Inter Press Service » North America http://www.ipsnews.net Turning the World Downside Up Tue, 30 Sep 2014 10:17:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 U.S. to Create National Plan on Responsible Business Practiceshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-to-create-national-plan-on-responsible-business-practices/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-to-create-national-plan-on-responsible-business-practices http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-to-create-national-plan-on-responsible-business-practices/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 00:14:55 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136936 By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 30 2014 (IPS)

The United States will begin developing a national action plan on responsible business practices, following on several years of related advocacy from civil society.

The plan will detail how the United States will implement landmark U.N. guidelines outlining the responsibility of multinational businesses to respect human rights. While the United Nations has urged participating governments to draft concrete plans for putting into practice the guidelines, known as the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, thus far only three countries have done so – Denmark, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.“What we’ll expect is what we’ve seen in the past, where industry is not going to want anything that’s binding.” -- Human Rights Watch’s Arvind Ganesan

Yet on the sidelines of last week’s U.N. General Assembly, President Barack Obama for the first time announced that his administration would begin formulating such a plan.

“[W]e intend to partner with American businesses to develop a national plan to promote responsible and transparent business conduct overseas,” the president stated. “We already have laws in place; they’re significantly stronger than the laws of many other countries. But we think we can do better.”

Obama suggested that clarity around responsible business practices is good for all involved, including industry and local communities.

“Because when [companies] know there’s a rule of law, when they don’t have to pay a bribe to ship their goods or to finalise a contract, that means they’re more likely to invest, and that means more jobs and prosperity for everybody,” the president said.

A White House fact sheet noted that the plan would aim to “promote and incentivize responsible business conduct, including with respect to transparency and anticorruption.” It also stated that the plan would be “consistent” with the U.N. Guiding Principles and similar guidelines from the OECD grouping of rich countries.

Additional details on the formulation process are not yet available, though observers expect a draft next year. For now, however, advocacy groups are applauding the president’s announcement as preliminary but significant.

“This could end up being a very important step, but now we’ll be looking to see how the U.S. articulates how it expects companies to respect rights at home and abroad,” Arvind Ganesan, the director of the business and human rights programme at Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

“More importantly, we’ll be looking to see whether this process results in any teeth – mechanisms to ensure that companies act responsibly everywhere.”

Task of implementation

In 2011, the U.N. Human Rights Council unanimously backed the Guiding Principles, which are meant to apply to all countries and companies operating both domestically and internationally.

Yet thus far, formal adherence to the Guiding Principles has been only stuttering. In late June, the council called on governments to step up the process of drafting national action plans.

The United States – which endorsed the June resolution – has been a key focus for many in this process, given the overwhelming size of its economy and the number of multinational companies that it hosts.

Further, U.S. companies have stood accused of a broad spectrum of rights abuse, from extractives companies poisoning local water supplies to private security companies killing unarmed civilians. Often, of course, such problems impact most directly on poor and marginalised communities in developing countries.

The Guiding Principles mandate that governments take on the responsibility to prevent rights abuses by corporations and other third parties. States are also required to provide judicial “remedy” for any such abuse.

This is powerful language, but it remains up to governments to decide how exactly to implement the guidelines. Here, watchdog groups are less optimistic.

While Ganesan welcomes the actions by the three European countries that have developed implementation plans, he has reservations as to how substantive they are.

“Few of them have any real strength,” he says. “While they ask their companies to adopt the Guiding Principles, none of them have put together any kind of mechanism aimed at ensuring that happens.”

In the context of the U.S. announcement, then, there is a sense of caution around whether the United States will be able to put in place rules that require action from corporations.

“We are thrilled to see the United States take on this important initiative,” Sara Blackwell, a legal and policy associate with the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable (ICAR), said in a statement.

Yet Blackwell notes that her office will continue to advocate for a U.S. action plan that goes beyond concerns merely around transparency and corruption.

Rather, she says, any plan needs to include “clear action on important issues such as access to effective remedy for victims of business-related human rights harms and the incorporation of human rights considerations into the U.S. federal government’s enormous influence on the marketplace through its public procurement activities.”

Voluntary initiatives

ICAR has been at the forefront of civil society engagement around the call for the development of national action plans on responsible business practice, including by the United States.

In June, the group, along with the Danish Institute for Human Rights, published a toolkit to guide government officials intent on formulating such plans. Among other points, the toolkit urges the participation of all stakeholders, including those who have been “disempowered”.

In his announcement, President Obama appeared to suggest that the drafting of a U.S. plan would rest on participation from business entities, though it is not yet clear how companies will react. (Three major industry lobby groups contacted for comment by IPS failed to respond.)

At the outset, though, rights advocates are worried by the examples coming out Europe, where governments appear to be relying on voluntary rather than rule-based initiatives.

“What we’ll expect is what we’ve seen in the past, where industry is not going to want anything that’s binding,” Human Rights Watch’s Ganesan says.

“They’ll be happy to agree to accepting human rights in rhetorical or aspirational terms, but they will not want any rules that say they must take certain actions or, for instance, risk losing government contracts. Nonetheless, there is now a real opportunity for the U.S. government to mandate certain actions – though how the administration articulates that will be a critical test.”

Meanwhile, concerns around the potential laxity of the Guiding Principles have already led to a division among rights advocates as to whether a new international mechanism is needed. In a landmark decision at the end of June, the U.N. Human Rights Council voted to begin negotiations towards a binding international treaty around transnational companies and their human rights obligations.

Yet this move remains highly controversial, even among supporters. Some are worried that the treaty idea remains unworkably broad, while others warn that the new push will divert attention from the Guiding Principles.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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Militarising the Ebola Crisishttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/militarising-the-ebola-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=militarising-the-ebola-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/militarising-the-ebola-crisis/#comments Sun, 28 Sep 2014 11:05:02 +0000 Joeva Rock http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136912 First shipment of the ramped-up U.S. military response to Ebola arriving in Liberia. Credit: US Army Africa/CC-BY-2.0

First shipment of the ramped-up U.S. military response to Ebola arriving in Liberia. Credit: US Army Africa/CC-BY-2.0

By Joeva Rock
WASHINGTON, Sep 28 2014 (IPS)

Six months into West Africa’s Ebola crisis, the international community is finally heeding calls for substantial intervention in the region.

On Sep. 16, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a multimillion-dollar U.S. response to the spreading contagion. The crisis, which began in March 2014, has killed over 2,600 people, an alarming figure that experts say will rise quickly if the disease is not contained.

Obama’s announcement comes on the heels of growing international impatience with what critics have called the U.S. government’s “infuriatingly” slow response to the outbreak.

Assistance efforts have already stoked controversy, with a noticeable privilege of care being afforded to foreign healthcare workers over Africans.

The U.S. operation in Liberia warrants many questions. Will military contractors be used in the construction of facilities and execution of programmes? [...] Will the treatment centers double as research labs? [...] And perhaps most significantly for the long term, will the Liberian operation base serve as a staging ground for non-Ebola related military operations?
After two infected American missionaries were administered Zmapp, a life-saving experimental drug, controversy exploded when reports emerged that Doctors Without Borders (MSF) had previously decided not to administer it to the Sierra Leonean doctor Sheik Umar Khan, who succumbed to Ebola after helping to lead the country’s fight against the disease.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) similarly refused to evacuate the prominent Sierra Leonean doctor Olivet Buck, who later died of the disease as well. The Pentagon provoked its own controversy when it announced plans to deploy a 22-million-dollar, 25-bed U.S. military field hospital—reportedly for foreign health workers only.

One particular component of the latest assistance package promises to be controversial as well: namely, the deployment of 3,000 U.S. troops to Liberia, where the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) will establish a joint command operations base to serve as a logistics and training center for medical responders.

According to the prominent political blog ‘Think Progress’, this number represents “nearly two-thirds of AFRICOM’s 4,800 assigned personnel” who will coordinate with civilian organisations to distribute supplies and construct up to 17 treatment centres.

It’s unclear whether any U.S. healthcare personnel will actually treat patients, but according to the White House, “the U.S. Government will help recruit and organise medical personnel to staff” the centres and “establish a site to train up to 500 health care providers per week.”

The latter begs the question of practicality: where would these would-be health workers be recruited from?

According to the Obama administration, the package was requested directly by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. (Notably, Liberia was the only African nation to offer to host AFRICOM’s headquarters in 2008, an offer AFRICOM declined and decided to set up in Germany instead).

But in a country still recovering from decades of civil war, this move was not welcomed by all. “Every Liberian I speak with is having acute anxiety attacks,” said Liberian writer Stephanie C. Horton. “We knew this was coming but the sense of mounting doom is emotional devastation.”

Few would oppose a robust U.S. response to the Ebola crisis, but the militarised nature of the White House plan comes in the context of a broader U.S.-led militarisation of the region.

The soldiers in Liberia, after all, will not be the only American troops on the African continent. In the six years of AFRICOM’s existence, the U.S. military has steadily and quietly been building its presence on the continent through drone bases and partnerships with local militaries.

This is what’s known as the “new normal”: drone strikes, partnerships to train and equip African troops (including those with troubled human rights records), reconnaissance missions, and multinational training operations.

To build PR for its military exercises, AFRICOM relies on soft-power tactics: vibrant social media pages, academic symposia, and humanitarian programming. But such militarised humanitarianism—such as building schools and hospitals and responding to disease outbreaks—also plays more strategic, practical purpose: it allows military personnel to train in new environments, gather local experience and tactical data, and build diplomatic relations with host countries and communities.

TomDispatch’s Nick Turse, one of the foremost reporters on the militarisation of Africa, noted that a recent report from the U.S. Department of Defense “found failures in planning, executing, tracking, and documenting such projects,” leaving big questions about their efficacy.

Perhaps more importantly, experts have warned that the provision of humanitarian assistance by uniformed soldiers could have dangerous, destabilising effects, especially in countries with long histories of civil conflict, such as Liberia and Sierra Leone.

At the outset of the crisis, for example, efforts by Liberian troops to forcefully quarantine the residents of West Point, a community in the capital of Monrovia, led to deadly clashes. Some public health advocates worry that the presence of armed troops could provoke similar incidents.

The U.S. operation in Liberia warrants many questions. Will military contractors be used in the construction of facilities and execution of programmes? Will the U.S.-built treatment centers be temporary or permanent? Will the treatment centers double as research labs? What is the timeline for exiting the country? And perhaps most significantly for the long term, will the Liberian operation base serve as a staging ground for non-Ebola related military operations?

The use of the U.S. military in this operation should raise red flags for the American public as well. After all, if the military truly is the governmental institution best equipped to handle this outbreak, it speaks worlds about the neglect of civilian programmes at home as well as abroad.

This article first appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus. You can read the original version here.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

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Iraq Looking for an ‘Independent’ Sunni Defense Ministerhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/iraq-looking-for-an-independent-sunni-defense-minister/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 13:54:06 +0000 Barbara Slavin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136909 By Barbara Slavin
WASHINGTON, Sep 27 2014 (IPS)

Iraqi President Fouad Massoum said this past week that the government was looking for an independent Sunni Muslim to fill the post of defense minister in an effort to improve chances of reunifying the country and defeating the group that calls itself the Islamic State (IS).

Massoum, in his first extended comments to a U.S. audience since his recent selection as president of Iraq, also said Sept. 26 that Iraqi Kurds – while they might still hold a referendum on independence – would not secede from Iraq at a  time of such major peril.

“Today there is no possibility to announce such a state,” Massoum, a Kurd and former prime minister of the Kurdish region, told a packed room at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

“Forming a Kurdish state is a project, and a project like that has to take into account” the views of regional and other countries and the extraordinary circumstances of the current terrorist menace to Iraq.

Kurdish threats to hold a referendum and declare independence were widely seen as leverage to force the resignation of former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki,also under pressure from President Barack Obama’s administration, Iraqi Sunnis and Iran, stepped down to allow a less  polarizing member of his Shi’ite Dawa party – Haider al-Abadi – to take the top job.

Abadi, however, has been unable so far to get parliament to approve his choices for the sensitive posts of defense and interior ministers. Queried about this, Massoum said, “There seems to be some understanding that the minister of defense should be Sunni and there is a search for an independent Sunni.”

As for interior minister, Massoum said, they were looking for an “independent Shiite” to take the post.

For the time being, Abadi is holding the portfolios, but unlike his predecessor, who retained them, has clearly stated that he does not want to assume those responsibilities for long. Massoum said a decision was likely after the coming Muslim holiday, the Eid al-Adha.

The Iraqi president also said there was progress on a new arrangement for sharing Iraq’s oil revenues, a major source of internal grievances under Maliki. A decision has been made that each of the regions will have representation on a higher oil and gas council, Massoum said. He also expressed confidence in Iraq’s new oil minister, Adel Abdel-Mahdi.

Asked whether Iraq would split into three countries – as Vice President Joe Biden once recommended – Massoum said there might be an eventual move toward a more confederal system but “partitioning Iraq … into three independent states is a bit far-fetched, especially in the current situation.”

Massoum began his remarks with a fascinating explanation of how IS – which he called ISIS, for the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shams – came into being. He said the group began “as a marriage” between nationalist military officers and religious extremists that took place when they were in prison together while the U.S. still occupied Iraq.

The notion of combining Iraq with the Levant – made up of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan – is actually an old Arab nationalist concept, Massoum said.

As for the religious aspects of the movement, Massoum traced that to the so-called Hashishin – users of hashish. This Shiite group, formed in the late 11th century, challenged the then-Sunni rulers of the day, used suicide attacks and were said to be under the influence of drugs. The English word “assassin” derives from the term.

“Many times these terrorist practices [were used] in the name of a religion or a sect,” Massoum said.

He praised the United States for coming to the aid of Iraqis and Kurds against IS and also expressed support for the recent bombing of IS and Jabhat al-Nusra positions in Syria. But Massoum sidestepped repeated questions about whether such strikes would inadvertently bolster the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“Hitting ISIS in Syria should not mean this is to support the regime or as a beginning to overthrowing Bashar al-Assad,” Massoum said. “That’s why the attacks are limited.”

Asked about Iraqi relations with Iran and whether the Iraqis and Kurds were serving as go-betweens for the United States and Iran in mutual efforts to degrade IS, Massoum noted Iraq’s historic relations with its neighbour and that Iraq also had common interests with the United States.

“We don’t look at America with Iranian eyes and we don’t look at Iran with American eyes,” Massoum said. He evaded questions about Iran’s military role in Iraq, saying that while he had heard reports that Quds Force Chief Qasem Soleimani had visited the Kurdish region, requests for a meeting were not fulfilled.

As for Iranian military advisers who were said to have helped liberate the town of Amerli and relieve the siege of Mt. Sinjar, Massoum said, there were “many  experts” who had come to help the Kurdish peshmerga forces.

