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World War III Alarmism: It’s Time to Press for Sober, Rational, & Contextual Analysis of the Iran Situation

By Corri Zoli

Let’s begin with the obvious to self-aware observers of the region: “Iran’s so-called retaliation was not smart, to say the least. It was theater for its gullible constituents, and the US seems willing to let it slide.” So said Hassan Hassan about Iran’s ballistic missile attacks on Iraqi bases (Ain Assad and Erbil), which house US forces.

“To state this point as clearly as possible: we are not on the verge of World War III with Iran, despite social media trends.”

Hassan directs the Non-State Actors Program at the nonpartisan Center for Global Policy, focused on improving Mideast governance and US foreign policy. As if on cue, however, Iran’s state media is reporting “heavy US military casualties.”

Hassan is not the only one piercing the veil of alarmism (largely coming from US observers), confusion and ignorance, and disinformation (coming from Iran).

Ali Vaez, Director of the Iran Project at the CrisisGroup, explains Iran’s need for “face-saving measures” and symbolic revenge. Likewise, Illan Goldenberg at the Center for New American Security (CNAS), decodes Iran’s strategy: “This is our response, don’t hit us back. Regional players stay out or suffer the consequences. This may not be escalation just the response they felt they needed to make. Again, everyone CHILL.”

Pentagon officials, as Jake Tapper reported, explain that “Iran deliberately chose targets that would not result in the loss of US life,” emphasizing “[d]eliberate targets, minimum damage, maximum warning/effect.” Even Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif is eager to announce the attacks as “concluded,” even while he justifies this newest round of missile attacks once again on Iraq (after the Dec. 27, 2019, Kirkuk airbase and December 31 embassy attack) as “self-defense.”

“Facing complex conflict dynamics also means we must be open to unexpected or countervailing developments.”

To state this point as clearly as possible: we are not on the verge of World War III with Iran, despite social media trends.

Quite the opposite, the US government has set limits—first economically, now militarily with the Soleimani strike—on Iranian regional escalation dynamics at least since 2017, which caused a bipartisan Congress to reissue sanctions. Historically and in recent years, Iranian asymmetric warfare—with Soleimani at the helm—has hurt stability in the region. It has also become increasingly brazen—targeting Saudi refineries, downing US and Israeli drones, attacking vessels in the Gulf of Oman, and going after civilians in Syria.

Reasonable people can disagree over whether the best US-Iranian foreign policy approach today is limit setting to reestablish deterrence, as per the Trump Administration, or appeasement, engagement, and integration into the geopolitical community, for the previous Obama Administration.

Every public policy—particularly in the demanding domains of international security and foreign affairs—has strengths and weaknesses. What is not fair or good faith analysis, however, is to ratchet up global public fears about impending war as a way to win support for one’s “side.” That confuses policy with politics, without doing the hard, nonpartisan analytical work of contextual analyses, producing facts and evidence, and trying to include multiple—often contradictory—perspectives.

Such an approach reveals a lack of genuine concern about the people facing conflict dynamics first-hand in the Middle East, those who already face extensive human rights violations and are currently protesting such conditions, caused most often by their own leadership and unaccountable forms of governance.

Just last month Iran faced what The New York Times called its “worst unrest in 40 Years,” with anti-government protests across 21 cities—not to mention across the region—followed by the typical “brutal crackdown,” with Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps help, resulting in more than 1,500 protesters killed.

For deeper analysis of how Iran and Soleimani’s approach to covert asymmetric warfare destabilized and stalled progress in governance across the Middle East, there are plenty sources for thoughtful, contextual analysis. Hassan’s Guardian essay explains the blow in the defeat of Soleimani to Iranian regional hegemony, domination, and military imperialism. Such an ambitious project was already facing grassroots challenge in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria from cross-community protests. Moreover, Kim Ghattas notes that Soleimani was not only a problem for the US, but “haunted the Arab world,” so that his death has been greeted with often quiet “elation.”

Facing complex conflict dynamics also means we must be open to unexpected or countervailing developments.

