Total Pageviews

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs :

The Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs :AfPak War and Understanding Facts: Pakistani PM Yousuf Raza Gilani officially announced a military offensive into the Swat Valley to combat the Taliban, expanding the effort already ongoing in the Buner and Dir Districts (and effectively ending the fledgling and flawed peace agreement with the Taliban). This action was concurrent to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's visit to Washington where US President Barack Obama hosted trilateral AfPak talks with Presidents Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan and President Zardari. The main output of this meeting was a memorandum of understanding that underscored the three countries' commitment to combat Al Qaeda and to promote the autonomy of their democratically elected governments. Both the Afghan and Pakistani governments hope to secure commitments for billions in development and military aid in exchange for a commitment to combat Islamist extremism in the region. Meanwhile a US bombing in Afghanistan killed dozens of Afghan civilians prompting outrage and concern that public support for the effort could continue to work against NATO and US efforts in the region. SI Analysis: Though the tide seems to be turning this week as the US would hope -- especially with Pakistan further reinforcing its military action against the Taliban -- skeptics warn that this latest offensive could be brief, and unsavory peace deals could quickly follow. Moreover, US lawmakers seem conflicted on whether to commit billions more in aid to the region whose leadership they see as corrupt and only the lesser of significant evils. However, analysts warn that without the means and the money to wage both war and further development, the region will most certainly be lost to extremists. A useless debate over whether the parties should privilege force or the development aid continues to spark controversy (both are essential), as does the use of drone attacks within Pakistan. Most importantly, despite political commitment and will from American, Afghan and Pakistani leadership to bring the region under control, it is evermore apparent that said parties may not be able to determine how events evolve: both Zardari and Karzai must contend with volatile and weary publics, whose support for action against the Taliban can wax and wane with the moon; and the Taliban is a fearsome opponent whose ability to wage effective asymmetrical and guerrilla warfare is tried and true.Georgia, NATO, Russia... more of the same, or a new page? Facts: On Wednesday, NATO began a month of military operations in Georgia. The operations, popularly referred to as "war games", have received a good deal of attention in the press for their proximity to Russia, Moscow's stated and vehement opposition to the operations, the mobilization of Russian troops to the southern borders of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and the recent reinstatement of formal NATO-Russia relations following their severance in August 2008. Originally, the games were to include all 19 NATO member nations and several "partner" nations. However, over the course of the planning, and largely due to Russian objections, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Estonia, Moldova, Serbia and Armenia have all pulled out. Russia has also signed border defense pacts with Abkhazia and South Ossetia (on April 30). In addition, Moscow has suspended the Russia-NATO Council's ministerial meeting which was scheduled for May and has expelled 2 Canadian NATO representatives in Russia. SI Analysis: All of NATO's (and the US') posturing toward Russia points to a confused US policy that has yet to be fully articulated. While US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stresses increased ties with Moscow, NATO blatantly thwarts reconciliation attempts. Although NATO refers to the Georgia war games as nothing more than a procedural and ceremonial measure, their significance cannot be ignored. Pro-Western Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili is hanging on to power by what seems to be a loose thread (Tuesday's mutiny attempt is one example). And Georgia's key position in the Caucasus as a pipeline host, military base, trade hub, and pro-NATO ally is key in any balance of power against either Russia or Iran. NATO's exercises seem to be testing Moscow, to see just what Russian tactics will be. The flip side is that they carry a great risk. However, with today's call by Moscow to ignore the Georgia war games and other tensions to restore relations with NATO again, perhaps this is the chance to turn a new page.Nepal: Shaky Stability Facts: This week Nepal slid into a deep political crisis as Maoist Party leader and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal (also known as Prachanda) fired the chief of the army, Rookmangud Katawal for recruiting former Maoist insurgent fighters into the military. After this, President Ram Baran Yadav, the first democratically elected president of Nepal and the head of the army, subsequently rejected the firing of Katawal. This resulted in massive protests in Khatmandu which have raged all week. PM Prachanda resigned following the walkout of the 2 largest allies in Parliament, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (UML) and Sadbhavana Party. Today, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) announced they would attempt to lead a new government, which still lacks a constitution. SI Analysis: The Maoists succeeded to put an end to the monarchy last year because it was capable of forming effective alliances and because it was at least regionally better with the provision of basic civil services than the monarchy (or so it claimed). But as many a rebel or freedom fighter will discover, it is far easier to play the dissident than the state builder. Speculation of the week: China's Naval Tactics Facts: This week saw another confrontation between the US and China over Beijing's growing naval power and what appears to be Washington's attempt to retain control of the dominance to which it has grown accustomed in the East and South China Seas. On Sunday 2 Chinese fishing vessels reportedly "harassed" an