Inter Press Service » Global Geopolitics http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Sun, 20 Apr 2014 08:06:42 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.3 U.N. Denies Dragging Its Feet on U.S.-Iran Visa Dispute http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-denies-dragging-feet-u-s-iran-visa-dispute/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-denies-dragging-feet-u-s-iran-visa-dispute http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-denies-dragging-feet-u-s-iran-visa-dispute/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 22:46:30 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133771 After two long weeks of raging controversy over Washington’s refusal to grant a U.S. visa to the Iranian envoy to the United Nations, the U.N.’s office of legal affairs is being accused of moving at the pace of a paralytic snail – only to seek more time while remaining non-committal on the dispute. But U.N. […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 18 2014 (IPS)

After two long weeks of raging controversy over Washington’s refusal to grant a U.S. visa to the Iranian envoy to the United Nations, the U.N.’s office of legal affairs is being accused of moving at the pace of a paralytic snail – only to seek more time while remaining non-committal on the dispute.

But U.N. Spokesperson Stephane Dujarric challenged the timeline, pointing out that the United Nations would see events quite differently."The most basic logic of diplomacy is that it is not only your friends that you must talk with, you must also talk with those with whom you disagree." -- Dr. James E. Jennings

“The suggestion of allowing this matter to linger for two weeks is hardly accurate,” he told IPS Friday.

After a meeting Tuesday with Iran’s charge d’affaires Ambassador Gholamhossein Dehghani, U.N. Legal Counsel Miguel de Serpa Soares was holding back his ruling on the ground he was “still studying the issue and would very carefully consider precedents and past practice.”

“Still studying after two long weeks? That response was like a mountain labouring to produce a mouse,” said an Asian diplomat, conversant with the intricacies of U.N. politics and the nuances of English idiom and Aesop’s Fables.

Dr. James E. Jennings, president of Conscience International and executive director of U.S. Academics for Peace, told IPS, “Secretary General Ban Ki-moon now has the opportunity to stop dawdling and make a principled statement on the issue.”

But so far he has not.

Dujarric told IPS the U.N. legal counsel met with representatives of Iran on Tuesday immediately after they asked to see him.

He then followed up straightaway with a meeting with U.S. representatives on Wednesday.

As soon as the legal counsel was officially notified of developments, said Dujarric, he met with the representatives involved.

As events unfold, the United Nations stands accused of refusing to make a ruling – either supportive of the United States or Iran – by repeatedly dismissing the dispute as essentially a bilateral problem.

Dr. Jennings said it is a violation of the spirit of the U.N. Charter to use the pretense of national security or any other contrived smokescreen to prevent a country’s rightful representation in the world body.

As a sovereign nation, Iran has the right to name its own ambassadors, and does not need to ask permission of the U.S. or the U.N. to do so, said Dr. Jennings, who early this year, led a delegation of U.S. professors to Tehran for meetings with Iran’s foreign ministry and with the leader of Iran’s team of nuclear negotiators.

The U.S. decision last week to deny a visa to the Iranian envoy-in- waiting, Hamid Aboutalebi, has been challenged as a violation of the 1947 U.S.-U.N. Headquarters Agreement which was aimed at facilitating, not hindering, the work of the world body.

A former representative of a U.N.-based non-governmental organisation told IPS the United Nations in its dithering inaction is behaving like most governments behave when dealt a blow by the hegemon – “shut up and keep your head down”.

“We have to remember that when [former Secretary-General] Kofi Annan sent a private letter to former President George W Bush warning politely against a massive U.S. military attack on Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004, Washington countered with a fierce attack on Annan himself, forcing out most of his senior staff.

“Ban Ki-moon doubtless has this terrible precedent in mind as he reflects on his reaction to the latest U.S. breach of the Headquarters Agreement.”

Dujarric said a meeting of the U.N. Committee on Relations with the Host Country has also been quickly arranged and will take place next Tuesday.

Representatives of the Office of the Legal Counsel will be present as the issue is discussed. If the Committee requests a legal opinion, the Legal Counsel will prepare one.

“All this should convey that we take the Headquarters Agreement and its implementation very seriously,” Dujarric said.

“In the past days I have repeatedly said that this is a serious issue and that we hoped it would be settled bilaterally,” he added.

He also argued that comparisons to unrelated events in the past are neither helpful nor relevant.

Dr. Jennings told IPS the hubris of the U.S. Congress over approving a visa, combined with the timidity of President Barack Obama, has greatly escalated the danger of a flare-up over Iran’s nuclear programme.

“That short-sighted, knee-jerk posture has the potential to ignite a conflict that could dwarf the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he warned.

The U.N. is, diplomatically speaking, “a corpus separatum [with special legal and political status] designed to be independent of the United States,” noted Dr Jennings.

“Of course, the U.S. has the right to refuse visas to anyone deemed a security threat, but Ambassador Hamid Aboutalebi is not such a person. He has a sterling record and a long career as a diplomat.

“The most basic logic of diplomacy is that it is not only your friends that you must talk with, you must also talk with those with whom you disagree in order resolve problems,” he added.

“If there ever was a need for peace through far-sighted diplomacy, this is such a time,” Dr Jennings declared.

The U.S. has accused Aboutalebi of being involved in the 1979 forcible takeover of the U.S. embassy and its diplomatic personnel in Teheran.

But the Iranian says he was only a translator and negotiator between the hostages and the hostage takers – and that he was not even in Tehran when the embassy was physically taken over by a group called the Muslim Students.

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U.S. Foreign Aid Approach Is Outdated, Experts Say http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-foreign-aid-approach-outdated-experts-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-foreign-aid-approach-outdated-experts-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-foreign-aid-approach-outdated-experts-say/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 18:29:28 +0000 Farangis Abdurazokzoda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133766 U.S. foreign aid is becoming increasingly outdated, analysts here are suggesting. Rather, reforms to U.S. assistance need to focus on issues of accountability and country ownership, according to a policy paper released this week by Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), a prominent coalition of international development advocates and foreign policy experts. “Aid is a strong expression of […]

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By Farangis Abdurazokzoda
WASHINGTON, Apr 18 2014 (IPS)

U.S. foreign aid is becoming increasingly outdated, analysts here are suggesting.

Rather, reforms to U.S. assistance need to focus on issues of accountability and country ownership, according to a policy paper released this week by Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN), a prominent coalition of international development advocates and foreign policy experts.“Aid should be structured in a way that citizens and NGOs can monitor how the government implements development projects." -- Casey Dunning

“Aid is a strong expression of U.S. moral, economic, and national security imperatives, and in many contexts the U.S. is still the most significant donor,” the paper states. But according to many metrics, U.S. aid is both non-transparent and inefficient.

“The United States needs to frame and deliver aid in a structured way that would support the effectiveness of aid in partnership countries and generate sustainable results,” Sylvain Browa, director of aid effectiveness at Save the Children, an independent charity, told IPS.

“In such dynamic environments, where all aid remains critical to savings lives, curing diseases and putting children in school, new players come to stage, and these include local leaders and citizens who know first-hand what their priorities are.”

In terms of aid quality, the United States ranked just 17th out of 22 major donors according to the Commitment to Development Index in 2013. Each year, the index ranks wealthy countries on how efficiently they help poor ones in areas of aid, trade, finance, migration, environment, security, and technology.

According to that ranking, just one U.S. agency was rated “very good” in terms of transparency. The agency responsible for the bulk of U.S. foreign assistance, USAID, was rated just “fair”, while the State Department and PEPFAR, the landmark anti-AIDS programme, were rated “poor” and “very poor” respectively.

MFAN suggests that a newly streamlined policy agenda, structured around two “mutually reinforcing pillars of reform” – accountability and country ownership – could significantly improve the effectiveness of U.S foreign aid.

“The donor-recipient paradigm of foreign aid is outdated,” the report states, and without priority on these two pillars, “we revert to old, tired, and stagnant paradigms of aid – paradigms that unnecessarily perpetuate aid dependency.”

The new program is designed to empower communities, which in turn should carry out country ownership, says George Ingram, MFAN’s co-chair and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, a think tank here.

“The two pillars are prerequisites to build the kind of capacity that will help enable leaders and citizens in the aid-recipient countries to take responsibility for their own development,” Ingram told IPS, “such as spending priorities, as well as making evidence-based conclusions about what works and what doesn’t.”

The report emphasises that such changes are also somewhat time-sensitive. Given looming domestic and international deadlines, MFAN’s analysts say the next two years constitute “an important window of opportunity for U.S. aid reform”.

“The midterm elections in 2014 are certain to shake up the membership of Congress,” they write. “In 2015, the Millennium Development Goals will expire and a new global development agenda will take its place. And 2016 will bring a new administration and further changes on Capitol Hill.”

Local destiny

The recommendations have received quick support from other development groups.

“The paper is of universal importance to all aid agencies, implementers and thinkers,” Casey Dunning, a senior policy analyst for the Centre for Global Development, a think tank here, told IPS.

But she warned that there were inherent difficulties in the recommendations, as well.

“There is a lot of rhetoric on what country ownership means or what accountability encompasses,” she says. “Ambiguities in definitions and measurements of accountability and country ownership make it difficult to make aid more effective. However, the MFAN report helps to find metrics for capacity-building and to see what it actually means.”

Save the Children’s Browa, too, notes that the concepts outlined in the report are not necessarily new.

“But when put together, these pillars are vital to building local capacity and creating local ownership of resources and tools for development,” he says, “so that country leaders and citizens can take leadership in their destiny.”

To achieve better transparency, the report’s authors are calling on the U.S. government to fully implement new global standards called the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) by the end of 2015. In addition, the ratings of the Aid Transparency Index should be extended to all U.S. government agencies, which currently doesn’t happen.

Further, all U.S. agencies should begin contributing comprehensive financial information to a landmark new online government information clearinghouse, known as the Foreign Assistance Dashboard.

Finally, aid and development decisions need to be guided by rigorous evaluation, MFAN says. Together, transparency and evaluation will help these agencies to achieve stronger results for both U.S. taxpayers and communities receiving U.S. assistance.

In all of this, Ingram notes, learning is one of the most important aspects in the policy proposal. “Data and evaluations are useless unless we learn from them and use them to make better decisions and achieve better results,” he says.

Defining partners

The aid paradigm has already shifted, MFAN’s report suggests. “Today, countries that give support through bilateral assistance and countries that receive such support are partners,” it states.

Yet how exactly to define those partnerships remains a work in progress.

“Aid should be structured in a way that citizens and NGOs can monitor how the government implements development projects,” CGD’s Dunning says, “and how the resources are utilised.”

Would such an approach run the risk of strengthening corruption at lower levels? Dunning says this isn’t necessarily the right question.

“We can’t shy away from the corruption issue, since it’s such an integral issue for debate,” she says. “And transparency is the key. It is vital to every programme, every sector. Together with other tools, such as evaluation and learning, transparency contributes to sustainable country ownership, which militates against corruption.”

MFAN’s Ingram, meanwhile, sees the empowerment of local communities as an anti-corruption tool in itself.

“Engaging smart and trusting people who know the culture and know how to manoeuvre through the dynamics of that country is very important,” he says.

“Informed and empowered citizens who demand good governance and sound priorities act as a check against corruption.”

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Afghanistan Turns a Political Corner http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/afghanistan-turns-political-corner/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=afghanistan-turns-political-corner http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/afghanistan-turns-political-corner/#comments Thu, 17 Apr 2014 07:30:24 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133725 The Afghanistan presidential election is turning out to be a tale of two narratives. The more positive and democratic one could be winning the day. By one narrative, Afghans voted in numbers and with fairness as never before. The second is the older and possibly weakening one of corruption and threats. For the moment, many […]

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Young voters in Jalalabad show off the ink on their fingers as a mark that they voted. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

Young voters in Jalalabad show off the ink on their fingers as a mark that they voted. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

By Giuliano Battiston
JALALABAD, Afghanistan, Apr 17 2014 (IPS)

The Afghanistan presidential election is turning out to be a tale of two narratives. The more positive and democratic one could be winning the day.

By one narrative, Afghans voted in numbers and with fairness as never before. The second is the older and possibly weakening one of corruption and threats.

For the moment, many Afghans are proud just that they voted, and that going by official figures, they did so in large numbers. Seven million voted in the presidential elections, a big jump from the 2009 turnout.“When the final results will be announced, there might be some complaints, nothing more."

The turnout was 58 percent of an estimated 12 million eligible voters, marking a 20 percent increase over the 5.6 million votes in the election in 2009.

“We’ve sent a clear message with our vote: Afghan people want radical change, it has to be positive, and it’s going to be made by ourselves,” professor of international criminal law Wahidullah Amiri tells IPS.

Amiri teaches at Nangarhar University. Founded in 1963, this is the second largest university in the country, with around 8,000 students, including 1,200 female students, enrolled in 13 faculties. The campus is spread over 160 hectares in Daroonta, a village 10 km from Jalalabad, capital of Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan.

The enthusiasm here over the polling, which went far better than expected, is evident: “The turnout was beyond any expectations,” Prof. Abdul Nabi Basirat, who heads the department of international relations at the political science facultym tells IPS. “The international community did not expect that, we Afghans did not expect it, and even I did not.

“It’s a landmark, showing that Afghans are taking charge of their own future, selecting the successor to [outgoing president Hamid] Karzai. We bravely confronted the Taliban threats without the help of NATO or other external players.”

The Afghan government deployed more than 350,000 soldiers and policemen to protect the vote, with the International Security Assistance Force playing only a marginal role, much smaller than in 2009. The Taliban did not manage to carry out a single large-scale assault in any major city.

“Substantially, the Taliban failed to disrupt the election process,” the dean of the political science faculty at Nangarhar University, Naqibullah Saqeb, tells IPS. “Their failure is a success for the Afghan government. Many were saying it would have been challenging, if not impossible, for the government to run the elections, due to its weakness and due to Taliban strength. We have done it.”

The Taliban movement – deeply divided over this year’s election – claimed to have carried out “nearly 1088 attacks” nationwide at “polling centres and the vehicles and convoys carrying votes, election material and ballot boxes.”

The Afghan interior minister announced the ministry had counted 690 security incidents. The figures do not match, but they still indicate that the Taliban are far from being a spent force, depicting the emergence of two different electoral narratives.

One narrative took place in Afghanistan’s cities and urban areas, which enjoy relative security and a higher turnout, and the other in the insecure rural areas, especially in the volatile south-east of the country, with very different patterns of voter participation.

Koshal Jawad belongs to one of the areas contested between the government and the Taliban. “I wanted to vote, but I couldn’t,” Jawad, a student of political science planning to present his final dissertation in two months, tells IPS.

“I live in Haska Mena [also called Dih Bala] district, bordering Pakistan. In the past 12 months it has become unsafe. We now have hundreds of Taliban there, mainly Pakistani people. They did not allow us to vote: they stopped the cars, and checked the fingers, to see if anyone had a finger dipped in ink, which shows you’d voted.”

