Time ripe to rid Middle East of chemical weapons
November 20th, 2013
09:29 AM ET

Time ripe to rid Middle East of chemical weapons

By Barry M. Blechman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Barry M. Blechman is a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center, a nonprofit and nonpartisan international security think tank. The views expressed are his own.

The world will be a safer place if the surprising agreement that led to the promised destruction of Syria’s stockpile of deadly chemical weapons can pave the way for the banning of such weapons from the entire Middle East and eventually the world.

The next move is up to Israel and Egypt.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad surprised the world in September when he agreed to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention barring the use of such weapons and to permit the supervised destruction of all his chemical weapon stocks. The move was designed to halt an expected U.S. bombing campaign against his country after al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people in the Syrian civil war.

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Topics: Conflict • Egypt • Israel • Middle East • Syria
Can Colombia build on its democratic opening?
November 19th, 2013
08:34 AM ET

Can Colombia build on its democratic opening?

By Oliver Kaplan, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Oliver Kaplan is an assistant professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver. The views expressed are his own.

A year ago today, peace negotiators in Colombia began working with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group to end a nearly 50-year bloody conflict, one that by some estimates has claimed the lives of over 200,000 Colombians and forcibly displaced over 4 million more. Although the government and rebels have continued to fight during talks, there is a sense of optimism after progress came on a long-running sticking point: political participation. Indeed, the lead government negotiator, a former vice president, has hailed the breakthrough as a “new democratic opening.”

So what exactly has changed?

True, there were some anxious months after talks stalled following a deal in May on land reform issues. But the latest breakthrough calls for new rights for political opposition movements, in addition to citizen participation and input in policymaking. This progress has sparked optimism as much for the manner in which it has come about as for the shift itself.

This is literally not your grandfather’s peace process. To resolve the grave conflict of the 1950s known as The Violence, which took the lives of an estimated 220,000 Colombians, talks among Colombia’s main political parties occurred far away, in Spain. And although the 1956 Benidorm Pact ended the worst of the partisan killing and was eventually ratified by a plebiscite, it was crafted by elites, without public input.

In contrast, today’s negotiations have been much more participatory than past negotiations. The talks have been held closer to home, in Havana, with negotiators shuttling back and forth to Colombia. There has also been participation and input during the negotiations, not just for a final seal of approval. Public forums were held in Bogotá and regional peace tables were held around the country. Colombians also directly submitted more than 5,000 comments to negotiators through an internet platform, while the final agreement is to be ratified by a public vote. Such a level of public engagement is no surprise given that in 1997, at the height of the conflict, millions of Colombians voted for a “mandate for peace” to push for negotiations.

Still, the government has been performing a balancing act: encouraging enough participation for input through formal channels, but not so much that it derails the talks or advantages the FARC in mobilizing public support. It will therefore be a good omen if the level of encouragement of participation during the negotiations is sustained upon reaching an agreement.

However, there are challenges to doing so.

The first contentious question is how to incorporate FARC and leftist representatives into mainstream politics. The previous attempt to incorporate the FARC into politics in the 1980s resulted in the assassination of members of the Patriotic Union party by paramilitary groups, making the provision of security guarantees a key issue today. Allowing the FARC into politics is also controversial because some members have been accused of war crimes. With this in mind, questions surrounding amnesty are to be discussed under a future agenda item on ending the conflict.

Second, beyond a FARC political movement, a more fundamental question concerns the participation of the historically excluded rural sector, the interests of which the FARC claims to represent. It is said Colombia’s constitution is so liberal and democratic it is comparable to Switzerland’s, but this has at times been more true on paper than in practice. Without expanding and sustaining political participation, a lasting peace will be elusive, as underdevelopment in the countryside will persist and peasants will remain vulnerable to recruitment by criminal bands or other armed groups.

The experience after The Violence is again instructive. The National Front pact called for the two main political parties to alternate in power and also created mechanisms for participation including village-level community action boards (or juntas comunales), the most common form of social organization in Colombia today. Yet the national level political alternation and instability, along with creeping clientelism and corruption, meant the viewpoints of peasants were coopted and marginalized by politicians.

