or neglected.” The current crisis of sexual violence intensifies these effects.

Beyond physical damage, many victims of sexual violence suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and other emotional problems that can render attending school, holding jobs, or other day-to-day tasks difficult. Victims can also face social stigmatization. Females are often deemed despoiled and thus ineligible for marriage. Men are dishonoured and de-masculinized. Some victims have been targeted for honour killing. For small endogamous communities like the Yezidis, the loss of so many women could spell a catastrophic demographic decline. In this case, sexual violence may be tantamount to genocide. Across the region, the epidemic of sexual violence, coupled with the wider impact of political instability, could cost an entire generation the chance for education, employment, and even a family.

Debates about military responses aimed at degrading and defeating ISIS continue. The question of how to care for those affected by sexual violence, though, remain largely overlooked. Humanitarian agencies are just beginning to develop effective programs to rehabilitate victims and reintegrating them with their families and communities. These measures will never get the level of attention—or funding—that a military campaign against ISIS would get. Yet they may be far more impactful in helping the region as a whole recover from the disasters of sexual violence.

Ariel Ahram is an associate professor of government and international affairs at Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs in Alexandria, Virginia.

Art, Conflict, and Social Change in Peru

By Steven T. Zech for Denver Dialogues

A painting by Holser Ludeña Pucllas portrays a remote Ayacucho village caught “between two fires” during Peru’s internal armed conflict. By Steven T. Zech.

A painting by Holser Ludeña Pucllas portrays a remote Ayacucho village caught “between two fires” during Peru’s internal armed conflict. By Steven T. Zech.

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”  ― Edgar Degas

Research on internal armed conflict focuses on insurgent groups and state security forces. However, in recent years, scholars have started to investigate the important role that other non-state actors play during and after violent conflict. Civilian groups, labor unions, businesses, NGOs, and journalists are just a few examples of non-state actors that affect security outcomes tied to conflict. One particular category of actor that merits additional attention is that of artists. How can art affect the trajectory of armed conflict? What role does art play in “post-conflict” societies? How can art affect change in contemporary social conflicts? During recent fieldwork in Peru I had the opportunity to speak with painters, artisans, musicians, and theatre groups to investigate the intersection of art and politics.

Art during and after conflict

Art is a form of creative expression that requires interpretation and invites contemplation. Art might serve as a mobilizing force and facilitate violent action during conflict. States and militant groups alike use propaganda to articulate ideologies and communicate political objectives. Collective actors can use artistic expression to define and reinforce particular social identities. Art can facilitate violence when it helps foster nationalism or dehumanize an enemy. For example, in the case of Peru, the Shining Path painted graffiti and murals in public spaces to share political messages. Shining Path militants used theatre and folk songs in remote Andean villages to indoctrinate and mobilize community members in the early years of the conflict.

Art can also serve as an important tool for peace and can foster nonviolence during and after armed conflict. Underground music movements in Lima criticized Sendero violence and denounced state human rights abuses. Painters organized exhibitions to champion peace and reconciliation. Armed conflict and increasingly authoritarian politics in Peru eventually gave way to memory and truth projects during the early 2000s. Art helped to articulate experiences in war and served as a tool of remembrance.[1] The Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (CVR) encouraged the public to revisit the past and confront the horror and atrocity from the conflict period of 1980 to 2000. As part of this process the CVR collected thousands of testimonies as well as photographic materials. The Commission released a final report and established a permanent photography exhibition at the National Museum in Lima called Yuyanapaq (to remember).

Artists, activists, and academics collaborated on other projects to invite reflection and to increase public awareness about the violent period. Installations like the “Eye that Cries” and the soon-to-open “Place of Memory” commemorate victims of violence. The Peruvian government, NGOs, and artists also encouraged communities to investigate and remember their own experiences through ethnographic drawings or traditional artistic media like tablas, retablos, or arpilleras. These works of “folk” art depict massacres and other attacks perpetrated by militants and the state security forces. Art helped to facilitate public engagement with the recent national trauma.

The renowned Yuyachkani theatre group also engaged with important political and social themes during the conflict. Members later accompanied the CVR to remote communities to help collect testimonies and communicate the Commission’s findings in “post-conflict” settings. After a recent performance of Yuyachkani’s critically acclaimed Sin Título, Técnica Mixta (Untitled, Mixed Media), I asked long-time director Miguel Rubio Zapata about the role of art in conflict and social change. He responded, “This is a question we always ask ourselves. In those years everyone thought the revolution was just around the corner, so we worked in coordination with parties at strikes and demonstrations. However, over time we began to think a little differently about power and started to work in micro-political spaces. We maintain a critical stance, responsive to individual communities, and the theatre itself was a means to change.”

