Friday, December 23, 2011

Containing Iran: the Saudi Approach

Teddy Lishan Desta, PhD

Teddy is an Associate Editor for the Journal of the International Relations and Affairs Group (JIRAG). He has lectured at colleges and universities on International Affairs, and is also a Teaching Assistant at Florida International University. He holds a PhD in International Relations from The University of Texas at Dallas, a Master of Science in Economics degree from Baylor University. He specializes in International Relations Theory, International Trade, Economics and the International Political Economy.

Saudi Arabia’s approach to contain revolutionary Iran is of a different make. The Saudis rather chose and implemented an ideological/ religious strategy to hinder the spread of Iranian influence.  In order to deter what they considered the fundamentalist rhetoric and revolutionary zeal of Shiism , the Saudi’s promoted their own firebrand form of Sunni Islam called Wahhabism. 

Some of the notable outcomes of the Saudis effort in contain Iran included the sponsorship of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan and the backing of a growing Sunni fundamentalist influence in Pakistani politics. In doing these two things, the Saudi’s successfully implanted bastions of Sunni Islam on the eastern doorsteps of Iran. Moreover, to counter the spread of radical Shiism worldwide, the Saudis committed large amount of resources to the establishment of Sunni mosques and madrassas around the world. 

The primary struggle between Shiism and Sunnism was for the hearts and minds of the restive youth of the Islamic world. This competition was fought on two arenas - which side could exhibit the greatest fundamentalist views and which side could inflict the greatest pain on the so called infidels.  As radical Shiism and jihadist Wahhabism fiercely competed worldwide for the mantle of assertive and defiant Islam, one result has been the flare up of instability and much bloodshed in many parts of the world. The two sides’ competition to outdo each other in inflicting pain on which they considered the historic enemies of Islam was often reckless and bloody. 

The rise of al-Qaeda - with all its evil consequences - is one outcome of this type of ideological competition between firebrand version of Sunni Islam (Salfist/ Wahhabi  school ) promoted by Saudi Arabia and the radical Shiism promoted by Iran. It was the rise and terrorist operations of al-Qaeda in the West which later became the main justification to draw the USA and the rest of West to war in Afghanistan and in Iraq. These two wars, as we examine next, were not without their immense consequences in the shifting balance of power between Shi’ias  and Sunnis.

When the USA military stepped into Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), its official intentions were to fight terrorists. But soon followed some unintended consequences from these interventions, wherein the dynamics of the ongoing rivalry between radical Shi’ias and fundamentalist Sunnis in the region changed radically.  

Firstly, in just a space of two years, the US removed from power the two enemies of  Iran – on one hand the secular-nationalist-Iran-hating regime of Saddam Hussein, and on the other hand the radical Wahhabist regime of the Taliban in Afghanistan.  For the Saudis, therefore, the coming of America in war to the greater Middle East faced them with a double loss. The Taliban they supported got chased from power in Afghanistan, and their co-religionists and co-ethnics the Sunnis got deposed in Iraq. So the USA - the Saudis’ long standing ally in the region - unintentionally tilted the regional balance of power in favor of Iran. The Saudis then has to look around helplessly as Iran became less constrained to throw her weight around the region and the rest of the world seeking more political influence. 

Secondly, America’s presence in Iraq re-ignited a fratricide between Sunnis and Shi’ias that had died over long time. America’s effort to democratize Iraq demoted the once powerful minority group, the Sunnis, and enthroned the once oppressed majority group, the Shi’ias.  As Iraq straddles the major fault line in the Shi’ ia and Sunni divide in the Middle East, the sectarian violence between the two groups was bitter and brutal. Fundamentalist and nationalist elements from both sides pitted it out to the bitter end in a power and religious struggle for dominance. So Iraq for almost five years (2003 - 2008) was not only a theater of conflict where natives fought occupiers, but the cosmic battlefield in a round- two of a ‘system-level’ clash between Sunnis and Shi’ia. It was inventible that the two giants, Saudi Arabia and Iran, should be interested in Iraq during this time. As expected, each supported its own co-religionists in the strife, the Iranians more openly than the Saudis.  But increasingly it became clear that the Shi’ia’s of Iraq were getting the upper hand, and this shift of power clearly has benefitted Iran in its geopolitical rivalry with Saudi Arabia. 