This exclusion became a rallying cry for spoiler insurgent groups, including the FARC (yes, the same FARC with which the government is negotiating today, some 49 years later). Yet despite the exclusion, I found in my research in the Colombian countryside that these resilient village organizations continued to advocate on behalf of communities, implementing public works and even shielding residents from armed group pressure.

Clearly, the breakthrough on participation rescued the peace talks, and it suggests a model for peace processes in other countries. But this democratic opening alone isn’t enough to cement a peace deal.  If Colombia is to achieve peace and also live up to its democratic potential, sustained grassroots participation must remain at the forefront.

Topics: Conflict • Latin America
October 8th, 2013
12:21 PM ET

Staying safe in danger zones? There's an app for that

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

In the last century wartime warning systems were pretty low tech. From air raid sirens to emergency broadcast systems. But in the 21st century, your smartphone might just be your best warning tool.

In Lebanon, for example, as sectarian violence spills across Syria's border, apps are being developed for avoiding riots, car bombs, and even snipers. The military created "LAF Shield," which allows them to highlight danger zones for users to avoid. Users in turn can swipe to issue an SOS or report suspicious activity to the army.

Another app that uses crowd sourcing to pinpoint locations of protests, street fights and burning tires was downloaded 100,000 times in just one year.

And the goal of "Way to Safety," an app under development, is to be able to locate a gunman just using the smartphones in people's pockets. The app will record gunfire, identify the type of weapon being used and triangulate the exact location of the shooter, as long as several users are in the area.

Now we just need an app to get the world's warring factions to stop fighting and to make peace.

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Topics: Conflict • Last Look
Syria's other crisis
September 30th, 2013
09:29 AM ET

Syria's other crisis

By Jerusha Murugen, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jerusha Murugen is the research associate for global health, economics, and development at the Council on Foreign Relations. You can follow her @Jerusha_Murugen. The views expressed are her own.

In the midst of a bloody civil war, the biggest killer in Syria may not be the one you expect: chronic disease.

For many thousands of Syrians who struggle to access medical treatment in a war with no end in sight, everyday medical conditions have now become a matter of life or death.  Dr. Zaher Sahloul, president of the Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS), estimates that as many as 200,000 Syrians have died from chronic conditions, such as cancer, diabetes, hypertension, and respiratory and heart conditions, as a result of lack of access to drugs and treatment, double the number of Syrians killed by combat operations.

This stands in contrast to the situation prior to the conflict, when many Syrians received consistent care for these illnesses, with such treatment accounting for a significant portion of Syria’s health services. The United Nations now estimates that over half a million Syrians will require chronic disease treatment for the remainder of 2013.  Of this figure, more than 400,000 Syrians alone are expected to require diabetic care.

And while daily atrocities and war crimes have gained international attention, most recently August’s horrific chemical weapons attack, Médecins Sans Frontières, an international non-governmental organization providing medical care in Syria, stresses that victims who survive combat operations more frequently become “silent casualties,” succumbing instead to previously manageable chronic illnesses as a result of calculated attacks on Syria’s primary health care system and pharmaceutical industry.

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Topics: Conflict • Syria
Americans have had enough conflict
September 27th, 2013
10:15 AM ET

Americans have had enough conflict

By Matt Hoh, Michael Shank & Danny L. Davis, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Matthew Hoh served with the U.S. Marines in Iraq and on State Department teams in Afghanistan and Iraq and is a Senior Fellow with the Center for International Policy. Michael Shank is director of foreign policy at the Friends Committee on National Legislation. Daniel L. Davis is an Army Lieutenant-colonel. The views expressed are their own and do not reflect the views of the U.S. government or military.

Diplomacy appears to be winning out, for now at least, in the debate over how the United States should respond to Syria’s alleged chemical weapons attack on its own people. The last minute halting of the march toward a military strike will no doubt have been a relief to many members of Congress and their constituents. But is this only a temporary reprieve from action?

Most Americans would surely agree that the United States should only pursue military action where vital U.S. interests are at stake. But even a cursory look at America’s actual use of force over the decade-plus since the September 11, 2001 attacks suggests that these impulses are being ignored.

