Inter Press Service » Peace http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Wed, 30 Jul 2014 18:06:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 Israel Lobby Galvanises Support for Gaza War http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/israel-lobby-galvanises-support-for-gaza-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israel-lobby-galvanises-support-for-gaza-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/israel-lobby-galvanises-support-for-gaza-war/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 18:06:52 +0000 Mitchell Plitnick http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135825 National Security Adviser Susan Rice was interrupted by a protester who shouted “End the siege on Gaza." Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

National Security Adviser Susan Rice was interrupted by a protester who shouted “End the siege on Gaza." Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Mitchell Plitnick
WASHINGTON, Jul 30 2014 (IPS)

Pro-Israel activists assembled a huge crowd and a long list of congressional leaders and diplomats to declare their unconditional support for Israel’s military operations in the Gaza Strip on Monday, largely downplaying  tensions between Jerusalem and Washington.

Key congressional figures from both the Republican and Democratic Parties echoed similar views: that Israel was exercising its inherent right of self-defence, that the entire blame for the hostilities lies with Hamas, and reminding the audience, in a thinly veiled message to U.S. President Barack Obama, that Hamas is backed by Iran.Many of the speakers brought up Iranian sponsorship of Hamas, despite the fact that the relationship between them splintered after Hamas declared its support for the rebels in Syria.

Obama was represented at the event here, dubbed the National Leadership Assembly for Israel, by his national security adviser, Susan Rice.

Her address was interrupted by a protester, Tighe Berry, who shouted “End the siege on Gaza,” and held up a sign with the same words. Berry was joined by a handful of protesters outside the building from the pro-peace activist group, Code Pink.

After the protester was removed by force, Rice delivered the White House view that a ceasefire was of the utmost urgency in Gaza and Israel.

“The United States supports an immediate and unconditional humanitarian ceasefire,” Rice said. “That humanitarian ceasefire should lead to a permanent cessation of hostilities based on the agreement of November 2012.”

That statement was distinct from the Israeli stance and that of almost all of the speakers at this event. Although Israel accepted an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire several weeks ago along similar lines, it is now insisting on first eliminating any tunnels in Gaza which lead into Israel and taking steps to disarm Hamas before halting its operations.

Robert Sugarman, the chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, which spearheaded this gathering, set the tone with his opening remarks to the overflow crowd.

“We must continue to support the decisions of the government [of Israel], whatever our personal views may be,” Sugarman said. “And we must continue to urge our government to support [the decisions of the Israeli government] as well.”

While most of the speakers did not state any direct opposition to the Obama administration’s policy, virtually all of them stressed the view that Hamas must be disarmed and that the Netanyahu government must have unqualified U.S. support.

John Boehner, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and one of President Obama’s leading political opponents, came closest to squarely criticising the president, by tying the crisis in Gaza to Iran.

“We will continue to push this administration to address root cause of conflict in the Middle East,” Boehner said. “What we’re seeing in Gaza is a direct result of Iran sponsored terrorism in the region. This is part of Iran’s long history of providing weapons to Gaza-based terror organizations, which must come to an end. Israel’s enemies are our enemies. As long as I’m Speaker, this will be our cause.”

Many of the speakers brought up Iranian sponsorship of Hamas, despite the fact that the relationship between them splintered after Hamas declared its support for the rebels in Syria, fighting against Iran’s key ally in the region, Bashar al-Assad.

Nonetheless, for many of the speakers, the connection provided a bridge to connect the fighting in Gaza to Congress’ scepticism about diplomacy with Iran over the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme.

But ongoing tensions between the Obama administration and the government of Israel inevitably made their way into the room.

Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Ron Dermer tried to balance a conciliatory tone with Israel’s determination to continue its operations in Gaza despite calls from the United States and most of the international community for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.

“Israel has uncovered dozens of tunnels whose sole purpose is to facilitate attacks on Israeli civilians. Israel will continue to destroy these tunnels and I’m sure the Obama administration understands this,” Dermer said.

“Everyone understands that leaving these tunnels is like seizing 10,000 missiles and handing them back to Hamas. That is not going to happen. We will not stop until that job is done. Israel believes that a sustainable solution is one where Gaza is demilitarized, rockets are removed, and the tunnels destroyed so Hamas cannot rearm in another year or two. We appreciate that all U.S. leaders have supported us.”

But Dermer also delivered a message of moderate conciliation in the wake of very harsh criticism in Israel of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after the alleged text of a ceasefire proposal from Kerry was leaked to the Israeli media.

“I am speaking now for my prime minister,” Dermer said. “The criticism of Secretary Kerry for his good faith efforts to advance a ceasefire is unwarranted. We look forward to working with the United States to advance goal of a ceasefire that is durable.”

Rice also addressed the criticism of Kerry. “We’ve been dismayed by some press reports in Israel mischaracterising [Secretary Kerry’s] efforts. We know these misleading reports have raised concerns here at home as well.

“The reality is that John Kerry, on behalf of the United States, has been working with Israel every step of the way to support our shared interests. Both in public and private, we have strongly supported Israel’s right to defend itself. We will continue to do so and continue to set the record straight when anyone distorts facts.”

Rice’s defence of Kerry did not seem to ruffle many feathers in the audience. But the next day, a new controversy arose in Israel when several Israeli radio stations reported on a leaked transcript of a phone call between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama. Israel’s Channel 1 reported that Obama “behaved in a rude, condescending and hostile manner” toward Netanyahu in the call.

Both the White House and the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office flatly denied the reports.

“[It is] shocking and disappointing [that] someone would sink to misrepresenting a private conversation between the President of the United States and the Prime Minister in fabrications to the Israeli press,” said an official statement from the Prime Minister’s Twitter account.

Identical language was employed by the United States National Security Council over their own Twitter account. “The…report is totally false,” added White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at plitnickm@gmail.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/israel-lobby-galvanises-support-for-gaza-war/feed/ 0
Ticking Diplomatic Clock a Cover for Israeli Assaults on Gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/ticking-diplomatic-clock-a-cover-for-israeli-assaults-on-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ticking-diplomatic-clock-a-cover-for-israeli-assaults-on-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/ticking-diplomatic-clock-a-cover-for-israeli-assaults-on-gaza/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 23:19:32 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135819 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to journalists on the hostilities in Gaza Jul. 28, reiterating his call for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in the conflict. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks to journalists on the hostilities in Gaza Jul. 28, reiterating his call for an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire in the conflict. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

As the death toll in Gaza keeps climbing – and charges of alleged war crimes against Israel keep mounting – the most powerful political body at the United Nations remains ineffective, impotent and in a state of near paralysis.

Perhaps by choice.

The 15-member U.N. Security Council (UNSC), the only body representing the international community armed with legally-binding powers, has failed to adopt a single resolution on the three-week- old conflict in Gaza which continues to result in the merciless killings of Palestinians and widespread destruction of homes and schools.U.S. military, financial, and veto power at the Security Council controls what can be done, even in such extreme moments of carnage.

After an unusual midnight meeting, ostensibly meant to display a false sense of urgency, the UNSC agreed Monday to release a so-called presidential statement, dismissed by some diplomats here as a morbid joke.

“Nobody, least of all the warring parties, takes these UNSC statements seriously,” said an Asian diplomat.

A mildly worded draft resolution, co-sponsored by Jordan and the Arab states, has been in circulation for weeks now, but failed to garner enough support to reach the negotiating table.

Mouin Rabbani, co-editor of Jadaliyya, an e-zine produced by the Arab Studies Institute, told IPS that from the outset of the latest assault on the Gaza Strip, Israeli leaders have been clear that their ability to sustain their attacks is dependent on international support.

“It’s what they call ‘the ticking of the diplomatic clock’, meaning the slaughter can continue with impunity only so long as the West remains prepared to extend it political cover,” he said.

The refusal of the UNSC to send a clear message to Israel that the slaughter must stop and there will be consequences if it doesn’t, therefore in practice extends the grace period allotted to Israel to continue its massive bombardments of the Gaza Strip, said Rabbani, who is also a contributing editor to the Washington-based Middle East Report.

This, of course, primarily reflects the support of permanent members U.S., UK and France – but also other members – for Israel’s actions, he said.

All three Western nations in the UNSC have predictably remained supportive of Israel and would not approve any resolutions either accusing Israel of war crimes, imposing a no-fly zone over Gaza or calling for an international commission of inquiry into civilian killings.

Navi Pillay, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, has warned that Israel’s continued military assault on Gaza may amount to war crimes, while criticising Hamas for “indiscriminate attacks”.

“There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes,” Pillay said last week.

The 47-member Human Rights Council last week voted for an international inquiry into alleged war crimes in the Gaza conflict. But Israel has refused to cooperate in implementing the resolution which was opposed by a single country: the United States.

Abba A. Solomon, author of ‘The Speech, and Its Context: Jacob Blaustein’s Speech: The Meaning of Palestine Partition to American Jews’, told IPS, “The United States will not act against Israel in the Security Council because of the well-established leverage of the pro-Israel lobby, both in the U.S. Congress and Senate.”

He said the administration of President Barack Obama is working in a situation in which the U.S. House and Senate passed unanimous resolutions of full support for Israeli military action against Gaza earlier in July.

Since the 1940s, he pointed out, American Jewish organisations have cultivated relationships with elected officials, in the process of seeking and giving political and financial support.

“These organisations have accepted that advocacy for Israeli positions is part of their duties,” Solomon said.

In times of crisis, these relationships are golden for the Israeli government, he added.

In this case, customary U.S. deferral to Israel obstructs what would be humanitarian action, a UNSC resolution to protect a besieged civilian population, said Solomon.

Historically, he noted, U.S. assent to U.N. condemnations of offensive Israeli military actions has been argued against because it would “embolden” whatever Arab opponent Israel is contesting with.

In cases where condemnation is unavoidable, “pairing” with condemnation of Arab actions is insisted upon, said Solomon,
who has done years of archival research on the ways that American Zionism has gained and maintained so much power since the 1940s.

Rabbani told IPS at a time when Israeli leaders are explicitly stating their objective is to inflict such massive damage upon the Gaza Strip that the population will turn against Hamas – and killing civilian non-combatants by the bucketful in what can only be characterised as a pre-meditated and deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure – these states prioritise Israel’s purported right to self-defence above all else.

“To speak of an Israeli right to self-defence under such circumstances, when over 1,000 Palestinian civilian non-combatants have been killed in what can only be characterised as a pre-meditated and deliberate act of mass murder, and when the vast majority of Israeli casualties have been uniformed combatants, is well beyond obscene,” he said.

“It constitutes active support, and therefore direct complicity, in Israeli war crimes – even without taking into consideration the manifold other direct and indirect ways such states are supporting Israel.”

These include massive military, economic and political support, giving settlement products preferential access to their markets, and permitting their citizens to commit war crimes in Israeli uniform, he added.

Rabbani said the role of the UNSC is to preserve and protect international peace and security, and it has once again failed miserably in this task.

And it has done so once again on the question of Palestine, a conflict for whose creation and resolution the U.N. bears a unique responsibility, he added.

“Indeed, this demonstrates once more the incapacity of the UNSC to serve as a meaningful guardian of international peace and security in its current form,” Rabbani said.

Solomon told IPS the U.S. administration has the imperative to avoid accusations in the Senate and House that it has “betrayed” the “most important strategic ally in the Mideast” – Israel.

He said direct Israeli connections with U.S. political figures across the party divide require care in any State Department response to Israeli bombardments of Gaza civilians.

And Republican and Democratic aspiring politicians are taken on Israeli “fact-finding” tours.

He pointed out Palestinian advocacy organisations have not established anything like this degree of ongoing cooperation in the U.S. political scene.

U.S. military, financial, and veto power at the Security Council controls what can be done, even in such extreme moments of carnage.

U.S. cooperation with a binding U.N. attempt to rein in Israeli military action would mean a challenge to a long-established system of beneficial relationships in the American political scene, Solomon declared.

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/ticking-diplomatic-clock-a-cover-for-israeli-assaults-on-gaza/feed/ 0
OPINION: How to End the Gaza War http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-how-to-end-the-gaza-war/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-how-to-end-the-gaza-war http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-how-to-end-the-gaza-war/#comments Tue, 29 Jul 2014 18:24:27 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135812 A Palestinian family on the street in Beit Lahia in north Gaza after Israel's 2012 bombardment of the besieged coastal enclave. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

A Palestinian family on the street in Beit Lahia in north Gaza after Israel's 2012 bombardment of the besieged coastal enclave. Credit: Mohammed Omer/IPS

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Jul 29 2014 (IPS)

As the killing and destruction rages on in Gaza, and as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Hamas leadership exchange recriminations and threats, key regional and world players must accept a central truism: No peace can be achieved between Israel and the Palestinians without including Hamas. The quicker they internalise this fact, the faster the cycle of violence can be broken.

The Gaza wars have failed to liquidate Hamas; on the contrary, Hamas has emerged stronger and better equipped despite the pummeling it frequently receives from Israel.The current Israeli war on Gaza plus the two previous ones in 2008-9 and 2012 have not really been about the perceived existential threat Hamas poses to Israel. These conflicts have been rooted in the failure of the so-called peace process.

At the same time, Israel’s assault on Gaza reflects Tel Aviv’s concern about the region as a whole, not just about Hamas. Such concerns are driven by the rise of Islamic radicalism in Gaza and across the region, the growing influence of right-wing radical Jewish groups and political movements in Israel, the brutal civil war in Syria, the collapsing state structures in Libya and Yemen, a failing state in Iraq, the marginalisation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership in Ramallah, and the fragile political systems in Lebanon and Jordan.

Israeli worries also stem from a resurgent Iran, a potential nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, and the perceived diminishing influence of the United States across the region. Unable to influence these “seismic shifts” in the region, Israel has resisted any long-term workable accommodation with the Palestinians as well as ending its occupation of Arab lands.

The Obama administration and other governments must work to end the 47-year-old occupation of the West bank and the blockade of Gaza. The Gaza Strip is considered the world’s largest open-air prison, blockaded on three sides by Israel and on one side by Egypt. This economic and political encirclement must be broken if the economic and social conditions of Gazan residents are to improve.

Poverty, unemployment, poor health and hygiene, and a lack of power and clean water have generated anger and hopelessness, which have often resulted in the frequent firing of rockets toward Israel. While mostly ineffective, these rockets have terrorised Israeli residents in the southern part of the country. This too must stop.

The bloody confrontations between West Bank Palestinians and the Israeli forces in Jerusalem at the Kalandia crossing, and between Arabs in Israel and Israeli police demonstrate that the Gaza war has spread to other parts of Palestine. This bodes ill for Israel and neighbouring countries.

Israel’s glee at the Egyptian government and media’s enmity toward Hamas is ephemeral and transitory. The Sisi autocratic regime would be unable to withstand its people and other Arabs’ anger at what they view as Israeli aggression against the Palestinians.

Having followed this conflict, including the rise of Hamas, for decades, both in academia and in government, and having briefed senior officials on these issues for years, I argue that long-lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians will remain elusive unless regional and global leaders begin to re-examine their decades-old assumptions about the conflict.

Such a step would be severely criticized by partisans from, and on behalf of, both sides, including many in the U.S. Congress. Therefore, courage, perseverance, and new thinking are needed to empower stakeholders to push the process forward.