Third, one outcome of the West’s military presence in the greater Middle-East has been to sap the rage and impetus of radical Islam.  Since, at some point, the Afghan and Iraq wars were the cause célèbre for worldwide jihadi forces many of them have rushed to these war fronts seeking exploits and martyrdom; but as the West stood its ground, it has succeeded, to a great extent, to sap the rage of the jihadi forces and to deplete their organizational resources. Probably as the result of this effort, today the expression of the competition between radicals of Sunnis and Shi’ias has entered a new phase.  The new form of competition between the two sides is not as such new, as it is the old fashioned state-to-state (or state vs. quasi-state) arms racing.  For example, Iran has begun to aspire to nuclear power status, and has taken massive efforts to build the military capabilities of its allies in the region. And the Saudis have followed a two pronged response to this challenge. On one side they have begun to build up their own conventional arms arsenal, and on the other they have started to seek for a creative solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  

Fourth, USA’s experience in Iraq gave the Iranians almost a first hand experience to the limits of American power. Because America apparently bogged down in an asymmetrical warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, the perceived weakness of the USA has emboldened the Iranians to act more defiantly on the world stage.  One outcome of the renewed assertiveness of Iran has been its decision to re-initiate its nuclear program. Though Iran may have its own strategic reasons to seek to acquire nuclear power status, the very possibility of a nuclear armed Iran has set-off the alarms in many Middle-Eastern capitals, most notably in Riyadh and Tel Aviv.  The Saudis have clearly seen the added strategic advantage a nuke would bestow on Iran – it would lift up Iran higher in the eyes of the Muslim world, thereby eroding the commanding status the Saudis have; and more immediately, a nuke armed Iran would feel less obliged to consult with others before it threw its weight around in regional disputes, even in places where the Saudis have vital interests. Therefore, to the Saudis preventing their mortal enemy Iran from possessing a nuclear power has become an overriding security concern.

If the Saudis were not to follow Iran down the road of nuclear arms racing, they knew that they should begin to search for an alternative solution. At least they recognized that they could no longer rely on their accustomed ideological skirmishes with Iran, as this approach is no longer deemed sufficient to the new challenge.  So, they have to seek for a creative solution.  One smart solution has been for the Saudis to look towards Washington and Tel Aviv in search of a possible deterrent response to the Iranian nuclear ambition. In Saudis’ thinking, perhaps - Given that the mullahs long-standing hatred of the USA and Israel would not either Tel Aviv or Washington see the Iranian ambition for what it is and take the appropriate action? As strange as it seems, in the Saudi’s eyes, it is going to be the relationship Iran and Saudi Arabia respectively have with Israel and the USA that would be the deciding factor in curbing Iran’s nuke ambitions, and perhaps permanently settling the power struggle between the two Islamic giants in its favor. 

To conclude, where do all these leave Saudi Arabia, which among other Gulf States looks upon the rise of Iran with deep alarm?

·    Saudi Arabia has one of the largest rates of increase in military expenditure (63%) from 2001 – 2010. In 2010, Saudi Arabia spent approximately US $45 billions of dollars on defense. Saudi’s defense allocation which is about 10.4% of its GDP is one of the highest in the world.  This is mainly born of the Iranian threat, which is the only regional power Saudi Arabia feels a threat from. (1). Saudi Arabia will continue to build its arsenal of conventional weapons to build deterrence against the ambitions of Iran. (2)

