The War in Syria

Overview

Peace talks in have Geneva failed again. BBC reports that the US “wanted an end to piecemeal ceasefires and a return to a working nationwide cessation of hostilities so faltering peace talks could be resumed.” John Kerry grimly noted that the Syrian Conflict is “in many ways out of control and deeply disturbing. The civil war is in its 6th year; after years of discussion the international community has only managed to produce a fragile cease fire. The crisis is unresolved; The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on April 30 a total of 244 civilians killed in Aleppo over eight days of airstrikes and shelling – 140 of whom died because of airstrikes in opposition-held Aleppo – including 19 children and 14 women. The group also said that 96 civilians, including 21 children and 13 women, were killed in government-held Aleppo from shelling by armed groups. Nevertheless, it is disturbing to see us become more accustomed to accepting the conflict as a familiar or a fading memory of a farfetched reality. What is happening? What are the causes? Why haven’t we been able to put an end to this conflict?

According to the UNHCR, as of May 2016, 4.8 million Syrian Refugees have been produced. Registered refugees have found refuge in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, North Africa, etc. More than 250,000 Syrians have been killed since 2011, according to the UN.

The four main factions of combatants are the following: the ISIS, Kurdish forces, Assad regime, and other opposition such as the Jaish al Fateh.

 

Cause

The Assads have ruled Syria ever since a faction of Islamic military leaders, took power in 1970. From 1970 to 2000, Hafez al-Assad focused on foreign politics, involving Syria in proxy wars in Lebanon and Israel. Trade was strictly regulated by the Assad family; smuggling rings and black markets were established across the Syrian-Lebanese border. For years, Syria was plagued by corruption, and politics was dictated by an aristocracy of Assad-loyal upper class. The Assads established a dictatorship, denying political expression, free speech, and censoring the media. Bashar al-Assad assumed power in 2000, only to continue the corrupt practices established by his predecessor. Signs of conflict arose when the police arrested a group of teenagers and children for political graffiti, cracking down on anti-governmental demonstrations. Tensions heightened when Al-Assad abolished the Higher State Security Court and officially censored the citizen’s right to peaceful protest. By July, defectors of the army organized the Free Syrian Army and civilians took arms in opposition.

 

War Crimes

The UN commission of inquiry has revealed that all parties have committed war crimes-including but not limited to murder, torture, rape, and enforced disappearances. Parties have also been alleged of exploiting civilian suffering, blocking access to food, water, and health services through sieges, to serve their military interests. The UN has condemned the IS for waging a campaign of terror; hundreds of beheadings and mutilations have been conducted on innocent civilians. Mass genocide has taken place, with fighters indiscriminately targeting non-combatants and hospitals, clear violations of the Geneva Protocols.

 

Conflicting interests

On October 4, 2011, Russia and China vetoed a UNSC resolution that called for an immediate response against the Syrian regime. The two states stalled multiple resolutions addressing the issue until 2015 when the UNSC unanimously passed a resolution calling for an international roadmap for peace in Syria. Russia has invested interest in maintaining its only naval facility in the Mediterranean. Russia is also using Syria as a bargaining card in maintaining its strategic influence in the Middle East; Russia has lost critical allies in the middle-east because of western led invasions of Iraq and Lybia. Other reasons include economic interests of selling arms, domestic interests of rallying national pride and deterring terrorism imposed by the growing threat of the ISIS. Conversely, China is rising as a diplomatic mediator. Its unprecedented involvement in conflict management aligns with party leader Xi Jinping’s vision of expanding China’s international responsibilities; China has recently sent envoys to Iran and Saudi Arabia to broker deteriorating relations. Other interests include economic benefits in implementing its “Belt and Road Initiative,” expanding cooperation in energy and technology sector. The US and its western allies accuse Assad of massive scale atrocities and call for an end to the war and the formation of a transitional administration. Since 2014, they have conducted air strikes against Islamic extremist groups such as the IS, yet have been cautious to avoid targeting Syrian regime forces and directly intervening in the conflict. The situation is further complicated by the historical divide between Sunnis and Shia; Iran is alleged to support the Alawite government of Assad, while Saudi Arabia is providing military assistance to rebel forces.

 

Proposed solutions, Future of Syria

Security Council Resolution 2254 called all parties to “immediately cease any attacks against civilians and civilian objects as such, including attacks against medical facilities and personnel, and any indiscriminate use of weapons, including through shelling and aerial bombardment.”

