Marc Finaud

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Autonomy: The Key to Many Conflicts

Posted on July 22, 2016 at 4:30 AM

3 October 2014


From Scotland to Iraq or Hong Kong, from Ukraine to Mali, many potential

disputes or actual conflicts have erupted because populations aspire to systems

of governance recognizing their right to manage their own affairs. In case such

a right is suppressed by domination, the struggle for autonomy can turn violent

and even lead to a fight for separation or full-fledged independence. Both

history and the current realities abound in examples of situations in which

internal autonomy has offered the best solution to conflicts but was rejected or

ignored, thus paving the way for senseless bloodshed. It is time for the

international community to learn those lessons and act in a preventive fashion

to uphold autonomy as a conflict prevention mechanism.

What is there in common between the recent referendum on the independence of

Scotland, the future one on Catalonia, the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong

Kong, the armed rebellion in eastern Ukraine, the takeover of parts of Iraq and Syria

by the Islamic State, and the alliance between jihadist groups and the Tuareg

separatist movement in Mali? The same as between the case of Kosovo, the

explosion of Libya, the Aceh conflict in Indonesia and the action of the movement for

Muslim Mindanao in the Philippines. How is it possible to establish any links between

so many different conflicts while all first-year students in International Relations are

taught about the specificity of each conflict?

In all the above-mentioned cases, internal autonomy was at stake. Whenever it was

rejected, cancelled or neglected by a dominating power, a conflict erupted that

exacerbated differences and stimulated a radical approach towards separation and


The Scottish Referendum

Of course, the recent relationship between the United Kingdom (UK) and Scotland was

not a violent one. After his election in 1997, Tony Blair even granted an

unprecedented degree of autonomy to the Scottish parliament and government

through devolution (before doing so again one year later with Northern Ireland).

However, the Scottish nationalists considered that Scotland was entitled to gain more

control over its natural resources and defend its national identity and prosperity which

were, in their eyes, threatened by both globalization and the prospect of a UK

withdrawal from the European Union (EU). The commitment by the UK government to

grant even more autonomy to Edinburgh (which will also benefit the other nations of

the UK), while seen as ‘too little too late’ by the nationalists, most probably convinced

a majority of Scots to remain within the UK. This lesson should inspire the Spanish

government, which faces the possibility of secession by Catalonia. Spain has already

transferred a great deal of power to its provinces, but there still is room for negotiating

even more.

The eastern Ukrainian provinces

In the case of Ukraine, a centralised state, the eastern provinces, even in the third

decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union, still consider themselves as closer to

Russia, whose language they speak and towards which they turn for trade. They

remained loyal to the central Ukrainian government when one of them, President

Viktor Yanukovych, leader of the Party of Regions, ruled over the country. But when

he was overthrown by a popular revolution initiated by western Ukrainians aspiring to

economic assistance and support in the rule of law from the EU, the eastern

provinces rejected Kiev’s rule altogether, accusing the central government of being

made of “fascists” financially supported by the West. In its turn, the newly elected

government reacted to those signs of rebellion by calling the leaders of the separatist

movements “terrorists”, taking measures seen in the East as provocative such as

cancelling the teaching of the Russian language, and opting for a military operation to

quell the revolt. At the same time, Russia played both a dangerous game of indirect

military intervention and a sensible approach of calling for a negotiated solution based

on comprehensive autonomy (called “federalization”) for the eastern provinces. This is

the thrust of the Minsk Protocol that was eventually accepted by both sides with the

mediation of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

The Tuareg in Mali

In Mali, a country that, like most African nations, inherited its borders from the

colonial rulers, the vast northern region was inhabited among others by Tuareg

nomads, who had been seeking autonomy from the central government ever since

independence in the early 1960s. Despite some attempts to integrate the Tuaregs into

the Malian armed forces, the Tuareg movements clashed militarily with the regular

army. But the conflict took another turn when heavy weapons started to flow from

collapsing Libya and jihadist groups seized that opportunity to spread their domination

throughout the region. The result of many years of refusal to grant autonomy forced

the French armed forces to take the lead in a military operation, subsequently

supported by the African Union, to help the Malian government re-establish its

authority over the whole territory. There is no doubt today that any sustainable political

solution needs to include a large degree of autonomy for the northern territory coupled

with power-sharing arrangements ensuring national unity. Stability in Mali and the

whole Sahel region will also be improved if the current Libyan chaos is addressed by a

negotiated autonomy agreement among the various tribal groups and factions vying

for power and control.

The Sunni provinces in Iraq

In Iraq, a country deeply divided between Sunnis, Shias and Kurds after the fall of the

Saddam Hussein regime, which had been characterized by Sunni domination, a

majority vote granted power to a Shia-controlled government. The Kurds, made selfconfident

by their own natural resources and strong national identity, imposed their full

autonomy, up to the point of including into the Iraqi Constitution a clause of superiority

of Kurdish law in case of conflict with a national Iraqi law. However the Al-Maliki

government rejected all the demands for more autonomy from the Sunnis, still

collectively and abusively associated with the Saddam regime. As a result, when the

jihadist groups that thrived in the civil war in Syria began to spread over the Sunni

regions of Iraq, they were supported by the local populations, and had no difficulty in

repelling the weak Iraqi armed forces and establishing an Islamic State in those

regions. The current conflict will not escape a new military phase with the intervention

of a new US-led coalition, but those thinking of a political solution for the future of Iraq

have already accepted the idea of a form of partition of the country between

autonomous regions. The failure to achieve this will no doubt lead to a break-up of the

Iraqi state, with incalculable consequences for the whole Middle East.

Other cases: New Caledonia, Aceh, Bangsamoro, Sahara

Several other countries have wisely understood that granting a rebellious population a

negotiated form of autonomy was the most sustainable method for avoiding escalation

of a conflict while leaving further options opened for the future. France has done so

with its overseas territory of New Caledonia, after separatist violence erupted in 1988,

by agreeing on an evolutionary status of comprehensive autonomy, with devolution of

political and economic powers not only to the local government but also to the Kanak

minority. This status provides for a referendum on self-determination, but all parties

have until now agreed to postpone it until 2018 to preserve the peace.

In Indonesia, after independence in 1945, the province of Aceh began to rebel against

the central government that had not fulfilled its pledge of granting self-rule. The Free

Aceh movement conducted a military struggle against Jakarta until 2005, when a

peace agreement was mediated by former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari, providing

for a large form of internal autonomy.

In the Philippines, also, a Comprehensive Agreement was concluded in 2014 to put an

end to the hostilities between the Moro National Liberation Front and the Manila

government, confirming and enlarging the status of the Autonomous Region in Muslim

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Mindanao already established in 1989 and now known as Bangsamoro.

For its part, Morocco proposed to the United Nations (UN) in 2007 that the conflict

over Western Sahara be settled through the negotiation among all the parties (the

Moroccan government, Algeria, Mauritania and the Polisario) of a status of broad

political, economic, cultural and social autonomy of that territory within the Moroccan

kingdom. Although negotiations have yet to address the substance of this status, the

UN Security Council has repeatedly welcomed the Moroccan efforts as “serious and


Successful Statutes of Autonomy

In other states, a status of autonomy has been functioning for many years to general

satisfaction, for instance between: Denmark and Greenland or the Faroe Islands;

Finland and the Swedish-speaking Åland Islands; Serbia and multi-ethnic Vojvodina.

Italy has granted home rule to five regions (Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino-Alto

Adige/Südtirol, Aosta Valley and Friuli-Venezia Giulia), which possess powers in

relation to legislation, administration and finance. In China, Hong Kong and Macau

enjoyed a special administrative status with little interference from the central

government until recently when Beijing attempted to control the electoral process in

Hong Kong. In any case, such autonomy is compatible with centralised states and

does not need federalism to be effective.

In a globalised world where new forces and new actors question the validity of the

Westphalian model of the nation-state, the infra-state level provides more

opportunities for reconciling the need for economically viable units with peoples’

aspirations for self-governance.

An expert seminar was held in 2009 at the GCSP on the question “Can Autonomy

Fulfil the Right to Self-determination?” [ 2] One of its conclusions was that, in some

cases, separation or full-fledged independence is inevitable, when “one side asserts

territorial integrity, the other asserts claims, and neither side’s preferences can be

fully realised through autonomy. This is the situation in the Caucasus, Cyprus,

Kashmir, and leads to frozen conflicts. Some governments fear autonomy as a

slippery slope inevitably leading to independence. In that sense, Kosovo can be seen

as a moral hazard.” [ 3] One could add the case of Palestine, whose recognition as an

independent state was not only predicated in the early UN Partition Plan but has been

vindicated by years of resistance to occupation.

In other cases, not only does autonomy “allow for self-determination and is compatible

with a central state’s sovereignty,” but it can help solve or prevent a conflict. “Law can

be interpreted differently; it can be aligned to reality in different cases; legal and

practical barriers can be overcome.” Finally, autonomy can offer such sustainable

solutions only if some sense of conciliation and trust exists among the parties, as well

as a sense of urgency to solve an existing or potential conflict. A resolution based on

a process of autonomy can act to prevent the frustration resulting from uncertainty

about the future.” [ 4] In addressing conflicts in ethnically or religiously fragmented

societies such as Afghanistan, Syria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Yemen to

name a few more, the international community would be well inspired to look at the

successful cases of autonomy as hopeful conflict resolution mechanisms. But this

will require renouncing policies of authoritarian domination for the common good.

[2 ] Marc Finaud, “ Can Autonomy Fulfil the Right to Self-determination?”, Geneva

Papers No. 12, 6 October 2009

[ 3] Ibid. p. 39.

[ 4] Ibid. p. 40.

The 1996 'Grapes of Wrath' Ceasefire Agreement and the Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group: A Model of Successful Negotiations in Conflict Management

Posted on July 22, 2016 at 4:15 AM

September 2015

From 1985 to 2000, Israel maintained a military presence in a so-called “security zone” in South Lebanon, where it supported the South Lebanese Army (SLA). Hizbollah fighters not only engaged Israeli and SLA forces in that

zone, but also occasionally fired rockets into Israeli territory, causing civilian casualties and destruction. In 1993 and 1996, Israel conducted a massive offensive against Lebanon, leaving damage and destruction in its aftermath. The United States mediated ceasefire arrangements between Israel and Hizbollah (through the Lebanese and Syrian governments). As opposed to the 1993 ceasefire agreement, the 1996 agreement following Israel’s Operation Grapes of Wrath was mutually accepted and provided for a mechanism to monitor its implementation (the Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group, co-chaired by the US and France, with the participation of Israel, Syria, and Lebanon). It functioned until February 2000, shortly before Israel completely withdrew its forces from South Lebanon. Two decades later, this instrument remains a model of successful negotiation for conflict management, both with respect to the process that led to the agreement and monitoring of the ceasefire. Its success in reducing civilian casualties on both sides during its four-year implementation has caused some to advocate the use of a similar model for other purposes (an Israeli-Lebanese peace agreement, a conflict prevention mechanism, or Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations).

