Editor's note: Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab has reportedly defected from Bashar al-Assad’s regime to join “the revolution.” But who is behind the so-called revolution? CNN’s Tim Lister shares his thoughts on the state of the opposition in Syria, and what the reports of jihadist involvement could mean.
What is the state of the opposition? Since the unrest began, we've heard that there wasn’t a united opposition as was the case in places such as Libya. Has that changed?
Bashar al-Assad’s opponents – both the politicians and the fighters – are like a bunch of pinballs flying in different directions, often beyond control and sometimes cannoning off each other. That’s always been the concern about Syria, one that Assad himself has encouraged – a sort of "Après moi, le deluge." The ethnographic map of Syria looks like a Jackson Pollock painting: Sunnis, Kurds, Alawites and Christians live cheek by jowl (although the Kurds are heavily concentrated in the northeast.) All have their own priorities and agendas. Many Christians and Alawites believe that whatever follows this regime would be worse for them. Many Kurds view the upheaval as an opportunity to achieve their own state within a state (much like their brethren in Iraq.)
By Chris Brown, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Chris Brown is professor of international relations at the London School of Economics. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
The resignation of Kofi Annan from his role as U.N. envoy to Syria does no more than recognize what has been clear for most of the past three months, namely that in this case, the standard peacemaking model of a ceasefire followed by talks between the parties to produce a compromise has no chance of success.
A year ago, such an initiative might have worked. But too much blood has now been spilled, and, crucially, the conflict has become overtly sectarian in a way that wasn’t the case in its early stages.
Annan, in his valedictory message in the Financial Times yesterday, is still inclined to blame disunity in the Security Council for the failure of his plan. “Only a united international community can compel both sides to engage in a peaceful political transition,” he argues. This should, I think, be revised to “not even a united international community can compel both sides to engage in a peaceful political transition if neither side conceives it to be in their interest to do so.”
By Fareed Zakaria, CNN
Kofi Annan’s resignation as the U.N. and Arab League joint special envoy is a blow to any hopes that the situation in Syria could go down a stable path. It has also dashed hopes that an early route could be found to an inclusive government that could oversee decreasing levels of violence. Annan represented the possibility of something positive for Syria, and his departure is a sign that things are going to continue to spiral downwards.
There are two basic problems in Syria – an internal and an external political divide. The internal divide is evident every day. We have a brutal regime that is using maximum force, one that is making no concessions and that is simply holding onto power by any means possible. That is the principle problem in Syria, and one that can only be resolved if Bashar al-Assad and the people around him are deposed from power.
But there’s also a sectarian problem in Syria as is evidenced by the fact that minorities, who comprise 40 percent of the population, don’t seem to have joined the opposition. The Alawites, of course, who make up about 12 percent of Syria, are sticking with the Alawite-dominated regime. But the Christians appear to be doing so as well, for fear of what would happen to them in a majoritarian and more Islamist Syria. Other Syrian minorities such as the Kurds also don’t seem part of the Free Syria Army.
By José Luis Díaz, Special to CNN
Editor's note: José Luis Díaz is Amnesty International’s representative at the United Nations. The views expressed are his own.
If there were still any doubts about just how massive the U.N. Security Council’s failure on Syria has been, today’s news out of Geneva surely put paid to them. Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan surprised most observers this morning with his resignation as joint U.N.-Arab League envoy on Syria. The surprise is likely as much about the timing as anything else. No one at the United Nations would say it publicly, but all the players knew the “six-point plan” Annan crafted, and which the Security Council later endorsed, was moribund, if not dead. Annan’s resignation will also make it that much more difficult to renew the U.N. observation mission in Syria, an operation some Council members want shut down in two weeks’ time as there’s no ceasefire to observe. So the question really wasn’t whether Annan would throw in the towel, but when.
By Julien Barnes-Dacey, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Julien Barnes-Dacey is a senior policy fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations. He was based in Damascus from 2007 to 2010. The views expressed are his own.
As civil war engulfs Syria talk of politics and diplomacy has fallen silent. The Annan plan, previously bandied around by Western governments as the only way forward, attracts scant attention, while support for the armed opposition is intensifying with the indirect backing of Western governments.
Yet even as the militarization of the opposition gains steam, it’s imperative that efforts aimed at securing a political transition be maintained rather than abandoned as increasingly appears to be the case. As the conflict develops and balances of power shift, new openings will emerge and the international community must be primed to support any opportunities if the country is to be saved from a protracted conflict that could destabilize the entire region.
By Philippe Bolopion, Special to CNN
Editor's note: Philippe Bolopion is the U.N. director at Human Rights Watch and the former U.N. correspondent for Le Monde. The views expressed are his own.
To the outside world, the question might sound puzzling: How can the United Nations stop itself from supporting human rights abusers? Sadly, the issue is by no means theoretical. For many years, sometimes unknowingly and sometimes it seems because it chose to look the other way, the United Nations has provided assistance, money or logistical support to armies or police forces involved in abuses and serious human rights violations.
It all came to a head in 2009, when U.N. peacekeepers in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo carried out joint military operations with the Congolese army including providing food, fuel, transport and tactical support to army units engaged in combat against militias in the jungle. The goal was laudable, until it became clear that the support was also benefiting well-known human rights abusers in the army. Some of the U.N.-backed Congolese troops had engaged in rape, murder and pillaging, tarnishing the blue flag in the process.
Editor’s note: Stewart Patrick is senior fellow and director of the Program on International Institutions and Global Governance at the Council on Foreign Relations. The original post can be read here. The views expressed are solely those of the writer.