·    Saudi Arabia shows readiness to go beyond the accumulation of conventional modern weaponry to seek to develop its own nuclear arsenal. According to Prince Turki al-Faisal, one of the most senior princes associated with Saudi security and foreign policy, said at a recent Gulf States forum that an Iranian quest for nuclear weapons and Israel’s presumed nuclear arsenal might force Saudi Arabia to follow suit. (3)

·    Since long-standing Middle-East geopolitics will not allow Saudi Arabia to form any meaningful alliance with the sole regional nuclear power, Israel, Saudi Arabia may be forced by circumstances to look to another nearby nuclear power country; namely, Pakistan. In a time where the USA seems in a long process of disengaging from the turbulent Middle-East region and looking to the Asia-Pacific region as its future, Saudi Arabia may be forced to look for a replacement for USA strong presence in the region. (4) By choosing from any of the other existing great powers, because of religious or historical reasons, Saudi Arabia cannot easily tie a knot of security alliance with any of them. Therefore, Saudi Arabia has to look for a regional power country that is its natural complement. Because Pakistan shares the same type of religious faith with eth Saudis and since the two nations have history of cooperation along religious and security lines, the Saudis will find Pakistan a very viable security option as a military ally in its rivalry with Iran. The Saudi’s will not find it very difficult to grow the existing relationship to a deeper level where the Saudis will get Pakistan’s nuclear umbrella in exchange for Saudi’s largess to subsidize the cash strapped Pakistani army and government. It is possible that Saudi Arabia can lease one or two nukes from Pakistan and allow a few thousands of Pakistani soldiers and ace pilots to deploy in the country in order to send Iran a strong deterrent signal. Since Saudi Arabia and Pakistan has a long history of security cooperation and religious affinity, this could be easily realized as needed by the two countries. As much as Pakistan is quite a part of Saudi’s domestic and regional security strategy, we should expect such a relationship to grow deeper.  (5)

·    Saudi Arabia could have a hidden agenda to see the Taliban come to power in Afghanistan. The Since Taliban leaders, many whom were educated in Pakistani madrassas sponsored by Saudi Wahhabi circles, a Taliban ruled Afghanistan will provide security threat to the south-eastern borders of Iran. The extent Pakistan and Saudi Arabia succeed to re-install the Taliban in power in Afghanistan and exercise influence on its foreign and domestic affairs, they will succeed in harassing Iran on its eastern frontiers.

·    Today Iranian influence in the Middle-East stretches like a crescent from the Persian Gulf to the south-western shores of the Mediterranean coastlines. Iran’s political and security clout reaches all the way to the borders of Egypt, crossing Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Gaza. If the Arab Spring helps to consolidate the cropping Islamist governments in North Africa, that in turn will further grow Iranian influence in the Arab world to the dismay of Saudi Arabia. On its part, given its history, Saudi Arabia will not rest quietly as Iran expands its influence over the region. For example, the current turmoil in Syria provides Saudi Arabia with a chance to take Syria permanently out of the sphere of Iran.  Saudi Arabia, by working unilaterally and multi-laterally can strengthen the Syrian opposition forces and at the same time weaken the pro-Iran Bashir al-Assad regime.  By the same token, Saudi Arabia can buttress moderate political parties in Lebanon to check-mate Iran’s trusted ally in Lebanon, the powerful Hezbollah party, and in the case of Palestinian politics support the moderate PA against the Iran allied Hamas.


1). Background paper on SIPRI military expenditure data, 2010. Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Retrieved from:

3). Prince Hints Saudi Arabia May Join Nuclear Arms Race. The New York Times. Retrieved from:

4).The wretched Middle East: A region that an American presidency turns away from at its peril. The Economist. Retrieved from:

5). Is Pakistan helping the Saudis with a nuclear deterrent? Rediff News. Retrieved from:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Understanding Iran

