A Useful Stalemate in Ukraine



Photo credit: Nicolas Raymond / freestock.ca¹

By Elizabeth Pond

Elizabeth Pond argues that Putin’s undeclared war on once-fraternal Ukraine has destroyed Moscow’s influence on Kiev, forged genuine Ukrainian identity in resistance and ended in a roughly stable stalemate in the eastern 3{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd} of Ukraine that Russia now controls. However bitter that stalemate is to Putin, to Ukraine, and to the West, the least bad option may now be to prolong gridlock while diminishing casualties in Ukraine’s Donbas coal region.

The full article was published on IISS – Politics and Strategy: The Survival Editor’s blog and can be accessed here.

Elizabeth Pond is a Berlin-based journalist and author. She has contributed several articles to Survival, most recently ‘Serbia Reinvents Itself’, in Survival, vol. 55, no. 4, August–September 2013, pp. 7–30.


1. Photo Title: “Ukraine Grunge Flag”. Originally posted on: http://freestock.ca/flags_maps_g80-ukraine_grunge_flag_p1080.html at http://freestock.ca/. No changes have been made.


by Elizabeth Pond

Hawks in Washington are arguing that the West should deliver lethal defensive weapons to the Ukrainian armed forces. At a moment of political uncertainty in Moscow, their view is that the NATO alliance should show the Kremlin it is not feckless when faced with Vladimir Putin’s aggression.

Such a policy would certainly make the congressional Rambos feel good. But flooding Ukraine with advanced weapons which its troops have not been trained to use would be dangerous and almost certainly lead to an escalation that would play to Russia’s local military superiority while failing to bolster Ukraine’s capabilities.

There are three reasons for this. First, sending lethal weapons to Ukraine could sleepwalk the world into its first nuclear war, at a time when the rules of restraint worked out by the superpowers in the original Cold War have expired.

Second, it ignores the fact that Ukraine, once the war smithy of the Soviet Union, is the world’s tenth largest arms exporter. It would be far cheaper to send ten executives on sabbatical from Boeing to Kyiv to advise Ukraine on modernizing its own heavy weapons production.

Third, given Ukraine’s history of corruption, deliveries of billions of dollars of weaponry could tempt Ukrainian oligarchs to revert to business as usual as the shock of Russia’s year-old attack wears off.

Western arms injections could hardly save Ukraine from further dismemberment, given the ratio of Ukraine’s 121,000 active servicemen to Russia’s 771,000 and just over 2,000 Ukrainian tanks to Russia’s 20,000. Indeed, a demonstrative influx of western arms into Ukraine would simply force any risk-averse demurrers in the Kremlin to join in common defiance of the American bogeyman with the ultranationalists whom Putin has empowered.

Hawks in the West tacitly admit that Moscow holds ‘escalation dominance’ in its own backyard by barring any western boots on the ground. As Antony Blinken, the US deputy secretary of state, explained in defending Barack Obama’s scepticism about funnelling weapons to Kyiv: ‘Anything we did as countries in terms of military support for Ukraine is likely to be matched and then doubled, tripled and quadrupled by Russia.’

Russia, the regional military giant, can instantly trump each western military initiative in any upward spiral. Its claim to an existential geopolitical interest in neighbouring Ukraine also trumps the distant West’s half-hearted, peripheral interest.

Where western hawks fail the sobriety test is in their refusal to specify how they would respond in the next weeks if a game of chicken proceeds on Russian rules and Moscow keeps raising the stakes all the way up to the nuclear level.

This is not idle speculation. Putin has said that he was ready to put nuclear forces on alert to defend his original takeover of Crimea a year ago.

At the other end of the scale  is Chancellor Merkel of Germany, who advocates strategic patience in countering Russia’s breach of international law and Europe’s seven-decade taboo on changing borders by force. Is there a golden mean that helps Ukraine but does not taunt Moscow?

Fortunately, yes. The West’s surprisingly effective sanctions have exacerbated plunging oil prices to produce record capital flight in Russia, an abrupt halt to crucial western investment and technology transfer, 20 per cent inflation, and a drop in GDP of up to 6 per cent this year.

For the first time since Putin rose to power on the basis of high oil revenues and a social compact of restoring order after Russia’s post-Soviet chaos and building a new urban consumer class, the Russian president now faces growing impoverishment at home.

He cannot forever compensate by appealing to abstract Great Russian glory and sacrificing the lives of Russian soldiers to a war in Ukraine that he claims not to be waging. Time, which last year favoured Putin’s military faits accomplis, may this year begin to favour the West’s strategic soft power of prosperity and stability.

To be sure, the potential transmission belt from impoverishment to political moderation is not obvious. A population inured to fatalism is unlikely to revolt. The Russian elites have only a weak liberal impulse. So far, all Kremlin factions are hanging together.

