Hard Truths on Syria from the Clinton-era

The passage of a United Nations Security Council resolution to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile is a major victory for U.S. diplomacy. It came about by implementing some of the major lessons of the post-Cold War decades — the importance of force to back up diplomacy and a willingness to use force outside the UN context. Now President Barack Obama must use these lessons in the endgame. But he must also apply a third lesson: keeping the world’s attention on the much more important, and harder, task of ending the civil war.

I’m wary of tactical victories. Throughout much of the 1990s, I watched senior officials at the White House and the capitals of Europe celebrate small diplomatic victories. All too often, this seeming progress ended up distracting leaders from the more difficult task of devising and implementing strategies to stop killings at their source.

In March 1993, for instance, there were signs that diplomacy might succeed in getting the Serbs to end their drive to take over much of Bosnia. Former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic had indicated he might be prepared to enter into a cease-fire within 72 hours, remove the “heavy weapons” that were being used to attack civilians in Sarajevo and open routes for UN operations. For weeks, senior officials in President Bill Clinton’s administration discussed whether to use force against those heavy weapons and whether to send troops to enforce the agreement. The Serbs reneged on the decision — and 100,000 had died by the time the U.S. married force and diplomacy to end the war in 1995.

Similarly, in the early days of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, U.S. officials focused on restarting peace negotiations, not on sending troops to end the killing. Even the response to the now-famous “genocide fax” sent by General Romeo Dallaire, the commander of the UN peacekeeping force on the ground in Rwanda, centered not on the report of a threat to exterminate Tutsis, but rather on the request by Dallaire to seize an arms cache. The discussion was about the possibility of a diplomatic or military “trap,” not the threat of genocide. As in so many conflicts, the international community put its energy into negotiating incremental steps toward peace rather than advancing the bolder strategies required to end the conflict.

What will happen in the Syrian crisis? For the next few months, the international community will focus on Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons. It will spend weeks putting to rest fictitious claims by Syria that the attacks were the work of the rebels. A long back and forth will ensue with the government on access to sites and procedures for destroying the weapons. Throughout this process, Syrian officials will be legitimized — and even praised — for their cooperation with the UN.

Although ridding Syria of chemical weapons is a good thing, this process also risks weakening and diverting efforts to end the Syrian civil war. The Security Council resolution devotes only two out of 22 paragraphs to this goal. One endorses the moribund Geneva Communique from last June that calls for the establishment of a transitional governing body made up of government and opposition figures; the other calls for an international conference to figure out how to implement it. Left only to that track, the effort to end the war in Syria will result in another 100,000 Syrian men, women and children killed.

In the near term, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad will not voluntarily agree to any kind of meaningful transition. Instead, he will use the rehabilitation conferred on him by his cooperation as a cover to continue and perhaps intensify the killing.

The lessons of the past must be applied. Only by threatening military action to degrade Assad’s ability to wage war and stepping up the arming of the opposition to defend itself can the international community alter Assad’s calculus so that he does not need to negotiate an end to the crisis.

That marriage of force and diplomacy is the only acceptable endgame in Syria. The question is how long the international community will sit on the sidelines while the killing continues.

(Nancy Soderberg is chairman of the Public Interest Declassification Board and a visiting scholar at the University of North Florida. She served as deputy national security adviser, then as an ambassador to the United Nations from 1993 to 2001.)

To contact the writer of this article: Nancy Soderberg at n.soderberg@unf.edu.

To contact the editor responsible for this article: James Gibney at jgibney5@bloomberg.net.

Time to let peace builders do their job

By Thomas R. Pickering and Nancy Soderberg, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Thomas R. Pickering served as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and as Ambassador and Representative to the United Nations.  Nancy Soderberg is a former Deputy National Security Advisor and Ambassador to the United Nations. Both are members of The Constitution Project’s Liberty and Security Committee. The views expressed are their own.

Last Friday marked the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project in which the Court held the sweeping view that “material support” to terrorist organizations included even support aimed at promoting peace. That means the U.S. government can criminally prosecute groups or individuals for facilitating peace talks, offering training in conflict resolution, or teaching a course on humanitarian law, simply because these activities involve members of a group on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. That undercuts America’s security – and the Obama administration can and must fix it.