Historical Background

The origins of the conflict between Israel and Lebanon go back to the creation of the Jewish state in 1948, though after their 1949 Armistice Agreement, relative stability between both countries prevailed, including during the 1967 and 1973 wars in which Lebanon was hardly involved. Nevertheless, Lebanon was increasingly drawn into tensions with Israel when its territory was used as a base by Palestinian militants fighting Israel during the Lebanese civil war (until 1982) and later by Hizbollah, supported by Syria and Iran, conducting a proxy war against Israel. In response, Israel launched several operations aimed at stopping attacks on its northern territory. In 1978, Operation Litani led the United Nations (UN) Security Council to establish Resolution 425 (UNSCR 425), calling for the withdrawal of Israeli forces and deployment of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL); Israel handed over its outposts to its ally, the Free Lebanon Army (FLA), that later became the South Lebanon Army (SLA). In 1982, Operation Peace for the Galilee ended with the evacuation of PLO forces from Lebanon mediated by the United States and France. Israel maintained residual forces in a “security zone” in southern Lebanon along with the SLA. In 1993, Operation Accountability included aerial strikes against Hizbollah bases, which had replaced the Palestinians, as well as shelling villages in South Lebanon, Tyre, and Sidon to force the Lebanese government to pressure the guerrilla movement1 and send a strong signal to its Syrian sponsor.2 Hizbollah, in retaliation, fired a number of indiscriminate Katyusha rockets into northern Israel. As it did in 1981, the U.S. government stepped in and negotiated a ceasefire through Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who spent a whole week calling the leaders of Israel, Syria, and Lebanon and making indirect contacts with Iran.3 The resulting July 1993 agreement boiled down to applying the “red lines” already spelled out by Hizbollah and de facto accepted by Israel: Hizbollah pledged to stop firing rockets at northern Israel while Israel agreed to refrain from attacking civilian targets in Lebanon. This arrangement was oral and based on each party’s commitment to the arrangement. All the parties believed that the agreement would be honored because of American involvement. But the ceasefire arrangement was far from being respected by both sides, though most of the time they insisted that they were following their “red lines.”

Regular exchanges of fire lasted until April 1996, when Israel decided to launch a new operation named Grapes of Wrath. The 1996 Ceasefire Agreement and the Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group In the context of the 1996 campaign for general elections, Prime Minister Shimon Peres was hoping to obtain a full ceasefire, which would serve to protect Israeli forces in South Lebanon in exchange for a commitment to negotiate a complete withdrawal from Lebanon after a trial period of nine months.4 Consequently, he decided to send a request that Damascus impose restraint upon Hizbollah, conveyed through the Lebanese government.5 From April 11 to 26, 1996, Operation Grapes of Wrath took the form of a massive air and artillery attack on alleged Hizbollah military infrastructure as well as civilian infrastructure such as power stations. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), through the SLA radio, sent warnings to the civilian population in South Lebanon to evacuate their towns and villages, causing the displacement  of some 400,000 Lebanese civilians.6 Some 30,000 people in northern Israel were also forced to seek shelter.7 A dramatic turning point in the offensive occurred on April 18, 1996, when Israeli artillery shells landed on a UN military compound in Qana, near Tyre, killing 106 civilian refugees and injuring another 116.8 Whereas for the UN it was unlikely that the shelling resulted from a procedural or technical error,9 Israel stressed that Hizbollah was to be blamed for having fired at an Israeli outpost from the vicinity of a populated area.10 UNSCR 1052 of April 18, 199611 called for an immediate cessation of hostilities. Once again, U.S. President Bill Clinton sent his Secretary of State Warren Christopher to the region to mediate a ceasefire. In a weeklong negotiation marathon, Christopher visited Damascus, held intensive meetings in Jerusalem as well as telephone consultations with Egyptian and Saudi leaders, and went to Beirut when an agreement was practically finalized.12 During the U.S. mediation efforts, other countries also dispatched envoys to the region: French President Jacques Chirac, a personal friend of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, sent his Foreign Minister Hervé de Charette. The Foreign Ministers of Russia, Italy, Spain, and Ireland also travelled to the Middle East.13 Israel expressed some discontent regarding those attempts and insisted that the U.S. remain the principal mediator.14 Christopher also made it clear that the U.S. should take the lead.15 There were serious differences between the French and U.S. ceasefire proposals despite their common goal (protecting civilians) and provision for a standing monitoring mechanism. The French based their plan on UNSCR 425, though it was not intended to substitute the peace negotiations. For its part, the U.S. proposal was closer to Israel’s requests.16 Due to the strong international pressure on Israel after the Qana massacre, the U.S. could not impose Israel’s desired goals (full ceasefire in exchange for a pledge to negotiate withdrawal) and the parties settled on a “package” that was close to the French proposal. The Ceasefire Agreement was made public simultaneously on April 26, 1996 in Jerusalem17 and in Beirut. Hizbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah announced that his organization would consider itself bound by it.18 Contrary to the 1993 agreement, this was a written text with straightforward commitments. Formally, it recorded what both Israel and Lebanon would ensure: “armed groups in Lebanon” would not carry out attacks against Israel; Israel and SLA forces would not fire any kind of weapon at civilians or civilian targets in Lebanon; civilians will never be the target of any attack, and civilian populated areas and industrial and electrical installations will never be used as launching grounds for attacks; nothing precluded any party from exercising the right for self-defense but “without violating this Agreement.”

An Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group (ILMG) composed of the U.S., France, Israel, Lebanon, and Syria would monitor the implementation of the agreement by addressing complaints in case of alleged violations. The Agreement was not intended as “a substitute for a permanent solution” but only as an instrument “to bring the current crisis to an end.”19 However, the U.S. did propose the resumption of negotiations between the parties “with the objective of reaching comprehensive peace” and understood that those negotiations should be “conducted in a climate of stability and tranquility.”20 This stressed the difference between a temporary ceasefire and a full-fledged peace process. This agreement was confirmed by Syria’s Foreign Ministry, which stated that the agreement would “stop the cruel assault against the lives of the civilians without abandoning the legitimate right of the Lebanese resistance to confront the Israeli occupation.”21

The parties then negotiated the ILMG rules of procedure. Diplomatic talks held in Washington were interrupted by the general elections in Israel in May 1996. The negotiations led to the adoption of a Protocol on the Working Rules for the ILMG on July 12, 1996.22 The operation of the ILMG was considered by the Clinton administration as “a useful indicator that both the new [Israeli] government and the Syrians and Lebanese were interested in finding ways to defuse tensions and... showing that they could do business.”23 For nearly four years, from July 1996 to February 2000, the ILMG met regularly at UNIFIL headquarters at Naqura to address complaints of alleged violations of the Agreement from either Lebanon or Israel or both, and issued public statements often pointing in practice to the responsibility of Israel (or the SLA) or Hizbollah (as represented by Lebanon). In total, the Group issued 103 press statements after having examined 607 complaints (298 from Israel and 309 from Lebanon).24 Although most complaints related to actual incidents, there may have been a secret competition between Israel and Lebanon in order to maintain some balance in the number of complaints submitted.25 In regards to the functioning of the ILMG, the following points are worth mentioning:

a. For the purpose of decision making, a consensual approach was eventually preferred to a voting system.26 Press statements containing indirect admission of guilt or responsibility by one or the other party would carry more weight than unilateral accusations rejected by the other side. After hearing evidence from the complaining party and a response from the accused, and possibly conducting its own on-site verification mission,27 the Group drafted a factual, confidential, internal report registering the various positions. It included results from verification visits, and the agreements or disagreements about the findings. Such reports were detailed, including locations of incidents, types of weapons used, resulting damage to people or property, and mentioned by name the accused forces (IDF, SLA, or Hizbollah) or even commanders, combatants, victims, or witnesses.28 Then the parties negotiated a public press statement, usually also prepared by the chair. Obviously, this exercise was often time consuming, since the accused party generally attempted to deflect the blame for the charges. If there was unanimity in identifying the noncomplying party, the report would mention it; if not, the report would  contain a factual description of the group’s discussions and possibly the outcome of the verification visit.

b. The chair and co-chair positions were rotated between the U.S. and France for periods of five months. Both were supposed to “work together closely in a spirit of full coordination and cooperation.”29 Despite some initial competition,30 this coordination worked well.31 Both delegations were active in drafting the internal and public reports. However, the expected roles were sometimes reversed:32 although viewed as Israel’s ally and protector, a U.S. chair would occasionally exert pressure on the Israeli delegation to admit its responsibility, while the French, considered as defenders of the Lebanese, often convinced the latter to accept blame for Hizbollah’s behavior.33 An Israeli delegate even admitted in private that the French chairs were more impartial because the Americans overcompensated for a perceived bias in favor of Israel.34 c. The Monitoring Group appeared as a model of civil-military cooperation. Officially, it consisted of “delegates headed by military representatives.” In practice, the chair and co-chair were always diplomats, with military advisors in their delegations, while the Israeli, Lebanese, and Syrian delegations were headed by high-ranking military officers alongside hosted civilian advisors.35 This mixture of cultures and backgrounds as well as networks and communication channels contributed to a professional, non-polemical approach to the discussions. The military expertise was useful in examining and possibly rebutting the submitted evidence,36 while the diplomatic skills were put to a test in the arduous negotiations on the public statements. The role of the military in the implementation of the 1996 Agreement was the most important, and an actual change of tactics and modus operandi of the IDF resulted from the restraint imposed by the agreement.37 Even when military commanders complained in Israel about those constraints, the Israeli political leaders always ruled in favor of strict compliance with the Agreement.38

d. The Monitoring Group also offered a framework for discreet communication between Israel and Syria. Officially, during meetings the Arab participants did not speak directly to the Israelis but through the chair; the Lebanese wanted to avoid the impression of cooperating with the enemy.39 However, on several occasions, the chair left Israeli and Syrian delegates alone in a room ostensibly in order to negotiate a public statement but in fact to discuss other issues such as an exchange of prisoners,40 a ceasefire to recover bodies of Israeli soldiers41 or in exchange for the transfer of a town to Lebanese control.42 Despite public denials, personal amicable ties and mutual trust were even forged between Israel and Arab delegates who met on a regular basis.43 The fact that Israel and Syria used this back channel to avoid escalation of tensions that could have led to an all-out war between them, was all the more crucial given that U.S. mediation efforts to resume peace negotiations were unsuccessful during the whole duration of the ILMG. An Israeli delegate went as far as claiming that Syrian and Israeli representatives occasionally used complaints to the ILMG as pretexts for meeting each other.44 

e. The functioning of the ILMG was also affected by domestic political developments. Albeit intended to spare civilians, military operations were causing the IDF and SLA increasing losses, and this was occasionally used in the political debate, especially during electoral campaigns. Some Israeli politicians advocated a negotiated Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon, which seemed logical after UNSCR 425 had been formally accepted by the Netanyahu government on April 1, 1998.45 In the run-up to the 1999 early general elections, Labor candidate Ehud Barak promised that he would unilaterally withdraw Israeli forces from Lebanon if negotiations with Syria failed. During the last weeks of the Netanyahu government, Israel announced that it was no longer bound by the 1996 Agreement and would cease its participation in the ILMG.46 However, soon after Ehud Barak assumed his position as Prime Minister on July 6, 1999, Israeli delegates resumed their participation in the Monitoring Group (only interrupted from June 24 to July 13, 1999).47 On February 11, 2000, when the ILMG met to examine an Israeli complaint regarding a Hizbollah attack from a civilian area, the Israeli delegation interpreted this incident as evidence of ill will by Syria, and left Naqura as a sign of protest, marking the last meeting of the Monitoring Group.48 Eventually, with the actual Israeli withdrawal from South Lebanon completed on May 25, 2000, the ILMG had lost its main raison d’être. 