Some analysts see the post-Soleimani moment as a win for the region, whether for a stronger Iraq, or a weakened Quds Force. Even non-Trump supporters—such as political risk analyst, Ian Bremmer—note that while there is no “end” to the US-Iran conflict, no “mission accomplished” yet, “for everyone who thought killing Soleimani was going to lead to war, no; it established red-lines and deterrence,” and, more importantly, potentially opened “ a real window” for diplomacy. Ultimately, Bremmer sees the Iran choice as a big “win” and a “big opportunity going forward.”

While it is a bit early to tell, scholars at their best have a public duty to pursue the truth wherever it leads—which may result in inconvenient facts and discoveries—but that ultimately helps to advance society in some way. As a cross-culturally focused law and security scholar, I believe that truth-seeking must include multiple and diverse perspectives, particularly needed to get a complete picture of “wicked problems” or complex social phenomenon, like conflicts.

Yet, the public should also ask hard questions about information accountability today, particularly as information technologies disrupt traditional news reporting standards and methods: why ratchet up ordinary Americans’ fears? Who is responsible and what is their motive for spreading such fear? Is it just to get “clicks” or are we purposely misunderstanding a situation that involves the most serious issues as war, peace, life, and death?

I won’t answer those questions in this analysis, but we all need to insist that public—especially expert commentary and journalism—elevates the discussion and that analysts base their claims in facts, evidence, and informed inquiry, particularly when understanding is such a priority in cases of active conflict.

 

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The Soleimani Airstrike: An End to His Signature Middle East Strategy?

By Corri Zoli

Less well-known than Al Qaeda’s Osama bin Laden or ISIS’s Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi, the covert Iranian commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani had widespread strategic influence throughout the Middle East. He was responsible for standing up and activating a clandestine infrastructure of organized armed groups from Hezbollah to Hamas and for ongoing instability and insurgency in Lebanon, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and elsewhere. It is for this reason that several terrorism scholars and expert observers—myself included—have identified the Soleimani airstrike as far more significant than that of Osama bin Laden or Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

“Critics of this action will fixate once again on the Trump Administration’s strategy, positing the US as responsible for Mideast conflict and crisis. Some of these critics ignore Soleimani’s two decades of militant infrastructure-building.”

While the repercussions of his death for Mideast dynamics are still unknown, even in these polarized times, the defeat of Soleimani should warrant a clear-eyed recognition that his two decades of orchestrating a covert signature strategy for Mideast insurgency and instability has come to an end.

First, the facts as currently known. On Jan. 3, 2020, Soleimani—head of the elite, external clandestine Quds Force, a division of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)—was targeted and killed by a US drone airstrike, authorized by President Donald J. Trump. The strike happened as Soleimani and four Popular Mobilization Force (PMF) members—including Kata’ib Hezbollah (KH) Commander Jamal Jafaar Mohammed Ali Āl Ebrahim (Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis)—exited their aircraft at Baghdad International airport.

The five has just arrived from Lebanon or Syria, signaling coordination between Iran’s IRGC and the Iraqi-state supported umbrella PMF, often called the new Iraqi Republican Guard. PMF includes more than 40 largely Shia militia and terrorist groups, including Iran-supported KH, the Khazali Network, and Badr Brigades.

While some commentators have pointed to a post-US strike escalation of tensions, the drone strike that killed Soleimani and company was in fact a response to KH’s provocative 31 Dec., 2019, attacks on the US embassy in Baghdad—a breach of international law—and its 27 Dec., 2019, attack on the Iraqi K-1 Air Base in Kirkuk, which hosts US Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR) personnel. During that attack, KH rockets—more than 30—killed a US civilian contractor and injured four US and two Iraqi military personnel. It is for these immediate precursor reasons that the Department of Defense has characterized the Soleimani strike as “defensive.”

Forgotten in recent news, however, were a series of highly provocative attacks since 2017 by IRGC across the region. Last year alone, these include the May 2019 Gulf of Oman oil tanker attacks damaged six commercial ships, including two Saudi Aramco oil tankers; the May 2019 Saudi pipeline attack and the Sept. 14, 2019, unprecedented drone hit on Saudi Aramco’s two major oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais; and the June 20, 2019, attack on a US RQ-4A Global Hawk surveillance drone for which Trump intended to respond but reversed his decision, instead requesting a United Nations Security Council closed-door meeting on Iranian regional escalation. This pattern is why former US military commanders in the region, such as Gen. David Petraeus, have framed the Soleimani strike as a need to reestablish “deterrence.”