Art and contemporary social conflict in Peru

The Vichama group in Villa el Salvador also worked with themes related to the conflict. At the height of violence near Lima, the Vichama theatre served as a positive force for change. During a conversation with director César Escuza Norero, he described the group’s work in the community alongside his close friend and nonviolent social activist Maria Elena Moyano. She was later murdered and blown up with dynamite in front of her children by Shining Path militants. Just days prior to Moyano’s death the director reluctantly promised Moyano that he would write a play about her efforts if anything happened to her. He recalled, “I told her I wouldn’t do it because she wasn’t going to die. She insisted and I made her the promise that I would do it. Days later they murdered her. We went through a very difficult period. The theatre was attacked two times. Many of my friends were arrested or wounded. It was hard, but we did the play. We followed through on the promise. I’ve never met a woman, a human being, so unafraid of death.” Today, Vichama continues to perform theatre that engages with pressing contemporary themes. The group’s most recent production raises awareness about the dangers of extractive industries, the exploitation of natural resources, and environmental degradation.

Performance artist Elizabeth Lino also uses art to call attention to environmental degradation. As a giant mining pit consumes her hometown of Cerro de Pasco, she developed a novel strategy to call attention to the issue. Lino adopted the persona of “Miss Cerro de Pasco” and made numerous visits to her hometown dressed as a beauty queen. She developed a critical marketing campaign, planned a tourist circuit, and has proposed nominating the mining pit as an international wonder. Lino uses art to raise awareness about environmental degradation and exposes broken promises by the state and mining companies. She uses performance art as a strategy that one might describe as “resistance through parody.” When I asked Lino about her decision to engage in this artistic campaign she explained, “I’m an artist, so I use art. I use what I know. Singers will sing. They use their tools and I use mine. Politicians use their own language in the same way. We choose a theme and use what we know to affect change.”

I met numerous painters who have spent their careers engaging with social and political themes in Peru. After working in unison with the CVR, many artists continue to give voice to victims and advance the cause of justice. For example, Mauricio Delgado creates paintings, mixed media, and virtual art projects. He works closely with the National Association of Families of the Kidnapped, Detained and Disappeared (ANFASEP) in Ayacucho. He has drawn dozens of portraits of women who demand justice for their disappeared husbands and children. Delgado explained, “In 1983 these women made demands before anyone started to denounce human rights. They made signs on flour sacks donated by local bakeries and wrote, ‘Alive you took them, alive we want them.’” He paints their portraits on the same type of sacks, sews them together, and displays the work at events in honor of their efforts.

Mauricio Delgado shows a section of his work commemorating efforts by ANFASEP activists who denounced the disappearance of loved-ones during the internal armed conflict in Peru. By Steven T. Zech.

Mauricio Delgado shows a section of his work commemorating efforts by ANFASEP activists who denounced the disappearance of loved-ones during the internal armed conflict in Peru. By Steven T. Zech.

Painter Jorge Miyagui also continues to work with themes tied to the conflict period. I spoke frequently with Miyagui about the role of art in conflict. He views art as an indispensible means to social change. Art is a way to communicate important ideas and reach the people. Art has the power to foster critical awareness and strengthen community capacity to affect positive change. Miyagui, Delgado, and other Peruvian artists work together on collective projects through the Traveling Museum of Memory and the Muralist Brigade. Miyagui explained, “Art has a transformational power and projects like collective murals can open up this potential.”

Jorge Miyagui shares his painting “Coloniality’ which depicts the colonial encounter between conquistadors and Inca Atahualpa, the furnace at Los Cabitos military base in Ayacucho, and two ANFASEP mothers: Angélica Mendoza and Lidia Flores. The text reads, “Alive you took them, alive we want them,” a popular slogan used by the mothers of the disappeared. By Steven T. Zech.

Jorge Miyagui shares his painting “Coloniality’ which depicts the colonial encounter between conquistadors and Inca Atahualpa, the furnace at Los Cabitos military base in Ayacucho, and two ANFASEP mothers: Angélica Mendoza and Lidia Flores. The text reads, “Alive you took them, alive we want them,” a popular slogan used by the mothers of the disappeared. By Steven T. Zech.

The Muralist Brigade works with communities to create collective murals that address pressing local issues. For example, members recently traveled to Huamachuco to paint four murals over three days. Artists worked with young community members, self-defense force participants, and local authorities to paint murals that touched on themes of solidarity, the environment, and exploitative mining practices. I accompanied the Muralist Brigade to the San Lorenzo community in Puente Piedra, a neighborhood on the edge of Lima. Delgado, Miyagui, and Elio Martuccelli, along with students from the University of Washington, helped paint two murals that focused on the theme of children’s literacy. The artists were working with a group of children affiliated with the cultural project “Don Quijote y su Manchita.” Miyagui commented, “I believe that [these kinds of collective projects] create emotional ties and critical perspectives that are very important in politics.”