“Nobody really knows how many voters there are, how many of them hold a voter card, or how many of the ballots cast will turn out to have really been linked to voters,” writes Martine Van Bijlert, co-director of the Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network.

In the more insecure areas, elections were neither transparent nor accountable, says Van Bijlert. “Alongside a robust, genuine and determined vote, there are indications of significant irregularities: old patterns of intimidation, ballot-stuffing, and ‘ghost polling stations’ in remote and insecure areas.”

The Independent Election Commission (IEC) is verifying all the ballot boxes received from about 6,400 polling centres and 20,000 polling stations across 34 provinces. The Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) has registered more than 3,000 complaints, and the independent Free and Fair Election Forum of Afghanistan has registered 10,000 cases of alleged irregularities.

“Fraud is still part of the electoral process, this is clear,” says Amiri. “But to such a limited extent in comparison to 2009 that it will not affect the overall legitimacy of the process to Afghan eyes.”

Preliminary results are expected Apr. 24, with the final result due on May 14, but many believe no candidate will win more than 50 percent of the vote. That could lead to a runoff between the two leading candidates, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, an academic and former World Bank official and former minister of finance, and Abdullah Abdullah, a former foreign minister and a prominent leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

The first results covering 10 percent of the overall vote give Abdullah Abdullah 41.9 percent and Ashraf Ghani 37.6 percent.

Meanwhile, campaign officials have been carrying out their own counts, claiming victory for their candidates.

“It’s part of the game. Politics is competition, where one player wins and the other loses. Usually losers are not eager to admit they are losers, so everyone claims to be the winner,” Muhtarama Amin, a member of the Nangarhar provincial council, tells IPS.

“When the final results will be announced, there might be some complaints, nothing more,” she says. “We are a maturing political system: any candidate knows that massive fraud would undermine his legitimacy, leading soon to the collapse of his government.”

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Russian Law Corners Drug Users http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russian-law-corners-drug-users/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russian-law-corners-drug-users http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russian-law-corners-drug-users/#comments Wed, 16 Apr 2014 06:54:40 +0000 Pavol Stracansky http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133685 As local authorities prepare to put an end to opioid substitution treatment (OST) programmes in the newly annexed Crimean peninsula, drug users there say they are being forced to choose between a return to addiction and becoming refugees. OST – where methadone and buprenorphine are given to opioid addicts under medical supervision – has been […]

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An OST patient in Simferopol, Crimea. OST programmes are to finish soon following annexation of the region by Russia. Credit: HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine.

An OST patient in Simferopol, Crimea. OST programmes are to finish soon following annexation of the region by Russia. Credit: HIV/AIDS Alliance Ukraine.

By Pavol Stracansky
KIEV, Apr 16 2014 (IPS)

As local authorities prepare to put an end to opioid substitution treatment (OST) programmes in the newly annexed Crimean peninsula, drug users there say they are being forced to choose between a return to addiction and becoming refugees.

OST – where methadone and buprenorphine are given to opioid addicts under medical supervision – has been available in Ukraine for almost a decade.

But Russian law forbids its provision, and Russian government officials have said they intend to close OST services in the region by the end of this month."We don’t know what the future holds. Without substitution therapy, I will die."

Organisations working to provide services to drug users on the peninsula say this has put the future health of more than 800 people receiving OST in the region in doubt.

They say that distances to the nearest facilities in Ukraine offering the treatment mean it would be impossible for drug users to access OST services without leaving Crimea permanently.

Without this lifeline treatment, they warn, many users will turn back to dangerous drug habits, reverting to crime or prostitution to support their addiction, and sharing contaminated needles.

Anton Basenko, a member of the All Ukrainian Association of OST Participants, told IPS: “Many of these people, just like me, have HIV, hepatitis C and other chronic diseases complementing their drug dependence. Stopping substitution therapy for the majority of them is the same as denying them oxygen to breathe. They are being thrown back to crime and despair.”

Drug users in Crimea who spoke to IPS said they were dreading their futures without OST.

One 32-year-old drug user from Sevastopol, a mother of one who gave her name only as Ludmila, told IPS: “I am hoping to start a full-time job in a few weeks but this will be impossible for me if I cannot receive OST. My husband, who also receives OST, currently has a job but he will lose it if he stops getting his treatment. Ending these programmes will be a disaster for this whole family.”

Another, who gave his name only as Vitaliy, told IPS he had been helped by the OST he had been receiving for the last four years. He said he did not want to leave his home in Sevastopol but was afraid of what might happen to him if he did not.

The 27-year-old said: “I don’t want to go but at the same time I don’t want to return to injection drug use.”

A 37-year-old man who asked to be called ‘Yevgeny Kovalenko’ (not his real name), who has been receiving OST in Simferopol since 2008, said he faced a stark choice.

He told IPS: “I am scared, my friends are scared. We don’t know what the future holds. Without substitution therapy, I will die. And that is not me just being dramatic or using a figure of speech, I will literally die.  So will many others.”

Groups such as the HIV/AIDS Alliance in Ukraine say some drug users have already left Crimea to ensure they can continue to access OST. The Alliance is preparing for hundreds to arrive in Kiev looking for help when the programmes close in Crimea.

But while those who make it to Kiev will be able to get help, those that cannot, or choose not to leave their homes in Crimea, will be left to deal with their addiction in a region where local authorities will be enforcing repressive Russian policies on drugs.

Under Russian legislation, minor drug offences are punished severely with, for example, convictions for possession of even the smallest amounts of heroin – including residue in a syringe. Such offences carry lengthy jail sentences.

Russia has one of the world’s fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemics, which UNAIDS and other bodies say has been historically driven by injection drug use.

Ukraine, which also has a serious HIV/AIDS epidemic, has recently reduced the rate of new HIV infections – a success put down to the widespread implementation of harm reduction programmes.

It is unclear at the moment what effect Crimea becoming part of Russia will have on the provision of harm reduction services other than the OST programmes.

Ukrainian groups working with drug users say there are more than 14,000 people in Crimea who access such services, and that any threat to their provision could have devastating consequences for their health and create a serious public health threat in Crimea.

Meanwhile, drug users in Kiev are calling on the Ukrainian Ministry of Health to act.

They say that, even if they cannot persuade authorities in Crimea to allow the extension of OST programmes at least until January next year, when all legislation in the peninsula should be brought fully into line with that of the rest of Russia, the ministry should be setting up facilities for OST programmes in other parts of Ukraine.

Basenko told IPS: “Practical steps need to be taken to organise the accommodation of these refugees, these patients from Crimea, so they can continue their treatment in Ukraine.

“Drugs available in Ukraine must be redistributed and additional OST facilities need to be set up to meet the needs of these patients.”

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U.N. Visa Denials Appendage of U.S. Foreign Policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-visa-denials-appendage-u-s-foreign-policy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-visa-denials-appendage-u-s-foreign-policy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-visa-denials-appendage-u-s-foreign-policy/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 23:27:13 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133695 The United States has rarely, if ever, denied a visa to a head of state seeking to visit the United Nations to address the 193-member General Assembly, the highest policy making body in the organisation. But it did so last November, prompting Sudan to register a strong protest before the U.N.’s legal committee: a protest […]

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By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

The United States has rarely, if ever, denied a visa to a head of state seeking to visit the United Nations to address the 193-member General Assembly, the highest policy making body in the organisation.

But it did so last November, prompting Sudan to register a strong protest before the U.N.’s legal committee: a protest that went unsung and unnoticed."Washington believes it can deny visas whenever it chooses to do so and most governments, fearful of negative consequences, remain silent and do not make a fuss." -- James A. Paul

Hassan Ali, a senior Sudanese diplomat, told delegates, “The democratically-elected president of Sudan, Omar Hassan Al-Bashir, had been deprived of the opportunity to participate in the General Assembly because the host country, the United States, had denied him a visa, in violation of the U.N.-U.S. Headquarters Agreement.”

Furthermore, he complained, the host country also applied arbitrary pressures on foreign missions, “depending on how close a country’s foreign policy is to that of the United States.”

“It was a great and deliberate violation of the Headquarters Agreement,” he said, also pointing to the closing of bank accounts of foreign missions and diplomats as another violation.

“Those missions have now been without bank accounts for some three years,” he added.

The refusal of a visa to the Sudanese president was also a political landmine because al-Bashir has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

But does the United States have a right to implicitly act on an ICC ruling when Washington is not a party to the Rome Statute that created the ICC?

“Good question,” said John Quigley, professor emeritus of international law at Ohio State University.

“As you suggest, the U.S. had no obligations under the Rome Statute,” he told IPS.

So the question would not arise of Washington having an obligation that might conflict with the obligation to grant a visa to a representative of a U.N. member state, he added.

It would be harder if the United States were a party to the Rome Statute.

Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al Bashir addresses a ceremony marking the fourth anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on Jan. 9, 2009. The refusal of his visa was also a political landmine because al-Bashir has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

Sudanese President Omer Hassan Al Bashir addresses a ceremony marking the fourth anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) on Jan. 9, 2009. The refusal of his visa was also a political landmine because al-Bashir has been indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC). Credit: UN Photo/Tim McKulka

“Even then, the two obligations might not conflict. That is, the U.S. would have an obligation to let him in. Once he is in, the U.S. would have an obligation to turn him over to the ICC,” said Quigley, author of ‘The Ruses of War: American Interventionism Since World War II’.

The U.S. decision last week to deny a visa to the Iranian envoy-in-waiting, Hamid Aboutalebi, has been challenged as a violation of the Headquarters Agreement – even though Washington got away scot-free after barring the Sudanese president from the General Assembly last year.

James A. Paul, who served for over 19 years as executive director of the Global Policy Forum, told IPS the U.S. government was in clear violation of international law and practice.

This includes violations of specific international agreements such as the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, and particularly the U.N. Headquarters Agreement, entered into by the U.S. and the U.N. in 1947 and unanimously ratified by Congress.

This particular violation of visa denial is one of many such violations, some of which get lots of attention and some of which don’t, he said.

“My guess is that there have been hundreds of cases in which the U.S. has refused entry visas for various reasons. There are also hundreds of other cases of violation of the agreement in other ways,” said Paul, who has kept close track of the politics of the United Nations for nearly two decades.

In response to the U.S. refusal to grant a visa to Palestine leader Yassir Arafat in 1988, he said, the General Assembly had to move its meeting to Geneva at huge expense and inconvenience.

“That case made headlines, but most do not,” said Paul.

Take, for example, the U.S. refusal to grant an entry visa to a senior Argentine diplomat who had been accredited to participate with the Brazilian team on the U.N. Security Council in 2010.

“Washington took this step presumably because it wanted to block regional coordination on the Council – a totally illegitimate reason,” Paul said, adding there was no argument the person involved represented a security threat.

“So I think we can say that Washington believes it can deny visas whenever it chooses to do so and most governments, fearful of negative consequences, remain silent and do not make a fuss,” he added.

Quigley told IPS he saw no exception for security, terrorism and foreign policy in the Headquarters Agreement.

The resolutions by the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives to bar the Iranian envoy, are irrelevant, he said.

“What matters is the text of the Headquarters Agreement. If domestic legislation was adopted that purported to reserve rights to the U.S. that are not expressed in the Headquarters Agreement, the domestic legislation does not allow the U.S. to evade its obligations,” said Quigley.

“As I read the legislation adopted by Congress, it gives grounds for denial of a visa, but it is still up to the president to decide the grounds exist, so it is not Congress that is denying a visa to a particular person.”

The president should properly regard the Headquarters Agreement as his guide, added Quigley.

The U.S. has accused Aboutalebi of being involved in the 1979 forcible takeover of the U.S. embassy and its diplomatic personnel in Tehran.

But the Iranian says he was only a translator and negotiator between the hostages and the hostage takers – and that he was not even in Tehran when the embassy was physically taken over by a group called the Muslim Students.

Quigley said, “I can see that there might be some validity to the view that the U.S. and Iran should work this out, but at this point the U.S. has denied and does not seem inclined to reconsider.”

That being the case, it is the U.N. that is the injured party under the Headquarters Agreement. It should not be up to Iran to take the initiative to take action on the matter, he argued.

Paul told IPS some diplomats face restrictions as to where they can live and where in the U.S. they can travel.

There have been many complaints about U.S. banking restrictions having serious negative consequences for delegations, who sometimes cannot pay their bills as a result.

Finally, of course, there is the scandal of spying on U.N. staff and on delegations.

“When you put all this together, you have a stark picture of disregard for the norms of diplomacy and the letter of international agreements. It is a sad story,” he added.

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OP-ED: Egyptian-Saudi Coalition in Defence of Autocracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-egyptian-saudi-coalition-defence-autocracy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-egyptian-saudi-coalition-defence-autocracy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/op-ed-egyptian-saudi-coalition-defence-autocracy/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 15:28:37 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133684 The Bahraini Arabic language newspaper al-Wasat reported on Wednesday Apr. 9 that a Cairo court began to consider a case brought by an Egyptian lawyer against Qatar accusing it of being soft on terrorism. The “terrorism” charge is of course a euphemism for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab […]

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By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Apr 15 2014 (IPS)

The Bahraini Arabic language newspaper al-Wasat reported on Wednesday Apr. 9 that a Cairo court began to consider a case brought by an Egyptian lawyer against Qatar accusing it of being soft on terrorism.

The “terrorism” charge is of course a euphemism for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have designated a “terrorist” organisation and are vowed to dismantle.It’s becoming very clear that dictatorial policies are producing more instability, less security, and greater appeal to terrorism.

The two new partners and the UAE also loathe Qatar for hosting and funding Al-Jazeera satellite TV. The continued incarceration of the Al-Jazeera journalists and dozens of other journalists on trumped up charges is no coincidence.

The court case is symptomatic of the current Saudi-Egyptian relationship in their counter-revolution against the 2011 pro-democracy upheavals that toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his fellow autocrats in Tunisia, Yemen, and Libya.

The pro-autocracy partnership between the Egyptian military junta and the Saudi ruling family goes beyond their opposition to the Muslim Brotherhood and the perceived threat of terrorism. It emanates from the autocrats’ visceral opposition to democracy and human rights, including minority and women’s rights.

What should be most critical to them as they contemplate the future of their coalition of counter-revolutionaries, however, is the growing Western conviction that dictators can no longer provide stability.

The Egyptian Field Marshall and the Saudi potentate also abhor the key demands of the Arab uprisings and reject their peoples’ calls for freedom, dignity, justice, and genuine economic and political reform.

They are equally terrified of the coming end of the authoritarian paradigm, which could bring about their demise or at least force them to share power with their people. The Saudis and their Gulf Arab allies, especially Bahrain and the UAE, are willing to trample on their people’s rights in order to safeguard family tribal rule.

The Saudi-Egyptian partnership is also directed at the Obama administration primarily because of Washington’s diplomatic engagement with Iran.