From a broader strategic perspective, for those unfamiliar with the region, the killing of Soleimani uncovers plenty of questions about the region’s politics and conflicts: Why in the world would Iran sponsor an irregular militia to attack a sovereign embassy, which Iraq as the host nation is required to protect? Why would Iran support the targeting of a neighbor’s military airbase, particularly when the world’s most powerful military force is on base? Broadening the aperture, why would Iran—with Soleimani as its operational mastermind—ally with Russia to support Syrian President Bashir al-Assad, since 2012, in the Syrian Civil War with brutal atrocities against his own people? Moreover, why would Iran seek to destabilize Yemen—supporting the Houthi insurgency—at Saudi Arabia’s doorstep, thus drawing the Gulf Arab states into the fray?

Welcome to the dynamics of proxy warfare and Soleimani’s signature strategy in the Middle East. At its core, Soleimani aimed to blend the power of the state (Iran, and its political power) with the dynamic activism of violent extremist and militant groups, much like the model of Hezbollah in Lebanon, as Middle East expert Ali Soufan observed. That strategy alone—where nonstate groups can draw on the power of a state—warrants a more disruptive response which utilizes all instruments of national power, including economics and kinetics.

Still one of the best strategic profiles of Soleimani is Dexter Filkins’s 2013 New Yorker essay, “The Shadow Commander” in which Filkins explains how Soleimani was shaped by the 1980s Iran-Iraq War (with its use of chemical weapons) and then tasked as early as 1998 to advance the 1979 Iranian Revolution and reshape the Middle East into the Shia Crescent zone of influence. As part of this vision, Soleimani went on—all at the same time—to help direct and fund Assad’s war in Syria, Hezbollah’s control of Lebanon, and the ongoing insurgencies against US and coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq (since 2001).

Soleimani’s endgame was to reshape the Mideast into a zone of Iranian influence, thus, advancing the Iranian revolutionary flame ever forward. While this goal is by no means unique to Soleimani—Iran’s Supreme Leaders share this core aspiration—what was unique to the general was his powerful execution of this goal by building a vast covert organizational infrastructure of dozens of Iran-backed militant and terrorist organizations. These proxies and special groups have been increasing at rapid rates due to fighting against US coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also in Syria and against Islamic State.

In light of Soleimani’s long-term signature strategy, it is not surprising to see successive US administrations designate these proxy and covert forces as terrorist organizations. On April 8, 2019, Soleimani’s IRGC and Quds Force were both designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTO) under Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, augmenting earlier Obama-era Treasury designations in 2007 and 2010. Likewise, in July 2009 under executive orders 13438 and 13224—covering those who threaten stabilization efforts in Iraq—the Obama Administration designated Kata’ib Hezbollah a terrorist organization, the only Iraqi Shiite militia so designated by the US. Soleimani himself was a “specially designated national” (SDN) since 1999, again in 2010 under EO 13382, with additional sanctions after his foiled plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in the United States.

Such tactics also were used at home. In early December the world witnessed an Iran “convulsed” by what The New York Times called its “worst unrest in 40 Years,” with anti-government protests across 21 cities. These protests were followed by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s “brutal crackdown”—with IRGC involvement—resulting in more than 1,500 protesters killed. Iranians were protesting rising fuel prices, the result of economic mismanagement and EU and US sanctions issued in response to IRGC provocations. These included the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which passed overwhelmingly by both houses in 2017 (including sanctions against Russia and North Korea).

There’s no doubt Soleimani will be replaced, but his successor will have very large strategic shoes to fill. Reports indicate that Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has regrouped and will replace the head of its agile, covert militant network with Quds Force deputy Brig. Gen. Esmail Ghaani.

Governments in and beyond the region are collectively holding their breath, hoping that violence will not escalate. Some—such as Russia, Iran’s ally in Syria—criticized the US action and, in turn, praised Soleimani for having “faithfully served and defended the national interests of Iran.” Any realistic account must address the conflicting, multiperspectives in the region. In addition to celebrations among communities in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and elsewhere, journalist Kim Ghattas notes that Soleimani was not only a problem for the US, he “haunted the Arab world,” so his death has been greeted with often-quiet “elation.” While Iraq’s parliament will ask for the removal of US forces, some see the post-Soleimani moment as a win for a stronger Iraq. No doubt, US military servicemembers, directly targeted by the IRGC especially in Iraq, offer important insights.

