MH17 Tragedy Could Accelerate Deterioration of Geopolitical Relations

A makeshift memorial at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport for the victims of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, July 20, 2014. (Roman Boed/Flickr)

The horrific human tragedy of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17), which was shot down over rebel-held territory in eastern Ukraine, risks to be remembered as the accelerator of today’s deteriorating geopolitical relations between Russia and the West.

All indicators point toward a renewed Cold War between the East and the West, where the new dividers are not the –isms of the past (Capitalism vs. Communism), but the economic and political interests of the present.

In fact, while some have suggested the MH17 tragedy is an opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to cut his support to the rebel groups in east Ukraine, it is very unlikely. He still sees Russia’s influence over Ukraine and the prevention of it joining NATO as a national security interest. He still finds the global order that emerged from the end of the Cold War unacceptable, and will continue to undermine it. Other countries, including China, will ride with the tide.

Is a Ceasefire in the Gaza Strip Feasible?

Soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces are briefed during a search for tunnels in the Gaza Strip, July 19, 2014. (IDF)

After truce negotiations brokered by Egypt last week and a brief humanitarian ceasefire promoted by UN Special Coordinator Robert Serry failed to bring about an agreement between the parties to stop the hostilities, the Israeli government decided to launch a ground invasion in the eastern perimeter of the Gaza Strip. Its main goal has been the destruction of dozens of tunnels that the Palestinian militias had dug underneath this area over the last few years. Some of the tunnels have offensive purposes—their exits are located on the Israeli side–though most of them are defensive, allowing the militias to move underground and avoid detection by Israel Defense Forces (IDF) drones and observation points along the security fence.

The ground offensive started right after the IDF foiled a spectacular attempt by thirteen commandos of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades to infiltrate Israeli territory in a very similar way the Popular Resistance Committees did in June 2006 when they kidnapped the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The fact that this attempt took place a few hours before the beginning of the five-hour humanitarian ceasefire that had been agreed upon through Serry's mediation, and that it was captured on camera and broadcast widely on TV and social media, made the ground invasion unavoidable. Even Israel's military intelligence experts were amazed by the degree of sophistication of the tunnel networks.

Leaders Agree on Immunity for Themselves During Expansion of African Court

The opening ceremony of the 23rd Ordinary Session of the African Union in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, June 26, 2014. (African Union)

The tension between African leaders and the International Criminal Court (ICC) reached a new high at the 23rd Ordinary Summit of the Assembly of the African Union (AU), held on June 26-27, 2014 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, where regional leaders formalized an expansion of the African court of justice and human rights' jurisdiction to include international crimes; they also proclaimed their return to the internationally-abandoned principle of immunity for serving heads of state or government and other senior officials from prosecution of the same crimes. These changes had already been adopted by African justice ministers and attorneys general in May in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, through a series of amendments to the 2008 protocol that established the court.

Far from easing strained relations between African governments and human rights defenders and supporters of the international justice system around the world, the revised protocol puts further at risk thousands of African men, women, and children who are already threatened by grave and massive human rights abuses, some of which are perpetrated by state security agencies.

UN at "Heart of the Dysfunction" in Humanitarian Aid, New Report Finds

After fleeing heavy fighting, thousands of displaced Sudanese receive rations of emergency food aid, Agok, Sudan, May 21, 2008. (UN Photo/Tim McKulka)

The humanitarian system is failing people in places affected by conflict, and the UN is “at the heart of the dysfunction.” These are some of the claims made by Sandrine Tiller and Sean Healy in their latest report for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders. The report, Where Is Everyone? Responding to Emergencies in the Most Difficult Places, offers a blunt critique of the humanitarian system today.

Ms. Tiller, a humanitarian adviser for MSF in the United Kingdom, spoke to me over the phone about her findings and addressed some of the criticisms that the report has received. What follows is an edited version of our conversation.

On Korean Peninsula, Focus Should Be on Unification Not Provocation: Q&A with Sue Terry

North Korea appears as a dark expanse between South Korea (right) and China (upper left), except for Pyongyang (bright dot at center). Taken from the International Space Station, January 30, 2014 (NASA)

Last week, the North Korean regime resumed its policy of provocation and destabilization on the Korean Peninsula by firing two ballistic missiles into the eastern sea and over 100 rockets and artillery shells off its east coast; the missiles landed within a few hundred yards of the South Korean border.

