Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Persecution of a People: Myanmar's Campaign to Expel the Rohingya

By Jordan Morris

Rakhine 2012
In 2011, Myanmar held its first round of decades after fifty years of military rule. Thein Sein, a former military official, took the election claiming 90% of the popular vote. Needless to say, the election was shrouded in controversy. 

Despite the controversy, Sein has since been regarded as an innovator and reformer, easing restrictions on freedoms of media, travel, assembly, and speech. As the international community applauded and encouraged the reformation of the government in Myanmar, life for the Rohingya’s in Myanmar’s western Rakhine state found their livelihoods becoming more constricted as the rest of Myanmar began to enjoy marginal freedoms. 

The Rohingya are a part of a 4% Muslim minority in majority Buddhist Myanmar. 80% of Myanmar’s million or so Rohingyas live in northern Rakhine, near the state capital of Sittwe and the surrounding villages. The Rohingyas share the western state with the Rakhine Buddhists who have strong lineage in the region and share the official government stance that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, with whom the state shares a border. The government refers to the Rohingya ‘Bengalis’ and even calling them Rohingya in Myanmar is taboo. The Rohingyas status as illegal immigrants was popularized after Ne Win’s military junta enacted the 1982 Citizenship Law which outlined 135 recognized ethnic groups that are native to Myanmar pre-1823. This list did not include the Rohingya. The 1823 cut-off was a result of the British colonial government in India encouraging migration from what is now Bangladesh into Myanmar. Even though Rohingya did migrate from Bangladesh at that time, reports from the British East India Company place Rohingya in Arakan (now Rakhine) at least 25 years before 1823. The denial of citizenship to the Rohingya in 1982 was part of a deliberate effort by Ne Win to cleanse the country of religious minorities, Muslims being the main target. 

Since the rise of the military government the Rohingya have systematically been stripped of rights. At the end of a ten day fact-finding mission carried out last month, Yanghee Lee, Myanmar’s UN Envoy, described the situation as ‘deplorable’ and while she congratulated the country in the steps it has made since military rule, she feared “…signs of possible backtracking, which if unchecked could undermine Myanmar's efforts to become a responsible member of the international community that respects and protects human rights”. 

Thursday, July 31, 2014

What We Were Afraid Of in Libya

By Jordan Morris

Gen. Khalifa Haftar
Three years after the fall of Col. Moammar Qaddafi, Libyans find themselves caught in the crossfire between the divided revolutionary militias. Airstrikes employed by NATO to overthrow the dictator of 42 years were seen as both a tactical victory for NATO and one of progress for humanitarian and democratic intervention. In 2014, pats on the back and rounds of applause of 2011 have fallen silent. Today Libya’s two largest cities have descended into exchanges of rocket-fire, airstrikes, and urban ground-force confrontation. The roots of current violence can traced back to the return of Khalifa Haftar, former Qaddafi Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces and current ‘General’ of the Libyan National Army. Haftar had been living in the U.S. since being disowned by Qaddafi after failed military operations in Chad in the late 1980's. When the revolution began in 2011, Haftar returned to Libya to head the offensive against Qaddafi. In February, Haftar called for suspension of the government. On May 14th, the General launched Operation Libyan Dignity, with the objective of removing Islamist extremism from Libya and their newly formed parliament, the Democratic National Conference. Because of the lack of a strong national army, the government will frequently call on local militias for security and police presence, many of who exhibit extremist tendencies.

The fighting can be loosely described as having two sides, but both sides are largely made up of militias and rebel groups with their own chains of command and ideologies.