According to media and Human Rights Watch reports, at least 15,000 secular and Islamist activists are currently being held in Egyptian prisons, without having been charged or convicted. This number includes hundreds of MB leaders and activists and thousands of its supporters.

Many of them, including teenagers, have also been tortured and abused physically and psychologically. These mass arrests and summary trials and convictions of Islamists and liberals alike belie the Saudi-Egyptian claim that theirs is a campaign against terrorism.

A brief history of Egyptian-Saudi relations

Egyptian-Saudi relations in the past 60 years have been erratic, depending on leadership, ideology, and regional and world events. During the Nasser era in the 1950s and ‘60s, relations were very tense because of Saudi fears of Nasser’s Arab nationalist ideology.

The Saudis saw Nasser a nationalist firebrand arousing Arab masses against colonialism and Arab monarchies. He supported national liberation movements and wars of independence against the French in North Africa and the British in the Arab littoral of the Persian Gulf.

The Saudi monarchy viewed Nasser’s call for Arab unity “from the roaring ocean to the rebellious Gulf” as a threat to their survival and declared a war on “secular” Arab nationalism and “atheist” Communism.

They perceived Nasser’s war in Yemen against the tribal monarchy as an existential threat at their door and began to fund and arm the royalists in Yemen against the Egyptian military campaign.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia were the two opposite poles of the “Arab cold war” during the 1950s and ‘60s. Nasser represented emerging Arab republicanism while Saudi Arabia epitomised traditional monarchies. Nasser turned to the Soviet Union; Saudi Arabia turned to the United States.

In the late 1960s, Saudi Arabia declared the proselytisation of its brand of Islam as a cardinal principle of its foreign policy for the purpose of fighting Arab nationalism and Communism.

It’s ironic that Saudi Arabia is currently supporting and funding the military junta in Egypt at a time when the military-turned-civilian presidential shoe-in Sisi is resurrecting the Nasserist brand of politics.

In the next three to five years, the most intriguing analytic question will be whether this partnership would endure and how long the post-2011 generation of Arabs would tolerate a coalition of secular autocracy and a religious theocracy.

Saudi Arabia supported Egyptian President Sadat’s war against Israel in 1973 but broke with him later in that decade after he visited Jerusalem and signed a peace treaty with Israel.

By the early 1980s, however, the two countries re-established close relations because of their common interest in supporting Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war and in pushing for the Saudi-articulated Arab Peace Initiative.

The Saudi King viewed President Hosni Mubarak warmly and was dismayed by his fall. He was particularly incensed by Washington’s seeming precipitous abandonment of Mubarak in January 2011.

The Saudi monarchy applauded General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s removal of President Muhammad Morsi and pumped billions of dollars into the Egyptian treasury. They also indicated they would make up any deficit in case U.S. aid to Egypt is halted.

The Saudis have endorsed Sisi’s decision to run for president of Egypt and adopted similar harsh policies against the Muslim Brotherhood and all political dissent. Several factors seem to push Saudi Arabia closer to Egypt.

The Saudis are concerned about their growing loss of influence and prestige in the region, especially their failure in thwarting the interim nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran. Their policy in Syria is in shambles.

Initially, they encouraged jihadists to go to Syria to fight the Assad regime, but now they cannot control the pro-Al-Qaeda radical Salafi jihadists fighting the Damascus tyrant.

The Saudis also failed in transforming the Gulf Cooperation Council into a more unified structure. Other than Bahrain, almost every other state has balked at the Saudi suggestion, viewing it a power grab.

In an absurd form of retaliation against Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Bahrain recalled their ambassadors from that country. The Saudis are engaged in tribal vendettas against their fellow tribal ruling families, which is out of place in a 21st century globalised and well-connected world.

The oil wealth and the regime’s inspired religious fatwas by establishment clerics have a diminishing impact on the younger generation connected to the global new social media.

Despite the heavy-handed crackdown, protests, demonstrations, and confrontations with the security forces are a daily occurrence in Egypt. It’s becoming very clear that dictatorial policies are producing more instability, less security, and greater appeal to terrorism.

It won’t be long before Western governments conclude that autocracy is bad for their moral sensibilities, destructive for business, and threatening for their presence in the region. The Saudi-Egyptian coalition of autocrats will soon be in the crosshairs.

In order to endure, such a coalition must be based on respect for their peoples, a genuine commitment to human rights, and a serious effort to address the “deficits” of liberty, education, and women’s rights that have afflicted Arab society for decades.

Emile Nakhleh, a former Senior Intelligence Service Officer, is a Research Professor at the University of New Mexico, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of “A Necessary Engagement: Reinventing America’s Relations with the Muslim World.”

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Russians Blend Loyalty to Nazarbayev with Pro-Kremlin Sentiments http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russians-blend-loyalty-nazarbayev-pro-kremlin-sentiments/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=russians-blend-loyalty-nazarbayev-pro-kremlin-sentiments http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/russians-blend-loyalty-nazarbayev-pro-kremlin-sentiments/#comments Tue, 15 Apr 2014 00:56:45 +0000 Joanna Lillis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133673 On a hillside in northeastern Kazakhstan, south of the Russian border, a simple and stark slogan looms over the city of Oskemen: “Kazakhstan,” reads the message in giant white letters arrayed across the green slope. When the sign was erected in 2009, ostensibly to foster Kazakhstani patriotism, it seemed to be stating the obvious. But […]

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On a hill overlooking the northeastern Kazakh city of Oskemen, bright white letters spell out ‘Kazakhstan’ under a large Kazakh flag in early April 2014. Oskemen - known in Russian as Ust-Kamenogorsk - is a Russian-majority city, where 67 percent of inhabitants are ethnic Russian, triple the national ratio in Kazakhstan. Credit: Joanna Lillis/EurasiaNet

On a hill overlooking the northeastern Kazakh city of Oskemen, bright white letters spell out ‘Kazakhstan’ under a large Kazakh flag in early April 2014. Oskemen - known in Russian as Ust-Kamenogorsk - is a Russian-majority city, where 67 percent of inhabitants are ethnic Russian, triple the national ratio in Kazakhstan. Credit: Joanna Lillis/EurasiaNet

By Joanna Lillis
ASTANA, Apr 15 2014 (EurasiaNet)

On a hillside in northeastern Kazakhstan, south of the Russian border, a simple and stark slogan looms over the city of Oskemen: “Kazakhstan,” reads the message in giant white letters arrayed across the green slope.

When the sign was erected in 2009, ostensibly to foster Kazakhstani patriotism, it seemed to be stating the obvious. But now that Russian President Vladimir Putin has set himself up as the defender of Russians everywhere, and used that rationale to annex Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, the slogan seems more pertinent than ever – at least to Kazakhstani leaders in Astana.

Ever since the Soviet collapse in 1991, President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s administration has stressed the promotion of tolerance and inter-ethnic harmony. For the most part, Nazarbayev has succeeded in keeping the country tranquil, enabling the economy to attain an unrivaled level of growth in Central Asia.

But now, the ripple-effect created by the Ukraine crisis threatens to test the loyalties of Kazakhstan’s ethnically diverse populace, in particular the substantial ethnic Russian minority, which is concentrated in northern regions of the country.

Given recent developments, boosting patriotism has rocketed up Nazarbayev’s political agenda. Highlighting the high level of concern in Astana, officials introduced amendments in early April to punish public calls for separatism with long jail terms.

Separatist sentiment in the industrial northeast created a headache for Nazarbayev in the 1990s – and Oskemen was once a hotbed of intrigue, with 13 pro-Russian conspirators jailed over a separatist plot in 2000. In this city, known in Russian as Ust-Kamenogorsk, 67 percent of inhabitants are Russian, triple the national ratio.“Russia isn’t seen as some sort of enemy here. It’s seen as an opportunity.” -- Aleksandr Alekseyenko of the East Kazakhstan State Technical University

Separatist moods ebbed as Kazakhstan consolidated its nationhood – but the scenarios playing out in Ukraine are enough to cause Nazarbayev a full-blown migraine. Russia’s justification of its annexation of Crimea on the grounds of protecting Russian speakers makes Astana jittery. In Kazakhstan, 22 percent of the population is ethnic Russian, with far higher ratios living along the sprawling 7,000-kilometre border with Russia.

Inflammatory statements by Russian nationalists about claims on northern Kazakhstan have added fuel to the fire, sparking an unusual diplomatic spat between close allies Moscow and Astana. On Apr. 11, following a sharp rebuke from Kazakhstan, Moscow disassociated itself from the pronouncements – but did not explicitly deny having designs on Kazakhstan’s territory.

Astana may be up in arms, but Oskemen’s Russian-speaking community views the nationalist outbursts across the border with equanimity.

“On the immutability of borders … talking about some actions being eternal is simply somewhat incorrect,” says Viktor Sharonov, a gruff Cossack ataman (leader), choosing his words carefully. “Then what call would the Scottish have to hold a referendum on separating from Great Britain?”

Sharonov was speaking on Apr. 8 at a meeting of Oskemen-based Russian community groups attended by EurasiaNet.org, where community leaders championed the Kremlin’s actions in Ukraine and denounced what they perceive as Western meddling in Russia’s backyard.

“I personally, and our Cossacks, see this as the desire of Western countries … to totally do the dirty on Russia once again,” Sharonov said heatedly.

“Unfortunately real fascists, ultranationalists… have come to power in Kyiv,” obliging Moscow to intervene to defend Russian speakers’ rights, said Oleg Navozov, chairman of the LAD Slavic movement.

On one hand, the prevailing view among Oskemen’s Russian-speaking community, as articulated by Navozov, echoes Astana’s official line: Nazarbayev has called the government in Kyiv “neo-fascists” and railed against Ukraine’s “discrimination against minority rights,” winning him plaudits from these community leaders.

“Nazarbayev supported Russia in those actions aimed at protecting the rights of ethnic minorities in Ukraine and protecting its national interests,” said Nikolay Plakhotin of LAD approvingly.

On the other hand, Russian intervention in Ukraine leaves many in Kazakhstan wondering: What if Moscow decides Russian speakers here need protection?

This scenario is overwhelmingly rejected in Oskemen, where Russian speakers interviewed by EurasiaNet.org said without exception that Nazarbayev’s inclusive ethnic and linguistic policies rule it out.

“The situation in Kazakhstan is completely different to Ukraine,” Vadim Obukhov, deputy head of the Russian Cultural Centre, said. “We don’t have any confrontation between Kazakhs and Russians.”

As Nazarbayev juggles competing agendas, promoting the interests of the majority Kazakhs while protecting minority rights, “this balance is being maintained very competently,” said newspaper publisher Yevgeniy Cherkashin.

Nazarbayev’s pro-Kremlin stance in the Ukraine crisis is playing well in the Russian-speaking community in the north, although elsewhere critics vehemently attack it as a betrayal of national interests.

“In the consciousness of many Russians the northern part of Kazakhstan is Russian territory,” Almaty-based analyst Aydos Sarym told EurasiaNet.org, hence “as many Kazakhs understand it, this [official pro-Moscow] position is mistaken.”

In Oskemen some ethnic Kazakhs do “fear” a Russian land grab, albeit at some hazy point in the future, Kenzhebay, a middle-aged Oskemen resident who declined to give his surname, told EurasiaNet.org. Many also believe that close partnership with Russia offers Kazakhstan its best protection: Astana can best safeguard its sovereignty by acting as a friend to Moscow rather than foe.

Russians questioned on Oskemen’s city streets viewed the idea of Moscow encroaching on Kazakhstan as preposterous. “I don’t think Russia’s going to grab a piece of Kazakhstan – what would it want to do that for?” puzzled engineer Viktor Chernyshev.

“Russia isn’t seen as some sort of enemy here,” explains Aleksandr Alekseyenko of the East Kazakhstan State Technical University. “It’s seen as an opportunity.”

From Oskemen, the Russian city of Novosibirsk is closer than Kazakhstan’s capital Astana, and locals flock over the border into Siberia to work and study – helped by Kazakhstan’s membership of the Russia-led Customs Union.

This free trade zone is to be transformed next month into the Eurasian Economic Union, amid vociferous opposition from Kazakh nationalists and liberals who fear Russian domination. But in northeastern Kazakhstan backing for the union is rock solid.

Vladimir Putin makes no secret of his nostalgia for the Soviet Union, or his vision of the union as a political vehicle promoting Russia-dominated post-Soviet integration; and some in Oskemen seem to share his dream.

The union represents “a return – perhaps not entirely, but nevertheless largely – to what existed in the Soviet Union,” suggested Navozov.

These words may be music to Putin’s ears, but perhaps not to Nazarbayev’s: he is suspicious of any political element to integration and has pledged not to cede “an iota” of Kazakhstan’s sovereignty.

While looking to Russia for political and economic reference points, Oskemen’s Russian-speaking community is strongly loyal to Nazarbayev, seeing him not only as guarantor of minority rights but also as guarantor of political and social stability.

Ukraine-style unrest is impossible here, said Leonid Kartashev, president of the Russian National Cultural Centre, since “in Kazakhstan President Nazarbayev is legitimately elected, and in Kazakhstan there is a legitimate government.”

Editor’s note:  Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specializes in Central Asia. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

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Emerging Nations Opt for Arms Spending Over Development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/emerging-nations-opt-arms-spending-development/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=emerging-nations-opt-arms-spending-development http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/emerging-nations-opt-arms-spending-development/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 17:02:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133658 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has relentlessly advocated drastic cuts in global military spending in favour of sustainable development, will be sorely disappointed by the latest findings in a report released Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The decline in arms spending in the West, says SIPRI, has been offset by a rise […]

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The U.N.'s Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, says it is governments' responsibility to inform the public about military expenditures - and to justify them. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

The U.N.'s Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, says it is governments' responsibility to inform the public about military expenditures - and to justify them. Credit: UN Photo/Amanda Voisard

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has relentlessly advocated drastic cuts in global military spending in favour of sustainable development, will be sorely disappointed by the latest findings in a report released Monday by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

The decline in arms spending in the West, says SIPRI, has been offset by a rise in military expenditures by emerging non-Western and developing nations who are, ironically, the strongest candidates for development aid."Four hours of military spending is equal to the total budgets of all international disarmament and non-proliferation organisations combined." -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Asked whether there are any future prospects of reversing this trend, Dr. Sam Perlo-Freeman, director of SIPRI’s Military Expenditure Programme, told IPS, “At present, there is little or no prospect of a large-scale transfer of resources from military spending to spending on human and economic development.”

Of the top 15 military spenders in 2013, eight were non-Western nations: China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, South Korea, Brazil, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

The Western countries in the top 15 were the United States, France, UK, Germany, Italy and Australia, plus Japan. Canada, a former high spender, dropped out of the list in 2013.

The increase in military spending in emerging and developing countries continues unabated, said Perlo-Freeman.

