Should We Let The Nation-State Die In The Middle East?

When you look at a map of the Middle East today, what you are seeing is something artificial.

The borders that define these states were not drawn up by local or regional leaders, but instead by Britain and France following World War One.

In an agreement known as the Sykes-Picot System, these borders, often made with little regard for ethno-religious differences, forced the creation of internally fragmented states with groups often in opposition to one another forced to live side by side.

Many have argued that these artificial boundaries and the European imposed version of the nation-state have been flashpoints of conflict within the region for decades, most recently embodied by the Syrian Civil War.

What would happen then if we allowed some of these artificially constructed states to simply dissolve and be replaced by smaller versions formed along ethnic lines?

Is that something that should be done, and could it usher in the peace and stability that so many long for?

Reality meets the map

There are currently several ethnically charged independence movements at play in the Middle East, the most widely known is that of the Kurds.

The Kurds are the third largest ethnic group in the world without a state and are split up among Turkey, Syria, Iran, and Iraq where they maintain a high degree of autonomy, even issuing their own visas for example.

Other groups fighting for greater autonomy and self-governance include the Balochs in Pakistan, the Berbers in Northern Africa, and the Palestinians along the West Bank, who have yet to be official recognized as a state by the UN.

Aside from independence movements, ethnic conflict within the Middle East also takes the form of internal power struggles.

This is the case in Syria where the conflict is sectarian in nature, but doesn’t resemble a genuine effort toward greater autonomy or self-governance among the individual groups fighting.

A map of the Middle East from 1925. Photo Credit: Gabriel/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Instead, it’s multiple groups vying for power over one another within a defined system; the Alawite minority led by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad fighting Sunni factions and the western backed Free Syrian Army for control of the country.

Given the widespread nature of these conflicts, it seems that the idea of a secular European style nation-state being able to keep the peace among various groups has failed to achieve any sort of meaningful stability.

It may be the case that this system simply does not work when applied outside of Europe.

With the last hundred years dominated by civil wars from Lebanon, to Syria, to Yemen, and Iraq, and with insurgencies in Palestine, Turkey, and Afghanistan, the nation-state system is one that lends itself to either outright failure or harsh authoritarianism to maintain order.

States in the Middle East can now be classified into two groups, those that have through strong authoritarianism been able adapt to the artificial structure, and those that have descended into sectarian violence.

The nations of Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan represent Middle Eastern nations that have, though a dense power structure, incorporated elements of the local culture and religion to build up a sense of national identity that transcends tribal relations.

This was made easy in these regions by the fact that the ethnic division were far less apparent than what we see in Syria or Iraq.

In Egypt and Iran for example, both regions have a strong majority ethnic group, Egyptian and Persian, with a rich history to build off.

In Syria and Iraq, the opposite is true.

The countries could be split almost evenly.

Here, there is no dominate group that embodies the region, and thus, attempts to mimic the authoritarianism that has seen some success elsewhere, has only divulged into a near continual cycle of violence.

British Red Arrows fly over Kuwait City in 2013. Photo Credit: Defence Images/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

In these instances, if we want to see an end to conflict, the old borders must be done away with.

We must abandon the old notion of the nation-state as we know it in the Middle East as it has caused widespread death and destruction.

Instead, we should allow smaller states along ethnic lines to spring up and establish a form of governance that fits with their culture.

Until this is achieved, we will continue to see civil wars and insurgencies throughout the region.

The Syrian Civil War has dragged on now for six years, but the Kurds have been in conflict with Turkey for 38 years, and Boloch nationalists in Pakistan have been fighting for independence now since the 1940s!

Conflicts like these won’t end until these ethnic groups are granted their own states.

It is imperative that the West support efforts to see these false states properly re-envisioned and cease polices of reluctance.

In order for such a transition to what many have called “The New Middle East” to take place, there must be a paradigm shift, both in the Middle East and the West.

The idea of the Kurds being granted independence or the resolution of the ISIS problem are both major events that could trigger such a rethinking of the current structure.

If these events were to happen, and we began to see more efforts to divide the old Middle Eastern States into new smaller ones, what then would be the consequences?

The transition would likely follow a similar progression to what we’ve seen in Europe.

Present day Europe with NATO and the EU is all buddy-buddy now, but it didn’t happen overnight or without conflict.

The Netherlands had to fight Spain, Ireland fought Britain, Greece broke off from the Ottomans, Austria-Hungary split up, the Soviet Union collapsed, and Yugoslavia became seven different states.

Oh and there were scores of conflicts that spanned the continent and the centuries.

