Warning: Creating default object from empty value in /nfs/c03/h07/mnt/56080/domains/filtercoffee.nationalinterest.in/html/wp-content/themes/canvas/functions/admin-hooks.php on line 160
Tag Archives | syria

A Statement of Intent

Reviewing Mr. Modi’s visit to the U.S. and U.S.-India security cooperation.

To say that Mr. Modi’s first visit to the U.S. as prime minister attracted considerable attention from India’s media would be the understatement of the year.  New York City and Washington, D.C. were abound with media personalities, politicians, and supporters and protesters alike.  In his four-day visit to the U.S., Mr. Modi attended and addressed the United Nations General Assembly, met with business and political leaders, addressed a large rally at New York’s historic Madison Square Garden, co-authored an opinion piece in the Washington Post with U.S. President Barack Obama, and held formal consultations with Mr. Obama and members of his administration.

However, despite the pomp and circumstance, formal consultations between Mr. Modi’s contingent and the Obama administration did not yield substantive results in defense and security.  The India-U.S. Defence Framework, which is due to expire in 2015, is still in the process of being negotiated between the two governments and has not yet been renewed.  The U.S.-India Joint Statement merely signaled a general desire to renew the framework, while also committing to expand political-military dialog to include defense licensing and cooperation.

No new defense deals were signed during the visit.  Although the sale of Chinook heavy-lift helicopters and Apache attack helicopters are being discussed between India and the U.S., the negotiations are clearly not a point where the deal could be signed.  Further, surprisingly little was mentioned on U.S.-India cooperation in a post-2014 Afghanistan, even as the U.S. and NATO concluded security agreements on force levels with the new unity government in Kabul.

The departure of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is a cause for concern for India and has direct national security implications.  India’s previous government shied away from arming and equipping Afghanistan’s armed forces, but positions of old need not preclude the new government from working with the U.S. to identify areas where India can substantively contribute to securing Afghanistan.

None of this necessarily means that Mr. Modi’s visit was a failure.  It is clear that Mr. Modi views relations with the U.S. as being vital to India’s security and progress and that he has a vision for future cooperation between the two countries.  However, Mr. Modi has only been in office for four months; it will take him and his government time to translate vision into action.  But if the India-U.S. Joint Declaration is anything to go by, it serves as positive statement of intent for future cooperation between the U.S. and India.

The statement reaffirms the commitment to fully implement the U.S.-India civil nuclear agreement, and specifically addresses the need for further dialog on the issue of supplier-side liability — where India is a victim of its own self-inflicted wounds — paving the way for U.S.-built nuclear plants in India.

The renewed commitment to cooperate on disrupting terrorist groups is also a positive.  Contrary to some media reports, this was not the first India-U.S. joint statement signaling an intent to cooperate against terror groups (including Lashkar-e-Taiba), nor was it the first joint statement to call on Pakistan to bring those responsible for 26/11 to justice.  Indeed previous joint statements by Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mr. Obama articulated similar objectives.

This was, however, the first time that other criminal and terrorist groups – ISIL, al-Qaeda, Jaish-e-Mohammad, D-Company and the Haqqani Network – were specifically called out.  It bodes well for future India-U.S. anti-terrorism cooperation that the U.S. Department of Treasury today announced further sanctions against Fazl ur-Rehman, leader of the Harakat ul-Mujahideen, and against two Pakistani individuals for providing financial support to Lashkar-e-Taiba.

While previous joint statements had quite generally alluded to the need to promote freedom of navigation in accordance with UNCLOS, this was the first time that the South China Sea was specifically referenced, as were the calls to resolve territorial and maritime disputes through “peaceful means.”  A less-hesitant articulation on the part of India is welcome, since China doesn’t seem particularly placated by the weak and deliberately-vague positions of old anyway.

India is also faced with tremendous human security challenges as the U.S. and its Middle Eastern allies target ISIL positions in Syria and Iraq.  Indeed, despite the thousands evacuated earlier this year, many Indian citizens still continue to reside in Iraq (including some potentially illegally) and are vulnerable to being trapped in areas of active conflict or held hostage by ISIL.  In this regard, the stated intention to cooperate on responding to the needs of those stranded in conflict zones is encouraging.

The U.S.-India joint statement was also unusually strong on Iran, calling on it to comply with UNSC-imposed obligations and cooperate fully with the IAEA.  One wonders what the Iranians make of the language in the joint statement and Mr. Modi’s meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu on Sunday.  Perhaps some quiet diplomacy is needed with the Iranians.

