Yearly Archives: 2013

The hot East of Suez Question: Damage Limitation after Failure Over Syria

Posted on July 25, 2013 at 2:29 pm

RUSI Analysis, 19 Sep 2013 By Professor Michael Clarke, Director General

The UK can do little to impact the Syrian civil war. However is shoring up its interests at the periphery of the conflagration, reinforcing the UK’s military reorientation East of Suez. The question is whether or not, in light of Parliament’s vote last month, the govt. now desires to say so.

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The events of the last month have reinforced the actual fact, as though it needed any reinforcement, that the united kingdom has neither the appetite nor the capacity to get meaningfully enthusiastic about the Syria crisis. A year or more ago a big military/diplomatic initiative may need had a beneficial effect, and in another year or two the conditions can be right for such an initiative to assist close some kind of peace deal. But for now, the suffering will go on while the Western powers have little more to give than a prayer for the weak and a cheer for the brave.

The international community cannot address the centre of the crisis – a deeply sectarian civil war during which the political choice is between many sets of bad guys who control the fate of the victims. However the war is destabilising the region. The Levant could go right into a meltdown that might see political collapse in Lebanon and Iraq, whatever happens in Syria, immense pressure on Jordan and Israel, and a not-so-proxy war during the region between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. [1] 

In response to those prospects, the Western powers are being drawn into much greater involvement on the periphery of the crisis. As with the collapse of Yugoslavia within the 1990s, if the time is just not propitious for an imposed peace, a minimum of the external powers could act to contain the conflict and limit its political fallout. It really is no comfort to the victims of a vicious civil war, but nor is it a dishonourable political strategy.

Shoring Up Syria’s Neighbours

Not far below the skin a natural division of roles is emerging between america and the united kingdom (and now France) in moving to shore up Jordan and reinforce security around the Gulf.

The US could be smarting from the humiliation of not enforcing the ‘red lines’ it has asserted, but its more subtle military role within the region can be more significant in the end.  In summer 2013 exercise Eagle Lion happened in Jordan involving over 8,000 foreign troops from nineteen different countries, but 5,000 of those troops came from the united states CENTCOM command. And around 1,000 of them have stayed in-country. ‘CENTCOM Forward-Jordan’ is now a primary US military hub that serves the personnel manning US Patriot air defence batteries, technical advisers, trainers and Special Forces elements. [2] A squadron of F16s has stayed directly to work alongside the Jordanian Air Force in providing air defence. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey has already visited CENTCOM Forward-Jordan to elucidate to these involved the significance in their reassurance mission to Jordan. A marine assault ship stays as regards to provide extra support. The united states is bolstering the territorial integrity of Jordan while its aid efforts attempt to relieve the pressure created by well over 600,000 refugees flooding right into a country of only six million people. Not least, NATO has provided Patriot batteries to Turkey, supplied by the united states, with some support also from Germany and the Netherlands.

The UK’s Position within the Gulf

Meanwhile, the united kingdom have been quietly bolstering its position within the Gulf, especially in Qatar, UAE, Oman and Bahrain. The Defence Cooperation Agreement of 1996 between the united kingdom and the UAE was effectively revived in 2012 with a major Ministerial visit in November that concluded a ‘long-term defence partnership’ accompanied by renewed hopes of a main deal to sell Typhoon fighters to the UAE which include other new, and sensitive, technologies.

 The Al Minhad airbase in Dubai is not any longer only a staging post for UK forces inside and outside of Afghanistan, but becomes a big transport hub for UK forces moving across and outdoors the region and a base for a good amount of pre-positioned equipment for Army training in hot and desert environments. Training with Omani forces can also be expected to be stepped as much as provide training in hot and mountainous environments. The Royal Navy’s use of the Jufair naval base may be expanded as facilities at Jufair are upgraded by the Bahrainis. [3] 

Qatar has emerged as a prime political and economic partner of the united kingdom. Saudi Arabia is the West’s most crucial partner within the region. The massive US base at Al-Udeid, outside Doha, makes it impractical, and unnecessary, to develop more facilities in Qatar, and Saudi Arabia would not permit foreign bases or stationed forces on its territory; however the UK has done a lot within the last three years to resume its defence and security relationships with both countries, partly to displace some French influence that was considered already waning in Doha and Riyadh.  

