International Relations

A Military Tactic or Collateral Damage?
Abdulkarim Ekzayez and Ammar Sabouni

Nine years of continuous conflict in Syria have borne witness to various atrocities against civilians, some of which amount to war crimes. Most of the involved parties have committed such atrocities, but the Government of Syria (GoS) and its allies remain at the top of the list of perpetrators. Out of a population of 21 million in 2010, more than half a million Syrians were killed as of January 2019 with more than 13 million displaced either inside the country, in neighbouring countries or elsewhere. Moreover, civilian infrastructures, including but not limited to health, have been severely affected, resulting in interrupted services and suffering. Looking at patterns of these atrocities, timing of occurrence, and consequences, could allow us to draw conclusions about motivations. While the GoS maintains these attacks were against combating civilians, we argue that civilians and civilian infrastructure were military and strategic targets, rather than collateral damage to the attacks committed by the GoS and its allies. The motives behind attacking civilians may be related to military gains in imposing submission and surrender; whereas others may be linked to long-term goals such as forced displacement and demographic engineering. This paper argues, supported by several examples throughout the course of the Syrian conflict, that GoS has used a five-point military tactic with targeting healthcare being at the heart of it. This military tactic has been extremely effective in regaining most opposition strongholds at the expense of civilian suffering and health catastrophe.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Timothy Longman

In 1999, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) published an extensive account of genocide in Rwanda, Leave None to Tell the Story. Based on interviews and archival work conducted by a team of researchers and written primarily by Alison Des Forges, Leave None to Tell was quickly recognised as the definitive account of the 1994 genocide. In the ensuing two decades, however, much additional research has added to our understanding of the 1994 violence. In this paper, I assess Leave None to Tell the Story in light of the research conducted since its publication, focusing in particular on three major challenges to the analysis. First, research into the organisation of the genocide disputes the degree to which it was planned in advance. Second, micro-level research into the motivations of those who participated disputes the influence of ideology on the genocide. Third, research has provided increasing evidence and details of violence perpetrated by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). I contend that despite these correctives, much of the analysis continues to hold up, such as the role of national figures in promoting genocide at the local level, the impact of the dynamics of local power struggles on the violence, and the patterns of violence, including the effort after the initial massacres to implicate a wide portion of the population. Finally, as a member of the team that researched and helped write Leave None to Tell, I reflect on the value of this rare sort of research project that engages human rights organisations in an academic research project.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
The Politics of ‘Proximity’ and Performing Humanitarianism in Eastern DRC
Myfanwy James

This article explores the everyday practice of security management and negotiations for access conducted by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in North Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Based on ethnographic fieldwork, interviews and archival exploration, it examines the experience of MSF Congolese employees, who navigate a complex politics of humanitarian fixing and brokerage. Their role in MSF is simultaneously defined and circumscribed by their political and social situation. MSF’s security management relies on local staff’s interpersonal networks and on their ability to interpret and translate. However, local staff find themselves at risk, or perceived as a ‘risk’: exposed to external pressures and acts of violence, while possibilities for promotion are limited precisely because of their embeddedness. They face a tension between being politically and socially embedded and needing to perform MSF’s principles in practice. As such, they embody the contradictions of MSF’s approach in North Kivu: a simultaneous need for operational ‘proximity’, as well as performative distance from everyday conflict processes.

Journal of Humanitarian Affairs
Washington’s painful search for a credible China policy
Börje Ljunggren

When Barack Obama assumed the presidency in 2008, China was already a major economic power. Obama understood the importance and potential of the Asia Pacific broadly, and China more specifically, and his main ambition was to create a more sustainable foundation for relations with Beijing. To do so, Obama aimed to channel China’s rise in as non-confrontational a direction as possible. To counter the ongoing power shift, more strategic attention and resources were devoted by Washington to the Asia Pacific, via the administration’s ‘Pivot’ to the region and the Trans-Pacific Partnership which excluded China. No consolidation was achieved. During the first two years of the presidency of Donald Trump, the relationship between China and the West has been predicated less on expectations of convergence, and more on rivalry and competition. China is building a party-state-driven economy based on its own distinctive vision for globalisation. The future increasingly appears one of systemic dissonance. Strategic distrust seems more likely to define an ever-more complex US–China relationship. At no time has the United States appeared to be in more urgent need of a comprehensive and viable China policy, beyond transactional improvisations and power projections.

in The United States in the Indo-Pacific
Obama, Trump and the Asia Pacific political economy
Michael Mastanduno

This chapter focuses on the transition from Presidents Obama to Trump, with emphasis on the political economy of the Asia Pacific. Throughout the post-war era, US foreign economic policies have been shaped significantly by broader geopolitical and security strategies. This is true for both Obama and Trump. For Obama, the pursuit of hegemony using more limited means dictated a regional shift to the Asia Pacific. His administration devised an economic strategy that complemented this geopolitical approach and simultaneously reaffirmed America’s traditional role as leader of a liberalising world economy. For Trump, the overall rejection of America’s hegemonic project has been accompanied by a departure from America’s traditional leadership role in the world economy in favour of a more nationalist and transactional approach to foreign economic relations. China, as both a geopolitical challenger and economic competitor, will likely emerge as the most prominent target in the Trump administration’s transformed strategy throughout the remainder of its time in office.