Hamas and Israel

Destroying Gaza, killing thousands of innocent civilians, blowing up Hamas tunnels, and liquidating its leaders will not eradicate Hamas or silence its drive against the Israeli blockade. Hamas draws strength not from its religious ideology but from its resistance to the encirclement, which has strangled and impoverished most of the 1.6 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

The current Israeli war on Gaza plus the two previous ones in 2008-9 and 2012 have not really been about the perceived existential threat Hamas poses to Israel. These conflicts have been rooted in the failure of the so-called peace process.

The asymmetry between Israel’s military might and Hamas’ weaponry, which includes homemade and home-upgraded rockets, cannot possibly allow Hamas to pose a credible mortal threat to Israel.

The terrorising of civilians along the Gaza-Israel border is abhorrent and must not be tolerated, but it is also not an existential threat to Israel, nor does it justify Israel’s massive bombardment of residential neighbourhoods, hospitals, and schools in Gaza City and across the strip. Israel could easily destroy the tunnels on both sides of the border without destroying thousands of homes and reducing Gaza to rubble.

The Israeli assault could also be seen as a response to the recent reconciliation between the PA administration in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza and the formation of a Palestinian national unity government of technocrats. The support the U.S. and EU showed for the new Palestinian government concerned Netanyahu deeply, and he proceeded to torpedo it. Netanyahu’s Gaza war belies his claim that he was genuinely looking for a so-called Palestinian “partner.”

Precursor to Hamas’ Tunnels

The Bush administration and the Israeli government supported holding elections in Gaza in January 2006, which Hamas won fairly and convincingly. Both Washington and Tel Aviv were stunned by the results and proceeded to delegitimise the election results and torpedo the new Hamas administration.

Gazans voted for Hamas not because of its religious ideology but because of its community service and resistance to the Israeli blockade. The legendary corruption of the PA administration in Ramallah also underpinned the vote for Hamas.

The morning after the election, a few senior members of the Bush administration advocated giving Hamas a chance to engage Israel on practical issues, including travel permits, the power grid, water, and commerce. If Hamas failed to do so within a couple of months, these officials argued, the United States and Israel would pull the rug from under Hamas.

That argument, which according to media reports at the time, was favoured by President Bush, lasted for one day. The counter argument favouring an immediate isolation of Hamas, which was strongly advocated by neoconservatives in the United States and in Israel, carried the day.

The Gaza wars in 2008-9, 2012, and now are arguably a direct result of the refusal of Israel and the United States to accept the 2006 election results and engage Hamas. Had engagement occurred, the living standards of Gazans would have improved markedly; there would have been no need for a “tunnel economy” or a “tunnel military.”

Unfortunately, Israeli politicians today seem to be viewing Hamas and the continued occupation and encirclement through the same narrow prism of 2006.

The Way Forward

In a recent article I argued the two-state solution was dead and called for new thinking. The same applies to the current conflict.

After 47 years of occupation, nine years of blockading Gaza, two intifadas, and three wars, Israel, the Palestinians, and the United States must accept the fact that war, terrorism, and occupation cannot solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

With the death of the two-state option, the peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River can only be achieved through a new paradigm grounded in justice, human dignity, equality, and tolerance.

Including Hamas in talks for an enduring end to the conflict could be done through a joint Palestinian delegation comprised of the PA, Hamas, and other factions. For this approach to succeed, however, it must include an end to the blockade of Gaza.

Once the two peoples living together embark on this path, they will reject the logic of occupation and terrorism and focus on building a more hopeful future.

For its part, the United States should jettison all futile attempts to push for a so-called peace process. Rather, we should begin serious efforts to help the two peoples operationalise the new paradigm.

Emile Nakhleh 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.”

Editing by: Kitty Stapp

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-how-to-end-the-gaza-war/feed/ 1
Thousands of New Yorkers Protest Gaza Killings http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/thousands-of-new-yorkers-protest-gaza-killings/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=thousands-of-new-yorkers-protest-gaza-killings http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/thousands-of-new-yorkers-protest-gaza-killings/#comments Sun, 27 Jul 2014 14:41:54 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135759 The Israeli offensive in Gaza has killed 1,050 people, mostly civilians, as of Jul. 26, 2014. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

The Israeli offensive in Gaza has killed 1,050 people, mostly civilians, as of Jul. 26, 2014. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida
NEW YORK, Jul 27 2014 (IPS)

Thousands of New Yorkers took to the streets in multiple protests this past week against the Israeli offensive in Gaza, which has left at least 1,049 Palestinians dead and over 6,000 injured since Jul. 8.

Among demonstrators’ many demands was that the U.S. government end its massive flow of aid and arms to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), one of the world’s most powerful militaries.

The Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation estimates that the United States has shelled out over 100 billion dollars’ worth of military and economic aid since 1949.

Protests on Thursday, Jul. 24 drew over a thousand people, holding signs proclaiming U.S. complicity in the war on Gaza. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

Protests on Thursday, Jul. 24 drew over a thousand people, holding signs proclaiming U.S. complicity in the war on Gaza. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

In 2007, the U.S. government pledged to provide 30 billion dollars worth of weapons to Israel in the decade 2009-2018. This year, according to the FY2015 budget submitted to Congress, the Barack Obama administration set aside three billion dollars for military aid.

The protests also had particular significance for New York City, whose former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, announced in 2011 his support for a 100-million-dollar partnership between Cornell University and Israel’s Institute of Technology (the Technion) that would allow the construction of a state-of-the-art new complex on Roosevelt Island.

 

Thousands of U.S. citizens have called on the government to end military aid to Israel. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

Thousands of U.S. citizens have called on the government to end military aid to Israel. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

An alliance known as New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT) says the Technion is “complicit in Israeli’s violation of international law and the rights of Palestinians”, namely its mandate to develop and design weapons and technologies that are used to enforce the occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza.

Among other ‘achievements’, students at Technion were instrumental in creating the remote-controlled Caterpillar D-9 bulldozer, the IDF’s weapon of choice in demolishing Palestinian homes; and its Autonomous Systems Program (TASP) was responsible for developing the so-called ‘stealth drone’, capable of carrying two 1,100-pound ‘smart bombs’ for a distance of up to 2,000 miles.

Highly visible at both protests were members of the organisation known as ‘Neturei Karat International: Jews Against Zionism’, who carried signs proclaiming, “Jews reject the Zionist state of Israel and its atrocities”.

A statement prepared by the organisation 'Jews Against Zionism' appeals to world leaders to "stop the latest ongoing cruelty and the attack on the people of Gaza." Credit: Kanya DAlmeida/IPS

A statement prepared by the organisation ‘Jews Against Zionism’ appeals to world leaders to “stop the latest ongoing cruelty and the attack on the people of Gaza.” Credit: Kanya DAlmeida/IPS

Others waved placards claiming “New York Jews Say ‘Not in Our Name’.”

Thursday’s action, which brought out over 2,000 people, was part of the National Day of Action for Gaza, endorsed by over 55 U.S.-based human rights groups. The protest followed on the heels of a demonstration by Jewish Voice for Peace on Jul. 22, which saw the arrest of nine Jewish activists for occupying the office of The Friends of the Israel Defense Forces in Manhattan.

The Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has cost Israel billions of dollars in investments. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

The Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) has cost Israel billions of dollars in investments. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

One of the co-organisers of the march, Adalah-NY, handed out leaflets urging demonstrators to support the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel, a non-violent civil society-based campaign modeled on the international boycott movement that was instrumental in dismantling apartheid in South Africa.

Roadside vendors joined a massive protest on Friday, Jul. 25, that snaked through lower Manhattan. Credit: Kanya D'Almeida/IPS

Roadside vendors joined a massive protest on Friday, Jul. 25, that snaked through lower Manhattan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/thousands-of-new-yorkers-protest-gaza-killings/feed/ 6
OPINION: The Affinity Between Iraqi Sunni Extremists and the Rulers of Saudi Arabia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-the-affinity-between-iraqi-sunni-extremists-and-the-rulers-of-saudi-arabia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-the-affinity-between-iraqi-sunni-extremists-and-the-rulers-of-saudi-arabia http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-the-affinity-between-iraqi-sunni-extremists-and-the-rulers-of-saudi-arabia/#comments Sun, 27 Jul 2014 11:58:06 +0000 Peter Custers http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135767 By Peter Custers
LEIDEN, Netherlands, Jul 27 2014 (IPS)

Which story line sounds the more credible – that linking the rebel movement ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) to policies pursued by Iran or that linking the Sunni extremist force to Iran’s adversary Saudi Arabia?

In June this year, fighters belonging to ISIS – a rebel movement that had previously established its foothold in the oil-rich areas of north-eastern Syria – succeeded in capturing Mosul, a city surrounded by oil fields in northern Iraq. Ever since, commentators in the world’s media have been speculating on the origins of the dreaded organisation’s military success.

It is admitted that the occupation of Mosul and vast tracts of the Sunni-dominated portion of Iraq would not have been possible except for the fact that ISIS forged a broad grassroots’ alliance expressing deep discontent by Iraq’s minority Sunnis with the policies of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s government. Nor would Mosul have fallen but for the dramatic desertion by top-officers of Iraq’s state army.

Peter Custers

Peter Custers

Yet various observers have meanwhile focused on the political economy behind the advance of ISIS. Some experts from U.S. think tanks have discussed the likely sources of ISIS’ finance, pinpointing private donors in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. Other writers instead have connected ISIS’ reliance on black market sales of oil in Kurdish territory with Iranian exports of crude, described as “illegal”.

I propose putting the spotlight on the methods of war financing used by ISIS, but first it is necessary to highlight the movement’s complete sectarianism.

Soon after the occupation of Mosul, rebels blew up and bulldozed shrines and mosques in the city belonging to Shia Muslims. Pictures on the demolition of these buildings were circulated widely by the world’s mainstream media. Unfortunately, few Western journalists cared to draw attention to the role which destruction of shrines has played in the history of Islam.

Contrary to Catholicism, the veneration of saints at Sufi and Shia tombs and shrines basically reflects heterodox tendencies within the Islamic faith. On the other hand, Sunni orthodoxy and especially its Saudi variety, Wahhabism, either condemns intercession or, at the least, considers the worshipping of saints at tombs to be unacceptable. Islam’s minority of Shias, and its mystical current of Sufism, freely engage in such worship – and this throughout the Muslim world.“ISIS is … a ‘religiously inspired’ Sunni extremist organisation with an utterly secular objective: to control the bulk of oil resources in two Middle Eastern states in order to re-establish acaliphat, an all-Islamic state-entity guided by a central religious authority”

ISIS’ work of demolition in Iraq can in no way be equated with practices of Iran’s Shia rulers. Instead, they express the extremist movement’s affinity with policies long championed by Saudi Arabia. Ever since the founding of the Saudi state, numerous Shia and Sufi shrines have been rased to the ground at the behest of this country’s Wahhabi dynasty.

What does the political economy behind ISIS’ military advance in Syria and Iraq tell us about the organisation’s affinities? First, in one sense, the ISIS strategy might be interpreted as rather novel.

Whereas the extraction of raw materials is a war strategy pursued by numerous rebel movements in the global South – see, for example, UNITA’s extraction of diamonds in the context of Angola’s civil war, and the trade in coltan by rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo – rarely has a Southern rebel movement succeeded in turning crude oil into its chief source of revenue.

Indeed, whereas ISIS originally relied on private funders in Saudi Arabia to build up a force of trained fighters, the organisation has consciously targeted regions in Syria and Iraq harbouring major oil fields and (in the case of Iraq) oil refineries. By laying siege to the oil refinery at Baiji, responsible for processing one-third of oil consumed in Iraq, ISIS hoped to undermine the state’s control of oil resources.

Further, some 450 million dollars was stolen by ISIS fighters from a subsidiary of Iraq’s central bank after the occupation of Mosul. This reportedly was all income from oil extraction. Some observers put the cash income which ISIS derives from smuggled oil at one million dollars a day!

ISIS is thus a ‘religiously inspired’ Sunni extremist organisation with an utterly secular objective: to control the bulk of oil resources in two Middle Eastern states in order to re-establish acaliphat, an all-Islamic state-entity guided by a central religious authority.

Yet though ISIS’ methodology of reliance on oil for financing of its war campaigns is novel for a rebel movement, such use of oil is not unique in the context of the Middle East. Ever since the 1970s, most oil-rich countries of the region have squandered a major part of their income from the exports of crude by (indirectly) exchanging their main natural resource against means of destruction – weapon systems bought on the international market.

And while Iran under the Shah was equally enticed into opting for this form of trade in the 1970s, – it is the Wahhabi kingdom of Saudi Arabia which all the way through from the oil crisis of 1973 onwards and up to today has functioned as the central axe of such a trade mechanism.

Witness, for instance, the 1980s oil-for-arms (!) ‘barter deal’ between the Saudi kingdom and the United Kingdom, the so-called ‘Al Yamamah’ deal, and the 60 billion dollar, largest-ever international arms’ agreement between Saudi Arabia and the United States clinched in 2010.

Forward to 2014, and an Iraq desperately struggling to survive. A section of the world’s media has already announced its impending demise, predicting a split of the country into three portions – Sunni, Kurdish and Shia. On the other hand, some commentators have advised that the United States should now change gear and line up with Iran, in order to help the Iraqi government overcome its domestic political crisis.

Yet the United States and its European allies for long, too long, have bent over to service the Wahhabi state. Even as Western politicians loudly proclaimed their allegiance to democracy and secularism, they failed to oppose or counter Saudi Arabia’s oppression of, and utter discrimination against, Shia citizens.

For over 40 years they opted to close their eyes and supply Saudi Arabia with massive quantities of fighter planes, missiles and other weaponry, in exchange for the country’s crude. Playing the role of a wise elderly senior brother, the United States has recently advised Iraq’s prime minister al-Maliki, known for his sectarian approach, that he should be more ‘inclusive’, meaning sensitive towards Iraq’s minority Sunni population.

But has the United States’ prime Middle Eastern ally Saudi Arabia ever been chastised over its systematic discrimination of Shias? Has it ever been put to task for its cruel oppression of heterodox Muslims? And has the United States ever pondered the implications of the trading mechanism of disparate exchange it sponsored – for the future of democracy, food sovereignty and people’s welfare in the Middle East?

 

*  Peter Custers, an academic researcher on Islam and religious tolerance  with field work in South Asia, is also a theoretician on the arms’ trade and extraction of raw materials in the context of conflicts in the global South. He is the author of ‘Questioning Globalized Militarism’. 

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-the-affinity-between-iraqi-sunni-extremists-and-the-rulers-of-saudi-arabia/feed/ 0
Israel’s U.S.-Made Military Might Overwhelms Palestinians http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/israels-u-s-made-military-might-overwhelms-palestinians/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=israels-u-s-made-military-might-overwhelms-palestinians http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/israels-u-s-made-military-might-overwhelms-palestinians/#comments Wed, 23 Jul 2014 20:44:09 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135707 The two-week long conflict has claimed the lives of more than 620 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including over 230 women and children, and over 3,700 wounded, while the Israeli death toll is 27 soldiers and two civilians. Credit: Syeda Amina Trust Charity/cc by 2.0

The two-week long conflict has claimed the lives of more than 620 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including over 230 women and children, and over 3,700 wounded, while the Israeli death toll is 27 soldiers and two civilians. Credit: Syeda Amina Trust Charity/cc by 2.0

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 23 2014 (IPS)

The overwhelming Israeli firepower unleashed on the Palestinian militant group Hamas in the ongoing battle in Gaza is perhaps reminiscent of the Algerian war of independence (1954-1962) when France, the colonial power, used its vastly superior military strength to strike back at the insurgents with brutal ferocity.

