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Who Wants to be President?

Wed, 13/11/2019 - 17:23
A demonstrator holds a placard reading ‘New Constitution now’ during a protest against Chile’s government in Santiago, Chile [Jorge Silva/Reuters]

While Venezuelans are still suffering from the economic and political collapse of their ever diminishing democracy, the rest of Latin America has been mired in their own types of political problems. What are likely the most striking events have occurred recently in Chile. With a high cost of living and large divide between the wealthy and other economic classes, the tensions in Chilean society have boiled over. Even with the firing of the President’s Cabinet and moves to change the Pinochet era Constitution, Chilean protests rivals those of Hong Kong and Baghdad.

Known as the most stable economy in Latin America, Chileans have always lived in the shadow of the Pinochet era where the dictatorship and military cracked down on left wing political leaders by disappearing them, murdering thousands of citizens as well as an elected President and controlling the country to such a great degree, that even the modern Constitution operates in a manner to block any access to justice for victims of the regime. While Chileans always had a muted voice, it seems as if the recent protests may require more than just reforms of documents, it might need an acknowledgment of how society had laid dormant and wounded for generations. A catharsis of Chilean culture and society may be the only solution to protests that erupted after years of oppression and state run silencing of any challenges to the government. While there have been many reforms since the end of the Pinochet regime, it may not just be a youth protest, but a generational flood of pain and anger coming from a society that was crushed for the sake of economic progress in the 1970s and 1980s. Chileans did not suffer for the sake of modern inequality, the President should consider this if any solutions will be found.

In Bolivia, the long term left wing President Evo Morales has landed in Mexico where he was granted asylum. Morales was accused by the OAS of rigging the last election, and with social unrest in the country coming to a boiling point and Morales not willing to leave, by any means necessary, heavy protests ensued and the military formally advised him to leave the country, for the sake of the country. While there is a running debate by foreign political leaders as to whether or not this is a coup or a military operating to entrust the will of the people to another election, it seems that local political preferences outside of Bolivia will not deter a change of government in Bolivia. Morales’ pro-Chavista government of almost a decade and a half may present another candidate and continue the same issues faced by Bolivians, but it seems as if a new election can be held, it will release a lot of tension currently simmering in Bolivian society.

Brazil’s famous former President Lula was released from jail in a legal case that would be a complicated final exam thesis for any legal expert in Brazil and abroad. While the explanation for his release comes from an inability to apply all of his legal options before going to prison, mixed with the accusation that the judge who put the legal talons upon the former President was bias in the application of the law, Lula may still share two very different fates. Lula may be able to run for President of his PT party again in a few short years or may return to jail for another corruption charge. While the leaders of Chile and Bolivia may be looking at Brazil and making sure they do not get tangled up in their own legal issues, it is Brazil that is suffering through a process to deter corruption while facing political and economic elites that are comfortable with the status quo. In the end, voters and protestors need to choose their future wisely if they are able to achieve the change they seek in their countries.

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Op-ed: Kashmir: Indian actions not in the US interest

Tue, 12/11/2019 - 18:29

Indian paramilitary soldiers stand guard on a road leading towards Independence Day parade venue during security lockdown in Srinagar, Indian controlled Kashmir, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi defended his government’s controversial measure to strip the disputed Kashmir region of its statehood and special constitutional provisions in an Independence Day speech Thursday, as about 7 million Kashmiris stayed indoors for the 11th day of an unprecedented security lockdown and communications blackout. (AP Photo/ Dar Yasin)

Following years of unrelenting repression and humiliation of Kashmiris, India has finally extinguished their last ray of hope by repealing Articles 370 and 35A of the Indian constitution – both of which had granted Kashmir a special status. India did so in violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions that forbade annexation of the disputed territory and called for a “free and impartial” plebiscite to allow Kashmiris to determine their own destiny.

Kashmir’s disputed status, which is acknowledged by a series of United Nations resolutions, offers the international community a locus standi to play a role in resolving the dispute – for the sake of Kashmiris and for the peace and stability of South Asia. The disputed status also provided, along with the Simla Agreement between India and Pakistan, a bilateral framework for dialogue on Kashmir.

By excluding the international community and Pakistan from a dialogue India has slammed the door shut on a peaceful settlement of the dispute and put peace in the region at risk. Some in official Washington have spoken up, but most have said little. However, there has been extensive coverage by the American and international media censuring India’s action, especially the continued inhumane lockdown of Kashmir and communications blackout.

According to these reports thousands have been imprisoned and the rest live under an unending curfew. The United Nations, International Commission of Jurists, global human rights organizations and other international agencies also have spoken up. Even before this humanitarian crisis, gross and systematic violations of Kashmiris’ human rights by Indian regular and paramilitary forces had been going on for years, and well-documented in reports by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Kashmir, international and even Indian human rights organizations.

The United States often is a champion for human rights – sometimes for moral reasons, sometimes for strategic ones. In Kashmir, morality and strategic considerations are indistinguishable. But Washington’s silence speaks volumes. And its support for India’s action will harden India’s attitude and polarize the region. This will serve neither the US credibility nor its interests.

India rests its claim to Kashmir on the basis of the instrument of accession signed 70 years ago, and whose legality and authenticity Pakistan does not recognize. Nations are not made of a piece of paper, and much has changed in Kashmir since. The fact is Indian military presence in Kashmir may have helped it to control the territory but has invalidated its claim to it. Now India may lose its control as well.

Moreover, India is driving Kashmiris to extreme despair, leaving armed resistance as the only way out. Meanwhile, the marginalization of Pakistan as a party to the dispute will leave Pakistan no choice but to resort to bilateral measures such as restricting the relationship. India inevitably will respond, possibly aggravating the tensions along the Line of Control. Overall, this is a lose-lose scenario for the region.

In his speech to the United Nations last month, Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan said as much. “Would I want to live this humiliation? Would I want to live like that? … You’re forcing people into radicalization. When people lose the will to live, what is there to live for?”

All these various stimuli are aggravating the risk of war. If that wasn’t the case, why would the Indian Defence Minister walk back India’s nuclear no first use policy. Consequences of a war between two nuclear weapon states could only be catastrophic.

And, of course, what happens in Kashmir reverberates in Afghanistan, especially if Pakistan has to relocate its troops. The reality is, Pakistan is vital to the stabilization of Afghanistan more so with the withdrawal of US troops. Meanwhile, what India has done imperils US interests in the region in more ways than one.

The fact is the totality of United States current and future interests in the region including its geopolitical competition with China will suffer if the Kashmir dispute and the relations between India and Pakistan are not addressed. If the US is looking to India as a counter to balance China, how can it do so with a persistent risk of an India-Pakistan war?

India aspires for big power status. But India’s aspirations are not likely to succeed in a perilous security environment it has exacerbated by its annexation of Kashmir. These aspirations can only be realized in a peaceful and stable South Asia, and that would require the resolution of the Kashmir dispute.

At the same time, a moderate and stable Pakistan, enjoying peaceful relations with India will be in the best position to help Afghanistan’s own search for peace and stability, while serving its own and America’s interests. After all, for more than six decades US-Pakistan relations have yielded huge mutual benefits for both countries – longer than the US India relationship.

The United States has helped raise India’s economic, military, and diplomatic stature. This support must continue. But Washington has enormous leverage to influence India, making now the time for President Trump live up to his offer to mediate in the Kashmir dispute. The United States should make good on the President’s offer to show America’s leadership again.

After all, Kashmir is no ordinary dispute. It is about American values and interests. But it is also about a people who have lived under a complete lockdown for more than two months, their history, culture, and aspirations for freedom.

The writer,  Ambassador Touqir Hussain, is a former Ambassador of Pakistan and Diplomatic Adviser to the Prime Minister, and is adjunct faculty at Georgetown University and Syracuse University.

The post Op-ed: Kashmir: Indian actions not in the US interest appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

Op-Ed: World ignores mass rape of Hindu women and girls in Bangladesh

Fri, 08/11/2019 - 17:52

One must conclude that all of the government-inspired rapes that target Bangladeshi Hindu women merely because they were born into the wrong faith community constitute a form of state-sponsored terrorism.

Recently, it has been reported that a series of human rights abuses have occurred in Bangladesh.  In a recent interview, Mendi Safadi, who heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, stated: “The people of Bangladesh are held hostage by a cruel tyrant, who has no problem slaughtering tens of thousands of her opponents merely in order to hold onto power, detaining masses of opponents before the elections merely to prevent them from disturbing her overwhelming victory and holding hostages in prisons merely in order to prevent just voices from rising up against her.  Bangladesh in recent years has become a country that has suffered from a high number of ethnic murders, the mass rape of Hindu women and girls by mainly Muslim men and a high number of Hindus being expelled from their homes so that the Muslims can take over their lands.”  However, while international media outlets have covered Sheikh Hasina’s repression against her opponents, very few international media outlets speak out about the daily rape of Bangladeshi Hindu women and girls.    

In my new book titled Emerging from the Depths of Despair: A Memoir on Rising Above the Trauma of Childhood Rape, which I am in the final phases of editing, I wrote: “There is an international consensus that politically-motivated rape is a form of terrorism.   Rape, like terrorism, is all about obtaining power, dominance and control over the victims, thus prompting them to feel helpless and weak.  Thus, Judaism considers rape to be equivalent to murder for the very nature of that crime is that it literally slaughters the soul of the female victim.”  Given this, one must conclude that all of the government-inspired rapes that target Bangladeshi Hindu women merely because they were born into the wrong faith community constitute a form of state-sponsored terrorism.

Yet sadly, the world is silent about this horrific phenomenon experienced by Bangladeshi Hindu women.   Recently, the World Hindu Struggle Committee reported that Rekha Rani Biswas, a Bangladeshi Hindu mother of two, was murdered after being gang-raped in Faridpur by Muslim terrorists.  Her husband Goap Biswas proclaimed: “I have a son and a daughter.  How can I live with my daughter in a country where my wife was brutally gang-raped and murdered?”  However, despite the fact that it is believed that her gang-rape and murder was religiously motivated, not a single major English-language newspaper has covered what happened to her.   In fact, not a single major Bangladeshi newspaper even covered her story.   Only a few online news sites noted it.   

Rekha Rani Biswas is not the only Bangladeshi Hindu female victim ignored by the community of nations.  According to the World Hindu Struggle Committee, Haimanti Shukla, a Hindu student at the Khepurpara Government Model Secondary School in Kalapara, committed suicide after being exposed to intense sexual harassment and was once even sexually assaulted by Muslims.   One of the Muslim harassers threatened Shukla: “If you don’t marry him, they will throw acid on you and murder your father.”  The threats, the sexual assault and the sexual harassment bothered Shukla to the point that she just committed suicide.   However, her story also did not make it into the major English language newspapers or even a major Bangladeshi newspaper for that matter.  Again, only a few online news sites covered it.

In an interview, Shipan Kumer Basu, President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, proclaimed: “These days, fathers, brothers and uncles in Bangladesh provide school girls with security.  This is because no Hindu girl feels safe on the way to school or college due to the increasing incidents of sexual harassment, rape and murder that are encouraged by the Awami League government.   In our society, girls and women are helpless, especially if they are Hindu.  Sheikh Hasina often claims that she is working for the development of women and girls.  Here is a question.  How can you call this reality the development of women and girls?  What have you done for the development of women and girls over the past 11 years?  Is this the kind of development for women and girls that you seek?   Bangladeshi Hindu women and girls don’t feel safe.  This must be changed or else Bangladesh won’t be headed in the right direction.”