“While in some cases it is the natural result of economic growth or a response to genuine security needs, in other cases it represents a squandering of natural resource revenues, the dominance of autocratic regimes, or emerging regional arms races,” he added.

World military expenditure totalled 1.75 trillion dollars in 2013, a fall of 1.9 percent in real terms since 2012, according to SIPRI.

The fall in the global total comes from decreases in Western countries, led by the United States.

But military spending in the rest of the world increased by 1.8 percent.

Bemoaning the rise in arms spending, the secretary-general said last year the world spends more on the military in one month than it does on development all year.

“And four hours of military spending is equal to the total budgets of all international disarmament and non-proliferation organisations combined,” he noted.

The bottom line: the world is over-armed and peace is under-funded, said Ban. Bloated military budgets, he said, promote proliferation, derail arms control, doom disarmament and detract from social and economic development.

Last week, a U.N. expert came out strongly against rising arms expenditures on the occasion of the Global Day of Action on Military Spending.

The U.N.’s Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, Alfred de Zayas, called upon all governments “to proactively inform the public about military expenditures and to justify them.

“Every democracy must involve civil society in the process of establishing budgets, and all sectors of society must be consulted to determine what the real priorities of the population are,” he said in a statement released here.

Lobbies, including military contractors and other representatives of the military-industrial complex, must not be allowed to hijack these priorities to the detriment of the population’s real needs, he added.

According to SIPRI, the fall in U.S. spending in 2013, by 7.8 percent, is the result of the end of the war in Iraq, the beginning of the drawdown from Afghanistan, and the effects of automatic budget cuts passed by the U.S. Congress in 2011.

Meanwhile, austerity policies continued to determine trends in Western and Central Europe and in other Western countries.

Perlo-Freeman told IPS the worst conflict in the world today, in Syria, which has killed over 150,000 people, is still less severe than the worst conflicts of even 15 years ago, such as the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which led to the deaths of millions.

There are certainly tensions in many parts of the world, most notably between Russia and Ukraine at the moment, but inter-state armed conflict is still extremely rare, he added.

“I think the increases in military spending in many parts of the world can rather be traced to a continuing belief in the centrality of military power to conceptions of national security and national greatness,” he said.

He said the United States has set a very clear example in this regard, most especially under the administration of President George W. Bush (2001-2009), but even now the notion that U.S. global military supremacy is a national necessity is effectively unchallenged in the political mainstream.

Other major powers, especially Russia and China, do not view this U.S. dominance in their neighbourhoods with equanimity, or accept their subordinate position in the system.

While neither can challenge the U.S.’s global role, each has been seeking to increase their own military power sufficiently to be able to exert regional influence and not be subject to U.S. dominance, he noted.

This pattern is repeated at lower levels, amongst middle powers such as India.

“Even in much more peaceful regions, Brazil, which has always sought a higher status in the international system, regards having a strong, modern military as an essential part of this,” Perlo-Freeman said.

However, Brazil’s spending has leveled off in recent years, as its economy has not been as strong as in the past and as it has other pressing social priorities that compete with military spending.

There are other important factors as well – one is simply economic growth, which tends to lift military spending along with other areas of spending, said Perlo-Freeman.

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World Cuts Back Military Spending, But Not Asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-cuts-back-military-spending-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=world-cuts-back-military-spending-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/world-cuts-back-military-spending-asia/#comments Mon, 14 Apr 2014 11:00:39 +0000 John Feffer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133643 For the second year in a row, the world is spending a little less on the military. Asia, however, has failed to get the memo. The region is spending more at a time when many others are spending less. Last year, Asia saw a 3.6 percent increase in military spending, according to figures just released […]

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USS Ronald Reagan and other ships from RIMPAC 2010 transit the Pacific. The United States, a Pacific power whose military spending is not included in the Asia figures, has also played an important role in driving up the expenditures in the region. Credit: U.S. Navy photo

USS Ronald Reagan and other ships from RIMPAC 2010 transit the Pacific. The United States, a Pacific power whose military spending is not included in the Asia figures, has also played an important role in driving up the expenditures in the region. Credit: U.S. Navy photo

By John Feffer
WASHINGTON, Apr 14 2014 (IPS)

For the second year in a row, the world is spending a little less on the military. Asia, however, has failed to get the memo. The region is spending more at a time when many others are spending less.

Last year, Asia saw a 3.6 percent increase in military spending, according to figures just released by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. The region — which includes East Asia, South Asia, Central Asia and Oceania — posted topping off a 62 percent increase over the last decade.To a certain extent, the arms race in Asia is connected not to the vast expansion of the Pentagon since 2001 but rather to the relative decline of Asia in U.S. priorities over much of that period.

In 2012, for the first time Asia outpaced Europe in its military spending. That year, the world’s top five importers of armaments all came from Asia: India, China, Pakistan, South Korea, and (incredibly) the city-state of Singapore.

China is responsible for the lion’s share of the increases in East Asia, having increased its spending by 170 percent over the last decade. It has also announced a 12.2 percent increase for 2014.

But China is not the only driver of regional military spending. South Asia – specifically the confrontation between India and Pakistan – is responsible for a large chunk of the military spending in the region. Rival territorial claims over tiny islands  – and the vast resources that lie beneath and around them — in both Northeast and Southeast Asia are pushing the claimants to boost their maritime capabilities.

Even Japan, which has traditionally kept its military spending to under one percent of GDP, is getting into the act. Tokyo has promised of a 2.8 percent increase in 2014-15.

The United States, a Pacific power whose military spending is not included in the Asia figures, has also played an important role in driving up the expenditures in the region. The Barack Obama administration’s “Pacific pivot” is designed to reboot the U.S. security presence in this strategically critical part of the world.

To a certain extent, the arms race in Asia is connected not to the vast expansion of the Pentagon since 2001 but rather to the relative decline of Asia in U.S. priorities over much of that period.

As U.S. allies, South Korea and Japan were expected to shoulder more of the security burden in the region while the United States pursued national security objects in the Middle East and Central Asia.

China, meanwhile, pursued a “peaceful rise” that also involved an attempt to acquire a military strength comparable to its economic strength. At the same time, China more vigorously advanced its claims in the South China Sea even as other parties to the conflict put forward their counter claims.

The Pacific pivot has been billed as a way to halt the relative decline of U.S. influence in Asia. So far, however, this highly touted “rebalancing” has largely been a shifting around of U.S. forces in the region.

The fulcrum of the pivot is Okinawa, where the United States and Japan have been negotiating for nearly two decades to close an outdated Marine Air Force base in Okinawa and transfer those Marines to existing, expanding, and proposed facilities elsewhere.

Aside from this complex operation, a few Littoral Combat Ships have gone to Singapore. The Pentagon has proposed putting slightly more of its overall fleet in the Pacific (a 60-40 split compared to the current 50-50). And Washington has welcomed closer coordination with partners like the Philippines and Vietnam.

Instead of a significant upgrade to U.S. capabilities in the region, the pivot is largely a signal to Washington’s allies that the partnerships remain strong and a warning to Washington’s adversaries that, even if U.S. military spending is on a slight downward tilt, the Pentagon possesses more than enough firepower to deter their power projection.

This signaling function of the pivot dovetails with another facet of U.S. security policy: arms exports. The growth of the Pentagon over the last 10 years has been accompanied by a growth in U.S. military exports, which more than doubled during the period 2002 to 2012 from 8.3 to 18.8 billion dollars.

The modest reduction in Pentagon spending will not necessarily lead to a corresponding decline in exports. In fact, the opposite is likely to be true, as was the case during the last Pentagon slowdown in the 1990s. The Obama administration has pushed through a streamlining of the licensing process in order to facilitate an increase in military exports – in part to compensate U.S. arms manufacturers for a decline in orders from the Pentagon.

Asia and Oceania represent the primary target for U.S. military exports, absorbing nearly half of all shipments. Of that number, East Asia represents approximately one-quarter (South Asia accounts for nearly half).

The biggest-ticket item is the F-35 fighter jet, which Washington has already sold to Japan, South Korea, and Australia. Long-range missile defence systems have been sold to Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Overall between 2009 and 2013, Australia and South Korea have been the top U.S. clients. With its projected increase in military spending, Japan will also likely rise much higher on the list.

The more advanced weaponry U.S. allies purchase, the more they are locked into future acquisitions. The United States emphasises “interoperability” among its allies. Not only are purchasers dependent on the United States for spare parts and upgrades, but they must consider the overall system of command and control (which is now C5I — Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Combat systems and Intelligence).

Although a French fighter jet or a Russian naval vessel might be a cheaper option in a competitive bid, the purchasing country must also consider how the item integrates with the rest of its hardware and software.

The United States has argued that its overwhelming military presence in the region and lack of interest in territorial gain have dampened conflict in Asia. But the security environment has changed dramatically since the United States first presented itself as a guarantor of regional stability.

Japan no longer abides by a strict interpretation of its “peace constitution.” North Korea has developed nuclear weapons. China has dramatically increased its capabilities. South Korea has created its own indigenous military manufacturing sector and greatly expanded its exports. Territorial disputes in the South China, Yellow, and East China Seas have sharpened. The only flashpoint that has become more peaceful in the last few years has been the Taiwan Strait.

The continued increase in military spending by countries in East Asia and the massive influx of arms into the region are both symptoms and drivers of conflict. Until and unless the region restrains its appetite for military upgrades, the risk of clashes and even all-out war will remain high.

In such an increasingly volatile environment, regional security agreements – on North Korea’s nuclear programme, the several territorial disputes, or new technological threats like cyberwarfare – will be even more difficult to achieve.

Most importantly, because of these budget priorities, the region will have fewer resources and less political will to address other pressing threats, such as climate change, which cannot be defeated with fighter jets or the latest generation of battle ship.

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Taliban Screens a New Silence http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-back-scene/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taliban-back-scene http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-back-scene/#comments Sun, 13 Apr 2014 08:57:43 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133628 Mushfiq Wali, a 22-year-old shoemaker in northern Pakistan, loves watching films in the local Pashto language. But he says the Taliban are a killjoy: their bomb attacks have led to the closure of movie theatres, again. “They don’t spare anything that brings happiness.” The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to […]

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After brief and scattered successes, entertainment has gone back into hiding following bomb attacks by the Taliban. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

After brief and scattered successes, entertainment has gone back into hiding following bomb attacks by the Taliban. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Apr 13 2014 (IPS)

Mushfiq Wali, a 22-year-old shoemaker in northern Pakistan, loves watching films in the local Pashto language. But he says the Taliban are a killjoy: their bomb attacks have led to the closure of movie theatres, again. “They don’t spare anything that brings happiness.”

The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to the cinema has become a barometer of the influence of the Taliban, and of just normal living. Music and cinema have been emerging as the language of a challenge to the Taliban, as surely as the Taliban have attacked music.The extent of freedom to listen to music and to go to the cinema has become a barometer for the influence of the Taliban.

“The past five years have been very difficult for musicians because of Taliban militants. Now we are heaving a sigh of relief as acts of terror have gone down,” singer Gul Pana told IPS earlier this year. But the Taliban have hit back.

On Feb. 11, Taliban militants hurled two grenades at Shama Cinema in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in the north of Pakistan, killing 15 people. The attack came soon after five people were killed at the Picture House cinema hall in another terror attack on Feb. 2.

“Such incidents are very depressing for people who seek a few moments of leisure after a hard day’s work,” Wali said. “We have no internet, TV or other entertainment facilities at home, so we would go to cinema halls for some happiness.”

Opposition to movies, music and dance has always been a part of the Taliban agenda. They killed Wazir Khan Afridi, a veteran singer who recorded 50 albums, on Feb. 26. Afridi had been kidnapped three times before, but was freed on those occasions on condition he quit singing.

“The Taliban have set fire to over 500 CD and music shops in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to frighten people and force them to wind up businesses that are against their brand of Islam,” Ghulam Nabi, who seeks to promote culture in the region, told IPS.

The Taliban have many bases in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in the north bordering Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. They have been targeting music shops and musicians, and believe that music is un-Islamic.

In January 2009, militants had slit the throat of dancer Shabana Begum in Swat, one of the districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and hung her body from an electricity pole. The incident forced other artistes to stay at home or leave the city. Thousands of dancers and musicians fled Swat from 2007 to 2009 when the area was under Taliban rule.

Peshawar used to have 21 cinema houses, each with a capacity of around 200, before the advent of militancy. The city is now left with just 11 movie theatres. Cinema halls are also being closed down in neighbouring Mardan district.

Jehangir Jani, 54, a well-known Pashto film actor, is perturbed. “It is highly condemnable that the Taliban are depriving people of entertainment. I am sure the insurgents will not be able to shut down cinema houses for very long as people cannot live without movies,” he told IPS.

Jani, who is a household name in Pashtun areas, has had to go to Afghanistan many times to film. “In Afghanistan, films are being produced for CDs. Pashtuns have traditionally been film buffs.”

Films in the Pashto language, widely spoken in Afghanistan, are popular in some Pakistani areas as well. “They are watched by people from FATA as well as Afghanistan,” said cine-goer Zahirzada Khan.

Cinema houses are a cheap source of entertainment, he said. “The closure of cinema halls after back-to-back bombings is very upsetting.”

Kashif Shah, manager of a Peshawar cinema hall, said hall owners received letters earlier this year asking them to stop the “shameful trade” of screening movies. “The Taliban warned that they would make an example of us,” Shah said. His hall is now shut.

Shah said the Taliban’s campaign would end up isolating them. “Even their well-wishers have turned against them.”

But the terror threat persists. Police say they don’t have enough personnel to guard cinema halls, and have directed cinema theatres to make their own security arrangements.

“We have told movie hall owners to install cameras and metal detectors at the gates,” senior superintendent of police Najibullah Khan told IPS. “We don’t have enough personnel, but we are ready to train private security guards to prevent such incidents.”

The police have arrested 15-year-old Hasan Khan, who was paid 80 dollars by the Taliban to hurl grenades at the Shama Cinema.

For the time being, Peshawar is going without films.

Jehanzeb Ali, a 35-year-old mechanic from Mardan, told IPS that he used to watch a film every Sunday. “We used to visit Peshawar, watch films and eat out. Now I haven’t seen a movie for a month.”

The cultural challenge to the Taliban had made tentative but isolated advances in recent years. “In the last few years, I have sung more than a dozen songs against the Taliban,” award-wining singer Khyal Muhammad told IPS in 2011. “I got threatening messages on the mobile phone,” he said. “But I will continue to sing because it gives me strength.”

For some time after 2010 it did appear that music and cinema were on a winning track – despite repeated attacks on musicians and music stores. Cinema houses that were closed down began to reopen.

But all along, those in the business have struggled to keep music playing and the show going. “The endless series of bomb attacks on CD and music shops has become the order of the day, but we are undeterred,” Sher Dil Khan, president of the CD and Music Shops Association in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in the north of Pakistan, told IPS in 2011. “We will continue to produce new dramas and songs.”

