What’s worse than the US-China trade war? A grand peace bargain


Giovanni Di Lieto, Monash University

It’s hard to tell if Donald Trump’s trumpeting of “substantial progress” in trade talks, leading to a cosy weekend at Mar-a-Lago to sign a deal with Chinese president Xi Jingping, represents reality.

Most observers, though, will be relieved by his decision to again defer his threat to escalate the US-China trade war and hike up tariffs from 10% to 25% on US$200 billion worth of Chinese imports. (The total value of US imports from China in 2018 was US$493 billion.)




Read more:
WTO offers Trump a solution to enforcing a trade deal with a China that breaks promises


Trade wars are generally considered bad for everyone. KPMG has calculated a full escalation of the trade war – with a 25% tariff applying to all goods traded (worth US$604.5 billion in 2018) – would cost Australia A$58 billion over the next decade.

But far worse for Australia, and its Asia-Pacific neighbours, could be a deal to end the trade war, especially if it involves a grand geopolitical bargain between the US and China.

Bilateral world order

Considering the US administration’s hard-line approach, for a truly comprehensive deal to occur China would have to subscribe to a serious restructuring of its industrial system. This would ultimately mean phasing out covert state subsidies, liberalising its financial markets and giving up on meaningful technological competition in security-sensitive sectors.

But out of fear an ongoing trade war will harm its export-driven economic progress, and also as an expedient step for advancing its regional hegemony, China might eventually agree to all this as part of a grand bargain.

Essentially, a grand bargain with an “America First” US administration makes sense on the mutually beneficial assumption it would lay the foundations for a bilateral world order.

As part of the deal the US would dramatically reduce its strategic footprint from the Middle East through to the Korean peninsula. The advantage would be it could focus resources on limiting China’s naval role across Indo-Pacific trading routes.

Retreating to a more sustainable role as the indispensable maritime power across the Pacific and Indian oceans would leave China free rein to exert its weight on land in Eurasia.

The US might see that as advantage. Chinese regional hegemony inland would give Russia more to think about on its south-eastern border, rather than causing problems for US allies in eastern Europe. It would also put extreme pressure on India to finally evolve into a subsidiary power to the US maritime empire, one of the wildest strategic dreams in Washington.




Read more:
The collapse of the US-Russia INF Treaty makes arms control a global priority


The downside would be that Russia might end up as a subservient commodity supplier to China’s regional empire. Russia’s geo-economic downgrade would strengthen European resolve to run independently of the US, one of the worst nightmares in Washington.

For China, the prize would be achieving the main strategic ambitions of its Belt and Road Initiative, ultimately controlling land trading routes from Beijing to Venice. The strategic cost would be abandoning its maritime ambitions.

Where this leaves Australia

Where would this bilateral world system vision leave Australia?

Certainly worse off than the current situation. With interlocking spheres of influence across the Indo-Pacific rim (US) and the Eurasian landmass (China), at best Australia would become a marginal economic and security appendage of the two hegemons.

Relegated to the role of a price- and rule-taking commodity supplier to China, Australia would remain only nominally a US ally. It would be a rather disposable buffer state at the frontier of two empires, caught between the economic and security crossfire of proxy conflicts.

Weaknesses and opportunities

Compared to this scenario, a protracted US-China trade war may well serve Australia’s national interests much better.

Though tariffs will weaken the global economy, it will hurt the US and China the most. It might even weaken their respective commercial and military grips on the Asia-Pacific region to the point that patterns of more distributed power relations could emerge.




Read more:
Why there will be no winners from the US-China trade war


Economic analysis suggests many Asian economies are already relative winners, as tariffs motivate US and Chinese businesses to “decouple”.

Malaysia, Japan, Pakistan, Thailand and the Philippines lead the nations gaining from US and Chinese companies buying goods elsewhere. Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore and India are the top beneficiaries from US companies shifting production away from China.

Several Asian countries have also seized the opportunity to play the US and China against each other.

The Philippines has revitalised relations with China to manage the South China Sea dispute more independently from the US. This has not stopped it remaining by far the largest recipient of US military aid in Asia.

South Korea has signed bilateral free-trade agreements with both China and the US, positioning itself as an intermediary that will allow American and Chinese companies to trade in a way that circumvents the tariffs.

Malaysia’s government has affirmed strategic neutrality by pulling back from deals that would put it in debt to Chinese investors.

This is arguably an unprecedented opportunity for Australia to start carving a more independent foreign policy.

Our interests lie in taking an active role in promoting a world system truly based on multilateral rules rather than great power relations.

The worst-case scenario for an ongoing US-China trade war is that it turns into real war. But that’s unlikely.

So long as it remains a manageable trade dispute, it is better for Australia, and much of the rest of the world, than trade peace leading to a bilateral world system.The Conversation

Giovanni Di Lieto, Senior Lecturer of international trade law, Monash Business School, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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All Over For ISIS?


