Posts tagged ‘nato’

January 26, 2012

Syria is not, and will not be, the new Kosovo

David Bosco has a new piece up on the Multilateralist blog, looking at the European Union’s strategy for handling Syria. The EU has chosen to work entirely within the framework of the United Nations so far, including the Security Council, where Russia has vetoed and promised to do so again. Rather than being deterred by this set-back, the EU has rallied the other components of the UN, including the Human Rights Council and General Assembly, to pass condemnations by large margins. In noting this, Bosco finds it odd that talk of intervention without Council approval has not been seriously discussed by diplomats:

One interesting feature of the diplomacy surrounding both Libya and Syria is how little talk there has been of outsiders using force without Security Council approval (although this might have been a live topic if Russia and China had not acquiesced to intervention in Libya). The Kosovo precedent–humanitarian intervention without a Council mandate–has not resurfaced. The scant discussion of this option may signal a deepening of the understanding that states cannot initiate force–at least not for elective, “community” purposes such as humanitarian intervention–without the Council’s blessing.

I disagree with his view that the lack of discussion in citing the “Kosovo precedent” is a new understanding of the Council’s role in humanitarian uses of force. Rather, it’s worth noting that the Kosovo intervention was in many ways like Libya- unique. If a Kosovo precedent exists, it is one in which a set of four circumstances have to be met before force will be used without UNSC approval. The first, that of a humanitarian crisis with potential cross-border spillover, has been met. The second, the stalemate of the Security Council in handling the matter, has been as well. 

The third dynamic that was present in Kosovo, and is lacking in Syria to a certain degree, is a clear and systematic killing of one side by the other with genocidal repercussions. The Syrian government’s crackdown is fierce and brutal, but has yet to be one of imminent mass slaughter as we saw in Libya with Benghazi and in the Former Republic of Yugoslavia. The fourth dynamic, and the most important for our comparison, is that there must be no Great Power interests at stake preventing intervention. Here is where Syria and Kosovo diverge the most. The Kosovo intervention was disapproved of by Russia due to cultural ties with Serbia and the use of the NATO alliance to carry it out. But no material links were truly in place between the two states. In Syria, however, there are economic and strategic ties with Russia at stake, in the form of arms sales to Damascus and the southernmost Russian naval base remaining. Russia will not abide by an intervention in Syria without Council approval and the other Great Powers don’t want to push Russia into retaliatory actions in other relations they have with Moscow.

I will note that the Free Syrian Army may have learned more from the Kosovo Liberation Army than we’re comfortable with. But they’ve learned the wrong lesson. In provoking the FRY into using overwhelming force against the Kosovars, the KLA prompted Western intervention. But in the fog of war surrounding Syria these days, it’s impossible to get a clear read on who is doing the killing in all instances, not when all of the dead have the same background. Should another situation arise in which all four dynamics are present, I do believe that we will see action taken without UNSC approval due to a Russian or Chinese veto. Syria, unfortunately, is not that case.

EDIT: Much to my surprise, Bosco actually responded to me as an edit on his original blog post. I think it’s only fair that I do the same. In particular, he was not convinced by my third and fourth dynamics marking the difference between Syria and Kosovo.

I don’t find these distinctions compelling. The estimates I’ve seen suggest that more have been killed in Syria than was the case in Kosovo at the time of international intervention. Pace Brown, pre-intervention Kosovo was not a situation of mass slaughter; instead, there had been a steady accretion of violence and displacement (in fact, the most intense campaign of forced displacement occurred after NATO intervention).

As to Russian opposition, is Brown suggesting that Russia would use force to oppose intervention in Syria? It appears to me that Russian objections are about the same order of intensity as they were in Kosovo. At one point in the run-up to the Kosovo intervention Boris Yeltsin reportedly called up Bill Clinton and screamed at him about the dangers of pushing Russia too far. And it’s worth remembing that during the Kosovo intervention, Russia actually did deploy its forces to seize Pristina’s airport before NATO forces could get there, leading to a tense standoff.

As to the first point, I will grant him that the numbers may be in Syria’s favor when it comes to the comparison. And while I thought I was up on my Kosovo history, I’ll admit that I wasn’t aware that the most systematic of the violence against ethnic Albanians was after NATO intervention, nor did I know about the siezing of Pristina’s airport. I’m still not sure, though, that the violence in Syria reaches the potential for razing of cities we saw in Libya or the focused killing of an ethnic group that we saw in Kosovo. It’s at an awkward point where nobody is entirely sure yet which way the ball will drop: towards a ratcheted up campaign against all civilians by the government, a more clearly defined and delineated civil war, or an unknown third option. Without knowing which way things are tilting, it’s hard to put together a response involving intervention that is as clear as Libya (“protect civilians” and give cover to rebels) or Kosovo (“protect civilians” and end violence against an ethnic group).