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Russia-Africa Summit: Policy Framework for Further Cooperation

Thu, 07/11/2019 - 17:52

On October 23-24, the Russia-Africa Summit and Economic Forum took place in Sochi. Over 10 000 participants and representatives of 54 African countries took part in the event.

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”, which is being waged by leading actors of international relations. Africa is a resource-rich continent, has considerable “political potential” in the context of voting in international organizations. In addition, the continent is ready to cooperate with many countries. As a result, Africa becomes a “welcome piece” for the United States, China, the European Union, India, and Japan.

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.

The above-mentioned Summit was only the beginning since the participants agreed to hold a similar event every 3 years and cabinet-level consultations – annually. For instance, the next summit, on the initiative of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, may take place in Ethiopia. 

Russia-Africa Summit laid the pillars for cooperation not only at the bilateral level. As the Government of Russia and the African Union, as well as the Eurasian Economic Commission and the African Union Commission, signed the memorandums of understanding and cooperation.

Statements of support for Algeria and Sudan to normalize the situation in these countries are also signals about Russia’s readiness to intensify political participation in the region. Likewise the agreements between the International Agency of sovereign development (IASD) with the governments of Niger, Guinea, DRC for political consultations and development.

The most interesting in this context is the Final declaration of the Russia-Africa Summit.

In addition to the general phrases on the UN Charter support, expanding official and informal cooperation, intensifying contacts within the UN, BRICS and other international forums, joint efforts on terrorism and extremism, intensification of trade interests, trade intensification regulations, the document has several interesting insights. It’s worth to emphasize the following:

  1. “Develop an equitable dialogue taking account of the interests of the Russian Federation and African States on the basis of a multilateral world order”.
  2. “Coordinate efforts to reform the UN, including its Security Council, as well as to increase its capacity to counter the existing and new global challenges and threats”.
  3. “Strengthen global governance and consider reforming the UN Security Council taking into account the geopolitical realities with a view to making it a more representative body by ensuring greater participation of African States”.
  4. “Continue strengthening contacts and coordination between Russia and non-permanent UN Security Council members from among African States with a view to jointly promoting shared interests”.
  5. “Develop cooperation within other international organizations and provide greater mutual support when holding elections to their governing bodies and making decisions on issues of particular importance for the Russian Federation and African States”.
  6. “Intensify Russia–Africa inter-parliamentary contacts and coordinate efforts for international parliamentary events to arrive at decisions and resolutions that would benefit the Russian Federation and African States”.
  7. “The principle African solutions to African problems should continue to serve as a basis for conflict resolution”.
Obviously, such documents usually have general formulations, but even these selected replicas reflect the consistent tone.

It lays in strengthening the multipolar world order with a focus on reforming the Security Council. In this eventuality, Russia could promote its own interests easier, having support from a wider range of countries, including African ones.

African countries have significant “political capital” concerning voting in international organizations. 54 countries of Africa, representing almost a third of the votes in the UN General Assembly, are a very useful resource for Russia to “push” decisions across international venues.

The phrase “jointly promoting shared interests” reflects these Russia’s aspirations to seek the support of African countries to promote its interests, form a common agenda and make use of the African political potential. Most importantly, the phrase “multilateral world order” becomes more clear in the context of intensifying cooperation between BRISC and African countries, stated at the Forum.

The declaration of the Russia-Africa Summit also contains lucrative statements for Africa. For example, the principle of “African solutions to African problems“, that is so desirable to African countries, which try to avoid the trend of neo-colonialism and have Africa’s fate in the Africa’s hands. 

And “reforming the UN Security Council […] to making it a more representative body by ensuring greater participation of African States” reflects the aspiration of African countries to become P-5 members. For instance, we could recall speeches of Presidents of Sierra Leone, Angola, Zambia at the annual session of the UN General Assembly in September 2019. The representatives have stated firmly that it’s high time to give Africa representation which continent deserves. And these are just the last striking cases, not including earlier actions and arguments.

The participants signed agreements in the military, economic, mining, energy, infrastructure, educational and scientific fields during the Russia-Africa Summit.

Below is a list of the major arrangements in each area.

The main agreements in the economic sphere:
  • The Investment Company “Uralkali” agreed to finance agriculture and mining projects in Zimbabwe.
  • State Development Corporation VEB.RF is ready to provide up to € 425 million for the construction of an oil refinery in Morocco.
  • The company “FosAgro” plans to open a trade office in South Africa and has signed the memorandum of understanding with Kropz.
  • “Uralchem” together with Grupo Opaia are going to build a complex for the production of ammonia and carbamide in Angola.
  • “EFKO” Group and Egyptian company United Oil have signed a partnership agreement, the main goal is to build a joint venture on fat-and-oil products.
  • Negotiations are under way with Zambia and Ethiopia concerning more intense cooperation under a debt-for-assistance scheme.
Arrangements in the energy sector:
  • Russia and Ethiopia signed the cooperation treaty in the field of the peaceful application of atomic energy.
  • Russian Government intends to build new power plants in the CAR.
  • Preliminary negotiations are held in the field of gas energy with Uganda, as well as with Zambia on the construction of nuclear power plants.
Mining Deals:
  • The JSC “ROSGEO” signed memorandums with Sudan, Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda and South Sudan on mineral exploration.
  • Lukoil signed the memorandum with Equatorial Guinea on the exploration and production of fossil fuels.
  • JSC “Giprotsvetmet”, REC (Russian Export Center Group) and Afreximbank signed the agreement for establishing an intergovernmental platform to implement mining projects in Africa.
  • By the end of 2019, Alrosa will receive 15 exploration licenses in Zimbabwe.
  • Talks are under way with Sudan (gold), Mozambique (diamonds), Congo (joint gas pipeline).
Infrastructure Arrangements:
  • Russian Railways and the Egyptian National Railways signed the protocol for collaboration on the construction of railway tracks in Egypt.
  • Negotiations are under way with Egypt on charter flights.
  • Morocco intends to become a logistics hub for Russian energy companies, which are going to cooperate with African countries.
  • Russia and Angola signed the memorandum of understanding on the development of the railway sector.
  • Russia expressed its desire to set up data centers in Africa to promote its software.
  • Russian Railways will participate in the implementation of infrastructure projects in Nigeria, a number of projects have already been proposed, as well as in the DRC. The countries signed relevant agreements.
Deals in the field of education and science:
  • The Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) expects to set up offices in a number of African countries, primarily in Ethiopia, South Africa, Egypt and Uganda.
  • Russia is considering increasing the quota of budget places in Russian universities for students from the continent.
  • Russia and South Africa plan to sign the memorandum of cooperation in youth policy in 2020.
  • Russian representatives presented the new dry Ebola vaccine, which was developed in Russia and could be used in Africa.
  • Negotiations are under way concerning the possibility of establishing a research center for the prevention of infectious diseases, similar to one in Guinea.
Arrangements in the military field:
  • $ 4-billion arms contracts were signed with 20 African countries, including Uganda, Rwanda, Mozambique, Angola.
  • Russia and Niger are under the agreement for the supply of 12 Mi-35 combat helicopters.
  • Russia plans to open weapons repair centers, as well as for helicopter and armored vehicles, in Angola, Uganda and Nigeria.
  • Negotiations are under way with CAR (training of military personnel in Russian institutions), Namibia (armaments), Sudan (purchase of S-400 complexes), Ethiopia (possibility of building a service center for aviation), and South Africa (joint arms production).
Nevertheless, not everyone became enthusiastic over after Russia-Africa Summit.

Despite the declared “Russia’s return to Africa”, some experts (even Russian) are sure that it is just a smokescreen to promote those businesses, which have already been operating in Africa, a more introductory event after which nothing important will happen, a familiar PR action. Certainly, the main question is how all the declared goals and arrangements of the Russia-Africa Summit will be implemented.

Regardless of the other side of cooperation, Africa does not need projects that use its potential without altering the continent’s oppressive problems.

Obviously, these should be projects aimed at tackling poverty and unemployment, attracting new technologies, and ensuring sustainable development. But the formula of military cooperation in exchange for resources or political use – does not fit into this framework. 

The post Russia-Africa Summit: Policy Framework for Further Cooperation appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

Trump, Iran, and the Foreign Policy of Bluster

Wed, 06/11/2019 - 22:39

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump arrive in Rihad, Saudi Arabia, Saturday, May 20, 2017, for the start of their overseas visit to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Rome, Brussels and Taormina, Italy. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Referring to the latest crisis between Iran and Saudi Arabia, President Trump said that he is not interested in going to war with Iran. I believe him. He has not shown an interest in starting new wars (although he has been quite willing to escalate ongoing ones on occasion). The real problem here, I believe, is that he is fundamentally incompetent—whether it is a question of devising a policy that will lead to a desired outcome or a question of identifying the actual problem in the first place—and thus rarely gets what he wants, or at least what he says he wants. Look at some of the issues he highlighted during his campaign. When he had an all-Republican Congress, he could not get them to hold a vote on funding for a wall on the southern border, or to introduce an infrastructure bill, or to consider a health-care plan that would offer more and cost less than the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”)—all things that he had promised during the election campaign but that were not part of the Republican Party’s agenda. The federal deficit—rather than being on the path to elimination as promised—has increased to the highest level ever seen in a time of peace and prosperity ($984 billion in Fiscal Year 2019, a $205 billion increase over 2018 and double the level of 2015), and we have seen the highest trade deficit in history. While the economy, overall, has done well—continuing the general trend that began in late 2009—the segments that Trump has focused on have seen a slump. The 2017 tax bill was designed to spur investment, which would eventually generate jobs and wage increases, but the burst in investment did not occur; investment has actually declined this year owing to the trade war and general policy unpredictability. Tariffs intended to support the steel industry prompted the steel industry to generate a glut, which has forced prices back down amid stagnating demand. Coal mines continue to close, and coal’s share in the U.S. energy mix continues to decline. While unemployment is low, Moody’s Analytics estimates that 300,000 jobs have been lost owing to Trump’s trade war with China. Manufacturing has declined in recent months as a consequence of falling investment, policy-related uncertainties, and supply-chain disruptions caused by the trade war. The places hit hardest in terms of lost manufacturing jobs are Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, two of the states that had put Trump over the top in terms of the Electoral College if not the popular vote. In foreign policy, China is not reorganizing its economy on Trump’s terms; North Korea is not moving toward nuclear disarmament; and Venezuela is not changing regimes. So, how is it going with Iran? Administration officials declare Trump’s policy a success because the reimposition of sanctions has had a serious impact on Iran’s economy, but that has not produced the political effects that were intended. Instead, we face a potential crisis in the Persian Gulf, with growing aggressiveness on the part of Iran and with Middle Eastern allies that appear to be rethinking their relationship with the United States.

Much of the ongoing failure regarding Iran stems from Trump’s approach. He has managed to teach Iran’s leaders that (1) he cannot be trusted to abide by an agreement; (2) their abiding by an agreement will not save them from his retribution; but (3) lashing out does not necessarily bring punishment. This particular combination is not well designed to achieve the results sought.