Iraq’s brutal crackdown on suspected Islamic State supporters could trigger civil war



File 20190206 174857 lq01ke.jpeg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Family members of Sunni men and boys in Iraq accused of supporting ISIS hold up pictures of their arrested relatives.
AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo

Eric Keels, University of Tennessee and Angela D. Nichols, Florida Atlantic University

Large portions of the Islamic State in Iraq have been either killed, captured or forced underground over the past three years.

Eleven years after the U.S. invasion toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, triggering a war between Islamic State militants and the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, Iraq has finally achieved some measure of stability.

But the Iraqi government isn’t taking any chances that this terrorist organization, commonly known as “IS,” could regroup.

Over 19,000 Iraqis suspected of collaborating with IS have been detained in Iraq since the beginning of 2013, according to Human Rights Watch. Most of them are Sunni Muslims, according to reporting by Ben Taub of the New Yorker. Sunnis are members of the sect of Islam from which IS predominantly recruits.

Suspected terrorists are often tortured into offering confessions that justify death sentences at trial. According to Amnesty International, common forms of torture include “beatings on the head and body with metal rods and cables, suspension in stress positions by the arms or legs, electric shocks, and threats of rape of female relatives.”

The government’s crackdown on Sunnis – even those with no evidence of ties with Islamic militants – sends a troubling signal about Iraq’s prospects for peace.

Our research into conflict zones shows that when post-war governments use violence against citizens, it greatly increases the risk of renewed civil war.

Repression following civil wars

The period after an armed conflict is fragile.

Citizens traumatized by violence wish fervently for peace. Defeated armed factions may have their sights set on revenge.

The post-war government’s priority, meanwhile, is to consolidate its control over the country. Sometimes, leaders use violent repression to ensure their grip on power.

It is a risky strategy.

We studied 63 countries where civil war occurred between 1976 and 2005, including El Salvador, Sierra Leone and Sudan. The results, which were published in the academic journal Conflict, Security and Development in January, show a 95 percent increase of another civil war in places where governments engaged in the kind of torture, political imprisonment, killings and disappearances that Iraq’s government is now undertaking.

The Iraqi Special Forces shoots at an Islamic State militant drone, December 2016.
AP Photo/Manu Brabo

Civil war is most likely to break out in former conflict zones if civilians believe they will be targeted by the state regardless of whether or not they actually support an insurgency.

Often, our results show, people respond to indiscriminate clampdowns by arming themselves. That is easy to do in conflict zones, which are home to many former rebels with extensive battlefield training and access to weapons, including both active militant groups and the remnants of vanquished insurgencies.

Assessing the risk of renewed war in Iraq

Sadly, Iraq has been down this road before.

In 2007, the U.S. military surge sent more than 20,000 additional American troops into combat in Iraq to help the government of Nuri al-Maliki – which came to power after Hussein’s demise – fight Al-Qaida and other Islamic militants.

The U.S. enlisted Sunni insurgents to help them find, capture or kill Al-Qaida operatives during this period of the Iraq war, which is often called “the surge.”

That decision inflamed the centuries-old sectarian divide between Iraq’s two dominant religious groups, Sunni and Shia Muslims.

Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi leads a Shia-dominated government.
ACMCU/Twitter, CC BY

During former Iraqi President Hussein’s rule, Sunni Muslims controlled the country, and his government actively repressed Shia citizens. Since Hussein’s ouster, however, Iraq’s government has been run by Shia Muslims.

After the U.S. withdrew its troops in 2011, the U.S.-backed al-Maliki government began a brutal campaign to consolidate its authority. From 2012 to 2013, he expelled all Sunni officials from Iraq’s government and silenced opponents using torture, political imprisonment, killings and disappearances.

At the time, our study of renewed fighting in conflict zones had just begun. The preliminary findings made us concerned that al-Maliki’s use of violence to assert control over Iraq could restart the civil war by pushing angry Sunnis into the arms of militant groups.

Unfortunately, we were right.

Starting in 2014, the Islamic State began moving swiftly from Syria – where it was based – to conquer major cities across neighboring western Iraq.

Iraqi Sunnis, who were excluded from politics after Hussein’s overthrow and fearful of government repression, did little to stop the incursion. Islamic militants increased their recruitment among Iraqi Sunnis by promising a return to Sunni dominance in Iraq.

Many Sunnis took up arms against their own government not because they supported IS’s goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate across the Middle East but because they hated al-Maliki’s administration.

By June 2014, the Islamic State had captured Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, just 250 miles north of Baghdad. It took three years of fighting and the combined force of Iraqi, U.S. and Kurdish troops, as well as Iranian-backed militias, to rid the country of this terrorist organization.

In September 2017, Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Abadi claimed victory over IS in Iraq. The international community turned its focus toward Syria, where Islamic militants were continuing their war on citizens and the government.

What’s next for Iraq

Still, the Islamic State remains a persistent and legitimate threat to both Syria and Iraq, with some 30,000 active fighters in the region. Its commanders have reportedly buried large stockpiles of munitions in Iraq in preparation for renewed war.

