Archive for the ‘United Nations’ Category

“Outside-the-box iconoclasts and establishment Republican allies”

13/11/2016

Rumours on Trump’s cabinet are starting to circulate, one article notes, “Early on in his campaign, the Republican businessman sent a warning shot to the party’s old guard by promising to hire “new voices” instead of gray-haired apparatchiks “who have perfect résumés but very little to brag about except responsibility for a long history of failed policies and continued losses at war.” Those remarks, which came in Trump’s first major foreign policy address in April, put many GOP hawks on notice, and precipitated a number of high-level defections to Hillary Clinton, including prominent neoconservative Republican Bob Kagan. But individuals familiar with the Trump campaign’s thinking tell Foreign Policy the real estate tycoon’s cabinet is likely to include a mix of outside-the-box iconoclasts and establishment Republican allies, including even Bush-era foreign policy hawks. Trump’s preference for political outsiders, especially those with private sector experience, has been reflected in his reported consideration of Forrest Lucas, co-founder of the oil products company Lucas Oil, as interior secretary, and Steven Mnuchin, a Goldman Sachs alum, for treasury secretary. For secretary of state, a variety of names are under consideration, including Newt Gingrich, who loyally defended Trump through a range of controversies and gaffes during the campaign. Most famous for his role as House speaker and architect of the GOP’s Contract With America in the 1990s, Gingrich is also a historian of modern European history. His Tulane University doctoral thesis, “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo, 1945-1960,” looked at the role of colonialism in the Central African country. He also taught history at West Georgia College, now the University of West Georgia, in the 1970s. Another top candidate for the Foggy Bottom job is Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee. As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Corker has repeatedly blasted Moscow for its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and intervention in Syria — positions that put him at odds with Trump, who has openly praised Putin and expressed a desire to warm relations with the Cold War adversary”.

The article mentions how “Corker has used his gravitas on the committee to defend Trump’s unorthodox foreign policy views, and even gone so far as to describe Trump as a “Bush 41” Republican on diplomatic issues. In August, Corker said he’d “strongly consider” serving under Trump as secretary of state. Also under consideration for the job is John Bolton, the former ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush. Oftentimes the face of Bush’s unilateralist foreign policy, Bolton was a controversial figure at the U.N., but could refashion himself for a Trump presidency centered around “America First” policies. For secretary of defense, a handful of nominees are on Trump’s short list, according to two people familiar with his thinking. The would-be picks include Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the businessman’s most loyal ally in the Senate and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who repeatedly criticized the GOP for moving too slowly to embrace Trump. The close relationship between the two men dates back to 2005, when they both opposed a $1.2 billion United Nations plan to renovate its Manhattan headquarters. During his victory speech, Trump specifically praised Sessions, calling him “highly respected in Washington because he’s as smart as you get.” Though New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is officially the head of Trump’s transition team, Sessions has played an increasingly active role, leading many to believe he will have his pick of plum administration jobs”.

The report notes that “Another potential nominee for the top Pentagon job is Jim Talent, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Missouri senator. For four years, Talent served as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and focused his attention on military readiness. In a recent opinion piece in the American Spectator, Talent expressed “profound discomfort” with Clinton and Trump. But he defended his decision to vote for the real estate mogul — “it’s the right thing to do, not an easy thing” — because Trump has a plan “for rebuilding America’s armed forces.” A “Reagan-era buildup of the military” he wrote, “will be the most important contribution he could make to American security.” “I have concerns about aspects of Trump’s approach to the world, and particularly his view of America’s alliance relationships,” Talent wrote. “On the other hand, there is a reasonable chance that Trump would adjust his views on those points as he actually confronts the challenges of his presidency.” Michael Flynn, the former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, could also land the top Pentagon job but would have to receive a waiver from Congress because of a law requiring retired military officers to wait seven years before going back to the Pentagon as the top civilian leader. Flynn has also been rumoured for White House national security advisor, a powerful role that would not require Senate confirmation”.

It goes on to mention that “Potential contenders for CIA director include Flynn and ex-Michigan Rep. Mike Rogers, the former Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. Rogers, who unlike Trump is a Russia hawk, has reportedly been playing a senior role on the Trump transition team. The position of attorney general could go to either Christie or former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, according to a report by NBC News earlier this week. Both men have been among Trump’s most loyal surrogates, though Christie could be a liability given the cloud of corruption charges hanging over the “Bridgegate” scandal. Walid Phares, an American scholar of Lebanese descent, has been nominally serving as a Trump foreign-policy advisor for several months. He could fit in as a White House senior advisor, according to one Trump insider. Richard Grenell, a former Bush administration spokesman to the United Nations, is on a list of candidates for U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Grenell had been appointed top national security spokesman for Mitt Romney, only to abruptly resign after social conservatives in the party rose up to denounce his selection as an openly gay Republican. Grenell has more recently used his Twitter feed to denounce Hillary Clinton and American political press coverage”.

It ends “For secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, one Trump insider said former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is a contender. On Wednesday, Politico reported that conservative Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke is also a potential candidate. He gained prominence at the Republican National Convention in Ohio when he declared “blue lives matter” in solidarity with law enforcement officers. Christie could fit into that cabinet position as well”.

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Rouhani, Trump and the deal

09/11/2016

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that the U.S. election results would have no effect on Tehran’s policies, state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying, noting that Iran’s expanding economic ties with the world were irreversible. “The results of the U.S. election have no effect on the policies of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Rouhani said. “Iran’s policy for constructive engagement with the world and the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions have made our economic relations with all countries expanding and irreversible.” He added that Iran’s nuclear deal with six world powers has been reflected in a United Nation Security Council resolution and cannot be dismissed by one government”.

Trump, the outlier

20/10/2016

An excellent article by Kori Schake notes that Trump is an outlier in his views, “You may have missed it, what with all the campaign tawdriness of late, but the Chicago Council on Global Affairs recently released its biennial survey of American public opinion on U.S. foreign policy, which not surprisingly this year focuses on Republican attitudes. Much coincides with surveys conducted by Pew and other reputable pollsters, but I learned three things reviewing the Chicago Council data that I hadn’t understood before: Republican positions on globalization and trade shifted in 2008; Democrats are more supportive of trade than their presidential nominee; and the great divergence in stances on immigration now evident between Republicans and Democrats is the result of dramatic changes in viewpoints among Democrats, not Republicans”.

She writes that “First, though, it merits saying how much consensus remains across the political spectrum about America’s role in the world. The overwhelming majority of Americans continue to want a strong military, participation in our existing alliances, and additional alliance relationships. And most Americans favour our country acting through international institutions and support international agreements as a means of protecting and advancing our national interests. In fact, 89 percent of Americans support strong alliances, and we like NATO best of all. Sixty-eight percent of Americans even approve of a stronger United Nations, that bête noir of the right. There is also considerable agreement over the threats we face, with strong majorities of respondents most worried about terrorism and nuclear proliferation (especially that of North Korea). Seventy-five percent of Republicans put terrorism at the top of their list of concerns, a higher proportion than did after 9/11. Democrats are more concerned about financial crisis and climate change than Islamic fundamentalism — but 49 percent of Democrats see the latter as a critical threat, too”.

She notes “The journalist Peter Beinart wittily observed that Democrats are the new Republicans: advocates of engagement with the world, proponents of trade and globalization, optimists about the future. The Chicago Council’s data bear that out. You would never know it from listening to Hillary Clinton equivocate on trade, but 74 percent of Democrats favour the Trans-Pacific Partnership; even 56 percent of people who voted for Bernie Sanders support TPP. Because the Chicago Council provides time-series data, it’s possible to see that the Republicans’ disaffection with globalization started in 2008 — before the Lehman Brothers collapse that started the financial crisis. Still, six in 10 Republicans continue to support globalization”.

Pointedly she writes “And Donald Trump supporters are not the outliers many consider them to be: 40 percent view trade as positive for the U.S. economy; 45 percent believe globalization has helped U.S. companies; 52 percent say globalization has been good “for consumers like you”; 49 percent agree that globalization has been beneficial for their standard of living. Where Trump supporters differ from other Americans is in their concern that despite those advantages, globalization has been damaging to jobs and job security. Moreover, Trump supporters are not outliers from traditional Republican positions on military strength, alliances, or international institutions. More Trump supporters than other Americans favour keeping U.S. military bases in Japan and Korea, though their candidate has made statements to the effect that continuing these relationships would be contingent upon cash. Even 50 percent of Trump backers want America to have a shared leadership role in the world and think the NATO alliance is essential — again, an area where the GOP standard-bearer’s views have been less than supportive”.

She ends “Interestingly enough, Trump voters are also those least affected by the diversity immigration brings. Such data reinforce the findings of sociologist Robert Putnam’s work on religious tolerance in America: The more exposure people have to difference, the more tolerant they become. Overall, the Chicago Council data are incredibly reassuring. There remains a broad, deep consensus among Americans about an engaged role in the world being positive for our security and our economy, that the allies and institutions we built from the devastation of World War II continue to deserve our support, and that trade is an essential component of our prosperity. Where differences have emerged — on immigration, for example — they result in increasing tolerance by liberals rather than growing intolerance by conservatives. It is alarming the extent to which one would come to very different conclusions listening to the Democratic nominee on trade or the Republican nominee on, well, everything.

Guterres as next UN Secretary-General

18/10/2016

An article reports that “Former Portuguese Prime Minister António Guterres is poised to be selected as the next secretary general of the United Nations when Ban Ki-moon steps down at the end of the year. Washington and Moscow rallied behind the former socialist politician and U.N refugee chief, offering a rare show of unity between two major powers who have been bitterly divided over a range of issues from Syria to Ukraine. It appears unlikely that the agreement will fundamentally reverse the downward spiral in U.S. and Russian relations or lead to an end to the Syrian war”.

The report goes on to point out “But it sets the stage for the emergence of a new U.N. leader who enjoys the trust of the key U.N. powers, including China, Britain, and France. And it shows that despite their differences, the U.S. and Russia can still find areas to agree. Guterres secured 13 votes in favour of his candidacy in a closed-door straw poll, with two countries offering no opinion over whether he should pursue the job as the world’s top diplomat. But the secret poll made it clear that the five veto-wielding powers — who cast red ballots in contrast to the white ballots cast by non-permanent members — were unanimous in their support for Guterres. Guterres emerged in the early stages of the campaign for secretary general as the front-runner, maintaining a clear edge on a slate of 13 candidates through five informal straw polls. But there were persistent questions about whether Russia would drop its insistence that the next U.N. leader be recruited from an Eastern European country”.

It ends “After the poll, Power told reporters that the selection of Guterres proved “remarkably uncontentious, uncontroversial.” “I think that speaks to the fact that each of us … knows how fundamentally important this position is,” she added. “People united around a person who impressed throughout the process and has impressed on multiple axes: in his service in Portuguese politics and then of course at the helm of UNHCR.” The outcome marked the end of an international campaign to elect the first female secretary general. A late entry, Bulgarian national Kristalina Georgieva, a well-regarded European Commission official, could not build enough momentum to mount a serious challenge to Guterres”.

US calls Russia’s actions barbaric

08/10/2016

“The United States on Sunday called Russia’s action in Syria “barbarism,” not counter-terrorism, while Moscow’s U.N. envoy said ending the war “is almost an impossible task now” as Syrian government forces, backed by Moscow, bombed the city of Aleppo. The United Nations Security Council met on Sunday at the request of the United States, Britain and France to discuss the escalation of fighting in Aleppo following the announcement on Thursday of an offensive by the Syrian army to retake the city. “What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counter-terrorism, it is barbarism,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told the 15-member council. “Instead of pursuing peace, Russia and Assad make war. Instead of helping get life-saving aid to civilians, Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive,” Power said. A Sept. 9 ceasefire deal between U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov aimed at putting Syria’s peace process back on track effectively collapsed on Monday when an aid convoy was bombed.

Ban’s last UN speech

08/10/2016

An article notes the last speech by the leader of the UN, “Ban Ki-moon delivered a full-throated, and thinly veiled, broadside against a host of world leaders from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad to South Sudan’s Salva Kiir Mayardit during his tenth and final speech at the U.N. General Assembly. “In too many places, we see leaders rewriting constitutions, manipulating elections and taking other desperate steps to cling to power,” he said. “My message to all is clear: serve your people. Do not subvert democracy; do not pilfer your country’s resources; do not imprison and torture your critics.” Ban charged South Sudan’s leaders, which includes Kiir, with having “betrayed their people” by pursuing a violent path to power. He blasted Syria’s Assad for prosecuting a brutal military campaign to cling to power at the expense of millions of brutalized victims of war”.

The piece goes on to note “Ban excoriated the outside powers that have supported the warring parties on both sides of the conflict. While Ban didn’t name names the list of regional or global powers — from Russia and Iran to Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France and the United States — that supported the combatants — is long. “Powerful patrons that keep feeding the war machine also have blood on their hands,” he said. “Present in this hall today are representatives of governments that have ignored, facilitated, funded, participated in or even planned and carried out atrocities inflicted by all side.” In what appeared to be an implicit criticism of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and nationalist, anti-immigrant leaders in Europe, Ban criticized politicians for scapegoating foreign migrants, especially Muslims, and engaging in “cynical and dangerous political math.” “Muslims in particular are being targeted by stereotyping and suspicion that have echoes of the dark past,” he said”.

The report adds that “Ban also voiced particular frustration that efforts to welcome an independent Palestinian state during his tenure have foundered. “It pains me that this past decade has been lost to peace. Ten years lost to illegal settlement expansion. Ten years lost to intra-Palestinian divide, growing polarization and hopelessness.” “This is madness. Replacing a two-state solution with a one-state construct would spell doom: denying Palestinians their freedom and rightful future, and pushing Israel further from its vision of a Jewish democracy towards greater global isolation.” Israel’s U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, fired back shortly after the speech. “The real madness belong to the U.N.,” he said in a statement. “Instead of focusing on Palestinian terror and incitement, and instead of compelling Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table, the secretary general chose to criticize Israel once again. This is an obsession with Israel and it must end.” He also expressed remorse over two internal scandals that have roiled his tenure at the U.N., the exploitation of women and children in the Central African Republic by U.N. peacekeepers and the outbreak of cholera in Haiti, which was introduced into the country be Nepalese U.N. peacekeepers”.

“An impassioned plea for an open world order”

06/10/2016

In this the 4,700th post, an article discusses Obama’s last UN speech, “Barack Obama used the pulpit of his last speech before the United Nations to make an impassioned plea for an open world order, even as walls rise against refugees, protectionism makes a comeback, and the West faces the prospect of a simmering cold war with Russia and other authoritarian states. The address represented a rallying cry for beleaguered democratic, pro-trade governments to promote the values of human rights and free markets. Obama also explicitly rejected the politics of isolationism, demagoguery, and nationalism that have gained political traction from the American heartland to Moscow. There appears to be a growing contest between authoritarianism and liberalism right now, and I want everybody to understand — I am not neutral in that contest. I believe in a liberal political order,” Obama said. “So those of us who believe in democracy, we need to speak out forcefully.”