Gen. Haftar’s Libyan National Army is really a cohort of militia’s he commanded during the overthrow of Qaddafi who share his secular ambition. Recently, Al-Saiqa Forces, an elite Libyan commando unit, aligned itself with Haftar’s army. The addition allowed them access to aircraft, advanced weaponry and trained soldiers. Part of the motivation for Al-Saiqa were their confrontations with al-Qaeda affiliate Ansar al-Sharia. In May, General Haftar launched an attack against the parliament in Tripoli, an attack that the Democratic National Conference called upon Ansar to defend. Fighting between the two continued as recently as July 30th, when Ansar successfully besieged an Air Force base in Benghazi that had been held by Libyan National Army forces, leaving thirty dead. Khalifa Haftar denounces the government because many of the representatives are members of the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate, The Justice and Construction Party. The election of Prime Minister Ahmed Matiq was also shrouded in controversy due to abstention by the parliament’s secular lawmakers. General Haftar has received strong backing by many who wish to avoid the creation of an Islamist state, something that the LNA believes is likely under the current government. On the other hand, current members of the government claim that Haftar is using his military credentials to start a coup, though he claims that his movement is an expression of will of the Libyan people.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Xinjiang's Uighurs Under China's 'Strike Hard' Initiative

By Jordan Morris
Disputes between China’s government and the ethnic minority Uighur population are beginning to boil over again in the countries northwestern province. On May 22nd two vehicles rigged with explosives drove into a market in the capital of the Xinjiang province, Urumqi. The bombs left 31 dead and ninety injured, prompting the government crackdown the very next day. These attacks prompted a government “crackdown” in Xinjiang. The Chinese government blamed the attacks on Uighur extremist and separatists. 

China’s terrorism crackdown is the most recent offensive against the Uighurs, but tensions have been high since the Communist Party took over in 1949. In the early stages of the government, special zones called ‘minzu’ were made for different ethnicities to adjust the government to their cultural identity. The Uighurs quickly found out that these policies only stood to benefit the ethnic majority Han Chinese. Tibetans, Uighurs and other ethnic minorities found themselves struggling against cultural assimilation. Since then, the Xinjiang province has been puncuated with skirmishing between the government and Uighurs who see themselves as an independent people. 

The year-long policy has come under fire due to its strict language regarding social freedoms, something that China is no stranger to taking flak for. In 2009, the Chinese government shut down internet in Xinjiang in the wake of protests and riots that occurred due to the death of 2 Uighur factory workers at the hands of a Han mob. The sites were largely forums where Uighur people could communicate, some of which used the Uighur Arabic alphabet. Despite website creator’s attempts to keep the websites as depoliticized as possible, discussion on the site turned to organizing protests that would lead to riots, killing 200, and the ‘digital book-burning’ of Uighur-run internet sites. Ten months later, the people of Xinjiang were again able to access the internet only to find that 80% of Uighur run websites had been removed. The owners of many of the popular websites were arrested on charges to the tune of “endangering state safety” or “separatism”. Radio Free Asia reports that between the beginning of the crackdown in May and July 8th, almost 400 suspected terrorist, extremists, or separatists have been arrested within the Xinjiang province. It was as clear then as it is now that speech is still a punishable offense.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Quiet will be met with quiet."

By: Jordan Morris

Monday’s fighting produced up to ten more casualties, eight of which reported to be children, according to BBC. Casualties came from both Al-Shifa Hospital and Al-Shati Refugee camp. The latest exchange of fire comes during the beginning of Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim celebration commemorating the end of the holy month of Ramadan. As has been so often the case, during the most recent flare up of Israeli-Hamas fighting civilians have felt the overwhelming majority of the consequences, with an alarming number of victims being children and families. The number of Palestinians killed since the beginning of ‘Operation: Protective Edge’ on July 8th has reached over 1,000. These numbers have lead to the U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issuing a statement calling for an immediate humanitarian cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Hamas endorsed the holiday cease-fire, but Israel isn’t ready to put operations to a halt until it achieves its goal of eliminating Hamas from Gaza. Ron Prosor, Israeli ambassador to the U.N. stated that on five separate occasions Israel had agreed to cease-fire negotiations and on all occasions, Hamas had broken the agreements. Prosor summed up Israel’s stance on any further peace talks: ‘…quiet will be met with quiet.” For all intents and purposes, the cease-fire Ban wanted was never achieved.

