We've detected an outdated browser.

You may want to consider updating your browser. International Policy Digest requires a modern browser in order to view the website properly.

Click here for information on how to update your browser.

Continue Anyways
Diplomacy

Archive | Diplomacy

The South China Sea Conundrum

|
DoD Photo
DoD Photo

DoD Photo

Recent months have witnessed renewed tensions over disputed territories in the South China Sea. In response to China’s encroaching military maneuvers and the country’s designation of the whole area as part of its indisputable sovereignty, several South East Asian countries have found themselves dangerously vulnerable. A murky legal regime has led to the emergence of a series of overlapping territorial claims in the area, but at the center of tensions are five key-actors: China, the Philippines, Vietnam, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and increasingly the United States.

Despite growing economic interdependence, a two-decade-long Chinese charm-offensive, modest levels of pan-regional political integration, and considerable institutional-political linkages, the South China Sea issue is an intractable issue reigniting inter-state tensions and threatening the very stability of the whole Asia-Pacific region. However, the issue is also a catalyst for a more pro-active regional response that emphasizes rule-based diplomatic resolutions of both existent and emerging conflicts.

Continue Reading →

Why the Arab-Israeli Peace Process has Failed

|
President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, in the Oval Office. Pete Souza/White House

David Hale, the Obama administration’s Middle East Special Envoy, is scheduled to visit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank to persuade him to abandon his plans to seek Palestinian statehood at the United Nations next month.

President Barack Obama meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, in the Oval Office. Pete Souza/White House

If the U.S. uses its veto power in the Security Council, which seems inevitable, it is likely that Abbas will take up his cause with the General Assembly which is more amendable to the Palestinians and hostile to Israel. Presently, France and Britain would appear to be supporting a veto of the Palestinian effort, while Russia and China are likely to vote in favor of statehood.

The process for statehood is complicated and centers on the ability of the Palestinians to circumvent the Security Council when issues of “world peace” are being decided. Hypothetically, if the Security Council recommends statehood then a vote by the General Assembly will take place on September 20. Presently, the Palestinians have the support of 122 countries for membership. Any vote requires approval by two-thirds of U.N. member-states. If the U.S. does use its veto power, the Palestinians can circumvent the Security Council due to a loophole written in 1950. If all else fails the Palestinians hope to have a 1947 Resolution enforced that partitions the region into a Jewish and Arab state.

Continue Reading →

The Upcoming Palestinian Vote

|
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris. Photo: Olivier Pacteau

It appears that Tuesday September 20, 2011 will not just be the annual opening of the UN General Assembly.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Paris. Photo: Olivier Pacteau

It will be the day that Palestine will officially ask the international community to recognize it as a sovereign state. “Abbas will personally present the request to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon…at the opening of the sixty-sixth session,” according to Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki. “[Abbas] will insist on this historic initiative and Ban Ki-moon will present the request to the Security Council.” If the vote goes ahead and Palestine succeeds, it will become UN’s 194th member state. Irrespective of the larger issues of the conflict, the Palestinian UN vote has led to diplomacy on a monumental scale. This has caused problems for a number of countries, but none more so than the United States.

In mid August a delegation of Arab foreign ministers were urging permanent members of the Security Council to vote for Palestinian UN membership. The delegation was headed by Qatar, who interesting enough is both rich in oil and hosts the largest US military base in the region rent-free, which is the location for Centcom, the US military command center for the Middle East and Central Asia. America’s relations with Qatar are one of only a multitude of problems for the US if it decides to veto Palestine’s bid and smash the hopes and dreams of Palestinians.

Continue Reading →

A Proposed U.S. Regional Strategy Towards the Horn of Africa

|
U.S. soldier training Ugandan soldiers

Paul Williams’ paper has accurately and thoroughly pulled together the webs of conflict in the Horn of Africa. It is not a pretty picture. I would even suggest that the Horn of Africa has been the most conflicted corner of the world since the end of World War II. Other regions have had more death and conflict over briefer periods of time. I don’t know of any region that has had the number and variety of conflicts comparable to those in the Horn. The problem for the United States is what it can do to help mitigate conflict in the region.

