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Diplomacy

Archive | Diplomacy

Obama Administration Pushes Back Against Japan Lobby

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Secretary of State John Kerry sits down with Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida for their bilateral meeting in Tokyo, Japan, on April 14, 2013

In a rather unnoticed development, Shinzo Abe’s administration in Japan has been determinedly nibbling away at the Obama administration’s freedom of action in Asia, seeking to foreclose positions and options that fall outside the contain/confront China spectrum so desirable to Japan.

Secretary of State John Kerry sits down with Japanese Minister for Foreign Affairs Fumio Kishida for their bilateral meeting in Tokyo, Japan, on April 14, 2013

The United States may never fall into the “tail wagging the dog” relationship with Japan, at least in its own mind; but the cost of Asian security initiatives that are at cross purposes with Japanese desires will increase until, perhaps, they don’t seem worth it. And my feeling is, Abe’s getting more than a little help from the US defense/security establishment thanks to Abe’s effort to push the US-Japan security alliance closer to the center of the relationship. China hawks in Japan and the United States may also be drawing energy from President Obama’s evolving lame duck status, and the prospect that Hillary Clinton as president will be all in on a China-bashing strategy.

When a country has a security relationship with the US it not only engages with the US government from a position of strength as an ally; it can look to the full range of enthusiasts, activists, sympathetic theorists, and even paid apologists to lobby on its behalf, their advocacy energized by the money sluicing through the security/defense industrial complex.

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Does Abe Consider Obama a Lame Duck?

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Pictured: President Barack Obama and Shinzo Abe

And is Joe Biden the Designated Whipping Boy?

Pictured: President Barack Obama and Shinzo Abe

There has always been an implicit contradiction between Shinzo Abe’s declared desire to “bring Japan back” and the US wish to lead “Free Asia.” The divergence of aims has been obscured by the eagerness of the US defense establishment to encourage Japan’s increasing heft as a “security” “defense” “active pacifist”; well, let’s just say “military” power, in order to add to the credibility of US hegemony in the Western Pacific, and Japan’s awareness that US military backing - if properly exploited by invoking the US-Japan Security Treaty - can give Japan a significant leg up in its confrontation with the People’s Republic of China.

The Abe administration has performed exactly as desired by American military strategists, both in its willingness, nay eagerness to build up its military and endorse the concept of “collective self defense,” and on the highly contentious issue of shoving the Futenma airbase relocation down the throats of the resisting Okinawan people by a combination of financial blandishments and crude political pressure. However, there are signs that the are tensions in the US-Japan romance, largely because the Obama administration is serious about exploiting the potential of its “honest broker” role to carve out a role for itself as the even-handed interlocutor between Japan and China - a role that the PRC is encouraging in order to drive a wedge between Tokyo and Washington - and is therefore not giving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe the full-throated support that he believes he needs and deserves.

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Can Pakistan Afford to Break with the United States?

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Pakistani villagers carry bags of food provided by USAID to be delivered to flood victims in Swat Valley, Pakistan in 2010

Roughly three months ago, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, Pakistan’s Interior Minister, unveiled the decision of his government to review Pakistan’s relations with the United States.

Pakistani villagers carry bags of food provided by USAID to be delivered to flood victims in Swat Valley, Pakistan in 2010

He was upset with Washington for scuttling the peace process with the Taliban following a drone strike in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Close aides to the minister took his statement with a grain of salt because a review of relations with the U.S. requires homework and determination, both of which are lacking at the moment. Since its creation in the late 1940’s Pakistan has relied on Washington for military and economic aid, which has led to Pakistan’s dependency on external help. According to the Congressional Research Service, Pakistan received $25.9 billion USD from 2002 to 2012. Out of this, $7.226 billion went to defense and $18.686 billion went to economic development programs.

By the end of this year, Pakistan expects to receive $686 billion from Washington. And according to Center for Global Development, Washington has provided $67 billion to Pakistan from 1951 to 2011, a portion of which was misused or misappropriated by corrupt Pakistanis. Furthermore, Pakistan’s military, especially the air force, is heavily dependent upon the U.S. for aid, training and hardware. Its advanced weaponry is largely American made. If Pakistan severs or significantly alters its relations with the United States, the fact that aid could end or be curtailed will play into Pakistan’s decision whether to move forward.

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Twitter Diplomacy at Davos

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Pictured: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Photos: Jolanda Flubacher and RÈmy Steinegger

“We extend our hand for peace, including to the Iranian people, but today was a great occasion that was missed.” – Israeli President Shimon Peres

Pictured: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photos: Jolanda Flubacher and RÈmy Steinegger

It’s not on par with Nixon going to China, but in Davos, Switzerland, the site of the World Economic Forum, an annual gathering of politicos and economic and social leaders, Iran and Israel have taken the first “baby steps” in creating a thaw in their relations.  While the moment in “Twitter diplomacy” is unlikely going to translate into direct trade or even a handshake between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, but considering how relations have been between Iran and Israel for the past several decades, it would be safe to characterize an exchange, even via Twitter, as historic.  Up until the election of Hassan Rouhani, the only exchanges between Israel and Iran were to hurl insults at one another and accuse each other of undermining the security of the other.