The lasting peace that Europe has been able to achieve following the resolution of these ethnically based conflicts has not come without a price and the Middle East will likely follow a similar progression should the map be redrawn.

The old order won’t simply give up power, and the prospect of new states raises question for existing ones.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the Syrian Civil War because of Assad’s refusal to give up power. Photo Credit: Beshr Abdulhadi/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

The formation of Kurdistan, which is looking increasingly possible given the support they’ve received in the fight against ISIS and the weakened state of Iraq, will certainly make Turkey nervous.

Will the 15 million ethnic Kurds living in Eastern Anatolia simply pack up their bags and leave their homes for the new nation, or will they be inspired to redouble efforts at independence within Turkey?

These are questions the Turkish government must ask itself and construct policy around.

This is the area where the West can take on a crucial role in the transition.

Western nations can help aid the development of a new Middle East by working to reduce the severity of conflicts that may arise, providing diplomatic support to the new nations, applying pressure to old ones, curbing human rights abuses, and respecting the right of self-determination.

As a leading cause of the current situation, Western nations maintain an obligation to aid the region in such ways.

Currently, major Western powers, such as the U.S., France, and Great Britain, remain reluctant to see the Middle East broken up, instead continuing to support failing governments and interfering with local politics.

Given the amount of influence they maintain in the region, this must change to make the possibility of new states surviving on their own a reality.

The damage of imperialism has definitely been done, and it will take a long time to reverse it.

What is certain though is that the Middle East must change.

It is time for the old structure to be cast off and re-envisioned in a way that takes into account the sheer diversity of the region and addresses the causes of sectarian violence.

Cover Photo Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Here’s Why Memorial Day Really Matters This Election Year

By Christopher Kelly

Memorial Day this year calls on all Americans with particular significance. It requires us to look backward at our past and forward to our future as our nation considers its choices for its next commander in chief.

Just last year we celebrated the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II, the worst war in human history. Americans like Lieutenant Dick Winters of the 101st Airborne parachuted into Normandy seventy-two years ago, in 1944, in Operation Overlord.

In the spring of 1945, American soldiers discovered the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps. After Eisenhower visited Ohrdruf concentration camp, which had been liberated by American troops on April 4, he declared: “We are told that the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now at least he will know what he is fighting against.”

Over the course of just under four years, over sixteen million American men and women had served in some capacity in the war. Today in 2016, fewer than one million WWII vets are still alive.

Just over 400,000 Americans, most of them young, never returned from their duties in World War II. On Memorial Day, Americans will visit cemeteries such as Arlington in Virginia, as well as many more around the nation. Many Americans who paid the ultimate price are, however, buried overseas, in twenty-four different cemeteries in eleven different countries.

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Throughout its history, Europe has been a blood-soaked continent. Two World Wars scarred the twentieth century. The Napoleonic Wars raged on and off for over fifteen years. The Hundred Years’ War between France and England actually lasted for 116 years.

After World War II ended, American servicemen and women stayed in bases across Europe. The Marshall Plan helped to rebuild the shattered economies of postwar Europe. In 1946, Winston Churchill warned of an “Iron Curtain” that had descended on Eastern Europe. NATO was founded in 1949 to confront the challenge of Communism.

In 1989, the Cold War finally ended and the Berlin Wall came down. The defeat of Fascism and Communism was due in large part to the sacrifice of the American servicemen and women that we honor on Memorial Day.

Since 1945, Europe has enjoyed a period of peace, interrupted only by the breakup of Yugoslavia, that is unprecedented in its history. America as well as Europe have benefitted from this long peace.

Simultaneously, though, Americans have been fighting a war of unprecedented duration.

On September 11, 2001, our world suddenly changed. Since the autumn of 2001, American troops have been engaged in Afghanistan fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

There are soldiers serving today in Afghanistan who were toddlers when the Twin Towers in New York were struck by hijacked commercial airliners.

Americans in 2016 confront many dangers. In the Middle East, we must face the challenge posed by ruthless ISIS operatives who have waged a war against diverse people in different countries, and even against history itself.

The Syrian civil war has claimed over 100,000 lives and has created the worst refugee crisis since World War II. Recent attacks in Paris, Brussels, and San Bernardino, California, remind us that terrorism remains a threat around the world.

This year, Americans will select a new commander in chief. As we go to the polls in November, we should reflect upon the need for sound, mature judgment in all of our leaders, and particularly in our president.

Americans must consider that they are choosing an individual who controls the most powerful military in the world and who has the power to end life as we know it.

Memorial Day imposes a duty on all Americans to remember the sacrifice of our fallen heroes and to reflect prayerfully on how best we should steer a course through our dangerous and turbulent world.

