Passport for March 2020

This is an online version of the monthly newsletter of the World Affairs Council of the Monterey Bay Area (WACMB). You may click here to see other online issues or click here to reach the archive of recent issues in PDF format. 
To reduce the risk of spreading the COVID-19 virus, the March luncheon is postponed. Check back on this website periodically for updates on future luncheons and other programs.

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WACMB coordinates two ongoing discussion groups that address a new current topic each month. The sessions are are free and open to the public.

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Program Report: Jeffrey Knopf

For our January luncheon, the World Affairs Council was honored to welcome Dr. Jeffrey Knopf of MIIS, who spoke on “How to Stop a Dictator from Using Chemical Weapons: Lessons from the US Response to Syria.” Knopf noted the prevalence of chemical weapon attacks in the Syrian civil war: there have been more than 300 to date, with 98 percent launched by the Syrian regime, which is led by Bashar al-Asad and is based in Damascus. The policy dilemma for leaders in Washington and elsewhere was between the moral repulsion caused by the use of chemical weapons by a nasty regime, and the aversion to actively intervening in someone else’s civil war. Under such circumstances, what coercive steps can be taken to persuasively discourage a dictator from using chemical weapons without getting too involved in the war?

Unfortunately, the answer is “not much” — at least when the regime feels that its very survival is at stake. This was Knopf’s primary conclusion: that credible threats are more meaningful against a dictator who does not believe that his own survival is in the balance. When that dictator fears for own his survival and that of his regime, then there is very little that outside powers can do to prevent him from taking any manner of draconian and nasty steps. In the case of Syria, Asad knew that the use of chemical weapons might draw a response from the Trump administration, which did happen twice; however, it was still more important to Asad to survive, and chemical weapons were essential to the strategy of survival undertaken by his regime. Therefore, Asad was willing to risk potential US strikes and continued to use chemical weapons. The outcome is that the regime in Damascus has won the Syrian civil war, due, in part, to its use of chemical weapons.

This is the monthly newsletter of the World Affairs Council of the Monterey Bay Area (WACMB). Founded in 1951, the council is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization established to promote the presentation, discussion, and study of international affairs. WACMB is a tax-exempt 501 (c) (3) organization, EIN-770301206. Contributions are tax deductible as permitted by law. WACMB sponsors monthly luncheons, discussion groups, and student scholarships.

Corporate and institutional support for the World Affairs Council of the Monterey Bay Area is provided by:

  • California State University Monterey Bay
  • Defense Language Institute
  • Monterey Peninsula College
  • Naval Postgraduate School
  • Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey
  • Rancho Canada
  • Horan & Lloyd Law Firm