The big encouragement came with the elections in 2013 when cricketer turned politician Imran Khan’s Tehreek-e-Insaaf party won the election in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. After the resumption of open sales of music, and the occasional theatre performance, music returned in full swing – in many if not all areas. Now, silence has advanced again.

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Iraqi Sunnis Seek a Say http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iraqi-sunnis-seek-say/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iraqi-sunnis-seek-say http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iraqi-sunnis-seek-say/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 09:33:34 +0000 Karlos Zurutuza http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133624 Sunni Muslims have set up a new party amidst uncertainties as to whether elections can be held as scheduled in the troubled western regions of Iraq. Polling for the 328-seat Iraqi parliament is due Apr. 30. Ahead of the scheduled election, tribal, political and religious leaders, and also lawyers, engineers and other professionals,  gathered in Erbil […]

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Members at the inaugural meeting of Karama, a newly founded umbrella party for Iraqi Sunnis. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

Members at the inaugural meeting of Karama, a newly founded umbrella party for Iraqi Sunnis. Credit: Karlos Zurutuza/IPS.

By Karlos Zurutuza
ERBIL, Iraqi Kurdistan , Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

Sunni Muslims have set up a new party amidst uncertainties as to whether elections can be held as scheduled in the troubled western regions of Iraq. Polling for the 328-seat Iraqi parliament is due Apr. 30.

Ahead of the scheduled election, tribal, political and religious leaders, and also lawyers, engineers and other professionals,  gathered in Erbil in the Kurdistan region of Iraq April 8 to set up a new party, Karama (Dignity).Karama hopes to become an effective political voice for Sunnis, but Jassim cautions that Karama is a project “in the long-term”.

The Sunni Arabs came from several western towns of Iraq, where fighting and unrest have not yet ended, 11 years after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein was toppled.

No bloc is expected to get a majority but Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is the favourite to lead. Shia Arabs are split between the prime minister’s State of Law party, the Sadrist Movement and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq.

Karama candidate Afifa Agus al-Jumaili says a third consecutive term for Maliki would be “disastrous” for all Iraqis.

“The Sunni provinces of Iraq have turned into a combat zone between tribal militias, Al-Qaeda and Maliki’s Shias,” Jumaili tells IPS. She sees Karama as the “only chance for Sunni Iraqis of all walks of life to get back their rights and dignity.”

Karama is among 276 political entities approved by the Independent High Electoral Commission to contest the election. It’s among several parties looking to win over supporters of the now fragmented secular and Sunni Iraqiya coalition. That coalition won the last elections but was ousted by a Shia coalition, that brought Maliki to power.

The Sunni population is variously estimated to be 20 to 40 percent of Iraq’s population of 32 million. Sunnis have been complaining of increasing marginalisation by the predominantly Shia political leaders.

“The sad irony of all this is that we are forced to gather in the Kurdish Autonomous Region of Iraq because an event like this is simply not feasible in Arab Iraq,” says Jumaili.

Despite their initial opposition to a federal model for the country, Iraqi Sunnis have increasingly been demanding an autonomous region similar to that for the Kurds.

Jumaili is originally from Hawija town 230 km north of Baghdad. Apr. 23 will mark a year since Iraqi special forces killed 51 protesters in this town. At least 215 more were killed in violence that followed.

In its World Report 2014, Human Rights Watch says security forces “responded to peaceful protests with threats, violence, and arrests, using lethal force on demonstrators who had been gathering largely peacefully for five months.” It spoke of “arbitrary and often massive arrests.”

Following the killings, anti-government protests picked up new momentum, after December 2012 after several bodyguards of Finance Minister Rafie al-Issawi, the highest-ranking Sunni Arab in the cabinet, were arrested on suspicion of engaging in terrorism.

Sunnis are functionally excluded from government. The few who participate are coopted by Maliki.

The protests for rights and over the deaths has dragged the west of the country into unprecedented chaos since the peak of sectarian violence between 2006 and 2008.

Among the most prominent protesters is Ghanim Alabed, a resident of Mosul town about 400 km northwest of Baghdad.

“Mosul has become a real nightmare over the last year,” Alabed, who has joined Karama, tells IPS. “Car bombs, kidnappings, killing of tribal leaders or simply ordinary civilians are sadly common currency among us, yet again.”

Alabed says most attacks are carried out by “either the army or Shia militias.” He says local journalists are increasingly being targeted. At least 50 journalists have been killed in Mosul alone since 2003.

The U.S. based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) named Iraq the “worst nation” in its 2013 Impunity Index of unsolved journalist murders.

“I cannot set foot in Mosul, Baghdad or any other Arab part of Iraq because I know they will kill me straightaway,” says Alabed, who moved to Erbil with his family a few months ago.

His face is familiar to almost every Iraqi, and not just for his public appearances at many demonstrations. Cartoons portraying him as a terrorist leader have been shown on a government-funded TV channel.

“Americans had labelled all Sunni insurgents ‘Al-Qaeda’ and, today, Maliki still sticks to that line,” says Alabed. “But the truth is that most of us hate Al-Qaeda because we know that they are backed by Iran. Their sole aim is to destroy our society and prevent us from sharing power.”

The proof, he says, is that Islamic extremists hardly ever target Shias in his hometown.

The death toll is increasing by the day. Mera Faris Hassan, a tribal leader from Samarra, 130 km northwest of Baghdad, is mourning the death last week of Sheikh Juma al-Samarrai in his hometown.

Hassan tells IPS a curfew is in force in Samarra. He condemns constant attacks from both the government and unidentified groups.

“Through Karama we will struggle to get rid of policies meant only to justify repression against our people,” says Hassan. “We deserve to get back our legitimate rights as Iraqis.”

The emergency situation extends to virtually every Sunni area in Iraq. But Fallujah, 60 kilometres west of Baghdad, could well be facing the worst of the unrest.

Karama candidate Mohamed Jassim speaks of a mass exodus of civilians from Fallujah to Baghdad and Erbil. The situation in Fallujah, he says, is a “humanitarian catastrophe”.

“Every main road is blocked and the only way in and out is through secondary roads, and often on foot. The outskirts of the city are under the control of armed gangs but it’s difficult to know whether they are Al-Qaeda fighters or tribal militias because most are masked and carry no emblems.

“The biggest threat, though, comes from the constant bombings by the Iraqi air force,” the 44-year-old candidate tells IPS.

Karama hopes to become an effective political voice for Sunnis, but Jassim cautions that Karama is a “long-term” project. At this nascent stage and under the difficult circumstances it is hard to gauge whether Karama can emerge as a Sunni political force to contend with.

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The Iranian Nuclear Weapons Programme That Wasn’t http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iranian-nuclear-weapons-programme-wasnt/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iranian-nuclear-weapons-programme-wasnt http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/iranian-nuclear-weapons-programme-wasnt/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 01:07:26 +0000 Gareth Porter http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133622 When U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz unsealed the indictment of a Chinese citizen in the UK for violating the embargo against Iran, she made what appeared to be a new U.S. accusation of an Iran nuclear weapons programme. The press release on the indictment announced that between in November 2005 and 2012, Sihai […]

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By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

When U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Carmen M. Ortiz unsealed the indictment of a Chinese citizen in the UK for violating the embargo against Iran, she made what appeared to be a new U.S. accusation of an Iran nuclear weapons programme.

The press release on the indictment announced that between in November 2005 and 2012, Sihai Cheng had supplied parts that have nuclear applications, including U.S.-made goods, to an Iranian company, Eyvaz Technic Manufacturing, which it described as “involved in the development and procurement of parts for Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”The text of the indictment ...was yet another iteration of a rhetorical device used often in the past to portray Iran’s gas centrifuge enrichment programme as equivalent to the development of nuclear weapons.

Reuters, Bloomberg, the Boston Globe, the Chicago Tribune and The Independent all reported that claim as fact. But the U.S. intelligence community, since its well-known November 2007 National Intelligence Estimate, has continued to be very clear on the pubic record about its conclusion that Iran has not had a nuclear weapons programme since 2003.

Something was clearly amiss with the Justice Department’s claim.

The text of the indictment reveals that the reference to a “nuclear weapons program” was yet another iteration of a rhetorical device used often in the past to portray Iran’s gas centrifuge enrichment programme as equivalent to the development of nuclear weapons.

The indictment doesn’t actually refer to an Iranian nuclear weapons programme, as the Ortiz press release suggested. But it does say that the Iranian company in question, Eyvaz Tehnic Manufacturing, “has supplied parts for Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.”

The indictment claims that Eyvaz provided “vacuum equipment” to Iran’s two uranium enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow and “pressure transducers” to Kalaye Electric Company, which has worked on centrifuge research and development.

But even those claims are not supported by anything except a reference to a Dec. 2, 2011 decision by the Council of the European Union that did not offer any information supporting that claim.

The credibility of the EU claim was weakened, moreover, by the fact that the document describes Eyvaz as a “producer of vacuum equipment.” The company’s website shows that it produces equipment for the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, including level controls and switches, control valves and steam traps.

Further revealing its political nature of indictment’s nuclear weapons claim, it cites two documents “designating” entities for their ties to the nuclear programme: the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1737 and a U.S. Treasury Department decision two months later.

Neither of those documents suggested any connection between Eyvaz and nuclear weapons. The UNSC Resolution, passed Dec. 23, 2006, referred to Iran’s enrichment as “proliferation sensitive nuclear activities” in 11 different places in the brief text and listed Eyvaz as one of the Iranian entities to be sanctioned for its involvement in those activities.

And in February 2007 the Treasury Department designated Kalaye Electric Company as a “proliferator of Weapons of Mass Destruction” merely because of its “research and development efforts in support of Iran’s nuclear centrifuge program.”

The designation by Treasury was carried out under an Executive Order 13382, issued by President George W. Bush, which is called “Blocking Property of Weapons of Mass destruction Proliferators and Their Supporters.” That title conveyed the impression to the casual observer that the people on the list had been caught in actual WMD proliferation activities.

But the order required allowed the U.S. government to sanction any foreign person merely because that person was determined to have engaged in activities that it argued “pose a risk of materially contributing” to “the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or their means of delivery”.

The Obama administration’s brazen suggestion that it was indicting an individual for exporting U.S. products to a company that has been involved in Iran’s “nuclear weapons program” is simply a new version of the same linguistic trick used by the Bush administration.

The linguistic acrobatics began with the political position that Iran’s centrifuge programme posed a “risk” of WMD proliferation; that “risk” of proliferation was then conflated with nuclear proliferation activities, when than was transmuted into “development of nuclear weapons”.

The final linguistic shift was to convert “development of nuclear weapons” into a “nuclear weapons program”.

That kind of the deceptive rhetoric about the Iranian nuclear programme began with the Bill Clinton administration, which argued, in effect, that nuclear weapons development could be inferred from Iran’s enrichment programme.

Although Cheng and Jamili clearly violated U.S. statutes in purchasing and importing the pressure transducers from the United States and sending them to Eyvaz in Iran, a close reading of the indictment indicates that the evidence that Eyvaz provided the transducers to the Iranian nuclear programme is weak at best.

The indictment says Cheng began doing business with Jamili and his company Nicaro in November 2005, and that he sold thousands of Chinese parts “with nuclear applications” which had been requested by Eyvaz. But all the parts listed in the indictment are dual use items that Eyvaz could have ordered for production equipment for oil and gas industry customers.

The indictment insinuates that Eyvaz was ordering the parts to pass them on to Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz, but provides no real evidence of that intent. It quotes Jamili as informing Cheng in 2007 that his unnamed customer needed the parts for “a very big project and a secret one”. In 2008, he told Cheng that the customer was “making a very dangerous system and gas leakage acts as a bomb!”

The authors do not connect either of those statements to Eyvaz, but they suggest that it was a reference to gas centrifuges and thus imply that it must have been Eyvaz. “During the enrichment of uranium using gas centrifuges,” the indictment explains, “extremely corrosive chemicals are produced that could cause fire and explosions.”

That statement is highly misleading, however. There is no real risk of gas leaks from centrifuges causing fires or explosions, as MIT nuclear expert Scott R. Kemp told IPS in an interview. “The only risk of a gas leak [in centrifuge enrichment] is to the centrifuge itself,” said Kemp, “because the gas could leak into the centrifuge and cause it to crash.”

On the other hand, substantial risk of explosion and fire from gas leaks exists in the natural gas industry. So even if the customer referred to in the quotes had been Eyvaz, they would have been consistent with that company’s sales to gas industry customers.

Pressure transducers are used to control risk in that industry, as Todd McPadden of Ashcroft Instruments in Stratford, Connecticut told IPS. The pressure transducer measures the gas pressure and responds to any indication of either loss of pressure from leaks or build up of excessive pressure, McPadden explained.

The indictment shows in detail that in 2009 Eyvaz ordered hundreds of pressure transducers, which came from the U.S. company MKS. But again the indictment cites no real evidence that Eyvaz was ordering them to supply Iran’s enrichment facilities.

It refers only to photographs showing that MKS parts ended up in the centrifuge cascades at Natanz, which does constitute evidence that they came from Eyvaz.

Gareth Porter, an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy, received the UK-based Gellhorn Prize for journalism for 2011 for articles on the U.S. war in Afghanistan. His new book “Manufactured Crisis: the Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare”, was published Feb. 14.

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U.S. Blasted on Failure to Ratify IMF Reforms http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-blasted-failure-ratify-imf-reforms/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-blasted-failure-ratify-imf-reforms http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-s-blasted-failure-ratify-imf-reforms/#comments Sat, 12 Apr 2014 00:31:45 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133620 While Republicans complain relentlessly about U.S. President Barack Obama’s alleged failure to exert global leadership on geo-political issues like Syria and Ukraine, they are clearly undermining Washington’s leadership of the world economy. That conclusion became inescapable here during this week’s in-gathering of the world’s finance ministers and central bankers at the annual spring meeting here […]

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By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Apr 12 2014 (IPS)

While Republicans complain relentlessly about U.S. President Barack Obama’s alleged failure to exert global leadership on geo-political issues like Syria and Ukraine, they are clearly undermining Washington’s leadership of the world economy.

That conclusion became inescapable here during this week’s in-gathering of the world’s finance ministers and central bankers at the annual spring meeting here of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank.The delays are clearly damaging Washington’s global economic and geo-political agenda: persuading other G20 countries to adopt expansionary policies and punish Moscow for its moves against Ukraine.

In the various caucuses which they attended before the formal meeting began Friday, they made clear that they were quickly running out of patience with Congress’s – specifically, the Republican-led House of Representatives – refusal to ratify a 2010 agreement by the Group of 20 (G20) to modestly democratise the IMF and expand its lending resources.

“The implementation of the 2010 reforms remains our highest priority, and we urge the U.S. to ratify these reforms at the earliest opportunity,” exhorted the G20, which represent the world’s biggest economies, in an eight-point communiqué issued here Friday.

