Boko Haram Deal to Release Girls Met with Hope and Skepticism

Policewomen block supporters of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign from marching to the president's official residence in Abuja on October 14, 2014. (Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images)

Nigeria—and the world—await with bated breath credible confirmation that the government has been able to agree a lasting cease-fire deal with Boko Haram. Reports have emerged that a deal has been signed with the insurgent group which will mean the release of the 217 Chibok schoolgirls abducted in April and an end to the violence and terror which have plagued the country for more than a decade.

As the respected Nigerian journalist Simon Kolawole has written of the announcement, this will mean different things to different people. For some Nigerians, it could be an early Christmas gift. To even imagine that the insurgents or terrorists are ready to abandon their aspirations of establishing an Islamic state and establish a dialogue with the government is a huge relief.

Mali's Elusive Peace

A MINUSMA peacekeeper during a training in Gao, Mali, May 15, 2014. (MINUSMA/Marco Dormino)

It has been nearly 20 months since the sound of French fighter jets filled the skies of Mali’s desert north where, on the ground below, Islamist militants had seized control of a land mass comparable to the size of France. The cacophony of fighter jet engines and their explosive arsenal marked the advent of France’s military intervention in northern Mali. Coined Operation Serval, the mandate of the counterinsurgency was to nullify the threat posed by Islamist extremists who were seeking to expand their operational footprint outside of Mali’s insurgent-battled north. An associated goal of the French military operation was to support the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) in achieving its mandate—the restoration of Mali’s constitutional order and territorial integrity.

By mid-2013, it seemed that the French military had made good on its promise. Al-Qaeda-linked groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar Dine, and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad (MOJWA), were driven out of major urban centers that had fallen under their brutal control. The French-led operation also led to the deaths of a number of prominent jihadists, most notably Hacene Ould Khalil and Omar Ould Hamaha, who had long been sought by regional and international security agencies. In addition to ousting and neutralizing jihadist fighters, Operation Serval also curtailed militant operational capabilities. Key militant logistical and operational bases were destroyed in ground and air operations, while drug-trafficking networks, considered a significant revenue-generating industry for Sahel- and Maghreb-based terrorist groups, were similarly dismantled.

Legality, Legitimacy, and Human Protection: International Intervention Against ISIS in Syria

Twin explosions in southeastern Kobane, October 8, 2014. (Flickr/Poggemann)

As the battle for the tiny Kurdish enclave in Kobane goes into what could be its final phase, and the US-led coalition steps up its air campaign against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, serious questions are being asked about the legality and legitimacy of intervention and about what all this means for the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

Several prominent commentators have argued that the airstrikes in Syria are illegal because they have not been authorized by the UN Security Council and are not acts of self-defense because ISIS poses no direct threat to the US. But this rests on a mistaken view of the scope of self-defense enshrined in the UN charter. Article 51 of the charter notes the “inherent right” of states to “individual or collective self-defense” (emphasis added). In other words, not only does the government of Iraq have a right to use force to defend itself against ISIS, other states have a right to assist it, as Jason Ralph has pointed out. The absence of a direct threat to the US or its allies does not, therefore, invalidate self-defense as grounds for intervention, because actions against ISIS in Syria are essentially a defensive response to that organization’s armed aggression against Iraq. Indeed, this was precisely the argument US officials employed. While there may be some legal squabbling at the margins, it appears from the international response to the intervention that this is a justification broadly accepted by most member states.

Where Are Our Girls?

Demonstrators outside the Nigerian embassy in New York, October 14, 2014. 

Boko Haram’s April 14 kidnapping of more than 200 schoolgirls from the northeastern town of Chibok has been one of the most provocative developments of its almost five-year insurgency against the Nigerian government. It has catalyzed a global protest campaign, drawing support from many of the world’s most influential citizens. It has aided the Nigerian government in garnering both regional and international assistance in its ongoing fight against the Islamist extremist sect. It has also placed unprecedented pressure on the Nigerian government to act with a decisiveness and rapidity which has been sorely lacking in its response to the insurgency.

Yet six months to the day, the Chibok girls remain hostages of one of the most brutal insurgent groups on the African continent, and not much more is known about their plight today as was speculated at the time of their abduction. A burning question remains unanswered: What will happen to the Chibok girls?