Lessons Learned from the Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group

Assessing the effectiveness of the 1996 Agreement requires reference both to the facts regarding their main purpose – protecting civilians from a continuing armed conflict – and the public appraisal in Israel and Lebanon about achievement of this goal. A precise count of actual civilian victims is difficult because Lebanese statistics do not distinguish between “real” civilians and “resistance” combatants.49 Nevertheless, a study did compare casualties between 1996 and the first eight months of 1997: the number of Katyusha attacks had dropped from 25 to 8; Israeli civilian casualties from 34 to 4; Israeli military fatalities from 26 to 17; Lebanese civilian casualties from 640 to 123; and Hizbollah casualties from 50 to 45.50 From 1985 to 2000, the 4,000 rockets launched by Hizbollah onto northern Israel killed nine Israeli civilians.51 After the 1996 Agreement had entered into force, statements on both sides admitted52 that as a result, the number of civilian casualties had been considerably reduced.53 Even the leader of Hizbollah recognized that “despite our annoyance with the continuing Israeli violations, the Agreement did curb the attacks on civilians.”54

The success of the 1996 Agreement explains why it was considered a model for fulfilling similar missions in other contexts. In 2001, negotiators from the Palestinian Authority examined the experience of the ILMG in light of the Mitchell Report (containing recommendations on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process): while taking a skeptical view of its relevance to the Palestinian track, they recognized the value of a multilateral monitoring structure.55 In 2002, in view of the fragility of the situation along the Lebanese border, the International Crisis Group (ICG) recommended that both Israel and Hizbollah respect the “spirit of the April 1996 Agreement” by refraining from attacking civilians and that “regular talks” be held between U.S., European Union, UN, Russian, Syrian, and Lebanese representatives.56 During the 2006 Lebanon war, which caused some 1,300 civilian deaths in Lebanon57 and killed 165 Israelis,58 Israel asked the US to establish a new ILMG to “coordinate” a ceasefire with a “UNIFIL-Plus force” and “prevent a vacuum in South Lebanon.”59 The 4,000 Katyusha rockets launched by Hizbollah during the war onto Israel killed 40 Israeli civilians.60 Most probably, had the 1996 Agreement survived Israel’s withdrawal, civilian casualties would have been avoided, and the ILMG could have served as a basis for a future peace agreement between Israel and Lebanon, especially for the monitoring of possible border incidents.61

In 2010, Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Egypt, proposed a plan to prevent a new war between Israel and Lebanon that included the option of “resurrecting in some form” the ILMG to “restore credibility to the effort to implement” UNSCR 1701 (calling for a total cessation of hostilities in Lebanon and the future disarmament of Hizbollah).62 According to an Israeli commentator, a de facto framework similar to the ILMG was used “for meetings of IDF and Northern Command officers with senior Lebanese and UNIFIL officers.”63 Of course, in the 2006 Lebanon war, the general context had dramatically changed compared to 1996: after the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in 2005, Bashar al-Assad’s influence on Hizbollah was reduced;64 Hizbollah had acquired sophisticated weaponry mainly from Iran,65 which made this war look more like an Israel-Iran proxy confrontation;66 because Hizbollah had two cabinet ministers in the Lebanese government, Israel considered the latter responsible for the abduction of Israeli soldiers that triggered the offensive; Israel also believed that should it suffer the consequences of war, the Lebanese population would turn its back against Hizbollah;67 finally, Israel enjoyed unconditional support on the part of the U.S. Bush administration, which stressed Israel’s right to self-defense and left it to the UN to painfully conduct a month-long ceasefire negotiation. A former advisor to the Israeli ILMG delegation also advocated a “resurrection of the monitoring group and the establishment of a parallel Israeli-Palestinian body.” For him, such a renewed ILMG could be tasked to monitor the disarmament of Hizbollah by the Lebanese Army and “create a constructive new channel of communication among Israel, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Authority.” The Israeli-Palestinian monitoring group, with the possible inclusion of Egypt and Jordan, could immediately convene in the event of any spike in Israeli-Palestinian violence.68 In 2007, the idea of European civilian border assistance mission to help Lebanon ensure security along its border with Israel was considered. But voices from the region suggested rather to “revamp” the ILMG to “provide verification measures for the projected downsizing of” UNIFIL.69 This new institution would “report and reprimand any violations of Resolution 1701 from all involved parties.” This “new EU-led group could act as a means of diplomatic dialogue, and, most imperative for Lebanon’s sovereignty, could be a verification mechanism to condemn Israel’s overflight violations and Syrian trans-border transgressions.”70 Obviously, in the current context of the Syrian civil war, it is difficult to imagine any relevance for resurrecting a mechanism similar to the ILMG before some stabilization and de-escalation of armed violence occurs among the warring parties. However, in a future scenario of reconstruction and the interim phase towards a regional peace settlement, this idea should be kept alive.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The success incurred by the 1996 Agreement and the ILMG, which makes them appear as a possible model to solve similar problems, can suggest the following recommendations:

a. In most cases, multilateral approaches are more effective than unilateralism. The history of the Middle East, in particular the relations between Israel and the Palestinians or Hizbollah, abounds in cases when unilateral moves by either actor led to a worse situation than the status quo, while most attempts of multilateral solutions were successful and sustainable.71 With the 1993 and 1996 agreements, the U.S. mediation based on UN resolutions established a situation of relative calm with fewer casualties. In both cases, the limited ceasefire collapsed due to Hizbollah actions, followed by unilateral military actions by Israel instead of joint action with external actors. Similar situations occurred when Israel expelled some 400 Palestinians to Lebanon in 1992,72 withdrew from South Lebanon in 2000 without an agreement with Lebanon and Syria, unilaterally pulled out from the Gaza Strip in 2005, or conducted its offensive on Lebanon in 2006. In contrast, two multilateral peacekeeping operations resulting from negotiated multilateral arrangements, the UN Disengagement Force (UNDOF) on the Golan Heights deployed in 1974 and the Multinational Force of Observers (MFO) established in the Sinai in 1981, still contribute to maintaining relative calm in these regions of strategic importance for Israel.

b. In some cases, preference should be given to realistic, short-term goals over ambitious peace plans. Often in the Middle East “the avoidance of war is a far more achievable goal” than getting the parties to make peace.73 The success of the 1996 arrangement was mainly due to its welldelineated, rather short-term and limited ambition: protecting civilians from the military conflict waged between the parties. This restricted purpose was clearly separated from the political aim of resuming peace negotiations between Israel and Syria, mentioned in the Agreement as a U.S. “proposal.” The U.S. mediation efforts failed not because the belligerents found it more convenient to continue the fighting while keeping it under control, but rather due to the lack of readiness by both sides to make the necessary concessions for achieving full peace. Nonetheless, the parties had an interest in keeping the 1996 mechanism alive for avoiding escalation into a direct military confrontation, a more costly alternative, and keeping a communication back channel open. Of course, in today’s context of the civil war in Syria, that consideration seems quite irrelevant. However, in a different situation, one could imagine that a system of conflict management between two enemies not yet ready to negotiate full cessation of hostilities could serve their common interest to spare civilians and avoid escalation of tensions. This would probably require, like the 1996 agreement, a powerful mediator enjoying trust from the belligerents.

c. Mediation has a better chance of success if it seeks balanced results. The search for mutual obligations was critical to the success of the 1996 ceasefire negotiations. Perhaps as a result of a regional culture of revenge for harm suffered, the fighting between Hizbollah and Israel was characterized by a cycle of violent acts and responses. Of course, the conflict was also marked by asymmetry that made it difficult to put the belligerents on the same footing. Israel, as a State Party to the 1949 Geneva Conventions74 and equipped with sophisticated weapon systems, was bound by the obligations of international humanitarian law applicable in armed conflict (IHL), in particular not to target civilians and to take additional precautions as an occupying power. Hizbollah, a non-state actor, claimed that it was only carrying out acts of resistance against occupation and was not bound by IHL. This is why it was so important for the U.S. mediator to seek the adherence of states, Syria and Lebanon, held responsible for the acts of Hizbollah. But the U.S. and French mediators were also aware of the constant need for consensus that required mutual concessions and sometimes face-saving devices (such as a public apology for an unintentional casualty or the procedural fiction that the belligerents did not talk to each other but only through the chair).75 This explains why most of the public statements were so carefully crafted, often reaffirming the rules for the benefit of all. This was perceived as superior to a zero-sum game approach consisting in scoring points but losing human lives. In any similar situation, mediators should strive to find the proper balance between designating a belligerent responsible for a clear breach of a ceasefire or IHL and consensus language reaffirming commitments to abide by the agreements.

d. Timing is critical in most crisis negotiations. In 1993 and 1996, the U.S. mediator initiated negotiations without delay with all parties in the absence of direct communications between them. In both cases, it took a week to achieve an agreement and de-escalate the military confrontation, which by most standards is a rather short time. The 1996 negotiations were facilitated by the previous ones and their unwritten outcome. Time was of the essence in 1996 because of the electoral campaign in Israel, and the domestic uproar about casualties and constraints on the population in northern Israel. The sense of urgency was also part of the monitoring system: when complaints of alleged violations were submitted, the Chair was supposed to call for a meeting “immediately.” In many cases, the meetings were convened within 24 or 48 hours. Outside meetings, the Chair also served as an intermediary for emergency communication between the parties, as for instance in the December 1999 unintentional Israeli shelling of a Lebanese school.76 In a similar conflict situation, rapid communication and intervention of mediators can be critical in preventing escalation of tensions and saving civilian lives. In contrast, in the 2006 Lebanon war, for 18 days, the U.S. did not support any ceasefire.77 The irony was that just like in 1996, the abstention which resulted in hundreds of casualties was reversed after new bloodshed in Qana due to indiscriminate Israeli shelling.78

e. When third-party mediators are involved in negotiations, they must agree to work intensively with all the parties, and focus on achieving the desired result. In 1996, contrary to 1993, the U.S. mediator travelled to the region and conducted full-time shuttle diplomacy for one week between the parties. He also held active telephone consultations with other leaders who could exert influence. The French Foreign Minister also spent 13 days shuttling between Beirut, Damascus, and Jerusalem, an unprecedented duration for a French politician also active on the domestic scene.79 Despite disadvantages of competition, insufficient coordination, and irritation of some parties, it seemed that only personal involvement and perseverance of high-level political figures (backed by strong national interests and competent teams of advisors) can deliver successful agreements.