There was an amazing longer term strategic logic to all this. The united kingdom was perceived as neglecting its Gulf allies over the past two Labour governments and Whitehall felt it was time to correct this perception. There has been a transparent ‘prosperity agenda’ behind an enhanced defence relationship with the Gulf, particularly at the back of what can be multiple Typhoon deal and all that may accompany it. And if america was ‘pivoting’ towards Asia and the Pacific, then Washington would express its Middle Eastern interests differently and would presumably welcome an unobtrusive but ‘smart’ military footprint within the Gulf from one in every of its allies. Not least, the long-term health of america-UK relationship would rely on the united kingdom being seen to be as globally-minded because the US, and never caught only in a post-Cold War straitjacket around the European continent.

The rejection of the main of military action in Syria within the UK Parliament on 29 August created a far more compelling logic to those ideas. Suddenly, the united kingdom gave the impression of an unreliable ally. The Prime Minister have been urging more assertive approaches to the Syrian crisis from both america and France for your time.  Now, as he aspired to guide an army/diplomatic push at the back of the Syrian Army’s chemical attack of 21 August, he was suddenly checked by his own MPs and the united kingdom would now not join an army response to the crisis.

Whatever damage this could have done to US-UK relations – still a question of speculation – it was a disaster for the UK’s relations with its partners within the Gulf.  The Sheikhs and Emirs may understand the vicissitudes of a democracy but they’ve very limited sympathy with what they see as weak leadership and inconsistency.  The sense that the united kingdom is minded to take itself out of the diplomatic frontline was only exacerbated by a frankly stunned reaction to the Parliamentary vote across Whitehall.

The governmental machinery failed to swing into immediate damage-limitation mode or assertive diplomacy to atone for a scarcity of deployed military capacity. In fact, little or no happened in those most important days after 29 August while the govt awaited developments in Washington – themselves truly astonishing with President Obama’s announcement on 1 September that he would consult Congress before launching any attack.

The damage that was done may partly be mitigated by a governmental try to shore up a few of its strategic and economic stakes inside the Gulf by creating a more explicit commitment to its security partners. The time is greater than right for the govt to fix the wear. In a feeling, it only has to declare more clearly what it’s been doing quietly; making sensible arrangements to interact East of Suez should it feel the necessity to achieve this. This may not be surprising if the govt. doesn’t make some explicit statement to this effect inside the near future. The united kingdom strategic logic in addition the dynamic of the Syrian crisis and its regional implications push the federal government on this direction. It has important interests to defend at the periphery of the Syrian crisis no matter if it has little direct national interests to defend in the centre of the conflagration.

There are, however, two difficulties in making such an explicit statement. Firstly, this kind of declaration would also play more explicitly into the Iranian nuclear crisis. The united kingdom will be putting itself further into the diplomatic limelight on Iran by talking openly about its commitments to its partners within the Gulf, most of whom feel overshadowed and threatened by Iranian power. Such limelight might not be entirely unwelcome, however, where Iran’s posture shows as a minimum some chinks of sunshine according to Syria’s use of chemical weapons.

More significantly, the united kingdom will be creating a statement that – however carefully couched – will be widely labelled as a ‘return to East of Suez commitments’.  Here’s all well and good in this type of globalised and changing world, but a hostage to fortune when the country’s military ability to deploy strategically significant forces is so low. The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have taught us that, actually, the united kingdom can now only really tackle one fighting commitment at a time, or even that stretches us greater than military planning has habitually assumed.  A diplomatic ‘return to East of Suez’ can be logical and necessary within the present hiatus over Syria, but can also widen the distance between the country’s strategic ambitions and its military capabilities.

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Maritime Boundary Delimitation inside the Eastern Mediterranean: a brand new Conflict between Cyprus, Turkey, Greece and Israel?

Posted on July 25, 2013 at 12:26 pm

RUSI Journal, Apr 2014, Vol. 159, No. 2 By Eric R Eissler and Gözde Arasıl

Since 2002, the Republic of Cyprus, the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Turkey and Greece was embroiled in disputes over the delimitation of maritime boundaries within the Eastern Mediterranean. Geopolitically and geostrategically important, the area’s rich oil and natural-gas reserves have made Exclusive Economic Zones each of the more relevant. Eric R Eissler and Gözde Arasýl analyse the most recent developments, military postures, and the political and legal positions of the parties involved, concluding that, however an army clash remains a remote possibility, the stalemate is probably going to persist.

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Two aircraft carriers would cement UK’s position as global player

Posted on July 23, 2013 at 5:04 pm

RUSI News, 9 Sep 2013

A decision to adopt just a single UK aircraft carrier would provide poor value for money and compromise the government’s ability to answer international crises, argues a brand new report published by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI).

