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Foreign Affairs Quiz

Tue, 21/01/2020 - 18:24


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Iran Pins Region’s Bloody Protests on West and Israel

Thu, 16/01/2020 - 21:20

Iranian leaders have long boasted that they have taken control of four Arab capitals — Baghdad, Syria, Beirut, and Yemen — simultaneously threatening Israel’s security.

Beirut recently began to rise up in mass popular protests against the “regime” and “corruption.” It is no secret to anyone that the “regime” in Lebanon is now fully controlled by Iranian proxy Hezbollah. For the first time in the history of Lebanon, the state is experiencing a revolution from its far north to its far south, in all regions and within all sects — even within the Shi’ite community and the Hezbollah public.

In Iraq, a protest movement started in October, leading to the deaths of more than 319 people, most of them demonstrators, and the injuring of more than 15,000 according to an official toll. It began with calls for an end to corruption and unemployment, but it developed into a demand for the resignation of the government and a reform of the political system.

In Iran, anti-regime protests started in small towns before continuing on to major cities nationwide, despite severe repression and the growing number of casualties.

It was remarkable that nine offices of Iranian officials, including representatives of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, were burned down in the provinces. These offices were seen by the protesters as symbols of the repressive regime and the headquarters of clerics overseeing the implementation of the regime’s policies while looting the people’s money freely.

The anger broke out in Iran after Tehran announced fuel rationing and a gasoline price hike of 50%. But protesters soon were chanting “Death to Rouhani” and “Death to Khamenei,” denouncing Iran’s president and supreme leader; they also chanted “Death to the dictator.”

Amnesty International said in late November that Iranian security forces had killed 106 protesters in just four days, most of them from Ahvaz and Kurdish provinces. Iranian activists said at the time that the death toll had risen to more than 200.

Iran has been monitoring the demonstrations in all these countries closely since their beginning. The state considers them a conspiracy, with Iranian officials accusing Iran’s enemies of being behind the unrest. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei wrote on his official Twitter account: “#Iran and #Iraq are two nations whose hearts & souls are tied together… Enemies seek to sow discord but they’ve failed & their conspiracy won’t be effective.”

Later Khmanenei added: ”I recommend those who care in Iraq and Lebanon remedy the insecurity and turmoil created in their countries by the U.S., the Zionist regime, some western countries, and the money of some reactionary countries.”

Iran’s leaders have claimed that there is an “enemy conspiracy,” and that the protests were part of a “plot” by Tehran’s foreign foes — Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States.

“Our people have been victorious,” President Hassan Rouhani told a cabinet meeting on November 20, claiming that the “armed anarchists” who took to the streets across Iran were few in number.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah warned of “civil war” as a possible consequence of the demonstrations spreading throughout the country, expressing his organization’s rejection of the anti-corruption protests.

Nasrallah added in a televised speech: “We do not accept the fall of the government, we do not accept the call for the resignation of the government, nor do we accept the holding of early parliamentary elections.” He also claimed the West and Saudi Arabia were behind the protests.

Fearing the reduction of its influence in Iraq, Iran is intervening to mobilize a brutal response, and according to Iraqi officials, Iran has instructed its militias to assign snipers to shoot at street demonstrators.

Iranian officials and agencies have specifically accused the U.S., Saudi Arabia, and Israel of mobilizing the demonstrations in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon.

Meanwhile government officials in Iraq say Iran pressured the weak Iraqi prime minister not to step down, persuading him that the protests were a foreign conspiracy primarily aimed at harming the Iraq-Iran relationship until there were so many deaths that he considered stepping down. Eventually the pressure from the protests did in fact reach the point that he tendered his resignation.

Iran’s steps underscore the existence of an Iranian plan to stop the popular uprising in Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon by insinuating the involvement of Saudi Arabia and other Arab states such as the U.A.E., in addition to non-Arab countries like the U.S., U.K., and Israel in the protest movement. In this way, Iran is seeking to internationalize the unrest.

Regarding the protests in Iraq, Iranian affiliated news agencies have claimed Saudi Arabia is arranging meetings with symbols of the Iraqi opposition abroad. Iran’s Council of Experts stated that the protesters in Iraq were trained “in camps especially in America and Saudi Arabia.” One of the council’s members, Abbas Kaabi, said: “The enemies of the Iraqi and Iranian people — Britain, America, and the Saudis — have been planning for more than a year to provoke unrest and temptation to change the loyalty of the resistance in Iraq for the benefit of America and Saudi Arabia.”

In the same context of Iran accusing the Saudis of directing the Iraqi protest movement, a rumor emerged about a meeting in Amman between the Saudi ambassador in Jordan and Raghad Saddam Hussein, the daughter of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. The rumor was picked up by a group of news sites affiliated with the Iranian agenda.

Iranian propaganda has also sought to spread rumors about the involvement of some big names and symbols of Iraq, including the head of the movement against Iranian expansion Abdul Razzaq Shammari. The Iranian intelligence has resorted to promoting its claims through its media trumpets, pointing out that there are official Saudi tendencies seeking to establish a special conference to discuss the future of governance in Iraq, and that this conference will involve several important Iraqi figures.

According to a source in the U.A.E., Shammari has stressed that since the beginning of the protests in October, Tehran has reported schemes and conspiracies in order to abort the popular uprisings. He pointed out that he communicated with figures close to Raghad Saddam and she denied meeting with the Saudi ambassador to Jordan.

After being briefed on the Iranian plot, Shammari also contacted some of the figures whom Tehran has claimed were contacted by Saudi Arabia to form a political project uniting the Sunnis in Iraq by holding a conference bringing together prominent Iraqi figures.

Ironically, among the names of those allegedly invited to the conference are a number of deceased figures; the most prominent of them is the late Saif al-Mashhadani, who died four years ago.

In addition, the Iranian assault on the popular movement has sought to focus on mentioning ex-dictator Hussein’s Baathist party in Iraq and connecting them to the demonstrations. This is in order to intimidate Iraqi Shi’ite demonstrators and to portray the uprisings as belonging to the “banned” Baath party, which is unanimously opposed in Iraq.

Shammari added: “The Iranian regime claimed through its accounts and media sites and social media accounts that Saudi Arabia is seeking to prepare for a conference aimed at organizing a special project for the Sunnis in Iraq to kidnap the demand of the street. Also part of Iran’s plot is to intimidate protestors by warning of infiltration by organizations such as ISIS; especially after it emerged that many of its leaders are Baathists.”

Iran has not only attempted to implicate Saudi Arabia in the protest movement of the Iraqi street; it has also tried to implicate the Baathists, and this is intentional because most of the Iraqi people are concerned about the Baathists.

Tehran’s efforts to stop the current uprisings in Iraq, Lebanon, and Iran are similar to what it did when it stopped the popular movement in Iraq in 2013, under the pretext of standing up to ISIS. Now the pretext being used is to stand up to Western proxies and Saudi Arabia.

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Op-Ed: Standing in solidarity with Bangladeshi anti-rape protesters

Tue, 14/01/2020 - 22:21

Al Jazeera recently reported that a group of Bangladeshi demonstrators are protesting against the recent rape of a student at Dhaka University, one of the most prominent schools within the South Asian country.   According to the report, the demonstrators are demanding justice, something which does not happen enough within the country due to the country’s antiquated rape laws.  Shahela, a demonstrator, declared, “Rape is an unforgivable offense.  In Bangladesh, the punishment for rape is very slow.”  It is time for this to change and we in the international community should stand in solidarity with the protesters. 

According to Voice of America, over 1,000 people have been protesting against Bangladesh’s rape culture and the recent rape of this Bangladeshi student in particular.  The student was walking home from a friend’s home when she was grabbed from behind, gagged, attacked and raped.  She is now hospitalized.  Deutche Welle reported that the protesters are demanding: “No more rape.  We want justice.  We want a higher punishment.”      

In recent times, Bangladesh’s rape culture has only gotten worse and this student at Dhaka University is far from the only victim.  The Dhaka Tribune reported that Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), a Bangladeshi human rights organization, reported that the number of rapes doubled within Bangladesh over the past year.  The Dhaka Tribune reported that a total of 1,413 women were either gang-raped or subjected to rape in Bangladesh in 2019.  Dozens of them were killed afterwards and 10 others committed suicide following the rape.