f. Leaders involved in negotiations on an agreement to stop violence should also assume the responsibility of implementation of the accord through a verification mechanism. Especially in contexts of total lack of trust between the parties, respect for any agreement cannot be assumed and left to their good faith. This is why the ILMG was so successful: it involved powerful third-party mediators backed by the UN and capable of leveraging respect for the agreement, and it gave the parties a chance to hold the responsible party accountable for violations. Thus, the mechanism enjoyed both credibility and ownership of the parties, and its operation contributed to strengthening confidence in compliance with the agreement.

g. The choice of mediators and negotiators, both on national and professional criteria, can be decisive. In 1996, on the U.S. side, Warren Christopher benefited from his own experience of the 1993 negotiations and the personal knowledge of most of his interlocutors. He also relied on a team of competent experts in Middle East affairs, such as Dennis Ross, Special Middle East Coordinator at the State Department,80 or Martin Indyk, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel.81 Among U.S. delegates to the ILMG, a few American diplomats were later rewarded for their work: David N. Greenlee, Chairman of the ILMG in 1996-1997, then Ambassador to Bolivia and Paraguay; Joseph G. Sullivan, his successor in 1997-1998, then Ambassador to Angola and Zimbabwe; Theodor Feifer, deputy head of the U.S. delegation in 1996-1997, then Adviser to the Special Middle East Coordinator. On the Israeli side, the most prominent negotiator was Dore Gold, a close advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu;82 although not directly involved in the negotiations, Itamar Rabinovich, the Israeli Ambassador to the UN and delegate to the Israel-Syria peace talks, also played an influential role.83 Another key Israeli expert was Uri Lubrani, the Ministry of Defense Coordinator on Lebanese Affairs for decades, considered as the Israeli official with the strongest connection to the Syrians and the Lebanese.84 The Israeli delegation to the ILMG was headed by Brigadier General David Tzur, Chief Israeli Liaison Officer to Foreign Forces, who had an impressive record in the Israeli security establishment and was later elected to the Knesset. The Syrian Ambassador to the U.S., Walid Muallem, involved in the negotiations on the ILMG rules, later became Deputy Foreign Minister and then Foreign Minister in 2005.85 The Lebanese delegate, Colonel Maher Toufeili, and his Syrian counterpart, General Adnan Balloul, deputy chief of Military Intelligence in Lebanon,86 were more “traditional” military officers with limited initiative but they proved to be effective communication channels. On the French side, the two successive Chairmen of the ILMG, Jean-Michel Gaussot and Laurent Rapin, also had some experience in Middle East affairs: both from their tenures at the Permanent Mission of France to the UN and the latter as Desk Officer for Egypt and the Levant. Both of them also relied on a solid team of experts, starting with the Director for North Africa and the Middle East, Denis Bauchard, a tough negotiator.87 In a similar context, it is important to select the individuals involved in the talks carefully,  preferably for their experience and knowledge of the issues but also their skills in actual negotiation, legal argumentation, and imaginative solutions, as well as ability to withstand psychological pressure.

h. Negotiations involving both military and diplomatic/political actors are effective when the division of tasks between them is clear. Indeed, the military generally accepts the authority of the political level, and the civilians are willing to rely on the expertise of the military on defense, equipment, and situation on the ground. Communication seems more straightforward among the military, including from opposing sides, due to the commonality of culture, shared sense of duty, and discipline within the chain of command. This was demonstrated repeatedly within the negotiations of the ILMG. Often, the military delegates from opposing sides accepted the technical evidence related to alleged violations while their diplomatic advisors continued to argue on the merits of the case.88 In a similar context, it is important to ensure that a clear division of tasks is maintained and that each group trusts the expertise of the other. i. Confidentiality is critical during the whole negotiation process. This mitigates media pressure, posturing, and damaging leakages. But possible recourse to publicity, not of debates but of results, may play a useful role in achieving positive outcomes. This dual approach explained the success of the 1996 Agreement. The discussions conducted within the ILMG remained confidential: the Chair and Co-Chair were careful to collect written statements but not to leak them to the media, and to abstain from publicly mentioning national positions. The delegates themselves generally followed this rule, perhaps out of fear of backfire. Even several years after the fact, most testimonies in Adir Waldman’s book remained anonymous.89 This assurance that only agreed language would be made public, even if it included admission of responsibility by one or the other party, contributed to the building of confidence at least in the credibility of the mechanism. It did not stop each party from politically exploiting critical language towards the “enemy” or highlighting its own conduct as legitimate. But it had the merit of restricting the conflict to the level of propaganda or ideological warfare, always safer in the short term for both military and civilian lives.


1 Human Rights Watch, “Civilian Pawns: Laws of War Violations and the Use of

Weapons on the Israel-Lebanon Border,” May 1996, p. 2.

2 Adir Waldman, “Clashing Behavior, Converging Interests: A Legal Convention

Regulating a Military Conflict,” Yale Journal of International Law 27, no. 2 (2002):


3 David Hoffman, “Israel Halts Bombardment of Lebanon,” Washington Post, August

1, 1993.

4 Zvi Barel, “Katyushas Have a Course of their Own,” Haaretz, February 16, 2000,

cited in Adir Waldman, Arbitrating Armed Conflict – Decisions of the Israel-Lebanon

Monitoring Group (Huntington: JP Juris, 2003), p. 23.

Marc Finaud


5 Itamar Rabinovich, The Brink of Peace (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University

Press, 1998), p. 231.

6 Human Rights Watch, “Civilian Pawns,” p. 9.

7 Amnesty International, “Unlawful Killings during Operation ‘Grapes of Wrath,’”

July 23, 1996, p. 3.

8 United Nations Security Council, Letter from the Secretary-General to the President

of the Security Council, Document S/1996/337 of May 7, 1996.

9 Ibid.

10 Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Response to the UN Secretary-General’s Report

on the Kana Incident,” July 1996.

11 United Nations, Security Council, Resolution 1052 (1996), April 18, 1996.

12 Waldman, Arbitrating Armed Conflict, p. 25.

13 Ibid., p. 23.

14 Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Press Stakeout with PM Peres and Secretary

of State Christopher,” op. cit.

15 Ibid.

16 Hala Jaber, Hezbollah: Born with a Vengeance (New York: Columbia University

Press, 1997), p. 195.

17 Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Israel-Lebanon Ceasefire Understanding,”

April 26, 1996.

18 Alan Sipress, “Hezbollah, Israel Agree to Cease-fire. The Two Sides Said They

Would Halt Attacks on Civilians. They Also Won’t Launch Armed Operations from

Populated Areas,” The Enquirer, April 27, 1996.

19 Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Israel-Lebanon Ceasefire Understanding.”

20 Ibid.

21 Alan Sipress, “Hezbollah, Israel Agree to Cease-fire.”

22 Full text, made public in 1998, available in Waldman, Arbitrating Armed Conflict,

pp. 129-31.

23 “Accord Sets Up Five-Nation Monitoring Group for Lebanon Cease-Fire,” Reuters,

July 13, 1996.

24 Waldman, “Clashing Behavior, Converging Interests,” p. 280.

25 Ibid., p. 276.

26 Waldman, Arbitrating Armed Conflict, pp. 33-34.

27 Article 1 B and C of the Working Rules amounted to requiring consensus for

carrying out verification missions; the latter would be conducted jointly by the

U.S., France, and Israel in the case of attacks on Israeli territory, and by the U.S.,

France, Lebanon, and Syria (if Syria so wished) in case of alleged violations on

Lebanese territory.

The 1996 “Grapes of Wrath” Ceasefire Agr eemen


28 For an example of such internal reports, see Waldman, Arbitrating Armed Conflict,

pp. 135-40.

29 Ibid., p. 130.

30 Ibid., p. 108.

31 Author’s interview with anonymous French diplomat, Tel Aviv, July 1998.

32 Ibid.

33 Khalil Fleihan, “Rapin Hits Out at Israeli Occupation,” Daily Star, September 25,


34 Waldman, Arbitrating Armed Conflict, p. 47.

35 Waldman, “Clashing Behavior, Converging Interests,” p. 271.

36 Waldman, Arbitrating Armed Conflict, pp. 46-47.

37 Alan Philips, “Israel’s Military Might Cannot Quell Lebanese,” Telegraph, September

25, 1998, cited in Charles Spain et al., Conceptual Monitoring Options for a

Southern Lebanon Withdrawal Agreement (Albuquerque, NM: Sandia National

Laboratories, 2000), p. 14.

38 David Rudge, “Mordechai: We Will Stick to Grapes of Wrath Understandings,”

Jerusalem Post, October 28, 1997.

39 See for instance “A Diplomatic Assessment of the Monitoring Group’s Work –

Discussions in Limbo,” al-Safir, November 6, 1996 (in Arabic), cited in Waldman,

Arbitrating Armed Conflict, p. 119.

40 Ibid., p. 116 and 119.

41 Ibid., p. 119.

42 Nicolas Blanford, “Syria ‘Seeks Arnoun Deal,’” Daily Star, April. 30, 1999.

43 Ibid.

44 Waldman, Arbitrating Armed Conflict, p. 120.

45 “Lebanon Rejects Israeli Pullout Plan,” CNN World News, April 1, 1998.

46 Waldman, Arbitrating Armed Conflict, p. 99.

47 Ibid.

48 Ibid., p. 101.

49 “Lebanon Sees More than 1,000 War Deaths,” Associated Press, December 28,


50 Adam Frey, “The Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group – An Operational Review,”

Research Note No. 3, Washington Institute, September 1997, p. 13.

51 Human Rights Watch, “Israel-Lebanon – Persona Non Grata: The Expulsion of

Civilians from Israeli-Occupied Lebanon,” 1999, p. 2.

52 Waldman, Arbitrating Armed Conflict, p. 36.

53 “Foreign Ministry Comments on ILMG Meeting,” Beirut Radio Lebanon, December

12, 1996, cited in Waldman, Arbitrating Armed Conflict, p. 37.

Marc Finaud


54 “Nasrallah Interviewed on ILMG,” al-Safir, January 31, 1997, cited in Waldman,

Arbitrating Armed Conflict, p. 37.

55 Nabil Shaath and Basil Jabir, “Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group Assessment,”

Palestine Papers, al-Jazeera, July 21, 2001.

56 International Crisis Group (ICG), “Old Game, New Rules: Conflict on the Israel-

Lebanon Border,” Middle East Report No. 7, November 18, 2002.

57 Robert Fisk, “Lebanon’s Pain Grows by the Hour as Death Toll Hits 1,300,”

Independent, August 17, 2006.

58 Yaacov Katz, Israel vs. Iran: The Shadow War (New York: Potomac Books, 2012),

p. 17.

59 “Spiegel Urges Rapid USG Stand-up of Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group Team,”

Cable Ref. 06TELAVIV3151, Wikileaks, August 9, 2006.

60 Robin Wright and Thomas E. Ricks, “Bush Supports Israel’s Move against Hezbollah,”

Washington Post, July 19, 2006.