Massoum attributed the collapse of the Iraqi army at Mosul to poor leadership, corruption and decades of setbacks starting with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in 1980. This was followed a decade later by his invasion of Kuwait and subsequent refusal to cooperate with the international community.

“These blows all had an impact on the psychology of the commanders and soldiers,” Massoum said. Iraqi armed forces have gone “from failure to failure.”

The president confirmed that under the new Iraqi government, each governorate will have its own national guard made up of local people. This concept – which may be partly funded by the Saudis and other rich Gulf Arabs – is an attempt to replicate the success of the so-called sons of Iraq by motivating Sunni tribesmen to confront IS as they previously did al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Asked what would happen to Shi’ite militias – which have committed abuses against Sunnis and helped alienate that population from Baghdad – Massum said the militias would eventually have to be shut down but only after the IS threat had been eliminated. He did not indicate how long that might take.

Massum was also asked about reported IS plots against U.S. and French subway systems. Abadi earlier this week made reference to such plots, but U.S. officials said they had no such intelligence.

Iraqi officials accompanying Massoum, who spoke on condition that they not be identified, said Abadi had been misinterpreted and was referring only to the types of attacks IS might mount in the West. Massoum warned, however, that “sleeper cells” in the West as well as in Iraq might be planning terrorist attacks.

Asked about Turkey – which has been reticent about aiding Iraq against IS – Massoum, who met at the U.N. this week with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said he expected more help now that 49 Turkish hostages in Mosul have been freed.

Massoum also urged Turkey to do a better job vetting young men who arrive there from Europe and America, and prevent them from reaching border areas and slipping into IS-controlled areas in Syria.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Zero Nuclear Weapons: A Never-Ending Journey Aheadhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/zero-nuclear-weapons-a-never-ending-journey-ahead/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 07:48:22 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136907 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 27 2014 (IPS)

When the United Nations commemorated its first ever “international day for the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” the lingering question in the minds of most anti-nuclear activists was: are we anywhere closer to abolishing the deadly weapons or are we moving further and further away from their complete destruction?

Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation, told IPS that with conflicts raging around the world, and the post World War II order crumbling, “We are now standing on the precipice of a new era of great power wars – the potential for wars among nations which cling to nuclear weapons as central to their national security is growing.”

She said the United States-NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) versus Russia conflict over the Ukraine and nuclear tensions in the Middle East, South East Asia, and on the Korean Peninsula “remind us that the potential for nuclear war is ever present.”

"Now disarmament has been turned on its head; by pruning away the grotesque Cold War excesses, nuclear disarmament has, for all practical purposes, come to mean "fewer but newer" weapons systems, with an emphasis on huge long-term investments in nuclear weapons infrastructures and qualitative improvements in the weapons projected for decades to come." -- Jackie Cabasso, executive director of the Western States Legal Foundation
Paradoxically, nuclear weapons modernisation is being driven by treaty negotiations understood by most of the world to be intended as disarmament measures.

She said the Cold War and post-Cold War approach to nuclear disarmament was quantitative, based mainly on bringing down the insanely huge cold war stockpile numbers – presumably en route to zero.

“Now disarmament has been turned on its head; by pruning away the grotesque Cold War excesses, nuclear disarmament has, for all practical purposes, come to mean “fewer but newer” weapons systems, with an emphasis on huge long-term investments in nuclear weapons infrastructures and qualitative improvements in the weapons projected for decades to come,” said Cabasso, who co-founded the Abolition 2000 Global Network to Eliminate Nuclear Weapons.

The international day for the total elimination of nuclear weapons, commemorated on Nov. 26, was established by the General Assembly in order to enhance public awareness about the threat posed to humanity by nuclear weapons.

There are over 16,000 nuclear weapons in the world, says Alyn Ware, co-founder of UNFOLD ZERO, which organised an event in Geneva in cooperation with the U.N. Office of Disarmament Affairs (UNODA).

“The use of any nuclear weapon by accident, miscalculation or intent would create catastrophic human, environmental and financial consequences. There should be zero nuclear weapons in the world,” he said.

Alice Slater, New York director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, told IPS despite the welcome U.N. initiative establishing September 26 as the first international day for the elimination of all nuclear weapons, and the UNFOLD ZERO campaign by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to promote U.N. efforts for abolition, “it will take far more than a commemorative day to reach that goal.

Notwithstanding 1970 promises in the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to eliminate nuclear weapons, reaffirmed at subsequent review conferences nearly 70 years after the first catastrophic nuclear bombings, 16,300 nuclear weapons remain, all but a thousand of them in the U.S. and Russia, said Slater, who also serves on the Coordinating Committee of Abolition 2000.

She said the New York Times last week finally revealed, on its front page the painful news that in the next ten years the U.S. will spend 355 billion dollars on new weapons, bomb factories and delivery systems, by air, sea, and land.

This would mean projecting costs of one trillion dollars over the next 30 years for these instruments of death and destruction to all planetary life, as reported in recent studies on the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of nuclear war.

She said disarmament progress is further impeded by the disturbing deterioration of U.S.-Russian relations.

The U.S. walked out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia, putting missiles in Poland, Romania and Turkey, with NATO performing military maneuvers in Ukraine and deciding to beef up its troop presence in eastern Europe, breaking U.S. promises to former Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev when the Berlin wall fell that NATO would not be expanded beyond East Germany.

Shannon Kile, senior researcher for the Project on Nuclear Arms Control, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) told IPS while the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world has decreased sharply from the Cold War peak, there is little to inspire hope the nuclear weapon-possessing states are genuinely willing to give up their nuclear arsenals.

“Most of these states have long-term nuclear modernisation programmes under way that include deploying new nuclear weapon delivery systems,” he said.

Perhaps the most dismaying development has been the slow disappearance of U.S. leadership that is essential for progress toward nuclear disarmament, Kile added.

Cabasso told IPS the political conditions attached to Senate ratification in the U.S., and mirrored by Russia, effectively turned START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) into an anti-disarmament measure.

She said this was stated in so many words by Senator Bob Corker, a Republican from Tennessee, whose state is home to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, site of a proposed multi-billion dollar Uranium Processing Facility.

“[T]hanks in part to the contributions my staff and I have been able to make, the new START treaty could easily be called the “Nuclear Modernisation and Missile Defense Act of 2010,” Corker said.

Cabasso said the same dynamic occurred in connection with the administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton who made efforts to obtain Senate consent to ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) in the late 1990s.

The nuclear weapons complex and its Congressional allies extracted an administration commitment to add billions to future nuclear budgets.

The result was massive new nuclear weapons research programmes described in the New York Times article.

“We should have learned that these are illusory tradeoffs and we end up each time with bigger weapons budgets and no meaningful disarmament,” Cabasso said.

Despite the 45-year-old commitment enshrined in Article VI of the NPT, there are no disarmament negotiations on the horizon.

While over the past three years there has been a marked uptick in nuclear disarmament initiatives by governments not possessing nuclear weapons, both within and outside the United Nations, the U.S. has been notably missing in action at best, and dismissive or obstructive at worst.

Slater told IPS the most promising initiative to break the log-jam is the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) urging non-nuclear weapons states to begin work on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons just as chemical and biological weapons are banned.

A third conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons will meet in December in Vienna, following up meetings held in Norway and Mexico.

“Hopefully, despite the failure of the NPT’s five recognised nuclear weapons states, (U.S., Russia, UK, France, China) to attend, the ban initiative can start without them, creating an opening for more pressure to honor this new international day for nuclear abolition and finally negotiate a treaty for the total elimination of nuclear weapons,” Slater declared.

In his 2009 Prague speech, Kile told IPS, U.S. President Barack Obama had outlined an inspiring vision for a nuclear weapons-free world and pledged to pursue “concrete steps” to reduce the number and salience of nuclear weapons.

“It therefore comes as a particular disappointment for nuclear disarmament advocates to read recent reports that the U.S. Government has embarked on a major renewal of its nuclear weapon production complex.”

Among other objectives, this will enable the US to refurbish existing nuclear arms in order to ensure their long-term reliability and to develop a new generation of nuclear-armed missiles, bombers and submarines, he declared.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

The writer can be contacted at: thalifdeen@aol.com

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Championing Ocean Conservation Or Paying Lip Service to the Seas?http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/championing-ocean-conservation-or-paying-lip-service-to-the-seas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=championing-ocean-conservation-or-paying-lip-service-to-the-seas http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/championing-ocean-conservation-or-paying-lip-service-to-the-seas/#comments Sat, 27 Sep 2014 06:32:18 +0000 Christopher Pala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136905 President Obama's closure of waters around three remote Pacific islands will allow Honolulu's s long-line fishing vessels like this one to continue to fish the fast-dwindling bigeye tuna. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS

President Obama's closure of waters around three remote Pacific islands will allow Honolulu's s long-line fishing vessels like this one to continue to fish the fast-dwindling bigeye tuna. Credit: Christopher Pala/IPS

By Christopher Pala
WASHINGTON, Sep 27 2014 (IPS)

President Barack Obama this week extended the no-fishing areas around three remote pacific islands, eliciting praise from some, and disappointment from those who fear the move did not go far enough towards helping depleted species of fish recover.

Last June, Obama had proposed to end all fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) of five islands, effectively doubling the surface of the world’s protected waters. But on Thursday, he only closed the three where little or no fishing goes on, making the measure, according to some experts, largely symbolic: the Wake Atoll, north of the Marshall Islands; Johnson Atoll, southwest of Hawaii; and Jarvis, just south of the Kiribati Line Islands.

Fishing of fast-diminishing species like the Pacific bigeye tuna was allowed to continue around Howland and Baker, which abut Kiribati’s 408,000 square km Phoenix Islands Protected Area, and Palmyra in the U.S. Line Islands.

“If we don’t have the fortitude to protect marine biodiversity in these easy-win situations, that says a lot about our commitment to oceans." -- Doug McCauley, a marine ecologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara
Many press reports said Obama had created the largest marine reserve in the world. In fact, he would have done that only if he had closed the waters around Howland and Baker. Since these waters adjoin Kiribati’s Phoenix Islands Protected Area, itself due to be closed to commercial fishing soon, the two together would have created a refuge of 850,000 square km, twice the size of California.

The biggest marine reserve in the world remains around the Indian Ocean’s Chagos Islands, which Britain closed in 2010, at 640,000 square km. Scientists say that to allow far-traveling species like tuna, shark and billfish, protected areas need to be in that range.

But after fishing fleets in Hawaii and American Samoa protested, Obama backtracked and allowed fishing to continue unabated in the two areas that have the most fish, Palmyra and Howland and Baker.

“We missed a unique opportunity to do something important for the oceans,” said Doug McCauley, a marine ecologist at the University of California at Santa Barbara. “I can’t think of anywhere in the world that could be protected and inconvenience fewer people than Palmyra and Howland and Baker.” According to official statistics, only 1.7 percent of the Samoa fleet’s catch and four percent of Honolulu’s comes from those areas.

“If we don’t have the fortitude to protect marine biodiversity in these easy-win situations, that says a lot about our commitment to oceans,” added McCauley.

On Thursday, Obama extended by about 90 percent the no-fishing zones in the waters around Jarvis, south of Palmyra and outside the range of the Hawaii fleet: Wake, which is not fished at all and lies west of Hawaii, and Johnston, south of Hawaii but far from the so-called equatorial tuna belt where the biggest numbers of fish live.

The three are more than 1,000 kilometers apart from each other and their newly protected waters add up to about one million square km.

“That’s a lot of water,” said Lance Morgan, president of the Marine Conservation institute in Seattle, who had campaigned for the closures. “Obama has protected more of the ocean than anyone else.”

Morgan pointed out that it was in his sixth year (as is Obama now) that President George W. Bush created the first large U.S. marine national monument around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and it was in the closing days of Bush’s second term that he created several others in U.S. overseas possessions, including the five in the Central Pacific.

“Podesta said Obama’s signing pen still has some ink left in it, and I hope he’ll use it,” Morgan added, referring to a remark White House Counselor John Podesta made to journalists last week.

Bush, like Obama, had also initially proposed to protect the whole EEZ of the Central Pacific islands, but after fishing companies and the U.S. Navy objected, he ended up limiting the marine national monument designation to only the areas within 90 km of the islands.

The move protected the largely pristine and unfished reefs but left the rest of the EEZ open to U.S. fishermen. This time, a source familiar with the process told IPS, the Navy had made no objections to Obama’s original proposal to close the whole EEZ of the five zones.

But Kitty Simonds, executive director of the Honolulu Western Pacific Fishery Management Advisory Board, a leading voice in Hawaii’s fishing industry, had vigorously opposed the proposed closures, telling IPS, “U.S fishermen should be able to fish in U.S. zones.”

Obama’s declaration that turns the whole EEZ (out from 90 km to 340 km) around Wake, Jarvis and Johnston into marine national monuments notes they “contain significant objects of scientific interest that are part of this highly pristine deep sea and open ocean ecosystem with unique biodiversity.”

But the declaration does not mention that overfishing in the last decades has reduced the tropical Pacific population of bigeye tuna, highly prized as sushi, to 16 percent of its original population, while the yellowfin is down to 26 percent. About 80 percent of the tuna caught by Hawaii’s long-line fleet is bigeye. The stocks of tuna are even more depleted outside the Western and Central Pacific.

“In a well-managed fishery, you would stop fishing and rebuild the stock,” said Glenn Hurry, who recently stepped down as head of the international tuna commission that manages the five-billion-dollar Pacific fishery.

The fishery’s own scientists have called for reducing the bigeye catch by 30 percent, but the catch has only grown. Honolulu’s catch of bigeye was a record last year.

“It’s too bad these areas (Palmyra and Howland and Baker) weren’t closed,” said Patrick Lehodey, a French fisheries scientist who studies Pacific tuna. Absent a reduction in catch, he said, “Our simulations showed that to help the bigeye recover, you need to close a really big area near the tuna belt.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 

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Washington Snubs Bolivia on Drug Policy Reform, Againhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/washington-snubs-bolivia-on-drug-policy-reform-again/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=washington-snubs-bolivia-on-drug-policy-reform-again http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/washington-snubs-bolivia-on-drug-policy-reform-again/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 09:31:36 +0000 Zoe Pearson and Thomas Grisaffi http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136893 In Bolivia, licensed growers can legally cultivate a limited quantity of coca—a policy that has actually reduced overall production. But because it doesn’t fit the U.S. drug war model, the policy has raised hackles in Washington. Credit: Thomas Grisaffi/FPIF

In Bolivia, licensed growers can legally cultivate a limited quantity of coca—a policy that has actually reduced overall production. But because it doesn’t fit the U.S. drug war model, the policy has raised hackles in Washington. Credit: Thomas Grisaffi/FPIF

By Zoe Pearson and Thomas Grisaffi
WASHINGTON, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Once again, Washington claims Bolivia has not met its obligations under international narcotics agreements. For the seventh year in a row, the U.S. president has notified Congress that the Andean country “failed demonstrably” in its counter-narcotics efforts over the last 12 months. Blacklisting Bolivia means the withholding of U.S. aid from one of South America’s poorest countries.