American intelligence officials have warned against President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria, saying it will give IS more freedom to regroup there and in Iraq.

The Iraqi government’s crackdown on Sunnis is, in part, an effort to eliminate this threat, since IS could draw renewed support from disaffected Sunni Iraqis across the border.

But many observers think Prime Minister Abdul-Mahdi is also exacting revenge on Sunnis for previously joining IS in armed warfare against Iraq’s government.

Rather than prevent more fighting, our research suggests, Iraq’s clampdown on Sunnis may spark another civil war.The Conversation

Eric Keels, Research Associate at One Earth Future Foundation & Research Fellow at the Howard H. Baker Center for Public Policy, University of Tennessee and Angela D. Nichols, Assistant Professor, Florida Atlantic University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Syrian war is not over, it’s just on a new trajectory: here’s what you need to know


File 20190205 86224 ksozds.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Russia, Turkey, Iran and Israel will keep vying for power in Syria long after the US is gone.
from shutterstock.com

Mehmet Ozalp, Charles Sturt University

December 2018 marked a significant shift in the Syrian conflict. The end-of-year events put the country on a new trajectory, one in which President Bashar al-Assad looks towards consolidating his power and Islamic State (IS) sees a chance to perpetuate its existence.

Turkey’s role

Kick-starting the development was Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s announcement he would start a military operation east of the Euphrates River – an area controlled by the US supported and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

The US and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces control the area to the east of the Euphrates River.
Wikimedia Commons

Throughout the eight-year conflict, Assad and his main backer, Russia, have not militarily engaged with the Kurds. Assad and Russia didn’t see the Kurds as terrorists or insurgents, but as protectors of their territory against IS and other jihadist forces.

But Turkey sees the Kurdish zone as an existential threat. Turkey has legitimate fears: if the Kurdish region in Syria becomes independent, it can unite with the Kurdish region in northern Iraq and eventually claim the largely Kurdish southeast of Turkey.

Turkey’s intended military operation east of the Euphrates is yet to eventuate. But the announcement was a bold move, made more real by the large military build-up on the Turkish-Syrian border. It put pressure on the US administration and US President Donald Trump to make a call on Syria: either stand firm against Turkey and further stretch already tense relations, or pull out of Syria to abrogate responsibility.

Trump chose the second option. He swiftly declared the US would pull out from Syria altogether – and sell Patriot surface-to-air missiles to Turkey to prevent its attempt to purchase the Russian S-400 missile defence system.

The removal of US troops came with a Trump-style announcement on Twitter: “After historic victories against ISIS, it’s time to bring our great young people home!”

US policy

Since April 2018, Trump had made clear his desire to leave Syria. Ten days after declaring his intention, an episode of chemical attacks forced Trump’s hand into staying in Syria and retaliating. This time, though, either the pressure from Turkey worked or Trump saw it as a perfect time to execute his intent to leave.

Under the Obama administration, US foreign policy with regards to Syria was to remain there until IS was destroyed completely, Iran and its associated entities removed and a political solution achieved in line with the UN-led Geneva peace talks. Trump claimed the first goal was complete and saw it as sufficient grounds to pull out.




Read more:
Further strikes on Syria unlikely – but Trump is always the wild card


Then, on December 21 2018, Trump announced Defence Secretary James Mattis would retire at the end of February 2019. The Washington Post reported Mattis vehemently objected to, and clashed with Trump over, the Syrian withdrawal. In his resignation letter, Mattis wrote: “you have the right to have a Secretary of Defence whose views are better aligned with yours”.

Differences have marked US policy on Syria since the beginning of the conflict in 2011. Trump further added to the confusion, and his erratic decision-making also demonstrates his frustration with his own administration.

Russia’s game

The global fear, of course, is that the US withdrawal will leave Russia as the region’s military and political kingpin, with Iran and Turkey as its partners.




Read more:
Stakes are high as Turkey, Russia and the US tussle over the future of Syria


Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has publicly stated that Russia respects Turkey’s national interests in Syria. He added Turkey was willing to compromise and work together to improve the situation and fight against terrorism. Turkey appears to have accepted Russian objectives in Syria in return for Russia’s green light to do what Turkey deems best for its national interests in the Kurdish region.

One Russian objective is to ensure Assad remains Syria’s president. Russia may allow Turkey to host limited operations in the Kurdish region, not only to hold a compromise with Turkey, but also to eventually pressure Kurdish forces into cooperating with Russia and accepting the Assad regime.

Russia is playing out a careful strategy – pleasing Turkey, but not at the expense of Assad’s sovereignty in Syria. Erdogan was a staunch adversary of Assad in the early years of the conflict. Russia counts on Erdogan’s recognition of Assad to influence other Sunni majority states to cross over to the Russian-Assad camp.