Critics of this action will fixate once again on the Trump Administration’s strategy, positing the US as responsible for Mideast conflict and crisis. Some of these critics ignore Soleimani’s two decades of militant infrastructure-building or the audacity of Kata’ib Hezbollah to target its neighbor’s embassy and airbase. They also forget that KH Commander Muhandis—killed along with Soleimani—was the alleged mastermind of the US and French embassy bombings in Kuwait in 1983, as well as the assassination attempt on Kuwait’s emir in 1985. Such forces have been hard at work for a long time.

While we do not know what happens next, with Soleimani’s demise, Iran and its proxies have lost their strategic architect.

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Corri Zoli’s Expertise in Demand as Media Make Sense of Iran Crisis

Corri Zoli, Director of Research for the Institute for Security Policy and Law, helped local media make sense of the Jan. 3, 2019, assassination of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, the subsequent Iran Crisis, and what this US military action means for the security of an already volatile Middle East region.

SU Professor: “Something Had to be Done” to Stop Gen. Soleimani’s Influence in Middle East Conflicts

WAER | Jan. 6, 2020

“Something had to be done. Former General David Petraeus was in the news the other day saying, listen, we had to reestablish deterrence somehow because the moves were getting more and more audacious. Closer and closer to US civilian populations, closer and closer to armed forces.”

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SU Counterterrorism expert: Soleimani death may be more significant than Osama bin Laden

CNYCentral | Jan. 3, 2020

… Zoli says Soleimani had even greater military reach throughout the region. He was a man, Zoli says, who helped support unrest in Yemen, Syria and was a key figure behind insurgencies against U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The IEDs were as a tactical strategy in the field was pioneered by Soleimani. So many American service members think of him as responsible for these,” Zoli said.

She says Soleimani was covert but calls him an operational mastermind who built an enormous infrastructure of terrorist groups throughout the Middle East …

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What Led to Airstrike That Killed Iranian Military Commander?

Spectrum News | Jan. 3 2020

“I think everyone is holding their breath in the Middle East right now, there’s significant concern that there will be increased conflict, escalation, dynamics that will involve retaliation,” said Zoli. “There’s no doubt that the US is preparing for that.”

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The Burden of a Militarized US Foreign Policy

By Corri Zoli

(Re-published from Medium.com | Oct, 30, 2019) What role should American troops play — some would say, standing in the crossfire — between distant governments and groups engaged in protracted armed conflicts, whose grievances long predate 9/11? What US obligations are owed to parties of these conflicts, even partners, particularly if their issues — which they believe are worth fighting and dying for — have little to do with US national strategic priorities? How many of the long-term conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which the US is often expected to manage, are defined by the same, solvable problems — ethnic strife, capitulation on human rights, bad actors using political violence rather than building pluralistic consensus — which could be solved if local governments would simply govern their own diverse constituencies with care and accountability? In the Mideast in particular, these “conflict drivers” create economic-conflict traps and erode region-wide stability. Should the US then pick up the pieces?

“What is bizarre about the uproar over the Trump Administration’s decision to pull out the small number of remaining US troops (1,000–1,500) in Northern Syria is that very few of these questions have even been asked, let alone answered.”

Unfortunately, there are far too many wars to which these questions apply — in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen (between Saudi Arabia, the Houthis, and Iran), Pakistan and India, in fractured Syria, lawless Libya, Sudan, and South Sudan, even the longstanding Israel-Palestinian conflict. If we broaden the lens to include — not just active wars and internal strife — but low-intensity conflicts and hybrid threats, the numbers rise to include post-Arab Spring Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, and the Syrian-Civil War spillover into Lebanon. Is it reasonable to expect American servicemembers to protect and police these nations’ in light of their security threats, much of which stems from internal governance deficits? Can the American public feasibly support US intervention — at a cost of trillions, not to mention in lives — in 10 Mideast conflicts out of 16 nations?