The story has hardly made the news in the United States, and that is worrisome. While many countries in the hemisphere call for drug policy reform and are willing to entertain new strategies in that vein, it remains business-as-usual in the United States.

In the present geopolitical context, when even U.S. drug war allies Colombia and Mexico are calling for new approaches to controlling narcotics, the U.S. rejection of the Bolivian model further undermines Washington’s waning legitimacy in the hemisphere.
The U.N.’s Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), meanwhile, seems to think that Bolivia is doing a great job, lauding the government’s efforts to tackle coca production (coca is used to make cocaine) and cocaine processing for the past three years.

The Organisation of American States (OAS) is also heaping praise on Bolivia, calling Bolivia’s innovative new approach to coca control an example of a “best practice” in drug policy.

According to the UNODC, Bolivia has decreased the amount of land dedicated to coca plants by about 26 percent from 2010-2013. Approximately 56,800 acres are currently under production

U.S. opposition

Bolivia has achieved demonstrable successes without—and perhaps because of—a complete lack of support from the United States: the Drug Enforcement Administration left in 2009 and all U.S. aid for drug control efforts ended in 2013.

Bearing in mind that U.S. drug policy in the Andes has always emphasised “supply-side” reduction like coca crop eradication, the decision is of course a political one. It reflects U.S. frustration that Bolivia isn’t bending to Washington’s will. Interestingly, most Bolivian-made cocaine ends up in Europe and Brazil—not the United States.

At the same time, Peru and Colombia, both U.S. favorites given their willingness to fall in line with U.S. drug policy mandates, were not included in the list of failures. To be sure, those countries have recently decreased coca crop acreage as well; in some years by a lot more than Bolivia has. Still, they had respectively about 66,200 and 61,700 acres more coca under cultivation than Bolivia in 2013, according to the UNODC’s June 2014 findings. Peru currently produces the most cocaine of any country in the world.

Bolivians have been consuming the coca plant for over 4,000 years as a tea, food, and medicine, and for religious and cultural practices. Coca, the cheapest input in the cocaine commodity chain, cannot be considered equivalent to cocaine, since over 20 chemicals are needed to convert the harmless leaf into the powdery party drug and its less glamorous cousin, crack.

Still, coca is listed as a Schedule 1 narcotic under the 1961 U.N. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs (the defining piece of international drug control legislation).

When Evo Morales became president of Bolivia he worked to modify the Convention, and in 2013 eventually wrested from the U.N. the right to allow limited coca production and traditional consumption within Bolivia’s borders. In the process, all Latin American countries except Mexico (which supported the U.S.-led objection) supported Morales’ mission.

The Bolivian model

The basics of Bolivia’s approach to reining in coca cultivation are fairly simple. Licensed coca growers can legally cultivate a limited amount of coca (1,600 square metres) to ensure some basic income, and they police their neighbours to ensure that fellow growers stay within the legal limits. Government forces step in to eradicate coca only when a grower or coca grower’s union refuses to cooperate.

This grassroots control is possible because of the strength of agricultural unions in Bolivia’s coca growing regions and because of growers’ solidarity with President Morales, himself a coca grower.

Another incentive is that reducing supply drives up coca leaf prices, which means that producers can earn more money for their families. As one longtime grower and coca union leader from the Chapare growing region put it: “It’s less work and I make more money.” This income stability, combined with targeted aid from the Bolivian government, means that many coca growers are able to make a living wage and diversify their livelihood strategies—investing in shops, other legal crops, and education.

It also helps that the violence and intimidation at the hands of the previously U.S.-backed Bolivian military has come to an end. People remember what is was like, and many still suffer injuries sustained during different eradication campaigns. One coca grower, for example, had her jaw broken so badly by a soldier as she marched for the right to grow coca that she cannot be fitted for dentures to replace her missing teeth. She emphasized that life is so much better now because it’s less stressful. People do not want to see a return to forced eradication campaigns.

No one is pretending that Bolivia’s coca control approach means the end of cocaine production.  Some portion of coca leaf production—by some estimates, about 22,200-plus acres worth—is still ending up in clandestine, rudimentary labs where it is processed into cocaine paste.

Furthermore, because it is squeezed between Peru, a major cocaine exporter, and Brazil, a growing importer, Bolivia has found it increasingly difficult to control cocaine flows. As a result, despite increased narcotics seizures by Bolivian security forces under Morales’ government, drug trade activities within Bolivia’s borders by some accounts have actually increased over the last few years.

Nevertheless, and for better or worse, the country’s new method of coca control yields results and undeniably satisfies the U.S. supply-side approach, yet Washington maintains its hardline stance against the county. In the present geopolitical context, when even U.S. drug war allies Colombia and Mexico are calling for new approaches to controlling narcotics, the U.S. rejection of the Bolivian model further undermines Washington’s waning legitimacy in the hemisphere.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service. Read the original version of this story here.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Despite New Pledges, Aid to Fight Ebola Lagginghttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/despite-new-pledges-aid-to-fight-ebola-lagging/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 05:11:33 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136889 Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate. Credit: European Commission DG ECHO/CC-BY-ND-2.0

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

Despite mounting pledges of assistance, the continuing spread of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa is outpacing regional and international efforts to stop it, according to world leaders and global health experts.

“We are not moving fast enough. We are not doing enough,” declared U.S. President Barack Obama at a special meeting on the Ebola crisis at the United Nations in New York Thursday. He warned that “hundreds of thousands” of people could be killed by the epidemic in the coming months unless the international community provided the necessary resources.

He was joined by World Bank President Jim Yong Kim who announced his institution would nearly double its financing to 400 million dollars to help the worst-affected countries – Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone – cope with the crisis.

“We can – we must – all move more swiftly to contain the spread of Ebola and help these countries and their people,” according to Kim, much of whose professional career has been devoted to improving health services for people around the world.

“Generous pledges of aid and unprecedented U.N. resolutions are very welcome. But they will mean little, unless they are translated into immediate action. The reality on the ground today is this: the promised surge has not yet delivered." -- Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF)
“Too many lives have been lost already, and the fate of thousands of others depends upon a response that can contain and then stop this epidemic,” he said.

Indeed, concern about the spread of the epidemic has increased sharply here in recent days, particularly in light of projections released earlier this week by the Atlanta-based U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has sent scores of experts to the region. It found that Sierra Leone and Liberia alone could have a total of more than 20,000 new cases of Ebola within six weeks and as many as 1.4 million by Jan. 20, 2015, if the virus continues spreading at its current rate.

Moreover, global health officials have revised upwards – from 55 percent to 70 percent – the mortality rate of those infected with the virus whose latest outbreak appears to have begun in a remote village in Guinea before spreading southwards into two nations that have only relatively recently begun to recover from devastating civil wars.

Officially, almost 3,000 people have died from the latest outbreak, which began last spring. But most experts believe the official figures are far too conservative, because many cases have not been reported to the authorities, especially in remote regions of the three affected countries.

“Staff at the outbreak sites see evidence that the numbers of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the magnitude of the outbreak, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), which is overseeing the global effort to combat the virus’s spread.

In addition to the staggering human costs, the economic toll is also proving dire, if not catastrophic, as the fear of contagion and the resort by governments to a variety of quarantine measures have seriously disrupted normal transport, trade, and commerce.

In a study released last week, the World Bank found that inflation and prices of basic staples that had been contained during the last few months are now rising rapidly upwards in response to shortages, panic buying, and speculation.

The study, which did not factor in the latest CDC estimates, projected potential economic losses for all three countries in 2014 at 359 million dollars – or an average of about a three-percent decline in what their economic output would otherwise have been.

The impact for 2015 could reach more than 800 million dollars, with the Liberian economy likely to be hardest hit among the three, which were already among the world’s poorest nations.

“This is a humanitarian catastrophe, first and foremost,” Kim said Thursday. “But the economic ramifications are very broad and could be long lasting. Our assessment shows a much more severe economic impact on affected countries than was previously estimated.”

Moreover, security analysts have warned that the epidemic could also provoke political crises and upheaval in any or all of the affected countries, effectively unravelling years of efforts to stabilise the region.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) warned that the hardest hit countries already “face widespread chaos and, potentially, collapse,” in part due to the distrust between citizens and their governments, as shown by the sometimes violent resistance to often military-enforced quarantine and other official efforts to halt the virus’s spread. Food shortages could also provoke popular uprisings against local authorities.

“In all three countries, past civil conflicts fuelled by local and regional antagonisms could resurface,” according to the ICG statement which warned that the virus could also spread to Guinea-Bissau and Gambia, both of which, like the three core nations, lack health systems that can cope with the challenge.

Obama, who Friday will host 44 countries that have enlisted in his administration’s Global Health Security Agenda, himself echoed some of these concerns, stressing that containing Ebola “is as important a national security priority for my team as anything else that’s out there.”

Earlier this month, WHO estimated that it will cost a minimum of 600 million dollars – now generally considered too low a figure –to halt the disease’s spread of which somewhat more than 300 million dollars has materialised to date.

The U.S. has so far pledged more than 500 million dollars and 3,000 troops who are being deployed to the region, along with the CDC specialists. Even that contribution has been criticised as too little by some regional and health experts.

“…[T]he number of new Ebola cases each week far exceeds the number of hospital beds in Sierra Leone and Liberia,” according to John Campbell, a West Africa specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), who cited a recent article in the ‘New England Journal of Medicine’.

“It is hard to see how President Obama’s promise to send 3,000 military personnel to Liberia to build hospitals with a total of 1,700 beds can be transformative,” he wrote on the CFR website. “The assistance by the United Kingdom to Sierra Leone and France to Guinea is even smaller,” he noted.

A number of foundations have also pledged help. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent billions of dollars to improve health conditions in sub-Saharan Africa, has committed 50 million dollars, while Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s foundation has pledged 65 million dollars to the cause. The California-based William and Flora Hewlett Foundation announced Thursday it had committed five million dollars to be channelled through half a dozen non-governmental organisations.

But whether such contributions will be sufficient remains doubtful, particularly given the dearth of trained staff and adequate facilities in the most-affected countries and the speed at which the pledged support is being delivered – a message that was underlined here Thursday by Joanne Liu, international president of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which has been deeply engaged in the battle against Ebola.

“Generous pledges of aid and unprecedented U.N. resolutions are very welcome,” she said. “But they will mean little, unless they are translated into immediate action. The reality on the ground today is this: the promised surge has not yet delivered,” she added.

“Our 150-bed facility in Monrovia opens for just thirty minutes each morning. Only a few people are admitted – to fill beds made empty by those who died overnight,” she said. “The sick continue to be turned away, only to return home and spread the virus among loved ones and neighbours.”

“Don’t cut corners. Massive, direct action is the only way,” she declared.

Obama himself repeatedly stressed the urgency, comparing the challenge to “a marathon, but you have to run it like a sprint.”

“And that’s only possible if everybody chips in, if every nation and every organisation takes this seriously. Everybody here has to do more,” he said.

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Obama Blasts Brutality and Bullying, but Not by Israelhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obama-blasts-brutality-and-bullying-but-not-by-israel/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-blasts-brutality-and-bullying-but-not-by-israel http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obama-blasts-brutality-and-bullying-but-not-by-israel/#comments Fri, 26 Sep 2014 03:04:24 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136882 Abu Mohammed, whose family of 15 lost their home after an Israeli bomb attack, unearths papers from the rubble of a civil government office building in Gaza. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

Abu Mohammed, whose family of 15 lost their home after an Israeli bomb attack, unearths papers from the rubble of a civil government office building in Gaza. Credit: Eva Bartlett/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 26 2014 (IPS)

When U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the U.N. General Assembly Wednesday, he was outspoken in his criticism of Russia for bullying Ukraine, Syria for its brutality towards its own people, and terrorists of all political stripes for the death and destruction plaguing Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Somalia.

But as the New York Times rightly pointed out, Obama made only a “fleeting” reference to Israel and Palestine in his 40-minute speech to the world body.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS much of what Obama said about the “brutality” of the Assad regime in Syria and his criticism of “a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another” applies directly to Israel.

"What is remarkable and [bears] mentioning is that despite the tension in the region, despite the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, despite the long and forbidding occupation, despite all this, the Palestinians are yet reasonable and willing to sit and have a debate." -- Vijay Prashad, author of 'Arab Spring, Libyan Winter'
But he simply paid lip service to “the principle” that two states would make the region and the world more just without any indication of what the U.S. might do – or stop doing, she added.

Addressing the U.S. president directly, Hijab said: “Mr. Obama, the world would be a lot more just, if the U.S. just stopped footing the bill for Israel’s gross violations of human rights and international law.”

In his speech, replete with political double standards and hypocrisy, Obama avoided mentioning the killings and devastation caused by Israel with its relentless bombings and air strikes in Gaza – deploying weapons provided mostly by the United States.

“Russian aggression in Europe”, he said, “recalls the days when large nations trampled small ones in pursuit of territorial ambition” (reality check: Israel and its illegal settlements in the occupied territories).

“The brutality of terrorists in Syria and Iraq forces us to look into the heart of darkness” (reality check: the brutality of Israel in Gaza in 2014 and the killings of over 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians).

Each of these problems demands urgent attention. But they are also symptoms of a broader problem – the failure of our international system to keep pace with an interconnected world, he added.

Obama also told delegates there is a vision of the world in which might makes right – a world in which one nation’s borders can be redrawn by another (reality check: Israel after the 1967 Six-Day War and its determination to hold onto the spoils of war despite Security Council resolutions to the contrary.)

Obama said: “America stands for something different. We believe that right makes might — that bigger nations should not be able to bully smaller ones, and that people should be able to choose their own future” (reality check: a U.S.-armed Israel, which used its prodigious military strength to prove might is right).

And these are simple truths, but they must be defended, he added.

Obama also said America is pursuing a diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue, as part of its commitment to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and pursue the peace and security of a world without them (reality check: Israel, the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons and the U.S.’ refusal or reluctance to push for a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East.).

Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, told IPS it is interesting that Obama wants to insulate the Israel-Palestine conflict from the recent crises in the Middle East.

“Is that possible?” he asked.

“Has Israeli occupation of Palestine not been one of the main points of radicalisation of young people in the region?” asked Prashad, referring to Obama’s concern over the rise in radicalism among youth, specifically in the Middle East.

“What is remarkable and [bears] mentioning is that despite the tension in the region, despite the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, despite the long and forbidding occupation, despite all this, the Palestinians are yet reasonable and willing to sit and have a debate,” said Prashad, author of ‘Arab Spring, Libyan Winter’.

He said there remains, even in psycho-socially battered Gaza, a consensus for a political solution. This the President should have mentioned, he added.