Teddy Lishan Desta, PhD
Understanding Iran
Teddy Lishan Desta, PhD
Teddy is an Associate Editor for the Journal of the International Relations and Affairs Group (JIRAG). He has lectured at colleges and universities on International Affairs, and is also a Teaching Assistant at Florida International University. He holds a PhD in International Relations from The University of Texas at Dallas, a Master of Science in Economics degree from Baylor University. He specializes in International Relations Theory, International Trade, Economics and the International Political Economy.
The late 1970s ushered the world into a transformative moment. Within a few years from each other, two ancient civilization states passed through massive domestic and international policy change. These two countries are China and Iran. Following the transformations China under Deng Xiao-Ping and Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini , and given the heavyweight these two countries lift in the regional and international arena, world politics has not been the same ever since. However the trajectories of change each country has followed, at least in the international relations context, is starkly contrasted. China abandoned its 40 years old left-wing anti-capitalist rant and joined the capitalist world with gusto.  China courted and engaged the west for its capital investments and export market, while it master planned its revival as a true great power. On the other hand, Iran abandoned its alliance with the west, became antagonistic with western powers, and embraced a very combative nationalist and Islamic ideology as a way to regional and world significance.
It is important to recognize that both China and Iran have a great power status ambition. The way they have been building up their military forces and have been extending their ideological, political and economic influences in their respective regions and in the rest of the world give China and Iran a revisionist state status. Revisionist state because both seek for the redistribution of global power and influence to advantage their interests. Of course, the redistribution of regional and global power comes at the expense of the USA which has been left as the sole superpower in the post-Cold War world. What is quite surprising is that we see these two ancient civilization states trying to recover their past glories, but each following a very contrasting path. China has chosen very quiet and unassuming manners while it has been building its economic and military power by engaging the west in a most lucrative economic relationship. Until very recently China took extra care not to ruffle anyone’s feathers as it sought for the extension or protection of its economic and political interests regionally.
In contrast, Iran has adopted a very adversarial stance from the very outset of its revolution.  Iran’s ideological and military behavior has irked regional as well as global powers from the very beginning. Iran has not failed to challenge or undermine the great powers of the Middle-East region, namely Iraq under Saddam, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the USA. Iran had a the dream to unseat Saddam Hussein and overshadow Iraq Gulf’s most important regional power ,of replacing Saudi Arabia as the great influence in the Islamic world, of destroying the state of Israel  thereby removing from the scene the Middle East’s sole nuclear power, and of eventually edging the global power, the USA, altogether from the region. 
Since Iran has begun reviving its nuclear power program and by the degree its leaders have continued to speak in defiant language about their determination to push forward with their nuclear power ambitions, the fear of the USA, Israel and Saudi Arabia that Iran is headed to developing a nuclear bomb have grown apace. These countries most fear once Iran becomes the owner of an atomic bomb its defiant behavior will grow more and that it will be tempted to launch adventurous military and political actions that further disturb the volatile Middle East region.  At the moment, the Middle East is set on edge because of the stand-off between Iran on one hand and the three countries on the other. Even Israel continually threatens to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities to stop Tehran from acquiring the bomb.
We see China cultivating its political and economic influence and growing its military might without garnering any punitive measures from the rest of the world. While China’s rise is quiet and seems to last for long, why is Iran’s ambitions to great power are so noisy and potentially brittle?  What is Iran’s leaders’ calculus to maintain a very combative stance and a defiant tone, even in the face of economic sanctions and the threat of military actions against their country’s nuclear program? Are Iranian leaders rational actors when deciding to turn their back on the west and in keeping challenging  the west’s  presence in the Middle East, in threatening and in working for the dismantling of Israel as a state, and in attempting to overshadow Saudi Arabia as Muslims’ most important religious state?  What kind of tangible gain Iranian leaders expect from their international policy positions, which in the eyes of many are risky undertakings?  Here I list a few reasons why the actions of Iran’s leaders can be viewed rational (albeit, risky). The rationality of Iranian actions could be analyzed by taking a few major goals they will like to achieve; namely:

1). Great power status
Iranian ambition as a great power is primarily focused on the Middle East region. This ambition has three pronged strategy; namely, challenging other regional great powers and building its own military capabilities. Revolutionary Iran’s strategy is geared towards mainly challenging and diminishing the powers and influences of other major regional powers it considers as its enemies. These enemies primarily are the USA and Israel which Iran likes to daub, as “the Great Satan” and “the little Satan”, respectively. For example, the Iranian revolution severed ties with the USA and Israel right away after the revolution. The new rulers ensured that the USA should no longer have a trusted ally in Iran that it can use for its strategic purposes in the region. Second, in 1982, Iran financed and trained radical Shi’ia groups drove the USA marine force presence out of Lebanon. Due to growing political and military influence of such Shi’ia groups in Lebanon, the influence of the USA in Lebanese affairs is much curtailed.  Third, Iran through the pressure it has been exerting, directly and indirectly, through its Iraqi ally, the Mehadi Army, it has succeeded to cut very short the days the USA military planned to stay in Iraq. Fourth, Iran works tirelessly to delegitimize and dismantle the state of Israel. Iran does not only see the state of Israel as another great power standing in its path of regional supremacy, but also as an alien entity planted as an American or western bridgehead to control Islamic Middle East. So destroying the state of Israel is tantamount to destroying a bastion of USA presence in the region. Fifth, Iran views the Arab Spring in favorable eyes as it topples in many places western friendly autocrats and brings to power islamists, which it hopes can easily identify with Iran’s defiant foreign policies. Sixth, there is also Iran’s nuclear power ambition. This ambition is of a tactical nature; where Iran surmises that if it becomes a nuclear power, it thinks that it can permanently take away any advantage the state of Israel has in this regard, or it can deter any other power’s desire to force to change it its policies.

2). Ideological leadership of the Islamic world
In contrast to the Chinese experience in the late 1970s, the Iranians were in the grip of launching an ideology, which some call fundamental or political Islam. The Muslim high clerics who took power in Iran their political agenda was not merely overthrowing an age-old monarchy and replacing it with a populist revolutionary government, but also launching an Islamic revolution which they believe will restore the political importance of their religion to billions of Muslims world-wide. The way the Iranian leaders were deploying religion to attack powerful global, regional and domestic forces were winning admirers and imitators around the Muslim world who were either chafing under autocratic leaders, or not were not happy  in USA role in the Middle East, or Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, etc. Undoubtedly, the popularity of Iran in the Arab street grew apace the more defiant it became to the west and challenged Israel indirectly through its allies like Hamas and Hezbollah.     
Iranian leaders as astute power players, approach the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a tactical opportunity in their strategic maneuvering to be the leader of the Islamic world.  Since the Palestinian issue is the major cause célèbre among the Arab people, Iran wants to exploit this issue to the fullest extent to its advantage. Iranian leaders calculate that whoever champions the Palestinian cause or brings down the Jewish state to its knees will get the accolades of the Sunni Arabs and easily be crowned as the undisputed political and moral leader of the wider Islamic world. To this end Iran finances, trains and arms at least two sworn enemies of Israel – Hamas and Hezbollah.  Iran has placed Hamas and Hezbollah as nooses around the neck of Israel and believes that it is a matter of time before Israel gets asphyxiated by these two forces.  