What is bizarre about the uproar over the Trump Administration’s decision to pull out the small number of remaining US troops (1,000–1,500) in Northern Syria is that very few of these questions have even been asked, let alone answered. Few analysts mention the dismal empirics of war, the backdrop for weighing the merits of any lasting US presence in Syria, from policy, strategic, democratic, and other perspectives. From a democratic perspective, for instance, American voters have spoken, twice, in the last two elections, supporting both Obama and Trump Administrations’ promise of “no new wars.” From a policy perspective, the picture is even more bizarre: despite Obama’s best intentions, his own political appointees would not let him extricate the US from the Mideast. Hence, Obama called his Libyan intervention the “worst mistake” of his presidency, even as he initiated this and two other new US interventions in Syria and Yemen, adding three more wars to US ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq (which Obama tried unsuccessfully to end in 2011). Biden, who presided over Obama’s withdrawal ceremony in Iraq in December 2011, said: “thank you, Obama, for giving me the opportunity to end this goddamn war.” Such a sentiment was short-lived and, as most analysts believe, the prerequisite for the rise of ISIS in the Levant.

These examples illustrate how easy it is for all of us — even Presidents with foreign policy authority — to get lost in the mixed media messages, the twists and turns of self-serving politics, the topsy-turvy world of policy recommendations, and the “fog of war” complexities of conflict, all of which inexorably push for more war …

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Russia’s Snub of Geneva Convention Protocol Sets Dangerous Precedent

By David M. Crane

(Re-published from The Hill | Oct. 20, 2019) While Turkish-backed fighters may have been committing potential war crimes in Turkey’s incursion into Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia—which the United Nations also has accused of committing international crimes in Syria’s proxy war—is pulling out of Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which protects combatants and others found on the battlefield, particularly civilians who are “especially to be protected.” Not doing so is per se a war crime.

A compilation of law, policy and customary international law, the Geneva Conventions have been a cornerstone in controlling the horror of conflict and containing its impact to the battlefield. Modern armies have been bound by the “law of armed conflict” since 1949. The Geneva Conventions is the only international treaty that all nations signed, and many have incorporated its principles into their own domestic law.

The Protocol Additional (1977) clarifies the nuances of armed conflict, essentially incorporating non-international armed conflict into the limits on the use of force highlighted in the Geneva Conventions. This was an essential move, because most of the conflict of the Cold War and the “dirty little wars” of the 21st century are of non-international character. Up to that point, the Geneva Conventions covered only international armed conflict. Though several countries, including the United States, have not ratified the Protocol Additional, all note that it’s evidence of customary international law and routinely follow its parameters.

No country ever has quit this important international paradigm until Russia’s announcement on Thursday. Putin’s decision is a troublesome addition to the movement away from various international legal regimes that promote peace and security, a hallmark of the tenets of the United Nations. In this evident “Age of the Strongman,” the movement away from a global approach to the rule of law is overshadowed by populist and nationalistic views in many parts of the world.

The rule of law stabilizes the interaction of states; it enhances peace and security, and encourages stable global trade, financial and information systems that benefit all. Despite this, a majority of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have blocked and weakened U.N. efforts to perform its mandate — and even have mocked and prevented the International Criminal Court from seeking justice for victims of atrocity crimes …

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David M. Crane is a Syracuse University College of Law Distinguished Scholar in Residence.

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William C. Banks Publishes on “Hybrid Threats, Terrorism, and Resilience Planning”

Hybrid Threats, Terrorism, and Resilience Planning. International Centre for Counter-Terrorism Perspective (2019). (With K. Samuel.)

We live in an inter-connected, inter-dependent world, not only in digital spaces, but increasingly between the physical and digital worlds. While our inter-connectedness and the accompanying rapid technological change bring with them widespread societal benefits, they can also deepen existing vulnerabilities and create new ones, such as in relation to critical infrastructure interdependencies. These technology-rich and highly dynamic circumstances can be exploited by those with criminal and malicious intent, including terrorists, with potentially extensive and catastrophic consequences, as the 2017 WannaCry cyber-attack with global reach, which nearly brought the United Kingdom’s National Health Service to its knees, illustrated.

We will illustrate this ironic confluence of good news/bad news by focusing on hybrid threats posed by cyber technology to critical national infrastructure. Our op-ed begins by briefly examining the concept of hybrid threats, before examining how they are materialising in the cyber world. The discussion then turns to examining how best to counter hybrid threats to our Critical National Infrastructure (CNI). We propose the development of more dynamic, integrated and innovative resilience planning solutions beyond those that currently exist.

