7
Feb

The Geopolitics of Sochi

Written on February 7, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Europe, International Conflict, Terrorism & Security, Op Ed

sochiThe founder of the International Olympic Committee, Pierre de Courbetin, had a vision that athletic competitions would attenuate geopolitical ones. Sport, he believed, could cut across cultures and thereby foster amity in the international realm. Accordingly, he worked for the revival of the athletic competitions of the ancient Greeks: the Olympic Games. To popularize the modern version of those games and build an intercontinental following, he championed the rotation of the games among different national hosts every four years. Today, as de Courbetin might have wished, the Olympic movement is a truly global phenomenon. Nations around the world strive to burnish their reputations through participating in the games, winning medals at them, and, above all, by hosting the games. When holding the games on its soil, a country takes the world stage to showcase itself.

Yet de Courbetin’s vision has been realized only partway. While the Olympic Games do generate goodwill and international good-feeling, they also occasionally aggravate international tensions by serving as a platform upon which countries play out rivalries and indulge their vanity, reveal their insecurities, and expose their grudges, as the 1936, 1972, 1980, and 1984 games illustrate. The Frenchman’s aspirations notwithstanding, the games sometimes exacerbate rather than ameliorate animosity.

The 2014 Winter Olympics, too, may well deepen international acrimony, and do so to the detriment of United States foreign policy. The 22nd Winter Games will take place next month in the picturesque port of Sochi.  A resort town on the Black Sea blessed with a subtropical climate and the presence of alpine mountains just thirty-seven miles outside the city, Sochi would seem a superb location for a winter sporting event. In addition, the games have the express and enthusiastic backing of the host country’s head of state. Read more…

Michael A. Reynolds, a Senior Fellow of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, is an Associate Professor in Princeton’s Department of Near Eastern Studies, where he teaches courses on modern Middle Eastern and Eurasian history, comparative empire, military and ethnic conflict, and secularism.

Originally published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute.

6
Feb

MANILA — President Benigno S. Aquino III called on Tuesday for nations around the world to do more to support the Philippines in resisting China’s assertive claims to the seas near his country, drawing a comparison to the West’s failure to support Czechoslovakia against Hitler’s demands for Czech land in 1938.

Like Czechoslovakia, the Philippines faces demands to surrender territory piecemeal to a much stronger foreign power and needs more robust foreign support for the rule of international law if it is to resist, President Aquino said in a 90-minute interview in the wood-paneled music room of the presidential palace.

“If we say yes to something we believe is wrong now, what guarantee is there that the wrong will not be further exacerbated down the line?” he said. He later added, “At what point do you say, ‘Enough is enough’? Well, the world has to say it — remember that the Sudetenland was given in an attempt to appease Hitler to prevent World War II.”

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan caused a stir in Davos, Switzerland, when he noted last month that Britain and Germany went to war in 1914 even though they had close economic ties — much as China and Japan have now.

Japan has been locked in an increasingly tense standoff with China over uninhabited islands in the East China Sea, and even South Korea, which has been quieter about Chinese claims, expressed alarm last year when Beijing announced that it had the right to police the skies above a vast area of ocean, including areas claimed by Japan and South Korea.

While China’s efforts to claim rocks, shoals and fishing grounds off the coast of the Philippines in the South China Sea have been less high-profile, the Chinese have moved faster there.

The Philippines already appears to have lost effective control of one of the best-known places of contention, a reef called Scarborough Shoal, after Philippine forces withdrew during a standoff with China in 2012. The Philippine forces left as part of an American-mediated deal in which both sides were to pull back while the dispute was negotiated. Chinese forces remained, however, and gained control. Read more…

by Keith Bradsher

Published in the NYT on 4 Feb http://www.nytimes.com

5
Feb

100205e-005 Press conference by the NATO Secretary General - Informal meeting of NATO Defence Ministers - Istanbul, TurkeyThere is an unmistakeable sense among Western decision-makers of power slipping away.It’s not an argument about American abstention or decline, although that plays into it for some critics of the Obama administration.It is more to do with the exhaustion – moral, political and economic – of nations that have been in the forefront of the international security business, and the vibrant ascendancy of some other players.Talking on Monday to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, secretary general of Nato, he can see the reasons for austerity, for cutbacks in government spending in order to reduce deficits, but he can also see its likely results.”It means,” he says, “we will have less influence on the international scene. The vacuum will be filled by other powers and they do not necessarily share our interests and our values.”Many Britons or Americans still fuming at the destruction wrought in Iraq or Afghanistan may find a loss of influence preferable to a repetition of the past decade’s adventurism, but it troubles many diplomats, soldiers and politicians deeply.Indian nuclear submarines