Mauricio Delgado and the Muralist Brigade work with children on a mural about literacy in San Lorenzo. By Steven T. Zech.

Mauricio Delgado and the Muralist Brigade work with children on a mural about literacy in San Lorenzo. By Steven T. Zech.

Artists play a critical and understudied role in conflict. Artistic projects continue to influence demands for truth and justice in “post-conflict” Peru and will certainly affect any contemporary movement aimed at social change. Numerous contentious political events came to dominate the Peruvian national news in May and June of 2015. Massive social protests and incidents of state repression related to mining projects in Tia Maria and other locations captured public attention. Art projects like public murals became one important way in which communities articulated their positions and made new demands on the state and private enterprise. As Peru continues to deal with conflict tied to the negative effects of extractive industries, a growing illicit drug economy, and a widespread urban crime-wave in Lima, the artistic community remains at the forefront of public dialog and collective efforts to address these problems.

[1] For more detailed examples see chapters in the edited volume Milton, Cynthia E. 2014. Art from a Fractured Past Memory and Truth Telling in Post-Shining Path Peru. Durham: Duke University Press.

 

Weekly Links

By Sarah Bakhtiari

Red DC4 Skymaster Air Mail Stamp, circa 1946. By Nicolas Raymond.

Red DC4 Skymaster Air Mail Stamp, circa 1946. By Nicolas Raymond.

Deterministic explanations are not at work here: the normalization of Cuba’s relationship with the United States is attributed to the unintended consequences of anticipated Deepwater oil spill flows toward the Caribbean state.

A new monograph from the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict explores the potential for sustained and organized civil resistance via noncooperation, self-organization, and disruption in the Colombian civil war context. In case you missed it, check out Oliver Kaplan’s related interview with a local Colombian peacebuilder from earlier this week.

Despite Hamas’ ascent to the helm of the quasi-state of Gaza, Daniel Byman argues that Israel’s 2005 withdrawal from the territory should be considered a success in many ways.

Abdi Warsame, a Somali city councilor in Minneapolis, is working to offer the Somali youth off more opportunity, but also isn’t letting them off the hook of personal responsibility—he led a similar life, and believes his story offers them a narrative of hope in the face of the Islamic State’s recruitment efforts.

The Chinese and Egyptians apparently couldn’t be farther apart on gender inequality—Chinese immigrants and business people in Egypt indicate that the subordinate status of women in Egypt is a significant problem in developing an industrious workforce, and inhibits modernization. Nevertheless, China is still grappling with serious gender and sexuality issues at home, explored in this symposium.

Is Poland a buffer state for the West, a second-class ally? Poland’s President Duda charged NATO with these allegations, in hopes of gaining a permanent NATO military presence in the country.

Is U.S. aid to Egypt at a rate of $1.3B annually illegal based on the Leahy law, which prohibits aid to military units that have committed human rights abuses? Senator Leahy himself challenged the Secretary of State on the matter, citing the Department of State’s own report on unlawful killings by Egyptian security forces. Some lawyers, however, disagree—the transgressions not being associated with a specific unit.

 

 

Financing Rebellion Through Maritime Piracy

Guest post by Ursala Daxecker and Brandon Prins

The Bonga Field's  floating production storage and offloading vessel. By Vin Mullen.

The Bonga Field’s floating production storage and offloading vessel. By Vin Mullen.

In June 2008, a floating production storage and offloading vessel (the Bonga) owned by oil giant Royal Dutch Shell was attacked by more than 20 armed militants 120km off the Nigerian coast. The attack was both violent and extremely costly, forcing Shell to shut down one of its primary oil fields in the Gulf of Guinea. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) claimed responsibility for the attack, which was only one incident among many the group took credit for in 2008. Shortly after the Bonga incident, insurgent leaders and government officials came to the bargaining table and agreed to an amnesty program. Piracy in the Greater Gulf of Guinea began to decrease soon thereafter. According to the IMB Piracy Reporting Center, pirate attacks dropped by approximately 75% between 2008 and 2011. However, the ceasefire between Niger Delta militant groups and the Nigerian government started to disintegrate in 2010 and soon after, piracy attacks off the Nigerian coast began to increase again along with political violence.

The Bonga incident illustrates that illegal resource extraction such as the bunkering of oil and kidnapping for ransom can function as a funding strategy for rebel groups in the Gulf of Guinea. Research on civil war (here) and (here) has long established the importance of control over natural resources as a determinant of civil war, showing that countries with larger resource endowments are more likely to experience civil war. These so-called resource wars also last longer, perhaps because profits from the sale of contraband incentivize continued fighting. Further, resource wealth can increase the value of regional control of territory, pushing rebel leaders into separatist conflicts. Policymakers have recognized the connection between resources and rebel activity. The Kimberley Process, for example, acknowledges that alluvial diamond extraction contributes to armed conflict and establishes a certification process that aims to prevent rebel groups from profiting from conflict diamonds.