Gaza’s size and population density have been abused by both the IDF and Hamas and contributes to the high amount of civilian casualties. The strip is home to 1.8 million within 139 sq. miles of territory. There is a blockade separating Gaza from Israel, and Egypt, who view the Palestinians as ‘brothers’ but who’s new government refuse to support Hamas, have closed their border to the region as well. Ban Ki-moon describes the situation in Gaza: “The people of Gaza have nowhere to run. They are trapped and besieged on a speck of land. Every area is a civilian area. Every home, every school, every refuge has become a target. The casualty and damage figures also raise serious concerns about proportionality.” Jeffery Goldberg, writer for The Atlantic, outlined several reasons why he believed that Israel is winning militarily, but losing on a much larger diplomatic scale. One important insight outlined in the article was that Hamas baits Israel into killing civilians, and Israel will usually take the bait. Baiting Israel allows Hamas to destroy Israel’s image and simultaneously cultivate hatred and vengeance. Hamas will antagonize Israel with a rocket strike and Israel will retaliate by destroying tunnels or key infrastructure that Hamas intentionally built around populated neighborhoods. Netanyahu fired at Hamas claiming their tactics used the civilians in Gaza as ‘human shields’.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

All Eyes on the Caliphate

By Jordan Morris

ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has recently declared the caliphate and the group known as ISIS has changed its moniker to simply the Islamic State. According to Charlie Cooper who is a researcher at the Quillium Foundation, (a think-tank dedicated to combating religious extremism) in declaring the caliphate, al-Baghdadi has presumed the position, “…leader of Muslims the world over and the successor of the Prophet Muhammad and a divinely appointed leader of Muslims”. Cooper goes on to question the integrity of an extremist jihadist’s ability to claim authority to the entire Muslim world. At the same time al-Maliki’s government have begun their offensive against the new caliphate, targeting Tikrit amongst other IS held territory. A spokesman for the government claims that thousands of Sunni tribal forces have assisted them in fighting off the Islamic State. Amidst the turbulence that is taking place in Iraq, the concussion has spread across the globe.

The conflict in Iraq has further-reaching implications for more than just its immediate neighbors. In India, newly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi faces his first foreign policy crisis. India, already in an energy crisis Modi is determined to solve, now must focus on the future of Iraq, who provides 25 million tons of crude oil to India yearly. India remains optimistic about their energy imports, citing that 90% of Iraq’s oil supply comes from the pro-government-Shia dominated south, and that they have access to a diversity of other OPEC suppliers. That being said they have continue their oil reserve program to compensate for any crisis that may narrow their supply. Oil notwithstanding, Modi still faces the issue of how to bring home Indian workers that are now trapped in Iraq. The Indian government is confident that this crisis will not affect oil imports or any of the other domestic and economic challenges they face as Modi prepares to present his first budget in July.

Part of this concussion is also the things that we look over. For instance, in Egypt, several Al-Jazeera reports have been given heavy prison sentences after being accused and charged with supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and ‘reporting false news’. One Amnesty International representative ruled the proceedings as a ‘dark day’ for media rights. Not a good start after overthrowing their second president. In Eastern Europe, a peace deal was drawn up between separatists, the Kremlin, and Kiev that sought to a cease fire and negotiations. Violence has decreased for the most part but Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko notes that separatists must disarm and dislodge from their positions, something that they refuse to do. Amid the cease-fire that exists throughout eastern Ukraine, Slavyansk is still consumed by fighting which resulted in a Ukrainian helicopter being shot down. Going further east we are still reminded that Thailand has just undergone its second military coup in ten years after fierce protests around the country. In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has gone on a campaign of constitutional reinterpretation, hoping to open negotiations about the reach of Japan’s constitutional Article 9, which forbids them from having an offensive military. Tokyo insists that it is important to renegotiate the article so they can defend themselves against their aggressive neighbors, China and North Korea. On top of Japan’s constitutional woes, there’s still the fact that Fukushima is a disaster and workers can’t be there to clean up more than a few hours a day because of how toxic it is. There have been reports of contaminated ground water and blow-back from the government’s attempt to conceal the true scope of the meltdown. The grave potential is contaminated water making its way in large amounts into the ocean and spreading beyond control.