General Sir Nick Houghton, the UK’s chief of defence staff, said a couple of months ago that he had come to the “stark conclusion” that one of his biggest professional challenges “is to help re-validate the utility of the military instrument of national power in the minds of the government and the wider public”.It might be argued that a rejection of force by Western countries is a temporary phenomenon following the losses of two difficult foreign wars, and an economic downturn that has forced an emphasis on cutting deficits.

But the reduction of spending by Nato countries is just one aspect of this power shift – indeed it is the lesser aspect of it compared with the increases in military spending by countries like China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Read more…

By Mark Urban, Diplomatic and Defence Editor, Newsnight

Published on 4 February in http://www.bbc.co.uk/news

4
Feb

Arab

On Friday 31 January, the IE School of International Relations and the Toledo International Centre for Peace (CITpax) had the honor of hosting a fascinating panel discussion entitled An Overview of the Political and Social Transformation in the Arab Region.

Three distinguished guest speakers from the region composed the “A Team”, as Ambassador Emilio Cassinello, Director General of CitPax quipped.  The panel included  Marwan Muasher,    Vice President for Studies at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and Former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Jordan; Nassif Hitti, Senior Arab League Official, former Head of the Arab League Mission in Paris, and permanent observer at UNESCO; and Dr. Mohammad-Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou, Visiting Professor at the Graduate Institute and Head of Program at the Geneva Center for Security Policy.

Mr. Muasher began the seminar by presenting his latest book The Second Arab Awakening and the Battle for Pluralism. The Second Awakening is a referral to the First Awakening in the Arab region that started as an intellectual movement in the mid-20th century. It later led to the independence of many Arab states, but not to democratic rule in these countries. If the Second Awakening that is taking place today in the Arab world is to be a successful continuation of the First one, it must necessarily lead to the creation of a pluralistic government. Three years after the Arab Spring, achieving pluralistic rule is no easy task. What we see today is the struggle between religious and secular elements that are exclusionist in their desire to control power. Yet Islam as a solution in the Arab world has lost its appeal. The “Arab street”, as Mr. Muasher calls it, does not want more religion (they are quite religious as it is). What they want is a better economy, an improved livelihood. In his words, performance trumps ideology. People will judge whomever is in power not by their religion or values but by how the economy is doing under their mandate. In the end, neither a theological government such as the one seen in Iran or a secular dictatorship such as the Mubarak regime is the solution. Both types oppress the people and strip them of their rights. A pluralistic government should be the end goal.

How long will a successful transition to democracy take in the Arab world? According to Muasher and his co-panelists, perhaps decades. Democracy took centuries to get established in Europe, so how can one expect it to be firmly consolidated in the Arab region in only just 3 years? This is an unrealistic expectation.  Pluralistic rule will be achieved over time through toil and sacrifice.  For this, education is fundamental and this entails teaching the youth critical thinking , not just absolute truths as it is being done today.

What are the threats to a transition to pluralism? All three panelists agree that a big problem in the Arab region is the lack of national unity or national identity. Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya were created as states without taking into account the different nations or minorities that composed them. The result is a lot of sectarian violence within these countries and a struggle for citizenship. Another threat is the rise of extremism. Indeed the road to democracy means that everyone has a voice including extremists that use ideology and demagogy to control power. Linked to this is the threat of transnationalism as we are currently seeing in Syria, where jihadists from other countries come to fight the secular oppressor but only add to the turmoil.

To conclude: is there reason for optimism? Yes. In spite of many problems and obstacles, the road to democracy is being paved by the new generation. This generation will need leaders who are willing to sweat and toil in order to make pluralism a reality. Tunisia is an example of an Arab state that is slowly transitioning to a democracy without the interference of the armed forces or the West. Let us hope this model is followed in the rest of the region.