If resource control supports rebellion, maritime piracy as a form of illicit resource appropriation may provide rebel groups with critical funds for the financing of armed conflict. Since 2010, nearly $100 million has been stolen from ships transiting the Gulf of Guinea and these attacks against oil transports off the Nigerian coast may signal an effort by insurgents to use piracy as an additional revenue stream to fund a revolutionary campaign against the Nigerian government. Experts agree that many pirates are current or former Niger Delta militants that have extensive experience targeting oil pipelines and platforms. Oil bunkering appears to be increasingly used by pirate groups operating in Southeast Asia as well and anecdotal evidence connects insurgent groups like Abu Sayyaf and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines and the Free Aceh Movement in Indonesia to attacks against ships.

The number of intra-state conflicts funded through gemstones, minerals and or drugs appears have increased following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Rebels sought alternative funding streams that could be developed locally and thus not dependent on outside actors, such as the Cold War adversaries. Interestingly, maritime piracy reemerged around the same time. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) recorded 107 pirate attacks in 1991, which increased by 300% over the next ten years. Maritime piracy and the exploitation of valuable resources may have thus emerged together as a means of revenue generation for rebel groups. A cursory look suggests that piracy thrives in countries where insurgency also flourishes. The five most piracy prone countries since 1993 – Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nigeria, India, and Somalia – have all experienced armed rebellion or significant political violence. Now it may be that conditions that facilitate the emergence of violent non-state groups also facilitate piracy. Thus both may develop from similar environments, such as economic and ethnic inequality, poverty, and state weakness. But piracy, similar to the use of contraband or oil, may also result from strategic decisions made by insurgent leaders looking for resources to fund rebel activities. The heat map below shows that some of the most conflictual countries in Africa and East Asia also support significant maritime piracy. And globally, nine countries in 2013 experienced both armed conflict and piracy, which is nearly twice what one would expect by chance alone.

Heat Map of Piracy (MPELD) and State Conflict Events (UCDP GED) in Africa and Asia, 1993-2010. Map created by Ursula Daxecker.

Heat Map of Piracy (MPELD) and State Conflict Events (UCDP GED) in Africa and Asia, 1993-2010. Map created by Ursula Daxecker.

In a working paper on piracy and conflict in Africa and East Asia, we show that maritime piracy increases both the intensity of conflict and the number of civilian casualties, and that these effects appear more consistent and substantively larger than that of either oil or diamonds. We also find that piracy increases conflict events when oil or diamond resources are absent, but oil deposits or diamonds do not seem to increase conflict events in the absence of piracy. Importantly, our findings suggest that counter-piracy efforts could have additional benefits, such as reducing conflict violence by eliminating a funding source for insurgents. While substitution effects for forms of resource appropriation not included in our model (e.g. petty crime) remain possible, our results for oil and diamonds show that insurgents cannot easily replace loot from piracy with gains from other natural resources.

Ursula Daxecker is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Amsterdam, Brandon Prins is Professor of Political Science at the University of Tennessee.

How Can We Keep Aid Workers Safe?

Guest post by Larissa Fast

A UNHCR aid worker delivering supplies in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar. By United Nations photo.

A UNHCR aid worker delivering supplies in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar. By United Nations photo.

Today is World Humanitarian Day, a day to remember humanitarian aid workers around the world, particularly those who have lost their lives. The day marks the anniversary of the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, which killed 22 and wounded a further 160 people. In 2014, 120 aid workers were killed, 88 wounded, and 121 were kidnapped. The majority of these attacks occurred in just a few places: Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan, Central African Republic, and Pakistan (see here and here).

Aid work is a tough profession. It is both dangerous and emotionally challenging. The combined toll of the stress and dangers aid workers face in many places demands concerted attention and, more importantly, action.

This raises the question: What keeps aid workers safe, and how do we know what is effective? Even in the most dangerous countries, many aid organizations adopt what is known as the acceptance approach, which focuses on building and maintaining support and consent – acceptance – from those in the communities where they work. This includes any stakeholder that might wish to do them harm, from armed non-state actors to community members and traders.

Strategies to gain acceptance differ according to context. During the Ebola outbreak response in West Africa, community members attacked Red Cross and other aid workers, fearing they were spreading the disease instead of helping to contain it. In response, agencies worked through trusted leaders to educate communities, correct misconceptions, and combat rumors about Ebola and its transmission. In violent conflict contexts such as Afghanistan and CAR, humanitarian actors negotiate with belligerent forces to explain who they are (independent and impartial actors), why they are there (to provide assistance to those in need and not to take part in or support one side of the conflict), and what they do (e.g., vaccinate children or provide health services).