It goes onto point out that “The U.S. president took aim at plenty of targets during his speech but trained a sharp burst of rhetorical fire on a country that has, in the course of his own administration, become Washington’s international nemesis and, at best, awkward diplomatic dance partner — Vladimir Putin’s Russia. He specifically rebuked Russia for intimidating its neighbours and using military might to shape the future of its growing sphere of influence. Obama argued that Russia’s military interventions — from Syria, where it is shoring up President Bashar al-Assad’s government, to Ukraine, where Russian-backed rebels seized control of Crimea and continue to challenge a Western-backed government in Kiev — are unsustainable over the long haul”.

Interestingly the writer notes how “Obama also took a swipe at China, which has erected an archipelago of military installations on disputed islands in the South China Sea. He said a “peaceful resolution” of China’s territorial dispute “will mean far greater stability than … militarization” in the region. Obama also challenged China to ensure that its troublesome client, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, pays a price for his recent test of a nuclear explosive, a flagrant violation of multiple Security Council resolutions that China has supported. “When North Korea tests a bomb, that endangers all of us. And any country that breaks this basic bargain must face consequences,” he said. Hours after Obama’s speech, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — Turkey’s democratically elected, though increasingly authoritarian, leader — delivered his first address to the international community since a failed coup attempt in July. Erdogan implored world leaders to crack down on Fethullah Gulen”.

The report notes how “Obama’s speech also served up a blunt rejection of growing calls for sealing national borders, including Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s proposal for a “beautiful wall” along the U.S. southern border to keep out foreigners from Mexico and elsewhere. “Today, a nation ringed by walls would only imprison itself,” Obama said. “So the answer cannot be a simple rejection of global integration. Instead, we must work together to make sure the benefits of such integration are … squarely addressed.”That included a now familiar endorsement of free trade, which Obama hailed as a necessary component for a more prosperous and peaceful world. He described “trade wars,” protectionism, and tariff hikes as “failed models of the past” and reiterated his pitch for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim countries awaiting ratification by signatories”.

The piece goes on to note how “even in Washington’s political climate, Obama’s free trade message has become increasingly isolated. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has disowned the trade pact, despite her vocal support for it as Obama’s secretary of state; so has progressive firebrand Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who challenged her for the nomination. Trump calls the trade pact, which would link together about 40 percent of the global economy, one of the “worst deals” ever forged. Yet Obama sounded an uncharacteristically populist note in his speech, highlighting the need for the world’s wealthiest to strike a fairer bargain with the world’s workers. “A world in which 1 percent of humanity controls as much wealth as the other 99 percent will never be stable,” the U.S. president told the gathering of foreign leaders. “A society that asks less of oligarchs than ordinary citizens will rot from within.” Although part of Obama’s speech centered on his forward-looking policy goals, he also sought to burnish his presidential legacy on the world stage. He noted that the meltdown of the global financial system, which nearly collapsed during the final years of George W. Bush’s administration, was stabilised under his watch. He cited landmark diplomatic agreements with Cuba, resulting in restored relations, and Iran, where sanctions relief was traded for the restriction of Tehran’s nuclear program. He also pointed to Washington’s role in supporting peace talks that ended Latin America’s longest civil war in Colombia”.

The report ends, “Obama struck a fatalistic note over the prospects of restoring peace in the Middle East, where leaders have demonised rival sects, persecuted political opponents, and tolerated the perversion of Islam. “[Such forces] are now at work helping to fuel both Syria’s tragic civil war and the mindless, medieval menace of ISIL,” he said, referring to the Islamic State. “If we are honest, we understand that no external power is going to be able to force different religious communities or ethnic communities to coexist for long,” Obama said. In the meantime, Obama said the United States and its coalition partners will continue to undertake a “united and relentless” military campaign against the Islamic State in Syria. Beyond that, Washington will limit its action to pressing for an elusive diplomatic settlement to the conflict while working to deliver assistance to those in need. The recent breakdown in the Syrian cease-fire, however, has raised doubts over the viability of such a plan.

 

“Suspended all convoys in Syria on Tuesday following deadly airstrikes”

29/09/2016

The U.N. humanitarian aid agency suspended all convoys in Syria on Tuesday following deadly airstrikes on aid trucks the previous night that activists said killed at least 12 people, mostly truck drivers and Red Crescent workers. The attack plunged Syria’s U.S.-Russia-brokered cease-fire further into doubt. The Syrian military, just hours earlier, had declared the week-long truce had failed. The United States said it was prepared to extend the truce deal and Russia — after blaming rebels for the violations — suggested it could still be salvaged. In Geneva, spokesman Jens Laerke of OCHA said further aid delivery would hold pending a review of the security situation in Syria in the aftermath of the airstrike. Laerke called it “a very, very dark day… for humanitarians across the world.” The U.N. aid coordinator said the Syria government had granted needed authorizations in recent days to allow for aid convoys to proceed inside Syria. Humanitarian U.N. aid deliveries had stalled in recent weeks amid continued fighting, and the truce had not paved the way for expanded convoys as initially expected. It was not clear who was behind the attack late on Monday, which sent a red fireball into the sky in the dead of night over a rural area in Aleppo province. Both Syrian and Russian aircraft operate over Syria, as well as the U.S.-led coalition that is targeting the Islamic State group.

“A convoy transporting aid to the hard-hit city had been attacked”

27/09/2016

A Syrian human rights group said today that at least 32 people had been killed and dozens injured in Aleppo, Syria, and its western suburbs in the hours after Syria’s military declared the U.S.-Russian brokered cease-fire over. After the Syrian military blamed rebels for not observing the truce, which was in its seventh day, the United Nations said a convoy transporting aid to the hard-hit city had been attacked, with 18 of the convoy’s 31 trucks initially believed to have been hit. The rights group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that 12 people had been killed when the convoy was struck. Farhan Haq, a deputy spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, told ABC News that he could not confirm any information on potential casualties or the cause of the attack. He said that the United Nations’ initial understanding was that a warehouse operated by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent had also been hit along with the convoy, before the trucks could distribute any aid to 78,000 people whom international groups had hoped to reach. The fighting came amid signs the cease-fire was falling apart, with Russia casting doubt on it and the Syrian military declaring its conclusion.

“Largest youth population in human history”

05/09/2016

An interesting article discusses the demography of those under 30 in fragile nations, “As tweets and headlines skip from crisis to crisis, the largest youth population in human history is coming of age in a steady, unstoppable wave. While countries across Europe and East Asia are grappling with declining birthrates and aging populations, societies across the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia are experiencing youth booms of staggering proportions: More than half of Egypt’s labour force is younger than age 30. Half of Nigeria’s population of 167 million is between the ages of 15 and 34. In Afghanistan, Angola, Chad, East Timor, Niger, Somalia, and Uganda, more than two-thirds of the population is under the age of 25. How well these young people transition to adulthood — and how well their governments integrate them economically, politically, and socially — will influence whether their countries thrive or implode. Surging populations of young people will have the power to drive political and social norms, influence what modes of governance will be adopted and the role women will play in society, and embrace or discredit extremist ideologies. They are the fulcrum on which future social attitudes rest”.

It goes on to aruge “These young people could transform entire regions, making them more prosperous, more just, and more secure. Or they could also unleash a flood of instability and violence. Or both. And if their countries are not able to accommodate their needs and aspirations, they could generate waves of migration for decades. In the face of this deluge of young people, world leaders should be strategizing and taking steps daily that steer us all toward the former and away from the latter. But as serial acts of global terrorism, large-scale humanitarian disasters, perplexing political trends in Europe like Brexit and persistent economic fragility demand urgent attention, the question emerges: Is anyone even paying attention? Consider India. More than 300 million Indians are under the age of 15, making India home to more children than any country, at any time, in all of human history. To put the size of this generation’s numbers into perspective consider this: If these children formed a country, that country would be the fourth-largest in the world, still smaller than the United States but larger than Indonesia, Brazil, and Pakistan”.

Interestingly it notes “Every month until 2030, one million Indians will turn 18 years old, observes Somini Sengupta, the reporter and author of a compelling new book, The End of Karma: Hope and Fury Among India’s Young. These young people will need both education and jobs — lots of them — in a global economy that is most certainly going to feature more automation and fewer of the semi-skilled manufacturing jobs that absorbed earlier youth surges elsewhere in Asia. If India succeeds in this respect, its coming demographic bonanza holds the potential to create an unprecedented surge in the country’s economic health. If not, its youth boom could rock the world’s largest democracy and second-largest population with sustained instability. “In the coming years, India can thrive because of its young. Or it can implode. Or both. There’s little time left,” writes Sengupta”.

He notes similar trends in Africa and the Middle East, “Booming youth populations are the demographic equivalent of wild cards for those trying to predict the trajectory of large, strategically important, and politically volatile countries like Pakistan and Iran. In Pakistan, two-thirds of the population is under the age of 30. Many of these young people will only know Pakistan after its latest transition to democracy from 2008 to 2010 and after Pakistan ended its most recent war with India in 1999. They will also know political corruption, extremist violence, and dire shortages of energy and water. In Iran, two-thirds of the population is currently under the age of 35. These young people are educated, tech savvy, and full of potential. Whereas the revolution will be something they learned about in school, many will remember seeing Iranians pour into the streets during the Green Movement or to celebrate the nuclear deal with the United States”.

Crucially he writes that “Unfortunately, the countries that have most of the world’s young people are also the ones that are the most ill-equipped to grapple with their needs, ambitions, expectations, and inevitable frustrations — let alone capitalise on their potential. According to the United Nations, developing countries are home to 89 percent of the world’s 10- to 24-year-olds; by 2020, they will be home to nine out of every 10 people globally. Like too many developing countries, countries like Chad and Niger rank high on lists of the world’s most fragile states. They also have populations in which half of their citizens are under the age of 16. With this information, it is all too easy to conjure a dystopic future, the Hollywood caricature of a lawless developing country dominated by gangs of rough-talking young men brandishing firearms (Think, “I’m the captain now.”) But what if we made a different choice? What if the world invested in the potential of these young people? It is feasible to believe these countries could pull themselves out of poverty and instability within a generation — the way China did, the way India might. But if the international community fails to act now, we will all suffer the consequences”.

The author notes that “the developing world’s youth boom coincides with four interrelated global trends: an information revolution, the largest movement of refugees and displaced people in recorded history, growing urbanisation that will concentrate youth in cities, and a rise in terrorism and extremist ideologies. Together these trends will spread not just people but, more importantly, their ideas at an unprecedented rate. They will raise and dash expectations pushing and pulling young people toward and away from their hometowns and homelands, toward and away from their desired futures. They will make young people around the globe aware of how others are living, the divisions within their societies, and how those they identify with are treated by governments, security forces, and other groups. This knowledge can inspire or anger. It can commit people to elevating their families and communities — or make them lash out against them”.

Importantly he notes “Youth booms historically paid dividends in the form of economic growth. South Korea, for instance, translated its youth boom into twelvefold GDP per capita growth between 1970 and today, keeping unemployment for its large youth population around 10 percent. If this history repeats in large population centers like India and Pakistan, Nigeria and Ethiopia, Egypt and Iran — all of which currently have unusually large youth populations — economic booms will transform whole regions. But the ability of developing countries to create enough jobs in today’s technologically advanced and ruthlessly efficient global economy is far from assured. Even wealthy and well-educated countries like Germany and the United States are struggling to employ elements of their workforces and sustain a prosperous middle class. A lack of economic opportunity concerns young people worldwide as the pace of technological advancements decreases the demand for manufacturing labor even when economies are growing. In Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, for example, youth unemployment rates already exceed 30 percent, and youth populations there are expected to grow by another 20 percent or more over the coming 15 years, according to the U.N”.

He ends “To change the trajectory of youth living in challenging circumstances around the world, young people need economic opportunities, civic engagement, and justice as well as opportunities to positively change their communities. They need to develop their identities as individuals who have something to contribute, and as citizens. They need to come together to shape more positive futures for themselves and for others. And they are not just going to wait. Tapping the potential of massive youth populations worldwide could be the opportunity of the century. Or, it will unleash even more disorder, division, and violence. Or both. To echo Sengupta again, the world is now home to a tipping-point generation that will bend the arc of history. There’s little time left”.

“May can play off her three sort-of foreign secretaries against each other”

20/08/2016

In a piece from the Economist, the author argues that Boris Johnson has diminished the stature and relevance of the UK globally, “IF EVER you find yourself at a dinner party with British establishment types, ask them about the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). Jokes about gin-swilling, oikophobe globetrotters in linen suits will spill forth. The more chauvinistic may tut about that diplomat’s disease: “going native”, or sympathising more with foreigners than with folk back home. To sound clever, someone will decree that every prime minister since Thatcher has been his or her “own foreign secretary” (as if Churchill and Eden were remembered today for their education policies) and that the FCO these days is just a venue for formalities”.

The piece adds, “This image riles diplomats, and rightly. The essence of the grandest department on Whitehall is not that it deals with the world outside Britain. Practically every government body does that: the business department frets about foreign takeovers, the Ministry of Defence is hardwired into NATO, 10 Downing Street co-ordinates big summits. The point of the FCO is to go beyond the transactional focus of these branches, of fleeting political moods and fads, of narrow, immediate readings of the national interest. Its embassies are a nervous system conveying information, cultivating influence and generally providing a strategy for the country’s global role that transcends the next photo opportunity or crisis. Its goal is an influential Britain in an orderly world. Or, as Ernest Bevin, the post-war foreign secretary, put it: the preservation of every Briton’s ability to “take a ticket at Victoria Station and go anywhere I damn well please!”  It is in this context that the sudden and brutal humiliation of the FCO following Britain’s vote for Brexit should be understood. The swingeing budget cuts and departmental turf wars of recent years have been tough enough. But none of this compares with the indignities visited upon it in recent weeks”.

The author rightly points out, “Most colourful among them is Theresa May’s appointment of Boris Johnson as foreign secretary. The former mayor of London, who campaigned for Brexit, is affable and intelligent. But he is also unscrupulous and unserious. In Brussels he is loathed for his myth-making about the EU and for comparing the union to the Third Reich. German news readers struggled to stifle laughter when they read out the news of his promotion on July 14th. In Washington the reaction was no better: five days later the new foreign secretary grinned his way sheepishly through a press conference as American journalists read from his litany of undiplomatic remarks. In 2007 he compared Hillary Clinton to a sadistic mental health nurse, for example; the following year he described Africans as “piccaninnies” .  What possessed Mrs May? It seems the prime minister wants to pack Mr Johnson off to parts foreign, welcoming him back in London only to help her, a Remainer before the referendum, to sell an eventual Brexit deal with the EU to Eurosceptics. That is dismal. It treats the FCO, a giant national asset, as a tool of domestic political management and thus suggests a drastic downgrade of Britain’s ambitions on the world stage”.