Of course, true “material support” for terrorists – sales of arms and supplies, military training and other activities that truly aid terrorists and make their criminal acts possible – must be subject to vigorous prosecution under the law. However, very different efforts by non-governmental groups and individuals to guide and persuade members of an armed group to pursue lawful and legitimate avenues to address their grievances should not be subject to potential prosecution. Yet, today they are.

The Court’s overly broad interpretation of this language has already had a dramatic chilling effect on peacebuilding activities across the globe. For example, the Carter Center wanted to create a student “parliament” among the universities located in Gaza to train students to resolve disputes through peaceful dialogue rather than violence, but it did not do so out of fear that some of the students might later turn out to be members of listed groups. In Sri Lanka, the Alliance for Peacebuilding wanted to work with a former U.S. ambassador to that country to create dialogue between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers, but it did not because the communications needed to bring the latter group into the discussion are prohibited under the material support laws. Similar examples exist.

As former ambassadors involved in previous peace negotiations, we know there are certain conflicts in which government officials cannot engage directly because of the myriad political considerations they must balance. Peacebuilding organizations and individuals, independent from government, are free of these political constraints and so are unique in their ability to act as neutral conveners who can foster different thinking key to breaking a deadlock in a conflict. For decades, organizations and private individuals have served in this capacity, providing this kind of critical “Track II” diplomacy that helped to bring peace and security to the United States and abroad. Yet, since the Court ruling, these organizations and individuals are now at risk of being prosecuted as criminals.

Luckily, there is a simple way to fix this problem. The law that has been interpreted to bar peacebuilding also contains a provision giving the Secretary of State the power to exempt expert advice, training, and personnel from the material support prohibitions in instances where the Secretary finds that these activities will promote peace and do nothing to further terrorism. With the concurrence of the Attorney General, Secretary of State John Kerry should sign an order exempting these limited but critical peacebuilding efforts from the material support clause, paving the way for them to continue their critical efforts free from the threat of prosecution.

We are proud to join a number of former government officials and religious leaders in sending a letter to Secretary Kerry urging him to act quickly to remove this barrier to peacebuilding. As we note, “Doing so would open the door for professional peacebuilders to fully engage in helping to end armed conflicts and suffering around the world, while making the U.S. safer.”

Peacebuilding organizations follow in a long American tradition of diplomacy and respect for the rule of law. We believe these initiatives are crucial for a peaceful world in the 21st century.  Our nation and the world would be much safer for it.

To read the original article, click here.

Clinton sends special message to Enniskillen exhibition

Former United States President Bill Clinton has sent a personal video message to Enniskillen, which was relayed to those guests attending the opening of a major exhibition on Monday.

The exhibition: “President Bill Clinton, working for peace” was officially opened on Monday by Nancy Soderberg, who was a key foreign policy adviser and strategist to Clinton during the peace process of the 1990s…

Click here to read more

An Agenda for Global Leadership

From the Huffington Post Article

With his reelection, President Obama has a chance to make substantially more progress on today’s foreign policy challenges. His first term was hampered by myriad economic crises and two difficult wars, all of which depleted his political capital. His strong reelection vote and the gains by Democrats in the Senate set the stage for progress across key fronts. But he must start now.

The American people are ready to partner in this effort. Over the past six months, the Connect U.S. Fund gathered input from our community on a letter urging strong U.S. leadership in meeting today’s key international challenges. The letter, which was sent on Nov. 8 to President Obama, was signed by 181 foreign policy experts and leaders of organizations representing millions of Americans. The signatories, which range from former generals to grassroots organizers, have come together to identify the following priorities for President Obama’s second term in human rights, climate change, nuclear nonproliferation, and development.

The promotion of international human rights and humanitarian law and the prevention and mitigation of deadly conflict will remain priorities in the president’s second term. The constitutional crisis in Egypt demonstrates the continued need for strong leadership in supporting democratic transitions triggered by the Arab Spring. At home, President Obama will need to take action to address the continuing legacy of human rights abuses related to indefinite detentions, torture, illegal surveillance, as well as Guantanamo Bay. The establishment of the Atrocities Prevention Board demonstrated that the Obama Administration views atrocity prevention as a core national security concern. A key second term challenge will be ensuring the Board and other government agencies have the necessary resources.

Pressure, in particular, is mounting for clarity on the use of drones which are now a central tool in U.S. efforts to combat terrorists. Over the last four years, the Obama Administration has conducted 409 drone strikes, compared to 53 in all eight years of the George W. Bush administration. Despite this dramatic increase in their use, the administration has yet to clarify publicly the criteria for targeted killing and the mechanisms in place to ensure compliance with international law and the protection of civilians. The work being done to establish a draft rule book is a good start.