At the conclusion of his speech, Obama said the status quo in the West Bank and Gaza is not sustainable.

“We cannot afford to turn away from this effort – not when rockets are fired at innocent Israelis, or the lives of so many Palestinian children are taken from us in Gaza.”

“So long as I am President, we will stand up for the principle that Israelis, Palestinians, the region and the world will be more just and more safe with two states living side by side, in peace and security,” he added.

Prashad told IPS Obama addressed the rightward turn in Israeli society, and spoke to this toxic social agenda that is against peace and against negotiations.

This second part, which he did say, is very important.

“But it is lessened by the lack of the first point: that the Palestinians remain reasonable despite the war that batters them and the crises around them.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

The writer can be contacted at: thalifdeen@aol.com

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Obama Mandates Climate Resilience in All U.S. Development Projectshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obama-mandates-climate-resilience-in-all-u-s-development-projects/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obama-mandates-climate-resilience-in-all-u-s-development-projects http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obama-mandates-climate-resilience-in-all-u-s-development-projects/#comments Wed, 24 Sep 2014 00:32:59 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136839 U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the U.N. Climate Summit 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the U.N. Climate Summit 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Kim Haughton

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 24 2014 (IPS)

All international development assistance and investments from the United States will now be required to take into account the potential impacts of climate change, according to a new rule signed Tuesday by President Barack Obama.

When designing development programmes of any type, federal agencies will need to factor in climate resilience, referring to the ability of a host country or community to anticipate and prepare for global warming-related changes. Those agencies will likewise be required to encourage similar planning by multilateral development institutions.“Climate resilience is of critical importance to the 500 million smallholder farmers that provide the majority of food in developing countries.” -- Frank Rijsberman, CEO of the CGIAR Consortium

“The president is setting the right course with his executive order,” Jennifer Morgan, director of the climate and energy programmes at the World Resources Institute, a think tank here, said in a statement. “We can’t pursue development around the world without recognising the risks that climate change poses every day.”

President Obama announced the new directive at the opening of a United Nations summit on climate that brought together some 120 heads of state to discuss new commitments. There, the president also announced a suite of new “tools” and initiatives aimed at assisting developing countries prepare for the impacts of a changing climate, particularly around the sharing of scientific and weather data.

“Today, I’m directing our federal agencies to begin factoring climate resilience into our international development programmes and investments,” the president said U.N. headquarters in New York.

“And I’m announcing a new effort to deploy the unique scientific and technological capabilities of the United States, from climate data to early-warning systems … to help vulnerable nations better prepare for weather-related disasters, and better plan for long-term threats like steadily rising seas.”

The president did not announce a new U.S. carbon emissions-reduction target during Tuesday’s highly anticipated address. However, he did pledge that such a target would be made public by early next year.

Safeguarding progress

Acknowledging that those countries that bear the least responsibility for climate change “often stand to lose the most”, Obama noted that U.S. assistance for climate-related adaptation efforts has expanded eightfold since 2009.

In an executive order detailing the new mandates, also signed Tuesday, Obama warns that failure to take into account the potential impacts of climate change could “roll back decades of progress in reducing poverty and improving economic growth in vulnerable countries” and weaken the overall effectiveness of U.S. development assistance.

“Development investments in areas as diverse as eradicating malaria, building hydropower facilities, improving agricultural yields, and developing transportation systems will not be effective in the long term if they do not account for impacts such as shifting ranges of disease-carrying mosquitoes, changing water availability, or rising sea levels,” a White House fact sheet notes.

The new mandate could mean, for instance, ensuring that a new road built with U.S. assistance is engineered and sited to withstand strengthened flooding, or that a planned school is moved out of the way of forecasted rising sea waters. It could also mean increased aid focus on agricultural seeds and techniques able to withstand weather extremes, as well as data to allow for better planning by farmers.

“Climate resilience is of critical importance to the 500 million smallholder farmers that provide the majority of food in developing countries,” Frank Rijsberman, the CEO of the CGIAR Consortium, a global organisation that promotes agricultural research to advance food security, told IPS.

“It is an important step for the U.S. to announce that it will mainstream climate resilience in all its development investments – as did a number of other countries and multilateral organisations at the summit.”

A new working group, led by the heads of the U.S. Treasury and USAID, the country’s main foreign aid agency, will now come up with guidelines for integrating these considerations into federal strategies.

But U.S. development agencies are already expressing excitement about the new requirements. An official with USAID told IPS that “it is essential that, as the world’s leading development agency, USAID continue to set a high bar for building resilience into all efforts to end extreme poverty and build flourishing societies.”

An official with the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the U.S. government’s development finance agency, likewise called the executive order “incredibly significant”.

“OPIC is eager to take part in this administration-wide action that underscores the seriousness of the challenge the whole world faces from a changing climate,” Charles Stadtlander, an OPIC spokesperson, told IPS. “If one thing is clear, it’s more cost-effective to act now than to wait until after it’s too late.”

Low-emissions development

In recent years, OPIC has been increasingly lauded by environmentalists and development groups for its overseas investments in renewable energies. Last year, Stadtlander says, those commitments topped 1.2 billion dollars, marking more than a 50-fold increase since 2007.

For some, it is expanding such efforts, and the U.S. government’s still-nascent focus on overseas alternative and low-carbon energy sources, that remains of paramount importance.

Importantly, the new executive order requires that federal agencies “continue seeking opportunities to help international partners promote sustainable low-emissions development”. It also orders the U.S. National Security Council, within a year, to bring together federal agencies to “explore further mitigation opportunities” in U.S. development activities, and to come up with recommendations for additional action.

“An important element of this order is the mandate to continue seeking avenues for mitigation and low-carbon development,” Justin Guay, a Washington representative for the Sierra Club, a conservation and advocacy group, told IPS.

“Already important initiatives like OPIC’s Africa Clean Energy Finance programme are building a pipeline, and new loan guarantees and the private investment they’ll leverage can take that pipeline to scale.”

Guay points to a new U.S. government project, announced this summer, called Beyond the Grid, aimed at expanding renewable energies in Africa. Strengthening that initiative would now offer a key opportunity to put the executive order’s mitigation mandate into action, Guay notes.

Meanwhile, others are expressing concerns over the impact in developing countries of new resilience assistance from the West.

For instance, while President Obama and others on Tuesday inaugurated a new Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, aimed at addressing food security in the context of a changing climate, some farmers in developing countries worry the initiative will increase their dependence on foreign interventions.

“Climate smart agriculture will lead to further consolidation of land … creating dependency on so-called new technologies,” La Via Campesina, a global group of smallholders, said Tuesday, “while ignoring traditional tried-and-true adaptive farming techniques and stewardship of seed varieties.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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ISIS Complicates Iran’s Nuclear Focus at UNGAhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/isis-complicates-irans-nuclear-focus-at-unga/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=isis-complicates-irans-nuclear-focus-at-unga http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/isis-complicates-irans-nuclear-focus-at-unga/#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 22:05:24 +0000 Jasmin Ramsey http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136811 Iranian FM Javad Zarif smiles during a bilateral meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sept. 21, 2014 in New York. Photo courtesy of ISNA

Iranian FM Javad Zarif smiles during a bilateral meeting U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Sept. 21, 2014 in New York. Photo courtesy of ISNA

By Jasmin Ramsey
WASHINGTON, Sep 22 2014 (IPS)

Iran’s foreign minister arrived in New York last week with his sights set on a final deal on Iran’s nuclear programme. But a pressing regional conflict is hanging heavily over the already strained negotiations as Iran and world powers resume talks on the sidelines of this week’s U.N. General Assembly.

A Sep. 21 report by Reuters that Iran was seeking a “give and take” strategy in the talks by using the support it could provide in battling the Islamic State (ISIL or ISIS) as leverage challenged prior U.S. and Iranian insistence that the talks are solely nuclear-focused.

But a senior Iranian official involved in the negotiations told IPS that Iran was not discussing Iraq during talks with the P5+1 (U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany).“People in Iran can survive with suspension, but they can’t survive with dismantlement.” -- Nuclear security expert Arianne Tabatabai

“We have enough on our plate with the nuclear issue,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity via a Sep. 21 email.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius supported the Iranian official’s comment to IPS during a televised conference held in New York today by the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR).

“The Iranians did not ask us to have a melange [bring ISIS into the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme]…these were different questions,” he said.

Mixed Signals

Whether or not the crisis posed by ISIS has become an issue in the nuclear negotiations, Iran appears to be exploring various avenues to combat the Sunni extremist group’s advance through parts of Syria and Iraq.

Although Iran and Saudi Arabia have traditionally maintained cold relations—the Shia and Sunni countries both seek regional dominance—the threat posed by ISIS could bring them closer together.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called a Sep. 21 hour-long meeting with his Saudi counterpart in New York a “new chapter in relations,” according to the state news agency, IRNA.

“We can reach agreement on ways for countering this very sensitive crisis,” he said.

But Iranian and U.S. officials have publicly oscillated over the extent to which Iran could work with other powers in battling ISIS.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei strongly denied a Sep. 5 BBC Persian report that he had approved military cooperation with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS in Iraq.

For its part, the United States excluded Iran from an U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition meeting in Paris.

Four days later, Secretary of State John Kerry said Iran had a “role” to play in “decimating and discrediting” the group at a U.N. Security Council meeting on Iraq.

All the while, Iranian officials have discussed ISIS with their U.S. counterparts on the sidelines of the nuclear talks—though both deny military coordination—and provided material and logistical support to some of the same parties battling ISIS in Iraq.

While Zarif ridiculed the U.S.-led group during a Sep. 17 CFR conference as a “coalition of repenters” for allegedly aiding and abetting ISIS’s rise, he also said Iran would continue supporting the Iraqi government’s fight against ISIS.

“We don’t hesitate in providing support to our friends, to deal with this menace,” he said.

“The U.S. is not desperate for Iran’s help” and cooperating with Tehran could “complicate the nuclear negotiations and be a political headache for the Obama administration,” Alireza Nader, a senior analyst at the RAND Corporation’s U.S. headquarters, told IPS.

“While some level of tacit U.S.-Iran understanding in Iraq cannot be entirely ruled out, the Iranian government should not over-estimate its leverage on the nuclear issue,” said Nader.

Dismantlement vs. Suspension

While both sides have said a final deal by the Nov. 24 deadline for the negotiations is possible, the talks appear stymied by certain sticking points, especially the future of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme.

Iran wants to maintain enough centrifuges and other nuclear infrastructure to be self-reliant and reach an industrial scale by 2021, but the U.S. wants Iran to scale back its current programme.

“The status quo is not doable for any of us,” said a senior U.S. official during on the condition of anonymity Sep. 18.

But Zarif argued last week that instead of achieving policy goals, U.S.-led sanctions on Iran have resulted in a “net outcome” of more Iranian centrifuges.

“If at the time of the imposition of sanctions, we had less than a couple of hundred centrifuges, now we have about 20,000,” said Zarif on Sep. 17.

While the U.S. has agreed to some enrichment in Iran, the Israeli government has been pushing for complete dismantlement, which Iran says is impossible.

Iran has invested too much in its nuclear programme to dismantle it, according to nuclear security expert Arianne Tabatabai.

“Iran will have to give up certain things to reach a deal, and already has under [last year’s interim deal the Joint Plan of Action], but when you start talking about dismantlement, people react,” she said. “It’s a bit of a red line.”

Until now, the negotiating parties have been surprisingly tight-lipped about the details of their talks, which helped stave off domestic criticism. But that trend appears to have been broken.

A “face-saving” proposal reported Sep. 19 by the New York Times would allow Iran to suspend rather than dismantle its centrifugal operations, but has been publicly opposed by U.S. and Iranian politicians not involved in the talks.

A group of 31 Republican senators warned against the U.S. “offering troubling nuclear concessions to Iran” to rapidly reach a deal in a Sep. 19 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry.

Back in Tehran several members of the Iranian parliament rejected the proposal, according to a report Monday in the hard-line Fars News Agency.

“If such a proposal is formally presented by American officials, it indicates their childish outlook on the negotiations or stupid assumptions of the Iranian side,” said Hossein Sheikholeslam, a deputy to the speaker of parliament.

A group of conservative MPs also held a conference today in Tehran against U.S.-Iran rapproachment. The participants said a potential meeting between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and U.S. President Barack Obama in New York would be an “inappropriate act.”

Rouhani met with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who wished Rouhani success in his diplomatic initiatives, before the president departed for New York last night.

Rouhani will address the U.N. General Assembly on Sep. 25.

Tabatabai told IPS that while Iran may not be desperate for a deal, both sides want a final agreement and reports of creative solutions to the standoff demonstrate “the political will is there.”

“People in Iran can survive with suspension, but they can’t survive with dismantlement,” she said.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Surprisingly Equal, Surprisingly Unequalhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/surprisingly-equal-surprisingly-unequal/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=surprisingly-equal-surprisingly-unequal http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/surprisingly-equal-surprisingly-unequal/#comments Sat, 20 Sep 2014 08:01:47 +0000 Judith Niehues http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136751

Judith Niehues is an economist at the Cologne Institute for Economic Research. She can be contacted at niehues@iwkoeln.de

By Judith Niehues
COLOGNE, Sep 20 2014 (IPS)

Thomas Piketty, a French economist who works on wealth and income inequality, has triggered a debate on the distribution of income and wealth in many countries. This is no small issue because views on income inequality and concomitant redistributive preferences are crucial to the design of tax and transfer systems.

Particularly in many European countries, society is concerned about distributional issues, reflected in recurring debates on redistributive policies. However, a study presenting international survey data on subjective perceptions of inequality and redistributive preferences reveals that perceived and actual inequality diverge quite substantially in many of these countries.

Dr Judith Niehues

Dr Judith Niehues

According to the 2009 Social Inequality Module of the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP), more than 50 percent of Germans strongly agree that differences in income are too large.

Correspondingly, a similar portion of Germans thinks that it is “the responsibility of the government to reduce the differences in income between people with high incomes and those with low incomes” – a questionnaire item which is commonly used to capture subjective preferences for redistribution.

Regarding this majority of critical views on inequality, social justice and redistribution are topics for debate that continually feature on the political agenda in Germany – reflected in the current introduction of redistributive policies, such as a minimum wage and additional pension benefits for mothers.

On the other hand, in the United States – which is characterised by a far higher degree of actual income inequality – people are less concerned about income differences, and they do not see any reason for redistributive state intervention. There is virtually no empirical relationship between the actual size of inequality within a country and how critical people view these income differences to be.

The missing link between inequality and its assessment is not specific to these two countries. In a sample of 23 European countries and the United States, there is virtually no empirical relationship between the actual size of inequality within a country and how critical people view these income differences to be.

Obviously, there might be a range of individual and national factors which may explain cross-country differences in critical views on income differences and related redistributive preferences.