U.S. soldier training Ugandan soldiers

Historically, the vast majority of U.S. efforts to resolve or mitigate conflict in the Horn have involved intervention in or attention to individual, discrete disputes, in pursuit of U.S. policy goals prevailing at the time. Through the late 1980s, the Cold War determined U.S. policy in the Horn. Emperor Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia served as the center piece in the region for U.S. economic and military support. Ethiopia was a reliable ally of the United States. When Ethiopia was threatened by Somali irredentism or Eritrean separatism, the United States backed the Haile Selassie government. Even after the left-wing Mengistu Haile Mariam junta seized power in 1974, the United States tried briefly to maintain close economic and military relations with Ethiopia. When it became evident that Ethiopia had slipped into the Soviet camp, the United States switched its support to Somalia, then led by dictator Siad Barre.

Although the United States was not providing military assistance to Somalia when it invaded Ethiopia in 1977, it began military support not long thereafter. It was not until the late 1980s as the Cold War was coming to an end that the United States concluded Siad Barre was no longer a satisfactory ally.

Continue Reading →

Selective Justice, the ICC and Africa

|
The International Criminal Court's Luis Moreno-Ocampo during a press conference.  Eskinder Debebe/UN

The fall of Tripoli has everyone on tenterhooks. From the toing and froing, between loyalists and rebels, as the last dilapidated pillar of Qaddafi’s rule begins to crumble, has us all glued to the screens.

The International Criminal Court’s Luis Moreno-Ocampo during a press conference. Eskinder Debebe/UN

The lasting image is the monument of the defiant fist crushing the American fighter jet. But he, as well as his son, Saif al-Islam remain defiant at this moment. Crudely transmitted audio messages communicated his disdain at the interventionist NATO campaign. His son, Saif al-Islam, held a victory rally suggesting that they have ‘broken the backbone’ of the rebel offensive. The constant unknowing keeps the realists on edge while the optimists cover the avenues of the newly named Martyr’s Square in jubilation. The ICC issued arrest warrants for Col. Qaddafi, his son and their spy chief, accusing them of Crimes against Humanity.

At the same time, in the equally tumultuous courtrooms of The Hague, the final stages of former Democratic Republic of the Congo’s militia commander Thomas Lubanga Dyilo’s case have commenced. Not without its stops and starts, it is slowly arriving at its terminus. There is an obvious pattern emerging here. Many critics of the ICC suggest that the court’s focus on African countries is an example of orientalism in disguise. The former commissioner for Peace and Security for the African Union highlighted these double standards saying that the International Criminal Court, its origins in Rome, is essentially a bastion of ‘western imperialism’ in developing nations.

Continue Reading →

Obama’s ‘Lead from Behind’ Strategy in Syria

|
President Barack Obama faces few workable options in Syria as the bloodshed continues unabated.  Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The Syrian leader is out of options and out of friends and it seems it is only now that President Barack Obama is talking tough on Syria.

President Barack Obama faces few workable options in Syria as the bloodshed continues unabated. Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Obama has made America’s first explicit call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to resign, five months after what has been seen as “calibrated diplomacy,” including rounds of increasingly punitive sanctions and a slow shift by the American President towards a regime change narrative.

Five months after the protests erupted in Syria and were brutally countered by the regime’s police and security forces, the American government has introduced an “immediate freeze of all assets of the Government of Syria subject to U.S. jurisdiction and prohibiting U.S. persons from engaging in any transaction involving the Government of Syria.” White House statements say this ban will work with European sanctions on Syrian-origin petroleum resulting in the “financial isolation of the al-Assad regime” in order to “disrupt its ability to finance a campaign of violence against the Syrian people.” The executive order took effect immediately. The U.S does not rely on Syrian petroleum products; however the E.U. may feel the effects.