The writer mentions that “So too does the prime minister’s creation of two new departments: one for Brexit and one for international trade. The former, in particular, will be composed from chunks of the FCO, including some of its brightest staff. Both are led by uncompromising Eurosceptics, David Davis and Liam Fox, who seem determined to nab further turf from the (in their eyes) all-too internationalist diplomats. Thus the FCO will now have to share facilities—like Chevening, the foreign secretary’s country retreat—and battle for influence with two rival outfits programmed to see other countries less as partners than as negotiating opponents”.

The piece mentions “A hint of what is to come came on July 20th, when Mrs May travelled to Berlin to meet Angela Merkel. The prime minister received military honours and exchanged warm words with her German counterpart. Yet insiders detected a shift. For all the talk of co-operation on Turkey and the refugee crisis, in the German capital Britain is now seen less as a solution than a problem. As one local diplomat put it to Bagehot: “Here Britain now means Brexit.” For the foreseeable future, then, the country’s scope to play the expansive, agenda-setting role for which the FCO is designed is limited. Brexit talks will drain energy from other fields. The fragmentation of Britain’s diplomatic arsenal will Balkanise policymaking. Doors will close which once were open. Mark Leonard, the director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, reckons the country could end up as “a bit player in support of policies developed in Berlin, DC and other places.”

It ends “Too gloomy, say some, pointing to Britain’s ongoing NATO membership, UN Security Council seat, Commonwealth links and economic and military heft. These things matter, of course. But quitting the EU denies Britain opportunities to make the most of them (consider its leadership, alongside France and Germany, in the Iran nuclear talks). The country’s temperamental and institutional tilt in a more zero-sum, nation-state-centric, sovereignty-first direction makes its existing strengths less valuable: a less open and collaborative ally to its friends. Mr Leonard calls this “strategic shrinkage on steroids”. He sees Britain taking a more craven stance towards economic powers like China and Russia, whose cash might help it plug the economic gap left by Brexit. Not everything about this is preordained. Perhaps Mrs May can play off her three sort-of foreign secretaries against each other. Abroad she has opportunities to shore up some of Britain’s influence, says Brendan Simms, a historian of the country’s place in Europe: by striving to remain a useful ally to Germany, by amplifying Britain’s voice on defence and security matters (it is still a major player in NATO’s defences in the Baltics, for example) and by throwing herself into debates about the future integration of continental Europe. Britain’s stature in the world is shrinking. By how much is up to its leaders.

US airstrikes in Libya

08/08/2016

The United States escalated its war against the Islamic State in Libya on Monday, conducting airstrikes in the coastal city of Surt as part of a new military campaign against the extremist Sunni terrorist group’s stronghold in North Africa. President Obama approved the strikes last week after Libya’s fragile United Nations-backed unity government asked for help in its fight against the Islamic State, administration officials said. The strikes, which American officials have forecast for months, are intended to help break an impasse between Libyan militias and the Islamic State fighters they have cornered in a grinding urban battle in Surt’s downtown”.

US and Russia both criticise UN

27/07/2016

The United States and Russia both criticized United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday for overstepping his mandate in a report on the implementation of a Security Council resolution backing a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. Most U.N. sanctions on Iran were lifted in January when the U.N. nuclear watchdog confirmed that Tehran fulfilled commitments under its nuclear deal with Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and the United States. But Iran is still subject to a U.N. arms embargo and other restrictions. U.N. political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman briefed the 15-member Security Council on Monday on Ban’s first bi-annual report on the implementation of the remaining sanctions and restrictions on Iran. “The United States disagrees strongly with elements of this report, including that its content goes beyond the appropriate scope. We understand that Iran also disagrees strongly with parts of the report,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told the council. Power said “while some have argued that to be balanced, the report should give Iran a chance to express complaints about sanctions relief under the deal,” the Security Council did not mandate Ban to report on such issues.

“Carrying out air strikes on the center of Sirte city in a siege of Islamic State militants”

17/07/2016

Libyan forces allied with the U.N.-backed government have been shelling and carrying out air strikes on the center of Sirte city in a siege of Islamic State militants there, an official said. Militants defending Islamic State’s last stronghold in Libya have been keeping Libyan forces back with sniper fire and mortars in Sirte where they are now surrounded after a two month campaign to take the city. The fall of Sirte would be a major blow to Islamic State, which took over the city a year ago in the chaos of a civil war between rival factions who once battled Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. “Our forces have…targeted militants with artillery and air force around Ouagadougou complex, Ghiza Asskariya district, and in the city center,” said Rida Issa, spokesman for Misrata forces fighting in Sirte.

“Little risk of losing their seat on the U.N. Security Council”

15/07/2016

A report from Foreign Policy notes the consequences of Brexit for the UK on the Security Council, “Post-Brexit Britain may lose Scotland and Northern Ireland, whose voters overwhelmingly favour remaining in the European Union. But they run little risk of losing their seat on the U.N. Security Council, a key source of London’s claim to be a true world power”.

It adds “That doesn’t mean it will be business as usual for British diplomats at the United Nations. Emotions remain raw over Britain’s Brexit vote, which has sent stock markets plummeting to historic lows, and injected an unwelcome degree of uncertainty into world affairs. Over time, European governments are expected to grow less willing to submit to London’s leadership role at the United Nations in crises from Libya to Somalia, where British diplomacy is backed up by European muscle and euros. That will greatly enhance the influence and prestige of France, which will become the sole remaining representative of the European Union, among the council’s big power caucus. Great Britain, meanwhile, may suddenly find itself as “the runt of the Security Council,” quipped Richard Gowan, a U.N. specialist at the European Council on Foreign Relations”.

The report notes that “Britain’s departure from the EU is also virtually certain to give new momentum to efforts to change the makeup of the U.N. Security Council, whose five permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, France, and Britain — still reflect the balance of global power at the end of World War II. For two decades, rising powers like Brazil, India, Germany, and Japan have pushed to receive permanent seats of their own. Those efforts have been blocked by regional rivals like Algeria, Argentina, Pakistan, and Italy, which fear for their own standing at the U.N. if their more powerful neighbours make their way onto the world body’s most powerful arm”.

It makes the point that “For the moment, British diplomats are trying to walk the narrow line between stressing that they will abide by the will of their voters while insisting they’ll still find ways of cooperating with allies — and EU members — like France and Germany. During a closed-door meeting of European Union diplomats Tuesday morning in New York, Britain’s U.N. envoy, Matthew Rycroft, told his European colleagues there was no turning back from the decision to leave the EU. But he sought to assure them that his government would remain engaged on key international matters, and that it would actually intensify its activities on the Security Council, according to several European diplomats. “They say they will stay the course, not diminish their efforts,” said one diplomat. French, German, Spanish, and other European diplomats told Rycroft that they were shocked by the British decision to withdraw from the EU and that relations would never be the same. At the same time, however, they assured him that they would strive to find ways of collaborating”.

It mentions that “A senior French official at the meeting told Rycroft that Paris, which holds the other European seat on the Security Council, would continue to closely coordinate its diplomatic activities with Britain, citing a history of “friendship and solidarity.” Though diplomats said that France would probably take on a greater share of responsibilities once Britain leaves the EU. Rycroft, for his part, told the gathering that Britain would remain a full-fledged member of the European community — with a seat at the table in NATO, the G-7, and the G-20, and a robust military — until its departure is finalised. Ironically, Rycroft’s assurances that Brexit would have limited impact on Britain’s diplomacy echo claims by proponents of the “Leave” campaign, which issued a statement earlier this year”.

The report ends “For decades, Britain’s influence was derived from its ability to leverage other people’s power — the United States and the European Union — in pursuit of its interests. In Somalia, for example, Britain typically takes the lead in drafting the U.N. resolutions that define international policy. But it’s the wider European Union that foots the bill for African peacekeepers there. In Libya, British diplomats have overseen negotiations on a resolution authorizing the seizure of people smugglers and arms traffickers. While the EU may decide to maintain support for such operations, it is far less likely to want to take its lead from the United Kingdom. London is the lead policymaker — or penholder — on the council on about a dozen international crises, from Darfur to Libya to Yemen. In recent months, it has returned for the first time in 20 years to U.N. peacekeeping missions, pledging to send more than 250 blue helmets to South Sudan and an additional 70 or so to Somalia. U.N. supporters said they hoped this was the first step in a broader re-engagement in U.N. peacekeeping. But Samarasinghe said Brexit might stall any expansion of a British peacekeeping role. “I don’t think they will pull back” from their commitment, she said. “But I don’t think this is the start of something new, which is what we had previously expected.”

Arming Libya’s government

28/05/2016

In a move fraught with risk, the United States and other world powers said Monday they would supply Libya’s internationally recognized government with weapons to counter the Islamic State and other militant groups gaining footholds in the chaos-wracked country’s lawless regions. Aiming at once to shore up the fragile government, and prevent Islamic State fighters and rival militias from further gains, the U.S., the four other permanent U.N. Security Council members and more than 15 other nations said they would approve exemptions to a United Nations arms embargo to allow military sales and aid to Libya’s so-called “Government of National Accord.” In a joint communique, the nations said that while the broader embargo will remain in place, they are “ready to respond to the Libyan government’s requests for training and equipping” government forces.  “We will fully support these efforts while continuing to reinforce the UN arms embargo,” the communique said. With support from all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, the plan is unlikely to face significant opposition from any quarter. The communique was issued at the end of the talks that gathered U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and top officials from more than 20 other nations to discuss ways to strengthen Libya’s fledgling government. The aim is to give the internationally recognized administration more muscle in fighting Islamic State radicals and end its rivalry with a group to the east claiming legitimacy. The step will boost the government’s efforts to consolidate power and regain control over Libyan state institutions like the central bank and national oil company. However, it also comes with risks, not least of which is that the arms may be captured or otherwise taken by the Islamic State or other groups.

New government’s joint military command in Libya

20/05/2016

Libya’s new unity government announced Thursday plans to establish a joint military command to drive the Islamic State (IS) militant group out of the North African country. Its presidential council called on “all military forces” in Libya to await instructions after “a joint command” has been formed and not to launch any unilateral offensive on the IS stronghold of Sirte, 450 kilometres (280 miles) east of Tripoli. Martin Kobler, the UN special envoy for Libya, said in a tweet: “I welcome the initiative of #Libya Presidency Council to appoint a military joint leadership for operations” against IS group. The council fears that separate operations in Sirte could spark clashes between the multitude of different fighting forces in Libya and play into the militants’ hands. IS group has transformed Sirte into a training camp for Libyan and foreign militants since overrunning slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi’s hometown on the Mediterranean last June”.

Ending war in Yemen?

16/05/2016

Talks aimed at ending Yemen’s war opened in Kuwait on Thursday, with Kuwait’s top diplomat appealing to both sides to “turn war into peace” after more than a year of conflict which has killed more than 6,200 people and caused a humanitarian crisis. Yemen’s foreign minister warned against high expectations from the U.N.-sponsored talks, which brought together the Houthi group and its General People’s Congress party allies with the Saudi-backed government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi. The talks, originally scheduled to start on Monday, were delayed over accusations by the Houthi group of truce violations and disagreements over the agenda for the negotiations”.

“Keeping “technical experts” in Geneva”

06/05/2016

The main Syrian opposition group says it’s keeping “technical experts” in Geneva next week to focus on humanitarian aid for the war-ravaged country, a wobbly cease-fire and a stepped-up push to win the release of detainees. The statement by the High Negotiations Committee comes days after it pulled back from, but didn’t formally leave, the main U.N. sponsored effort on Syria: Indirect peace talks between the HNC and President Bashar Assad’s government. The HNC walked off largely to protest alleged government violations of a U.S. and Russia-engineered truce.

“Start reclamation at the Scarborough Shoal”

06/05/2016

China will start reclamation at the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea later this year and may add an airstrip to extend its air force’s reach over the contested waters, a military source and mainland maritime experts say. A source close to the PLA Navy said Beijing would ramp up work to establish a new outpost 230km off the coast of the Philippines as the US and Manila drew their militaries closer together. An upcoming ruling on territorial claims by the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague, widely expected to go against China, would also accelerate the plan, the source said. Manila wants the court to ­declare that Beijing’s claims must comply with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and the decision could come next month or in June. “Beijing will take action to carry out land reclamation at Huangyan Island within this year,” said the source, who ­requested anonymity, referring to the shoal”.

A new Syrian constitution?

25/04/2016

Russia and the U.S are working on drafting a new constitution for Syria, according to three Western and Russian diplomats, in the clearest sign yet of the two powers’ determination to broker a solution to a five-year civil war that has sent a wave of refugees toward Europe. The joint efforts are at an early stage, and Russia’s current proposals are closer to the Syrian government’s position, said one Western diplomat. The two countries are continuing to exchange ideas, a Russian diplomat said. All three envoys spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions are confidential. The U.S agreed with Russia on a target of August to create a framework for a political transition and a draft constitution for Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry said after talks in the Kremlin on March 24. The United Nations is leading peace talks in Geneva where the government and opposition are negotiating a settlement”.

Libya, back to two governments

23/04/2016

The head of a coalition ruling western Libya and the capital, Tripoli, appears to have reversed a decision to dismiss his administration. The statement, posted on Khalifa Ghweil’s website, has caused confusion. In it he threatens to prosecute any of his ministers who co-operate with the leaders of a UN-back unity government waiting to take national control. Tripoli’s justice ministry had said earlier that ministers were standing aside to prevent further bloodshed. The UN-brokered unity deal, agreed in December, is aimed at reconciling splits after five years of conflict. Libya has been in chaos since the 2011 overthrow of long-serving ruler Muammar Gaddafi by NATO-backed forces. Since 2014 the country has had two competing administrations, the one in Tripoli, which is backed by powerful militias, and the other about 1,000km (620 miles) away in the eastern port city of Tobruk. Some rival lawmakers signed up to the UN agreement to form a unity government but the deal has not yet been backed by all the country’s many militia brigades that formed after the uprising”.

Just one Libyan government

19/04/2016

One of two rival governments in Libya has announced that it is stepping down, a justice ministry statement has said. The announcement comes less than a week after the arrival in Tripoli of a UN-backed national unity government. The Tripoli-based administration said it was standing down to prevent further bloodshed. Since 2014 Libya has had two competing administrations, the one in Tripoli backed by powerful militias and the other in the eastern city of Tobruk. The Tobruk-based administration, formed by the House of Representatives, still opposes the UN-backed body”.

China’s special envoy for Syria

17/04/2016

China on Tuesday appointed its first special envoy for the Syrian crisis, a career diplomat who has served as ambassador to Iran, as it seeks a more active role in the Middle East. While relying on the region for oil supplies, China tends to leave Middle Eastern diplomacy to the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, namely the United States, Britain, France and Russia. But China has been trying to get more involved, including recently hosting both Syria’s foreign minister and opposition figures, though at different times”.

