I want to analyze the situation of 10 nations … that could change the history of the coming decades.
The world is entering its most dangerous chapter in decades.
The sharp uptick in war over recent years is outstripping our ability to cope with the consequences.
From the global refugee crisis to the spread of terrorism, our collective failure to resolve conflict is giving birth to new threats and emergencies.
Even in peaceful societies, the politics of fear is leading to dangerous polarization and demagoguery.
It is against this backdrop that Donald Trump was elected the next president of the United States — unquestionably the most important event of last year and one with far-reaching geopolitical implications for the future.
Much has been said about the unknowns of Trump’s foreign-policy agenda.
But one thing we do know is that uncertainty itself can be profoundly destabilizing, especially when it involves the most powerful actor on the global stage.
Already, jittery allies from Europe to East Asia are parsing Trump’s tweets and casual bluster.
Will he cut a deal with Russia over the heads of Europeans?
Will he try to undo the Iran nuclear accord?
Is he seriously proposing a new arms race?
And that is precisely the problem.
The last 60 years have suffered their share of crises, from Vietnam to Rwanda to the Iraq War.
But the vision of a cooperative international order that emerged after World War II, championed and led by the United States, has structured relations between major powers since the end of the Cold War.
That order was in flux even before Trump won the election.
The retrenchment of Washington, for both good and ill, began during Barack Obama’s presidency.
But Obama worked to shore up international institutions to fill the gap.
Today, we can no longer assume that a United States shaped by “America first” will provide the bricks and mortar of the international system. U.S. hard power, when not accompanied and framed by its soft power, is more likely to be perceived as a threat rather than the reassurance that it has been for many.
In Europe, uncertainty over the new U.S. political posture is compounded by the messy aftermath of Brexit.
Nationalist forces have gained strength, and upcoming elections in France, Germany, and the Netherlands will test the future of the European project.
The potential unraveling of the European Union is one of the greatest challenges we face today — a fact that is lost amid the many other alarming developments competing for attention.
We cannot afford to lose Europe’s balancing voice in the world.
Exacerbated regional rivalries are also transforming the landscape, as is particularly evident in the competition between Iran and the Persian Gulf countries for influence in the Middle East. T
he resulting proxy wars have had devastating consequences from Syria to Iraq to Yemen.
Many world leaders claim that the way out of deepening divisions is to unite around the shared goal of fighting terrorism.
But that is an illusion: Terrorism is just a tactic, and fighting a tactic cannot define a strategy.
Jihadi groups exploit wars and state collapse to consolidate power, and they thrive on chaos.
In the end, what the international system really needs is a strategy of conflict prevention that shores up, in an inclusive way, the states that are its building blocks.
The international system needs more than the pretense of a common enemy to sustain itself.
With the advent of the Trump administration, transactional diplomacy, already on the rise, looks set to increase.
Tactical bargaining is replacing long-term strategies and values-driven policies.
A rapprochement between Russia and Turkey holds some promise for reducing the level of violence in Syria.
However, Moscow and Ankara must eventually help forge a path toward more inclusive governance — or else they risk being sucked ever deeper into the Syrian quagmire.
A stable Middle East is unlikely to emerge from the temporary consolidation of authoritarian regimes that ignore the demands of the majority of their people.
The EU, long a defender of values-based diplomacy, has struck bargains with Turkey, Afghanistan, and African states to stem the flow of migrants and refugees — with worrying global consequences.
On the other hand, Europe could take advantage of any improvement in U.S.-Russia relations to reset arms control for both conventional and nuclear forces, which would be more opportune than opportunistic.
Beijing’s hardheaded approach in its relationship with other Asian countries and with Africa and Latin America shows what a world deprived of the implicit reassurance of the United States will look like.
Such transactional arrangements may look like a revival of realpolitik.
But an international system guided by short-term deal-making is unlikely to be stable. Deals can be broken when they do not reflect longer-term strategies. Without a predictable order, widely accepted rules, and strong institutions, the space for mischief is greater.
The world is increasingly fluid and multipolar, pushed and pulled by a diverse set of states and nonstate actors — by armed groups as well as by civil society.
In a bottom-up world, major powers cannot single-handedly contain or control local conflicts, but they can manipulate or be drawn into them:
Local conflicts can be the spark that lights much bigger fires.
Whether we like it or not, globalization is a fact. We are all connected.
Syria’s war triggered a refugee crisis that contributed to Brexit, whose profound political and economic consequences will again ripple outward.
Countries may wish to turn inward, but there is no peace and prosperity without more cooperative management of world affairs.
1. Syria & Iraq
Syrian Armed Forces
Before the rebellion and war began, Syrian Armed Forces was guestimated at 325,000 regulartroops. 220,000 of them were army troops and the rest was part of the navy and air forces. In addition there were nearly 280,000–300,000 reservists.
Since the first protest in June 2011 many defections of government fighters have been reported. By July 2012, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) and turkish sources estimated that thousands of soldiers had defected.
National Defense Forces
The Syrian NDF was formed out of pro-government militias. They get their salaries and their military gearfrom the government and number almost 100,000 troops. The units of the NDF act in an infantry role, directly battling rebels forces on the ground and leading counter-insurgency operations. This operations are coordinated with the syrian arab army who provides them with logistical and artillery support.
Hezbollah involvement in the Syrian Civil War has been significant almost since the start of armed rebellion in late 2011. The involvement turned into active aid and soldier stationing since 2012. By 2014, Hezbollah involvement was stable and firm in support of the Assad government forces in Syria. Hezbollah deployed thousands of fighters in Syria and by 2015 lost nearly 2000 fighters. 5000 soldiers were injured in its support to the Syrian government side.
Free Syrian Army
The Free Syrian Army is an army formed in 2011 to fight the Syrian government . Its primary fighting force were particularly members of defected Syrian Arab Army members and volunteers. Estimations say that the FSA had attracted 15,000 to 25,000 soldiers from the syrian armed forces by December 2011. Despite the huge number of soldiers, the FSA leaders had no operation control over the action on the ground in syria.
In December 2012 a number of FSA brigades joined the newly-created Supreme Military Council (SMC) because the Western and Gulf Arab backers wanted the a strong, moderate and centralised rebel leadership.
In late 2013, seven Islamist groups announced that they were forming the largest rebel alliance in syria with an estimated 45000 fighters. The Islamic front stated in their decleration that they aim to “overthrow the syrian regime completely and build an Islamic state”. The declaration was signed by the following founding groups: Jaysh al-Islam, Ahrar al-Scham, Ansar al-Sham, the Kurdish Islamic Front, Liwa al-Tawhid, Suqour al-Sham and Liwa al-Haqq.