According to the report, the number of rape victims was 732 in 2018 and 818 in 2017.   ASK claims that the number of rape victims in Bangladesh is actually much higher but many victims refrain from reporting such incidents to the police due to the fact that they don’t believe the authorities will grant them justice.   According to the Dhaka Tribune, only 3% of rapists are actually convicted in Bangladesh, even though Bangladeshi law stipulates that rapists are supposed to get a death penalty.  

Farah Kabir, the country director of the Bangladesh Legal Aid and Service Trust, proclaimed: “Civil society organizations must advocate for the reform of rape laws, particularly to broaden the definition of rape. Is it acceptable for an aspiring middle income country and ‘Digital Bangladesh’ to still be bound by colonial era laws dating back to 1855? Rape is rape whether it occurs in the public or private sphere and we call for criminalizing marital rape, especially because we live in a country where the vast majority of women face intimate partner violence from their husbands. If we cannot guarantee basic protection of the 51% of the population who are women, then who are these laws serving and what purpose are they fulfilling? Reform to rape laws we have seen thus far have resulted from the continued advocacy of civil society and there is a need for this movement to continue until rape laws are reformed to ensure gender equality.”

Former Bangladeshi Justice Minister A.F.M Abdur Raham concurred, “The definition of rape is yet to be updated, despite the enactment or amendment of special laws in 1995, 2000 and 2003. My experience in applying the Acid Control Act of 2002 and Acid Crime Prevention Act of 2002 over the years has led me to believe that there could be instructive lessons here for reform of rape laws, in terms of careful drafting and coordination of medical and psycho-social responses with legal responses. Action is necessary to reduce the incidence of rape, to focus on prevention and to ensure justice for victims. It is unfortunate, but whenever there is a discussion on amending any law, the lawmakers and parliamentary representatives think about increasing punishment rather than ensuring justice and prevention of rape incidents. The laws need to be amended but at the same time, we need to work harder to stop such incidents, including taking initiatives to build greater social morality in people.”

In order to demonstrate their solidarity with the Bangladeshi anti-rape protesters, the international community should demand that the Bangladeshi government form an independent commission of inquiry in order to investigate the lack of justice for rape victims within the country and should update Bangladeshi rape laws so that they are in accordance with acceptable international standards and norms.  What is the purpose of having a law stating rapists must get the death penalty if only 3% of rapists are actually convicted and thus face justice?  Indeed, it would be better to live in a society that merely imprisons rapists yet ensures that the vast majority of rapists are locked up behind bars rather than roaming around the streets, continuously terrorizing women and girls.   The international silence over Bangladesh’s rape culture should end now.  After all, Me Too is not an exclusively American movement.  It should be internationalized and include every nation across the planet.  

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Foreign Policy Quiz

Mon, 13/01/2020 - 20:49


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What It’s Like Being a Second Generation Refugee

Fri, 10/01/2020 - 18:38

My earliest memories of Israel go back to the October 1973 war, a child, I already “knew” Israel is an invader in what was a sleepy part of planet earth. Despite radio and tv stations everywhere claiming Arab victories,  even then I knew this was fake news, kids know liars from their intonation.

It’s hard to imagine Israel was only 25 years old. Looking back, Lebanon’s media coverage of the war(s), and the coverage of the concept of Israel proper, was probably the least fictional compared to other Arab outlets boasting about victories.

Even then, I don’t think I ever sensed real hope for a return to Yaffa from anyone. My father never looked back, the trauma must have been too painful, everyone in his family admitted to themselves they will never return, not a word uttered about going back, not at home, not in family gatherings, not on TV, the goal had moved to recovering the West Bank and Sinai. The shame was overwhelming hence the denial. The photo of the Bauhaus style family house in Jaffa’s Ajami district that my grandmother kept in her bedside table is engraved in my memory still.

For most people, life went on, everyone I knew was employed and making ends meet, Lebanon welcomed and offered a good start to many migrants. Entrusted with liberating Palestinian lands, the PLO and its factions looked nothing like the humans I knew, they carved a persona associated with Nasser, the Soviet Union, Guevara and other bullies this teenager saw through his Catholic school educated eyes. They wanted a people that look like them, rather than the other way round, refugees don’t have the luxury to elect their leaders after all.

As time went by, the Qadiya, (the Palestinian Cause) took center stage with all despots, destroying Israel was a rallying tool used from Baghdad to Algiers and even Tehran to rally and pacify masses, these despots hijacked, confiscated and traded the Qadiya. When Sadat surprised the world with his courageous visit to the Knesset in Jerusalem, there was hope of recovering the West Bank, Jerusalem and even the Golan Heights, there was hope for peace, I heard adults whispering about driving back to Jaffa, retracing the short trip many Palestinians took to Beirut after the Deir Yassine massacre. Shamir and Sharon aborted all hope, cementing a relationship of hate and domination, soon after, in 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon, seeing Israeli soldiers parading in Beirut was nauseating, as a teenager, my relationship with Israel was minted. “I am moving on with my life, not looking back, I will build a new life turning my back to the Mediterranean’s eastern shore”, a feeling millions in the region have experienced as they were forced to seek refuge in safer lands. The ideas of the right of return or fair compensation never crossed my mind, I had the luxury to be able to say: The land and the right of return are non-negotiable.

Fast forward 36 years, on the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (the Palestinian catastrophe), my father surprised me when he spoke on the right of return for the first time, in a few well-chosen words, he set my compass straight: The right of return is sacred, Jerusalem is the capital of the Palestinian people, Israel is an invader, anything less than a one state solution is unacceptable.

Not one day goes by for him without a thought set in Jaffa. How can we, refugees, skip a day of yearning to return when we read and see daily trespasses onto a dehumanized people stripped of their dignity by tourists from around the world who are invited to settle and expel the indigenous inhabitants, that is how we Palestinian refugees see it. Injustice and the pain of exodus have an inextinguishable flame it seems, and the flame is alive with my children, third generation refugees, born less than a mile from where the Balfour Declaration is saved.

Many moderate Palestinians paid too high a cost for speaking up on the issue, on one side the establishments (with an s for we have two competing Palestinian authorities mired in problems on both sides of the 48 Palestine) fear their grip on the Qadiya is weakening, attacks come from every side of the spectrum. Remaining committed to a return to Palestine is not an easy choice for the next generations, surely the refusal to naturalize Palestinians wherever they are in the Arab countries has kept that flame burning bright.

The idea of peaceful coexistence has proven an illusion until now, but we must be ready to return, accept a one state solution, and we must start planning now; Before long, Israel will celebrate 100 years of occupation, will it be able to maintain apartheid state practices? Until a fair one state solution is accepted by Palestinians, the injustice and dehumanization Israel is committing on a daily basis against Palestinians living under occupation or as refugees will continue to haunt Jewish people in Israel and beyond.


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Elections in Ireland by April 24?

Thu, 09/01/2020 - 18:13

Seamless border at risk:  on the left, County Armagh, NI, UK; on the right, County Louth, Republic of Ireland (Google Maps)

The timing of elections in Ireland could be decided in early January

The leaders of Ireland’s main political parties, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil, will meet in early January to decide the date of general elections. Although not required until spring 2021, snap elections could take place in January or February or closer to Easter, perhaps April 24.

Leo Varadkar‘s Fine Gael party has led the government for nine years. It has come under domestic pressure on issues like housing, health care, and the divergent paths of the economy in different regions. Ireland’s larger question is on the Brexit negotiations and managing the new border between it and the UK.

Trouble at Home

Adversaries gathered on RTE Radio 1 to debate the issues. Fianna Fáil’s Malcolm Byrne described the choice in the upcoming election between the “current, tired government and a gaggle of independents” and a “very progressive centrist government” of Fianna Fáil, Labor, Greens, and possibly Social Democrats. Pressed whether such a coalition would be viable, Byrne argued it would be “stronger and more stable” than the current government.

Byrne promised major investment in public services.  Key issues are health and housing, along with transportation, education, mental health, and the rural communities.

Fine Gael’s Catherine Noone defended the government, explaining that unemployment of 4.8 percent is historically low and that affordable housing units are being built. But independent senator Alice Mary Higgins emphasized that economic fortunes vary between the more prosperous “Dublin bubble” and the smaller towns.  Young adults are leaving rural areas, facing half-shuttered main streets and unemployment exceeding 20 and sometimes 30 percent.