While France was accused of using its air force to napalm civilians in the countryside, the Algerians were accused of using handmade bombs hidden in women’s handbags and left surreptitiously in cafes, restaurants and public places frequented by the French."Unless you have been on the street facing Israeli troops in Gaza, or sleeping on the floor under an Israeli aerial assault, as I have several times while delivering aid in 1989, 2000, and 2009, it's impossible to imagine the total disproportion of power in this conflict." -- Dr. James E. Jennings

In one of the memorable scenes in the 1967 cinematic classic “The Battle of Algiers,” a handcuffed leader of the National Liberation Front (NLF), Ben M’Hidi, is brought before a group of highly-partisan French journalists for interrogation.

One of the journalists asks M’Hidi: “Don’t you think it is a bit cowardly to use women’s handbags and baskets to carry explosive devices that kill so many innocent people?”

The Algerian insurgent shoots back with equal bluntness: “And doesn’t it seem to you even more cowardly to drop napalm bombs on unarmed villages, so that there are a thousand times more innocent victims?”

Then he delivers the devastating punchline: “Of course, if we had your fighter planes, it would be a lot easier for us. Give us your bombers, and you can have our handbags and baskets.”

In the current conflict in Gaza, a role reversal would see Hamas armed with fighter planes, air-to-surface missiles and battle tanks, while the Israelis would be hitting back only with homemade rockets.

But in reality what is taking place in Gaza is a totally outmatched and outranked Hamas fighting a country with one of the world’s most formidable and sophisticated military machines, whose state-of-the-art equipment is provided gratis – under so-called “Foreign Military Financing (FMF)” – by the United States.

According to the latest figures, the two-week long conflict has claimed the lives of more than 620 Palestinians, mostly civilians, including over 230 women and children, and over 3,700 wounded, while the Israeli death toll is 27 soldiers and two civilians.

Speaking of the military imbalance, Dr. James E. Jennings, president of Conscience International and executive director of U.S. Academics for Peace, told IPS, “Unless you have been on the street facing Israeli troops in Gaza, or sleeping on the floor under an Israeli aerial assault, as I have several times while delivering aid in 1989, 2000, and 2009, it’s impossible to imagine the total disproportion of power in this conflict.

“I saw boys who were merely running away shot in the back by Israeli soldiers with Uzi [submachine guns] and arrayed in body armour, and in 2009 and 2012 at Rafah witnessed Israel’s technological superiority in coordinating sophisticated computers, drones, and F-15s with devastating effect,” he said.

The repeated missile strikes ostensibly targeted youths scrambling through tunnels like rats to bring food and medicine to the trapped population, but often hit helpless civilians fleeing the bombing as well, said Jennings.

He also pointed out that in terms of the imbalance in the number of casualties in this so-called “war”, statistics speak for themselves. However, numbers on a page do not do justice to the up-close reality.

“In my work I have visited wounded women and children in hospitals in Rafah and Gaza City and helped carry out the bodies of the dead for burial,” Jennings said.

When military capabilities are that asymmetrical, he said, shooting fish in a barrel is the best analogy.

As for the largely homemade Qassam rockets launched by Hamas, their ineffectiveness is apparent in the statistical results: over 2,000 launched, with only two unlucky civilians killed on the Israeli side.

“That is far less than the eight Americans killed accidentally last year by celebratory rockets on the 4th of July,” Jennings noted.

The billions of dollars in sophisticated U.S. weapons purchased by Israel are under non-repayable FMF grants, according to defence analysts.

Israel is currently the recipient of a 10-year, 30-billion-dollar U.S. military aid package, 2009 through 2018.

And according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), Israel is also the largest single recipient of FMF, and by 2015, these grants will account for about 55 percent of all U.S. disbursements worldwide, and represent about 23-25 percent of the annual Israeli military budget.

Nicole Auger, a military analyst who covers the Middle East and Africa at Forecast International, a leader in defence market intelligence and industry forecasting, told IPS Israel imports practically all its weapons from the U.S. – and this largely consists of sophisticated equipment it does not produce domestically, or equipment it finds more expedient to buy with U.S. assistance funding.

She said despite a proposed shift in emphasis from air and naval power to ground strength, Israel continues to place priority on maintaining air superiority over all its regional neighbours.

The emphasis on air supremacy and strike capability has resulted in an additional order for F-15I fighters to serve as the lead fighter until the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is brought into service with the Israeli Air Force (IAF), she said.

Along with its 25 long-range strike F-15Is (Ra’ams), the IAF also has 102 multirole combat F-16Is (Soufas) purchased under the Peace Marble V programme in 1999 (50 platforms) and 2001 (option for a further 52 planes), Auger said.

The F-15I and F-16I jets, some of which are being used for aerial bombings of Gaza, are customised versions of the American fighters tailored to specific Israeli needs.

Israel’s military arsenal also includes scores of attack helicopters.

Auger said the Sikorsky CH-53 heavy-lift helicopter fleet was just upgraded with the IAI Elta Systems EL/M-2160 flight guard protection system, which detects incoming missiles with radar and then activates diversionary countermeasures.

Israel has also completed a major upgrade to its fleet of Bell AH-1E/F/G/S Cobra attack helicopters and its Boeing AH-64A Apache helicopters has been converted to AH-64D Longbow standards.

The middle layer of defence is provided by the upgraded Patriot PAC 2 anti-missile system (PAC 3) and the air force is also armed with Paveway laser-guided bombs, BLU-109 penetration bombs, Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) kits, and GBU-28 bunker busters.

In terms of vehicles, she said, Israel manufactures the majority of its own.

Jennings told IPS two facts are largely missing in the standard media portrayal of the Israel-Gaza “war:” the right of self-defence, so stoutly defended by Israelis and their allies in Washington, is never mentioned about the period in 1948 when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forced from their homes and pushed off their land to be enclosed in the world’s largest prison camp that is Gaza.

Secondly, the world has stood by silently while Israel, with complicity by the U.S. and Egypt, has literally choked the life out of the 1.7 million people in Gaza by a viciously effective cordon sanitaire, an almost total embargo on goods and services, greatly impacting the availability of food and medicine.

“These are war crimes, stark and ongoing violations of international humanitarian law perpetuated over the last seven years while the world has continued to turn away,” Jennings said.

“The indelible stain of that shameful neglect will not be erased for centuries, yet many people in the West continue to wonder at all the outrage in the Middle East,” he added.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/israels-u-s-made-military-might-overwhelms-palestinians/feed/ 20
Why No Vetoed Resolutions on Civilian Killings in Gaza? http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/why-no-vetoed-resolutions-on-civilian-killings-in-gaza/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-no-vetoed-resolutions-on-civilian-killings-in-gaza http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/why-no-vetoed-resolutions-on-civilian-killings-in-gaza/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 21:27:54 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135633 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre right) briefs the Security Council on Jul. 10 on the crisis in Israel and the Gaza Strip.  Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (centre right) briefs the Security Council on Jul. 10 on the crisis in Israel and the Gaza Strip. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

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

As the civil war in Syria continues into its fourth year, the Western nations sitting on the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) have unsuccessfully tried to condemn the killings of civilians, impose punitive sanctions and accuse the Syrian government of war crimes – in four vetoed and failed resolutions.

The United States, France and Britain forced a vote on all four resolutions despite implicit threats by China and Russia, allies of beleaguered Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to exercise their vetoes. And they did.The question looming large over the United Nations is why China and Russia aren't initiating a new draft resolution condemning the aerial bombardments of civilians in Gaza, demanding a no-fly zone and accusing Israelis of war crimes.

All five countries are veto-wielding permanent members of the UNSC.

The vetoes drew strong condemnations from human rights groups, including a coalition of eight non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which described the last veto by Russia and China as “a shameful illustration of why voluntary restraint on the use of the veto in mass atrocity situations is essential to the Council’s ability to live up to the U.N. charter’s expectations.”

But the question now looming large over the United Nations is why China and Russia aren’t initiating a new draft resolution condemning the aerial bombardments of civilians in Gaza, demanding a no-fly zone and accusing Israelis of war crimes.

Such a resolution is certain to be vetoed by one, or all three, of the Western powers in the UNSC, as China and Russia did on the resolutions against Syria. But this time around, it will be the Western powers on the defensive, trying to protect the interests of a country accused of civilian killings and war crimes.

Still, an Asian diplomat told IPS that even if a draft resolution is doomed to be shot down during closed-door informals for lack of nine votes, an attempt could have been made to expose the mood of the UNSC  - just as Western nations keep piling up resolutions against Syria even when they are conscious of the fact they will be vetoed by Russia and China, embarrassing both countries.

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and coordinator of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of San Francisco, told IPS just as the Russians and Chinese have blocked Security Council action regarding Syria’s attacks on civilians in crowded urban areas, the United States has successfully blocked Security Council action regarding Israeli attacks on civilians in crowded urban areas.

Though both involve serious violations of international humanitarian law, precedent would dictate that U.N. action on Israel’s assault on Gaza would be even more appropriate because it is an international conflict rather than a civil war, said Zunes, who has written extensively on the politics of the Security Council.

“What is hard to explain is why the Security Council has not been willing to force the United States to take the embarrassing step of actually vetoing the measure, as it has on four occasions with Russia and China in regard to Syria,” he asked.

Ian Williams, a longstanding U.N. correspondent and senior analyst at Foreign Policy in Focus, told IPS the UNSC is determined to prove that governments do not have principles, only interests.

Since the end of the Cold War, the Palestinians have had no sponsors or patrons.

He said even the Russians and the Chinese weigh the strength of the Israel Lobby in the U.S., and increasingly in Europe, and calculate whether it is in their interests to alienate Washington even more.

Since they see few tangible diplomatic, economic or political benefits from backing the Palestinians, let alone Hamas, they allow atrocities to go unchecked in Gaza while raising their hands in horror about lesser, and less calculated, crimes elsewhere, said Williams.

“And the Russians would have to explain why they defend Assad for similar behaviour against his own people,” he added.

Only popular indignation will force the hand of governments – and the French government knows that, which is why they have banned pro-Palestinian demonstrations, he noted.

Addressing an emergency meeting of the UNSC Friday, Dr Riyad Mansour, the permanent observer of the State of Palestine, told delegates the 10-day death toll from heavy F-16 air strikes has been estimated at 274, mostly civilians, including 24 women and 62 children, and over 2,076 wounded and more thatn 38,000 displaced.

These are figures, he said, that could be corroborated by U.N. agencies on the ground.

Mansour accused Israel of war crimes, crimes against humanity, state terrorism and systematic violation of human rights.

But as of Friday, there were no indications of a hard-hitting resolution focusing on the plight of the 1.7 million residents under heavy fire and who are being defended by the militant group Hamas, accused of firing hundreds of rockets into Israel, with just one Israeli casualty.

Vijay Prashad, George and Martha Kellner Chair of South Asian History and Professor of International Studies at Trinity College, told IPS that a declaration – adopted at a summit meeting of leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) in Brazil last week – mentions Palestine and Israel in terms of the Middle East peace process, but it does not take a direct position on the ongoing war on Gaza.

“It would have been an apposite place to have crafted a separate and pointed resolution in solidarity with the Palestinians alongside the stated claim to the celebration of the U.N. Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People,” he said.

He added that it also says something about the lack of confidence by the BRICS members on the Security Council who felt betrayed by Resolution 1973 (on Libya) and did not draft a resolution to call for a No Fly Zone over Gaza based on the principles of Responsibility to Protect (R2P).

The West has drafted resolutions on Syria, knowing that Russia and China would veto them as a way to deliberately put their rivals in a poor light, he added.

He asked why the BRICS states on the Security Council (currently Russia and China) did not produce a resolution to show the world that the West (or at least the U.S.) is willing to allow the calculated slaughter of the Palestinians at the same time as they want to be the ones to arbiter who is a civilian and what it means to responsibly protect them.

This only shows the BRICS states are not willing to directly challenge the West not in a defensive way (by vetoing a Western resolution), but in an aggressive way (by making the West veto a resolution for ending the slaughter in Gaza), he added.

Brazil, the current chair of BRICS, said in a statement released Friday the Brazilian government rejects the current Israeli ground incursion into Gaza, which represents a serious setback to peace efforts.

“Such an offensive could have serious repercussions for the increased instability in the Middle East and exacerbate the already dramatic humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” the statement said.

“We urge the Israeli forces to strictly respect their obligations under the International Humanitarian Law. Furthermore, we consider it necessary that Israel put an end to the blockade on Gaza immediately.”

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/why-no-vetoed-resolutions-on-civilian-killings-in-gaza/feed/ 4
BRICS Forges Ahead With Two New Power Drivers – India and China http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/brics-forges-ahead-with-two-new-power-drivers-india-and-china/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=brics-forges-ahead-with-two-new-power-drivers-india-and-china http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/brics-forges-ahead-with-two-new-power-drivers-india-and-china/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 18:07:51 +0000 Shastri Ramachandaran http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135604 By Shastri Ramachandaran
NEW DELHI, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

The Sixth BRICS Summit which ended Wednesday in Fortaleza, Brazil, attracted more attention than any other such gathering in the alliance’s short history, and not just from its own members – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Two external groups defined by divergent interests closely watched proceedings: on the one hand, emerging economies and developing countries, and on the other, a group comprising the United States, Japan and other Western countries thriving on the Washington Consensus and the Bretton Woods twins (the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund).

The first group wanted BRICS to succeed in taking its first big steps towards a more democratic global order where international institutions can be reshaped to become more equitable and representative of the world’s majority. The second group has routinely inspired obituaries of BRICS and gambled on the hope that India-China rivalry would stall the BRICS alliance from turning words into deeds.The stature, power, force and credibility of BRICS depend on its internal cohesion and harmony and this, in turn, revolves almost wholly on the state of relations between India and China. If India and China join hands, speak in one voice and march together, then BRICS has a greater chance of its agenda succeeding in the international system.

In the event, the outcome of the three-day BRICS Summit must be a disappointment to the latter group. First, the obituaries were belied as being premature, if not unwarranted. Second, as its more sophisticated opponents have been “advising”, BRICS did not stick to an economic agenda; instead, there emerged a ringing political declaration that would resonate in the world’s trouble spots from Gaza and Syria to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Third, and importantly, far from so-called Indian-China rivalry stalling decisions on the New Development Bank (NDB) and the emergency fund, the Contingency Reserve Arrangement (CRA), the Asian giants grasped the nettle to add a strategic dimension to BRICS.

With a shift in the global economic balance of power towards Asia, the failure of the Washington Consensus and the Bretton Woods twins in spite of conditionalities, structural adjustment programmes and “reforms”, financial meltdown and the collapse of leading banks and financial institutions in the West, there had been an urgent need for new thinking and new instruments for the building of a new order.

Despite the felt need and multilateral meetings that involved developing countries, including China and India which bucked the financial downturn, there had been no sign of alternatives being formed.

It is against this backdrop – of the compelling case for firm and feasible steps towards a new global architecture of financial institutions – that BRICS, after much deliberation, succeeded in agreeing on a bank and an emergency fund.

From India’s viewpoint, this summit of BRICS – which represents one-quarter of the world’s land mass across four continents and 40 percent of the world population with a combined GDP of 24 trillion dollars – was an unqualified success. The success is sweeter for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) because the BRICS summit was new Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first multilateral engagement.

For a debutant, Modi acquitted himself creditably by steering clear of pitfalls in the multilateral forum as well as in bilateral exchanges – particularly in his talks with Chinese President Xi Jiping, with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff – and by delivering a strong political statement calling for reform of the U.N. Security Council and the IMF.