American surveillance ship in the Yellow Sea. The incident was diffused without much conflict, although both sides have accused the other of breaking international laws and causing needless provocation. This is the fifth such incident off the coast of China involving American and Chinese ships in as little as 2 months. The US has been upping its presence in the region, sending destroyers to escort surveillance vessels at times. Meanwhile, China has showed visible displays of its own growing maritime prowess, such as during gigantic naval exercises in April, showcasing nuclear submarines for a celebration of the 60th anniversary of the naval arm of the People's Liberation Army. SI Analysis: The recent spats between the US and China are much cause for concern. On one hand, China appears to be implementing a set policy of disruption, applying an asymmetrical tactic by using both military and commercial ships in confronting foreign vessels. On the other hand, the United States has certainly increased its surveillance of China. This week the Pentagon announced that China's increased military development was alarming. Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff stated: "They (China) are developing capabilities that are very maritime focused, maritime and air focused, and in many ways, very much focused on us. They seem very focused on the United States Navy and our bases that are in that part of the world." There are also rumors that Chinese hackers have been stealing US military data, but there are also contrasting messages from Washington with President Obama calling for increased economic and military ties to Beijing. Finally, on Thursday, Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao shared a phone call in which they pledged to for a "positive, cooperative and comprehensive relationship." All this is evidence of much posturing, and also of Beijing trying to feel out its policy to a still-new Obama administration. While increased dialogue between China and the US is expected and necessary, one should also anticipate naval confrontations to continue. Hodge-Podge/Under-the-Radar A New Framework for Peace? SI Analysis: It seems that change is afoot in the Middle East as Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu has finally conceded to pursue the peace process in light of US pressure . Netanyahu says he is willing to reenter negotiations with the Palestinians, but he has not yet acknowledged a two-state solution as the end goal. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman headed to Rome to speak with PM Berlusconi (just as the Pope heads to the Middle East) and rabble-rouse against Iran. Middle East Peace Envoy Tony Blair made headlines by saying that a new US framework for peace is at hand. If anything is to be learned from the past 8 years, it is not to raise expectations especially in region that is weary from war, grandstanding diplomats and US intervention. Pressure from Iran and Syria will certainly encourage parties to cement their positions and alliances in favor of a major peace deal, but goodwill is essentially absent from the major parties and political will is even more stark. Changes to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and a Grand Bargain? SI Analysis: A two-week summit began at the UN in New York this week to discuss and revamp the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that was put in place to limit the spread of nuclear weapons. The press has reported "breakthroughs" in the NPT talks thus far, largely due to US President Obama, who has called for a much stronger treaty. Notable and notorious exceptions not ratifying the 1970 treaty include Israel, India and Pakistan, each nations with nuclear weapons, and enjoying US-grated de facto immunity from scrutiny. On Wednesday, decades-old US policy seemed to change, however. Rose Gottemoeller, U.S. assistant secretary of state and chief of the U.S. delegation at the conference, called on Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea to sign the NPT. Voices from Israel were particularly agitated following Gottemoeller's announcement. Some Israelis have suggested that the Obama Administration could be seeking to bargain with Iran to abandon its nuclear program by getting Israel to abide by international standards. Indeed, the US has been accused of having double standards regarding nuclear rights (most recently at the UN by Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Ali Hosseini), which makes its hard for the US to two the line of nuclear disarmament. If reiterated by higher ups in the American administration, this new stance by the US could be a positive step in Washington-Iran diplomacy but it would be a very stark change in American policy toward Israel. Sri Lanka - The never-ending-almost-over war. SI Analysis: This week Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa maintained that victory was near in Colombo's military campaign against the Tamil Tiger rebels in the northeast of the island country. The separatists have been waging a war for independence for decades and fighting has escalated and diminished for years. Now the Tamil Tigers are limited to a small area of coastal territory amid thousands of ethnic Tamil civilians, many of whom have become casualties. Rajapaska maintains that the campaign will not stop until the war is over. History is not on his side; this war will end only when all the militants and civilians are dead and there is nothing left in the mile-long strip... and then Sri Lanka will only have to wait until the next rebellion is organized. Turkey Reaping Its Rewards and Starting an Arms Race? SI Analysis: Raytheon Integrated Defense System awarded a very lucrative arms deal to the obscure Turkish firm Roketsan to help in the delivery of the the Patriot Guidance Enhanced Missile-Tactical system to the United Arab Emirates (part of a missile shield deal concluded at the end of the Bush era). Turkey is being rewarded for its diplomatic engagement with the US and for its growing importance in the region. It shows that the current US administration is intent on moving forward on the controversial deal with the UAE, which critics say could be the launching point of an arms race in the Middle East. For more Simple Intelligence, click here.