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March 15, 2013

Diplomacy

Will Rafael Correa Inherit the Leadership of Latin American Socialism?

March 2, 2013 by

Will Ecuador’s Rafael Correa be able to fill the leadership vacuum that will emerge in a post-Castro/post-Chavez era?

With Hugo Chavez apparently near death, the question of who will inherit his legacy as the vanguard of 21st century socialism in Latin America is foremost in the minds of many. With Chavez soon out of the picture, and the Castro brothers in Cuba not far behind him, Ecuador’s Rafael Correa - who has an established record of promoting socialism, has effectively challenged conventional wisdom in the region, and who is likely to remain a force to be reckoned with — seems a natural choice to fill that role.

During last month’s presidential election, in which he won 57% of the vote, Rafael Correa secured a mandate to advance his “Citizen’s Revolution”. But the head winds associated with fluctuating oil prices, a worsening foreign investment climate, rising violent crime, isolation from international financial institutions, and a growing domestic opposition will undoubtedly have an impact on his ability to be as successful as he has been in the past. If Correa plays his cards wisely, and has a bit of luck, he may still be able to pull it off.

Although Rafael Correa’s record in office is mixed, his popularity is attributable to greater political stability, poverty reduction and greater economic equality. No Ecuadorian president in the past century has remained in power as long as Correa, nor has had the ability to actually implement a long-term agenda. Although nearly one in three Ecuadorians currently live below the poverty line, this is five percent lower than in 2007. And the share of income earned by the wealthiest ten percent declined from 43% to 38% from 2007 to 2009.

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Turkey’s Limited Options with Israel

February 27, 2013 by

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Kuwaiti Prime Minister Nasir al-Muhammad al-Ahmad al-Sabah attend a Turkish-Arab Relations Conference in Kuwait in 2011. Image via Kuwait-Ra’ed Qutena

An Israeli-Turkish rapprochement is unmistakably underway, but unlike the heyday of their political alignment of the 1990’s, the revamped relationship is likely to be more guarded and will pose a greater challenge to Turkey rather than to Israel. Israeli media referenced a report by the Turkish newspaper Radikal with much interest, regarding secret talks between Turkey and Israel that could yield an Israeli apology for its army’s raid against the Turkish aid flotilla, the Mavi Marmara, which was on its way to Gaza in May 2010. The assault resulted in the death of 9 Turkish activists, including a US citizen.

The attack wrought a crisis unseen since the rise of the Turkish-Israeli alliance starting in 1984, followed by a full blown strategic partnership in 1996. But that crisis didn’t necessarily start at the Mavi Marmara deadly attack, or previous Israeli insults of Turkey. Nor did it begin with the Israeli so-called Operation Cast Lead against besieged Gaza in Dec 2008, which resulted in the death and wounding of thousands of Palestinians, mostly civilians.

According to the Radikal report (published in Feb 20 and cited by Israeli Haaretz two days later), Israel is willing to meet two of Turkey’s conditions for the resumption of full ties: an apology, and compensation to the families of the victims. “Turkey has also demanded Israel lift the siege,” on Gaza, Haaretz reported, citing Radikal, “but is prepared to drop that demand.”

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Would an ICC Referral Help End the Violence in Syria?

January 26, 2013 by

President Barack Obama chairs a United Nations Security Council meeting at U.N. Headquarters in New York, N.Y., Sept. 24, 2009. Pete Souza/White House

On January 14, 2012, 58 UN Member States coordinated by Switzerland petitioned the UN Security Council to refer the current crisis in Syria to the International Criminal Court for investigation and possible prosecution. Over 60,000 Syrians have died since the uprising begun in March 2011 and 600,000 have become refugees. War crimes and crimes against humanity have clearly been committed by both sides; a referral to the ICC is long overdue. Why does the ICC need the UN Security Council’s referral? Syria is not a party to the ICC and thus, the court has no jurisdiction to indict its citizens, including Bashar al-Assad and other members of his regime, without referral by the UN Security Council.

