Inter Press Service » Global Geopolitics http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Fri, 09 Dec 2016 18:38:56 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.13 Gambia May Not Join African Withdrawals from ICChttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/gambia-may-not-join-african-withdrawals-from-icc/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gambia-may-not-join-african-withdrawals-from-icc http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/gambia-may-not-join-african-withdrawals-from-icc/#comments Thu, 08 Dec 2016 15:07:56 +0000 Lindah Mogeni http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148126 Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is also a Gambian national. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is also a Gambian national. Credit: UN Photo/Manuel Elias.

By Lindah Mogeni
UNITED NATIONS, Dec 8 2016 (IPS)

The International Criminal Court (ICC) may have had a small reprieve this week from a string of African withdrawals, with Gambia’s newly elected President Adama Barrow telling various media outlets that there is no need for Gambia to leave the court.

Gambia, alongside Burundi and South Africa, was one of three African countries to announce it’s withdrawal from the ICC this year, with Namibia and Kenya rumoured to be close in heel.

Gambia’s questionable human rights record during outgoing President Yahya Jammeh’s twenty two year rule – may have put the West African country on the court’s radar. However under Jammeh’s leadership Gambia argued the reason for the withdrawal was that the ICC was institutionally prejudiced against people of colour, especially Africans. The withdrawal also followed Gambia’s repeated unsuccessful appeals for the Court to hold the European Union accountable for the deaths of thousands of African migrants who tried to cross over to its shores.

However, President-elect Barrow has praised the ICC for advocating good governance – which he intends for Gambia.

Addressing the UN General Assembly in September, Burundi’s Foreign Minister, Alain Nyamitwe, claimed that there are “politically motivated reasons which have pushed the ICC to act on African cases.”

Significantly, the ICC had announced its plan, in April, to launch an investigation into several human rights violations surrounding the upcoming elections and President Pierre Nkurunziza’s unconstitutional claim to remain in power for another term in Burundi.

There is no consensus in the AU to leave the ICC. Several African countries, including Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Nigeria have opposed withdrawal from the Court.

South Africa’s notice of withdrawal from the ICC was considered a particular blow to the Court, since South Africa was one of the court’s founding members and among its strongest supporters.

The withdrawal came after South Africa failed to arrest Sudanese president Omar Al-Bashir, who had been indicted by the ICC, when he visited South Africa to attend the 2015 African Union (AU) Summit. As a result, the ICC accused South Africa of not complying with cooperation procedures – which seemingly fractured their relationship.

UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, told the UN Security Council that the ICC departures could “send a wrong message on these countries’ commitment to justice.”

Some members of the AU have been calling for an exodus from the ICC since tensions with the Court first began in 2009 after the ICC issued an arrest warrant for President Omar Al-Bashir.

However, there is no consensus in the AU to leave the ICC. Several African countries, including Zambia, Botswana, Tanzania, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Nigeria have opposed withdrawal from the Court.

The perception that the ICC is biased towards Africa has intensified over the past few years.

The UN’s establishment of temporary tribunals in the 1990s for war crimes in Rwanda and Yugoslavia acted as roadmaps for the launch of the ICC in July 2002.

The Court’s primary objective was to serve as a permanent international tribunal tasked with conducting investigations and prosecuting perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Africa represents the largest regional grouping of countries that are parties to the ICC, with 34 African nations having ratified the treaty, the Rome Statute, which established the court.

Since the court’s formation 14 years ago, 9 out of 10 of its active cases have been against nationals of African countries.

These include, Central African Republic, Mali, Ivory Coast, Libya, Kenya, Sudan (Darfur), Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is the main reason why the ICC is accused of selective justice.

There are three ways through which a case can be brought forth to the ICC. The first is via submissions by individual governments of the countries concerned, as was the case with Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. The second is via self-initiated interventions by the ICC Chief Prosecutor, as was the case with Kenya and Ivory Coast. The third is via a UN Security Council referral, as was the case with Sudan and Libya – both of which are not parties to the ICC.

Evidently, the ICC has self-intervened in only two African cases. The other African cases have all come to the ICC through referrals by the countries themselves or by the UN Security Council.

Regardless of the fact that there have been cases before the ICC that were self-referred by the relevant African countries themselves, “a concern persists that the ICC appears to be targeting Africa in pursuit of political expediency,” said South Africa’s Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in a speech addressing the Africa Legal Aid Conference (AFLA) in 2014.

“The reality is that gross human rights violations have taken place and continue to take place beyond the borders of Africa and yet, so say the critics of the ICC, there does not seem to be as much enthusiasm to deal with those atrocities as is the case with those committed in the African continent” said Mogoeng.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, a Gambian national, said, “with due respect, what offends me most when I hear criticisms about the so-called African bias is how quick we are to focus on the words and propaganda of a few powerful, influential individuals and to forget about the millions of anonymous people that suffer from these crimes,” said at an ICC Open Forum in 2012.

The greatest affront to victims of war crimes and crimes against humanity is to “see those powerful individuals responsible for their sufferings trying to portray themselves as the victims of a ‘pro‐Western’, ‘anti‐African’ Court…the ICC was established as a shield for the powerless not a club for the powerful,” said Bensouda.

Universality and equality before the law is one of the core ideals of the ICC. However, 3 permanent members of the UN Security Council- United States, Russia and China – are not state parties to the ICC. This has fuelled the perception that the ICC is not impartial and is essentially a ‘third world court’.

In January this year, ICC Prosecutor Bensouda opened the court’s first formal investigation outside Africa, into Georgia, for war crimes committed during the 2008 Georgia-Russia war.

Currently the ICC is examining a situation in Gabon, referred to the court by the government of Gabon, as well as situations outside Africa – including Colombia, Palestine, Afghanistan, alleged war crimes by British soldiers in Iraq and by Ukrainian separatist and Russian forces in Ukraine.

“Pulling out of the ICC is not the solution, we should be working towards fixing the court,” said Botswana’s Foreign Minister Pelomoni Venson-Moitoi.

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Trump Needs Lessons in Geopolitics : Musharrafhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/trump-needs-lessons-in-geopolitics-musharraf/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trump-needs-lessons-in-geopolitics-musharraf http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/trump-needs-lessons-in-geopolitics-musharraf/#comments Mon, 05 Dec 2016 09:28:01 +0000 David White http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148080 By David White
LONDON, Dec 5 2016 (IPS)

US President-elect Donald Trump has shown he has much to learn about South Asia,
Pakistan’s former President Pervez Musharraf said in an interview with IPS. But he counted on Trump having an open mind.

Pervez Musharraf

Pervez Musharraf

Musharraf was commenting on statements made by Trump in a radio talk show during his presidential campaign in September, when he described India as being “the check to Pakistan”.

“I think that these statements do cause worry,” Musharraf said. However, he thought that Trump had a “fresh” and “uninitiated” mind on the subject..

“He maybe lacks full understanding of international issues and regional geostrategic issues here, confronting us,” Musharraf said. “But he has an open mind, he can learn, he can be told, he can be briefed.”Musharraf said America’s “War on Terror”, declared in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, had been “to an extent successful” in military terms. But he added: “Wherever military victory takes place it has to be converted into a political victory, and I personally feel that is where the United States fails.”

He added a warning that pro-India US policy might force Pakistan to rely more heavily on its already extensive ties with China. “I think Donald Trump must understand you are no longer in a unipolar world, so countries will have choice to shift towards other poles. So don’t do that,” he urged, making clear that by “other poles” he was referring to China and Russia.

Failure to move towards a détente between Pakistan and India was another factor that might force Pakistan more into China’s zone of influence, Musharraf said. But he added: “It is not in Pakistan’s interest to be in the orbit of any one force.”

He emphasised Pakistan’s deep linkages with the US and other western countries and its reliance on them as export markets. “We can’t switch trade to China, and that would be a very foolish policy and strategy,” he said. However, China’s support and economic presence put Pakistan in a difficult situation of needing to balance its relations.

“Pakistan has a relationship with China. The United States should not mind it,” Musharraf said.

Commenting on other remarks made by Trump during his campaign – suggesting that it might be better if Japan, South Korea and possibly Saudi Arabia had their own nuclear weapons – Musharraf rejected the idea of Pakistan supplying the Saudis with a nuclear capability.

“We won’t do that. Once bitten, many times shy, I think. We were proliferators once. I think we’ve learnt. And this is not a mere trade of industrial goods,” Musharraf said. “I think this is too serious a matter. We can’t do that.”

Musharraf said America’s “War on Terror”, declared in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, had been “to an extent successful” in military terms. But he added: “Wherever military victory takes place it has to be converted into a political victory, and I personally feel that is where the United States fails.”

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Fidel Castro, a Larger-than-Life Leader in Tumultuous Timeshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/fidel-castro-an-extraordinary-leader-in-tumultuous-times/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fidel-castro-an-extraordinary-leader-in-tumultuous-times http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/12/fidel-castro-an-extraordinary-leader-in-tumultuous-times/#comments Thu, 01 Dec 2016 15:51:59 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=148033 The urn holding the ashes of Fidel Castro is seen covered by a Cuban flag on a military jeep on Nov. 30, at the start of an 800-km funeral procession that will reach a cemetery in Santiago de Cuba on Dec. 4. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

The urn holding the ashes of Fidel Castro is seen covered by a Cuban flag on a military jeep on Nov. 30, at the start of an 800-km funeral procession that will reach a cemetery in Santiago de Cuba on Dec. 4. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 1 2016 (IPS)

Among the many leaders who left their mark on history in the 20th century, Fidel Castro – who died Nov. 25 at the age of 90 – stood out for propelling Cuba into a global role that was unexpectedly prominent for a small country, in an era when arms were frequently taken up to settle national and international disputes.

The Cold War imposed certain political choices as well as the consequences in terms of hostilities. By choosing Communism as its path in 1961, two years after the triumph of the revolution, Cuba became a pawn that infiltrated the enemy chessboard, facing the risks posed by such a vulnerable and threatening position.

In Latin America, the “Western, Christian” side mainly degenerated into military dictatorships, nearly all of them anti-Communist and with direct links to the United States, with a few exceptions like the progressive government of General Juan Velasco Alvarado in Peru (1968-1975).

On the other side, guerrilla movements supported or stimulated by Cuba, like the 1966-1967 incursion led by Argentine-Cuban revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Bolivia, mushroomed. The military defeat of these movements was a general, but not absolute, rule.

For example, there was the Sandinista triumph in Nicaragua in 1979, and in Colombia the half-decade conflict raged until this year, when a peace deal was finally signed by the government and the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) rebels.

The armed conflicts were not limited to the countries of Latin America. The Vietnam war shook the world in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Communist victory over U.S. forces prevented another country from being split in two, like Korea or Germany.

In Africa, the decolonisation of some countries cost rivers of blood. Algeria, for example, won its independence from France in 1962 after a war that left a death toll of 1.5 million, according to the Algerians, or just over one-third of that number, according to the French.

Against this backdrop, Castro led an incredible set of accomplishments that earned Cuba a projection and influence far out of proportion to the size of a country of fewer than 10 million people up to 1980 and 11.2 million today.

He fomented and trained guerrilla movements that challenged governments and armed forces in several countries of Latin America. Many felt Cuba offered an alternative, more authentic, brand of Communism that contrasted with the Soviet Union’s, which was seen as bureaucratic, based on repression, even of other peoples, and by then bereft of revolutionary zeal.

The defence of social equality, the top priority put on children, advances in education and health, and solidarity with oppressed peoples or nations hit by tragedies around the world are attractive components of Cuba’s style of Communism, despite its dictatorial nature.

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans took part in the mammoth rally held Nov. 29 to pay homage to the late Fidel Castro in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, attended by leaders from every continent. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans took part in the mammoth rally held Nov. 29 to pay homage to the late Fidel Castro in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución, attended by leaders from every continent. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños

It was not democracy – a value not highly respected decades ago, not even by the propagandists of freedom in the Western world, who also disseminated, or were linked to, dictatorships.

Cuban troops and doctors spread in large numbers throughout Africa and Latin America, in campaigns providing support and assistance, on some occasions playing a central role.

The action abroad that had the greatest impact was in Angola, where Cuba’s military aid was decisive in the country’s successful bid for independence, by cutting off the advance of South African troops that almost reached Luanda in the attempt to prevent the birth of the new nation, which occurred on Nov. 11, 1975.

For decades, Cuban troops were in Angola training the military and strengthening national defence, along with the Cuban doctors and teachers who helped care for and teach a new generation of Angolans.

The operation in Angola showed that Cuba was more than a mere pawn of the former Soviet Union. On May 27, 1977 there was an attempted coup d’etat by a faction of the governing Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA), led by Nito Alves.

