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  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Naval incidents in the Gulf have spotlighted the danger that a U.S.-Iranian skirmish could blow up into war. The two sides have little ability to communicate at present. They should hasten to design a military-to-military channel to lower the chances of inadvertent conflagration. What’s new? Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have repeatedly brought the two sides to the brink of open conflict. While neither government seeks a full-fledged war, a string of dangerous tit-for-tat exchanges amid mounting hostile rhetoric underscores the potential for a bigger military clash. Why does it matter? Due to limited communication channels between Tehran and Washington, an inadvertent or accidental interaction between the two sides could quickly escalate into a broader confrontation. The risk is especially high in the Gulf, where U.S. and Iranian military vessels operate close to one another. What should be done? The U.S. and Iran should open a military de-escalation channel that fills the gap between ad hoc naval communications and high-level diplomacy at moments of acute crisis. A mechanism facilitated by a third party might contain the risk of conflict due to misread signals and miscalculation.
  • Topic: Bilateral Relations, Military Affairs, Conflict, Crisis Management
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, North America, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: For years, Gulf powers have mulled the notion of regional dialogue to calm existing crises and head off new ones. Today, with several active Middle Eastern conflicts, all sensitive to rising U.S.-Iran tensions, it is an idea whose time has come. What’s new?* Middle East tensions spiked in the past year following attacks on oil tankers and Saudi oil facilities, the U.S. killing of a senior Iranian commander and Iranian military retaliation. Some of Washington’s allies, losing confidence the U.S. will reliably extend military protection, have started making cautious diplomatic overtures to Iran. Why does it matter? While these tentative steps toward de-escalation are welcome, they risk being inadequate, particularly in the absence of regular, high-level communication channels among potential conflict actors. Existing UN-led mechanisms for resolving individual conflicts, such as Yemen, are worthwhile but insufficient to lessen region-wide tensions. What should be done? Diplomatic efforts are needed to both de-escalate tensions and make progress toward resolving regional conflicts. Gulf actors, supported by external stakeholders, should consider launching an inclusive sub-regional dialogue aimed at reducing the risk of inadvertent conflict by opening new communication channels.
  • Topic: Security, Diplomacy, Regional Cooperation, Crisis Management
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, United States of America, Gulf Nations
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: To help Ukraine find peace, the EU, NATO, and member states must seek new approaches to arms control discussions with Russia and European security as a whole. They should also consider a more flexible sanctions policy, such that progress in Ukraine may lead to incremental easing. What’s new? Russia’s Ukraine policy, including its military intervention, is driven both by Moscow’s goals in Ukraine itself and its longstanding desire to revise Europe’s security order. Western responses are similarly driven by both Ukraine-specific and Europe-wide interests. A sustainable peace plan must address both sets of factors. Why does it matter? Efforts to make peace in Ukraine by solving problems specific to Ukraine only will fail, because the causes of the conflict are both local and geostrategic. A truly sustainable peace should address European security as a whole to make Russia, its neighbours and the entire continent safer. What should be done? European states should engage Russia in discussions of European security, including regional and sub-regional arms limitations. They should also consider adjusting the current sanctions regime to allow for the lifting of some penalties if Russia contributes to real progress toward peace.
  • Topic: NATO, War, Sanctions, European Union, Peace
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Ukraine, Eastern Europe
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Turkish intervention in Libya’s war stopped the besieged Tripoli government from collapsing. But fighting with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s forces has since escalated, threatening a protracted conflict. Both Ankara and Haftar’s regional backers should urge their allies toward a return to negotiations and a ceasefire. What’s new? In January, Turkey stepped up military support to Libya’s UN-backed government of Prime Minister Faiez Serraj, stalling an offensive by forces allied with Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar. Its foray, underpinned by its own strategic, political and economic interests, has further complicated the already multi-layered Libyan crisis. Why does it matter? Turkey’s intervention has neither de-escalated the conflict nor yielded productive negotiations between rival political and military factions. It has instead exposed a different risk: the more outside actors provide military hardware and fighters to their respective Libyan allies, the longer the conflict may last and the deadlier it may become. What should be done? As Turkey’s intervention appears not to be producing a ceasefire or a return to negotiations, and since no outside actor is likely to back out unilaterally, Ankara should engage with other external players involved in the conflict to explore potential compromises regarding their respective interests in Libya and beyond.
  • Topic: Military Intervention, Conflict, Negotiation, Crisis Management, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Middle East, Libya
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Eighteen years after the U.S. war with Afghanistan’s Taliban began, all sides are taking the first formal steps toward a political settlement. From designating a neutral mediator to agreeing on “rules of the road”, Crisis Group lays out twelve prerequisites for keeping the talks going. What’s new? On 29 February, the U.S. and Taliban signed an agreement on a phased U.S. military drawdown, Taliban guarantees to sever ties with terrorist groups, and swift initiation of peace negotiations among Afghan parties to the war. These intra-Afghan negotiations could commence as soon as 10 March. Why does it matter? Intra-Afghan negotiations would be the first formal step to politically settle Afghanistan’s conflict since the U.S. toppled the Taliban regime in 2001. The U.S.-Taliban deal sets the stage for those talks, but it does not resolve issues among the Afghan parties that could prevent them from making progress. What should be done? All parties have crucial preparations to make, both before intra-Afghan negotiations start and during the talks’ early stages. Crisis Group has identified twelve key points that could make the difference between a successful beginning to a peace process and delays or early stagnation.
