25
Apr

It’s probably smart to view yesterday’s deal between the leading Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas—in which the two groups agreed to create a consensus government and hold elections later this year—with some skepticism. Announced with similar fanfare, accords in Cairo in 2011 and in Doha in 2012 went nowhere, with neither side believing it had more to gain than lose from agreeing to share power.

There are reasons to believe this time is different, though. It came after the first delegation of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leaders sent to Gaza since the brutal 2007 Fatah-Hamas civil war. The agreement was signed in Palestine—in Gaza City, to be exact—rather than a foreign capital. What’s more, reconciliation remains hugely popular amongst Palestinians. In March 2011, with anti-government protests spreading across the region, tens of thousands turned out in Gaza and the West Bank to call for an end to the division. An April 2013 poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center found that over 90 percent favored reconciliation between the two factions.

It’s important to recognize the extent to which internal Palestinian political dynamics have driven the move, with both factions under enormous pressure. Amid what its leaders proclaimed an “Islamic Awakening” in the region, Hamas had taken a bullish view of its prospects, assuming it would benefit from the coming wave of Islamist-dominated governments in the region. But it has seen its fortunes turn sharply over the last year. The July 2013 Egyptian coup removed the supportive government of Mohammed Morsi, dominated by members of the Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas was founded as the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood). Egypt’s new military government has closed down the majority of the smuggling tunnels along the Egypt-Gaza border, severely diminishing the blockaded strip’s access to the outside world and removing a key source of revenue for Hamas, which levies taxes on the tunnel trade

With the negotiations with Israel (which he entered against the wishes of the majority of his own party) now on life-support, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas clearly sees reconciliation as something to boost his flagging popularity and at a time when he is in a relatively stronger position vis a vis Hamas. One question is whether he sees this move as something to enhance his position in negotiations with Israel, as a substitute for those negotiations, or possibly both—the latter in case, the former completely collapses. Read more…

Matthew Duss is a foreign policy analyst and a contributing writer for the Prospect. Published on April 24 in http://prospect.org

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

22
Apr

As Afghans await the results of the April 5 presidential election, another historic transition is taking place — the full withdrawal of international coalition forces from the country by Dec. 31, 2014.

That’s when NATO’s combat mission expires, ending 13 years of foreign military presence in Afghanistan since US-led troops ousted the Taliban in 2001.

By joint agreement, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) are disengaging from combat activities and handing over security to Afghan forces.

They’re also shipping home over a decade’s accumulation of personnel and equipment. The logistical pull-out — known as a “retrograde” in military terms — is nearly unprecedented in scope. Foreign Policy explains:

“…in raw tonnage, it’s the biggest single military logistical undertaking ever. For size and complexity, think of something in between D-Day and the moon landing.” 

Here’s a look at what’s involved in sending (nearly) everything and everyone home from Afghanistan.

 

THE PROCESS

 

1. Tens of thousands of combat troops must be sent home.


(Vyacheslav Oseledko via AFP/Getty Images)

There are now 51,100 ISAF troops from 48 contributing countries — a huge drop from peak levels in 2011 of 140,000 troops. Today the top five contributors are the United States (33,500), the United Kingdom (5,200), Germany (2,730), Italy (2,019), Jordan (1,066) and Romania (1,021). “The challenge they have now is backward planning so that they are able to retrieve, clean, repair and redeploy all the gear they can — and then redeploy themselves,”reports Stars and Stripes.

 

2. Coalition bases must be closed and transferred to Afghan forces.


Soldiers demolish and haul away structures on Forward Operating Base (FOB) Shank on March 26, 2014 near Pul-e Alam, Afghanistan. (Getty Images)

For the last two years, coalition forces have been closing forward operating bases and combat outposts and handing them over to the Afghan National Security Forces. The number of bases and outposts has dropped from 850 down to 90. The goal is to get down to 10 to 12 bases by the end of the year, said former ISAF commander General John Allen. Personnel are also“descoping” the bases — emptying them of vehicles, weapons, equipment and other supplies, which are sent to one of several cargo yards for inventory, assessment and processing. Anything deemed “mission essential” is prepared for redistribution to active units. Everything else is transported home, transferred to Afghan forces, sold to “nearby friendly nations” or scrapped locally.  Read more…

 

Written By Sarah Dougherty; Published in the Global Post on 19 April: http://www.globalpost.com

 

20
Apr

Joseph Nye is a professor at Harvard and former dean of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Kevin Rudd was prime minister of Australia from 2007 to 2010 and again in 2013.

While the world focuses on Ukraine, ships and planes from Japan and China challenge each other almost every day near a few square miles of barren islets in the East China Sea that Japan calls the Senkaku and China calls the Diaoyu islands. This dangerous rivalry dates to the late 19th century, but the flare-up that led to widespread anti-Japan demonstrations in China in September 2012 began when the Japanese government purchased three of the tiny islets from their private Japanese owner. The issue is bound to arise during President Obama’s upcoming visit to Japan.

When the United States returned Okinawa to Japan in May 1972, the transfer included the disputed islets that the United States had administered after 1945. A few months later, when China and Japan normalized their relations in the aftermath of World War II, Japanese Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka asked Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai about the islands. Zhou replied that rather than let the dispute delay normalization, the issue should be left for later generations. Both countries maintained their claims to sovereignty over the islands.