Loyal to then President Agostinho Neto, the Cubans helped block the coup. They retook the main radio station in Luanda, which had been occupied by rebels, and returned it to government control. It was a Cuban voice fheard over the radio announcing the success of the operation.

The Soviets were on the side of the coup plotters, according to Angola’s leaders of the time. Diplomats from Moscow were expelled from the country, as were members of the Communist Party of Portugal.

A worse fate was suffered by the followers of Nito Alves accused of participating in the uprising: thousands of them were shot and killed. The number of victims has never been confirmed.

More recently, tens of thousands of Cuban doctors have spread a humane image of Cuba throughout Latin America, after they did so in many African countries. Thousands of them have worked in Venezuela since late president Hugo Chavez first took power in 1999. In Brazil, more than 11,000 Cuban doctors have been providing healthcare in poor and remote areas since 2013.

The Cuban revolution and its achievements are inextricably intertwined with the figure of Fidel Castro, whose leadership was so dominating that he probably would not have needed the rules of his political regime to constantly assert his power and authority over all activities in Cuba.

“Why hold elections?” many Cubans used to argue, in response to the frequent criticism of how long the Castro administration remained in power, without submitting itself to a real vote.

The impression is that his leadership was excessive, that it went far beyond the limits of the Caribbean island nation. His capacity for action was reflected in working meetings held in the wee hours of the morning, as well as in his meetings with visiting leaders.

His hours-long speeches were also delivered abroad, when he visited countries governed by friends, such as Chile in 1971 – governed at the time by socialist President Salvador Allende (1970-1973) – and Angola in 1977, under President Agostinho Neto.

“They don’t have a Fidel,” said Cubans in Angola, to criticise and explain errors committed by the government there, lamenting the lack of such an infallible leader as theirs, in a country whose development they were trying to support.

A product and subject of an era marked by the Cold War, Castro seemed destined to cause controversy, as a historic figure praised by some and condemned as a despot by others. But his political legacy will wane if Communism does not find a way to reconcile with democracy.

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The Cuban Revolution Has Lost Its Founder and Leaderhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/the-cuban-revolution-has-lost-its-founder-and-leader/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-cuban-revolution-has-lost-its-founder-and-leader http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/the-cuban-revolution-has-lost-its-founder-and-leader/#comments Sat, 26 Nov 2016 18:39:14 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147968 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/the-cuban-revolution-has-lost-its-founder-and-leader/feed/ 0 A Cuban Economy Facing Grim Forecasts Awaits Impact of Trumphttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/a-cuban-economy-facing-grim-forecasts-awaits-impact-of-trump/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-cuban-economy-facing-grim-forecasts-awaits-impact-of-trump http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/a-cuban-economy-facing-grim-forecasts-awaits-impact-of-trump/#comments Tue, 15 Nov 2016 22:54:26 +0000 Ivet Gonzalez http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147782 Students in Havana participate in an October protest, part of a campaign to fight the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Students in Havana participate in an October protest, part of a campaign to fight the U.S. embargo against Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Ivet González
HAVANA, Nov 15 2016 (IPS)

Cuba’s economic difficulties will be aggravated by the uncertainty regarding how U.S. president-elect Donald Trump will deal with the thaw inherited from President Barack Obama.

Experts consulted by IPS preferred not to speculate. But they did recommend that the Cuban authorities adopt all measures within their reach to cushion the blow and reinforce what has been achieved on the economic front with the outgoing U.S. administration.

“In any case, Cuba will have to continue moving forward with its economic reforms and try to resolve whatever has clearly not functioned for decades and is within our reach to fix,” said Cuban economist Pável Vidal, a professor at the Javeriana University in Cali, Colombia.“As a businessman, he could be inclined towards pragmatic policies that favour business interests. He doesn’t have a personal history against Cuba, and as a Republican he doesn’t have a complex about appearing weak. Since he doesn’t have prior experience in public office, a large part of his decisions will be reached with the advisers who surround him.” – Ricardo Torres

Vidal is studying the economic reforms implemented since 2008 by the government of Raúl Castro, which has been facing major difficulties this year due to liquidity problems and oil shortages caused by the political and economic crisis in Venezuela, this country’s main trading partner and energy supplier.

In the first six months of this year, GDP grew just one percent, half of what was expected. And forecasts for the rest of 2016 are bleak, projecting a drop of one percent.

Further muddying the picture are the doubts with respect to the recently restored relations with the United States, now that Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was defeated by her Republican rival in the Nov. 8 elections.

“With regard to Cuba, I don’t think (Trump) will roll back the important steps taken by the Obama administration to normalise relations between the two countries,” John Gronbeck-Tedesco, assistant professor of American Studies at Ramapo College in New Jersey, told IPS by email.

“But with a Republican-controlled Congress, it’s harder to know when the United States will fully commit to lifting the embargo and truly open up trade between the two countries,” said the academic, the author of the book “Cuba, the United States, and Cultures of the Transnational Left, 1930-1975”.

The U.S. embargo against Cuba, in place since 1962, consists of a complex web of laws that can only be fully repealed by Congress.

Cuba sees the embargo as the biggest obstacle it faces to development and a normalisation of ties with its giant neighbour to the north.

Since the start of the move towards reestablishing bilateral ties, in December 2014, Obama has taken measures to undermine the embargo and attempted to protect his efforts by means of Presidential Policy Directive 43 on the normalisation of relations between the United States and Cuba, issued on Oct. 14.

He even took an enormous symbolic step on Oct. 26, when for the first time in 25 years the United States abstained in the United Nations vote on the resolution that Cuba has presented annually since 1992, condemning the U.S. embargo, which it blames for 125.873 billion dollars in losses.

 Tourists enjoy the beach at the western Cuban resort town of Varadero. The number of U.S. tourists arriving jumped 80 percent in the first half of 2016, with respect to the same period in 2015. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS


Tourists enjoy the beach at the western Cuban resort town of Varadero. The number of U.S. tourists arriving jumped 80 percent in the first half of 2016, with respect to the same period in 2015. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Obama said his aim was to make the opening to Cuba “irreversible”. But just a week before the election, Trump said “We will cancel Obama’s one-sided Cuban deal, made by executive order, if we do not get the deal that we want and the deal that people living in Cuba and here deserve, including protecting religious and political freedom.”

But the business community and Cuban-Americans are largely in favour of the thaw, as analysts in both countries have been pointing out.

In Gronbeck-Tedesco’s view, “The United States will continue treating Cuba and Venezuela as separate political issues. And since Venezuela is still suffering from economic and political uncertainty, Trump’s plans would not appear to include an improvement in relations with Venezuela or help in rebuilding that country.”

In a reaction that observers like Vidal describe as “tardy”, Havana appears to be pushing for more foreign investment, especially in the energy industry, which is heavily dependent on the shrinking deliveries of Venezuelan crude.

“The tendency is for foreign investment in energy to pick up speed,” Juan Manuel Presa, an official at Cuba’s Ministry of Energy and Mines, told IPS. “There are a large number of projects in different stages of progress to use renewable sources, mainly wind and solar power.”

The engineer said the industry “is seeking a diversity of partners in a diversity of formulas: external financing of Cuban projects, companies that are made up 100 percent of foreign capital, and the new legal status of mixed – Cuban and foreign – companies.”

Cuba is still far from its goal of drawing 2. 5 billion dollars a year in foreign investment – the amount needed to put the economy on a steady footing. The 83 projects approved since a new law on foreign investment went into effect in 2014 have attracted just 1.3 billion dollars so far.

But to some extent, the thaw is easing the tense economic situation in this country.

Between 2.0 and 2.5 billion dollars in remittances from abroad flow into Cuba annually, mainly coming from the Cuban-American community, according to estimates by Cuban economist Juan Triana.

Only exports of medical services bring in more hard currency revenues, he said.

Another major source of hard currency is tourism. Cuba’s colonial cities and white sand beaches are experiencing an unprecedented tourism boom, with the number of visitors from the U.S. growing every month, despite the fact that they can only travel here under one of 12 approved categories, such as family visits, academic programs, professional research, journalistic or religious activities.

In the first half of this year, Cuba received 2,147,912 visitors from abroad, including 136,913 from the U.S. This latter number was 80 percent higher than the total for the first half of 2015, according to the national statistics office, ONEI.

In that period, tourism brought in more than 1.2 billion dollars, only counting public installations, not the growing private sector, which rents out rooms and runs taxis and restaurants.

Cuban economist Ricardo Torres showed IPS a novel analysis on the U.S. president-elect, who was widely criticised during the campaign for his racist, xenophobic and misogynistic remarks.

“There are three aspects (of Trump) that could benefit relations with Cuba,” the academic researcher said.

“As a businessman, he could be inclined towards pragmatic policies that favour business interests,” he said. “He doesn’t have a personal history against Cuba, and as a Republican he doesn’t have a complex about appearing weak. Since he doesn’t have prior experience in public office, a large part of his decisions will be reached with the advisers who surround him.”

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Trump’s Threat on Multilateral Treaties Keeps UN Guessinghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/trumps-threat-on-multilateral-treaties-keeps-un-guessing/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=trumps-threat-on-multilateral-treaties-keeps-un-guessing http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/trumps-threat-on-multilateral-treaties-keeps-un-guessing/#comments Tue, 15 Nov 2016 11:15:18 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147764

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Nov 15 2016 (IPS)

At the height of the US Presidential campaign in early 2015, Republican nominee Donald Trump made a rash of public pronouncements — some threatening internationally-agreed UN conventions– which set off political reverberations throughout the United Nations.

As part of his campaign rhetoric, he denounced climate change as a hoax and a Chinese conspiracy; vowed to bar political refugees; restrict migrants by building a wall across the Mexican border; recommended banning Muslims from entering the country; threatened to undermine reproductive rights; and dismantle the nuclear agreement signed by Iran and six of the world’s major powers: the US, UK, France, China, Russia, Germany, plus the European Union (EU).

All of Trump’s proposed moves were mostly in defiance of UN conventions or multilateral agreements – including the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and the Climate Change Agreement which came into force November 4 — and may have had a lasting negative impact on the world body.

But less than a week after his electoral victory on November 8, this time it was President-designate Donald Trump backtracking on some of his own proposals while keeping the UN grounded in a political guessing game.

UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters November14: ”We’ll have to wait and see what the new administration is like once it enters into office.  We have been making aware to all world leaders the problems that could arise if we do not go ahead and deliver on the commitments made in Paris (on the Climate Change agreement).”

Haq said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who briefly spoke with Trump on the phone last week to congratulate him, believes the US Government has played a valuable leadership role so far in recent months in terms of helping the international community move forward towards the entry into force of the Paris Climate Agreement and “we need to go ahead with that”

As part of his campaign rhetoric, he denounced climate change as a hoax and a Chinese conspiracy; vowed to bar political refugees; restrict migrants by building a wall across the Mexican border; recommended banning Muslims from entering the country; threatened to undermine reproductive rights; and dismantle the nuclear agreement signed by Iran and six of the world’s major powers: the US, UK, France, China, Russia, Germany, plus the European Union (EU)
“Any effort to divert from that course of action could actually be disastrous for all human life centuries down the line or even in the coming decades.  So we really need to consider what we do very carefully.”

Responding to a question on a proposal to restrict refugees into the US, Haq said: “We want all nations to be able to share responsibility for treating refugees fairly.  We’re witnessing the largest population of refugees since the Second World War.  It’s a very huge challenge, and we need all the nations of the world to be able to step up to that.  And we continue to expect that of every nation. “

Vijay Prashad, the George and Martha Kellner Chair in South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, told IPS Trump will have a hard time walking away from all multilateral treaties.

“His government will still have to operate within the parameters of the US State and its history. This is not a coup against the State.”

Prashad pointed out that Trump has already had to walk back on several of his pledges — the Muslim ban, the wall against Mexico (much of it of course already exists), even deportations (Obama has already deported two million people during his presidency; Trump has now reduced his number from 11 million to 2-3 million).

Trump will find that if he tears up the Iran deal, he will have no partners in Europe who will follow him to a new sanctions regime. Even here, he will isolate the United States.

The US State will put pressure on the Trump government to hold back on some of these exaggerations, said Prashad, a former Edward Said Chair at the American University of Beirut (2013-2014), and who has written extensively on Middle Eastern politics, development economics, North-South relations and current events.

To be fair, he said, the US has barely acknowledged the climate negotiations, in fact playing the role of diluter of the more reasonable positions taken in Copenhagen in 2009, and Paris in 2015.

“Would Trump be worse than the status quo? The Congress was already in the hands of the climate deniers. He is merely reflecting their views,” said Prashad, the author of several books, including Arab Spring, Libyan Winter (2012) and The Darker Nations: A People’s History of the Third World (2007).