In fact, the intensification and scaling up of India-China relations by their respective powerful leaders is an important outcome of the meeting in Brazil, even though the dialogue between the Asian giants was on the summit’s side-lines. Nevertheless, Modi and Xi spoke in almost in one voice on global politics and conflict, and on the case for reform of international institutions.

The new leaders of India and China, with the power of their recently-acquired mandates, sent out an unmistakable signal that they have more interests in common that unite them than differences that separate them.

Against this backdrop, Indian Prime Minister Modi’s outing was significant for other reasons, not least because of the rapport he was able to strike up, in his first meeting, with Chinese President Xi. The stature, power, force and credibility of BRICS depend on its internal cohesion and harmony and this, in turn, revolves almost wholly on the state of relations between India and China. If India and China join hands, speak in one voice and march together, then BRICS has a greater chance of its agenda succeeding in the international system.

As it happened, Modi and Xi hit it off, much to the consternation of both the United States and Japan. They spoke of shared interests and common concerns, their resolve to press ahead with the agenda of BRICS and the two went so far as to agree on the need for an early resolution of their boundary issue. They invited each other for a state visit, and Xi went one better by inviting Modi to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in China in November and asking India to deepen its involvement in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Modi’s “fruitful” 80-minute meeting with Xi highlights that the two are inclined to seize the opportunities for mutually beneficial partnerships towards larger economic, political and strategic objectives. This meeting has set the tone for Xi’s visit to India in September.

Although strengthening India-China relationship, opening up new tracks and widening and deepening engagement had been one of former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s biggest achievements in 10 years of government (2004-2014), after a certain point there was no new trigger or momentum to the ties. Now Xi and Modi are investing effort to infuse new vitality into the relationship which will have an impact in the region and beyond.

As is the wont when it comes to foreign affairs and national security, Modi’s new government has not deviated from the path charted out by the previous government. BRICS as a foreign policy priority represents both continuity and consistency. Even so, the BJP deserves full marks because it did not treat BRICS and the Brazil summit as something it had to go through with for the sake of form or as a chore handed down by the previous government of Manmohan Singh.

Before leaving for Brazil, Modi stressed the “high importance” he attached to BRICS and left no one in doubt that global politics would be high on its agenda.

He pointed attention to the political dimension of the BRICS Summit as a highly political event taking place “at a time of political turmoil, conflict and humanitarian crises in several parts of the world.”

“I look at the BRICS Summit as an opportunity to discuss with my BRICS partners how we can contribute to international efforts to address regional crises, address security threats and restore a climate of peace and stability in the world,” Modi had said on eve of the summit.

Having struck the right notes that would endear him to the Chinese leadership, Modi hailed Russia as “India’s greatest friend” after he met President Vladimir Putin on the side-lines of the summit.

India belongs to BRICS, and if BRICS is the way to move forward in the world, then BRICS can look to India, along with China, for leading the way, regardless of political change at home. That would appear to be the point made by Modi in his first multilateral appearance.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/brics-forges-ahead-with-two-new-power-drivers-india-and-china/feed/ 0
U.S., Obama’s Image Remains Positive Worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-obamas-image-remains-positive-worldwide/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-obamas-image-remains-positive-worldwide http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-obamas-image-remains-positive-worldwide/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 23:53:43 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135566 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

While Republicans and other right-wingers claim that President Barack Obama has inflicted unprecedented damage on Washington’s global reputation, a major new global survey suggests that the image of the U.S. remains generally positive.

The survey, which was based on nearly 50,000 interviews of respondents in 44 countries, found that the U.S. remains substantially more popular than China, widely considered Washington nearest geopolitical rival, in every major region except the Middle East.

A global median of 65 percent respondents said they held a positive view about the U.S., with majorities in 30 of 43 nations (not including the U.S. itself) expressing a favourable opinion.

By contrast, a median of 49 percent said they felt positively about China, while 55 percent said they had an unfavourable view of the Asian giant. The most negative opinions were expressed in Europe and among some of Asia’s closest neighbours, particularly those which are contesting Beijing’s increasingly assertive territorial claims.

As for Obama himself, the first U.S. African-American president remains broadly popular, with a median approval rating of 56 percent – about 15 percentage points higher than in the U.S. itself — with half or more of the public in 28 of the 44 countries expressing confidence that he will “do the right thing” in world affairs.

But, like the U.S. itself, Obama’s image remains poorest in Arab countries, Turkey, and Pakistan. By contrast, Obama’s approval ratings climbed some 10 percentage points (to 71 percent) in Israel between 2013 and 2014.

Indeed, Israel was the only country of 21 nations surveyed in 2009, when he became president and expectations for his tenure were highest around the world, where Obama’s approval ratings improved over the five-year period.

The latest survey, however, also found major plunges in his popularity in Germany and Brazil, compared to 2013, which Pew analysts attributed to revelations that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been conducting major spying operations on the phone conversations of the two countries’ leaders.

It also found a sharp drop in positive assessments of Obama in Russia – down to only 15 percent of respondents – which Pew said was most likely related to the sharp uptick in bilateral tensions over ongoing crisis over Ukraine and Moscow’s annexation of Crimea.

The Pew poll, which was conducted between mid-March and early June, is the latest in an annual series that the organisation’s “Global Attitudes Project” has carried out since 2002. The surveys have covered public opinion on a broad range of international issues in as few as nine and as many as 47 each year over that period.

The survey is quite comprehensive in scope, and its results are released in instalments over the summer. Last week, for example, Pew released findings regarding Russia’s global image, which, according to the survey, had suffered in every region of the world over the past year, particularly in Europe and the U.S. where nearly three in four respondents reported unfavourable views of Moscow.

The 44 countries polled in the latest survey, for which full results will be released in stages over the coming weeks and months, included nine European countries – France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Russia, Spain, the UK, and Ukraine; seven countries in the Greater Middle East – Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Tunisia, and Turkey; and 11 Asian nations – Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam.

In Latin America, the survey included Argentina, Brazil. Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, and Venezuela; while seven sub-Saharan countries were surveyed – Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda. The U.S. itself was included in the survey.

In addition to comparing perceptions and images of the U.S. and China, the latest showed focused on international reaction to disclosures by former NSA employee Edward Snowden about Washington’s use of electronic surveillance of foreign leaders and citizens, as well as Washington’s reliance on drone aircraft to kill alleged terrorists in foreign countries.

The survey found strong opposition nearly across the board – except in the U.S. itself — to both activities, although it also found little evidence in most countries that they had significantly harmed Washington’s image.

In 37 of the 44 countries, half or more of respondents said they disapproved of drones strikes against suspected terrorists. In 26 countries, more than seven of 10 respondents said they opposed the practice.

As important, perhaps, the survey found that opposition to drones strikes has grown steadily – and significantly in a number of countries, particularly Senegal, Uganda, France, Germany, the Philippines, Mexico, Japan, and even within the U.S. itself – compared to 2013, when Pew asked the same question.

Overall, opposition was found to be strongest in Latin America, the Greater Middle East, Greece, Senegal, Spain, and Japan. On the other hand, pluralities and majorities in Israel, the U.S., Nigeria, and Kenya said they approved of Washington’s use of drone strikes.

As to the NSA’s monitoring activities, majorities in most countries said they approved of efforts to spy on terrorists. At the same time, majorities in nearly all of the countries said they opposed U.S. monitoring of emails and phone calls of foreign leaders, and particularly average citizens. That latter sentiment was particularly strong in Greece, Brazil, Egypt, Jordan, and Tunisia, according to the survey.

On China’s image, pluralities or majorities in all Latin American and sub-Saharan African countries covered by the survey held positive views. In other regions, however, impressions were far more mixed.

Majorities in the U.S., France, Spain, Poland, Germany, and Italy held said their overall views were negative, while in Ukraine and Russia, nearly two thirds of respondents said they had a positive image of China. The Greater Middle East was similarly split, with the most positive views found in Tunisia and Palestine, while Jordan and Turkey were strongly negative.

Majorities in six of the 10 Asian countries (not including China itself) of up to 78 percent (Pakistan) expressed favourable views, while respondents in the three countries with which China has ongoing maritime disputes – Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan – were strongly negative. In India, where the land border with China remains in contention, a plurality of respondents voiced negative view of their northern neighbour.

The survey found a growing belief — compared to 2008 when Pew asked the same question — that China will eventually replace the U.S. as the world’s greatest superpower or has already done so.

A global median of 49 percent of respondents agreed with that proposition, compared to 32 percent who disagreed. In 2008, just before the global financial crisis that broke out with the collapse of the U.S. investment firm Lehman Brothers, the split was 41 percent who agreed that China would surpass the U.S. and 39 percent who disagreed.

The latest poll found that the view that Beijing will indeed replace Washington as the pre-eminent global power was strongest in Europe (60 percent) and weakest in Asia (42 percent).

The poll also found significant generation gaps on several issues. Younger respondents were found to hold significantly more favourable views of the U.S. than their older fellow-citizens in more than half of the countries, particularly in Asia (including China), Latin America, and Africa.

Similarly, younger respondents also held significantly more favourable views of China than their older counterparts, particularly in Western Europe, Latin America, and Africa.

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

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-obamas-image-remains-positive-worldwide/feed/ 2
OPINION: Why Asia-Europe Relations Matter in the 21st Century http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 23:23:21 +0000 Shada Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135562 By Shada Islam
BRUSSELS, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

Hopes are high that the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting – or ASEM summit – to be held in Milan on October 16-17 will confirm the credibility and relevance of Asia-Europe relations in the 21st century.

ASEM has certainly survived many storms and upheavals since it was initiated in Bangkok in 1996 and now, with ASEM’s 20th anniversary in 2016 approaching rapidly, the challenge is not only to guarantee ASEM’s survival but also to ensure that the Asia-Europe partnership flourishes and thrives.

Talk about renewal and revival is encouraging as Asians and Europeans seek to inject fresh dynamism into ASEM through changed formats and a stronger focus on content to bring it into the 21st century.

ASEM’s future hinges not only on whether governments are ready to pay as much attention to ASEM and devote as much time and energy to their partnership as they did in the early years but also on closer engagement between Asian and European business leaders, civil society representatives and enhanced people-to-people contacts.  An ASEM business summit and peoples’ forum will be held in parallel with the leaders’ meeting.

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Significantly, the theme of the Milan summit – “Responsible Partnership for Sustainable Growth and Security” – allows for a discussion not only of ongoing political strains and tensions in Asia and in Europe’s eastern neighbourhood, but also of crucial questions linked to food, water and energy security.

Engagement between the two regions has been increasing over the years, both within and outside ASEM. Five of the 51 (set to rise to 52 with Croatia joining in October) ASEM partners – China, Japan, India, South Korea and Russia – are the European Union’s strategic partners. Turkey and Kazakhstan have formally voiced interest in joining ASEM, although approval of their applications will take time.  There is now a stronger E.U.-Asian conversation on trade, business, security and culture.

Exports to Asia and investments in the region are pivotal in ensuring a sustainable European economic recovery while the European Union single market attracts goods, investments and people from across the globe, helping Asian governments to maintain growth and development.  European technology is in much demand across the region.

Not surprisingly, Asia-Europe economic interdependence has grown.  With total Asia-Europe trade in 2012 estimated at 1.37 trillion euros, Asia has become the European Union’s main trading partner, accounting for one-third of total trade.  More than one-quarter of European outward investments head for Asia while Asia’s emerging global champions are seeking out business deals in Europe.  The increased connectivity is reflected in the mutual Asia-Europe quest to negotiate free trade agreements and investment accords. For many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans, too, are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia.

ASEM’s connectivity credentials go beyond trade and economics.  In addition to the strategic partnerships mentioned above, Asia and Europe are linked through an array of cooperation accords. Discussions on climate change, pandemics, illegal immigration, maritime security, urbanisation and green growth, among others, are frequent between multiple government ministries and agencies in both regions, reflecting a growing recognition that 21st century challenges can only be tackled through improved global governance and, failing that, through “patchwork governance” involving cross-border and cross-regional alliances.

Discussions on security issues are an important part of the political pillar in ASEM, with leaders exchanging views on regional and global flashpoints.  Given current tensions over conflicting territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, this year’s debate should be particularly important.

Asian views of Europe’s security role are changing. Unease about the dangerous political and security fault lines that run across the region and the lack of a strong security architecture has prompted many in Asia to take a closer look at Europe’s experience in ensuring peace, easing tensions and handling conflicts.  As Asia grapples with historical animosities and unresolved conflicts, earlier scepticism about Europe’s security credentials are giving way to recognition of Europe’s “soft power” in peace-making and reconciliation, crisis management, conflict resolution and preventive diplomacy, human rights, the promotion of democracy and the rule of law.

In addition, for many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans too are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia, not least as regards maritime security.

Meanwhile, over the years, ASEM meetings have become more formal, ritualistic and long drawn-out, with endless preparatory discussions and the negotiation of long texts by “senior officials” or bureaucrats. Instead of engaging in direct conversation, ministers and leaders read out well-prepared statements.  Having embarked on a search to bring back the informality and excitement of the first few ASEM meetings, Asian and European foreign ministers successfully tested out new working methods at their meeting in Delhi last November.

The new formula, to be tried out in Milan, includes the organisation of a “retreat” session during which leaders will be able to have a free-flowing discussion on regional and international issues with less structure and fewer people in the room.  Instead of spending endless hours negotiating texts, leaders will focus on a substantive discussion of issues.  The final statement will be drafted and issued in the name of the “chair” who will consult partners but will be responsible for the final wording.  There are indications that the chair’s statements and other documents issued at the end of ASEM meetings will be short, simple and to-the-point.

ASEM also needs a content update.  True, ASEM summits which are held every two years, deal with many worthy issues, including economic growth, regional and global tensions, climate change and the like. It is also true that Asian and European ministers meet even more frequently to discuss questions like education, labour reform, inter-faith relations and river management.

This is worthy and significant – but also too much.  ASEM needs a sharper focus on growth and jobs, combating extremism and tackling hard and soft security issues. Women in both Asia and Europe face many societal and economic challenges.  Freedom of expression is under attack in both regions.

ASEM partners also face the uphill task of securing stronger public understanding, awareness and support for the Asia-Europe partnership, especially in the run up to the 20th anniversary summit in 2016.

The 21st century requires countries and peoples – whether they are like-minded or not – to work together in order to ensure better global governance in a still-chaotic multipolar world.

As they grapple with their economic, political and security dilemmas – and despite their many disagreements – Asia and Europe are drawing closer together.  If ASEM reform is implemented as planned, 2016 could become an important milestone in a reinvigorated Asia-Europe partnership, a compelling necessity in the 21st century.

Shada Islam is responsible for policy oversight of Friends of Europe’s initiatives, activities and publications. She has special responsibility for the Asia Programme and for the Development Policy Forum. She is the former Europe correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and has previously worked on Asian issues at the European Policy Centre. 

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/feed/ 0
Proposed Arms Embargo on Syria a Political Mockery http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/proposed-arms-embargo-on-syria-a-political-mockery/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=proposed-arms-embargo-on-syria-a-political-mockery http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/proposed-arms-embargo-on-syria-a-political-mockery/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:48:33 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135545 The Security Council votes unanimously earlier this year to maintain arms sanctions on Côte d’Ivoire until Apr. 30, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

The Security Council votes unanimously earlier this year to maintain arms sanctions on Côte d’Ivoire until Apr. 30, 2015. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

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

When the 15-member Security Council, the most powerful body at the United Nations, fails to resolve a military conflict, it invariably exercises one of its tried, and mostly failed, options: punish the warring parties by imposing punitive sanctions.