Higgins said the 2020s need to be a “decade of action” on climate change, sustainable development, and a stronger role for government with insurance, housing, and energy. She and Sinn Fein senator Paul Gavan warn against the idea that the choice is between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil. In their judgment the two parties are similarly tied to the vested interests of industry. The Irish election may shape up like a presidential election between two candidates, Varadkar and Fianna Fáil’s Micheal Martin, instead of among a variety of parties.

Brexit: What’s Next?

International pressures loom over these domestic issues – above all, Brexit. Varadkar will travel in January to the World Economic Forum in Davos and in March to Boston and Washington. During February and March, the EU will be determining its Brexit positions, in preparation for the EU summit in Brussels on 26-27 March.

University of Pennsylvania’s Brendan O’Leary has raised some of these questions from short-term and long-term perspectives. He discussed at American University in Washington that “Brexit” had always been a misnomer. It wasn’t the large island of Britain that was to leave the EU, but the whole of the United Kingdom – “UKexit”. But the prospect of reintroducing a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and the UK’s Northern Ireland threatens the 1998 Good Friday Agreement (aka Belfast Agreement) and raises fears of a return to the violence of the past. Proposals now put that border between Northern Ireland and Britain instead, creating a new problem for the UK. Meanwhile, the Good Friday Agreement ensures that citizens of Northern Ireland – but not of England or Scotland – will remain citizens of the European Union.

The withdrawal agreement and the terms of a future relationship – and even a timeline for deciding them – have yet to be fully determined. UK prime minister Boris Johnson has a new parliamentary majority to support him. But an agreement of anything more than just trade would require unanimity from EU members. Ominously for Johnson, long-term questions about the future of Northern Ireland and Scotland leaving the UK lie just over the horizon.

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Operation Vengeance

Wed, 08/01/2020 - 21:06
The U.S. Assassinated the Japanese Admiral Who Planned Pearl Harbor by Shooting Him Down

With the current escalation of tensions between the US and its Allies in the Middle East against Iran and its proxy forces in the region, there have been questions around the legitimacy of actions taken by both sides. With escalating actions against US and Western interests in the Persian Gulf and a final act against the US Embassy in Baghdad, an act that mirrored the actions against US diplomats during the Revolution in Iran and in Libya, the US responded with force.

It is a clear violation of International Law to deny protection to foreign embassies, and it is a more severe violation to take physical action against any foreign embassy or its officials. This standard was reached by the international community so that diplomacy could be commenced without the fear of physical reprisals against members of foreign dignitaries attempting to negotiate peace or de-escalate conflict. The standard under international law is that a foreign embassy is considered a part of that country, and entering or invading it is tantamount to entering their soil. Part of this law is that the host nation must also defend the embassy and their staff against any threats of violence. Without these rules, international diplomacy would suffer greatly. Every country in the world complies by these rules, and it is extremely rare that a country would opt to challenge this status quo under international law.

Another question of international law is whether or not the violence taken against citizen protesters in Iran and Iraq that challenges Iran’s government and their proxy forces is in itself illegal under international law. The death of protesters lead to the removal of Iraq’s Prime Minister and President recently in response to Iran’s role in Iraq. Approximately 1500 protesters in Iran have been murdered recently as well. Those victims in both countries should be immediately considered in any response and dialogue if there is a discussion of the current tensions between the governments in conflict. If they are not respected, then any claim of actions under international law should be measured against illegal actions against innocent protesters.

The response and death of a foreign General operating in a military mission on foreign soil has taken place in the past, it was called Operation Vengeance. Japanese Admiral Yamamoto was shot down during the Solomon Islands campaign during the Second World War after American intelligence discovered that he would be flying over a combat zone during the campaign. His transport bomber was shot down by American planes and he was killed. It was taken as a response to his role in planning attacks on the United States, mainly Pearl Harbor. While the question of proportional response is currently in debate over recent actions in Iraq, there was a clear mandate for American forces to kill one of Japan’s most important commanders, an individual that had cost so many American and Allied lives. This also gave a boost to American morale, as well as enabled for a tactically better position for US forces in the campaign in the Pacific.

When operating in a military capacity on foreign soil, the risk of loss is real and is common in conflict zones. Power plays a great role in International Law, with the acceptance of a legal norm that one who asks for protection under International Law must have clean hands, meaning that you cannot ask the law for protection while violating that same law. Diplomacy must be paramount of course, and it is why dialogue and resisting threats against consular officials must be respected under International Law. Without these age old norms established between nations in conflict in the past, the world would become a much more precarious and dangerous place.

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2019 Review: Main Political Events in Africa

Tue, 07/01/2020 - 16:00

Africa welcomed 2019 with reports about the coup in Gabon and ushered it out with elections in Guinea-Bissau. In the meantime, there have been enough challenges since January 2019. In order to analyze the main political events in Africa, they are divided into 5 categories: political situation and elections, security background, peace initiatives, regional integration and international cooperation.

The political situation.
  1. Uprisings in Algeria and Sudan.

In Algeria, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika resigned on April 2, 2019, after months of mass protests. He had held office as the president for 20 years. But the protests are still ongoing; activists demand a full political reboot of the country.

In Sudan, mass protests began in December 2018. On April 11, 2019, Bashir was ousted in a military coup d’état. On August 17, the military administration and leaders of the Sudanese civil opposition signed an agreement and formed a sovereign council to govern the country.

  1. Ethnic crisis in Ethiopia.

Against the background of the transition to liberal democracy, Abiy Ahmed Ali’s government has to find a solution for ethnic tensions in Ethiopia. These tensions spiraled into a coup attempt (in Amhara region on the night of June 22), periodical manifestations (in October 2019) and regional referendum (Sidama people voted for their own region in November).

  1. The escalation of the political situation in Guinea.

In mid-October 2019, protests began in Guinea against the decision of President Alpha Conde. His second term ends next year. But his opponents say the president wants to make amendments to Constitution, which will allow him to run for a third term in 2020. Protests take place every week as opposition forces urge people to manifest until the president gives up his intentions.

  1. Nigeria – Muhammadu Buhari won the presidential election in February (56%). His opponent, Atiku Abubakar, intended to challenge the election, but the court rejected his petition.
  2. South Africa – In May, 57.5% of people voted in favor of the African National Congress (ANC) in the general election, Cyril Ramaphosa became the president.
  3. Botswana – The Botswana Democratic Party achieved a majority of seats in the National Assembly and Mokgweetsi Masisi became the president.
  4. Tunisia – The presidential election was held in September. Kais Saied beat off Nabil Karoui (76.9%). Significantly, Said was not among the predicted favorites of the presidential race.
  5. Mauritania – Mohamed Ould Ghazouani has achieved victory, he is nominee and successor of the previous head of state Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz. The protests burnt out in Nouakchott and Nouadhibou, people demanded to challenge the elections. Meanwhile, Ghazouani took an oath as president.

Security background.
  1. Ongoing conflicts.

Conflicts still run in Nigeria (Boko Haram), DRC, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Libya, Somalia, CAR. Certainly, such factors as bad governance, competition for natural resources, ethnic heterogeneity, lack of political will complicate the solution.

  1. Protests in South Africa.

On September 1, riots and robberies broke out in Johannesburg and the protesters burned foreign-owned stores. In response, Nigerians began smashing South African shops in at least three states in Nigeria. Also, Kenya, the African Union Commission, Ethiopia, Zambia, Botswana condemned the attacks.

  1. Military operation in the Sahel.

In November, France launched the military operation Bourgou 4 in Burkina Faso. France carries out the operation in the area of three borders between Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali. Moreover, France has already deployed 4,500 militants in the Sahel region.

  1. Kremlin’s hand in Africa.

In June, the Guardian received secret documents, which cast light upon Russian influence in Africa. Military company The Wagner Group under the leadership of Yevgeny Prigozhin operated in the CAR, Sudan, Madagascar, Libya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, South Sudan, Chad, Zambia, and DRC. Moreover, secret documents indicate that Uganda, Equatorial Guinea, Mali, Libya and Ethiopia are countries for further possible “cooperation”.

Peace initiatives.
  1. Peace between Rwanda and Uganda.

Presidents Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) and Paul Kagame (Rwanda) signed a peace agreement in the capital of Angola to end diplomatic feuds.