With Iran agreeing to the Geneva agreement and suspending uranium enrichment above 5 percent, halting the installation of centrifuges and stopping construction on a heavy-water reactor, the momentum is building for normalized or even a working relationship with the West. While Iran has argued for the past decade that its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, the West has accused the Islamic Republic of operating a nuclear program for the development of nuclear-weapons capabilities. “Ingrained skepticism about the good faith of the Islamic regime remains one of the main sources that could endanger the process,” Francois Nicoullaud, France’s former ambassador to Iran, told Bloomberg. “The quality of Iran’s implementation of the Geneva agreement will reduce such obstacles.” The dilemma for the West is whether to throw away any opportunities at semi-normalized relations or build upon any opportunities that present themselves.

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Greater Critical Thinking Following the “Arab Spring”

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Cairo, Egypt

The so-called “Arab Spring” has changed the thought process for many who live in the Middle East and most specifically their thinking about the role of the military within transitioning democracies.

Cairo, Egypt

The Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies (NESA), a Department of Defense funded regional center that builds partner capacity and relations in that region, is working closely with United Arab Emirates Armed Forces, the Lebanese Armed Forces, the Yemeni military and the Palestinian Authority and others to support the modernizing of professional military and security sector education. NESA has posited a teaching model to support the necessary transition.

The approach uses andragogy, Bloom’s taxonomy and Socratic questioning techniques and applies them in unison, institutionally, across curricula, faculty and participating students. These three methodologies are not new, but when used together they make sense in an attempt to partner with countries that wish a simplified approach, which will enable them to implement the “green shoots” of educational reform within their security sectors, which they see as a vital byproduct from the Arab Spring.

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Revelation of U.S.-Singapore Intelligence Cooperation Won’t Hurt Regional Ties

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Director of National Intelligence,  James Clapper, during Congressional testimony. Kit Fox/Medill

In late November 2013, former National Security Agency contractor, Edward Snowden, again leaked sensitive documents to the press exposing more U.S. intelligence activities.

Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, during Congressional testimony. Kit Fox/Medill

This time the U.S. fugitive revealed extensive intelligence cooperation between the U.S. and Singapore in the realm of communications intelligence. According to the leaked documents, Singapore is aiding the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept international telecommunications and Internet traffic in Southeast Asia. Specifically, Singapore’s foreign intelligence agency – the Security and Intelligence Department (SID) – is working with the NSA to tap undersea high-speed fibre optic cables carrying anything from phone calls to text messages to emails. Also facilitating the tap is SingTel – Singapore’s largest phone company and major telecommunications player in the region. If true, then Singapore is in effect aiding the U.S. to spy on Southeast Asian countries whose international telecommunications and Internet traffic are being routed through Singapore.

Snowden’s latest exposé should have been a bombshell causing serious damage to relations between Singapore and her neighbours. A tiny nation-state in Southeast Asia, Singapore is surrounded by Indonesia and Malaysia – two sizable Muslim countries whose international telecommunications and Internet traffic are allegedly being intercepted. As a longstanding member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Singapore is expected to abide by that alliance’s principles and not assist a major external power to spy on other ASEAN members. As ASEAN members, Indonesia and Malaysia have every reason to be infuriated with Singapore given Snowden’s latest exposé. During the Cold War, CIA covert operations in Southeast Asia not only brought about tremendous suffering but also tore the region apart. Consequently, suspicion of American intrigue runs deep even today.

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An Israeli-Iranian Dialogue: Why Not?

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Pictured: Benjamin Netanyahu, Shimon Peres, Hassan Rouhani and Ali Khamenei

In early December, Israeli President Shimon Peres stated that he was willing to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

Pictured: Benjamin Netanyahu, Shimon Peres, Hassan Rouhani and Ali Khamenei

The Israeli and Iranian media have not paid much attention to this statement so far, probably assuming that such a meeting is unlikely to happen and that the individuals lack the power to cut a deal. Peres’ position as Israeli President is largely ceremonial and the real power is vested in Bibi Netanyahu as Prime Minister. For Iran, although President Rouhani runs the government, ultimate power is vested in Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei. Logic might suggest - therefore - that there is little in Peres’ offer. A deeper look into the issue, however, reveals a very different story.

Peres has been a major figure in Middle Eastern politics for over six decades. He understands that reducing tension with Tehran would serve Israeli interests in many arenas. Iran has its fingers in almost all the region’s pies. Several of Iran’s allies pose real threats to Israeli national security, most notably Hezbollah in Lebanon.