Walt on Obama

15/04/2016

Stephen Walt, somewhat ironically, argues that President Obama is not a realist.

He opens “Obama is in the homestretch of his presidency, and it is only human for him to care about how he will be judged after he leaves office. That impulse probably explains his decision to participate in a series of interviews with the Atlantic in which he defends his approach to foreign policy and explains why he has been reluctant to use American power as widely as his critics would have liked. Not surprisingly, this story has rekindled the recurring question of whether Obama has been running a “realist” foreign policy for the past seven-plus years — or at least one heavily informed by realist thinking. (One of our country’s sillier pundits once suggested I was the secret George Kennanguiding his actions; anyone who reads this column regularly knows that U.S. foreign policy would have been markedly different if that were in fact the case.) I understand why many people regard Obama as some sort of realist, but from where I sit, the nonrealist dimensions of his presidency are as prominent and important as any realist elements. And it is those nonrealist features that account for his most obvious foreign-policy failures”.

Walt makes the bold assertion that “future historians will rate Obama highly. He will be remembered for being America’s first nonwhite president, of course, and for conducting his office with dignity, grace, and diligence. His administration was blissfully scandal-free, and he didn’t make a lot of hasty decisions that turned out badly. He was admirably thick-skinned and charitable toward most of his critics, despite the abuse and thinly veiled racism he faced from some of them. And no matter who wins in November, he is likely to look mighty good by comparison”.

Indeed the reality is almost the complete opposite to what Walt claims, Obama is thin skinned, arrogant, full of scandals, some of which Walt himself has hypocritically criticised notably the Libya debacle. On the “lack” of hasty decisions the opposite is true, he took almost a year to decide on a short lived surge in Afghanistan, only to tell the Taliban his strategy on live television, he has done nothing on Syria which in and of itself has cause irreparable harm to US leadership globally and if it cannot be stopped will instead herald a new age in multipolar rivalry and instability that will be largely, though not solely, the fault of Obama.

Walt does correctly point out the significant domestic achievements, “As we look back, Obama will get credit for health care reform, for rescuing the country from the brink of another Great Depression, and for promoting greater tolerance toward minorities through legalization of gay marriage”.

Walt goes on to describe Obama’s foreign policy as a “mixed bag” he argues “relations with China have been mostly tranquil despite the U.S. “pivot” to Asia; and the nuclear deal with Iran is a qualified success so far. I’d also give Obama props for ending America’s long and counterproductive effort to ostracize Cuba”,

Correctly he notes that “Obama’s foreign-policy record also contains a sizable number of depressing failures, beginning with Afghanistan. Obama agonized over this issue during his first year in office and ultimately sent nearly 60,000 additional troops there. He promised this temporary “surge” would turn the tide against the Taliban and enable the United States to get out with honour. It is now 2016, the Taliban control more territory than at any time since 2001, and the United States is still fighting there with no end in sight. As some of uswarned at the time, this policy was destined to fail and fail it did. Similarly, Obama’s well-intentioned efforts to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians were a series of humiliations: Israeli settlements kept expanding, Gaza kept getting pummeled, moderate Palestinians were discredited, Hamas grew stronger, and the two-state solution that Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama all favoured is now dead (if not quite buried). Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry wasted a lot of time and energy on this problem and got bupkis”.

He goes on “Obama’s response to the “Arab Spring” was no more successful. The United States helped push Hosni Mubarak out in Egypt and backed the newly elected government of Mohamed Morsi, only to reverse course and turn a blind eye when a military coup ousted Morsi and imposed another thuggish dictatorship. U.S. air power helped topple Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya (a decision Obama now regrets), and the result is a failed state where the Islamic State is active. Obama declared “Assad must go” in Syria, despite there being no good way to ensure his departure and no good candidates to replace him, and then United States helped block the initial U.N. efforts to reach a cease-fire to end the fighting. Today, Syria is in ruins, and Assad still rules the country’s key areas. Obama and his team were also blindsided by the emergence of the Islamic State and by the Houthi rebellion in Yemen. It pains me to say so, but the Middle East will be in even worse shape when he leaves office than it was when he arrived. The United States is not solely responsible for this unfortunate trend, but our repeated meddling sowed additional chaos and alienated both friends and foes alike”.

Walt goes on to mention “Obama deserves low marks for his handling of Russia. I’m no fan of Vladimir Putin, but U.S. officials erred by openly siding with the demonstrators seeking to oust former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and by failing to anticipate how Russia was likely to respond. The result was a tragedy for the Ukrainian people, an embarrassment for the United States, and a more precarious situation in Europe, which hardly needed another problem on its agenda”.

Somewhat more controversially Walt writes that “Obama does have certain instincts that are consistent with a realist outlook. He recognizes that U.S. power is not unlimited and that military power is a crude instrument that cannot solve every problem. Like most contemporary realists, he thinks the United States is extremely secure and that nuclear terrorism and climate change are the only existential threats it faces for the foreseeable future. His belief that Asia is of rising strategic importance shows an appreciation for the key role that economic and military capability — that is, hard power — play in shaping world politics. Indeed, his emphasis on “nation building at home” reflects an acute awareness that domestic strength is the bedrock of national security and international influence. And like most realists, he thinks the idea that the United States needs to fight foolish wars in order to keep its “credibility” intact is dangerous nonsense. But on the other hand, the Atlantic story shows that Obama never fully embraced a realist worldview either. He thinks there are four main strategic alternatives for the United States: realism, liberal interventionism, internationalism, and isolationism. He rejects the latter completely and believes foreign-policy making involves picking and choosing from among the first three. And though he offers some tart criticisms of the interventionist “D.C. playbook,” Obama believes (along with most of the foreign-policy establishment) that the United States is an “exceptional” power and that American leadership is still “indispensable.” At bottom, he wants to have it both ways: to acknowledge there are limits to U.S. power and some problems it can safely ignore, but to still stand ready to intervene when vital interests are at risk or when U.S. power can produce positive results”.

While this criticism is valid, Walt overlooks the fact that for years he has called for greater “off shore balancing“. This policy, which has been carried out by Obama has led to a disaster that has endangered the credibility of American power and emboldened Russia, China and a host of other nations. Obama, and Walt, have paid no attention to the consequences of the actions they propagate on the global system of which the United States is the lead player. Time cannot move fast enough for Obama to leave and for a more strategic foreign policy to be enacted in 2017. The result of Obama’s foreign policy has been a half baked interventionism, or worse a half baked isolationism.

Walt does correctly write that “seven-plus years in office, this most articulate of presidents never articulated a clear and coherent framework identifying what those vital interests are and why and spelling out how the United States could advance broader political ideals at acceptable cost and risk. To be specific: What regions of the world were worth significant commitments of American blood and treasure? Why were these regions more important than others? Under what conditions is it advisable to put U.S. citizens in harm’s way in order to keep the rest of us safe? When will the costs and risks of action outweigh the potential benefits? And don’t forget the flip side: What regions or issues are of little or no importance to the United States and can safely be left to others? The Atlantic story suggests that Obama has asked himself these questions more than once and is comfortable with the answers he has come up with for each. He is said to believe the Middle East is of declining importance, for example, and that Asia is rising. But Obama never shared his overarching vision with the rest of us, and he never openly stated that some parts of the world lay outside the sphere of vital U.S. interests and were therefore not worth sending Americans to fight and die for. Instead of laying out a hierarchy of interests and explaining the logic behind his thinking, Obama’s public utterances mostly echoed and reinforced the familiar tropes of U.S. liberal hegemony”.

Walt does make the valid criticism that “His failure to define U.S. interests clearly and his tendency to recite the familiar rhetoric of liberal hegemony had several unfortunate consequences. First, it meant Obama faced constant pressure to “do something” whenever trouble beckoned in some distant corner of the world, but he had no overarching argument or principle with which to deflect the pressure (save for the correct but unhelpful dictum to avoid “stupid shit”). The danger, as the Libya debacle shows clearly, is that advocates of intervention will sometimes manage to override more sensible instincts and convince even a reluctant president to act, even though vital U.S. interests are not at stake and Washington has no idea what it is doing. In the absence of a clear strategy, stupid shit sometimes happens anyway. Second, because Obama kept saying U.S. leadership was indispensable, he was vulnerable to hard-line criticism whenever he tried to end a failed policy or avoid some new quagmire”.

Walt argues that “Free-riding and “reckless driving” by U.S. allies clearly bothers Obama, yet he spent considerable time and effort trying to convince many of these same allies they could count on Uncle Sam no matter what happened or what they did. What was the predictable result? U.S. allies continued to misbehave in various ways while getting angry and upset because Washington wasn’t doing everything they wanted. Foreign governments might have been equally disappointed had Obama told them why they had to do more to defend themselves, but at least they would have known where they stood (and so would the American taxpayer). Most importantly, because Obama never publicly embraced an unvarnished realist outlook or tried to explain this view to the American people, he never disrupted the “D.C. playbook” that he now disparages. During his first presidential campaign, he said he didn’t want to just end the Iraq War; he also wanted to “end the mindset that got us into war in the first place.” The American people are in some ways already there, but the foreign-policy establishment hasn’t gotten the memo. The Atlantic story describes Obama as openly dismissive of the D.C. “think-tank complex,” but he appointed plenty of its members to prominent positions and embraced many of its shibboleths — most notably the indispensability of “U.S. leadership” — throughout his presidency”.

He ends “In short, Obama did not in fact run a “realist” foreign policy, because he doesn’t fully embrace a realist worldview, didn’t appoint many (any?) realists to key positions, and never really tried to dismantle the bipartisan consensus behind the grand strategy of liberal hegemony. As I’ve noted before, a genuinely “realist” foreign policy would have left Afghanistan promptly in 2009, converted our “special relationships” in the Middle East to normal ones, explicitly rejected further NATO expansion, eschewed “regime change” and other forms of social engineering in foreign countries such as Libya or Syria, and returned to the broad strategy of restrained “offshore balancing” that served the United States so well in the past. Of course, even if Obama had explained the logic behind this strategy carefully and followed it consistently, he might still have failed to transform the foreign-policy establishment’s interventionist mindset. After all, that worldview is supported by plenty of wealthy individuals, powerful corporations, influential think tanks, and well-connected lobbies. A more ambitious effort to change how Americans think about foreign policy might not have succeeded. But as his presidency approaches its close, I still wish he had tried.

“Scale down operations in Yemen”

01/04/2016

Saudi Arabia has said its military coalition will scale down operations in Yemen as the death toll from an alliance airstrike on a market north of the Yemeni capital, Sana’a, this week nearly doubled to 119. A United Nations official said 22 children were among those killed on Tuesday in Hajja province, controlled by Yemen’s Shia Houthi rebels, in the latest in a series of airstrikes that have killed hundreds of civilians since the Yemen war began. The conflict pits Shia rebels and military units loyal to a former president against the internationally recognised government, which is largely confined to the southern city of Aden. The fighting has killed more than 6,200 civilians, displaced millions and pushed the Arab world’s poorest country to the brink of famine”.

Not mentioning a federal Syria

26/03/2016

An important article discusses why a federal system will not help peace in Syria.

It opens, “Within the past few days, a news agency report citing an anonymous U.N. Security Council diplomat revealed that Russia and unnamed “Western powers” have been considering “a federal structure” for a post-conflict Syria. “Federalism” is a term that often crops up in the context of peacemaking. International negotiators and warring parties sometimes see it as the best system for integrating diverse nations, ethnic groups, or combatant parties, all of whom may have cause to fear control by an overly powerful centre”.

The piece goes on to mention “Just this week, Syrian Kurds announced a plan to transform the northern area under their control into a federal region, one that would give them considerable autonomy. Meanwhile, Russia may see a federal Syria as a way for its client, the Assad regime, to at least maintain a grip on the majority-Alawite regions, which include Moscow’s strategic assets like the Tartus naval base. To Western powers, federalization may look like the only realistic scenario for a country that has already fragmented into many regions held by various armed groups. For those who fear a complete dissolution of Syria, federalism may seem like the best solution they can hope for. Yet it is all too easy to forget that others may see federalism in starkly different terms. Sceptics fear that granting autonomy to federal units can lead quickly to full-blown secession, hastening dissolution rather than helping put a country back together. In the case of Syria, both government and opposition negotiators have rejected federalism, associating it with a break-up of the country”.

Yet while this is true it also does not answer the alternate critique, what will keep Syria together after the fighting, eventually stops?

The report continues, “The mere mention of federalism has already created diplomatic complications. One need look no further than Libya to see the destructive energies that the talk of federalism can unleash. After the fall of Muammar al-Qaddafi, political groupings identified themselves as federalists or anti-federalists, which they considered to be incompatible positions. These divisions contributed to the outbreak of conflict. They have also made the ongoing constitution-making process unnecessarily difficult, even if on closer inspection neither side is actually proposing a genuine federal state”.

He argues that “There are other reasons why the talk of federalising Syria meets resistance. Federalising a country involves drawing borders on the map to create federal units. Syrians fear that these borders could turn out to be the same as the ones that the fighting parties have currently carved out. Although this does not appear to be their intention, the idea of great powers like the U.S. and Russia drawing borders on a map is bound to have negative connotations in the same region where Great Britain and France drew the Sykes-Picot line in 1916, creating the new Middle East. Equally sensitive is the perception that borders may have something to do with carving up territory along ethnic or religious lines, potentially creating the sort of sectarian state that most Syrians do not want to live in. The U.N. Security Council resolution of last December, which laid the diplomatic groundwork for the current peace negotiations in Geneva, explicitly rules out transforming Syria into a sectarian state. But drawing borders could still easily lead to a new cycle of violence. Groups desperate to avoid becoming minorities in a new federal unit may fight to defy their fate, while a dominant group may try to cleanse its area of minorities”.

The related point to bear in mind is that some groups cannot be easily compartmentalised. There are Christians all over Syria in the north, south, east and west and to pretend that they can be either ignored or grouped in with others in unhelpful and will lead to future problems.

He goes on to contend “The problem with bringing up federalism is that, from the very beginning, it burdens negotiations with a specific concept of state organization that can call up bad associations and push negotiating parties into blocs of opponents or supporters. There is actually no need to give a name to whatever solution is being negotiated. Several past peace processes show how negotiators should proceed. In South Africa and Spain, both countries with serious tensions between the national level and territorial units, the drafters of their democratic constitutions avoided giving labels to the territorial arrangements laid out in the texts. John Garang, who negotiated the peace deal between North and South Sudan in 2005, noted: “We have not used any formal word in the entire [peace agreement] to describe the type of governance that we have negotiated and agreed on. Perhaps we were guided by the African saying not to name a child before it is born.” A better starting point for any negotiation is to acknowledge that there are no black-and-white templates for organising a country’s territory. There is virtually no state today that is completely centralized; there are, indeed, as many forms of decentralisation as there are states. The December U.N. Security Council resolution foresees the drafting of a new constitution for Syria that will open the way to overcoming the currently centralised system”.