Future Carrier Leveraging UK Carrier Capability, written by Tobias Ellwood MP, argues that a choice to function both the aircraft carriers currently being built would cement Britain’s position as ‘a global player with an army power of the primary rank’ and in addition provide compelling operational and monetary benefits. ‘The UK either needs a carrier capability or it doesn’t. If it does, then at least two are required so that it will have one permanently available.’

Ellwood writes that there ‘is a narrowing window of opportunity you obtain equipment, develop protocol and train personnel with a purpose to maximise the early potential of this unique class of carrier.’ Chief a number of the final decisions to be remodeled the carriers is whether or not both will enter service or simply one.

The 2010 Strategic Defence and Security Review proposed holding a second carrier in ‘extended readiness’ as one choice to reduce costs. However the paper argues that a ‘£3-billion carrier waiting in “suspended animation”… has political consequences, as does the marketing of a boat at a loss. Neither option is wise use of taxpayers’ money.’

The paper, launched at the first day of the RUSI Maritime conference, points out that during the UK’s 2011 Libya campaign, a scarcity of carrier strike capability meant that RAF Tornados and Typhoons needed to fly a 4,830km round trip from the united kingdom to North Africa until logistics were in place at Gioia del Colle, Italy. ‘Although this base was much towards the targets, Tornados still required two mid-air refuelling operations with a purpose to complete their missions.’ The expense of using foreign bases, in-air refuelling, extended flying time and air-frame fatigue add as much as ‘the cost of land-based air costs (at a distance of 600 miles) rising to four times that of carrier-based operations’.

Ellwood argues that the ‘The carrier’s agility and independence means it’s prone to be one of several first assets deployed to any hotspot world wide.’ He adds, ‘The UK carrier capability is a transparent statement of “conventional deterrence”, complementing the united kingdom strategic deterrent as its ultimate security guarantee.’

But the significance of those ships for Britain’s foreign policy is at odds with the restrictions of operating just a single hull. ‘A single carrier will be limited in both availability (to around 200 days each year) and role. As both carrier strike and littoral manoeuvre require regular embarked periods to validate and maintain role-specific currency, a single ship can be in perpetual re-role.’ Operating just one carrier would mean significant gaps in service, as ‘every eight to 5 years a single ship will be faraway from the schedule as a result of routine (but extended) maintenance.’

‘To date there was little agreement,’ writes Ellwood, ‘as to how the costliest defence project ever (carrier and aircraft combined) might be utilised.’ ‘With a lead time of eight years, appreciating the complete contribution the carriers can offer would be certain that they commence operations as state-of-the-art assets with the built-in agility to evolve quickly at some point as opposed to date before their time.’

To read the occasional paper Leveraging UK Carrier Capability: A Study into the Preparation for and Use of the Queen Elizabeth-Class Carriers in full, click here. 


1.       Leveraging UK Carrier Capability was released at the first day of RUSI’s annual Future Maritime Operations conference. For more at the conference, please visit

2.        RUSI is an independent think-tank for defence and security. RUSI is a singular institution; founded in 1831 by the Duke of Wellington, it embodies nearly two centuries of forward thinking, free discussion and careful reflection on defence and security matters.


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The Political Challenge to Petroleum Activity around Svalbard

Posted on July 23, 2013 at 2:13 pm

RUSI Journal, Apr 2014, Vol. 159, No. 2 By Gjert Lage Dyndal

The petroleum industry has greatly increased its activities within the Arctic, and nations are desirous to award new licences for further hydrocarbon exploration and exploitation. The eu High North has become a sought-after region on this regard, and up to date discoveries within the Hoop High fields and other areas along the brink of the maritime zone across the Svalbard archipelago have again created debate in regards to the underlying judicial and political challenges that could spark international conflict. Gjert Lage Dyndal discusses the disputed status of the realm and argues that the petroleum industry may prove central to a compromise solution.

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Transnational Organised Crime and Security

Posted on July 21, 2013 at 7:25 pm

RUSI Journal, Apr 2014, Vol. 159, No. 2 By Dr Emma De Angelis

In the general instalment of the Journal’s series on transnational organised crime and security, Peter Romaniuk analyses existing research on terrorist financing. In a comprehensive overview of current approaches to this all-important nexus between organised crime and terrorism, he points out the gaps in current knowledge and suggests easy methods to develop methods of investigation. The pursuit of further empirical studies – gathering and analysing original evidence – is vital to make research immediately relevant to policy-makers, law enforcers and armed forces professionals who seek to undermine the financial foundations of terrorist activity.