Continue Reading →

Historical Analogies and U.S. Policy

|
Vice President Biden meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao on a recent state visit. David Lienemann/White House

Why policy makers should pick historical analogies wisely.

Vice President Biden meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao on a recent state visit. David Lienemann/White House

Indiana Jones, despite being chased by Nazi thugs through Europe and the Middle East, manages to select the one Holy Grail among hundreds in a cave chapel in the dramatic finale of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. His ominous adversary, an American businessman who has allied himself with the SS, predictably fails in his selection and meets his untimely death but not before the grail guardian—a wise, gray, bearded old knight—utters the admonition, “He chose poorly.”

Unfortunately in the policy world, we do not have a Grail Knight reproaching foreign policy makers for their choices, especially when they invoke historical analogies to justify a particular policy. With Vice President Biden’s state visit to China this month, and Beijing’s eagerness to discuss the issue of the South China Sea and arms sales to Taiwan, it would be valuable to examine historical precedents regarding U.S. Naval policy towards China.

Continue Reading →

On the U.S.-Arab Disconnect

|
President Barack Obama talks with members of his Middle East Policy team in the Oval Office, Sept. 1, 2010. Pete Souza/White House

As the ‘Arab Spring’ continues to challenge dictators, demolish old structures and ponder roadmaps for a better future, the US remains committed to its failed policies, misconceptions and selfish interests.

President Barack Obama talks with members of his Middle East Policy team in the Oval Office, Sept. 1, 2010. Pete Souza/White House

Arabs may disagree on many things, but few disagree on the fact that there is now no turning back. The age of the dictator, the Mubaraks and Bin Alis is fading. A new dawn with a whole new set of challenges is upon us. Debates in the region are now concerned with democracy, civil society and citizenship. The only Arab intellectuals who still speak of terrorism and nuclear weapons are those commissioned by Washington-based think tanks or a few desperate to appear on Fox News.

Put simply, Arab priorities are no longer American priorities, as they may have been when Hosni Mubarak was still President of Egypt. Leading a group of ‘Arab moderates’, Mubarak’s main responsibility was portraying US foreign policy as if it was at the core of Egypt’s national interest as well. Meanwhile, in Syria, Bashar al-Assad was caught in the realm of contradiction. While desperate to receive high marks on his performance in the so-called war on terror, he still sold himself as a guardian of Arab resistance.

Continue Reading →

Hariri Indictments: The view from South Beirut

|
Rafiq Hariri in his Parisian home in 1992. Source: Ammar Abd Rabbo

Finally, the long awaited but highly politicised 47-page indictments were released. The United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) took two and half years of painstaking investigations, more than 120 million US dollars in budget and United Nations Security Council endorsement for its work to eventually culminate into the findings that the STL presented. It had issued arrest warrants back in June calling for four Lebanese suspects it says were involved in the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri in 2005.

Rafiq Hariri in his Parisian home in 1992. Source: Ammar Abd Rabbo

They all happened to be members of Hezbollah. The most notable among them was Mustafa Badreddine, the brother-in-law of Hezbollah’s former top military commander, Imad Mugniyeh. All along the STL had made everyone believe that it was riding on a crest wave. It had amassed the best of international experts, forensic scientists and modern technology in its quest to expose the perpetrators of the massive 2,500 kg truck bombing which brutally murdered the man commonly known as Mr. Lebanon, along with 22 others.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon, we were assured, was neither laggard in conducting themselves, nor slack in preparation. Despite claims of some early mistakes, there was to be no flaw in its eventual conclusion. It now confidently released enough evidence to implicate the four suspects in the spectacular bomb blast some six and a half years ago. The evidence, it turns out, is overwhelmingly circumstantial and based on five different phone networks allegedly used to plot the assassination.