Trump appears to view past foreign policy as a series of expensive, unnecessary favors done for the benefit of ungrateful foreigners. When it comes to negotiation, he hopes for a mutually agreed settlement, but he expects it to be entirely on his terms, a sort of mutually agreed capitulation with the other side cheerily accepting the position of “loser.” To achieve this he relies on threats, bluster, and intimidation, all of which amounts to a massive bluff intended to bring results cheaply. He surrounds himself with other people who deal in threats, bluster, and intimidation only to discover at times—as in the case of John Bolton, his third, and second-longest-lasting, national security adviser—that they really mean it. (Back in 2015, as the JCPOA was being negotiated, Bolton famously penned an op-ed titled, “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.”) Trump also puts great store in being unpredictable. He believes that this gives him a negotiating advantage, but his negotiating partners tend to view it as chaotic and a sign of untrustworthiness. He also has to pursue his goals alone because he continually alienates allies, but he does not seem to see this as a problem.

In the case of Iran, Trump has painted himself into a corner in a crisis of his own making. When he entered office, he objected to the Iran nuclear deal—officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—that the Obama administration and Iran had negotiated along with five other countries: Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia. There were other people who objected to the agreement as well, who objected to frozen Iranian funds being released, to the agreement’s sunset provisions, or to the fact that objectionable Iranian activities not related to its nuclear program were not restrained by it. The JCPOA, however, was as much as Iran would agree to, and it did an effective job of constraining its nuclear program in thoroughly verifiable ways. Both the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.S. Intelligence Community regularly confirmed that Iran was in full compliance. Moreover, the JCPOA did not prevent the United States or others from dealing with Iran’s other objectionable activities in other ways. Even among those who had objected to the agreement, few saw any advantage to unilaterally withdrawing from it once it was in place and as long as Iran was in compliance.

During his first year in office, Trump seemed willing to comply with the JCPOA despite his rhetoric, evidently influenced by some of the people around him at the time. Brian Hook, the State Department’s director of policy planning was given the task of negotiating with the Europeans to develop a common position on demanding further restrictions, specifically, limits on Iran’s ballistic missiles and on its support for proxies abroad, such as Hamas and Hezbollah. Then, at the end of March 2018, Iran hawk Mike Pompeo replaced Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. Nine days later, Bolton replaced Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster as national security adviser. When French president Emmanuel Macron visited the White House in April, Trump informed him that the United States would be leaving the JCPOA unilaterally. When Macron objected that he believed that Brian Hook and the Europeans were on the verge of a breakthrough in their negotiations, Trump’s response was, “Who’s Brian Hook?” In May he announced publicly that the United States was pulling out, effectively putting an end to Hook’s efforts. Withdrawal from the JCPOA was accompanied by a sanctions strategy, introduced over a period of months, that Trump referred to as “maximum pressure,” and by threatening rhetoric that spoke of “consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered.”

Evidently, Hook’s assignment, which aimed at fulfilling Trump’s stated objective of adding restrictions to those of the JCPOA, was never at the center of Trump’s strategy, if he had one. Whether anything would have come of Hook’s efforts if he had been allowed to continue cannot be known. He had only negotiated with the Europeans on how to approach the Iranians. Nothing says whether the Iranians would have gone along with the proposals—or whether the Russians and Chinese would have backed the Iranians if they refused. The Iranians, however, are sure to interpret the abrupt end of the negotiations—and Trump’s apparent lack of awareness of them—as a sign that he was never serious about those goals and actually seeks the overthrow of the Iranian regime.

The other five signatories also objected to Trump’s unilateral withdrawal. It added no new restrictions to Iranian behavior while potentially removing those to which Iran had agreed. Since Trump reimposed economic sanctions on Iran that had been lifted as part of the JCPOA (sanctions that had originally been imposed precisely to compel Iran to negotiate an agreement, which it had done), he put the United States in violation of the agreement. He did this while making assertions of Iranian violations that no other signatory believed, undermining U.S. credibility, and he did so while demanding that Iran continue to comply with the agreement that he was now violating. He thus showed Iran both that he could not be trusted and that he was willing to punish them for doing what all sides had previously agreed that they should do. Moreover, he did all this without making any provision for the almost inevitable Iranian backlash that would follow, a backlash for which U.S. allies would blame Trump.

The usually divided Iranian officials were relatively united on how to respond to Trump’s challenge. A few reformers and diplomats argued that they had no realistic alternative to staying in the JCPOA. The larger share of officials argued that remaining in the deal could not be justified if Washington reimposed sanctions. One division did exist within the latter group. Some demanded an immediate withdrawal, while others held out for a slow, piecemeal withdrawal that might avoid provoking the Europeans and might give the Europeans time to rescue the deal. The latter group prevailed. They generally agreed at the time that Trump sought regime change and that negotiating with him while under threat would be a mistake. While Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, who is closely identified with the JCPOA, reportedly did not believe that Trump wanted war, he was less sure about the influential people around Trump or his Middle Eastern allies.

Thus Iran continued to comply with the JCPOA for a year, from May 2018 to May 2019, while demanding that the Europeans do something to bring the United States back into compliance or otherwise compensate Iran for the economic problems that the Trump administration was causing. This the Europeans proved unable to do, partly because the Trump administration was willing to sanction anyone who dealt with Iran, including allies. European corporations were unwilling to risk their business in the United States in order to keep Iran within its nuclear regime. (Since the United States did not have any trade or financial ties to Iran itself, these secondary sanctions are what made the new sanctions as effective as they have been.) During this period, the administration may have believed it had hit the jackpot, since it had been able to reduce Iran’s resources while Iran continued to live within the deal’s constraints. For Iranians, this year reinforced the lesson that restraint and compliance would not bring results.

In April 2019 the Trump administration refused to renew waivers that had permitted some countries to continue purchasing Iranian oil in a transitional period. In May Iran announced that it would engage in a schedule of planned JCPOA violations. These would be limited and reversible violations—initially, at least—that were not going to move Iran appreciably closer to a nuclear weapon. Presumably, their purpose was to shake up the Americans and/or the Europeans with the notion that the nuclear regime was about to crumble and compel them to do something to prevent that outcome. That same month, the Pentagon began preliminary planning for a large-scale deployment to the Middle East in case of conflict with Iran. More immediately, Bolton announced that a carrier task force was moving into the region because the United States had intelligence that Iran was planning attacks on U.S. forces and warned that any attack would be met with “unrelenting force.”

At the same time, Iran was beginning to act more aggressively in the Persian Gulf region to show the United States that it would not be intimidated and to create incentives for the United States to back down. Thus the behavior that had not been covered under the JCPOA grew worse as a result of Trump’s actions. This, no doubt, reflected a partial unleashing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a group that never trusted in negotiations with the Americans, now saw itself vindicated, and would be as happy as Trump to see the JCPOA abandoned and its restrictions removed. The increased IRGC activity began with small-scale attacks that damaged foreign oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, including a Japanese tanker while the Japanese prime minister was in Tehran attempting to mediate (at Trump’s request). Although the protection of sea-lanes had long been a U.S. priority and Bolton had recently made threats, Trump now insisted that China and Japan depended on Persian Gulf oil more than the United States did and that they should bear the burden of defending it.

On June 20, in a further escalatory move, Iran shot down a very expensive U.S. surveillance drone. Prompted by Bolton and Pompeo, Trump opted to respond by bombing three missile batteries and radars on Iranian soil. Pentagon civilians and military officers had opposed the strike as disproportionate, since they estimated that it would kill about 150 people. (No one had been injured when the drone was shot down.) They also feared it could provoke retaliation and further escalation, requiring the military to drain resources from the Far East. Whether he was concerned about the disproportionate loss of life (which he now cited, having apparently disregarded it originally) or about possible escalation, Trump reversed himself and canceled the strike in Bolton’s and Pompeo’s absence, after the aircraft were already in the air. Bolton left the administration shortly thereafter.

Trump’s desire to avoid loss of life and possible war is admirable, but he had put himself in this situation with his ill-considered withdrawal from the JCPOA and his provocative rhetoric. Now, having marched to the edge and then backed off, he taught the Iranians a further lesson: their objectionable behavior might not be punished after all, as their compliance had been. To be fair, Trump did not leave Iran completely unpunished. Behind the scenes, he authorized a cyber attack that struck Iran’s ability to track shipping in the Persian Gulf. In public, however, he had stood down, and he then highlighted that fact by announcing via Twitter that he had decided to bomb Iran and then changed his mind.

At this time Trump also called for increasing multinational naval patrols in the Persian Gulf, but several European allies refused to participate in a U.S.-led mission. Not only did they blame Trump for the rising tensions, they were wary of tying themselves to his erratic and unpredictable behavior. Instead, NATO allies France and Germany sought to organize their own alternative Persian Gulf coalition.

In a particularly brazen move on September 14, Iran launched a coordinated drone and cruise-missile attack against two Saudi oil-processing facilities, shutting down about 5 percent of the world’s daily oil supply for the time being. Iran then made the improbable claim that Yemen’s Houthi rebels had launched the attack. While Iran’s responsibility was clear almost from the beginning, some Europeans were initially credulous, reinforced no doubt by the Trump’s infamous penchant for fables and their reluctance to tie themselves to whatever he might do next. The administration’s rush to lay blame quickly and without offering evidence certainly did not help matters. Although Pompeo called Iran’s action an act of war, Trump’s response was limited to a modest deployment of aircraft and missile-defense batteries to Saudi Arabia. He also ordered a new round of sanctions that effectively cut off the only remaining transactions: food and other humanitarian aid.

Beginning over the summer, France had sought to mediate between Washington and Tehran so as to deescalate the crisis. For its part, the Trump administration was sending mixed signals. Trump at times lowered his demands dramatically, saying that he was only interested in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Objectively, this suggested a return to the JCPOA, which had achieved that goal, although it is not at all clear that he saw it that way. As Trump made those statements, Pompeo alternated between offering to talk without preconditions and insisting on a list of twelve demands that, in Iran’s view, amounted to full capitulation in all aspects of its foreign policy (although the Iranians would not have agreed with Pompeo’s characterization of that policy). Iran’s position was that it would not talk unless the United States lifted its sanctions.

On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, shortly after the drone and missile strike had rattled everyone’s nerves, French president Emmanuel Macron succeeded in getting Trump and Iranian president Hassan Rouhani to agree to a four-point plan as a basis for a meeting that would reopen negotiations. In the view of the French, the document was designed to allow everyone involved to declare victory (including the French as peacemakers). The key points were: (1) Iran will agree never to acquire a nuclear weapon, to comply with its nuclear obligations and commitments, and to negotiate a long-term framework for its nuclear activities; (2) Iran will refrain from aggression and seek peace and respect in the region through negotiations (the French insisted that this provision covered Iran’s missile program as well); (3) the United States will lift sanctions reimposed since 2017; and (4) Iran will be free to export its oil and use its revenues as it wishes.

It is important to understand that the Iranians believed that they had already agreed to most of these conditions and had not been in violation of them when Trump pulled out of the JCPOA. The difficulties that would have followed from this accord would have flowed from differing interpretations of the facts (e.g., does support for the heinous but legal and widely recognized Syrian regime constitute aggression?).

While both sides tentatively agreed to pursue Macron’s proposal, it all fell apart in the end, when Rouhani refused to come to a secure telephone set up by the French for a call between him and Trump. For Iran’s hard-liners, Trump’s acceptance of a meeting was proof that their plan to escalate tensions in the Gulf was paying off and that it was too early to stop. Under pressure from the hard-liners for even considering talking to the American president, Rouhani would not commit to the plan unless Trump first committed to lifting the sanctions. Rouhani feared that Trump was interested only in a photo op that he could tout as a sign of Iranian capitulation—which would give Trump the foreign policy win he had been so sorely lacking—and that Trump would not comply with the plan afterward. Yet, somehow, Trump still believes that his unpredictability is an asset.