Currently, there are 15 U.N. sanctions committees, supported by 65 “experts” overseeing 11 monitoring teams, groups and panels, at a cost of about 32 million dollars a year.There have been no takers so far in a sharply divided Security Council, mostly with vested political and military interests in the Syrian civil war.

The sanctions, imposed so far on about 25 countries, have included arms embargoes, travel bans and financial and diplomatic restrictions.

U.N. military sanctions go back to apartheid South Africa in 1977, and since then, have been imposed on several post-conflict countries, including Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Libya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Liberia, the former Yugoslavia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Last month, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon publicly called on the Security Council (UNSC) to impose an arms embargo on Syria.

But there have been no takers so far in a sharply divided Security Council, mostly with vested political and military interests in the Syrian civil war.

Ban has persistently – and unyieldingly – maintained that the ongoing civil war in Syria, which has claimed over 150,000 lives since March 2011, could be resolved only politically, not by military force.

But his voice is lost in the political wilderness – with no diplomatic or moral support either from the United States, Western Europe, Russia, Qatar, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates (UAE) – all of them explicitly or implicitly providing military or financial support to the warring parties in Syria.

The United States, Britain and France could possibly opt for military sanctions – but only on Syrian military forces.

Russia and China, who are supportive of the Bashar al-Assad regime, want sanctions on Western-supported rebel forces.

As a result of the deadlock, the proposal for an arms embargo has remained grounded.

The secretary-general’s proposal took another beating late last month when the United States announced plans to spend about 500 million dollars to train and arm “moderate” Syrian rebels – making the proposed arms embargo a mockery.

“Considering the deadlock over Syria in the past few years, the call by the secretary-general is not likely to change anything,” Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at the Arms Transfers and Arms Production Programme at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IPS.

Russia has been very outspoken about its opposition to an arms embargo, backed by China, both veto-wielding permanent members of the UNSC, he pointed out.

“This has been related to the widespread view in Russia that the end of the Syrian regime (of President Bashar al-Assad) will lead to chaos and fundamentalism in Syria,” Wezeman said.

On top of that, he said, Russia has repeatedly pointed at the experiences of the conflict in Libya, when several states provided weapons to Libyan rebels legitimising this, and using ambiguous language in UNSC resolutions, that Russia thought imposed a full arms embargo on Libya when it agreed with the resolutions.

Russia has stated repeatedly that an arms embargo is out of the question if there are no convincing guarantees that states will stop supplying weapons to the rebel forces opposing Assad’s regime, said Wezeman, who has been closely tracking military developments in Syria.

Currently, Russia is the major arms supplier to the Assad regime.

There is also the question of the effectiveness of sanctions, because the United Nations does not have the means to rigidly enforce any arms embargoes, according to U.N diplomats.

William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Centre for International Policy, told IPS the secretary-general’s call for an arms embargo on all sides of the Syrian war is a welcome effort to reduce the bloodshed there.

The biggest impact would be stopping the flow of Russian arms to the Assad regime, but unfortunately, Russia is also the country most likely to veto any embargo proposal that comes before the Security Council, he noted.

“So the question will be how to pressure Moscow to reverse course on its military support of the Syrian government, or whether an embargo by the U.S. and the European Union (EU) only would have the desired effect,” he said.

Still, U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said the UNSC has been using both economic and military sanctions with increased regularity since the mid-1990s.

“We know that sanctions can work when they are designed and implemented well and when they enjoy the support of member states on and outside the Security Council,” Eliasson said.

Speaking at a high-level review on sanctions last month, he said in almost all of the 25 cases where sanctions have been used by the U.N., they have been part of an overarching strategy featuring peacekeeping, peacemaking and peacebuilding elements.

On another line of analysis, Eliasson said, “Let us also remember that sanctions are not only punitive.”

Some sanctions regimes are designed to support governments and regions working towards peaceful transition, he pointed out.

In Libya, sanctions continue to help transitional authorities recover state assets and prevent the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.

In Liberia, the arms embargo on non-state actors continues to provide the government with protective support.

In Guinea-Bissau, he said, the sanctions regime is acting as a deterrent against post-electoral violence by encouraging key local actors to respect the results.

“Steps are also being taken to assist peaceful and benign governments whose countries are still under sanctions,” Eliasson added.

Meanwhile, the secretary-general recently dispatched an assessment mission to Somalia to explore how the United Nations and others can help the federal government comply with the partial lifting of the arms embargo, he said.

Hartung told IPS past embargoes have been imperfect, but have been worthwhile nonetheless.

The embargo on the apartheid regime in South Africa was violated through third party transfers and undermined by sales of arms-making technologies to Pretoria, but it did reduce the flow of arms to South African forces and it made it more expensive for South Africa to maintain its war machine.

He said arms dealers like Viktor Bout, in collaboration with key governments, undermined embargoes on Sierra Leone and Angola, but a more forceful and coordinated effort to stem this trade could have made a difference.

“So it really comes down to the political will of key governments to make embargoes work,” he concluded.

Even when they aren’t perfect, he said, they can make it harder for parties to conflicts to arm themselves and therefore reduce levels of violence.

Since the early 1990s, Wezeman told IPS, there have been around 25 separate U.N. arms embargoes.

Quite certainly all of these have been violated to some extent. However that should be expected from any sanction imposed by the U.N., or even any sanction or law imposed in general.

“Still, most if not all of them have made it considerably more difficult for the targets of the embargoes to continue to acquire weapons,” he said.

Obviously more is needed to end wars, he said, as often large stocks of weapons will still be available to continue fighting. However, not imposing an arms embargo can be argued to make things even worse, Wezeman added.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/proposed-arms-embargo-on-syria-a-political-mockery/feed/ 0
OPINION: Japan Remains Committed to ‘Advancing Vibrant Diplomacy’ http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-japan-remains-committed-to-advancing-vibrant-diplomacy/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-japan-remains-committed-to-advancing-vibrant-diplomacy http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-japan-remains-committed-to-advancing-vibrant-diplomacy/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:12:12 +0000 Isamu Ueda http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135542 By Isamu Ueda
TOKYO, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

In recent years, Japan has found itself it in a rapidly changing security environment. The global balance of power has shifted and various new threats have emerged within the region, including the development of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile systems that may soon be capable of delivering them.

These changes have sparked serious debate within Japan about how best to meet the changing security needs of the people of Japan and to protect their lives and livelihoods.We see Japan’s “peace constitution” as an expression of high and universal ideals in international relations.

Some have gone so far as to suggest that Article 9 of the Constitution, which famously declares that, “the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes,” must be fundamentally revised if we are protect ourselves and our national interests.

The Japanese government has long taken the position that while the right of self-defence is recognised by the Constitution, this can only be exercised in response to a direct military attack against Japan and the use of force must be limited to the minimum necessary to repel the attack.

Others have sought to expand this interpretation to mean that the Japanese Constitution does not prohibit any form of self-defence that is recognised as legal under international law, including forms of “collective self-defence” sanctioned, for example, by a United Nations resolution.

Taken to its logical conclusion, this could mean that Japanese troops would find themselves in combat roles in places far from the homeland. This would run counter to the pacifist spirit of the Constitution and Japanese people’s strong desire for peace. It could provoke grave concern among our Asian neighbors, who still bear the bitter memories of Japanese military aggression in the 20th century.

Since its founding in 1964, the New Komei party has remained dedicated to a peaceful path for Japan. Central to this is our commitment to the Japanese peace constitution as a self-willed undertaking by the Japanese people to refrain from any use of force beyond the minimum requirements of self-defence. We see Japan’s “peace constitution” as an expression of high and universal ideals in international relations, specifically, the peaceful resolution of conflict through diplomacy and dialogue.

Courtesy of Isamu Ueda

Isamu Ueda/New Komeito

As members of the ruling coalition, we also have a responsibility to deal with the real challenges facing Japan, including questions in the security realm – how best to protect the lives and peaceful existence of the Japanese people.

In May of this year, we began deliberations with our coalition partners, the Liberal Democratic Party, on how to clarify the constitutional limits on self-defence in ways that contribute to deepening mutual trust within the U.S.-Japan Alliance and to stability within East Asia.

We approached these discussions with the determination to protect and preserve the underlying spirit of the peace constitution which, along with the U.S.-Japan alliance, has been central to Japan’s prosperity and security in the decades since the end of World War II.

At the outset, we insisted that any interpretation must be based on and logically consistent with past government interpretations. This, we argued, was essential if Japan was to be recognized as a nation of laws. Prime Minister Abe expressed his support for this approach at the beginning of the discussions.

On Jul. 1, agreement was reached on a Cabinet Decision which, among other things, establishes three core conditions limiting the use of force.

These are: 1) that an armed attack against a foreign country with which Japan has a close relationship produce a clear danger that Japan’s national survival will be threatened and its citizens’ right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness fundamentally undermined; 2) that there are no other appropriate means available to protect Japan’s citizens; and 3) that any use of force be kept to the minimum necessary.

These strictly defined conditions limit potential military actions to those that are genuinely necessary for Japan’s defence. They do not open the path to the overseas dispatch of Japan’s Self-Defence Forces (SDF) in the exercise of military force. The Cabinet Decision reaffirms Japan’s commitment to the three non-nuclear principles of not possessing, not producing and not permitting the introduction of nuclear weapons in its territory.

It also clarifies that Japan has no interest in becoming the kind of military power that would present a threat to other countries. Rather, the revised interpretation would enable a more closely coordinated response by Japan’s SDF and U.S. forces to situations arising in the country’s immediate vicinity that could gravely impact the nation’s peace and security.

This Cabinet Decision only provides guidance for future legislative measures. Such laws, which scrupulously define the limits of permissible action by the SDF, must be debated and adopted by Japan’s parliament to give effect to the new policy. We hope to use the process of legislative deliberation as an opportunity to inform world public opinion and gain wider understanding of Japan’s true intent in making these changes.

Among the goals stated in the Cabinet Decision is that “the Government, first and foremost, has to create a stable and predictable international environment and prevent the emergence of threats by advancing vibrant diplomacy…” In keeping with this, it adopts the policy that Japan should be a country that makes proactive contributions to peace. For the New Komei party, this means engaging in multifaceted diplomacy based on the spirit of the peace constitution.

Nowhere is such diplomacy more vitally important than with China, South Korea and our other neighbours in Asia. Over the decades, the New Komei party has engaged actively with our Chinese counterparts, seeking to maintain and develop the bonds of trust and friendship that can serve as the basis for mutually beneficial relations.

In January 2013, the leader of New Komei, Natsuo Yamaguchi, traveled to Beijing to meet with General Secretary Xi Jinping. He brought with him a letter from Prime Minister Abe and took the opportunity urge the early holding of a Sino-Japanese summit, stressing his confidence that differences between China and Japan can be resolved through persistent efforts at dialogue.

Ultimately, if Japan is to live up to the promise of our unique and remarkable constitution, it must be through an unwavering commitment to “advancing vibrant diplomacy” on many fronts. This must be our proactive contribution to peace.

Isamu Ueda is a member of the House of Representatives of the Japanese Diet, and chairs the international committee of the New Komeito party, a junior partner in the coalition government headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of the Liberal Democratic Party. He was one of the members in the recent discussions on security issues between the coalition parties.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-japan-remains-committed-to-advancing-vibrant-diplomacy/feed/ 0
The Silent Power of Boycotts and Blockades http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/the-silent-power-of-boycotts-to-blockades/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-silent-power-of-boycotts-to-blockades http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/the-silent-power-of-boycotts-to-blockades/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 17:18:21 +0000 Kanya DAlmeida http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135425 Nonviolent rally in front of the US Embassy in Chile, asking for the withdrawal of US troops from occupied territories. Credit: Rafael Edwards/Ressenza via Flickr/ CC 2.0

Nonviolent rally in front of the US Embassy in Chile, asking for the withdrawal of US troops from occupied territories. Credit: Rafael Edwards/Ressenza via Flickr/ CC 2.0

By Kanya D'Almeida
CAPE TOWN, Jul 8 2014 (IPS)

Peruse a few reports on global military expenditure and you will not be able to shake the image of the planet as one massive army camp, patrolled by heavily weaponised guards in a plethora of uniforms.

Last year, the world spent about 1.76 trillion dollars on military activity according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The year before, arms sales among SIPRI’s ‘Top 100’ companies touched 410 billion dollars. It is estimated that 1,000 people die from gun violence every single day.

The newly founded Pan African Network on Nonviolence and Peacebuilding is the first regional initiative of its kind dedicated to connecting African grassroots organisers around nonviolent resistance.
But scattered amongst the barracks of this planetary war zone are scores of white flags, wielded daily by the many millions of people engaged in nonviolent resistance to the forces that threaten their existence.

Nearly 120 of these peace activists are currently assembled in Cape Town’s City Hall, for the quadrennial meeting of the 93-year-old War Resister’s International (WRI), a global network of activists from far-flung regions fighting on every imaginable front, from anti-trafficking in Australia to peace and reconciliation in Rwanda.

Returning to the very pulpit from where he led the historic 1989 March for Peace, Archbishop Desmond Tutu addressed the forum’s participants Saturday night by invoking memories of the long and bloody struggle against apartheid.

“Take our thanks back to your countries,” he told the audience, “even the poorest of which stood ready to receive South African exiles and refugees.” Drawing on the conference’s theme ‘Small Actions – Big Movements: the continuum of nonviolence’, he urged greater collaboration between disparate movements, in order to find strength in unity.

“The U.S. Command in Africa (AFRICOM) has now expanded to approximately 2,000 troops on the continent, covering 38 countries,” WRI Conference Coordinator Matt Meyer told IPS.

“With almost no money but a lot of passion and an understanding of the need for unity in the face of militarism, violence, and a re-colonisation of the land, we brought together people from every continent and 33 African countries to say: ‘We will continue to resist. We will build a beautiful new tomorrow.’”

Running from Jul. 4-8, the gathering offers a bird’s eye view of the life-affirming campaigns that often get pushed off front pages in favour of headlines proclaiming death and war.

While not often on the news, the efficacy of the peace movement is being documented elsewhere. Analysing a century’s worth of data, the World Peace Foundation found that between 1900 and 2006, nonviolent movements had a 53-percent success rate, compared to a 22-percent success rate for violent movements.

Other tangible successes include the long list of victories recently secured by the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, according to Omar Barghouti, a founding committee member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI).

With three basic demands (ending the occupation as defined by the 1967 borders; ending Israel’s system of legal discrimination against Palestinians; and enforcing the right of return for Palestinian refugees), the civil society initiative calls for the same global solidarity that erupted during the fight against apartheid in South Africa, and urges companies to withdraw their investments from firms that directly profit from the occupation of Palestine.

In the last three years alone, many major pension funds in Europe have divested from Israeli banks, including the 200-billion-dollar financial giant PGGM, the second-largest pension manager in the Netherlands.

Gender and Militarism

With women and children disproportionately impacted by conflict and militarisation, the Women Peacemaker’s Program (WPP) played a major role in the conference, releasing its annual May 24 report here just days before the WRI gathering.

Organising their work under the larger umbrella of what WPP Program Officer Sophie Schellens called “gender sensitive active nonviolence”, the organisation is comprised of a network of some 50 partners based on every continent.

“This is a politically sensitive topic, since we are analysing militarism and the military from a gender perspective,” Schellens told IPS.