3). National liberation
Iran’s 1979 revolution gave Iranian nationalists the chance to take political power, retain it, and begin the work of national liberation. This is not a national liberation of the classical kind of overthrowing a colonial yoke, but the psychological liberation from great power domination. In the eyes of Iranian nationalists, since the turn of 1900s, Iran has suffered a series of humiliations in the forms of economic concessions (i.e., “capitulations”), and great power political interference as when the USA coordinated the overthrow of the democratically elected nationalist government of Mossasedgh in 1953.  For many Iranians, after his restoration in 1953, the Shah’s government got too close to and very compliant to USA interests, thereby undermining Iranian sovereignty.
After coming to power, Iranian nationalists showed extra zeal to cleanse the soul of the nation from its history of “capitulation” and compliance with America’s economic and political interests. So, the behavior of Iranian leaders in maintaining a very strident antipathy towards  the west and maintain a very independent direction of policy it is because of this hidden need of restoring the honor of Iran, a historically great power which should not play second fiddle to anybody.  We cannot fully understand the defiance and rhetoric of Iranian leaders without taking into consideration their struggle for recovery of national honor which they feel has been trampled underfoot through use of mishandling by imperial powers, such as Russia, Britain and the US.
4). Building a national economy
There is a hidden rationality in Iranian leaders’ choice of de-associating from the mainstream global economic integration. They more or less follow a ‘let-us-do-it-ourselves approach to develop a strong national economy that is mainly geared towards developing the skills sets of its people.  Rather than choosing to be a part of economic globalization, where like many developing countries, Iran becomes an export oriented-economy of low end manufactured or assembled products, Iran followed a different path. Iran followed a very nationalist economic development method, even leaving many sectors of the economy in the hands of the Revolutionary Guard. Iran engaged in military technology development that included its long-range missile and nuclear program. Iranians became masters of reverse engineering as they chose to learn techniques of modern manufacturing management the hard way. Iran’s Resistant Economy carries its own rationality as Iran attempts a self-sustaining economy

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Is the Rwandan Genocide and Conflicts in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nagorno-Karabakh the same Categorization of Conflict?

Daniel J. Evans is the Executive Director and Editor in Chief of the International Relations and Affairs Group. He has experience analyzing how crises unfold and evaluating contingencies for dealing with complications as they arise. His specialties are foreign affairs research, International Relations Theory, Systems Theory, Globalization, Geopolitics, Intelligence Analysis and Homeland Security. His training deals with assessing transorganizational structures for the management of Homeland Security and developing plans for coordinating networked Homeland Security organizations.

In Building Sustainable Peace, Mahmood Mamdani was quoted as observing that "...there are three types of explanation of the [Rwandan] genocide - political, economic, and cultural." Does the same categorization apply to the conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone or Nagorno-Karabakh? Does this question allow you to explore a theoretical construct and apply it to other case studies?

The quote by Mahmood Mamdani "...there are three types of explanation of the [Rwandan] genocide - political, economic, and cultural" is a good generalization for explaining the violence that happened in Rwanda.  The Rwandan Genocide resulted in over a million deaths and much of this conflict was around 1959-1994. It was not an ethnic conflict, though it was perceived as such by many observers.  The violence was between the Hutu and the Tutsi; both groups practiced the same religion, language and participated in government; the difference in the two was a caste system instead of an ethnic difference as most ethnographers pointed out. The caste system considered farmers Hutu and herdsman Tutsi. Some views were that the Hutu were descendants of “a primitive race” while Tutsi were from “the best blood of Abyssinia”.  In 1959 the Rwandan king died under “mysterious circumstances” and many Tutsi feared it was a plot by the Hutu to gain power. The beginnings of the genocide killed up to 200,000 people prior to 1994 the escalation in 1994 resulted in the deaths of almost 800,000 people (Fornace, 2009). Several “political and ethnic killings” such as UNAMIR peacekeepers, the Prime Minister, and several cabinet members happened during the conflict in Rwanda. The Tutsi and “moderate Hutus” were the main targets and their killings were, for the most part, conducted by the military, the youth militia, and presidential guard. All in all, it is believed that around 800,000 people were killed (UNAMIR, 2001)
The factors the Mamdani suggested explained the conflict in Rwanda, political, economic and cultural are able to form a basic construct for much of the violence in Rwanda. However, the violence in Liberia and Sierra Leone includes the economic aspect and some of the political aspect; the cultural aspect is not as applicable. While there have been cultural aspects such as ethnic conflict, a majority of the conflicts have been regarding economic and political gains from diamond mining. Sierra Leone is thought to have a number of causes for the conflict, but much of it has to do with greed.  Other factors thought to be contributory to the violence are negligence with financial decisions, corruption, lack of development and opportunities.  Economic gains from diamond mining account for much of the corruption. A large portion of the country’s foreign export and GDP is also based on them. Diamond smuggling and other exploitations of resources have added to the conflict. Even now it is thought that the government still does not regulate the diamonds properly is filled with corruption. The continuance of illegal smuggling only adds to the conflict (Freeman, 2008).

