Geopolitics

Remember Bosnia? Intervening In Syria Must Be More Than Just Punishment

Syria is more reminiscent of the Balkan wars in the 1990s than Iraq or Afghanistan. It's imperative for the West to act to force Assad's hand, not just to slap his wrist.

Milosevic, Assad
Milosevic, Assad
Wolfgang Ischinger

-OpEd-

MUNICH — After 10,000 deaths, several months of hesitation and restraint in the West, sanctions and diplomatic offensives, the despot goes one step too far. It means the international community can no longer look the other way. The calculation that the costs of doing nothing are lower than the costs of intervention reveals itself to have been flat wrong.

Suddenly everything moves quickly: just days after a massacre, there is rhetoric and a path toward military action is cleared. A couple of weeks later, NATO intervenes, brings the despot back into line and even forces him to accept a peace agreement.

I’m not talking about Syrian President Bashir al-Assad and his government’s likely use of chemical weapons. No, the event I'm recalling is what happened in Srebrenica in July 1995, when 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were massacred at the hands of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

Now too it seems that the use of chemical weapons have, in Syria’s case, also made the calls for intervention louder. Though a peace agreement, like the one negotiated for Bosnia in November 1995, is still far away for Syria.

Forcing peace

Opponents of intervention in Syria have often invoked the sobering experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are of course correct that international community should exercise extreme caution when considering whether military intervention should be used.

But we should not forget the lessons of the 1990s and of the war in the Balkans. Under certain circumstances it is necessary to use military means to get to the negotiating table and force peace. The Syrian conflict is more reminiscent of the situations in Bosnia or Kosovo than Iraq or Afghanistan.

Still, there are indeed greater risks in Syria than there were in the Balkans in the 1990s. Opponents of Syrian intervention have warned that the conflict could spread, and now, thanks to our inaction, the conflict is indeed spreading quickly. Syria is a failed state with chemical weapons in the heart of the world’s least stable region, and it has become a deployment hub for jihadists from all over the world.

A regional proxy war, with its religious and political components, would have consequences far from Syria’s borders — and would likely have consequences for the future of all of its neighbors, for the Iranian nuclear conflict and for the revolutions in the Middle East. More than 100,000 people have died, more than one million children have fled, and now weapons of mass destruction are being used: That is a crime of pure evil.

The argument that the war in Syria has to bleed itself dry has proved to be both morally irresponsible and absolutely wrong politically.

Getting serious

The Dayton Agreement that ended the Bosnian war in 1995 was possible because Milosevic and the Bosnian Serbs were faced with a new reality and suddenly had an interest in a negotiated agreement. The Croats had started winning ground and the NATO operation “Deliberate Force” had demonstrated that the West was serious. In other words, despite its weaknesses, the agreement in Dayton gave Bosnia-Herzegovina a way to find peace, and it was only possible because of the serious threat and limited use of military weapons.

This is also valid in Syria. From a position of strength, where he can at least repel attacks, the Assad regime is unlikely to be ready to make the necessary concessions. As long as Assad is convinced that he can improve his position or even win the whole war outright, he will prefer to keep fighting. The international community has to undermine this calculation if it wants to find a political solution.

The test of whether an intervention promises success starts with defining its goals and measures to be used. Public remarks in the past couple of days have suggested that limited airstrikes would be the likely response. In that case, the goal would be to make it clear that a red line actually means something.

Such a limited attack is unlikely to really change the power dynamics in Syria that have been preventing meaningful negotiation. The ideal situation, in which Assad is so weakened that the parties involved in the conflict come to Geneva to look each other in the eye and negotiate a solution is, unfortunately, still unlikely.

Any intervention that is not sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council would be offensive to some, especially Russia. Without Moscow there will be no negotiated agreement in Syria. So any intervention has to be accompanied by high-level diplomatic efforts with and around Russia, in which the West makes it clear that it will be prepared to make distasteful compromises, such as considering a future for a part of the Assad regime.

The West should also be able to say that it is ready for (almost) anything, to find common ground with Russia. Refusing to talk is sending the wrong message. It has never been more important for Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama to find a compromise between themselves. Otherwise, we will have the worst possible outcome: The war in Syria escalates further, and the trust between Russia and the West is destroyed.

Military strikes that are nothing more than punishment for the use of chemical weapons would also be meaningless. The strikes should have clearly defined political objectives, and in the best-case scenario, they should be the first step toward a peace agreement. In 1993, then-U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher characterized Bosnia as “a problem from hell,” unsolvable because the parties to the conflict hated each other so much. Two years later, after Srebrenica and the international intervention that followed, a peace agreement was signed. Though Dayton was patently unsatisfying, there has been no more shooting since. That is the ultimate lesson from Bosnia for our leaders today.

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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