Christopher Kelly is the co-author of America Invades: How We’ve Invaded or Been Militarily Involved with almost Every Country on Earth and Italy Invades: How Italians Conquered the World. For more information, visit www.americainvades.com and www.italyinvades.com.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Patrick Emerson/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

That Time America Went To War Over Bananas

By Nate Nkumbu

Often you look at a banana and you see a table item or a common breakfast food. But many people wouldn’t believe that the fruit holds a dark history in Latin America and that the United States government actually supported dictators for this peel-able food.

The Banana Wars were period between 1898 and 1934 were the U.S heavily intervened in Latin American politics.

Using the legacy of the Monroe doctrine, the U.S invaded countries like Cuba, Haiti, Panama, Colombia, and Honduras to protect the Banana plantations and other investments made in the countries according to Jose Cruz, Director of Research for the Kimberley Green Latin American and Caribbean center at Florida International University.

Cruz said in an interview with RISE NEWS that the period saw many in Latin America view the United States as occupying forces as opposed to being just a neighbor up north.

The Monroe doctrine help to establish America’s dominance in Latin America but in 1904, in an addition to the long standing US posture of dominating influence in the Western Hemisphere, President Theodore Roosevelt upped the ante.

In the Roosevelt Corollary, TR gave the U.S the ammo it needed to justify its intervention in Central and South America by arguing that America shouldn’t just prevent European control in the hemisphere, but that it should also use military force to further American interests there.

A worker offloading bananas in Mobile, Alabama in 1937. Photo Credit: C. Thomas Anderson/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

A worker offloading bananas in Mobile, Alabama in 1937. Photo Credit: C. Thomas Anderson/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Cruz said that the most blatant case during the banana wars was the U.S intervening in Honduras seven times between 1903 and 1925.

He said that companies like United Fruit which had owned plantations in Honduras would call on the U.S Marines to deal with political insurrections and that the local elite were supportive of the actions.

So yes. American Marines were basically the private police force of American fruit companies. Just let that sink in for a second and try not to laugh.

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“The local elite in Honduras got paid or received payments from companies like United Fruit to protect their plantations,” Cruz said. “In some places, the people working on the plantations were able to unionize thanks in part to some of the United Fruit workers coming from America helping them, but this was in small amounts.”

Photo Credit: AMISOM Public Information/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Photo Credit: AMISOM Public Information/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Cruz said that United Fruit had often put down worker’s strikes with violence. One notable case was the Banana Massacre of 1928 where Colombian workers for the company were killed following strikes demanding better working conditions.

Cruz said that the effect of the Banana Massacre is still felt today in places like Colombia.

“Just 10 years ago, Chiquita Bananas was accused of hiring paramilitary troops to put down strikes in their plantations in Colombia, likewise other corporations like Coca Cola,” Cruz said. “It isn’t rare today for actions like this to happen, but during the Banana Wars, it was quite common.” 

WATCH: Documentary clip about the Banana Wars. 

Know a weird history story that we should look into? Send us a tip to editor@risenews.net. 

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: elycefeliz/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

James Blunt Prevented World War III Once, But He Probably Won’t Next Time

It is understandable that following the conclusion of the Cold War, the consideration of nuclear conflict subsided to some degree among policy makers and the general public.

However, while the overall number of nuclear weapons has decreased, the number of actors and potential actors with nuclear weapons is quite larger than at the height of the Cold War.

This overall leaves us with a greater likelihood of the use of nuclear weapons, though not all of the potential scenarios are apocalyptic affairs, which can only increase their likelihood.

The most obvious interstate nuclear scenario is an exchange between India and Pakistan, as the two have fought several wars and skirmishes.

Pakistan in particular has expressed interest in theater nuclear weapons in the event of Indian forces seizing Pakistani territory, as per “Cold Start”.

This is problematic, as India has stated it will use nuclear weapons “in retaliation against a nuclear attack on Indian territory or on Indian forces anywhere.”

Anywhere would presumably include 50-80 Kms inside Pakistan, leaving millions dead in the first 24 hours of a nuclear war in South Asia.

Read More: Why Pakistan Might Actually Nuke Itself

Despite these staggering numbers, India and Pakistan only have about 120 weapons each.

The truly frightening numbers come from Russia and the United States, who each have more weapons ready to fire than all the other nuclear powers have in total.

Historically, it is this alarming number of Weapons of Mass Destruction that is attributed as having prevented the outbreak of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

This fear of “Mutually Assured Destruction” (MAD) carries over to the present day, making an intentional strategic nuclear exchange between the United States and Russia unthinkable.

However, both the words “intentional” and “strategic” are highly weaselly and dangerous.