The United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, ultimately deploying hundreds of thousands of ground troops to fight counterinsurgencies. The U.S. also deployed air and missile power against Libya in 2011, and the government has acknowledged utilizing lethal drone strikes in a number of countries including Yemen, Somalia, and of course Pakistan.

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Topics: Conflict • Military • United States
Actually, drones worry Europe more than spying
July 17th, 2013
10:31 AM ET

Actually, drones worry Europe more than spying

By Anthony Dworkin, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Anthony Dworkin is a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed are his own.

Relations between the United States and Europe hit a low point following revelations that Washington was spying on European Union buildings and harvesting foreign email messages.

Behind the scenes, though, it is not data protection and surveillance that produces the most complications for the transatlantic intelligence relationship, but rather America's use of armed drones to kill terrorist suspects away from the battlefield. Incidents such as the recent killing of at least 17 people in Pakistan are therefore only likely to heighten European unease.

In public, European governments have displayed a curiously passive approach to American drone strikes, even as their number has escalated under Barack Obama’s presidency. Many Europeans believe that the majority of these strikes are unlawful, but their governments have maintained an uneasy silence on the issue. This is partly because of the uncomfortable fact that information provided by European intelligence services may have been used to identify some targets. It is also because of a reluctance to accuse a close ally of having violated international law. And it is partly because European countries have not worked out exactly what they think about the use of drones and how far they agree within the European Union on the question. Now, however, Europe’s muted stance on drone strikes looks likely to change.

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Topics: Conflict • Europe • Terrorism • United States
War lobby on top in Washington
June 20th, 2013
07:21 AM ET

War lobby on top in Washington

By Jeffrey D. Sachs, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Jeffrey D. Sachs Director of the Earth Institute and author of the new book To Move the World: JFK’s Quest for Peace. The views expressed are his own.

The War lobby in Washington won two key victories last week.  From the White House and Congress, political leaders of both parties swore allegiance to massive surveillance on American and foreign citizens in the name of fighting terror. And then to cap the week, President Barack Obama announced that the CIA would channel weapons to Syrian rebel fighters. Former President Clinton urged the Syrian moves, declaring that, “Sometimes it’s best to get caught trying, as long as you don’t overcommit.”

With so little public scrutiny of spying and wars led by the CIA and other obscure parts of the government (such as the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC), it’s hard to gauge the degree of “over-commitment.”  What seems clear, however, is that the intelligence agencies and military remain in the driver’s seat of our foreign policy.  The mere mention of the word “terrorist” is still sufficient to ensure that the political class will give the green light to whatever drones, assassinations, special operations, or spying the military brass and spymasters deem to be required.

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Topics: Conflict • Syria • United States
Time for U.S. pressure on Sri Lanka
June 4th, 2013
07:15 AM ET

Time for U.S. pressure on Sri Lanka

By Karunyan Arulanantham, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Karunyan Arulanantham is the executive director of the Tamil American Peace Initiative, an organization of Tamil Americans. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Amid the jungle and sandy beaches of northeast Sri Lanka’s Vanni region lie tragic truths the government has desperately sought to suppress in the four years since its civil war with the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE) came to a sudden and gory halt. On the Mullivaikal peninsula, between the Nanthikadal Lagoon and the sea just north of the town of Mullaithivu, the government declared a safe zone, where hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians were trapped as they sought refuge from the bloodshed.

What happened next is almost unimaginable. Seeking to crush the LTTE once and for all, the government proceeded to shell the No Fire Zone and surrounding areas after assuring the world that they would not use heavy weapons. The government declared victory over the LTTE in late May 2009, but in doing so, tens of thousands of innocent Tamil civilians were also killed by government forces.

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Topics: Asia • Conflict
Three reasons we need our bases
May 28th, 2013
10:46 AM ET

Three reasons we need our bases

By Adam Lowther, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Adam Lowther is a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for the National Interest in Washington, DC and author of Deterrence. The views expressed are his own.