Ian Williams, a former UN correspondent for The Nation and currently for The Tribune, told IPS another part of the mystery is how serious Trump was with his anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican prejudice.

“We know he has no qualms about selling apartments to tasteless Arab sheiks, nor any particular prejudice about employing undocumented immigrants who will work for less. If we are lucky, his oratorical bigotry was just oratorical expedience to rouse the crowds.”

And to offset his anti-Muslim rhetoric, earlier this year he pledge to make Israel pay for its weapons! One suspects — or rather hopes— that there will be a lot of words being eaten in the first 100 days of his reign as he confronts the realities of law and government.

Williams said Trump has shown few signs of ideological fetishism. He voices his prejudices freely – and obviously delights in the enthusiasm for them from the crowds.

“Perhaps fortunately for the United Nations, the black helicopter crowd no longer dominates Republican discourse and Trump, the real estate magnate knows that the UN is good for property values.”

“However, that ideological vacuum could be dangerous since he has surrounded himself with a mix of prejudiced sycophants and ideologues – think of Rudi Giuliani or John Bolton or above all Myron Ebell, the potential demolition man for the Paris climate change agreements. The idea of Rick Grennell as the UN Ambassador, for example, does not inspire hope”, said Williams,

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy, told IPS the positions Trump has staked out on domestic policies are extremely ominous.

“Inside the United States, he has promised the use of federal government power to assault basic human rights, undermining civil liberties while stoking hatred toward people of color and undocumented immigrants. His election as president is a tragedy for the USA.”

As for his articulated inclinations toward foreign policy, said Solomon, Trump has provided murky and often contradictory notions. He is clearly ignorant of world affairs and history, preferring to rely on simplistic and nationalistic nostrums.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon applauds during a High-level Event on the Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon applauds during a High-level Event on the Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

“We cannot anticipate a supportive stance from President Trump toward the United Nations or international agreements — on the contrary, his hostility to the Paris climate agreement is based on the ignorant denial of human-caused climate change, while his scorn for the Iran nuclear deal is dangerous nonsense.”

At the same time, Trump has often expressed skepticism or outright opposition to military interventions by the U.S. government for regime change.

“What remains to be seen is whether he will actually implement a real shift in Washington’s approach of invasions and air wars that has done such damage in several countries since 2001, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Libya and Syria.”

Trump has so far surrounded himself with militaristic and nationalistic advisers on foreign policy, who support the kind of interventions that Trump has sometimes directly criticized, Solomon declared.

“Trump’s attitude toward Russia could, if sustained during his presidency, provide a welcome shift from the bellicose policies that have increasingly gripped the Obama administration.”

While President-elect Trump is making the leaders of many NATO member countries nervous right now, his refusal to continue an aggressive tone toward the Kremlin could pay positive dividends in reducing tensions between Washington and Moscow.

This could also have a very healthy effect on Europe, said Solomon, author of the book “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death”

However, points out Williams, Trump is an unpredictable puzzle. He does not share the neoconservative urge to reshape the world, and ”has set himself against foreign engagements, but in the end I suspect the seductions of power will tempt him to talk loudly and carry a big stick on the world stage.”

“But his massive ego and manifest lack of self-confidence suggest that other leaders can flatter him in the direction of sanity.”

Trump was probably very pleased that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called him. And his arrogance will probably prevent his more toxic advisors from bullying him into stands he does not approve of, said Williams a former President of the UN Correspondents’ Association (UNCA).

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

 

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Iran Deal Is Key Test of Trump’s Commitment to NATO Allieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/iran-deal-is-key-test-of-trumps-commitment-to-nato-allies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iran-deal-is-key-test-of-trumps-commitment-to-nato-allies http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/iran-deal-is-key-test-of-trumps-commitment-to-nato-allies/#comments Thu, 10 Nov 2016 17:17:22 +0000 Eli Clifton and Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147714

By Eli Clifton and Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Nov 10 2016 (IPS)

Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton threatens to mainstream the Islamophobia, misogyny, racism, and anti-Semitism that swirled around his candidacy and supporters. On the foreign policy front his comments were no less shocking. But the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump hasn’t discussed in any depth beyond his promise at AIPAC’s March conference that his “number-one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran,” may stand as an early litmus test for his relationship with NATO allies.

Although Republican opponents of the deal frequently talked about unilaterally reneging on the agreement, they were never faced with the real likelihood of a president who might go along with the proposal or, possibly, even take the lead in such an action.

A key argument for the deal, which will no doubt be made to Trump’s foreign policy team as well as members of the House and Senate, is that reneging on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) will do far greater damage than just a deterioration in relations with Iran, a possible resumption of Iran’s production and buildup of medium-enriched uranium, and a setback in potential areas of cooperation with Iran particularly with respect to the war on the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq as well as efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.

Breaking the deal could also be a fundamental breach of trust between the U.S. and the other P5+1 countries—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and Germany. Iran signed the agreement with these countries to curtail its enrichment activity in exchange for sanctions relief that largely came in the form of trade deals with European countries and access to European banking systems.

He has questioned whether the U.S. should continue to offer security guarantees for countries that had not “fulfilled their obligation to U.S.” and threatened to withdraw U.S. military forces from European and Asian NATO partners if those allies fail to pay more for Washington’s protection
Maintaining good relations and pursuing confidence-building measures with NATO allies have been bipartisan policies since NATO’s founding in 1949. But Trump has already hinted that he’s not averse to shoving historical allies in Europe and Asia to the curb.

He has questioned whether the U.S. should continue to offer security guarantees for countries that had not “fulfilled their obligation to U.S.” and threatened to withdraw U.S. military forces from European and Asian NATO partners if those allies fail to pay more for Washington’s protection.

Those comments, and his questioning of whether the U.S. should seek better relations with Russia, have already given NATO’s leadership reason for concern. Following Trump’s victory, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg offered congratulations but also a reminder of U.S. treaty obligations. “NATO’s security guarantee is a treaty commitment,” said Stoltenberg. “All allies have made a solemn commitment to defend each other. This is something absolutely unconditioned.”

Indeed, if Trump is seeking to extricate the U.S. from NATO, much of that discussion might occur behind closed doors during negotiations over how much each NATO member contributes in financial and military resources.

But the JCPOA offers an early, very public test of where the Trump administration’s intentions may lie vis-à-vis Washington’s transatlantic allies.

There is, no doubt, pressure on Trump to consider a unilateral breaching of the nuclear agreement. His largest single campaign donor, casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, is adamantly opposed to the deal. Adelson funded many of the groups and politicians who sought to derail negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran and proposed launching a nuclear attack on Iran as a negotiating tactic. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is touted as a leading candidate for secretary of state and whose candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination during the 2012 primary campaign was sustained virtually singlehandedly by Adelson’s $15 million in contributions, has called for the JCPOA to be torn up on inauguration day. Another possible pick for the job, John Bolton, has repeatedly called for the agreement to be scrapped.

And the Republican Party, which has benefited greatly from Adelson’s largesse, has repeatedly sought to introduce unilateral sanctions against the Islamic Republic since it was reached in 2015. Although Trump may not himself be inclined to immediately abrogate (or “renegotiate”) the six-party accord, there will certainly be a move by Republican lawmakers to do so in which case he will have to decide whether to go along or push back.

On January 20, foreign policy analysts in the U.S. and NATO allies in Europe and Asia will be watching closely to see how a newly inaugurated President Trump approaches his predecessor’s signature foreign policy achievement, a deal brokered with the closest U.S. allies and biggest trading partners.

It will be a key test for how the Trump administration plans to work alongside or against members of the treaty organization, the most important and successful pillar of U.S. foreign policy in the post-World War II era. And, of course, if a Trump administration tears up the deal, other key Washington allies such as Japan and South Korea—as well as potential allies that have developed renewed commercial ties with Iran, notably India—are sure to take note.

Jim Lobe served for some 30 years as the Washington DC bureau chief for Inter Press Service and is best known for his coverage of U.S. foreign policy and the influence of the neoconservative movement.

This piece was originally published in Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy Lobelog.com

 

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Nicaragua’s Elections Marked by Apathy and Mistrusthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/nicaraguas-elections-marked-by-apathy-and-mistrust/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nicaraguas-elections-marked-by-apathy-and-mistrust http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/11/nicaraguas-elections-marked-by-apathy-and-mistrust/#comments Thu, 03 Nov 2016 17:26:11 +0000 Jose Adan Silva http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147615 The FSLN’s election campaign in Nicaragua has consisted of placing giant billboards displaying images of its candidates, President Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo. Credit: Oscar Navarrete/IPS

The FSLN’s election campaign in Nicaragua has consisted of placing giant billboards displaying images of its candidates, President Daniel Ortega and his wife Rosario Murillo. Credit: Oscar Navarrete/IPS

By José Adán Silva
MANAGUA, Nov 3 2016 (IPS)

In the midst of unusual political tension and apathy, Nicaraguans will go to the polls on Sunday Nov. 6 to vote in elections marked by the absence of the main opposition force and international election observers.

The governing Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) dominates the country’s public institutions, in alliance with the main economic powers and backed by the police and military.

The leftist FSLN is the lone major party in the elections. And this is the party’s seventh consecutive nomination of 70-year-old former Sandinista guerrilla leader President Daniel Ortega, and his third run since he won the 2006 elections with 38 percent of the vote.“There is no election spirit, people are not talking about the process, there was no debate among candidates, there are no proposals for solving the most pressing problems that the country faces, the electoral authorities have had no credibility since 2008.” -- José Dávila

The opposition argue that the modification of the constitution by the judicial and electoral authorities to allow indefinite presidential re-election was illegal.

If Ortega wins, as projected by the polls, he will govern until 2021, completing 15 consecutive years in power since taking office in 2007.

He had already governed the country between 1979 and 1990, after the FSLN revolution overthrew dictator Anastasio Somoza, the last of the Somoza dynasty. In the 1980s the country was rocked by the war waged against the government by the U.S.-armed and -financed “Contras”.

Political scientist José Antonio Peraza told IPS “we have not experienced a political situation as serious as this one” since the FSLN and Ortega lost their political and military power in the 1990 elections, following a decade of civil war.

In his view, this electoral process is not only unusual due to the electorate’s lack of interest, but also “because the political system has been structured for the elections in such a way that the only options left are the governing party and five or six small parties authorised by the electoral tribunal in view of their slim chances of winning.”

“The FSLN made sure to remove any real political options, disqualifying the chief opposition party and replacing it with a pro-government group, with unknown candidates and no proposals for change,” said Peraza.

In August, the electoral tribunal banned the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) – the main opposition party that heads a coalition against the FSLN – from participating in the elections. It also dismissed 28 liberal deputies from Nicaragua’s congress, who acted as a counterweight to the Sandinista majority.

In addition, in a move that has caused much concern that the country will end up under another dictatorship and governing dynasty, Ortega named his wife, Rosario Murillo, as his vice presidential running-mate, and placed his children in strategic public posts.

“Many adversaries to the party are calling the process an electoral farce and I honestly cannot disagree with them in disregarding this situation as illegitimate. The FSLN vetoed outside monitors from overseeing the elections and removed the main opposition parties,” said the political analyst.

Recently Ortega partially reversed its ban on outside monitors, accepting a team of observers from the Organisation of American States (OAS).

The administration also “controls the electoral structures accused of election fraud since 2008 and uses the power of the public institutions to campaign with state resources,” said Peraza.

IPS sought an opinion within the FSLN’s campaign team, but received no response to the request for an interview in over a week.

José Dávila, a political analyst and election monitoring expert, told IPS that in the more than 100 elections that he has observed and studied in different countries around the world in the last 20 years, he has not seen an election like this one.

“There is no election spirit, people are not talking about the process, there was no debate among candidates, there are no proposals for solving the most pressing problems that the country faces, the electoral authorities have had no credibility since 2008,” when the opposition and observers denounced fraud in the municipal elections.

“The campaign has only been seen in government media outlets and there has not been a single formal communication to the people about how the election is going.”

Dávila said that if he “had to compare it with other electoral processes, I would say that this election looks more like the grey processes carried out in Eastern Europe during the Cold War or the polls in Cuba, where there is no real opposition to the government party.”

International pressure

According to Dávila, there are other elements that turn the process into a “pressure cooker” similar to the atmosphere seen during the 1980s crisis.

“The United States has denounced political irregularities committed by Ortega’s government in Nicaragua and is threatening to pass a law to cut loans to the country if the aspects that Washington questions are not resolved,” said Dávila.

He was referring to the threat posed by the Nicaragua Investment Conditionality Act (NICA), which was passed unanimously Sep. 21 by the U.S. House of Representatives, and now has to make it through the Senate before being signed into law by President Barack Obama.