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Defecting Ambassador Reopens Australia and Zimbabwe’s Unique Political History

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Zimbabwe's ambassador to Australia, Jacqueline Zwambila, and President Robert Mugabe.  Photos: Melissa Adams and Associated Press

The Australian Government has received an application for a protection visa from Zimbabwean Ambassador Jacqueline Zwambila who fears her life would be in danger should she return home.

Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Australia, Jacqueline Zwambila, and President Robert Mugabe. Photos: Melissa Adams and Associated Press

She received the appointment during the previous power sharing agreement, when Morgan Tsvangirai was the prime minister and Robert Mugabe was president. The election results in July 2013 saw Mugabe’s regime regain complete control causing the Movement for Democratic Change Party (MDC) to lose its ministerial posts. Zimbabwean Home Affairs Minister, Kembo Mohadi, has been quoted as questioning Ambassador Zwambila’s asylum bid, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion but her remarks are surprising because all the leaders of the MDC-T are here. So, why does she feel threatened? What is so special about her? If she is threatened by anyone, she should tell us as we are responsible for security here as central government.”

Ms. Zwambila has responded, telling the ABC in an interview, “My colleagues in Zimbabwe might be there but they are not safe, it’s well documented what has happened to the members of the Movement for Democratic Change. For him to tell me I am safe when they are the perpetrators of the smear campaign which has been perpetrated against me, what did you expect him to say? They never responded once to the smear campaigns which were going against me, they were the ones who were actually feeding their own newspapers.”

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Understanding Shinzo Abe’s Historical Revisionism

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Pictured: Japanese war re-enactors at Yasakuni Shrine and Shinzo Abe

Myth: Shinzo Abe is a leading member of the team of world and Asian democracies standing up to China in the name of universal values like “freedom of navigation” and to help ensure the shared peace and prosperity of Asia.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visiting the Yasakuni Shrine. Source: Facebook

Reality: Shinzo Abe is a revisionist nationalist using friction with China to pursue Japanese national interests, put Japan on the right side of a zero-sum economic equation opposite the PRC, maximize Japan’s independence of action as a regional hegemon, hopefully peacefully, but if not…

Mission for the Western media: Manage the cognitive dissonance between comforting myth and disturbing reality for the sake of its faithful readers.

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The Indian Blind Side

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Pictured: Devyani Khobragade, a deputy consul general in New York who was arrested last week.  Source: Facebook

The detention and reported mistreatment of Devyani Khobragade, an Indian consular Officer in New York, has sparked furor in India.

Pictured: Devyani Khobragade, a deputy consul general in New York who was arrested last week.  Source: Facebook

Pictured: Devyani Khobragade, a deputy consul general in New York who was arrested last week. Source: Facebook

The public on the streets of New Delhi, bureaucrats and politicians all seem to compete with each other as they hurl insults at the United States. Blinded by outrage, Indians are unable to take into account the uncomfortable reality. The primary misconception lies in the applicability of diplomatic immunity to Devyani Khobragade, the deputy consul general in New York. According to the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, immunity is not as extended to a consular official as it is to a diplomat.

To put simply, “diplomatic immunity” and “consular immunity” are dissimilar. Both diplomats and consuls must abide by the laws of the host nation. Diplomats are, however, unfettered by the rules and regulations of the country they are stationed in. On the contrary, consuls can be brought to trial if they break local and national laws. This is why Ms. Khobragade was arrested. In the broad scheme, she is a diplomat too, but does not hold a position that grants her unreserved immunity.

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Kim Jong-Un and Basketball Diplomacy

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Is there a method to North Korea's madness? Yonhap News Agency/EPA

North Korea’s young leader marks his second full year in power this month, having successfully consolidated his power in a manner that deprived the country of seasoned technocrats, relied heavily on a narrower power base, and strained the country’s critical relationship with China.

Is there a method to North Korea’s madness? Yonhap News Agency/EPA

If his first two years are any indication of what is to come, northeast Asia will continue to reverberate from the uncertainty and unpredictability that has become the hallmark of the Kim Dynasty. Yet, having had his knuckles rapped by China as a result of his bellicose behavior, and having a hawkish leader in Seoul to contend with, Mr. Kim should not expect business as usual going forward.

A series of recent developments in the Hermit Kingdom have confirmed that the young dictator is indeed now firmly established as the regime’s singular power. Four months before the late Kim Jung-Il officially appointed his third son as his successor, the elder Kim promoted Jang Sung-Taek, the younger Kim’s uncle, to the vice chairmanship of the powerful Central Military Committee, and general Lee Yung-Ho to the head of the military, in an effort to ensure a successful power transfer to his inexperienced son. This year, Mr. Kim purged both caretakers: General Lee in July and Mr. Jang in December, thereby demolishing the transitional power structure established by his late father.