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Voting for Irrelevance? The united kingdom Parliament Passes its Verdict

Posted on July 21, 2013 at 5:18 pm

RUSI Newsbrief, 3 Sep 2013 By Jonathan Eyal

British Prime Minister David Cameron claims that it really is ‘business as usual’ in London, despite his government’s stunning parliamentary defeat on a motion authorising British forces to take part in a US-led military strike against Syria. Mr Cameron, who interrupted his holiday to take care of the crisis, remains huddled in Middle East briefings together with his top security advisers. The Obama administration is likewise being polite. ‘The British were very strong in condemning the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons and that vote inside the parliament doesn’t change that’, US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said immediately after the vote in London.

Yet none of this changes the undeniable fact that Mr Cameron suffered one of the vital devastating parliamentary defeats in Britain’s modern history; the last time a premier lost a ‘war and peace’ debate was in the course of the crisis over the conduct of the Crimean War, greater than 150 years ago. It’s a debacle many need to wish away, but which grievously harms Britain’s claim to stay a world military player and undercuts years of diplomatic achievements.

There is widespread agreement among political observers that the prime minister handled the crisis very badly. Mr Cameron spent many months attempting to persuade the united states to ‘get serious’ – as he put it – concerning the carnage in Syria. Bizarrely, however, he never thought it essential to explain this to his own electorate. So, when the united states finally decided to select military action, David Cameron needed to scramble to make the case for using force. It was too little and much too late: nearly all of MPs refused to be bounced into war at a week’s notice.

Mr Cameron also neglected warnings from his own Conservative backbench MPs; he never bothered to read their critical comments on ConservativeHome, the party’s influential website, and he never bothered to refer to MPs or perhaps his own parliamentary whips.

These MPs are not any longer the  same retired army brigadiers with handlebar moustaches and large country houses; this kind of traditional Conservative law-makers who rallied to the flag during the past at the principle of ‘my country, right or wrong’. The hot intake of MPs expects to be heard, and when their government doesn’t hear them, they rebel. The prime minister was not defeated by the Labour opposition: Ed Miliband, its leader, didn’t perform particularly well through the parliamentary debate, making rambling demands for what he called a ‘sequential roadmap’ in Syria, an idea which left most MPs mystified. Instead, the British premier was struck by something far worse: a mass defection from the ranks of his own coalition government: thirty Conservative and nine Liberal Democrat MPs voted against the resolution.

But Mr Cameron’s biggest failure was his refusal to realise just how much Britain’s controversial involvement within the 2003 Iraq War loomed over the Syria debate. He repeatedly reminded law-makers that the crises within the two countries, one decade apart, don’t seem to be comparable. Still, the parallels were too close for comfort. There’s a similar inexplicable rush to war, an analogous refusal to attend for a report from UN investigators, the identical claim that Western governments ‘know’ who the culprit is at the basis of intelligence which, for sure, can’t be fully revealed.

And, if this weren’t enough, there’s also the similar confusion concerning the legal mandate and purpose of the operation. Prime Minister Cameron instructed his attorney general’s chambers to return up with a fast legal justification and so they did. ‘If action within the Security Council is blocked, the united kingdom would still be permitted under international law to take exceptional measures if you want to alleviate the dimensions of the overpowering humanitarian catastrophe in Syria’, read the legal opinion of Dominic Grieve, the attorney general.

But how could this humanitarian catastrophe be stopped by simply firing a couple of missiles, because the US and Britain have proposed? And, if the target is humanitarian, why not opt for regime change in Syria? It took Jack Straw, foreign secretary through the Iraq War, to deliver the proper blow, by reminding law-makers of the perils of going to war on fuzzy logic: ‘I know’, said Mr Straw, ‘I have the scars’.

Britain’s absence makes no difference to america. And, it could be argued, this absence can also be more likely to be a one-off. Still, quite a number precedents were created, that are more likely to haunt Britain sooner or later.

In strictly legal terms, British prime ministers should not have the approval of Parliament to send troops into battle; the flexibility to wage war technically sits with the Queen (the Royal Prerogative) and is exercised on her behalf by the prime minister. But Mr Cameron was forced by public dissatisfaction to hunt parliamentary approval. Neither Cameron nor President Barack Obama – who also decided to invite Congress for backing – accept the argument that this has now changed the legal powers in their office; both claim that the present parliamentary votes were simple consultations in preference to formal requests for authority to wage war.