As for the second point, I’m not suggesting that Russia will actually use force. Even if they did, the naval forces they’ve previously sent to Syria as a warning would be overcome by the US Fifth Fleet. I am, however, saying that Russia will do everything it can to make the West’s lives miserable in other capacities. Vetoing previously agreed upon resolutions, revoking NATO’s ability to transport materials to Afghanistan and encouraging other CIS states to do the same, becoming a burr in the WTO now that they’re members,  just generally being even more obstructionist than usual. Libya pushed Russia’s relations with the West lower, that’s for certain, but I don’t believe they’ve hit rock bottom. I don’t know what that would look like, but I believe that intervening in Syria without Council approval would give us a good idea.

December 14, 2011

“I dare you to cross this line. I double dare you”: Turkey, Syria, and NATO

Syria is in no way resembling a nation on the mend. As the days go by, Assad’s determination to stay in power remains clear, as does the growing desire of his people to ensure that doesn’t happen. By any means necessary. This morning’s retaliatory strike against a Syrian armed forces convoy for an earlier incident involving the death of several protesters proves that point quite effectively.

Turkey, once Syria’s ally in the region, has turned its back on the Assad regime, protesting its wanton killing of civilians and placing sanctions on the state, alongside those imposed by the United States, European Union, and Arab League. Turkey also has constructed several refugee camps for the thousands of Syrians who have fled across the border. More likely than not, the Turkish government is also providing refuge for members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a collection of defected Syrian security forces, who are the probable launchers of this morning’s attack.

The stream of refugees into Turkey has the potential to be a destabilizing factor in the region, a threat to international peace and security that the Security Council has often invoked since the 1990s as the basis for acting under Chapters VI and/or VII of the Charter, exercising its power to restore the peace. In the Syrian case, however, Syria has the backing of the Russian Federation, despite growing pressure on Moscow to give up on Damascus, with Russia sure to veto any real action.

Syria has yet to take action against Turkey for hosting these refugees. But suppose Turkey keeps hosting these refugees and the FSA. What happens when an FSA member crosses back across the border into Turkey, with Syria in hot pursuit? What happens when, not if, Syria decides to attack a refugee camp in retaliation? Syria has already come close, coming within a quarter-mile of the border in June.

This could be the endgame that we see for Syria. The second, the absolute second, that Syrian security forces violate Turkish sovereignty, whether they actually engage with Turkish soldiers or not, it’s game over for Assad. Any hesitancy of the international community would be overturned, lest a greater crisis come about.

Turkey could invoke Article 51 of the UN Charter. And in turn would be able to invoke Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty.

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.

And from there all the pieces interventionists have wanted to be able to aid civilians in Syria before civil war spirals out of control would be in place. No need to invoke the Responsibility to Protect, though the principles would still be at play and understood. No circumvention of the UN Charter would be required, unlike NATO’s actions in Kosovo in 1999. Article VIII clearly provides for collective security and defense arrangements, such as NATO. And Article V of the North Atlantic Charter mirrors the language involved in Chapter VIII of the UN Charter as action must halt once the Security Council has moved forward on the issue.

So far, the only instance of Article V actually being called upon was in 2001, following the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Turkey has threatened in the past to use the Article to demand action, particularly against Iraq should Turkey have come under attack in the instances of the Gulf and Iraq Wars.

Refusal of a formal invoking on Article V, particularly after an incursion has taken place onto a members soil, would be the exact sort of crisis that opponents of Georgia’s ascension into NATO fear. But in this instance, Turkey has been a loyal member of NATO since 1949; despite official statements declaring that NATO has no intention on intervening in Syria, the body would have to act or risk facing a true existential crisis greater than the collapse of the Soviet Union. NATO’s collective power, without the mandate of SC/1970 to keep ground forces out of combat, would be effective in bringing about an end to Assad.

Turkish armed forces are no slouch themselves, either. Should Turkey actually enter conflict against Syria, the results wouldn’t be overly lopsided, but Turkey would most likely be able to overpower Syria. The campaign would take far longer without NATO support and capabilities, however, and the longer a military operation lasts the greater the likelihood of civilian deaths in the form of collateral damage. There’s also the potential of a “rally around the flag” effect coming into play, though the Libyan example makes me think this is less likely.

France has seemed the most eager out of the NATO heavyweights to take action against Syria, but has ruled out the possibility of unilateral action by any members. Give Sarkozy the opening of a multilateral framework and legal course of action, though, and he will surely move to take action; France has a certain soft spot for intervention in former territories and protectorates, and Syria is no exception. The US and UK would hesitate, but eventually move forward. The Obama Administration doesn’t want to be seen as leading from behind again in an election year, and the overturn of the Assad government fits within stated US goals. The UK would most likely lend support as possible, potentially spinning it as proof that it is less isolated from Europe than many have claimed following last week’s EU Summit.

Further, it is in my belief that an actual launch of military operations wouldn’t be necessary to have actual action take place on Syria finally. Should Turkey invoke Article V, Russia would surely raise the issue in the UN Security Council, with all its normal bluster and condemnation of NATO actions. It would be well within the means of the Western members of the P-5 to offer that Turkey stand down its actions, provided Russia go along with Security Council action on the matter, short of actual military force. This would allow Russia to save face on the region, rather than being faced with the humiliation of NATO carrying out action despite its less than subtle warnings over the past weeks and months, and ensure that the Security Council’s primacy on matters of peace and security be asserted over NATO, a goal Russia often quoted in protesting the Kosovo intervention.