The Islamic Front doesn’t include the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and the al-Qa’ida affiliate al-Nusra Front. However its charter also welcomes foreign fighters, as “brothers who are supporting us in jihad against our enemies”.
Al-Nusra Front / Jabhat al-NusraJabhat al-Nusra is a a Syrian jihadist group fighting against Bashar Al-Assad’s regime with the aim of building an islamic state in Syria. It was approximately created in mid-2011. With roughly 5000 members al-Nusra is by no means the biggest group fighting in the Syrian Civil War, though it has often been pictured as one of the most effective forces.
There are a variety of similarities between the al-Nusra Front and al-Qa’ida in Iraq, which is presented as evidence of their shared history starting in the early 2000s. The short-term strategy of Jabhat al-Nusra is primarily military centered, but they has sought to create popular support by carrying out public works and providing social services too.
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)
The “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” is a terrorist jihadist group which controls huge swathes of land in western Iraq and the Syrian Arab Republic. They consider themselves as the “Islamic Caliphate”.
ISIS’ beginnings are often traced to the Second Gulf War in 2003, when the United States of America invaded Iraq and overthrew dictator Saddam Hussein with the help of a small coalition of nations. Among the various groups fighting against the coalition forces and the new Iraqi government, was the extremist islamist group al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). ISIS was founded later out of this al-Qaeda affiliate and is led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, a Islamist who is believed to have been born in the Republic of Iraq in 1971.
ISIS took advantage of the chaos in both Iraq and Syria. By recruiting local tribe leaders and former Baathists, and taking advantage of the incompetence of Iraqi army , the Islamic State was able to capture the cities Fallujah, Tikrit and Mosul in Iraq. Their major successes in syria was the conquest of Raqqa and Palmyra.
The jihadist group claims to have around 100000 fighters – many of them foreign fighters from europe, turkey, russia and saudi arabia. It was one of the most brutal, but effective and strong forces in the region. Since the US-led coalition started supporting the kurdish forces and russia started to support the syrian government forces, ISIS lost more than 14% of their territory. Their major losses were in Tikrit, in Ramadi, the battle in Kobani and Hasakah, and the latest fall of Palmyra.
Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF)
The Syrian Democratic Forces (Kurdish name: Hêzên Sûriya Demokratîk, arabic name: قوات سوريا الديمقراطية), usually shortened as SDF or QSD, are an alliance of Kurdish, Arab, Turkmen, Assyrian and Armenian militias mainly fighting against ISIS, Al-Nusra Front and other Jihadist groups in the Syrian Civil War.The goal of the group is to establish and protect the federal region “Rojava – Northern Syria”.
YPG / People’s Protection Units
The YPG is the military wing of the kurdish political party PYD. The group has approximately 50000 fighters and many foreign volunteers.
The YPG appeared as a force in the syrian civil war in 2012 after the Syrian Arab Army withdrew from Kurdish cities.
The YPG didn’t take an offensive posture in the Syrian war at first. Aiming generally to defend Kurdish-majority areas, it avoided fighting other forces within the areas around them. The YPG changed this policy when Ras al-Ayn was captured by the al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra. The People’s Protection Units started attacking surrounding areas under government control to stop the FSA from gaining more power in the region. But the YPG mostly fought against jihadist groups. The battle of Ras al-Ayn ended in July 2013 with a YPG victory.
The inter-rebel conflict throughout the Syrian civil war led to open war between the FSA and ISIS in January 2014. The YPG worked together with the FSA to fight ISIS in Ar-Raqqah province. However, the general outcome of this fight were immense advances by ISIS that separated the eastern part of Rojava from the remaining parts. ISIS continued its success by attacking the YPG in Kobanî canton in March 2014 and fighting its way to the outskirts of Kobanî in September 2014.
With the world fearing a massacre during the siege of Kobanî, the US-led coalition began close air support to the YPG. Whereas most analysts expected ISIS to quickly crush the Kurds in Kobanî, the YPG placed up a stunning and determined resistance, which ultimately led to the victory of YPG forces.
With american air support, YPG forces started offensives near Hasakah and to the west of Hasakah which culminated in the conquest of border city Tell Abyad, linking up Kobanî with Hasakah in July 2015. After this offensives, kurdish forces had begun to make advances into areas that didn’t have a kurdish majority.
YPJ / Women’s Protection Units
The Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) is a kurdish military group that was established in 2012 as the female brigade of the YPG militia. The YPG and YPJ are the armed wing of the kurdish PYD that has taken the control over large areas in Syria’s north known as Rojava.
The organization grew out of the kurdish resistance movement and by now has 10,000 volunteer female fighters between the ages of 18 and 40.
The YPJ joined its brother organization YPG in the fight against jihadist militias in the Syrian civil war. The Women’s Protection Units play a big role in the general fight against ISIS and in the battle of Kobanî.
Jaysh al-Thuwar / Army of Revolutionaries
Jaysh al-Thuwar is an armed rebel group, participating in the Syrian Civil War. They consider themselves as a militia uniting Arabs, Turkmens and Kurds. The group has roughly 3000 fighters.
Although the Army of Revolutionaries consistently emphasized that they are part of the FSA, the group still got in an open conflict with jihadist and rebel militias. The reason of hostility was the alliance between Jaysh al-Thuwar and the kurdish YPG. Subsequently the Army of Revolutionaries further deepened its bonds with the YPG and joined the SDF.
Jaysh al-Sanadid is a militia formed by the Arab Shammar tribe to fight against the ISIS and other jihadist groups. The Shammar tribe is based in Jazaa and Til Koçer regions of the Cizîr Canton of Rojava and also in Iraq. The Al-Sanadid Forces are associated with tribal leader and governor of Jazirah district Hamidi Daham al-Hadi.
The militia has around 9000 fighters and joined the Syrian Democratic Forces in late 2015.
The ethnic and religious groups of Syria
Part of the reason why the conflict in Syria is so complicated is because of the huge diversity of ethnic and religious groups living there. The rivalries and tensions between these peoples play an important role in the war and help explain what is going on.
The biggest ethnic/religious group in Syria are the Sunni Muslim Arabs, making up around 70% of the country’s population. Sunni Islam is most popular sect of Islam in the world, and is being supported and spread mostly by Saudi Arabian efforts.
The Sunni Arabs in Syria are the biggest supporters of the rebel forces, and in recent years have developed increasingly hostile feelings towards the Shia Muslim Assad government. They have always been the majority in a country that is lead by the minority. Feelings toward Shia Muslims have become so negative that chants such as “Death to Shiites!” and “Christians to Lebanon, Shiites to death!” have become quite regular in the Sunni Arab sphere.