The initiative aims for Washington to veto any loan programme or grant for projects in this Central American country, alleging that the government in Managua violates the human and political rights of Nicaraguans.

Nicaragua, a country of 6.1 million people, 47 percent of whom are poor, depends on international aid and soft loans to sustain its economy.

A U.S. blockade would cost Nicaragua 250 million dollars annually in loans according to the World Bank, at a time when its main ally, Venezuela, is in crisis.

For similar reasons, the OAS requested a dialogue with Nicaragua to address complaints by human rights organisations, political parties and civil society institutions.

The government has accepted the proposal and an OAS commission will participate in a dialogue with government authorities, political parties, media and civil society organizations, planned for the day before elections.

“In a political maneuver, the government is attempting to legitimate its electoral process, while its adversaries will take advantage of the opportunity to show all the anomalies and institutional abuses by President Ortega’s government, and I can’t see the OAS’ current authorities endorsing a dubious electoral process like the one that is taking place in Nicaragua,” said Dávila.

Unlike other elections when political parties campaigned in public squares and toured through the main cities, this year there were just small rallies held by groups that support the government and demonstrations by the opposition to protest what they call an “electoral farce.”

Against this backdrop, six national political parties and one regional will be running in the elections for president, vice president, national deputies and representatives to the Central American Parliament, with the government urging people to participate and the opposition calling on voters to abstain, in order to make a statement on the illegitimacy of the elections.

In the polls, the FSLN has 60 percent support.

The party first emerged as a political-military movement in July 1961, to overthrow the Somoza family that governed Nicaragua since the 1930s. It seized power in 1979, following a bloody civil war that then continued until 1990.

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Gorbachev Appeals for Sanity, Dialoguehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/gorbachev-appeals-for-sanity-dialogue/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gorbachev-appeals-for-sanity-dialogue http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/gorbachev-appeals-for-sanity-dialogue/#comments Fri, 28 Oct 2016 12:20:34 +0000 John Scales Avery http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147546 The author was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organising the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. He is Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen. He was chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy, and he is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent book is Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century.]]> President Barack Obama drops by VP Joe Biden's meeting with former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev in the Vice President's Office, West Wing | 20 March 2009 | The Official White House Photostream / Pete Souza | public domain | Flickr

President Barack Obama drops by VP Joe Biden's meeting with former Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev in the Vice President's Office, West Wing | 20 March 2009 | The Official White House Photostream / Pete Souza | public domain | Flickr

By John Scales Avery
OSLO, Oct 28 2016 (IPS)

President Mikhail Gorbachev, former leader of the Soviet Union and recipient of the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize, has appealed to world leaders to reduce the dangerous tensions, which today threaten to plunge human civilization and the biosphere into an all-destroying nuclear war.

In an October 10 interview with RIA Novosti, Gorbachev said: “I think the world has reached a dangerous point, I don’t want to give any concrete prescriptions, but I do want to say that this needs to stop. We need to renew dialogue. Stopping it was the biggest mistake.”

“It is necessary to return to the main priorities. These are nuclear disarmament, the fight against terrorism, the prevention of an environmental disaster,” he continued. “Compared to these challenges, all the rest slips into the background.”

Later the same day, in Iceland, President Gorbachev said: “The worst thing that has happened in recent years is the collapse of trust in relations between major powers, The window to a nuclear weapon-free world…is being shut and sealed right before our eyes.”

John Scales Avery

John Scales Avery

“As long as nuclear weapons exist, there is a danger that someday they will be used as a result either of accident or technical failure or of evil intent of man, an insane person or terrorist,” Gorbachev said.

Alyn Ware Agrees

Alyn Ware, the International Co-ordinater of Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-proliferation and Disarmament, commented:

“I would concur with the assessment of Gorbachev.”

“I have been at the UN General Assembly October sessions (Disarmament and International Security) every year since 1988. This year was the most acrimonious I have ever seen. The tensions between Russia and NATO/Ukraine/US spilled over into the deliberations with accusations and counter accusations flying in many of the sessions. And these were not the only tensions. Syria/Yemen/Middle East, India/Pakistan and North Korea v South Korea/Japan/USA were also vitriolic towards each other.”

“Tension reduction, confidence building and diplomacy are vital at this time”, Alyn Ware continued, “Without this, disarmament is unlikely to occur and further armed conflict is very likely.”

The New UN Secretary General

Hope that the current extremely dangerous tensions can be reduced comes from the appointment of former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres as the new UN Secretary General. The Security Council was united in making this appointment, thus giving us hope for better cooperation in the future.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr. Guterres said that ending the conflict in Syria would be one of his greatest challenges. “I believe it is the international community’s first priority is to be able to end this conflict and use this momentum created by it to try to address all the other conflicts that are interlinked,”

“I hope people will understand that it’s better to put aside different opinions, different interests and to understand that there is a common, vital interest to put an end to these conflicts, because that is absolutely central if you want to live in a world where a minimum of securities are established, where people can live a normal life,” he said.

Nuclear War Would Be a Catastrophe

The danger of a catastrophic nuclear war casts a dark shadow over the future of our species. It also casts a very black shadow over the future of the global environment.

The environmental consequences of a massive exchange of nuclear weapons have been treated in a number of studies by meteorologists and other experts from both East and West.

They predict that a large-scale use of nuclear weapons would result in fire storms with very high winds and high temperatures, which would burn a large proportion of the wild land fuels in the affected nations.

The resulting smoke and dust would block out sunlight for a period of many months, at first only in the northern hemisphere but later also in the southern hemisphere.

Temperatures in many places would fall far below freezing, and much of the earths plant life would be killed. Animals and humans would then die of starvation.

Professor Bernard Lowen of the Harvard School of Public Health, one of the founders of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW), said in a recent speech:

“…No public health hazard ever faced by humankind equals the threat of nuclear war. Never before has man possessed the destructive resources to make this planet uninhabitable… Modern medicine has nothing to offer, not even a token benefit, in the event of nuclear war…”

“We are but transient passengers on this planet Earth. It does not belong to us. We are not free to doom generations yet unborn. We are not at liberty to erase humanity’s past or dim its future. Social systems do not endure for eternity. Only life can lay claim to uninterrupted continuity. This continuity is sacred.”

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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UN Cuba Embargo Vote: United States Abstains for First Timehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/un-cuba-embargo-vote-united-states-abstains-for-first-time/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-cuba-embargo-vote-united-states-abstains-for-first-time http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/un-cuba-embargo-vote-united-states-abstains-for-first-time/#comments Wed, 26 Oct 2016 22:49:24 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147526 Workers packaging spirulina in the town of Zaragoza in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

Workers packaging spirulina in the town of Zaragoza in Cuba. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Tharanga Yakupitiyage
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 26 2016 (IPS)

After 25 years of voting against a United Nations resolution condemning the United States (U.S.) embargo on Cuba, the U.S. Wednesday chose for the first time to abstain from voting. An overwhelming 191 UN member states voted for the resolution, with only Israel joining the United States in abstention.

The UN General Assembly met for its annual vote on a resolution to end sanctions against Cuba imposed in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War. The United States has consistently voted against the resolution, but on Wednesday United States Ambassador Samantha Power announced its historic change in voting.

“After 50-plus years of pursuing the path of isolation, we have chosen to take the path of engagement,” said Power whose statement was met with applause.

Power highlighted the significant progress made by the Cuban government in the protection of its people including the reduction of its child mortality rate and children’s access to education. Power also described Cuba’s essential role during the Ebola outbreak in 2014 when the Caribbean nation was one of the first countries to step forward and send over 200 health professionals to the hardest hit areas in West Africa.

Cuban Foreign Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla welcomed the vote but noted that the embargo against Cuba is still in place and continues to harm Cubans and the nation’s economic development.

“Human damages caused by the blockade are incalculable,” -- Cuban Foreign Minister of Foreign Affairs Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla.

“Human damages caused by the blockade are incalculable,” he told the General Assembly, estimating that the U.S. embargo has cost the island over $125 billion.

Though the U.S. has eased travel and business restrictions, most laws and regulations that implemented the blockade are still in force.

For instance, the existing Cuban Democracy Act of 1992 (CDA) prohibits foreign-based subsidiaries of U.S. companies from trading with Cuba. This has limited the country’s access to essential medicine and medical equipment which has “wreaked havoc” on Cuba’s health care system. Parrilla pointed to the case of U.S. company Medtronic which was unable to sell deep brain stimulators to Cuban companies to treat patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders.

He also noted that Cuban medical efforts deployed during the Ebola epidemic were hampered when the British Standard Chartered Bank refused to make financial transfers between the World Health Organisation and Cuban doctors.

Though U.S. banks can now legally process Cuban transactions, many banks fear reprisal from the U.S. having had received enormous fines for violating sanctions in the past.

In 2012, ING Bank was fined $619 million, HSBC $1.9 billion and BNP Paribas $8.83 billion.

Even after December 2014 when President Obama first announced his aim to restore full relations with Cuba, France’s Credit Agricole was fined $787 million for violating U.S. sanctions.

“Lifting the blockade is key to be able to advance towards the normalisation of relations with the United States,” said Parrilla.

Power echoed similar sentiments, urging for the two nations to continue to engage despite differences.

“Today, we will take another small step to be able to do that. May there be many, many more—including, we hope, finally ending the U.S. embargo once and for all,” she concluded.

However, abstaining from the resolution does not mean that the U.S. agrees with all of the Cuban government’s policies and practices, Power said.

“We are profoundly concerned by the serious human rights violations that the Cuban government continues to commit with impunity against its own people,” she told delegates.

According to the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), more than 8,600 government opponents and activists were detained in 2015. Freedom of expression and access to information also continues to be limited.

Power also rejected certain elements in the resolution, including that the embargo violated the UN charter and international law.

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UN Security Council’s “Perilous Interventions” in War Zoneshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/un-security-councils-perilous-interventions-in-war-zones/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=un-security-councils-perilous-interventions-in-war-zones http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/10/un-security-councils-perilous-interventions-in-war-zones/#comments Fri, 07 Oct 2016 18:46:46 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=147271 Credit: IPS

Credit: IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Oct 7 2016 (IPS)

When the UN Security Council last week discussed the “deliberate” attacks on medical facilities in war-ravaged Syria and Yemen, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon implicitly criticized some of the warring nations lamenting that “even a slaughterhouse is more humane” than the ongoing indiscriminate killings of civilians in the two devastating conflicts.

The attacks on hospitals, he warned, were “war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law”.

But Joanne Liu, International President of Medicins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), singled out “four of the five permanent members of the Security Council” for the continued atrocities and lambasted them for their role in the attacks against medical facilities.

“The conduct of war today knows no limits,” she regretted, pointing out that the failure of the Security Council “reflects a lack of political will among member states fighting in coalitions and those who enable them.”

The unidentified four “enablers” – the United States, Britain, France and Russia – are either directly or indirectly involved in the ongoing military conflicts either as participants or as key arms suppliers.

A recently-released 264-page book titled “Perilous Interventions” also takes a highly critical look at the Security Council whose military interventions have led, in some cases, to “chaos, destruction and destabilization” –specifically in the volatile Middle East—and helped create the Islamic State (IS), “arguably the most formidable extremist organization in history.”

Authored by Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri, the former Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations, the book lists all the mistakes made in the case of Libya and Syria, along with what happened in Yemen and Ukraine.

“This disastrous history,” Puri said in an interview with IPS “will repeat itself unless we learn from past mistakes and make the required corrections.”

Asked whether the Security Council has outlived its usefulness, judging by the unmitigated failures of Western-led military interventions— either directly or indirectly — in countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine and Yemen, Puri said: “The use of force, in the interventions you have cited, was authorised by the Security Council only in the case of Libya (Resolution 1973).”

In the case of Afghanistan, he said, the “coalition of the willing did not even bother to approach the Council.”

In the case of Iraq, a sceptical Council refused to be persuaded, said Puri, who twice presided over Security Council meetings during 2011-2102.

Ukraine and Yemen, he noted, were “unilateral action with a helpless and ineffective Council being either manipulated or ignored.”

“The problem is, if you didn’t have the Council, you would have unilateral action only. The answer, therefore, is not to disband the Council but seek improvement in its functioning,” said Puri.

Asked if the proposed reform of the Security Council – still grounded after more than 10 years of negotiations – will help change the political landscape, Puri said an expanded Council will not suffice.

After all, the new members in an expanded Council will, in all likelihood, not have a veto.

Those who have the urge to use force should introspect about the consequences of their actions. Also, the veto should not be used in situations that potentially involve mass atrocities, he added.

“Security Council expansion and reform, by the way is not a lost cause. All it requires is for a group of countries to submit a framework resolution. Serious negotiations will follow,” he argued.

