Archive for the ‘Topics’ Category

27
Feb

Spotlight on Crimea

Written on February 27, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Foreign Policy, News

With the victory of the Maidan movement in Ukraine and fall of President Viktor Yanukovich, many questions about the future of Ukraine are swirling. The most important and potentially disastrous question involves Crimea. Pro- and anti-Russian demonstrators in Crimea clashed on Wednesday as Putin ordered military exercises across the border and the Crimean parliament ruled out debating a split from Kiev.

Crimea, a majority-Russian-speaking peninsula in the south of Ukraine on the Black Sea coast, could become the next flashpoint in the Ukrainian crisis. History is a big part of the problem.

Crimea was conquered by the Russian tsar Catherine the Great in 1783 from the Crimean Tatar Khanate, a state descended from the Mongol Empire and for centuries affiliated with the Ottoman Empire. Crimea was settled primarily by Russian nobles and serfs in the succeeding century.

Joseph Stalin deported the entire Tatar population of Crimea to Central Asia during World War II in one of his fits of paranoia. Crimea had little historical connection with Ukraine until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred the peninsula from the Russian Socialist republic to the Ukrainian Socialist republic in 1954, in honor of the three-hundredth anniversary of the annexation of the Eastern half of Ukraine by the Russian tsar Aleksei in 1654.

Nikita Khrushchev and most of the world thought this was meaningless because both republics were part of the Soviet Union. But when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Crimea became part of the independent Ukrainian state.

Russian elites have never really accepted Crimea as a valid part of Ukraine. Many Russians own or rent summer dachas on the peninsula. The Russian Navy maintains an important base at Sevastopol. Read more…

Eric Lohr is Professor of Russian History, and Anya Schmemann is an Assistant Dean at American University.

Published in the National Interest on 27 February: http://nationalinterest.org

25
Feb

America’s Global Retreat

Written on February 25, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Americas, Foreign Policy, Op Ed

Since former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke uttered the word “taper” in June 2013, emerging-market stocks and currencies have taken a beating. It is not clear why talk of (thus far) modest reductions in the Fed’s large-scale asset-purchase program should have had such big repercussions outside the United States. The best economic explanation is that capital has been flowing out of emerging markets in anticipation of future rises in U.S. interest rates, of which the taper is a harbinger. While plausible, that cannot be the whole story.

For it is not only U.S. monetary policy that is being tapered. Even more significant is the “geopolitical taper.” By this I mean the fundamental shift we are witnessing in the national-security strategy of the U.S.—and like the Fed’s tapering, this one also means big repercussions for the world. To see the geopolitical taper at work, consider President Obama’s comment Wednesday on the horrific killings of protesters in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev. The president said: “There will be consequences if people step over the line.”

No one took that warning seriously—Ukrainian government snipers kept on killing people in Independence Square regardless. The world remembers the red line that Mr. Obama once drew over the use of chemical weapons in Syria . . . and then ignored once the line had been crossed. The compromise deal reached on Friday in Ukraine calling for early elections and a coalition government may or may not spell the end of the crisis. In any case, the negotiations were conducted without concern for Mr. Obama.

The origins of America’s geopolitical taper as a strategy can be traced to the confused foreign-policy decisions of the president’s first term. The easy part to understand was that Mr. Obama wanted out of Iraq and to leave behind the minimum of U.S. commitments. Less easy to understand was his policy in Afghanistan. After an internal administration struggle, the result in 2009 was a classic bureaucratic compromise: There was a “surge” of additional troops, accompanied by a commitment to begin withdrawing before the last of these troops had even arrived. Read more…

By Niall Ferguson

Mr. Ferguson is a history professor at Harvard and a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. His most recent book is “The Great Degeneration” (Penguin Press, 2013).

Published on 21 Feb. 2014 in http://online.wsj.com

24
Feb

ukraine

 

The bloody conflict in Ukraine could trigger yet another confrontation between the West and Russia. Dominance in Europe is at stake on the geopolitical chess board. While Ukraine itself could descend into civil war.