Shia Muslims / Alawites
Shia Islam is the second big sect of after Sunni Islam, to which about 12% of Syrians adhere to. The majority of these followers are Alawites, as is President Assad. Although the Alawites are a minority in the country, they have held control over almost all aspects of the government since 1971 when the father of Bashar al-Assad took power. The Shiites around the world are mainly supported and funded by Iran, as a counterweight to Saudi Arabia. The Shiites are seen as heretics by many Sunni Islamists, and as such almost all Shias in Syria support the Assad regime, as they (somewhat justifiably) fear a massacre or even a genocide in revenge should the Sunni groups come to power.
The Kurds are a separate ethnic group in Syria and Iraq making up somewhere between 7-10% of Syria’s population. They have long sought autonomy, if not independence and the Syrian civil war provided an opportunity to finally make those dreams true. The Kurds stand out for being one of the few groups to fully recognize women’s rights, for being being secular (keeping religion seperate from the state) and for not discriminating based on religion or ethnicity. They are also one of the only groups who have not committed any unnecessary acts of violence in the course of the war. Thus, the Kurds are seen as the only real allies of the NATO countries in the war. It should be noted that there is one large exception to this, as Turkey, a NATO member, absolutely despises the Kurds and sees them as a grave enemy, having on occasions even bombed them. This of course creates a very tricky situation with the rest of NATO arming the Kurds and Turkey fighting them.
Most of the Kurds are also Sunni Muslims, but religion is not a determining factor for them.
The Syrian Turkmen are essentially ethnic Turks who have lived in the region since around the 11th century. They speak Turkish and are heavily funded and armed by Turkey itself. Although only making up around 1% of the population, they have been mentioned quite a lot in the news recently, as they were the group that captured and later killed one of the Russian pilots that were shot down by a Turkish F-16 fighter jet. The main groups have positioned themselves against Assad and ISIS.
The Assyrians are descendants of one of the oldest civilizations in the world, and see themselves as the original natives of the land they inhabit. They make up around 4% of the population. Assyrians are Christians and as such have been heavily discriminated against by extremist Islamist groups during the war. As a result, many Assyrians have taken up arms to defend themselves from the chaos. The armed groups are quite bafflingly named, as the pro-government one is known as Sootoro, while the pro-Opposition/Kurd one is known as Sutoro.
Weaponry used by different Factions
The most advanced battle tank is the type T-72. In addition, the Syrian army has still the tanks of type T-55 and T-62 which are rather outdated.
The air defense force has the missiles SA-5 Gammon, SA-6 Gainful, SA-7 Grail, SA-15 Gauntlet and SA-8 Gecko which are partly stationed near Damascus and Aleppo.
There is a brigade that specially trained for coastal defense which possesses missiles named “FROG” and “Scud” and additionally has the surface-to-surface missile SS-21.
Among the war- ship fleet are frigates, missile attack craft, submarine chasers, mine warfare war- ships, gunboats, patrol craft, missile corvettes, landing craft and torpedo recovery vessel. Besides, there are anti-ship missiles as part of the coastal defence system. These missiles have a range of 300 kilometers.
Rebels are primarily armed with AK-47s, DShKs and RPG-7s.
Several soldiers also have M16s, AUGs, shotguns and PK machine guns. They have a handful heavy weapons captured from the Syrian government. For example, anti-aircraft missiles and tanks. Rebels lately begun manufacturing their own mortars and rockets.
In the year 2013 rebels received anti-tank missiles with a range of 4 kilometers and preciseness of 90%. In the same year rebels captured a government weapons depot and attached MILAN anti-tank missiles and BM-21 Grad rockets.
Besides, they are using BGM-71 Tows which are supplied by the USA.
ISIS mainly possesses captured weapons. Major sources are Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi inventory from 2003 – 2011 and weapons from government and opposition soldiers fighting in the Syrian Civil War.
The captured weapons include guns, armor, surface-to-air missiles and even some aircraft. They enabled rapid territorial increase.
ISIS is known for using truck and car bombs, suicide bombers and IEDs. ISIS militants also use chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria.
YPG / SDF
|Name||Type||Amount in Afrin||Amount in East Rojava||Notes|
|Humvee||Armoured fighting vehicle||0||Dozens||Captured from ISIS|
|T-55||Main battle tank||1||6||Captured from ISIS and rebels|
|Custom variant of T-55||Main battle tank||0||1||Local variant with twin 14.5MG|
|T-72||Main battle tank||2||0|
|Barrett M82||Anti-material rifle|
|Dragunov sniper rifle||Sniper rifle|
|PK machine gun||General-purpose machine gun|
|DShK||Heavy machine gun|
|KPV heavy machine gun||Heavy machine gun|
|FGM-148 Javelin||Anti-tank missile|
After nearly six years of fighting, an estimated 500,000 people killed, and some 12 million uprooted, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appears likely to maintain power for now, but even with foreign backing his forces cannot end the war and regain total control.
This was evident in the recent recapture of Palmyra by the Islamic State, just nine months after a Russian-backed military campaign had expelled the group.
Assad’s strategy to cripple the non-jihadi opposition has worked to empower radical Islamist groups like the Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (formerly the Nusra Front).
Non-jihadi rebels have been further weakened by the recent defeat in Aleppo; they remain fractious and undermined by their state backers’ divergent approaches.
The regime’s December recapture of eastern Aleppo marked a cruel turning point, with the regime and its allies succeeding by relentlessly besieging and bombarding civilians. Western diplomats expressed horror and outrage yet failed to muster a concrete response. The evacuation of civilians and rebels ultimately proceeded, haltingly, only after Russia, Turkey, and Iran struck a deal.
This troika followed up with a meeting in Moscow to “revitalize the political process” for ending the war.
Neither the United States nor the United Nations was invited or even consulted.
A cease-fire deal brokered by Russia and Turkey at the end of December appeared to fall apart within days, as the regime continued military offensives in the suburbs of Damascus. Despite the significant challenges ahead, this new diplomatic track opens the best possibility for reducing the level of violence in Syria.
The war against the Islamic State is likely to continue, and there is an urgent need to ensure it will not fuel further violence and destabilization.
In Syria, two competing efforts against the group — one led by Ankara, the other by the Syrian affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — are entangled with the conflict between the Turkish state and PKK inside Turkey.
Washington has backed both efforts while trying to minimize direct clashes between them. The incoming Trump administration should prioritize de-escalating the conflict between its Turkish and Kurdish partners above the immediate capture of territory from jihadis.
