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Archive | Editor’s Picks

Is the ICC Guilty of Hunting Africans?

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Accused: Kenya’s deputy president William Ruto in the dock at the ICC. ICC-CPI

This month, the first of what are arguably the two most important trials in the short history of the International Criminal Court (ICC) began. Kenya’s Deputy President, William Ruto, is accused of crimes against humanity (murder, deportation or forcible transfer of population and persecution) allegedly committed in Kenya in the context of the 2007-2008 post-election violence.

Accused: Kenya’s deputy president William Ruto in the dock at the ICC. ICC-CPI

He is the first high office holder to appear at the Court. In the second trial, scheduled to begin in November this year, Kenya’s newly elected President, Uhuru Kenyatta, will also contest accusations of crimes against humanity (murder, deportation, rape and persecution), also allegedly committed in the context of post-election violence. As a backdrop to all of this, not only did Kenyan members of parliament vote to approve a motion to leave the ICC, the African Union has called a special summit to discuss a mass withdrawal from the ICC in protest at Ruto trial.

Is the ICC, as accused in May of this year by Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, guilty of “hunting Africans”? And can the Court fulfill its aim of a truly global institution of criminal justice when global powers (the United States, Russia, China) and emerging powers (India, Indonesia) not only refuse to ratify the Rome Statute (the Court’s governing treaty), but appear beyond the reach of the Court’s justice?

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The Bolivarian Revolution After Chávez

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Nicolás Maduro confers with former President Hugo Chávez in 2007. Matilde Campodonico/AP

Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro, a former bus driver who was Hugo Chávez’s foreign minister, has had a rocky start leading the country with allegations of ballot-tampering, appointing corrupt officials to high-level government positions, and foreign policy missteps have created the impression that Maduro is little more than a figurehead incapable of wielding power among the remaining high ranking chavistas and is ill-equipped to lead his country out of the economic morass left behind by his predecessor’s 14 years of chavismo.

Nicolás Maduro confers with former President Hugo Chávez in 2007. Matilde Campodonico/AP

The elections that ushered Maduro to power were disputed, and his wafer-thin victory on April 14th served to challenge his legitimacy from the outset. Accusations of fraud came immediately after the results were announced, with Henrique Capriles, the charismatic, moderate centrist and opposition leader who came in second in the polls, denouncing the elections and demanding a recount, claiming that Maduro’s win — by less than two percent, or about 225,000 votes out of nearly 15 million cast — was the result of the widespread use of fake IDs and intimidation at polling stations. During the campaign Maduro enjoyed free access to state television networks, allowing him to run endless campaign commercials highlighting his close ties to Chávez in order to harness the former president’s popularity and continue the “Bolivarian revolution,” named after the Venezuelan-born independence hero of South America, Simón Bolívar.

This advantage, as well as the use of nationalized companies’ funds and personnel to bolster political rallies and voter turnout among his constituents, was designed to render Maduro’s election as president a foregone conclusion. That he nearly lost, in spite of such preferential treatment, highlights that Maduro’s connection to Chávez, alone, will not guarantee his ability to propagate his predecessor’s socialist model. Nor can Maduro simply play-off of Chávez’s reputation. Though he is oftentimes affable, Maduro’s sometimes-bizarre behavior during his campaign, including making a claim that he was visited by the spirit of Chávez in bird form, likely affected Venezuelans view of their new president.

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Obama’s Second Term Falls Flat

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President Barack Obama meets with his Cabinet and senior officials in the Cabinet Room of the White House, July 8, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

Does President Barack Obama have a modus operandi when it comes to foreign policy? How does the crafting of foreign policy actually work in the Obama White House? Obama appears to have no grand strategy.

President Barack Obama meets with his Cabinet and senior officials in the Cabinet Room of the White House, July 8, 2013. Pete Souza/White House

While many (including this writer) would acknowledge there were major strategic problems and limitations with the Bush Doctrine, at least George W. Bush’s presidency had a (mildly coherent) vision for the way the U.S. should approach the world beyond its borders. Obama doesn’t seem to value even the pursuit of such a vision. “Leading from behind” is neither an example of leadership nor a strategy. It’s an oxymoronic approach to world affairs that will likely be judged as woefully short-sighted by historians and policymakers alike. One has to believe that Hillary Clinton would have approached foreign policy with less naiveté and more pragmatism.

More specifically, China’s still making big inroads in Africa. And as Edward Luce has recently written, it’s “too little too late” for the Obama administration there. Obama is almost ignoring Latin America entirely. Most disconcerting, of course, has been Obama’s approach in the Middle East and South Asia, which at times looks like the White House has, quite literally, no strategy at all. (Okay, Obama got Bin Laden. That was big and that did require a degree of decisiveness and courage. But a call like that has been an exception to the rule. It’s been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise feckless foreign policy agenda).

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The Impeding Funding Gap in Afghanistan

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai looks on as President Barack Obama delivers remarks  at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 1, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

One of the most pressing issues currently facing Afghanistan is the difficult economic transition set to occur at the end of 2014. Although security is the concern that grabs headlines, it’s the economy, and the ability of the Afghan government to afford itself, that will determine the long-term success of the Afghan state.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai looks on as President Barack Obama delivers remarks at the Presidential Palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, May 1, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

Sadly, it is highly unlikely that the Afghan government will be able to domestically source revenue to cover the military and security expenses it faces, let alone finance development and the social safety net, thus far provided largely by NGOs and donors nations, that the population has come to expect.

Although significant funding has been committed by donor nations it falls well short of the $10 billion a year through 2025 that President Hamid Karzai asked for. The $10 billion request represents significant figure for foreign donors, between 61% and 78% of GDP depending on which GDP estimates are used. The $4 billion committed by the international community at the 2012 Tokyo Donors Conference is not even a sure thing, as donor fatigue and historic failures to live up to development aid commitments are likely. This means, in the best-case scenario, that the government of Afghanistan would face a budget shortfall of at least $6 billion a year starting in 2014, but odds are it will be far greater.

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Damned by Riches: How Afghanistan’s Mineral Wealth Undermines NATO Mission

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Assignment Afghanistan

It is like something out of a movie: deep in the archives of a war torn country a team of intrepid scientists discovers forgotten maps leading to buried treasure. Fantastical as it seems, such a scene played out in 2004 when American geologists found a cache of charts in the Afghan Geological Survey’s library dating from the days of Soviet occupation. Returned to the library after the NATO invasion, these Russian charts were protected in geologists’ homes through the tumultuous 1990s’ and for good reason: the data indicated under Afghanistan’s mountains and dry plains lay vast mineral deposits.

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