By Antonio Sampaio, Research Assistant, Survival and the Armed Conflict Database
Earlier this month, leaders of the violent street gangs of El Salvador, or maras, agreed to create safe havens (or ‘sanctuary cities’) in which they would cease to operate. This plan to stay out of ten designated municipalities, under the supervision of the International Committee of the Red Cross, involves five street gangs, among them the two largest – the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18. Those two groups’ ceasefire in March this year significantly reduced the number of homicides in El Salvador – from 14 to five a day, the authorities say.
Justice and Security Minister Gen David Munguia Payes has welcomed the ‘sanctuary cities’ plan. When the retired army general was appointed to the role a little more than a year ago, there were widespread fears that he would step up the ‘iron fist’ (or mano dura) approach towards criminal gangs. Instead, Munguia Payes appears to have turned into a great supporter of a negotiated truce.
Although there is a large gap between agreeing to cease criminal activity and actually doing so, this month’s announcement is an important landmark for security policies in Central America. El Salvador’s security forces were previously unable to turn the tide of rising gang violence, which in 2010 reached 71 murders per 100,000, putting the country among the world’s most dangerous. But developments this year demonstrate how political negotiation with criminal and other groups can make a difference.
By John Drennan, Research Assistant, IISS-US
Russia is using military aid and basing deals to shore up its strategic position in Central Asia, ahead of NATO’s 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan. A $1.1 billion military aid package to Kyrgyzstan was finalised recently, and in November Moscow announced a plan to provide $200 million in Russian assistance to upgrade Tajikistan’s air-defence system.
The Russian government has also signed two new deals trading economic assistance for basing rights in Central Asia. In October, the Tajik government agreed to extend the lease on Russia’s base in Dushanbe until 2042, in exchange for a nominal sum plus military training and better access to the Russian labour market for Tajik citizens. (Currently, almost half of Tajikistan’s GDP comes through remittances.) In September, Moscow announced a 15-year extension of its air base in Kyrgyzstan in return for $489m in debt settlement and an agreement for energy infrastructure upgrades. Kyrgyzstan’s parliament officially ratified the agreement on 13 December.
These developments strengthen Russia’s position in Central Asia at a time of great uncertainty about the future role of the United States, which has had a basing footprint in the region as part of NATO’s campaign in Afghanistan since 2001.
By Dr Sanjaya Baru, Director for Geo-economics and Strategy
‘The Pacific and the Indian Oceans are now bringing about a dynamic coupling as seas of freedom and of prosperity’. With those words Shinzo Abe, now re-elected prime minister of Japan, launched into an historic address to the Indian Parliament in August 2007. A ‘broader Asia’, he said … ‘is now beginning to take on a distinct form. Our two countries have the ability – and the responsibility – to ensure that it broadens yet further and to nurture and enrich these seas to become seas of clearest transparence.’
To an audience that had not yet absorbed the full import of the historic shift that Abe was seeking in Japan’s relations with India, he added: ‘This is the message I wish to deliver directly today to the one billion people of India. That is why I stand before you now in the Central Hall of the highest chamber, to speak with you, the people’s representatives of India.’
Shinzo Abe is not just another prime minister in a country where prime ministers come by the dozen. He has pedigree and has acquired courage and a vision. And over the weekend he has also won a massive and historic verdict in favour of his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant Editor
As NATO prepares to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, a key part of the transition to Afghan security leadership will be persuading members of the Taliban insurgency to reconcile with the government in Kabul. The Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme (APRP) designed to do this has so far encouraged 5,000 insurgents to give up their weapons, according to Major General David Hook of the Royal Marines.
Hook told the IISS this week that only 20% of Taliban interviewed as they entered the programme claimed to be fighting for ideological reasons. Often, they were motivated instead by local grievances.
‘Part of the design of the APRP was to address these local grievances,’ said Hook. ‘If you address [the grievance] locally, you can pull them in.’ This was particularly important because analysis also showed that more than 75% of ordinary fighters remained within 20 miles of their village. About 78% of all those joining the APRP process said they did so because they were tired of fighting.
The APRP, an Afghan-led social reintegration process backed by international funding, is one of three related reconciliation-and-reintegration ‘tracks’ in Afghanistan, alongside political negotiations towards a ‘grand bargain’ between the government and Taliban leaders, and so-called ‘high-level reintegration’ seeking to persuade insurgent leaders to stop fighting the government and support it instead.
By Daniel Painter, Research Assistant, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme
Twenty-five years after the signing of a landmark nuclear-arms agreement between the US and the Soviet Union, the world is facing a new atomic-weapons race in South Asia, where similar controls would be useful.
The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty inked by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on 8 December 1987 was the first such agreement to eliminate entire weapon systems, rather than to merely limit the size of nuclear arsenals. India and Pakistan, which both continue to increase their nuclear arsenals, have not engaged in arms-control negotiations. If they were, however, an INF-style agreement would be a good first step towards stabilising the region.
‘Historical analogies are often perilous and they are always inexact,’ IISS Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs Dr Dana Allin admitted, when posing a question to Australian MP and former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (above) during the Fifth Plenary Session at the recent Manama Dialogue. Nevertheless, Allin continued, ‘I have long been intrigued by some parallels between the challenges facing the Obama administration and those that faced the Nixon administration 40 years ago.’ He ticked off a list: a war-weary American public; an economic crisis; a political crisis (although ‘largely self‑inflicted by the Nixon administration and I do not think you can say the same thing about the Obama administration’); a major Middle East crisis; and the view that figuring out a relationship with China was vital.
How could America make a difference, he wondered. Was more energetic diplomacy going to be enough?
Rudd responded that he also saw ‘extraordinary parallels with the Nixon period’, partly because he was a keen China watcher. He said he had spoken to President Richard Nixon’s Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, ‘a lot’ about dealing with the major challenges that American administration faced.
As the international community debates how to respond to the crisis in Syria, it’s worth remembering that we’re approaching the ten-year anniversary of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The country regained full sovereignty in 2011, after years of post-conflict reconstruction, counter-insurgency campaigns and state-building. However, serious questions loom over its post-intervention future.
In the IISS’s latest Adelphi, Iraq: From War to a New Authoritarianism, Dr Toby Dodge focuses on three: ‘Can Iraq avoid sliding back into civil war and can it reduce the still-appreciable levels of lethal violence seen since 2010? Will Iraq evolve towards a law-governed, pluralistic polity that in some way resembles the interventionists’ dream of an Arab democracy? Will Iraq once again pose a security threat to its neighbours?’
Dodge also provides some insight into perhaps the most important debate of all: are the lives of ordinary Iraqis better today than under Saddam Hussein?