Tag Archives: Nato

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The death of Michael Jackson dominated news coverage this week, pushing other major developments aside. Indeed, with so much popular interest generated that popular sites like Twitter and Facebook were overwhelmed with traffic and unable to keep up with bandwidth demands. By Sunday morning, networks were slowly returning to other coverage.

In other news from the previous week:

1. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband issued a statement expressing “deep concern” over the decision of the Iranian government to arrest eight local employees working in Tehran. The eight Iranian employees at the British embassy were charged with involvement in the ongoing protest over the outcome of Iran’s presidential elections. The arrests follow developments last week in which Britain and Iran each expelled two of the other’s diplomats. The arrests (and the continuing deteriorating relationship more generally) will likely be a topic for informal discussions at the G8 meeting this weekend.

2. Meetings between NATO and Russian foreign ministers over the weekend set the stage for greater cooperation in Afghanistan, counter-terrorism, and nuclear proliferation. Relations between Russia and the west had deteriorated after the Georgian war last year. The Russian government also announced plans to restructure the country’s military.

3. Taro Aso, Japan’s prime minister, is facing increasing pressure to resign from his post ahead of general elections which must be held by October. Aso’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan has dominated post-war Japanese politics, ruling the country for all but 11 months of the last 53 years. But Japan’s ongoing economic crisis, combined with allegations of corruption and political infighting within the LDP, has led to a sharp decline in popular support for the party—and a potential radical shift in Japanese politics, with the opposition Democratic Party of Japan poised to seize the opportunity.

4. Lebanon’s new prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, has begun the task of forming a new parliament for the country. Hariri won a surprising victory over rival Hizbollah last month, but now faces the daunting task of uniting Lebanon’s three rival factions, the Sunnis, Shi’as, and Christians. In order to maintain good relations between Lebanon’s three factions, Hariri has proposed to establish a government of national unity. (glossary) But Hizbollah has so far refused to accept the possibility of a unity government unless it is granted veto power, a development which Hariri opposes. Hariri was the favored candidate of the United States and Saudi Arabia, but was sharply opposed by Syria. Stable relations between the three countries are seen as vital to the maintenance of peace and stability in Lebanon.

5. Human Rights Watch accused the government of Zimbabwe of engaging in murder, forced labor, and torture in its diamond mining operations in the Marange district in the eastern part of the country. The accusations come shortly after a campaign by the country’s prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, failed to secure the western economic aid it had hoped for. Zimbabwe faces considerable challengesin its attempt to address the ongoing economic and political crisis which has plagued the country for more than a year. While inflation has come down from its record 231 million percent last year, the political standoff between President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980, and his political rival, Prime Minister Tsvangirai, remains unresolved.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The headlines this week were dominated by the G20 summit in London. The final communiqué produced by the summit committed $1.1 trillion to the International Monetary Fund (little of which was actually new money) and pledged some reforms for the structure of the institution. But the G20 was unable to agree on a new global stimulus package and failed to create an effective system of regulating global finance.

In other news from the last week:

1. Nuclear politics moved in two opposite directions over the weekend.  North Korea on Sunday launched a rocket over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. The launch, widely viewed as a precursor to the development of an intercontinental ballistic missile system capable of striking the western United States, produced a sharp rebuke from other states, including Japan, South Korea, and the United States. According to a statement issued by the government of North Korea, the rocket successfully delivered into orbit a satellite transmitting revolutionary songs back to the earth.  But according to reports from the Pentagon, the rocket and its payload fell into the Pacific Ocean after the second stage of the rocket failed to properly ignite.  The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to take up the topic on Sunday afternoon.

2. As part of a policy review commissioned by the Obama administration, the United States government is considering a dramatic change in policy vis-à-vis Iran. While the U.S. has maintained its steadfast opposition to Iranian enrichment efforts, Iran has maintained its sovereign right to enrichment of nuclear fuel. The irreconcilability of the two positions has led the administration to consider dropping its opposition to Iran’s uranium enrichment in exchange for increased access by international monitors to Iranian nuclear facilities. It is generally believed that Iran currently maintains approximately 5,500 centrifuges and has amassed a stockpile of 1,000 kg of low-grade uranium, enough to produce one nuclear bomb if the uranium were sufficiently enriched.