In the meantime, Middle East allies that Trump values appear to be reconsidering his value to them. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were struck by Trump’s failure to respond to Iran’s provocations and by his explicit lack of interest in defending non-American targets (although he has deployed some new units to the Gulf). Their apprehension about Trump’s reliability as an ally was no doubt reinforced when it emerged that Trump had withheld military aid from Ukraine in an effort to coerce Ukrainian actions to support his reelection efforts. Soon after that, Trump agreed to relocate U.S. troops in Syria, opening the way for Turkey to attack the Kurdish troops that had been cooperating with U.S. aims there. Apart from betraying an ally, this last move will likely ease Iran’s effort to build direct overland ties from Iran via Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates began considering alternative approaches, exploring the possibility of reducing the threat by dealing with Iran. Already last summer, the United Arab Emirates announced its withdrawal from the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen and initiated direct talks with Iran to discuss maritime security and the rising tensions in the region. Since the missile and drone attack, even Saudi Arabia has shown new interest in a cease-fire in Yemen, and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman has reportedly asked the prime ministers of Pakistan and Iraq to speak to Iran about the possibility of de-escalation. Kuwait has also reached out to Iran. Iran has said it is open to the idea. Previously, both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had been at the forefront of those pressing the United States for a hard-line policy against Iran.

It would be interesting if Trump’s initiatives set off an independent process that brought greater stability to the Persian Gulf region. Yet this—if it turns out that way—would represent more of a foreign policy victory for Iran than for Trump. It certainly would not further his goal of building an anti-Iranian alliance in the region, and it would not build pressure on Iran to dismantle its nuclear program.

Remember, George W. Bush’s sanctions strategy did not compel the hard-line regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to dismantle his nuclear program. Instead, the sanctions led the Iranian electorate to throw out Ahmadinejad and replace him with the moderates led by Rouhani. The moderates then offered the United States essentially the same deal that they had offered in 2003, the last time they were in power. Bush had ignored it then, convinced that his sanctions strategy would bring more satisfactory results, if not bring down the regime altogether. If he had accepted it then, Iran’s nuclear program might have been frozen at a considerably lower level than was the case in 2015. (Iran had zero centrifuges for enriching uranium in 2003; by 2015 it had 19,000.) Now, Trump’s policy has disrupted the region and undermined the Rouhani regime, but no alternative regime is waiting behind the scenes eager to give in to Trump’s demands. The more likely alternative would be Rouhani’s replacement with a hard-line regime.

A former Pentagon official recently commented: “You saw Trump over the course of the first year become more confident in his abilities. It’s dangerous when you’re confident, but you don’t have the requisite competence to go with it.” In this case, Trump’s bluster and chaos, his provocation of Iran, his failure to honor promises, his loose use of threats that he does not intend to carry out, and his inability at this point to offer a credible diplomatic exit out of the confrontation have all contributed heavily to today’s fraught situation. The greatest danger is that the Iranian hard-liners, provoked and increasingly convinced that no one will stand up to them, overshoot, miscalculate, and press to the point of starting a new war in the Middle East, which could easily spread across borders or otherwise trigger other wars that no one wanted or planned for. If the crisis explodes, Trump will not be up to the task of dealing with it.

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Why Hong Kong Really Matters to Americans

Mon, 04/11/2019 - 21:36

The ongoing pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong put the question directly to Americans: just how important is freedom to us?

There can be no mistake that the demonstrators aim for democratic rule, that they have reason to expect it, and that China denies it to them. The formal structure of the Hong Kong government, and even the 2014 offer of suffrage, control the options available to any electorate that might be tolerated, to maintain Chinese control over the territory. The protests started in June, over legislation that would facilitate criminal extraditions to mainland China. The proposed law came only a year after Hong Kong booksellers offering pro-democracy literature had disappeared and resurfaced in mainland Chinese custody. Protesters are clear in their objectives: vandalism of local Starbucks franchises aimed at pro-Beijing franchisees, not the western brand. U.S. and British flags have occasionally been waved as symbols of democracy. Not only is democracy denied to Hong Kong, but freedom of expression and human rights stand endangered, and the demonstrators know it.

Americans know it too. The question is how far we will go, what we would give up, what costs we would accept, for the sake of rights and freedom for others.

Of course we cannot force democratic reform in Hong Kong, or stop any Chinese crackdown, whether of troops and censorship or in other forms. Some might point to our ongoing assertiveness in the South China Sea, or the Trump administration’s moves against China in the form of trade measures and technology restrictions. But we undertake these for the sake of exports, job creation, property rights, or national security, Would we give up any material benefits for the sake of principle?

There have been historical cases where we sacrificed our advocacy of democracy in part because the country where it was in question seemed unlikely to sustain it, while other stakes loomed large. This does not apply to Hong Kong. The territory has a history of British administration and a lot of western-educated citizens, it is wealthy and informed, and even the hard core demonstrators speak in principled terms rather than of clan or tribal grievance. And while it is in many ways a different case, we know that Taiwan, another “second system” in the “one China” that we diplomatically espouse, has developed a working democracy. Democracy for these people is not a pipe dream that they don’t understand, it is a reasonable and normal expectation that fits with much of their modern history. What other stakes in Hong Kong outweigh democracy?

Institutionally, our answers so far are not uplifting. Tech firms have pulled apps used by Hong Kong protesters. The NBA stifled a franchise owner who tweeted support for the protests. Hollywood has long conceded its freedom of speech to make movies and sell them in China. The U.S. government, even in as unusual a form as the Trump Administration, continues our decades of swerving from trade issues to technology issues to geopolitical tension to human rights remonstrance, and back.   Yes, Congress passed Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, but other acts passed simultaneously also addressed technology and trade matters.   The Chinese government could be forgiven for believing we care as much about our business deals as about freedom.

It may be that our decades of swerving balanced our widely varied interests. It may be that we maintained a pragmatic balance in sincere belief that Chinese development would lead to greater Chinese freedom. But today China challenges the full range of our interests, geopolitically in its Belt and Road Initiative and in the South China Sea, economically in its technology and trade practices, even in “soft power,” through its Confucian Institutes. We may need, or choose, to contest any number of these challenges. But the question will arise – to what end do we contest China?

America should declare that any balancing of interests, any willingness to collaborate for mutual benefit, occur for us against a backdrop of fundamental values. Equal endowment of all persons with unalienable rights, and governments existing to secure those rights. Chinese leaders may or may not accommodate our motives, but this is where our deepest reactions will come from. And an America premised on unalienable rights and a China espousing Confucian conformity need not be implacably hostile. Within limits, there is room for collaboration on shared interests, each side working to make their beliefs work and patiently waiting for the other to evolve. But the limits are clear: we are open to closer relations as they might grow their respect for rights and freedoms, but we will give up the benefits and accept the costs of unfriendliness the more they suppress freedom’s call. This, by the way, is not interference in Chinese internal affairs: our founding creed may tend to undermine non-democratic regimes, but asserting our nature as we shape external relations. Declaring our reasons for amity or enmity is our sovereign right. And those must be our reasons.

Will America stand up for its principles with Hong Kong? We have not had a consistent long-term policy toward China since the U.S. ping pong team went there in 1971. Now our policy must be clear, and clearly consistent with our own founding. The Hong Kong demonstrators put the question squarely to us. What will we stand for?

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Foreign Affairs Quiz

Mon, 09/09/2019 - 16:43

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Insecurity in Somalia: Is Mogadishu’s ‘Green Zone’ Part of the Problem?

Fri, 06/09/2019 - 20:35

Naturally broken nations like Somalia that require intervention from the international community require a safe area where diplomats and other officials representing key governments and organizations could be hosted. Hence Somalia’s heavily guarded “Green Zone”, or Halane as it is commonly known.

As a compound dominated by African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) soldiers, mostly from Uganda, and a network of guerilla diplomats who respect no diplomatic boundaries and which is infested with “economic hitmen”, foreign intelligence, counter-intelligence, counter-insurgency and counter-stability (mercenaries) agents, Halane became a mega bazaar for political exploitation and zero-sum trade.

Twelve years after becoming the artificial nerve center of Somali politics, it became clear that Halane needs to undergo a detoxification process in order to serve its original objective: to help Somalia re-emerge as a nation-state capable of protecting itself and running its own affairs.

The Halane I knew

To contrast the past with the present, allow me to take you on a personal tour. In 1979, immediately after graduating from high school, I had to report to Halane – an old Italian colonial relic turned to a military training camp – for 6 months mandatory boot camp before starting one year of a mandatory “national service” program.

I remember those long march drill sessions under the scorching Mogadishu sun. I remember that pitch-black night when I was placed on guard duty in the area where the airport’s only runway kissed the Indian Ocean. In those days, no flights landed after sunset. And legend had it that that area was the playground of some hoof-legged, man-donkey soldiers. Throughout the night, my senses remained on hyper-alert. Even the gentle wind of the night stirred the spookiest waves of emotions in the heart.

I also remember the day when a few of us were lined up for singing loud. One by one we were taken out of the room to be handed our punishments. When it was my turn, a guard led me to another room with a door wide open where I was surprised by another soldier hiding behind the door with a cable piggin’ string. The rest was a brief painful episode of kicks, curses and screams.

But, despite all that seemingly traumatic experience, I left Halane a better man and a better citizen.

Today’s underground Halane

Today that Halane compound has expanded immensely. Though there are some good things, such as training sessions that take place inside the compound, unfortunately, it has become a place where Somalia’s top leaders are subjected to various levels of humiliation and psychological subjugation. It’s where the carrots are dangled to coopt Somali officials and where sticks are wagged so that the self-confident among them are psychologically broken down until they accept behaving like guests in their own country. It is where the elite with political ambitions are required to go to get their blessings and a few power-projecting pictures for social media. It is where resolutions that undermine Somalia’s central government authority and legitimacy are concocted despite the fact that Somalia’s transition period ended in 2012.

Resolution 2472, adopted by the Security Council on 31 May 2019, is peppered with language that affirms, as I have been arguing for a while, that Somalia is in a stealth trusteeship. Despite the opening diplomatic pacifier of “reaffirming its respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, political independence, and unity of Somalia” the Resolution commands the Federal Government of Somalia to expedite its settlement with federal states on “resource and power-sharing to be enshrined in the revision of the Provisional Federal Constitution” and “generation of affordable Somali forces.”

In other words, 3,000 independently commanded troops per federal state as spelled in the so-called National Security Architecture. Enough to protect a number of questionably acquired foreign projects while keeping Somalia in state of perpetual security dependence. The federal state of Galmudug became the first to offer its contingent or the Ahlu Sunna Wa Jama (ASWJ) militia. Though this is set to intensify intra-clan sensitivity, IGAD wasted no time in praising the effort.

Shifting current paradigm

While certain elements within the international community use counter-terrorism to justify having AMISOM troops in Somalia or bankrolling covert mercenary operations, these foreign forces are neither aligned with the Federal Government of Somalia and AMISOM’s strategy to fight Al Shabaab nor are they part of the command structure that is accountable to either one. Because, as I argued in Straight Talk on Somalia Insecurity, Al Shabaab’s deadly escapades provide priceless cover, if not legitimacy, to their presence.