Interestingly he goes on to argue that in practice this would work with, “Negotiators can use this process as a basis for asking the parties to elaborate on the specific arrangements they prefer: How many levels of government should there be? What should be their respective powers? Where should taxes be collected and distributed? Which level of government is in charge of the police, of schools and roads? Should all sub-units have the same powers, or could there be asymmetrical arrangements? A negotiation that focuses on such concrete issues will provide more opportunities for exploring avenues for compromise than a binary choice between a federal system and some other alternative. Such an approach would also better fit the U.N. Security Council resolution, which indicates that the talks should be led and “owned” by the Syrians themselves. Of course, negotiators will not be able to completely ignore the ethnic or religious affiliations of Syria’s various groups when exploring options for decentralising the state, even if there is a consensus on a non-sectarian future for the country”.

He ends “At the same time, any peace agreement will have to be acceptable to wide parts of the population if it is to stick. The U.N. Security Council resolution specifies that any new agreement will have to be approved by referendum. There are, therefore, very practical reasons for avoiding a term that many view as a prelude to dissolution and which may prompt many Syrians to fear being sorted into ethnic or religious groups. The remedy should be clear. Let’s encourage the parties to focus on the tangible issues, not on labels”.

 

Rouhani vs IRGC?

26/03/2016

A piece argues that the coming months will be the real test for Hassan Rouhani, “Ever since he defied Iran’s deep state in last month’s elections, it was only a matter of time until President Hassan Rouhani would be publicly reminded of his limitations. The moment came on the morning of March 8, when the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) fired several ballistic missiles in a military drill, displaying wanton disregard for U.N. Security Council resolutions. The missile tests confirmed two things: First, Iran’s president, despite his proven ability to manipulate domestic politics to his advantage and win over public opinion, cannot curb the activities of the country’s most powerful military force. And second, there are organs of Iran’s revolutionary state that will do whatever they can to sabotage Rouhani’s nascent rapprochement with the West”.

The article goes on to note that “During the Feb. 26 election, Iranians opted for the optimistic message of mutual respect, outreach, and global trade offered by Rouhani and his reformist allies. They rejected the overly rehearsed, downbeat talk of American infiltration that is the mainstay of hard-line conservatives. Most crucially of all, however, the elections showed that the political war unfolding in Iran goes beyond parliament and other contested political institutions. The struggle now involves the very highest authority in the land”.

The piece mentions “The elections were not kind to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had issued dire warnings about American attempts to influence the outcome. (Among Friday prayer leaders, all of whom follow sermon instructions that come from Khamenei’s office, one ayatollah even urged worshippers to elect MPs who have “Death to America” written on their foreheads.) It’s not just that the public voted out two of Khamenei’s top counselors from the Assembly of Experts, the body nominally charged with supervising the leader’s work. They also voted for reformists, a political movement whose leaders Khamenei has accused of seditious attempts to topple the regime during street protests in 2009. After years in isolation, the group has formed a coalition with so-called moderate conservatives sympathetic to Rouhani, boosting the president’s heft. After the election, the IRGC, which reports only to Khamenei, decided to strike back. By reportedly writing “Israel Must Be Wiped Out” on two missiles used in a second day of tests on March 9, they moved to show that Iran’s regional security policies, controlled by the supreme leader, are not going to change”.

The writer argues that by conducting the missile tests the IRGC was attempting to remind Rouhani of their power, “Rouhani has yet to comment on the latest tests. When the United States first threatened sanctions in December over Iran’s ballistic missile program, he wrote to his defence minister urging him to intensify the program — a step seen as necessary to show he was not being bullied by the United States. Far from ending Rouhani’s momentum following the election, this week’s projection of force by the IRGC has only highlighted the Islamic Republic’s precarious method of balancing the interests of rival factions. Iran’s president was unequivocal on the need for compromise when speaking on March 1, after it had become clear that reformists and moderates had gained almost as many parliamentary seats as their main opponents had lost. “I hope we all learn a lesson. The era of confrontation is over. If there are some who think that the country must be in confrontation with others, they still haven’t got the message of 2013,” Rouhani said”.

Crucially he goes on to note that “Rouhani’s aim is to give Iranians greater access to the jobs and economic opportunities they say they want. His gradual approach of securing the nuclear deal and eliminating its opponents from parliament will now be followed by a push on the economy. Privatization of state industries, starting with car production, a major industry in Iran before sanctions, is likely the next item on his agenda. Broader political and economic reform will be impossible so long as Khamenei stands in the way. But Khamenei, who underwent prostate surgery in 2014, is reportedly ailing — and there’s a good chance his successor will be sympathetic to Rouhani’s broader agenda. The president’s allies were victorious in the recent election for the Assembly of Experts, which is responsible for replacing the supreme leader in the event of his death”.

Importantly the piece adds that “the parliamentary faction most sympathetic to the IRGC’s views is weaker than ever, having lost about 90 seats compared with the previous election. Perhaps its best chance of maintaining influence will be if Ali Larijani, an independent conservative from the holy city of Qom, maintains his post as speaker of parliament. As a former commander in the IRGC who has held key posts across the Islamic Republic’s vast superstructure – he can boast of impeccable regime credentials. He won an endorsement on the eve of last month’s election from the country’s best-known military commander, Gen. Qassem Suleimani, who leads the IRGC’s Quds Force, the branch dedicated to foreign operations. Larijani may face a challenge from Mohammad Reza Aref, a former vice president under reformist President Mohammad Khatami who headed the reformist list in the elections. Although it would be a prestigious appointment for Aref, Larijani showed during debates over the nuclear deal that he can build bridges across different factions. Aref, and his mostly unknown new MPs, cannot say that”.

He goes on to make the point that “Ultimately though, last month’s election showed that the establishment’s efforts to marginalize reformists have their own limitations. About 11 years after he left office, Khatami – who is banned from being quoted in newspapers or having his picture published — used social media to urge voters to back the pro-Rouhani List of Hope, showing he cannot be silenced. His YouTube video, released five days before polling day, was seen by many as the turning point that persuaded doubters to cast a ballot. Rouhani returned the favour following the election, referring to Khatami as “my dear brother” in public remarks carried live by state television, in seeming defiance of the official ban on mentioning the former president. A day later, the IRGC announced its missile tests. As the IRGC’s latest provocation shows, the president will have his work cut out in delivering the change Iranians want. One of his top rivals will be the head of the judiciary, Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani — a hard-liner who years ago opposed Khatami’s reforms and issued the strongest attack on the pro-Rouhani ticket after the election results were published, accusing its leaders of colluding with foreign media to persuade the public to vote ultraconservatives off the Assembly of Experts”.

The piece ends “There is good reason, however, to think that Rouhani will be more adept at countering his rivals than Khatami ever was. Unlike the former reformist president, the incumbent has held some of the most senior security posts in the Islamic Republic. His recent election victory, on the heels of the nuclear deal, helps him prove that he is not a one-trick pony, but a canny operator whose deeper links within the elite can yield results. It won’t be easy to change how the Islamic Republic operates, but Rouhani is better positioned than any of his predecessors to give it a shot”.

 

“Release of detainees was a key opposition demand”

24/03/2016

The U.N. envoy to Syria says opposition officials have raised the issue of detainees in government jails at indirect peace talks being held in Geneva. Staffan De Mistura told reporters Tuesday after meeting the opposition delegation that progress has been made on humanitarian aid and the reduction of violence but not on the issue of detainees. The release of detainees was a key opposition demand ahead of the indirect peace talks. Senior opposition official George Sabra says tens of thousands of detainees are being held by the Syrian government. He says government prisons are not places “to hold prisoners but to kill them.” Another opposition official, Basma Kodmani, says an average of 50 detainees are killed in Syrian custody every day”.

Libya’s unity government takes office

24/03/2016

Libya’s U.N.-sponsored unity government was gearing up to assume power on Sunday, although major concerns remained over its chances of successfully setting up shop in Tripoli, where some of its security officials were briefly detained and several militias have openly threatened it. In a statement late Saturday, the Government of National Accord said the majority of the previous, internationally backed government in the country’s east had endorsed it, paving the way for it to take up duties as the country’s sole governing body”.

“A possible federal division of Syria”

22/03/2016

Major powers close to U.N.-brokered peace talks on Syria are discussing the possibility of a federal division of the war-torn country that would maintain its unity as a single state while granting broad autonomy to regional authorities, diplomats said. The resumption of Geneva peace talks is coinciding with the fifth anniversary of a conflict that began with protests against President Bashar al-Assad before descending into a multi-sided civil war that has drawn in foreign governments and allowed the growth of Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq. Fighting in Syria has slowed considerably since a fragile “cessation of hostilities agreement” brokered by the United States and Russia came into force almost two weeks ago. But an actual peace deal and proper ceasefire remain elusive. As the United Nations’ peace mediator Staffan de Mistura prepares to meet with delegations from the Syrian government and opposition, one of the ideas receiving serious attention at the moment is a possible federal division of Syria”.

Open ended Syrian truce

14/03/2016

Syria’s cessation of hostilities is open-ended, U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said on Wednesday, brushing off a perception that the truce needs renewing this weekend. He told reporters he would now press on with more peace talks – though neither the Syrian government nor the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) have confirmed they will attend. De Mistura said he had heard some of the warring sides had indicated the ceasefire, which started at midnight Feb. 27, would expire in two weeks. “From the U.N. point of view and the Geneva meetings we have been having on the task force and certainly (the) Munich understanding, there was an open-ended concept regarding the cessation of hostilities,” he said after a meeting on Syrian humanitarian issues in Geneva. The Munich meeting in February was a key point in Syrian peace process, when De Mistura asked its international backers, led by the United States and Russia, to do more to make the warring sides come to the table to negotiate. They hatched a plan for a ceasefire, and the opposition High Negotiations Committee said it would support a two-week halt to the fighting”.

“The biggest obstacle to confronting ISIS is Libya’s broken state”

23/02/2016

An interesting piece discusses how to best intervene in Libya.

It starts, “In recent weeks, a succession of U.S. and European officials have warned that military operations to stop the creeping advance of the Islamic State (ISIS) in the shattered North African state of Libya are imminent. Since the summer of 2014, ISIS has exploited a governance vacuum and a factional civil war in Libya to expand what was once just a toehold into a foothold. It has clashed with, and in some areas displaced, older jihadist groups affiliated with al Qaeda. It has used Libya’s lawlessness to attract foreign recruits, conduct training, and plot operations abroad. ISIS now controls the central coastal city of Sirte and is attacking the nearby petroleum facilities to prevent much-needed revenue from reaching Libya’s central bank. And perhaps most worrisome, U.S. officials recently stated that ISIS has sent hundreds of fighters from Iraq and Syria to Libya in a calculated fallback strategy; the total number ISIS fighters in Libya is estimated between 3,000 and 6,500″.

Correctly the authors write that “There’s no doubt that the ISIS presence demands a forcible response, above all from Libyans themselves, backed by Western support. That assistance is likely to involve special operations forces—who are reportedly already on the ground—liaising with, training, and advising Libyan units, backed by aircraft using precision-guided munitions. But this approach carries great risks. The West must proceed carefully, or else it could exacerbate Libya’s political fractures, encourage warlordism, or undermine attempts to re-establish a single government and lay the basis for a cohesive and civilian-controlled military. Any strategy to tackle ISIS should first aim at bridging Libyan political divides and channeling assistance in a way that promotes cooperation between rival forces. For Libyans and Western governments alike, the biggest obstacle to confronting ISIS is Libya’s broken state”.

They note that “For the past year and half, the country has been split into two loose constellations of political factions and armed actors. The first is the Tripoli-based “Dawn” coalition, which comprises Islamist fighters and militias from the western part of the country. The second is the “Dignity” umbrella, which is drawn from eastern tribes, federalists, some western militias, and Qaddafi-era officers recruited into a self-styled “Libyan National Army” led by General Khalifa Hifter. In the past year, internal power struggles have fractured these two groups to the point that they exist only in name. Worse, both have been so focused on preventing rivals from gaining ground that they’ve allowed ISIS to expand, often cynically using the terrorist group’s presence to accuse their adversaries of collusion. Representatives from the two sides recently signed a UN-brokered agreement to form a unity government, which, Western officials hope, will soon issue a formal invitation for military assistance. But the unity agreement is fragile and incomplete, having been pushed through under Western pressure despite resistance from key local players. The Presidency Council, the nine-member executive body established by the agreement, has started to falter before even having managed to form a government. Unless it can obtain the formal support of Libya’s two rival legislatures and take office in the capital, Tripoli, the unity government will be widely perceived as a Western puppet”.

The writers make the point that “Two options are currently on the table: a training program to stand up new army units loyal to the government and a counterterrorism effort focused on providing assistance to those forces on the ground that are most capable and most willing to confront ISIS. Neither option offers a remedy to the problem of factionalism in Libya’s security sector—and both could make matters worse. The training program is based on the flawed premise that Libya lacks skilled fighters. In fact, it has lacked governments capable of bringing skilled fighters under state control. A Western training effort in 2013–14 to build a national army—the so-called general purpose force—failed because there were no national structures for recruits to join: rival political interests in Libya’s state institutions had turned the security sector into a hodge-podge of factional militias. Another training program risks simply repeating this error unless the Presidency Council can agree on a realistic roadmap for building a unified and professional military. In the best-case scenario, such efforts would result in a reliable military for future governments to use. But it would not offer an immediate response to the urgent ISIS threat”.

The writers go on to argue “Counterterrorism assistance must proceed hand-in-hand with building inclusive political and security institutions. The two should be mutually reinforcing. Instead of a training mission or a direct intervention in the form of airstrikes, the West’s priority should be to support the establishment of integrated structures and units in the security sector. At the political level, that will require intensive engagement to overcome the standoff over the army leadership and promote cooperation between representatives of rival factions in the Presidency Council, its government, and the military command. On the ground, the West must tie assistance for the fight against ISIS to a process of integration of armed groups”.

He notes the need for co-ordinated foreign assistance and that “Western involvement in Libya should be geared toward supporting the unity government, which will need to back any efforts to promote battlefield coordination among regional militias. No single faction should receive assistance unless it is considered both neutral in local power struggles and loyal to the unity government. Further, if the government makes progress on re-unifying command structures, Western assistance should flow through a national chain of command, rather than directly to regional coordination centers. Of course, if the council remains paralyzed by internal divisions or the agreement collapses, the Western backed regional coordination centers will have no chance of ever evolving into a foundation for an integrated military. At the very least, however, the strategy will reduce the risk that military assistance will widen political rifts and contribute to the failure of the unity government. Alarmist assessments of ISIS in Libya should not lead to a hasty and heavy-handed intervention. ISIS may be expanding its presence in Libya, but it has not been able tap into the popular discontent of broad segments of the population—yet”.