While aid agencies mostly claim to use acceptance, until recently little empirical evidence existed to document what agencies do to gain and maintain acceptance and whether it is effective. Earlier this year, colleagues and I published the results from a qualitative research project about aid organizations and their relationships with communities in Kenya, Uganda, and South Sudan. We examined three questions: How do organizations…

  • gain and maintain acceptance?
  • assess and monitor the presence and degree of acceptance?
  • determine whether acceptance is effective in a particular context?

Three sets of findings emerged.

First, while not a panacea, building and sustaining acceptance pays security dividends. We found that good and effective programming is necessary but not sufficient for gaining acceptance. Thus, the how of programming is crucial. Programming that involves communities in a respectful, participatory dialogue and meets their needs in an accountable and transparent manner enhances an organization’s value to and relationship with key stakeholders. In particular, trust and respect for local authorities, values, and customs are all important in gaining acceptance for an organization and for realizing program success. Even so, acceptance must be more than good programming. It should be a deliberate and systematic process applied as an integral part of many organizational functions: programming, human resource management, media and communications, finance and administration, logistics/procurement, and security management.

Second, acceptance must be repeatedly and carefully monitored. Acceptance is dynamic, and often present in degrees, from endorsement and toleration to rejection and targeting. Its presence is not automatic or directly transferable, and it can be fleeting. Factors such as trust, respectful relationships, programs that met community needs, transparency and openness, having existing communication links and an openness to informal communication all appeared to enhance a community’s willingness to share information and to intervene to prevent or mitigate an incident.

Finally, we identified a series of indicators of the effectiveness of acceptance. At a basic level, NGOs gain/maintain continuous access to program areas or populations. In other circumstances, stakeholders share security-related information, advocate on behalf of or promote an NGO, or intervene to prevent or resolve an incident. At the most robust level of acceptance, stakeholders distinguish an NGO and its work, thereby avoiding, mitigating, or resolving an incident. We heard stories of community members intervening on an organization’s behalf to peacefully resolve a tense situation, of community-based policing units to protect NGO staff, and community elders who guaranteed the safety of food monitors during periods of unrest or violence.

Clearly acceptance cannot work in all circumstances. Adopting an acceptance approach will be especially challenging in urban environments and where crime and banditry are high. Those most affected by violence are seldom able to protect others. These limitations must be weighed by organizations considering adopting an acceptance approach. Yet the perceptions of community members should not and cannot be ignored in emergency responses.

Recent consultations leading to the 2015 World Humanitarian Summit have identified significant community discontent with aid programs. In some circumstances, this discontent can escalate into violence against aid workers. Our research into acceptance and its effectiveness remind us of the security dividends that derive from effectively meeting community needs in a respectful, accountable, and transparent manner.

Larissa Fast is author of Aid in Danger: The Perils and Promise of Humanitarianism (University of Pennsylvania, 2014) and an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellow. She tweets as @aidindanger.

Interview: A Local Peacebuilder’s Take on the FARC Peace Talks

By Oliver Kaplan for Denver Dialogues

A view of the Carare River in La India, Santander, Colombia. By Oliver Kaplan.

A view of the Carare River in La India, Santander, Colombia. By Oliver Kaplan.

PART I: On the Peace Process

A pressing question for armed conflicts around the globe is how local nonviolent actors can contribute to national-level peace processes. To better understand how people from the “regions” view the current national peace negotiations in Colombia, I recently spoke with Donaldo Quiroga, current president of the Peasant Worker’s Association of the Carare River (ATCC). I reached Quiroga via phone in Barrancabermeja, Santander, Colombia (August 15, 2015).[1]

The ATCC was founded in 1987 and is based in La India, Santander. The region was contested by the FARC, the paramilitaries, and the military for decades from the mid-1970s to the mid-2000s. Today, it could be termed a recent “post-conflict” setting, although they still see and worry about criminal actors (post-paramilitary criminal bands, or BACRIM). The ATCC peasants are known for their nonviolent efforts to reduce violence and navigate the conflict and have shared their experiences at various meetings around the country. Quiroga and his organization have outlasted and outlived multiple armed groups and their commanders. They also have far more experience brokering and maintaining peace than any of negotiators at the national peace table in Havana, Cuba.

With low support for the national peace talks, are you optimistic about a peace agreement? 

Yes, I am optimistic. At this point, looking at the progress, it is harder to go back than to continue. It is one thing to live in the city and say that the only way to end the conflict is with arms. But the other population—the one living with war in the territories—is facing another reality, a cross-fire, and we think it’s better to negotiate. The only way to end a conflict is dialogue and negotiation.