For example, in line with the argument of the “American exceptionalism”, people in the United States might just accept certain inequalities as incentives because they believe in the chance of upward mobility.

On the other hand, Germans may be more convinced that income positions arise from luck or other exogenous circumstances, thus regarding inequality as more unfair, and therefore they might demand more state redistribution.

However, current research on mobility reveals that there is a tendency for countries with higher inequality to also be associated with less income mobility.

Looking instead at how types of societies are perceived – a questionnaire item also included by the ISSP – gives some clues: 54.2 percent of Germans believe that the bulk of the German population lives rather at the bottom of society.

To what extent does this perceived type of society match with actual income distribution in Germany? Although there are different ways of demarcating society into a “bottom”, a “middle” and a “top”, studies generally reveal that the middle class represents by far the largest group in German society.

In particular, independently from the chosen definition of income groups, people on middle incomes are far more numerous than those at the bottom of the income distribution scale. This rather pessimistic view on income equality is typical of the European countries studied.

In most countries, the population significantly overestimates the degree of inequality. This is particularly true for former socialist countries such as Hungary, Slovenia as well as the Czech and Slovak republics.

In Hungary, for example, 56.6 percent of the population views Hungarian society as “a small elite at the top, very few people in the middle and the great mass of people at the bottom”, although the country is characterised by one of the lowest income inequalities in the European Union.

Thus, it is not that former socialist countries view already small income differences as much more critical, but that the population is just not aware of the small level of income inequality.

The situation is different in the Scandinavian countries. Here the various populations are much more realistic about the low levels of inequality and truly identify their societies as “typical middle class models”.

In contrast to the European countries, the United States reveals a completely different picture: U.S. citizens substantially underestimate the extent of inequality in their country. The lower income group in the United States is considerably larger than Americans suppose

This varnished view on inequality in the United States is not new – but it is rather new that in European countries it tends to be the other way round.

These results provide an explanation of why redistributive policies find more support in some countries than in others.

Although results from previous ISSP surveys suggest that cross-country differences in views on inequalities and redistributive preferences tend to change slowly, it would nevertheless be interesting to see if critical views on income differences and redistributive preferences would change if citizens were aware of the actual degree of inequality in their countries.

Interestingly, the overestimation of inequality is adversely related to the absolute level of living standards in corresponding countries. Thus, it might also be the case that the perceived structuring of the society is more associated with absolute levels of living standards than commonly suggested.

(Edited by Phil Harris)

 

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OPINION: Fighting ISIS and the Morning Afterhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-fighting-isis-and-the-morning-after/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-fighting-isis-and-the-morning-after http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-fighting-isis-and-the-morning-after/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 13:14:53 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136715 Protesters in Ahrar Square in the Iraqi city of Mosul, January 2013. Credit: Beriwan Welat/IPS

Protesters in Ahrar Square in the Iraqi city of Mosul, January 2013. Credit: Beriwan Welat/IPS

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

As the wobbly anti-ISIS coalition is being formed with American prodding, the Obama administration should take a strategic look at the future of the Arab world beyond the threat posed by the self-declared Islamic State. Otherwise, the United States would be unprepared to deal with the unintended chaos.

Driven by ideological hubris, the Bush administration on the eve of the Iraq war rejected any suggestions that the war could destabilise the whole region and rock the foundations of the Arab nation-state system.Invading Iraq was a “dumb” war. Chasing after ISIS in the Iraqi/Syrian desert without a clear vision of the endgame could result in something far worse.

That system, which was mostly created under the colonial Sykes-Picot treaty of 1916, is now being severely stressed. The Obama administration should avoid repeating the tragic mistake of its predecessor. While trying to halt the advance of ISIS by focused airstrikes, and regardless of the coalition’s effectiveness in “degrading” and “defeating” ISIS, President Obama should instruct his senior policymakers to explore possible architectures that could emerge from the ashes of Sykes-Picot.

The stresses and fault lines we are witnessing in the region today could easily lead to implosions tomorrow. Rightly or wrongly, Washington would be blamed for the ensuing mayhem.

As Secretary of State John Kerry shuttles between countries chasing the elusive coalition to fight ISIS, the administration seems to be unclear even about terminology. Is it a war or a multifaceted counter-terrorism strategy against ISIS? Whatever it’s called, if this strategy fails to eradicate the Islamic State and its Caliphate, is there a “Plan B” in the making?

Briefing senior policymakers on the eve of the Iraq war, I pointed out the possible unintended consequences of the invasion. George Tenet, former CIA director, alludes to several of these briefings in his book, “At the Center of the Storm.”

One of the briefings discussed the possibility that the Iraq invasion could fundamentally unsettle the 100-year old Arab nation-state system. National identity politics, which heretofore has been managed and manipulated by autocratic regimes—tribal, dynastic, monarchical, and presidential—could unravel if the Bush administration failed to anticipate what could happen following Saddam’s demise.

The artificiality of much of those states and their boundaries would come unhinged under the pressures of the invasion and the unleashing of internal forces that have been dormant. National loyalties would be replaced by religious and sectarian affiliations, and the Shia-Sunni disputes that go back to the 7th century would once again rise to the surface albeit with more violence and bloodshed.

The briefings also emphasised Iraq’s central Islamic dilemma. While for many Sunni Muslims Baghdad represents the golden age of Islam more than 1,200 years ago, Iraq is also the cradle of Shia Islam.

Najaf and Karbala in southern Iraq are sacred for the Shia world because it was there where the fourth Caliph Ali’s son Hussein was “martyred” and buried. Iran, as the self-proclaimed voice of Shia Islam all over the world, is deeply embedded in Iraq and will always demand a central role in the future of Iraq.

Bush administration senior policymakers ignored these warnings, arguing Iraqis and other Muslim Arabs would view American and coalition forces as “liberators” and, once the dictator fell, would work together in a spirit of tolerance, inclusion, and compromise. This view, unfortunately, was grounded in the neocons’ imagined ideological perception of the region. As we now know, it was utterly ignorant of ground truths and the social fabric of the different Arab Islamic societies.

Many Bush White House and Defense Department policymakers generally dismissed briefings that focused on the “morning after.” It’s safe to say they cared less about the post-Saddam Middle East than about toppling the dictator.

The region still suffers from those disastrous policies.

ISIS did not emerge in a vacuum, and its transnational ideology, warped as it may be, seems to appeal to Arabs and Muslims who have become disenchanted with the existing political order in Arab lands.

Many citizens view their states as fiefdoms of the ruling elites with no genuine respect for individual rights, personal freedoms, and human dignity. The “securitisation” of politics has alienated many young Arabs and is driving them toward extremism.

If the borders between Syria and Iraq are erased by the transnational “Caliphate,” what will become of the borders of Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and Iraq? Is the Obama administration ready to pick up the pieces when these nation-states disintegrate?

These are the critical questions the Bush administration should have pondered and answered before they invaded Iraq. They are the same questions the Obama administration should ponder and answer before unleashing American air power over the skies of the Levant.

Invading Iraq was a “dumb” war. Chasing after ISIS in the Iraqi/Syrian desert without a clear vision of the endgame could result in something far worse.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

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Nuclear Deal with Iran Likely to Enhance U.S. Regional Leveragehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/nuclear-deal-with-iran-likely-to-enhance-u-s-regional-leverage/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nuclear-deal-with-iran-likely-to-enhance-u-s-regional-leverage http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/nuclear-deal-with-iran-likely-to-enhance-u-s-regional-leverage/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 00:05:48 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136706 By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2014 (IPS)

A successful agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme could significantly enhance U.S. leverage and influence throughout the Greater Middle East, according to a new report signed by 31 former senior U.S. foreign-policy officials and regional experts and released here Wednesday.

The 115-page report, “Iran and Its Neighbors: Regional Implications for U.S. Policy of a Nuclear Agreement,” argues that a nuclear accord would open the way towards co-operation between the two countries on key areas of mutual concern, including stabilising both Iraq and Afghanistan and even facilitating a political settlement to the bloody civil war in Syria.The study comes amidst what its authors called a “tectonic shift” in the Middle East triggered in major part by the military successes of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL).

“A comprehensive nuclear agreement would enable the United States to perceive [regional] priorities without every lens being colored by that single issue,” according to the report, the latest in a series published the last several years by the New York-based Iran Project, which has sponsored high-level informal exchanges with Iran since it was founded in 2002.

“If the leaders of the United States and Iran are prepared to take on their domestic political opponents’ opposition to the agreement now taking shape, then their governments can turn to the broader agenda of regional issues,” concluded the report, whose signatories included former U.S. National Security Advisers Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft, as well as more than a dozen former top-ranking diplomats,

Conversely, failure to reach an accord between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany) could result in “Iran’s eventual acquisition of a nuclear weapons, a greatly reduced chance of defeating major threats elsewhere in the region, and even war,” the study warned.

The report comes as negotiations over a comprehensive nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 are set to formally resume in New York Thursday, as diplomats from around the world gather for the opening of the U.N. General Assembly, which will be addressed by both Presidents Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani, among other world leaders, next week.

The parties have set a Nov. 24 deadline, exactly one year after they signed a Joint Plan of Action (JPOA) in Geneva that eased some economic sanctions against Tehran in exchange for its freezing or rolling back key elements of its nuclear programme.

While the two sides have reportedly agreed in principle on a number of important issues, there remain large gaps between them, particularly with respect to proposed limits on the size of Iran’s uranium-enrichment programme and their duration.

The study also comes amidst what its authors called a “tectonic shift” in the Middle East triggered in major part by the military successes of the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant (ISIL), a development that has been greeted by virtually all of the region’s regimes, as well as the U.S. — which is trying to patch together an international coalition against the Sunni extremist group — as a major threat.

“The rise of ISIS has reinforced Iran’s role in support of the government in Iraq and raises the possibility of U.S.-Iran cooperation in stabilizing Iraq even before a nuclear agreement is signed,” according to the report which nonetheless stressed that any agreement should impose “severe restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities… [to reduce] the risks that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons.”

Still, the thrust of the report, which includes individual essays by recognised experts on Iran’s relations with seven of its neighbours, focuses on how Washington’s interests in the region could be enhanced by “parallel and even joint U.S. and Iran actions” after an agreement is reached.

Such co-operation would most probably begin in dealing with ISIL in Iraq whose government is supported by both Washington and Tehran.

Indeed, as noted by Paul Pillar, a former top CIA Middle East analyst, both countries have recently taken a number of parallel steps in Iraq, notably by encouraging the removal of Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and by taking separate military actions – U.S. airstrikes and Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) advisers — to help break ISIL’s months-long siege of the town of Amerli.

“There’s ample potential here for more communication on a source of very high concern to both of us,” Pillar said at the report’s release at the Wilson Center here. “[The Iranians] see the sources of instability in Iraq; they see it is not in their interest to have unending instability [there].”

A second area of mutual interest is Afghanistan, from which U.S. and NATO troops are steadily withdrawing amidst growing concerns about the ability of government’s security forces to hold the Taliban at bay.

While it is no secret that the U.S. and Iran worked closely together in forging the government and constitution that were adopted after coalition forces ousted the Taliban in late 2001, noted Barnett Rubin, an Afghanistan expert who after the 9/11 attacks served in senior positions at the State Department and later the U.N., “what’s not as well known is that the IRGC worked closely on the ground with the CIA and U.S. Special Forces” during that campaign.

With political tensions over recent election results between the two main presidential candidates and their supporters on the rise, according to Rubin, some co-operation between Iran and the U.S. is likely to be “very important” to ensure political stability.

“A nuclear agreement would open the way for a diplomatic and political process that would make it possible to retain some of the important gains we have made in Afghanistan over the past 13 years,” he said.

As for Syria, Iran, as one of President Bashar Al-Assad’s two main foreign backers, must be included in any efforts to achieve a political settlement, according to the report. Until now, it has been invited to participate only as an observer, largely due to U.S. and Saudi opposition.

“The Iranians are not wedded to …the continuation of the Baathist regime,” said Frank Wisner, who served as ambassador to Egypt and India, among other senior posts in his career. In talks with Iranian officials he said he had been struck by “the degree to which they feel themselves over-stretched,” particularly now that they are more involved in Iraq.

The report anticipates considerable resistance by key U.S. regional allies to any rapprochement with Iran that could follow a nuclear agreement, particularly from Israel, which has been outspoken in its opposition to any accord that would permit Iran to continue enriching uranium.

“It goes without saying that this is of primordial importance to Israel,” noted Thomas Pickering, who has co-chaired the Iran Project and served as U.S. ambassador to Israel and the U.N., among other top diplomatic posts.

Washington must make it clear to Israel and its supporters here that an agreement “would certainly improve prospects for tranquillity in the region” and that it would be a “serious mistake” for Israel to attack Iran, as it has threatened to do, while an agreement is in force, he said.

Washington must also take great pains to reassure Saudi Arabia and other Sunni-led Gulf states that a nuclear agreement will not come at their expense, according to the report.

“Such reassurance might require a period of increased U.S. military support and a defined U.S. presence (such as the maintenance of bases in the smaller Gulf States and of military and intelligence cooperation with the GCC (Gulf Co-operation Council) states),” the report said.

“Riyadh would be willing to explore a reduction of tensions with Tehran if the Saudis were more confident of their American ally,” the report said.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Ground Troops Possible in Anti-ISIS Battlehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-ground-troops-possible-in-anti-isis-battle/#comments Wed, 17 Sep 2014 12:28:21 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136671 General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Credit: DoD/public domain

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Credit: DoD/public domain

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 17 2014 (IPS)

U.S. combat troops may be deployed against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) if the strategy announced by President Barack Obama last week fails to make substantial progress against the radical Sunni group, Washington’s top military officer warned here Tuesday.

The statement by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, delivered during testimony before a key Congressional committee, suggested for the first time that the administration may substantially broaden military operations in Iraq beyond air strikes and advising Iraqi and Kurdish forces far from the front lines.As long as Saudi Arabia and Iran do not make common cause, any coalition to combat Islamist fanatics will be half-hearted at best and unrooted in the region at worst." -- Amb. Chas Freeman (ret.)

“If we reach the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific targets, I will recommend that to the president,” Dempsey told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“At this point, his [Obama’s] stated policy is we will not have U.S. ground forces in direct combat,” he said. “But he has told me as well to come back to him on a case-by-case basis.”

Dempsey’s remarks, which came as Congress appeared poised to approve a pending 500-million-dollar request to train and equip Syrian rebels committed to fighting ISIS, as well as the government of President Bashar al-Assad, appeared certain to fuel doubts about Obama’s plans, particularly given his promise last week that U.S. forces “will not have a combat mission.”

“We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq,” he declared in last week’s nationally televised speech in which he also pledged to build an international coalition, including NATO and key regional and Sunni-led Arab states, to fight ISIS forces in both Iraq and Syria.