At a press briefing last September, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, was asked about his country’s stance on Council reform.

He told reporters he did not see, in the near future, any historic compromise being reached on the issue of admitting new permanent members.

“The Russian Federation did not support the French proposal on limiting veto use, as it was not a “workable scheme”; mass atrocity situations would be determined by the 15 Council members or the Secretary-General.”

“This is a political world,” and allowing the General Assembly to weigh in would only infringe on the Council’s purview, he warned.

But Puri told IPS that a veto restraint agreement is the need of the hour.

“I am confident that if it is packaged in terms of a voluntary restraint agreement, along the lines of the French proposal, no amendment let alone a Charter amendment would be required.”

Asked about Security Council decisions being dictated to by big power national interests, Puri told IPS the five permanent members ever so often place their own narrow national interest above considerations of peace and security.

“Some of them do so more blatantly than others. The Council is an intensely political institution”.

Asked about Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s recent complaint that decisions by “consensus” lead to one or two member states exercising undue power over UN decision making, Puri said: “This SG’s time is over. Let us hope the incoming SG will assert leadership and prove it to ensure democratic functioning in the UN.”

“If consensus is interpreted in terms of unanimity, that will become the basis for the doctrine of inaction. In that case, we can kiss goodbye to the UN itself,” he declared.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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European Security with or Without Russia? Consequences of the Chinese-Russian Alliance on the Relationship Between USA and EUhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/european-security-with-or-without-russia-consequences-of-the-chinese-russian-alliance-on-the-relationship-between-usa-and-eu/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=european-security-with-or-without-russia-consequences-of-the-chinese-russian-alliance-on-the-relationship-between-usa-and-eu http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/european-security-with-or-without-russia-consequences-of-the-chinese-russian-alliance-on-the-relationship-between-usa-and-eu/#comments Fri, 16 Sep 2016 14:03:48 +0000 Roberto Savio http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146957 By Roberto Savio
ROME, Sep 16 2016 (IPS)

The joint military manoeuvres between the Russian and Chinese navies, armies, and air forces has kicked off. It’s a clear message for Washington, which has recently strengthened its action in Asia, indicating that as a country that overlooks the Pacific, it wants to play an important role in the continent, aimed at containing the Chinese expansion.

Roberto Savio

Roberto Savio

Obama, during his visit to Laos, the first by an American President and his last in Asia as President, has explicitly stated that the United States are guarantors of Asian stability. One must also consider that the greatest continent of the world is going through a wave of nationalism (China, Japan, India) and populism (Philippines). Joint military manoeuvres are a clear message: the United States cannot decide the destinies of Asia.

Russia is already considered by NATO an enemy to contain, encircled by the borders of Eastern Europe. The annexation of Crimea, the intervention in eastern Ukraine, and then the military action in Syria, have isolated the Kremlin, object of unprecedented trade sanctions by both Europe and America.

The meeting last week, between Obama and Putin at the G20, ended overtly negative. The fragile agreement to a ceasefire in Syria reached between the respective foreign ministers, does not solve the overall dispute between the two countries, which are still willing to fight each other with an undeclared war, until the very last Syrian. The Western alliance intends to maintain sanctions on Russia.

The logic is that the latter, weakened by the fall in oil prices and witnessing a significant reduction of its revenue, will lead to Putin being obliged to accept the supremacy of the West, hence being forced to reduce his action internationally.

This logic leads to a non-negotiation, as everyone waits for Putin to understand that he cannot have global ambitions. As Obama said, “Russia is a regional power.” And the information system is full of analysis on how the Russian economy is going through a crisis, and how the decline in resources will undermine the relationship between Putin and the Russian people.

Now, a slightly more in-depth analysis gives way to serious doubts on the strength of this strategy. To begin with, the sanctions have a different burden on Europe than on the United States. It is emphasized that Russia’s GDP has fallen by 3.5 percent. But aside from the fact that in this scenario the reduction in oil prices (the main Russian export) plays a much more serious role, from $ 100 a barrel to the current 50 dollars, all is quiet on the cost of penalties for the West, which has suspended Russia’s exports.

According to the European Commission, at the end of 2015, it was $ 100 billion dollars. But here lies a major difference, which has been inexplicably silenced. US exports to Russia fell by 3.5%, while the Europeans fell by 13% ( 43% of the agricultural sector). For its part, European imports from Russia fell by 13.5%.

Also according to the European Commission, the European GDP fell by 0.3% in 2014 and 0.4% in 2015, as a direct result of the sanctions. This doesn’t preoccupy Germany but countries like Italy, whose growth is close to zero (and whose agricultural sector has been hit by the loss of the Russian market), without forgetting that the total growth of the European GDP is close to 1 percent. But, reply the NATO circles, the difference between the decline of Russia’s GDP and that of Europe, shows that sanctions work, and it is only a matter of time before Putin capitulates.

This leads to another reflection largely absent in the media. One cannot ignore that Putin enjoys great esteem amongst the Russian population. The independent surveys confer to him levels of popularity which range from 60% to peaks of 78%, percentages unknown for any Western leader.

This popularity has increased since Putin annexed Crimea, intervened in Ukraine, sticking a knife on NATO’s side, (which he can turn as he pleases), and intervened in Syria. The response of the official circles is that these actions were carried out to hide the internal social and economic crisis.

However, crises arise when they feel as such. Americans are convinced that during the Reagan presidency the United States they were living through a blissful economic era, whereas in reality, the fiscal deficit rose from 800 billion to 2,750 trillion.

It’s now easy to convince the Russians that the West is trying to strangle their economy. Furthermore, the Russians are a population, according to sociologists, are able to squeeze consumer spending much more than the citizens of the western countries, for both historical and cultural reasons.

However, the main reflection should be made on an important dysfunctional element: the simultaneous existence of the European Community and Nato, two institutions which have a different agenda, which often generate schizophrenic actions.

The formal purpose of the European Community is to promote further integration and development of European countries, based on common values and interests.

The formal purpose of Nato is to act for the security of the Western world, which is made up at the same time by the United States (absolute leaders) and from Europe.

As a consequence, Europe entrusts Nato in her security. According to many analysts, Nato echoes the characters of Pirandello’s Play “Six Characters looking for an author”. The end of the cold war and the end of the Soviet threat would have implied Nato’s end. But getting rid of an institution is often more difficult than creating one. So for a long time, Nato has persistently looked for an enemy which would justify its existence.

As a Chinese proverb says: If you put a hammer in the hands of a man, they will look everywhere for nails that protrude. So much so in this case, that the last commander of Nato, the current General, has declared that Russia is a greater threat than ISIS.

Yet, there is also a school of thought that considers the West guilty of doing everything it could to make sure Putin was paranoid when he’d started off as an ally of Bush.

It should not be forgotten that Gorbachev’s agreement to accept the fall of the Berlin wall was a consequence of Nato’s commitment to keeping its borders.

Instead, all European countries of the former Soviet Union have entered Nato. And, representative of this trend, defined as an encirclement of Moscow (while Madrid defines it as a containment) is the recent admission of Montenegro to Nato, who admitted to having an army composed of 3,000 men.

Now, with careful analysis, there it is safe to say that Nato carries more weight in international politics than Europe. Even because, objectively speaking, Europe has reduced military expenses, as it delegates the costs of her defence to the United States. No coincidence that Trump, making a point during his election campaign, promised that if he were to become President, the Europeans would have to pay their bills. This would result in a severe decrease of Nato’s power in Europe.

Joint manoeuvres in the South China Sea are part of a very important and accelerated approach between Russia and China. Despite the slowdown in China’s economy, as Beijing has signed loans for 25 billion dollars to Russian companies: Russia, for its part, has committed itself to a gas supply agreement of 38 billion cubic meters of gas per year, for 30 years, with a fee of 400 billion dollars.

China Development Bank has granted a line of credit at Sberbank of 966 million dollars. Beijing has set up an investment fund for Russian Agriculture worth 2 billion dollars and has granted 19.7 billion dollars credit for a railroad linking Moscow to the city of Kazan. The two countries have also agreed to increase their bilateral trade to 200 billion dollars by 2020. In other words, an unprecedented business alliance is growing between the two countries.

The question that Europe must, therefore, ask, taking off its Nato hat and putting on the hat of the European Union, is whether it should push Russia into the arms of China. Maybe it’s time to open a comprehensive negotiation with Russia, instead of discussing separately each step of the litigation, Siria separately from Ukraine, from Crimea, from the issue of Georgia, from Eastern Europe and so on.

From this analysis, an ever more crucial question arises. Is it a forward-looking strategy for Europe, if the sanctions had an effect, to have a country of great military and economic importance such as Russia, close to the borders, on it knees and with a population who is humiliated and offended, convinced (thanks to evidence) that Europe is obstructing Russia from having a righteous place in the world? Is this the best path for European security? Perhaps a negotiation with Russia would be better, in order to obtain a security policy, as well as trade and commerce for which there are huge needs, as according to world-leading economists we’re headed towards a long period of stagnation.

But the question whether the European schizophrenia of the two hats, that of Nato and the EU, (today in crisis), enables this negotiation. Especially because Putin is creating his own system of European alliances: an Alliance with the populist right, with the Salvini’s and the Le Pen’s, achieving the admiration of Trump, becoming the model for an illiberal democracy, as the Hungarian President Orban puts it. This certainly reduces European security. But where is a leader capable of having a newer, more realistic and long-term vision of security for Europe? Are we sure this is feasible without Russia?

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Fossil Fuels: At What Price?http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/fossil-fuels-at-what-price/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=fossil-fuels-at-what-price http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/09/fossil-fuels-at-what-price/#comments Wed, 07 Sep 2016 14:06:16 +0000 John Scales Avery http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146830 The author was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organising the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. He is Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen. He was chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy, and he is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent book is Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century.]]>

The author was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organising the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. He is Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen. He was chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy, and he is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent book is Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century.

By John Scales Avery
OSLO, Sep 7 2016 (IPS)

We often read comparisons between the prices of solar energy or wind energy with the prices of fossil fuels. It is encouraging to see that renewables are rapidly becoming competitive, and are often cheaper than coal or oil. In fact, if coal, oil and natural gas were given their correct prices renewables would be recognized as being incomparably cheaper than fossil fuels.

A petrochemical refinery in Grangemouth, Scotland, UK.| Author: John from wikipedia | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

A petrochemical refinery in Grangemouth, Scotland, UK.| Author: John from wikipedia | Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Externalities in pricing

The concept of externalities in pricing was first put forward by two British economists, Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900) and Arthur C. Pigou (1877-1959).

In his book “The Economics of Welfare”, published in 1920, Pigou further developed the concept of externalities in pricing which had earlier been introduced by Sidgwick. He proposed that a tax be introduced to correct pricing for the effect of externalities.

An externality is the cost or benefit of some unintended consequence of an economic action. For example, tobacco companies do not really wish for their customers to die from cancer, but a large percentage of them do, and the social costs of this slaughter ought to be reflected in the price of tobacco.

The true environmental costs of fossil fuel use are much greater than those of smoking. Unless we stop burning fossil fuels within one or two decades, we risk a situation where uncontrollable feedback loops will lead to catastrophic climate change regardless of human efforts to prevent the disaster.

If we do not act very quickly to replace fossil fuels by renewables, we risk initiating a 6th geological extinction event. This might even be comparable to the Permian-Triasic extinction, during which 96 per cent of all marine species and 70 per cent of all vertebrates were lost forever.

Subsidies to fossil fuel companies

Far from being penalized for destroying the global environment and threatening the future of all life on earth, fossil fuel companies currently receive approximately $500,000,000,000 per year in subsidies (as estimated by the IEA).

They use part of this vast sum to conduct advertising campaigns to convince the public that anthropogenic climate change is not real.

Betrayal by the mainstream media

If we turn on our television sets, almost nothing that we see informs us of the true predicament of human society and the biosphere.

John Scales Avery

John Scales Avery

Programs like “Top Gear” promote automobile use. Programs depicting ordinary life show omnipresent motor cars and holiday air travel. There is nothing to remind us that we must rapidly renounce the use of fossil fuels.

A further betrayal by the mainstream media can be seen in their massive free coverage of US presidential candidate Donald Trump, who is an infamous climate change denier.

Despite the misinformation that we receive from the mainstream media, we must remember our urgent duty to leave fossil fuels in the ground. If threats to the future are taken into account, the price of these fuels is prohibitive.

The statements and views mentioned in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of IPS.

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US, EU Accused of Paying Lip Service to Global Arms Treatyhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/us-eu-accused-of-paying-lip-service-to-global-arms-treaty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-eu-accused-of-paying-lip-service-to-global-arms-treaty http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/us-eu-accused-of-paying-lip-service-to-global-arms-treaty/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2016 19:06:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146636 The non-violence knotted gun statue at UN headquarters in NYC. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

The non-violence knotted gun statue at UN headquarters in NYC. Credit: IPS UN Bureau.

