Syria and its neighbours

The Syrian regime seems to be hanging on a year after anti-government protests started as part of the Arab Awakening. But, writes Emile Hokayem in the latest issue of Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, nothing is inevitable about the Assad regime’s fate. It could survive the current unrest, although in a much weakened shape, Hokayem’s article concludes. ‘Much will depend on whether and how its neighbours intervene.’

As the Syrian government’s crackdown on its citizens has continued, thousands have fled across the border into Turkey, and Ankara’s relationship with Damascus has become strained. Philipp C. Bleek and Aaron Stein argue that the United States and Turkey now have the motivation and opportunity to cooperate in blunting the influence of Syria’s ally Iran.

In Israel, some politicians have been making noises about military action against Iran in an attempt to stop it crossing the nuclear threshold. Washington is reluctant to become involved, even indirectly, in another preventive war, and Survival‘s editor Dana Allin looks at how the United States is working to resist letting its ally’s perspective override its own balance of risk and benefit.

The focus on the Middle East continues with an examination of Jordan’s new geopolitics and Libya’s assets and the question of sovereignty. But this issue also looks at the upcoming Georgian elections, how to enlist Islam to create a more effective Afghan police force and much more.

Read more (Don’t forget Survival is also now available on iPad)


Violent times in Venezuela

Venezuela human rights demo by Flickr user ervega

By Antonio Sampaio, Research Assistant, Survival and the Armed Conflict Database

The death of a Chilean diplomat’s daughter at the hands of Venezuelan police this weekend has focused attention on Venezuela’s high homicide rate, and sparked renewed debate over the security forces’ role in it. The government of Hugo Chavez has apologised to the Chilean authorities and arrested 12 officers. But Venezuela’s rapidly escalating violence is blighting Chavez’s re-election prospects in October.

The victim, Karen Berendique was in a car with her older brother, when they were ordered to stop at a checkpoint in the western city of Maracaibo. Their father says they did not stop because it was unclear that the 12 men, dressed in black, were policemen – a telling indictment of the country’s security situation. As I wrote last week, the national homicide rate has reached 67 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence (OVV), an NGO. Strangely, the organisation’s website has been offline this Monday, just as the Berendique case has aroused international media interest. In 2010, the UN reports, Venezuela already had the highest murder rate in South America, at 48 per 100,000 people.

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Europe’s fate: hive out, break up or blend in

The collapse of the euro was not inevitable, IISS Council Chairman Professor François Heisbourg said during a recent speech at the IISS-US. However, it would require effort, wisdom and luck to rescue it. In a presentation on the prospective collapse of the euro and its strategic consequences, Professor Heisbourg suggested three possible resolutions to the euro crisis: ‘hiving out’, ‘breaking up’ or ‘blending in’.

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Why Iranian Public Opinion Is Turning Against the Nuclear Program

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inspects the Natanz nuclear facility

It’s been a busy few weeks for our non-proliferation programme, with developments in Iran and North Korea; and research analyst Dina Esfandiary is the latest to have a major feature published. In the Atlantic, she writes that, with sanctions biting in Iran, opinion polls suggest that the public’s support for Tehran’s nuclear programme is weakening. ‘Western officials and media outlets often say that it wouldn’t matter if the regime changed because support for the program cuts across political lines,’ she writes. However, recent polls – ‘assuming they’re accurate’ – indicate three things about Iranian public opinion: ‘There seems to have been a significant drop in Iranian support for a nuclear energy program, more Iranians are aware of how sensitive the issue is … and less than half of those polled are in favour of developing a nuclear weapon.’

Read the full article


North Korean rocket may shoot down Leap Day deal

North Korean Security Challenges: a net assessmentBy Mark Fitzpatrick, Director Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

The satellite that North Korea announced it will put into orbit on 15 April, the hundredth birthday of regime founder Kim Il-sung, has no military target. Yet it could well destroy prospects for an improved relationship with the US that was set in train just two weeks ago with the acclaimed Leap Day deal.