The quote printed in SPIEGEL 33 years ago was a noteworthy one, and still sounds remarkably topical: “We have to ensure that this Soviet empire, when it breaks apart due to its internal contradictions, does so with a whimper rather than a bang.” The sentence was spoken by US Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger during an interview conducted in September of 1981.

This week in Ukraine, one of the core regions of that former empire, it is looking very much like a “bang.” Thursday in Kiev has seen bloody violence that has cost the lives of dozens amid gunfire and brutal clashes on Independence Square. Hundreds have been wounded, many seriously. The violence comes on the heels of similar battles on Tuesday — and mark the beginning of what could become an extended and dramatic conflict over the country’s future. Some of those who have traveled to Kiev to view the situation first hand in recent weeks are fully aware of what a “bang” looks like — US Senator John McCain, 77, for example, a veteran of Vietnam who was shot down in 1967 and spent over two years as a prisoner of war. In December, he stood on the Independence Square stage in Kiev and called out: “People of Ukraine, this is your moment! The free world is with you! America is with you!”

In other words, the Cold War has returned and Moscow is once again the adversary. The only difference is that the weapons have changed.

It is no longer just the association agreement with the European Union that is at stake. Nor is the future of President Viktor Yanukovych, a man surrounded by rumors of corruption, the focus anymore. Rather, geopolitics has taken center stage and the question as to which power centers in Europe and the Eurasia region will be dominant in the future has become paramount. Former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski once compared the region to a chess board. The players, as always, include the US, Russia, the EU and NATO. Read more…

By Uwe Klussmann

Published in Der Spiegel on Feb. 20, 2014 http://www.spiegel.de

 

21
Feb

Decoding two sets of surprising Asia peace talks

Written on February 21, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Foreign Policy

Is there something in the water?

Suddenly peace, or at least peace talks, are breaking out in the most unlikely places. In Asia, entrenched enemies – China and Taiwan, North and South Korea – have agreed to sit down at the table.

In an effort to decode the surprising developments, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour spoke on Tuesday with Kurt Campbell, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, who is widely credited with being the key architect of America’s “Pivot to Asia.”China and Taiwan are holding their first-ever official face-to-face talks since Mao Zedong’s communists won their civil war in 1949 – a “quite significant” turn of events, Campbell said.“Over the course of the last 30 years, people thought that the most tense situation in Asia was between China and Taiwan, but in recent years the relationship has improved substantially – commercially, economically, and now politically.”What both sides are getting out of the talks, he told Amanpour, is “a greater sense of predictability.”

China does not recognize the independence of Taiwan, and Taiwan is not a U.N. member state, but the island is self governing and generally conducts itself in terms of bilateral relations as an independent country.Over the years, Taiwan and China have built a thriving commercial relationship, with hundreds of billions of dollars in trade.Some sectors, he told Amanpour, think of Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou as “pro-Beijing,” but that view is “probably simplistic.”

“I think he is actually a Taiwan nationalist. I do believe he thinks that closer economic and commercial ties are just the wave of the future, and that Taiwan has few other options, and that to stand against the giant just across the Taiwan straits in a sort of militaristic pose makes no sense.”

Another surprise set of Asian talks, between North and South Korea, has grabbed attention in diplomatic circles.North Korea offered talks with South Korea, and “high-level” officials are set to meet on the two countries’ border on Wednesday.“I do not believe that it holds the same hope that we’ve seen between China and Taiwan. If anything, North and South Korea are more estranged than ever,” Campbell said.The talks come ahead of planned reunions between Korean families estranged by the Korean war more than half a century ago.

“These family reunifications and meetings have taken place over a period of decades, and they almost always get abruptly cancelled at the last minute or abbreviated,” Campbell said.Indeed, Pyongyang said last week it may back out of the reunions of the families if South Korean forces participate in annual joint military exercises with the United States later this month – Campbell said such exercises “will not” be cancelled.