Still, in future years, it’s inconceivable that any future British leader could be in a position to commit forces for any foreign operation with out a clear international mandate or the specific backing of national law-makers. The times when a British prime minister and an American president could sit on a bench within the park of the Camp David retreat and plan a war are consigned to history. That, some would argue, isn’t any bad thing. However the days when government and opposition inside the UK could reach decisions on security issues by consensus also are over. Paradoxically – and with the advantage of hindsight – Downing Street would were well-advised to simply accept a compromise solution, which might have involved Parliament in decision-making on war powers, but would have essentially maintained the initiative with the prime minister. This was suggested by various constitutional committees which checked out the question of war powers within the UK, and would have allowed future British prime ministers more leeway than they’ll now enjoy. In effect, Mr Cameron has created a parliamentary precedent at the hoof: governments will henceforth be expected to debate any military action in public, upfront.

And, because the debate in the home of Commons indicates, we should always not expect this type of discussion to be very elevated in quality. Nor should we predict it to display much strategic vision: quite other than the MPs who circulated harebrained conspiracy theories, the main telling phrase from debaters on Syria was: ‘our job on this parliament is to seem after our own people’. Presumably, therefore, it’s as much as somebody else to peer after global security.

If this perspective persists, it may destroy the UK’s longstanding claim, in conjunction with France, to be one in all Europe’s only global military powers. It also calls into question Britain’s usefulness to the united states. Essentially the mostsome of the most striking features of the talk about Syria was the degree of hostility toward the Americans shown by Britain’s legislators. A history of intimate links with the usa is now considered a poisonous legacy, and the reason is, Britain – always derided as America’s poodle – was precluded by Parliament from participating inside the Syria operation, while France, which has often stood aloof from america, can now act as its closest ally.

Nor should one forget the baleful effects the vote has on Britain’s standing inside the Arab world. The only cause of the Gulf States’ interest in buying British-made military equipment is the concept that they’re buying right into a long-term and meaningful security partnership. Now, however, they’ll come to view any such partnership differently, given the likelihood that, if the Gulf is in trouble and Britain’s government considers the location important enough to require the engagement of its militia, all that a British premier may do is to invite Parliament to discuss a resolution that can or would possibly not provide for some military assistance. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t one of these tempting proposition: French and American-made military equipment is barely pretty much as good, and possibly comes with more tempting financial inducements and the promise of a more meaningful security partnership.

It is feasible that Syria was the exception in place of the rule of thumb. Still, there’s little question that the episode was a disaster for Mr Cameron. The prime minister would have done well to keep in mind the words of a fresh-faced young MP who rose inside the British Parliament seven years ago to induce the country’s politicians to exercise ‘humility and patience’ before strutting at the international stage.

The name of that young MP was none as opposed to David Cameron.

Dr Jonathan Eyal
Director of International Security Studies, RUSI, and Editor of RUSI Newsbrief.
Twitter: @JEyal_RUSI

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Bloody Brothers: Insider Attacks in Afghanistan

Posted on July 19, 2013 at 12:41 pm

RUSI Newsbrief, 3 Sep 2013 By Tommaso LaganaOn the evening of 10 February, four British officers were dining – unarmed – of their barracks when a soldier of the local Afghan security forces entered, rifle in hand, and attempted to tug the trigger. Within the ensuing struggle because the officers leapt to intercept him, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Harman was mortally wounded by a bayonet. At his trial, the perpetrator of the attack declared that he had enlisted to strike on the British. This will-be jihadi, it transpired, were persuaded to this plan of action by the local mullah, as a part of a deliberate policy of infiltration.

This incident occurred not in 2013, but in 1905 – an emblematic reminder that insider attacks was a feature of conflict in Afghanistan, and indeed of any conflict involving ‘auxiliary’ local troops, for hundreds of years. The British Army, as a former colonial force, has an extended history of handling insider attacks in theatres as diverse because the Canadian wilderness and the jungles of Singapore. It also has a history of successful co-operation with local forces, whether allied or auxiliary, despite the memory of this having been largely lost after 1945 because the British Army transitioned from a colonial force to an expeditionary one.

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Responding to Russia: Proliferation and Global Missile Defence

Posted on July 19, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Highlighted remarks from Ambassador Robert Joseph Senior Scholar, National Institute for Public Policy and previous Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and Special Envoy for Nonproliferation, US Department of State. Speaking on the RUSI Missile Defence Conference 2014. The views expressed listed here are the speaker’s own, and don’t necessarily reflect the independent views of RUSI.