While Secretary of State John Kerry has since gathered public endorsements for the administration’s strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, notably at a meeting of Arab states in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, last week and from a larger group of nations in Paris Sunday, scepticism over the strength and effectiveness of such a coalition appears to have deepened.

Although Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and France appear committed to provide some air support to anti-ISIS operations, several key allies, including Britain, have remained non-committal about their willingness to help with military operations.

Turkey, whose army is the largest and most potent in the region and whose porous borders with ISIS-controlled regions in eastern Syria have been fully exploited by the group, has been particularly disappointing to officials here.

Despite repeated appeals, for example, Ankara has reportedly refused to permit U.S. military aircraft to use its strategically located Incirlik air base for carrying out anything but humanitarian missions in or over Iraq, insisting that any direct involvement in the campaign against ISIS would jeopardise the lives of dozens of Turkish diplomats seized by the group at Ankara’s consulate in Aleppo earlier this year.

Critics of Washington’s strategy are also concerned that Kerry may have reduced the chances for co-operation with another potentially key anti-ISIS ally – Iran – which he explicitly excluded from participation in any international coalition due to its support for Assad and its alleged status as a “state sponsor of terror”.

While Kerry Monday said Washington remained open to “communicating” with Tehran — which, along among the regional powers, has provided arms and advisers to both Kurdish and Iraqi forces — about its efforts against ISIS, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who earlier this month reportedly authorised limited co-operation over ISIS, ridiculed the notion, insisting that it was Iran who had rebuffed Washington.

But Kerry’s exclusion of Iran from the anti-ISIS coalition, according to experts here, was motivated primarily by threats by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to drop out if Tehran were included – a reflection not only of the ongoing Sunni-Shi’a conflict in the region, especially in the Syrian civil war, but also of the difficulty Washington faces in persuading governments with widely differing interests to unite behind a common cause.

“Leaving Iran out of the collective effort to contain and eventually destroy ISIS, especially after what happened in Amerli [a town whose siege by ISIS was eventually broken by a combination of U.S. airpower and Iranian-backed militias and Iraqi troops], defies logic and sanity and cannot be explained away by anyone in Iran,” noted Farideh Farhi, an Iran specialist at the University of Hawaii.

“It suggests to many [in Iran] that the fear of legitimising Iran’s role in regional security continues to be a driving force in U.S. foreign policy,” she told IPS in an email exchange.

Indeed, the success of Obama’s strategy may well depend less on U.S. military power than on his ability to reconcile and reassure key regional actors, including Iran.

“To have any hope of success, America’s do-it-yourself approach needs to be replaced with an effort to facilitate co-operation between the region’s great Muslim powers,” according to Amb. Chas Freeman (ret.), who served as Washington’s chief envoy to Riyadh during the first Gulf War.

“… As long as Saudi Arabia and Iran do not make common cause, any coalition to combat Islamist fanatics will be half-hearted at best and unrooted in the region at worst,” he told IPS.

Despite these difficult diplomatic challenges faced by Obama, most of the scepticism here revolves around his military strategy, particularly its reliance on air power and the absence of effective ground forces that can take and hold territory, especially in predominantly Sunni areas of both western and north-central Iraq and eastern Syria.

While U.S. officials believe that Kurdish peshmerga forces and the Iraqi army – with Iranian-backed Shi’a militias – can, with U.S. and allied air support, roll back most of ISIS’s more-recent gains in Iraq, it will take far more time to wrest control of areas, including cities like Fallujah and Ramadi, which the group has effectively governed for months.

Obama announced last week that he was sending nearly 500 more military personnel to Iraq, bringing the total U.S. presence there to around 1,600 troops, most of whom are to serve as trainers and advisers both for the peshmerga and the Iraqi army.

According to Dempsey, however, these troops have not yet been authorised to accompany local forces into combat or even to act as spotters for U.S. aircraft.

As for Syria, Washington plans to train and equip some 5,000 members of the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a fractious coalition of “moderate” fighters who have been increasingly squeezed and marginalised by both pro-government forces and ISIS and who have often allied themselves with other Islamist groups, including Jabhat al-Nusra, an Al Qaeda affiliate.

It will take at least eight months, however, before that force can take the field, according to Dempsey and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel. Even then, they said, such a force will be unable “to turn the tide” of battle. Dempsey’s said he hoped that Sunni-led Arab countries would provide special operations forces to support the FSA, although none has yet indicated a willingness to do so.

Hawks, such as Republican Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, have argued that these plans are insufficient to destroy ISIS in either country.

Some neo-conservative defence analysts, such as Max Boot of the Council on Foreign Relations and Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, have called for as many as 25,000 U.S. ground troops, including thousands of Special Forces units to work with “moderate” Sunni forces, to be deployed to both countries in order to prevail. They have also warned against any co-operation with either Iran or Assad in the fight against ISIS.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Declining Majority Still Supports “Active” U.S. Role in World Affairshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/declining-majority-still-supports-active-u-s-role-in-world-affairs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=declining-majority-still-supports-active-u-s-role-in-world-affairs http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/declining-majority-still-supports-active-u-s-role-in-world-affairs/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 23:40:22 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136636 Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeoffrey Keever is bathed in blue light as he writes the status of each aircraft on the status board in the Carrier Air Traffic Controller Center aboard the USS John F Kennedy (CV 67) during flight operations on April 15, 2005. Credit: public domain

Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jeoffrey Keever is bathed in blue light as he writes the status of each aircraft on the status board in the Carrier Air Traffic Controller Center aboard the USS John F Kennedy (CV 67) during flight operations on April 15, 2005. Credit: public domain

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 15 2014 (IPS)

Despite elite concerns about growing “isolationism” in the U.S. electorate, nearly six in 10 citizens believe Washington should “take an active part in world affairs,” according to the latest in a biennial series of major surveys of U.S. foreign-policy attitudes.

Nonetheless, the number of citizens who believe that the U.S. should “stay out of world affairs” is clearly on the rise, according to the survey, which was conducted in May by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and released here Monday.It’s clear that Americans are fatigued by a decade of war, but describing them as isolationist is misleading." -- Chicago Council President Ivo Daalder

Forty-one percent – the highest percentage since World War II — of the more than 2,000 adults polled chose the “stay-out” option, including 40 percent of self-identified Republicans and 48 percent of independents.

“For the first time ever, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say the U.S. should stay out of world affairs,” said Dina Smeltz, the Council’s chief pollster and co-author of an accompanying report, “Foreign Policy in the Age of Retrenchment”. She noted that the proportion of Republicans who say they want the U.S. to stay out of world affairs has nearly doubled since 2006.

Nonetheless, her co-author, Council president Ivo Daalder, insisted that the public was not turning away from global engagement. “It’s clear that Americans are fatigued by a decade of war, but describing them as isolationist is misleading,” he said.

“They understand that we live in a dangerous world and that our safety and security will at times require a resort to arms. When that clearly is the case, Americans will support using force,” according to Daalder, who served U.S. ambassador to NATO during President Barack Obama’s first term.

Indeed, the survey suggested the public accords a high priority to military power.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) said they believed current defence spending – which makes up almost 40 percent of the world’s total military expenditures – should remain the same or be increased, and nearly six in 10 (71 percent) said they want to maintain or increase the number of as many long-term U.S. bases overseas as there are now, the highest level ever recorded since the Council first asked the question in 1974.

More than half (52 percent) said “maintaining U.S. superior military power” was a “very important” foreign policy goal – lower than the 68 percent who took that position in 2002, but on a par with the findings of the mid-1990’s.

In addition, 69 percent said they would favour military action, including the use of U.S. troops, to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, although support for military engagement was considerably less strong (around 45 percent) for other specific cases, such as defending Israel or South Korea against attack or even the Baltic states – despite their NATO membership — against a Russian invasion.

In other findings, the Council’s survey, which has long been considered among the most authoritative on U.S. foreign policy attitudes, found that, by a margin of more than three to one (77 to 23 percent), respondents believe that economic power is more important than military power; and that public support for economic globalisation – particularly among Democrats – has reached a record high.

It also found that that about four in 10 respondents believe China poses a “critical threat” to the U.S. That was down substantially from the mid-50-percent range that prevailed during the 1990s until 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks on New York and the Pentagon.

At the same time, anti-Russian sentiment has returned to Cold-War levels, according to Daalder, who noted the poll was conducted when Russian actions against Crimea dominated the headlines.

The new survey’s release comes amidst renewed concerns here over the threat posed by Islamist extremism, as represented by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) whose sweep from its stronghold in eastern Syria into central and northern Iraq earlier this summer triggered the first direct intervention by U.S. military forces in Iraq since 2011.

Several major polls released over the last two weeks – and especially following the video-taped beheadings by ISIS of two U.S. reporters — have shown strong public support for U.S. air strikes against ISIS, particularly among Republicans who, as the Council’s survey demonstrated, had previously appeared increasingly divided between its dominant interventionist wing and an ascendant libertarian faction led by Kentucky Sen. Ron Paul.

But the current rallying behind military action may be short-lived, according to Daalder. “It would be a mistake to think that the current public mood will last forever,” he cautioned. “That support [for military action] is highly conditional … on success.”

Nonetheless, the Council’s survey found strong support for air strikes against alleged terrorists already in May when respondents were interviewed.

Seven in 10 respondents said they supported air strikes against terrorist training camps and other facilities, as well as the assassination of terrorist leaders. And 56 percent said they supported attacks by U.S. ground troops against terrorist targets.

The notion that the public has become increasingly isolationist has been stoked by a series of surveys over the past year, notably a Pew Research Center poll from last year that, for the first time, found a majority (52 percent) of respondents who agreed with the proposition that “the U.S. should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along the best then can on their own.”

But that finding was not surprising to Steven Kull, long-time director of the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), who sees it as an expression of public frustration with a “leadership [that] is more invested in American [global dominance] than most Americans are,” especially in the wake of Washington’s experience in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It may also help explain the sharp rise in the percentage of Republicans who now believe the U.S. should “stay out of world affairs.”

In 2007, 85 percent and 73 percent of Republicans said the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively, were worth fighting. Seven years later, the respective percentages have fallen to 34 percent and 40 percent. Independents and Democrats, by contrast, have been consistently more sceptical about both wars.

The Council poll also found a more general convergence in foreign-policy views between members of the two parties, particularly with respect to their approaches to China, Iran, and Syria, although Republicans tended to be more hawkish on the use of force, while Democrats were more likely to favour more U.S. support for the U.N. and peacekeeping activities.

The sharpest partisan differences, on the other hand, were on immigration and U.S. policy in the Middle East, with Republicans consistently showing more support for Israel.

Asked to choose among 18 possible “critical threats” against the U.S., cyber-warfare was cited most often (69 percent), followed by “international terrorism” (63 percent), “the possibility of unfriendly countries becoming nuclear powers” (50 percent), and “Iran’s nuclear program” (58 percent).

Among 15 possible “very important” foreign-policy goals, about three of four respondents cited protecting U.S. jobs, reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil, and preventing the spread of nuclear weapons.

“Helping to bring a democratic form of government to other nations” was the least favoured; only 17 percent of respondents cited that as a “very important goal.” That was half the level recorded in 2002 — after Washington succeeded in ousting the Taliban in Afghanistan and just before its invasion of Iraq.

Asked what circumstances might justify using U.S. troops abroad, 71 percent of respondents cited “to deal with humanitarian crises” and “to stop a government from committing genocide and killing large numbers of its own people.” Sixty-nine percent cited “to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.” Fifty-four percent cited “to ensure the oil supply.”

Strengthening the United Nations has declined as a “very important goal” for U.S. foreign policy from a high of 57 percent in 2002 to 37 percent in this year’s survey. Half of Democrats rated it as a “very important goal,” but only 27 percent of Republicans agreed.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.S. Bypasses Security Council on Impending Invasion of Syriahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-bypasses-security-council-on-impending-invasion-of-syria/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-bypasses-security-council-on-impending-invasion-of-syria http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-bypasses-security-council-on-impending-invasion-of-syria/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 19:37:43 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136608 The U.N. Security Council discusses the situation in Syria on June 26, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

The U.N. Security Council discusses the situation in Syria on June 26, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 12 2014 (IPS)

The U.N. Security Council (UNSC), the only international body empowered to declare war and peace, continues to remain a silent witness to the widespread devastation and killings worldwide, including in Palestine, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Ukraine.

A sharply divided UNSC has watched the slaughter of Palestinians by Israel, the genocide and war crimes in Syria, the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, the U.S. military attacks inside Iraq and now a virtual invasion of Syria – if U.S. President Barack Obama goes ahead with his threat to launch air strikes against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS)."As an instrument for preventing or restraining war, the United Nations has devolved into a plaintive institution, with its Security Council dominated by superpowers." -- Norman Solomon

The United States has refused to go before the UNSC for authorisation and legitimacy – even if it means suffering a veto by Russia or China or both.

Still, ironically, Obama is scheduled to preside over a UNSC meeting when he is in New York in late September since the United States holds the presidency under geographical rotation among the 15 members in the Council.

A head of state or a head of government chairing a meeting of the Security Council is a rare event, not a norm.

But it does happen when a UNSC member presides over the Council in the month of September during the opening of a new General Assembly session, with over 150 world leaders in tow.

In his address to the nation early this week, Obama said, “I will chair a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to further mobilise the international community around this effort” (“to degrade and destroy ISIS”, the rebel Islamic militant group inside Iraq and Syria).

Still, the proposed strike inside Syria is not part of the Council’s agenda – and certainly not under the U.S. presidency.

Obama also said intelligence agencies have not detected any specific ISIS plots against the United States.

ISIS is still a regional threat that could ultimately reach out to the United States, he said, justifying the impending attacks.

Norman Solomon, executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Public Accuracy and co-founder of RootsAction.org, told IPS, “As an instrument for preventing or restraining war, the United Nations has devolved into a plaintive institution, with its Security Council dominated by superpowers — most of all by the United States in tandem with its permanent-member allies.”

He said it used to be that U.S. presidents at least went through the motions of seeking Security Council approval for going to war, but this is scarcely the case anymore.

“When it lacks the capacity to get what it wants by way of a non-vetoed Security Council resolution for its war aims, the U.S. government simply proceeds as though the United Nations has no significant existence,” said Solomon, author of ‘War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.’

Internationally, he said, this is the case because there are no geopolitical leverage points or institutional U.N. frameworks sufficient to require the United States to actually take the Security Council seriously as anything much more than a platform for pontification.

A Russian official was quoted as saying the Obama administration would need to get a UNSC resolution before it launches air attacks inside Syria — which, of course, the Russians did not do either before they intervened in Ukraine.

Perhaps all this points only in one direction: the UNSC has time and again proved its unworthiness – and remains ineffective and politically impotent having outlived its usefulness, particularly in crisis situations.

Humanitarian aid? Yes. Collective international action? No.

The veto-wielding permanent members of the UNSC – the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia – are obviously not interested in fairness, justice or political integrity but only interested in protecting their own national interests.