Still we turn our attention to al-Sham.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Implications of the Iraqi Crisis

By Jordan Morris

Flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria
Within the last few weeks we have watched a paradigm shift in Middle Eastern foreign relations. With The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham on Baghdad’s doorstep, the US is confronted yet again with the prospect of becoming involved in one of the most turbulent states of the Middle East. ISIS’s conquest in Northern Iraq and Syria has already led to President Obama doing something no one thought he would ever do: send American troops back to Iraq. The limited deployment brought some 300 military advisors to assist the Iraqi army in fighting the lingering ISIS militants who have stopped just short of Baghdad, but have explicitly stated their intent to take Iraq’s capital city. ISIS fighters, led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, will find that Baghdad is not Mosul or Tikrit, and at that the Iraqi government’s last stand will not be taken alone. 

Iraq has pleaded for help from the US and received a limited response, one that is unlikely to be followed up with any significant US presence or even the air-strikes that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had petitioned for. Even without major assistance from the US, Maliki’s government may still stand, thanks to Iran. On June 18th Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, gave a speech at the Iraq-Iran border, pledging to do whatever it took to protect Shia populations and holy sites in southern Iraq (a move reminiscent of Vladimir Putin, who invaded Crimea citing his government’s duty to protect Russian nationals in Ukraine). At the eleventh hour, when an ISIS attack on Baghdad is imminent , we may very well see an anomaly of world politics take place—cooperation between the US and Iran. Both Iran and the US have been clear that there will be no conventional military coalition between the countries, but undoubtedly both recognize a common interest in protecting the current state of Iraq. Consequently, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has condemned cooperation, and suggested that the US is using this issue to further sink its teeth into Middle-Eastern affairs. 

The ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’ scenario is an optimistic look at the future of relations between the US and its historical adversary, but some, and specifically Israel, are wary of cooperation with the Islamic Republic. Understandably the small Jewish state is highly skeptical of and opposed to its biggest ally cooperating with a government that has time and time again threatened to destroy it, but Iranian action supported by the U.S. could actually benefit Jerusalem. ISIS has been clear its vision of al-Sham includes the lands of Palestine. The militants announced the development of a special unit, the Al Quds Unit, whose mission is to destroy the “Zionist regime occupying Palestine,” according to an article on

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

ISIS in Iraq

By Jordan Morris

ISIS-controlled territory as of June 2014
Between June 6th and June 9th, Iraq’s second largest city was taken by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). The adolescent Islamic group splintered from al-Qaeda in April of 2013 and has carried out attacks throughout Northern Iraq and Syria since. 

ISIS has been successful on both their Syrian and Iraqi fronts. During their siege of Mosul, ISIS defeated the US-trained and 15-times-as-large forces of the Iraqi government. Images from the battle show signs of desertion by both the Iraqi army and local police. ISIS emir, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has been able to hold the largely Sunni regions north and west of Baghdad as well as establishing interim governments lead by ISIS officers. The rebel group’s forces have been numbered at under 1,000, but their swift and brutal tactics, along with support from Sunni tribal communities, have allowed them to maintain course. Currently ISIS controls Fallujah and Tikrit, as well as large swaths of northwestern Iraq and eastern Syria. Their goal is to form a caliphate stretching from the Lebanese Mediterranean to the Zagros Mountains of Iran

While the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham continue making political and economic gains in pursuit of their explicit goal, taking Baghdad, Kurdish forces in the north have seized their opportunity to gain control of “Kurdish Jerusalem”, the oil-rich city of Kirkuk. Kirkuk, which lies just outside of the Kurdish autonomous region, was a landmark victory for Kurdish Iraqi’s who seek to forward their own goals of a united and independent Kurdistan. The Kurds were able to regain their historic capital in the midst of turmoil and government desertion brought upon by ISIS operations in the area. Unprecedented gains by the Kurds and the inability of the Iraqi government to assert any sort of authority near Kurdish populated regions make the image of Kurdistan all the more vivid. 

Iraqi Kurdish troops, known as the Peshmerga, maintain representation within Iraqi parliament. Shoresh Haji, who represents the Kurds within the Iraqi government, praises the Peshmerga’s reclamation of Kirkuk, but maintains that the Kurds must work with the Iraqi government to fend off ISIS, and use their support as leverage for Kurdish interests in the Iraqi Parliament. According to Haji, the unrest in the north presents, “…an opportunity we cannot ignore”. 