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Using Chemical Weapons: The Legal Case for Intervention in Syria

Posted on July 17, 2013 at 7:04 pm

RUSI Analysis, 4 Sep 2013

Any intervention in Syria ought to be legally sound and need to be aimed toward a more long-term solution rather than a short term punitive exercise.

By Toby M Cadman

UN Security Council The use of chemical weapons against civilians is a war crime.  In 1993 the Chemical Weapons Convention was signed in Paris.  The purpose of the treaty is to set out a prohibition on developing, producing, purchasing or otherwise acquiring, stockpiling, or retaining chemical weapons, or to transport them directly or indirectly to anyone; never to use chemical weapons or engage in any preparations for doing so; and never to assist, encourage, or induce, in any way, anyone to engage in any activity prohibited by the treaty. 

At present there are 189 State Parties to the Convention. Syria is not one of them, although it is a signatory to the 1925 Geneva Protocol prohibiting the use of poison weapons.  Regrettably the latter provides no basis for the use of force.

It is now beyond doubt, according to the United States, United Kingdom, France, Turkey and the Arab League, that chemical weapons have been used on civilians in Syria, and there appears to be mounting evidence that the Bashar al-Assad regime ordered the use on civilians – at least that’s what we’re being told.  The Russian position is that reaching such a conclusion is illogical considering that Assad is actually winning the war.  The response to that is twofold. First, Assad was surely testing the resolve of the international community and whether it has the courage to go against Syria’s international partners.  Second, the war is dragging on and this provides the Assad regime with finality.

The question now being asked, when so many other questions remain unanswered, is whether this is sufficient to justify legally international military action and what form of action should be taken.  Of course the question must also be asked as to what we are trying to achieve by a short-term military operation in Syria.  The rhetoric is that it is to demonstrate clearly that chemical attacks on civilians will not be tolerated.  The UK at least considers that the chemical weapon attacks by Bashar al-Assad’s brutal regime was a calculated step to test the resolve of the international community.  However, is a short-term military campaign likely to prevent further attacks on civilians?  It may well aggravate the situation – this certainly was the case in Libya.  Furthermore, is it really to send a message to Assad or is it more a step in the direction of regime change – however justified that may be.

The clear response to this mounting humanitarian disaster is that a much longer-term strategy is required.  There is of course moral justification for military intervention, but this should be under a UN mandate.  Any resolution considered by the UN Security Council should of course also consider a referral to the International Criminal Court.  Irrespective of whether the attack was carried out by government forces, opposition forces or a third party there is an urgent need for an investigation into the ‘situation in Syria’.  There is also a need for setting out a long-term strategy for bringing an end to the conflict and establishing a system of peace and stability on the one hand and rebuilding the Syrian State on the other.  This, regrettably, does not seem to be on the agenda at present and it is solely the short term to ‘deter the future use of chemical weapons’. 

Considering the legality of intervention, in respect of Kosovo in the late 1990s, the UK took the position that NATO action was justified on the ground that international law recognises an exceptional right to take military action in a case of overwhelming military necessity.  In October 1998 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office circulated a note to NATO member states declaring that the ‘Security Council authorisation to use force for humanitarian purposes is now widely accepted…A UN Security Council Resolution would give a clear legal base for NATO action, as well as being politically desirable.’  However, it went on to argue that that force can also be justified on the grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity without a Security Council resolution.

As was determined in Kosovo, there is convincing evidence of an impeding humanitarian catastrophe. Quoting the UK position on Kosovo, as set out in its October 1998 advisory note, ‘The UK’s view is therefore that, as matters now stand and if action throughout the Security Council is not possible, military intervention by NATO is lawful on the grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity.’  The UK Government has adopted the same reasoning for justifying military action in Syria.

The advisory note prepared by the UK Government last week on the legality of military action states

‘The use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime is a serious crime of international concern, as a breach of the customary international law prohibition on use of chemical weapons, and amounts to a war crime and a crime against humanity. However, the legal basis for military action would be humanitarian intervention; the aim is to relieve humanitarian suffering by deterring or disrupting the further use of chemical weapons.’ 

The note goes on to state that the UK is seeking a resolution of the United Nations Security Council under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations which would condemn the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian authorities; demand that the Syrian authorities strictly observe their obligations under international law and previous Security Council resolutions, including ceasing all use of chemical weapons; and authorise member states, among other things, to take all necessary measures to protect civilians in Syria from the use of chemical weapons and prevent any future use of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons; and refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court. 