“If the 2010 reforms are not ratified by year-end, we will call on the IMF to build on its existing work and develop options for next steps…” the statement asserted in what observers here called an unprecedented warning against the Bretton Woods agencies’ most powerful shareholder.

The message was echoed by the Group of 24 (G24) caucus, which represents developing countries, although, unlike the G20, its communique didn’t mention the U.S. by name.

“We are deeply disappointed that the IMF quota and governance reforms agreed to in 2010 have not yet come into effect due to non-ratification by its major shareholder,” the G24 said.

“This represents a significant impediment to the credibility, legitimacy and effectiveness of the Fund and inhibits the ability to undertake further, necessary reforms and meet forward-looking commitments.”

The reform package, the culmination of a process that began under Obama’s notoriously unilateralist Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, would double contributions to the IMF’s general fund to 733 billion dollars and re-allocate quotas – which determine member-states’ voting power and how much they can borrow – in a way that better reflects the relative size of emerging markets in the global economy.

In addition to enhancing the IMF’s lending resources, the main result of the pending changes would increase the quotas of China, Brazil, Russia, India, and Turkey, for example, at the expense of European members whose collective representation on the Fund’s board is far greater than the relative size of their economies.

Spain, for instance, currently has voting shares similar in size to Brazil’s, despite the fact that the Spanish economy is less than two-thirds the size of Brazil’s. And of the 24 seats on the IMF’s executive board, eight to ten of them are occupied by European governments at any one time.

The reforms would only change the status quo only modestly. While the European Union (EU) members currently hold a 30.2 percent quota collectively, that would be reduced only to 28.5 percent. The biggest gains would be made by the so-called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) – from 11 percent to 14.1 percent — although almost all of the increase would go to Beijing.

Washington’s quota would be marginally reduced – from 16.7 percent to 16.5 percent, preserving its veto power over major institutional changes (which require 85 percent of all quotas). Low-income countries’ share would remain the same at a mere 7.5 percent collectively, although their hope – shared by civil-society groups, such as Jubilee USA and the New Rules for Global Finance Coalition — is that this reform will make future changes in their favour easier.

Thus far, 144 of the IMF’s 188 member-states, including Britain, France, and Germany and other European countries that stand to lose voting share, have ratified the package. But, without the 16.7 percent U.S. quota, the reforms can’t take effect.

The Obama administration has been criticised for not pressing Congress for ratification with sufficient urgency. But, realising that its allies’ patience was running thin, it pushed hard last month to attach the reform package to legislation providing a one-billion-dollar bilateral aid package for Ukraine during the crisis with Russia over Crimea.

While the Democratic-led Senate approved the attachment, the House Republican leadership rejected it, despite the fact that Kiev would have been able to increase its borrowing from the IMF by about 50 percent under the pending reforms.

House Republicans – who, under the Tea Party’s influence, have moved ever-rightwards and become more unilateralist on foreign policy since the Bush administration – have shown great distrust for multilateral institutions of any kind.

Both the far-right Heritage Foundation and the neo-conservative Wall Street Journal have railed against the reforms, arguing variously that they could cost the U.S. taxpayer anywhere from one billion dollars to far more if IMF clients default on loans, and that the changes would reduce Washington’s ability to veto specific loans.

They say the IMF’s standard advice to its borrowers to raise taxes and devalue their currency is counter-productive and could become worse given the Fund’s new emphasis on reducing income inequalities; and that, according to the Journal, the reforms “will increase the clout of countries with different economic and geo-political interests than America’s.”

Encouraged by, among others, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and their Wall Street contributors, some House Republicans have indicated they could support the reforms. But thus far they have insisted that they would only do so in exchange for Obama’s easing new regulations restricting political activities by tax-exempt right-wing groups.

Meanwhile, however, the delays are clearly damaging Washington’s global economic and geo-political agenda – persuading other G20 countries to adopt expansionary policies and punish Moscow for its moves against Ukraine – during the meetings here.

“The proposed IMF reforms are a no-brainer,” according to Molly Elgin-Cossart, a senior fellow for national security and international policy at the Center for American Progress. “They modernise the IMF and restore American leadership on the global stage at a time when the world desperately needs it, without additional cost for American taxpayers.”

Further delay, especially now that the G20 appear to have set a deadline, could in fact reduce Washington’s influence.

While she stressed she was not prepared to give up on Congress, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde told reporters Thursday the Fund may soon have to resort to a “Plan B” to implement the reforms without Washington’s consent.

While she did not provide details of what are now backroom discussions, two highly respected former senior U.S. Treasury secretaries suggested in a letter published Thursday by the Financial Times that “the Fund should move ahead without the U.S. …by raising funds from others while depriving the U.S. of some or all of its longstanding power to block major Fund actions.”

C. Fred Bergsten and Edwin Truman, who served under Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, respectively, suggested that the IMF could make permanent an initiative to arrange temporary bilateral credit lines of nearly 500 billion dollars from 38 countries who could decide on their disposition without the U.S.

More radically, they wrote, the Fund could increase total country quota subscriptions that would remove Washington’s veto power over institutional changes.

“The U.S. deserves to lose influence if it continues to fail to lead,” the two former officials wrote.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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U.N. Non-Committal over U.S. Visa Refusal to Iranian Envoy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-non-committal-u-s-visa-refusal-iranian-envoy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-n-non-committal-u-s-visa-refusal-iranian-envoy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/u-n-non-committal-u-s-visa-refusal-iranian-envoy/#comments Tue, 08 Apr 2014 21:44:30 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133526 When New York City was picked as the location for the United Nations many moons ago, the politically-important decision was followed by the 1947 U.S.-U.N. Headquarters Agreement which obligated Washington to facilitate – not hinder – the smooth functioning of the world body. But over the years, there have been clear violations of this agreement, […]

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Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) greets Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, prior to a ministerial-level meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement on Sep. 27, 2013. Beside Mr. Rouhani is Javad Zarif, Iran’s Minister for Foreign Affairs. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) greets Hassan Rouhani, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, prior to a ministerial-level meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement on Sep. 27, 2013. Beside Mr. Rouhani is Javad Zarif, Iran’s Minister for Foreign Affairs. Credit: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 8 2014 (IPS)

When New York City was picked as the location for the United Nations many moons ago, the politically-important decision was followed by the 1947 U.S.-U.N. Headquarters Agreement which obligated Washington to facilitate – not hinder – the smooth functioning of the world body.

But over the years, there have been clear violations of this agreement, as evidenced in the refusal of a visa to Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat to address the U.N. General Assembly back in 1988, and the current mass cancellations of bank accounts of over 70 U.N. missions and their diplomatic staff in New York."Iran is a founding member of the U.N. - regardless of political inclination." -- former ASG Samir Sanbar

And on Monday the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to urge the administration of President Barack Obama to refuse a visa to Iran’s newly appointed U.N. ambassador, Hamid Aboutalebi, on the grounds he was involved in the 1979 forcible takeover of the U.S. embassy and its diplomatic personnel in Tehran.

The ambassador-in-waiting says he was only a translator and negotiator between the hostages and the hostage takers – and that he was not even in Tehran when the embassy was physically taken over by a group called the Muslim Students.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is currently visiting Africa, has implicitly refused to weigh in on the dispute, judging by the sentiments expressed by his deputy spokesperson.

Asked for a response, U.N. Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq told IPS it is essentially a bilateral dispute between the United States and Iran.

“Let’s see what develops and if we need to pronounce ourselves on that somewhere down the line, we’d look at what we need to say,” he said last week.

“I don’t think we are going to get ahead of the game and try to speculate what might happen based on current circumstances,” Haq added.

Asked whether the United States, as host country, can block any U.N. envoys taking office, he told reporters Tuesday he has no comments since it is being handled bilaterally.

Samir Sanbar, a former U.N. assistant secretary-general (ASG) who served in various capacities under five different secretaries-general, told IPS the Iranian case reflects confusion between bilateral politics and international diplomacy.

“While relations between two member states are subject mainly to dual reciprocal relations, membership of the international community would have wider inclusive guidelines including, for example, the 1947 U.N. Headquarters Agreement with the host country,” he added.

“With all due support for the Palestinian cause, a basic difference between Chairman Arafat’s visa-refusal is that while the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) had the status of an Observer, Iran is a founding member of the U.N. – regardless of political inclination,” said Sanbar, a former head of the U.N.’s Department of Public Information.

Just after the Senate vote, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf was quoted as saying that Washington had raised “serious concerns” with Iran about the envoy’s appointment.

She added, “But we do take our obligations as host nation for the United Nations very seriously.”

Asked if any ambassadors accredited to the United Nations had been refused visas, Haq told reporters that was a fairly long historical question.

“I think the U.N. Library has a lot of the resources that you need in terms of something that goes back through the entire history of the United Nations,” he said.

It would be difficult to find at this stage, he said, adding, “What I can tell you is there have been times when there have been differing problems about credentials, which have been resolved in different ways, but each case is basically unique.”

In his address to the 1988 General Assembly session in Geneva, perhaps the only one of its kind, Arafat took a swipe at Washington when he prefaced his statement by saying “it never occurred to me that my second meeting with this honourable Assembly, since 1974, would take place in the hospitable city of Geneva”.

That visa refusal took place under the administration of then U.S. President Ronald Reagan, a Republican.

Last month, an African ambassador who had his bank accounts arbitrarily cancelled told delegates it is time to seriously consider relocating the U.N. headquarters away from the United States because of the increasingly unfriendly environment to U.N. diplomats in New York City.

Sanbar told IPS when the General Assembly temporarily moved to Geneva to hear Arafat, the most senior U.S./U.N.Secretariat official at the time, Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly Affairs Ambassador Joseph Vernon Reed, who was politically a Republican like President Reagan, took a position of principled courage by going to oversee the politically-charged meeting.

He also said it will be interesting to note the stand taken by the current Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman, a former U.S. ambassador in Lebanon and assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs who, as a U.N. official had already visited Tehran twice.

“By nature of its work, the U.N. is an Organisation of Peace. Any step towards reconciliation will be better than attempts at confrontation,” he said.

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Criminal Court a U.S.-Israeli “Red Line” for Palestinians http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/criminal-court-u-s-israeli-red-line-palestinians/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=criminal-court-u-s-israeli-red-line-palestinians http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/criminal-court-u-s-israeli-red-line-palestinians/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 22:52:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133495 When Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas decided to defy the United States and Israel over stalled peace negotiations, he formally indicated to the United Nations last week that Palestine will join 15 international conventions relating mostly to the protection of human rights and treaties governing conflicts and prisoners of war. But he held back one of […]

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Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., briefs journalists Apr. 2 on the signing of international treaties and conventions by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Riyad H. Mansour, Permanent Observer of the State of Palestine to the U.N., briefs journalists Apr. 2 on the signing of international treaties and conventions by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

When Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas decided to defy the United States and Israel over stalled peace negotiations, he formally indicated to the United Nations last week that Palestine will join 15 international conventions relating mostly to the protection of human rights and treaties governing conflicts and prisoners of war.

But he held back one of his key bargaining chips that Israel and the United States fear most: becoming a party to the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court (ICC) to punish war crimes and genocide – and where Israelis could be docked.

Asked whether it was a wise move, Darryl Li, a post-doctoral research scholar at Columbia University, told IPS, “I would call it a clever move, not necessarily a wise one.”

There’s no question avoidance of ICC was deliberate, that’s clearly a U.S.-Israeli “red line,” he said. So it makes sense as a way to prolong negotiations.

A Flurry of Treaty Signing by Abbas

The United Nations said last week it had received 13 of the 15 letters for accession to international conventions and treaties deposited with the world body.

They include: the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations; Vienna Convention on Consular Relations; Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in armed conflict; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Also included were the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties; International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; United Nations Convention against Corruption; Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide; International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

Meanwhile, accession letters for the following two conventions were submitted respectively to the Swiss and Dutch representatives respectively: the Four Geneva Conventions of Aug. 12, 1949 and the First Additional Protocol, for the Swiss; and the Hague Convention (IV) respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations Concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land, for the Dutch.

“But since the current framework for negotiations won’t yield just outcomes due to the Palestinians’ lack of leverage, I wouldn’t call it ‘wise’,” he declared.

And in a blog post for the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP) last week, Li underlined the political double standards: “Israel demands that Washington release the convicted spy Jonathan Pollard while the Palestinians are blamed for voluntarily shouldering obligations to respect human rights and the laws of war.”

Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said, “It is disturbing that the Obama administration, which already has a record of resisting international accountability for Israeli rights abuses, would also oppose steps to adopt treaties requiring Palestinian authorities to uphold human rights.”

He said the U.S. administration should press both the Palestinians and the Israelis to better abide by international human rights standards.

In a statement released Monday, HRW said Palestine’s adoption of human rights and laws-of-war treaties would not cause any change in Israel’s international legal obligations.

The U.S. government should support rather than oppose Palestinian actions to join international treaties that promote respect for human rights.

HRW also said that U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power last week testified before Congress that in response to the new Palestinian actions, the solemn commitment by the U.S. to stand with Israel “extends to our firm opposition to any and all unilateral [Palestinian] actions in the international arena.”

She said Washington is absolutely adamant that Palestine should not join the ICC because it poses a profound threat to Israel and would be devastating to the peace process.

The rights group pointed out the ratification of The Hague Regulations and Geneva Conventions would strengthen the obligations of Palestinian forces to abide by international rules on armed conflict.

Armed groups in Gaza, which operate outside the authority or effective control of the Palestinian leadership that signed the treaties, have committed war crimes by launching indiscriminate rocket attacks against Israeli population centres, HRW said.

HRW also said Washington appears to oppose Palestine joining human rights treaties in part because it is afraid they will gain greater support for Palestinian statehood outside the framework of negotiations with Israel.

Li said the choice of agreements signed indicated a desire to ruffle feathers but go no further.

Notably, Abbas did not sign the Rome Convention of the ICC, which would have exposed Israeli officials to the possibility, however remote, of prosecution for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Moreover, Abbas also declined to set into motion membership applications to any of the U.N.’s various specialised agencies, such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) or Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Such a move would have triggered provisions under U.S. law that automatically cut U.S. funding to those bodies, as occurred when Palestine joined the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 2011, Li wrote in his blog post.

Meanwhile, the group known as The Elders, which include former world political leaders, said in a statement Monday that the Palestinian move is consistent with the U.N. non-member observer state status obtained by Palestine in November 2012.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Norwegian prime minister and deputy chair of The Elders, said, “As a U.N. non-member observer state, Palestine is entitled to join international bodies. We welcome President Abbas’ decision to sign the Geneva Conventions and other important international human rights treaties.”

This move opens the way to more inclusive and accountable government in the West Bank and Gaza, she added.

It has the potential to strengthen respect for human rights and provide ordinary Palestinians with essential legal protections against discrimination or abuses by their own government, Brundtland noted.