“For instance, an indigenous Manipur-based woman activist in our network, Sumshot Khular, connects the links between militarism, development and politics, and the specific effects of this alliance on women.”

An article by Khular in WPP’s report, ‘Gender and Militarism: Analyzing the Links to Strategize for Peace,’ notes that South Asia is home to more than 160 million indigenous people, yet few governments formally recognise their rights, leaving many at the mercy of developers carrying out coal and uranium mining, and oil and gas exploration.

“The aggressive development models associated with intensive militarisation have been ravaging not only our land and resources, but also our people – especially women and girls,” Khular writes.

According to Schellens, these affected women are now coming together in large numbers to “defy these militarised structures.”
In addition, the 810-billion-dollar sovereign wealth fund of Norway decided this year to pull investments from Israeli firms operating in the West Bank; the Luxembourg Pension Fund followed suit, citing ethical concerns over the building of settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

In addition, said Barghouti, “Bill Gates, the richest man in the world, recently divested from the British-Danish-owned G4S, one of the largest private security companies in the world; the United Methodist Church – one of the richest in the U.S. – pulled its 18-billion-dollar fund out of companies operating on occupied Palestinian land; and the Presbyterian church has divested from companies like Caterpillar, HP and Motorola Solutions because of their involvement in the occupation.”

With its 15-billion-dollar defense budget, the Israeli government is not taking this lightly, and has identified the BDS movement as a strategic, rather than societal, threat.

“Israel recently shifted overall responsibility for fighting BDS from the ministry of foreign affairs to the ministry of strategic affairs,” Barghouti said Monday, “the same ministry that deals with the Iranian threat, and Israel’s relationship with the U.S.”

Elsewhere, too, authoritarian regimes are recognising the legitimate power of nonviolent resistance. A South Sudanese activist, wishing to be identified only as Karbash A M, told IPS that the Sudanese government in Khartoum has issued a blanket ban on NGOs conducting nonviolence trainings among refugee communities.

But in the face of a political crisis that has claimed tens of thousands of lives since South Sudan declared independence in 2011, Marmoun said, a handful of organisations continue to train hundreds of community leaders and youth activists in the tactics of nonviolence, even as a wave of arms and ammunition threatens to drown the country.

Documenting over 14 case studies of peaceful resistance, the second edition of WRI’s Handbook for Nonviolent Campaigns, released here Sunday, offers a tip-of-the-iceberg analysis of the proliferation of nonviolent movements around the world, from protests against the Indonesian military in West Papua, to the diaspora solidarity movement for Eritrea.

Recognising a continuum between the moral commitment to nonviolence adopted by Gandhi, the strategic decision to exercise nonviolence in Eastern Europe in the 1980s, and a “willingness to use nonviolent methods […] but no commitment to avoid low-level physical violence,” the Handbook offers practical advice to activists and organisers from Colombia to South Korea and beyond.

Another major development here this week was the founding of the Pan African Network on Nonviolence and Peacebuilding, the first regional initiative of its kind dedicated to connecting African grassroots organisers around nonviolent resistance.

“I am delighted we have been able to give birth to this network here in Cape Town,” Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, executive director of the South Africa-based organisation Embrace Dignity – which fights to end sex trafficking and the commercial exploitation of women – told IPS.

“At the last count, 33 African countries are represented in the network, with a 16-member steering committee, each from a different country.

“We are also making an effort to ensure representation from island states like Mauritius and the Canary Islands,” she stated, adding that the network will play a crucial role in elevating the voices of civil society on issues of governance, development and corruption.

Experts here say such a network could be hugely important in combating the U.S.’ increased military presence in Africa, such as plans to construct a 220-million-dollar Special Operations compound at the base of the U.S.’ Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti.

The actions may be small, but their impacts are felt at the highest level.

“We can now call ourselves the ‘three percent people’,” Anand Mazgaonkar, a representative of the National Alliance of Peoples’ Movements (NAPM) in Gujarat, India, said at a plenary session Monday, “because a recent intelligence report in India has named all of us involved in movements as collectively responsible for a three percent damage to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).”

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/the-silent-power-of-boycotts-to-blockades/feed/ 0
Liberated Homs Residents Challenge Notion of “Revolution” http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/liberated-homs-residents-challenge-notion-of-revolution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=liberated-homs-residents-challenge-notion-of-revolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/liberated-homs-residents-challenge-notion-of-revolution/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 06:35:03 +0000 Eva Bartlett http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135420 Volunteers have planted a garden in the courtyard of the burned St. Mary's Church in Homs. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

Volunteers have planted a garden in the courtyard of the burned St. Mary's Church in Homs. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

By Eva Bartlett
HOMS, Syria, Jul 8 2014 (IPS)

Al-Waer, Homs’s most populated area and the city’s last insurgent holdout, might soon achieve the truce that Hom’s Old City saw in May this year when, in an exchange deal, the insurgents left their strongholds.

Today, Al-Waer’s population stands at more than 200,000, many of them internally displaced persons (IDPs) who fled their homes in other parts of Syria, only to find themselves caught in the middle of the efforts of the Syrian army to eradicate the armed militants.

Homs, Syria’s third largest city and dubbed in the media as the “capital of the revolution”, suffered nearly three years of the insurgents’ presence and the Syrian army’s fight to oust them and restore calm. By May this year, many areas had been destroyed by both army bombing and insurgent rockets and car bombs.

On May 9, 2014, Homs’ Governor Talal Barazi was reported as having declared Homs “empty of guns and fighters” and under a truce agreement, the roughly 1,200 insurgents who had taken over most of the Old City in early 2012 were bussed out and residents could finally return to their neighbourhoods.Many of them [residents of Homs’ Old City] argued that what had happened in Homs was not revolution, as Dutch Jesuit priest Frans van der Lugt had argued before he was assassinated, just one month before Homs was liberated.

Some of those residents who had stayed on in the Old City of Homs during the siege talked to IPS about their ordeals and losses at the hands of armed groups, including Nusra and Farooq brigades. Many of them argued that what had happened in Homs was not revolution, as Dutch Jesuit priest Frans van der Lugt had argued before he was assassinated, just one month before Homs was liberated.

“I was baptised in this church, got married in it, and baptised my children in it,” said Abu Nabeel, a resident of Homs’ Old City. The St. George Church, with its crumbling walls, is one of 11 reported destroyed in the Old City. It no longer has its wooden ceiling and ornately-carved wooden ceiling panels and wall lattice lie in heaps outside the ancient church.

“Most of the damage is from the last days just before the insurgents left,” he said. “But we’ll rebuild.”That rebuilding has already begun, with residents scraping away rubble and re-paving small areas that had been damaged.

The arched interior of the St. Mary’s Church (Um al-Zinnar) bears the char marks of its burning by retreating insurgents. Like many others, the church was looted of objects and vandalised, with the insurgents leaving sectarian graffiti on the walls. “Symbols related to Christianity were removed. Even from inside houses. If you had a picture of the Virgin Mary, they removed it,” said Abu Nabeel.

Volunteers have now planted a garden in its courtyard, which they say is an attempt to “bring some beauty back” to Homs.

In the courtyard of the Jesuit church sat a lone plastic chair adorned with flowers and a photo of Father Frans van der Lugt, the Jesuit priest assassinated on April 7, 2014.

Nazim Kanawati, who knew and respected the Jesuit, arrived moments after the 75-year-old priest had been shot in the back of the head.”We were surrounded and under siege. This was the only place we could go to. Everyone loved it here,” he said. Like Father Frans, Kanawati refused to leave Homs while others fled. “I didn’t want to leave, I’m a Syrian, I had the right to be there.”

Although he chose to stay in the Old City, Father Frans was critical of the insurgents. In January 2012, he had written: “From the start I saw armed demonstrators marching along in the protests, who began to shoot at the police first. Very often the violence of the security forces has been a reaction to the brutal violence of the armed rebels.”

“People in Homs were already armed and prepared before the protests began,” said Kanawati. “If they hadn’t been planning for the protests from the beginning, the people wouldn’t have had the quantity of arms that they had.”

Abu Nabeel explained that in addition to the Hamidiyeh district where various old churches are to be found, Christians in other areas occupied by the armed insurgents also fled. “There were an estimated 100,000 Christians living in the Old City of Homs before it was taken over by terrorists. Most fled in February 2012. By March, only 800 had stayed, and by the end just over 100 remained,” he said.

The siege that the Syrian army enforced on the Old City in an attempt to drive out the insurgents had a drastic effect on the daily lives of those remaining. Before Homs was freed of the armed insurgents, who were also stealing from homes, life had become impossible. “There was food at the beginning, but it started to run out. At the end we had nothing, we ate whatever we could collect,” said Kanawati.

Mohammed, a Syrian from the Qussoor district of Homs, is now one of the reported 6.5 million internally-displaced Syrians.

“I’m a refugee in Latakia now. I work in Homs, two days a week, and then return to Latakia to stay at my friend’s home. I left my house at the very end of 2011, before the area was taken over by al-Nusra and al-Farooq brigades.”

He spoke of the sectarian nature of the insurgents and protests from the very beginning in 2011.

“I was renting a home in a different neighbourhood of Homs, while renovating my own house. Just beyond my balcony there were protests that did not call for ‘freedom’ or even overthrowing the ‘regime’.They chanted sectarian mottos, they said they would fill al-Zahara – an Alawi neighbourhood – with blood. And also al-Nezha – where there are many Alawis and Christians.”

The windows and door handle to the home of Aymen and Zeinat al-Akhras were missing, but the house itself was intact. Zeinat, a pharmacist, and Aymen, a chemical engineer, survived the presence of the armed men and the resulting siege on the Old City.

“I’ve gained five kilos!” Zeinat said. “I dropped to 34 kilos. Aymen told me to weigh myself. I got on the scale and said, ‘What’s 34 kilos?’. A ten-year-old weighs more than that! And Aymen was 43 kilos. For a man, 43 kilos,” she said laughing.

“Thirty-eight times they came to steal our food. The first couple of times, they knocked on the door, after that they just entered with guns. The last things they took were our dried peas, our cracked wheat, our olives, finally our avatar (wild thyme). We started to eat grass and whatever greens we could find in February, 2014, and that’s all we had till Homs was liberated,” Zeinat said.

“The last time they came all we had were some spices. I was putting the spices on the grass and weeds that we were eating at that point, to give themsome flavour. They even took the spices. They didn’t leave us anything.”

Meanwhile, despite the return of calm to Homs’ Old City, insurgents continue their campaign of car-bombing civilian areas of Homs. Tens were killed by car bombs and rocket attacks in June alone.Then, on June 26, the Nusra brigades, an al-Qaeda affiliate and one of the main factions which occupied Homs, is reported to have pledged allegiance to the Takfiri extremist Islamic State in Iraq and Syria(ISIS).

This allegiance to a group documented to have beheaded, mutilated, crucified and flogged Syrians and Iraqis gives more credence to Homs’ residents’opinion that the events in Syria are no revolution.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/liberated-homs-residents-challenge-notion-of-revolution/feed/ 0
Is Japan’s Peace Constitution Dead? http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/is-japans-peace-constitution-dead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=is-japans-peace-constitution-dead http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/is-japans-peace-constitution-dead/#comments Mon, 07 Jul 2014 22:54:38 +0000 John Feffer http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135418 By John Feffer
WASHINGTON, Jul 7 2014 (IPS)

Japan has functioned under its “peace constitution” for nearly 70 years. The distinctive Article 9, which prevents the country from conducting war as a means of resolving international conflict, is showing its age.

Over the last several decades, after repeated “reinterpretations,” the peace constitution has become increasingly enfeebled. With its latest decision, the government of Shinzo Abe has quite nearly euthanized the document.Rather than a direct attack on the constitution, Japanese conservatives have favoured an approach of successive reinterpretation that has gradually gutted Article 9 of its original intent.

The Abe government recently announced a Cabinet decision that commits Japan to the principle of collective self-defence. Tokyo, in other words, can use force not only in self-defence but also to help an ally in peril, even if Japan itself is not under attack.

Prime Minister Abe has stressed that this reform reduces the risk of Japan being involved in war. He has also emphasised that this is not a major change in how Japan handles its foreign and military policy – and thereby does not violate the peace constitution. But the changes will in fact have significant implications.

The United States, which has long prodded Japan to shoulder more security responsibilities, immediately praised Abe’s bold move. Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel called it “an important step for Japan as it seeks to make a greater contribution to regional and global peace and security.”

Japan’s neighbours were considerably less enthusiastic. Japan is currently embroiled in several island disputes – with China, South Korea, and Russia – which has coloured the reception of Abe’s statements in those countries.

For instance, not much unites the ruling party and the main opposition in South Korea, but Abe succeeded in forging at least temporary unity among them. Representatives of both parties condemned the Japanese move as a threat to regional stability. The Chinese media was even harsher, citing an “evil intent” behind the shift.

Nor has the change in policy been warmly embraced by all Japanese. The prime minister was forced to resort to pushing the change through at the Cabinet level rather than attempt to change the constitution itself. Japan’s ruling party and its allies don’t have the parliamentary supermajority needed to change the constitution.

A parliamentary vote would also require a national referendum. That step might not be any easier. According to one recent poll, 58 percent of Japanese oppose Abe’s latest reform. Jettisoning Article 9 altogether would likely encounter similar opposition. However, during his first term as prime minister, Abe pushed through a new referendum law that requires no minimum turnout.

Shinzo Abe has made it clear from the start that he wants Japan to have a more assertive military. But this is not the first time that a Japanese government has reinterpreted the constitution to enlarge the functions of the military, which is still formally called the Self-Defence Forces (SDF).

After North Korea launched a rocket into Japanese airspace in 1998, Japan ramped up its participation in U.S. missile defence. After Sep. 11, Japan passed new laws that allowed the SDF to support U.S. forces outside of Japan. It also overturned the ban on using military force should the country come under attack.

More recently, Tokyo got rid of the formal prohibition on exporting military hardware (though Japan had long been selling many of the same items under the pretense that they were for civilian use).

Rather than a direct attack on the constitution, then, Japanese conservatives have favoured an approach of successive reinterpretation that has gradually gutted Article 9 of its original intent.

The decision on collective self-defence also comes at a time when Tokyo is about to push ahead on the construction of a new U.S. military base in Okinawa. Despite opposition from nearly three-quarters of the Okinawan population, the United States and Japan are planning to replace the Futenma Marine Air Force Base with a new facility at Henoko in the northern part of the island.

Both Tokyo and Washington put considerable pressure on Okinawan governor Hirokazu Nakaima to switch his position and support situating the new base on the island. Some preliminary work site preparation has already begun, and drilling surveys are set to start at the end of July.

Okinawans have long opposed the deal to build the new base, which has been under negotiation between Tokyo and Washington since the 1990s. A non-violent sit-in protest at Henoko Village has been going on for over 15 years. The opposition movement is currently making plans to broaden their resistance to the base construction.

Japan’s rapidly evolving position on its military stance coincides with the much-heralded Pacific Pivot – or strategic realignment – of the United States. The Obama administration has emphasised the importance of a shift of military and economic focus to East Asia.

But this shift is taking place at a time of fewer resources for the Pentagon, particularly in comparison to the massive increases of the George W. Bush era. In order to accomplish this pivot, then, Washington needs to rely on the resources of its key allies: South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, and Japan.

Despite its peace constitution, Japan boasts one of the largest militaries in the world. It is the eighth largest military spender in the world – ahead of all other Asian countries except China – and it’s planning to increase its spending substantially over the next five years.

