Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category

30
Sep

By Robin Wright

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How 5 Countries Could Become 14

The map of the modern Middle East, a political and economic pivot in the international order, is in tatters. Syria’s ruinous war is the turning point. But the centrifugal forces of rival beliefs, tribes and ethnicities — empowered by unintended consequences of the Arab Spring — are also pulling apart a region defined by European colonial powers a century ago and defended by Arab autocrats ever since.

A different map would be a strategic game changer for just about everybody, potentially reconfiguring alliances, security challenges, trade and energy flows for much of the world, too.

Syria’s prime location and muscle make it the strategic center of the Middle East. But it is a complex country, rich in religious and ethnic variety, and therefore fragile. After independence, Syria reeled from more than a half-dozen coups between 1949 and 1970, when the Assad dynasty seized full control. Now, after 30 months of bloodletting, diversity has turned deadly, killing both people and country. Syria has crumbled into three identifiable regions, each with its own flag and security forces. A different future is taking shape: a narrow statelet along a corridor from the south through Damascus, Homs and Hama to the northern Mediterranean coast controlled by the Assads’ minority Alawite sect. In the north, a small Kurdistan, largely autonomous since mid-2012. The biggest chunk is the Sunni-dominated heartland.

Syria’s unraveling would set precedents for the region, beginning next door. Until now, Iraq resisted falling apart because of foreign pressure, regional fear of going it alone and oil wealth that bought loyalty, at least on paper. But Syria is now sucking Iraq into its maelstrom.

“The battlefields are merging,” the United Nations envoy Martin Kobler told the Security Council in July. “Iraq is the fault line between the Shia and the Sunni world and everything which happens in Syria, of course, has repercussions on the political landscape in Iraq.”

Over time, Iraq’s Sunni minority — notably in western Anbar Province, site of anti-government protests — may feel more commonality with eastern Syria’s Sunni majority. Tribal ties and smuggling span the border. Together, they could form a de facto or formal Sunnistan. Iraq’s south would effectively become Shiitestan, although separation is not likely to be that neat. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on September 28, 2013 (a version of this op-ed appears in print on September 29, 2013, on page SR7 of the New York edition with the headline: Imagining a Remapped Middle East).

25
Sep

By Colum Lynch, Ty McCormick

68th Session Of The United Nations General Assembly BeginsU.S. President Barack Obama presented world leaders at the United Nations with an image of America as a reluctant superpower, ready to confront Iran’s nukes and kill its enemies with targeted drone strikes, but unprepared to embark on open-ended military missions in Syria and other troubled countries. That, he hinted, should give the world cause for anxiety.

“The United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries,” he said in his address before the 193-member General Assembly. “The notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn’t borne out by America’s current policy or public opinion.”

Obama said that “the recent debate within the United States over Syria clearly showed the danger for the world is not an America that is eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries or take on every problem in the region as its own. The danger for the world is that the United States, after a decade of war — rightly concerned about issues back home, aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world — may disengage, creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.”

Obama said that for the time being, American foreign-policy priorities in the Middle East will focus primarily on two key priorities: “Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the Arab-Israeli conflict. While these issues are not the cause of all the region’s problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace.”

In addressing the conflict in Syria, Obama said U.S. aims were largely humanitarian.

“There’s no ‘great game’ to be won, nor does America have any interest in Syria beyond the well-being of its people, the stability of its neighbors, the elimination of chemical weapons, and ensuring it does not become a safe haven for terrorists,” he said. Read more…

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on September 24, 2013.

23
Sep

By Cameron Abadi

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To state the obvious: Angela Merkel, who has just won a third term as German chancellor, isn’t very macho. Her preferred free-time pursuit is recreational nature walking. (Also, baking: she admitted during the campaign season that her husband was sometimes displeased by the paucity of crumbs atop her cakes.) She hardly ever indulges in public demonstrations of authority; she speaks softly, and mostly refrains from displays of emotion, except for occasional flashes of a nervous smile. As for body language, her signature gesture is the Merkel diamond, which seems laboratory-tested to avoid appearing confrontational.

Compare that, for a moment, with the testosterone-soaked state of U.S.-Russian diplomacy, which has devolved in recent weeks into a high-profile pissing match. Vladimir Putin raided U.S.-backed NGOs, while Barack Obama chided Putin’s posture; Putin extended asylum to America’s most-wanted fugitive, as Obama canceled a bilateral Moscow summit. For a while, it seemed as if the confrontation would have to be settled with a round of one-on-one basketball or some judo sparring. Eventually, they both managed to claim credit for averting war with Syria—Putin from the op-ed page of the one newspaper that Barack Obama professes to care about.

There was something transfixing about the display of presidential one-upsmanship; even Germans seemed more drawn to the Putin-Obama show than their own election campaign. But if Putin and Obama ever do manage to stop their reciprocal bouts of preening, they’d do well to consider cribbing from Merkel’s machismo-less political methods. There’s an argument to be made that it’s Merkel who is the Machiavelli of our day—better, and certainly shrewder, at power politics than any of her peers, including her colleagues in the White House and Kremlin.

