Archive for the ‘Security’ Category

20
Nov

Tell me, friend: Do you find the current world situation confusing? Are you having trouble sorting through the bewildering array of alarums, provocations, reassurances, and trite nostrums offered up by pundits and politicos? Can’t tell if the glass is half-full and rising or half-empty, cracked, and leaking water fast? Not sure if you should go long on precious metals and stock up on fresh water, ammo, and canned goods, or go big into equities and assume that everything will work out in the long run?

Today’s world is filled with conflicting signals. On the one hand, life expectancy and education are up, the level of violent conflict is down, and hundreds of millions of people have been lifted out of poverty over the past several decades. Private businesses are starting to take human rights seriously. And hey, the euro is still alive! On the other hand, Europe’s economy is still depressed, Russia is suspending nuclear cooperation with the United States, violent extremists keep multiplying in several regions, the odds of a genuine nuclear deal with Iran still look like a coin toss, and that much-ballyhooed climate change deal between the United States and China is probably too little too late and already facing right-wing criticisms.

Given all these conflicting signals, what broader lessons might guide policymakers wrestling with all this turbulence? Assuming governments are capable of learning from experience (and please just grant me that one), then what kernels of wisdom should they be drawing on right now? What do the past 20 years or so reveal about contemporary foreign-policy issues, and what enduring lessons should we learn from recent experience?

No. 1: Great-power politics still matters. A lot.

When the Cold War ended, a lot of smart people convinced themselves that good old-fashioned power politics was a thing of the past. As Bill Clinton said when he first ran for president, the “cynical calculus of pure power politics simply does not compute. It is ill-suited to a new era.” Instead of being roiled by power politics, the world was going to be united by markets, shared democratic values, and the Internet — and humankind would concentrate on getting rich and living well (i.e., likeClinton himself).

There’s no mystery as to why this outlook appealed to Americans, who assumed this benign vision would unfold under Washington’s benevolent guidance. But the last 20 years teaches us that this view was, as usual, premature, and great-power politics has come back with a vengeance.

Of course, the United States never abandoned “power politics,” and Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama all emphasized the need to preserve the U.S. position as the world’s most powerful country. They understood that their ability to exercise “global leadership” depends on U.S. primacy and especially America’s privileged position as the only major power in the Western Hemisphere. That position gives U.S. policymakers the freedom to wander around and meddle in lots of other places — something they would not be able to do if the United States were weaker or if it had to worry about defending its own territory against serious dangers.

But the United States isn’t alone. China’s increasingly assertive policies toward its immediate neighborhood shows that Beijing is hardly indifferent to geopolitics, and Russia’s assertive defense of what it sees as vital interests in its “near abroad” (e.g., Ukraine) suggests that somebody in Moscow didn’t get the memo about the benign effects of globalization. And regional powers like India, Turkey, and Japan are taking traditional geopolitical concerns more seriously these days. Bottom line: If you thought great-power rivalry was a thing of the past, think again. Read more…

Published on Nov. 18 in http://www.foreignpolicy.com/

Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.

13
Oct

Mexico’s Deadly Narco-Politics

Written on October 13, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Americas, Democracy & Human Rights, Op Ed, Security

IGUALA, Mexico — STUDENT protesters in rural Mexico have long dealt with heavy-handed police officers. But on the black night of Sept. 26, students who attended a rural teachers’ college realized they were facing a far worse menace in this southern city. Not only were police officers shooting haphazardly at them, killing three students and several passers-by; shady gunmen were also firing from the sidelines.

Read more…

17
Sep

Europe’s Messy Political Divorces

Written on September 17, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Security

Divorce among couples rarely ends without scandal, and all the more  so with divorce between states. Those splits inevitably involve political and economic hardships, mutual recriminations and a complex and painful division of property. And even once this nightmare is over, the very presence of the other party causes interminable irritation and anger.

The only example that I can recall of a civilized “state divorce” in Europe was the peaceful division of Czechoslovakia into two parts — accomplished thanks to the efforts of former Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Havel. To this day, the two “former spouses” maintain normal inter-state relations.

Divorce and separation remains a very real problem for Europe. Scotland’s agitation to leave the U.K., Catalonia’s attempts to escape the custody of Madrid and Novorossia’s bloody fight to break away from Ukraine are all ongoing issues.