The violence is continued by what is referred to as “blood diamonds”; these diamonds are used to finance the rebel group’s militant activities.  The Revolutionary United Front or RUF leads the violence within Sierra Leone (De Koning, 2008).  The RUF was backed by the Liberian government of Charles Taylor, who had the plan that he would force the Sierra Leone government with the RUF to forfeit from ECOMOG or the Economic Community of West African States Military Observer Group. Taylor used ethnic agitation as a method for the division of people in Sierra Leone (TED, 2000). The RUF caused millions of internally displaced people, committed acts of genocide and tortured victims by cutting off their hands and other body parts and took over the capital of Sierra Leone, Freetown. Originally the RUF was able to fight ECOMOG but eventually they were able to drive the RUF out of Freetown and regaining control. Though this would not be the last of the RUF with their "Operation No Living Thing" even though they were not the force they once were the instability of it was able to inflict much damage on ECOMOG and any civilians they encountered. 

In 1999 the UN Mission in Sierra Leone or UNAMSIL replaced ECOMOG and worked to enforce the Lome Accord, a peace agreement signed on July 7th by the RUF and government of Sierra Leone.  However, the peace was short lived and the RUF was able to use this as a way to gain for weapons (Adebajo, 2002). The United Kingdom came in to assist and the RUF was again slightly taken out of commission but they regrouped and gained many of the mining areas where they are able to maintain some power because of the exploitation of the “blood diamonds.” While there are several other variables that go into the escalation of violence in Sierra Leone and the perpetuation of the RUF, much of this is because of exploitations of natural resources.  The small country of Sierra Leone has many great natural resources but not a lot of infrastructure that is capable of containing much of the turmoil along with the lack of development of other aspects in the economy aid in the recruitment of youth into the RUF and other similar rebel groups (TED, 2000).

Chester Crocker has a little more complex way of explaining conflict other than Mamdani’s idea of political, economic, and cultural as the reasons for conflicts. Chester Crocker suggests that conflicts that cannot be solved or be solved in a reasonable manner are intractable conflicts and they can also be when the parties involved in the conflict decide it cannot be mediated and any attempt to do so will not be able to end the conflict. These conflicts are longstanding, but not all of them, and these conflicts can be initiated by many different variables such as religion, economic, cultural, and political differences to name a few. Other variables causing the escalation of conflicts have to do with leaders that result in political gains from the continuation of conflicts. It does not have to be just leadership that wants the continuation of the conflict but others that have a stake in the continued escalation of the conflict, these parties are known as spoilers. There are many cases around the world that can be labeled intractable conflicts.  The basic characteristics of an intractable conflict are (1) typically long standing (2)the remain unresolved (3) continuation of violence (4) there are vested interests by parties involved in the conflict (Crocker, 2004).
Another conflict to look at would be the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh. It is not formally recognized by any government, and this long standing conflict has remained unresolved. Nagorno-Karabakh is an autonomous region created by the Soviet Union in 1924 and 94 percent of this region was Armenia. Until the fall of the former Soviet Union the region was mainly peaceful but after the fall of USSR conflicts began to erupt and escalate. Prior to the fall of the Soviet Union the region of Nagorno-Karabakh was on its way of perusing the “spirit of Perestroika” when the Armenians of that region did not want to be under control of the Azerbaijanis. This movement turned into a political organization that was known as “the Karabakh Committee” which was against communism and for democracy, and national sovereignty. The December 1988 Earthquake devastated much of the region, and at the time the Soviet Leaders decided to arrest many members of the committee and thought that by doing this it would keep the election in March of 1989 intact without problems. However, this backfired, and only worsened things within the region to the point of generating massive demonstrations, which resulted in the release of committee members after the election (Global Security, 2009). 