Russia’s strategy is to please Turkey, but only to the extent that it doesn’t threaten Assad’s hold on power in Syria.
from shutterstock.com

The Turkish foreign minister has said Turkey may consider working with Assad if Syria holds democratic elections. Of course, Assad will only agree to elections if he is assured of a win.

The United Arab Emirates announced a reopening of its embassy in Damascus, which was followed by Bahrain stating it had never cut its diplomatic ties with the Syrian administration. Although Saudi Arabia denied it, there are media reports that the Saudi foreign ministry is establishing diplomatic ties with the Syrian administration.

These are indications the main players in the region are preparing to recognise and work with the Assad government.

An important step in Turkey’s recognition of Assad came in a meeting on January 23 between Putin and Erdogan. Putin reminded Erdogan of the 1998 Adana Pact between Turkey and Syria. The pact began a period of previously unprecedented bilateral links between Turkey and Syria until 2011, when the current conflict flared.

Erdogan acknowledged the 1998 pact was still in operation, meaning Turkey and the Assad administration could work together against terrorism.

Trump may also see no problem with the eventuality. There was no mention of Assad when he claimed victory in Syria, indicating he does not care whether Assad remains in power or not.

Islamic State

The overarching concern is that the US pulling out of Syria would bring back IS. The group has lost large territories and the major cities of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. The last town under IS control, Hajin, fell to coalition forces in December 2018. Despite these wins, it’s too soon to claim the end for IS.

Trump has a solution to this too: outsourcing. In a Tweet on December 24, he announced Turkish President Erdogan will “eradicate whatever is left of ISIS in Syria”. This is highly unlikely as Turkey’s main concern is the Kurdish region in northern Syria where IS is not likely to pose any threat.

Given Russia and Assad will be the main forces in Syria, their policies will determine the future of IS.

Assad would not want IS to jeopardise his own government. At the same time, Assad’s claim for legitimacy throughout the civil war was his fight against terrorism, embodied by IS. If IS were to exist in some shape and form, it would benefit Assad in the crucial years of consolidating his power. This may lead to Assad appearing to crack down on IS while not entirely eradicating them.




Read more:
James Mattis: what defence secretary’s resignation means for Syria, Afghanistan and NATO, as Trump leans in to Putin


IS will also try hard to survive. It still has a large number of seasoned commanders and fighters who can unleash guerrilla warfare. IS also has operatives peppered throughout Syria to launch suicide bombing attacks in Syrian cities, similar to what they have been doing in Iraq.

Israel, meanwhile, has been quietly hitting Iranian targets in Syria since May 2018. Israeli air strikes intensified in January 2019 and occurred in broad daylight. In acknowledging the strikes, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel’s “permanent policy” was to strike at the Iranian entrenchment in Syria.

We could see more altercations between Israel and Iran in 2019, now that the US has abandoned the objective of countering Iran’s presence in Syria.

The Syrian conflict is not over. It’s just on a new trajectory. The US withdrawal is sure to leave a power vacuum, which will quickly be filled by other regional powers like Turkey, Iran and Israel under the watchful eye of Russia.The Conversation

Mehmet Ozalp, Associate Professor in Islamic Studies, Director of The Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation and Executive Member of Public and Contextual Theology, Charles Sturt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

It’s the right time to review the world’s chemical weapons convention


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Chemical weapons in civilian attacks;: Novichok decontamination work in the area where Sergei and Yulia Skripal were found poisoned and unconscious in Salisbury, UK.
Shutterstock/Amani A

Martin Boland, Charles Darwin University

The chemical weapons convention (CWC) is one of the most successful arms control treaties in existence. It outlaws the production, stockpiling or research on offensive lethal chemical weapons.

Yet chemical weapons have recently featured in the news – such as the recent Novichok poisonings in the UK – and the convention is facing questions.

The 193 signatory nations to the convention will assemble from November 19 this year at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague for the latest periodic review of the chemical weapons convention.

As reported today in Science, this is an important opportunity to get some key things back on track.




Read more:
What we know about Novichok, the ‘newby’ nerve agents linked to Russia


The chemical weapons convention is a legacy of the end of the cold war. The collapse of the Soviet Union reinvigorated the long-dormant chemical weapons control process. This culminated with most nations signing and ratifying the chemical weapons convention, which came into force in 1997.

Each nation is responsible for the destruction of its own stockpile of weapons (either alone, or with the help of others), with compliance monitored by OPCW. So far about 96% of declared stocks of chemical weapon agents have been eliminated, including all of Russia’s declared stockpile.

Fit for the mid-21st century?

Most nations accept that chemical weapons are an anachronism, with only limited military value against an enemy of similar technological sophistication.

But there has been a rise in recent years in the use of chemical weapon agents against civilian populations, as in the Syrian civil war, and as tools of assassination, such as in the murder of Kim Jong-nam and the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury in the UK.

So are chemical weapons climbing out of the grave we thought we had consigned them to?

What is a chemical weapon?

It’s important to clear up a common misconception about the chemical weapons convention and how it handles lethal chemical agents.