“A unity government under a United Nations-backed plan”

23/02/2016

Libya’s Presidential Council named a revised lineup late on Sunday for a unity government under a United Nations-backed plan aimed at ending the conflict in the North African state. One of the council’s members, Fathi al-Majbari, said in a televised statement that the list of 13 ministers and five ministers of state had been sent to Libya’s eastern parliament for approval. But in a sign of continuing divisions over how to bring together Libya’s warring factions, two of the council’s nine members refused for a second time to put their signatures to the proposed government, according to a document posted on the Presidential Council’s Facebook page. The U.N. plan under which the unity government has been named was designed to help Libya stabilise and tackle a growing threat from Islamic State militants. It was signed in Morocco in December, but has been opposed by hard-liners on both sides from the start and suffered repeated delays”.

“closed its eyes to Putin’s mischief to avoid the hard choices on Syria”

11/02/2016

An excellent piece argues that President Obama has betrayed the Syrian rebels.

It opens, “What a difference a year makes in Syria. And the introduction of massive Russian airpower. Last February, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its Shiite auxiliaries mounted a large-scale attempt to encircle Aleppo, the northern city divided between regime and rebels since 2012 and battered by the dictator’s barrel bombs. Islamist and non-Islamist mainstream rebels — to the surprise of those who have derided their performance, let alone their existence — repelled the offensive at the time. What followed was a string of rebel advances across the country, which weakened Assad so much that they triggered Moscow’s direct intervention in September, in concert with an Iranian surge of forces, to secure his survival”.

Yet, the writer argues that these rebel gains “and despite wishful Western assessments that Moscow could not sustain a meaningful military effort abroad — the Russian campaign is finally delivering results for the Assad regime. This week, Russian airpower allowed Assad and his allied paramilitary forces to finally cut off the narrow, rebel-held “Azaz corridor” that links the Turkish border to the city of Aleppo. The city’s full encirclement is now a distinct possibility, with regime troops and Shiite fighters moving from the south, the west, and the north. Should the rebel-held parts of the city ultimately fall, it will be a dramatic victory for Assad and the greatest setback to the rebellion since the start of the uprising in 2011″.

The report goes on to mention “despite the polite wishes of Secretary of State John Kerry, the overwhelming majority of Russian strikes have hit non-Islamic State (IS) fighters. Indeed, Moscow and the Syrian regime are content to see the United States bear the lion’s share of the effort against the jihadi monster in the east, instead concentrating on mowing through the mainstream rebellion in western Syria. Their ultimate objective is to force the world to make an unconscionable choice between Assad and IS”.

The piece argues that the Syrian regime is gaining ground, especially around Aleppo that are the biggest problem for the rebels.

The article continues, “To complicate the situation even more, the regime’s advances could allow the Kurdish-dominated, American-favoured Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to conquer the area currently held by the Free Syrian Army and Islamist militias between the Turkish border and the new regime front line north of the Shiite towns of Nubl and Zahra. This would pit the SDF against IS on two fronts: from the west, if the Kurds of Afrin canton seize Tal Rifaat, Azaz and surrounding areas, and from the east, where the YPG is toying with the idea of crossing the Euphrates River. An IS defeat there would seal the border with Turkey, meeting an important American objective”.

The writer then argues that “Despite U.N. resolutions, international assistance still does not reach those who need it most; in fact, aid has become yet another instrument of Assad’s warfare. Neither Kerry nor de Mistura are willing to seriously pressure Russia and Assad for fear of jeopardizing the stillborn Geneva talks. Seemingly unfazed by this controversy, de Mistura’s top-down approach relies this time on an apparent U.S.-Russian convergence. At the heart of this exercise is Washington’s ever-lasting hope that Russian frustration with Assad would somehow translate into a willingness to push him out. However, whether Putin likes his Syrian counterpart has always been immaterial”.

Crucially the author argues that “Ever since 2011, the United States has hidden behind the hope of a Russian shift and closed its eyes to Putin’s mischief to avoid the hard choices on Syria. When the Russian onslaught started, U.S. officials like Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken predicted a quagmire to justify Washington’s passivity. If Russia’s intervention was doomed to failure, after all, the United States was not on the hook to act. Russia, however, has been not only been able to increase the tempo of its military operations, but also to justify the mounting cost. And contrary to some pundits, who hailed the Russian intervention as the best chance to check the expansion of IS, Washington knows all too well that the result of the Russian campaign is the strengthening of the jihadist group in central Syria in the short term. This is a price Washington seems willing to pay for the sake of keeping the Geneva process alive”.

Pointedly the piece goes on to mention that “the bankruptcy of U.S. policy goes deeper. The United States has already conceded key points about Assad’s future — concessions that Russia and the regime have been quick to pocket, while giving nothing in return. In the lead-up to and during the first days of the Geneva talks, it became clear that the United States is putting a lot more pressure on the opposition than it does on Russia, let alone Assad. Just as Russia escalates politically and militarily, the Obama administration is cynically de-escalating, and asking its allies to do so as well. This is weakening rebel groups that rely on supply networks that the U.S. oversees: In the south, the United States has demanded a decrease in weapons deliveries to the Southern Front, while in the north, the Turkey-based operations room is reportedly dormant. The result is a widespread and understandable feeling of betrayal in the rebellion, whose U.S.-friendly elements are increasingly losing face within opposition circles. This could have the ironic effect of fragmenting the rebellion — after years of Western governments bemoaning the divisions between these very same groups”.

The piece concludes “It’s understandable for the United States to bank on a political process and urge the Syrian opposition to join this dialogue in good faith. But to do so while exposing the rebellion to the joint Assad-Russia-Iran onslaught and without contingency planning is simply nefarious. Washington seems oblivious to the simple truth that diplomacy has a cost, as does its failure — probably because this cost would carried by the rebellion, for which the United States has little respect or care anyway, and would be inherited by Obama’s successor. The conditions are in place for a disastrous collapse of the Geneva talks — now delayed until late February — and a painful, bloody year in Syria. All actors understand that Obama, who has resisted any serious engagement in the country, is unlikely to change course now”.

 

 

Syria’s main opposition join the talks

07/02/2016

A delegation from Syria’s main opposition group arrived in Geneva on Saturday to join U.N.-mediated peace talks, demanding President Bashar al-Assad’s government be made to comply with a U.N. resolution on humanitarian aid and human rights. “We are keen to make this negotiation a success,” opposition spokesman Salim al-Muslat told reporters as the delegation arrived from Riyadh, ending weeks of uncertainty about whether they would come and the talks would happen. The 17-strong team from the Saudi-backed Higher Negotiation Committee (HNC), including political and militant opponents of Assad in the country’s 5-year-old civil war, is expected to have a first meeting with the U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura on Sunday, setting up the first peace talks in two years. Muslat said the HNC insisted on implementation of a U.N. resolution demanding all sides allow aid access, release detainees, end sieges and stop targeting civilian areas. That was not a precondition for talks, he said, but it was the duty of the Security Council members who agreed the resolution last month, including Syria’s chief ally Russia, which is supporting Assad’s forces with a bombing campaign.

Saudis obstruct the peace talks

29/01/2016

An important piece notes that the UN has accused Saudi Arabia of obscruting Syrian peace talks, “In a barely veiled swipe at one of the Middle East’s leading powers, the United Nations’ special envoy for Syria accused Saudi Arabia of undermining his efforts to bring a broad slate of Syrian opposition groups to upcoming peace talks designed to end Syria’s brutal civil war. In his confidential Jan. 18 briefing to the U.N. Security Council, which was obtained exclusively by Foreign Policy, Staffan de Mistura said Riyadh is complicating his efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the Syrian conflict by trying to tightly control which opposition groups will be allowed to participate in the negotiations. His comments came shortly after a slate of Saudi-backed Syrian opposition groups, organized under the banner of the Riyadh-based High Negotiations Committee (HNC), rebuffed his personal appeals to allow other groups to take part in the talks. De Mistura complained to the council that the Saudi-backed opposition coalition and its “sponsors insist on the primacy and exclusivity of their role as ‘THE’ opposition delegation.” While de Mistura did not name Saudi Arabia, Riyadh is the main international sponsor of the HNC. The group, however, is backed by France, Turkey, and Qatar”.

The report goes on to note that “The remarks also underscore de Mistura’s struggles to assert his authority as Washington and other world powers remain incapable of finding a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis. In his remarks to the Security Council, the diplomat appealed to the United States, Russia, and other key powers to back his troubled mediation efforts, saying he will not invite specific opposition groups to upcoming peace talks in Geneva unless the main outside players in the Syrian conflict all sign off on the list. That was seen as a clear rebuke to Riyadh”.

In some ways this is Saudi Arabia flexing its muscles. Its relations with the Obama administration have never been lower and by not allowing the talks to progress then there is an argument to be made that this is the easiest way of letting Obama know what they think of him. Related to this is the possibility that Obama has little interest in the talks going anywhere, which seems to be his consistent Syrian “strategy” as his last year in office dawns.

The piece adds that “Security Council members privately voiced sympathy for de Mistura’s predicament, but said it is unlikely that they will issue a public statement in support of his authority. “He has an impossible mandate,” said one council member. “He is not fully empowered.” Seeking to keep the talks on board, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is scheduled to travel to Riyadh on Saturday to discuss the composition of the Syrian opposition. For months, the United States has argued in favour of an inclusive “big-tent” approach to political talks that would include all the most influential Syrian parties, with the exception of designated terrorist organizations like the Islamic State and al-Nusra Front, al Qaeda’s main affiliate in Syria. But State Department spokesman John Kirby signaled that the United States is looking to the Riyadh group to lead the negotiations. “As we said after Riyadh, the opposition will be represented at that meeting by delegates chosen from the High Negotiating Committee and only from the High Negotiating Committee,” Kirby said”.

Riad Hijab, a former Syrian prime minister who serves as the HNC’s coordinator, announced the appointment of Asad al-Zoubi, a Syrian army defector, as head of the negotiating team. Hijab also named Mohammed Alloush, a representative of the Saudi-backed Islamist militia Jaish al-Islam, as the group’s chief negotiator.

Hijab warned that his group may not attend the U.N.-brokered talks if the slate of opposition groups is expanded. In a statement issued Wednesday from Riyadh, Hijab dismissed the need for a broader spectrum of Syrian opposition figures, saying his group “incorporated a diverse spectrum of Syrian opposition” figures and would not accept any challenges to its credibility.

Hijab also noted that several members of the opposition coalition favor suspending the political talks until there is a halt to the bombardment of civilians, the lifting of sieges on the civilian population, and the release of detainees from prison. “Dates are not sacred; we will not go to any negotiations while our people suffer from shelling, starvation, and siege,” he said.

Both Arab and European diplomats expressed frustration Wednesday that disagreements over the composition of the negotiating delegation have distracted world powers from focusing on other key challenges of the thorny and bloody Syrian crisis, including establishing a cease-fire and finding ways of reducing the conflict’s staggering human toll.

“Everyone is focused on the composition of the delegation,” said one Arab diplomat, and the other issues “are taking a back seat, unfortunately.”

The article goes on to note that “During Monday’s closed-door meeting, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and her counterparts from Britain, France, and Russia reaffirmed de Mistura’s authority to pick the final list of invitees, according to three council diplomats. The controversy over the invitation was widely reported early this week, but FP has exclusively obtained de Mistura’s speaking notes, which provide in his own words a more detailed account of his dispute with the Saudis and his broader frustrations over the complicated effort to cobble together a representative slate of opposition groups. De Mistura said he recognizes that many of the key parties participating in political talks are unlikely to accept each other’s legitimacy or sit together in face-to-face peace talks.”

Interestingly the piece adds “The Saudis are not the only ones who have drawn red lines on participation in the political talks. Syria, Russia, and Iran consider some key participants in the Saudi-sponsored opposition, including Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam, to be terrorist organizations that should be excluded from the talks. Turkey has threatened to pull out of the political talks if Kurdish groups, including the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and its political affiliate, the Democratic Union Party, are allowed to participate. Other Arab governments believe that excluding the Kurdish groups, which have waged some of the most successful military campaigns against the Islamic State in Syria, is absurd. Council diplomats and other observers say that de Mistura’s remarks were aimed at prodding the United States to apply pressure on the Saudis to back down and allow a larger slate of opposition figures to participate in talks. “He needs Russia and the U.S. to tell their guys to line up and behave, to tell their guys it’s not up to them,” said one U.N.-based observer who has tracked de Mistura’s mediation effort”.

The report concludes that “The U.N. envoy’s troubles stem from the fact that responsibility for overseeing the political process is divided between the U.N. and the International Syria Support Group, a 17-nation group of powers that the Security Council considers the “central platform to facilitate the United Nations’ efforts” to achieve a lasting political settlement in Syria. Until now, that formulation has given a virtual veto to any support group member to block parties. For instance, Turkey has blocked the representation of the YPG and the Democratic Union Party on the grounds that they are allied with a Turkish terrorist group, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Russia, meanwhile, has pressed for the exclusion of Islamist groups, including Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam, from political talks. Frustrated by the lack of agreement, de Mistura told the Security Council behind closed doors that he wouldn’t issue invitations until the key powers reached agreement on who would be in and who would be out”.

 

Sanctions on Iran lifted

21/01/2016

The United Nations Security Council received on Saturday a report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog confirming Iran fulfilled commitments under a nuclear deal with world powers, triggering an automatic end to most U.N. sanctions, diplomats said. The receipt of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report by the 15-member council terminates seven previous U.N. resolutions, which are now replaced by a resolution adopted on July 20 that carries over some U.N. restrictions. In a note to council members, seen by Reuters, Uruguay’s U.N. Ambassador Elbio Rosselli, council president for January, circulated the report to members on Saturday evening. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal. “This achievement demonstrates that international proliferation concerns are best addressed through dialogue and patient diplomacy,” Ban’s spokesman said in a statement. Under the July 20 resolution, Iran is now “called upon” to refrain from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons for up to eight years. Critics of the deal say the language does not make it obligatory”.

“Removed the core of its plutonium reactor and filled it with concrete”

15/01/2016

Iran removed the core of its plutonium reactor and filled it with concrete Monday, paving the way for economic and financial sanctions to be lifted soon. The work that effectively rendered the reactor at Arak harmless was the last major hurdle for Iran to fulfill its commitments under a landmark deal reached just shy of six months ago in Vienna. The International Atomic Energy Agency must verify that everything was done satisfactorily before U.S. and international sanctions can be lifted. But that is expected to take days, not weeks. “In a few days, we will see the end of the cruel sanctions against Iran,” President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech in southern Iran. “When sanctions end, I will explain to people how great of an accomplishment this is.” The lifting of sanctions will unlock Iran’s access to about $100 billion in its own assets that has been frozen in foreign banks. The United States and the United Nations have prepared the legal steps necessary for sanctions relief to take effect. That should give Rouhani a significant political boost before parliamentary elections in late February. He won election in 2013 promising to end sanctions that have undercut the economy. He returned to that theme in his speech Monday, when he predicted the upcoming new year, which is marked in Iran in March, would be a one of “economic revival” despite oil prices slumping to an 11-year low”.