The relations between the two neighboring countries had been strained over the past three years for a variety of reasons. Among them are interference in internal affairs, support for opposition forces within the neighboring country.

The feud between Uganda and Rwanda diminished regional capacity to deal with other crises in the Great Lakes region. In addition, the crisis also brought economic losses: limited movement across the Uganda-Rwanda border reduced trade within EAC.

  1. Peace in Mozambique.

On August 1, political forces FRELIMO and RENAMO signed a peace agreement to solve the conflict, which had been lasting since the Cold War. The agreement enabled the election, which took place on October 15.

So, FRELIMO won the elections and Filipe Nucie would be the president for next term. However, RENAMO is contesting the election results.

  1. Anglophone Crisis in Cameroon.

In early October, the country hosted a “National Dialogue” aimed at ending the Anglophone Crisis. The agreements on special status for two English-speaking regions, the election of local governors, and the return of the previous name of the country are among Dialogue’s results. In December, Cameroon passed a law on the special status of these provinces, enabling them to develop their own education and justice policies.

Regional integration.
  1. Free trade zone.

In July African states signed the agreement for creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AFCFTA). The FTA will become effective on May 1, 2020, with headquarter in Accra, Ghana.

The agreement provides a single trade market and movement of capital and people. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) will cover a market of 1.2 billion people and a gross domestic product (GDP) of $2.5 trillion, across all 55 member states of the African Union.

  1. The new currency for ECOWAS.

From 2020, 8 members of  ECOWAS will use new currency – “ECO” (like Euro for the EU) instead of the franc. The change applies to Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo in the first turn and then will target all other members of ECOWAS.

There are many obstacles approaching implementing the decision, but countries won’t be required to keep half of their foreign exchange reserves in the French Treasury. In addition, France’s influence on the currency management bodies of the countries will also be minimized.

International cooperation.
  1. Forum in Russia.

On October 23-24, the Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum took place in Sochi. The participants signed more than 50 deals, at a total value of more than 800 billion rubles. Moreover, African countries received 300 cooperation offers in different fields.

The event was a signal of Russia’s willingness to participate actively in the “battle for Africa”. Although the focus was on economic cooperation, the Forum became an instrument to promote the main goal of Russia in Africa. It’s political influence through the control over natural resources and military support.

  1. The awarding the Nobel Peace Prize 2019 to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali.

His major achievement is solving the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea, which has destabilized the region for 20 years. In close cooperation with Isaias Afwerki, the President of Eritrea, Abiy Ahmed quickly worked out the principles of a peace agreement to end the long “no peace, no war” stalemate between the two countries. 

In short, 2019 was full of challenges for Africa. However, some of the above-mentioned main political events in Africa can be estimated as positive steps towards the continent’s peaceful growth.

But the key issue is the effectiveness of these initiatives. Some of these events, for example, the peace efforts in Mozambique and Cameroon, the new currency and the African Free Trade Area, have already faced several obstacles. The basic prerequisite for overcoming these obstacles is the political will of the leaders. A clear demonstration of this is the peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which has ended the 20-year conflict.

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Foreign Affairs Quiz

Mon, 06/01/2020 - 21:59

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Foreign Affairs Quiz

Thu, 02/01/2020 - 21:41

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Foreign Affairs Quiz

Tue, 24/12/2019 - 16:30


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Op-Ed: London terror attack highlights how ISIS has grown in Asia

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 18:08

After the collapse of the Caliphate in Syria and Iraq, ISIS has attacked the London Bridge, killing two people and wounding three others.  According to the Islamic Theology on Counter-terrorism website, Usma Khan, a British Muslim of Pakistani Kashmiri descent, implemented the terror attack and was apparently part of an ISIS sleeper cell in the UK.  9 other people have been arrested in connection with this terror attack and two of them are of Bangladeshi origin.

The background of the latest ISIS terrorist who targeted the West and that of the other 9 terrorists connected to the terror incident highlights how much the war against ISIS is far from over and that ISIS merely transformed into an underground movement, which can strike terror anywhere in the world.  Furthermore, while the ISIS Caliphate in the Middle East may have fallen, ISIS is now on the ascent in Asia and the recent terror attack in London highlights how this can adversely affect the West.

Earlier this year, ISIS proclaimed that they now have a province in Kashmir.  The name of the ISIS province in Kashmir is Wilayah of Wind.  A few months after that, Foreign Affairs published an article claiming that the number of ISIS fighters, suicide bombers, training programs and propaganda videos originating in Asia have grown steadily.   Nevertheless, despite this, there is a lack of public awareness in the United States regarding the extent to which ISIS has grown in Asia following the collapse of the Caliphate. 

This is why the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka took people by surprise.  And this is also why it is not just a coincidence that the ISIS terrorist who stood behind the London Bridge terror attack was of Pakistani Kashmiri origin.  Since the collapse of the Caliphate, ISIS has been looking for new bases.  Given Hindu-Muslim tensions in the Indian subcontinent, it does appear natural that ISIS would consider the Kashmir region a good place to set up camp and would inspire a Pakistani Kashmiri to implement a terror attack on the London Bridge. 

However, Kashmir is not the only region in Asia that radical Islam has made inroads in.  Recently, four Muslims gang raped and murdered Dr. Priyanka Reddy and then burned her body alive in Hyderabad, India.  While news agencies across the world have reported on this brutal gang rape, not many have publicized the fact that this Hindu woman was a victim of radical Islamist violence and was targeted specifically because she was not Muslim.  She was not merely a victim of India’s rape culture like the American media portrayed her to be.  In fact, radical Muslims have been systematically raping Hindu girls ever since Article 370 on Kashmir was lifted.  Therefore, the gang rape and murder of Priyanka Reddy should be viewed in the framework of this.   Thus, what ISIS did to the Yezidis in Syria and Iraq could also easily happen to Hindus in the Indian subcontinent. 

Shipan Kumer Basu, President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, noted that anti-Hindu violence has been on the ascent recently in Bangladesh.  Many of these attacks are implemented by ISIS and other radical Islamists.  According to the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis, following the ISIS Easter bombings in Sri Lanka, ISIS declared a new emir of the Bengal region, otherwise known as Bangladesh.  This was around the same period of time that ISIS declared a new province in Kashmir.   Thus, it could indicate where else in Asia ISIS could potentially expand into.    

Furthermore, Basu noted that the Bangladeshi government is turning a blind eye to ISIS incitement: “Sheikh Hasina permitted two ISIS convicts responsible for the Holy Artisan terror attack to show up in a Dhaka courtroom wearing hats with the ISIS logo on them.   How did one of the most talked about terrorists carry a cap emblazoned with the ISIS logo onto it to a Dhaka courtroom and then proceed to put it on for all to see?  How did the person then continue wearing the cap while surrounded by law enforcers?  And finally, where did the caps come from?  These burning questions were on the minds of everyone in court and on social media.” 

“I urge the international community to save the minorities of Bangladesh from ISIS and its enablers,” Basu proclaimed. “Sheik Hasina seeks to ethnically cleanse Hindus, Buddhists and Christians from Bangladesh and for this reason, turns a blind eye to the approaching ISIS menace. If the international community does not take action, within the next decade, there will be no more minorities in Bangladesh. There is no any alternative except uprooting Sheikh Hasina from power and restoring democracy within Bangladesh.  If the West wants to prevent the next London terror attack, they cannot ignore what happens in Kashmir, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and other areas of Asia.  Therefore, I call upon the world to wake up and smell the coffee before it is too late.”


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Foreign Policy Quiz

Mon, 02/12/2019 - 16:11

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Op-Ed: Where is the outrage over the plight of persecuted Christians?

Wed, 27/11/2019 - 16:00


If one watches CNN, the Trump impeachment hearings and the British elections dominate headlines.  Next down on the list is the earthquake that recently struck Albania and global warming.  It as if with the collapse of the ISIS Caliphate, the world believes that Christians are no longer being persecuted and it is time to move onto other issues.  However, this portrayal given by CNN and other major American media outlets does not reflect the reality presently.   From Syria and Iran to Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Korean Peninsula, Christians are still being persecuted for their faith.