29
Jan

New forms of political conflict have emerged that are resistant to traditional prescriptions

Faced with a dangerous political threat, governments the world over tend to place their faith in the same magic medicine – economic growth. When world leaders try to address the roots of terrorism, for example, they instinctively assume that prosperity and jobs must be the long-term answer. And when a regional conflict threatens to get out of control – in east Asia or the Middle East – the standard political response is to call for greater economic integration. From Europe to China, governments place their faith in economic growth as the key to political and social stability.

But just as doctors fear the emergence of superbugs that will not respond to existing drugs, so world leaders are beginning to witness the emergence of new forms of political conflict that are resistant to their traditional prescriptions – more trade and more investment, washed down with a good dose of structural reform.

Three political superbugs are causing special concern. The first is the spread of conflict in the Middle East. The second is the growing rivalry between China and Japan. The third is rising inequality in the western world – and the threat of social conflict that goes with it.

Delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos, which ended last week, are the classic believers that capitalism and globalisation are the best antidotes to conflict. This belief is so deeply ingrained that it no longer even needs to be articulated. You can just see it in the way in which a Davos audience responds to political leaders.

This year it was President Hassan Rouhani of Iran who was received with great enthusiasm, largely because he seemed more interested in trade and investment than in nuclear weapons. Mr Rouhani did not shift Iran’s position on the difficult political issues – such as Syria, Israel or nuclear weapons – in any important way. But he sent a significant signal by beginning his speech with a statement of his ambition for Iran to become one of the 10 largest economies in the world. The Iranian leader also stressed the need to improve his nation’s relations with the rest of the world in order to achieve that goal. This emphasis on economics suggested to those in the audience that President Rouhani is literally a man you could do business with.

As a result, Mr Rouhani is in the novel position, for an Iranian leader, of being regarded as a voice of reason in the Middle East. But the president’s elevated status in the eyes of the Davos crowd is also a sign of how bleak things look elsewhere in the region.

No appeal to economic rationality is likely to end the war in Syria – where both sides are fighting for survival. It is also clear that the jihadists who are flourishing in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere are unmoved by the fruits of globalisation. Unless something goes seriously wrong, they will not be showing up in Davos any time soon.

Many still hope that an improvement in the economic situation of the Middle East will assuage the economic despair on which militant Islam is assumed to flourish. Yet not all jihadists hail from poor countries or impoverished backgrounds. Some of the militants showing up in Syria have travelled from Europe. Others have come from Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states. Jihadism is a disease that does not respond well to the traditional economic drugs.

The rise in tensions between China and Japan is an even more graphic illustration of the fact that economic self-interest is not a cure-all for political problems. China is now Japan’s largest trading partner and the biggest recipient of Japanese foreign investment – facts that many analysts still hope will make conflict between the two nations significantly less likely. Yet in some respects, China’s growing prosperity is actually driving the increase in international tensions in Asia. That is because the rise of China has altered the balance of power between Beijing and Tokyo and – combined with the bitter history between the two countries – that explains why relations are getting worse.

In Europe and North America it is the threat of political and social tensions within nations, rather than international rivalries, that are worrying the global plutocracy. A central element of the Davos creed is the faith that globalisation is good for both the western world and for emerging powers.

However, it is now almost conventional wisdom that the globalisation medicine has had an unpleasant side-effect. Even if it raises overall growth levels it has also powerfully contributed to wage stagnation and increasing inequality in the west. As a result, European politicians are worrying about a possible resurgence of the nationalist right and the radical left. And the Americans are increasingly worried about the gap between the richest 1 per cent and the rest – and the political consequences should the gulf keep widening.

It is easy to mock the global plutocracy – fretting about war and inequality – as they sip fine wines, behind a security perimeter high in the Swiss mountains. Yet global bankers and business people are, at least, largely immune to the viruses of xenophobia and nationalism. Their unofficial slogan is “make money, not war”. And they treat foreigners as potential customers rather than potential enemies.

In that sense, the idea that capitalism and globalisation are the best antidotes to political conflict – for all its flaws – retains a lot of attraction. Even if the old economic treatments for political conflict are losing some of their potency, they are still the best we have.

 By Gideon Rachman As published on Jan. 27, 2014 in http://www.ft.com

 

1 7 8 9 10 11 158