Under the convention, the use of the pharmacological effects (what the chemical does to the body) of any chemical to achieve a military outcome (death or permanent disability) makes that a chemical weapon.

This means that novel agents, such as the Novichok (or A-series) chemicals alleged to have been used against the Skripals, are illegal, not because of their structure but due to the attempt to use them to kill.

This definition can create some complexities. If we take as a given that many chemicals are potentially lethal – it’s the dose that makes the poison – how do you regulate compounds that are likely to be used as weapons?

How should these be distinguished from those that could be fatal, but aren’t typically applied for ill-purpose? For example, the anticancer drug mustine – also known as nitrogen mustard – is a schedule 1 weapon under the chemical weapons convention (under the codename HN2).

Police action or short cut to new weapons?

Riot control agents are those such as pepper spray, 2-chlorobenzalmalononitrile (better known, slightly erroneously, as CS-gas). These compounds are designed to cause the victim discomfort. But the effects dissipate soon after the victim is removed from exposure – similar to if you get capsaicin in your eyes while cutting chillies, you can wash the compound away with lots of water or milk.

These agents are only lightly regulated under the chemical weapons convention. Their use is allowed as part of normal law enforcement, but prohibited in war.

Different to these, incapacitating agents are defined as those that cause the victim to lose consciousness, or otherwise become systemically incapacitated – but the effects of these are not reversible by removing exposure.

Examples include chemicals that cause massive sensory hallucinations and prevent the victim from recognising reality.

There is much debate about the ultimate safety of riot control agents, but in general they are seen as safe unless incorrectly used. On the other hand, a Russian incapacitating agent is believed to have caused many of the fatalities during the 2002 Moscow theatre siege.

So how can these agents be legal, while the agent used in Salisbury is immediately considered illegal? What is an appropriate level of chemical force that should be acceptable when applied to a person as part of civilian policing?

What level of research into, or stockpiling of, such compounds would suggest the goal is no longer to develop countermeasures, but is part of an offensive chemical weapons program?

The CWC was written to outlaw these things, but has its success only moved the goalposts? These are open questions that the review should address.

Responsibility of scientists

Questions about how responsible a scientist is for the use of their work probably go to Fitz Haber and beyond. The 1918 Nobel Prize winner is generally considered the father of modern chemical warfare for his suggestion that the Imperial German Army use chlorine, the first lethal chemical weapon of World War I.

Today there are several questions about how scientists should interact with the world, using their knowledge to educate the public through the media, while avoiding drawing attention to possible misuses of that knowledge (or allowing their messages to be manipulated to cause panic).

Is it a greater good for society for me to explain that nitrogen mustard (from the example above) treats cancer, than the risk that someone will now try to steal some mustine from the oncology clinic to misuse it?

There is also the problem of dual use technologies. These are techniques that can equally be used develop a new pharmaceutical, or could be applied to develop a new nerve agent.

How much regulation of day-to-day research and commerce is acceptable to prevent those who would do us harm having access to materials and knowledge?

In the 20 years since the ratification of the CWC, we have made discoveries and improved access to technologies that may make it easier to create a truly effective improvised chemical weapon.

The chemical weapons convention has almost reached the initial goal of the signatories, the elimination of chemical weapons. Now the convention needs to move with the times, to prevent backsliding from the prevailing culture that considers chemical weapons to be unspeakably barbaric.The Conversation

Martin Boland, Senior Lecturer of Medicinal and Pharmaceutical Chemistry, Charles Darwin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The war in Syria may be ending, but is likely to bring a fresh wave of suffering



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Total destruction: Syrian soldiers patrol in south Damascus, Syria, in May 2018.
AAP/EPA/Youssef Badawi

Mehmet Ozalp, Charles Sturt University

As the war in Syria comes to its final stages, the future of the country and the whole region hangs in the balance. As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad consolidates his power by defeating all opposition, resistance runs the risk of transforming into a new wave of organised terrorism.

My analysis at the beginning of 2018 predicted an imminent end to the conflict, with Assad victorious over the rebels. The final stage of the war was foreseen to be fought over the critical city and province of Idlib, the stronghold of the rebel groups. The capture of Idlib would cement Assad’s control of Western Syria demarcated by the Euphrates River.




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The Syrian ‘hell on earth’ is a tangle of power plays unlikely to end soon


Idlib and Daraa were the first places where the civil war broke out back in 2011. Daraa fell to Assad’s forces in July 2018. Inevitably, Idlib was next in line.

Since 2015, Idlib has served as a repository of insurgents escaping Assad’s forces. The strategy of Assad was clear: to overwhelm opposition forces in every city with Russian air support; destroy as many of the armed rebels as possible; allow remaining armed rebels to move to Idlib as a temporary safe haven and then launch a final attack on Idlib to wipe out all armed opposition. The plan followed exactly this path, and worked.

Millions of displaced civilians have also moved to Idlib, escaping the war elsewhere. The United Nations has warned an attack on Idlib could be “the worst humanitarian catastrophe of the 21st century”.

