Archive for the ‘International Conflict, Terrorism & Security’ Category

8
Apr

KIGALI, Rwanda—A jet roared overhead as we approached the crash site, strolling through a garden of fruit trees at the home of the late Rwandan president, Juvénal Habyarimana. In front of us, a guard manned a small concrete tower perched atop a red brick wall that obscured our view of the wreckage.

Walking under a massive ficus tree, past a pond that once housed Habyarimana’s python, my guide Christine motioned me toward a ladder that led to a small viewing platform. Minutes earlier I’d stood inside Habyarimana’s bedroom, explored his secret weapons closet, and the chamber where he’d practiced witchcraft. Now, I was about to see the remains of the plane in which Rwanda’s longest-serving president was assassinated—the event that ignited the Rwandan genocide.

It’s been 20 years since Habyarimana’s Falcon 50 aircraft was shot down on the outskirts of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, and the country has come a long way from the 100 days of mass murder that followed. Although political tensions still simmer and current President Paul Kagame has been accused of suppressing dissent, Rwanda is now one of Africa’s safest nations and its economy is among the fastest growing on the continent. The country that in the spring of 1994 witnessed the worst genocide since the Holocaust is now defined by a lack of crime, spotless public areas, and officials who are harshly punished if caught soliciting bribes or skimming off of public contracts. Today, aside from a handful of memorials filled with skulls, photos of the dead, and displays of the instruments of death—spiked clubs, hoes, machetes—there’s little visible evidence of the nightmare that saw the deaths of up to 1 million Rwandans, mostly members of the Tutsi minority.

The 20th anniversary of the genocide will be commemorated on April 7, and I decided to visit the scene that triggered the bloodshed. On an afternoon in March, I made my way to Habyarimana’s residence: a three-story brick and concrete structure located a mile from Kigali International Airport’s runway. Built in 1976, three years after Habyarimana seized power, the mansion has been open to the public since 2008, when it was reborn as the State House Museum. An hourlong tour includes a walk through the house and gardens and a visit to the Falcon 50 wreckage, which sits just beyond the edge of the compound. Read more…

 

By Jon Rosen. Jon Rosen is a freelance journalist focusing on East Africa and Africa’s Great Lakes region. He is a two-time finalist, and one-time winner, at the Diageo Africa Business Reporting Awards in London.

Published on April 4 in http://www.slate.com

 

31
Mar

Granted, the crisis in Ukraine is worrisome, Vladimir Putin’s behavior is unpredictable, and the 30,000 Russian troops amassed on the Ukrainian border arouse a sense of dread and danger unfelt since the Cold War. That said, the alarmism is getting out of hand. Legitimate concerns are spiraling into war chants and trembling, a weird mix of paranoia and nostalgia, needlessly inflating tensions and severely distorting the true picture.

A bizarre example of this is a March 26New York Times story headlined “Military Cuts Render NATO Less Formidable as Deterrent to Russia.” The normally seasoned reporters, Helene Cooper and Steven Erlanger, note that the United States “has drastically cut back its European forces from a decade ago.” For instance, during “the height of the Cold War” (which was actually three decades ago, but let that pass), we had about 400,000 combat-ready forces defending Western Europe—whereas now we have about 67,000. In terms of manpower, weapons, and other military equipment, they write, “the American military presence” in Europe is “85 percent smaller than it was in 1989.”

Yet the article contains not one word about the decline of Russia’s “military presence” in Europe since that time. It only takes one word to sum up that topic: disappeared. The once-mighty Warsaw Pact—the Russian-led alliance that faced NATO troops along the East-West German border—is no more. And its erstwhile frontline nations—East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Poland—have been absorbed into the West, indeed into NATO. This is hardly an esoteric fact, yet its omission makes the Times’ trend lines seem much scarier than they really are.

Nor, even with its own borders, is the Russian army the formidable force it once. According to data gathered by GlobalSecurity.org, Russian troop levels have declined since 1990 from 1.5 million to 321,000. Over the same period, tank divisions have been slashed from 46 to five, artillery divisions from 19 to five, motorized rifle divisions from 142 to 19, and so it goes across the ranks. Read more…

By Fred Kaplan, author of The Insurgents and the Edward R. Murrow press fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Published on March 28th, 2014 in Slate http://www.slate.com/

21
Mar

 

While much of the world was busy watching Russia swallow Crimea, few realised that an also dangerous territorial tit-for-tat had begun to unfold earlier this month more in the South China Sea.

 

At Second Thomas Shoal, a handful of Philippine marines have long been stationed and re-provisioned on the rusting deck of the BRP Sierra Madre, a Philippine naval ship half-sunk into the reef in 1999. Ever since, the vessel and the marines have served to embody Manila’s claim of sovereignty over the shoal. More recently, China has tried to raise the salience of its own claim by intensively patrolling the area.

 

Protesters picket the Chinese Consulate at the financial district of Makati city east of Manila, Philippines Monday, 3 March 2014, to protest the recent use of water cannons by the Chinese coast guard to drive away Filipino fishermen off the disputed Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. (Photo: AAP)

 

On 9 March 2014, China made a move to end the status quo at the shoal. For the first time in 15 years, Beijing stopped Manila from delivering supplies to the Sierra Madre. The Chinese Coast Guard forced two Philippine ships to turn away. Manila answered the blockade by successfully dropping food and water to the marines by air. It was then up to Manila whether to send in another supply ship or plane, and up to Beijing whether to leave it alone, chase it away, sink it, or shoot it down.

 

China claims that the Philippine ships were ‘loaded with construction materials’ to build up Manila’s position. Manila says the ships were merely trying to re-provision the marines ‘to improve the conditions there’, not ‘to expand or build permanent structures on the shoal’.

