Archive for the ‘Democracy & Human Rights’ Category

25
Sep

Winston Churchill once famously said that, “You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, but only after they have exhausted all of the alternatives.” He could have been speaking of the Obama administration’s Middle East policy.

For six years I have criticized the administration’s policies toward Iraq, Syria, and the wider Middle East (mostly excepting its Iran policy). But since the fall of Mosul to the Islamic State in June, at least where Iraq and Syria are concerned, I can find little to criticize and much to praise. The administration has reversed course in both countries, shifting from stubborn disengagement to smart leadership. Since the stunning ISIS offensive in Iraq in June, Washington’s moves have been uncharacteristically deft: promising greater military support to Iraq as leverage to effect political change there; providing air support and weapons to the Kurds to halt the ISIS offensive; launching a sustained air campaign against ISIS operations in Iraq and Syria; and deploying advisors and weapons to Iraq, to name a few.

The administration’s new approach has resulted in several important developments. Nouri al-Maliki was forced to step down as prime minister of Iraq. That country has a new, more inclusive government that’s committed both to fighting ISIS and accommodating the demands of its alienated Sunni community. Humanitarian tragedies have been averted at Mount Sinjar and Amerli. ISIS has been driven back from Mosul Dam and the approaches to Erbil. And many of the states of the region have signed on to the U.S.-led effort.

These are merely first steps in the right direction, but that in itself is an important achievement. When Mosul fell, the Middle East was plummeting into chaos. Today, at least in some key areas, it has started to pull out of that nosediveeven if it has not yet started to gain altitude. But there is one piece of the strategy that the Obama administration has not articulated and does not yet seem to be preparing for.

We must also start gearing up for nation-building, particularly in Syria.

 Both Iraq and Syria are classic intercommunal civil wars. ISIS is the symptom of that underlying problem, not the problem itself. And unless we stabilize both countries and end the civil wars there, we will never be rid of ISIS or the other threats to our interests in Syria and Iraq. As we have learned from both our successes and failures, healing civil wars requires a long-term process of nation-building. There is no way around that.

In Iraq, the framework of such a process is already in place, left over from the successful period of 2008-2010. Moreover, much of Washington’s heavy lifting already has been about how to get Iraq’s political leadership back on the path toward the stability and political functionality that were created back then. There are still many hurdles, and doing so will take a great deal of effort and luck, but it is of a different category entirely than what needs to be done in Syria.

Indeed, Obama himself recognized this unavoidable reality in his interview with Tom Friedman of The New York Times in August. The president said he learned from the Libyan strikes in 2011 that military intervention that was not backed by a major effort to build a functional state afterward would lead to chaos and new threats to American interests. In the interview, Obama seemed to be imply that this was one reason he didn’t want to intervene in Syria: because he was not ready to commit to such a program for Syria.

Well, the president has now committed to just such an intervention in Syria. Having done so, ensuring that the intervention turns out welland does not create more problems than it solvesmeans that he is also going to have to commit to nation-building there. Read more…

Kenneth M. Pollack is a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Published on Sept. 24 in http://www.newrepublic.com/

19
Sep

The Union now has an epochal chance

Written on September 19, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, News

A Union Jack and Saltire flags blow in the wind near to Glen Coe on March 24, 2014 in Glen Coe, Scotland.

Like the battle of Waterloo, the battle for Scotland was a damn close-run thing. The effects of Thursday’s no vote are enormous – though not as massive as the consequences of a yes would have been.

The vote against independence means, above all, that the 307-year Union survives. It therefore means that the UK remains a G7 economic power and a member of the UN security council. It means Scotland will get more devolution. It means David Cameron will not be forced out. It means any Ed Miliband-led government elected next May has the chance to serve a full term, not find itself without a majority in 2016, when the Scots would have left. It means the pollsters got it right, Madrid will sleep a little more easily, and it means the banks will open on Friday morning as usual.