Continue Reading →

Can Humanitarian Intervention be Humanitarian?

|
A pregnant couple enters a twelve-bed hospital in Port-au-Prince. Sophia Paris/UN

Not since the debate about the Kosovo War of 1999 has there been such widespread discussion of humanitarian intervention, including the semantics of coupling ‘humanitarian’ with the word ‘intervention.’

A pregnant couple enters a twelve-bed hospital in Port-au-Prince. Sophia Paris/UN

At one extreme of this debate about language stands Gareth Evans, former Foreign Minister of Australia, who is a staunch advocate of displacing the discourse on ‘humanitarian intervention’ by relying on concept of ‘responsibility to protect’ (known as R2P). Evans was, in fact, co-chair of the ICISS that came up a decade ago with the idea of R2P. This approach to intervention was skillfully marketed to the international community, including the United Nations. Arguing the conceptual case for R2P, Evans writes, “[b]y changing the focus from the ‘right’ to ‘responsibility,’ and from ‘intervene’ to ‘protect,’ by making clear that there needed to be at much attention paid to prevention as to reaction and non-coercive measures, and by emphasizing that military coercion—which needed to be mandated by the UN Security Council—was an absolute last resort in civilian protection cases.”

Insisting that the coercive actions in the Ivory Coast and Libya show the benefits of this approach, as contrasted with the supposed failures of the 1990s to take action in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Kosovo, Evans feels so vindicated by recent events as to make the following plea: “So let us please lay ‘humanitarian intervention’ language to rest once and for all.” This raises three questions: should we? will we? does it really matter? My answer to the first two is ‘no,’ and to the third, ‘not much.’ My basic problem with the R2P approach is that it downplays the role of geopolitics in the diplomacy of both decisions to intervene and to not intervene. By hiding this fundamental element in the decision process behind a screen of moralizing language talking of R2P rather than humanitarian intervention invites misunderstanding, as well as encourages imperial ambitions.

Continue Reading →

Competing Narratives in Syria

|

There is no linear narrative capable of explaining the multifarious happenings that have gripped Syrian society in recent months. On March 23, as many as 20 peaceful protesters were killed at the hands of the Syrian regime’s security forces, and many more were wounded. Since then, the violence has escalated to such a level of brutality and savagery that can only be comparable to the regime’s infamous massacres in the city of Hama in 1982.

Protest against Assad’s crackdown in Hama, Syria. Source: Freedom House

Listening to Syrian presidential advisor, Dr. Buthaina Shaaban – one of the most eloquent politicians in the Arab world – one would get the impression that a self-assured reform campaign is indeed underway in Syria. Her words also suggest while some of the protesters’ demands are legitimate, the crisis has been largely manufactured abroad and is being implemented at home by armed gangs bent on wrecking havoc. The aim of the protests, as often suggested by officials, is only to undermine Syria’s leadership in the region and the Arab world at large.

Indeed, Syria has championed, at least verbally, the cause of Arab resistance. It has hosted Palestinian resistance factions that refused to toe the US-Israeli line. Although these factions don’t use Damascus as a starting point for any form of violent resistance against Israel, they do enjoy a fairly free platform to communicate their ideas. Israel, which seeks to destroy all forms of Palestinian resistance, is infuriated by this freedom. Syria has also supported the Lebanese resistance group Hezbollah, which succeeded in driving Israel out of Lebanon in 2000, and torpedoed Israel’s efforts at gaining political and military grounds in Lebanon in 2006.

Continue Reading →

Understanding Iran’s Economic Jihad

|
Tehran's Molavi Bazaar. kamshots/Flickr

In the absence of genuine democratic institutions, a set of common economic grievances is galvanizing the Arab Street against a diverse host of unaccountable regimes across the Arab world.

Tehran’s Molavi Bazaar. kamshots/Flickr

However, deep and structural economic problems also characterize much of the Middle East, including non-Arab Iran. Recognizing the depth and gravity of the country’s economic challenges, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamanei has declared 2011 as the year of “economic jihad.”

