Archive for the ‘Topics’ Category

15
Apr

 

European countries with strong trade ties to Russia remain reluctant to impose stiffer sanctions even as the conflict in eastern Ukraine worsens. This may seem like a rather restrained response to the specter of a military Russian assault on Ukraine – German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel said at an event in Berlin on Monday that Russia “was clearly prepared to allow tanks to roll across European borders” – but the E.U.’s 28 member nations are struggling to get past their widely differing political and economic concerns. Hitting the E.U.’s €400bn annual trade with Russia would require serious economic sacrifices at home, and the bloc has so far been hoping that its cocktail of threats, mild sanctions and a few diplomatic snubs would be enough to contain Russia’s possible territorial ambitions.The problem, says Stefan Wolff, a professor of international security at the University of Birmingham, is that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not “reason and rationalize in the same way,” and has proved ready to jump on any public splits and timidity.

 

Ever since the E.U. provoked Moscow’s ire with plans to sign a trade pact with Ukraine in November, Russia has always seemed one step ahead. Putin persuaded then-President Viktor Yanukovich to jettison the deal; when Yanukovich was ousted by protests a few months later, Russia took advantage of the chaos and seized Crimea. Now Russia is accused of orchestrating the unrest in eastern Ukraine – claims Russian officials strongly deny.

 

The E.U.’s strongest reaction so far – visa-bans and asset-freezes on 33 Russian and Ukrainian individuals – came after the annexation of Crimea. Now the problem is getting the member states to agree at what stage the Kremlin’s alleged engineering of events in eastern Ukraine warrants the most serious sanctions against key economic sectors that include energy, arms and financial services. Such sanctions would have a widely different impact across Europe. In the east, nations like Hungary and Bulgaria, which are heavily reliant on Russian oil and gas, would suffer if Moscow responded to any sanctions by halting supplies. Cyprus, Greece and Spain, still struggling from the euro zone crisis, have a lot of Russian money in their banks. German industry has firm business relations with Russian companies.

 

The result is a diverse bloc arguing for diplomacy to be given more time. The more bullish nations are also acting with a degree of self-interest: Estonia and Latvia share borders with Russia and fear designs on their own territory. The United Kingdom – leading the calls for more sanctions – has its reputation as a forceful world player to maintain. Russia has shown a willingness to exploit these splits, last week sending a letter to 18 E.U. nations reliant on its energy and making veiled threats to the supplies. Officials in Washington have urged their partners in Europe to stay united and have pushed them toward imposing deeper sanctions. But the United States has both less to lose, and less sway.

 

“From an economic perspective the U.S. cannot impose strong sanctions on Russia,” says Georg Zachmann, a research fellow at the Brussels-based Bruegel think tank, citing the U.S.’s modest trading relationship. In 2012, Russian exports to the U.S. totalled $13 billion. The same year Russia sent goods worth €213 billion ($294 billion) to the E.U. The sale of oil and gas accounts for 50% of Russia’s federal budget reserves, and most of that goes to Europe. So the E.U. does have a hefty weapon in its toolbox. The next few days will be crucial. Ministers from Russia, the E.U., the U.S. and Ukraine will meet in Geneva on Thursday. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said that unless they get an acceptable response from Russia, the E.U. heads of state could call an emergency meeting in Brussels next week. The threat of holding yet another meeting may seem a typical example of the E.U. meeting aggression with bureaucracy. But if they use that opportunity to make good on their threats and approve the next phase of sanctions, Russia finally might start paying attention.

By Charlotte McDonald-Gibson; published on 15/04/2014 in http://time.com/63603/ukraine-crisis-eu-indecisive/

11
Apr

 

The self-immolation of a Syrian refugee in Lebanon last month is a harrowing reminder of the desperate circumstances of those who have fled the war. But the hardship extends beyond just Syrians. Today, Lebanon and Jordan provide sanctuary to one million and some 600,000 Syrian refugees, respectively – about 20 and 10 percent of their respective populations – and the social and economic stresses are taking a heavy toll. Worse, the prospect that many of these refugees might never return home threatens the long-term stability of these states.

 

Demography is a central problem for Lebanon. Syrian exiles are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims, and the influx has skewed Lebanon’s delicate sectarian balance of Sunnis, Shiites, and Christians. Adding to the religious strains are the ubiquitous complaints about Syrian workers driving down wages, and the burden refugees place on Lebanon’s already overtaxed and underfunded infrastructure. According to a recent World Bank report, over the next three years, Lebanon – which had a $4 billion budget deficit in 2013 – will require an additional $2 billion just to provide basic services to its new residents and to “address the expected additional impoverishment of the Lebanese people generated from the Syrian crisis.”

 

Absorbing refugees is also a burden for Jordan. While a fifth of Syrian expatriates currently reside in refugee camps, most live in the kingdom’s cities, where they are driving up rents – by up to 25 percent, the United Nations says – and taking scarce jobs from Jordanians who are already enduring an unofficial unemployment rate estimated at 30 percent. At the same time, despite a substantial budget deficit, Amman is providing free healthcare and education to these Syrians, 63 percent of whom receive monetary assistance from the United Nations.

 

Not surprisingly, the kingdom’s generosity toward its Syrian guests is starting to fuel resentment among the locals. As one Jordanian tribesman complained to me a few months ago, “They are taking the food out of our mouths.”