But the battlefield is still full of resonant lessons. The win, though close, was decisive. It looks like a 54%-46% or thereabouts. That’s not as good as it looked like being a couple of months ago. But it’s a lot more decisive than the recent polls had hinted. Second, it was women who saved the union. In the polls, men were decisively in favour of yes. The yes campaign was in some sense a guy thing. Men wanted to make a break with the Scotland they inhabit. Women didn’t. Third, this was to a significant degree a class vote too. Richer Scotland stuck with the union — so no did very well in a lot of traditonal SNP areas. Poorer Scotland, Labour Scotland, slipped towards yes, handing Glasgow, Dundee and North Lanarkshire to the independence camp. Gordon Brown stopped the slippage from becoming a rout, perhaps, but the questions for Labour — and for left politics more broadly — are profound.

For Scots, the no vote means relief for some, despair for others, both on the grand scale. For those who dreamed that a yes vote would take Scots on a journey to a land of milk, oil and honey, the mood this morning will be grim. Something that thousands of Scots wanted to be wonderful or merely just to witness has disappeared. The anticlimax will be cruel and crushing. For others, the majority, there will be thankfulness above all but uneasiness too. Thursday’s vote exposed a Scotland divided down the middle and against itself. Healing that hurt will not be easy or quick. It’s time to put away all flags.

The immediate political question now suddenly moves to London. Gordon Brown promised last week that work will start on Friday on drawing up the terms of a new devolution settlement. That may be a promise too far after the red-eyed adrenalin-pumping exhaustion of the past few days. But the deal needs to be on the table by the end of next month. It will not be easy to reconcile all the interests – Scots, English, Welsh, Northern Irish and local. But it is an epochal opportunity. The plan, like the banks, is too big to fail.

Alex Salmond and the SNP are not going anywhere. They will still govern Scotland until 2016. There will be speculation about Salmond’s position, and the SNP will need to decide whether to run in 2016 on a second referendum pledge. More immediately, the SNP will have to decide whether to go all-out win to more Westminster seats in the 2015 general election, in order to hold the next government’s feet to the fire over thepromised devo-max settlement. Independence campaigners will feel gutted this morning. But they came within a whisker of ending the United Kingdom on Thursday. One day, perhaps soon, they will surely be back.

By Martin Kettle; Published on 19 Sept. in http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/sep/19/scottish-independence-union-survived-put-away-flags

17
Sep

Europe’s Messy Political Divorces

Written on September 17, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Security

Divorce among couples rarely ends without scandal, and all the more  so with divorce between states. Those splits inevitably involve political and economic hardships, mutual recriminations and a complex and painful division of property. And even once this nightmare is over, the very presence of the other party causes interminable irritation and anger.

The only example that I can recall of a civilized “state divorce” in Europe was the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into two parts — accomplished thanks to the efforts of former Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Havel. To this day, the two “former spouses” maintain normal inter-state relations.

Divorce and separation remains a very real problem for Europe. Scotland’s agitation to leave the U.K., Catalonia’s attempts to escape the custody of Madrid and Novorossia’s bloody fight to break away from Ukraine are all ongoing issues.

And although each case is very different, they share one aspect in common: London, Madrid and Kiev are exerting great efforts to prevent those disunions. However, a strict interpretation of international law indicates that, in all three cases, those advocating separatism have every right to at least advocate their cause. In 1945, the right to self-determination was included in the United Nations Charter. Then, in 1966, this right was enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Still later, this right was confirmed in documents of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

What’s more, the concept of self-determination covers a wide range of possibilities and is defined as “The establishment of a sovereign and independent state, the free association with an independent state or the emergence into any other political status freely determined by a people.” In theory, the people living in the area affected should resolve these disputes, without any outside interference. The UN Charter states that “all states shall, in accordance with the provisions of the UN Charter, encourage the right to self-determination, and shall respect that right.” The only problem is that nobody “respects” that right, much less “encourages” it.