Both the Peshmerga and ISIS seem to be benefitting from the Iraqi government’s inability to maintain stability, but for hundreds of thousands of refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), the future remains bleak. The Syrian crisis has created an estimated 2.8 million refugees. Of that number, 200,000 found shelter in Iraq. On top of these 200,000, almost 500,000 fled Mosul after fighting broke out. The dysfunction of the Iraqi government offers little to be optimist about for those displaced by the recent surges of violence in their temporary homes. 

The splintering of Iraq, marked by the military and political ambition of ISIS and the Peshmerga alike are a testament to the futility of long-term solutions for stability. It is not only governments in the Middle-East that seem prone to this ideological splintering. ISIS themselves were shed from formal al-Qaeda ranks. This disintegration can be seen taking place within the Taliban as well. On Sunday night the TTP or Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, carried out attacks at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, leaving at least 34 dead. On Tuesday, the group was involved in more attacks at Jinnah Int’l, this time targeting the Airport Security Forces Academy. The TTP maintains ideological differences with the Afghan Taliban, and have themselves experienced mutiny within their ranks with the Meshud faction deciding that they no longer wished to be affiliated with those who employ tactics such as ransom, extortion, and mass killing

Iraq is now a splintered state, with each splinter seeking its own path. Should they realize their goals, it would mean the end of contemporary borders In the Middle-East. Factionalization, while it has crippled the very governments militants like the TTP or ISIS fight against, is a virus that infects indiscriminately and carries the same side effects. The mission of Islamic rebel groups and their interpretation of the Koran is subject to their leadership. Should the interpretations contradict each other, it can mean conflict and even war. Similarly should the ideologies of factions within militant groups fail to be cohesive, it could mean the end of an otherwise successful campaign.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Chocolate Elections

By Jordan Morris

Recently it was announced the new leader of Ukraine would be billionaire chocolatier and media mogul Petro Poroshenko. The ‘Chocolate King’ outperformed his closest opponent, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, by taking close to 55% of the national vote, enough to win the election outright. Poroshenko is best known as being the CEO of Roshen Confectionery Corporation who takes in close to $1 billion per year and employs upwards of 10,000 people. Aside from his business endeavors, Poroshenko is a well-entrenched politician who has served the Ukrainian government as an MP, worked as a foreign minister, and was the chairman of the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council. While Poroshenko was visibly excited about winning the election, the uncertain future of Ukraine lingered in the background of the celebrations.

The elections themselves were marred by nearly 75% of polling stations being closed in the pro-Russian controlled eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. On Monday, just a day after the elections, Donetsk Airport turned into the site of the bloodiest and most recent skirmish between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatist forces. Ukraine deployed helicopters to fight off the rebel’s attempts to take the country’s second largest airport. Arsen Avakov, Ukraine’s interior minister, claimed that the action was a comprehensives success with the enemy suffering heavy losses. Alexander Lukyanchenko, self-appointed mayor of Donetsk, reported the total number of dead was around 40, including two civilians. There was no certainty as to the political affiliation of the other 38 killed but the enthusiasm of the Ukrainian government suggests losses were heavily pro-separatist. 

Poroshenko believes government victories like this define the future of the conflict. The president elect has been quoted expressing his intentions to act swiftly and strongly against ‘terrorists’ and pro-Russian separatists. He hopes for peaceful negotiations but presents an aggressive timeframe that, “cannot and should not last two or three months, It should and will last hours." 

Poroshenko’s words are exemplified by Ukraine’s increasing willingness to deploy more frequent and aggressive anti-terrorist tactics against separatist forces. Eastern militants are starting to feel the pressure not only from Kiev, but also from Moscow, who claims they will respect the outcome of the elections and work with the new Ukrainian president to restore order in the region. Putin claims he has been moving his 40,000 strong force away from the Ukrainian border. As Russia takes its time retreating from the border, it becomes clear to rebels they are losing a confidant and supporter in the Kremlin, and possibly their hopes of independence or Russian inclusion. 