Ultimately, the joint statement augurs well for U.S.-India ties, but operationalizing many of the commitments outlined in the statement will require sustained political stewardship at the highest levels of government in New Delhi and Washington, D.C.  It should serve as a warning to both governments that similarly visionary statements left much unrealized as a result of both the Obama administration’s preoccupation with domestic issues as well as the UPA’s feckless and ineffectual leadership.

In order to overcome the possibility of a relapse, Richard Fontaine’s policy brief for the Center for a New American Society recommends that each government designate a “high-level relationship owner,” suggesting that the U.S. vice president or a senior cabinet-level official for the U.S., and the National Security Advisor for India could play such a role.  It is a recommendation worthy of consideration in New Delhi and D.C.

 

Read full story · Comments are closed

“The worst day in Western diplomatic history”

The Obama administration’s actions and inactions in Syria have undermined the global chemical weapons regime.

The Telegraph has called September 9, 2013 the “Worst day in Western diplomatic history.”

A series of rather spectacular gaffes on Syria have hurt the Obama administration’s credibility at home and abroad. Syria, however, only represents a microcosm of the Obama administration’s disastrous handling of affairs in West Asia since the beginning of popular uprisings in the region in 2010.

Perhaps swayed by public sentiment or by a desire to not be seen as being interventionist, the Obama administration watched as despot after despot was dethroned in the Middle East.  This was good, many people argued, because “democracy” was an idea that had finally arrived in the Middle East.  The people had spoken.

Except that the institutions for democratic governance weren’t there in the Middle East nor could they be built overnight.  Thus, those who rode momentary popular waves of support to assume leadership in these countries simply carried on in the ways of the last usurper by accumulating power, subverting law and silencing opposition.  Three years on, not only is there no democracy in the Middle East, the region is now significantly more volatile than during the last three decades of rule by U.S.-allied strongmen.  Large swathes of Syria and Libya are now controlled by Islamist militias, many of whom are allied with al-Qaeda.  Egypt is on boil as the Muslim Brotherhood spars with the Deep State.

In Syria — like in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya — the Obama administration chose not to intervene militarily when uprisings against the regimes broke out.  Choosing not to intervene then in Syria made sense.  U.S. interests in Syria are limited and Syria has never been a U.S. national security priority.  But the humanitarian crisis that resulted from the battle between insurgents and Bashar al-Assad’s regime concerned many, including the U.S., which pushed for a Coalition of the Somewhat-Willing to provide arms and ammunition to the Free Syria Army and other rebels, but not intervene directly in the conflict.  Two years on, the battle for Syria is still inconclusive and the civilian death toll is well over 100,000.

Having decided against direct intervention in 2011, Mr. Obama erred in declaring an arbitrary “red line” for U.S. military action in Syria to the Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons.  The red line is arbitrary because a precedent for intervention on the grounds of the use of chemical weapons by one party in a conflict simply does not exist.

In fact, as this piece from The George Washington University’s National Security Archives tells us, Saddam Hussein’s “almost daily use” of chemical weapons against Iran and Kurdish insurgents were “known-knowns” to the U.S. when Donald Rumsfeld met with Mr. Hussein in 1983 to discuss, among other things, their mutual antipathy towards Iran and potential alternate routes to transport Iraq’s oil to the U.S.:

The U.S., which followed developments in the Iran-Iraq war with extraordinary intensity, had intelligence confirming Iran’s accusations, and describing Iraq’s “almost daily” use of chemical weapons, concurrent with its policy review and decision to support Iraq in the war [Document 24]. The intelligence indicated that Iraq used chemical weapons against Iranian forces, and, according to a November 1983 memo, against “Kurdish insurgents” as well [Document 25].

Following further high-level policy review, Ronald Reagan issued National Security Decision Directive (NSDD) 114, dated November 26, 1983, concerned specifically with U.S. policy toward the Iran-Iraq war. The directive reflects the administration’s priorities: it calls for heightened regional military cooperation to defend oil facilities, and measures to improve U.S. military capabilities in the Persian Gulf, and directs the secretaries of state and defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to take appropriate measures to respond to tensions in the area.  It does not mention chemical weapons [Document 26].

