Archive for the ‘Topics’ Category

27
Jul

The E.U. is the world’s great no-show

Written on July 27, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Europe, Foreign Policy, Op Ed

The Ukraine crisis has shone a spotlight on one of the glaring gaps in the world: the lack of a strategic and purposeful Europe. The United States can and should lead on the response to this conflict, but nothing can really happen without Europe. The European Union is by far Russia’s largest trading partner — it buys much of Russia’s energy, is the major investor in Russian companies and is the largest destination for Russian capital. Some of President Obama’s critics want him to scold Vladimir Putin. But ultimately, it is European actions that the Russian president will worry about.

Consider how Europe has dealt with Ukraine. For years, it could not really decide whether it wanted to encourage Ukrainian membership in the union, so it sent mixed signals to Kiev, which had the initial effect of disappointing pro-European Ukrainians, angering Russians and confusing everyone else.

In 2008, after Moscow sent troops into Georgia, Europe promised an “Eastern partnership” to the countries along Europe’s eastern fringe. But, as Neil MacFarlane and Anand Menon point out in the current issue of the journal Survival, “The Eastern partnership was a classic example of the EU’s proclivity for responding to events by adding long-term and rhetorically impressive, but resource-poor, bolt-ons to existing policy.”

European leaders were beginning to woo Ukraine without recognizing how this would be perceived in Russia. Moscow had its own plans for a customs union, to be followed by a Eurasian Union, which was meant to be a counter to the European Union. Ukraine was vital to Russia’s plans and was dependent on Russia for cheap natural gas. Plus, of course, Ukrainians were divided over whether to move west or east.

Negotiations between the European Union and Ukraine for an association agreement meandered along, with the lawyers and translators taking a year to work out the text. In describing this tardiness as a mistake, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said, “The same thing applies to the [European] Union as to the Vatican. God’s mills grind slowly but surely.” The deal that was offered to Ukraine was full of demands for reform and restructuring of its corrupt economy, but it had little in the way of aid to soften the blows and sweeten the pot. When then-President Viktor Yanukovych rejected Europe’s offer and sided with Moscow, he set in motion a high-speed, high-stakes game that Europe was utterly unprepared for and could not respond to.

If Europe was trying to move Ukraine into its camp, it should have been more generous to Kiev and negotiated seriously with Moscow to assuage its concerns. Instead, Europe seemed to act almost unaware of the strategic consequences of its actions. Then when Russia began a campaign to destabilize Ukraine — which persists to this day — Europe remained a step behind, internally conflicted and unwilling to assert itself clearly and quickly. Those same qualities have been on display following the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

The European Union still has a chance to send a much clearer signal to Ukraine, Russia and the world. It could demand that Russia pressure the separatists to cooperate fully with the investigation of Flight 17 and allow the Ukrainian government — which Moscow recognizes — to take control of its own territory in eastern Ukraine. It could put forward a list of specific sanctions that would be implemented were those conditions not met within, say, two weeks.

In addition, Europe should announce longer-term plans on two fronts, first to gain greater energy independence from Russian oil and gas. European nations must also reverse a two-decade downward spiral in defense spending that has made the E.U. a paper tiger in geopolitical terms. Germany, for example, spends about 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product on defense, among the lowest rates in Europe and well below the 2 percent that is the target for all NATO members. It’s hard for a country’s voice to be heard and feared when it speaks softly and carries a twig.

If we look back years from now and wonder why the liberal, open, rule-based international order weakened and eroded, we might well note that the world’s most powerful political and economic unit, the European Union, with a population and economy larger than America’s, was the great no-show on the international stage.

Published on July 24 by Fareed Kakaria in http://www.washingtonpost.com

23
Jul

GAZA CITY — When war between Israel and Hamas broke out two weeks ago, the Palestinian militant group was so hamstrung, politically, economically and diplomatically, that its leaders appeared to feel they had nothing to lose.

Hamas took what some here call “option zero,” gambling that it could shift the balance with its trump cards: its arms and militants.

“There were low expectations in terms of its performance against the recent round of Israeli incursions. It’s been exceeding all expectations,” said Abdullah Al-Arian, a professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar who is currently in Washington. “And it’s likely to come out in a far better position than in the last three years, and maybe the last decade.”

Hamas appeared powerless to end the near-blockade of its border by Israel and more recently Egypt. It could not even pay its 40,000 government workers their salaries.

The group was so handicapped that it agreed to enter into a pact with its rival party, Fatah, to form a new government. But that seemed only to make matters worse, sowing division within its own ranks, with some in the military wing angry at the concession, while providing none of the economic relief Hamas had hoped for.

When Hamas sent a barrage of rockets into Israel, simmering hostilities, and back and forth strikes, erupted into war.

At first, when Hamas rockets were being intercepted mainly by Israel’s Iron Dome system as Israel hit Gaza with devastating force, the group strove to persuade its supporters that it was having enough impact on Israel to wrest concessions: Its radio stations blared fictional reports about Israeli casualties.