However, they [the negotiators in Havana] are not signing peace in Colombia, just with one guerrilla group [FARC], one actor. It will be a big step, since this guerrilla group has caused problems in the country for many years. But there is also still the ELN and both armed and political forms of paramilitarism—for us in the territories, paramilitarism and BACRIMs continue.[2] There is also the problem of the extractive industries, or what we call “extractivismo” by multinational companies [especially mining], which causes conflict and [forced] displacement, perhaps more than that caused by the armed groups. Implementation is also a concern, since there isn’t a clear implementation plan in place yet.

Donaldo Quiroga at the ATCC Anniversary Celebration, June 2013. By Oliver Kaplan.

Donaldo Quiroga at the ATCC Anniversary Celebration, June 2013. By Oliver Kaplan.

What is your opinion of the recent de-escalation and FARC ceasefire? Are you worried that continued fighting could harm the peace talks? 

War continues, but the government de-escalation and FARC ceasefire have validated the peace process and will strengthen its credibility and give confidence to the population. A full bilateral ceasefire would give a different rhythm (“rumbo”) to the talks and reduce uncertainty among population. The talks have only been between Mr. Santos (President Juan Manuel Santos) and the FARC, and a ceasefire makes it more real in the territory. It’s hard to call it a post-conflict situation without a ceasefire. The ceasefire and de-escalation [now] is important because time is needed to build trust among the sides for good implementation of the accords later.

As someone who has been part of a local organization that has dialogued with armed actors, what advice do you have for the government and FARC negotiators in Havana?

First, they should look at and evaluate local peace experiences and open a space for them in the talks. There are many examples of successful local and international experiences. These illustrate steps to maintain peace and have lessons for how to think differently and reach a consensus for true and sustainable peace.

Second, we have learned that peace is an everyday process. To give a decree is to give an order. We are worried that they won’t discuss with locals and will just issue decrees, just sign a paper [and be done]. But we will build it, and since locals are going to implement the peace in the future, they should be included. We [of La India] have been building grassroots peace for many years. To make sure it works, you have to keep communication and dialogue going everyday.

A third main lesson from our experience is the “humanization” of dialogue and respect for the “other.” In Colombia, when a soldier is killed he is a “defender of the patria” while a killed guerrilla is a “dead terrorist,” and there is this right-left political divide. This doesn’t open a space to humanize discussion, promote the respect of life and respect for those who think differently. If you call the other side the worst rat or cockroach, it’s hard to then sit down to dialogue with them.

Do you feel you and people like you have had opportunities for input in the process, or do you feel excluded? What would you like to see happen for improved citizen participation? How do you see local organizations like yours contributing to the national peace process?

There have been peace forums where [the government and the UN] brought together many people and experiences around the country. At least on paper, we gave our opinion on each agenda point of the talks. We have also talked with the High Commissioner for Peace (Alto Comisionado para la Paz) about what “peace” is and our concerns about implementation. We are not sure if it has been taken into account or had an “echo,” but at least we registered our ideas.

I believe that the negotiations need participation of victims, since memory is important. Victims have had a little representation, but there are not enough feet on the ground in Havana (“falta de patas”) of those who have suffered the most. The guerrillas have talked about “peace in the territories” and the government has copied their phrase, but which “territory” are they talking about? What is the spiritual concept (cosmovision) of peace [the meaning of territory and belonging] where the accords will be implemented? They should ask campesinos, Indigenous, Afro-Colombians, and women for their ideas so they know what kind of peace they want to see implemented.

We need to be included in preparing the territory for post-conflict. We’ve already been doing this work during conflict for 28 years and have been supporting peace in the country by being an important local model. We have worked with demobilized combatants at the local level and have shared our territory with demobilized from all sides—guerrilla, paramilitary, and retired military; victims and victimizers—all co-existing. We can share how that works and how to promote reconciliation and forgiveness.

[1] This conversation was translated from Spanish by the interviewer and edited for clarity. Weblinks added by interviewer.

[2] Quiroga seemed to be referring to both criminal bands that arose after the paramilitary demobilization from 2003-2006 as well as efforts by these and other groups to influence politicians as well as politicians’ use of these organizations for electoral gains.

The Biggest Threat to the Middle East Isn’t ISIL. It’s Civil Wars.

By Barbara F. Walter

Syrian refugees in Lebanon. By ICRC.

Syrian refugees in Lebanon. By ICRC.

The greatest threat to American interests in the Middle East doesn’t come from ISIL or al Qaeda. It comes from the civil wars in Yemen, Libya, Iraq and Syria and the risk these wars pose to sparking new civil wars in Lebanon, Jordan, Bahrain, Algeria and Egypt.