3. A meeting of the NATO heads of government produced an agreement to deploy 5,000 additional troops to Afghanistan to monitor upcoming elections and train Afghan soldiers and police. Importantly, the alliance also agreed to appoint Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister, as its new secretary-general. Rasmussen’s appointment was initially opposed by the Turkish government, whose opposition was driven by the controversy over anti-Muslim cartoons in Danish newspapers last year. Rasmussen was nevertheless appointed to direct the organization, but his position as secretary-general raises concerns about the wisdom of appointing a director whose appointment is regarded by the Muslim world as an affront.

4. A lawsuit filed in U.S. federal courts under the Alien Tort Claims Act against Royal Dutch Shell is moving forward. Shell is being sued for their involvement in the execution of human rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa by the government of Nigeria in 1995. In bringing the suit, lawyers are hoping to force Shell to disclose their role in human rights violations in the Ogoni district of Nigeria. The case, which is scheduled to commence in New York on May 26, is also widely viewed as a test case to determine if multinational corporations can be sued for damages for their operations abroad.

5. U.S. officials announced on Thursday that it will expand the scope of funding extended to help Mexico’s anti-drug initiatives. Under the Merida Initiative, the U.S. originally committed to providing the Mexican government with $300 million to help in anti-drug efforts. In response to calls by the Calderón government, some now believe that the U.S. may expand the initiative to as much as $1.4 billion.

Five Stories You Mihgt Have Missed

The big stories in the United States this week were the landfall of hurricane Ike and the impact of the failure of Lehman Brothers investment bank.  Here are other important stories that you might have missed during the past week:

1. On Wednesday, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, or OPEC, announced it would cut production by 520,000 barrels per day in an attempt to keep oil prices above $100 per barrel.  The move was quickly criticized by the International Energy Agency and the White House.  The cut, OPEC’s first since December 2006, comes as oil prices have fallen to just over $100 per barrel, a decrease of more than 30% from peak prices several months ago.

2. On Saturday night, a series of bomb blasts tore through New Delhi.  The five explosions killed 25 and wounded more than 90.  An additional four explosive devices were found before they detonated.  Although no group has yet claimed responsibility, police believe that the bombings may be linked to one of India’s banned Muslim groups, such as the Students Islamic Movement or the Indian Mujahideen.

3. The longstanding political impasse in Zimbabwe appeared to be diffused last week when the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Popular Front (ZANU-PF) and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) reached a power-sharing deal.  The details of the deal have not yet been released, but both sides view the new government of national unity as a victory.  Despite the agreement, concerns over the country’s political stability and economic collapse remain.  Inflation in Zimbabwe is currently estimated to be more than 10 million percent.

4. On Thursday, the Financial Times reported that the Chinese government had used its foreign exchange reserve funds to pressure Costa Rica to sever ties with Taiwan and establish relations with Beijing. If confirmed, the move would mark the most dramatic use of China’s $1.8 trillion forex reserves as a tool of Chinese foreign policy.

5. In an interview with Charlie Gibson last week, Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin declared on Thursday that the United States would be obligated to go to war with Russia if Georgia were a member of Nato.  McCain has advocated a more aggressive stance towards Russia over the past several months, but Palin’s announcement was the first time the idea of direct confrontation between the two Cold War rivals has been specifically mentioned.

How do we “Recognize” a State?

The South Ossetia crisis continues.  Yesterday, the Russian government announced yesterday that it would recognize the two (former?) Georgian regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  Nato’s Secretary General, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, condemned Russia’s move, saying it was a “direct violation of numerous UN Security Council resolutions regarding Georgia’s territorial integrity” and cautioning Russia that “Nato firmly supports the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia and calls on Russia to respect these principles.”
 
South Ossetia and Abkhazia have long demanded independence from Georgia.  But Russia’ recognition of the two has some important implications.  The 1933 Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States outlines the four fundamental criteria for statehood. According to the treaty,

The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications:
(a) a permanent population;
(b) a defined territory;
(c) government; and
(d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.