What might in the future divide them, however, is the public blame that ultra-nationalists already heap on Putin for his timidity in not finishing the conquest of eastern Ukraine and the private fears that more cautious cronies may nurse about Putin’s ‘adventurism’ – to use the Soviet term for dangerous goading of the West.

German policy is to seek tacit mutual acceptance of relatively stable de-escalation. To keep up the pressure, Merkel has changed the European agenda from easing financial sanctions if Russia has not seized more Ukrainian territory by the summer, to strengthening sanctions if Russia violates the terms of the Minsk package ceasefire before the end of the year.

This makes more sense than sending sophisticated western weapons to Kyiv that would require months of training before Ukrainian forces could use them – and could be captured by Russians.

The West stands to gain far more by helping the Ukrainians to maximize their own arms production. Ukraine still turns out solid Soviet-era tanks and missiles (and exports spare parts to Russia, oddly enough). The tanks may not match the high tech of German Leopards but Ukrainian soldiers know how to operate them.

The US Congress should certainly keep the threat of delivering lethal weapons to Ukraine on the docket. NATO should continue to demonstrate its determination to defend all alliance members, by conducting joint exercises in the Baltic states and Poland and intercepting Russian bombers.

It should continue to conduct modest joint military manoeuvres in western Ukraine under the ‘distinctive partnership’ that NATO granted Kyiv as a consolation prize in the 1990s, when the alliance signed a ‘Founding Act’ with Russia, and it should use the timing and intensity of war gaming to signal responses to Russian threats or overtures.

The West should further nudge Kyiv to replace the dysfunctional senior command of the Ukrainian army and promote the majors and captains who have already had extensive training in the West. It should upgrade Ukraine’s existing heavy weapons by providing enough surveillance drones and intelligence and electronics to facilitate real-time targeting and counteract Russian jamming of Ukrainian communications in the east.

It should insist on Russian compliance with the Minsk truce – including the provisions for Kyiv’s control of Ukraine’s own borders in the east by the end of 2015 – as a prerequisite for easing sanctions. And it should broaden the sanctions if Russia, despite the ceasefire, overwhelms Mariupol and Kharkiv in a bid to partition Ukraine and deprive its government of control of the east.

It should also use all its influence to promote urgent economic reform. Ukrainian oligarchs must be prevented from divvying up state wealth in the the form of privatization receipts and rescue funds from the International Monetary Fund.

Above all, the West should help Russia’s rulers recognize their own internal ‘contradictions’ (to borrow another Soviet term) and loosen the hardliners’ grip in the Kremlin. And it should help all the latent Kremlin factions realize that Putin is incurring very high costs in his adventurism. He lost all of Ukraine as a client state after his protégé, President Viktor Yanukovych, had peaceful pro-European demonstrators shot on Euromaidan Square a year ago.

He lost most of ‘Novorossiya,’ his anachronistic name for the eastern third of Ukraine, when the masses there failed to follow Russian military agitators and rise in rebellion. He has preserved only a Crimea that is a drain on his budget and the desolate ruins of half of the Donbas.

More broadly, Putin has brought growing turmoil to the Caucasus, overstretch to the Russian army and a rising toll of Russian military corpses in Ukraine that the army is doing its best to keep secret. By his threats he has revived a moribund NATO, and by converting the Russians from brother East Slavs into enemies, he has bestowed on Ukrainians a new sense of consolidated non-Russian identity.

What the West should do at this stage, then, is to trust the efficacy of sanctions and Russia’s own resolution of ‘contradictions’. What it should not do is to play Putin’s game by rushing to export lethal weapons to Ukraine.



by Stephanie Breitsman

The meeting on February 10, 2015, between Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, presented an opportunity to reshape the international community’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Sweden’s relationship with Palestine should not be seen as a stance against Israel, but instead recognized as an invitation for global partnership and cooperation. Sweden became the first member of the European Union to recognize the state of Palestine on October 30, 2014. Britain, Ireland, Spain, and France have all passed non-binding resolutions accepting Palestinian statehood in the past year. Contrary to Israeli fears and American frustration, strengthening ties with Palestine could revive the peace process.

Wallström has pressured Abbas to prioritize the inclusion of women in the process of Palestinian state-building. Sweden is increasing its aid to Palestine to $180 million (USD) over the next five years contingent on a Palestinian commitment to increased gender equality. In her talks with the Palestinian leadership, Wallström has emphasized women’s representation in peace negotiations, the position of women in society, and the equitable distribution of resources. Sweden’s recognition of Palestinian statehood aims to nurture an environment necessary for producing effective peace partners through the meaningful participation of women.