61 Efraim Karsh et al., eds., Conflict, Diplomacy and Society in Israeli-Lebanese

Relations (London: Routledge, 2013), p. 140-43.

62 Daniel C. Kurtzer, “A Third Lebanon War,” Contingency Planning Memorandum

No. 8, Council on Foreign Relations, July 2010.

63 Amir Oren, “If Lebanon Erupts Again,” Haaretz, August 2, 2010.

64 Shlomo Brom, “Political and Military Objectives in a Limited War against a Guerrilla

Organization,” in The Second Lebanon War: Strategic Perspectives, eds. S. Brom

and M. Elran (Tel Aviv: Institute for National Security Studies, 2007), p. 18.

65 Yiftah Shapir, “Observations on Hizbollah Weaponry,” in The Second Lebanon

War, pp. 223-32.

66 Eyal Zisser, “Iranian Involvement in Lebanon,” Military and Strategic Affairs 3,

no. 1 (2011): 3.

67 Wright and Ricks, “Bush Supports Israel’s Move against Hezbollah.”

68 Adir Waldman, “Lebanon’s Force for Good,” New York Times, August 2, 2006.

69 Stuart Reigeluth, “EU Monitoring not the Best Option,” al-Arabiya News, December

6, 2007.

70 Ibid.

71 See detailed arguments in: Marc Finaud et al. Multilateralism and Transnational

Security: A Synopsis of Win-win Solutions (Geneva: Slatkine, 2009), pp. 268-84.

72 B’Tselem, “The Mass Deportation of 1992,” January 1, 2011,

73 David C. Wrobel, “Review of Arbitrating Armed Conflict: Decisions of the Israel-

Lebanon Monitoring Group,” New York Law Journal 2 (January 2004): 21-37.

74 Israel is not party to the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions,

but the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) considers that those

The 1996 “Grapes of Wrath” Ceasefire Agr eemen


instruments mainly codify pre-existing rules of customary law at least regarding

the protection of civilians. See: ICRC, “Commentary on the Additional Protocols

of 8 June 1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949,” 1987.

75 “Sud: Action Limitée du Groupe de Surveillance de la Trêve,” La Revue du Liban,

April 31, 1997.

76 Waldman, Arbitrating Armed Conflict, p. 117.

77 “Rice Says ‘Time to Get a Ceasefire in Lebanon,’” Forbes, July 30, 2006.

78 Ibid.

79 Pierre Haski, “Hervé de Charette, 58 ans, giscardien et ministre des Affaires

étrangères,” Libération, March 20, 1997.

80 Daniel Pipes and Patrick Clawson, “Interview with Dennis Ross: Living the Peace

Process,” Middle East Quarterly (June, 1996): 71-78.

81 Daniel Pipes and Patrick Clawson, “Interview with Martin Indyk: I Must Be

Optimistic about Arab-Israeli Relations,” Middle East Quarterly (March, 1999):


82 See Ambassador Dore Gold, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, http://www.jcpa.


83 Waldman, “Clashing Behavior, Converging Interests,” pp. 256, 259.

84 Ibid., p. 294.

85 Robert G. Rabil, Syria, The United States, and the War on Terror in the Middle

East (Westport: Praeger, 2006), p. 191.

86 Frey, “The Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group,” p. 12.

87 Waldman, Arbitrating Armed Conflict, p. 33.

88 Waldman, “Clashing Behavior, Converging Interests,” p. 273.

89 Waldman, Arbitrating Armed Conflict.


Posted on July 22, 2016 at 4:10 AM

16 July 2015


At the risk of contributing to the proliferation of ‘expert’ reactions to the comprehensive agreement on the Iranian nuclear programme concluded in Vienna on 14 July 2015 and hailed as “historic” by some or dubbed a “capitulation” (favourable to Iran) by others, one can more soberly describe it as both a major achievement and a potential starting point for new developments.

A Major Achievement

No one can deny that this agreement, building on previous interim or framework agreements (concluded in Geneva in November 2013 and Lausanne in April 2015), is a comprehensive one. It results from some 20 months of intensive negotiations that put an end to a process initiated in 2003 by three European countries  France, Germany and the United Kingdom - as well as the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy (EU3) and enlarged in 2006 to China, Russia and the United States (from then on, the EU3+3). No breakthrough was achieved until two major developments occurred. One was the shift of the policy until then applied by the EU3+3, based on unilateral demands for cessation of uranium enrichment by Iran and a set of sanctions, to a policy of containment of Iran’s nuclear civilian programme and the use of the lifting of sanctions as a leverage. The second was the 2013 election of President Hassan Rouhani on a platform of removal of the sanctions to allow for economic recovery. It was thus demonstrated that a win-win agreement was easier to achieve through engagement, dialogue, active diplomacy than threats (including of military strike), pressure, isolation and unilateral demands. Naturally, each ‘side’ had its bottom lines: for the EU3+3, it was preventing in a verifiable way any possibility for Iran to manufacture nuclear weapons; for Iran, it was preserving the technology and know-how it had acquired, presented in the form of a ‘right’ to enrich uranium as well as ensuring the total lifting of the sanctions. Looking at the result, one can only confirm that both sides have broadly fulfilled their objectives. Comparing the actual commitments by Iran with early red lines published by the Iranian President’s office, it is even clear that Tehran eventually conceded more than it had officially anticipated.

Among the unprecedented aspects of the Vienna agreement is the whole system of verification put into place to ensure that Iran will abide by its commitments (albeit diplomatically called “voluntary measures”): the IAEA will monitor the prohibition of uranium enrichment above 3.67 per cent and the excess stockpiles above 300 kg; the number of centrifuges in excess of the 5,060 authorized ones instead of the current 20,000 (of the IR-1 first generation) will be sealed and stored under the control of the IAEA, which will keep inspecting the total number of centrifuges for 20 years and for 25 years the production of uranium concentrate (“yellow cake”); in addition to the inspections allowed by the IAEA Additional Protocol for undeclared activities or facilities and the requirement of the 3.1 Code to notify any transfer of uranium into a new facility with six months’ notice, negotiated access to suspicious military facilities will be possible. The conversion of the Arak heavy-water reactor into a research facility not producing weapons-grade plutonium will also take place under the scrutiny of the IAEA, which will thus have access to the whole Iranian fuel cycle, from mining to spent fuel (that Iran will not be able to reprocess).

The main reason why all the verification provisions are so detailed, and scrupulously described in technical annexes, is the lack of mutual trust that characterised relations between Iran and mostly western countries, under the influence of a whole history of cheating, dissimulation, reneging on past agreements or procrastination by Iran. Similarly, putting oneself in the Iranian’s shoes, one would have kept in mind the breach of past agreements concluded under the Shah by Western countries and their denial of supply of fuel or technology to Iran’s peaceful programme, without omitting the active Western support granted to Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran. To the Reagan-style “trust-but-verify” Cold War motto succeeded a new harsh “distrust-AND-verify” approach.

History was not absent from the agreement in the sense that Iran also accepted to disclose its past activities with a “possible military dimension” which had given rise to the international community’s suspicions. But the negotiators were wise enough not to make such revelations a breaking point and rather focus on the future. In the end, with the monitoring mechanism put into place that will ensure a common supervision of the implementation of the commitments (Joint Commission, ministerial meetings every two years at least), the whole agreement can be assessed as a model of cooperative security approach.

A Potential Starting Point

The endless hours spent in negotiation and dialogue, especially by the top US and Iranian negotiators, John Kerry and Mohamad Zarif, including in private conversations, presumably offered a unique opportunity to discuss issues other than percentages of enrichment and numbers of centrifuges. The mere fact that they were held in addition to the direct communications between President Obama and President Rouhani constitutes a significant change in the foreign policy of both countries. What has transpired publicly of such talks and the fairly constant rhetoric of the Iranian leadership should exclude any dramatic normalisation similar to the one between the US and Cuba. There are still too many areas of disagreement between Washington and Tehran and the history of their hostility is still too recent to allow for rapid normalisation. However, this is no reason for the US not to try and bargain for a more positive influence by Iran in areas of American interest in exchange for more cooperation.

However in the short term, whether both countries have concluded secret accords or not, chances are that Iran will avoid the risk of jeopardising the Vienna agreement by too aggressive a behaviour in other areas (e.g., in support of Hezbollah or other Shiite militias in Syria, Iraq or Yemen). Already, de facto an objective alliance is emerging on the ground between on the one hand Iran, supported by Russia, and on the other hand the other enemies of the ‘Islamic State’, including the West, the Gulf States and even Israel. Saudi Arabia is certainly wary of any hegemonic attitude of its arch rival in the Middle East, and the Israeli government will maintain its opposition to the Vienna agreement because it deprives it of its main pretext for refusing a peace agreement with the Palestinians and the Arab countries. Ultimately, realignments and tacit, realist alliances against common enemies may well appear as new strategic surprises that this region is familiar with.

Another potential consequence of the implementation of the agreement with Iran, and surely one of the calculations of the Obama administration, is that, over time, thanks to the gradual lifting of sanctions and reintegration of Iran into the international community, foreign investment and international trade, attracted by the country’s potential in energy supply and a market of some 80 million consumers, will contribute to economic recovery and social dividends. It can safely be expected that the billions of dollars in unfrozen assets and potential revenues of new oil and gas exports will not be massively reinvested in military spending or support for terrorist groups but actual economic needs. Certainly as a way of placating the conservative opponents to normalisation, the rhetoric will remain critical (especially against Israel) and the vested interests of some powerful groups such as the Revolutionary Guard or the clerics will be preserved. But popular pressure for more openness, easier travel and greater freedom of expression will no doubt be exerted domestically. How the regime will respond to it will determine the future of the country.

Finally, will this agreement positively influence other nuclear proliferation crises? Of course, it is difficult to speculate or generalise. One of the reasons for Israel to worry about the Vienna agreement was demonstrated when it torpedoed the recent Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference that was on the verge of agreeing to a conference on a zone free of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in the Middle East. When it is clear that Iran will never be in a position to become a nuclear-weapon state, the pressure on the Israeli nuclear capabilities will increase and the risk of equating the Iran deal with double standards will become evident. Of course, there are other short-term priorities in the Middle East and the process of discussing a WMD-free zone will probably require more rapprochement between all the current enemies. But ultimately, the Vienna agreement could become a model for managing nuclear proliferation crises in environments characterised by mistrust and a high degree of militarisation. This cooperative approach would deserve to be attempted in South Asia and the Korean Peninsula, the two other main regions with a high potential of destabilization and conflict.

Naturally it would only help if the nuclear-weapon states also set the example in reducing further their own nuclear arsenals and the reliability of their own security on nuclear weapons, a more convincing argument to actual or potential proliferators than the current doctrine based on “do as I say, not as I do”.