Benevolent predators who are quick to offer one mini unsustainable project or another to improve perception are plenty. Funding is often delivered through various international NGOs that charge hefty overheads and subcontract local ones that become the funders’ indigenous detractor. Though the funding comes with strings attached, seldom is it used to pressure the government to meet its obligations, such as completing the constitution and getting it ratified, establishing a constitutional court, and refraining from consolidation of power by the executive branch that made the parliament irrelevant.

The more UN officials and AMISOM continue to hide behind heavily fortified bunkers at the airport area – the de facto extension of Halane – the more there will be militarization of Mogadishu and the more the old routine of holding international conferences at Mogadishu’s international airport or in Nairobi will continue to be justified.

Is Mogadishu safe enough for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) and AMISOM to be decommissioned? The one thing that we know is that as long as both are there Somalia will remain in a state of perpetual dependency, insecurity, and fragmentation. As I wrote in a number of my previous articles, AMISOM contributed a lot to Somalia in the earlier months and years. But everything changed when armies from the frontline states of Ethiopia and Kenya were allowed to join AMISOM. That is when the original peacekeeping objective became blurred.

Flushing all questionable elements out of Halane is impossible if UNSOM remains the de facto institution under which Somalia’s government is governed. And there is no end to UNSOM if the UK remains the “pen holder” that spearheads all Somalia-related issues at the United Nations. The Federal Government of Somalia must take an unequivocal stance on UNSOM. The Security Council cannot legitimately impose its will on a state that is neither oppressing its citizens nor is hostile toward its neighbors. UNSOM is there because the Somali government imprudently endorses its mandate.

Could a change in UNSOM’s status expedite the departure of AMISOM? Sure.

Despite the narrative of the security void that might be created, AMISOM, along with the various mercenary companies roaming around Somalia, have been the main causes of the hemorrhaging of security-related funding for more than a decade. That is the reason why Somalia does not have a unified, robust, highly trained and well-equipped army.

Ending AMISOM would end their widely covered corruption, rape, and extrajudicial killings. Not to mention the conflict of interest generated by the presence of Kenyan and Ethiopian troops who are in the thick of Somalia’s internal politics. Perhaps stopping reliance on AMISOM could motivate the Somali government and the various armed militias around the country to take security more seriously and to unite against their common enemy – Al Shabaab – for their own survival. Without AMISOM escorts, it may also compel the government to reduce the weekly travels to foreign destinations for one powwow or another and spend the saved funds on various basic public services, which are sorely lacking.

The warning signs

Good politics is the willingness to engage in transparent, benevolent, and ethical negotiations with others to find a middle ground on issues of mutual interest. It is to enter from the front door in good faith while respecting each other’s spaces and rights.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing business or creating partnerships with foreign nations so long as those relationships are mutually in the best interest of all sides. Those seeking genuine economic or strategic partnerships must be willing to refrain from making matters worse, and be willing to give the government the critical space it needs to make peace with the peripheral authorities, and establish total control of Somalia’s territories.

Unfortunately, at this frail stage, before a genuine Somali-owned reconciliation, corrupt Somali leaders at all levels and their partners in Halane continue signing duplicitous land, oil and maritime deals in ways that outrage common sense before decency and integrity. With the current high tension and growing volatility within various federal states resulting from territorial disputes and other contentious issues, these corrupt deals are only going to lead to perpetual clan-based wars.

Somalia cannot afford to sleepwalk into the growing volatility of the region, the political and economic pitfalls of a rapidly changing world, and the systematically shifting world order. Somalia’s survival depends on being a step ahead of those who wish her ill or who are bent on ruthlessly exploiting its dysfunctional political condition for their zero-sum ends.

Halane is where the instruments of political compulsion are currently concentrated. Somali leaders must radically change their ways and govern in ways that protect Somalia’s national interest and resources.

Those who are positioning themselves to replace the current government in 2021 must not ignore the groundswell of public discontent regarding Halane politics. They must forge a viable strategy to advance the will of the people.



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Sheikh Mirza: “Yezidi girl murdered inside UN camp”

Thu, 05/09/2019 - 21:34

Yazidi refugee women hold a banner as they wait for the arrival of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Special Envoy Angelina Jolie at a Syrian and Iraqi refugee camp in the southern Turkish town of Midyat in Mardin province, Turkey, on June 20, 2015. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Yezidi leader Sheikh Mirza, who heads the Yezidi International Human Rights Organization, reported that a Yezidi girl was recently murdered by ISIS in the Hol camp in Syria: “A young Yezidi girl tried to escape from the UN refugee camp in Hol, Syria, where reportedly 73-80,000 are among over 30,000 Iraqis, the majority of whom are ISIS members and their families, who are being given refuge and protection – the same as their victims!  These ISIS members are enslaving Yezidis inside the camp.  Some Yezidis have managed to escape but this girl was caught.  The Moslem ISIS women inside the camp learned of her plan and then they beat her to death, so she was murdered.”

“Why is the UN giving cover and help to ISIS women,” Sheikh Mirza pondered.   “The ISIS women are reportedly just as brutal as their men.  The Yezidi’s still don’t know where the young woman’s body has been taken to.  The camp authorities?  Or someone else, like ISIS supporters?  We don’t yet know the name of the young woman who was murdered or other details.  We don’t know if her family is alive or if they were murdered or enslaved.  ISIS changes the names of their slaves to Muslim names.”

Sheikh Mirza chastised international media outlets for ignoring this important story: “This information about the young Yezidi girl who was murdered by ISIS was not reported in mainstream media outlets.  It is only on Yezidi social media websites and on Samaria news.”  However, Israel Hayom did conduct an interview with Sheikh Mirza, where he proclaimed: “According to our information, there are hundreds of Yazidi slaves being held by their ISIS captors who are now being cared for in camps run by the UN and local governments.” He says that he went to the UN and pleaded for their help but so far, no help has arrived: “All Muslim groups have been helped but not the non-Muslim ones, who are the greatest victims and are suffering from genocide.”

Ismail emphasizes that ISIS is still being welcomed in Turkey and other Muslim communities: “We know of at least two refugee camps which welcomed and are supporting ISIS families. One is built to accommodate about 20,000 refugees and since March, the population has swelled to about 80,000 people. The population is mainly consisting of ISIS families. We know of another UN refugee camp in Syria. It used to have a population mainly of Yazidis.” But now, ISIS has been welcomed into the camp and the Yazidis are trying to flee. They are being abused by local Muslims. This camp is now populated mainly by ISIS families and the few Yazidis who are remaining.

“Several weeks ago, a group of Yezidis pleaded to go into the al-Hol camp to try to connect with the other Yezidi slaves, who we know are there in order to try to free them,” Sheikh Mirza noted.  “These Yezidi pleading to enter know that they also may be killed or kidnapped by the ISIS members, who fill the camp!  But they are willing to do this and risk their lives.”  They believed that the greater good of trying to save lives outweighed any potential risks that they might personally face.  However, the camp authorities refused their request to enter.  Same goes for the Central Government and the UN.  

According to Sheikh Mirza, sometime ago, another Yezidi girl who was able to escape from the same camp (Hol refugee camp) said that she was very lucky she made it on time; and said if she had not been able to, she was on the list to be transferred to Idlib, Syria and then to Turkey in order to suffer organ harvesting: “According to many of the escaped Yezidi women and girls, 600 – 700 young Yezidi boys and girls have been transferred to Turkey.  The international community is totally silent on the issues of the Yezidi slaves in the Al Hol camp; we are hoping that this is not an international plan to keep the silence until the Hol camp is emptied from the Yezidi slaves!”  



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How the World Treats Brazil

Wed, 04/09/2019 - 21:33
Protesters in Sao Paulo called for more action from the country’s president – Skynews Aug 28 2019

Brazil is unique in Latin America as much as it is unique in the world. When working in Washington DC many years ago, the largest events were always the ones where the voice of Brazil was present via their Ambassador to the US. While Latin American allies of the US were often seen as almost cousins to the US due to cultural and social ties, Brazil was seen as the hedgehog of the region. Everyone from the USTR to the Secretary of State knew that while relations were good, Brazil would be the one that would push back for the rest of Latin America against the US if needed. Due to their population size and economic weight, Brazil was always respected because Brazil would always stand up for their place in the world.

With increasing economic stability in the pre-Olympic era, Brazilians thought that a past filled with economic uncertainly may have ended. Unfortunately, when Brazil’s elite political and economic leaders took public funds for personal gain or spent it to please international friends and remove much needed social spending to invest in stadiums and games, the economic fortunes for the average Brazilian declined rapidly. The corruption scandal that brought down a few Presidents grew partially out of the realisation that the Olympic Games and World Cup were run with corruption tainting many of the contracts, and that Brazil’s public money went to already wealthy international interests when the people needed it most. When asked by the Brazilian government to help with the debt in 2017, the IOC avoided giving funds back to Brazil during an severe recession in the country.

China’s foreign policy has earned some acceptance in Africa and Latin America as Chinese investment and promotion seeks to place funds in foreign countries without any restrictions or open criticism of local policy. While there should be a moral limit to investment, the view by China, BRICS countries and many other former colonised nations is that interference in local politics is harmful to the country. With the history of European and American interventions in Latin America, and even recent policy that lead to Olympic sized debt and corruption problems in Brazil, recent pressure by European leaders on Brazil’s environmental policy is seen by some in Brazil as interference in their sovereignty, even if it is for a positive cause. While France’s and Brazil’s Presidents are not on friendly terms these days, the international community and the European Union must acknowledge that the history of relations between Brazil and the international community is not one without friction.

Brazilians are responsible for their territory because it is their country, and they will elect those who they believe can manage it to their benefit. They will change their minds, alter their views on policy, debate furiously and even criticize their judicial leaders when they charge ex-presidents with corruption, but it is not up to foreign countries to decide how their democracy should work as international interference has cost the Brazilian people a great deal over several generations. With a recent G7 that invited other non members to the forum, but sought to address issues in Brazil without inviting them to a seat at the table, the credibility of actions by the group may be seen skeptically by many in Brazil. Before any actions are taken, perhaps they should return some Olympic money cashed out of Brazil by the IOC and other European interests, it might make for a more productive dialogue for Brazil and G7 powers in facing the current crisis.

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Foreign Affairs Quiz

Tue, 03/09/2019 - 17:40


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Op-Ed: Remembering Bangladeshi Hindu leader Kalidas Baral

Tue, 27/08/2019 - 17:21

In recent days, Bangladeshi Hindus commemorated the murder of Kalidas Baral, a prominent leader in the Bagerhat district 19 years ago.  Kalidas Baral, who was a lawyer by profession, was shot dead on August 20, 2000. He was the President of the District Puja Udjapon Parishad, a central leader of the Hindu, Buddhist-Christian Oikya Parishad and a local leader of the ruling Awami League.  “He was a victim of political rivalry…the rivals within the party had decided to kill him as they could not face him politically,” a relative told the Hindustan Times.

Shipan Kumer Basu, President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, related: “Immediately after the killing of Kalidas Baral, there was a storm of massive protests and criticism throughout Bangladesh.  Bagherhat and the adjoining areas were 70 percent Hindu.  Besides, Kalidas Baral was a popular leader.  Sheikh Helal, brother of Sheikh Hasina, may never have become an MP if he remained alive.  That is why Hasina’s family murdered a popular leader.”