Soon thereafter, Donald Rumsfeld (who had served in various positions in the Nixon and Ford administrations, including as President Ford’s defense secretary, and at this time headed the multinational pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle & Co.) was dispatched to the Middle East as a presidential envoy…

Rumsfeld met with Saddam, and the two discussed regional issues of mutual interest, shared enmity toward Iran and Syria, and the U.S.’s efforts to find alternative routes to transport Iraq’s oil; its facilities in the Persian Gulf had been shut down by Iran, and Iran’s ally, Syria, had cut off a pipeline that transported Iraqi oil through its territory. Rumsfeld made no reference to chemical weapons, according to detailed notes on the meeting [Document 31]. [National Security Archives]

So having committed to a “red line” which had no precedent,  the Obama administration was put in a fix when intelligence reports recently emerged of the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian insurgency.  Mr. Obama’s enthusiasm for a limited military strike against the Assad regime wasn’t shared by all.  Many in the U.S. questioned the value of a limited strike, while the UK voted against participation in a military operation against Syria.

Even as momentum towards a military strike against Syria was being built,  U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry bizarrely ad-libbed his way into declaring that military operations would be put on hold if Syria turned over its chemical weapon stockpile.  The Russians and Syrians capitalized on Mr. Kerry’s statements; U.S. military operations against Syria are now on hold, pending U.S.-Russian discussions in Geneva on the logistics of negotiating the Assad regime’s surrender of its chemical weapons stockpile.

These events have effectively left in tatters both the Obama administration’s credibility in the region as well as the collective efforts of the last thirty years towards an international regime against the use of chemical weapons.

Deterrence works only if punitive responses to non-compliance are credible.  In this case, either the Assad regime calculated that its use of chemical weapons would go undetected or that detection would not matter because the U.S.’s ability to make good on its threats was not credible.  This has proven to be the case.  The Obama administration’s handling of the situation in Syria undermines the Chemical Weapons Convention and sets a poor precedent on the future use of chemical weapons.

Others might rightly conclude that the costs of using chemical weapons will be insignificant and can be absorbed.  As long as promises are made to the effect that any existing stockpiles of chemical weapons — post-use — are relinquished, no harm will come of them.  Considering the logistical challenges inherent in both verifying the destruction or surrender of chemical weapons stockpiles, and the ease through which new chemical weapons stockpiles can be built (relative to, say, nuclear weapons), this is a bargain most countries will take.

Read full story · Comments { 0 }

Syriasly?

Despite the Syrian ambassador’s claims, India does not have a horse in the ongoing Syrian civil war.

The Syrian ambassador to India ruffled a few feathers when he commented during an interview with The Indian Express that Indian jihadis were involved in battling al-Assad’s regime in Syria.  Excerpts from the interview follow:

“Indian fighters are waging Islamic jihad, along with fighters from Chechnya, Afghanistan and other countries,” the ambassador, who was handpicked by Assad for the India job two years ago, said.

Asked who these Indian fighters were, Abbas said, “They are Islamic people, not Hindus, because Hindus don’t wage Islamic jihad… Why are you surprised?

“There are people in India who support Muslim brotherhood’s ideology… They are very dangerous,” Abbas said.

According to Abbas, the fighters traveled to Turkey from India before entering Syria. “Some of them have been killed, some have been caught alive,” he said, adding, “One of them has been shown on Syrian TV, caught with an Indian passport.” [Indian Express]

The ambassador’s claims appear incredulous considering that there has simply been no historical precedent to suggest that Indian citizens sympathize with pan-Islamist causes to the extent that they would move to foreign countries to participate in conflict. The ambassdor’s statements appear even more incredulous considering that the ongoing civil war in Syria has significantly limited his ability to communicate regularly with the embattled al-Assad regime.  Given this, how exactly did the ambassador ascertain that some combatants involved in the conflict held Indian passports?

Dr. Abbas’ comments have surprised Indian officials who have said that Syria has failed to provide details of these Indian “jihadis” battling the regime in that country.  One “senior official” is reported to have told the Hindustan Times:

Abbas’ statement is most irresponsible and mischievous as we have checked our records and found no Indian national involved in jihad in Syria. We are cross-checking facts before we formally take up the matter with Syrian ambassador… [Hindustan Times]

Once the Syrian ambassador’s statements hit mainstream media, he attempted damage control by claiming that he had been approached by families of persons of “Indian origin” in repatriating citizens and that some of these persons held UK passports.  He then very conveniently chose to blame media propaganda for wrongly characterizing his statements.

