Archive for the ‘Regions’ Category


Economic sanctions have become the “silver bullet” of American foreign policy over the past decade, because they’re cheaper and more effective in compelling adversaries than traditional military power. But Treasury Secretary Jack Lew warns of a “risk of overuse” that could neuter the sanctions weapon and harm America.

Lew made his unusual case against “sanctions overreach” in an interview last week and in a speech prepared for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His caution against overuse comes as some Republican members of Congress are fighting to maintain U.S. sanctions on the Iranian nuclear program, despite last year’s deal limiting that Iranian threat.

By highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of sanctions, Lew is raising an important question about the nature of American power in the 21st century. Sanctions have clout because U.S. financial markets are the central nervous system of the globalized economy. But if so many sanctions are applied that the U.S. system becomes too complicated and cumbersome for foreigners, they will eventually find ways to do business outside U.S. markets — weakening both our sanctions and our underlying economy. The magic bullet will become a poison pill.

Lew notes that U.S. sanctions against Iran’s nuclear program showed how effective this weapon can be when it’s carefully fashioned as part of a broad coalition. America’s program of so-called “secondary” sanctions didn’t just ban U.S. companies from doing business with Iran; they banned any company operating in Iran from using U.S. banks or other financial institutions. That made Iran a no-go zone for most Western companies. Read more…


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Opinion writer March 29



Contrast the success of this coordinated effort in bringing Iran to the table with five decades of unilateral U.S. sanctions against the Castro regime in Cuba, which Lew rightly notes were “ineffective,” to put it mildly.

Lew’s larger point is that sanctions won’t work if countries don’t get the reward they were promised — in the removal of sanctions — once they accede to U.S. demands.


Obama’s Cuban revolution

Written on March 21, 2016 by Waya Quiviger in Americas, Democracy & Human Rights, Foreign Policy

The Obamas arrive at Jose Marti International Airport on Sunday.

President Barack Obama’s trip to Cuba is a metaphor for his foreign policy and a potential glimpse into his post-presidency, all embodied in one landing here at José Martí International Airport on Sunday afternoon.

With his decision to move toward normalized relations with the Castro regime, Obama forced a geopolitical transformation, a rare instance when a president can start and nearly finish so complete a change in foreign policy within his term in office. And he did it less with a pen and a phone than with a series of prods and the force of his personality.

The Cuba reopening is a snapshot of Obama’s approach the past seven years: an analytic rethinking of America’s interests and a pragmatism about how to achieve them, pursued despite political resistance and without much cooperation from Congress. Typically, it’s sparked a debate between supporters who see him breaking through calcified thinking and critics who say he’s willingly overlooked facts in order to gamble with abhorrent leaders for what would at best be shortsighted gains.

The detractors point to the dissidents arrested and rearrested in the days leading up to this trip, all while the Castro government has pushed back on the idea that Obama will be able to use the trip to get it to change. On the contrary, they’ve said, Obama’s arrival is proof that the human rights abuses they’ve been accused of must not exist, because otherwise he wouldn’t have come.

But even that attests to the force of Obama’s presence. In Havana, the big deal isn’t just that an American president is visiting again, the first time since Calvin Coolidge arrived by battleship in 1928. It’s not that Air Force One has landed.

It’s that Obama walked out. And that’s a power that will remain with him.

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Is This the United States' Grand Plan for Responding to China in the South China Sea?

It’s certainly been an interesting week in the South China Sea, with reports that China moved coast guard vessels into Jackson Shoal, driving Filipino fishermen out and effectively asserting control over that feature. China’s latest bout of assertion comes not long after it re-stationed J-11 fighters and HQ-9 surface-to-air missile systems on Woody Island, days after ASEAN leaders met with U.S. President Barack Obama in the United States.

On Wednesday, two reports caught my eye that reveal a growing coalition and network of Asian powers to counter Chinese assertiveness in Asian waters, certainly the South China Sea. Incidentally, both these reports stem from comments and observations made recently by Admiral Harry B. Harris, the outspoken head of U.S. Pacific Command, at a security conference in New Delhi, India. (Harris’ prepared remarks are available here.)

The first, reported in Reuters, notes that India, the United States, and Japan will be holding their first trilateral naval exercise in the South China Sea, off the northern coast of Philippines. While a location isn’t specified for the exercise, it is likely that it will take place either in or off Subic Bay, where the United States once had a permanent naval base and now enjoys base access rights under the 2014 Enhanced Defense Cooperation Act (EDCA) with the Philippines.