And although each case is very different, they share one aspect in common: London, Madrid and Kiev are exerting great efforts to prevent those disunions. However, a strict interpretation of international law indicates that, in all three cases, those advocating separatism have every right to at least advocate their cause. In 1945, the right to self-determination was included in the United Nations Charter. Then, in 1966, this right was enshrined in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Still later, this right was confirmed in documents of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

What’s more, the concept of self-determination covers a wide range of possibilities and is defined as “The establishment of a sovereign and independent state, the free association with an independent state or the emergence into any other political status freely determined by a people.” In theory, the people living in the area affected should resolve these disputes, without any outside interference. The UN Charter states that “all states shall, in accordance with the provisions of the UN Charter, encourage the right to self-determination, and shall respect that right.” The only problem is that nobody “respects” that right, much less “encourages” it.

There are several reasons for political leaders’ inability to honor their obligations, to greater or lesser degrees. First, the UN Charter also contains the contradictory principle of “the inviolability of borders” because after World War II the leading powers wanted to ensure stability by any means. Consequently, for every argument for self-determination, a persuasive counter-argument is available. The second reason is that the clause on self-determination was introduced during the collapse of the colonial system when the authors had the African states in mind. At that time, few colonial powers wanted to keep their states, and so their passage into freedom was relatively uncomplicated.

Nobody could have guessed that Scotland and Catalonia would one day invoke the same principle. There are many more examples besides those: the Ukrainian Donbass, Spain’s Basque region, Russia’s Chechnya and so on. The underlying problem with the current world order is that it has long outworn its original set of clothing and just plods on wearing the same old, uncomfortable and increasingly tattered rags. A prime example of this is the fact that the victors in World War II continue to control the UN Security Council, a completely inappropriate situation given the wealth and power of the world’s developing nations. But unfortunately, the fear of making desperately needed repairs to the structure of the UN has already led to numerous squabbles, and threatens to undermine the very foundation of the organization. Perhaps humanity will simply have to wait for another world war, after which the winners will spell out the new rules of the game for the few remaining survivors. No matter the international body, though, the world’s issues are not just about rules written on paper. The problem is the egoism that drives the world today. If not for this egoism, the Catalonians and Basques would create their own states and live in peace alongside Madrid and as a part of the European Union. Scotland would settle down. And if Kiev and Moscow had enough sense, it would avoid all this bloodshed by letting Novorossia go in whichever direction it wanted. Thus freed from that heavy burden, Kiev could finally pursue meaningful integration with Europe. However, Madrid will continue desperately clinging to Barcelona, London to Scotland and both Kiev and Moscow to the Donbass. Despite considering itself the leader of civilization, Europe has yet to learn how to formulate reasonable and sound policies. If only someone would follow the example set by Vaclav Havel.

Published on Sept. 14 by Pyotr Romanov in http://www.themoscowtimes.com/opinion/article/europes-political-divorces-are-often-messy/507012.html

19
May

Fires in Vietnam could ultimately burn Beijing

Written on May 19, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Foreign Policy, News, Security

The spilling of blood and burning of factories by anti-Chinese rioters sweeping across Vietnamreinforces Beijing’s message to other countries claiming territory in the South China Sea: resistance is costly and ultimately futile.

But a region in which anti-Chinese sentiment grows and where sovereignty disputes disrupt trade and economic growth will burn Beijing as well. Over the long term, a commitment to peaceful dispute resolution in accordance with international law, including some concessions on historic claims, would serve China better than its current path.

China made the provocative first move in this latest incident by deploying a massive oil rig to the contested Paracel Islands. There was no doubt that Vietnam would respond, and China prepared by sending an armada of 80 ships — including seven naval vessels along with the rig. The two countries’ maritime forces are now locked in a standoff with aggressive and dangerous maneuvers, water canons and collisions at sea.

Deploying the oil rig allows Beijing to show that Vietnam is in a lose-lose situation when faced with Chinese aggression. If Hanoi ignores the Chinese move, it allows “new facts on the water” that will bolster China’s legal claims down the road. If it resists, its coast guard and navy will be dragged into a long and costly contest against a stronger force. And if the dispute continues to spark violent protests at home by angry Vietnamese nationalists, investment and international confidence gets disrupted for Vietnam — not China.

vietnam222China does not want open conflict with its neighbors, but when it comes to territorial disputes, the Chinese government has decided it can play hardball with little risk. It can push just enough to advance its own claims, but avoid serious conflict or war by deescalating before things get out of hand.