There are several reasons for political leaders’ inability to honor their obligations, to greater or lesser degrees. First, the UN Charter also contains the contradictory principle of “the inviolability of borders” because after World War II the leading powers wanted to ensure stability by any means. Consequently, for every argument for self-determination, a persuasive counter-argument is available. The second reason is that the clause on self-determination was introduced during the collapse of the colonial system when the authors had the African states in mind. At that time, few colonial powers wanted to keep their states, and so their passage into freedom was relatively uncomplicated.

Nobody could have guessed that Scotland and Catalonia would one day invoke the same principle. There are many more examples besides those: the Ukrainian Donbass, Spain’s Basque region, Russia’s Chechnya and so on. The underlying problem with the current world order is that it has long outworn its original set of clothing and just plods on wearing the same old, uncomfortable and increasingly tattered rags. A prime example of this is the fact that the victors in World War II continue to control the UN Security Council, a completely inappropriate situation given the wealth and power of the world’s developing nations. But unfortunately, the fear of making desperately needed repairs to the structure of the UN has already led to numerous squabbles, and threatens to undermine the very foundation of the organization. Perhaps humanity will simply have to wait for another world war, after which the winners will spell out the new rules of the game for the few remaining survivors. No matter the international body, though, the world’s issues are not just about rules written on paper. The problem is the egoism that drives the world today. If not for this egoism, the Catalonians and Basques would create their own states and live in peace alongside Madrid and as a part of the European Union. Scotland would settle down. And if Kiev and Moscow had enough sense, it would avoid all this bloodshed by letting Novorossia go in whichever direction it wanted. Thus freed from that heavy burden, Kiev could finally pursue meaningful integration with Europe. However, Madrid will continue desperately clinging to Barcelona, London to Scotland and both Kiev and Moscow to the Donbass. Despite considering itself the leader of civilization, Europe has yet to learn how to formulate reasonable and sound policies. If only someone would follow the example set by Vaclav Havel.

Published on Sept. 14 by Pyotr Romanov in http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/europes-political-divorces-are-often-messy/507012.html

9
Sep

showdown in scotland

Written on September 9, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Op Ed

 

GLASGOW, Scotland — All of a sudden, Scotland has gotten very interesting. That Scots would reject independence from the United Kingdom in a referendum on Sept. 18 has been conventional wisdom from Washington to Westminster for practically every day of a two-year-long campaign on the matter. But not anymore.

On the evening of Sept. 1, the Scottish Twittersphere, febrile at the best of times, went into meltdown. A fresh poll had just been released showing the “No” camp just six points ahead of the “Yes” side. The same pollsters had put the No camp’s lead at 14 points in mid-August, and a whopping 22 points earlier the same month, excluding undecided voters. Yet the Sept. 1 poll was no outlier, as Peter Kellner, the doyen of British polling,explains. As if on cue, a Sept. 6 poll now has the Yes camp holding a 51-49 percent lead. 

The latest polls give a scientific sheen to what anyone who has spent time in Scotland in recent weeks has noticed: Support for independence is building. Looking out the window of my apartment in Glasgow, I can count half a dozen blue Yes stickers and a Scottish Saltire flag (a nationalist symbol) with the same motto across the street. Most have appeared within the last month. Across Scotland, particularly in poorer urban areas, the political landscape is shifting in the nationalists’ favor. Rumors are rife that Rupert Murdoch’s widely circulated tabloid, the Sun, will declare its support for independence in the coming week.

To be sure, a Yes outcome is still an outside bet with the bookmakers. But the odds are shortening — and fast.

***

What makes this surge all the more remarkable is that the charismatic leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Alex Salmond, was widely seen as having lost a much-vaunted first debate with Alistair Darling, head of the No campaign, on Aug. 5. Salmond was hotly tipped — one of his own MPs predicted a “slaughter” — but in front of a TV audience of almost 2 million (in a country of just over 5 million), Salmond struggled to answer questions about what currency an independent Scotland would use and how it would transition from the United Kingdom to separate statehood.

