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Foreign Policy Quiz

Mon, 25/11/2019 - 17:09

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The Myth of Beijing’s “Ecological Civilization”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Highlights and Lowlights of the ASEAN Bangkok Summits

Thu, 21/11/2019 - 20:22

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


ASEAN centrality at its finest

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


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


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


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


India disappoints ASEAN

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


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


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


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


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


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


The disinterested United States

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


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


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


Governing conduct in the South China Sea

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


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


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


Expanding the Russian footprint in Southeast Asia

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


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


Thailand’s growing regional stature

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


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


Looking ahead to Vietnam 2020

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


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


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


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


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

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

Wed, 20/11/2019 - 18:35

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

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

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

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

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

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




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Foreign Policy Quiz

Fri, 15/11/2019 - 16:08

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Macron, Europe, NATO, and Maybe Us?

Thu, 14/11/2019 - 17:27


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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. 

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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.”

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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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