For decades, this formula worked. Although Japan had administrative control, Chinese ships would occasionally enter Japanese waters to assert their legal position. When incidents occurred, Japan sometimes would detain the Chinese crew members but would soon release them. Exaggerated reports of undersea oil and gas reserves sometimes raised concerns, but as recently as 2008, the two countries agreed on a framework for joint development of disputed gas fields in the East China Sea.

In 2009, relations between China and Japan were improving, and a large delegation of Diet members from the Democratic Party of Japan visited Beijing. Then on Sept. 7, 2010, a Chinese trawler near the islands twice bashed Japanese patrol boats, and Japanese authorities took the trawler to Japan. After several days of Chinese protests, Japan released the crew but brought charges against the captain. China abruptly halted its exports of rare earths to Japan; Japan soon released the captain, but China did not restore these exports for almost two months. When asked why China had reacted that way, Chinese officials said that they had no choice because once Japan brought charges against the captain, it implied acceptance of Japanese law and sovereignty.

To Chinese eyes, Japan destroyed the Zhou-Tanaka status quo with the 2010 arrest and then the 2012 purchase. China also believes that Japan is entering a period of right-wing militarist nationalism and that the purchase of the islands was a deliberate effort by Japan to begin a process of eroding the settlement of World War II. Since 2012, Chinese ships have continued to operate regularly in what Japan claims as its territorial waters. Ironically, these Chinese operations are inflaming Japanese nationalism. And so the spiral of action and reaction continues, with no opportunity in sight for both sides to hit the reset button.

Fast-forward to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s December visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which in part honors Class A Japanese war criminals. Fresh fuel was thrown onto a fire that needed little encouragement. Having watched Sino-Japanese relations closely over many decades, we think it is fair to say things have not been this bad for nearly half a century.

Japanese and Chinese leaders have said repeatedly that they do not want war. And there is no reason not to believe them. They recognize that disruption of the economic interdependence between the world’s second- and third-largest economies would radically disrupt their development plans and internal stability. The real dangers are not in the intentions of the countries’ leaders but in the potential for miscalculation at lower levels, limited experience in “incident management” and escalation in a climate of competitive nationalism.

In this situation, the best we can aim for is to revive the wisdom of the original Zhou-Tanaka formula. One way of doing this, as some have suggested, might be to declare the islands a maritime ecological preserve dedicated to the larger good of the region. There would be no habitation and no military use of the islands or the surrounding seas. Ideally, China and Japan would agree, but that may be unlikely in the current climate. Other mechanisms could be explored to produce the same end. Both sides might commit to revisit their 2008 agreement on joint gas exploitation. This proposal would not resolve the issue, but it could move it from the front of the stove, where it threatens to boil over, to a back burner, where it can quietly simmer for another half-century.

18
Apr

russia

FIRST Vladimir Putin mauled Georgia, but the world forgave him—because Russia was too important to be cut adrift. Then he gobbled up Crimea, but the world accepted it—because Crimea should have been Russian all along. Now he has infiltrated eastern Ukraine, but the world is hesitating—because infiltration is not quite invasion. But if the West does not face up to Mr Putin now, it may find him at its door.

The storming of police stations in eastern Ukraine over the weekend by pro-Russian protesters (see article) is a clever move, for it has put the interim government in Kiev in an impossible position. Mr Putin has warned that Ukraine is on the brink of civil war. If the country’s government fails to take control, it will open itself to charges that it cannot keep order within its own borders. But its soldiers are poorly trained, so in using force (operations were under way as The Economist went to press) it risks escalation and bloodshed. Either way, it loses.

The West has seen Russia brush off its threats and warnings. It looks feeble and divided. Yet, after the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine, even doves should grasp that the best chance of stability lies in standing up to Mr Putin, because firmness today is the way to avoid confrontation later.

Red lines and green men

Russia insists that it has played no part in the seizure of towns such as Sloviansk and Gorlivka. This is implausible. The attacks were co-ordinated, in strategically useful places that had seen few protests. Just as in Crimea six weeks ago, troops in unmarked uniforms and with Russian weapons carried out the initial assaults. Russian agents have turned up in custody and in reporters’ notebooks, organising the protests and, some say, paying for them. Russia has been meddling in eastern Ukraine for weeks, occasionally with results from the pages of Gogol. On April 6th “local people” stormed what they thought was the regional administrative headquarters in Kharkiv only to find that they had taken control of the opera house.

Russian diplomats counter that they cannot be behind what is going on, because instability in eastern Ukraine is not in Russia’s interests. True, normal countries benefit from peace and prosperity next door. However, mindful of its own claim to power and the outlook for Russia’s stagnant economy, the Kremlin has much to fear from the pro-European demonstrations that toppled Ukraine’s president, Viktor Yanukovych. It appears determined to see the new Ukraine fail.

- See more at: http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21600979-cost-stopping-russian-bear-now-highbut-it-will-only-get-higher-if-west-does#sthash.g32GXOKw.dpuf

Published in the print version of the Economist, April 19th, 2014

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