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  • Author: Amer Al-Hussein
  • Publication Date: 03-2021
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: The Syrian conflict entered its eleventh year on 15 March 2021, bringing this “living nightmare” back to our minds.[1] This ominous anniversary should remind the world of the importance of addressing the bleak reality inside Syria. While the new US administration provides a glimmer of hope for a return to diplomacy, multilateralism and an end to the mercantilism of the past years, Europe would be wrong to simply wait for the US lead on Syria.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Politics, Sanctions, European Union, Institutions, Coronavirus
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Syria, United States of America, Mediterranean
  • Author: Zeynep Sahin Mencutek, N. Ela Gokalp Aras, Bezen Balamir Coşkun
  • Publication Date: 01-2021
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Uluslararasi Iliskiler
  • Institution: International Relations Council of Turkey (UİK-IRCT)
  • Abstract: Migration studies have seldom dealt with the foreign policy dimensions of refugee migration. Additionally, international relations (IR) theories have barely addressed migration policy. The present study seeks to address this gap by analysing Turkey’s response to Syrian mass migration through the lens of neoclassical realist theory. Its purpose is to ascertain to what extent IR theories, particularly neoclassical realism, help us to understand Turkey’s policies and politics addressing Syrian mass migration and changes over time. It questions the pertinence of Turkey’s relative power and its foreign policy objectives in shaping responses to Syrian mass migration. The research also sheds much-needed light not only on dynamism in power-policy relations but also interaction between the international system and internal dynamics in designing migration policies. It aims to stimulate dialogue between IR theories and migration studies, with a particular focus on the foreign policy dimension of state responses to mass refugee migration.
  • Topic: International Relations, Foreign Policy, Migration, Refugees
  • Political Geography: Europe, Turkey, Middle East, Asia, Syria
  • Author: Ekaterina Stepanova
  • Publication Date: 06-2020
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Istituto Affari Internazionali
  • Abstract: As Russia has become a major external player in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region due to its military engagement in Syria since 2015, it has acted as a balancer and mediator in several regional controversies and has continued to serve as a security guarantor for the Syrian state. This course has brought Moscow some practical dividends, such as growing economic and military-technical cooperation with select MENA countries, and has spurred its broader international profile. However, entering the 2020s, the risks of more active engagement in the Middle East have also mounted, making Russia’s balancing act more difficult. In three cases where Russia’s involvement has been visible (Syria, Libya and the Israeli-Palestinian problem), evolving developments challenge Moscow’s acquired influence and multi-vector approach, but also create new opportunities for its engagement and mediation. Above all, the 2020 US–Iran crisis catalysed the urgent need for structured regional dialogue, especially across the Persian Gulf. While this requires direct interaction between the region’s main antagonists, the initial impulse to unlock the trans-Gulf impasse might need to come from the outside. A process-oriented blueprint for inclusive multilateral security in the Gulf proposed by Russia in 2019 is a step in the right direction, but to be activated it may need to come as part of some broader international initiative.