Harris underlined India’s record with international law and maritime disputes to explain Washington’s interest in having New Delhi participate in the exercise: ”While some countries seek to bully smaller nations through intimidation and coercion, I note with admiration India’s example of peaceful resolution of disputes with your neighbors in the waters of the Indian Ocean,” he said.

The second report, in the New York Times, cites Harris bringing up a concept in Asian security that’s been out of vogue for nearly a decade, namely the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD) between the United States, Australia, Japan, and India. In a commentary in 2014, I’d declared the QSD “gone and forgotten.” Harris’ comments suggest my eulogy may have been premature. The QSD was actually a pet project for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his first stint leading Japan, back in 2006-2007. He’ll be glad to see it back on the docket.

Abe, who came to office in 2006 with a pessimistic view of China’s rise, saw Beijing as a threat to Japanese interests and proposed the QSD as a means by which to spur dialogue on sustaining Asia’s status quo security apparatus. China saw the initiative as a conspiracy by a concert of democracies to inhibit its “peaceful rise” (that language was very much in vogue at the time), and the initiative fell apart. Kevin Rudd’s Australia, in particular, was hesitant to risk good ties with China over the QSD, which at the time had a modest scope. Abe himself left office after a lackluster one-year term. Read more…


March 3rd,


What has really changed in Iran?

Written on March 1, 2016 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Middle East, Op Ed

I REMEMBER vividly the first time I ever voted in an Iranian election. It was a balmy summer day in June 2001, in the election that won the reformist president Mohammad Khatami a second term. The blue stamp was the first on the voting page of my identification card, and I felt a sharp, exhilarating pride.

That election is much on my mind now, as I watch the results of Friday’s voting with my family, disagreeing on what it might mean for the future.

Back in 2001, Iran was heading down an irrevocable path toward internal reform, a process untainted by any Western intrusion, with citizens and progressive-minded leaders showing the way. Those leaders seemed, at the time, as exciting as Vaclav Havel and the revolutionary cleric Musa al-Sadr rolled into one. Elections felt — unlike the vote this past weekend — full of consequence, a genuine chance to recast political power rather than an exercise in slightly recalibrating it.
Tehran then was a naïve young intellectual’s paradise. There were Islamist reformers and secular reformers, women’s rights campaigners who went door to door in villages, and urban activists working to save everything from the Iranian cheetah to the rapidly evaporating Lake Urmia. You could sit at the feet of an ayatollah in the morning and hear a Koran-backed strategy for gender equality; by afternoon, you could be with the radical student opposition in a decaying house in the center of the city, still strewn with shredded documents removed from the United States embassy during the 1979 hostage-taking. There were literary readings almost every night, and subversive theater that lampooned the system, using metaphors from baseball to Moliere. Read more…


Published on March 1, in

Azadeh Moaveni is a lecturer in journalism at Kingston University and the author, most recently, of “Honeymoon in Tehran: Two Years of Love and Danger in Iran.”


The real danger of Brexit

Written on February 26, 2016 by Waya Quiviger in EU Expansion, Europe, Foreign Policy

THE battle is joined, at last. David Cameron has called a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union for June 23rd, promising to campaign hard to stay in. What began as a gambit to hold together his divided Tory party is turning into an alarmingly close contest. Betting markets put the odds that Britons opt to leave at two-to-one; some polls suggest the voters are evenly split; several cabinet ministers are campaigning for Brexit. There is a real chance that in four months’ time Britain could be casting off from Europe’s shores.

That would be grave news—and not just for Britain. A vote to leave would damage the economy, certainly in the short term and probably in the long run. (As financial markets woke up to the prospect, the pound this week fell to its lowest level against the dollar since 2009.) It would imperil Britain’s security, when threats from terrorists and foreign powers are at their most severe in years. And far from reclaiming sovereignty, Britons would be forgoing clout, by giving up membership of a powerful club whose actions they can influence better from within than without. Those outside Britain marvelling at this proposed act of self-harm should worry for themselves, too. Brexit would deal a heavy blow to Europe, a continent already on the ropes. It would uncouple the world’s fifth-largest economy from its biggest market, and unmoor the fifth-largest defence spender from its allies. Poorer, less secure and disunited, the new EU would be weaker; the West, reliant on the balancing forces of America and Europe, would be enfeebled, too.

Read more…

Feb 27th 2016, from the print version of The Economist

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