The Concept of Hybrid Threats

Hybrid threats posed by state and non-state actors are expected by many to increasingly challenge countries and institutions globally. In 2016, this recognition led to the creation of the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats (Hybrid CoE), which recognises diverse and wide-ranging forms of terrorism as a potential source of hybrid threats. The Hybrid CoE has defined a hybrid threat in the following terms:

  • Coordinated and synchronised action, that deliberately targets democratic states and institutions systemic vulnerabilities, through a wide range of means;
  • The activities exploit the thresholds of detection and attribution as well as the different interfaces (war-peace, internal-external, local-state, national-international, friend-enemy);
  • The aim of the activity is to influence different forms of decision making at the local (regional), state, or institutional level to favour and/or gain the agent’s strategic goals while undermining and/or hurting the target.

As the broad parameters of this definition reveal, hybrid threats can take a multitude of diverse forms. They can pose many practical and legal challenges too, such as how to detect, investigate, and attribute them in order to identify and bring to account their perpetrators, whether state or non-state actors … MORE

 

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Second Thoughts About Taliban Peace Talks

By Corri Zoli

(Re-published from Newsday | Sept. 9, 2019) Two U.S. soldiers were killed in Kabul, Afghanistan, from small-arms fire during combat late last month. We likely won’t know specific details about the service members’ identities or circumstances for some time.

“The deaths of the U.S. soldiers run against the grain of many Americans’ usual assumptions about war.”

But what we do know is that ongoing attacks by the Taliban will test America’s resolve to end what President Donald Trump has called an “endless” war. In fact, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly is reluctant to sign an “agreement in principle” between the Taliban and the United States, brokered by U.S. Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad. And, the president has decided to cancel peace talks with the Taliban, at least for now.

Secondly, the deaths of the U.S. soldiers run against the grain of many Americans’ usual assumptions about war — and this post-9/11 war in particular — and most Americans’ feelings about losing service members in asymmetric conflicts.

The two service members were fighting on behalf of NATO’s Operation Resolute Support — a noncombat “train, advise, and assist” mission of more than 17,000 troops in Afghanistan, which started Jan. 1, 2015, after the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) ended Dec. 28, 2014.

While commanded by U.S. Army Gen. Austin Scott Miller, as the name suggests, this is a NATO mission. NATO allies with the Afghan government made the decision in 2012 (it has been reaffirmed frequently) to develop Afghan military capacity to defend and protect its citizens.

While Americans’ own security interests are at stake in this mission — no one wants to see another attack like 9/11 by al Qaeda operatives harbored in Afghanistan — the enormous investment in Afghanistan’s military capacity and security infrastructure comes at great price to Americans and citizens from other NATO-member states who have died in these combat and noncombat missions. Clearly, even this noncombat mission is beset with the armed conflict and violence associated with combat missions.

Of the 17,000-plus troops, the United States (8,475), Germany (1,300), and the United Kingdom (1,100) have provided the vast majority of “boots on the ground.” NATO members France and Canada, for instance, have zero troops in the fight. When U.S. administrations from Clinton to Trump pressure NATO members to contribute more to their own defense, the issue is not only about raising their GDP percentage contribution to NATO’s defense budget, it is also who is actually fighting in these security initiatives that European and NATO partners have deemed a priority …

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Dirty Little Wars and the Law: Did Osama bin Laden Win?

By David M. Crane 

(Re-published from The Hill | Aug. 18, 2019) The past week marked the 70th anniversary of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. This laudable treaty, signed by every country, codified centuries of custom, treaties and protocols to protect individuals found on the battlefield. There are four articles to the Geneva Conventions protecting the wounded and sick, prisoners of war and civilians. This is an attempt to bring law and order onto the battlefield. These conventions are part of a larger set of treaties, protocols and rules called international humanitarian law, or the “laws of armed conflict.”

“For the past several decades, conflict has evolved from the vast industrial age conflicts, such as the World Wars and Operation Desert Storm, into the nuanced, kaleidoscopic conflicts of today.”