If violence between the two spirals, the Islamic State will be the first to gain.
The Islamic State still claims a caliphate across parts of Iraq and Syria, although it has lost significant territory over the past year.
Even if it is defeated militarily, it or another radical group may well re-emerge unless underlying governance issues are addressed.
The Islamic State itself grew from a similar failure in Iraq. It is spreading an ideology that is still mobilizing young people across the globe and poses threats well beyond the borders of Iraq and Syria, as recent attacks in Istanbul and Berlin have shown.
In Iraq, the fight against the Islamic State has further undermined the state’s ability to govern, caused enormous destruction, militarized youth, and traumatized Iraqi society.
It has fragmented Kurdish and Shiite political parties into rival factions and paramilitary forces dependent on regional backers and competing over Iraq’s resources.
The fight to defeat the Islamic State, whose rise has fed on deep grievances among Sunni Arabs, has compounded the damage done by the group’s rule.
To avoid worse, Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government need support and pressure to rein in paramilitary groups.
The eighth cabinet of the Kurdistan Regional Government was sworn into office on 18 June 2014 at the Kurdistan Parliament.
Success in the current U.S.-backed military campaign to retake Mosul, if mishandled, could turn into failure.
Besides the regular Iraqi Army, special counterterrorism forces, and federal police who are leading the effort inside the city, local groups are also involved, seeking spoils of victory. Moreover, Iran and Turkey are competing for influence by using local proxies.
The longer the battle drags on, the more these various groups will exploit opportunities to gain strategic advantage through territorial control, complicating a political settlement.
Iraq, with support from the United States and other partners, should continue military and logistics support to Iraqi forces pushing into the city and establish locally recruited stabilization forces in areas retaken from the Islamic State to ensure that military gains are not again lost.
They will also need to jump-start governance involving local, and locally accepted, political actors.
A New Year’s Eve attack in Istanbul — which killed at least 39 people — seems like a harbinger of more violence to come.
The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, a departure from the group’s general practice in Turkey that could signal an escalation.
In addition to worsening spillover from the wars in Syria and Iraq, Turkey also faces a spiraling conflict with the PKK.
Politically polarized, under economic strain, and with weak alliances, Turkey is poised for greater upheaval.
The conflict between the state and PKK militants continues to deteriorate following the collapse of a cease-fire in July 2015.
Since then, the PKK conflict has entered one of the deadliest chapters in its three-decade history, with at least 2,500 militants, security forces, and civilians killed as both sides opt for further escalation.
Clashes and security operations have displaced more than 350,000 civilians and flattened several city districts in Turkey’s majority Kurdish southeast.
A PKK-linked double bomb attack killed 45 people near a soccer stadium in Istanbul in December.
In response, the government is once again jailing representatives of the Kurdish movement, blocking a crucial channel to a political settlement that must include fundamental rights protections for Kurds in Turkey.
Though rooted in local sentiments, the escalation is also driven by Ankara’s growing concern over Kurdish gains in northern Syria and Iraq.
This, and the danger posed by the Islamic State, persuaded Ankara to send its first detachments of troops into both countries, sucking it further into the Middle East maelstrom.
Domestically, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government continues its crackdown on political opposition and dissent and is pushing for constitutional changes to usher in a presidential system — likely to be put to a public referendum in early spring.
In the wake of the coup attempt last July, the government launched a massive crackdown, purging more than 100,000 officials.
Turkey’s Western allies, though dependent on a strong NATO partner on Europe’s southern border, have been strongly critical of the government’s authoritarian bent.
This adds to the tensions created by stagnating negotiations between the EU and Ankara over Turkey’s accession to the bloc.
In November, Erdogan responded angrily to criticism from Brussels, threatening to tear up the March 2016 refugee deal by which Ankara agreed to prevent the flow of Syrian refugees from moving onward to Europe.
More than 2.7 million Syrian refugees are currently registered in Turkey; their integration poses significant challenges for the state and for host communities.
Relations with Washington are strained by Turkey’s military escalation with U.S.-allied Kurdish forces in Syria and by Turkey’s call for Washington to extradite alleged coup mastermind Fethullah Gulen.
Ankara has reached an uneasy rapprochement with Moscow, and the December assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey has, for the moment, brought the two countries closer together.
Ankara is increasingly downplaying its Western alliances and scrambling to make arrangements with Russia and Iran. However, Turkey and Iran are still on a dangerous course, fueled by profound disagreement over their respective core interests in Iraq and Syria.
Yemen’s civil war, which is partly a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has claimed more than 10,000 lives and caused a humanitarian crisis.
Ending the fighting must be a priority for the United States and the international community in 2017.
The Saudi Arabia-led coalition killed several dozen civilians in three apparently unlawful airstrikes in September and October 2016. The coalition’s use of United States-supplied weapons in two of the strikes, including a bomb delivered to Saudi Arabia well into the conflict, puts the US at risk of complicity in unlawful attacks.
The war and humanitarian crisis in Yemen—with its rampant human rights violations, multiple militant and terrorist factions, foreign interventions, widespread famine, and unchecked disease—bears an increasing resemblance to Syria.
However, Yemen has received far less attention from the international community.
The U.S. government and other international actors urgently need to focus their efforts on :
(1) halting logistical support and weapons sales to warring parties,
(2) working to reach an inclusive political settlement,
(3) pushing for an international inquiry into human rights violations, and
(4) supporting local efforts to document such violations.
The civil war began in late 2014, pitting a northern rebel group known as the Houthis—allied with forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh—against the government of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.
The rift was rooted in decades of economic underdevelopment (Yemen is the region’s poorest country), corruption, authoritarian misrule, and political marginalization, but it has also taken on sectarian dimensions.
Yemeni citizens had grown tired of President Hadi’s inability to properly manage the country in the wake of Arab Spring protests that forced Saleh’s resignation.
Sensing their discontent, and carrying the banner of democracy, the Houthis launched a stunning offensive that led to the successful takeover of the capital, Sana’a, in September 2014. Hadi eventually fled to neighboring Saudi Arabia.
His ouster led to a counteroffensive backed by the Saudis and their regional allies, including a fierce bombing campaign starting in early 2015, aimed at restoring the Hadi government.
Amid the chaos, the local branches of Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) militant group have expanded their influence and in some cases seized territory in southern and eastern Yemen. Just last month, a suicide bomber killed at least 40 Yemeni soldiers in the southern port city of Aden.
A major factor behind Saudi Arabia’s involvement is the role of its regional rival, Iran, which has been smuggling weapons to the Houthis.