5 individuals were executed for murdering him but 9 were acquitted in 2013.   However, to date, the Baral family has not fully obtained justice for the Kalidas murder for many of the culprits who stand behind the murder remain at large.  For this reason, the wife of Kalidas was not satisfied with the verdict.  His family continues to suffer to date.  Aditas Baral, the daughter of Kalidas, faced four attempted murder attempts: on December 16, 2017, on July 3, 2018, on November 9, 2018 and July 25, 2019.  According to Basu, “No one can attack the Baral family without the direct assistance of local MP Sheikh Helal. One attack after another was carried out to erase the Baral family.”  

In memory of his father, Amitav Baral wrote on Facebook: “They did not stop the bullets to your chest.  They were trying to erase your ideals. The touch of your body still makes my blood fury, even today. I never deviated from your ideals. Do not be intimidated for a moment by your killers.”

He added: “I do not believe in vengeance or revenge politics. But Sheikh Hasina and her brother Sheikh Helal have been pushing us repeatedly. Until I can stop the harsh justice of Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Helal, I will continue this struggle in the interest of obtaining justice.”

Basu added: “Through the killing of the popular leader Kalidas Baral, the Hasina family wanted to send a message to the Hindus all over the country that you do not have any place in this country.  You must go to India. When the Hindus leave for India, the property will slowly become theirs. The country’s ongoing ruthless Hindu repression proves this.”

Sultana Kamal, the head of a non-governmental organization (ASC) Aine O Shalish Kendra, once said, “If Hindus stay in the country, they will get to vote. If Hindus go, then they will get property.”  According to Basu, only for this reason, no Bangladeshi government has done anything good for the Hindus.

In conclusion, Basu proclaimed: “As I have said before, Sheikh Hasina is an extremist leader, who persecutes Hindus.   The present situation in her native district of Gopalgani, where Hindus are being killed on a daily basis, illustrates this point.  This persecution is carried out merely so that she can illegally stay in power.  To date, many Hindus in Bangladesh are afraid to speak out openly about how they are slowly being ethnically cleansed out of the country.  They are living in fear and terror dominates their lives.  Sadly, I don’t think that this oppression will ever end unless Sheikh Hasina’s government is ousted from power.   Her government is too in bed with radical Islam in order to be reformed and to tolerate minorities.   Therefore, a truly democratic government that will not only deliver justice to the Baral family but all Bangladeshi Hindus must be established at the soonest possible date.”

The post Op-Ed: Remembering Bangladeshi Hindu leader Kalidas Baral appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

Targeting China’s Core Interests Is A Fool’s Errand

Wed, 21/08/2019 - 21:14

Protesters deface the emblem of Hong Kong.

The U.S.’ great power competition with China is intensifying on a number of fronts simultaneously, namely trade, security, and human rights. Current U.S. pressure on China through the Hong Kong protests actually manages to intertwine all three areas concurrently. However, as with the origins of current U.S.-Russian tensions being traced back decades to several factors, including NATO expansion, it’s unrealistic to expect Chinese restraint to last indefinitely. The eventual collapse of this restraint as it pertains to China’s core interests should be expected and, prophetically, will have unforeseen effects not only on stability between the U.S and China, but on global stability as well.

The U.S.-China trade war has been ongoing and has lasted longer than either side has really anticipated. After the U.S.’ statement that U.S.-China talks in the shadow of the G20 Osaka meeting were “constructive”, U.S.-China trade relations are worse now than ever before with the U.S. now threatening to impose tariffs on virtually all Chinese imports into the U.S., including many consumer goods. While there are legitimate issues which the U.S. has with China relating to trade, current U.S. policy consists of constant moving of the goalposts, combined with conflation of various, seemingly-related, other issues.

With respect to trade, these issues are China’s development of 5G and support of Huawei on the technological side, combined with labeling China’s BRI as “debt-trap diplomacy” on the investment and development side. Additionally, there is now the U.S.’ labeling of China as a currency manipulator, after previously declaring that this wasn’t the case. This conflation and capriciousness on the part of the U.S. are now actually empowering more hardliners in Beijing and, as a result, has led to a more inflexible Chinese stance, leading many Chinese to see continued negotiations with the U.S., in any area, as an exercise in futility.

On the security front, there are several theaters which most concern both U.S. and Chinese strategists. From the Chinese perspective, priority is given to the South China Sea, East China Sea, and the Korean Peninsula, among others. While there are Chinese issues with respect to other states within these areas, no issue quite rises to the prominence of Taiwan. While several states globally may recognize Taiwan diplomatically as a de facto country, for China, this issue is non-negotiable. China will never recognize Taiwan as a state de jure, no matter what the U.S.’ Taiwan Relations Act says.

Concurrently, Taiwan’s importance to the U.S.’ Indo-Pacific strategy has risen in prominence recently with increased U.S. arms sales. However, this pales in comparison to increased U.S. naval pressure, demonstrated by U.S. ship maneuvers through the Taiwan Strait itself. Adding insult to injury, from the Chinese perspective, is similar maneuvers made by vessels from U.S. allies, the U.K. and France. After repeated Chinese warnings, its aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was recently sent through the Strait as well, as a clear response.

Human rights has always been a sore point in U.S.-China relations, at one point the monitoring of which was explicitly tied to China’s continued MFN status. As important as both trade and security are to the U.S.-China dynamic, it is in the human rights realm where tensions have been increasing exponentially. Tibet and the status of the Dalai Lama have always had their supporters in the U.S..

However, the true lever which the U.S. is employing in this dimension against China is Xinjiang and the status of the Uyghurs within the province. Initially, various U.S. reports pegged the number at 1 million Uyghurs suspected of being imprisoned within the province’s concentration camps. Now, this figure has been inflated to 2 million, with no apparent ceiling in sight. Referencing the issue conflation cited above, these Uyghurs aren’t just being imprisoned, but they are apparently incarcerated in a high-tech fashion, replete with video surveillance, eye retina scans, and telephone-monitoring, among other security techniques.

However, current events in Hong Kong are drawing more U.S. attention and have proven themselves as an even more effective instrument than the Uyghurs in pressuring China on the human rights front. From the Chinese perspective, the Hong Kong demonstrators, far from being peaceful, are part of a concerted U.S. campaign to foster yet another “color revolution”, this time within China itself. Making matters worse, unlike Xinjiang, Hong Kong was a former territory of the Western powers, seized in a moment of weakness in Chinese history. Again, from the Chinese perspective, the unrest in Hong Kong touches upon a number of other issues as well as the city is a leading trade and financial hub for China, in addition to the entire affair being a strict matter of internal security.

All of these issues may apparently be unrelated, but the U.S. has not failed to use all of them in its toolbox to contain China, which it now sees as a “revisionist power”, along with Russia. The similarity among them is that they are all areas that touch upon facets which China considers to be among its core national interests, and therefore not subject to any kind of negotiation. With Taiwan and Hong Kong, China has made this abundantly clear on several occasions. With respect to trade, there may be more space for negotiation on these matters. However, even here, China would argue that a state’s right to choose its own model of economic development, here specifically China 2025 focusing on core future technologies, is indeed a matter of national sovereignty.

Just as with two prizefighters, there must be rules of the road to govern the increasing U.S.-China competition. However, by targeting China’s core interests, areas where  the Chinese have clearly articulated that there will be no negotiation, it appears that the U.S. prizefighter is increasingly hitting its opponent below the belt. However, as all prizefighters are keenly aware of, there are certain areas which are off-limits and, if deliberately targeted by their opponent, invite justifiable retaliation. To date, we have not seen specific U.S. core interests targeted by the Chinese, at least not to the full extent possible if they really wanted to. This restraint won’t be indefinite and the current U.S. policy of  threats and intimidation towards China can only invite more retribution, with concordant long-term, unforeseen ramifications.

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Do You Hear the People Sing?

Mon, 19/08/2019 - 19:55
Protesters occupy the departure hall of the Hong Kong International Airport during a demonstration on August 12, 2019 in Hong Kong, China.

Democracy is always messy, because people by nature are not perfect. Democracy is neither a perfect solution or system because it is run and set up by people who are often flawed and make mistakes. That being said, it is the best system of government that has been created in human history. It has achieved this status because it promotes honour in equality, even if it is impossible to achieve in its perfect form. To honour equality there is a set of rules that must apply to everyone, whether rich or poor, powerful or weak, sick or healthy. These rules must be also applied equally, and there is a financial and societal obligation by citizens to make sure justice serves the people, and not only those running the government. Since 2009, those who did not have democracy were chosen as targets by some of the most brutal regimes in modern history, and mostly ignored by other nations comfortable in their own democracies. Those who learned they had to speak out were brutalised, and those who’s grandparent’s spoke out forgot to honour their achievements by ignoring those who wanted equality.

Neda was a young Iranian woman who wanted to change her country, her own life, and gain equal opportunities in the process. Like many in her community she was killed by her own government because she wanted a society that honoured equality. For those that were not killed, the government arrested and tortured them while the world ignored them. Unfortunately, a trend was learned by other regimes against those who wanted equality. Along came Syria’s war and an entire conflict learned from the death of Neda and others like her on how to oppress with success. Once they know that no one is watching, they applied these lessons against equality. Some of the most ancient communities in the middle east have been subject to a genocide in our generation because they wanted to just to exist. Being left alone to survive was the only equality they could hope for. Because they were not of the right blood, religion or family, people like the Yazidis, Kurds and other regional minorities were subject to the repeat of a new Holocaust. This occurred in the post civil rights era, where feminism is on the mind of most when forming their societies and families, but we ignored the most brutalised women in human history.

Democracy once achieved, needs to be maintained and developed. The costs of applying justice are great, but they are as necessary as water and shelter. Even in some of the most fair and democratic societies, there is a constant and persistent need to maintain a fair democracy. Whether it is realising that a justice system does not apply laws equally, Protects police members to a different degree than it does a citizen murdered by the police, or tries to justify moving the goal post of large corporations against the will of the people, the legal community and the Justice Minister herself, policies must always be made while honouring equality. When those same policymakers try to legitimise fence sitting while their fellow democratic cousins are shouting for their rights, they are dishonouring their grandparents and their parents who fought for the same rights many are fighting for today. If that cannot be comprehended by those in power in modern times, it gives the impression that they do not understand the countries they govern. If they will not fight for equality, then citizens will do it for themselves, even if it is messy and comes at great costs.

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Op-Ed: Why Trump and Netanyahu should help Bangladeshi Hindus

Wed, 14/08/2019 - 21:17

Next month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to visit India.   Shipan Kumer Basu, the President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, stressed that the 55 million Bangladeshi refugees who are presently being sheltered in India are very excited about this visit, believing that Netanyahu can potentially join forces with Modi in order to help them: “With the arrival of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to India, Bangladeshi refugees in India have begun dreaming of returning to Bangladesh. They hope that, with the combined intervention of Benjamin Netanyahu and Narendra Modi, they will be able to return to their homes in Bangladesh, to be able to reclaim their abandoned lands and to live in their homeland once again.” 

Basu reiterated that the present Bangladeshi government is very anti-Israel.  Under Sheikh Hasina’s leadership, Bangladesh and Israel do not share diplomatic relations.   Bangladeshi citizens are barred from traveling to Israel and Israelis cannot visit Bangladesh.  Sheikh Hasina also routinely makes public statements against the Jewish state.  She condemned the US President for moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, accused Israel of violating Palestinian human rights and her ministers routinely spread conspiracy theories against Israel.  In fact, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan even had the audacity to accuse Israel of killing secular bloggers and members of minority faiths in Bangladesh.  In a recent Bangladeshi newspaper article, Mendi Safadi, an Israeli Druze citizen who heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, was even accused of being part of an international conspiracy against Bangladesh and I was accused of being “his lapdog.”  Such anti-Israel conspiracies are typically spread in newspapers originating in undemocratic Muslim majority countries led by tyrants who seek to distract their population from the horrors that they experience on a daily basis.     