This year marks the 15th anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325), which declares women to be necessary actors in achieving global peace and security. The United States, among many other NATO partner nations, has committed itself to supporting the participation of women in all peace efforts. The United States National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security, announced in December 2011, asserts that “deadly conflicts can be more effectively avoided, and peace can be best forged and sustained, when women become equal partners in all aspects of peace-building and conflict prevention, when their lives are protected, their experiences considered, and their voices heard.” Sweden’s foreign policy provides a model for the United States to put their written commitments into action and further the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Using foreign assistance for political leverage is common practice in the region and will likely be a condition for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict peacefully. The failure of United States Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace talks, in 2013-2014, reduces the political leverage that can be used. That said, international recognition of Palestinian statehood renews diplomatic options by incentivizing foreign aid and political cooperation. Following Sweden’s example, the United States should advocate for the promotion and inclusion of women in governance, security, and civil society in exchange for further assistance. Recognizing Palestinian statehood presents an opportunity to address dynamics within the Palestinian Authority and influence positive change; it should not be missed.

Palestinian women are an untapped resource. They have largely been absent from official negotiations, but they provide an important and moderate presence on the ground. In “A Quiet Revolution: The First Intifada and Nonviolent Resistance,” Mary Elizabeth King, an expert observer, details women’s influential participation in civil society. After the 1967 war and the occupation of the territories, Palestinian women formed a network of work committees providing important social welfare services that were not being fulfilled by Israeli or Palestinian authorities. Women’s organizations participated in a range of activities including traditional charities, labor unions, education, and activism. Ghada Talhami, a Palestinian political scientist, compares the function of these organizations, during the period between 1967 and the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, to an informal government. Aiming to liberate both themselves and the burgeoning state, these women built self-sustaining local and national networks that crossed socioeconomic divides.

Western powers, particularly the United States, must put aside past policy failures and embrace a promising alternative. Confining the peace process to the same isolated political players limits the resources for both creative solutions and implementation. Women’s organizations bridge economic, social, and political divides through education and activism. Women’s inclusion may offer a new set of actors with a new set of ideas and solutions. Palestinian women may provide positive contributions that can break through the deadlock in the negotiations. Furthermore, including civil society and women increases the likelihood that any peace agreement would be implemented effectively.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are at an impasse, which threatens security in the region. Palestinian statehood and foreign assistance can be exchanged for the inclusion of women, which could positively alter the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. Respecting Palestinian statehood opens the door to develop more productive relationships with the Palestinian people and nurture new avenues for peace. It’s time to stop picking sides and start embracing new partners.

Stephanie Breitsman is a master’s candidate at the Institute for Middle East Studies in GWU’s Elliott School of International Affairs and specializes in conflict and conflict resolution.

By Elizabeth Zolotukhina

January 30, 2015

The crash of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 (hereafter, MH17) on July 17, 2014 was pivotal to the ongoing conflict in Eastern Ukraine. The Boeing 777 aircraft, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down over Snizhne, Ukraine killing all on board. Investigation into the disaster is ongoing, but allegedly has been hampered by various actors. These include, but are not limited to; the pro-Russian separatists active in the area, the Ukrainian military, and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The pro-Russian separatists are suspected firstly of utilizing a Moscow-supplied, Soviet-era surface to air missile (SAM) system, known as the Buk SAM system, to shoot down the airliner. Subsequently, they are accused of restricting investigators’, journalists’, and international observers’ access to the crash site, as well as failing to preserve the chain of evidence, desecrating the victims, and looting their possessions. Russian President Vladimir Putin has been charged variously with supplying the separatists with heavy weaponry, including the above-mentioned Buk SAM system allegedly used to shoot down MH17 and for failing to withdraw support. Critics claim that Putin could, instead, choose to broker an effective and lasting cease-fire between the separatists and the Ukrainian government in Kiev. In fact, such an accord has been concluded several times – most recently in September 2014 – but fighting nevertheless persists in the region. The situation poses a myriad of unresolved questions. Perhaps one of the most enigmatic is who in fact shot down the airliner – members of the Ukrainian military, Russian-backed separatists, or Russian military personnel?

One explanation of the disaster advanced by the Kremlin is that the Boeing was shot down by an air-to-air missile fired from a Ukrainian fighter jet. There are several problems with this theory. The first is that it contradicts the physical evidence from the crash site. Namely, fighter pilots are trained to attack a plane from the rear, its blind spot. By contrast, MH17 was hit by “‘objects with high energy’ from above and the front at a high speed and with such force that the rump broke apart in the air.” The damage sustained by the airplane is consistent with that inflicted by a surface to air missile which “was fired from the ground and not from a fighter jet.”

Although a Ukrainian fighter jet – a SU-25 – was reportedly sighted in the vicinity of MH17 immediately prior to its demise and therefore has been held responsible for the same, those claims are likely false. A SU-25 is an improbable culprit for several reasons. Not only are its speed and flight ceiling lower than that of the Boeing 777, but the ordinance it was allegedly carrying – R-60 air-to-air missiles – is inconsistent with the damage sustained by the airplane. Downing by Russian-backed separatists also is a dubious, if attractive, scenario.