In a recent interview, Pastor Saeed Abedini, who recently won $47 million dollars in a lawsuit against the Iranian regime, stated that the Iranian regime intensely persecutes Evangelical Christians for it is illegal to evangelize in the Islamic Republic.  He related that legal churches such as the Assembly of God Church Central Tehran, where he worked, were told that if they evangelized, the authorities would shut down their church.  For this reason, Pastor Abedini decided to set up an unground church movement, which became the largest church in Iran within three years: “We had hundreds of churches in 30 cities.” 

When he led the House Church Movement, Pastor Abedini also helped foreign Christians who came to Iran: “I helped 300 South Korean missionaries in Iran.  The South Koreans sent 300 missionaries to Iran in order to start churches but they could not start anything after two years.  Most of the Muslims lied to them in order to take their money.  They were used and abused.  Then I helped them to evangelize the Muslims.  I invited them to come and to teach in my churches.  I had 300 underground churches in Iran.    We helped them a lot until one night, those 300 missionaries got arrested and deported back to South Korea.  Their security was terrible.  The Iranian government easily found them.”

For the crime of spreading Christ’s gospel, Pastor Abedini was sentenced to eight years in prison (of which he served three and a half) and spent several months under house arrest.  Prior to that, he was arrested 12 times.  However, the last imprisonment was the worst for him: “I saw a real hell with my own eyes.  They tortured me every day, every minute, every second.  So many of my friends were tortured and they destroyed so many families.  I slept in the cold underground.  I slept with an open window in the winter.  They made the cell wet in the winter and forced me to sleep on the wet floor.  They wanted me to die.  They told people to kill and rape me.  They said I deserved death.  They encouraged and even forced other prisoners to attack me physically but since I was into martial arts, I defended myself.  The guards also attacked me.  I was beaten. My interrogator who beat me asked me to write I raped and beat my female church members.  They wanted to show the news agencies that this is the American pastor lifestyle.  When I resisted, they started to beat me.  People die after getting a bleeding stomach like I had.  For two months, I could not go to the restroom.  I had a stomach like a pregnant woman.  It was a miracle I did not die.  They threatened to execute me a thousand times.”

Pastor Abedini also noted that the Iranian regime employs sexual violence against Evangelical Christians like him: “They had a plan to kidnap my sister in the bible school and to confine her next to me and to rape her and to let me watch her getting raped.  Fortunately, she was saved and went to the US.  England refused to protect her. So many of my female church members, they raped them and got them pregnant and then forced them to do an abortion.  And then they were in prison for years where they were tortured and had half of their face destroyed.”     

Pastor Abedini was even denied basic human rights like the right to sleep and to eat properly: “Every time I fell asleep, they did not let me sleep.  They forced me to eat when I was sleepy.   I was going to die.  I was so sleepy I did not want to eat.  It made me crazy.  Every night at 6pm, they brought other prisoners, tens of them and beat them and broke their bones right behind the door of my cell in order to let me see and hear.  I could hear people yelling for help.  They let me hear and watch.  They did this in order to make me weak so that I can deny Christ and to give away church members IDs.  I was in solitary confinement.  No other prisoner was my friend for if they befriended me, they would be tortured and be unable to see their family.  Every day five days per day, they blasted a loudspeaker in my cell.  It drove me crazy.”

While Pastor Abedini is now a free man, many other Christians remain imprisoned and persecuted in the Islamic Republic of Iran merely for following their faith.  Pastor Victor Bet-Tamraz was sentenced to 10 years in prison and is presently jailed in Iran for holding prayer services in the Farsi language.  9 other Christians are facing 5 years in prison for attending a church service in someone’s home.  UK Ambassador Miriam Shearman told the Christian Institute recently, “We remain deeply concerned by Iran’s failure to uphold international legal obligations and its arbitrary detention of citizens and duel nationals on unclear charges, denied due process and subject to mistreatment.”  Iran is one of the worst countries for Christians on earth.  Open Doors ranks Iran as the ninth worst country for Christians on the planet.

In the areas controlled by Turkey in Syria, Sherkoh Abbas, President of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria, noted that as we speak, Christians, Kurds and Yezidis are being ethnically cleansed from the region.  He told US President Donald Trump that if he thinks the region is peaceful now, he should speak to the Kurds, Yezidis and Christians who were forced out of their homes by Erdogan’s government: “The jihadists supported by Turkey view the Christians, Yezidis and Kurds as pro-Assad because they refused to join the Syrian Revolution.  They are punishing the Christians, Yezidis and Kurds right now.  They want to change the demographics according to what Turkey wants.  They are doing atrocities, wiping out churches, homes, cities and taking over, house by house.  They view Christians, Kurds and Yezidis as non-believers that must be eliminated and are a threat to the Khalifa of Turkey.  An Armenian religious leader was killed by groups belonging to Turkey.   A 14-year-old girl from Afrin was kidnapped and taken away.  They bomb homes.  They kidnap, rape and kill in order to force people to leave.”  

Further east, Pakistan Today reported that 1,000 Christians and Hindus are abducted and forcefully converted to Islam every year in the predominately Muslim country.  A report from Church in Need UK reported that many Christian parents in Pakistan are compelled to give their children Muslim names so they won’t be abused.  As Bishop Shukardin proclaimed, “Most of the minorities and especially the Christians are afraid of attacks and fear persecution.  If the West strikes against Muslims anywhere in the world, enraged Muslims in Pakistan often attack churches.  The minorities are considered infidels and they are depicted negatively in the textbooks, which promote prejudice against minorities.  The fundamentalists believe that Islam is the only complete religion and that salvation can only be found in the Quran.”

This month alone, International Christian Concern reported that a mob of 50 Muslims murdered Sonia Sarwar, a Pakistani Christian teenager.  International Christian Concern reported that the attack was aimed at displacing 10 Christian families from Lahore.  In a separate instance this month, a Pakistani Christian home was burned to the ground because its owners refused to sell it to Muslims.   Manzoor Masih told International Christian Concern: “I never thought we would face so much hatred for not selling our home.  It is really heart-breaking.”   And Gonilla Gill, a Pakistani Christian journalist, was forced to resign because she could no longer handle the pressure from co-workers to leave her faith: “People are vile.  They talk rubbish about my faith.  However, I will not lose hope and will remain steadfast in my religion.”

Sadly, the situation is not much better in Bangladesh.  Shipan Kumer Basu, President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, stated in a recent interview: “One event that illustrates the vulnerability of Christians occurred in July 2018.  A young woman named Shirpa was attacked by three young radical Muslim men.  They forced their way into her home, where they tried to rape her.  They also verbally attacked her and threatened to kill her and another person in their home if she did not take off her clothes.  The assailants took a video of her naked and then threatened they would post it on Facebook if she ever told anyone about the incident.   In the end, tragically, Shirpa killed herself, leaving behind a husband and two children.  This is not an isolated example. In 2018, there were six attacks on churches in Bangladesh.   Several Christians were injured in an attack upon a church in Chittagong Hill Tracts.”    

Further east in the Korean Peninsula, Open Doors USA reported that Christians in North Korea are viewed as a hostile element that have to be eradicated: “If Christians are discovered, not only are they deported to labor camps as political criminals or even killed on the spot.  Their families will share their fate as well.   Christians do not even have the slightest space in society.  On the contrary, they are publicly warned against.   Meeting other Christians in order to worship is almost impossible and if some believers dare to do so, it has to be done in utmost secrecy.”  While Open Doors USA reported that there was hope in 2018 that diplomatic efforts would lead to an improvement in the plight of Christians in North Korea, this hope has now faded.  Like following the Iranian nuclear deal, renewed diplomatic efforts with the North Korean regime have done nothing in order to improve human rights and minority rights in the Korean peninsula.  

While many acknowledge that Christians are persecuted in the Muslim world and in communist dictatorships like North Korea, a recent UN General Assembly resolution highlighted that religious persecution can also take place in democratic countries like South Korea.  According to this recent resolution, members of the Shincheonji Church, a newly rising denomination in South Korea that have recently graduated 100,000 theologians in a special ceremony, have fallen victim to deprogramming.  Deprogramming occurs where members of the church are abducted, imprisoned and tortured until they renounce their faith at the instigation of another rival church, in this case the Christian Council of Korea: “Deprogramming involves several instances of serious violence including forced use of drugs and rape.  Deprogramming is considered a crime in the US, Europe and in Japan.  In fact, one of the few countries where deprogramming is still going on is the Republic of Korea, not coincidentally a country where many new religious movements and new churches flourish.” 