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 22 2016 (IPS)

The Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which was aimed at curbing the flow of small arms and light weapons to war zones and politically-repressive regimes, is being openly violated by some of the world’s arms suppliers, according to military analysts and human rights organizations.

The ongoing conflicts and civil wars in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, South Sudan and Ukraine are being fueled by millions of dollars in arms supplies – mostly from countries that have either signed or ratified the ATT, which came into force in December 2014.

Dr. Natalie Goldring, UN Consultant for the Acronym Institute for Disarmament Diplomacy and a Senior Fellow with the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University, told IPS: “The Arms Trade Treaty is incredibly important. Put simply, if fully implemented, it has the potential to save lives.”

But if implementation is not robust, the risk is that “business as usual” will continue, resulting in continued violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, she warned.

“Recent and proposed arms sales by States Parties and signatories to the ATT risk undermining the treaty,” said Dr Goldring, who has closely monitored the 20 year long negotiations for the ATT, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in April 2013.

The reported violations of the international treaty have coincided with a weeklong meeting in Geneva, beginning August 22 through August 26, of ATT’s second Conference of States Parties (CSP).

Recent reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Control Arms, Forum on Arms Trade and other non-governmental organizations (NGOs) document the continued transfer of conventional weapons that may be used to violate international humanitarian and human rights law.

Brian Wood, Head of Arms Control and Human Rights at Amnesty International, said the ATT has the potential to save millions of lives, which makes it especially alarming when states who have signed or even ratified the treaty seem to think they can continue to supply arms to forces known to commit and facilitate war crimes, and issue export licenses even where there is an overriding risk the weapons will contribute to serious human rights violations.

“There must be zero tolerance for states who think they can just pay lip service to the ATT.”

“The US government’s response to apparent Saudi bombings of civilian targets is to sell them more weapons? This makes no sense." -- Natalie Goldring

He said the need for more effective implementation is painfully obvious: “from Yemen to Syria to South Sudan, every day children are being killed and horribly maimed by bombs, civilians are threatened and detained at gunpoint, and armed groups are committing abuses with weapons produced by countries who are bound by the treaty,” he noted.

Providing a list of “unscrupulous arms transfers,” Amnesty International pointed out that the US, which has signed the ATT, and European Union (EU) member states who have ratified it, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France and Italy, have continued to lavish small arms, light weapons, ammunition, armoured vehicles and policing equipment on Egypt, “despite a brutal crackdown on dissent by the authorities which has resulted in the unlawful killing of hundreds of protesters, thousands of arrests and reports of torture by detainees since 2013.”

In 2014, France issued export licences that again included sophisticated Sherpa armoured vehicles used by security forces to kill hundreds of protesters at the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit in just a year earlier.

Arms procured from ATT signatories have also continued to fuel bloody civil wars, the London-based human rights organization said.

In 2014, Amnesty International said, Ukraine approved the export of 830 light machine guns and 62 heavy machine guns to South Sudan.

Six months after signing the ATT, Ukrainian authorities issued an export licence on 19 March 2015 to supply South Sudan with an undisclosed number of operational Mi-24 attack helicopters.

Three of those attack helicopters are currently in service with South Sudan government forces, and they are reportedly awaiting the delivery of another.

Additionally, in March 2015 the US State Department approved possible military sales of equipment and logistical support to Saudi Arabia worth over $24 billion, and between March 2015 and June 2016, the UK approved the export of £3.4 billion (approximately $4.4 billion) worth of arms to Saudi Arabia.

“These approvals were given when the Saudi Arabia-led coalition was carrying out continuous, indiscriminate and disproportionate airstrikes and ground attacks on civilians in Yemen, some of which may amount to war crimes,” Amnesty International said in a statement released August 22.

Jeff Abramson of the Forum on the Arms Trade said the Geneva meeting takes place during a time of ongoing conflict and controversy over the responsible transfer and use of conventional weapons.

He said key topics that may be addressed, either formally or informally, include better promoting transparency in the arms trade and arming of Saudi Arabia, in light of the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen — including recent US notification of possible tank sales to Riyadh

Dr Goldring told IPS the US government recently proposed to sale of 153 M1A2 Abrams tanks to Saudi Arabia.

She said the written notification of the proposed sale notes that 20 of the tanks are intended as “battle damage replacements for their existing fleet.”

As Brookings Institution Scholar Bruce Riedel has noted, the Saudis are only using tanks in combat along the Saudi-Yemeni border.

“The US government’s response to apparent Saudi bombings of civilian targets is to sell them more weapons? This makes no sense. This is part of a pattern of continued arms transfers taking place despite a high risk that they will be used to violate international human rights and humanitarian law,. ” declared Dr Goldring.

She said States parties to the ATT are required to address the risks of diversion or misuse of the weapons they provide. But if this criteria are taken seriously, it’s virtually impossible to justify continued weapons deals with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Countries without strong export control systems have argued that it will take time to fully implement the ATT, while other countries such as the United States have domestic impediments to ratifying the treaty.

But one of the treaty’s strengths, Dr Goldring, argued is its specification of conditions under which arms transfers should be blocked. States do not have to wait for ratification or accession to the treaty to begin implementing such standards.

“The ATT is a new treaty, but we can’t afford to ‘ease into’ it. While we discuss the treaty, lives are being lost around the world. We need to aggressively implement the ATT from the start,” Dr Goldring said.

Another important issue in full implementation of the ATT, she noted, is making the global weapons trade transparent, so that citizens can understand the commitments their governments are making in their names.

“Governments should not be transferring weapons unless they are willing to take responsibility for them. Their opposition to openness and transparency raises questions about what they’re trying to hide,” she added.

But in the end, although it’s important to bring transparency to the discussion of these issues, the real issue is whether the transfers are being controlled. Recent sales raise significant concerns in this regard, Dr Goldring said.

“The Conference of States Parties that is being held this week in Geneva presents a critical opportunity to face these issues. To strengthen the Arms Trade Treaty, the conference must focus on this key substantive concern of the risks entailed in continuing business as usual. States should not allow their attention to be diverted to process issues,” said Dr Goldring who is currently participating in the Geneva meeting,

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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US To Push for UN Security Council Ban on Nuclear Testshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/us-to-push-for-un-security-council-ban-on-nuclear-tests/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=us-to-push-for-un-security-council-ban-on-nuclear-tests http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/us-to-push-for-un-security-council-ban-on-nuclear-tests/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 18:32:06 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146591 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/us-to-push-for-un-security-council-ban-on-nuclear-tests/feed/ 0 TPPA could be discarded due to US political dynamicshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/tppa-could-be-discarded-due-to-us-political-dynamics/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tppa-could-be-discarded-due-to-us-political-dynamics http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/tppa-could-be-discarded-due-to-us-political-dynamics/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 10:13:21 +0000 Martin Khor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146585

Martin Khor is the Executive Director of the South Center, based in Geneva

By Martin Khor
PENANG, Aug 17 2016 (IPS)

No country was more active in pushing for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).  In the five years of negotiations, the United States cajoled, persuaded and pressurised its trade partners take on board its issues and positions.

Finally, when the TPP was signed in February by 12 countries, it was widely expected the agreement will come into force within two years, after each country ratifies it.

But now there are growing doubts if the TPP will become a reality. Ironically it may become a victim of US political dynamics as the TPP has become a toxic issue in its Presidential elections.

Opposing the TPPA is at the centre of Republican nominee Donald Trump’s campaign.He has declared the TPP would be a disaster, it would encourage US companies to move their production abroad and weaken domestic jobs, and called for the US to withdraw from the agreement.  In his typical extreme style, Trump said at a recent rally that the TPP “is another disaster, done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country.”

Martin Khor

Martin Khor

Bernie Sanders, the Democrat Presidential candidate who ran a surprisingly close contest with Hillary Clinton, championed the anti-TPP cause, saying:  “We shouldn’t re-negotiate the TPP. We should kill this unfettered FTA which would cost us nearly half a million jobs.”

Hillary Clinton also came out against the TPPA, a turn-around from her position when she was Secretary of State and decribed it as a gold-standard agreement.  To counter suspicions that she would again switch positions if she becomes President, Clinton stated: “I am against the TPP, and that means before and after the elections.”

They may all be reflecting popular sentiment that trade agreements have caused the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs, stagnation in wages and contributed to the unfair distribution of benefits in US society, much of which has accrued to the top 1 or 10 per cent of income earners.

An article in New York Times (29 July 2016) began as follows:  “Democrats and Republicans agreed on almost nothing at their conventions this month, except this: free trade, just a decade ago the bedrock of the economic agendas of both parties, is now a political pariah.”

Besides the Presidential candidates, two other players will decide the TPPA’s fate:  President Obama and the US Congress.

Obama has been the TPPA’s main champion, passionately arguing that it will bring economic benefits, raise environmental and labour standards and give the US an advantage over China in Asian geo-politics.

Considering the TPP to be a key legacy of his presidency, Obama wants Congress to ratify the

agreement before his term ends.  But till now he has been unable to get the bill tabled because it would be certainly defeated in the election season, given the TPP’s unpopularity.

His last opportunity is to get the TPP passed during the lame-duck Congress session after the election on 8 November and before mid-January 2017.

“I am against the TPP, and that means before and after the elections.” Hillary Clinton
However, it is unclear whether there is enough support to table a lame-duck TPP bill, and if tabled whether it will pass.

Last year, a related fast-track trade authority bill was adopted with only slim majorities. Now, with the concrete TPPA before them, and the swing in mood, some Congress members who voted for fast track are indicating they won’t vote for TPP.

For example, Clinton’s running mate for Vice President, Senator Tim Kaine, who supported had fast track has now proclaimed his opposition to TPP.  Other leading Democrats who have publicly denounced TPP include  House Minority Leader Nancy Pelossi, and House Ways & Means Committee Ranking Member Sandy Levin who said:“It is now increasingly clear that the TPP agreement will not receive a vote in Congress this year, including in any lame duck session, and if it did, it would fail.”

Congress Republican leaders have also voiced their opposition.  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConell said that the presidential campaign had produced a political climate that made it virtually impossible to pass the TPP in the “lame duck” session.

House Speaker, Republican Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) who played a leading role in writing the fast-track bill, said he sees no reason to bring TPP to the floor for a vote in the lame duck session because “we don’t have the votes.”

Meanwhile, six House Republicans  sent a letter to President Obama in early August last week asking him not to try to move TPP in a “Lame Duck”.

Though the picture thus looks grim for Obama, he should not be under-estimated. He said when the elections are over he will be able to convince Congress to vote for TPP.

“I will actually sit down with people on both sides, on the right and on the left,” he told the media. “We’ll go through the whole provisions….I’m really confident I can make the case this is good for American workers and the American people.”He added many people thought he would fail to obtain the fast track legislation, but he succeeded.

On  12 August, the Obama administration submitted a draft Statement of Administration Action, as required by the fast-track processfor introducing a TPP bill.  The document describes the steps the administration will take to implement changes to U.S. law required by the TPP.  Obama can later send a final statement and the draft of the implementing bill describing the actual changes to US law needed to comply with the TPP agreement.

Following that, a lot of deal-making is expected between the President and Congress members.  Obama will doubtless offer incentives or privileges to some of the demanding Congress members in order to obtain their votes, as was seen in the fast-track process.

To win over Congress, Obama will have to respond to those on the right and left who are upset on specific issues such as the term of monopoly for biologic drugs, or the inclusion of  ISDS (investor-state dispute settlement) in  the TPP.

To pacify them, Obama will have to convince them that what they want will anyway be achieved, even if these are not legally part of the TPP because the TPP text cannot be amended..

He can try to achieve this through bilateral side agreements on specific issues.  Or he can insist that some countries take on extra obligations beyond what is required by the TPP as a condition for obtaining a US certification that they have fulfilled theirTPP  obligations.  This certification is required for the US to provide the TPP’s benefits to its partners, and thus the US has previously made use of this to get countries to take on additional obligations, which can then be shown to Congress members that their objectives have been met.

Obama could theoretically also re-negotiate to amend specific clauses of the TPP in order to appease Congress.  But this option will be unacceptable to the other TPP countries.

In June, Malaysia rejected any notion of renegotiating the TPPA.  The question of renegotiating the TPPA does not arise even if there are such indications by US presidential candidates, said Tan Sri Dr Rebecca Fatima Sta Maria, then the secretary general of the International Trade and Industry Ministry.

“If the US does not ratify the TPPA then it will not be implemented,”  she said.  The other TPP members would have to resort to a ”different form of cooperation.”