  • Topic: Security, Foreign Policy, Geopolitics
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Middle East, Israel, Libya, Palestine, North Africa, Syria
  • Author: Frederick W. Kagan, Nicholas Carl, Marie Donovan
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research
  • Abstract: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Ground Forces are organized around headquarters that are meant to coordinate the operations of Iranian paramilitary forces and support the Quds Force’s use of proxy groups such as Iraqi Shi’a militias abroad. Their basing in Iran indicates a primary focus on suppressing internal unrest and waging irregular warfare in the rear of an invader rather than on defending against an invasion conventionally. Their organizational structure and the pattern of their operations in Syria suggest that they might be challenged to coordinate large-scale (multi-division) operations abroad and possibly at home. The fact that the Iranian leadership has not yet had to use them on a large scale to suppress growing domestic unrest suggests that the regime still has a potent reserve force to ensure its survival even if the unrest grows considerably, as long as it does not also face a requirement for large-scale military operations abroad.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Armed Forces, Qassem Soleimani, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC)
  • Political Geography: Iran, Middle East, Syria
  • Author: Soner Cagaptay
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Turkey, Russia, and Washington have compelling reasons to welcome a new ceasefire agreement, however imperfect, but they still need to address the longer-term dangers posed by the Assad regime’s murderously maximalist strategy. Recent fighting between Turkish and Syrian regime forces in Idlib province has seemingly wiped away the last vestiges of the September 2018 Sochi agreement, brokered by Russian president Vladimir Putin as a way of pausing hostilities and dividing control over the country’s last rebel-held province. Beginning last December, renewed Russian and Syrian attacks against civilians sent a million residents fleeing toward the Turkish border, creating another humanitarian disaster. Then, on February 27, thirty-three Turkish soldiers were killed when their unit was attacked in Idlib—Ankara’s largest single-day loss in Syria thus far. Turkey initially blamed Bashar al-Assad for the deaths, but eyes soon turned to his Russian patron as the more likely culprit, elevating tensions between Ankara and Moscow to a level not seen since Turkish forces shot down a Russian plane in November 2015. Meanwhile, the Turkish military and its local partner forces launched a string of attacks against the Syrian regime and its Iranian-backed militia allies. On March 5, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will meet with Putin in Moscow to discuss these rising tensions. If the two leaders reach another ceasefire deal, will it last any longer than the short-lived Sochi agreement? More important, what effect might it have on the latest refugee crisis threatening to wash over Turkey and Europe?
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Treaties and Agreements, Syrian War, Negotiation
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, United States of America, Idlib
  • Author: Michael Knights
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Enhancing deterrence and protecting Americans in Iraq and Syria requires a more formalized system for rationing out retaliatory strikes at the proper intensity, time, and place. When U.S. airstrikes targeted Kataib Hezbollah militia personnel and senior Iranian military figures on December 29 and January 3, they were releasing long-pent-up retaliation for a range of provocations by Iraqi militias. Yet while these powerful blows may have injected some caution into enemy calculations, such deterrence is likely to be a wasting asset. The most proximal trigger for the strikes—the killing of an American civilian contractor during Kataib Hezbollah’s December 27 rocket attack on the K-1 base in Kirkuk—was just one in a series of increasingly risky militia operations against U.S. facilities. Only good fortune has prevented more Americans from dying in attacks conducted since then, including January 8 (when Iranian ballistic missiles struck the U.S. portion of al-Asad Air Base, causing more than a hundred nonlethal traumatic brain injuries), January 26 (mortar strike on the dining hall at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad), January 31 (rockets fired at the U.S. site at Qayyarah West), February 10 (explosive device thrown at a U.S. logistical convoy south of Baghdad), and February 13 (rocket attack on U.S. site at Kirkuk). The United States has seemingly communicated to Tehran that it will strike Iraqi militias and Iranian targets if any Americans are killed, but this redline has opened up a dangerous gray zone in which Iran and its proxies are emboldened to continue their nonlethal attacks. Besides the fact that such high-risk attacks are destined to result in more American deaths at some point, they will also produce many more injuries if permitted to continue, as seen in the January 8 strike. More broadly, they will limit U.S. freedom of movement in Iraq and Syria, undermining the point of being there in the first place. This situation is unacceptable—the United States needs a way to deter such behavior even when attacks fall short of killing Americans. When faced with similar challenges in past decades, the U.S. military established reckoning systems that matched the punishment to the crime, with useful levels of predictability, proportionality, and accountability.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Military Affairs, Assassination, No-Fly Zones
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Iran, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Oula A. Alrifai