Progress in addressing the challenge of climate change was severely hampered in the president’s first term, both by the global economic crisis and a well-funded campaign of distortion by the fossil fuel industry. In his second term, President Obama must assert stronger U.S. leadership — at home and abroad — to get global talks on reducing global emissions finally on track. Developed countries must make good on their commitment to provide the developing world $100 billion in climate financing by 2020, including by implementing mechanisms in the international aviation and shipping sectors that both reduce emissions and generate revenue. Finally, President Obama should meet his commitment to phase out all U.S. fossil fuel subsidies by 2015.

Another key challenge in President Obama’s second term is to accelerate efforts to reduce the threat of nuclear war and prevent proliferation by state and non-state actors, some of the most dangerous security threats that we face. In his first term, the president has prioritized reducing nuclear dangers, securing ratification of New START to reduce U.S. and Russian arsenals and launching the Nuclear Security Summit process to accelerate global initiatives to prevent nuclear terrorism. In a second term, he will face key decisions on whether to further reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. policy. His new presidential guidance on nuclear weapons policy will establish new targeting requirements better suited to today’s security needs and facilitate future negotiated reductions between the U.S. and Russia. He should also increase warning and decision time by “de-alerting” the nuclear arsenal in cooperation with Russia, and reduce the requirements for costly, new nuclear weapons delivery systems.

Further, President Obama has largely united global opinion against Iran and its nuclear program, and multilateral sanctions have begun to exert pressure on Iran’s leadership. While the president has made clear the use of force remains an option, there is still time to reach a negotiated deal with Iran that ties its enrichment activities and stockpiles to its peaceful nuclear needs, combined with more extensive IAEA safeguards that would guard against an Iranian sprint to the bomb.

Last, despite a tough budget environment, the president should work with Congress to protect the international affairs budget from further cuts and continue to strengthen and invest in poverty-focused foreign assistance that seeks to address the root causes of poverty. The administration should work to implement U.S. commitments and promote adherence to the globally-accepted Busan indicators of aid effectiveness by building partnerships, transparency, and accountability. Assisting less prosperous nations in their rise from poverty is not only the right thing to do, but will also enhance global stability and benefit U.S. economic interests.

President Obama should begin laying the groundwork for the important priorities set forth in the Connect U.S. Fund letter. Our large network of foreign policy experts and organizations stand ready to partner in that task.

The author is President of the Connect U.S. Fund, a foundation initiative to promote U.S. engagement in today’s challenges. She served as an Ambassador to the United Nations from 1997-2001.

Nancy Speaks with First Coast News on the embassy attacks

“UNF Professor Nancy Soderberg, a foreign policy strategist under President Bill Clinton, a former member of the National Security Council and former ambassador to the United Nations, is monitoring the events.

“The good news in this story is it is not the government, it is not the the people. In fact, the government and the people where Americans are being attacked are out in droves to support the Americans and say ‘this is not what we represent,’” said Soderberg.

Soderberg said America has to remain in the troubled Middle East in the face of opposition.

“Unfortunately, we can’t just withdraw,” she said. “We have to be out there promoting American values, pushing back on the extremists or we will be at risk.”

Soderberg said what needs to happen is the countries represented, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, need to take a stronger stance against the attackers.

Source: First Coast News

Soderberg talks politics with JWLA

Former U.S. Ambassador Nancy Soderberg met recently with the Jacksonville Women Lawyers Association to “help make sense” of wars, the economy and politics.
Soderberg, who held several senior level positions within the Clinton administration and is a visiting distinguished scholar at the University of North Florida, began her talk with the conflicts at home and abroad.

She believes the war in Iraq “is going to work out pretty well,” although she said history will debate its justification. Former President George W. Bush began an exit strategy that President Barack Obama has maintained, she said.

Afghanistan is a different story, she said. With few troops and no sign of a new generation of leadership in an area with a corrupt government, the situation requires investment to return to stability, she said.

The war against terrorism is in the forefront of people’s minds, but it’s also one being waged with success, she said.

“The war on terrorism is the war against al-Qaida network, and we’re winning,” she said.

Soderberg compared the leadership changes within the organization to a “whack-a-mole” game but also said the methods of winning the war could be subjects of legal question.