With Russian, Chinese and even American vetoes standing in the way, would an ICC referral even happen? The short answer is not likely. However, there might be light at the end of that tunnel. China has reversed its objection to ICC referrals twice in the past, allowing the referral of Sudan over Darfur in 2005 and allowing the referral of Libya in 2011.

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Articulating ‘Palestine’ Despite Israeli Hasbara

January 10, 2013 by

President Obama with Mahmoud Abbas in the Oval Office. Pete Souza/White House

What does a Palestinian farmer who is living in a village tucked in between the secluded West Bank hills, a prisoner on hunger strike in an Israeli jail and a Palestinian refugee roaming the Middle East for shelter all have in common? They are all characters in one single, authentic, solid and cohesive narrative. The problem however, is that western media and academia barely reflect that reality or intentionally distort it, disarticulate it and when necessary, defame its characters.

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Iran’s Inroads in Latin America

January 3, 2013 by

Reading the text of a bill that was recently signed into law by President Barack Obama would instill fear in the hearts of ordinary Americans. Apparently, barbarians coming from distant lands are at work. They are gathering at the US-Mexico border, cutting fences and ready to wreak havoc on an otherwise serene American landscape.

Never mind that crazed, armed to the teeth, homegrown American terrorists are killing children and terrorizing whole cities. It is the Iranian menace that we are meant to fear according to the new law. When compounded with the other imagined threats of Hezbollah and Hamas, all with sinister agendas, then the time is right for Americans to return to their homes, bolt their doors and squat in shelters awaiting further instructions, for evidently, “The Iranians are coming.”

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Palestine’s New Status: A Rerun or a New Strategy?

December 6, 2012 by

Palestine has become a “non-member state” at the United Nations as of Thursday November 29, 2012.  The draft of the UN resolution beckoning what many perceive as a historic moment passed with an overwhelming majority of General Assembly members: 138 votes in favor, nine against and 41 abstentions.

It was accompanied by a passionate speech delivered by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. But decades earlier, a more impressive and animated Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat sought international solidarity as well. The occasion then was also termed ‘historic’.

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Netanyahu’s High-Stakes Game in Gaza

November 24, 2012 by

President Obama with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Martin H Simon/EPA

Many key phrases have been presented to explain Israel’s latest military onslaught against Gaza, which left scores dead and wounded. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is flexing his muscles in preparation for the Israeli general elections in January, suggested some. It is Israel’s way of testing the administration of Egyptian President Mahmoud Morsi, commented others. It was a stern message to Iran, instructed few. Or that Israel is simply assessing its ‘deterrence’ capabilities. And so on.

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Gaza Ceasefire Leaves Unclear Picture of the Prospect for Peace

November 22, 2012 by

The conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza is far from over. Ali Ali/EPA

Israeli air-raids on Gaza have stopped. Palestinian rockets are not being fired at Israel. The cease-fire seems to be holding. After seven days of war, and 157 Palestinian deaths (the great majority of whom were hapless civilians), international leaders are congratulating each other for achieving an end to hostilities. But the obvious question is, how long will it last?

The war and the ceasefire negotiations highlighted a number of factors that are less than reassuring for the prospects of peace.

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Turkey Haunted by its own Hubris

November 1, 2012 by

Two years ago Turkey was on its way to being a player in Central Asia, a major power broker in the Middle East, and a force in international politics. It had stepped in to avoid a major escalation of the 2008 war between Georgia and Russia by blocking U.S. ships from entering the Black Sea, made peace with its regional rivals, and, along with Brazil, made a serious stab at a peaceful resolution of the Iran nuclear crisis.

Today it is exchanging artillery rounds with Syria. Its relations with Iraq have deteriorated to the point that Baghdad has declared Ankara a “hostile state.” It picked a fight with Russia by forcing down a Syrian passenger plane and accusing Moscow of sending arms to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. It angered Iran by agreeing to host a U.S. anti-missile system (a step which won Turkey no friends in Moscow either). Its war with its Kurdish minority has escalated sharply.

