Archive for the ‘Europe’ Category

Sudan Seeks Debt Relief

December 22, 2009

In an article published yesterday on ForeignPolicy.com, Sean Brooks, a policy analyst for the Save Darfur Coalition, argues that the international community should take advantage of Sudan’s need for debt relief to pressure the regime in Khartoum to improve its human rights record.  Sudan has amassed a debt of $23 billion, some of which has been used to purchase advanced military equipment, and Finance Minister Awad al-Jaz is scheduled to travel to Washington next month to discuss a debt relief package.  Mr. Brooks says that the US should rally an international coalition to condition the bailout on peace efforts in Darfur; the full implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan; fair elections in April 2010; and political reform that would make the government less oppressive.

Countries are right to criticize Sudan for its appalling human rights violations.  However, it will be difficult to compel Omar al-Bashir and his National Congress Party to change its behavior because Sudan has large oil reserves that many powers want access to, including China, Japan and European states.  The US is the only nation to impose meaningful economic sanctions on the brutal regime, and it is unlikely that others will join America and risk alienating Khartoum.

Furthermore, although al-Bashir seeks economic assistance from his creditors he will not do anything, such as expanding civil liberties or making peace with opposition groups, that could jeopardize his hold on power or undermine what he considers his government’s interests.  Although the price of oil is low right now, it will certainly increase significantly as developing countries continue to consume more and more resources and supply is unable to keep up with demand; so Khartoum is not under as much pressure to gain favors from the rest of the world as some might think.

It would be great for the cause of human rights if the international community were able to force Sudan to make peace and be less authoritarian, but unfortunately the prospects of success are low because of a lack of will in Khartoum and among oil-seeking nations that have the power to exert influence there.  The US should try to use carrots and sticks to affect change, but policymakers analysts and activists should not be overly optimistic that their efforts will bear fruit.

On War: The Onion

December 16, 2009

Every once in a while this blog takes a lighter tone and publishes something humorous about international affairs, which is why we want to draw attention to a hilarious article about war as a method of conflict resolution that recently appeared on TheOnion.com.  The piece is titled “New ‘War’ Enables Mankind To Resolve Disagreements.”  I highly recommend it for those who like dark humor.

Factions in the Climate Debate

December 15, 2009

Government representatives from around the world are currently meeting in Copenhagen to discuss climate change. In an op-ed piece published today in the New York Times, Steward Brand says that the view that there are two sides in the climate change debate is overly simplistic. He argues that there are actually four sides:

1. Denialists who believe that global warming is not man-made.

2. Skeptics who are uncertain if global warming is man-made.

3. Warners who believe that practical steps need to be taken soon to combat global warming.

4. Calamatists who say that drastic measures must be implimented immediately to avoid apocalyptic climate change.

Mr. Brand is correct in asserting that the climate debate is more complicated than some people think. However, the differences in opinion are more nuanced than the way he frames them.

Among “warners” there are those who are willing to impose heavy regulations and taxes to curb emissions, but others are unwilling, for political and economic reasons, to commit to binding agreements that could slow economic growth by forcing businesses to make their production processes and products more environmentally friendly. This divide is best represented by the positions of European countries, which favor binding agreements and much greater government intervention, and the US, which is only willing to take more modests steps for the time being.

There is also a rift between developing countries, which argue that the burden of combating climate change should fall on wealthier countries that are mostly responsible for creating the problem, and developed countries, which object to letting nations like China and India off the hook simply because their economies are less advanced.

Mr. Brand observes that prominent denialists and calamatists tend to be political figures or ideologues, whereas scientists are more likely to be skeptics or warners. But he fails to mention that there is a consensus in the scientific community that global warming is man-made, and skeptics constitute a very small minority in that field.

Obama’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

December 11, 2009

Yesterday, President Obama visited Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.  Many people reasonably believe that the president does not deserve the award after serving less than a year in office and not having achieved many tangible goals when it comes to foreign policy.  But regardless of whether or not he earned the prestigious prize, his acceptance speech was excellent.  It was very Niebuhrian, and it revealed that the president holds a view of the world and human nature that can be described as “Christian realism,” although he did not identify it in sectarian terms  He believes that man is flawed and frequenty behaves in unethical ways, but he also maintains that the human condition can be improved through acts of goodwill motivated by moral principles.  Having just escalated the war in Afghanistan, he argued that war is sometimes justified and necessary, but he balanced his adherence to just war theory by stressing the need to achieve a just peace that serves humanitarian aims.

In addition to promoting humanitarian realism, he advocated what international relations scholars refer to as “institutionalism” and “constructivism.”  Institutionalists believe that peace and progress can best be achieved by nations acting in concert through international institutions like the United Nations and World Trade Organization, and constructivists believe that changes in norms such as notions of sovereignty and human rights can improve global society.  In his speech, President Obama said that international alliances like NATO are needed to keep the peace, and he argued that the US and other countries should embrace humanitarian concepts out of enlightened self interest.

For information about Rienhold Niebuhr, who President Obama has cited as a major influence on his thinking, and Christian realism click on this link.  For another perspective on the international relations theory aspects of the president’s speech, read Daniel Drezner’s recent blog post on ForeignPolicy.com.

Obama’s Speech About Afghanistan

December 2, 2009

Last night, President Obama spoke at West Point and laid out his strategy for the war in Afghanistan.  He announced that 30,000 more troops would be deployed there, but also said that a withdrawal of American troops would begin in July 2011.  The three core elements of the strategy are:

1. A military effort to stem the Taliban’s momentum and increase the capacity of the Afghan security forces to the extent that the US can start withdrawing in 18 months.

2. A civilian surge to provide assistance to NGOs and Afghan officials.

3. Developing an effective partnership with Pakistan to combat militants based in Pakistani territory.

It is very doubtful that sufficient military progress will be achieved in the next 18 months to allow American forces to withdraw from Afghanistan.  Hopes of training enough Afghan army and police personnel to secure the country without the continued assistance of 100,000 American troops in that timeframe are almost laughable.  The vast majority of Afghans are illiterate, which makes training Afghan soldiers difficult because manuals cannot be used extensively, and it is unclear if the US military will have enough trainers on hand given the need to use the surge troops for combat duty. 

A civilian surge is unlikely to succeed for two reasons.  One is that security problems and rampant corruption will hamper attempts to promote development and good governance.  The second is that the US simply does not have enough civilian capacity to be effective in warzones, partly because civilians cannot be ordered to go into dangerous areas and stay there.

Developing an effective counterterrorism/counterinsurgency partnership with Pakistan, which the US has been trying to do for the last eight years, will probably continue to be an elusive goal.  Members of Al Qaeda and the Afghan Taliban enjoy a safe haven in Pakistan because the Pakistanis do not believe it is in their interest to take on those militants; the security forces in Pakistan are busy fighting the Pakistani Taliban, not the Afghan Taliban, which is a separate group.  The president’s declaration that the US will begin to leave Afghanistan in 2011 will only strengthen the Pakistani government’s desire to maintain ties with the Afghan Taliban and not antagonize them in case the they come back into power after American forces pullout.

President Obama is either naive about the prospects of success in the next 18 months or, more likely, he is promising a fairly quick exit to maintain political support for the war effort.  He will almost certainly be faced with the choice of bringing troops home before the mission is accomplished or violating his pledge to start reducing America’s footprint in Afghanistan in 2011.