“In global terms, it will also increase their ability to enjoy, in practice, the protection of their basic rights granted to them by international law,” she said.

Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, also a member of The Elders, said the decision by the Palestinians to exercise their right to join international organisations should not be seen as a blow to peace talks.

“I hope that, on the contrary, it will help to redress the power imbalance between Israelis and Palestinians, as we approach the 29 April deadline set by [U.S. Secretary of State John] Kerry.”

More than ever, he said, both parties urgently need to make the necessary compromises to reach a lasting peace with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.

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Ukraine Crisis Cements Astana in Russia’s Orbit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ukraine-crisis-cements-astana-russias-orbit/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ukraine-crisis-cements-astana-russias-orbit http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/ukraine-crisis-cements-astana-russias-orbit/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 18:10:23 +0000 Joanna Lillis http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133492 The Crimea crisis is putting pressure on Kazakhstan’s long-standing, multi-vectored foreign policy, which has sought to balance the competing interests of Russia, China and the United States in Central Asia. In forcefully backing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, many in Kazakhstan worry that President Nursultan Nazarbayev could be setting himself up for separatist woes of his […]

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Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbayev shaking hands at a Kremlin meeting in December 2013. Credit: Kremlin Presidential Press and Information Office - CC BY 3.0

Vladimir Putin and Nursultan Nazarbayev shaking hands at a Kremlin meeting in December 2013. Credit: Kremlin Presidential Press and Information Office - CC BY 3.0

By Joanna Lillis
ASTANA, Apr 7 2014 (EurasiaNet)

The Crimea crisis is putting pressure on Kazakhstan’s long-standing, multi-vectored foreign policy, which has sought to balance the competing interests of Russia, China and the United States in Central Asia.

In forcefully backing Russia’s annexation of Crimea, many in Kazakhstan worry that President Nursultan Nazarbayev could be setting himself up for separatist woes of his own.“Kazakhstan’s position is dictated not so much by creed as by fear… Events in Crimea are a possible scenario for Kazakhstan too.” -- Aidos Sarym

At the Nuclear Security Summit on Mar. 25 in The Hague, Nazarbayev jumped off the diplomatic fence to offer strong support for Russia’s leader, Vladimir Putin, the architect of the Crimean land-grab.

Nazarbayev essentially blamed Ukraine’s new leaders for precipitating the crisis, saying that “an unconstitutional coup d’etat” had occurred in Kiev. He also noted there had been “discrimination against minority rights” in Ukraine, thus providing diplomatic cover for Russia’s position that it intervened to protect Russians in Crimea.

Outraged officials in Kiev called Nazarbayev’s remarks “unacceptable;” A Kazakhstani Foreign Ministry representative quickly retorted that the Ukrainian reaction was “dictated largely by emotions, and not common sense.”

The occasion marked Kiev’s second protest within a week: on Mar. 20 it complained about Astana’s recognition of the Mar. 16 Crimean referendum, which Russia proceeded to use as justification of its annexation of the peninsula.

On Mar. 27, Kazakhstan abstained in a vote against a U.N. resolution declaring the plebiscite invalid.

The crisis is placing considerable strain on Nazarbayev’s “multi-vector” approach, which is premised on the maintenance of good relations with all powers.

The policy, along with an abundance of natural resources, has raised Kazakhstan’s international profile during the post-Soviet era. Nazarbayev’s recent statements, however, are leading Kazakhstan into a “political and diplomatic blind alley,” cautioned opposition leader Amirzhan Kosanov.

“Kazakhstan has basically lost its independence in assessing events taking place in the world and, wittingly or unwittingly, is becoming hostage to the foreign policy pursued by the Kremlin,” Kosanov told EurasiaNet.org.

Kosanov is far from the only one worried. Kazakhstan’s pro-Russian stance is causing widespread consternation at home, where critics fret that Putin’s doctrine of intervening to protect Russian speakers in Crimea could eventually be applied to Kazakhstan – albeit in circumstances currently unimaginable, since Astana and Moscow are close allies and Russian speakers’ rights are guaranteed.

Northern Kazakhstan is home to a sizable Russian minority.

The similarities between Kazakhstan and Ukraine are blinding: both are post-Soviet states sharing long borders with Russia, with large ethnic Russian minorities (22 percent of the population in Kazakhstan’s case).

“Kazakhstan’s position is dictated not so much by creed as by fear… Events in Crimea are a possible scenario for Kazakhstan too,” Almaty-based analyst Aidos Sarym told EurasiaNet.org.

Hyperbolic headlines splashed across Kazakhstan’s press illustrate the apprehensions.

“Is Kazakhstan Threatened With Occupation Tomorrow?” thundered the Assandi Times. “Is Kazakhstan Being Dragged Into Someone Else’s War?” wondered Adam Bol magazine.

“Supporting the precedent of the actual annexation of Crimea from sovereign Ukraine, Akorda [the presidential administration] is itself encouraging possible separatist sentiments within the country,” said Kosanov.

Dosym Satpayev, director of the Almaty-based Risks Assessment Group think tank, suggested that Nazarbayev’s backing of Russia over Ukraine may represent what he sees as the lesser of two evils: for the 73-year-old president, in power for over two decades, his fear of domestic dissent seems to be overwhelming any concern that “separatist sentiments could be possible in Kazakhstan itself.”

“That means fears of revolutions and coups turned out to be higher for Kazakhstan’s leadership than fear of the threat of separatism,” he told EurasiaNet.org.

Unfazed by Nazarbayev’s pro-Kremlin stance, Western leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and French President Francois Hollande lined up to meet him in The Hague.

This suggests that Kazakhstan still retains lots of diplomatic wiggle room to get back squarely on a multi-vector track. As well as eyeing Kazakhstan’s oil and gas reserves, Western leaders may be hoping the veteran Kazakhstani leader can exert a behind-the-scenes, calming influence on the irascible Putin.

In a nod to Western sentiment and Kiev’s sensibilities, Astana has mixed pro-Russian pronouncements with statements on the need to uphold Ukraine’s sovereignty, performing what Sarym calls a “verbal balancing act.”

The nuclear summit also offered Nazarbayev a PR opportunity to note the contrasts between Kazakhstan and Ukraine, says Satpayev, and laud “Kazakhstan’s domestic political and inter-ethnic stability.”

Nazarbayev has consistently made clear that, multi-vector policy notwithstanding, he considers Russia to be Kazakhstan’s main geostrategic ally. Beyond the politics of such a position lie glaring economic realities.

Russia is Kazakhstan’s largest trading partner, last year accounting for 36 percent of imports worth 17.6 billion dollars and seven percent of exports worth 5.8 billion dollars.

The trade balance may be in Russia’s favour, but – crucially for Kazakhstan – while most trading partners buy oil, Russia is a major consumer of non-oil exports.

Kazakhstan is also tied into economic cooperation with Russia through their membership of the Customs Union, a trilateral free trade zone with Belarus which is due to sign an agreement in May to expand into the Eurasian Economic Union from 2015.

For Putin, Ukraine’s tilt westward has infused his Eurasian Union vision with even greater political significance. Nazarbayev is a strong backer of Eurasian integration (he first proposed the idea of a Eurasian Union in 1994) – but he nowadays views the political element of integration with suspicion.

In The Hague he took pains to stress that Kazakhstan has a “purely pragmatic economic interest” in the union, which, as he pointed out, allows his landlocked country tariff-free access to the Black Sea through Russia.

Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that, in addition to political and economic factors, there is a “mental factor” contributing Kazakhstan’s support for Russia, suggests Sarym: many in the Astana political elite (including Nazarbayev) have held top posts since the Soviet era, and in their worldview, “Moscow is the center of the world and the Kremlin is a cultural mecca.”

Editor’s note:  Joanna Lillis is a freelance writer who specialises in Central Asia. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

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Taliban Provokes New Hunger for Education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/taliban-provokes-new-hunger-education/#comments Mon, 07 Apr 2014 06:41:26 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133460 Following scattered defiance of the Taliban earlier, a new wave of students is now heading for education in schools and colleges across the troubled north of Pakistan. “There is a steady increase in enrolment of students because parents have realised the significance of education, and now they want to thwart the Taliban’s efforts to deprive […]

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Girls at a makeshift school in Khyber Agency in the troubled northern region of Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

Girls at a makeshift school in Khyber Agency in the troubled northern region of Pakistan. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS.

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Apr 7 2014 (IPS)

Following scattered defiance of the Taliban earlier, a new wave of students is now heading for education in schools and colleges across the troubled north of Pakistan.

“There is a steady increase in enrolment of students because parents have realised the significance of education, and now they want to thwart the Taliban’s efforts to deprive students of education,” Pervez Khan, education officer in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), tells IPS.

In 2012, he says, the literacy rate for girls was three percent in FATA. That rose to 10.5 percent in 2013."Anything opposed by the Taliban benefits the people.” -- Muhammad Darwaish, a shopkeeper in Khyber Agency

The boys literacy rate shot up correspondingly to 36.6 percent compared to 29.5 percent.

The Taliban are opposed to modern education. They have destroyed about 500 schools, including 300 schools for girls.

Khan says the Taliban’s campaign against education is only propelling more of the tribal population towards schools.

“The majority of people know that the Taliban are pursuing anti-people activities, such as damaging schools, and therefore they are now coming in droves,” he says.

Muhammad Darwaish, a shopkeeper in Khyber Agency, agrees with Khan. “I enrolled my two daughters and one son in school because I am now convinced that education will benefit them. Anything opposed by the Taliban benefits the people.”

Saeeda Bibi, one of his daughters, says she enjoys school. “I go to school everyday and am very happy there. Before, I used to pass the whole day in the streets.”

Darwaish says he will make every effort to keep his children in school. “I am poor but I will make all efforts to see my children educated.”

Khyber Agency, one of the seven tribal agencies within FATA, has faced some of the worst of Taliban violence. Since 2005, 85 schools have been blown up, depriving about 50,000 children of a school to go to on the militancy-stricken Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

But Khyber Agency saw a 16.1 percent rise in enrolment last year compared to 2012.

Like Darwaish, scores of parents in FATA are now taking the education of their sons and daughters more seriously.

Abdul Jameel of Kurram Agency sends both his sons to school. “Militants have blown up three schools in our area, due to which my children sat at home. They are back because now the Taliban-damaged schools have been reconstructed.”

Director of Education in FATA, Ikram Ahmed, says they have seen a 21.3 percent rise in boys and girls enrolment in Kurram Agency, 7.5 percent in South Waziristan, 4.3 percent in North Waziristan and 5.1 percent in Orakzai Agency.

In all 124,424 girls are enrolled in 1,551 primary schools, 19,614 girls in 158 middle schools, 13,837 girls in 42 high schools and 1,134 girls in five higher secondary schools in FATA, Ahmed tells IPS.

“In the past few years, militant activities and the poor law and order situation in tribal areas badly hampered girls’ education but the government’s measures have paid off,” he says.

“The massive allocation of 3.67 billion rupees [37 million dollars] offset the impact of damage caused to educational institutions during the war against terrorism.”

Annually, education was given top priority in the development programme of 2013 – at 24.64 percent of the FATA budget of 18.5 billion rupees (188 million dollars).

The current year will bring 38 new middle schools, 125 primary schools and three hostels for female teachers.

Akram says that in some areas the army damaged schools because militants had been using them. “About 10 schools were destroyed by the army in South Waziristan where Taliban militants lived,” he says. All those schools are being rebuilt.

“In some areas, the government has established tent schools to provide education to children and at other places dozens of well-off people have offered private buildings and structures to be used as schools,” he says.

Bismillah Khan, one of the 20 lawmakers from FATA, tells IPS that the government will provide more scholarships and free textbooks to support poor students.

“We have suffered a great deal due to prolonged militancy,” says Iqbal Afridi, a leader of the Imran Khan-led Pakistan Tehreek Insaf. “Our students have suffered, businessmen and farmers have lost their work, and the only way to make progress is education. The good news is that people now want to educate their children at any cost.”

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Cuba’s Youth Were the Target of USAID’s ZunZuneo http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/cubas-youth-target-usaids-zunzuneo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cubas-youth-target-usaids-zunzuneo http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/cubas-youth-target-usaids-zunzuneo/#comments Sun, 06 Apr 2014 02:59:04 +0000 Patricia Grogg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133449 The generations born in Cuba in the last two or three decades, permeated by the influences of societies that differ radically from the one their government is trying to build, are in the eye of the ideological storm that feeds the conflict between Havana and Washington. On Thursday Apr. 3 the White House acknowledged that […]

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A young Cuban man wearing a New York cap and an Adidas T-shirt using a cell-phone in Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

A young Cuban man wearing a New York cap and an Adidas T-shirt using a cell-phone in Havana. Credit: Jorge Luis Baños/IPS

By Patricia Grogg
HAVANA, Apr 6 2014 (IPS)

The generations born in Cuba in the last two or three decades, permeated by the influences of societies that differ radically from the one their government is trying to build, are in the eye of the ideological storm that feeds the conflict between Havana and Washington.

On Thursday Apr. 3 the White House acknowledged that from 2009 to 2012, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) was behind the ZunZuneo social network – the “Cuban Twitter” that targeted young people and reached a peak of 40,000 subscribers.

Its apparent aim was to destabilise and topple the government of Raúl Castro. But the programme came to an end when it ran out of funds.“For the White House spokesman to say that it’s not a covert operation is simply a bald lie.” – Peter Kornbluh

“Young people today dislike equally pressure [from the Cuban government] to go to the May 1 march and calls, through text messages, to hold protests,” 29-year-old journalist Antonio Rodríguez, who decided to immigrate to the Unites States for economic reasons and to join his father, told IPS. “It’s the same idea: telling them to do what others want them to do.”

However, “young people are the main target [for this kind of activity] because they are always the ones who push forward social changes. Older people have preconceived notions, while young people are rebellious by nature and try to change things.

“But we are very busy dealing with economic difficulties, caught up in the day to day. The spirit of protest, of holding strikes, has been lost,” he added.

Miguel Castro, a 32-year-old self-employed worker, said that people who are today 25 years old are the children of the crisis that broke out in Cuba in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which the Cuban economy depended on.

“Their political commitment to the historic generation [that experienced the 1959 revolution] has been injured; they haven’t seen the government update its discourse and adapt it to the reality and needs of the young,” he argued.

A study by the Centre for Psychological and Sociological Research found that “socio-political aspirations” continue to be important among university students, unlike among segments with lower levels of education or less skilled jobs, where political participation dropped to the bottom of their list of concerns.

Young people “are the perfect target group for this project which also benefited from the fact that it could be done remotely,” Latin America researcher Peter Kornbluh, of the Washington-based National Security Archive, which requests and publishes declassified U.S. government documents, told IPS.

“All of the good research on Cuban society points out that the younger generation is completely detached from the revolution. They’ve grown up almost entirely in this period – from the collapse of the Soviet Union onwards – they’ve never really seen the benefits of the Cuban revolution. They have an interest in communications and the modern world,” he added.