American diplomats have accused Russian-supported separatists in Eastern Ukraine of shooting down MH17 using a Buk SAM, a charge which the fighters have denied. Despite allegations, there is a lack of consensus among U.S. intelligence officials as to the guilty parties, as well as the hardware used to down the airliner. Nevertheless, Washington might have hoped that such a move would force President Putin to admit to the presence of Russian troops, or at least military advisors, funding, and materiel in the region, without accusing Moscow of direct involvement in the disaster. Putin has steadfastly refused to adopt such a position. However, there are reasons to believe the separatists’ denials of connection to the tragedy. First, the rebels did not possess a Buk SAM system at the time of the downing of MH17. Second, and more importantly, to fire a missile from a Buk launcher “requires a specialized team operating in coordinated fashion from three locations. The crew requires at least six months of special training, which rules out a missile launch by irregular separatist forces.” The separatists themselves have conceded that “we don’t have and didn’t have specialists who can operate such high precision weapons systems.” If not the Ukrainian military, or the Russian-backed separatists, who is the most likely culprit in the MH17 catastrophe?

A recent independent investigation into the crash concluded that MH17 “was shot down by a trained Russian crew,” most likely from the 53rd Russian Air Defense Brigade, based in Kursk, Russia. Broadly, several factors underpin this conclusion. The Buk SAM system and its Russian crew were seen traveling between Kursk, Russia and Snizhne, Ukraine, the site of the disaster. The Buk SAM system has been traced to the aforementioned brigade utilizing its identification number. In Snizhne, a witness described seeing a missile shoot down a passenger plane. Later that day, the same missile system is photographed returning to Kursk via the single road connecting the two cities with one of its missiles missing. Having established that the system utilized to down MH17 was of Russian origin, identifying its operator becomes easier. Russian military doctrine severely restricts the type of person who could have affected such an event. Specifically, only a specially trained Russian officer – not a conscript – can authorize a Buk missile launch. Having identified both the hardware used in the MH17 shoot down and the most likely system operator as Russian, it is useful to outline the implications of this finding for the ongoing conflict in the region, and for U.S.-Russian relations.

The evident presence of uniformed Russian troops, in addition to the Moscow-backed separatists, in Eastern Ukraine suggests that the Kremlin views ensuring victory in the conflict as being of paramount importance. Their presence compromises the Kremlin’s ability to deny direct involvement in the crisis, although that does not stop Moscow from continuing to attempt to invoke plausible deniability. The shoot down also demonstrates the dangerous lengths to which Moscow is willing to go when its perceived core interests are at stake. U.S.-Russian relations suffer a serious setback when such a catastrophe cannot be thoroughly investigated by an international panel of experts, despite knowing “who and where the suspects are who may have killed 298 innocent civilians aboard the Boeing 777.” By admitting its role in the shoot down, even if only via back channels, Moscow could mitigate the downturn in U.S.-Russian relations. However, such a development is highly unlikely.


Elizabeth Zolotukhina earned a M.A. degree in Russian and East European Studies from the Harriman Institute at Columbia University. Her research interests are; nonproliferation, arms control, and Russia. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Strategic Security, World Politics Review, the International Affairs Forum, among others.



Invisibility, victimhood and the sunk costs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

By Helidah Ogude

In May 2010, I travelled to Syria, Jordan, Israel and the West Bank in efforts to better understand the Arab-Israeli conflict. During my time there, certain encounters stained my memory forever.

The most distinctive encounter I had was in Amman, Jordan. As part of a group of students from New York University there to study the conflict, we were having a lively discussion with journalists from the Jordanian Times. We listened keenly as a Jordanian journalist explained how deeply disconnected Arabs and Israelis are. He recalled an opportunity he had to interact with Israeli journalists – “both sides know very little about each other and rely on distorted images promoted by local and international media, which have served only to incite anger and reinforce negative perceptions.” He went on to say, in reference to an Israeli’s perception of him and his fellow Arab journalists, “I was surprised to discover that she was led to believe that Arabs, in her words, “are not like any other people”… she even admitted to staring at me and my Arab colleagues just to see how we acted.”

His observations were immensely revealing. I thought to myself, what an unfortunate paradox, that such a profound disconnect exists between a people that are so geographically proximate. His story has since remained with me, partly because as a black South African, I understood what he meant all too well. In that moment I was able to comprehend that various parties to the conflict don’t see one another. It is not the ‘Separation’/ ‘Apartheid’ Wall, nor any other physical boundary that is most difficult to dismantle in the pursuit of peace. In fact, it is the ‘invisible’ walls that cloud people’s understanding of one another that are most problematic.