Earlier this week, an Australian naval patrol seized a huge supply of light arms, including nearly 2,000 assault rifles and 81 grenade launchers, found aboard an Iranian dhow off the coast of Yemen.
Observers have noted the sectarian link between Shiite-led Iran and the Houthis, whose Zaydi faith is technically a branch of Shia Islam.
However, there are major theological differences between the two, and Iran’s main interest in Yemen is political rather than ideological. It has worked to establish armed clients and proxies across the region as part of a broader effort to project power and influence beyond its borders.
The war in Yemen has created another humanitarian catastrophe, wrecking a country that was already the poorest in the Arab world.
With millions of people now on the brink of famine, the need for a comprehensive cease-fire and political settlement is ever more urgent.
Yemenis have suffered tremendous hardships from air bombardments, rocket attacks, and economic blockades.
According to the U.N., approximately 4,000 civilians have been killed, the majority in Saudi-led coalition airstrikes.
All parties to the conflict stand accused of war crimes, including indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas.
Saudi Arabia entered the conflict in March 2015 to counter advances made by the Houthis, a predominantly Zaydi Shiite militia viewed by Riyadh as a proxy for its archrival, Iran. Although the Houthis are not closely tied to Iran, it serves Tehran’s interests to have Saudi Arabia stuck in a vicious stalemate in Yemen.
Both sides appear locked in a cycle of escalating violence and provocations, derailing U.N. peace talks.
In November, the Saudi-backed Yemeni government led by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi rejected the U.N.’s proposed roadmap.
That same month, the Houthi movement and its allies, mainly forces under former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, formed a new government.
Despite the challenges, it may still be possible to convince the parties to accept the roadmap as the basis for a compromise that would end regional aspects of the war and return it to an inter-Yemeni process.
Much depends on Saudi Arabia’s calculations and the willingness of its international sponsors, especially the United States and Britain, to encourage Riyadh to fully support the political compromise on offer.
Failure to get the process back on track carries risks for all involved, as violent jihadi groups, including al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and the Islamic State, are thriving in Yemen’s chaos.
Situation in the country
Human Rights Watch has documented 58 apparently unlawful coalition airstrikes since the start of the campaign, which have killed nearly 800 civilians and hit homes, markets, hospitals, schools, civilian businesses, and mosques. Some attacks may amount to war crimes. These include airstrikes on a crowded market in northern Yemen on March 15 that killed 97 civilians, including 25 children, and another on a crowded funeral in Sanaa on October that killed over 100 civilians and wounded hundreds more.
Repeated coalition airstrikes on factories and other civilian economic structures raise serious concerns that the coalition deliberately sought to inflict damage to Yemen’s limited production capacity. Human Rights Watch investigated 18 apparently unlawful strikes, some of which used US or UK-supplied weapons, on 14 civilian economic sites. The strikes killed 130 civilians and wounded 173 more. Following the attacks, many of the factories ended production and hundreds of workers lost their livelihoods.
Human Rights Watch has documented the coalition using internationally banned cluster munitions in at least 16 attacks that targeted populated areas, killing and wounding dozens.
Human Rights Watch has identified six types of air-dropped and ground-launched cluster munitions in multiple locations in Yemen, including those produced in the US and Brazil. Amnesty International has further documented the use of UK-made cluster munitions.
In May, the Obama administration suspended transfers of cluster munitions to Saudi Arabia after reports of their use in civilian areas in Yemen. Textron, US-based manufacturer of the CBU-105, announced it would stop production of the weapon in August.
Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and other coalition states are not party to the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions. At a meeting in Geneva on May 19, a Yemeni official said the Hadi-led government is considering ratifying the convention following use of the weapons in Yemen.
Houthi and allied forces laid numerous landmines, including banned antipersonnel mines, in Yemen’s southern and eastern governorates of Aden, Abyan, Marib, Lahj, and Taizz since the beginning of the current conflict. Landmines have killed and wounded dozens of civilians, including children.
Human Rights Watch investigated the cases of five people maimed by antipersonnel mines in Taizz since March 2016, including one man trying to return home with his brother following months of displacement. Landmines killed at least 18 people and wounded over 39 in two districts in Taizz governorate between May 2015 and April 2016, according to a local nongovernmental organization (NGO). Medical professionals and Yemenis clearing mines told Human Rights Watch the actual number of mine victims is likely much higher. In June, one doctor said he had treated 50 people in Taizz who had one or more limbs amputed since April who he believed were injured by landmines.
Yemen suffers from a shortage of equipped and trained personnel who can systematically survey and clear mines and explosive remnants of war.
Before and since the coalition air campaign, Houthi and allied forces have used artillery rockets in indiscriminate attacks in the southern cities of Aden, Taizz, Lahj, and al-Dale’a.
Shelling by the Houthi-aligned Popular Committees and army units loyal to former president Saleh was responsible for killing 475 civilians and wounding 1,121 between July 1, 2015, and June 30, 2016, according to the UN.
Houthis have also launched artillery rockets into the Najran and Jazan regions in southern Saudi Arabia. Saudi authorities said 29 civilians had been killed and 300 injured in Najran in August alone due to cross-border shelling, Reuters reported.
Attacks on Health and Restrictions on Humanitarian Access
Human Rights Watch has documented numerous airstrikes that unlawfully struck or damaged health facilities in Yemen. On August 15, 2016, a Saudi-led coalition airstrike hit an Medecins Sans Frontiers, MSF-supported hospital in Hajja, killing 19 people, and the fourth on an MSF facility. Following the strike, the organization pulled its staff out of six hospitals in northern Yemen.
According to OHCHR, as of 2016, over 600 health facilities have closed due to damage caused by the conflict, shortage of critical supplies and lack of health workers.
More than 80 percent of the country’s total population – 20 million people – have been in need of humanitarian assistance. Parties to the conflict have continued to block or restrict critical relief supplies from reaching civilians.
Houthi and allied forces have confiscated food and medical supplies from civilians entering Taizz and blocked humanitarian assistance from reaching the city, contributing to the near collapse of the health system.
The coalition has imposed a naval blockade on Yemen, limiting the importation of vital goods like fuel, which is urgently needed to power generators to hospitals and pump water to civilian residences. In August 2016, the coalition suspended all commercial flights to Sanaa. This is “having serious implications for patients seeking urgent medical treatment abroad,” according to the UN.
Aid workers have been kidnapped, unlawfully detained, and killed while engaged in humanitarian operations in Yemen. Humanitarian agencies are frequently denied access to areas controlled by Houthi and Saleh-aligned forces.