Based on publicly-available information, we can deduce that two very separate efforts are underway to seek Indian support for either of the two belligerents in the ongoing  civil war (i.e., the Syrian regime or their rebel antagonists).  The British prime minister, David Cameron, in seeking support for military operations in Syria claimed in his address to the parliament that India was among those countries that pointed the “finger of blame” for the situation in Syria to al-Assad’s regime.  India, rightly, pointed out to the UK that it articulated no such position to the prime minister.

The anonymous “senior official” of the government of India made absolute sense in pointing out that India was investigating the Syrian ambassador’s claims and that it would formally take up the issue with him.  If India’s investigation finds that Dr. Abbas’ statements are without merit, it should publicly disavow his claims.

Let’s be clear: India’s interests in Syria are limited.  We have already abandoned the oil fields in that country that we once had a stake in.  Short of seeing an end to the ongoing conflict in Syria purely on humanitarian grounds, we have no horse in this race.  India should be prepared to work with whoever ultimately emerges as being in charge of affairs in Syria.  We will rebuild relationships if necessary, or forge new ones as warranted.  The U.S. appears to be inching towards some sort of military operation while many of its allies (primarily the UK) have voted against it.  It is not India’s place at this point in time to pick a side in the civil war.

Read full story · Comments { 1 }

India and the Golan Heights

India’s peacekeepers are at risk as the security situation deteriorates amidst UNSC’s squabbling.

Things aren’t looking all that great in Syria.  The UN now estimates that 93,000 people have been killed in the two year-old civil war.  The Alawites and their allies, propped up by Iran and Russia, and the various Sunni Islamist factions are butchering themselves to oblivion.

But the prolonged bickering in the UN Security Council and the Council’s inability to pass a resolution to bring this war to an end and prepare for an inevitable post-Assad Syria is extending the political and humanitarian crisis in that country.  The U.S. drew “red lines” for intervening if the al-Assad regime used chemical or biological weapons against its people.  But when it turned out that Bashar al-Assad had ordered the use of sarin on rebel forces, the U.S.’s response was muted: it held joint military exercises with its ally in Jordan along the Syrian border.

Russia, other the other hand, has consistently threatened to veto resolutions at the UNSC to enforce a no-fly zone.  So the UN has been ineffectual and bodies like the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Conference have done little more during this period than underscore the irrelevance of their existence.

Meanwhile, the  risk of the war spilling over into the Golan Heights along Syria’s border with Israel has increased.  The UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF), which has historically been supported by contingents from the Philippines, India and Austria charged with maintaining the peace in the buffer zone, has come under attack from Syrian rebel forces. Peacekeepers from the Philippines were detained (and subsequently released) by Syrian rebels in March 2013.  But the very structural composition of the UNDOF, as envisioned in the 1973 UN Agreement on Disengagement between Israeli and Syrian Forces is problematic under the circumstances (emphasis added):

The function of the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) under the agreement will be to use its best efforts to maintain the Ceasefiie and to see that it is scrupulously observed. It will supervise the agreement and protocol thereto with regard to the areas of separation and limitation. In carrying out its mission, it will comply with generally applicable Syrian laws and regulations and will not hamper the functioning of local civil administration. It trill enjoy freedom of movement and communication and other facilities that are necessary for its mission. It will be mobile and provided with personal weapons of a defensive character and shall use such weapons only in self-defence. The number of the UNDOF shall be about 1,250, who will be selected by the Secretary-General of the United Nations in consultation with the parties from members of the United Nations who are not permanent members of the Security Council. [United Nations]

Effectively, this means that non-UNSC members are entrusted with maintaining the peace in a volatile region while having no influence in bringing about conditions for peace.  The Austrians have already withdrawn their contingent from Golan.  The Indian contingent is the second-largest in the Golan Heights (after the Philippines), with about 200 peacekeepers. The Philippines has already warned that it may pull out its peacekeepers as well.

With the security situation deteriorating and no end to the UNSC’s internal squabbles, it is time we considered a full pullout or at the very least, a substantial reduction in our footprint.  This will not, in and of itself, hasten the UNSC to act decisively in Syria, but there is no need for India to put its troops in harm’s way while the situation deteriorates in the region.

 

Read full story · Comments { 0 }