I am aware that I come dangerously close to Friedman-ing in this post, here defined as imposing an overly neat and idealistic hypothetical solution to a complex real-world problem. However, this is a scenario that, while not likely, does fall within the realm of possibility. Further, I think it’s worth at least considering, as I’ve seen nobody else mention it, which is odd when you take into account the high likelihood of Syrian cross-border retaliation. The endgame described here probably isn’t the one we’re going to see play out in Syria. But it would certainly cut through a lot of the issues preventing intervention.

October 18, 2011

Bazooka v. Fly: Why I’m glad the US didn’t launch a cyberattack on Libya

In a story that came out yesterday that made my inner nerd very gleeful, but my outer IR type extremely wary, the New York Times broke that the US was considering using cyberwarfare against Libya during the outset of NATO’s intervention campaign. To get a sense for just what that would entail:

Just before the American-led strikes against Libya in March, the Obama administration intensely debated whether to open the mission with a new kind of warfare: a cyberoffensive to disrupt and even disable the Qaddafi government’s air-defense system, which threatened allied warplanes.

While the exact techniques under consideration remain classified, the goal would have been to break through the firewalls of the Libyan government’s computer networks to sever military communications links and prevent the early-warning radars from gathering information and relaying it to missile batteries aiming at NATO warplanes.

I dare you to try to reread that and not have your mind go to a dark room filled with faces inaccurately-lit in green and blue, pounding away at their keyboards, attempting to exploit the weaknesses of the Qadaffi regime’s command and control systems. I’ll wait. I can already see the Hollywood pitch for the revised version of history where our brave cyberwarriors actually were the ones to take down the dreaded dictator. Daft Punk would provide the soundtrack. While the thought of using this advanced technological capability in an actual military operation is intriguing and would make for a wicked movie, there are a number of reasons why going through with such an action would have been a Very Bad Idea.

First and foremost, giving the United States’ cyber-capabilities a test spin against the Libyan Armed Forces would have been a breathtaking waste of a U.S. trump card for future conflicts. While the Libyan air defenses had the potential to be a thorn in the side of the NATO warplanes, there was precisely zero need to use capabilities that are officially still under-wraps against the Jamahiriya. Our bombers easily sought out and destroyed ground-to-air missile sites within the first few weeks of NATO sorties, rendering the overkill that a cyberattack would have been in bright flashing explosions. If and when digital attacks become fully necessary for the achievement of a critical mission, the United States will deploy such methods, and in doing so command not only the tactical advantage that launching such an attack would bring, but would benefit from the psychological factor inherit in utilizing new technologies in unexpected ways. The raid that took out Osama bin Laden was notable not just for the actually death of the terrorist mastermind, but the unveiling of the previously secret stealth helicopter that the United States now possesses, which in turn led to a race by other capable nations to begin researching similar technology. It was a mission packed with significance, where the operational capability provided by the technology matched the goal at hand.

Which brings us to the second reason that launching such as strike as US officials also rightfully concluded, having the United States launch the first public salvo in the war for the digital domain would set an irreversible precedent. Much like the United States’ officially non-existent drones campaign against Pakistan, the fact that states are currently utilizing various hacking methods against one another is an unspoken but quietly acknowledged axiom in this day and age. So far, the use of state-to-state digital attacks have been through proxies or focused on enhancing espionage capabilities; no attack has yet to be made on the level that would allow it to be dubbed ‘warfare’, in my opinion including attacks against command controls of critical infrastructure or operating military systems. Were the US to be the first to commit such an attack, it would open a whole new can of worms in terms of conflict, with other states that have similar capacities to inflict cyberstrikes, though not of the same magnitude as the US while still possessing the potential to wreak havoc, to readily seize the opportunity to openly incorporate similar cyber-initiatives into their own tactical planning. To wit: we would see a massive surge of data skirmishes between us and China, among others, and veritable digital onslaughts by more capable states against lesser neighbors or challengers across the globe. Think the darkest days of realist theory played out over ethernet cables.

Finally, the legal implications of the US military being the wielder of cyber-force against Libya are stunning. President Obama had enough trouble making the case that the Operation: Unified Protector did not fall under the War Powers Act of 1973 and didn’t require Congressional approval, a point that even the top lawyers at Defense and Justice had a difficult time acquiescing to. On a sidebar, I think that the United Nations Participation Act gave all the coverage needed after the passage of UNSC Resolution 1973, but I digress. Back on point, the use of cyber-capabilities would have muddied the water even further; while the War Powers act doesn’t define “hostilities”, it also was drafted before it was ever assumed that cyberoffensives would ever be possible. Since an attack using computers wouldn’t be physical in nature, it’s unsure whether launching a cyberattack would start the clock on Congressional notification, or require any notification at all, and now to start that debate surrounding Libya would be inopportune at best.

In any case, the Administration made the right call on this one. There will come a day where the United States faces an enemy that requires bringing out the big (digital) guns, but taking down Libya was certainly not it. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go re-watch The Matrix.