The Geneva Conventions were part of a promising four years after World War II that attempted to prevent the horrors of future conflict. The Nuremberg Principles were adopted, the United Nations Charter was signed, and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Convention were created. These became the cornerstones to settle disputes peacefully and use force only as a last resort. The focus was on international peace and security.

Originally drafted to protect those found on the battlefield during international armed conflict, the protocols additionally drafted in 1976 brought in non-international armed conflict. The minimum standard under what is called “Common Article 3,” found in each of the four parts to the conventions and the additional protocols, is that regardless of status on the battlefield, everyone should be treated humanely. That remains the minimum today. Not maintaining this standard can be a war crime in and of itself. Essentially, any armed conflict is covered by the rule of law and those who break international humanitarian law are committing war crimes.

For the past several decades, conflict has evolved from the vast industrial age conflicts, such as the World Wars and Operation Desert Storm, into the nuanced, kaleidoscopic conflicts of today. In these “dirty little wars,” the parties largely fail to follow the laws of armed conflict. There are no protections, particularly for civilians and even more importantly for women and children. The Geneva Conventions single them out to be especially protected; yet, one only has to look to the Syrian civil war to see that this key principle of law is ignored by all parties to that conflict.

A majority of casualties in dirty little wars of the 21st century are civilians, a protected group under international law. Intentionally targeting civilians is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions. Those who violate this principle are war criminals and remain so for the rest of their lives, since there is no statute of limitations for such crimes. By way of example, we still prosecute Nazi camp guards from World War II, all of whom now are in their 90s …

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David M. Crane is a Syracuse University College of Law Distinguished Scholar in Residence.

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Corri Zoli Comments on Foreign Countries’ US Travel Warning

Japan joins list of countries warning of U.S. travel, Venezuela lists Tennessee city

(WZTV Nashville, TN | Aug. 7, 2019) Japan has joined a list of countries issuing travel alerts for the United States in the wake of two mass shootings over the weekend.

The country of Venezuela warned their citizens to avoid cities they called the “20 most dangerous in the world,” based on a report from Forbes Magazine. Among the cities listed are Memphis, Tennessee, Birmingham, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia …

… A national security expert from Syracuse University called the travel advisories likely political in nature. Corrine Zoli, Director of Research for the university’s Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism says “there is likely a political message embedded in especially Venezuela’s travel alert in light of President Trump’s announcement on Monday of expanding US sanctions, which will freeze all Venezuelan government assets and ban all Americans from doing business with Maduro’s administration.”

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A Day to Remember Justice

By David M. Crane

(Re-published from Jurist | June 26, 2019) June 26 is a day designated by the United Nations as International Day in support of victims of torture. The General Assembly resolution creating the date imagined this as a day stakeholders – member states and their citizens – would unite in support of those that have endured torture and cruelty and recommit to ending its scourge. As international legal experts on this matter, we are using this opportunity to remind member states of their commitments, specifically that victims have meaningful access to seek judicial redress. Access to justice is the key feature of the right to redress and is a critical part of the global fight against impunity to which we have all committed ourselves.

“The Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program employed by the U.S. post 9-11, has seen scant judicial redress afforded to victims.”

Article 14, of the CAT enumerates that signatories must provide in their “legal system that the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation, including the means for as full rehabilitation as possible.” Even for countries that have a strong record against torture and cruelty and enacted domestic protections against their use, this requirement to open up their legal systems to victims, has proved more challenging. Our work has been undertaken in the context of these domestic challenges, to support the legal right to redress, compensation and rehabilitation for victims.

As a former International Chief Prosecutor and a Registrar before international courts, charged with seeking justice for victims of heinous human rights abuses, we have personally witnessed the importance of and healing effect that victims derive both from judicial redress and an opportunity for adequate compensation. The impact of meaningful judicial redress on both victims and their societies’ healing and reconciliation is profound. It also acts as a powerful deterrent for future human rights abuses.

The Rendition, Detention and Interrogation (RDI) program employed by the U.S. post 9-11, has seen scant judicial redress afforded to victims. Although the program was run by the U.S., many European countries, including the U.K., enrolled as junior partners. All governments involved in this shameful program have shied away from transparency and accountability, including providing victims with judicial redress options, but none has been able to completely bury their moral and legal responsibilities …

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David M. Crane is a Syracuse University College of Law Distinguished Scholar in Residence.

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