In an editorial Friday, the New York Times struck a cautious note when it said there will be no turning back once air strikes enter Syrian territory, unleashing events that simply cannot be foreseen.

“Surely, that’s a lesson America has learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Stephen Zunes, professor of politics and international studies at the University of San Francisco where he serves as coordinator of the programme in Middle Eastern Studies, told IPS, “Regardless of whether it is justified or not, air strikes by the United States or other foreign powers in Iraq and Syria are clearly acts of war requiring U.N. authorisation.”

If the threat from ISIS and the limited nature of the military response is what President Obama says it is, then the United States should have little trouble in receiving support from the Security Council, said Zunes, who has written extensively on the politics of the Security Council and serves as a senior policy analyst for Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies.

“The refusal to come to the United Nations, then, serves as yet another example of the contempt Washington apparently has for the world body,” he said.

Peter Yeo, executive director of Better World Campaign, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) dedicated to strengthening U.S.-U.N. relations, has called on the U.S. Congress to engage the United Nations in addressing the critical challenges in the Middle East, including Syria and Iraq.

“Let Congress know the U.S. cannot go it alone in confronting this challenge, and that we should continue to utilise resources like the U.N. Security Council and the U.N.’s humanitarian response agencies to combat ongoing and future threats,” he said.

More than ever, the U.S. needs the U.N. as a strategic partner to help facilitate the complex security and humanitarian response needs in the region, he said in a statement released Thursday.

Solomon told IPS that the domestic politics of the U.S. have been sculpted in recent decades to relegate the U.N. to the role of afterthought or oratorical amphitheatre unless it can be coupled to the U.S. war train of the historic moment.

“Deformed as it is as a representation of only the governments of some sectors of global power, the Security Council still has some potential for valid exercise of discourse – even diplomacy – if not legitimate decision-making per se.”

But the Security Council ultimately represents the skewed agendas of its permanent members, and those agendas only include peace to the extent that permanent members are actually interested in peace and such interest, at best intermittent, depends on undependable willingness to look beyond narrow nationalistic and corporate interests, Solomon added.

“Of course, the U.S. government has continued to engage in acts of war in several countries on an ongoing basis for more than a dozen years.”

The military strikes now being planned by the White House will add Syria to the list of countries attacked by a Washington-based government that speaks loudly about international law at the same time that it violates international law at will, he argued.

The U.S. government will decide whether to seek any authorisation or resolution from the U.N. Security Council primarily on the basis of gauging likely benefits of rhetorical grandstanding, Solomon predicted.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Obama’s Anti-ISIS Strategy Met with Scepticismhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obamas-anti-isis-strategy-met-with-scepticism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=obamas-anti-isis-strategy-met-with-scepticism http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/obamas-anti-isis-strategy-met-with-scepticism/#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2014 00:14:35 +0000 Jim Lobe http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136594 President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with members of the National Security Council in the Situation Room of the White House, Sept. 10, 2014. Credit: Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

By Jim Lobe
WASHINGTON, Sep 12 2014 (IPS)

U.S. President Barack Obama’s new strategy to “degrade, and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is being met with widespread scepticism among both hawks and doves, as well as regional specialists.

While Congress is expected to acquiesce, if not formally authorise, the plans he outlined in his nationally televised prime-time speech Wednesday night, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have not been shy about expressing reservations.“The proverbial 64,000-dollar question is whether the seemingly mediocre Abadi government can peel enough of [the Sunni Arab tribes and veteran Awakening cadres] away from active and passive support for ISIS or from the sidelines.” -- Wayne White

“While the president presented a compelling case for action, many questions remain about the way in which [he] intends to act,” said Republican House Speaker John Boehner.

Indeed, while he adopted a determined and confident tone that won plaudits even from Republicans like Boehner, it is no secret here that Obama, who has made Washington’s extraction from Middle East wars a legacy issue for his presidency, has consistently resisted pressure to escalate U.S. military involvement in the region.

Speaking on the eve of the 13th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, Obama announced that he will increase U.S. support for Iraq’s army and the Kurdish Peshmerga with more training, intelligence, and equipment and will dispatch 475 U.S. military personnel to join the 1,000-plus who have deployed there since ISIS swept across much of the northern and central part of Iraq in June.

At the same time, he pledged that the campaign “will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.”

In addition, he said the U.S. will carry out airstrikes against ISIS targets “wherever they exist,” not only in Iraq, but, most significantly, in Syria, as well.

Washington, he said, is also assembling “a broad coalition of partners”, including NATO, and, more importantly, the Sunni-led Gulf states, Jordan, and Lebanon whose governments pledged support for the anti-ISIS campaign and the new government of Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, during a meeting Thursday with Secretary of State John Kerry in Jiddah.

And Obama asked Congress to swiftly approve a pending request for 500 million dollars to train and equip anti-government and anti-ISIS Syrian rebels.

Saudi Arabia, a major backer of various factions in the three-year insurgency against President Bashar Al-Assad, has agreed to host training camps for these “moderate” rebels, according to administration officials.

This “comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism strategy” – which he compared to Washington’s long-standing operations in Yemen and Somalia — will “take time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL (Islamic State of Syria and the Levant),” Obama said, using the administration’s preferred acronym.

While the plan gained guarded approval from most lawmakers – who, facing mid-term elections in November, are particularly sensitive to a sudden hawkish shift in public opinion – many said it raised as many questions as it answered, including whether Obama has the legal authority to order strikes against ISIS, especially in Syria, without getting explicit Congressional authorisation.

At the same time, hawks questioned whether the strategy – notably Obama’s pledge not to introduce combat troops – was sufficient to achieve its goals.

“Obama’s ‘strategy’ has no chance of success,” wrote Frederick and Kimberly Kagan of the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Institute for the Study of War, respectively, on the Weekly Standard’s website.

The two Kagans, who helped devise the Bush administration’s “Surge” to curb Iraq’s Sunni-Shi’a conflict in 2007, argued that a counter-terrorism (CT) strategy would not work against a full-fledged insurgency, which they said ISIS has become. “It’s awfully hard to develop a sound strategy when you start by misdiagnosing the problem so profoundly,” they wrote. Frederick Kagan has argued that 10-15,000 U.S. troops are necessary for Iraq alone.

Others disagreed. “Getting more U.S. troops on the ground is precisely what … [ISIS chief Abu Bakr] Al-Baghdadi wants,” Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (ret.), former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, told IPS. “A target-rich environment is what they want, and in their area.

“If the Iraqis and others are not up to defeating [ISIS] forces, then U.S. and allied airpower, some advice on the ground, and intelligence assistance should be sufficient to do so. …[ISIS] is not 10 feet tall, not even four – despite all the media hype to the contrary,” he said.

In Iraq, defeating ISIS will depend largely on whether Abadi follows through on his pledge to share power with Sunni Arabs and fully integrate them into a new security structure, according to regional experts.

“One hundred years of war …has demonstrated that air power can only succeed if a robust ground force is ready to take advantage of air strikes to physically take and occupy territory,” according to Wayne White, a former top State Department Middle East intelligence officer now with the Middle East Institute (MEI).

“The president is not ignorant of this dictum: hence, his part in ousting the loathsome [former Prime Minister Nouri al-] Maliki and the need for a credibly inclusive new government in Baghdad that can revive the Iraqi Army,” he wrote in an email exchange.

“…The proverbial 64,000-dollar question is whether the seemingly mediocre Abadi government can peel enough of [the Sunni Arab tribes and veteran Awakening cadres] away from active and passive support for ISIS or from the sidelines,” White added. “Only a sizeable Sunni Arab force from within could make considerable headway along with airstrikes in unhinging ISIS from key holdings like cities and large towns.”

Even if the strategy in Iraq succeeds, however, attacking ISIS in Syria will be far more difficult, in major part because Western-backed rebel factions are “much weaker than two years ago,” according to former acting CIA chief Michael Morrell whose assessment echoed that of most regional experts, some of whom, such as former the former U.S. Amb. to Baghdad, Ryan Crocker, have argued for working with Assad as the lesser evil – a step that the administration appears so far to reject.

“The speech left major questions about Syria unanswered,” said Paul Pillar, a former top CIA Middle East analyst. “If ISIS is to be set back, who fills that vacuum? If it is the Assad regime, how does that square with the continued U.S. opposition to that regime? If it is supposed to be someone else, how does that square with the persistent lack of unity, strength, and credibility of the so-called moderate opposition?”

Along with Wilkerson, regional experts worried that Obama’s strategy is susceptible to “mission creep”.

“If the air strikes do not ‘defeat’ ISIS, what policy will the president pursue considering that he ruled out putting boots on the ground?” asked Emile Nakhleh, a former director of the CIA’s political Islam strategic analysis programme.

He also questioned the commitment of the Sunni Arab states that signed on to the strategy in Jiddah “considering that domestic radical Islamists are already posing a serious challenge to such countries as Saudi Arabia and Jordan.”

Thomas Lippman, a Gulf specialist at MEI, agreed that the coalition that Obama was putting together could prove problematic, noting that its members “…are united about what they DON’T want — namely more ISIS — but are not united about what they DO want. And many of them are suspicious about some of the others,” he said in an email exchange.

He noted that Turkey, with the most potent military force in the region and whose Incirlik air base has been used in the past for U.S. operations over Iraq, had participated in the Jiddah meeting Thursday but failed to sign the summit statement.

Like Wilkerson, Nakhleh also suggested that Obama’s hand been forced as a result of the “media frenzy about the hyped-up ISIS threat” which some commentators have blamed on the sensational coverage of the recent beheadings by ISIS of two U.S. journalists and overheated rhetoric by some of Obama’s top officials, including Kerry and Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel.

A poll conducted last week by ABC News and the Washington Post found 71 percent support for air strikes against “Sunni insurgents in Iraq” – up from 54 percent in mid-August and 45 percent in mid-June as ISIS swept across Iraq.

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.comHe can be contacted at ipsnoram@ips.org

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Mideast Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone Remains in Limbohttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mideast-nuclear-weapons-free-zone-remains-in-limbo/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mideast-nuclear-weapons-free-zone-remains-in-limbo http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/mideast-nuclear-weapons-free-zone-remains-in-limbo/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 06:08:42 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136575 A proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the strife-torn Middle East remains in limbo. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

A proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the strife-torn Middle East remains in limbo. Credit: Bomoon Lee/IPS

By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Sep 11 2014 (IPS)

After four long years of protracted negotiations, a proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone (NWFZ) in the strife-torn Middle East remains in limbo – and perhaps virtually dead.

But United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a relentless advocate of nuclear disarmament, is determined to resurrect the proposal.

“I remain fully committed to convening a conference on the establishment of a Middle East zone, free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction,” he said in his annual report to the upcoming 69th session of the General Assembly, which is scheduled to open Sep. 16.

Ban said such a zone is of “utmost importance” for the integrity of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT).

"Western governments which helped Israel to go nuclear compound the problem, participating in this conspiracy of silence by never mentioning Israel's nuclear weapons.” -- Bob Rigg, former chair of the New Zealand National Consultative Committee on Disarmament
“Nuclear weapons-free zones contribute greatly to strengthening nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation regimes, and to enhancing regional and international security,” he noted.

The existing nuclear weapons-free zones include Central Asia, Africa, Mongolia, Southeast Asia, South Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, Antarctica and Outer Space – all governed by international treaties.

Still, the widespread political crises in the Middle East – destabilising Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Palestine – may threaten to further undermine the longstanding proposal for a nuclear weapons-free zone in the militarily-troubled region.

The proposal, which was mandated by the 2010 NPT Review Conference may not take off – if at all – before the 2015 Review Conference scheduled for early next year.

If it does not, it could jeopardize the review conference itself, according to anti-nuclear activists.

Finland, which has taken an active role in trying to host the conference, has been stymied by implicit opposition to the conference by the United States, which has expressed fears the entire focus of the meeting may shift towards the de-nuclearisation of one of its strongest Middle East allies: Israel.

Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Jerusalem-based Palestine-Israel Journal, told IPS while it would appear that the recent Gaza-Israel war might have created additional problems for the convening of the conference, it actually opens new opportunities for progress.

Egypt played a key role as the host and major facilitator of the negotiations to arrive at a cease-fire, and Cairo remains the hub for the follow-up negotiations for dealing with the issues not dealt with in the initial cease-fire agreement, he said.

In the course of the current tragic round of mutual violence, he pointed out, there was a perception that a common strategic interest has evolved between Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and the Palestinian Authority led by President Abbas, against Hamas, which spills over to the threat from the Islamic fundamentalist forces that are active in Iraq and Syria.

“This unofficial alliance creates possibilities for the development of new regional security understandings,” Schenker added.

Such a development would require initiatives beyond a cease-fire, and the resumption of serious negotiations to resolve the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he added.

Bob Rigg, a former chair of the New Zealand National Consultative Committee on Disarmament, told IPS there have already been many attempts at a conference on the weapons-free zone.

“All have come to nothing, principally because a regional nuclear weapons-free zone would pre-suppose the destruction, under international control, of Israel’s nuclear arsenal.”

The acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability was a key priority of Ben Gurion, Israel’s first leader, and has continued to be at the heart of its security policies ever since, said Rigg, an anti-nuclear activist and a former senior editor at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

He said while the government of Israel continues to be unwilling, in any context, to formally admit to the possession of nuclear weapons, there is no basis for any meaningful discussion of the issue, even if a conference actually takes place.

“Western governments which helped Israel to go nuclear compound the problem, participating in this conspiracy of silence by never mentioning Israel’s nuclear weapons.”

For example, he said, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was once ferociously attacked by U.S. politicians and the media for saying that Israel had nuclear weapons.

Alice Slater, New York Director of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation who also serves on the coordinating committee of Abolition 2000, told IPS that U.N. chief Ban quite correctly raised a serious warning last week about the future viability of the NPT in the absence of any commitment to make good on a pledge to hold a conference to address the formation of a Middle East Zone free of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.

The NPT took effect in 1970 providing that each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control, she pointed out.

All but three nations in the world signed the treaty, including the five nuclear weapons states (UK, Russia, the United States, France, China).

Only India, Pakistan, and Israel refused to join the treaty and went on to acquire nuclear arsenals.

North Korea, taking advantage of the treaty’s unholy bargain for an inalienable right to so-called peaceful nuclear power, acquired the civilian technology that enabled it to produce a bomb, and then walked out of the treaty, said Slater.

The NPT was set to expire in 25 years unless the parties subsequently agreed to its renewal.

Schenker told IPS that without active American involvement, the conference will not be convened.

Whatever the outcome of the mid-term elections in November, President Barack Obama will then have two more years to establish his presidential legacy, to justify his Nobel Peace Prize and to advance the vision he declared in his 2009 Prague speech of “a world without nuclear weapons”.