in The United States in the Indo-Pacific
Obama’s legacy in US China Policy
Peter Gries

What is Barack Obama’s legacy in US China policy, and what effect has the first two years of the administration of Donald Trump had upon it? This chapter argues that circumstances conspired to undermine Obama’s China policy, and that the deterioration of US–China relations during his administration was largely beyond his control. Obama’s Pivot to Asia was unable to extract the United States from the wars in the Middle East he inherited from George W. Bush, and the rise of Chinese nationalism stymied his hopes of resetting US–China relations. Obama’s Pivot did, however, leave both the Trump administration and US allies in a position of relative strength in Asia. The chapter further argues that despite an ego-gratifying red carpet welcome in Beijing in 2017, bilateral relations further deteriorated during the first two years of the Trump administration. In early 2019 mutual trust is at new lows, talk of a ‘Thucydides Trap’ is increasing, and the spectre of another US–China conflict looms. Meanwhile, an ‘America First’ Trump has turned his back on Asia, rejecting the Trans-Pacific Partnership, launching a trade war against China, and undermining the regional position of the United States and its Asian allies.

in The United States in the Indo-Pacific
Open Access (free)
The United States in the Asia and Indo-Pacifics
Inderjeet Parmar

What are President Obama’s chief legacies across Asia and the Pacific, the new fulcrum of world economics and geopolitics? Was there a distinctive underlying philosophy and strategy for the region which guided Obama’s thinking and policies, such as ‘pragmatic realism’, hegemonic ordering/liberal internationalism, or hawkish humanitarianism? Since Obama, what has President Donald Trump’s ‘principled realism’ meant in practice? How far has Trump progressed in challenging or disrupting Obama’s strategy to ‘pivot to Asia’? What differences can we discern in the declared or effective US strategy towards Asia and to what extent has it radically shifted or displaced Obama-era legacies? Finally, what might be the longer-term consequences, both for American power and the Asian region, of the strategies pursued by the Trump administration and its predecessors? Though we appear to be at a key historical moment, this is hardly the first time American elites have faced uncertainty over grand strategy in broad terms or in the context of specific areas of the world. Yet the stakes now seem higher, as the spectre of economic and military conflicts hangs over the Asia, and broader Indo-, Pacific regions.

in The United States in the Indo-Pacific
America and Trump in the Asia Pacific
Ketan Patel and Christian Hansmeyer

The United States under Donald Trump has begun to chart a radically new course in Asia, a region that has long relied on America for stability and maintaining the balance of power. Trump has reversed, or sought to reverse, many of the long-standing policies and initiatives pursued by his predecessors, with potential long-term implications for the global balance of power. A multilateral and multifaceted engagement strategy in the region is being replaced by a transactional approach to security, trade and governance. This approach seeks to maximise gains while shifting risk to counterparties in a series of asymmetric transactions and deals which risk eroding a strategic leadership position decades in the making. Trump’s ‘America First’ agenda represents an abandonment of leadership in the setting of international norms for trade, investment and security, providing an opportunity for other countries to fill the vacuum being left behind. Long-term shifts in the political landscape which result will be difficult to predict, and their impact on trade, capital and financial flows cannot be planned for.

in The United States in the Indo-Pacific
Christopher K. Colley and Sumit Gunguly

This chapter argues that although the Obama administration was originally preoccupied with domestic economic challenges and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ties between Washington and New Delhi improved by the end of Obama’s first year in office. The increasing links between New Delhi and Washington during this era are best explained by a mutual desire to hedge against the rise of China. However, other factors such as increasing economic ties also played a role in bringing the two states together. The trajectory of the relationship under the Trump administration is unlikely to depart significantly from that of his predecessor.

in The United States in the Indo-Pacific
Exception, not transformation
Malcolm Cook

The decision to sign the ASEAN Treaty of Amity and Cooperation and join the ASEAN-led East Asia Summit was one of the first enacted pillars of the Obama administration’s Rebalance to Asia policy. These moves highlighted the focus of the Rebalance on Southeast Asia and its core institution, ASEAN. It was hoped in Washington that more participation in multilateral, ASEAN-led bodies would significantly advance the United States’ regional interests. Across the first two years of his time in office to early 2019, President Donald Trump has focused far less on Southeast Asia, and his White House has reverted to an approach which is identifiably more Republican in character within the context of Asia. His administration has concentrated more on unilateral and bilateral courses of action, and upon the major powers of Northeast Asia once more. The Obama administration’s focus on Southeast Asia and ASEAN-led regional multilateralism, exemplified by its participation within the East Asia Summit, was in the end exceptional rather than transformational, by failing to guarantee a long-lasting legacy.

in The United States in the Indo-Pacific