In the current issue of The Washington Quarterly, Ken Pollack and I not only outline what it will take to end these wars, but we lay out the four major problems civil wars create for U.S. interests in the region.

First, civil wars reduce oil production. This might seem unimportant in a moment of low oil prices, but the current dip is likely to be temporary. During the 2006-2008 civil war, Iraqi oil production fell by 64 percent. After the 1979 revolution, Iranian oil production fell by 78 percent. And Libyan oil production has fallen 92 percent as a result of its current civil war.

Second, civil wars make is easy for extremist groups to organize, operate and spread. In the 1980s, al Qaeda couldn’t make a dent in Saudi Arabia or Egypt, so it fled to Afghanistan where it thrived within the civil war. Al Qaeda then set up franchises wherever civil wars existed in the Muslim world. Today, the real terrorist threats from al Qaeda are entirely located in states with civil wars of one kind or another: Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Mali. ISIL’s predecessor, for example, was virtually eliminated in Iraq by 2011 until the civil war in neighboring Syria gave it a new refuge and lifeline.

Third, civil wars bring hostile new governments to power. Left to run their own course, civil wars often end in a decisive victory for the group best able to employ violence. This means that the most aggressive, violence-prone organization is the one that tends to lead a new government, a government unlikely to be sympathetic to the United States and its interests.

Finally, civil wars tend to spread. Neighboring states often get dragged into civil wars either because they intervene to help rebels or because rebels take refuge on their territory. Civil wars can also create a contagion effect, where the conditions in one civil war (terrorism, refugees, secessionism, radicalization, economic dislocation, and intervention) move across borders, creating the conditions favorable for civil war next door. The Middle East is especially vulnerable to this problem given that borders are porous, ethno-sectarian groups span state lines, and governments are mostly weak.

What should the U.S. do? Some scholars and commentators (see here and here) have advocated walking away from the Middle East and allowing the region to determine its own fate. But the longer the civil wars continue, the more likely they are to destabilize Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and potentially Kuwait, Iran and Saudi Arabia. Ignoring the current wars in the region, therefore, almost certainly means more war, not less.

Instead, the United States should be serious about creating the conditions for successful negotiated settlements, at least in the two most important civil wars: Iraq and Syria. Historically, negotiated settlements to a civil war have been more likely under three key conditions.

  • A military stalemate. Parties to the civil war must believe that they cannot win a military victory in order to have incentives to accept a compromise agreement. As long as one group believes it can win total control of a state, it has incentives to keep fighting, forcing its adversaries to do the same. Convincing all parties, therefore, that continued war will be extremely costly and risky, is the first step to getting them to the table.
  • An equitable distribution of political power. Multiple scholarly studies (here, here, and here) have demonstrated that political, military, or territorial power-sharing guarantees are key to convincing factions to sign agreements and stop fighting. The reason for this has to do with incentives. Warring parties have little reason to stop fighting unless they are given a real stake in a new government. This means that a functional power-sharing arrangement must exist among all of the parties (including compromised elites), and one that includes clear protections for all groups (including minorities).
  • Iron-clad assurances that the deal will be enforced. All of the warring parties need to believe that the terms of the peace agreement will be enforced over time. One way to do this is to divide the warring factions into separate independent or politically autonomous territories protected by their own militaries or militias. A second way is to create a professional, indigenous military where power and arms are distributed fairly equally among the different fighting factions. Creating such a military force would allow each party to the civil war to retain some self-defense capabilities, while helping them hold political leaders accountable.

The U.S. can continue to focus its energies on ISIL and al Qaeda but doing so will not solve the larger problems that gave rise to them. If the U.S. and the international community refuse to deal with the civil wars raging in the region, then these wars are likely to continue and spread, undercutting whatever more modest strategy they try to pursue. In the end, the U.S. and its allies will be less secure, not more.

Weekly Links

By Danny Hirschel-Burns

Amrita Sher-Gil, “Brahmacharis,” 1937. Via WikiArt.

Amrita Sher-Gil, “Brahmacharis,” 1937. Via WikiArt.

Was Seymour Hersh right that the US government lied about how the Bin Laden raid went down? But more than that, are journalists, and broader society, too trusting of the Obama administration’s narrative on counterterrorism? A fascinating take on how we (mis)understand government bureaucracy.

What does the history of modern welfare states tell us about reducing poverty in the developing world?

IRIN News has an excellent feature profiling some of the world’s “forgotten conflicts” in a slick multimedia format.

Larry Cohler-Essas was recently the first journalist from a Jewish, pro-Israel publication to be granted a journalist’s visa in Iran since 1979. What he found was a much more nuanced portrait of the country than the fundamentalist caricature often proffered by hawks.