Near misses between the United States and the Soviet Union/Russia have occurred alarmingly frequently.

The Cuban Missile Crisis is often considered both the high point and last point of likely intentional strategic nuclear exchange between the Cold War competitors, but it was far from the last near miss.

Accidental nuclear launches have been, and continue to be a major concern. An escalation of a conventional conflict could also conceivably result in nuclear war.

Such a scenario nearly occurred during the Kosovo War, and was narrowly averted by singer James Blunt [seriously], and is increasingly conceivable were “little green men” to appear in the Baltic States.

James Blunt, our hero. Photo Credit:  Eric Wüstenhagen/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

James Blunt, our hero. Photo Credit: Eric Wüstenhagen/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Were NATO to defeat the Russians in a conventional contest over the Baltic States, which is admittedly not a given outcome, the Russians might respond with what has been deemed as a “deescalatory” nuclear strike, which would use either long or short range nuclear weapons to target military targets anywhere from Europe to the continental United States, in order to bring the opposing force to the negotiating table.

Likely targets would include the NATO nuclear weapon states: the US, United Kingdom, and France as well as NATO allies who “share” US nuclear weapons: Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and Turkey.

Notably, the use of nuclear weapons of any variety was tightened in Russia’s 2010 doctrinal document, but the risk of an escalation of a conventional conflict, or a tactical strike remains.

In addition to interstate conflict, non state actors are also a troubling consideration in regards to nuclear weapons.

Pakistan and India have traditionally been identified as potential sources for nuclear weapons or material to be stolen from, but great progress has been made on this front.

A less obvious, and thus more insidious, potential source for nuclear weapons is South Africa.

Armed men broke into the Pelindaba in 2007, only narrowly being scared off after stealing a cellphone.

It is unclear exactly what the objective of this raid was, but it was clearly planned well enough to account for disabling alarms and electric fences.

This leads some to believe that the objective was to steal enriched uranium.

Regardless of the specific threat, the prospect of nuclear conflict remains, and is arguably more likely than ever before.

Awareness of specific issues related to nuclear conflict, and how to contain that potential, should then be a priority of a public interested in avoiding the utilization and normalization of these weapons.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us!

Photo Credit:Steve Snodgrass/ Flickr (CC by 2.0)

Could Libya Be The Next Syria?

The Islamic State group and al Qaeda are aggressively expanding to the politically unstable North African country of Libya, according to a report Wednesday by a U.S.-based security consulting firm. Since dictator Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown in 2011, Libya has been a hotbed for civil war and extremism, with training facilities and recruitment drives springing up… Read More

Could The Suwalki Gap Be A Future Flashpoint Between Russia And NATO?

An approximately 60 mile stretch of land separates the Russian district of Kaliningrad, from the country of Belarus. It just so happens that this stretch of land is the border between Poland and Lithuania, and one of the most militarized regions in Europe.

As a result, this area has been called by some within the defense community “the New Fulda Gap“, referring to the presumed flashpoint of conflict between NATO and the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War.

Kaliningrad is a small Russian enclave separated from the rest of the country, and nestled between the Baltic Sea, Poland, and Lithuania. It was awarded to Russia in the Potsdam Accords of 1945, and functions as the home base for the Baltic Fleet. As the Kremlin continues takes an adversarial view of NATO, a heavily armed garrison in the district would seem a rational act. This is precisely what they’ve done by positioning several brigades as well as a Motor Rifle Regiment in the territory.

This in itself is not an overtly aggressive move. The Russian Government has just as much a right to defend its territory as any other.

However, the Lithuanian Minister of National Defense Juozas Olekas, said that the types of units being moved to Kaliningrad in large numbers are a threat to the Baltic States.

The Minister reports that “there are 30,000-35,000 troops, two mechanized brigades, armored vehicles in the hundreds rather than the dozens… Moreover, Kaliningrad hosts huge air defense forces. The older complexes get replaced by new and modern ones. Their range is rather extensive, over 400 kilometres.”

Olekas also claims that there is intelligence to suggest the deployment of SS-26 “Stone” ballistic missiles in Kaliningrad which are potentially capable of striking targets at 400 km, with a target accuracy of 5-7m.

An evolution of the infamous “Scud”, this system would be capable of destroying Command and Control Systems, landed aircraft, artillery, and civilian infrastructure. The Baltic States are understandably worried that their key advantages of superior organization and airpower could be knocked out.

Olekas is not the only one worried about Russian capabilities in the Baltic.

Lt. General Ben Hodges, who commands US Army Forces in Europe, recently said that the potential for conflict in the gap as something that keeps him up at night.