Holy War and the Killing of Innocents

Posted on July 22, 2016 at 4:10 AM

23 January 2015


In the aftermath of the Paris terrorist attacks, as after previous incidents resulting from publications seen as offensive by some Muslims, the debate understandably focused on discrepancies between the universal concept of freedom of expression and the limits seen as imposed on it by religious faith. A lot has been expressed, both in media and in the streets around the world, by the opposed ends of the spectrum, which at this stage appear difficult to reconcile. One aspect of the problem, however, seems to have been almost absent from the exchange of arguments: those who claim to fight in the name of Allah or Prophet Mohammad or as part of a Holy War or jihad grossly violate the rules contained in the Qur’an and further elaborated over centuries by Muslim scholars. Indeed, the most widespread interpretation of the Qur’an insists on the notion of individual responsibility, and therefore bans collective sanctions affecting innocents:

Those who kill innocent people are doomed to eternal punishment (25:68-69). Whosoever slays an innocent person ... it is as if he had slain humankind altogether." (5:32).


Some Muslim scholars consider that “collective criminalization as well as collective punishment is the norm under tribal rules. Islam puts the responsibility of illegal acts on the miscreant alone, abolishing the tribalistic code. The Qur’an declares that no bearer of burdens can bear the burdens of another. (Al-Naja 53 v.3 8) This was the final nail in the coffin of tribalism.” Such a doctrine can be considered as one of the several limitations that Islam imposes on warfare, which, according to the Qur’an, must be defensive and subject to strict rules to be obeyed by all:

“Fight in the path of God those who fight you, but do not transgress limits, for God does not love transgressors.” (Qur'an 2:190).


On this basis, Muslim scholars thus developed ethical and legal norms to be applied in times of conflict, in particular when fighting ‘holy wars’ (although the concept of jihad has a broader meaning): defenceless people such as women, children, and the elderly should not be killed intentionally, although it was once permitted to enslave them. Monks, nuns, and the disabled also are to be spared from execution after a battle. Prophet Muhammad’s successor and first Caliph, Abu Bakr (573-634), spelled out these rules:

Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those that are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy's flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.


As regards the Paris attacks, the Kouachi brothers did kill, in a premeditated way, journalists and cartoonists whom they accused of blasphemy or offence against all Muslims. But they shot at unarmed, defenceless people with automatic weapons, and in doing so, they also killed people who just happened to be present there. Then they killed a fallen, wounded policeman pleading for mercy before taking strangers as hostages or human shields. Their fellow terrorist, Amedy Coulibaly, killed an unarmed policewoman and several hostages at gun point in the kosher grocery shop he had stormed, where women, children and elderly people were kept for hours under violent pressure. According to the investigation still under way, he had plans to attack a Jewish school and kill children as Mohamed Merah had done in Toulouse in March 2012.


The laws of warfare gradually developed since ancient times, including in Muslim cultures, and now accepted by all states as the Geneva Conventions, essentially aim at sparing civilian populations from the consequences of armed conflict. Of course, it is debatable whether terrorists, despite their claims, actually conduct war against the “Infidels” and are entitled to the protection granted to combatants by international humanitarian law. Some of them, either on their own or manipulated by others, do go on to fight in the many battlefields created in the last decades, most often as a result of western interventions: Afghanistan, Iraq, Mali, Libya, Syria, etc. There, they usually take part in asymmetric warfare, often against more heavily armed enemies and may suffer severe losses. Without condoning such an international phenomenon, one can recognise that some combatants display certain courage in fighting for their ideals. It may also coincide with less commendable terrorist actions such as the kidnapping and execution of hostages, use of child soldiers, persecution of women or other people on religious or ethnic grounds.


In the post-Paris attacks debate, much was said about the need to educate disenfranchised youngsters better, to integrate them socially and prevent or reverse their radicalization, especially when they returned from actual fighting. The role and responsibility of parents, teachers, religious leaders and social workers was mentioned. The importance of recalling the universal rules of warfare cannot be underestimated in this global effort. All governments have accepted the obligation, under the Geneva Conventions, to “promote” international humanitarian law (IHL), which implies a commitment to ensure general knowledge and understanding in their societies. The European Union adopted guidelines in this regard. In countries where no armed conflict is occurring, rules of human rights law are in any case applicable, since IHL is a lex specialis for the duration of conflict, and should also protect innocent civilians against violence.


One may express doubts as to the impact of such educational efforts on people considered as radicalised fanatics operating with a fundamentally different set of values. In underground cultures developed, often in social media, propaganda videos or even computer games, a cult for heroes can be promoted on the basis of values of bravery, masculinity, loyalty, etc. at the expense of those displaying cowardice. In other words, the young disenfranchised Muslims in the poor neighbourhoods also of western countries would be exposed to models or patterns of behaviour that would exclude those who killed women, children and other unarmed civilians, whatever their religion, ethnicity or the responsibility of their governments.


Is this ‘mission impossible’? It will certainly be far from easy and will take time. We should be encouraged by the achievements, among others, of a discreet non-governmental organisation such as Geneva Call, which is dedicated to promoting respect by armed non-state actors for international humanitarian norms in armed conflict and other situations of violence, in particular those related to the protection of civilians. Since its creation in 2000, Geneva Call has convinced some 53 armed non-state groups to actually respect international humanitarian norms.


Although the situation may differ when dealing with individual cases of terrorists often called ‘lone wolves’, this example shows that determined efforts to promote the rules of civilized behaviour always pays, albeit because, in the end, people involved in conflict or violent situations usually benefit from those rules. Internationally, according to the 2014 Global Terrorism Index Report, 82 percent of the fatalities resulting from terrorist acts in 2013 occurred in five predominantly Muslim countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria) and 66 percent of claimed deaths from terrorist attacks were claimed by four radical Islamist terrorist organisations (ISIL, Boko Haram, the Taliban and al-Qa’ida and its affiliates).


Admittedly, western democracies will have a stronger case if they abide themselves more scrupulously with international humanitarian law and human rights law, for instance in renouncing such extra-territorial structures as the Guantánamo prison, drone attacks causing extensive collateral damage to civilians or indiscriminate strikes against populated areas like Gaza. Setting themselves a higher standard, these states could indeed more effectively prevent or combat organised or individual terrorist attacks by avoiding any accusations of double standards or discrimination.





Posted on July 22, 2016 at 4:05 AM

27 March 2015

By winning the Israeli early general election against all recent predictions, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu demonstrated, if needed, that fear mongering is an effective political tool in situations of economic or political crisis. This phenomenon has also explained the success of nationalist or populist movements in many other countries, in particular in Europe. However no sustainable government policy can be based on fear, especially in a country facing so many domestic socio-economic issues and international challenges calling for progress towards peace with the Palestinians and the Arab world.


Although most polls, including early exit polls announced a defeat or a tie for Benyamin Netanyahu, the incumbent Israeli Prime Minister ended up with a comfortable victory: 30 seats against 24 for the centre-left Zionist Union (out of 120 seats). Most observers explain this surprising last-minute come-back by recourse to the toughening of an already firm discourse likely to rally undecided right-wing voters or supporters of smaller, even more extreme parties whether secular or religious. Indeed, alarmed by forecasts of his opponents’ advance in the last days before the 17 March election, Netanyahu indulged in two types statements that appeared as SOS operations: first he went back on his pledge to work towards the two-state solution to the conflict with the Palestinians (granted unenthusiastically in his famous 2009 Bar-Ilan University speech), and on election day he called Jewish voters to vote en masse in order to offset the unusual turnout among the Israeli Arab community.

Whether explicitly or implicitly, such statements were clearly based on fear that any concession, especially territorial, to the Palestinians would be exploited by radical Islamist groups against Israel’s national security or that the country could be, for the first time in its history, run by a left-wing government supported by the Arab community, now equalling 20% of Israel’s population. Even if, after the election, Netanyahu back-pedaled on those two issues – the Palestinian state and the place of the Israeli Arab community – the desired goal has been reached.

Success of the Strategy Based on Fear

This appeal to nationalist and quasi-racist sentiments, added to the use of the Iranian threat by the Israeli Prime Minister, that culminated in his recent speech to the US Congress, produced the desired effect: it reversed the trend, observed in the previous elections, of fragmentation of the electorate and restored some primacy to the historical mainstream parties: Likud on the right and Labor on the left. Indeed the left-wing voters also deserted the smaller parties and intended their ballots to be more “useful”. However, this phenomenon has not yet reached a level that would simplify the setup of a coalition government. Even if Netanyahu is assured to remain at the helm of the cabinet, he will still need to negotiate a joint government platform with the other centre-right or right-wing parties, some of which (ultra-orthodox) exclude to sit in the same government as others (secular). The other alternative, called for by the Israeli President, is a national unity government including Labor and its centre-left ally, but it is, at this stage, rejected by the head of the Labor party, Yitzhak Herzog.

Such nationalistic and racist attitudes are, unfortunately, not unique in electoral processes. In the US, many members of the Tea Party (which often support Israel) do not hide the racist overtones of their attacks against the first American Black president. In Europe, several political movements (like the French National Front, the British UKIP or the German PEGIDA) thrive on scaring the electorate: fear of Islam or immigration; fear of alleged threats against national or regional identities that may come from external forces (like “Brussels” or the US); fear of being abandoned or marginalized by the central government, etc. Paradoxically, even in democratic countries like France, the opponents to the extremist parties resort themselves to a strategy of fear about their rise rather than arguing against their populist platforms.

An Unintended Consequence of Fear: Israeli Arab Unity

The other main lesson of the Israeli election is the appearance of a unified Arab List, which won an unprecedented 14 seats. One may also claim that it is also a paradoxical consequence of fear: until now, the parties representing the Israeli Arab minority in the Knesset were divided along political or religious lines (secular versus Islamist) and remained weak. Extreme right Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman convinced the right-wing majority that the influence of Arab parties could be curtailed if the threshold for election was raised from 2 to 3.5 percent. This is why, under this pressure, the various Arab parties decided to overcome their differences and form a single list. The exclusion strategy pursued by the right clearly backfired and granted unusual weight to this list, now the third largest in the Israeli parliament.

Observers also noted an interesting characteristic of this election: according to several surveys, poor, disenfranchised, working class voters supported the Likud list although the outgoing Premier and its cabinet were accused of conducting a neo-liberal policy reducing social benefits, causing a rising cost of living and housing shortages. One could anticipate that this electorate would be attracted by the Labor platform, focusing on economic and social issues and promising some restoration of the welfare state to which so many Israelis are attached.

But, apparently, the fear-mongering strategy was more powerful, exploiting wariness of any external pressure, even from the US closest ally but mainly from the European Union or the United Nations, suspected of supporting the Palestinian aspirations for an independent state.

The Consequences on the “Peace Process”

Irrespective of the eventual composition of the coalition government, the issue of peace with the Palestinians and the Arab world will not disappear. The Palestinian leadership has already warned that, unless serious and sincere negotiations are resumed, it will pursue its initiatives for gaining world recognition. The fear about the instability of the Arab world, confronted by civil strife and the rise of the ‘Islamic State’ should on the contrary act as an incentive for concluding an historic agreement with the Palestinians, including their Hamas component, which would thus be neutralized and bound by international commitments. The fact that Hamas unequivocally called Israeli Arabs to vote for the United Arab List is a clear sign that it de facto recognizes Israel as a reality.