Merkel’s quiet affect shouldn’t obscure her influence. Germany has more power today than at any time since World War II. Merkel is prima inter pares in the European Union, capable of determining the shape of the bailout packages given to the continent’s ailing economies and, thus, capable of determining the shape of their national economies for years on end. Even the ostensibly independent European Central Bank seems to take its directions from the chancellory in Berlin, afraid to get too far ahead of Merkel’s plans. Read more…

Cameron Abadi is Deputy Web Editor at Foreign Affairs.

As published in www.newrepublic.com September 22, 2103.

18
Sep

The struggle to find a diplomatic solution on Syria within the Security Council exposed the need for a new global decision-making body.

By Jim Arkedis

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In March of 2011 and just hours before the United Nations Security Council vote, Libyan dictator Muammar Ghaddafi promised citizens of Benghazi–his own countrymen–that he was “coming tonight” and that would show them “no mercy and no pity.” Gaddafi’s brazen statement telegraphed an impending attack with a high possibility massive civilian casualties.

In the Security Council immediately following Gaddafi’s threats, Russia and China–two permanent members with noted authoritarian governments themselves–abstained from voting on resolution 1973, which authorized “all necessary measures to protect civilians… including Benghazi.” (Germany, Brazil, and India, then-rotating members of the Security Council, abstained as well for their own reasons.)

In hindsight, Russia seems to have regretted its abstention. In January 2012, speaking about the growing civil war in Syria, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Australian TV that “the international community unfortunately did take sides in Libya and we would never allow the Security Council to authorize anything similar to what happened in Libya” in Syria.

That seems odd, because “what happened in Libya” was, on balance, a good thing: A sustained NATO air campaign unquestionably protected many more innocent civilians than it harmed and weakened Gaddafi’s forces en route to his downfall. What’s more, the Libya operation served as validation for those supporting the “responsibility to protect,” a 2006 Security Council mandate that called on parties involved in armed conflict to bear primary responsibility to protect civilians, approved by a unanimous 15-0 vote.

NATO’s mission in Libya seems to have fundamentally changed Moscow’s calculus. Russia’s firm opposition to any resolution authorizing military action against its client-state derailed American, French, and British hopes of a “legal” intervention. Russian President Vladimir Putin went a step farther, pointing out the illegality of military action without a UN mandate:

Under international law the only body that can authorize using weapons against a sovereign state is the UN Security Council. Any other reasons and methods to justify the use of force against an independent and sovereign state are unacceptable and they can be seen as nothing but aggression.

This is, of course, a rich statement from the man who invaded the Republic of Georgia in 2008 with 9,000 troops and 350 tanks and nary a Security Council vote in sight. But if Putin’s calculation is that standing for the sanctity of the Security Council is the best way to protect Russia against anything hinting of intervention, it’s clearly his best trump card. Read more…

Jim Arkedis is a Senior Fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute and was a DOD counter-terrorism analyst.

As published by The Atlantic on September 17, 2013.

17
Sep

Europe cannot decide the course of the Arab spring, but it still matters

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After the butchering of soldiers in the first world war and of civilians in the second, one should not be too hard on Europeans—especially Germans—for losing their love of killing. Post-war Europe is, increasingly, past wars. To judge from the parliamentary vote in Britain and the debate in France over military action in Syria, even the more martial countries are now less warlike. Yet pacifism can be too much of a good thing. When news of the chemical-weapons attacks in Syria broke on August 21st, European foreign ministers were holding an emergency meeting in Brussels. The gassing of civilians was barely discussed; the topic of the day was the military coup in Egypt. Eurocrats claimed that information was too scant; cynics said many ministers wanted to ignore the horror lest they were forced to act.

The European Union only formally got around to Syria on September 7th, at a long-planned meeting in Vilnius, after an embarrassing flip-flop by Germany. The day before the Germans had refused to sign a declaration by Western leaders at the G20 summit demanding “a strong international response”. They reversed course when a softer version, with an exhortation for UN action and peace talks, was agreed on in Vilnius. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, clearly did not want a repeat of 2011, when she was isolated among Western leaders in rejecting military intervention in Libya. But nor did she want, just before a German election, to allow the Social Democrats to repeat their feat of 2002, when Gerhard Schröder came from behind to win the election partly by strongly opposing military intervention in Iraq. The odd thing is that nobody has even asked Germany, or most other Europeans, to take part in strikes against Syria. Only Britain and France have the wherewithal to fire cruise missiles from a safe distance. There was no pressure to arm the rebels, a cause of previous divisions. Yet still the Europeans havered.

All of which raises questions about Europe’s declared wish to be a “global player”. The Arab world is where the EU should make its influence felt. Thanks to its growing energy independence America may one day feel less burdened by the region. Not so Europe: the Middle East is next door. France and Britain took the lead in Libya (with much American help). But for Jan Techau, director of Carnegie Europe, a think-tank in Brussels, the vacillation over the chemical attacks in Syria shows that “the Europeans have never been able to get out of the passenger seat to become the driver—and silently they are quite happy with that.”

For decades the Middle East has been a region where, as an old cliché puts it, “America plays, Europe pays”. This remains true in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The EU is a huge financial supporter of the Palestinian Authority. But it was the Americans who got the two sides to start talking again. Now the EU stands accused by Israel of prejudging the talks by issuing formal guidelines to prevent any funding of projects in territories that were occupied by Israel in 1967. Read more…

As published in www.economist.com on September 14, 2013 (from the print edition).

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