 

A dozen years ago China and the 10 ASEAN states signed a 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, or DOC. The signers undertook ‘to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force’. China’s threat of force against the Philippine supply ships at Second Thomas Shoal on 9 March violated the DOC.

 

The long and ongoing record of unilateral Chinese assertions or aggressions in the South and East China Sea no longer leaves room for doubt as to Beijing’s intention. China wants and is trying to achieve dominance over the waters behind what it calls the ‘first island chain’ and land features that fringe the U-shaped line.

 

The question is not ‘what does China intend?’ The answer — dominance of some kind and degree — is known. The question is ‘what, if anything, is anyone else prepared to do?’ Read more…

Donald K. Emmerson heads the Southeast Asia Forum in the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University.

Published on 18 March in http://www.eastasiaforum.org

 

14
Mar

Though it would wish otherwise, Turkey cannot avoid being implicated in the Crimean crisis. The peninsula’s 260,000-strong Tatar population, roughly 15 percent of total Crimean population, creates a strong bond. Ethnically, linguistically and by way of religion (Sunni Islam) Tatars are very close to Turks. Several millions of Turkish citizens can claim Tatar roots thanks to the successive migratory waves since the Russian Empire took over the Crimean Khanate, an Ottoman vassal, in 1783. Yusuf Akçura, one of the founding father of Turkish nationalism, was a Tatar too, (though coming from the Volga region rather than Crimea). These days, the Turkish press abounds with articles and op-eds calling for the government to take a tough stance and protect the Tatar minority, largely favourable to the new government in Kyiv, from Russia‘s incursion. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu heeded the call pledging to extend protection.

The second reason Ankara takes interest in the ongoing crisis is Turkey’s sense of belonging the Black Sea region, however blurry it might be. Although its foreign policy has been firmly tied with the Middle East for the past five years or so, Ukraine is seen as a neighbouring country. A change of the territorial status quo in the area is not to be taken light heartedly. It’s not solely the long-standing concern about its own territorial integrity which is at stake but potentially other tension points across the post-Soviet space such as Nagorno-Karabakh. As the independence referendum tabled by the Crimean Parliament for 16 March draws near, prospects for secession are becoming all too real. Turkey will no doubt have to respond and denounce the outcome of the referendum. The question is how far it is prepared to go in a concerted push-back action against Russia. Read more….

 

By Dimitar Bechev, Published on Mar. 13, 2014 in the European Council on Foreign Relations http://ecfr.eu/blog

7
Mar

China's President Xi Jinping ( C) and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovich inspect honour guards during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on December 5, 2013. (Jason Lee/Courtesy Reuters)

 

This post is one of a three-part Asia Unbound series on the implications for Asia of the crisis in Ukraine. See related posts from my colleagues Alyssa Ayres and Sheila Smith.

Russia’s de facto assertion of military control in Ukraine’s Crimean region has put China in a bind. Moscow’s actions fly in the face of one of China’s longest held tenets of foreign policy: “no interference in the internal affairs of others.” Yet China is loathe to criticize publicly one of the few countries that never criticizes it. So what is Beijing to do?

Reading media headlines in the United States, it would be easy to assume that China had simply cast its lot with Russia. Referring to commentary in state-run media such as theGlobal Times and Xinhua, many western outlets see Beijing as unequivocally supporting Moscow. And indeed, an editorial in the Global Times is particularly clear in its preference that China stand with Russia. It notes that Russia is China’s “most reliable strategic partner” and urges that China not “disappoint Russia when it finds itself in a time of need.” According to the Global Times, China should prove itself a reliable strategic partner: “This way, we will make friends.” It is tempting to ask what kind of friends China will be making by supporting Russia, but that seems beside the point. As for China’s long-standing commitment to non-interference, the Global Times offers this rather confused commentary: “Some think China’s policy of non-interference will be tested in this matter, and that if China supports Russia, it will become ensnared in a diplomatic trap. This is the mentality of the weak. The West has interfered in the internal affairs of many countries, but never admitted it.”

Yet before we assume that the Global Times is a government mouthpiece, I am mindful of a meeting I had a few years back with officials from China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). They were emphatic in arguing that the Chinese media—whether state-funded or not—were not a reliable proxy for official Chinese policy. Indeed, there is nothing to date in statements by the PRC’s foreign ministry to suggest that Chinese president Xi Jinping is prepared to hold hands with Putin and jump off a diplomatic cliff. Here is what MOFA spokesman Qin Gang has said thus far: “It is China’s longstanding position not to interfere in others’ internal affairs. We respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” And further, he noted, “We understand the historical background of the Ukraine issue, and the complexity of the current reality. As I have said yesterday, to get to this point today, things happened for a reason. We hope that all parties can, through dialogue and consultation, find a political situation, prevent further escalation and work together to safeguard peace and stability in the region.”

What is behind China’s failure to stand up for Moscow? As Voice of America has reported, China has strong business interests in Ukraine that would undoubtedly be threatened were China to come out in support of Russia. Ukraine is a major source of arms for China and a growing partner in China’s resource quest. For example, Ukraine has agreed to lease 5 percent of its land to China for agricultural purposes in exchange for Chinese infrastructure investment. Of course these deals were struck under ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych. It is possible that the new government will not recognize or revoke them if they were struck under terms perceived as unequal by the new government. Certainly, however, Chinese-Ukrainian business relations will suffer more if Beijing overtly backs Moscow. Read more…

 

By Elizabeth Economy, Published on March 5, 2014 in http://blogs.cfr.org

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