ZunZuneo – the term in Cuba for the noise made by “zunzunes” or hummingbirds – was based on text messages and took advantage of a Cuban problem: the restricted access to telecommunications and the Internet for the average Cuban, which the government blames on economic problems.

In May 2012, the authorities in Venezuela announced that the underwater fibre optic cable to Cuba was operational. But the Cuban government kept mum about it until January 2013, and an overall improvement in connectivity has not been noted.

The use of social networks has grown in Cuba since the government opened 145 Internet cafes, which offer connection to the worldwide web, international email service or the national web, depending on what the client pays for. And since March, cell-phone users can check their email using the domain @nauta.cu.

In this Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million people, as of mid-March there were two million people with cell-phones – more than the 1.27 million fixed lines, a density of just 28.9 per 100 inhabitants.

ZunZuneo was financed with 1.6 million dollars in funds that were publicly allocated to an unspecified USAID project in Pakistan.

The users never knew that a U.S. agency linked to the State Department was behind the network, or that the programme was gathering information to be used for political purposes in the future.

“This is a modern version of a CIA [Central Intelligence Agency] covert propaganda operation. In many ways, this is a classic covert operation with shell companies, cut-outs, multinational actors with companies in London and Spain and Managua, and hidden bank accounts,” said Kornbluh.

“For the White House spokesman [Jay Carney] to say that it’s not a covert operation is simply a bald lie. It looks like AID is the new CIA, particularly AID’s Office of Transitional Initiatives, which is a murky, mysterious entity clearly working covertly on regime change projects targeting Cuba,” he added.

The revelations about ZunZuneo were the result of an investigation published Thursday by the AP news agency, which created a considerable stir in the Cuban government and state-controlled media.

According to the AP report, the programme’s aim was to reach a critical mass of perhaps 200,000 subscribers, at which point political content would be introduced in the messages sent by ZunZuneo, in order to prompt Cubans to organise “smart mobs” – mass protests arranged via text message that could trigger a “Cuban spring”, a reference to the revolutions that broke out in 2011 in the Middle East.

In a statement to foreign correspondents to Cuba Thursday, Josefina Vidal, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s North American affairs division, said the ZunZuneo programme “shows once again that the United States government has not renounced its plans of subversion against Cuba.”

According to Kornbluh, USAID “gets 20 million dollars dumped into its coffers for its Cuba Democracy project every year, and it has to figure out creative ways to spend it.

“This was creative, but, in the end, it completely and utterly failed, just like the Alan Gross project failed,” he said, referring to the USAID contractor serving a 15-year sentence in Cuba for plotting against the state.

“This operation in hindsight looks silly except that its revelation right now threatens to undercut any momentum in Washington and Havana coming to a meeting of minds on better relations in the future,” Kornbluh stated.

With reporting by Ivet González in Havana and Jim Lobe in Washington.

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Discomfort over Crimea Annexation Among Emerging Powers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/discomfort-crimea-annexation-among-emerging-powers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=discomfort-crimea-annexation-among-emerging-powers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/discomfort-crimea-annexation-among-emerging-powers/#comments Sat, 05 Apr 2014 00:00:17 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133437 Last month’s annexation by Russia of Crimea and the West’s reaction have placed emerging regional powers, which have generally supported Moscow’s position on key geopolitical developments, in a difficult position, according to U.S. analysts. Moscow’s move, which followed its de facto military takeover of the peninsula and a snap referendum on joining Russia of the […]

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Crowds waving Crimean and Russian flags in Simferopol in Crimea after the referendum. Credit: Alexey Yakushechkin/IPS

Crowds waving Crimean and Russian flags in Simferopol in Crimea after the referendum. Credit: Alexey Yakushechkin/IPS

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Apr 5 2014 (IPS)

Last month’s annexation by Russia of Crimea and the West’s reaction have placed emerging regional powers, which have generally supported Moscow’s position on key geopolitical developments, in a difficult position, according to U.S. analysts.

Moscow’s move, which followed its de facto military takeover of the peninsula and a snap referendum on joining Russia of the mainly Russian-speaking population there, has also underlined differences within the so-called BRICS bloc, which includes Brazil, India, China, and South Africa, as well as Russia.“They don’t want to be pulled into a fight between the big dogs." -- Rajan Menon

Rather than vote with Moscow, the four non-Russian BRICS members all abstained on last week’s vote at the U.N. General Assembly, which affirmed the world body’s commitment to recognise Crimea as part of Ukraine and declared the snap referendum, which took place in mid-March, invalid.

China abstained on a similar resolution in the U.N. Security Council on the eve of the referendum. Russia cast the lone veto.

“I think the Chinese decision to abstain, rather than back Russia, was a very significant decision,” said Bruce Jones, who directs the Brookings Institution’s International Order and Strategy project.

“The Chinese and the Russians have long paired up in their willingness to back each other in vetoes, and, for an issue as important as this, with the Russians putting as much emphasis on this as they did, for the Chinese to abstain was a really significant signal that they were not willing to simply close their eyes to Moscow’s action,” he told IPS.

“Overall this is an event that will sow discord within the BRICS’ grouping and will make the Chinese, Indians, Brazilians, and others think more carefully about their support for and partnership with Russia,” according to Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

Moscow’s annexation, which has been countered by a series of still-escalating economic and diplomatic sanctions imposed by U.S.-led Western nations, has provoked considerable division among both the non-Russian BRICS, as well as other members of the Non-Aligned Nations.

While only 11 countries – all of them either closely allied to Russia or reflexively anti-U.S. in foreign policy orientation – voted against the resolution, 58 countries, including the four BRICS members, as well as other politically significant countries such as Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kenya, Pakistan, Uganda, and Vietnam, abstained.

One hundred countries voted in favour, including all European Union (EU) members, Turkey, Nigeria, Indonesia, and most of Latin America and the Gulf Arab states.

Two dozen countries didn’t show up, including several important countries with strong interests in alienating neither Russia nor the West, including several Central Asian nations with large Russian-speaking minorities.

Israel, which habitually aligns itself with Washington, and Iran, which normally opposes it but is now engaged in critical negotiations with the West over its nuclear programme, were both no-shows.

While Western leaders appear resigned to the irreversibility of Russian control of Crimea, they are hoping that what they see as the steadily rising economic and political costs incurred by Moscow – including capital flight and NATO commitments to move military assets further east toward the Russian border — will dissuade President Vladimir Putin from further adventurism either against Ukraine or in Russian-speaking areas of Romania and Moldova. Whether that works remains to be seen.

But the precedent-creating nature of Russia’s takeover – its use of military force (albeit without bloodshed), the violation of territorial integrity of a nation with internationally recognised borders, and its justification that Ukraine’s Russian-speaking population faced persecution and discrimination from what Moscow considers a regime that had illegally seized power against an elected president – has clearly troubled many nations, especially those with significant disaffected minorities.

“What is most threatening is that most states in the world are not homogenous,” said Rajan Menon, who teaches international relations at City University of New York (CUNY).

“India is a highly diverse nation, as is China and, in a way, South Africa, too. So the idea of holding a referendum to become separate states is naturally very troubling to them.”

“I think the other BRICS were all in their way quite uncomfortable with Russia’s moves in Crimea, but they’re also quite uncomfortable with the West using sanctions because they’re all quite vulnerable to that political weapon,” noted Jones, author of a just released book on the global order, ‘Still Ours to Lead: America, Rising Powers, and the Tension Between Rivalry and Restraint’.

The latter was demonstrated in the approval by the BRICS foreign ministers March 24 of a statement in which they rejected the reported suggestion by the foreign minister of Australia, which will host the next G20 summit in Brisbane in November, that Russia should be suspended or expelled form the group.

“The escalation of hostile language, sanctions and counter-sanctions, and force does not contribute to a sustainable and peaceful solution, according to international law, including the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter,” the statement said.

While some commentators interpreted the statement as backing Moscow, Jones noted that the foreign ministers rejected language in support of the annexation that had been sought by Russia.

“That goes to the core issue of the BRICS,” he said. “They’re strategically divided at the same time that they are unified in wanting to resist the West’s using its economic leverage to pressure them.”

Moreover, he added, the idea that Russia is leading anti-Western bloc – a theme raised by more right-wing voices here since the Crimea invasion – is “nonsense.”

Indeed, Kupchan, author of a 2012 book on world order, ‘No One’s World: The West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn’, told IPS he thinks the Western powers have gained in the international arena as a result of the Crimea crisis.

“Even though emerging powers are reluctant to align themselves clear with the West on this front, I think that they are for the most part on board with the Western response,” he said. “And the fact that so few countries have recognised Russia’s annexation of Crimes speak for itself.”

According to Menon, the BRICS want above all “a world with multiple centres of power,” a point that applies in particular to the less powerful BRICS members, namely India, Brazil, and South Africa, as well as other emerging powers.

“They don’t want to be pulled into a fight between the big dogs,” he told IPS. “They want maximum flexibility, a kind of strategic ambiguity, if you will.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

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Misgivings Rise Over Afghan Poll http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/misgivings-rise-afghan-poll/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=misgivings-rise-afghan-poll http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/04/misgivings-rise-afghan-poll/#comments Fri, 04 Apr 2014 06:40:40 +0000 Giuliano Battiston http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=133407 “If Abdullah will become president, the will of [the] Afghan people will be respected. Otherwise – especially if Zalmai Rassoul will be indicated as the winner – a new conflict will start and our country will become more insecure.” The remark by Abdullah Abdullah supporter Qazi Sadullah Abu Aman is typical of the uncertainties and […]

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Local party workers on the campaign trail in Mazar-e-Sharif. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

Local party workers on the campaign trail in Mazar-e-Sharif. Credit: Giuliano Battiston/IPS.

By Giuliano Battiston
FAIZABAD, Afghanistan, Apr 4 2014 (IPS)

“If Abdullah will become president, the will of [the] Afghan people will be respected. Otherwise – especially if Zalmai Rassoul will be indicated as the winner – a new conflict will start and our country will become more insecure.” The remark by Abdullah Abdullah supporter Qazi Sadullah Abu Aman is typical of the uncertainties and accusations rising as election day draws close on Saturday.

Sitting in his two-storey house in Faizabad, the largest city in the northeastern Badakhshan province, Abu Aman says only a massive fraud in favour of Rassoul, the presidential candidate backed by outgoing President Hamid Karzai, can stop former foreign minister and prominent Tajik leader Abdullah winning."The Independent Election Commission is independent only in name. It knows the ways here, but does not act.” -- Dr Anisgul Akhgar, director of the Relation & Cooperation Women Organisation

Abu Aman is one of the most authoritative figures in the province, as former head of the Provincial Peace Council, the government institution that runs the peace process with armed opposition groups, and a former member of the Afghan Upper House (Meshrano Jirga).

Abu Aman is a member of Jamiat-e-Islami, the predominately Tajik Islamist political party founded in the 1970s by Burhanuddin Rabbani. This was one of the major Afghan mujahedeen parties that fought the Soviet occupation in the eighties. He is also a candidate for election to the council of Badakhshan, one of the 34 Afghan provinces whose representatives will be elected Apr. 5, simultaneously with a new president to succeed Karzai.

“People will vote for him [Abdullah Abdullah] because he was a mujahed [religious fighter] who bravely fought the Soviets, and because he understands the problems of ordinary people. He is the right man to replace Karzai, whose government is corrupt and was unable to provide a better life for Afghans,” Abu Aman tells IPS.

Karzai, he says, has “activated the governmental machine to help Rassoul.”

Just a few hundred metres from Abu Aman’s house is the provincial office for Rassoul’s campaign. The office is headed by Basiri Khaled, a former mujahed with huge appeal.

He admits that Abdullah is a strong competitor: “He is known by everybody, kids and old men – and when you go to the bazaar you buy the product you already know. This is true. But Zalmai Rassoul has more chances to win, due to his programmes: he has promised to build schools, hospitals, roads, and to create new jobs through the mineral sector.”

In 2009, Khaled had coordinated Abdullah’s campaign; now he is running Rasoul’s. He sees no incoherence here, and says he still is a member of the Jamiat-e-Islami: “I’m a Jamiati since I was a kid,” he tells IPS. “I was a strong commander, the first to push away the Soviets from Badakhshan. I have fought together with commandant Masoud [the iconic leader of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, killed in September 2011, whose portraits overlook the main buildings here]. Nobody can expel me from the party.”

As evidence of the strength of his preferred candidate, Khaled says “thousands of people took part in his rally here in Faizabad.”

That may not mean much. “All candidates spend a lot of money to bring a huge number of people to their gatherings,” says Samiullah Saihwn, who works for the local radio Bayan-e-Shamal. “They gave money to the local commanders, and to community and village leaders to ensure broader participation. So it’s hard to understand who really will get the votes.”

On Mar. 31, Saihwn chaired a debate with some of the provincial council candidates. Promoted by the Badakhshan Civil Society Forum (BCSF), the debate was vibrant and frank. Many of the 250 or so people gathered at the Setara-e-Shar wedding hall in the city fired some very blunt questions.

“We had organised something similar in the earlier elections,” BCSF director Saifuddin Sais tells IPS. “But this was the first debate in town for the 2014 elections. We also have promoted debates and seminars in five rural districts, reaching more than 1,000 people and explaining to them the electoral process and their rights.”

Despite the awareness programmes by the BCSF, the gap between Faizabad and the rural areas remains huge.

“In Faizabad people somehow know their political rights, they know they can choose whoever they want, but in districts they have no information, no idea of what is going on,” says Saihwn. “They just follow what a local mullah, a commander or a power broker tells them. Ability is not a criterion.”

Dr Anisgul Akhgar, director of the Relation & Cooperation Women Organisation (RCWO), agrees. “Here in the city I perceive a great will to vote. Here anyone is free to select any of the candidates. But in rural districts local power brokers collect voter cards or indicate the people who have to be voted for.”

She fears that the election may therefore be unfair. “No effective measures have been taken to prevent fraud and rigging. The Independent Election Commission [the institution that should manage all the electoral process] is independent only in name. It knows the ways here, but does not act.”

Despite such apprehensions, Akhgar, a women’s rights activist since the days of the Taliban regime, will vote. “I will use my constitutional rights and I am encouraging all the women I know to do the same,” she tells IPS.

Zofanoon Hassam, head of the provincial Women Affairs Department, is also trying to encourage women’s participation.

“Through our awareness programmes we have spoken with more than 2,000 women. We have a registration centre here at our main office, and many women got their electoral cards here. According to our estimate, around 78,000 women in Faizabad – 44 percent of the total number – got it. We are particularly proud of this.”

The road to equal inclusion of women in politics is still long and difficult. “In many areas women are told who to vote for by their husbands. It’s a bad habits like this we are trying to dismiss. But more time is needed,” Hassam tells IPS.

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