It already ranks in the top ten in the Global Firepower index. New fighter jets, naval destroyers, and surveillance drones will likely push it higher on the list. Japan has already made a commitment to the United States to purchase 42 F-35s, the mishap-prone fighter jet, at a total cost of around 10 billion dollars.

Without Japan, in other words, the pivot wouldn’t happen because the Pentagon simply couldn’t underwrite it. What has held Tokyo back in the past from stepping up its military cooperation with the United States has been its constitution. And now Abe has effectively removed that obstacle.

Although the United States played a major role in drafting Japan’s constitution back in 1946, today Washington is pushing hard for a rewrite. From the point of view of saving American taxpayer dollars, the U.S. encouragement of Japan’s new military policy makes a great deal of sense.

But given the ratcheting up of tensions in the region connected to Abe’s strategic realignment, Washington’s calculus may turn out to be penny wise and pound foolish.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/is-japans-peace-constitution-dead/feed/ 0
Gun Lobbyists, Minus Weapons, Gather at World Body http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/gun-lobbyists-minus-weapons-gather-at-world-body/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gun-lobbyists-minus-weapons-gather-at-world-body http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/gun-lobbyists-minus-weapons-gather-at-world-body/#comments Wed, 02 Jul 2014 16:45:53 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135341 Anna Macdonald, Oxfam's Head of the Control Arms campaign, speaks at a special event marking the opening for signature of the ATT in June 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Anna Macdonald, Oxfam's Head of the Control Arms campaign, speaks at a special event marking the opening for signature of the ATT in June 2013. Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 2 2014 (IPS)

When the United Nations hosted its biennial review meeting on the illicit trade in small arms last month, the conference room was overflowing both with pro-gun and anti-gun lobbyists.

Mercifully, no one was packing a gun, nor was anyone forced to surrender weapons at the door – wild West-style – in a world body advocating peace and disarmament."The simple truth is the ATT does not affect the domestic trade in weapons in the United States." -- Dr. Natalie J. Goldring

The lobbyists on both sides of the battle front included representatives of Canada’s National Firearms Association, World Forum on Shooting Activities, Defence Small Arms Advisory Council, Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute, the National Muzzle Loading Rifle Association and the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA).

Of the 59 non-governmental organisations (NGOs) accredited to the meeting, about 15 percent were pro-gun groups whose longstanding refrain echoed in the chamber: “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

The meeting was meant to review the 13-year old Programme of Action (PoA) to Prevent, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons.

The gun lobbyists had one overarching message: about 60 percent of the world’s small arms were legally-owned and should therefore be excluded both from the PoA and the 2013 Arms Trade Treaty (ATT).

Rebecca Peters of the Women’s Network of IANSA, an international network of hundreds of civil society groups campaigning against gun violence, told IPS a positive outcome of the meeting was a gender-empowered message: women should play a larger role in national policies controlling guns.

She pointed out that most policies on guns do not take into account the experiences and views of women and most countries do not prevent domestic violence offenders from owning guns.

“This decision helps us to push for policies more in line with the interests of communities,” she added.

When the ATT was adopted by the General Assembly back in 2013, the vote was 154 in favour, three against and 23 abstentions.

The vote was necessary because Iran, Syria and North Korea blocked the consensus adoption of the treaty within ATT negotiations.

The treaty will come into force only with 50 ratifications. So far it has received 41, Sweden being the latest country to ratify.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a senior fellow with the Security Studies Programme in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS, “My best guess is that we’ll reach the 50 ratifications needed for entry into force within the next three to four months.”

She said some countries may be waiting to deposit their instruments of ratification during the high-level segment of the General Assembly in September in order to increase public attention to the treaty and to their participation in it.

“But if they want to be among the first 50 countries ratifying the treaty, they may not want to wait that long,” said Dr Goldring, who also represents the Acronym Institute on conventional weapons issues at the United Nations.

With 50 ratifications, the clock starts, and the treaty comes into force 90 days later.

Speaking at a special event marking the opening for signature of the ATT last year, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a strong proponent of disarmament, said: “The world has decided to finally put an end to the free-for-all nature of international weapons transfers.

“It would make it harder for weapons to be diverted into the illicit market, to reach warlords, pirates, terrorists and criminals, or to be used to commit grave human rights abuses or international humanitarian law violations,” he warned.

Still, some of the major arms exporting countries have neither signed nor ratified the treaty.

So far, Dr Goldring told IPS, the top arms suppliers are divided on ratification.

The good news is that Germany, France, the UK, Spain, and Italy have all ratified the treaty, she said.

They are five of the 10 countries the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) indicates were the top exporters of major conventional weapons from 2008-2012.

“Unfortunately, the United States, the world’s largest arms exporter, has signed but not ratified the treaty. Russia, China, Ukraine, and Israel haven’t even signed the treaty yet,” she added.

Dr Goldring also pointed out the political climate in the U.S. Senate does not support ratification, and may not for several years.

She said too many senators appear to have believed falsehoods about the treaty promoted by the National Rifle Association (NRA), the most powerful gun lobby in the United States.

“The simple truth is the ATT does not affect the domestic trade in weapons in the United States. It’s a treaty about international arms transfers, not sales within the United States,” she added.

Peters told IPS the ideal is to have all the major arms exporters ratify and comply with the treaty, but the absence of some of them isn’t fatal.

For one thing, she said, blocking some irresponsible arms transfers is better than blocking none.

“But also, we have seen with other treaties (eg the Mine Ban Treaty) that non-ratifying countries tend to move toward compliance anyway because of peer pressure but also market pressure”.

For example, Peters said, ATT-ratifying countries may refuse to sell weapons or perhaps even to supply components to non-ratifying countries unless they prove they are complying with the conditions of the ATT.

“So, when the treaty comes into force, it will definitely be a cause for celebration, even if China and Russia don’t ratify it. Of course, it will take a few years before we can tell what difference the treaty makes in preventing armed violence,” noted Peters.

Dr. Goldring said the ATT’s entry into force is a first step toward better control of the international trade in conventional weapons.

The real test will be the extent to which countries take a new look at the weapons they are importing and exporting and pay greater attention to the effects of these transfers.

Over time, she said, this treaty has the potential to significantly alter the global arms trade, just as the Ottawa Convention has done with landmines.

“But it’s likely to be a long process, we’re [only] at the beginning right now,” she said.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/gun-lobbyists-minus-weapons-gather-at-world-body/feed/ 1
OPINION: U.S. Blames Victims of its own Failed Foreign Policies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/op-ed-u-s-blames-victims-of-its-own-failed-foreign-policies/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-u-s-blames-victims-of-its-own-failed-foreign-policies http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/op-ed-u-s-blames-victims-of-its-own-failed-foreign-policies/#comments Mon, 30 Jun 2014 14:14:52 +0000 H.L.D. Mahindapala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135280 By H.L.D. Mahindapala
MELBOURNE, Jun 30 2014 (IPS)

The events unraveling in the Middle East have proved that the vaunted “Arab Spring” has turned into a searing summer of wildfires exploding unpredictably in diverse Islamic fronts without competent firemen to hose down the unmanageable conflagration.

It confirms that Washington has lost its grip on managing and/or directing global politics according to its agenda.The world is lurching from crisis to crisis because U.S.-led interventions are making bad situations worse.

Global events spinning out of its control is another sign of declining U.S. power. Its shrinking power has manifested in two main ways.

On the one hand, the U.S. has lost its way in the flowery rhetoric of President Obama. His grandstanding speech at Cairo University has ended in producing two extremes in Egypt : 1. the democracy of the Muslim Brotherhood led by Mohammed Morsi and 2. the military coup that overthrew the Morsi government elected by Egyptians.

Both situations have placed Washington in a dilemma: it could  not act against  the democratically elected government of Morsi nor could it act against the illegal  coup of Gen. Abdel Fattah El Sisi. Action against Morsi would have been condemned as betraying Washington’s commitment to democratic principles.

And action against Sisi would have been against U.S. self-interests. Its power and options are so limited that it is left watching while Egypt slides into virtual chaos.

On the other hand, and more damagingly, the U.S. is sinking in a bottomless debt hole running into trillions, inhibiting its power to act as  freely as it did in its hegemonic days.

In 2010, the Washington Post revealed that the Iraqi war has cost three trillion dollars. Quoting Prof. Joseph E. Stiglitz of Columbia University and Linda J. Bilmes of Harvard University, it said that “if anything, it [that number] is too low”.

Mark Thompson of Time reported that the real cost of the war on terror, since 9/11 ( including the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan) is five trillion dollars. And counting.

A report by Brown University’s Watson Institute of International Studies put the total deaths “at an “extremely conservative estimate” to be 225,000 with 365,000 wounded.

These grim statistics lead to the ineluctable  question: after investing human capital, money and material, what has the U.S. got in return – other than an incurable cancer eating into its body politic?

Its advertised role in Iraq was to restore democracy and stabilise the divided nation. The strategy was to train and equip an Iraqi force to take on the responsibilities after the U.S. leaves Iraq.

According to estimates, the U.S. invested 25 billion dollars in building up the Iraqi forces alone. But when the armed forces of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) / Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) attacked Mosul and Tikrit the American-trained Iraqi soldiers shed their military uniforms and fled.

Having withdrawn earlier, President Obama is dithering  not knowing whether to send troops again or not. Unable to face the reality of the total failure of U.S. policy, President Obama and the State Department are blaming Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister who was handpicked and planted in Baghdad by Washington as their man.

It’s Vietnam all over again.

Planting a Shiite Prime Minister in the midst of Sunnis is like planting a Roman Catholic Din Diem in a majority Buddhist country, assuming that he was the answer to the deteriorating situation in Vietnam.

But the U.S. cure was worse  than the Vietnamese disease. In the end CIA moved in swiftly to assassinate him because their solution proved to the problem.

With a few exceptions, the failure of Big  Powers to fix internal affairs of other troubled nations has been a recurring feature. Big Powers assume that they know the answer and when their interventions fail they blame the victims of their misguided meddlesome politics.

Right now Washington is blaming Maliki for the rise ISIS forces advancing  towards Baghdad.

In the Middle East, in particular, the interventions had undoubtedly exacerbated the ground situation, leading to a post-interventionist period of chaos.

Eventually, the burden of restoring  normalcy falls in the laps of local regimes taking over from the foreign interventionists.

The legacy of the failed policies of the interventionists gathers a momentum of its own, adding to the burdens of the victims of interventionists.

The unbearable part of the post-interventionist period is the callous disregard of the interventionists for the consequences they leave behind.

At this point they disown total responsibility and gang up to accuse the victims of their follies, as if they had no hand in it. They pretend as if they have been the misunderstood do-gooders who were not allowed to fulfill their constructive role.

This is the ruse they adopt in the post-interventionist phase to absolve themselves and divert attention away from their responsibilities arising from misguided roles. They come in on the principle  of Responsibility to Protect.

When they leave there is none to take on the “Responsibility for the Destruction and Chaos” they leave behind. Overnight they turn into Pontius Pilates passing  the buck to victims of their destruction.

This washing  of  hands, coupled with the tactic of blaming their victims, is absolutely hypocritical and counterproductive for their own domestic stability and that of the world at large.

Washington’s prescriptions for global cures are no better than the blankets offered to the Native American Indians – the blankets were infected with smallpox to wipe out the helpless Indians.

These days they don’t offer infected blankets to their helpless victims. These days they send drones to wipe out those human beings they don’t like. It’s the same old death-dealing policy of human extermination but with different tools.

The world is lurching  from crisis to crisis because the U.S.-led interventions are making bad situations worse.

*H.L.D. Mahindapala is a senior Sri Lankan journalist residing in Australia.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/op-ed-u-s-blames-victims-of-its-own-failed-foreign-policies/feed/ 2
U.S.: What Is the Greatest Threat of Them All? http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/u-s-what-is-the-greatest-threat-of-them-all/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-what-is-the-greatest-threat-of-them-all http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/u-s-what-is-the-greatest-threat-of-them-all/#comments Sat, 28 Jun 2014 02:02:42 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135236 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Jun 28 2014 (IPS)

This month’s stunning campaign by Sunni insurgents led by the radical Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL) against the mainly Shi’a government of Iraqi President Nouri Al-Maliki is stoking a growing debate here about the hierarchy of threats facing the United States in the Middle East and beyond.

On one side, many foreign policy “realists” have argued that the greatest threat is precisely the kind of violent Sunni jihadism associated with Al Qaeda, whose prominence, however, now appears to have been eclipsed by the even more violent ISIL.Obama, who has vowed to keep the U.S. out of a regional Sunni-Shi’a civil war, is eager to reassure allies that he has no intention of partnering with Iran to save Maliki.

In their view, Washington should be ready, if not eager, to cooperate with Iran, which, like the U.S., has rushed military advisers, weapons, and even drone aircraft to Baghdad, in order to protect the Iraqi government and help organise a counter-offensive to regain lost territory.

Some voices in this camp even favour working with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, whose air force reportedly bombed ISIL positions inside Iraq Wednesday, to help repel the threat.

“There’s only one strategy with a decent chance of winning: forge a military and political coalition with the power to stifle the jihadis in both Iraq and Syria,” according to the former president of the influential Council on Foreign Relations, Leslie Gelb.

“This means partnering with Iran, Russia, and President Assad of Syria. This would be a very tricky arrangement among unfriendly and non-trusting partners, but the overriding point is that they all have common interests,” he wrote in The Daily Beast.

On the other side, pro-Israel neo-conservatives and aggressive nationalists, who maintain their hold — if increasingly shakily — on the Republican Party, vehemently oppose any such cooperation, insisting that Tehran poses Washington’s greatest strategic threat, especially if it succeeds in what they depict as its determination to obtain nuclear weapons.

For them, talk of any cooperation with either Syria or Iran, which they accuse of having supported Al Qaeda and other Sunni jihadist groups in the past, is anathema.

“(W)e should not aid our stronger adversary power against our weaker adversary power in the struggle underway in Iraq,” according to George W. Bush’s ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, now with the American Enterprise Institute.

“U.S. strategy must rather be to prevent Tehran from re-establishing its scimitar of power stretching from Iran through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon,” he wrote for FoxNews in an op-ed that called for renewed U.S. efforts to overthrow “the ayatollahs”.

The hawks have instead urged, among other things, Washington to deploy special operations forces and airpower to attack ISIL in both Iraq and Syria while substantially boosting military aid to “moderate” rebel factions fighting to oust Assad.

Yet a third camp argues that the current fixation on ISIL — not to say, the 13-year-old pre-occupation with the Middle East more generally — is overdrawn and misplaced and that Washington needs to engage a serious threat re-assessment and prioritise accordingly.

Noting disappointingly that Obama himself had identified “terrorism” as the greatest threat to the U.S. in a major foreign policy speech last month, political theorist Francis Fukuyama cited Russia’s recent annexation of Crimea and increased tensions over maritime claims between China and its U.S.-allied neighbours as greater causes for concern.

“He said virtually nothing about long-term responses to the two other big challenges to world order: Russia and China,” Fukuyama wrote in a Financial Times column entitled “ISIS risks distracting us from more menacing foes.”

In the face of ISIL’s advance, the administration appears to lean toward the “realist” camp, but, for a variety of reasons feels constrained in moving more decisively in its direction.

Indeed, at the outset of the crisis, both Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, made clear that they were open to at least consulting, if not cooperating with Tehran in dealing with the ISIL threat.

Kerry even sent his top deputy, William Burns, to explore those possibilities in a meeting with senior Iranian officials on the sidelines of nuclear negotiations in Vienna – the highest-level bilateral talks about regional-security issues the two governments have held in memory.