“It’s really North Korea playing on the heartstrings of the South Koreans.”“South Korea has had almost no contact with this new government, and now suddenly North Korea dangles what really matters a lot to South Korea, which is the family reunifications.”The talks, Campbell said, will not lead to a significant “warming.”“On every issue – whether it’s the territorial issue, the islands, the manufacturing that’s on-going inside North Korea – tensions abound.”

Published on Feb. 11, 2014

By Mick Krever, CNN http://amanpour.blogs.cnn.com/2014/02/11/kurt-campbell-north-korea-south-korea-taiwan-china-talks/

14
Feb

Local leadership key in Arab world

Written on February 14, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Middle East, Op Ed

It’s popular these days to say the Arab Spring has gone badly awry. It’s a bit early to make these judgments – think of what America looked like in 1779, three years after its revolution – but if you were to compile a mid-term report, Syria would get a failing grade, Egypt’s revolution has faltered badly, Libya is a mess. But there is one spark of hope for the revolutions of the Middle East, and it’s a country that could be a model for all the others: Tunisia, which was the birthplace of the Arab Spring.

What has Tunisia done right?

Well, let’s start with history. Tunisia has been quite different from Egypt and its neighbors for centuries. It was the first Arab state to develop a modern constitution, all the way back in 1861. Over time, Tunisia has developed stronger civic institutions than its Arab neighbors, including a human rights league that was founded nearly four decades ago. About a fifth of the government’s budget has been allocated to education. And the demographics are largely homogenous: while Syria and Iraq are divided along sectarian lines – Shia or Sunni – some 98 percent of Tunisians are Sunni Muslims.

But perhaps more important than all of these historic differences are the choices that modern Tunisians have made.

Tunisia’s military has stayed out of active politics. Contrast that with Egypt, where the military controls anywhere from 10 percent to 40 percent of the economy and business. Four of Egypt’s last five presidents came from the military. And the one that didn’t – Mohammed Morsy – was toppled by the military.

Another factor behind Tunisia’s relative success is the foresight of its civilian leaders.

Three years ago, Tunisia had a similar trajectory to Egypt. Both nations voted for Islamist leaders whose movements had either been suppressed, banned, or exiled. Look at what happened next. In Egypt, when a fresh spate of protests began, President Morsy battened down the hatches and refused to reach out to his detractors. He was removed by force. On the other hand, in Tunisia, the coalition government actually stepped aside of its own accord, handing power to a temporary government. Now that is how democracy is supposed to work – by making painful compromises.

In Cairo, people didn’t make those concessions. Egypt’s Islamists wanted to push through a constitution that would be unacceptable to liberals, and then to rule by presidential decree. Tunisia’s new constitution – which was approved overwhelmingly by a majority of Islamists – is being hailed as the most progressive constitution in the Arab world, with equal rights for women and minorities.

Last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, with top leaders from the Arab world, Tunisia’s Rachid Ghannouchi explained why his party, the Islamist party, willingly stepped down from government last year in Tunisia. “We had two choices,” he said. “Either we stay in power and we lose democracy … or we gain democracy and give up power.” He chose the latter. It was a selfless choice, but also a savvy one: It wouldn’t be surprising if he and his party are back in power later this year.

The Tunisian model is not flawless, but it has powerful lessons for the rest of the Arab world. This is a country that has learned the most difficult lesson of democracy: how to be inclusive and how to compromise. It has learned this lesson without the West, without aid money, without compromising on its religious ideas (remember, the new constitution firmly enshrines Islam, but alongside women’s and minority’s rights.) So before we start blaming Washington or the West for not doing enough in the Arab world, let’s learn from Tunisia that local leadership is the key – and that right now there is little of it in the Arab world.

BY GPS editor, Jason Miks

Published on Feb. 9th, 2014 http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com

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