Beyond the oil rig, Chinese actions in this vein include new construction on contested reefs and shoals occupied by China; patrols and ceremonies on islands claimed by other nations like Malaysia; unilateral fishing bans imposed on other nations while China tolerates illegal fishing and harvesting of coral by Chinese fishermen; and many more. At the same time, China continues to participate in negotiations on a Code of Conduct among the countries it bullies, intended to prevent conflict and prohibit exactly this kind of behavior.

For Chinese leaders committed to defending what they view to be Chinese territory, this aggressive path makes sense for two reasons. First, it teaches the smaller maritime nations of Southeast Asia that they’re better off accommodating Chinese claims than resisting them. In essence, China is saying “we can do this the easy way or the hard way.”

Second, China knows that its most important claims — like the nine-dash line covering most of the South China Sea — are not well-founded under contemporary international law. By taking aggressive steps now, Beijing can establish a track record of presence and activity that will position China better if it ever needs to clarify claims in accordance with international law, as called for by the United States and other nations.

But this strategy is bold, not wise. Beijing’s actions carry significant risk, and mask a tension between China’s short and long-term goals. Sailors or airmen in tense standoffs could miscalculate and spark an incident that demands military escalation. Countries like Vietnam could also decide to take a stand and choose to fight rather than give in to Chinese pressure. Yet that decision would be calamitous: the last time China and Vietnam went to war, in 1979, about 60,000 people were killed. China would not benefit from such conflict in Asia, especially if it took the blame for derailing Asia’s long run of peace and progress.

Even if it avoids war, China can overplay this hand to such a degree that Southeast Asian nations defy history and join together to resist domination by a resurgent Middle Kingdom. The 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are far from forming an alliance and have no tradition of such banding together, but ASEAN has grown stronger and is welcoming a greater U.S. role in the region, in part because of China’s assertiveness.

For now, Beijing’s refrain seems to be from the Rolling Stones: “don’t play with me ‘cause you’re playing with fire.” Chinese leaders think the fire will only burn their rivals. They are wrong.

 

By Vikram J. Singh; MAY 16, 2014
23
Apr

As with any presidency, Barack Obama’s agenda has been heavily driven by external events. His landmark foreign policy initiative (if one doesn’t count ending the two wars in the Middle East) was supposed to be the so-called pivot to Asia. Instead, events at home — such as the government shutdown — and abroad have repeatedly hijacked the White House’s foreign policy agenda. But rather than bemoaning this, the president should now prioritize the Ukraine crisis in order to also rescue the Asia pivot.

This, of course, is a tough message for Obama to deliver to America’s allies in Asia when he arrives in the region this week. Countries such as Japan and South Korea, who originally welcomed the pivot to Asia with open arms, have lately grown wearier about Washington’s follow-through. They want to see a stronger security and political commitment from the United States.

These Asian allies may now worry that the Ukraine crisis will further jeopardize the U.S. role in the Asia-Pacific by consuming valuable time, energy and resources. Obama must therefore use some of his face time with Asian leaders to explain to them why they too have an interest in Washington focusing on Europe at the moment. In fact, there are several good reasons why doing so could be a good thing for the Asia pivot. Let’s consider three of them.

First, and perhaps most obvious, the situation in Ukraine is still very tense and can easily take a turn for the worse. The most serious crisis since the Cold War, Ukraine illustrates that Europe is still far from “whole and free.” Countries such as Moldova and Georgia or the Western Balkans may well be next in line for Putin. Unless the United States steps up its efforts, it could risk getting bogged down in potential future crises in the region. Asian allies should therefore welcome efforts to complete the European project once and for all.

At the same time, it’s in the long-term interest of both the United States and its Asian allies to get capable European countries to assume more responsibility for their own neighborhood. Such a “new transatlantic bargain” would allow America to focus its attention elsewhere in the world. Conversely, Europe should support America’s growing role in the Asia-Pacific even if this means less American troops in Europe in the future. In no way does the pivot to Asia mean Washington is pulling back from its commitments to European security. Read more…

Erik Brattberg is a Senior Fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security at the Atlantic Council in Washington, DC.

Published on April 22, 2014 in http://www.realclearworld.com

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