But the sudden emergence of a possible de facto U.S.-Iranian partnership propelled its many foes into action.

These included not only neo-conservatives and other anti-Iran hawks, including the powerful Israel lobby here, but also Washington’s traditional regional allies, including Israel itself, as well as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

They have long feared a return to the pre-1979 era when Washington recognised Tehran as the Gulf’s pre-eminent power and, in any case, have repeatedly ignored U.S. appeals in the past to reconcile themselves to a new Iraq in which the majority Shi’a community will no longer accept Sunni predominance.

“Some [U.S. allies] worry that the U.S. is seeking a new alliance with Iran to supplant its old alliance system in the region,” wrote Michael Singh, a former Bush Middle East aide now with the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near Policy (WINEP), on the same day of the Vienna meeting.

“As misplaced as these worries may be, an American embrace of an Iranian security role in Iraq – or even bilateral talks with Iran on regional security that exclude other stakeholders – will only exacerbate them,” he warned in the neo-conservative editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal which has published a flood of op-eds and editorials over the past two weeks opposing any cooperation with Iran on Iraq.

Faced with these pressures, Obama, who has vowed to keep the U.S. out of a regional Sunni-Shi’a civil war, is eager to reassure those allies that he has no intention of partnering with Iran to save Maliki himself (to whom the Iranians appear to remain committed, at least for now).

U.S. officials have made no secret of their preference for a less-sectarian leader who is capable of reaching out to the Sunni community in Iraq in ways that could prise it loose from ISIL’s grip or influence.

That no doubt was a major part of the message conveyed by Kerry – along with the dangers posed by ISIL, even to Saudi Arabia itself — in his meeting in Jeddah Friday with King Abdullah, who until now has clearly viewed Tehran as the greater threat.

Similarly, the White House announcement Thursday that it will ask Congress to approve a whopping 500 million dollars in military and other assistance to “moderate” rebel groups in Syria to fight both Assad and ISIL also appeared designed to reassure the Saudis and its Gulf allies that Washington remains responsive to their interests, even if the aid is unlikely to materialise before some time next year.

While that announcement may please U.S. hawks and Washington’s traditional allies in the region, it is unlikely to strengthen those in Tehran who favour cooperating with the U.S. on regional security issues. Indeed, it risks bolstering hard-liners who see the conflict in both Iraq and Syria in sectarian terms and accuse Washington of siding with their Sunni rivals in the Gulf.

That the announcement was made on the same day that Baghdad thanked Damascus for bombing ISIL positions in Iraq, however, illustrates the complexities of the tangled alliances at play and the urgent questions for U.S. policy-makers: whom is the greatest threat and whom best to work with in defeating it?

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

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/u-s-what-is-the-greatest-threat-of-them-all/feed/ 0
OP-ED: Surging Violence Against Women in Iraq http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/op-ed-surging-violence-against-women-in-iraq/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=op-ed-surging-violence-against-women-in-iraq http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/op-ed-surging-violence-against-women-in-iraq/#comments Fri, 27 Jun 2014 11:12:09 +0000 Zahra Radwan and Zoe Blumenfeld http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135216 Iraq’s latest surge in sectarian violence threatens to unleash a wave of new violence against women. Credit: U.S. Marine Corps photograph by Sgt. Jason W. Fudge

Iraq’s latest surge in sectarian violence threatens to unleash a wave of new violence against women. Credit: U.S. Marine Corps photograph by Sgt. Jason W. Fudge

By Zahra Radwan and Zoe Blumenfeld
SAN FRANCISCO, Jun 27 2014 (IPS)

Shortly after their conquest of Mosul, young men armed with assault rifles went door to door in Iraq’s second-largest city, taking “women who are not owned” for jihad al-nikah, or sex jihad.

From Jun. 9-12, women’s rights activists documented 13 cases of women who were kidnapped and raped by militants of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or DAIISH, the Arabic shorthand for the group’s name. Of the 13 women, four of them committed suicide because they couldn’t stand the shame. One woman’s brother committed suicide because he could not bear the fact that he was unable to protect his sister.“The political process that the U.S. government put in place is a total failure and they [the United States] just left. The damage is not on them, it’s on us now.” -- Yanar Mohammad

The dispatches from Mosul are just one account of the extreme violence that has plagued Iraq since Sunni ISIS militants seized control over large portions of the country. Being awoman in Iraq was difficult before the current conflict. But the current wave of militarisation threatens to make life even worse.

“Women are being taken in broad daylight,” said Yanar Mohammad, co-founder and president of the Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq, a Global Fund for Women grantee partner. “Men have the weapons to do whatever they want and [ISIS'] way of dealing with things is to kill.”

Now military leaders are handing guns to young, untrained, undereducated, and unemployed Shia men. These men are promised big salaries if they leave their homes to fight, according to an anonymous Global Fund ally in Baghdad.

“When we [women] commute to our office, walk in the street, or take the bus, we experience harassment,” added the Global Fund ally, who remains anonymous due to security concerns. “But now, all of the men have weapons. I think maybe he will kidnap or shoot me if I don’t do what he wants. They will shoot and do anything, and because of the fatwa [urging able-bodied Iraqis to take up arms against Sunni extremists] no one asks questions.’”

Sectarian violence slows women’s progress

With a death toll of 1,000 and rising since the beginning of June, the sectarian conflict has forced most women’s rights organisations to scale back their programmes.

The Organisation of Women’s Freedom in Iraq was in the middle of a campaign against Article 79 of the Jaafari Personal Status Law— a law which, among other women’s rights violations, would grant custody over any child two years or older to the father in divorce cases, lower the marriage age to nine for girls and 15 for boys, and even open the door for girls younger than nine to be married with a parent’s approval. Now it takes everything the organisation has just to keep their shelters open and women safe.

“We cannot speak of women’s rights now unless we are speaking of the livelihood of those who are totally jeopardised, such as women who lost families and young girls who are vulnerable to corrupt officials or clerics,” said Yanar Mohammad. “We went from legal work and improving rights of women to working in a state of emergency and trying to find the lowest chain in society and get them to safety.”

The tangled web the U.S. wove

Such extreme sectarian violence is a relatively new phenomenon in Iraq, reflects Yanar Mohammad, who is “sick and tired” of Western pundits on TV saying there is no hope for Iraq.

“The mainstream media trashing Iraqi people is unbearable and is a total manipulation of the facts of America’s role in dividing Iraqi people,” said Yanar Mohammad. “The political process that the U.S. government put in place is a total failure and they [the United States] just left. The damage is not on them, it’s on us now.”

The damage comes in the form of, among other things, a generation that didn’t have access to education.

“This generation listens to whatever the clerics and politicians say,” said Yanar Mohammad. “They are ready to throw themselves in the fire and they do it in the name of their Imam. … Both politicians and religious heads are pushing the country into a very sectarian divide and it’s frightening.”

Refugees flee to Kurdish region

As the fighting intensifies in northern and western Iraq, over 300,000 people have already fled to the Kurdish region for safety, where the United Nations and relief organisations have set up a refugee camp in the arid region of Khazer.

“It is very hot and there is no water; we were not prepared for this influx of refugees,” says a Global Fund ally in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. “The situation is by no means sustainable. The majority has nowhere to go and is staying in parks. Entire families are left without the most basic of shelter, food, and clothes.”

While these waves of displacement to Kurdistan include Shia, Sunni, and Christian families, the pressure on Iraqi Christians has been strongest due to the infamous brutality of ISIS.

“Christian women in the areas controlled by ISIS are forced to wear hijab or face death,” said a Global Fund ally who lives in Baghdad. “They must pay a protection tax, or jizyah to ISIS to stay safe.”

If the violence is not seriously addressed, our ally in Erbil says Iraqi women know exactly what is going to happen next because they have endured it over and over again since the U.S. invasion in 2003, and during the first and second Gulf War.

“We know what has happened to women in Iraq — a lot of murders and violations — and we have already suffered to an unbearable extent,” said the Global Fund ally in Erbil. “There is nothing they haven’t done to us, which is why panic spreads among women as soon as we hear of another crisis. Women are used as a weapon for retaliation.”

Zahra Radwan is the programme officer for Middle East & North Africa at Global Fund for Women and Zoe Blumenfeld is the communications manager at Global Fund for Women. They are both guest columnists at Foreign Policy In Focus, where this article originally appeared.

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/op-ed-surging-violence-against-women-in-iraq/feed/ 3
When Faith Meets Disaster Management http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/when-faith-meets-disaster-management/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-faith-meets-disaster-management http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/when-faith-meets-disaster-management/#comments Wed, 25 Jun 2014 14:09:15 +0000 Kalinga Seneviratne http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135176 An old woman stands in front of her house, which was destroyed by flash floods in Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

An old woman stands in front of her house, which was destroyed by flash floods in Sri Lanka. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Kalinga Seneviratne
BANGKOK, Jun 25 2014 (IPS)

A consortium of faith-based organisations (FBOs) made a declaration at a side event Wednesday at the 6th Asian Ministerial Conference On Disaster Risk Reduction (AMCDRR), to let the United Nations know that they stand ready to commit themselves to building resilient communities across Asia in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Hosted this year by the Thai government, the conference is an annual collaboration with the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), with the aim of bringing regional stakeholders together to discuss the specific challenges facing Asia in an era of rapid climate change.

“I have seen the aftermath of disasters, where religious leaders and volunteers from Hindu temples, Islamic organisations and Sikh temples work together like born brothers." -- Dr. Anil Kumar Gupta, head of the division of policy planning at the National Institute of Disaster Management in India
A report prepared for the Bangkok conference by UNISDR points out that in the past three years Asia has encountered a wide range of disasters, from cyclones in the Philippines and major flooding in China, India and Thailand, to severe earthquakes in Pakistan and Japan.

In 2011 alone, global economic losses from extreme weather events touched 366 billion dollars, of which 80 percent were recorded in the Asia-Pacific region.

While the region accounts for 39 percent of the planet’s land area and hosts 60 percent of the world’s population, it only holds 29 percent of global wealth, posing major challenges for governments in terms of disaster preparedness and emergency response.

FBOs believe they can fill this gap by giving people hope during times of suffering.

“It’s not about the goods we bring or the big houses we build,” argued Jessica Dator Bercilla, a Filipina from Christian Aid, adding that the most important contribution religious organisations can make is to convince people they are not alone on the long road towards rebuilding their lives after a disaster.

The FBO consortium that drafted the statement – including Caritas Asia, Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and the ACT Alliance – held a pre-conference consultative meeting here on Jun. 22nd during which some 50 participants from various faiths discussed the many hurdles FBOs must clear in order to deliver disaster relief and assist affected populations.

The final FBO Statement on Disaster Risk Reduction drew attention to faith organisations’ unique ability to work closely with local communities to facilitate resilience and peace building.

Overcoming Hidden Agendas

One challenge to including FBOs in national DRR frameworks is the prevailing fear that religious organisations will use their position as providers of aid and development services to push their own religious agendas.

In the aftermath of the 2004 Asian tsunami, for instance, Buddhist communities in Sri Lanka and Thailand, as well as Muslim communities in Indonesia, complained that FBOs tried to impose their beliefs on the survivors.

When IPS raised this question during the pre-conference consultation, it triggered much debate among the participants.

Many feel the fear is unfounded, as FBOs are driven by the desire to give value to human life, rather than a desire to convert non-believers or followers of different faiths.

“If beliefs hinder development we must challenge those values,” asserted a participant from Myanmar who gave his name only as Munir.

Vincentia Widyasan Karina from Caritas Indonesia agreed, adding that in the aftermath of the 2004 tsunami, Caritas worked among Muslim communities to rebuild the northern Indonesian region of Aceh, and “supported the Islamic community’s need to have prayer centres.”

Organisations like SGI go one step further by following methods like the Lotus Sutra for the realisation of happiness in all beings simultaneously.

“This principle expounds that Buddha’s nature is inherent in every individual, and this helps lead many other people towards happiness and enlightenment,” argued Asai, adding that in countries where Buddhists are a minority they work with other stakeholders. “If we form a network it is easier to work,” he added.
Given that an estimated one in eight people in the world identify with some form of organised religion, and that faith-based organisations comprise the largest service delivery network in the world, FBOs stand out as natural partners in the field of disaster risk reduction (DRR).

A declaration enshrined in the statement also urged the United Nations to recognise FBOs as a unique stakeholder in the Post-2015 Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (HFA2) to be presented to the 3rd U.N. World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction (WCDRR) in 2015.

It also wants national and local governments to include FBOs when they organise regular consultations on DRR with relevant stakeholders, as FBOs are the ones who often sustain development programmes in the absence of international NGOs.

For example, since 2012 Caritas Indonesia has been working with a coastal community that has lost 200 metres of its coastal land in the past 22 years, in the Fata Hamlet of Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggar Province, to build community resilience to rising seawaters.

The agency helped community members form the Fata Environment Lover Group, which now uses natural building methods to allow seawater to pass through bamboo structures before reaching the coast, so that wave heights are reduced and mangroves are protected.

Collectively, the three partners to the declaration cover a lot of ground in the region.

Caritas Asia is one of seven regional offices that comprise Caritas International, a Catholic relief agency that operates in 200 countries. SGI is a Japanese lay Buddhist movement with a network of organisations in 192 countries, while ACT is a coalition of Christian churches and affiliated organistaions working in over 140 countries.

All three are renowned for their contributions to the field of development and disaster relief. Caritas International, for instance, annually allocates over a million euros (1.3 million dollars) to humanitarian coordination, capacity building and HIV/AIDS programmes around the world.

“We would like to be one of the main players in the introduction of the DRR policy,” Takeshi Komino, head of emergencies for the ACT Alliance in the Asia-Pacific region, told IPS. “We are saying we are ready to engage.”

“What our joint statement points out is that our commitment is based on faith and that is strong. We can be engaged in relief and recovery activity for a long time,” added Nobuyuki Asai, programme coordinator of peace affairs for SGI.

Experts say Asia is an excellent testing ground for the efficacy of faith-based organisations in contributing to disaster risk reduction.

According to a survey by the independent Pew Research Centre, the Asia-Pacific region is home to 99 percent of the world’s Buddhists, 99 percent of the world’s Hindus and 62 percent of the world’s Muslims.

The region has also seen a steady increase in the number of Catholics, from 14 million a century ago to 131 million in 2013.

Forming links between these communities is easier said than done, with religious and communal conflicts plaguing the region, including a wave of Buddhist extremism in countries like Sri Lanka and Myanmar, a strong anti-Christian movement across Pakistan and attacks on religious minorities in China and India.

Some experts, however, say that the threat of natural catastrophe draws communities together.

According to Dr. Anil Kumar Gupta, head of the division of policy planning at the National Institute of Disaster Management in India, “When there is a disaster people forget their differences.

“I have seen the aftermath of disasters, where religious leaders and volunteers from Hindu temples, Islamic organisations and Sikh temples work together like born brothers,” he told IPS, citing such cooperation during major floods recently in the northern Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kashmir.

Loy Rego, a Myanmar-based disaster relief consultant, told IPS that the statement released today represents a very important landmark in disaster risk reduction.

“FBOs need to be more visible as an organised constituency in the roll-out of future frameworks,” he stated.

Rego believes that the biggest contribution FBOs could make to disaster risk management is to promote peaceful living among different communities.

“Respecting other religions need not be done in a secular way,” he said. “It only happens when they work with other FBOs in an inter-faith setting.”

(END)

]]>
http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/06/when-faith-meets-disaster-management/feed/ 0