Similarities to the conflict in Liberia and Sierra Leone have to do with economic stakes such as oil and natural gas. Azerbaijan has a blockade that does not allow Armenia proper fuel supplies and offered in exchange for the occupied land back a pipeline that would go through Armenia so it could go to Turkey. The exchange would allow Armenia to also make transit revenues from the pipeline but Armenia has decided that they would not accept (Lalazarian, 1997). The impacts of this have resulted into a bloody conflict for control of the region. The fighting has been between the ethnic Armenians and ethnic Azerbaijanis with the result of the ethnic Azerbaijanis being drove out of the region and displaced. There was finally a cease-fire in May of 1994, and it has been in place since then but there has not been a decisive negotiation to this date and the immense amount of displaced people remains over a million; while direct violence is calmed down there is was and still is a continuation of violence  (Global Security, 2009). However, while the ethnicities continue to fight it seem to be other variables causing the escalation of conflicts such as leaders that would like political gains from the continuation of conflicts.  There has been constant mediation from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) but this conflict has remained in dispute (CIA World Factbook, 2009). 
Upon the determination that there is a conflict and the UN is planning a peace keeping operation there needs to be a way of dealing with it.  Even using the basic troop leading procedures, such as, what the US Army follows the UN could be more effective: (1) receive the mission, (2) issue a warning order; (3) make a tentative plan;  (4) start necessary movement;  (5) conduct reconnaissance; (6) complete the plan; (7) issue a complete order; (8) supervise and refine (Army Study Guide, 1999).  While those procedures may not actually be able to explain a construct they can be used in the planning phase once an operation in place. If enough information is available to make a hasty operations order it will help evaluate several factors. In looking at a construct, there must be a more effective process in the implementation of a plan such as using several variables. The situation in Liberia and Sierra Leone is both simplistic and extremely complex at the same time.  Much of the violence has to do with gains and much of the violence, though some of it is not based on ethnicity but on collective group gains and political gains by officials prompting groups like this. The UN needs to have concrete standard operations procedures (SOP's) when conducting peace keeping operations. They needed to have a standard procedure to use as a framework for operations, the five basic paragraphs of the operations order the US Army uses on a day to day basis is: Situation, Mission, Execution, Service and Support, Command and Signal could be used to incorporate a way to build a construct (Army Study Guide, 1999). Proper planning in this format makes it easy to plug in information and build a model. Conflicts on the group may change, but the more prepared a peace keeping force is with internal SOP's on the group the more likely they can be effective.

The conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone have much to do with politics and economics.  Ethnicity may not be perfect but it is not a major factor in most of the violence. Crocker’s  idea that that intractable conflicts are: (1) typically long standing (2)they remain unresolved (3) there is a continuation of violence (4) and there are vested interests by parties involved in the conflict fits into the framework of a construct. From Mamdani there is his idea of the political and economical aspect and an emphasis from Crocker’s idea that vested interests by parties involved in the conflict continues the violence.  Forming a construct into the vested interests by parties involved in the conflict aid in the political and economic exploitation of these countries.  The other variables of the conflict are important to address but these are the major parts of the construct; the rest are supplementary factors.  The construct implementing the five basic paragraphs of the operations order as a basic framework, the troop leading procedures during for the planning of the construct and the new construct: the vested interests by parties involved in the conflict aid in the political and economic exploitation of these countries will give a easier way to look at the conflict and the ability to deal with them quicker because much of the planning is incorporated in the building phase of the construct. 


Adebajo, A. (2002). Building Peace in West Africa: Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea-Bissau. Lynne rienner publishers. Retrieved from

Army Study Guide (1999). Sample 5 Paragraph Operations Order; updated November 22, 2005. Retrieved from

Army Study Guide (1999). Troop Leading Procedures; updated December 10, 2005. Retrieved from

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