He said the U.N. secretary-general issued a timely warning that a failure to convene the Mideast weapons-free-zone conference before the 2015 NPT review conference “may frustrate the ability of states to conduct a successful review of the operation of the (NPT) treaty and could undermine the treaty process and related non-proliferation and disarmament objectives.”

He said one of the primary tools that could be used to advance this process is the Arab Peace Initiative (API), launched at the Arab League Summit Conference in Beirut in 2002, which has been reaffirmed many times since.

The API offers Israel recognition and normal relations with the entire Arab world, dependent upon the end of the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, alongside the State of Israel.

He said the API could also be a basis for establishing a new regional regime of peace and security.

The convening of the international conference mandated by the 2010 NPT Review Conference, if approached with diplomatic wisdom on all sides, could become one of the components of progress towards this new regional regime of peace and security, he noted.

The new strategic “alliance” in the region could be used as a basis for the convening of the conference, said Schenker.

A successful outcome of the negotiations over the Iranian nuclear programme could be another constructive building block towards the convening of the conference.

Slater told IPS the prospects for any success at this upcoming 2015 NPT Review, are very dim indeed and it is unclear what will happen to the badly tattered and oft-dishonored treaty.

“It is difficult to calculate whether the recent catastrophic events in Gaza and Israel will affect any change in Israel’s unwillingness to participate in the promised Middle East conference.”

All the more reason to support the efforts of the promising new initiative to negotiate a legal ban on nuclear weapons, just as the world has banned chemical and biological weapons, she declared.

(END)

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U.S. Military Joins Ebola Response in West Africahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-military-joins-ebola-response-in-west-africa/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-military-joins-ebola-response-in-west-africa http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/u-s-military-joins-ebola-response-in-west-africa/#comments Mon, 08 Sep 2014 22:45:46 +0000 Carey L. Biron http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136550 As one of the Ebola epicentres, the district of Kailahun, in eastern Sierra Leone bordering Guinea, was put under quarantine at the beginning of August. Credit: ©EC/ECHO/Cyprien Fabre

As one of the Ebola epicentres, the district of Kailahun, in eastern Sierra Leone bordering Guinea, was put under quarantine at the beginning of August. Credit: ©EC/ECHO/Cyprien Fabre

By Carey L. Biron
WASHINGTON, Sep 8 2014 (IPS)

The U.S. military over the weekend formally began to support the international response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

Advocates of the move, including prominent voices in global health, are lauding the Pentagon’s particularly robust logistical capacities, which nearly all observers say are desperately needed as the epidemic expands at an increasing rate.On Monday, the United Nations warned of an “exponential increase” in cases in coming weeks.

Yet already multiple concerns have arisen over the scope of the mission – including whether it is strong enough at the outset as well as whether it could become too broad in future.

President Barack Obama made the first public announcement on the issue on Sunday, contextualising the outbreak as a danger to U.S. national security.

“We’re going to have to get U.S. military assets just to set up, for example, isolation units and equipment there to provide security for public health workers surging from around the world,” the president said during a televised interview. “If we don’t make that effort now … it could be a serious danger to the United States.”

While the United States has spent more than 20 million dollars in West Africa this year to combat the disease, Washington has come under increased criticism in recent months for not doing enough. Obama is now expected to request additional funding from Congress later this month.

The military’s response, however, has already begun – albeit apparently on a very small scale for now, and in just a single Ebola-hit country.

A Defence Department spokesperson told IPS that, over the weekend, Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel approved the deployment of a “25-bed deployable hospital facility, equipment, and the support necessary to establish the facility” in Liberia. For now, this is the extent of the approved response.

The spokesperson was quick to note that additional planning is underway, but emphasised that the Pentagon is responding only to requests made by other federal agencies and taking no lead role. Further, its commitment to the hospital in Liberia, the country most affected by the outbreak, is limited.

The Department of Defence “will not have a permanent presence at the facility and will not provide direct patient care, but will ensure that supplies are maintained at the hospital and provide periodic support required to keep the hospital facility functioning for up to 180 days,” the spokesperson said.

“This approach provides for the establishment of the hospital facility in the shortest possible period of time … Once the deployable hospital facility is established, it will be transferred to the Government of Liberia.”

On Monday, Liberia’s defence minister, Brownie Samukai, said his government was “extremely pleased” by the announcement.

“We had discussions at the Department of Defence on the issues of utilising and requesting the full skill of United States capabilities, both on the soft side and on the side of providing logistics and technical expertise,” Samukai, who is currently here in Washington, told the media. “We look forward to that cooperation as expeditiously as we can.”

No security needed

The current Ebola outbreak has now killed some 2,100 people and infected more than 3,500 in five countries. On Monday, the United Nations warned of an “exponential increase” in cases in coming weeks.

Yet thus far the epidemic has resulted in an international response that is almost universally seen as dangerously inadequate. Obama’s statement Sunday nonetheless raised questions even among those supportive of the announcement.

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), the French humanitarian group, remains the single most important international organisation in physically responding to the outbreak. While MSF has long opposed the use of military personnel in response to disease outbreaks, last week it broke with that tradition.

Warning that the global community is “failing” to address the epidemic, the group told a special U.N. briefing that countries with “civilian and military medical capability … must immediately dispatch assets and personnel to West Africa”.

Yet while MSF has welcomed Obama’s announcement, the group is also expressing strong concerns over the president’s reference to the U.S. military providing “security for public health workers”.

MSF “reiterates the need for this support to be of medical nature only,” Tim Shenk, a press officer with the group, told IPS. “Aid workers do not need additional security support in the affected region.”

Last week, MSF urged that any military personnel deployed to West Africa not be used for “quarantine, containment or crowd control measures”.

The Defence Department spokesperson told IPS that the U.S. military had not yet received a request to provide security for health workers.

Few guidelines

The United States is not the only country now turning to its military to bolster the flagging humanitarian response in West Africa.

The British government in recent days announced even more significant plans, aiming to set up 68 beds for Ebola patients at a centre, in Sierra Leone, that will be jointly operated by humanitarians and military personnel. The Canadian government had reportedly been contemplating a military plan as well, although this now appears to have been shelved.

Yet the concerns expressed by MSF over how the military deployment should go forward underscore the fact that there exists little formal guidance on the involvement of foreign military personnel in international health-related response.

The World Health Organisation (WHO), for instance, has no broad stance on the issue, a spokesperson told IPS. As the WHO is an intergovernmental agency, it is up to affected countries to make related decisions and request.

“Each country handles its own security situation,” Daniel Epstein, a WHO spokesperson, told IPS. “So if governments agree to military involvement from other countries, that’s their business.”

Another spokesperson with the agency, Margaret Harris, told IPS that the WHO appreciates “the skills that well-trained, disciplined and highly organised groups like the US military can bring to the campaign to end Ebola.”

Yet there is already concern that the U.S. military response could be shaping up to be far less robust than necessary.

MSF’s Shenk noted that any plan from the U.S. military would need to include both the construction and operation of Ebola centres. Thus far, the Pentagon says it will not be doing any operating.

While around 570 Ebola beds are currently available in West Africa, MSF estimates that at least 1,000 hospital spaces, capable of providing full isolation, are needed in the region.

In a series of tweets on Monday, Laurie Garrett, a prominent global health scholar with the Council on Foreign Relations, a Washington think tank, expressed alarm that the Defence Department’s Ebola response was shaping up to be “tiny” in comparison to what is needed.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be reached at cbiron@ips.org

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OPINION: ISIS Primarily a Threat to Arab Countrieshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-isis-primarily-a-threat-to-arab-countries/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-isis-primarily-a-threat-to-arab-countries http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/09/opinion-isis-primarily-a-threat-to-arab-countries/#comments Fri, 05 Sep 2014 18:44:59 +0000 Emile Nakhleh http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=136514

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.”

By Emile Nakhleh
WASHINGTON, Sep 5 2014 (IPS)

Millions of words have been written about the rise, conquests, and savagery of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, and Boko Haram in Nigeria. Both have declared an “Islamic State” in their areas although Boko Haram has not claimed the mantle of a successor to the Prophet Muhammad as ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi has done in Greater Syria. The two groups are the latest in a string of terrorist organisations in the past two decades.

American and other Western media have raised the ISIS terror threat to unprecedented levels, and the press have extolled the group’s military prowess, financial acumen, and command of social media propaganda.

The beheadings of U.S. journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff are the latest horrible manifestations of the group’s brutality. ISIS is now seen as a serious threat to the U.S. and British homelands and new measures are being taken in both countries to combat the dangers it poses.

The Sunni regimes’ benign neglect of the rapidly spreading Sunni violent ideology and its divisive sectarian policies has allowed ISIS to spread. This does not augur well for its survival. The Saudi brand of intolerant, narrow-minded Wahhabi-Salafi Sunni Islam is not much different from al-Baghdadi’s modern day caliphate.
Although surprised at the rapid growth of ISIS, Western policymakers should not be bewildered by the rise of yet another terrorist group. In the past 20 years, the world has witnessed the emergence of al-Qaeda as a global jihadist group, Jama’a Islamiyya in Southeast Asia, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Qaeda in North Africa, al-Qaeda in Iraq, Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Islamic Fighting Group in Libya, al-Shabab in Somalia, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a few more localised bands of terrorists across the greater Middle East.

In every case, Western countries described the groups as a “gathering threat” and mobilised friendly countries, including autocratic rulers, against the perceived dangers.

Policy and intelligence analysts spent untold hours and travelled thousands of miles tracking the movements of these groups and their leaders, and writing briefs and reports about the nature of the threat.

Most of these analytic reports have focused on “current” issues. Only a meagre effort has been expended on long-term strategic analysis of the context of radical and terrorist groups and their root causes. It’s as if we are doomed to fight yesterday’s wars with no time to look into the context that gives rise to these groups. President Barack Obama’s recent statement that his administration had no strategy to fight the ISIS menace in Syria epitomises this analytical paralysis.

Regional problem

ISIS is primarily a threat to Arab countries, not to the United States and other Western countries. The more Sunni Arab states remain silent in the face of this pseudo-religious vulgarity, the sooner terrorism would be at their door. Arab society under the yoke of extremist Islamism must be addressed from within the region, not by American airstrikes or Western military intervention.

If the Islamic State expands beyond the Levant, it will plunge Arab societies into militancy, bloody conflicts, and depravity devoid of free thought, creativity, and economic prosperity.

The threat that Western societies could potentially face would come not from ISIS but from the hundreds of their young citizens who joined ISIS. These young jihadists, who hail from the U.S., Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Australia, and other countries, have joined ISIS either as “walk-in” volunteers or as a result of ISIS’ sophisticated social media recruiting campaign. They left their seemingly comfortable lives for all kinds of political, psychological, religious, or ideological reasons to fight for a “cause” they are not terribly clear about.

If they survive the fighting, they would return home having been brainwashed against the perceived decadence of Western Christian societies and the imagined “purity” of their faith. Their imported emotional contradictions would drive some of them to relive their jihadist experience in the Levant by committing acts of violence and terrorism against their fellow citizens.

The so-called caliphate, whether in the Levant or West Africa, is a backward perversion of Sunni Islam that opposes modernity in all of its manifestation – interfaith dialogue, women’s education, minority rights, tolerance, and reason. A self-proclaimed successor to the Prophet Muhammad, al-Baghdadi’s Islamic State in the Syrian Desert is violating every principle of Muhammad’s Islamic State in Medina in the 7th century.

Some Bush-era neo-cons and Republican hawks in the Senate who are clamouring for U.S. military intervention in Syria seem to have forgotten the lessons they should have learned from their disastrous invasion of Iraq over a decade ago. Military action cannot save a society when it’s regressing on a warped trajectory of the Divine – ISIS’ proclaimed goal.

As long as Arab governments are repressive, illegitimate, sectarian, and incompetent, they will be unable to halt the ISIS offensive. In fact, many of these regimes have themselves to blame for the appeal of ISIS. They have cynically exploited religious sectarianism to stay in power.

If it is true that a young man is not radicalised and does not become a terrorist overnight and if it is true that a terrorist group does not develop in a vacuum, then it’s time to stand back and take a strategic look at the factors that drive ISIS and similar Sunni terrorist groups in the Arab world.

1. Intolerant Doctrine. Some Arab Sunni regimes, including Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, continue to preach an intolerant religious Sunni ideology that denigrates not only other faiths but also Shia Islam. Christian religious places and educational institutions cannot operate freely in places like Saudi Arabia.

Much of the anger that has characterised the Islamisation of Muslim societies in recent years has been directed against these institutions. This type of harassment is felt across the region, from Palestine to Saudi Arabia. What makes this reality especially sad is the fact that Christian institutions have been at the forefront of Arab educational renaissance since the 19th century.

The Sunni regimes’ benign neglect of the rapidly spreading Sunni violent ideology and its divisive sectarian policies has allowed ISIS to spread. This does not augur well for its survival. The Saudi brand of intolerant, narrow-minded Wahhabi-Salafi Sunni Islam is not much different from al-Baghdadi’s modern day caliphate.

The Saudis oppose ISIS because of its perceived threat to the regime, but they cannot disavow their theological worldview, which rejects Shia Islam, Christianity, and Judaism and denies women their rightful place as equal citizens. The rapidly spreading ISIS doctrine is making it a bit late for the Saudis and other Sunni regimes to act. Nor will the West be able to bail them out.

2. Arab Autocracy. Sunni Arab dictators have refused their peoples freedoms of speech, organisation, political activism, innovation, and creativity. The three “deficits” of freedom, education, and women’s rights that Arab intellectuals identified in the Arab Human Development Report in 2002 are yet to be meaningfully addressed.

Politics is controlled by the powerful with no room for reason or compromise among the different stakeholders and centres of power in society. Those on top commit all kinds of dastardly deeds to stay in power, and those at the bottom are doomed to remain stuck in the proverbial “bottom one billion.” Regimes do not allow the meaningful separation of powers, checks and balances, and independent judiciaries to properly function. Control, fear, and co-optation remain the preferred tools of Arab dictators.

3. Hypocrisy of “Values.” President Obama has often invoked American values of liberty, human rights, equality, justice, and fairness as the underpinnings of U.S. democracy and of “what makes us who we are.” Yet when Arab publics see Washington steadfastly supporting Arab dictators, who are the antithesis of American “values,” the United States comes across as hypocritical and untrustworthy.

The debates within Islam over whether the faith should return to its 7th century roots, as ISIS’s ruthlessness has shown, or leap into the 21st century modern world, as Turkey has demonstrated, should primarily concern Muslims. They and they alone are the ones to resolve this quandary. ISIS is a violent symptom of this tug of war between intolerant traditionalists and forward-looking reformists. The West should stay out of the debate.

Western security and law enforcement agencies should focus on their own citizens and track their would-be jihadists, but Western military aircraft should stay out of the skies of the Levant.

Edited by Ronald Joshua

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS-Inter Press Service.

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