The Obama administration hoped the specter of an oil embargo and increasingly stringent banking sanctions would finally force Iran to come clean on its clandestine nuclear program and end its enrichment activities. No such luck. After the third round of P5+1 negotiations in Moscow ended last month in a stalemate, the White House and Congress are competing to isolate the intransigent Iranian government.
Last Thursday, the U.S. Treasury Department moved to close holes in the Iran sanctions regime, blacklisting more than a dozen front companies and four individuals that are helping Tehran evade U.S. and EU restrictions on its oil exports, and placing twenty Iranian financial institutions on a watch list.
Mark V. Vlasic is an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center and senior fellow at Georgetown’s Institute for Law, Science & Global Security. He served on the Slobodan Milosevic and Srebrenica genocide prosecution trial teams in The Hague. The views expressed are solely those of the writer.
By Mark Vlasic, Special to CNN
This week, the eyes of the world returned – if only for a moment – to the world of international justice in The Hague. In the same week, the International Criminal Court (ICC), the world’s first permanent war crimes court, sentenced its first war criminal, Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, to 14 years in prison. And across town at the first international tribunal since Nuremburg, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), U.N. prosecutors called their first witnesses in their case against General Ratko Mladic, charged, in part, with the Srebrenica genocide and the siege of Sarajevo. Thus, in two courtrooms in The Hague, the world was reminded that while international justice may be slow, it does come – and with it, so may come the end of impunity that often exists for mass atrocities.
To be sure, for those in Syria, Sudan and elsewhere, justice and the end of impunity won’t come soon enough. But the fact that some sense of justice has come to those who perished in Congo and Bosnia is nothing to scoff at.
Lubanga, thought once by many to be untouchable, was convicted for his role in enlisting, conscripting, and using child soldiers in the Second Congolese War. And importantly for the march of international justice, Lubanga’s trial, conviction and sentencing marked a number of notable firsts: it was the ICC’s first successful prosecution since its 2002 founding; Lubanga is the first individual to be convicted by the ICC for crimes related to the use of child soldiers; and the trial was the first in which victims participating were able to present their views in court.
Editor's Note: The following is reprinted with the permission of the Council on Foreign Relations.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned Sudanese air raids on South Sudan and called on the neighboring countries to engage in dialogue, amid an escalating conflict over the countries' shared oil-rich border area (al-Jazeera). However, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir rejected negotiations with the South yesterday, saying "our talks with them were with guns and bullets." Meanwhile, on a visit to China, South Sudanese President Salva Kiir told Chinese President Hu Jintao that Sudan had declared war on South Sudan. China, an ally with significant interests in both Sudans, called on the two sides to exercise "calm and restraint" (Reuters). FULL POST
Editor's Note: Stewart Patrick is a Senior Fellow and the Director of the Program on International Institutions and Global Governance at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the author of Weak Links: Fragile States, Global Threats, and International Security.
By Stewart Patrick, CFR.org
At first glance, this Monday’s high-level event in the U.N. General Assembly would appear to confirm the worst suspicions of U.N. skeptics. Given all the crises engulfing the globe, what geniuses in New York decided to have the tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan host a daylong special session on “Happiness.”What the heck is going on in Turtle Bay? More than meets the eye, in fact. One of the hottest fields in development economics has been, believe it or not, happiness research. And it turns out that the government in Thimpu may have something wise to say on the subject. FULL POST
By David Schenker – Special to CNN
President Bashar al-Assad has agreed to U.N. envoy and former Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s six-point plan to end the bloodshed in Syria. Al-Assad was wise to do so. The U.N. initiative, which endorses al-Assad’s oversight of a “political process to address the legitimate aspirations” of the Syrian people - is a boon to the dictator and a setback for the opposition.
Al-Assad had little to lose by signing on to the plan. The concessions he made in the deal- - the ceasefire, the ensuring of humanitarian assistance, a release of political prisoners, allowing entry to journalists, and permitting demonstrations - can all be reversed relatively quickly. FULL POST
Editor's Note: Robert M. Danin is Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is a former Director for the Levant and Israeli-Palestinian Affairs at the National Security Council. He writes the blog Middle East Matters at CFR.org.
By Robert M. Danin
Kofi Annan, the newly appointed United Nations and Arab League envoy to Syria, travels to the Middle East today to kick off his diplomatic efforts. He will stop first in Cairo, where he will meet Arab League representatives. On Saturday, Annan visits Damascus to see President Bashar al-Assad as part of a mission “to seek an urgent end to all violence and human rights violations, and to initiate the effort to promote a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis.” Traveling to Egypt and Syria are surely necessary, but will soon prove to be insufficient.The key to ending the bloodshed rests more in Moscow than in Damascus as I suggested in early February.
Russia provides Assad the critical support that allows the Syrian dictator to survive. Russia has protected Assad diplomatically twice so far, vetoing UN Security Council resolutions critical of Assad. More importantly, Russia provides the Assad regime the arms that it uses to kill Syrians and destroy their towns. According to the Moscow defense think tank CAST, Russia sold Syria nearly $1 billion worth of weapons in 2011, with some $4 billion remaining in outstanding contracts. The former chief auditor for Syria’s defense ministry, who defected in January, claims that Russia has stepped up its arms supplies to Damascus since the unrest in Syria broke out. Russian arms manufacturers have reportedly increased production to meet the Syrian demand.Yet the Russians appear increasingly uncomfortable with how their support for the brutal Syrian regime is positioning them internationally and isolating them from the Arab world. Last month, Saudi king Abdullah publicly chastised Russia for exercising its veto at the Security Council and for failing to coordinate with the Arabs. Russo-American ties have strained over Syria as well, with Secretary of State Clinton calling Moscow’s UN votes “just despicable.” FULL POST