His experience is crucial to highlight because it is people like him and his Israeli counterpart, far beyond the reach of the high political echelons and negotiation tables, that most feel the reality of living a life of conflict. In her writings on Truths, Myths and Victimhood in Kosovo, Julie Mertus expresses this kind of phenomenon that can emerge even in the context of ‘peace’: “Socially and politically [they] inhabit a world of unspoken premises, hidden dangers, subtle contradictions and quiet intractability’s, a world where nothing is quite what it seems to be, a world whose muscular realities wrap and attenuate [their] values.”

Palestinians and Israelis in particular, bring with them a history of victimhood and see themselves in the present context, by and large, as victims. Both groups bring to the conflict a national history of persecution and destruction. In the Israeli case, the unparalleled protracted history of persecution, which peaked with the Holocaust of European Jews, produced a siege mentality that has been brought to bear with the conflict with Palestinians and other Arabs. In the Palestinian case, the history of colonization that peaked with The Nakba, (The Catastrophe) in which their society was dismantled and their homeland lost, is considered by many to be second only to physical destruction. Thus, each group brings to the conflict a deep sense of persecution that is not always recognized by the other side because each are too preoccupied with their own tragic national experience.

Mertus contends that victims use their own experiences to justify the oppression and victimization of others. She says that “the most dangerous identity is that of the victim. Once we see ourselves as victims, we can clearly identify an enemy. Steeped in our own victimhood, we no longer feel bound by moral considerations in becoming perpetrators”. Numerous events that occur reinforce perceived and real distance. The future fighting becomes not about the overarching original aim, but rather about justifying the “sunk costs” –for instance, the death of a revered political leader – with little concern for additional costs that might be incurred in the future.

Today, the recent discovery of the bodies of three murdered Israeli teenage settlers, Eyal Ifrach, Gilad Shaer and Naftali Frankel, is the ‘sunk cost’ for Israelis. Meanwhile for the Palestinians, it is the death of 18-year-old Yusuf Abu Zagher at the hands of Israeli troops and the recently discovered body of 17-year-old Mohammed Hasan Abu Khdair in a Jerusalem forest; his body charred and with signs of violence.

And so the routine, shrouded by the politicisation of grief, has started again. The exchange between Palestinian and Israeli politicians becomes, not about achieving a lasting and sustainable peace, but about the most recent ‘event’ that affects each party most. Abbas’s spokesperson criticised the Israeli government, stating that it bears “full responsibility” for the murder of the Palestinian teen, while Netanyahu has vowed that Israel will expand its operation in the West Bank in pursuit of the killers of the Israeli teenagers. In his book on Palestinian identity, Rashid Khalidi captures this phenomenon most poignantly, “In a sense, each party to this conflict, and every other claimant, operates in a different dimension from the other, looking back to a different era of the past, and living in a different present, albeit in the very same place”.

The combination of, on the one hand, the ‘invisibility’ of each claimant in relation to the other; while on the other hand, their assumed roles as victims, however legitimate, make for a dangerous environment. Against this backdrop, actions are taken with little empathy for the ‘other’, and sometimes with no moral considerations, because after all, the perpetrators see themselves only as victims.

As I continue to closely monitor and analyse the events that are rapidly and violently unfolding in Israel and the Occupied Territories, I am acutely aware of the long and sordid history that contextualises each killing, each arrest, and each political statement. If we fail to consciously contextualise, we too will continue to analyse the recent killings of teens as if they are isolated events. And in turn, we will condone the short-termism of political decision-making. Decision-making that focuses not on the overarching aim of sustained peace but instead, the most recent ‘sunk costs’.

Helidah Refiloe Ogude is a Policy Analyst currently working for the South African Government. Her interests include international development, the role of media in global affairs and conflict resolution in Africa and the Middle East. She holds a Masters of Science in Global Affairs from New York University. Follow @DidiOgude on Twitter.

Picture credit: Ian Scott ‘Panorama of Old Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives’ https://flic.kr/p/9MCKgK 

By Alex Paul

Last week I met a woman with an amazing life story. Now in her 90s, during World War II she worked on a B-17 production line, building planes that flew in the battle to liberate Europe. The 70th anniversary of D-Day on June 6th was a poignant moment to remember the sacrifice of those who served in WWII. Among the world leaders in France for the commemorative events, there was one head of state present who served in the War: the UK’s Queen Elizabeth II.

While the role of men in WWII is well-documented through film and books, my meeting with a female veteran got me thinking about the much less-discussed role of women in the war, which included around 350,000 in uniform alone – and many others in non-uniformed roles too. They served with distinction across Allied forces, but their contribution is often forgotten.

For example, in the United States, over 1,100 female pilots joined the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs). They delivered new planes from factory to military bases, tested refurbished ones and towed targets for air and ground gunners to aim at in training with live ammunition. In the words of General Henry Arnold, commander of the U.S. Army Air Force, they put it “on record that women can fly as well as men.”