As the Human Rights Watch has proposed, the UN Security Council should impose an arms embargo that would bar all military sales and assistance, in addition to technical training and services, to all forces implicated in violations in Syria. The council should also impose sanctions against officials from all sides who are shown to be involved in the most serious abuses, and commit to a credible process to ensure criminal accountability for grave abuses committed by all parties.

 

<Reference>

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36253000

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/may/11/diplomati-breakthrough-syria-war

http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/regional.php

https://www.worldwatchmonitor.org/2013/08/2648161/

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-23849587

http://edition.cnn.com/2016/02/08/middleeast/syria-aleppo-russia-strategy/

http://thediplomat.com/2016/01/chinas-new-era-of-diplomacy-engaging-in-syria/

http://edition.cnn.com/2013/08/27/world/meast/syria-civil-war-fast-facts/

Written by 임한성

ISIS committing cultural heritage atrocities of the Middle East

<ISIS committing cultural heritage atrocities of the Middle East>

Throughout the history, cultural heritage were meant to be preserved carefully since they are precious, and are the symbol of tradition, religion, and memory of the past. However, these treasures are getting destroyed by ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) in an inhumane way. They destroyed over thousands of sculptures, artifacts, and also intellectual materials.

In May 2015, ISIS took over Palmyra, an archaeological city located in the central part of Syria. Cultural properties including ‘the Lion of al-Lat’ vanished, and Khalid al-Assad, Palmyra’s retired chief of antiquities was beheaded publicly because he refused against the ISIS to reveal the places cultural artifacts were removed.

The question is: Why are they doing this? Is this really what the Qur’an wants?

The main reason why ISIS is committing such inhumane and insane crimes is to generate more fear in the global society. They are frightening the world by showing their impunity and impotence of the international community. Also, ISIS pursues illegal trade on cultural assets in order to earn money. It is assumed that they have earned $36 million dollars until now.

ISIS is being iconoclastic and claims that they are doing exactly what Muhammad is telling them to do. However, the Qur’an says something different. Here are two phrases from the Qur’an about preserving cultural heritage:

“And if Allah did not repel some men by means of others, there would surely have been pulled down cloisters and churches and synagogues and mosques, wherein the name of Allah is oft commemorated…”

“And if anyone of the idolaters ask protection of thee, grant him protection so that he may hear the word of Allah; then convey him to his place of security…”

These two phrases show the attitudes people must have towards the cultural properties, especially to worship and respect, which generates contradiction on the ISIS’s actions.

ISIS has already destroyed numerous temples, and other cultural assets including the Temple of Baalshamin, Temple of Baal, statue of Athena at the Palmyra museum, and etc. However, as Irina Georgieva Bokova, the secretary general of UNESCO has spoken, there are no specific methods to stop them, so antiquity trafficking must be prevented first.

Now, numerous ancient sites are being ruined by ISIS. We should not let this terrorist group conquer the field of culture, which represents the minds and souls of the people.

Written by 김형근

DOHA AGREEMENTS AND OIL ECONOMY IN MIDDLE EAST

The Doha 2016 agreements have failed. Though expectations of a breakthrough in agreements boosted prices of Brent futures to 43.90$ a barrel and U.S WTI at 41.57$ (CNBC), political deadlock pulled back prices to 42$ a barrel on the 18th of April. The oil industry “is in its deepest downturn since the 1990s” according to the New York Times; economies are failing, and civil unrest is heightening. An increase in oil prices or a decrease in the global oversupply of oil is much needed, yet unfulfilled by OPEC’s inability to stabilize the oil market. The reasons for this deadlock are complex: structural problems within OPEC, governments’ overreliance on the oil industry, and competing interests between oil producing nations have created a vicious cycle where governments are unable to reduce supply at the expense of harming their economies. Religion and ideology, characteristic of the middle-east, have concreted unwillingness to compromise. Prospects of an OPEC led supply reduction initiative are bleak, yet prices may rebound due to unexpected factors.