But as it wore on, the conflict revealed that Hamas’s secret tunnel network leading into Israel was far more extensive, and sophisticated, than previously known. It also was able to inflict some pain on Israel, allowing Hamas to declare success even as it drew a devastating and crushing response. Its fighters were able to infiltrate Israel multiple times during an intensive Israeli ground invasion. Its militants have killed at least 27 Israeli soldiers and claim to have captured an Israeli soldier who was reported missing in battle, a potentially key bargaining chip.

And on Tuesday its rockets struck a blow to Israel — psychological and economic — by forcing a halt in international flights. Hamas once again looks strong in the eyes of its supporters, and has shown an increasingly hostile region that it remains a force to be reckoned with.Hamas, Mr. Arian said, has demonstrated that “as a movement, it is simply not going anywhere.”

But Hamas’s gains could be short-lived if it does not deliver Gazans a better life. Israel says its severe restrictions on what can be brought into Gaza, such as construction materials, are needed because Hamas poses a serious security threat, and the discovery of the tunnels has served only to validate that concern.

So far, at least 620 Palestinians have died, around 75 percent of them civilians, according to the United Nations, including more than 100 children. Gazans did not get a vote when Hamas chose to escalate conflict, nor did they when Hamas selected areas near their homes, schools and mosques to fire rockets from the densely populated strip. At the family house of four boys killed last week by an Israeli strike while playing on a beach, some wailing women cursed Hamas along with Israel.

It is also unclear whether, when the fighting ends, Hamas will have the same kind of foreign support it has had in the past to rebuild its arsenal or its infrastructure; Egypt, under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has destroyed hundreds of the tunnels that were used to bring in arms, money and supplies, and has kept the proper border crossing mostly closed. There are also some diplomatic efforts underway seeking to force Hamas to surrender its weapons in exchange for a cease-fire, a demand it is not likely to accept.

Omar Shaban, an economist and political independent, sat in his walled garden in the southern Gaza town of Deir al-Balah as shells crackled nearby and said he fervently hoped, but also doubted, that both Hamas and Israel’s government would reach for a substantive deal.

“This war will end tomorrow or after tomorrow, we will have another cease-fire, we will have another siege and Hamas will continue to run the scene,” he said. Read more…

Written by Anne Barnard on 22 July in http://www.nytimes.com

21
Jul
18
Jul

The downing of a Malaysian commercial airliner flying at 33,000 feet over Ukraine could dramatically broaden the Ukrainian crisis, even before it is determined who bears responsibility.

What has been a months-long shooting war between the U.S.-backed government in Kiev and Russian-supported separatists — and a war of words and sanctions between the West and Russia — now includes the deaths of nearly 300 people from several nations.

Britain, which a Malaysia Airlines manifest indicated had nine citizens aboard the aircraft, has called for an emergency meeting Friday of the U.N. Security Council. Although no Americans were initially reported aboard, early information from the manifest accounted for only 242 of 283 passengers aboard. Fifteen crew members also were aboard.

In the Netherlands, where Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 took off from Amsterdam on Thursday en route to Kuala Lumpur carrying more than 154 Dutch citizens, Prime Minister Mark Rutte rushed home from a vacation.

“I am deeply shocked,” Rutte said in a statement. “Very much is still unclear about the facts, the circumstances and the passengers.”

Other fatalities included citizens from across a wide swath of Europe, East Asia and Australia.

“This is a new element that nobody expected,” James F. Collins, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia who now works at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said of the plane’s downing. “It’s one of those events . . . that can have unpredicted negative or positive consequences.”

On the negative side, it marks a clear escalation of both firepower and the willingness to use it that could draw the patrons of both sides into more overt participation on the ground and more direct confrontation with each other.

World leaders, including some U.S. allies in Europe, who have seen the conflict as a regional one and been reluctant to turn on Moscow could be forced to reassess their position, said Wilson, who worked on European policy at the White House between 2007 and 2009. “It’s pretty difficult to continue playing that game if you have clear Russian fingerprints on the shooting down of a civilian airliner,” he said.

Former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton said in an interview with Charlie Rose that “if there is clear evidence linking Russia . . . that should inspire the Europeans to do much more” to punish Russia and assist the Ukrainian government.

But Collins and others suggested that the shocking nature of the incident could also be a wake-up call to all involved. “It may bring certain people to decide that some different approach is needed because this is really getting out of hand,” Collins said. “All of a sudden, it could mean a lot more people talking about [the Ukraine situation] and saying enough is enough.”

Both the Ukrainian government and the separatists pointed the finger at each other, and Russian President Vladi­mir Putin indirectly accused Kiev, saying that if it weren’t fighting the separatists that have taken over much of the eastern part of the country, no one would be shooting.

The United States and its allies were hesitant to quickly assign blame, and there was no overt suggestion that a civilian aircraft had been intentionally targeted. But there was a clear undercurrent in the Western response that the separatists were believed to be responsible.

“While we do not yet have all the facts, we do know that this incident occurred in the context of a crisis in Ukraine that is fueled by Russian support for the separatists, including through arms, materiel, and training,” said a statement released by the White House Thursday night after an extended meeting of President Obama’s senior staff.