Children and Armed Conflict
Among repeated violations against children by parties to the conflict, Human Rights Watch has documented 58 apparently unlawful coalition airstrikes that killed at least 192 children, and multiple airstrikes that struck or damaged schools. The Houthis have also endangered schools and used child soldiers.
The UN secretary-general included the Houthis, government forces, pro-government militias, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and, for the first time, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition on his annual “list of shame” for grave violations against children during armed conflict.
The coalition was responsible for 60 percent of the 785 children killed and 1,168 children wounded, and nearly half of the 101 attacks on schools and hospitals, according to the report.
Houthi forces, government and pro-government forces, and other armed groups have used child soldiers, an estimated one-third of the fighters in Yemen. The UN found in 2015 that 72 percent of 762 verified cases of child recruitment were attributable to the Houthis, with an overall five-fold increase in recruitment of children and a shift towards forced or involuntary recruitment.
Under Yemeni law, 18 is the minimum age for military service. In 2014, the government signed a UN action plan to end the use of child soldiers. Without an effective government in place, the action plan has not been implemented.
On June 6, 2016, the UN secretary-general’s office announced it was removing the Saudi-led coalition from its “list of shame,” “pending the conclusions of [a] joint review” of the cases included in the report’s text after the Saudi government apparently threatened to de-fund UN programs, which could have put children who depend on these programs at risk.
The US again placed Yemen on its list of countries to which arms sales are restricted by the US Child Soldiers Prevention Act, although President Barack Obama granted Secretary of State John Kerry authority to restart aid to Yemen that would otherwise be prohibited by the law.
Terrorism and Counterterrorism
Both AQAP and armed groups loyal to the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) claimed responsibility for numerous suicide and other bombings that killed dozens of civilians.
The US continued its drone attacks on alleged AQAP militants and began to publish basic data related to the strikes. By November, the US reported it had conducted 28 drone strikes in Yemen, killing at least 80 people described as AQAP operatives. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, a media organization, reported the US had possibly conducted 11 more strikes over the same period.
Arbitrary Detention, Torture, and Enforced Disappearances
After Houthi and allied forces seized control of the capital, Sanaa in late 2014, they cracked down on dissent. Houthi authorities closed several dozen NGOs and barred human rights advocates from traveling. In March, Houthi officials confiscated the passport of prominent rights advocate Abdulrasheed al-Faqih, the second such travel ban the Houthis imposed on a rights advocate. By November, Al-Faqih’s passport had yet to be returned.
Houthi and allied forces have committed enforced disappearances, tortured detainees, and arbitrarily detained numerous activists, journalists, tribal leaders, and political opponents. Since August 2014, Human Rights Watch has documented the Sanaa-based authorities’ arbitrary or abusive detention of at least 61 people. In 2016, Human Rights Watch documented two deaths in custody and 11 cases of alleged torture or other ill-treatment, including the abuse of a child.
Women’s Rights, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity
Women in Yemen face severe discrimination in law and practice. They cannot marry without the permission of their male guardian and do not have equal rights to divorce, inheritance, or child custody. Lack of legal protection leaves them exposed to domestic and sexual violence. In the absence of a functioning government, no advances were made to pass a draft constitution that includes provisions guaranteeing equality and prohibiting discrimination based on gender, and a draft Child Rights Law that would criminalize child marriage and female genital mutilation. Forced marriage rates have increased during the ongoing conflict, according to UNFPA.
Under the 1994 penal code, same-sex relations are outlawed with punishments ranging from 100 lashes to death by stoning.
4. Greater Sahel and Lake Chad Basin
Overlapping conflicts across the Greater Sahel and Lake Chad Basin have contributed to massive human suffering, including the uprooting of some 4.2 million people from their homes.
Jihadis, armed groups, and criminal networks jockey for power across this impoverished region, where borders are porous and governments have limited reach.
In 2016, jihadis based in Central Sahel launched deadly attacks in western Niger, Burkina Faso, and Côte d’Ivoire, underscoring the region’s vulnerability.
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Mourabitoun remain active while a new group claiming affiliation to the Islamic State is developing.
All appear likely to continue attacks targeting civilians, as well as national and international forces.
Mali is the U.N.’s most dangerous peacekeeping mission, with 70 personnel killed by “malicious acts” since 2013.
Mali could face a major crisis this year, as implementation of the 2015 Bamako peace agreement threatens to stall.
The recent fracturing of the main rebel alliance in the north, the Coordination of Azawad Movements, has contributed to a proliferation of armed groups, and violence has spread to central Mali.
Regional powers should use the upcoming African Union summit in January to revive the peace process and possibly bring in groups that are currently left out.
Algeria, an important broker of stability in the region, has a key role to play as the deal’s chief mediator.
In the Lake Chad Basin, the security forces of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad have stepped up their fight against the Boko Haram insurgency.
At the end of December, the Nigerian president announced the “final crushing of Boko Haram terrorists in their last enclave” in the Sambisa Forest, yet the group has not been vanquished.
A leadership quarrel has split the jihadi movement, but it remains resilient and aggressive.
Although international attention has focused on Boko Haram’s kidnapping and abuse of women and girls, policymakers should also note that some women joined the movement voluntarily in search of economic and social opportunities.
Understanding the various ways women experience the conflict should directly inform strategies to tackle the roots of the insurgency.
The Boko Haram insurgency, the aggressive military response to it, and the lack of effective assistance to those caught up in the conflict threaten to create an endless cycle of violence and despair.
If regional governments do not react responsibly to the humanitarian disaster, they could further alienate communities and sow the seeds of future rebellion.
States should also invest in economic development and strengthen local governance to close off opportunities for radical groups.
• Assessment missions in December identify severe needs in several LGAs in Borno State. Large numbers of IDPs who have recently arrived at sites in Monguno, Banki, Baga and Rann are in dire conditions and urgently need assistance.
• In Magumeri LGA, 5 per cent of children are suffering from severe acute malnutrition, and a further 25 per cent from moderate acute malnutrition.
• Partners in December deliver food or cash assistance to more than one million people in north-east Nigeria.
• Global acute malnutrition rates have decreased from 10.2 to 2.76 per cent over the last six months in Minawao refugee camp in Cameroon.
• The Regional Refugee Response Plan requests US$241 million to assist 460,000 people in Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
• The four country Humanitarian Response Plans (HRPs) appeal for a total US$1.5 billion to assist 8.2 million people across the Lake Chad Basin.
- IOM’s December displacement tracking notes considerable movements among IDP populations in north-east Nigeria. There are significant increases in Ngala (up by 24,333), Dikwa (14,282), Monguno (8,960) and Chibok (7,694). The total number of IDPs in the three most affected Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states decreases by 50,000 to 1.63 million people.