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Medicaid Fraud case Threatens U.S.-Russian Relations

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U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announces charges against more than a dozen Russian diplomats in New York. Jason DeCrow/AP

Last week, FBI New York Field Office Assistant Director, George Venizelos, and New York US Attorney, Preet Bharara, broke the news about a nine-year insurance fraud scheme carried out by Russian diplomats based in New York.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara announces charges against more than a dozen Russian diplomats in New York. Jason DeCrow/AP

Now, there’s talk of strain developing in the otherwise improving relations between the United States and Russia. The FBI announced their investigation into 49 Russian diplomats and their spouses living in New York and receiving aid from Medicaid benefits for prenatal care under false information. In these cases, diplomats took advantage of Medicaid’s provision to supply healthcare to non-citizens who fit eligibility requirements and provided the appropriate documentation.

In most cases, diplomats lied about their salaries in order to qualify for prenatal Medicaid benefits, reporting monthly and yearly incomes sometimes as much as 50 percent less than their actual income (which comes directly from the Russian government and is not subject to United States taxation). These false claims have been tracked as far back as 2004, to as recently as August of this year.

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Kim Jong-Un’s High-Stakes Diplomatic Gambit

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Jang Song Thaek's execution doesn't threaten China's relations with the hermit kingdom

Initial reports on the purge of Jang Song Thaek have understandably focused on his abrupt, brutal execution and the hysterical denunciation issued by the Korea Central News Agency.

Jang Song Thaek’s execution doesn’t threaten China’s relations with the hermit kingdom

“The accused Jang brought together undesirable forces and formed a faction as the boss of a modern day factional group for a long time and thus committed such hideous crime as attempting to overthrow the state by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods with a wild ambition to grab the supreme power of our party and state,” KCNA said in a statement.

Terms like “medieval” and “Games of Thrones” have been bandied about, along with expressions of amused contempt at the crude and barbaric character of the DPRK regime and its power and succession struggles. I enjoy a bout of condescending snickering as much as anyone, but perhaps attention should be paid to the risky geopolitical gambit that might underpin the move against Jang.

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The Senkaku Islands Dispute Needs a Diplomatic Resolution

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Japanese destroyer Kurama leads destroyer Hyuga as a Japanese naval flag flutters during a naval fleet review at Sagami Bay, off Yokosuka, south of Tokyo. Yuriko Nakao/Reuters

Over the long term, the main Pacific regional concern is having a stable Sino-Japan relationship and a sustainable US and international presence in the Pacific. That is the single most important objective in the present dilemma. If we ignore the actual ownership and administration and focus on de facto control and access of the islands, which is most important to China, then China is expected to eventually overrun Japan with commercial and merchant ships over the next few decades.

Japanese destroyer Kurama leads destroyer Hyuga as a Japanese naval flag flutters during a naval fleet review at Sagami Bay, off Yokosuka, south of Tokyo. Yuriko Nakao/Reuters

Until then, China must keep the issue of the Senkaku islands alive. China increasingly wants and needs “its” resources and believes that other states as “stealing” them, although this is a region-wide charge that many neighboring countries blame China for. In truth, the natural resources belong to not one particular state. They should be shared.

Presently, the United States does not recognize Japanese legal ownership of the Senkaku islands - only their administrative control. Nevertheless, it will be difficult for the US not to take sides at some point, as it is backing the security of South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and others from any perceived Chinese belligerence.

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Deep Divisions within Yemen undercut any Chance at Reconciliation

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Jamal Benomar, the United Nations Special Adviser on Yemen, speaks to journalists at the United Nations in New York.  Eskinder Debebe/UN

Yemen is one of the oldest centers of civilization in the region, and is currently the second largest country in the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen is also the only state in the Arabian Peninsula to have a purely republican form of government, and was the first country in the region to grant voting rights to women.

Jamal Benomar, the United Nations Special Adviser on Yemen, speaks to journalists at the United Nations in New York. Eskinder Debebe/UN

Sadly, Yemen is not in the headlines for the right reasons. Present-day Yemen is far from perfect. Yemeni unification occurred back in 1990 when North Yemen (officially Yemen Arab Republic) was united with South Yemen (PDR of Yemen). What seemed to be a peaceful unification later led to civil war and a power-grab ensued. While there were signs of an insurgency in late 1990s and early 2000s, the actual ‘revolution’ occurred in 2011. Yemen’s revolution coincided with the Arab Spring movement that shook the region. Initially the revolution focused on unemployment, a dismal economy and corruption.

Things soon deteriorated and protests led to violent clashes between the activists and the police. Under domestic and international pressure, a joint government was established, with the intention of drafting a new constitution and conducting both presidential and parliamentary elections by 2014. As expected, the insurgency was not defeated. Yemen today stands divided between various groups, both violent and peaceful, as well as pro-government factions.

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