The West has charged Russia with sending increasingly sophisticated weapons into eastern Ukraine. As recently as Wednesday, when Obama announced stepped-up sanctions against Moscow, officials cited extensive surveillance showing new Russian arms shipments and additional Russian troops deployed to the border. Read more…

July 17

Published in http://www.washingtonpost.com

17
Jul

In her fascinating book A History of God, Karen Armstrong posits that the reason people believe in God is because God “works for them.” That is to say, God is compelling because the idea of a divine being serves a useful purpose in people’s lives. That utilitarian argument may be masked beneath a deep layer of spiritual devotion — but it’s a pragmatic decision all the same.

The same logic works, to a large degree, in explaining the motives and interests of Israel and Hamas toward one another. As the current Gaza conflict proves once again, these two actors — in a perverse way — need each other.

That’s not to deny the enmity that marks the ties between Hamas and Israel, or the existential rhetoric that drives the tone of their public accusations. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that if Israeli and Hamas leaders had one wish, it would be to destroy the other. But in the practical world of Israeli-Palestinian politics, getting rid of one another is neither achievable — nor perhaps even desirable. Indeed, because it’s not an option, Israel and Hamas have not only made do with each other’s existence, they have tried to figure out how to derive the maximum benefit from one another.

The Israeli-Hamas bond goes back to the very inception of the Palestinian Islamist organization. Israel didn’t create Hamas in 1987, but in an effort to counter the more secular Fatah and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the 1970s, it gave a variety of Islamist groups political space and leeway. It even granted an operating license for an organization created by Hamas’s founder, Ahmed Yassin. Paradoxically, Hamas’s very reason for being depended on the existence of Israel — even though its main aim was to destroy it.

One way to look at this is as a Middle Eastern form of mutually assured destruction. Hamas cannot destroy Israel, and Israel knows that it cannot reoccupy Gaza and eradicate the Islamist organization at a cost that it is willing to bear. So each actor uses the other for its own purposes.

For Israel, Hamas is a convenient address to achieve many of its short-term goals. In the strange world of controlled military confrontation, when it wants a ceasefire, it goes to Hamas, not to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. When it wants Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit released from captivity, it goes to Hamas, not Abbas. And when it needs to strike out in response to the brutal murders of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, it cracks down on Hamas — whether or not the movement’s leadership authorized the action. Hamas is a convenient target of attack — and having applauded the kidnapping of the three boys, it is probably deserving as well.

Aaron David Miller is vice president for new initiatives and a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His forthcoming book is titled The End of Greatness: Why America Can’t Have (and Doesn’t Want) Another Great President

Published on 16 July in  http://www.foreignpolicy.com

Second, Israel needs Hamas in Gaza. Of course, it doesn’t want a militant terrorist organization launching rockets at its cities and citizens. But a Hamas that maintains order there and provides a hedge against even more radical jihadi groups is preferable to a lawless vacuum. Indeed,fewer rockets were fired from Gaza in 2013 than in any year since 2001. I’ve often pondered why al Qaeda has never been able to set up shop in an effective manner in Gaza, or undertake a terrorist extravaganza in Israel. The absence of an al Qaeda presence is not only a result of the Israeli security presence — it’s due to the determination of Palestinians not to allow the jihadists to hijack their cause.

The last thing Israel wants is a vacuum in Gaza. In fact, Giora Eiland, former head of Israel’s National Security Council, argues that it’s in Israel’s interest that Gaza be stable, with a strong economy and central authority. Indeed, Eiland argues, a state-like structure can be held responsible in the event of a confrontation: Israel could attack national infrastructure, not just rocket launchers.

Third, Hamas presents a wonderful bogeyman for those Israelis looking to avoid dealing with the questions of how to make the two-state solution a reality. Hamas’s hostile and frequently anti-Semitic rhetoric is a gift to Israeli right-wingers, and providing them with any number of talking points about why Israel can never trust Palestinians.

The problem posed by Hamas is not just a piece of propaganda by the Israeli Right. The fact is that the absence of a monopoly over the organized use of violence in the Palestinian territories poses a legitimate threat to a two-state solution. What Israeli is going to make what are regarded as existential concessions to Mahmoud Abbas — a Palestinian leader who lacks the power to silence all the guns and rockets of Palestine?

Finally, Hamas — particularly its military wing — also thrives on the existence of Israel. Hamas’s very legitimacy is derived from an ideology and strategy steeped in confrontation and resistance. However self-destructive the ideology may be, the movement represents to many Palestinians an effort to preserve their national identity and to resist Israel and its ongoing occupation. Abbas has his peace process — or what’s left of it — and his international campaign to drum up recognition of Palestinian statehood. Hamas has its resistance. It’s in the nature of its very reason for being.

There is a good chance that the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation is going to escalate, perhaps to include an Israeli ground incursion as well. But even if that’s the plan, the odds don’t favor Israel’s success in breaking Hamas as an organization or ending its control over Gaza. More than likely, it will only mark another bloody phase in a long struggle between two parties who can’t seem to live with one another — or apparently without one another either.

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