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Besides highlighting Assad’s financial mismanagement, the recent unrest gives the international community a genuine opportunity to push for transition while bolstering the more prosperous local administration in the northeast. Since mid-January, shop owners, government employees, students, and even children have been gathering in the streets of various Syrian communities to express their frustration with the Assad regime’s economic policies and untruths. Although the protests remain small for now, the fact that they have persistently carried on in the middle of regime-controlled territory highlights Bashar al-Assad’s potential vulnerability on these issues. In Suwayda, a Druze-majority province in the south, residents have protested the sharp drop in the value of the Syrian pound/lira and the deteriorating economic situation in general. In the central-western town of Salamiya, protestors were seen chanting “we want to live.” And in the Suwayda town of Shahba, demonstrators raised loaves of bread in the air while openly criticizing Bouthaina Shaaban, Assad’s political and media advisor. The latter protest was partly spurred by a recent interview on the pro-Assad television network al-Mayadeen, where Shaaban not only claimed that the country’s current economy is “fifty times better than what it was in 2011,” but also declared that “Syrians are self-sufficient in everything.” In response, protestors sarcastically noted that her comments referred to her own household’s economy, not Syria’s. Elsewhere, former agriculture minister Nour al-Din Manna described Shaaban’s remarks about the war-torn country as “hard to believe,” and a closer look at the country’s finances supports this disbelief.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Economics, Syrian War, Currency
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Lebanon, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Baraa Sabri
  • Publication Date: 09-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: Over the last four years, Kurds in Iran have watched Kurdish communities in Syria and Iraq continue to suffer losses at the hands of hostile forces, disoriented by the turbulent shifts in Washington’s decision-making. It once seemed that the United States would support change in Iran beneficial to the country’s Kurds, but now a series of decisions by American leadership in Syria and Iraq have left many Kurdish political leaders in Iran afraid and discontented with U.S. policy in the region. Two moments during the Trump presidency particularly have soured and confused perceptions of the United States among Kurds in Iran. First, Iranian Kurds watched as the Trump administration allowed Shia militias hostile to Iraqi Kurds to take the city of Kirkuk in October 2017. Two years later, Kurds watched again as the Trump administration allowed the Turkish forces to invade northeastern Syria, driving local Kurds to flee their homes. These two moments pushed Iranian Kurds to doubt Washington’s potential contributions to the improvement of Kurdish rights in Iran. There now exists a political rift between U.S. and Iranian Kurdish leadership that may force Iranian Kurds to re-think their diplomatic position. Unfortunately for both groups, it seems that no one will benefit from such a rift—except for the Iranian government.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Diplomacy, Minorities
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria, Kurdistan, United States of America
  • Author: Karol Wasilewski
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: The Polish Institute of International Affairs
  • Abstract: The agreement signed on 5 March between Russia and Turkey has halted the offensive by the Syrian army on Idlib and led to a new division of influence in the province. Both Turkey and Russia are using the truce to strengthen their military presence in this territory. The coronavirus pandemic may delay the resumption of fighting in Idlib, giving the EU time to prepare for a renewed escalation and attempts by Turkey to instrumentally use an exodus of Syrian refugees to exert pressure on the Union.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Military Strategy, Syrian War, Coronavirus
  • Political Geography: Russia, Turkey, Middle East, Syria, Idlib
  • Author: Aaron Stein
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The United States dramatically increased the commitment of troops and military equipment to a string of permanent bases in the Middle East after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the defeat of the Iraqi army after its 1991 invasion of Kuwait. In the nearly two decades since the Al Qaeda-linked attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States has deepened its military and political commitment to the region, following the decisions to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, and then to intervene militarily in Syria. The Barack Obama and Donald Trump administrations have sought to focus more on Asia, but have failed to disentangle the United States from conflicts in the Middle East. This report assumes that the United States will retain an overwhelming interest in ensuring close alliances and partnerships with America’s transatlantic allies (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and close partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific even if President Trump is re-elected in 2020. It also assumes that the United States will begin to focus primarily on Asia, with the Russian Federation being considered of secondary importance to the rise of the People’s Republic of China. Given these twin assumptions, the role of American forces and Washington’s policy priorities in the Middle East require new thinking about how to wind down wars that are draining American resources and to re-allocate finite, high-demand assets that could be leveraged for operations in Europe or the Indo-Pacific. This report proposes an interlinked political and military policy that would allow for the United States to retain a robust presence in the Middle East, but in a way that would de-escalate tensions with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and alter how U.S. forces are deployed around the world.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Power Politics, Military Intervention
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Iraq, Middle East, Syria, United States of America