I spoke about these developments and their implications for security on the Korean Peninsula with Sue Terry, currently a research scholar at Columbia University’s Weatherhead Institute and formerly a Central Intelligence Agency officer and director of Korea, Japan, and Oceanic Affairs at the National Security Council. In this interview, Ms. Terry discusses her recent article, where she argues that North and South Korea, as well as the regional powers, should focus on unifying the two countries.

What follows is an edited version of our conversation, which took place last week.

Opening the Door to Humanitarian Aid in Syria: Significance, Challenges, and Prospects

The Security Council unanimously adopts a resolution that allows for aid to be delivered using the most direct routes in Syria, without needing permission from the Syrian government, July 14, 2014. (UN Photo/Mark Garten)

In a rare moment of unanimity on Syria, earlier this week the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 2165, authorizing UN agencies and their humanitarian partners to use routes across conflict lines and four specific border crossings (Bab al-Salam, Bab al-Hawa, Al Yarubiyah and Al-Ramtha) to “ensure that humanitarian assistance, including medical and surgical supplies, reaches people in need throughout Syria through the most direct routes.”

By opening humanitarian access to the approximately 10.8 million Syrians in need of assistance, the resolution has the potential to make a tangible difference to the lives of those most affected by Syria’s conflict. This is no small feat: humanitarian assistance can sometimes be the difference between life and death. Politically, while the Council has reached points of consensus on Syria before, this is the first time it has authorized operational measures without the consent of the Syrian government.

To what extent, though, does this represent a departure from past practice, and what impact can we expect Resolution 2165 to have on the ground?

Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation Complicated by War

Palestinian protesters in May 2014 wave their national flag (R) alongside the flags of Fatah (yellow) and Hamas (green) in support of national reconciliation and the announcement of the formation of a national unity government. (SAID KHATIB/AFP/Getty Images)

After eight years, the conflict between the two Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, which effectively divided Gaza and the West Bank into two separate entities, came to an end after a surprise announcement of reconciliation in April 2014. The deal came at a time when the West Bank authorities faced a deadlock in the peace negotiations with Israel, and an almost-broke Hamas had lost most of its allies. Both parties needed to find a way to move forward.

The Islamic movement Hamas, with headquarters in Damascus under the protection of the Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, fell from grace when they supported the opposition in the Syrian uprising. The collapse of the Arab Spring and the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt further complicated the situation for Hamas in Gaza. The border and smuggling tunnels to Egypt were the lifeline of the Gaza regime, providing a supply of food, energy, and raw materials, circumventing the Israeli-imposed blockade on Gaza. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s new president, closed this lifeline, putting the Hamas regime under severe pressure. With a deteriorating economy, and unable to pay public salaries, Hamas sought reconciliation with Fatah as a solution to the crisis. In this weak position, they were willing to adhere to nearly all the Fatah conditions.

How Will It End? A New Wave of Violence Between Israelis and Palestinians

Palestinians examine a rocket that did not explode in a home east of Rafah in southern Gaza Strip, July 15, 2014. (© Abed Rahim Khatib/NurPhoto/Corbis)

The recent wave of violence between Israel and Hamas, which to date has resulted in the death of more than 192 Palestinians and the injury of more than 1,100 as well as the injury of several Israelis, continues to escalate with no clear sign of when it might end, despite a ceasefire proposed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

The only thing that is fairly certain is how it will end. Both parties understand the decision between violence or ceasefire is primarily a function of credibility and how much pain they are willing to endure.  When each feels it has re-established its credibility to a level it can live with, and the pain is becoming unacceptable, then a renewed truce will take hold. Few on either side have any illusions that they can deliver a devastating blow to the other that will change the uneasy truce that has prevailed–with some major interruptions–since Hamas took over control of Gaza from the Palestinian Authority (Fatah) in 2007. Current reports indicate that Israel accepted the ceasefire on July 15, but Hamas’s military wing hasn’t, so Israel is planning renewed attacks on Gaza, while additional rockets fell on Israel after the ceasefire was to take effect.

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