Meanwhile thousands of women also served in the USSR air force. Unlike other Allied forces though, Soviet women served in combat units like the 588th Night Bomber Regiment. The Regiment flew over 30,000 night-time raids on its way to becoming the most decorated female unit in the Soviet air force. It was so feared by the Nazis, who called them “Night Witches”, that they awarded an Iron Cross to any Luftwaffe pilot who downed one of the Regiment’s flimsy plywood and canvas planes.

WWII poster 1

Artist: Vernon Grant. For the U.S. Employment Service, War Manpower Commission. Under license from Creative Commons.

Women also served with distinction in some of the more secretive roles of the War. Records show that the British dispatched more than 80 female secret agents  to France before D-Day. But many stories of their courage have been lost over time. “I think the contribution that (the women) made to the liberation of their countries needs to be told” commented Bernard O’Connor, a historian specializing in British secret operations in France, at the unveiling last year of a memorial dedicated to these women. The contributions of women like Annie Sofie Østvedt, a leading figure in the Norwegian resistance movement who commanded a group of 3000 men in southern Norway, should also not be forgotten.

Finally, women were vital in reporting on the war in Europe. News correspondents like American Martha Gellhorn, who worked for Colliers magazine, ignored a ban on women on the frontlines to land in France on D-Day itself. She stayed with the advancing Allies all the way to Germany, filing stories from Normandy, newly liberated Paris and concentration camps in Eastern Europe. The stories of these brave women correspondents are credited with moving war reporting towards a focus on the impact of war on the people and civilians involved, rather than on set-piece battles between armies.

WWII was a conflict where women served the Allied world effort with honor and distinction. Yet the world has been slow to recognize their service. It was only in 2010 that their service of WASPs in America was fully honored when President Obama awarded them the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian award. Sadly fewer than 300 WASPs were still alive to see it.


President Obama signing S.614, a bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots, in the Oval Office Wednesday, July 1, 2009.  Photo credit: Official White House photo by Pete Souza, under license from Creative Commons

With the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII next year, it is worth reflecting on whether society fully recognizes the contribution of women in WWII, especially as their stories tend to be forgotten. As Baroness Betty Boothroyd, a member of the UK Parliament said at the unveiling of the British memorial to women who served in WWII, “I hope that future generations who pass this way will ask themselves: ‘what sort of women were they?’ and look at our history for the answer.” Let us ensure that history has the answers ready.

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Alex Paul is a WIIS Program Assistant. He has just completed a Master’s in International Relations at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, New York. His research focuses on security provision and reform in post-conflict states.

Banner photo: Personnel of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps at No. 3 CWAC (Basic) Training Centre (April 1944). Under license (Creative Commons) from Canada, Department of National Defence, Library and Archives Canada, PA-145516 /. 

By Alex Paul

Editor’s Note: This blog post is intended to provide WIIS members and others with a summary of the outcomes and key statements of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.

WIIS would more than welcome blog posts by any of its members that examine the outcomes of the Summit and whether they believe the event will mark a turning point in the battle to end sexual violence in conflict once and for all.

“The greatest strategic prize for our century is the full social, political and economic empowerment of women everywhere” declared William Hague, the UK Foreign Secretary, at the end of the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict last week.

Helping the “thousands of people living in the shadow of sexual violence at this very moment” and who are suffering as a result of “conflicts where rape is openly incited” is one of the greatest challenges to realizing this goal, warned Angelina Jolie, UN Special Envoy at the three-day event in London.

But in order to “banish sexual violence to the dark ages where it belongs” the international community must establish “new norms that respect women, girls, men, and boys” warned John Kerry, U.S. Secretary of State. Once the new norms exist, holding “those who commit these acts and those who condone them accountable” will become much more possible, he told audience members representing over 120 countries.

Four keys areas for change were focused on at the Summit. They were the improved accountability for sexual violence crimes; greater support for survivors of sexual violence; full integration of sexual and gender-based violence responses and promotion of gender equality into all security sector reforms and training programs; and improved international cooperation.

Participants at the Summit agreed to fund UN and NGO efforts to assist survivors and called for all states to redouble their efforts on implementing their obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and subsequent resolutions.

However, the biggest outcome of the Summit was the launch of the International Protocol on the Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict, intended as a tool to support existing efforts by civil society groups, human rights lawyers and international justice forums to “document sexual violence as a crime under international law.”

Reporting and recording conclusive evidence of sexual violence in conflicts is a difficult process to get right. All too often, the failure to collect evidence hinders the successful prosecution of those guilty of such war crimes and creating a culture of impunity around sexual violence in conflict. The Protocol aims to destroy impunity by ensuring that evidence gathered during and after conflict is robust enough to successfully assist in future efforts to hold the perpetrators to account.