Congress, at least in the eyes of its critics, may not seem able to get very much done these days. But a House of Representatives subcommittee got at least one thing right last week when it voted to block the Defense Department from closing domestic U.S. military bases and installations.

The vote comes against the backdrop of sequestration – the forced budget cuts in Washington – and suggestions from Department of Defense officials that a new round of base closures is necessary. But Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel should not yield to the growing chorus calling for another round of realignment to follow the five previous rounds that took place between 1988 and 2005 and that saw the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps absorb 97 major base closures as part of the post-Cold War military drawdown. Yes, we should take a hard look at the budget numbers. But those pushing for closures are missing the true value of these bases.

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Topics: Conflict • Military • United States
March 22nd, 2013
11:09 AM ET

The coming water wars?

This article was originally posted last month. It is being reposted today, World Water Day. For more What in the World, watch GPS on Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.

By Global Public Square staff

Imagine a large body of water – about the size of the Dead Sea – simply disappearing. It sounds like a science fiction movie. But it’s not. It’s happening in real life – and we've only just found out.

A pioneering study from NASA and the University of California Irvine shows how the Middle East is losing its fresh water reserves. As you can see from the satellite imagery in the video, we’re going from blues and greens, to yellows and reds: that’s 144 cubic kilometers of lost water between 2003 and 2009. What do we mean by “lost water”? Most of it comes from below the Earth’s surface, from water trapped in rocks. In times of drought, we tend to drill for water by constructing wells and pumps. But the Earth has a finite supply. NASA’s scientists say pumping for water is the equivalent of using up your bank savings. And that bank account is dwindling.

This could have serious implications. Conflicts over water are as old as the story of Noah – in 3,000 BC. The Pacific Institute lists 225 such conflicts through history. What’s fascinating is that nearly half of those conflicts took place in the last two decades. Are we going to see a new era of wars fought over water?

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Topics: Conflict • Water • What in the World?
5 lessons of the Iraq war
March 16th, 2013
06:46 PM ET

5 lessons of the Iraq war

By Fareed Zakaria

The American public has lost interest in the Iraq war. A topic that was at the center of the national political debate is now barely mentioned in passing. The country has decided to move on, rather than debate whether the war was worth it - though for the vast majority of Americans, the answer to that question would be a decided, “no”.

Yet, it was the most significant military conflict that the United States has been in since the Vietnam War, and so it is worth asking – ten years after it began - what lessons might be learned from the war, aftermath, and occupation. Here is my list:

Bring enough troops. The Bush administration chose to go to war with Iraq in a manner that would make it relatively easy politically. It drew up plans for a small invading army and insisted that the costs would be minimal – silencing those within and without the Pentagon who suggested otherwise. In the first phase of the war, toppling Saddam’s army, the plan worked fine. But as the mission turned from invasion to occupation, the military’s “light footprint” proved to be a deadly problem. Iraq moved quickly towards chaos and civil war, under the eyes of American troops who could do little to prevent it. The lesson of the Balkans’ conflicts in the 1990s had been to have a much larger force, by some calculations four times larger than the United States had in Iraq. But that lesson was not learned in 2003. The next time, if it’s worth going to war, it’s worth staffing it properly.

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Topics: Afghanistan • Arab Spring • Conflict • Iraq
March 12th, 2013
11:34 AM ET

The trouble with U.S. drone policy

For more What in the World, watch GPS on Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET

By Global Public Square staff

Senator Rand Paul decided to drone on last week about drones. He employed a rare talking filibuster to stall a confirmation vote for John Brennan as the CIA's director. All told, he went on for 12 hours and 52 minutes, including when he took questions from his Republican colleagues.

Washington also saw some tough questioning for Eric Holder. The attorney general was forced to admit it would unconstitutional to kill an American citizen with drone strikes on U.S. soil unless there was a Pearl Harbor-type imminent threat.

Usually, filibusters can be viewed as a bizarre, quasi-constitutional mechanism that is basically anti-democratic. But it's important to have a serious debate about drones, not just on the legality of whether they can be used to kill an American citizen, but a broader debate about them.

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Topics: Conflict • Taliban • Technology • Terrorism • United States • What in the World?
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