  • Topic: War, Taliban, Negotiation, Peace
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, South Asia
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Venezuela’s political showdown appears deadlocked. President Nicolás Maduro remains firmly in place over a year after the opposition behind Juan Guaidó mounted its campaign to supplant him. The gap between the sides is wide, but conversations with pragmatists reveal the outlines of a potential compromise. What’s new? Talks to resolve Venezuela’s political crisis broke down in September, and January’s government takeover of parliament dims prospects of their resumption. While the outlines of a possible agreement are visible, the government’s unwillingness to compromise and the opposition’s lack of realism have, so far, put a solution out of reach. Why does it matter? The country is mired in political conflict and continues to suffer from hyperinflation, high levels of criminal violence, crumbling public services, severe poverty and malnutrition. Millions have emigrated, provoking a regional refugee crisis. What should be done? Outside parties with ties to either side should put forward a possible settlement – including measures to ensure a level playing field ahead of 2020 parliamentary polls and, later, a presidential election, together with the gradual lifting of U.S. sanctions – and press both to accept it as a basis for negotiations.
  • Topic: Crisis Management, Unemployment, Nicholas Maduro
  • Political Geography: South America, Venezuela
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: A Huthi offensive threatens to engulf Marib, a province controlled by Yemen’s internationally recognised government and full of internally displaced people. Outside powers should act now to halt the fighting, which could deepen the existing humanitarian crisis and ruin peace efforts elsewhere in the country. What’s new? A showdown looms in Yemen’s Marib governorate between the Huthis, who control much of north-western Yemen, and forces allied with the internationally recognised Yemeni government. Why does it matter? An all-out battle for Marib could precipitate an enormous humanitarian disaster, as the province hosts at least 800,000 Yemenis already displaced from homes elsewhere. It could also scotch already dwindling chances of a nationwide de-escalation that in turn could lead to talks to end the war. What should be done? Outside powers should urgently convene an international contact group under UN auspices to press for a comprehensive ceasefire and inclusive negotiations to stop the war. The Huthis and Yemeni government should drop maximalist demands, and Saudi Arabia should work with the U.S., UN and others to halt the hostilities.
  • Topic: Conflict, Crisis Management, Peace, Houthis, Humanitarian Crisis
  • Political Geography: Yemen, Gulf Nations
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: In the years right after apartheid fell, South Africa was a leader in continental diplomacy, brokering peace accords and bolstering multilateral institutions. Its role subsequently diminished, but today it is well placed to make a positive difference in several trouble spots. What’s new? Midway through its term on the UN Security Council, and having just become chair of the African Union, the South African government led by Cyril Ramaphosa has a strong platform from which to reassert Pretoria’s continental leadership in efforts to mitigate Africa’s violent conflicts. Why does it matter? As Africa deals with more challenges to regional stability than it can readily handle, South Africa’s re-emergence as a leader in conflict prevention would be good for Pretoria, good for a continent that continues to prefer African solutions to African problems and good for the people of conflict-affected areas. What should be done? South Africa should enhance its focus on Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, which lie at the intersection of national, AU and UN priorities. Pretoria should also redouble efforts to steer neighbouring Zimbabwe away from crisis.
  • Topic: Conflict Prevention, Diplomacy, Regional Cooperation, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: Africa, South Africa, Zimbabwe, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Isolated from the international community, Myanmar is deepening its dependence on China. But closer ties, Beijing-backed megaprojects and private Chinese investment carry both risks and opportunities. Both states should proceed carefully to ensure local communities benefit and avoid inflaming deadly armed conflicts. What’s new? The Rohingya crisis has strained Myanmar’s relations with the West and much of the Global South, pushing it to rely more on diplomatic and economic support from China. With a China-Myanmar Economic Corridor proceeding, and smaller private-sector projects proliferating, China’s investments in Myanmar are poised to shift into higher gear. Why does it matter? Many of these projects are located in or near areas of active armed conflict, and are often implemented without sufficient transparency, consultation with local communities or awareness of the local context. They risk empowering armed actors, heightening local grievances and amplifying anti-Chinese sentiment, which could lead to a popular backlash. What should be done? China needs to take more responsibility for ensuring that its projects benefit local communities and Myanmar’s economy, and do not exacerbate conflict. The Myanmar government should enhance its China expertise to negotiate and regulate projects more effectively. Both sides need to practice greater transparency and meaningful community consultation.
  • Topic: International Relations, Bilateral Relations, Conflict, Economic Cooperation
  • Political Geography: China, Asia, Southeast Asia, Myanmar
  • Author: International Crisis Group
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: International Crisis Group
  • Abstract: Trafficking – a catch-all term for illicit movement of goods and people – has long sustained livelihoods in northern Niger. But conflicts are emerging due to heightened competition and European pressure to curb migration. Authorities should persevere in managing the extralegal exchange to contain violence. What’s new? Niger’s informal systems for managing violence related to drug, gold and people trafficking in the country’s north are under strain – due in part to European pressure to curb migration and in part to increased competition over drug transport routes. The discovery of gold could bring new challenges. Why does it matter? Tacit understandings between the authorities and traffickers pose dangers, namely the state’s criminalisation as illicit trade and politics become more intertwined. But the collapse of those understandings would be still more perilous: if trafficking disputes descend into strife, they could destabilise Niger as they have neighbouring Mali. What should be done? Niger should reinforce its conflict management systems. Action against traffickers should focus on those who are heavily armed or engage in violence. Niamey and external actors should reinvigorate the north’s formal economy. European leaders should ensure that their policies avoid upsetting practices that have allowed Niger to escape major bloodshed.
  • Topic: Economy, Trafficking , Conflict, Violence
  • Political Geography: Africa, Europe, Niger