The Summit also saw the UK release its third National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, in line with its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 1325. Through a focus on five distinct outcomes, the Plan commits the UK to “pursue visible change for girls and women affected by conflict when building peace.”

The Plan highlights six countries, including Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burma and Syria, where the UK will concentrate its efforts and confirms that an Implementation Plan, containing baseline data on the key indicators within the National Action Plan, will be published by the end of 2014.

Nevertheless, some criticized the Summit for focusing too much on policymakers, arguing that “all too often survivors’ voices are absent” from these debates, calling it “the missing link in the struggle to end rape and gender violence in conflict.” The Survivors Action Network was launched in response, with its first event on the sidelines of the Summit being attended by survivors, four Nobel Peace Prize winners and the foreign ministers of Norway and the Netherlands.

Other headlines from the summit:

U.N. Secretary General: “We have the tools, political momentum and clarity of purpose to turn the tide”

Preventing and Responding to Sexual Violence in Conflict (U.S. Department of State fact sheet)

How do we end sexual violence in conflict? – interactive

Official website for the Summit

Must-read: Acting Time; Or, Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict. More critical look at the outcomes discussed above.

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Alex Paul is a WIIS Program Assistant. He has just completed a Masters’ in International Relations at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, New York. His research focuses on security provision and reform in post-conflict states.

By Jelke Boesten

Since the late 1990s, the international community has developed treaties and tools to address conflict-related sexual violence. Most recently, the UK government has been promoting the Foreign Secretary’s Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative (PVSI), and has organised a Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, scheduled for June. These are positive developments that send out strong messages on the unacceptability of sexual violence in conflict. But they overlook the everyday sexual and physical violence that blights the lives of millions of women and girls.

When it comes to destroying communities, sexual violence is a very effective and even strategic weapon, given the role of sexuality and violence in shaping everyday life. Interpretations and understandings of what ‘proper’ sexual and gendered behaviour mean that sexual violence is not only an individual experience. It is an experience that undermines community resilience, with social and political connotations and consequences that reverberate into the future.

Importantly, sexual violence precedes and survives conflict, in homes, between intimate partners, on the streets, in schools and in health centres. We should ask whether sexual violence during war is extra-ordinary and to what extent sexual violence that is not related to conflict is, quite simply, ‘ordinary’. Indeed, ‘ordinary’ violence, in the shape of everyday threats and realities, terrorises, subordinates and diminishes women and girls, and some boys and men. Sexual violence, we should recognise, is not only used as a weapon of war. It is part of gender relations in peacetime, and feeds into the escalation of such violence in war.

Research around the world shows that violence against women often persists, or even increases, after conflict. In addition to heightened physical violence against women in the private and public spheres, armed conflict often causes life-changing suffering, such as unwanted pregnancies, HIV infection, the loss of male breadwinner(s), displacement, and physical and socio-economic insecurity that, in turn, increases women’s vulnerability to sexual violence and exploitation.

But sexual violence is as opportunistic as it is strategic. A recent study by Holly Porter of women who had been raped during the conflict in Gulu, northern Uganda, found that most had been raped by husbands and boyfriends, rather than soldiers or rebels. My own work in Peru, where the military used rape systematically against the local Andean population, shows how conflict-related rape built on and reproduced existing hierarchies of race, class and gender.

We have to address both the high rates of peacetime sexual violence, perpetrated largely by boyfriends and husbands, and the escalation of such violence in war if we are to have any chance of tackling war-related rape.

The transitional justice mechanisms that have followed conflicts in recent years, such as truth commissions, reparation programmes, and national and international criminal prosecutions have not been very effective in dealing with war-related sexual violence.  National and international criminal prosecutions are long, expensive and difficult processes that rarely lead to convictions for sexual violence – a result of the difficulty in gathering evidence and the bias in judicial systems. Nevertheless, national and international experts are fighting continuously to improve prosecution and conviction rates, and to sharpen the gender perspective in other post-conflict mechanisms.

While a top-down message against gender-based violence is a good thing, it cannot, by itself, transform the structures of society that allow such violence to persist. That requires concrete interventions that protect women and that raise awareness among both women and men about the need to address everyday violence and gender stereotypes.

A good example is HarassMap, a civil society initiative that aims to end ‘the social acceptability of sexual harassment and assault in Egypt’, by documenting and publicising harassment, using local networks and social media. Another example is the Brazilian organisation Promundo, which works for and with men in post-conflict Latin America and Africa to change attitudes and gender stereotypes, thereby aiming to reduce violence against women. Well-designed programmes that empower women politically, socially, and economically may also help to reduce violence. It is clear that strengthening women’s position in society does, in general, reduce their vulnerability to violence.