Countering ISIS Through UN Security Council Means Separating the Devil from the Details

At a historic meeting at the heads of government level on September 24, the Security Council chaired by US President Barack Obama adopted Resolution 2178, addressing the threat of foreign terrorist fighters. With an estimated 15,000 nationals from over 80 countries on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, governments are understandably concerned not only about their ability to further destabilize fragile environments but also about their impact at home when those fighters return. Exposed to the brutality of warfare and the ideology of extremists, it’s argued, such returnees can threaten their homelands or act as ideologues and recruiters for extremist groups.

Hong Kong Protests: Implications for China and Beyond

Protesters begin a sit-in on Hennessy Road, Causeway Bay, during Occupy Central with Love and Peace, September 28, 2014. Faces in the foreground have been digitally blurred. (Flickr/Citobun)

Although mass protests are not new in Hong Kong, the recent demonstrations are unprecedented in their target—directly challenging a decision of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC)—and in their objectives—free elections and resignation of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. So, Hong Kong joins the long list of places where citizens have resorted to mass protests to voice their grievances to the authorities that govern them. While every movement has been different, some features are common: relatively leaderless, the crowds include mainly middle-class young people, well-educated, urban, and technologically savvy, with expectation for greater agency in the way they are governed. Feeling unrepresented by political parties and politics as usual, they enlarge the political space for debate and contestation using public squares and social media. They seem more concerned by political processes, although the underlying causes often include slowing economic growth and un- or under-employment.

Can Afghanistan’s Unity Government Be Built to Govern?

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (right) and Afghanistan's new Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah (left) during the swearing in ceremony for the country's new president at the Presidential Palace in Kabul on September 29, 2014. (Shah Marai/AFP/Getty Images)

The transfer of power on September 29 from President Hamid Karzai to his successor Ashraf Ghani was momentous but oddly anticlimactic. It was only possible after a highly controversial presidential election between Ghani and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, which brought the country to the brink of chaos. Abdullah refused to recognize the results, which gave Ghani an overwhelming second-round victory. The United States negotiated a power-sharing deal where Ghani would become president, but a “chief executive officer” position would be created for Abdullah. The deal also prescribed an audit of the election supervised by the United Nations to identify and remove fraudulent votes.

It was a bad sign that the September 29 inauguration was almost derailed at the last minute when Abdullah objected to the fact that the results of the election audit were released. The post-audit results have Ghani winning with 55 percent. Abdullah has accepted the ultimate verdict of the electoral authorities—that Ghani won the election—but has otherwise rejected the legitimacy of the election, claiming that the audit failed to remove most of the fraud. In the end, he agreed to share the inaugural stage with Ghani, bringing the electoral crisis at least to a close.

Key Global Events to Watch in October

At the start of every month, the Global Observatory posts a list of key upcoming meetings and events that have implications for global affairs.



October 1: Norway’s Jens Stoltenberg takes over as NATO Secretary-General, Brussels

On October 1, former Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg succeeds Denmark’s Anders Fogh Rasmussen as secretary-general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) at a time of heightened tensions over the Ukraine crisis. Appointed in March 2014 by the North Atlantic Council, Mr. Stoltenberg comes from his most recent international post as UN Special Envoy on Climate Change. 

October 1: Obama hosts Netanyahu for first time since Israel-Hamas War, Washington, DC 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travels to Washington to visit US President Barack Obama for the first time in seven months. The Washington visit takes place against the backdrop of a fragile cease-fire following the 50-day Gaza war, stalled talks between the Israelis and Palestinians, and an impending deadline for a final agreement in the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran. At the White House, the two leaders are expected to discuss nuclear negotiations with Iran, Israel’s security, the Palestinian issue, tensions in the Middle East, and the state of US-Israeli relations.

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What to Watch in 2014

Key Global Events in October
A list of key upcoming meetings and events with implications for global affairs.

2013-multilateral-602014 Top 10 Issues to Watch in Peace & Security: The Global Arena
A list of ten key issues to watch that are likely to impact international peace and security in 2014, compiled by IPI's Francesco Mancini.