A more careful analysis of Iran’s economy reveals a mixed legacy of both crucial developmental gains and persistent macro-economic challenges. Given Iran’s vast hydrocarbon reserves, among the world’s biggest, and its burgeoning industrial-technological complex, one of the largest among emerging economies, the country still represents a potential economic powerhouse in Asia. But Iran has suffered from successive rounds of international sanctions that have prevented the country from fully exploiting its tremendous economic potential. The region’s general insecurity is also affecting prospects for large-scale investment in the country.

Continue Reading →

An Easy Way to Improve U.S.-Latin American Relations

|
President Barack Obama during the opening reception at the Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad on April 17, 2009. Pete Souza/White House

During his attendance at a recent African Union summit, former Brazilian president Lula da Silva critiqued the structure of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC): “it isn’t possible that Latin America, with its 400 million inhabitants, does not have permanent representation. Five countries decide what to do and how to do it, regardless of the rest of the humans living on this planet.”

President Barack Obama during the opening reception at the Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad on April 17, 2009. Pete Souza/White House

Such statements are nothing new. The UNSC’s structure has come under heavy criticism in recent years, with repeated calls for its expansion. Countries like India, South Africa, and Brazil have become the usual suspects as possible new permanent members. And the Portuguese-speaking giant has emerged as the de facto representative for Latin America and the Caribbean to the UNSC. If the United States backs Brazil’s bid, it will gain considerable political capital in Latin America.

Brazil’s UN Qualifications

Brazil has been a rising star in Latin America and the world for several decades and boasts a number of successes that supports its quest for becoming a permanent representative to the UNSC. For starters the country has a history of involvement in UN missions: one of the first Brazilian UN deployments occurred in 1956 when Brasilia, under President Juscelino Kubitschek, sent peacekeepers to the Sinai.

Continue Reading →

Confused Strategy: How the PA Sold Out Palestinian Unity

|
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority. Photo: Ridvan Yumla

If you happen to be a Palestinian government employee, chances are you will receive only half your usual salary this month. The other half will only be available when international donors find it in their hearts to make up for the huge shortage of funds currently facing the Palestinian Authority.

Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian Authority. Photo: Ridvan Yumla

With a deficit standing at around $640 million, the Palestinian Authority government of Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad is experiencing one of its worst ever financial crises. However, the Palestinian economy is not a real economy by universally recognized standards. It survives largely on handouts by donor countries. These funds have spared Israel much of its financial responsibility as an occupying power under the stipulations of the Fourth Geneva Convention. They have also propped up a Palestinian leadership that tries to secure its own survival by serving the interests of major donors.

The funds, however, are now drying up. This could be due to a political attempt to dissuade Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas from seeking recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN next September. Palestinian Authority officials have been greatly angered by the shift, blaming donor countries – including Arab countries – for failing to honor their financial commitments.

Continue Reading →

U.S.-Sino Relations After Dalai Lama Visit

|
Pete Souza/White House
Pete Souza/White House

Pete Souza/White House

Following President Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, China issued a strongly worded statement. Importantly, the meeting between the two men took place in the Map Room of the White House, as opposed to the Oval Office, which is typically used for greeting visiting heads of state. The statement read in part, “Such an act has grossly interfered in China’s internal affairs, hurt the feelings of Chinese people and damaged the Sino-American relations.” The statement continued, “China objects firmly to any foreign leader’s meeting with the Dalai Lama in any form and opposes to any country, or anyone, to interfere in China’s internal affairs by using the Dalai Lama.”

This meeting and a February 2010 meeting between Obama and the Dalai Lama both drew strong condemnation from China. But importantly, China’s unhappiness is largely symbolic and any meetings between an American president and the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader are unlikely to be the catalyst for deteriorating U.S.-Sino relations. What is likely to cause deteriorating U.S.-Sino relations are events on the Korean peninsula, issues involving Taiwan or if Obama and Congressional leaders are unable to resolve the logjam over raising the U.S. debt ceiling limit.

Continue Reading →