Singapore Prime Minister Lee HsienLoong, on a recent visit to Washington, dismissed any possibility of reopening parts of the TPP as some Congress members are seeking. “Nobody wants to reopen negotiations,” he said. “We have no prospect of doing better and every chance of having it fall apart.”

In January, Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said a renegotiation of the TPP is not possible. Japan also rejected renegotiations, which it defined as including changing existing side agreements or adding new ones.  This is not going to happen, said Japan’s Deputy Chief of Missions Atsuyuki Oike.

What happens if the US Congress does not adopt the TPP during the lame-duck period?  The 12 countries that signed the agreement in February are given 2 years to ratify it.

Enough countries to account for 85% of the combined GNP of the 12 countries must ratify it for the TPP to come into force.  As the US accounts for over 15% of the combined GNP, a prolonged non-ratification by it would effectively kill the TPPA.

Theoretically, if the TPP is not ratified this year, a new US President can try to get Congress to adopt it in the next year.  But the chances for this happening are very slim.

That’s why the TPP must be passed during the lame duck session.  If it fails to do so, it would mark the dramatic change in public opinion on the benefits of free trade agreements in the United States, the land that pioneered the modern comprehensive free trade agreements.

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Time for a Woman to Lead the UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/time-for-a-woman-to-lead-the-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=time-for-a-woman-to-lead-the-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/time-for-a-woman-to-lead-the-un/#comments Wed, 17 Aug 2016 02:25:11 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146579 Candidates for Secretary-General debate in the UN General Assembly hall. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Candidates for Secretary-General debate in the UN General Assembly hall. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

By Lyndal Rowlands
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 17 2016 (IPS)

Judging by the latest polls it now seems more likely that the United States will have a female President in 2016, than the United Nations will have a female Secretary-General.

Despite widespread support for the next UN Secretary-General to be a woman, female candidates have not fared as well as men in the first two so-called straw polls of UN Security Council members.

However the campaign received a small boost from UN Secretary -General Ban Ki-Moon this week when he told an Associated Press Journalist in California it is “high time” for a woman to hold his job.

Unfortunately Ban’s support may come too late for the five female candidates who remain in the race.

By custom, the 15 members of the Security Council select their preferred candidate, with the five permanent members China, France, Russia the United Kingdom and the United States yielding the additional power to veto candidates they dislike.

The most recent straw poll confirmed that former Prime Minister of Portugal, Antonio Guterres is easily the most popular candidate, with 11 Security Council members encouraging him to continue his campaign.

Of the top four candidates, the only woman is Susana Malcorra, the current Foreign Minister of Argentina and former Chef de Cabinet to the Executive Office at the United Nations, with eight encourages and 6 discourages.

“The straw polls continue to reflect the deep seated male bias embedded in the UN and its member states, in spite of their claims to work for gender equality and women's empowerment." -- Charlotte Bunch.

It is difficult to tell exactly which candidate will prevail, since the leaked results of the straw polls do not specify who voted for who. Even Guterres’ seemingly safe position could be undermined if one or both of the two discourages he received were from veto-wielding permanent members.

Charlotte Bunch, Founding Director and Senior Scholar at the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University told IPS that she welcomed Ban’s comments “as it is definitely past time when the UN should have a woman as Secretary-General.”

“It has been disappointing that after many countries gave lip service to this idea, the votes have not followed their words,” added Bunch, who is also a core committee member of the Campaign to Elect a Woman UN Secretary-General.

“And they cannot say that there are not qualified women available,” she added. “The list of 12 (candidates) included half (6) women – a historic first.”

Five women, and 11 candidates in total, now remain, after Vesna Pusnic of Croatia withdrew when she placed last in the first straw poll.

“Several of these women have served as heads of UN agencies and departments as well as in prominent positions in government, and are clearly as qualified as the men on the list,” said Bunch.

They include Irina Bokova, of Bulgaria who is currently Director General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Helen Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and current Administrator of the UN Development Programme alongside Malcorra. Christiana Figueres of Costa Rica, who led the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to the successful adoption of the Paris Climate Change Agreement in 2015, is also one of the candidates.

“The straw polls continue to reflect the deep seated male bias embedded in the UN and its member states, in spite of their claims to work for gender equality and women’s empowerment,” said Bunch.

Jessica Neuwirth, Director of Donor Direct Action and founder of Equality Now, which first launched a campaign for election of a woman Secretary-General in 1996 told IPS that she “couldn’t agree more” with Ban’s comments.

“Women make up more than half the world’s population and should be represented equally at all levels of the UN.”

Men have now led the UN for over 70 years, with women’s leadership only made incremental gains, despite decades of campaigning to increase gender equality at the higher levels.

“In Beijing in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference in Women governments undertook to ensure the inclusion of women at the highest levels of decision-making in the UN secretariat,” said Neuwirth.

“More than 20 years later we are still waiting for implementation of this commitment,” she said. “It’s long overdue.”

Neuwirth also expressed disappointment that women hadn’t fared better in the straw polls.

“As a group they did better in the public debates than they did in the straw polls,” she said.

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Interview: The UN Security Council and North Korea’s Nuclear Threathttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/interview-the-un-security-council-and-north-koreas-nuclear-threat/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=interview-the-un-security-council-and-north-koreas-nuclear-threat http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/interview-the-un-security-council-and-north-koreas-nuclear-threat/#comments Sun, 14 Aug 2016 16:17:42 +0000 Rose Delaney2 http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146542 Ambassador Choong-hee Han of South Korea with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Ambassador Choong-hee Han of South Korea with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Rose Delaney
UNITED NATIONS / ROME, Aug 14 2016 (IPS)

Ambassador Hahn Choong-hee, UN representative of the Republic of Korea, spoke with IPS about the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 2270, which was unanimously adopted on 2 March 2016.

The resolution calls for the universal condemnation of the nuclear threat from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK / North Korea) and was prompted by repeated missile launches by North Korea in defiance of opposition from the international community.

North Korea’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile programs not only violate UN Security Council resolutions but also pose a grave threat to global peace and security. Ambassador Hahn, from neighbouring South Korea shared his views on North Korea with IPS.

IPS: Undoubtedly, the North Korean nuclear threat endangers and poses a great threat to global peace and security. In light of the UN Security Council Resolution 2270 discussions in New York on the 30th of June, how will the Security Council tackle nuclear weapon issues? In other words, what role will the UN and the global community play in the North Korea Sanctions Regime?

Ambassador Hahn: The conference on Resolution 2270 held in New York in June 2016 was very significant as key discussions were developed on the topic of North Korean evasion tactics. The discussion was hosted by three major sponsoring countries, South Korea, the United States and Japan, who are all leading voices in the strive against North-Korean nuclear advances.

With diplomatic démarche I believe we can overcome North Korea’s defiance.

In order to enforce UN Sanctions on North Korea, the most significant criteria for member states to comply with the sanctions regime is to present a 90-day report. As of yet, we’ve received around 40 reports from a select number of countries. The generation of reports this year has been above average, however, in spite of this great intake, it is still not enough. It is now time to raise global awareness on the importance of the enforcement of this sanction.

The implementation of Resolution 2270 has proved exceedingly difficult as North Korea is defiant and acts out against the international voice. In fact, they’ve launched 7 missiles recently. The missiles were particularly alarming worrisome because if they had been successful, there impact could have reached as far as Japan and US territory. Although North Korea’s Musudan last missile launch attempts have failed. The latest missile to be launched was more successful than the rest, as its maximum delivery was 1000km and its distance 400 km. This is why the international cooperation of state agencies and civil society organizations is critical at this juncture to put the threat of nuclear advancement to a halt.

IPS: Will the development of nuclear technology in the DRPK have a grave impact on the world? How does the UN Security Council plan to address these advancements?

Ambassador Hahn: Most definitely, the impact would be immense if the advancements proved successful. North Korea is continuously trying to improve on tried and tested nuclear methods and are relentless in their belief that nuclear power ensures national security or regime survival. They are currently attempting to work on a nuclear technology referred to as “musudan” in the Korean language. This is an intermediate missile, if it’s further developed it could be used as a delivery means carrying nuclear warhead. It’s a particularly precarious advancement as this missile could cover the US territory of Guam.

Japan is particularly concerned about North Korea’s continued launch of missiles. This has become a critical issue for Japanese security. Whenever North Korea launches any mid to long range missile, Japan has been reacting strongly against the last seven missiles.

Another international preoccupation comes from the launching of missiles from mobile pads. These missiles could be concealed and launched at any time and in any given place. We’ve already born witness to this danger as they’ve attempted to launch missiles in a similar manner 7 times. The UN has issued a press statement each time, even if it was a failure, to communicate the message that the UN is watching and we are, by no means, disregarding what they are doing.

In reaction to North Korea’s defiance, we’d like to share a strong message. The international society are both committed and rigorous in their fight to stop North Korea’s engagement with nuclear weapons.

North Korea has tried to avoid their compliance with the sanction through many evasion tactics. By issuing the publication of case studies on North Korea with all member states, a strong emphasis will be placed on the country’s refusal to comply with international regulation. In this way, each member can compare what they’re doing against North Korea and what other countries are experiencing in relation to implementation of the sanction.

We believe that by condemning the actions of North Korea through global dissemination and by member states openly discouraging their behaviour we will eventually stamp out the North Korean nuclear threat.

IPS: How can North Korean defiance and refusal to comply with Resolution 2270 be resolved in a peaceful manner? How significant will international cooperation and coordination be in countering the impact of North Korea’s violations?

Ambassador Hahn: As we are all too aware, there is a critical need to implement sanction pressure in North Korea at this juncture. In several countries, bilateral sanctions have been introduced. For example, the US passed a law to introduce the so-called “secondary boycott”, this is a way to condemn and place penalties on foreign companies, for example companies from other states operating with North Korea, which is helping North Korea’s WMD capabilities.

This law gives leverage to the administration to decide what kind of sanction measures they can take. The US is trying to penalise regions such as North Korea for human rights violations. The EU has also introduced various forms of sanction pressure.

Bilateral pressure will also be encouraged to put a stop to North Korea’s clandestine cooperation with Middle Eastern and African countries. “Diplomatic demarche” has led to clandestine transactions between companies from North Korea and African and Middle Eastern countries. It is now time for the global community to condemn North Korea’s abuse of the international finance system and shut down their clandestine systems of trade and banking. Through the enforcement of laws together with the strength of bilateral pressure, with diplomatic demarche I believe we can overcome North Korea’s defiance.

IPS: In accordance to the UN Security Council, the implementation of the core Sanctions measures contained in resolution 2270 will counter the North Korea’s illicit activities. In light of this, how has China, a neighbouring country and significant partner in trade to North Korea, fared in their implementation of the sanctions?

Ambassador Hahn: Unfortunately, as of yet, the implementation has been met with nothing more than a series of unmet promises on China’s part. Which is worrying as I truly believe a solution to the “North Korea problem” could come through the continued pursuit and that China take faithful implementation of 2270.

The Chinese government continuously assure us that they’ll implement the Resolution 2270 sanction, however it seems premature to say that China is in full implementation as there is a so-called “livelihood” exception in some of the sectoral ban of the resolution.

We will have continued discussions with China to see how they are going to realistically implement the 2270 general and ensure their future commitment to it.

IPS: In spite of China’s current position on the implementation of Resolution 2270, have North-Korean-Chinese relations worsened due to the nuclear threat North Korea endangers the world with?

Ambassador Hahn: Yes, relations between North Korea and China have been tarnished. In a recent diplomatic visit to China, North Korea demonstrated their need to avoid diplomatic isolation. Lee Soo-Yong, North Korea’s senior worker’s party official, met with the president of China, and expressed the importance of maintaining good relations with China in a bid to avoid isolation.

Chinese President Xi Jinping communicated the message to the North Korean delegation that while China acknowledges the importance of bilateral relations between China and North Korea, they do not support North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and missile launches.

However, in spite of North Korea’s fear of exclusion and isolation, they did not seem to take heed of China’s advice, protest, and warning. North Korea believe nuclear weapons are the key to their survival and they refuse to compromise anything for it.

IPS: As the number of North Korean labourers in the international workforce grows and illicit negotiations between Middle Eastern and African companies ceases to discontinue, North Korea’s defiance has shown that it not only endangers the world with the threat of nuclear warfare, it also poses a grave threat to the international financial system. How does the UN Security Council together with the aid of the international community aim to eliminate this threat?

Ambassador Hahn: A big stake in North Korea’s relationship with other countries, is its labour force abroad. So far, over 35,000 North Korean workers worldwide are on special contracts, generating over 300 million dollars a year. Some countries are now reviewing and reconsidering these contracts and a couple of countries have made a decision to discontinue some of the contracts.