According to Human Rights Without Frontiers, over 1,200 South Koreans suffered from deaths, family breakdown and mental trauma due to forced conversions committed by the Christian Council of Korea.   In a letter signed by 15 international NGOs to South Korean President Moon Jae, they proclaimed: “South Korea may be the last democratic country in the world where deprogramming is still tolerated.”  They asked the South Korean President to “investigate in-depth accusations of forceful deprogramming, to put a stop to this obnoxious practice and to hold those fully accountable.”   Even though deprogramming has taken the lives of victims since 2007, the South Korean government has not yet responded to the issue.  In the United States and around the world, there is very little public awareness on the subject. 

The time has come for the United States, the EU, the UN and the international community to start paying attention to the persecution of Christians worldwide.  The time has come for the American media to stop neglecting what happens in Asia and to start to pay attention to what happens outside of the America’s and Europe.   A faith is presently being persecuted for their beliefs and the world has turned a blind eye to it.  It is time for this to change.  


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Foreign Policy Quiz

Mon, 25/11/2019 - 17:09

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The Myth of Beijing’s “Ecological Civilization”

Fri, 22/11/2019 - 16:54
Will Beijing’s Mandarin-centered conception of ‘Ecological Civilization’ truly respect and appreciate neighboring countries’ cultures? (Photo Credit:

Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a massive transcontinental infrastructural investment project focused across Eurasia, stretching from Asia to Europe to Africa. According to a 2019 World Bank report on the BRI, the project has created economic opportunities for 71 “corridor economies” that account for 35% of global foreign direct investments and 40% of global merchandise exports (including China) at the investment cost of US $575 billion (excluding China). When completed, the project’s contributions to the affected regions are expected to include a reduce in travel time by 12%, a boost in trade from 2.7% to 9.7%, and a raise in income by 3.4%, helping 7.6 million people to escape from extreme poverty. Despite its boons, the project also poses commensurable challenges to the recipient economies’ debt management, global/regional governance, and most importantly, their regional-level enhancement of environmental standards. A 2017 WWF report asserts that the project’s potentially devastating impacts on the affected regions’ biodiversity cannot be overemphasized; the regions overlap with 1739 important bird areas, 46 Global 200 Ecoregions, and the natural habitats of 265 endangered species, of which 39 are critically endangered. Nevertheless, the political features of the BRI’s approach to regional ecological and environmental cooperation are dominantly guided by the ideological principle of an “ecological civilization,” which prioritizes Mandarin-centric values over the globally shared value of “sustainable development.” Such a hyper-nationalist conception of environmental sustainability is also substantively manifested in a BRI document published in May 2017, The Belt and Road Ecological and Environmental Cooperation Plan. The document reads, “To 2025, we will integrate the concepts of ecological civilization and green development into Belt and Road Initiative and create a favorable pattern of well-grounded cooperation on eco-environmental protection.” Here, the meta-analytic “integration” of a “favorable pattern” leaves room for reasonable suspicion that the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) aims to promote a process-disregarding, politically coercive environmental policy convergence in the corridor economies affected by the BRI.

The genealogy of the term “ecological civilization” dates back to the early ‘80s when its root term, “ecological culture,” was first coined in a Soviet Marxist ecological work. An “ecological culture” was suggested as a possible way to cope against the “nuclear winter” (global cooling in the aftermath of the then possible nuclear war). After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Soviet optimism towards the role of communist technocratic rationality has been gradually succeeded by Chinese Marxist ecologists. During the 2000s, when the world’s most centralized technocratic country started to suffer both socially and environmentally from its one-dimensional hyper-economic-growth, the Chinese ecologists caught sight the political opportunity to put forward a similar idea. The term “ecological civilization” gained its political eminency in 2007 when it was endorsed in Hu Jintao’s work report to the 17th Communist Party Congress. It was later applied to legitimatize Xi Jinping’s “green” power concentration in 2013; a CCP organizational vehicle, the Task Force for the Promotion of Economic Development and Ecological Civilization was established to oversee business activities under the partisan manifesto for the “construction of ecological civilization.” Since the CCP’s adoption of the Central Opinion Document on Ecological Civilization Construction in 2015, a national campaign titled “Central Environmental Inspections” has earned the party US $216 million in fine revenues from the exceedingly high number of 29,000 companies and at the cost of imprisoning 1,527 citizens. The term, which was in its onset intended to complement the post-materialist themes of Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms (such as “spiritual civilization”) in the ‘80s, has erroneously evolved into strategic redistributive rhetoric for the concentration of the CCP’s authority over domestic environmental regulation.

Recently, some Chinese scholars have shown the tendency to conflate Marxist ecologism with constructive postmodernism as a way of accentuating state responsibility (CCP’s executive mandates) over legalism in domestic environmental regulation. Although criticizing legal standards for their lack of concern for social, political and anthropocentric aspects of environmental policy regulation, these scholars abuse the postmodern emphasis on “complexity” to advocate increasing state oversight of domestic businesses. They believe such a “manipulative frame” “can help Chinese ecological Marxists avoid the fallacy of ‘turning ecological Marxism into a weapon’ that only points at ‘foreign capitalist countries.’” In addition, they misapply the postmodern emphasis on “cultural diversity” to the Confucian notion of a “harmonious society” in their partisan aim of fostering Mandarin-centric domination over the country’s numerous indigenous cultures. Such strategies, albeit their current limitation to Beijing’s domestic governance, have dangerous implications for the BRI’s future role in Eurasia’s regional development, as well as in South–South cooperation. The postmodernist condonation of Mandarin-centrism during the process of interregional and international policy diffusion could ultimately lead to socioeconomically and socioculturally iniquitous policy convergence.  

Socioeconomically speaking, the BRI has already been long criticized for its now notorious “debt trap” diplomacy. In Central Asian countries in particular, Chinese economic power has filled the power vacuum left by Russia’s waning regional influence by way of lending loans and making investments in the region. What Beijing has consistently propagated as exemplary positive economic soft-power influence has nonetheless created chronic debt management and political corruption problems in the region, mainly due to the Chinese governments’ lack of transactional transparency. Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, for example, whose national debts are 41% and 53%, respectively, are now controlled by Beijing, and the countries are identified as two of the eight “debt-distress” corridor economies. Frequent corruption scandals in the two countries also testify to the fact that a significant portion of loans and investments from Beijing continuously flow into the pockets of local elites, fostering rigid economic cartels between Beijing and Central Asian elites. Such seamy aspects of Beijing’s “debt trap” diplomacy, along with other concomitant socioeconomic problems, have caused the spread of anti-Beijing sentiments across the region. This January’s outbreak of Kyrgyzstan’s largest anti-Beijing protests in history clearly demonstrates the public’s rising indignation against the cartel-fabricated reality. Overall, the BRI’s latest developments in Central Asia portend an emotionally unappealing, sociocultural inappropriate future for BRI-led interregional policy diffusion.

International society and regional stakeholders, including Russia, must together keep keen eyes on the possible moral damage caused by the BRI’s environmental policy diffusion (Russia, although a proponent of multiversalized contestation of science, endorses a secular scientific approach towards sustainable development ). Besides holding the BRI projects accountable to global standards in a rule-based manner, the stakeholder countries’ policy practitioners should also scrupulously evaluate and monitor whether the BRI projects’ agenda-setting democratically reflects regional constituents’ policy preferences rather than those of the interregional cartels between Beijing and Central Asian elites. Meanwhile, the stakeholder countries’ policy scholars should innovate new theoretical frameworks that preclude Chinese scholars’ possible abuse of postmodernism in justifying the coercive imposition of Mandarin-centric values on corridor economies.

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The Highlights and Lowlights of the ASEAN Bangkok Summits

Thu, 21/11/2019 - 20:22

The recent 35th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and other related summits in Bangkok fell below expectations, providing fodder to armchair sceptics who believe such summits are a waste of time. But on closer inspection, these summits can still be viewed as a glass half-full in reasserting ASEAN’s regionalism in the Indo-Pacific.