Trying to stop the pivot to Iran

11/01/2016

An unusual article argues that the excution of Nimr al-Nimr was an attempt by Saudi Arabia to halt its supposed “pivot” to Iran.

It opens, “Saudi Arabia’s escalating diplomatic war with Iran is part of a new attempt to derail what Riyadh sees as a clear American shift towards Tehran. Unfortunately for the kingdom, it probably won’t work. That’s because the Obama administration has effectively decided that upholding the nuclear accord with Iran is more important to U.S. interests — and to the president’s historical legacy —  than safeguarding a decades-old alliance with Saudi Arabia. From holding off on imposing new sanctions after Iran violated U.N. resolutions recently to all but turning a blind eye to Tehran’s military role in Iraq, the Obama administration has alarmed Riyadh and other Persian Gulf powers that fear being left on the sidelines”.

The report goes on to mention “The kingdom may have reason to worry. The United States sharply criticized Riyadh over the execution last week of a prominent Shiite cleric, Nimr al-Nimr, voicing concern it could fuel sectarian tensions in the region. But when a mob torched the Saudi Embassy in Tehran in outrage over the cleric’s death, Washington and other Western governments offered a more muted response, calling on the Iranian authorities to ensure the security of diplomatic missions. That’s a sharp contrast from how the White House reacted in 2011 when the British Embassy in Tehran was overrun after Western governments tightened sanctions on Iran. President Barack Obama himself publicly accused the Iranian government of permitting the attack”.

Interestingly the author notes that “In another sign of what the Saudis see as evidence of a conciliatory approach to Iran, Washington has yet to impose sanctions against Tehran even after the regime conducted two ballistic missile tests since the nuclear deal was agreed in July. The U.S. administration said it would impose sanctions on Iran over the missile launches — which violated U.N. resolutions — but has since pulled back from taking action. The delay has drawn criticism from lawmakers and critics of the deal”.

He goes on to posit that “Since tensions spiked over the weekend between Riyadh and Tehran, the United States has appealed for calm and urged both sides to take steps to defuse the crisis — without publicly siding with either country in the dispute. Since Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif at least twice and also talked to Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters Tuesday”.

The extent of the shift to Iran is noted when he writes that “In years past, it would have been unthinkable for the U.S. government to take an even-handed approach in the case of an argument between the Saudis and their Iranian rivals. The rapport that developed between Kerry and other American diplomats and their Iranian counterparts during the course of the nuclear negotiations has dismayed Riyadh”.

The consequence of the Obama policy is noted when he writes, “Angered over Obama’s reluctance to intervene in Syria, his withdrawal of support for former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak after popular protests in 2011, and his readiness to turn a new page in Washington’s relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia has come to believe that the United States can no longer be counted on as a rock solid ally ready to come to the aid of its Arab friends, Nasr and other analysts said. Increasingly, the Saudis are striking out on their own, staging a major military intervention last year in neighbouring Yemen against Shiite Houthi rebels supported by Iran. The campaign has failed to achieve a quick victory and threatens to turn into a quagmire for Riyadh, with U.S. officials privately urging the Saudis to cut their losses and negotiate a peace deal. For its part, Washington has been disappointed with Saudi Arabia’s lackluster efforts fighting the Islamic State, as Riyadh has devoted most of its energy in recent months to the faltering campaign in Yemen. U.S. officials, and their counterparts in Europe and the Middle East, worry about the future stability of the Saudi monarchy given a growing succession crisis and other domestic problems. And Western governments were particularly disturbed by the execution of Nimr, as well as its provocative timing — which came after months of painstaking diplomacy to persuade Iran and other powers on both sides of the Syrian war to enter into a peace process”.

Perhaps optimistically the author notes “Brett McGurk, the U.S. pointman for the anti-ISIS effort, told reporters Tuesday he expects both governments to overcome their differences and work toward a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Syria, citing encouraging signs from Riyadh”.

Needless to say, “Iran voiced incandescent rage over the execution of Nimr but will likely calibrate its reaction to Saudi Arabia’s actions, according to analysts and former officials who said Tehran is anxious to avoid jeopardising the planned lifting of economic sanctions promised under the nuclear deal. Iran’s economy has suffered under the weight of the sanctions coupled with falling oil prices, and Tehran stands to gain access to roughly $100 billion in impounded funds. The easing of sanctions also could allow Iran to increase its oil exports from 1 million barrels a day currently to a pre-sanctions level of up to 2.5 million barrels a day”.

Interestingly he writes “After the nuclear deal was clinched last year, the Obama administration tried to repair its frayed ties with the Saudis, with little success. The White House chose not to publicly warn Riyadh against executing Nimr, and instead conveyed its concerns in private. But Washington may soon face a day of reckoning with the Saudis, as the two countries interests diverge, according to Nasr”.

He ends “The perception that the United States has pulled back from a once dominant role in the Middle East has prompted Arab governments to entertain overtures from Russia, which has waded into the Syrian conflict to prop up the regime in Damascus. While the Saudis and Iran engaged in a war of words this week, Russia offered to serve as an intermediary. Moscow’s foreign ministry said Monday that Russia was ready to help both sides pursue “a path of dialogue.”

India fights ISIS

09/01/2016

India on Wednesday said it can undertake operations against the ISIS terror group under a UN flag if the global body adopts a resolution in this regard. Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, who has returned after a crucial meeting with his US counterpart Ashton Carter in Washington, also said that India has been sharing intelligence on the ISIS and it will be enhanced. “We have made it clear that if there is a UN resolution and if there is UN flag and a UN mission, then as per India’s policy to operate under UN flag, we will participate,” Parrikar told reporters here at India Gate after laying wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti on Vijay Diwas. He was replying to questions on the possibility of India’s participation in operations against the ISIS. Asked specifically if India will operate against the ISIS under the UN flag, he said, “that depends on whether UN takes a resolution”. India had earlier this month, along with major world economies, participated in the first-ever global meeting held in Paris to discuss and evolve mechanisms to combat the clandestine and largely undetected terrorist financing network of the Islamic State terror group.

UN closes investigation into Iran

05/01/2016

The U.N. nuclear agency closed the books Tuesday on its decade-long probe of allegations that Iran worked on atomic arms, and Tehran proclaimed that within weeks, it would finish cutbacks on present nuclear programs that the U.S. fears could be turned into making such weapons. The probe had to be formally ended as part of a July 14 deal between Iran and six nations that involves the removal of economic sanctions on Tehran in exchange for its commitment to crimp its nuclear program. A resolution was approved by consensus of the 35-nation board of the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency. The move means that some questions about the alleged weapons work may never be resolved. Before the resolution’s adoption, agency head Yukiya Amano told the board that his investigation couldn’t “reconstruct all the details of activities conducted by Iran in the past.”

Peace talks in Yemen

05/01/2016

The Yemeni government and Houthi rebels called an immediate halt to hostilities on Tuesday as they started peace talks mediated by a United Nations special envoy at an undisclosed location in Switzerland, a United Nations spokesman confirmed. The cease-fire took effect at midday in Yemen, hours after a Saudi-led military coalition announced a seven-day pause in the campaign of intensive airstrikes it has conducted in support of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi of Yemen. Scattered reports of shelling, mortar and automatic weapons fire pointed to violations of the truce in a number of areas. But for the most part, the truce appears to have held, offering a desperately needed respite to the country’s civilian population, battered by nine months of ferocious conflict. The United Nations estimates that the war has caused close to 40,000 casualties and inflicted significant damage on the impoverished country’s infrastructure, deepening its humanitarian crisis”.

“Only violated U.N. Security Council resolutions, not the Iran deal itself”

01/01/2016

A report notes the problems of the Iran deal implementation, “Iran has shipped more than 25,000 pounds of nuclear material to Russia, a major milestone that leaves the Islamic Republic without enough low-enriched uranium to manufacture a nuclear weapon. But the development comes as tensions over the Obama administration’s landmark nuclear deal with Tehran emerge from a variety of quarters in the United States and Iran, raising concerns about the deal’s long-term viability”.

The article mentions continuing GOP opposition, “In Congress, Republicans and some Democrats are hammering the Obama administration for not responding more aggressively after a United Nations panel said earlier this month that Iran had violated a U.N. Security Council resolution by testing a ballistic missile in October. After the U.N. panel’s findings, Senate Republicans introduced legislation to bar the Obama administration from lifting sanctions on Iran, as agreed to in the nuclear deal, until it certifies that Iran has ended any military-related activity in connection to its nuclear program, among other things. The Obama administration opposes the legislation”.

Yet the balance is tricky. If the Obama administration does nothing Iran will think it has free reign but if it does too much that is not directly covered by the agreement then the whole agreement could collapse.

It goes on to state, “In Iran, the Foreign Ministry is furious over new U.S. visa rules it says violate the nuclear deal by impeding Iranian business. (A spokesman for the ministry said on Monday that Iran may take “its own steps in response.”) The moves demonstrate the delicate nature of the deal and its vulnerabilities to political shifts in both the United States and Iran. The two sides are looking ahead to “implementation day,” when the International Atomic Energy Agency verifies that Tehran has complied with all its nuclear commitments and stretched out the length of time Iran would need to develop enough nuclear material to build a bomb to one year. Despite recent tensions surrounding the deal, the White House is confident in its durability and says few would have envisioned the progress made thus far even a year ago”.

The writer argues that “critics charge that the administration’s lack of firm response to the Iranian ballistic missile tests give Tehran a green light to develop its missile program while staying in compliance with its nuclear-related commitments”.

Yet this is the whole point. Conventional weapons are not covered by the agreement and there is little America can do short of war, which is perhaps the point, that would stop Iran from developing these weapons. Besides already exists sanctions on Iran for its human rights record and other offensives.

Crucially the piece adds “Since the signing of the nuclear accord in July, experts say Iran has complied surprisingly quickly with its obligations under the deal but point to a number of obstacles that remain. Under the agreement, Iran committed to exporting all except 300 kilograms, or about 660 pounds, of its low-enriched uranium. For uranium enriched to near 20 percent, it agreed to either process it into low-enriched uranium, export it, or transform it into fuel plates for a research reactor. It also agreed to accept inspections in exchange for the lifting of a raft of economic sanctions and the release of about $100 billion in frozen Iranian assets”.

The piece goes on to mention “On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry said a Russian ship, the Mikhail Dudin, transported 25,000 pounds of Iranian nuclear material, including its uranium enriched to almost 20 percent, or close to bomb grade. Besides the stockpiles, Iran has redesigned its Arak reactor, taken steps to reduce its uranium enrichment program, and put in place additional monitoring and verification controls. But experts say the shipment of uranium is by far its most significant step”.

Importantly it adds “The other major boxes Iran still needs to check are the full dismantling of its 13,000 centrifuges, the disabling of the core of the Arak reactor, and taking steps to increase international monitoring and surveillance. Those steps could occur as quickly as late January, say officials, but that doesn’t mean implementation of the deal has been a smooth ride. The anger on Capitol Hill over the Iranian ballistic missile test poses one major challenge. The Obama administration says it’s considering ways to punish Iran for its missile test, but it maintains that Tehran’s launch only violated U.N. Security Council resolutions, not the Iran deal itself. As such, the administration is opposed to the GOP proposals that would put the United States in violation of the agreement”.

Interestingly the piece notes that “Next month, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is scheduled to make his first trip to the Vatican to meet Pope Francis. The self-declared moderate was supposed to visit the tiny city-state in November as part of his European tour of Italy and France, but the trip was nixed following the terrorist attacks in Paris. On the financial front, the governments of Germany, France, and Italy have already sent delegations to Iran to scope out the possibilities for new commercial opportunities, and an uptick in business from China and Russia is widely expected. Still many Western firms remain wary of falling prey to many of the existing sanctions in place against Iran”.

“a national unity deal between Libya’s two rival governments”

22/12/2015

The United Nations urged Libyan lawmakers who signed a separate peace proposal to back a U.N.-sponsored deal between the country’s warring factions, saying remaining differences could be worked out after the accord. After a year of negotiations, the United Nations has proposed a national unity deal between Libya’s two rival governments and their parliaments, one based in Tripoli, and the internationally recognized one in the east.  Western powers have backed the U.N. proposal as the only solution to a conflict that is allowing ISIS militants to gain a foothold in the North African oil producer”.

UK joins the fight against ISIS

04/12/2015

Given the non-binding vote in the House of Commons this week a piece notes that the UK has not begun to bomb Syrian ISIS targets “David Cameron sought Wednesday to reclaim Britain’s role as America’s wingman in the war on terror, securing parliamentary approval over a fragmented Labour Party for the United Kingdom to join the U.S.-led air assault against the Islamic State in Syria. The decision marked an important political victory for Cameron, who was humiliated more than two years ago for failing to win enough domestic support to launch airstrikes and punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for using deadly chemical weapons against his own people in the country’s civil war”.

The report goes on to make the point that “The conservative British leader’s case for war gained ground in the weeks following the Islamic State’s claim of responsibility for the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris that killed 130. It also came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry urged NATO members to increase their military commitments to the fight against the Islamic extremists. “We should answer the call from our allies,” Cameron said at the opening of Parliament’s hours-long debate on the use of force in Syria. He noted that the extremist group’s execution of British hostages in Syria, and its plots to commit “atrocity after atrocity” on the streets in Britain demanded a military response”.

The report goes on to mention “Following the 397 to 223 vote in Parliament, President Barack Obama praised Britain, saying it has been one of America’s “most valued partners in fighting ISIL.”  We look forward to having British forces flying with the coalition over Syria, and will work to integrate them into our Coalition Air Tasking Orders as quickly as possible,” he said. It was the most assertive response by a Western government since France stepped up its airstrikes against the Islamic State last month”.

The piece adds “World powers are seeking to move closer to an international agreement on a political transition in Syria. Saudi Arabia is organising a conference of Syrian opposition leaders in Riyadh in the coming weeks aimed at unifying the group’s overall message. On Tuesday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power was cautiously upbeat, telling reporters at U.N. headquarters that “we have not seen this kind of momentum around the diplomatic and political track in a very long time, and arguably ever.” On the same day, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken told a Washington forum hosted by Foreign Policy that that the chances of crafting a political transition in Syria were better than “at any time during this crisis.” And Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told the Associated Press that Moscow is more determined than ever to reach a consensus on a list of “terrorist” groups in Syria before the next round of talks, tentatively expected to take place later this month in Vienna or London”.

