Archive for the ‘Germany’ Category

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.

Why Iran Backed Out of a Nuclear Deal

November 3, 2009

Yesterday, the New York Times published an illuminating news analysis article by Michael Slackman in which he discusses domestic politics in Iran and its relations to the nuclear issue http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/03/world/middleeast/03iran.html?ref=global-home). 

Last month, Iran tentatively agreed to a deal with the West and Russia over its nuclear program but then backed away from it before anything was signed.  The deal would require Iran to ship most of its uranium out of the country for it be enriched and then returned to the Islamic Republic for use in a research reactor.  The measure was designed to ease Western concerns that Iran will use its stockpile of uranium to build nuclear weapons, and it would do so by preventing Iran from enriching its uranium to weapons-grade levels.  The Islamic Republic denies that it seeks to acquire the Bomb.

Mr. Slackman argues that reformists and traditional conservatives oppose the nuclear deal because Mr. Ahmadinejad supports it.  He says that they are trying to turn public opinion against him for their own political advantage.

Mr. Slackman offers some interesting insights, but he seems to underestimate the degree to which many Iranian leaders believe that maintaining the capability of building nuclear weapons is critical for Iran’s national security.  It may be true that some public figures see political benefits in undermining the Iranian president, who won the last presidential election amid widespread complaints of voting fraud, but Iranian security concerns and perceptions of national interests should not be discounted.

The Upcoming P5+1 Talks

September 30, 2009

Last week, the leaders of the US, France and Britain publicly revealed that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been informed about the existence of a uranium enrichment facility near the city of Qum in Iran.  This revelation came just days before the planned P5+1 talks between the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Iran about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, which will take place tomorrow in Geneva.  On his ForeignPolicy.com blog, Marc Lynch speculated about why the existence of the site was recently disclosed (http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/09/25/the_iran_nuclear_revelation).

Mr. Lynch argues that the revelation strengthens the bargaining position of the P5.  But the disclosure will not likely be a significant game-changer.  The European powers were already convinced of the need to compel Iran to allow intrusive IAEA inspections, and they apparently are still more concerned about the Iranian nuclear program than the US. 

Meanwhile, the new information will merely reinforce Israeli fears that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons.  This fact gives the Iranians leverage because the US wants to quickly reach a deal with Iran to ward off a threatened Israeli military strike that could have disastrous consequences for the US and the Middle East region.

Despite the disclosure of the Qum facility, the Russians and the Chinese will still likely veto any harsh economic sanctions against Iran because the two countries have strategic relationships with the Islamic Republic, especially when it comes to energy. 

Any deal between Iran and the West will probably entail an Iranian agreement to report the location of all of its nuclear facilities and allow IAEA inspectors to closely monitor them.  In return, other powers will acknowledge Iran’s right to maintain a peaceful nuclear program and give the country economic benefits.  In addition, the US may reestablish diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic for the first time in 30 years.

Whether such an agreement will be reached at the upcoming meeting is uncertain.  And even if a deal is made, the Iranians could still pursue a secret nuclear weapons program, especially if they believe it serves their vital national interests.

The P5+1 negotiations might bear fruit and head off an international crisis.  But the exposure of the Qum site will probably not play a major role in such a development.

Rape as a Weapon of War

August 12, 2009

Earlier this week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited the Democratic Republic of the Congo where she spoke out against the systematic rape of Congolese civilians by rebel groups and government forces.  The eastern Congo has recently been referred to as the “rape capital of the world.”  So far this year, an estimated 3,500 Congolese women and girls have been raped, and in the past decade approximately 100,000 have suffered the same fate (five million Congolese have been killed during the same period).  In the last few months, men have become targets for those committing sexual assault.

Mass rape in war zones is not unique to the Congo.  During the Rwandan genocide in the 1990s, an estimated 500,000 females were victims of sexual violence at the hands of militants.  In the time period surrounding the end of World War Two, nearly a million women in East Germany were raped by Russian soldiers.  In the ongoing conflict in the Darfur region of Sudan, women and girls are being subjected to the same treatment.