ASEAN centrality at its finest

The centrality of ASEAN was in all its full glory in Bangkok under the current chairmanship of Thailand. The agglomeration of ASEAN-centered multilateral summits, which were convened from 31 October to 5 November, included the principal ASEAN Summit, ASEAN+3 (China, Japan and South Korea) Summit, ASEAN-China Summit, ASEAN-US Summit, ASEAN-India Summit, Mekong-Japan Summit, ASEAN-United Nations Summit and the East Asia Summit. The primacy of ASEAN in shaping the regional affairs of the Indo-Pacific was underscored at this slew of summits, with some yielding better outcomes than others.


As with past ASEAN summits, the focus of the joint statements was intended to reaffirm the commitment of individual countries to fortify the centrality of ASEAN, principally through the three community pillars of political-security, economic and socio-cultural. Continuing the theme from the 34th ASEAN Summit, the focus was on pursuing sustainability of meeting needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of succeeding generations to meet their needs. These include managing existential threats not only to traditional, but also to non-traditional security such as climate change and natural disasters.


Efforts to re-imagine ASEAN as less elite-driven and more people-centric and people-friendly by way of promoting people-to-people diplomacy especially among youths had also intensified all through 2019.


Far from being seen as a proxy for the major powers, ASEAN is a useful fulcrum that manages great power relations in the Southeast Asian region. At a time when US-China trade spat shows little sign of receding, ASEAN provides a multilateral protective shield for its individual member-states through strengthening its regional institutions and fostering deeper regional cooperation both within and beyond Southeast Asia. 


India disappoints ASEAN

India’s decision to bow out of the mega-regional trade agreement known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) leaves behind a big void as India is one of the world’s fastest-growing trillion-dollar economies. India’s pull-out also dashed hopes of potentially sealing the RCEP deal in Bangkok after years of laborious negotiations, including direct talks with India to allay concerns and achieve a resolution.


But India’s open announcement on RCEP finally gave the green light for the other RCEP member-countries to now move ahead to resolve any remaining issues and reach a deal among themselves. India may even be doing them a favour by getting out of the way so as not to be a hurdle in getting RCEP over the line.


Although the other RCEP member-countries would prefer India to come on board, principally Singapore which has acted as the interlocutor from the beginning and Indonesia which has strengthened its maritime relations with India, they reaffirmed their commitment to get this trade deal done, with or without India. They are looking to reach an agreement by the next round of summits in 2020, which will occur in Vietnam.


While the door remains ajar for India to join the RCEP in the future, this is unlikely to take place under a Narendra Modi-led BJP government due to domestic political exigencies, as evidenced by a wave of anti-RCEP protests and lobbying by local businesses. It is unlikely to occur even under a Congress government, which has sought to take credit for compelling the BJP government to pull out of the RCEP. At this point, it is a delusion to think India will join RCEP, as RCEP + India seems more and more like a pipe-dream.


Rebuffing the RCEP contradicts India’s ‘Act East’ Policy of engaging eastwards, particularly Southeast Asia. Had India brought the RCEP into fruition, it could have been the pinnacle of the country’s ‘Act East’ Policy. Rather, India’s ‘Act East’ Policy suffered a setback with Prime Minister Modi pulling India out of the RCEP. India will now focus more on strengthening bilateral relations with individual countries in Southeast Asia, and on prioritizing minilateralist regional organisations such as the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC) and the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation.


It was also a missed opportunity for India not to have leveraged on the RCEP to bring closer the diverse regions of South Asia and Southeast Asia. This is because India can actually serve as a strategic gateway and act as a torchbearer of South Asian countries economically engaging Southeast Asia in a big way.


The disinterested United States

The absence of the US President Donald Trump from the ASEAN-US Summit reiterates the notion that he does not prioritize Southeast Asia in US foreign policy, and finds multilateralism to be unimportant. As a further affront to ASEAN, Trump dispatched a non-Cabinet member of his administration to represent him in Bangkok. As a tit-for-tat, most of the ASEAN heads-of-state chose to give the ASEAN-US Summit a miss.


Trump’s strategic ambivalence towards Southeast Asia, as evidenced by his no-show at two consecutive ASEAN Summits, signaled the receding US interest in the region and the reluctance to provide hegemonic leadership in the Indo-Pacific. The unavoidable outcome of American regional disengagement was ceding more geostrategic space to China. Trump’s insistence on transactional diplomacy premised on a quid pro quo has frustrated even countries, including those in the Indo-Pacific, that are sympathetic to US Interests.


Trump’s Bangkok absence may actually be a good thing as it has made ASEAN finally realize that engaging the US multilaterally is like flogging a dead horse. As an alternative, countries in Southeast Asia should strengthen their bilateral relations with the US. A network of overlapping bilateral linkages could provide a useful substitute to multilateral diplomacy in keeping the US engaged in the Southeast Asian region.


Governing conduct in the South China Sea

The ASEAN leaders accentuated the importance to finalize the Code of Conduct (COC), as the South China Sea (SCS) remains an arena for maritime contestation over disputed islands and waters. The SCS dispute remains an existential regional security matter that can destabilize the Southeast Asian region, especially if there continues to be outright naval confrontations, most notably between ASEAN members and China.


Notwithstanding the South China Sea fatigue, there is political fortitude among ASEAN members to keep a lid on this regional dispute before it goes out of hand as it would have dire geopolitical consequences. As such, the COC is meant to put in place a regional framework to govern the conduct of disputants in the SCS, including deescalating any conflicts diplomatically so as to keep the regional peace and stability.


The difficulty however is the lack of clarity on the legally-binding nature of the COC and the disagreements among claimants on how to bring the SCS dispute to a close. It remains a work in progress, but the longer the COC negotiations go on, the more likely there will be further eruptible regional flashpoints in the SCS. 


Expanding the Russian footprint in Southeast Asia

One other discernible positive from the Bangkok summits is that Russia has begun to take the Southeast Asian region more seriously though the auspices of ASEAN. This was evidenced by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev attending the East Asia Summit in Bangkok, and the declaration by Russian President Vladimir Putin to pivot towards Asia in its diplomatic strategy to “Turn to the East” beyond just China.


Right now, Russia’s footprint in Southeast Asia is moderate and unexceptional as opposed to other big powers, but the potential is immense for deeper engagement in Russia-Southeast Asia relations. One is in the area of arms and weaponry which Russia has been exporting to Southeast Asian countries. Perhaps at some point, Russia may want to step up bilateral defense exercises with Southeast Asian countries. The other is in trade, either conducted bilaterally or multilaterally between ASEAN and the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). The EEU-ASEAN collaboration is the path forward for Russia to engage Southeast Asia in a more incisive way whilst also providing Southeast Asia with a gateway to engaging Central Asia.


Thailand’s growing regional stature

Hosting a plethora of summits as ASEAN Chairman reflects the rising diplomatic stock of Thailand as an important player in regional affairs, and an aspirant middle power from Southeast Asia. Concomitantly, Thailand has been beefing up its bilateral relations with the much bigger countries namely China and India and to an extent, the US which is its ally. Thailand’s foreign policy posture has rejuvenated in recent years.


Especially after the 2019 Thai general election, there is now some semblance of domestic political stability within Thailand, which has enabled the country to conduct a more active foreign policy in bilateral and multilateral terms. The trilateral naval exercise which was conducted recently between Thailand and the other two countries of India and Singapore is a case in point. Known as SITMEX, the main aim is to enhance maritime relations between India and Southeast Asian countries in hopes of augmenting regional security.


Looking ahead to Vietnam 2020

As the next chair of ASEAN in 2020, Vietnam is likely to build on the progress made in Thailand 2019, but may carve out its own imprint on regional affairs. A primary litmus test post-Bangkok summits is whether ASEAN can bring RCEP into fruition sooner rather than later. Sealing the RCEP deal would underline the centrality of ASEAN in advancing Southeast Asian affairs. With India bowing out, concluding RCEP should now be a low-hanging fruit for ASEAN in 2020 when RCEP member-countries descend in Vietnam.


One high-hanging fruit for ASEAN however would be to enact the COC by 2021. The task will indeed be difficult but not impossible to achieve. As Vietnam is also a claimant in the SCS and shares a land border with China, it has a vested interest to hasten the progress of the COC in 2020 so that it can be enacted in Brunei, which will be ASEAN Chair in 2021. No doubt Vietnam’s diplomatic prowess will be tested in 2020.