Researchers, policy-makers and activists are focusing increasingly on transformative justice mechanisms that combine legal and non-legal measures to challenge and transform damaging gender relations. Transformative justice advocates argue for the explicit incorporation of women’s economic, social and political rights in the pursuit of strategies that aim to transform the structures of societies by empowering women in post-conflict societies or in societies suffering from chronic violence.

The most innovative and transformative interventions are those that allow and encourage women and girls to speak up and to establish alliances with others – men and women. Such interventions can, ultimately, lift the shame and stigma from the victim-survivor and allow the world to see that the perpetrators, and not the victim, should be blamed and punished for sexual violence, regardless of the circumstances – whether in war or in peace.


Originally posted on Development Progress




Qursum Qasim

Women in conflict-affected areas do not have the luxury of debating the relative happiness and fulfillment quotients of homemakers or breadwinners – self-preservation and the survival of their families demands they become breadwinners and homemakers, whether they choose to or not. Women acquire valuable negotiation and management skills while ‘learning from doing’ and sustaining business operations in an inhospitable environment. While this places immense psychological pressure on women, the result is their economic empowerment.

Female-headed households typically increase during conflict, as waging war remains primarily a male occupation. In Cambodia, 20-25{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd} of households were led by women at the end of the civil war in 1998; similarly in Guatemala, where post-war female-headed households comprised 30-50{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd}, a significant increase from prewar years.  A study of women’s economic activities during civil war in Uganda revealed that, as women explored means of economic survival, their mobility and presence in the public sphere increased. They created unique organizations including revolving-loan saving schemes for investments in businesses with shared profits to facilitate women-run income generating activities. In Cambodia, Rwanda, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Georgia, women’s participation in agriculture as sharecroppers, landless laborers, and farmers increased during conflict. Women entered diverse industries and occupations due to labor shortages, gaining experience and confidence as productive workers.

In some cases, conflict erodes social norms restricting women’s movement and provides them with the social space to engage in activities to which they may previously have been denied access. However, these gains may not be capitalized on during peace negotiations and the resultant transition to a post-conflict society. Often women are not even acknowledged as viable stakeholders in peace, much less given a place at the negotiating table. Of the 585 peace treaties drafted over the past two decades, only 16{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd} included references to women. In addition, a mere 2{5f0f57c44bc297437706deade099e6516fe1db1b31ab604b564d60e47f160dcd} of post-conflict budgets are aimed at women’s empowerment, including economic development.

This reality reflects a gross underestimation of the potential economic contributions women can make to post-conflict stability and security. The exclusion of women from peace settlements therefore undermines the very objective of these settlements – to set conflict-affected societies on the path to sustainable socio-economic development.

Given that a majority of post-conflict societies lack the resources required to rebuild economies from scratch, it is important to capitalize on existing resources, offering a crucial path towards job creation and socio-economic rebuilding. There is also significant evidence to support the hypothesis that women’s economic activities engender positive spillovers for the community, including increased spending on education and health. Generating these spillovers necessarily entails engaging with women who have been leading their families and communities during conflict. Ideally, engagement in this context takes the form of financial and policy support for women-led enterprises through microcredit and other financial mechanisms. In post-conflict countries where women face uncertain ownership rights over productive assets such as land, legalizing female ownership/administration of property is essential to facilitate access to the resources needed to maintain and expand their economic activities. Additionally, it is essential to maintain women’s security and economic rights as working-age former combatants are reintegrated into society. Including women’s economic empowerment as a specific policy priority during the transition to peace and beyond is therefore a necessary condition for a sustainable transition to peace.

Most discussions surrounding the inclusion of women in peace processes focus on the egalitarian aspect – recognizing the role women  can (and should) play in determining the future direction of their post-conflict countries is the ‘right’ thing to do. However, there is a very cogent economic argument for giving women their rightful place at the peacemaking table – they are (by necessity) active economic agents in conflict societies, so leveraging their experiences and networks offers a viable route towards economic rebuilding.

Women who have led their households and communities through conflict have the proven capacity to contribute effectively to the economic development of post-conflict societies; it is therefore imperative to ensure they are able to do so. Additionally, the socioeconomic needs of post-conflict societies demand significant investments in health, education and housing. Research has proven that women spend 80 cents on these social priorities for each dollar earned compared to about 30 cents spent by men. Improving women’s incomes uplifts entire families and by extension, communities. Nowhere is this more urgent than in post-conflict societies. While there is a strong moral imperative to include women as stakeholders in peace-building, the economic rationale to do so may provide a more convincing argument – investing in and empowering women economically offers a strong bulwark against relapse into conflict.


Qursum Qasim is a graduate of Georgetown University and has an undergraduate degree in Economics from Pakistan. She currently works at the World Bank as a private sector development consultant, with a focus on innovation and entrepreneurship.