Under that deal the US agreed to provide food aid in exchange for a North Korean moratorium on nuclear tests, uranium enrichment at one of its facilities, and ‘long-range missile launches’. (The positive momentum started by the deal continued in informal talks in New York over last weekend, when North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator proposed diplomatic liaison offices in both capitals.)

But the moratorium agreement was ambiguous about exactly what activity was to be stopped. At a seminar last night at the Daiwa Foundation, I predicted trouble over this issue because North Korea does not consider space-launch rockets to be missiles. This was the case in April 2009, when North Korea launched the Unha-2, which failed to put a satellite into orbit and was seen as a slap in the face of the new Obama administration.

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Chavez keeps his friends close

Hugo Chavez © ITAR-TASS/Dmitry Astakhov

By Antonio Sampaio, Research Assistant, Survival and the Armed Conflict Database

All sorts of rumours have been circulating in Venezuela about the health of Hugo Chavez, ahead of the president’s anticipated return to Caracas and the campaign trail this weekend. After 13 years in power, Chavez is fighting hard not only against cancer – he is coming back home after a second operation in Cuba – but also against a resurgent opposition. His adversaries made important strides in last year’s parliamentary elections. Now, after years of infighting, the opposition has united around one candidate, the youthful Henrique Capriles. The moderate, centre-left Capriles may not win the presidential election scheduled for October, but it is expected to be the tightest contest in Venezuela for years.

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Behind the Chart of Conflict

2012 Chart of ConflictIn his attic study in Warsaw, the late, great Polish foreign correspondent Ryszard Kapuscinski used to have a ripped-out newspaper headline posted on a ceiling beam that read, slightly ungrammatically: ‘World is very big trouble.’ It’s a sentiment the IISS team often shares when preparing our annual Chart of Conflict – perhaps no more so than last year, when we had to map and list the unexpected events of the Arab Spring.

In this, our 2012 map of the world’s most dangerous countries, large swathes of Libya are emblazoned in red for the first time since the map was first published in 1998. Parts of Tunisia were still unsettled, and Syrian cities were already in revolt, when the chart went to press earlier this year, before the Assad regime’s horrendous onslaught on Homs and Idlib. There’s a timeline of the key events of the Arab uprisings, and graphs of regional socio-economic indicators.

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The Parchin trap

A couple of weeks ago, we posted what was known about the Iranian military site at Parchin. At the time, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had returned to Vienna, after being denied access to Parchin. IAEA inspectors still haven’t visited Parchin since 2005, and differing reports have emerged about what more recent satellite imagery really shows. In Foreign Policy, Mark Fitzpatrick, the Director of the IISS’s Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme, describes howthe wrangling over Parchin is a microcosm of a larger debate about whether Iran is dealing with the international community in good faith’.

The article is worth a click-through not just for the striking picture of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in goggles. Read it here.


On the trail of Joseph Kony

Map of the LRA's area of operations

By Hanna Ucko Neill, Global Conflicts Analyst

Can the #StopKony campaign really bring a reviled warlord to justice this year? The 30-minute Kony 2012 video posted on YouTube last week about the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and its abuse of children has been viewed more than 75 million times – and subsequently criticised and defended in the media. But few people have set eyes on LRA leader Kony himself since late 2006, when he met with United Nations humanitarian chief Jan Egeland in southern Sudan just across the border from his hideout in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

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Shades of Hama and Grozny in Homs and Idlib

A family escapes from fierce fighting in Idlib, north Syria, Saturday, March 10, 2012. Photo: Freedom House, under a Creative Commons Licence

By Henry Boyd, Research Analyst for The Military Balance

Some ten days after Syrian troops entered the Baba Amr neighbourhood of Homs, at the end of a month-long assault on the district, government tanks have begun bombarding the northern town of Idlib. The onslaught on Homs by the regime of Bashar al-Assad – which has provoked widespread humanitarian concerns – had eerie parallels with that launched during the reign of Bashar’s father, Hafez, in Hama 30 years ago. Both operations took place in February, both lasted for 27 days, and both involved the use of an arsenal of heavy armour and artillery to brutalise the local population into submission.

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