Archive for the ‘United Nations’ Category

Build, Buy, Leave

January 29, 2010

Following the conclusion of the London conference on Afghanistan yesterday, it became clear that the West’s exit strategy for the war-torn country can be summed up in three words: Build, Buy, Leave.

Build–The US and its NATO allies are trying to recruit and train more Afghans security personnel.  The Western coalition wants to increase the size of the Afghan National Army (ANA) from approximately 100,000 troops to 178,000 by October 2011 while adding 14,000 patrol officers to the Afghan National Police (ANP), which currently has 95,000 patrolmen.  Plans call for the security forces to eventually total 400,000, comprised of 240,000 soldiers and 160,000 police.

Buy–Britain and Japan have agreed to donate $500 million to help the Afghan government persuade Taliban fighters and their commanders to lay down their arms and engage in peaceful politics.  Officials believe that militants can be bought off with promises of money, protection,  jobs and political appointments.

Leave–America and its European partners have said that they will begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan next year when security conditions are expected to improve.  Western leaders want to reduce casualties and costs at a time when the war is becoming increasingly unpopular at home.  They also fear that an extended foreign presence will alienate Afghans and make them turn against international forces.

The odds that the coalition’s exit strategy will work according to plan are low.  Nearly doubling the size of the Afghan army in less than two years may not be feasible because recruiting and training quality troops takes a lot of time, and the problem is exacerbated by the fact that 90 percent of Afghans are illiterate, which means that training manuals cannot be widely used.  Most Western soldiers are engaged in combat or combat support duties, so there might not be enough military trainers to do the job.  The current police force is considered by many to be corrupt and ineffective, so augmenting the ANP might not make much of a difference in terms of improving security on the local level.

Buying off the Taliban probably will not be as easy as some policymakers think.  Although some lower echelon militants have left the battlefield after being offered incentives by the government, the latter has not lived up to its end of the bargain; safety and employment for former fighters remain elusive.  In addition, many Taliban, especially senior leaders, are ideological fanatics and ardent nationalists who are determined to drive foreign elements out of their country and re-establish an Islamic state, and they seem to believe that their ultimate victory is inevitable if they continue their attacks.

Pullout Western troops out of Afghanistan next year would likely create a security vacuum given the strenth of the insurgency and the high probability that the Afghan security forces will not be much stronger by then.  In that case, the US and NATO will have to choose between maintaining their current operational footprint or letting the situation on the ground deteriorate.  If they go with the second option they will have to scale back their objectives, which now include defeating the Taliban, facilitating economic development, increasing the capacity of the government to deliver basic services to its citizens and protecting human rights.

Donating to the Haiti Relief Effort

January 14, 2010

On Tuesday, a massive earthquake struck Haiti.  Thousands of people are feared dead amid the rubble, and many more are homeless, wounded or in need of food and medical aid.  Those who want to help the victims can donate money to the Haiti relief effort at the following organizations’ websites:

The American Red Cross

Doctors Without Borders

United Nations World Food Program

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