Despite Salmond’s televised travails, however, opinion polls rose slightly in favor of the nationalists after the debate. Then, in late August, he SNP leader wiped the floor with a lackluster Darling in the second and final live clash. Unsurprisingly, pro-United Kingdom spin doctors in the pressroom looked visibly worried.

Unionist solicitudes may have come too late. The “Better Together” campaign, as the No side is called, has maintained a relentlessly negative tone, which has earned it the nickname “Project Fear.” Just days before the latest opinion poll, a Better Together video featuring a housewifeunable to think about independence amid the clatter of family life was roundly criticized for being sexist and condescending — which is particularly damaging, as the female vote could prove decisive in just under two weeks’ time. The video went viral; even BuzzFeed picked up on the “Patronising BT Lady.”

Moreover, a parade of (mainly London-based) celebrities calling on Scotland to stay in the union was more cringe-inducing than voter-swaying. Warnings against independence from international leaders — whether Barack Obama or Tony Abbott — have also had little effect on the Scottish electorate. Read more…

Published on Sept. 8th in http://www.foreignpolicy.com/ by Peter Geoghegan

3
Sep

Hong Kong’s Democracy Dilemma

Written on September 3, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Democracy & Human Rights, Op Ed

HONG KONG — On Sunday the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress issued restrictive guidelines for the election of Hong Kong’s next chief executive in 2017. Shorn of its technical details, the proposal in effect gives Beijing the means to control who could run for the top office in Hong Kong: Voters would get to cast a ballot, but only for one of just a handful of candidates pre-selected by the Chinese government.

“By endorsing this framework,” Cheung Man-kwong, a veteran politician of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, wrote, “China has in truth and in substance reneged on her promise to give Hong Kong universal suffrage.”

Three decades ago, when Beijing and the British government, which was in charge of Hong Kong then, were negotiating the terms of the territory’s handover back to China, Mr. Cheung was among those who supported “reunification” on the understanding that Hong Kong would eventually acquire a fully democratic system.

Now some officials here are urging residents to accept Beijing’s undemocratic proposal. They say its version of the one-person-one-vote proposition, however faulty, is “a bird in hand.” But other Hong Kongers rightly suspect that accepting that plan would be like drinking from a poisoned chalice. The Standing Committee’s announcement Sunday certainly came as a shock, after weeks of regular, large-scale protests by pro-democracy groups.

Beijing has made it clear that only someone who “loves the country and loves Hong Kong” is acceptable for the top post in Hong Kong and that screening candidates for that qualification is necessary for China’s national security. There are people here, according to top officials in Beijing, who still do not accept Hong Kong’s reunification with China and are conniving with foreign forces to subvert the Chinese government, using Hong Kong as a base.

It does not much matter whether Beijing really believes what it says. What matters is that what Beijing says is an excuse for its uncompromising position. And it matters that the people of Hong Kong now face a dilemma. They can either reject the framework proposed by Beijing knowing they will be offered no other. Or they can take it, and by validating with a pseudo-popular mandate Beijing’s selection of their chief executive, allow the Chinese government to assume complete control over Hong Kong’s affairs.

Once Beijing achieves complete control, there is no reason why it would allow Hong Kong’s system to democratize. The aggressive administration of the current chief executive, C.Y. Leung, has already been bypassing long-established good practices and principles without any effective checks and balances.

It is no secret that Beijing is dissatisfied with many features of the Hong Kong people’s way of life, including a free press and an independent judiciary that includes foreign judges. (Both institutions have faced political pressure.) This is largely because the Chinese government has very different ideas about the meaning of freedom and the rule of law. The premium it places on stability and national security, and the degree of stability and security it deems necessary, are poles apart from the common values of the Hong Kong community. And to Beijing, which remains imperial in habit, it is intolerable that Hong Kong’s ordinary people should put their will above that of the government.

Read more…

By Margaret Ng, published in the New York Times on Sept. 2

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