There are some good signs for ethnic Russians in the east, however. Poroshenko has conceded the fact that despite his pro-EU stance, Ukraine will always be linked to Russia and will continue to work with them in a constructive manner. CNN quotes Poroshenko during an address to his supporters regarding all people from Ukraine as having, ‘…the right to speak any language they want. The right to elect the leaders they want. The right for the decentralization of power.’ This will surely upset some of those who participated in the Maiden protests, but it is a political reality that the ‘chocolate king’ is prepared to work within. Poroshenko realizes that in his pursuit of European inclusion, which has now come to be defined through membership in the European Union, Ukraine will always have interests anchored in their relationship with Russia. 

Poroshenko appears to have a realistic view of Ukraine’s future and their precarious relationship between Russia and the West. He has been decisive in his words and takes moderate stance that is necessary for progress. Despite the fact that Poroshenko may be an able leader, the people are eager to just move on. When one voter was asked who she was going to vote for, she noted her support for Poroshenko simply because he was the frontrunner and she wished for the ‘race to be settled as soon as possible’. 

These elections are step forward in restoring normality in the region but there are some things that must be considered for the future of the country. First, while Russia claims they will work with the new government, Moscow still insists there be no drastic action taken against Russian nationals and will not tolerate inappropriate use of force against ethnic Russians in eastern Ukraine. Secondly, why would people who have just overthrown an extremely rich oligarch in Viktor Yanukovych be so eager to elect anothe leader who is regularly referred to as an oligarch and has aquired personal wealth rivaling that of the former President? What will keep Poroshenko from reaching the same level of corruption as Yanukovych did, especially considering that Ukrainian politics still struggles with corruption issues? Does Ukraine really feel this new president has their best interests in mind with his pro-EU policies and realist view about relations with Russia, or do they simply think Poroshenko is a ‘Hollywood ending’ to their problems? Just like the Bucket family, the Ukrainian people are exhausted and disillusioned. Hopefully the ‘Chocolate King’ is their golden ticket.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Utility of the State: Life on the Border

By Jordan Morris

Territorial Evolution of Ukraine
Life in Southern and Eastern Ukraine has been recently characterized by rhetoric, uncertainty, and violence. In the face of all of this tumult, the very idea of representation and democracy that ousted Viktor Yanukovych in February of 2013 has been forgotten by international politicians and media outlets. Most reports about the recent annexation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation have been filled with fear mongering about Putin’s ambition of reuniting the former Soviet states rather than an in-depth exploration of what the people of the region truly want. Despite the fact that Putin is accused of sending in security forces with no insignia and what some would say holding elections ‘at gunpoint’ to forward the referendum that declared the regions wish to join Russia, it appears there was no real local opposition to Russian presence in the first place.

This is the question that has been painfully absent from the focus of leaders and media; ‘Is life in eastern and southern Ukraine generally better than it would be in if those regions were Russia’? The evidence paints a statistical picture that suggests that the lives of people in eastern Ukraine may be better in Russia, and maybe this suggests the willingness of people to fight for Russian inclusion. As of 2012 Russia’s GNI per capita was $12,700 compared to Ukraine’s $3,500. According to The World Bank, Russia also experiences longer life expectancy and lower infant mortality rate in 2009 and 2010 respectively.

Statistics can be misleading but they do serve a purpose. These numbers, combined with the willingness of the people in eastern Ukrainian cities to put their lives at stake, portrays a narrative that suggests the people desire Russian inclusion. Issues of state sovereignty are always concerning, and the slippery slope fallacy about Russia’s annexation and what that means for the rest of the world are not entirely false because Putin is notorious for igniting Soviet sentiment, but in all of this we miss a lot of what is really going on. We forget that people’s livelihoods are at stake. Kofi Annan’s 'two sovereignties,' the idea that not only states but individuals have sovereignty as well, is quickly becoming the norm in international politics and these norms should apply to all people, no matter who their loyalty lies with. In the upcoming elections it is unlikely that eastern Ukraine will participate, let alone recognize the new president as their leader.