Like Thailand in 2019, Vietnam will underline the paramount importance of mainland Southeast Asia in shaping regional affairs of Southeast Asia, principally through the auspices of ASEAN. To be sure, countries in mainland Southeast Asia have begun to play a more progressive role in recent years, and this can only bode well for ASEAN, which for many years were the preserve of countries from maritime Southeast Asia.


Under Vietnam’s stewardship, the Mekong-Ganga Cooperation will likely be rejuvenated, and as Thailand and Myanmar are also members of the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC), the Bay of Bengal may well become a critical node for inter-connectivity and hive of maritime activity, and importantly, enhance regional cooperation between South and Southeast Asia.


Above all, the Bangkok summits have clearly demonstrated that ASEAN is greater than the sum of its parts although every individual Southeast Asian country must pull its own weight to preserve ‘ASEAN centrality’. Despite challenges confronting regionalism such as domestic politics influenced by excessive nationalism and globalization which has threatened to make borders and regions irrelevant, regional cooperation has not been hampered. It will not be smooth-sailing for ASEAN going forward, but as the recent ASEAN-linked summits have shown, the potential for regional cooperation is immense and it has intensified. Regionalism has reasserted its importance, with ASEAN being the paragon of regional cooperation in the Indo-Pacific.

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Op-Ed: US media ignores ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Bangladesh

Wed, 20/11/2019 - 18:35

In recent days, Trump’s impeachment hearings and the US president reversing US policy on the Israeli settlements have dominated headlines in the American media.  It does not matter whether you are reading the Washington Post or watching CNN.   For the American media, it does not matter what happens in the rest of the world.  Anything that involves Trump automatically becomes front page news.  But is it ethnical that the American media behaves this way?  

Mass popular pro-democracy protests in China, Lebanon and Iran have been relegated to being back-page news.  The Iraqi popular protests against an Iranian proxy government are barely even mentioned in the American media anymore.   The plight of Syrian Kurds, Yezidis and Christians living under Turkish occupation has all been forgotten about.  Never mind that no one is getting ethnically cleansed or killed over the latest Trump scandal.  Most people care first of all about what is in their backyard and not what happens on the other end of the world, even if the incident abroad by its very nature should have been a greater news story.   Sadly, the American media reflects this bias.  

Given that this is the reality, it should surprise no one that the American media did not report that 200 Hindu families were forced from their homes by Muslim assailants in the Gopalganj district in Bangladesh in the first half of November, even though there were mass protests against it.  After all, Bangladesh is not located in Europe nor North America.  It is located in a poor region of Asia, which does not really influence developments in the US. 

Therefore, the American media does not value 200 Bangladeshi Hindus being forced from their homes in the same manner that they care about the latest scoop related to Trump.  After all, he is a rich white man, not a poor brown skin Bangladeshi Hindu.  In this manner, the American media turns a blind eye to the systematic abuse of human rights by the Sheikh Hasina government against the Bangladeshi Hindu community.   By not reporting on the plight of Hindus in Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina faces very few international repercussions for her human rights abuses and this is most unfortunate.

Bangladeshi Bridges, Roads and Transport Minister Obaidul Quader built an Awami League office building on top of property seized from the local Bangladeshi Hindu community and the American media doesn’t report on this, even though people were threatened into giving away their homes merely because they were born into the wrong faith.   The Hindu community in Bangladesh has paid a price because of this.  Shipan Kumer Basu, President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, declared: “It turns out that the Awami League wants an exclusively Muslim country. As I said before and still say, Sheikh Hasina has a secret conspiracy in order to establish Shariah law. I urge the international community to come and visit. Only then will you understand how the government plans to expel Hindus, Buddhists and Christians from the country!”  

Why doesn’t the American media care about religious freedom and human rights across the globe anymore?  Why has the US become so isolationist?  Why does everything have to be based on transactional diplomacy and oil interests in the Trump era?   “Transactional diplomacy is practiced on the basis of ‘I don’t care about human rights abuses, I don’t want to muddy things up by insisting on American values, I just want the deal I want,’” Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Massachusetts, told Christian Science Monitor.  Ever since former US President George W. Bush left office, America hasn’t had a leader that cares about promoting democracy and human rights across the globe.   Everything has become isolationist.  Everything has become valueless.  In the Trump era, it is all about transactions, oil and the art of the deal.  It is time that this changed.  




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Foreign Policy Quiz

Fri, 15/11/2019 - 16:08

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Macron, Europe, NATO, and Maybe Us?

Thu, 14/11/2019 - 17:27


Brain Dead or Not, What’s its value to America?

Emmanuel Macron’s views, as voiced in an interview with the Economist,  suggest that America needs to clarify what America is.  Americans will note Macron’s reference to the “brain death of NATO,” but the issue runs deeper than that one alliance.  Unaddressed, the sentiment Macron voices could raise a challenge to America’s deepest interest.

Macron does not focus on NATO per se; he says President Trump’s stance really tells Europe to “’Wake up!’”  To what?  That the European Union, if it does not think of itself as a global power, “will disappear geopolitically, or at least … will no longer be in control of our destiny.” 

What, at bottom, is the purpose of “Europe?”  Macron talks about strategic thinking, but strategy starts with the strategist’s basic goals.  Presumably he sees democracy and human rights as central values.  But is the European Union primarily a voice for rights?  Or could it be a geopolitical entity out to gain and keep worldly power?  Perhaps it’s an economic entity dedicated to prosperity, with rule of law and democracy as fortuitous knock-on benefits?  The question arises in particular because of Macron’s call for “’rapprochement’” with Russia.  Again, to what end?

This questions matter to America because, if Macron’s sentiments take root, Europe could evolve into a major pole of independent geopolitical power.  What kind of power would it be?  The answer will bear on our ability to live by our own nature and secure our own deepest interest.  

That nature and that deepest interest still get short shrift in our own discourse.  But even when we don’t pay attention, they are baked into America’s founding.  The Declaration of Independence established a “people,” separate from prior ties, identified by our holding of self evident truths on unalienable personal rights and government tasked to secure those rights.  We won’t shake that commitment, at least not without renouncing the terms of our national existence.

Right now, a core of nations exists, for whom the primacy of individual rights defines their basic political ethos.  Most of those nations, and relatively few others, are members of either NATO or other fundamental treaties with the United States.  Many are European, though right now NATO does not particularly focus on rights, partially because it includes Turkey, Hungary, and other nations backsliding from liberalism.  But the free nations form a natural core of allies who validate our foundation in rights, and form a base of support for the “interest” in liberty that lies at America’s core.  Will Europe stay in that base?

If Europe decides, from its various traditions, that “security” or “identity” or “economic growth” defines their core purpose, then Europe  starts to look like the Chinas and the Russias of the world.   Some powers, perhaps Europe but not necessarily, may care about democracy.  But any and all might hold it as second priority, or third or lower, with “sovereignty” or “order” or “peace” or “’our’ nation” first or second before it.  Today’s natural core of support will have disappeared, and America will have only realpolitik by which to choose our foreign relationships.  Any ability to embody the Declaration’s tenets will be diminished. 

America needs to cement our ties, at the deepest level with those who live in deep systemic commitment to rights and liberty.  To be clear, while the Trump administration has made noises disruptive to current alliances, our observance of our existential purpose has been shuffled for decades, ever deeper under politicians’ priorities.  As Walter Russell Mead suggests, Macron or any European might wonder how committed we are to NATO, going forward and in the recent past.  We need to focus on the tenets of the Declaration’s creed now, before the world makes embodying them even harder. 

This simple impulse could entail complex, protracted diplomatic and institutional moves.  We might initiate separate understandings among, say, NATO nations minus Turkey and Hungary plus Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, Sweden and Finland.  We should find ways to grow closer to nations like Brazil, Indonesia, Ghana, and South Africa, who are working to strengthen their democratic systems, and further, perhaps, from the Philippines or Turkey if they continue to deteriorate in theirs.  Specific policies and moves cannot be prescribed right now.  But we need to start viewing our alliances and relations in light of America’s founding tenets.

President Macron is America’s ally, regardless of any personal or political stances toward any given American.  But his interview shows we cannot take for granted that even the most freedom loving nations will automatically remain our friends.  We need to clarify who we are, so when others choose their friends the free nations will stay close with us, for freedom’s sake.

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