In July 2018, the world and the US administration waited nervously to see what the Trump-Putin Helsinki summit would bring for Syria. But the Syria issue was overshadowed by the issue of Russian meddling with the 2016 US elections and Trump astonishingly choosing to believe Putin rather than his own intelligence aides over the matter.




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In the outrage over the Trump-Putin meeting, important questions were overlooked


The relative insignificance of Syria during the summit, coupled with Trump’s lack of strategic insight, must have reconfirmed with Putin that the US was continuing to take a back seat in Syria. Soon after the summit, Assad and Russia intensified their preparations to attack Idlib.

Other key people in the US administration were not as uninterested as Trump. Security adviser John Bolton, Defence Secretary Jim Mattis as well as other European powers issued repeated warnings against the use of chemical weapons.

In response, Russia has launched a PR campaign claiming that the US and Western bloc countries used a staged chemical attack as a pretext to strike Assad. At the same time, Russia was busy reinforcing its naval forces in the Mediterranean by adding 10 more battleships to its sizeable fleet.

Having pacified the US and its Western allies, Russia, Iran and Turkey met in Tehran in early September to decide the fate of Idlib and its inhabitants. Putin publicly rejected Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s call for a ceasefire.

About a week later, Putin and Erdogan met. Putin announced an agreement between Russia and Turkey to create “a demilitarised zone of a depth of 15-20km, with the withdrawal from there of radically minded rebels, including al-Nusra”.

No-one is sure who the “radically minded rebels” are, but Turkey will act as a guarantor in the demilitarisation process, relying on its significant influence over the rebel groups.

A young refugee plays with a teddy bear on the Syrian-Turkish border. The Syrian war has seen more than 3.5 million people seek refuge in Turkey.
AAP/EPA/ Zein Alrifaii

Turkey had no choice. It was facing the real possibility of another wave of hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians adding to the 3.5 million Syrians seeking refuge in Turkey. More importantly, escaped jihadist operatives were likely to regroup in Turkey, creating a massive internal security threat to that country.

As the first group started to leave the demilitarised zone on September 30, a small group of refugees returned to Syria from Lebanon. These are certainly good signs, but they don’t mean the war has ended. There is not even an official ceasefire in place, and the UN continues to issue warnings that Syria is still too dangerous a place to live and operate.

What is certain is that all parties, including Turkey, the US and some opposition groups, have now accepted the inevitability of Assad staying in power as the only legitimate government in Syria. This reality will have two main ramifications.




Read more:
Syria, Russia and Turkey – the uneasy alliance reshaping world politics


Firstly, once totally free from armed opposition, Russia through the Assad regime is likely to challenge the US presence in Syria. Russia is not in Syria for a benevolent reason, but chiefly to ensure the permanence of its access to the Mediterranean Sea. A permanent US presence in Syria clashes with this objective.

By the end of 2018, and certainly in 2019, demands for the US to leave Syria will intensify – an eventuality that Trump clearly articulated back in April 2018. The US is likely to withdraw from Syria on the condition that Iran’s influence in the country is contained. Russia and Assad will make promises, but once the US is out, Iran will come back in.

Secondly, the biggest issue facing Syria is the deep feeling of resentment within a large segment of the population. They will question why the war was fought, creating 5 million refugees, displacing 6 million and killing more than 400,000, given that Assad is still in power in the end and Syria is no closer to being a democratic country advancing human rights and progress.

For some, the resentment will remain inward. But for a significant minority, the resentment will brew and turn into an unstoppable rage, perhaps manifesting in the familiar form of suicide bombing squads. They will reorganise themselves and launch a campaign of terrorism focusing mainly on easy civilian targets. This will only serve Assad’s narrative that fighting terrorism has reinforced his claims to legitimacy in the eyes of Syrians and increasingly within the international community.

The campaign of terrorism may inevitably spill over to Russia for staunchly supporting Assad, and to the US and its Western allies for allowing Russia to take the upper hand in Syria, subverting all attempts to get rid of Assad.

Civil war in Syria may be coming to an end with Assad firmly in power, but the resentment it generates is likely to evolve into a new wave of terrorism.The Conversation

Mehmet Ozalp, Associate Professor in Islamic Studies, Director of The Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation and Executive Member of Public and Contextual Theology, Charles Sturt University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Why Australia should face civil lawsuits over soldier misdeeds in Afghanistan


Tim Matthews, University of Sydney and John Eldridge, University of Sydney

For the past two years, Paul Brereton, a New South Wales Supreme Court judge and Army Reserve major general, has been conducting an investigation into the conduct of members of the SAS in Afghanistan. While the findings are not yet known, leaks from within the Australian Defence Force (ADF) have suggested that as many as five cases involving unlawful killings have been uncovered.