- More than 90 per cent of IDPs in north-east Nigeria wish to return to their places of origin, according to a recently issued IOM intention survey. However, most will not return without security guarantees. Safety and conditions in their places of origin are the key information needs indicated by IDPs.
- Some 26,000 Nigerian refugees in Cameroon’s Far North have not yet been registered and reside within the local communities. These refugees are often unable to receive assistance and are increasing pressure on weak public services and community resources.
- In December 2016, more than one million people in conflict-affected zones in north-east Nigeria received food or cash assistance. In all of 2016, the food security sector in Nigeria has provided food assistance, agricultural inputs and livelihood support to some 2.3 million people. Assistance has thus reached 50 per cent more people than initially targeted in the 2016 Humanitarian Response Plan.
- Results of community screenings carried out in November in Minawao refugee camp in Cameroon’s Far North indicate global acute malnutrition rates of 2.76 per cent amongst children aged 6 – 23 months. This is a significant improvement from results from June when GAM rates were at 10.2 per cent.
- In Chad, people reportedly continue to surrender from Boko Haram. More than 700 children and women – among some 1,100 people who fled the armed group and are held in Baga-Sola
- have been transferred to their villages of origin. 300 people are still being held without determination of their status. Humanitarian partners are directing advocacy efforts towards the Government to uphold its responsibilities in accordance with human rights and the Geneva Conventions.
- As a survival strategy by their families, young displaced children in Diffa are increasingly at risk of being exploited in forced labour. Several displaced and koranic school children aged 5 – 10 years are reportedly employed in a quarry. Protection actors will launch awareness-raising activities
5. Democratic Republic of Congo
Political violence and government repression intensified in 2016 as President Joseph Kabila clung to power beyond his constitutionally mandated two-term limit, which ended on December 19, 2016, despite widespread opposition and international condemnation.
As authorities deliberately stalled plans to organize elections, government officials and security forces systematically sought to silence, repress, and intimidate the growing coalition of voices calling for credible, timely elections.
After weeks of intense negotiations, participants at talks mediated by the Catholic Church concluded an agreement on New Year’s Eve.
The deal, signed by representatives of Kabila’s ruling coalition, the political opposition, and civil society, includes a clear commitment that presidential elections will be held before the end of 2017, that Kabila will not seek a third term, and that there will be no referendum nor changes to the constitution.
However, the signatories had not agreed on a detailed calendar or plan for implementing the deal, Kabila himself had not signed the agreement, and it was not clear whether measures would be taken to end the climate of repression.
In eastern Congo, the security situation remained volatile as numerous armed groups, and in some cases government security forces, viciously attacked civilians.
Despite high levels of mistrust between the parties, the deal mediated by the Congolese Catholic Church remains the best chance for a path forward.
The overarching challenge now is to prepare for elections and a peaceful transition in short order, for which solid international backing is essential.
Congo’s endemic corruption and winner-takes-all politics mean Kabila’s entourage has much to lose, so they may not let go easily. African and Western powers need to coordinate efforts to pull Congo back from the brink and prevent further regional instability.
MONUSCO, the U.N.’s largest peacekeeping mission, does not have the capacity to deal with such challenges and would be more effective with a narrower mandate, moving away from institution building and toward good offices and human rights monitoring.
Last September, at least 53 people were killed, mostly by security forces, when demonstrations against Kabila’s rule beyond the end of his mandate turned violent.
Clashes between security forces and protesters in several cities around the end of his term, on Dec. 19 and 20, reportedly killed at least 40 people.
Violence is likely to continue if the elections are again postponed.
The main opposition coalition, the Rassemblement, will be prepared to harness the power of the street to try to force Kabila out.
The political tension in Kinshasa is also contributing to increased violence in pockets throughout the country, including the conflict-ridden east.
Attacks on Civilians by Armed Groups
Dozens of armed groups remained active in eastern Congo. Many of their commanders have been implicated in war crimes, including ethnic massacres, killing of civilians, rape, forced recruitment of children, and pillage.
In Beni territory, North Kivu, unidentified fighters continued to commit large-scale attacks on civilians, killing more than 150 people in 2016 according to Human Rights Watch research and credible reports from Congolese activists and the UN.
At least 680 people have been killed since the beginning of the series of massacres in October 2014.
There are credible reports that elements of the Congolese army were involved in the planning and execution of some of these killings.
Intercommunal violence increased as fighters from the armed groups Nduma Defense of Congo- Renové (NDC-R), the Union of Patriots for the Defense of the Innocent (UPDI), and the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) carried out ethnically based attacks on civilians, killing at least 170 people and burning at least 2,200 homes.
Kidnappings of Congolese civilians and humanitarian aid workers continued to affect parts of Rutshuru, Lubero, and Masisi territories in eastern Congo.
At least 175 people were kidnapped for ransom during 2015. In 2016, kidnappings continued, with more than 20 aid workers among the victims, further shrinking humanitarian space.
In 2015, the Congolese army unlawfully detained at least 29 children in dire conditions in the Angenga military prison in northwestern Congo.
The authorities alleged that the boys were members of a rebel armed group. Most of them were released in April following pressure from Human Rights Watch and the UN.
The others remain detained in Angenga.
During the week of December 19, heavy fighting broke out in various parts of the country, including in Lisala, Kananga, and Manono, in which scores of people were wounded and killed. It is unclear whether these clashes were related to the broader political crisis.
6. South Sudan
After three years of civil war, the world’s youngest country is still bedeviled by multiple conflicts.
Grievances with the central government and cycles of ethnic violence fuel fighting that has internally displaced 1.8 million people and forced around 1.2 million to flee the country. There has been mounting international concern over reports of mass atrocities and the lack of progress toward implementing the 2015 peace agreement.
In December, President Salva Kiir called for a renewed cease-fire and national dialogue to promote peace and reconciliation. Whether or not these efforts succeed depends on the transitional government’s willingness to negotiate fairly with individual armed groups and engage with disaffected communities at the grassroots level.
The internationally backed peace agreement was derailed in July 2016 when fighting flared in Juba between government forces and former rebels. Opposition leader and erstwhile Vice President Riek Machar, who had only recently returned to Juba under the terms of the deal, fled the country.
Kiir has since strengthened his position in the capital and the region as a whole, which creates an opportunity to promote negotiations with elements of the armed opposition, including groups currently outside the transitional government.