  1. Structural problems within OPEC

Not all OPEC nations are equal. For example, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait have low reserve funds and robust foreign currency reserves enabling them to run deficits even if oil prices are unsustainably low in the short run. On the other hand, Iran, Iraq, and Nigeria have less flexibility in economic policy; their combined foreign currency reserves are less than 200$ billion, even more, strained by new foreign exchange controls in Nigeria. These nations are inherently oil-dependent economies with Iraq deriving “58% of its Gross Domestic Product from Petroleum.” Thus, the effects of the reduction in oil prices are felt differently, which is why Saudi Arabia can use low prices as political leverage against Iran. In this light, the decision-making procedure of OPEC has been criticized by Iraqi Oil Ministry Spokesman, who claims that “[reliance on unanimous decisions] prevents correct decisions because some states insist on maintaining production quotas at previous meetings, which in turn provoked a further decline in prices unacceptable to oil producing countries.” Inherent economic disparities between nations have thus created an imbalance in power, and the structure of OPEC has barred nations from pursuing a compromise with an equally perceived degree of urgency.

  1. Governments’ reliance on the oil industry

In the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Regional Economic Outlook: Middle East and Central Asia paper, Iraq derives 58% of its Gross Domestic Product from petroleum. Libya gains 85% of its earnings from oil, and Saudi Arabia gains 78% of its revenue from the oil industry. Clearly, a rise in oil prices or a reduction in production is much needed for these nations to maintain a sustainable oil industry. Alexander Nazarov, an oil gas analyst at Gazprombank, quotes that “Russian budget is starving” due to the slump in low oil prices. Yet, nations like Iran will continue to increase its production despite calls for austerity. Oil production is integral for Iran’s recovery from damages inflicted by long-term sanctions. Though Russia’s output, according to OPEC Secretariat, is expected to “decline by 20,000 barrels per day on average,” it cannot afford to lose ground in the market at the price of opening opportunities for new competitors. These nations must diversify their industry to reduce potential risk.

  1. Competing interests between nations

Under the oil problem lies geopolitical cleavages. The rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran has deepened after the Saudi embassy in Tehran was attacked after a Shia leader Nimr al-Nimr was executed. The two nations have accused each other of waging proxy wars, and for stymieing the Doha Agreements. Iran refused to uphold the proposed oil production freeze which would devastate its post-sanction recovery. On the other hand, Saudi Arabia banned Iran from participating in the agreements altogether; Russia’s energy minister. Alexandr Novak remarked that Russia was “disappointed” and pointed out “how Iran [could] be the reason for the talks’ failure, when it wasn’t even here.” Moreover, Saudi Arabian diplomatic relations between the United States and its middle-east allies have been severed due to the United State’s record oversupply of shale oil and Justice against Sponsors of Terrorism Act. Saudi Arabia’s refusal aligns with its interest to force new shale oil competitors out of the market by maintaining low oil prices. Though the failure of the Doha cannot be attributed to a single state, it is clear that Saudi Arabia had a high stake in producing such results.

  1. Prospect, unexpected factors, conclusion

The International Energy Agency prospects an overall reduction in non-OPEC production by 700,000 barrels a day. The reputation of OPEC has been further tarnished. Iran and Russia have already boosted their production rates: 3.3 million bpd. Global oil demand, especially in East Asia, has increased, and according to the wall street journal, projected “to rise by 1.2 million barrels a day to 94.18 million bpd. It seems that oil prices are to stay low for now. CNN money recently reported that a fire in oil-rich province Alberta has driven up oil prices, though temporarily. According to Anthony Starkey, energy analysis manager at Bentek Energy quotes that “This fire is raging near where a lot of the oil activity takes place. This is a very real event and it’s taking supply off the market.” Maybe the solution to this crisis is nature and time to slowly erode away our oil reserves.

 

<Reference>
http://www.cnbc.com/2016/04/15/doha-oil-price-rise-looks-unlikely-russia.html

http://monitor.icef.com/2016/03/nigeria-tightens-foreign-exchange-controls-to-limit-use-for-study-abroad/

http://www.tehrantimes.com/news/301138/Iran-collects-90-of-annual-planned-tax-revenues

http://musingsoniraq.blogspot.kr/2011/03/iraq-most-oil-dependent-country-in.html

http://sputniknews.com/middleeast/20151130/1031016108/opec-drives-oil-prices-down.html https://www.rt.com/business/339990-doha-oil-freeze-novak/

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/01/world-worried-iran-saudi-conflict-160115055436274.html

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-04-17/oil-freeze-talks-end-in-failure-amid-saudi-demands-over-iran

http://oilprice.com/Energy/Energy-General/Is-A-Permanent-Decline-Coming-For-Russia.html

http://blogs.wsj.com/briefly/2016/04/17/5-questions-for-oil-markets-after-the-doha-meeting/

http://money.cnn.com/2016/05/05/investing/oil-prices-fort-mcmurray-fire-canada/

Written by 임한성