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Winning the Peace Prize: The EU and the Ignoble Institution

October 13, 2012 by

European Union flag. Rock Cohen/Flickr

One wonders whether having a peace prize makes an assumption about redundancy and diminishment in advance. Ever year, the arguments seem to mount. This year, the choice of the European Union being the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize struck many as daft, dangerous and redolent with black humour. In a more distinct sense, it suggested that Alfred Nobel would turn in his grave. When you start considering that the man who fronted the cash and the name for the award was a dynamite fiend and pioneer, very little will be making him stir. From the start, the prize has been something of a running joke, an award susceptible to manipulation.  What has struck some critics as peculiar is that of awarding an entity rather than an individual. Not only that, it is an entity that does not work.

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Stephen Harper: Statesman of the Year?

October 1, 2012 by

On Thursday September 27th, while most of his colleagues were across town taking part in the opening of the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was at Manhattan’s opulent Waldorf Astoria Hotel accepting an award for “World’s Statesman of the Year” from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation.

The award was presented by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who characterized Harper as a leader who has not only his own views but also “the courage to affirm them even when they are not shared by all of the consensuses that exist.” Another supporter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, characterized Harper as “a great champion of freedom,” and a “real statesman.”

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China’s Deft Sudan Diplomacy

September 28, 2012 by

President Salva Kiir in Juba. Isaac Billy/UN

Beginning in the late 1990s, China made major investments in Sudan’s oil sector. When Sudan was still one country, China developed the oil fields initially discovered by the American company Chevron, built the pipelines for transporting crude from Sudan’s interior to Port Sudan on the Red Sea and built the oil refinery.

China obtained control of 40 percent of Sudan’s oil production and shared the remainder with the governments of Sudan, Malaysia and India. When the oil fields were operating at maximum capacity, China obtained between 5 and 6 percent of its total crude imports from Sudan.

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Japan-China Relations in Rough Waters

September 25, 2012 by

Could Japan and China—the number two and three largest economies in the world—really get into a punch-out over five tiny islands covering less than four square miles?

According to the International Crisis Group, maybe: “All the trends are in the wrong direction, and prospects of resolution are diminishing.”  That the two Asian superpowers could actually come to blows seems unthinkable, but a devil’s brew of suspicion, anger, ham-handed diplomacy, and a growing US military presence has escalated a minor dispute into something that could turn very ugly if someone makes a misstep.  

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Amidst Confusion, Canada Severs ties with Iran

September 17, 2012 by

Prime Minister Stephen Harper with Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo by Jason Ransom

Over a week after Canada suspended formal diplomatic relations with Iran, reaction in Canada remains mixed. While supporters of the Harper government and defenders of Israel have declared it bold and principled, a number of foreign policy analysts have raised questions about the timing, and cause of the sudden rupture.

On Friday September 7th a senior diplomat from Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade arrived unannounced at the Iranian embassy in Ottawa carrying two letters. The first informed Iran’s diplomats that they were now considered personae non gratae, and had five days to pack up the embassy and leave the country. The second stated that Canada had already removed its diplomats from Tehran and was closing its embassy, effective immediately.

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Britain, Ecuador and the Case of Julian Assange

August 26, 2012 by

Julian Assange at Ecuador’s Embassy in London. Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

A decade ago, the British government of Labour prime minister Tony Blair decided to back President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq even though foreign office lawyers in London had warned that such an attack had no “legal basis in international law.” In the midst of sharp divisions in government and British society, the invasion went ahead in March 2003.

The consequences were far-reaching and they undermined the Blair government’s authority at home. Limping thereafter, he resigned in June 2007, humbled and apologetic. War and the economy together played no mean part in Tony Blair’s fall in British politics and the Labour Party’s defeat three years later.

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