The security situation in Juba has improved in recent months, although fighting and ethnic violence continue elsewhere. International diplomatic efforts are focused on the deployment of a 4,000-strong regional protection force — a distraction that would do little to quell an outbreak of major violence and pulls energy away from the deeper political engagement needed to consolidate peace.
The existing U.N. peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, UNMISS, needs urgent reform — which is especially clear following its failure to protect civilians during last July’s spasm of violence in Juba.
A glimmer of hope in the country’s tragedy is the delicate rapprochement underway among South Sudan, Uganda, and Sudan that might one day help guarantee greater stability.
War and political instability in Afghanistan pose a serious threat to international peace and security, more than 15 years after U.S.-led coalition forces ousted the Taliban from power as part of a broader campaign to defeat al Qaeda.
Today, the Taliban are gaining ground; the Haqqani network is responsible for attacks in major cities; and the Islamic State has claimed a series of attacks targeting Shiite Muslims that appear intent on stoking sectarian violence.
The number of armed clashes last year reached the highest level since the U.N. started recording incidents in 2007, with large numbers of civilian casualties.
Further weakening of the Afghan security forces would risk leaving large ungoverned spaces that could be exploited by regional and transnational militant groups.
America’s longest war barely registered as a policy issue during the U.S. presidential election.
Trump’s intentions on Afghanistan remain unclear, though he has repeatedly expressed skepticism about nation building. His controversial choice for national security advisor, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, served as director of intelligence for Joint Special Operations Command in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Flynn’s proclaimed focus on “radical Islamic terrorism” as the single-most important global threat misdiagnoses the problem, with worrying implications in Afghanistan and beyond.
The strategic direction over time must be toward a negotiated settlement with the Taliban, which will require greater regional convergence as well as Chinese involvement. Meanwhile, Russia, Pakistan, and China have formed a working group on Afghanistan with the stated aim of creating a “regional anti-terrorism structure”; Kabul so far has been left out of the trilateral consultations.
Afghanistan’s relations with Pakistan have long been strained due to Islamabad’s support for the Taliban and other militant groups. T
ensions increased last fall as thousands of Afghan refugees in Pakistan were forced to flee amid increased violence, detentions, and harassment. Afghanistan’s refugee crisis was made worse by the EU’s plan to deport 80,000 asylum-seekers back to Afghanistan — a politically driven response to a humanitarian emergency. All this on top of the country’s economic crisis adds heavy pressures on a dangerously weak state.
The new civilian government led by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi promised peace and national reconciliation as its top priorities; however, recent flare-ups of violence have jeopardized efforts to end nearly 70 years of armed conflict.
In November, a “Northern Alliance” of four armed groups carried out unprecedented joint attacks on urban targets in a key trade zone on the Chinese border, triggering military escalation in the northeast.
This does not bode well for progress at the next session of the 21st-Century Panglong Conference slated for February, part of a renewed peace process to bring together most of the country’s major ethnic armed groups.
Meanwhile, the fate of the Muslim Rohingya minority is drawing renewed international concern. The population has seen its rights progressively eroded in recent years, especially following anti-Muslim violence in Rakhine state in 2012.
The latest round of violence in Rakhine was sparked by a series of attacks in October and November targeting border police and military in an area near Myanmar’s northwestern frontier with Bangladesh.
Security forces hit back hard in a campaign that made little distinction between militants and civilians, with allegations of extrajudicial executions, rapes, and arson.
By mid-December, the U.N. estimated that around 27,000 Rohingya had fled to Bangladesh.
More than a dozen fellow Nobel laureates issued an open letter criticizing Aung San Suu Kyi for her failure to speak out about the abuses and calling for full and equal citizenship rights for the Rohingya.
The initial attacks were carried out by an armed group known as Harakah al-Yaqin (“Faith Movement”), whose emergence is a potential game-changer in Myanmar.
Although the Rohingya have never been a radicalized population, the government’s heavy-handed military response increases the risk of spiraling violence.
Grievances could be exploited by transnational jihadis attempting to pursue their own agendas, which would inflame religious tensions across the majority Buddhist country.
After almost three years of war and roughly 10,000 deaths, Russia’s military intervention defines all aspects of political life in Ukraine.
Divided by the conflict and crippled by corruption, Ukraine is headed for even greater uncertainty.
Trump’s professed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin scares Kiev, as do rumors that the United States may decide to scrap sanctions against Russia.
Implementation of the February 2015 Minsk peace agreement is stalled, effectively bringing Russia closer to two of its goals in the Ukraine conflict: the establishment of permanent pro-Russian political entities in eastern Ukraine, as well as normalization of its annexation of Crimea that started the war in 2014.
Across Ukraine, there is growing disillusionment with leaders who were brought to power by the Maidan demonstrations of early 2014 but who now increasingly resemble the corrupt oligarchs thrown out.
Western support for President Petro Poroshenko is ebbing due to Kiev’s unwillingness or inability to deliver promised economic reform and robust anti-corruption measures.
Poroshenko’s problems may be compounded if early parliamentary elections are held in 2017, in which pro-Russia parties could gain ground.
The United States and EU must press Kiev harder for reforms while using strong diplomacy with Moscow, including maintaining sanctions.
Putin must be convinced that there cannot be a return to normalcy in Europe so long as various forms of hybrid warfare are used to keep the situation in Ukraine unsettled. Russia’s tactics — including the use of force, cyberattacks, propaganda, and financial pressures — send a chilling message across the region.
A high level of tension between the United States and Mexico might seem inevitable after Trump’s campaign pledges to build a border wall, deport millions of undocumented immigrants, and terminate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
He also famously characterized Mexican immigrants as drug dealers, criminals, and rapists and drew on support from white nationalist groups.
In an early effort to avoid future confrontation, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto invited candidate Trump to visit the country in September — a move that initially backfired with a Mexican public already angry about high crime, corruption, and a weak economy.
Peña Nieto knows Mexico cannot afford to make an enemy of its mighty neighbor. Mexico’s political and business elites are reportedly out in force to convince Trump and his advisors to modify stated positions on immigration and free trade.
If the United States were to pursue a policy of massive deportations, this would risk triggering an even worse humanitarian and security crisis.
Refugees and migrants from Mexico and Central America are fleeing epidemic levels of violence combined with endemic poverty.
A 2016 survey found that armed violence in Mexico and the Northern Triangle had killed around 34,000 people, more than were killed in Afghanistan over the same period.
Stepped-up deportations and border enforcement tend to divert undocumented migration into more dangerous channels — benefiting criminal gangs and corrupt officials.
The United States can better serve its own interests by strengthening its partnership with Mexico to address the systemic failings that give rise to violence and corruption.