The fear about the Iranian nuclear programme will no doubt continue to be instrumentalized by a Netanyahu government. But the comprehensive agreement being finalized between the EU3+3 and Tehran, and making it very difficult if not impossible for Iran to develop nuclear weapons, will no doubt be welcome worldwide and thus more difficult for Israel to reject. Moreover, presumably the US will have obtained from Iran, in exchange for the lifting of sanctions, that Tehran play a stabilizing role in the Middle East, supporting Sunni regimes in their fight against the ‘Islamic State’ and moderating its proxies or allies such as Hamas or Hezbollah.

Regarding the peace process with the Palestinians, the Obama administration has already made it clear that it will “reassess its options”. This may mean that it will cease to veto any resolution favourable to Palestinian statehood in the UN Security Council: indeed, the main US argument to-date was that such a development should be the result of direct negotiations between the parties; if one now refuses to negotiate, the international community should assume its responsibilities in the spirit and letter of past UN Security Council resolutions dating back to the creation of Israel. Moreover, even if the US itself, under the pressure of powerful pro-Israeli lobbies, does not opt for sanctions or strong public pressure, it will probably not oppose the international trend by governments and civil society for isolating the Israeli government.

Choosing between Isolation and Leadership

Some commentators expressed pessimism on the sustainability of a new Israeli right-wing coalition that will most likely be divided over socio-economic priorities (increased social benefits for all versus support to building more settlements in the occupied territories) or over the peace process (resumption of negotiations versus unilateralism and continuation of occupation). Others, including from the left, recalled that most peace advances were accomplished by strong right-wing leaders, often against the will of their coalitions: Begin who made peace with Egypt in 1978; Shamir who went to the Madrid Conference in 1991; Netanyahu who withdrew from Hebron in 1996 and concluded the Wye agreement in 1998; Sharon who withdrew from Gaza in 2005. There is thus a chance for such precedents to apply again if Netanyahu abandons a policy based on fear for a policy based on political courage, vision and leadership. Time only will tell whether he will remain in history not only as the longest-serving Israeli Prime Minister but also as one who helped make peace and consolidated his country’s place in the Middle East.



Posted on July 22, 2016 at 4:05 AM

27 August 2015

The Middle East: a Constant Source of Disagreement

On 22 May 2015, the Review Conference of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) ended without adopting any substantive final document by consensus. The main reason for what many frustrated participants, weary of four weeks of genuine efforts, called a failure was the rejection of the draft report by the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK) and Canada: those three states parties objected to the proposed date –March 2016– for the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General to convene a conference on a Zone free of Nuclear Weapons and other Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East. It was reported that the principal objection to such a date came from Israel, a state not party to the NPT, which had however participated in the Review Conference as an observer.

The proposal to convene this conference –a project dating back to 1974– was initiated by Egypt and supported by many other states parties; indeed, in the final document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, all states parties had agreed by consensus to hold it in 2012 but the US, defending an Israeli position, decided that such a conference could not be convened as planned. Israel did take an active part in the consultations organised by the Finnish Facilitator in Switzerland from 2013 to 2015 with Arab countries, but it insisted that prior agreement on an agenda and the modalities of the conference was a prerequisite.

Once again, as was the case in 1995 (the indefinite extension of the NPT) and 2010, the issue of the Middle East and the Israeli nuclear capability was a decisive factor of the ‘success’ or ‘failure’ of a Review Conference.

The Cycle of Success and Failure of NPT Review Conferences

However, looking back at the whole five-year Review cycle since the entry into force of the Treaty in 1970, one cannot escape the conclusion that the adoption of a consensus final document follows an irregular pattern. Substantive documents, not only on the review of implementation of the Treaty but also on new initiatives to support this implementation, could be adopted by the Conferences of 1975, 1985, 1995, 2000 (including the “Thirteen Steps” towards nuclear disarmament), and 2010 (with an Action Plan of 64 actions including 22 on nuclear disarmament). By contrast, the final documents of the 1980, 1990, and 2005 Conferences were merely procedural.

The reasons for the successful adoption of final documents or lack of agreement were varied throughout the Review cycle: in 1975 and 1985, there was still some enthusiasm and high expectations in view of the first bilateral nuclear arms control agreements between the US and the Soviet Union; in 1995 and 2000, even more so with the end of the Cold War, the INF Treaty and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Conversely, in 1980 and 1990 US-Soviet negotiations stalled, and in 2005 the US preferred no document to a moderate text void of any condemnation of Iran, by definition unacceptable to Tehran.

In recent years since the 1995 indefinite extension of the Treaty, some observers noted that even years (2000, 2010) were propitious to substantive agreements while odd years (2005, 2015) seemed marked by a curse. The explanation may be found in the length of intervals between two Review Conferences in which states parties succeeded in adopting substantial commitments that later appeared too ambitious or not resilient to the deterioration of relations among the key states.

This year, beyond the disagreement about the Middle East –deemed by some as a pretext or a scandalous paradox dictated by a non-state party– it is true that, compared to 2010, increased tensions between Russia and western countries because of the conflict in Ukraine did not help the search for consensus especially on nuclear disarmament. In a quasi Cold War atmosphere, the Russian delegation accused the US and NATO to refuse negotiations on ballistic missile defence, the deployment of space weapons as well as US non-strategic nuclear weapons deployed in European countries and other threats to ‘strategic stability’ in Moscow’s eyes.

The Main Disagreement: the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons

But the main feature of the 2015 Conference –and the real reason for lack of consensus thereof– was the widening gap between the expectations of most non-nuclear weapon states and the negative attitude of the nuclear-weapon states, in particular with regard to the now well-established process on the ‘humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons’ (HINW). Already in 2010, this approach was raised by many states parties following new studies derived from climate change research and bringing new evidence of the catastrophic effects that any detonation of nuclear weapon could have, whether intentional, accidental or terrorist. This was reflected in the 2010 NPT document and followed by three important conferences convened outside the NPT framework by Norway in 2013, Mexico and Austria in 2014. However, the nuclear-weapon states boycotted that process, apart for the US and the UK at the last conference. Their main critique was that this process ‘detracted’ from the NPT ‘realistic’ and ‘step-by-step’ approach. Indeed, supported by the main proponents and guardians of international humanitarian law (IHL) such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, the logical consequence of this HINW process was the more ambitious prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons, considered as inherently contrary to the fundamental principles of IHL: distinction, proportionality, protection of civilians, etc.

In the wake of the 2014 Vienna conference, the Austrian government launched a ‘Pledge’ aimed at ‘filling the legal gap’ for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons. At the 2015 Review Conference, this Humanitarian Pledge was adopted by 106 states parties. The civil society organisations that supported this initiative finally preferred that there was no adoption of a final document appearing necessarily as a compromise with the positions of the nuclear-weapon states. Indeed, the draft reports that were submitted to the Conference could have weakened the previous commitments for further actions and progress towards nuclear disarmament. Moreover, some of the nuclear-weapon states not only argued that their achievements in this area were sufficient or that they could not commit to deadlines for the total elimination of their nuclear weapons but went as far as claiming that the majority of world population accepted to have its security rely on nuclear weapons or implying that the NPT provided nuclear-weapon states with the legitimate right of indefinite possession of nuclear weapons. In contrast, many states parties refused to continue condoning a system based on the domination of a few nuclear-armed states over the overwhelming majority of the international community. The delegate from South Africa compared that system to the Apartheid.

What Future for the NPT and Nuclear Disarmament?

In a likely scenario of what may appear as a paradigm change, the supporters of the Humanitarian Pledge would normally convene a diplomatic conference to negotiate a nuclear weapons ban treaty, thus following the model of the Ottawa Treaty on Antipersonnel Landmines and the Oslo Convention on Cluster Munitions. The ban treaty will no doubt be forcefully resisted by the nuclear-armed states and will not by itself lead to further reductions or the elimination of nuclear weapons. But it will establish a strong moral and legal norm, especially if the treaty is ratified by a large number of states. And with the support of active civil society organisations, parliamentarians, high-level political or show business figures, it stands a good chance of exerting sufficient pressure on the governments of at least a few nuclear-weapon states. Whether the domino effect will work remains to be seen and will certainly face many serious obstacles such as regional conflicts and nationalistic postures. But recent history has created strong precedents that give enough prominence to human security and cooperative security over traditional, ‘realist’ nation-state zero-sum-game approaches for reasonable hopes to be nurtured.



Posted on July 22, 2016 at 4:05 AM

1 September 2015


1. In dealing with nuclear disarmament or reducing the role of nuclear weapons in security policy, the case of Europe is probably one of the most difficult and complex ones:


- This is the continent where nuclear weapons were invented during World War II (by the Nazi regime, which became an incentive for the US to develop their own weapons and use them against Japan);

- There is a history and a strong legacy of relying on nuclear weapons for ensuring states’ security;

- During the Cold War, nuclear weapons were acquired and developed in the West to offset the Soviet Union’s conventional superiority; since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s security doctrine is to rely on nuclear weapons to offset NATO’s conventional superiority;

- If we add up the nuclear weapons of France, Russia, and the UK as well as the US deployed weapons, Europe is the continent with the largest number of nuclear weapons on its soil and the only one where a nuclear-weapon state deploys its weapons on the territories of non-nuclear- weapon states;

- Now we have a series of concentric circles of states that can be classified according to their relationship with nuclear weapons:

o Some neutral and non-aligned countries reject not only possession of nuclear weapons but also any nuclear umbrella from other states; this does not prevent some of them (like Austria, Finland, Ireland, or Malta) from belonging to the European Union, which offers some security guarantees through a mutual assistance obligation (Art. 42.7 of the Treaty on the European Union). The number of such European states outside both the EU and NATO is even larger.

o Twenty other European states are both members of the EU and NATO, and thus part of a nuclear Alliance and beneficiaries of a nuclear umbrella, or “extended nuclear deterrence”.

o Two other European countries are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), which can be considered as a military alliance benefiting from nuclear extended deterrence from Russia: Armenia and Belarus.

o Among the above-mentioned 20 states, five not only benefit from an American nuclear umbrella but accepted to have US nuclear weapons deployed on their territories (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey).

o Among NATO Member States, there are two European nuclear-weapon states (France and the UK), in addition to Russia outside NATO.


2. All the states mentioned above are bound by their commitments under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” In addition, at Review Conferences of the NPT, all those states have agreed to a “diminishing role of nuclear weapons” in the security policy of nuclear-weapon states. This was the case in particular in the 2000 Review Conference Thirteen Steps towards Nuclear Disarmament:

Steps by all the nuclear-weapon States leading to nuclear disarmament in a way that promotes international stability, and based on the principle of undiminished security for all: [. . .]

– A diminishing role for nuclear weapons in security policies to minimize the risk that these weapons will ever be used and to facilitate the process of their total elimination.