Going Without a UN Security Council Resolution

The legality of military action, in the event that the UN Security Council is blocked is based, according to the note, under the doctrine of humanitarian intervention provided the following three conditions are met:

(i) there is convincing evidence, generally accepted by the international community as a whole, of extreme humanitarian distress on a large scale, requiring immediate and urgent relief;

(ii) it must be objectively clear that there is no practicable alternative to the use of force if lives are to be saved; and

(iii) the proposed use of force must be necessary and proportionate to the aim of relief of humanitarian need and must be strictly limited in time and scope to this aim (i.e. the minimum necessary to achieve that end and for no other purpose).

The UK Government considers that the three conditions are clearly met.  The legal Guidance states ‘The large-scale use of chemical weapons by the regime in a heavily populated area on 21 August 2013 is a war crime and perhaps the most egregious single incident of the conflict.’  It further justifies military action on the basis that all diplomatic attempts to secure a just resolution and end the humanitarian suffering have failed.  There remains a grave risk that further attacks on civilians with the use of chemical weapons.

The Prime Minister, David Cameron, stated last week that the UK National Security Council agreed that ‘the world should not stand by’ after the ‘unacceptable use’ of chemical weapons by the Syrian Government. Cameron stated ”We’ve always said we want the UN Security Council to live up to its responsibilities on Syria. Today they have an opportunity to do that.”  The draft resolution is believed to have advocated for ‘all necessary measures’ to be taken, but it now appears that military intervention will have to proceed without British involvement following last week’s Commons vote unless the Security Council is seized of the matter.

The central issue focuses on the question of legality versus the morality of military intervention.  US Secretary of State, John Kerry, has referred to the moral obscenity of the Bashar al-Assad regime.  He stated that it was ‘undeniable’ that chemical weapons killed hundreds of civilians and that the government must be held accountable.  US senators in a key committee have now agreed on a draft resolution backing the use of US military force in Syria.

The Russian view is that any military intervention without a UN Security Council resolution would be a violation of international law.  It considers that there is insufficient proof to conclude that the Assad regime is responsible for the attack – if anything the evidence points to the rebels – although it’s unclear what evidence they are relying on. The Russian President has stated that he did not rule out supporting a UN Security Council resolution authorising force, if it was proved ‘beyond doubt’ that the Syrian government used chemical weapons.  However, any military action without a UN mandate would constitute an act of aggression.

This therefore raises the question as to whether there is a sound legal basis for acting without a Security Council resolution.  

Under international law the use of force by one state against another is permissible only under very exceptional circumstances.  The UN Charter prohibits the use of force unless a State (or States) are acting in self-defence or acting pursuant to a Security Council Resolution.  It is quite clear that for States to invoke the self-defence doctrine either individually or collectively to the Syrian conflict would be to redefine the doctrine beyond all recognition.  Therefore, there is not a clear legal basis under self-defence.

There has been much discussion on the applicability of humanitarian intervention, or the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).  As David Kaye, an international legal expert from the UC Irvine School of Law has stated, R2P and the doctrine of humanitarian intervention ‘spring from a moral position…But neither exception has the force of law’. Whilst the doctrine clearly demonstrates what is morally correct, it does not properly represent the position of customary international law.  To apply R2P in such circumstances would be to say the Charter is inapplicable. It is debatable that even R2P requires a Security Council resolution.

The issue of the doctrine of humanitarian intervention – distinct from R2P – is less clear.  The position advanced by the UK Government is clearly attractive and sounds right.  However, it still fails to attain the necessary support to have the status customary international law.

Speaking from a moral standpoint military intervention in Syria is clearly warranted.  Twenty-seven months into a bloody conflict it is clear that intervention by the international community has been warranted for some time already.  However, the question should be less of moral obscenity and more legal reasoning – if that is what we are trying to do.

The present position is that the US and France are ready to intervene militarily under the doctrine of humanitarian intervention; a doctrine that the US opposed in relation to Kosovo.  The UK and Germany are not ready to intervene.  There now appears to be growing consensus that the UN inspectors must be given time to complete their investigations and report back to the Security Council.  That will take some weeks yet.  This might be considered as a delaying tactic by some, and the US and France seem to have now bypassed this route by conducting their own analysis, but any intervention in Syria must be legally sound and must be aimed at a more long run solution instead of a brief term punitive exercise.