Rape cases in the Congo and other unstable areas are often more heinous than typical cases of sexual assault in the West, which are undoubtedly horrible.  Militants frequently force husbands, fathers, siblings and children to watch their wives, daughters, sisters and mothers get raped; thus, relatives of the assault victims also suffer major trauma from witnessing the terrible event.  The prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Africa adds to the suffering in that many assault victims are infected with the horrible disease.

It is obvious why killing (and often murdering) is an inherent part of war.  But some may wonder why and how rape would serve the political-military goals of warring factions.  Could it be that fighting men simply want sexual gratification after spending time apart from their wives and girlfriends, and that they are committing rape in a lawless environment simply to satisfy their personal desires rather than for political ends?  On some level that may be true, but given the systematic nature of the attacks it is clear that there is a strategic purpose underlying them. 

There are several reasons why combatants might adopt sexual assault as a method of waging war.  One is to terrorize civilians and thereby compel them to support the attackers and/or refrain from supporting their enemies; i.e., it is similar to classical terrorism except that sex is substituted for bombs and bullets. 

Another is to emasculate and demoralize potential enemies by making men powerless to protect their female relatives, or by raping the targeted men directly, and thereby traumatize them enough to make them unable to fight.  In places where homosexuality is a major taboo, such as the Congo, male rape victims become social outcasts, which adds to their humiliation (the alleged rape of imprisoned dissidents by Iranian officials would be another example of this tactic if the allegations are true).

An additional purpose is to degrade and to a certain extent dehumanize victims, thereby making it psychologically easier to use them as slave labor to facilitate military operations.  In the Congo, women are often abducted and, in addition to being forced to have sex with their captors, made to carry things like food, water and war materiel for fighters.

Satisfying their subordinates’ desire for revenge against enemies, real or perceived, is a reason why some commanders might encourage, or at least allow, their soldiers to rape women associated with their foes.  In this context, rape would be a perverse way of keeping up morale.

It was worthwhile for the Obama administration to draw attention to the atrocities occuring in the Congo.  However, it is unlikely that well-intentioned rhetoric will significantly affect the situation.  It is even less likely that the international community will commit enough soldiers and peacekeepers to bring an end to the raping and killing.  Hopefully the conflict in central Africa will be resolved by regional powers relatively soon, but given the complex nature of the war it will be difficult for them to do so.

Germany’s Commitment to Afghanistan

July 2, 2009

Last week, three German soldiers in Afghanistan were killed when their armored personnel carrier flipped over during a fight with insurgents.  The deaths made headlines in Germany, where the war is unpopular.  Thus far, 35 German soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan and there are currently 3,770 deployed there, although most of them are not in the southern part of the country where the combat between insurgents and NATO forces is most intense.  German political leaders, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, will likely come under intense pressure to withdraw troops from Afghanistan as the September parliamentary elections approach.

The Obama administration has been hoping for a larger, more long-term commitment of European soldiers to Afghanistan as it drastically increases American troop levels there this year.  If Germany starts pulling out and other NATO countries follow suit it would undermine the new American strategy, which is to protect the Afghan population from insurgent attacks while training and enhancing the capabilities of local security forces, a plan that requires a greater Western footprint on the ground.

A European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, recently said “We are getting out [of Afghanistan]. It may take a couple of years, but we [Europeans] are all looking to get out.”

A lessening of NATO’s military commitment to Afghanistan could bring the future of the alliance into question.  Member nations have different views of what serves their interests and the nature of the security threats they face.  Many Europeans do not consider the Taliban or Al Qaeda to be as much of a danger to them as Americans do, so their commitment to a global war against Islamic extremists is likely to be more tepid than that of the US in the long term. Consequently, America might end up having to shoulder almost all of the burden when it comes to counterinsurgency operations outside of Europe.  NATO’s role in international affairs may soon be confined to containing a resurgent Russia and performing “nation-building” tasks.