It is true that Russia has significant stake in eastern Ukraine with a significant military presence in Sevastopol and the gas fields that line the eastern third of Ukraine. To examine the true importance of this issue, the people, we must remove the political veil of economic and military interests that Russia may have in the region. There are still people living above those gas lines and around those military bases. There is life beyond geopolitical conflict in eastern and southern Ukraine. The people there similar to people everywhere who want what they would consider to be the best possible life.

Finally, consider this. Russia’s geopolitical and economic enterprise, the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), only has two other members in it, Belarus and Kazakhstan. This union is no different than NAFTA, the TPP, NATO or the EU in its aims, but still is held under suspicion by the West as being an appendage of Russian expansionism. Even though it is claimed that Russia is exerting unfair influence over eastern Ukraine, and will ‘take a mile if they are given an inch,’ the leaders of Kazakhstan and Belarus are vocal about their wish to let the EEU develop at an agreeable pace, with assurance that all policies made within it are mutually respected and beneficial.

We cannot say whether life will be better as part of Russia or Ukraine for those who live in the conflict zone, but it is safe to suggest life will largely remain the same, if not improve. If it is the will of the people to join Russia, the state they ethnically identify with, let them. 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Out of the Eye and into the Storm

Afghan Kunar
 It’s as if Afghanistan is shifting out of the calm of the eye and back into the storm as 21 Afghan soldiers were killed in one of the most deadly Taliban attacks this year.  The calm didn’t last long as tensions are starting to heat up thanks to the rapidly approaching presidential elections.  Kunar is a small province in Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan, a dangerous area just for that reason, but the increase in Taliban power and force has made it especially challenging as of late.  Pakistani militants use Kunar as an important transportation route, but it has also been one of the most violent areas since the US entered Afghanistan.  In the attack at the province checkpoint, 21 Afghan soldiers were killed, 7 were captured, and one attacker also died in the midst of the violence.  The fighting broke out between hundreds of soldiers and Taliban members and lasted for several hours.     

One of the most frustrating aspects of this recent attack is that it is believed that there are members of the Taliban who have infiltrated the Afghan army and helped organize the attack.  Because of this, over 20 people were either captured or killed, an act of violence that surely could have been prevented.  After the attack, and after some of the dust settled, nine Afghan army officials were “dismissed for negligently failing to prevent an attack.”  There is a lot of speculation over how the negligent officers were involved, but the beliefs are that some actually helped facilitate the attack, others were asleep during it, and some didn’t even fightback.  Because of the attack, President Karzai had to postpone his visit to Sri Lanka; security has also started to increase as the attacks are becoming more frequent and the elections are getting closer.  With President Karzai unable to run for reelection and the Taliban supposedly targeting the election and the candidates, security will need to step up significantly and the Afghan army will have to find a way to stay strong.  

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Ukraine Protests

By Nathaniel Fritz

Photo: KyivPost
The Washington Post has shared a live video feed of an ongoing crackdown on protesters in Independence Square in Kiev. Watching the events Tuesday night, there were a large number of fireworks going off, fires burning, and Molotov cocktails being thrown. The police appeared to be holding at the edge of the square; likely because of the large number of protesters in the square and the large fires separating the two groups. The police were on the outer edges but can be seen being bombarded with rocks, Molotov cocktails, and fireworks. Police forces responded in kind with the use of fire hoses to suppress the fires and spray the protesters while the temperatures remained below freezing.

Kyiv Post has a count of nine dead and over one hundred injured from the day's clashes. After the fighting earlier in the day the government called for protesters to leave Independence Square by 6 PM; the protesters choosing to remain in the square has prompted tonight's standoff. The protesters had marched on Parliament in order to show support for a vote to reduce the President's powers. At the heart of these protests is the way President Viktor Yanukovych has handled an integration pact with the European Union; he is seen as instead favoring closer integration with Russia. Ukrainian's are divided on this issue as well. At present we can only hope that events in Ukraine see no more bloodshed and that the government and protesters can find a positive resolution to the situation without more violence.

[Editor update: Footage of Ukrainian police firing on protesters. Warning: graphic violence.]