According to Hodges, the growing frequency of unannounced Russian military exercises in both Belarus and Kaliningrad can be viewed as a potential scenario to snatch the Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, before their allies can muster a coherent response.

Lt. General John Nicholson, Commander of Allied Land Command concurs with Hodges’ fears but cites recent exercises, attended by Russian observers, as demonstrating NATO’s ability to “mobilize brigades and divisions within days”, further underlining the primary mission of the Alliance, deterrence.

Hodges went on to tell NBC News that there is no immediate reason for the Russians to seize the Baltic States, but notes that he was also taken aback by recent Russian adventures in Ukraine and Syria.

Retired General Bob Scales also has some fears related to NATO’s ability to respond to a crisis in the Baltic States. In a recent interview with Ryan Evans of War on the RocksScales said that he has fears that Article V of the North Atlantic Treaty (the provision which calls for mutual defense of members under attack) has a credibility problem.

The claim is that NATO members, in particular Germany, Britain, France, and the United States, would not come to the aid of an alliance member further East, and recent Pew polling among people in NATO countries lends some credence to this fear.

Scales went further to note that NATO has eroded its ability to project on land over the last fifteen years, and while “this is not the Cold War”, and “the Russian military is not what it used to be”, he is adamant that the mission of deterrence is not being adequately filled, and that Anti Ship Missiles in Kaliningrad being able to block off the entire Baltic sea from NATO’s superior naval forces negate that advantage.

Scales did not request a hike in defense spending from the United States, suggesting that a “modest repositioning of existing American forces” would be sufficient.

Such an adventure into the Baltics is likely not going to occur in the near future. RISE NEWS has previously reported on the problems the Russian military has had in recent years with its ability to project. However some unknown rift in the future could ignite this flashpoint.

The immediate objective and cause would not be known to us, but the Grand Strategy objective would be, according to Western understandings of Russian Grand Strategy and history, would be to secure space between Russia and the presumably hostile NATO forces.

This is due to Russia’s industrial and agricultural core being concentrated in the European section of the country.

This seeking of space is a result of several invasions of Russia by aggressive actors to both the East and West, including but not limited to: Germany, Sweden, France, Britain, and the Mongols over the course of history.

Space is therefore a geopolitical imperative when Russia feels threatened. As is the case with Russia’s current adventure in Ukraine, so too could be the case at the Suwalki Gap.

This line of thinking is why NATO expansion is a contentious issue. On the one hand, NATO expansion causes the Kremlin to fear NATO forces crashing through their borders, and annihilating the state.

On the other hand, Article V protection deincentivizes Russian adventures in neighboring states, due to the collective protection offered by the Alliance.

The validity of Russian fears of NATO, much like the validity of the fear of Russians seizing the Baltic States, is irrelevant. What is important is that these fears exist, and are real to those who have them and shape policy.

Working through these issues should then be the key objective of European policy, preferably without “little green men” in Estonia Latvia and Lithuania.
Cover Photo Credit: U.S. Army Europe Images/Flickr (CC by 2.0)

In The Neighborhood: Bashar Al-Assad makes Surprise Trip to Moscow

For the first time since the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made a visit to Moscow to meet with President Vladimir Putin. But this time, it was a bit of a surprise, for the US anyway.

Assad flew to Moscow on Tuesday to personally to thank President Putin for Russia’s ongoing military support. The Syrian leader said that Russia’s involvement has stopped “terrorism” from becoming “more widespread and harmful” in Syria.

The Kremlin has stated that it had invited President Assad to visit Moscow, but kept the visit quiet until Wednesday morning when President Assad returned safely to Damascus.

While in Moscow, three rounds of talks were held between Assad and the Russian leadership. The first was a closed meeting between Assad and Putin alone, and the other two included the Russian Foreign and Defense Ministers.

President Putin told Assad that it was his hope that progress on the military front would soon into movement toward a peaceful political solution to the Syrian Civil War.

The Kremlin is likely to use the visit to reinforce its domestic narrative that the intervention in Syria is just and has been effective at fighting the expansion of terrorism throughout the region. Moscow maintains that its intervention in Syria was a common sense move that was designed to roll back international terrorism as a result of what it says is ineffective action from the United States.

Putin has remained hesitant about sending Russian ground forces for fear of an entanglement similar to the Soviet incursion in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Russia has a combined force of around 50 jets and helicopters inside of Syria protected by Russian marines, as well as military advisers working with the Syrian army. Russian officials claim to have flown over 700 sorties against more than 690 targets in Syria since the air campaign began Sept. 30.

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Cover Photo Credit: Alberto Cabello/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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