The article continues “Kerry stopped short of outlining specific commitments from member nations that have yet to gain final approval from their capitals. He said new contributions wouldn’t necessarily include ground troops or direct fighting; rather, countries could supply medical facilities, refueling services, and intelligence gathering — an easy out for nations that do not want to be drawn directly into combat. “There are many things that countries can do,” he said. Kerry also held the door open to Russia broadening its cooperation against the Islamic State in Syria. Moscow can be an “extremely constructive and important player in reaching a solution to this current crisis,” Kerry said. “And I think the world would welcome that kind of cooperative effort.” Concerns about maintaining broad international participation against ISIS spiked after Ankara last week shot down a Russian warplane that entered Turkey’s airspace, the first time a NATO member downed a Russian jet since the 1950s. The United States has worked quickly to lower tensions in the dispute, offering notably measured support for Ankara while urging both sides to engage in dialogue”.

The writers go on to  note “prospects for closer cooperation with Russia encountered fresh strains with NATO’s decision to invite Montenegro to the alliance. That defied Moscow’s long-held complaint that expanding NATO’s footprint into the Balkans is “irresponsible” and would erode trust between Russia and Western powers. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called Montenegro’s inclusion “the beginning of a very beautiful alliance.” In an angry response, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that NATO’s “continued eastward expansion … cannot but result in retaliatory actions from the East, i.e., from the Russian side, in terms of ensuring security and supporting the parity of interests.” In the past, Britain’s inability to secure parliamentary support for military operations with the United States has raised questions about London’s reliability as an ally. Skepticism over combat has lingered in Britain since the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein — without U.N. Security Council authorisation — based on the false pretext that the late Iraqi strongman was building an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction”.

Pointedly it ends “Britain’s military prowess also has been diminished by defence cuts; the army alone is projected to be pared down to as little as 50,000 troops over the next four years. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, an anti-war proponent who is proving unpopular with key factions in his own party, denouncedCameron’s military plans Wednesday before the House of Commons as a “reckless and half-baked intervention,” and an “ill-fated twist in the never-ending war on terror.” Critics also have questioned whether Britain and other members of the coalition of more than 60 nations against the Islamic State have the legal authority to intervene militarily in Syria, given that Assad has not asked them for help. British officials claim the United Nations’ charter, which allows member states to use force in self-defense, provides sufficient legal basis as long as the Islamic State continues to plot against or attack U.K. interests. They also point to a French-drafted U.N. Security Council resolution that calls on member states to use “all necessary measures” to eradicate ISIS’s safe havens in Syria”.

China isolates Russia

15/11/2015

An article argues that China is moving away from Russia at the UN. This could have profound implications for Russia and make it even more isolated globally.

It opens, “In late September, a Chinese foreign ministry delegation held a closed-door meeting at the United Nations’ New York headquarters with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin and gave him some good news: Beijing was prepared to vote in favour of Ukraine’s bid for a seat on the U.N. Security Council despite a campaign by Russia to thwart its adversary’s ambitions, according to U.N.-based diplomats familiar with the meeting. The move marked a diplomatic setback for Russia, which has sought, and generally won, China’s support at the United Nations in its geopolitical and ideological struggles with the West. It also sent a clear signal that Russia’s closest and most valuable ally at the U.N. is willing to pursue its own interests, even if at Moscow’s expense”.

The report goes onto make the point that “China and Russia consider one another strategic partners and they strive to align their votes at the United Nations as closely as possible, in part to act as a brake on the projection of American power. But maintaining that partnership is exacting an increasing diplomatic cost for China as Russia has grown assertive in ways that have threatened the interests of Beijing’s commercial partners, from the Middle East to Ukraine.

Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea, China has expanded its commercial links with Ukraine, which this year surpassed the United States as the largest importer of Ukrainian corn, according to the Financial Times. In the end, Ukraine – which ran uncontested — secured a respectable 177 votes for its Security Council bid from the 193-member General Assembly. Unlike major powers such as Russia and the United States, Kiev will not have the authority to veto Security Council resolutions.

A senior Security Council diplomat said Beijing and Moscow are still aligned on issues ranging from Iran to North Korea. But the diplomat said the alliance is weakening as the two countries find their priorities “diverging” on a range of issues, from South Sudan to Ukraine and Syria, where Beijing favors a more intensive diplomatic push to end the fighting between Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad and his enemies.

“It is not in China’s interest that Russia is able to annex Crimea nor to provide such strong military support, with Iran, to Assad,” the diplomat said. “Something is definitely happening. There is a separating of China and Russia.”

A dramatic shift — say open Chinese opposition to a Russian initiative — is unlikely in the near future, the diplomat said. Still, the United States and its Western allies have been encouraging China to distance itself from Russia into order to discourage Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most aggressive tendencies. If the effort succeeds in weakening Beijing’s alliance with Moscow, Washington and its partners hope they would be able to apply greater political pressure on Russia to curb its military activities in Syria and Ukraine.

The Russian alliance with China on the Security Council has long stood as a key check on American ambitions at the U.N., preventing Washington from getting its way on many of the most pressing international security issues of the day.

Beijing and Moscow have cast four joint vetoes of resolutions aimed at forcing Assad from power and triggering a war crimes investigation into atrocities in Syria. When China needed help killing off a procedural motion in the U.N. Security Council to block discussion of human rights abuses by North Korea, Russia had its back.

During the Bush administration, China and Russia joined forces to block American initiatives to condemn human rights abuses in Burma in 2007 and Zimbabwe in 2008. And for years they have worked together to limit the scope of U.N. sanctions against Iran and to prevent the council from confronting human rights abusers around the world. In December 2014, for instance, China and Russia did not show up at a side meeting of Security Council members hosted by Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, on the dire situation in Darfur. They also boycotted a meeting hosted by Lithuania on human rights and press freedom in Ukraine.

Still, there are clear signs of strain in the relationship. When Russia began its airstrikes in Syria last month, China offered a measured, if hardly enthusiastic, response. “We have noted that the relevant military action, as the Russian side put it, is taken at the request of the Syrian government with the purpose of combating terrorist and extremist forces inside Syria,” according to a statement from the Chinese foreign ministry.

Earlier this month, China voted with the West to reinforce sanctions against South Sudan’s warring parties and to help create a war crimes court to prosecute war crimes. Russia abstained, saying that sanctions would only harden the resolve of key parties to keep fighting. Russia, for its part, stood alone in vetoing two resolutions, including one which would have established a war crimes tribunal to prosecute perpetrators of the shootdown of the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine. Russia also killed off a resolution in July that would have declared the 1995 mass killing of thousands of Bosnian Muslim men in Srebrenica by Bosnian Serb soldiers a “genocide.” Russia, which has strong historical ties to Serbia, argued that the measures unfairly singled out the Bosnian Serbs for crimes during the blood dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. China abstained in both cases.

Even in areas where they have joined forces, they have done so for different reasons. When Europe pressed the Security Council to adopt a resolution authorizing the use of force in the Mediterranean Sea, Beijing and Moscow teamed up to stop the diplomatic push. They didn’t have the same reasons for their votes: Moscow was concerned that the resolution provided too sweeping a mandate to use force, while Beijing worried it might constrain Chinese trade by granting the West the power to board and seize ships on the high seas.

“There have been lot of cases where Beijing is trying to put clear blue water between itself and Moscow,” said Richard Gowan, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Gowan said it was unclear whether China’s separation from Moscow was limited to peripheral issues or whether it amounts to a larger strategic shift, but said he didn’t “think Beijing is going to walk away from the Russians any time soon.”

The Russians and Chinese, he added, need to stand up against the West on a range of issues, particularly Iran, where the United States has warned that it would reimpose sanctions if Tehran is caught cheating on the nuclear deal.

Russia, which has been subject to Western sanctions since its annexation of Crimea, has worked to bolster its ties with China. Putin has tried to build a close relationship with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, meeting more than a dozen times. Earlier this year, Xi attended a World War II commemoration in Russia that had been boycotted by other big powers from the West. In July 2013, China and Russia held their largest joint naval operation ever in the Sea of Japan. In May, they also conducted their first ever joint naval exercise, including live fire drills, in the Mediterranean Sea.

“It’s a very comfortable position, to have such a strong supporter and partner,” Vitaly Churkin, Russia’s U.N. ambassador, told Newsweek. “We have a strategic partnership with China, including here at the Security Council. We try to vote as closely as we can–not always in the same manner, but we try.”

They don’t always succeed, in part, said a second Security Council diplomat, because Russia and China have a “marriage of convenience more than deep seated ideological convergence.”

“Where the Chinese and Russians do converge they have worked together, for instance on stopping human rights coming up before the council,” the diplomat said. “But China and Russia’s interests don’t always converge and so they won’t automatically vote together.”

Indeed, China’s diplomatic strategy at the United Nations can be hard to decipher. In their public statements, China’s diplomats rarely stray from anodyne proclamations about the need to uphold state sovereignty and resolve conflicts through dialogue. China sometimes appears to be the junior partner, following initiatives taken by Russia, which conducts its diplomacy with far greater bluster, backed by a willingness to use force to achieve its aims.

But officials say in the real world Russia plays second fiddle to China, which despite an economic downturn, can still boast the world’s second-largest economy and which wields its soft power with far greater effect than Putin may accomplish by sending Russian fighters jets and attack helicopters into Syria.

During his first visit to the U.N. as China’s leader, Xi pledged last month $2 billion in development assistance to the world’s poorest countries, and vowed $100 million to the African Union over the next five years to help establish an African standby force and bolster an African program to respond rapidly to unfolding crises. He also pledged to develop a standby force of some 8,000 Chinese blue helmets that could be quickly deployed in U.N. peacekeeping missions.

The Sino-Russian relationship is “not a simple as people are trying to picture [it]: that they are close friends versus the West. It’s really not like that,” said Philippe Le Corre, an expert on Chinese foreign policy at the Brookings Institution’s Center on the United States and Europe.

Putin, he said, is desperately in need of friends and has been seeking to cultivate closer relations with China. But China, he said, has remained uncommitted and uneasy because of Russia’s military actions in Ukraine and Syria.

“They are playing some kind of game: ‘look we are against the West together.’ But they don’t agree on a lot of things,” he said. “The Russian economy is suffering and China doesn’t want to be isolated from the West because it does want to become a global player.”

Oil, Libya and tribes

13/11/2015

An interesting piece discusses the role of oil in uniting Libya.

It begins, “Oil is Libya’s lifeblood. The country has virtually no other industries or formal employment; oil is its only business. According to theWorld Bank, oil revenues account for over 95 percent of the government’s budget. And since about 80 percent of Libyans are on the government payroll, it is no exaggeration to say that oil feeds and clothes the Libyan people. No other country is so dependent on a single resource. This is especially troubling when you consider that Libya is mostly desert, lacking significant arable land — it can’t grow its own food. “Without hydrocarbons revenue, the viability of the Libyan state is very much in question — which is what we are on the cusp of seeing first hand,” said Geoff Porter, a North Africa risk consultant and assistant professor at West Point”.

In the post Libyan civil war era this reliance has risen, “As the Libyan government split in half, most institutions split as well, with mirror versions being set up in the East and the West. Both governments appointed judges to their respective judicial systems, ran their own central banks, and maintained separate military forces. Perhaps the most important split was that of the National Oil Company (NOC), Libya’s government-owned oil producer and exporter. Given the primacy of oil in Libya’s economy, the NOC is the key to the country. While its headquarters has always been in Tripoli, Tobruk announced the creation of its own eastern NOC in December, declaring that all oil firms must deal solely with it. After all, it argues, the eastern NOC is the one associated with the internationally recognized government”.

Interestingly he writes “At a U.N. Security Council meeting in March, diplomats passed a resolution declaring the most important of Libya’s state agencies — especially the National Oil Company — would remain independent and deal impartially with both rival governments. At the time the resolution was signed, most of the oil and exporting ports were under Tobruk’s control, while all contracts and payments were routed through the national institutions in Tripoli. The resolution committed to maintaining this status quo: Revenue would be split between the two governments, and since neither could function without the other, an uneasy union would be maintained. But in the weeks and months that followed, it became clear that the resolution signed in March had little meaning on the ground. Tobruk forged ahead with its plans to set up its own NOC while Tripoli protested, insisting all oil contracts must continue to route through them”.

Interestingly he notes that “most foreign oil companies — including the largest, such as Britain’s BP, Italy’s Eni, and France’s Total — have chosen to continue dealing with Tripoli over the internationally recognized government in Tobruk. The legal contracts that govern Libya’s oil are expensive and binding, and firms are leery of putting them in Tobruk’s inexperienced hands, said a former employee of the Arabian General Oil Company (AGOCO), a Libyan firm”.

He goes on to mention that “any peace deal will include provisions for appointing singular heads of all government agencies, including the NOC. On paper, this would stitch Libya back together — but Tobruk has already demonstrated its disregard for such agreements. It is still actively seeking to draw clients to its rival NOC. Thus far, it hasn’t succeeded in finalizing any deals (at least publicly) — but this could change if it manages to further consolidate its hold on oil production and export facilities. El-Maghrebi recently said that the eastern NOC is planning to ship a million barrels of crude oil to buyers next week”.

He ends “Ultimately, neither the U.N., nor Tobruk, nor Tripoli will determine Libya’s political and economic fate: the militias and tribes will.“If you want to do anything in Libya, you have to involve the local tribes, the local community,” the former AGOCO employee said”.

 

“Libya’s dueling governments were left without clear legal standing”

05/11/2015

For months, United Nations negotiators have been racing to settle a feud between competing governments in Libya, a rivalry that has crippled the oil industry, provided a foothold for the Islamic State and plunged the country into civil war. On Tuesday, after the mandate of one of two rival parliaments — the only one recognized by Western powers — lapsed before lawmakers could endorse a proposed unity government, both of Libya’s dueling governments were left without clear legal standing and international backing. The failure of warring parties to support a U.N. peace proposal threatens a U.S-backed effort to stabilise Libya and pushes the country into uncharted territory”.

Iran meets a UN deadline

28/10/2015

Iran has met a deadline to give the U.N. nuclear watchdog information it needs to assess whether Tehran sought to develop nuclear weapons in the past, the agency said on Thursday, a step towards carrying out a deal between Tehran and world powers. The apparent progress reported in the longstanding U.N. investigation coincided with increasing Western disquiet over Iran’s test of a ballistic missile this week in defiance of a U.N. ban, a move France said sent a disconcerting message. It also followed an unusual broadcast by Iranian state television of footage of an underground tunnel crammed with missiles and launchers that appeared to signal Tehran’s determination to expand its large missile inventory. The Islamic Republic’s missiles are viewed with concern by its Western-allied Gulf Arab neighbors given what they see as the risk of Tehran tipping missiles with nuclear weapons, should it ever develop any in future. Iran has long denied that its enrichment of uranium for nuclear fuel has any military ends, saying it is for civilian energy only. But its restrictions on U.N. inspections and intelligence suggesting it has researched nuclear bombs in the past raised concern and led to international sanctions.