In parts of West Africa, it is socially acceptable and fairly common for adolescents to work away from home. The introduction of the concept of “human trafficking”, while punishing real abuses, has also targeted those involved in nothing nefarious.

For years, the Vatican has been a tax haven, and the scale of corruption was enormous. Pope Francis is trying to change that.

Increasingly, migrants crossing the Mediterranean are reporting being attacked by masked, armed men demanding they hand over their belongings.

The Sinaloa Cartel builds some absurdly impressive tunnels to traffic drugs. This is how they do it.

Anything Idriss Deby says should be taken with a grain of salt, but he claims Boko Haram has a new leader open to dialogue with the Nigerian government. It might be true, but there are still a lot of mitigating factors to reaching a peaceful accord.

Is the North Korean regime wobbling?

What Do We Know, and Need to Know, About Successful Counterinsurgency?

Guest post by Eli Berman and Aila M. Matanock

American soldiers perform a walking patrol in Baghdad. By Lachica Photo.

American soldiers perform a walking patrol in Baghdad. By Lachica Photo.

Imagine a counterinsurgency challenge: government forces (like the Iraqi Army) face insurgents (like ISIL) who emerge from among the population to attack them.

How do counterinsurgents succeed? In “The Empiricists’ Insurgency” (ungated PDF) we describe a five point framework to answer the question. We know that the insurgent’s actions are likely to be observed by the population that it hides among, and so success rests on gaining information—tips—from that population. We also know that those conflicts are asymmetric—characterized by strong, well equipped government forces and relatively weak rebels whose major asset is a compliant population.

Building on classic counterinsurgency literature and a wealth of new empirical studies, here are five key principles.

  1. Government Service Provision Reduces Rebel Violence: Services provision by government should decrease the use of violence by the rebels. Evidence from the Commanders Emergency Response Program (CERP) in Afghanistan and Iraq shows that spending reduces attacks. For example, in Iraq a dollar of CERP spending per capita reduced violence by 1.6 incidents per 100,000 residents over a half year. These programs, however, must be conditional on cooperation from the population in order to succeed. Moreover, effective conditionality is most likely when projects are small and designed by development experts. Not all development programs meet those conditions, and, in fact, most fail to reduce violence locally.
  2. Counterinsurgents Must Complement Services with Security: These service programs only work if they are also secure. Attacks are only reduced when troops are stationed in the same district.
  3. Civilian Casualties, However, Reduce Civilian Support: As counterinsuregents attempt to gain information from the population, they must also avoid civilian casualties. Evidence on attacks, as well as on attitudes suggest that civilians blame counterinsurgents for civilian casualties, losing the very support that counterinsugents seek.
  4. Tips Increase with Anonymity: To gain information from the population, counterinsugents must provide a method for civilians to anonymously report those tips. Data on the rollout of cellphone coverage in Iraq suggests that information increases with this technology.
  5. Governments and Rebels Both Provide Services: Finally, evidence strongly supports the basic implication of this framework, that rebels as well as governments seek to provide services, seemingly in an effort to gain this information. For example, evidence on rebel provision includes instances in Northern Ireland, the Philippines, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

While this framework provides insights about how counterinsurgents succeed, significant questions remain. Two of the most important concern sustainability:

  1. Why does the population provide tips? Is it enough for government to outgovern (or perhaps just outbid) insurgents in the short term? Or must they change expectations and even preferences about governance in the long term? Most of the evidence that we have is indirect. Preferences are difficult to measure—recent research has explored experimental methods for measuring attitudes, as well as actions, in the context of insurgency, but many questions remain—and it is difficult to know which set of preferences civilians will act on under particular circumstances.
  2. Does counterinsurgency work with foreign boots on the ground? Most work so far is unable to distinguish between governments and foreign allies as counterinsurgents. When removing forces, foreign allies often trade off the legitimacy of the local combatant against its compliance in counterinsurgency, control of ungoverned spaces, and quality of governance. For instance, the US could influence the inclusiveness of governance much more with forces in Iraq than it can without. We know very little about the responsiveness of combatants to incentives provided by foreign allies, or why foreign allies sometimes abandon conditionality in those relationships. Research along those lines is well motivated by current policy concerns.

These questions become more important as the United States and its allies drawn down in Afghanistan and focus on smaller, more cooperative missions, such as force training in Iraq, French military assistance in Mali, or efforts to guarantee election-based power-sharing bargains. Can a temporary intervention in conflict environments followed by a more remote presence induce the type of persistent improvements in governance that would produce a successful counterinsurgency in the long-term? While the lessons of the past 15 years are instructive, there’s an urgency to learn more.

Eli Berman is Professor of Economics at UC San Diego, Research Director at the UC Institute of Global Conflict and Cooperation, and Research Associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Aila M. Matanock is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California-Berkeley.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,494 other followers