 

As refugees continue to flow into Lebanon and Jordan, tensions are mounting. Until now, incidents of violence between Syrians and host country nationals have been relatively limited. The worst attack occurred in December, when residents of a Lebanese village in the Beqa Valley reportedly torched a makeshift refugee encampment, leaving hundreds without shelter. To date, the incidents have been isolated, but a more concerted and sustained popular backlash is likely to materialize if the Syrian refugee crisis persists.

 

Alas, there is good reason to believe the problem will endure for some time. Syria’s nominally Shiite al-Assad regime is currently in no danger of imminent collapse. Meanwhile, the largely Sunni Muslim opposition is divided as secular fighters battle not only the regime, but rival Islamist militias, many of which are affiliated with al Qaeda. And even if al-Assad falls, Syria seems destined to face a lengthy and bloody struggle between ideologically opposed Sunni militias for the future of the state. At any rate, with an estimated one-third of all Syrian housing destroyed, there is little to which the refugees can return. Read more…

David Schenker is the Aufzien Fellow and director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.   Published on April 10 in http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com

 

10
Apr

Afghanistan Votes Against the Taliban

Written on April 10, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Democracy & Human Rights, News, Op Ed

thediplomat_2014-04-08_16-29-55-386x257

Afghanistan’s election results aren’t out yet but we know who certainly lost the election: the Taliban.

Six women were arguing with the security guards of Zarghuna High School in central Kabul to let them enter the compound for voting. The guards argued that it was already 5 p.m. and the women could not be let in as voting had closed. Still, the women insisted. The head of security came in and he too tried to drive in the point that the p.m. deadline had passed but the women contended that a few minutes here and there did not make much of a difference and if they missed the chance this time they would have a long wait ahead of them to vote, which they said they did not want to do. Seeing  their determination, the chief relented and allowed them to enter the school and they were ushered into the last classroom where the ballot box was just about to be sealed. The women voted and left the school flashing their inked fingers.

This was the mood in Afghanistan on Saturday when the country voted for in its first democratic transition of government; the country had never seen this kind of zeal to vote. According to initial estimates given by the Independent Election Commission, 7 out of twelve million registered voters cast their vote on April 5th, meaning close to 60 percent of eligible voters came out to exercise their democratic rights. The turnout is double what it was in the 2009 elections. It was higher than the first elections in 2004 as well.

But elections cannot be confined to numbers only. One has to fathom the enthusiasm and excitement of the voters to quantify the electoral exercise in a country which is making a history by transferring power through democratic means, a feat Afghanistan has never accomplished in its history so far.

“I was really keen to vote in these elections. I cannot pick up guns, but I have my vote to defeat the forces which have made our life hell and which have reduced such a great country to the margins of all parameters of social and economic development,” says  Tahira, one of the six women who were the last ones to vote in Zarghuna elections. Read more…

Sanjay Kumar is a New Delhi-based journalist and correspondent for The Diplomat. As published on April 9 April in http://thediplomat.com

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

 

4
Apr

If the bookies are to be believed, Chelsea Clinton could turn out to be luckiest US president in history.

The holy grail of American leaders over the past four decades, from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama, has been energy independence, and thanks to shale oil and gas, the dream could soon become reality.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) and oil giant BP certainly think so – they believe the US will be energy independent by 2035.

As Mr Obama said in his State of the Union address last year: “After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future.”

No-one is suggesting America will stop importing power overnight, but being largely self-sufficient in energy could have widespread implications not just for the US, but for the rest of the world.

US economy

Last year, the United States spent about $300bn (£180bn) on importing oil. This represented almost two-thirds of the country’s entire annual trade deficit. Oil imports are, therefore, sucking hundreds of billions of dollars a year out of the US economy.

As the IEA says, a persistent trade deficit can act as a drag on economic growth, manufacturing and employment.

If the US achieved energy independence, not only would the country spend far less on cheaper, domestically generated power, but the money would be going primarily to US-owned energy producers.

The US’s oil import bill also constitutes about 2% of the country’s annual economic growth. As the US economy averages about 2% growth a year, the country would, in effect, be getting a year’s growth for free.

Paul Dales, at Capital Economics, argues that as this would be spread out over the next 10-20 years, the annual benefits would be much smaller – in this instance, 0.2%-0.1%.

True, but comparing now with energy independence, the boost to the US economy of ending oil imports would be significant.

US energy imports

US manufacturing

Energy independence will come about only through cheap and abundant shale oil and gas, which could help spark a golden age for US manufacturing.

US energy prices are far lower than those in Europe and Japan, and this fact – together with rising wages in China and the increasing productivity of US factories – means a number of US firms are looking to bring production back home – a process known as reshoring.

Several companies, including Dow Chemical, General Electric, Ford, BASF and Caterpillar, have announced hundreds of millions of dollars of investment, either in new plants or in re-opening shutdown facilities. Even Apple has announced a new factory in Arizona more than a decade after closing its last US plant.

In fact, between 2010 and the end of March 2013, almost 100 chemical industry projects valued at around $72bn were announced, according to the American Chemistry Council.

Indeed a study by accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers estimates that one million manufacturing jobs could be created by 2025 thanks to low energy prices and demand from the shale gas industry. Further analysis by the Boston Consulting Group points to a surge in US exports of manufactured goods.

An Uncle Sam balloon
Many economists believe shale will spark a renaissance in US manufacturing

Any boost in production to US manufacturing would obviously lift overall economic growth even further. In fact, the benefits are already being felt – many economists point to cheaper energy as one reason why the US has outperformed in recent years. Read more…

By Richard Anderson, Business reporter, BBC News

Published on April 2nd, 2014 in http://www.bbc.com/

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