There is a case for intervention in Syria.  Moreover, a brief term military campaign aimed at punitive measures should not achieve the desired result.  It will test the resolve of a regime being backed into a corner and it will test the resolve of its international partners.  It will not, in my opinion, bring an end to the conflict.  Far less will it demonstrate that we, collectively, have a protracted-term strategy for ending the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

Toby Cadman is a Partner at Omnia Strategy LLP, a world law firm based in London and Washington DC, and is a world criminal law specialist.

The views expressed listed here are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of RUSI.

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Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Warns of great Future Security Challenges

Posted on July 17, 2013 at 8:15 am

RUSI Analysis, 7 Apr 2014 By Duncan Depledge, Research Analyst, Environment and Security

The latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change contains an intensive chapter at the implications of climate change for human security.  The results for defence and security planners are huge.

climate change cars large

Last week, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the second one of 3 reports with a purpose to constitute its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), the primary such assessment since 2007.[1] The findings were produced by Working Group II, and concern issues in terms of ‘Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability’. Included during this assessment, for the primary time, is an intensive chapter at the implications of climate change for human security. 

Importantly, the chapter on ‘Human Security’ considers greater than just the human dimension. Noting that ‘human security should be progressively threatened because the climate changes’, the authors also found evidence that ‘climate change will result in new challenges to states and increasingly shape both conditions of security and national security policies’. Removed from being alarmist, these statements offer a sobering reflection of what researchers of climate change and security was arguing because the early 2000s.

Of the eight issues raised concerning security broadly-defined it’s the last three that demand immediate attention from the protection community.

Violent Conflict and State Sensitivity to Climate Change

The authors argue that ‘low per capita incomes, economic contraction and inconsistent state institutions are related to the incidence of violence’. The potential of climate change to further stress these conflict-factors is therefore a cause for concern. While the authors are careful to not suggest a causal link between climate and conflict (as some have tried to on the subject of Darfur, for instance), what they do draw attention to is the concept climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’.

It is usually the case that the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society are those most directly depending on the natural environment for his or her livelihoods (most notably agriculture). Extreme weather (floods and droughts) can quickly undermine the steadiness of the natural environment, and as such poses a major risk to livelihoods. Where the state fails to intervene, resentment may build (particularly where lack of incomes or the unequal distribution of rents could be entwined with other political and historical grievances), raising the danger of social unrest (within the type of protests and riots) that during some circumstances may spiral into civil war.

Further evidence of those complex linkages remains needed. It’s unfortunate that the hot research at the impacts climate change will have had at the underlying factors of the ‘Arab Spring’ seem like absent from the assessment (likely since it was too late to be considered), particularly the popularity that record droughts all over since 2006 seemed to have a discernable impact on food prices and incomes during this portion of the sector.

Violent Conflict And Vulnerability To Climate Change

The second issue of interest this is that the authors argue ‘people living in places stricken by violent conflict are particularly liable to conflict change’. Widespread violent conflict may cause serious damage to infrastructure, institutions, natural capital, social capital and livelihoods – essentially the lynchpins of a stable social, political and financial system.

The evidence presented by the IPCC suggests chronic political conflict has already exacerbated challenges concerning the management of water resources, land use, and humanitarian crises in parts of the Balkans and the center East, including Iraq. The possibility of more extreme floods, droughts and other weather-related events in these ‘fragile’ regions therefore risks adding an extra layer of stress to already vulnerable populations lacking the elemental tools for adaptation. Briefly, planning for future interventions in conflict areas might want to be increasingly conscious of climate-related stress, particularly relating to post-conflict reconstruction.

Reshaping the Conditions of Security and National Security Policies

Lastly, the authors draw attention to the likely implications of climate change for national security policies. Specially, the possibility of climate change to exacerbate the sorts of strains frequently related to outbreaks of social unrest and conflict means that the monitoring of environmental stress in areas of strategic interest might want to be increased as portion of a holistic option to pre-empting and preparing for conflicts.

Moreover, the capacity of states to intervene in conflicts, in addition to provide relief through post-conflict reconstruction and humanitarian assistance, also are expected to come back under increasing pressure. More resources (finance, manpower and capabilities) will likely should be put aside to accommodate the increased pressure from environmental degradation in conflict zones. This in turn can have implications for broader defence planning, specifically because it pertains to the allocation of limited resources and civilian-military relations.

In light of the Strategic Defence and Security Review because of happen in 2015, there’s consequently much inside the IPCC’s assessment for UK defence planners to mirror on.  


[1] The primary report on ‘The Physical Science Basis’ was released in September 2013. The third report on ‘Mitigation of Climate Change’ is because of be published in April 2014. a last synthesis report would be released in October 2014.

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