The requirement that a state have the “capacity to enter into relations with other states” has usually been interpreted as meaning a state is recognized by other states.  Unilateral recognition is not usually sufficient.  Thus, Russia’s recognition of the two regions as independent states does not necessarily make them states.  And the hesitation of other countries to follow suit suggests that further movement towards statehood may not be forthcoming.  Recognition by the United Nations has usually been used as shorthand for meeting this criterion. But some states may choose not to participate as members of the United Nations (e.g., Switzerland), while others may be excluded for political reasons (e.g., Taiwan). 

Deciding whether a state is a state or not can be surprisingly difficult.  Some states fail to meet all of the criteria, particularly if we also carry over Weber’s definition that a state “possess a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force.”  By that definition, countries like Iraq Afghanistan, and Somalia would also not qualify, despite their membership in the United Nations.

Given this difficulty, it is also difficult to get an exact count on the number of states in the world.  There are currently 192 members of the United Nations.  The United States, however, recognizes 194 (including the Vatican and Kosovo, which are not recognized by the United Nations).  Taiwan may also be added to the list.  Palestine aspires to statehood, and the Palestinian government is recognized by many countries, but is not included in the total.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The closing of the Beijing Olympics and Barack Obama’s announcement of his Vice-Presidential candidate have been the two most widely covered stories over the past few days.  Here are a few other important stories from the past week:

1.  Growing instability in Afghanistan: A Taliban attack outside of Kabul, Afghanistan, resulted in the deaths of ten French soldiers.  The attack appeared to be part of a coordinated effort by the Taliban against Nato forces in the country, coinciding with another attack against US forces in the southwestern part of the country.  The attacks highlight the shortage of material and soldiers  in the country.  Attending a memorial service for the soldiers, French President Nicolas Sarkozy asserted that he would continue French involvement in Afghanistan, asserting that it was “essential to the freedom of the world.”  Reflecting growing tensions in the country, the government of Afghanistan on Friday accused Nato of killing 76 civilians, mostly children, during operations against Taliban insurgents.

2. The Crisis in South Ossetia: After negotiating a ceasefire, Russia and the west once again appear unable to resolve their differences over Russian withdrawal.  Russia has rejected Nato’s call for a total withdrawal to pre-crisis positions.  Nato has moved to isolate Russia, and in return Russia has cancelled joint military operations with Nato countries.  The crisis gave new impetus to the United States and Poland to sign a missile defense shield.  Demonstrating the link between international security and global political economy, the crisis also helped to push oil prices higher and marked the beginning of a trend of western investors pulling their money from Russia at a rate not seen since the Russian Ruble crisis of 1998.

3. The Rise of Food Neo-Colonialism: In a report issued on Tuesday, Jacques Dious, director general of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, warned that the drive for farmland could result in the development of a neo-colonial system for agriculture.  Driven by record high commodity prices, foreign direct investment in farms and agricultural production has grown dramatically over the last couple of years.

4. The Pakistani Presidential Race: After the departure of embattled Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf last week, the struggle to find a new president has begun.  Mohammad Mian Soomro, chair of Pakistan’s Senate, has been named acting President and is heading the search for a new leader.  Asif Ali Zardari, widower of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, has emerged as the leading candidate from the Pakistan People’s Party, the largest party in the parliament.  

5. Unified European Parliament: After part of the ceiling of the European Parliament in Strasbourg collapsed last week, the Parliament was forced to cancel its monthly trek from Brussels to Strasbourg.  The Parliament traditionally moved to the French city of Strasbourg from Brussels for its monthly meetings, despite the fact that the majority of the Union’s administrative and bureaucratic support—not to mention its most important institutions—are based in Brussels, Belgium.  The move, widely denounced by both the EU’s proponents and opponents—costs an estimated €200 million (($350 million) per year.  It is hoped that the forced relocation of the Parliament may encourage a reconsideration of the monthly move, although French opposition may be hard to overcome.