However, Basu is hopeful that with Netanyahu’s, Modi’s and Trump’s help, Bangladesh does not need to always be just another non-democratic Muslim majority country.   Unlike many other Muslim dictatorships, Bangladesh was a democracy in the past.  Furthermore, he argued that the sentiment on the Bangladeshi street is not as hostile towards Israel as it used to be.  Basu stressed that democratic elections within his country could lead to the rise of a new leader who will not only respect minority rights but will also establish diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.   According to him, Safadi has been advocating for the establishment of free and fair elections under international supervision across the globe so that the minorities of Bangladesh will be liberated from Sheikh Hasina’s tyranny.  After US President Donald Trump was briefed by Priya Saha on the horrific plight of minorities in Bangladesh, Basu also hopes that the US President will also begin to see the merits of supporting the minorities of Bangladesh and thus will support Safadi’s efforts within the international community.

“Since 1947, the Hindus of Bangladesh have been slowly ethnically cleansed from the country,” Basu declared.  “During the Liberation War of 1971, 10 million Bangladeshi Hindus fled to India.   During Bangladesh’s War of Independence, millions of Hindus were massacred by the Pakistani Army over a period of nine months.  Over the course of the 1971 genocide, Bangladeshi Hindu women and girls were also raped and gang raped en masse.  Many others were forcefully converted to Islam.”  

Although the 1971 genocide is over, Basu emphasized that the oppression against the Hindu minority has not stopped: “Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the ISKCON Temple (The International Society for Krishna Consciousness) in Bangladesh a few years ago. Two fundamentalist organizations called Hefazat-e-Islam and the Bangladesh Islamic Movement in Bangladesh have conspired against ISKCON today. With the help of the government, they have been organizing rallies and meetings against peace-loving Hindu religious organizations. Their demand is to ban a peaceful Hindu religious organization called ISKCON in Bangladesh.”  

In addition, Basu noted that Hindus to date have been barred from reclaiming their property that was seized by the Bangladeshi government following the Liberation War of 1971.   Furthermore, he added that Bangladeshi Hindus to date are being murdered, raped, gang raped, abducted, forcefully converted to Islam and having their property seized as the Bangladeshi government turns a blind eye to these atrocities.  For this reason, he fears that Bangladeshi Hindus don’t have a future in their own country unless fresh democratic elections are held under international supervision.  However, he emphasized that Bangladeshi Hindus are no longer willing to sit passively by and accept their horrific fate: “We Hindus are no longer weak.  We will see to it that Sheikh Hasina will pay for her crimes.”      

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The Trade Bone’s Connected to the Yuan Bone …

Mon, 12/08/2019 - 20:59


We have not yet begun to fight!

The Trump Administration’s August 5 designation of China as a currency manipulator marks a new crossing of policy lanes in US-China relations.  In the many facets of that relationship and the rising tension between the two, America needs a clear understanding of our objectives and priorities.  

Followers of trade policy know that matters of tariffs, quotas, and other “strictly trade” measures are usually kept separate from issues of monetary policy, at least formally.  Currency levels inevitably affect trade and at times academics, politicians, companies, and officials question whether a country deliberately depreciates its currency for trade reasons.  Japan in the 1980s faced this suspicion.  But whatever the reasons, governments tend not to play currencies and trade measures against each other explicitly.  

China’s central bank allowed the Yuan to drop through a market benchmark, apparently in response to President Trump’s announcement of a new round of tariffs.  The administration’s “manipulator” designation, symbolic in economic terms, signals that the U.S. sees the linkage, and will engage China on that basis.

As policy measures cross into each others’ old lanes, who will link more issues together, and to what end?  Is America out to counter China’s initiatives by exacerbating strains on the Chinese system?  It seems not, given reports of the Trump Administration’s internal instructions for the August trade talks. But Chinese leaders could see an existential threat even if a U.S. administration only wants them to enforce patent rights.  Is China’s harassment of an American diplomat in Hong Kong a linkage that reflects this fear?  Conversely, might the Chinese think we attach lower priority to, say, political repression, than we actually do?

In recent history we seem to have tolerated “a degree of intellectual property theft and unequal market access in the belief that China was making some progress toward market principles and the rule of law,” and a hope that that would lead in the direction of more democratic practice.  Today, Xi Jinping’s consolidation of governing power has dashed that logic.  Xi also exhibits geopolitical ambition in the Belt And Road Initiative’s investments in Eurasian nations; militarization of islands in the South China Sea; even cultural influence campaigns.  U.S.- China relations are entering a new mode.   

Reviewing a broad backdrop of many issues and several decades, the observer can see U.S. priorities careening between human rights, economics, and geopolitics.  China can always justify aggressive geopolitics toward us, as we might always swerve toward confrontation, but need never take our concern for rights and democracy to heart, as we always veer back to economics.  Chinese leaders could all too easily see the swings as fecklessness masking hostile underlying motives: our protests over rights as interference to weaken them internally; our economic pragmatism as serving capitalist exploitation; and our security posture as hegemonic.  

In the coming transformation in Sino-American relations, policymakers must clarify our essential purposes.  Doubts about American goals, and even America’s nature, are rising.  The post-modern age’s bewildering developments complicate the task. Coherence in national priorities becomes more difficult just as it becomes more important.  

Amb. William Burns, in his diplomatic memoir The Back Channel, notes how “Shaping the principles of policy debate … is often the first step toward winning it.” Principles need not be controversial, but clarity is “critical to shape our approach and tactical choices,” especially as new issues, new technologies, and new developments keep changing the tactical landscape.

America has clear core principles, and today’s transitions give an opportunity not only to apply them, but to remind ourselves of our priorities.  Principles for an approach to China might follow lines like:

  1. The sanctity of individual rights and government’s first duty to secure them form the core of America’s values.
  2. Our friendship with China or any other actor will grow as they develop toward that principle, and wane as they diverge from it. China’s compatibility with us is their sovereign choice.
  3. Security for the U.S., beyond safety of Americans and our essential functions, includes a primary interest in security for nations that embody our core values, and an interest in societies that are developing toward freedom.  
  4. Free enterprise and attendant rights are integral to individual liberty.
  5. Economic well-being, for the U.S. and globally, is a major goal of U.S. policy because it supports freedom and its development.

Note that it is China’s choice to move toward or away from us.  And, although the divergences run deep, even a neo-Confucian governing doctrine could admit of a modus vivendi with us.  Meanwhile, the U.S. gives explicit voice to where we stand, guides our own actions by that principle, and affirms our nature to ourselves and the world.

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On America’s Role in the World

Wed, 07/08/2019 - 20:48

As the United States matures as a global power, how should America assert itself in the world?

The United States is the world’s preeminent superpower and barring some unpredictable catastrophe that fact is not going to change over the short term. For the United States to maintain its leadership role over the long term, however, America’s approach to foreign affairs and international engagement will need to respond both to a changing security landscape and the gradual economic rise of other powers. Just as the United States understood its role in the world differently after the First World War, the Second World War, and following the Cold War, the United States should work to preemptively understand the consequences of the continued Eastward movement of the world economy’s center of gravity and the continually changing nature of asymmetrical security threats. While that guidance might seem so obvious as to be meaningless, the challenge comes in understanding those changes in light of America’s relative decline when compared to more rapidly growing powers. The United States has long been an economic powerhouse, but America’s short history combined with its unparalleled dominance over the global economy following the Second World War has led to distorted expectations for the certainty of outright American hegemony. None of this is to say that the United States is in absolute decline (which is to say that the United States would be getting weaker when compared only against itself) or that America is not capable of sustaining a major international presence long into the future. Instead, it is to suggest that for the United States to maintain its top-tier power and influence over the decades to come it should seek to rebalance its international activities toward more up-stream and cost effective approaches towards global engagement while gradually (yet strategically) trimming the fat off of America’s bloated international military presence. 

Perhaps the first and most obvious consideration is that reducing American military presence does not necessarily mean a policy of isolationism, or even reduced American influence in the short term. After all, if a short term reduction in America’s military spending only served to foster uncertainty or instability that forced the United States to return to, or perhaps even exceed, current military expenses the whole merit of the idea would be wasted. Instead, the United States could look to trim some of its most excessive deployments, curtail the raw production of military goods (which would not necessarily mean dramatic cuts in funding for R&D), and exert a more watchful eye over ongoing military actions to ensure that there is no unwarranted mission slip. 

Perhaps the most obvious, or at least historically peculiar, example of America’s international military presence is the continued stationing of forces through Western Europe. There is little historical precedent for that sort of military basing, even among close allies, and as conditions have shifted from the Cold War era, so too should America’s approach. While the move to withdraw forces from Europe might be seen as a symptom of weakening American commitment to NATO (especially in light of current conditions), there is nothing that would prevent the United States from simultaneously managing its resources more frugally while maintaining an unquestioned commitment to all of NATO’s key provisions. In the same sort of way, other opportunities for rebalancing American deployment could come about on the Korean Peninsula if the idiosyncratic relationship between President Trump and Kim Jong-un continues to gradually ease tension there. It might even prove to be the case that as a consequence of gradually reducing America’s military presence in tense, yet peaceful, regions, those regions might become less tense with time as potential rivals feel more stable in their security environments.

Of course, an undertaking like this would not only require a focused diplomatic effort to effectively communicate, but it would also require a reinvigorated State Department and a strong commitment to effectively use America’s soft power. These would be fundamental elements of any effort to ensure that American power matures gracefully. Unless we are willing to assume that American allies impacted most by the suggested rebalancing would simply ignore their security responsibilities (something that seems unlikely in light of America’s many capable allies and a careful approach to military withdrawal), close diplomatic relationships with our allies would prove both more important and more effective when called upon. American allies might even be more easily persuaded to join the United States when military force is needed if they can feel confident that the American diplomatic service has consistently been involved and that the potential diplomatic options have been exhausted. In modern instances where the United States has worked closely with its allies on military action, most notably the Persian Gulf War, those partnerships frequently proved successful in accomplishing their military objectives while avoiding mission creep. 

Unfortunately, when the United States has not carefully considered diplomatic and intelligence options and has failed to work with international partners, American military action has proven more costly and less effective. There is little doubt that America’s actions in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan have had serious unforeseen consequences that brought about increased regional instability, to say nothing of reduced American influence. While some might suggest that comparing American unilateral action in these wars to America’s multilateral approach in past conflicts like the two World Wars, and even the Persian Gulf War, is disingenuous to the extent that the nature and scope of the threat is so different, it might be worth considering instead what that means for what sorts of ills that America can actually solve internationally. In order for the United States to remain a global superpower and a reliable and effective military partner over the long term, it must avoid the classical historical blunder of over-extension that helped bring about the collapse of empires as ancient as Rome and as modern as the Soviet Union. The United States has been in more than twice as many wars since the end of the Cold War than it had during an equal length of time during the Cold War era. This is a remarkable statistic given that one could easily argue that the threat during the Cold War surpassed the threats that exist today, and Sun Tzu, author of the Art of War, warned us that “There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare.” This sort of effort would begin with a careful and honest assessment of the costs and benefits of America’s ongoing military action, and would continue into the future by ensuring that decisions to use military force incorporate the American congress and international partners.