Much of the media commentary surrounding the allegations has centred on the potential criminal prosecution of these alleged offences. But a further legal issue can arise from investigations of this kind – the alleged victims (or their families) might bring civil claims against Australia’s armed forces, seeking compensation for their suffering.




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Explainer: how Australia’s military justice system works


Cases of this kind have occurred in other countries. In the United States, a number of high-profile habeas corpus petitions have been filed against the government by people who claim they were unlawfully detained by US armed forces on suspicion of being insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Claims for damages have also been successfully brought by former Iraqi detainees against private military contractors over their alleged torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

British courts are also currently considering a number of civil suits arising out of British involvement in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

One of those claimants, Yunus Rahmatullah, was arrested by British forces in Iraq in 2004 on suspicion of being a member of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist organisation with links to al-Qaeda. He was “rendered” by British forces to the custody of the US army in Afghanistan, where he was detained for over ten years without charge or trial and, he alleges, tortured.

Rahmatullah denies ever being a member of a terrorist organisation. He has made a well-publicised claim for compensation from the UK government, under the country’s Human Rights Act.

Why are civil claims against soldiers controversial?

We are all exposed to potential civil liability in our day-to-day lives. If we drive negligently and cause an accident, for instance, we may find ourselves liable to pay compensation to those we have harmed. The same is true of public institutions and authorities, such as hospitals and the police. Few would suggest this is unfair or unreasonable.




Read more:
Inconsistency bedevils Australia’s prosecution of war criminals


However, the extension of civil liability to the armed forces is controversial. Former Army officer Bill O’Chee, for instance, recently argued forcefully against such liability:

Service personnel who commit crimes are already subject to military criminal proceedings, and this is rightly so. However, exposing them to claims for personal injury claims would be perverse and entirely unjust.

The very idea that highly paid lawyers in comfortable courts in Australia can understand, let alone litigate these cases, is fanciful at best.

How absurd it would be for our servicemen and women to be subjected to damages claims in these circumstances, let alone be asked to find the money for legal costs and a possible damages order against them.

Should these civil claims be permitted?

Such civil liability claims have never been brought against individual ADF personnel in Australia before. This would be new legal territory. And nobody is seriously suggesting these soldiers should personally bear the burden of defending civil claims arising from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Rather, any potential claims are likely to be defended by the Commonwealth.

This is the way civil claims against police officers in Australia are typically resolved. In such cases, individual officers will often be required to give evidence as to their version of events. Yet the costs of defending the case, and the compensation (if any) paid to the plaintiff, are borne not by the individual officers, but by the relevant public authority.

Despite the controversy surrounding them, there are still good reasons to allow civil claims of this kind to proceed.




Read more:
Friday essay: war crimes and the many threats to cultural heritage


First, criminal and civil claims serve different purposes. A successful criminal prosecution may leave a victim with a feeling of vindication, but it typically does not result in monetary compensation. As a result, it may matter little to victims or their families if the soldiers responsible are professionally disciplined, since they may receive no compensation for their loss.

Secondly, the notion that civilian courts are not competent to adjudicate on military matters is seriously problematic.

Nobody could deny that military personnel are forced to carry out their duties in extremely difficult conditions. It is also true that many lawyers and judges have difficulty appreciating the fraught circumstances in which military decision-making occurs.

But the answer to these difficulties is not the abandonment of such claims altogether. Judges are often faced with the task of making difficult decisions about matters on which they are not experts. Civil justice would simply not work if courts threw up their hands whenever they were faced with such challenges.

Greater accountability for the military

Finally, if the Commonwealth were somehow able to avoid liability for potential civil damages in these types of cases, the ADF may have less incentive to conduct military operations in ways that safeguard the rights of civilians caught in conflict zones.

Given the limited accountability for military decision-making in the public sphere, the possibility of accountability in a civil court would promote stricter adherence to international conventions on war.

Many of the victims who may bring claims of this kind are unlikely to excite public sympathy. For example, one of the claimants in the UK cases, Serdar Mohammed, was arrested while leaving a ten-hour firefight with British troops, discarding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher and ammunition on his way.

The ConversationBut we shouldn’t allow our moral judgement of claimants like Mohammed to erode our commitment to the rule of law. Public authorities, and especially our armed forces, should be held accountable for their actions to the limits imposed by law.

Tim Matthews, Sessional Academic, Law School, University of Sydney and John Eldridge, Lecturer, Sydney Law School, University of Sydney

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Clarrie Combo, Mrs Brown and Aboriginal soldiers in WW2



File 20180417 30570 1fksnvg.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Yorta Yorta women and girls at the Cummeragunja Reserve in NSW with their knitting for soldiers serving in the second world war.
Australian War Memorial: P01562.001

Kristyn Harman, University of Tasmania

During the second world war, a young Aboriginal soldier, Private Clarrie Combo from New South Wales, exchanged mail with Mrs F. C. Brown from Loxton, South Australia — a white woman whom he had never met.