In the Final Document of the 2010 NPT Review Conference, although the Conference welcomed “the reductions announced by some nuclear-weapon States in the role of nuclear weapons in their security doctrines,” it was acknowledged that insufficient efforts were made to fulfil the 2000 Thirteen Steps, since the Conference noted “the need for further progress in diminishing the role of nuclear weapons in security policies.” In Action 5 of the Action Plan adopted by the Conference, “the nuclear-weapon states commit to accelerate concrete progress on the steps leading to nuclear disarmament, contained in the Final Document of the 2000 Review Conference, in a way that promotes international stability, peace and undiminished and increased security. To that end, they are called upon to promptly engage with a view to, inter alia: [. . .] (c) To further diminish the role and significance of nuclear weapons in all military and security concepts, doctrines and policies.”


As we know, no consensus was found on a final document of the 2015 NPT Review Conference, but the last version of the draft under discussion contained a reaffirmation of the 2000 and 2010 commitments as well as a call upon all states concerned to “continue to review their military and security concepts, doctrines and policies over the course of the next review cycle, with a view to reducing further the role and significance of nuclear weapons.”


Obviously, this call applies not only to nuclear-weapon states but also to states benefiting from extended nuclear deterrence and/or having US nuclear weapons deployed on their territories.


3. How can progress towards those commitments be made in the current circumstances marked by increased tensions and mistrust between NATO and Russia?


The NATO Security Doctrine, as expressed in its 2010 Strategic Concept for the Defence and Security of the Member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, is based on the idea that, “as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance.” Accordingly, although “[t]he circumstances in which any use of nuclear weapons might have to be contemplated are extremely remote,” “[d]eterrence, based on an appropriate mix of nuclear and conventional capabilities, remains a core element of [NATO’s] overall strategy” and “[t]he supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies is provided by the strategic nuclear forces of the Alliance, particularly those of the United States.”


At the same time, NATO recognizes that “[t]he threat of a conventional attack against NATO territory is low” but that there are “emerging” new threats such as “terrorism”, “instability or conflict beyond NATO borders”, “cyber attacks”, threats to “vital communication, transport and transit routes on which international trade, energy security and prosperity depend”, “significant technology-related trends – including the development of laser weapons, electronic warfare and technologies that impede access to space”, or “[k]ey environmental and resource constraints, including health risks, climate change, water scarcity and increasing energy needs.”


It is clear that none of those new threats can be deterred with nuclear weapons. Nevertheless, because the basis of NATO’s doctrine remains not a vision of security in a future world without nuclear weapons but a mere tautology (“as long as there are nuclear weapons in the world, NATO will remain a nuclear Alliance”;), chances for reducing the role of nuclear weapons in NATO’s security policy are limited if not inexistent.


The same analysis would apply when looking at Russia’s military doctrine, which unequivocally envisages the use of nuclear weapons in case of a conventional attack against its territory or national interests. In its recent updating, the Russian doctrine is seen by some as lowering the threshold for resort to nuclear weapons in a conflict and conveying the idea that a nuclear war could be won.


The current trend is certainly not going into the direction of reducing the role and salience of nuclear weapons in military doctrines, despite past commitments. As a response to the rising tensions between NATO and Russia in the wake of the conflict around Ukraine, and because of the dangers of their further escalation, a group of high-level personalities from Europe and Russia recently launched a solemn appeal through the European Leadership Network (ELN) for emergency measures. The rationale behind this appeal is that the confrontation between Russia, a nuclear-weapon state, and NATO, a nuclear alliance, creates a security risk for the security of the whole world. Even if this appeal addresses only short-term measures for confidence building and engagement, in the longer term, its logical consequence should really be to question the current reliance of both actors on nuclear weapons.


Whether addressing as a priority this aspect of the nuclear weapon issue will contribute to facilitate actual nuclear disarmament remains to be seen. However, one can wonder how making any progress towards the goal of nuclear disarmament can be possible without reducing the reliance of the security of both nuclear-weapon states and beneficiaries of extended deterrence on nuclear weapons. In this respect, those NATO countries which host US nuclear weapons on their territories have a prominent role to play. Let’s remember that it was the unilateral decision by Chancellor Helmut Kohl to remove the joint US-West German Pershing 1a systems that facilitated the conclusion of the historic INF Treaty between the US and the Soviet Union in 1987. Hiding behind the need for consensus within the Alliance or the current NATO Strategic Concept would only confirm a lack of political courage or vision as opposed to the leadership displayed by leaders in the more difficult times of the Cold War.



Posted on July 22, 2016 at 4:00 AM


27 August 2015


As the international community is commemorating the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by atomic bombs, it should be recalled that such weapons were initiated by one of the most vicious regimes, Nazi Germany. If nuclear deterrence, despite the lack of hard evidence, can be given the benefit of the doubt for ensuring peace and stability between the two superpowers and their allies during the Cold War, perpetuating such a balance of terror is no longer acceptable by the majority of our societies because its risks for the planet outweigh its alleged security benefits for a few nuclear weapons possessors.


One commonly thinks of the first nuclear weapons as a direct result of the Manhattan Project launched in 1941 by United States (US) President Roosevelt. That unprecedented mobilization of scientific, industrial, and military resources was in fact the consequence of the warning sent in August 1939 by German Jewish scientists Leo Spitz (aka Szilard) and Albert Einstein to the American leadership about the Nazi project of developing a weapon using nuclear energy. That fear was nurtured by the news of successful uranium fission by German scientists made public in early 1939. While the Nazi regime never dedicated similar resources to research and development of atomic weapons as the US did in collaboration with Britain and Canada, it eventually accomplished the release of nuclear energy towards the autumn of 1944, some nine months before the Americans.


Hitler was indeed hoping to find the ‘miracle weapon’ that would roll back the Allied advance into Germany or launch a devastating retaliation against British cities. He explained his infamous March 1945 'scorched earth' directive: “We may be destroyed, but if we are, we shall drag a world with us – a world in flames.” The weapon under research was described as one of “such potent effect that all human life is exterminated within a radius of three to four kilometres of the point of impact.”


The advance gained by the US and the collapse of the Nazi war machinery saved the world from a Nazi atomic bomb. But it also allowed the Americans to choose Japan as the target of their first weapons. It did not so much accelerate Japanese capitulation as often claimed, because Tokyo eventually surrendered only after the Soviet Union entered the war by invading Manchuria. Although President Truman did want to end the war as early as possible, the bombing was in fact at the same time a means of testing ‘in real life’ both the fission and the fusion weapons and a demonstration of power directed at the Soviet Union.


The Americans were not stopped by any moral or legal consideration as to the risk of causing massive civilian casualties. Conventional ‘strategic bombing’ and firebombing over Germany and Japan had already resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian victims, many more than would eventually be caused by “Little Boy” and “Fat Man”. Admittedly, only two atomic bombs were used as compared with hundreds of tons of conventional explosives, but their effects were more devastating in that the other half of the victims not instantly killed by the heat and blast succumbed to burns, radiation, and other injuries compounded by illness and malnutrition over several months, not mentioning the increase in stillbirths, birth defects, infant mortality or cancer deaths for many years.


Today, seven decades later, with nine states possessing nuclear weapons, despite the huge decrease in the number of weapons as compared to the Cold War peak (over 15,000 v. 70,000), the destructive power of the remaining nuclear arsenals still almost equals 2,000 times the total firepower used during World War II. One Trident submarine alone can deliver the equivalent of 5,000 Hiroshima-type bombs.


While, fortunately, military doctrines have evolved along with international humanitarian law, making the deliberate targeting of civilians illegal and unacceptable to civilized nations, nuclear-armed states still consider that their security relies precisely on the threat of such mass civilian casualties. By even threatening to use nuclear weapons as retaliation against any attack, including conventional – as several nuclear-weapon states still do – possessors of nuclear weapons are not far from considering them as weapons of terror according to the definition of acts of terrorism proposed by Kofi Annan in 2005: “any action intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organization to do or abstain from doing any act.”


This is why chemical and biological weapons have been prohibited and mostly eliminated: after the 1925 Geneva Protocol, the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention recognized in its Preamble that the use of such weapons “would be repugnant to the conscience of mankind” and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention expressed the determination “for the sake of all mankind, to exclude completely the possibility of the use of chemical weapons.” Similarly, antipersonnel landmines have been prohibited in the 1977 Ottawa Treaty in order “to put an end to the suffering and casualties caused by [such] mines, that kill or maim hundreds of people every week, mostly innocent and defenceless civilians and especially children;” the 2008 Oslo Convention also aimed at putting “an end for all time to the suffering and casualties caused by cluster munitions.” More recently, the Arms Trade Treaty recalled that “civilians, particularly women and children, account for the vast majority of those adversely affected by armed conflict and armed violence,” and sought to “reduc[e] human suffering.”


Isn’t it paradoxical that nuclear weapons, with the most devastating power and potential catastrophic consequences for the whole humanity, continue to be exempt from this gradual process of prohibition and elimination? The doctrine of nuclear deterrence, as proclaimed by most nuclear-armed countries, precisely considers that any aggressor would be dissuaded by the effects of nuclear weapons which would outweigh any benefits of aggression. But this doctrine only relies on assumptions, that some equate with religious beliefs. If its success were so guaranteed, why would nuclear-armed states invest so much in retaliatory capabilities or antiballistic missile defence?


Some claim that, throughout the Cold War, nuclear weapons ensured peace and stability, but there is no more irrefutable evidence of this assertion than of the contrary. As Noam Chomsky said in 2005: “Surveying the record of astonishingly reckless and irresponsible state actions, repeated and often frightening accidents, and pure luck, one can only conclude that it is remarkable that we have survived the nuclear age thus far.” In today’s instable and uncertain world, regional conflicts involving nuclear-arms countries can escalate quickly; some powerful armed non-state actors could take over nuclear weapons; even in industrially, scientifically and militarily advanced nations, nuclear catastrophes or accidents can happen as in Chernobyl or Fukushima but also involving nuclear weapons as many reports show.


Moreover, most nuclear powers today recognize that the main threats to their national security are: “[terrorist] groups;” “violent extremists;” “fragile and conflict-affected states [that] incubate and spawn infectious disease, illicit weapons and drug smugglers, and destabilizing refugee flows;” “failures in governance and endemic corruption;” “the danger of disruptive and even destructive cyber-attack;” or “the risk of another global economic slowdown.” Can any of such threats or risks seriously be deterred by nuclear weapons? Even considering the potential spread of weapons of mass destruction, can the whole non-proliferation regime remain credible and sustainable until it is based on the argument that nuclear weapons are legitimate for some privileged states to ensure their security but too dangerous in the hands of others?


The process on the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons initiated in Oslo in 2013 and continued in Mexico in 2014 and Vienna in 2015 has clearly demonstrated that the vast majority of states and representatives of civil society are determined to ban nuclear weapons. An international treaty merely prohibiting nuclear weapons (presumably in the absence of the nuclear-armed states) may not automatically or rapidly lead to their elimination. However, this historic norm-setting step would crown the legal edifice constructed since the end of World War II and open a new period during which nuclear-armed states would be under international pressure to negotiate on real nuclear disarmament, in line with their commitment under Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.


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