It is important to emphasize that the United States could, and absolutely should, maintain the ability to quickly respond to changing security environments and maintain a steady and active presence in all sorts of international affairs. These efforts would include maintaining a forward presence in particularly troubling or symbolically complicated regions of the world. It is also important that the United States remains on the cutting edge of all aspects of military technology, including cyber threats, in order to remain on top of the global pecking order. While, in general, this paper does make the argument that the United States would stand to benefit over the long term from more frugal commitment and use of military force, the end goal of those adjustments would be to maintain American strength, both domestically and abroad, over the long term. Streamlining America’s military presence would simultaneously allow for more full-throated commitment to truly vital interests, and could result in savings that would benefit the strength of America’s economy- which, at the end of the day, is a key factor in ensuring that the United States would be able to organize a sufficient military response to a major threat like war with another global power. Towards this end, the United States should work to adjust its long term strategic approach not only to a post-Cold War world, but to the eventual (potential) ascent of other players on the global stage to peer status. 

A nation whose foreign policy has long been guided by notions of its exceptionality might find its greatest test in its ability to mature gracefully.

Peter Scaturro is the Director of Studies at the Foreign Policy Association. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the Foreign Policy Association.

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Opportunities and Risks in Zelenskyy’s New Ukraine

Tue, 06/08/2019 - 17:17

What to make of the new political realities in Ukraine? Both, the presidential and parliamentary Ukrainian elections of 2019 delivered historic results. Ukraine never had a President with so much electoral support (73%), and so little connection to the country’s old political class. Moreover, independent Ukraine never had a parliament with as dominant a party as Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s “Servant of the People” whose faction will command more than 250 of the 450 seats. The two elections were a perfect storm that swept away the majority of previous politicians and top bureaucrats in the presidential office, national government, Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council), and general procuracy.

Regress or Reset?

Such a high concentration of power, in the hands of the “Servant of the People” party, as a result of Zelenskyy’s landslide victories in the presidential and parliamentary elections is being assessed very differently by various observers, in and outside Ukraine. Many intellectuals in Kyiv warn against the authoritarian and security threats that such one-party dominance could entail. They fear – within what one could call the “post-Soviet” or “Thermidorian paradigm” – a political development in Ukraine that will follow that of other former republics of the USSR.

Authoritarian regression has been the rule rather than the exception in much of the post-Soviet space from Belarus to Kazakhstan. Many thus worry that a kind of Thermidorian Reaction could undo most of the gains of the Euromaidan Revolution. Ukraine could also become a typically post-Soviet dictatorship or again a Russian colony – or both.

In a more favorable perspective, Ukraine’s novel political landscape can also be contextualized within the logic of the Westminster model or so-called pendulum democracy with its “winner takes it all” idea. This approach to democratic rule partly rejects division, balance and checks of power. The Westminster paradigm instead emphasizes clarity of public responsibility, as well as a sharp differentiation between the roles of a country’s ruling majority party, on the one side, and opposition forces, on the other.

Ukraine’s elections have now delivered a result where all executive and most legislative power rests in the hand of only one party. What is left under yet incomplete control by the otherwise hegemonic “Servant of the People” party are constitutional amendments that need a two-thirds majority of votes in parliament. A change of Ukraine’s basic law thus still demands collaboration of some MPs not elected with the support of Zelenskyy’s party.

Such a, for Ukraine, largely novel constellation implies enormous opportunities and risks. Zelenskyy’s overwhelming dominance in the executive and legislative branches of power provides him, for the coming years, with many instruments to swiftly implement his ideas – whatever they are. It also puts responsibility for Ukraine’s future successes and failures squarely into his and his followers’ hands. That reminds of a situation after a House of Commons election in the United Kingdom, in the past.

The Major Challenge for Zelenskyy

Unlike in the British proto-typical constellation, however, Zelenskyy’s absolute majority in parliament and staff in the executive is, to considerable extent, made up of newcomers with no previous experience in public office. This problem, in fact, is reminiscent of his own lack of exposure to national politics, public administration and international relations. The parliamentary and ministerial novices will moreover will be operating in an under-institutionalized and highly “monetized” political environment. They will make and implement decisions under a – mildly speaking – incomplete rule of law. They will also encounter many political and personal challenges – among them seductive offers from Ukraine’s notorious “oligarchs” – that they may not be prepared for.

Against such a background, the main question for the coming years will be less whether Ukraine becomes again authoritarian or/and Moscow-controlled – as some alarmist commentators warn. Rather, the principal question will be whether “habitual elite continuity” – once formulated as Ukraine’s key domestic political challenge, by German political scientist Ingmar Bredies – will reassert itself or not. Ukraine experienced considerable change among the holders of its highest public offices not only as a result of this year’s elections. This had happened repeatedly before, after previous elections or after the popular uprisings of 1990, 2004 and 2014, i.e. the so-called revolutions on the granite, in orange, and of dignity. In spite of frequent and sweeping fluctuation in the upper echelons of political power, the habitus or behavior of the Ukrainian elite did not change much, over the last 30 years, however.

Instead, Ukraine’s parliament, among other institutions, has been characterized by habitual elite continuity, i.e. a stunning stability in the patterns of political conduct by Ukraine’s MPs. They have shown a surprisingly continuous inclination to engage in informal exchanges, bribe-taking, outright nepotism, little disguised favoritism, secret deal-making and far-reaching clientelism. These pathologies, to be sure, are also present in the operation of advanced democratic systems. Yet, they have been – since 1991, if not before – far more prevalent in Ukraine and in most other post-Soviet republics than in Western states.

The main question thus is whether Zelenskyy’s landslide can finally disrupt these behavioral patterns. Will Ukraine’s almost three decades old habitual elite continuity be finally broken, with this new exchange in the composition of its political class? Or will private interests again be able to infiltrate political decision making, as it happened after earlier replacements of deputies and ministers? What instruments can secure a truly sustainable break in Ukraine’s political class behavior, and magnify the already sweeping change in the composition of the parliament?

Urgent Tasks: Deputies’ Salaries, Rule of Law, Gender Equality

First and foremost, the new MPs need to get salaries that will make their possible bribe-taking morally more hazardous than it currently is. As of mid-2019, Ukrainian parliamentarians earn, per month, about 28,000 Hrivnas or approximately 1,000 US-Dollars in cash. In addition, they receive a number of additional privileges that improve their material situation somewhat. To be sure, the overall package of monetary and non-monetary remuneration makes Ukraine’s MPs relatively well-off people, within the overall Ukrainian socio-economic context.

However, Ukraine’s capital Kyiv where the MPs are supposed to live most of the time is more expensive than the rest of country. Kyiv city has salary-, service- and price-scales of its own. The current MP reimbursements may be enough to survive for single MPs who do not have any larger family obligations. Yet, the current pay makes it difficult for those with financial responsibilities for children, parents or other relatives to take up a seat in the Verkhovna Rada – while only living on their official income as parliamentarians.

Even for those without greater family obligations, the current parliamentary moneys system is dysfunctional. In the best case, it limits the MPs’ lifestyles to one of constant counting of expenses for food, transportation, clothing etc. In the worst case, it creates a situation in which MPs feel ethically justified to take side-payments so as to be able to use Kyiv’s restaurants, taxis, and other services that their peers in business corporations, international organizations and foreign embassies use on a regular basis.

To overcome this situation, Ukraine could – with reference to its Association Agreement with the EU – adopt the EU’s formula for salaries paid to the members of the European Parliament. The MEPs receive about a third of the salary that the highest judges of the EU’s courts are paid. For some time already, Ukraine’s top judges receive, by Ukrainian standards, extraordinarily high salaries (though, in absolute terms, not as high as EU judges). If Ukrainian MPs would receive about a third of the salaries of Ukraine’s highest judges, this would apply the EU formula, significantly increase their monthly remuneration, and make their interaction with business-people, Kyiv’s diplomats, and foreign politicians more relaxed. Such a deal would also provide a justification for withdrawing immunity from MPs and increasing penalties for bribe-taking as well as other misbehavior by Ukraine’s new parliamentarians.

Second, there have been statements of the new president and his team on the possibility of early local elections. It is plausible to argue that a deep change in Ukrainian public administration would need a swift exchange also of local elites. Many current deputies and administrators on the regional and sub-regional levels are corrupt. Yet, for oblast and local elections to be effective as a mean to secure change on the regional and municipal levels, it is necessary to attain, at least, some improvement of the rule of law. New committed teams in the prosecution office and various anti-corruption bodies need to be appointed.

Furthermore, the role, function and reimbursement of oblast, rayon and communal administrators and deputies need to be adjusted. The official salaries of mayors, for instance, are lousy while members of city councils do not get any reimbursement for their work time. As on the national level, such framework conditions naturally lead to corruption – independently from possibly good intentions that citizens may have when becoming public executives or people’s deputies. New elections by themselves will not change this.

Third, many Ukrainian governmental bodies suffer – especially when it comes to their top positions – from more or less egregious gender imbalance. This is not only fundamentally unjust in view of the fact that more than 50% of Ukraine’s population are women. Organizational research has found that collective bodies, whether private or public, function better when, at least, one third of its members are female – a scale still not reached in certain Western institutions too. The argument about bringing more women into government is thus not only about equality, but also about the effectiveness of ministries, parliaments, services or parties.

The composition of the Rada, to be sure, has changed for the better as a result of the last elections. Yet, the share of women among parliamentarians only increased from 12% in the last Supreme Council to 19% in the new one. Worse, almost all parliamentary parties are headed by men. Zelenskyy himself is male – as are his first major appointments, like the Chairperson of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Andriy Bohdan, or Secretary of the Council for National Security and Defense of Ukraine, Oleksandr Danyliuk.

Given this circumstance, there are thus good reasons to sharply increase the number of women in top positions not yet filled – whether within the executive, legislative or judicial branches of government. Currently, there is a high overrepresentation of men on those posts that have already been distributed or taken. This includes seats in parliament, ministerial positions, heads of services, or leading party functions. It may thus be even necessary to simply stop, for a while, appointing any men to top offices. Only in this way, there may still be a chance to reach, at the end, the above-mentioned recommended share of one third among Ukraine’s crucial decision makers in various state organs. Given the high number of well-educated, emancipated and career-oriented women in Ukraine, this should not be a problem.

Getting to the Roots of Post-Soviet Problems

The already accomplished sweeping change in the composition of Ukraine’s political class this year may be deceptive. Zelenskyy’s stunning electoral triumphs over the last months could suggest to him and his team to go ahead and start reforming this or that part of legislation, the economy, foreign affairs, cultural matters etc. However, first things come first.

Numerous new laws, resolutions and policies need to be implemented to make Ukraine’s state better work. Yet, the responsible decision formulating, making and executing bodies in all three branches of power as well as in local administrations are still hampered by deep structural defects with regard to the formation and remuneration of their personnel. Unless these basics are changed radically, the outcomes of the work of Ukraine’s state organs may remain as wanting as they have been so far.

By resolutely getting to the core of Ukraine’s post-Soviet issues, Zelenskyy can, moreover, provide a model for other former republics of the USSR. With regard, for instance, to gender balance in state organs, most post-communist countries still lack far behind Western countries. A deep transformation in the composition and functioning of the political class of as large a country as Ukraine could – in distinction to earlier progress in, among others, the three Baltic countries – not be easily ignored by politicians and intellectuals in the successor states of the outer and inner Soviet empire. Western embassies and donors should, therefore, insist on Kyiv’s completion of the current reset in the make-up and structure of the Ukrainian political class.

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