One war not as prevalent but “a real threat” is the cyber war, she said.

“Everything we do now, we do on computers,” she said.

She said the continued economic crises in the U.S. and Europe are not causes for optimism.

“We’re obviously not getting it right,” she said.

She said Obama inherited much of the situation.

Soderberg also said struggles in the European markets are cause for alarm. “Europe does too little, too late,” she said.

She believes the backlash will blow back on the U.S. “very hard” and there is not much Obama can do about it.

Soderberg referred to Brazil, Russia, India and China, collectively known as BRIC, as economically evolving to match the U.S. in the next several decades.

“We are the biggest superpower, but no longer the only superpower,” Soderberg said.

With her background, Soderberg also weighed in on the 2012 presidential election and recent sexual harassment controversies plaguing Republican candidate Herman Cain.

“He’s rapidly imploding,” Soderberg said.

She believes the Republican nominee will be Mitt Romney. If so, she also believes there’s a “real chance” Romney will select U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida, as his running mate.

With many debates and almost a year to go, Soderberg said nothing would surprise her leading up to the election.

“That’s the fun thing about politics,” she said. “You never know.”

Kill the pipeline: A path to real energy security

President Obama’s decision to delay approval of the Keystone XL pipeline is a clear demonstration of U.S. leadership on both the domestic and international stage. It demonstrates that the U.S. is moving away from an insecure energy pathway. Resisting the pipeline, and future projects like it, will be critical for ensuring that the security of the United States is not compromised by reliance on oil and that the U.S. plays a global leadership role in building a renewable energy economy.

But the arguments and interests in favor of such projects are not going away. Recently, 37 Republican senators sponsored a bill urging President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. He should resist, and not just on environmental grounds.

One of the major messages in support of the pipeline is that it would “strengthen our national security” and reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil.
That’s simply not true.

The oil market is global and volatile and we can’t drill our way out of it. If anything, projects like Keystone XL increase our dependence on oil and hurt our national security.

First, given the realities of a global market, most of the oil in question would be slated for export. As retired Army Brig. Gen. Steven Anderson noted in a recent blog, the pipeline’s biggest client, Valero Energy Corp., informed investors that the refinery in Port Arthur, Texas, would be focused on exports. In short, very little of that oil would actually make it to U.S. households, keeping American consumers just as vulnerable to global oil price fluctuations.

Second, in terms of supply, Canadian tar sands — the source for the Keystone XL pipeline — are a drop in the bucket compared to OPEC supplies. If OPEC decides to turn off the spigot, oil prices will skyrocket, no matter how much oil we extract in Canada or the U.S. Indeed, in its 2010 World Energy Outlook, the International Energy Agency demonstrates that a better way to reduce our dependence on OPEC would be to reduce global demand for oil consistent with combating climate change. This could lead to OPEC losing $5 trillion over the next couple of decades —a real impact on OPEC dominance.

Third, the Keystone project would primarily be for the benefit of very specific, short-term special interests, not the American public and long-term energy security. The idea behind the proposal was to give Canadian businesses access to the ocean and global market, not to help America reduce its dependence on foreign oil. TransCanada, the company that wishes to build the pipeline, is beholden to Canadian interests, global demand and its shareholders. Its Texas partners, including Valero, also serve their shareholders and global demand. None of them are driven by U.S. national interests. If the U.S. wants to enhance its national advantage and lead the world’s energy future, we would do better to invest in building a 21st century renewable energy infrastructure.

Fourth, the project would be antithetical to our national security objective of getting off our addiction to oil. Committing ourselves to projects like Keystone XL would further lock us into a global oil market that aids and abets tyrants and terrorists, and holds American consumers hostage. Clearly, this is not in the interests of the United States.

Lastly, approving such a project would severely diminish U.S. global leadership in building a world based on renewable energy, combating growing greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, and reducing dependence on a volatile oil market. Clear and concrete signals that we are transitioning away from oil dependence will demonstrate that the U.S. is serious about its role as a global leader.

The president’s decision to delay the Keystone XL pipeline is an important step in reducing our dependence on oil and enhancing our national security. That delay should become the end of it and similar projects in the future. The best path to real energy security — combating price volatility, shielding the American public from the whims of Middle Eastern states, and living up to our role as leaders on the world stage in building a renewable energy economy and combating climate change — is to break our addiction to oil. Holding the line on Keystone XL is a good start.