Very few letters penned by Aboriginal soldiers who served in either of the two world wars survive, yet one of Clarrie’s letters has endured in what might seem a surprising context. Mrs Brown contacted the young soldier after seeing an advertisement calling for volunteers to “adopt” Aboriginal soldiers. His reply was printed in her local newspaper, and its survival provides us with a rare opportunity to learn about military service from an Aboriginal soldier’s perspective.

Private Clarence Combo.
NAA: B883, NX30580

Clarence Combo was born in Wardell, New South Wales, on 14 September 1919. Young Clarrie grew up in a harsh environment — Kinchela Aboriginal Boys’ Training Home near Kempsey. Consistent with government plans to assimilate Aboriginal people into white Australian society, children like Clarrie were forcibly removed from their families. At Kinchela, boys were called by their allocated numbers rather than names. Identities and cultures were stripped away.

In a country where discriminatory legislation and practices precluded Aboriginal people from earning a fair wage, voting, marrying non-Aboriginal partners, buying property or entering a public bar, it is not too difficult to imagine why some young Aboriginal men signed up for the military when war broke out. An estimated 1,000 Aboriginal soldiers served in the Australian Imperial Force as black diggers during the first world war. By the mid-20th century it was easier for Aboriginal men to sign up, so around 3,000 served Australia during WWII.

Comfort funds

Shortly after WWII began, the Melbourne-based Aborigines Uplift Society, founded by non-Aboriginal activist Arthur Burdeu, created a comforts auxiliary for Aboriginal soldiers. The idea was that women could “adopt” an Aboriginal soldier. They would correspond with him and arrange comfort parcels to be sent to him at the front.

In the Society’s August 1940 Uplift newsletter, Burdeu explained how “native women have not the resources to do as their white sisters, though they are already at work”. In Queensland, for example, children at the Purga Aboriginal Mission sewed underpants, toilet tidies, calico bags and hussifs (sewing kits), and knitted socks, mittens and balaclavas. Yorta Yorta women and children at the Cummeragunja Reserve (located in New South Wales) were also involved in knitting for the war effort.

Newspaper advertisements ran across Australia inviting women to contact Burdeu about “adopting” an Aboriginal soldier. With at least one son-in-law serving Australia, Mrs Brown may have felt compassion for those men whose families could not afford to send them parcels.

Corresponding with Mrs Brown

On September 25, 1941 the Murray Pioneer and Australian River Record published one of Clarrie’s letters to Mrs Brown under the headline “Aboriginal’s Appreciative Letter”. Clarrie opened his correspondence with Mrs Brown by thanking her for writing to him. He wrote: “it is very nice of you to write to someone you do not know”. At a practical level, Clarrie advised Mrs Brown that he wore size seven boots, as she had offered to knit socks for him.

Aboriginal’s Appreciative Letter extract.
https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/109261185

The young private’s letter provides a unique perspective on his experiences serving abroad. “I was in action for the first time in Greece,” he told his correspondent. He described Greece as “the nicest country that I have been in since leaving Australia”, then marvelled at having seen snow for the first time.

However the horrors of war included being “attacked practically every day by the German planes”. He told Mrs Brown how “a few of my pals were killed over there … There were German planes in the sky all day long and they were always bombing”.

What’s left out of correspondence can also be telling. In War Dance: A Story of the 2/3 Aust. Inf. Battalion A.I.F., Ken Clift provides an insight into racial attitudes amongst some of the men, telling of an altercation between two Australian soldiers, an Aboriginal one named Clarrie and an Indian or Afghan soldier, Tom. As the men argued heatedly, Tom allegedly called Clarrie: “You black bastard”. Clarrie was said to have retorted, “Well Tom, you’re no bloody glass of milk yourself.” Clarrie’s correspondence with Mrs Brown omits any mention of such tensions.

Welcome home

Over five years’ service, Clarrie’s tours of duty included Egypt, Libya, Greece, Crete, Syria, Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) and New Guinea. He suffered illness and injuries. In 1941 he caught sandfly fever, an ailment commonly suffered by soldiers fighting in North Africa. His “Proceedings for Discharge” notes that Clarrie received two war injuries, one to his right forearm and the other, a gunshot wound inflicted in New Guinea in June 1945, to his left forearm.

Clarrie’s war experiences included seeing some of his mates injured or killed. He would also have been expected to fire on enemy combatants. However, his correspondence with Mrs Brown, replete with anecdotes about foreign lands and peoples, highlights how being part of Australia’s war effort in the mid-20th century also gave him insights into other places and cultures.

The ConversationFortunately, Clarrie survived the war. He was one of five Aboriginal soldiers welcomed home to Wardell by the Cabbage Tree Island Women’s Guild just before Christmas 1945. By the mid-1960s Clarrie was chairing the Aboriginal Cooperative at Cabbage Tree Island and participating in national conferences advocating equal rights for Aboriginal people.

Kristyn Harman, Senior Lecturer in History; Graduate Research Coordinator, School of Humanities; Course Coordinator, Diploma of History, University of Tasmania

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.