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Bad Weekend for the UN

By Emily Tholen

Sudan and South Sudan have both made trouble with the United Nations (UN) over the weekend. In Sudan, a team of United Nations peacekeepers had been sent to investigate the scene of an attack that occurred in the region of Darfur. However, the group was denied entry to the local by Sudanese military forces. There has been on and off fighting or attacks in Darfur ever since the fighting first broke out in 2003, this time it was reported that ten people had been killed in the attack.

In South Sudan, UN investigator Sandra Beidas was kicked out of the country when she published (what South Sudan is calling false) reports on the poor human rights South Sudan has been showing to it's people. This is not the first time South Sudan's ethics have been questioned, including reports of wrongdoing in the army and harming its citizens. The BBC reported that, "Hilde Johnson, head of the UN mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), called the expulsion [of Beidas] a 'breach of the legal obligations of the government of the Republic of South Sudan under the charter of the United Nations'."

It will be interesting to see how or even if the UN handles these situations. From agreeing on borders, to arresting Sudan's president on war crime charges, Sudan and South Sudan have been leading the UN around for more than a few months now, not quite obeying anything it has ordered. When South Sudan kicked out Beidas direct action should have taken place by the UN, at the very least sending in another investigator or a group of investigators to check out the claims. The stopping of peacekeepers from entering Darfur should have also been dealt with immediately. People are getting killedtortured or raped in both of these situation and the UN is just letting it happen.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Syrian Support for the PKK in Turkey?

By Peter Thompson

In a recent interview between a reporter from the BBC and Murat Karayilan, the current de facto leader of the PKK, the issue of support for the PKK from Syria was raised. Karayilan denied that the PKK was receiving any assistance from outside forces, including Syria, and stated that the story was "baseless" and "coming from outside, from the Turkish government" (BBC). Huseyin Celik, deputy chairman of Prime Minister Erdogan's AK party in Turkey, however, recently made a claim to the contrary: "It's known that the PKK works arm in arm with Syria's intelligence organisation" (Telegraph).

As is generally the case in situations like this, the reality is clear. Certainly one side is making a factual error, but it's not clear which one. It's even less evident if such an error is the result of bad information or an overt act of deception. There are more than a few reasons why both the PKK and the Turkish government might make manipulative statements on this issue, with the PKK benefiting from the impression that they represent a widely popular movement among Kurds in Turkey and the government able to discredit them by claiming foreign control. Without any real proof offered by either side, however, it's nearly impossible to be persuaded by either claim.

Since the Kurdish population in the region spans Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran (among others), I would be surprised if they weren't receiving some level of aid from outside of Turkey, but it seems unlikely that Turkey's claims of direct support from the Syrian government, embroiled in their own internal conflict, reflect a substantial truth. At the same time, though one has to wonder how an organization like the PKK could sustain itself in a military conflict spanning decades without some high-level access to outside forces. Perhaps some further digging might illuminate the reality underneath this all, but for the moment it all smacks of unsubstantiated propaganda to me.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Syria: A Failed Ceasefire

By Sophie Kaplan

In a disheartening but not unexpected turn of events Brahimi's attempted ceasefire has encouraged no change in Syria as conflict and violence continued today unimpeded. Attacks by Syrian jets in Damascus have left at least 23 dead and the air raids continued with a special focus on the city of Maaret al-Numan. Along with this, rather than a steady continuation of the violence that preceded the truce, the conflict seems to be picking up in intensity as illustrated by the assassination of Syrian air force General Abdullah Mahmoud al-Khalidi

Kofi Annan
This isn't the first ceasefire that the Syrian civil war has seen. Back in February some may recall Kofi Annan's "Six Point Peace Plan for Syria," Kofi Annan, former special envoy to Syria proposed a similar ceasefire between the conflicting forces. Kofi's truce proposal held out longer than Brahimi's modern attempt and at several points even looked quite promising. Just as in the failed truce this last week, Syria eventually acquiesced to the conditions. Unfortunately, both ceasefires failed in similar ways as well, primarily because neither side was able to keep their end of the bargain

I'll leave you with a thought; Kofi's ceasefire was able to persist for at least enough to foster some international discussion, so what does it say about the state of the conflict now that Syria couldn't even hold out for four days? With this in mind feel free to check out the video below for an in depth look at the failed ceasefire and some updates on other major topics in Syria this week.