We’ve approached several countries about the implementations of these types of sanctions. Recently, Qatar, sent over 100 workers back home to North Korea. These actions discourage the continuance of North Korea’s careless attitude. China are also attempting to implement a lot of diplomatic demarche. For example, several North Korean restaurants have now closed in China.

Cooperation with North Korea and some African countries, has led to the development of bilateral military cooperation projects, recently South Korean president Park Geun-hye visited Uganda and condemned this illicit cooperation and Uganda subsequently agreed to discontinue their military cooperation with North Korea.

IPS: Finally, what are the expected outcomes of Resolution 2270 and where will the UN Security Council go from there?

Ambassador Hahn: At present, North Korea’s power consolidation process is very troubling. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un wants to demonstrate his absolute power through the showcasing of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities. In this way, North Korea has demonstrated zero intention to abandon their nuclear weapons program. They consider it to be a form of economic prosperity and ultimately, survival. They are trying to go ahead with “Byungjin”, literally “going together” with nuclear and economic development.

As of yet, it is much too early to judge whether the 2270 general is being implemented in a faithful manner on an international level. As North Korea is defiant and is engaged in the launching of missiles it’s clear that they do not respect the UN sanctions. This attitude will be exceptionally challenging for the future success of the Resolution. North Korea is not interested in complying with internationally beneficial regulations and this is something that will be difficult to reverse.

As I mentioned before, it is not not easy to predict any future measures but what is important to emphasis is that there should be a very steady, orderly mid and long-term process of implementation of Resolution 2270 in North Korea. I hope that the diplomatic demarche from member states will enable us all to work together, along with the critical assistance of China, to ultimately, put North Korea’s engagement with nuclear weapons to a stop.

 Valentina Ieri, IPS UN Bureau, interviewed Ambassador Hahn in New York.

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Turkey’s Syria Headachehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/turkeys-syria-headache/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=turkeys-syria-headache http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/turkeys-syria-headache/#comments Tue, 09 Aug 2016 20:48:18 +0000 Syed Mansur Hashim http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146489 By Syed Mansur Hashim
Aug 9 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Five years into the ‘oust Assad’ campaign, Turkey finds itself isolated in the region and beyond. After a narrow escape from a failed coup attempt, President Erdogan may finally be rethinking his Syria policy. Because the arming of rebels that included hard-line Islamists has not only contributed to the killing of some 280,000 innocents, it also brought upon Turkey the problem of millions of cross-border refugees and failed to put a dent against the Kurdish Workers’ Party, i.e. PKK. The overly ambitious foreign policy of the Turkish government where Erdogan found himself at odds with Egypt, Libya and of course Syria, has done little to raise his profile in the region. That the Syrian engagement is a foolhardy experiment where the rebels cannot bring down Assad is now all the more evident with Russia’s entry into the conflict.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Photo: afp

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Photo: afp

While support for Sunni groups allied against Assad have not made much headway, the pro-Kurdish forces have effectively seized Turkey’s southern borders and more alarmingly appear to enjoy the strong confidence of both the Americans and Russia! This is unthinkable from Ankara’s point of view and hence a rethinking is obvious. Changes, in fact, are evident from a reshuffle in the top echelons of administration; Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was replaced in May and this man is deemed to have been the architect of Turkey’s foreign policy.

The most important change is related to Syria. That Assad has the unwavering support of both Russia and Iran is an established fact. Both nations have committed man-and-material that not only ensures the survival of the regime but forged alliances with the Kurds to take the fight to the Islamic State (IS). To think about a 180 degree shift in policy is unthinkable for Turkey. Yet to continue the proxy war is already proving too costly and given Ankara’s increased isolation amongst its allies in NATO, particularly the US and European Union, the time for eating some “humble pie” is already being played out (Erdogan has apologised to Russia in a letter of regret of the shooting down of the jet incident in 2015). The Turkish government has come down from its high horse and sought rapprochement with Israel. And indeed, going by what has been reported in international press of late “Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, was quoted by RIA, the Russian news agency, as saying Ankara and Moscow should work together for a political solution on Syria after meeting Servei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart” in late July.

The time for rapprochement has gained momentum as Ankara comes to terms with a suicide bombing that took 43 lives in Istanbul’s main international airport. That IS was blamed for the attack merely goes to show the futility of funding and arming Sunni rebel groups (some with seriously dubious jihadi credentials) has come back to haunt Turkey today. Years of hawkish foreign policy has landed Turkey with broken alliances, a loss of trade and worse of all, allowing militants and insurgents to attack Turkish soil with impunity. Today, Turkey too is suffering the full brunt of extremism, some of which can be attributed to Ankara’s flawed interventionist policy in Syria. For, Turkey has much bigger problems on its hand than the removal of Assad. It wishes to see a weakening of Kurds and marginalisation of IS, but for that to happen Erdogan will require Putin’s assistance – and the only way that can happen is if Turkey moves away from its regime-change policy in Syria. As pointed out earlier, Turkey has begun a reshuffle and is relieving some officials that head the Syria campaign. Reports have emerged that Ankara recently sacked its intelligence official responsible for Syria – the move sends the signal that perhaps there will be a shift in Turkey’s hard-line position on Assad’s removal.

The diplomatic flurry is happening behind the scenes and Algeria has been active in trying to diffuse the situation between Syria and Turkey. A normalisation of relations is not even on the cards at this point; what is on the cards is to find some middle ground whereby Turkey moves away from its staunch position of a Syria minus Assad situation. The Syrian adventure has actually helped Kurdish separatists to re-emerge in mainstream Turkish politics as a potent political and military force and Turks have been trying for decades to push the Kurdish question to the sidelines. Hence, for Turkey and its national and regional interests, there needs to be some form of dialogue that will help Erdogan to disengage from the region without losing face.

The Syrian conflict has gone on for long enough. Too much blood has been spilled and has drawn in too many foreign powers into the quagmire. It is time for military disengagement and political dialogue between nations and not combatants. Only when there is peace in Syria can there truly be regional stability. Yes, atrocities have been committed on a massive scale on both sides and although human rights organisations will not be happy, the alternative to a negotiated settlement involving Syria, Turkey and other powers is to effectively prolong a war that has already descended into a war of attrition with no clear winner.

The writer is Assistant Editor, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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The Day a Soviet Leader Banged His Shoe at the UNhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-day-a-soviet-leader-banged-his-shoe-at-the-un/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-day-a-soviet-leader-banged-his-shoe-at-the-un http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/08/the-day-a-soviet-leader-banged-his-shoe-at-the-un/#comments Tue, 09 Aug 2016 06:28:37 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=146471 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 9 2016 (The Sunday Times - Sri Lanka)

During the height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, and particularly in the 1960s, the United Nations was the ideological battle ground where the Americans and the Soviets pummeled each other– metaphorically speaking — either on the floor of the cavernous General Assembly hall or at the horse-shoe table of the Security Council.

A photogrpah showing Khrushev banging his shoe on the podium while delivering his 1960 speech at the United Nations General Assembly. The photo in circulation was dismissed by some as a fake concocted by US intelligence – and that was long before the age of digital technology and photo-shopping. The picture on right shows the official picture

A photogrpah showing Khrushev banging his shoe on the podium while delivering his 1960 speech at the United Nations General Assembly. The photo in circulation was dismissed by some as a fake concocted by US intelligence – and that was long before the age of digital technology and photo-shopping. The picture on right shows the official picture

Perhaps one of the most memorable war of words took place in October 1962 when the politically-feisty US Ambassador Adlai Stevenson challenged Soviet envoy Valerian Zorin over allegations that the USSR, perhaps under cover of darkness, had moved nuclear missiles into Cuba—and within annihilating distance of the United States.

Speaking at a tense Security Council meeting, Stevenson admonished Zorin: “I remind you that you didn’t deny the existence of these weapons. Instead, we heard that they had suddenly become defensive weapons. But today — again, if I heard you correctly — you now say they don’t exist, or that we haven’t proved they exist, with another fine flood of rhetorical scorn.”
“All right sir”, said Stevenson, “let me ask you one simple question. Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the USSR has placed and is placing medium and intermediate range missiles and sites in Cuba?”

“Yes or no? Don’t wait for the translation: yes or no?”, Stevenson insisted with a tone of implied arrogance.
Speaking in Russian through a UN translator (who faithfully translated the US envoy’s sentiments into English), Zorin shot back: “I am not in an American courtroom, sir, and therefore I do not wish to answer a question that is put to me in the fashion in which a prosecutor does. In due course, sir, you will have your reply. Do not worry.”

Not to be outwitted, Stevenson howled back: “You are in the court of world opinion right now, and you can answer yes or no. You have denied that they exist. I want to know if …I’ve understood you correctly.” When Zorin said he will provide the answer in “due course”, Stevenson famously declared: “I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over.”

An equally memorable Soviet-US confrontation took place at the General Assembly hall in October 1960, but this time it was between the USSR and the Philippines, considered a close US ally at that time. The Filipino delegate Lorenzo Sumulong, lashed out at the USSR, pointing out that “the peoples of Eastern Europe and elsewhere (under Soviet domination) have been deprived of the free exercise of their civil and political rights and which have been swallowed up, so to speak, by the Soviet Union”.
Incensed by the remark, the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who was leading the Soviet delegation, hit back with a vengeance, describing the Filipino as “a jerk, a stooge, and a lackey”, and a “toady of American imperialism” –words that are rarely heard in the General Assembly or the Security Council these days.

Forget the North Korean refrain: “Running Dogs of Imperialism”.
But an equally legendary story was the longstanding rumour that Khrushchev removed his shoe and kept banging on his desk, to be recognised, on a point of order.

According to one rumour, the shoe-banging never happened (and there were no UN photographers or cell phone cameras to record the incident for posterity or for the UN archives). The only evidence was a single photo in circulation, which was dismissed by some as a fake concocted by US intelligence – and that was long before the age of digital technology and photo-shopping.
But according to another unconfirmed rumour, Khrushchev did bang his shoes – but the sole was riddled with holes and the shoe was badly in need of urgent repairs. That was probably an anti-Soviet canard by the US or its allies, who claimed they were witnesses to the incident in the General Assembly hall.

As the Hollywood comedian Grouch Marx once remarked: “Who do you believe? Me. Or your own eyes?”
Both UN anecdotes are worth recalling at a time when another Cold War between Russia (this time, minus the USSR and the Soviet Union) and the United States is simmering in the geopolitical arena.

As a former US Ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, said recently US-Russian relations have reached one of their lowest points since the end of the Cold War. The current battle ground is the Security Council where both the Americans and the Russians (and this time joined occasionally by the other veto-wielding member, China) are pounding at each other over Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Israel, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and North Korea.

The conflicts in the Security Council are reminiscent of the Cold War era when each of the two superpowers were in a relentless battle to protect their allies and safeguard their own national interests at the cost of international peace and security.
The US has remained an eternal saviour of Israel and Russia has prevented all attempts at “regime change” in Syria, a longstanding Soviet ally going back to the days of President Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current embattled President, Bashar al-Assad, whom the Americans want ousted from power.

In recent years, the Security Council has remained deadlocked because Russia has used its veto power on four occasions to block resolutions on Syria, including one resolution aimed at taking Syria before the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes.

Having annexed Crimea, Russia has also forestalled US action on Ukraine, leaving the Security Council in limbo.
Samantha Power, the US permanent representative to the UN, told the London Guardian last year: “It’s a Darwinian universe here.”

“If a particular body reveals itself to be dysfunctional, then people are going to go elsewhere,” she said, “And if that happened for more than Syria and Ukraine and you started to see across the board paralysis … it would certainly jeopardise the Security Council’s status and credibility and its function as a go-to international security arbiter. It would definitely jeopardise that over time.”

Meanwhile, the recent hacking of emails inside the offices of the Democratic National Committee, has been attributed to the Russians thereby escalating the threat of a Cold War even further.While US intelligence has confirmed the Russian hacking, there is speculation that this was an attempt to embarrass Democratic Party candidate Hillary Clinton and a boost for Republican candidate Donald Trump, both running in the US presidential elections. If true, this will be the first time that Russia (or for that matter any foreign country) has interfered in a US presidential election.

Asked whether the charges were true, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (a former Russian diplomat based in Colombo in the early 1970s) remarked: “I don’t want to use four-letter words”.
And he did not mean: Nyet.

To add fuel to the fire, Trump last month invited Russia to unearth Hillary Clinton’s 30,000 missing emails from her private email server—a suggestion condemned even by his own Republican Party members.

Trump’s bromance – defined as a non-sexual relationship between two men — with Russian President Vladimir Putin has prompted some to jokingly remark that his running mate as Vice President should have been Putin, not Governor Mike Pence of Indiana.

(The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com)

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