Yearly Archives: 2009
Former G.W. Bush speechwriter Marc Thiessen somehow finds a way to argue that U.S. unilateral reductions of nuclear weapons are better than talks with Russia to reduce both of our arsenals. He seems to think that a policy of simply requesting Russia to eliminate nuclear warheads is more effective than what he sees as overly complicated negotiations toward the decidedly uncomplicated goal (yes, that’s sarcasm) of achieving nuclear disarmament. Apparently, all it took to reduce nuclear weapons was a little soul-staring.
What nonproliferation steps would Thiessen have us take, then? Why, build more nukes, of course!
Instead of pressing the Senate to act on the [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty], the administration should be calling on Congress to restore the funding it eliminated last year for the Reliable Replacement Warhead program, which would allow us to develop new warheads without the need for nuclear testing and thus ensure the reliability of America’s nuclear deterrent.
To argue that developing nuclear weapons is a necessary component of American defense is one thing; to employ this paragraph as part of an arms control strategy is completely nonsensical. Achieving reductions in nuclear weapons will require negotiations; sometimes these will be complicated, and they will also require treaties. Ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and fully implementing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — let alone actually meeting with other nuclear states, which I thought was a no-brainer even for Russophobes — are two of the simplest steps the Obama Administration can take toward a sane and effective non-proliferation policy. Even dinosaurs should be able to understand that.
UPDATE: Perhaps unsurprisingly, S-G Ban agrees: multilateralism is the only way to go.
Writing in The Argument, former UN Development Program representative in Iran Francesco Bastagli emphasizes that the most important dynamic in U.S. policy toward Iranian nuclear capacity is to understand why, particularly domestically, Iran is pushing for nukes. From reading this Michael Crowley post, I’d recommend taking into account the stances of neighboring Arab nations as well.
To the under-accounted potential global warming-related disasters (I’m thinking along the lines of ruined artwork, not entire island nations being swallowed up by the ocean) add mysteriously dying penguins, sardines, and baby flamingos in Chile. A study of this morbid mystery has not yet confirmed suspicions that global warming is the culprit, but for the sake of beachgoers who do not want to smell millions of dead sardines, precautionary measures can only help.
Stratfor agrees with me that the Tamil Tigers won’t necessarily need a territorial base to re-group and re-terrorize the population, and that Sri Lanka’s solution will ultimately have to be political, not military.
(image from flickr user quiplash! under a Creative Commons license)
Reports are emerging that Ethiopian troops have incurred (again) on Ethiopian territory. If the rumors are true — and I don’t doubt that it’s hard to
know for certain in this ambiguous border area — then it goes without saying that an(other) Ethiopian invasion of Somalia would be even worse for the country’s prospects than a premature UN peacekeeping mission (which, fortunately, still does not seem popular in the Security Council; even the countries that are now willing to actually provide some troops are urging restraint).
I see a number of possibilities here. Ethiopian troops might not actually be in Somalia — or, more likely, at least not invading. Ethiopia, naturally, denies the reports. Under this scenario, either Somali observers would have to have been over-eager to spot Ethiopian soldiers (possible, but a stretch), or the Somali state media has some interest in raising the possibility of Ethiopian invasion. This would be curious, because while practically any Somali political group could attempt to stoke its popularity by calling out the much-disliked Ethiopian military, this kind of scaremongering tactic seems to befit the al-Shabab militants more than it does the Somali government. Not even the presence of foreign peacekeepers would galvanize the extremist al-Shabab cause than a renewed war with Ethiopia.
More probably, however, some Ethiopian troops have flitted across the border into Somalia. Remember — the peace deal under which the Ethiopians withdrew from their two-year occupation stipulated that they could return if they perceived a relevant threat. With al-Shabab forces recently advancing further in Somalia, the point at which Ethiopia deems it necessary to launch another full-scale invasion might be nearing (even an African Union official said he “would not be overly surprised” if this were to happen).
This reading — that Ethiopian movement is in response to a growing al-Shabab threat — probably makes the most sense, but we shouldn’t forget another player in the region: Eritrea. If Eritrea is indeed funneling arms to al-Shabab, Ethiopia could be acting out of agitation with its neighbor’s continued interference. And in this light, the Somali state media attention could be a not-so-subtle message to Eritrea: quit it, or a bigger fish might get involved.
That, or it’s just big news. Check out this Al-Jazeera video for more good questions, interesting analysis, and heated debate from all sides.
I don’t want to be seen as reflexively comparing everything to Rwanda, but Sri Lanka’s situation bears some similarities as well: an extremist (and terrorist) group of violent separatists, squashed by an aggressive military offensive, creating a dangerous glut of displaced persons and the need to deftly manage potentially volatile post-conflict ethnic politics. And now, Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, seems to be taking a page from Paul Kagame’s book in simply declaring that there is no such thing as ethnicity in Sri Lanka. And his seemingly sincere words of reconciliation — spoken, not insignificantly, in the Tamil language — notwithstanding, my legitimate concerns of ethnicity-based reprisals were not exactly assuaged by this comment by Rajapaksa:
“There are no minority communities in this country. There are only two communities, one that loves this country and another that does not,” he said.
I don’t think that kind of confrontational rhetoric is exactly the way to win the hearts and minds of moderate Tamils still interested in some sort of autonomy. The dangerous ambiguity and Manichean articulation of patriotism in this statement should give pause to anyone worried about the fragile state of post-LTTE society in Sri Lanka.
(image from flickr user indi.ca under a Creative Commons license)
The Pakistani military operation in the Taliban stronghold of the mountainous Swat Valley is creating massive displacement that is destabilizing and immensely confusing, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. The situation also has the potential to balloon into the gravest refugee crisis since one of the most destabilizing events of the past 15 years.
Almost 1.5 million people have registered for assistance since fighting erupted three weeks ago, the UNHCR said, bringing the total number of war displaced in North West Frontier province to more than 2 million, not including 300,000 the provincial government believes have not registered. “It’s been a long time since there has been a displacement this big,” the UNHCR’s spokesman Ron Redmond said in Geneva, trying to recall the last time so many people had been uprooted so quickly. “It could go back to Rwanda.” [emphasis mine]
This is a staggering number of people being displaced in a chaotic, dangerous part of the world. The only reason that the crisis has not reached disaster level is because Pakistani families in the area, impressively united in their opposition to the Taliban, have taken over 80% of the refugees in to their homes. But even the most hospitable of families can only host 85 people in their home for so long…
(image from UNHCR)
The Miami Herald is reporting that the UN will make an official announcement tomorrow.
“It is an honor to accept the secretary general’s invitation to become special envoy to Haiti,” former President Clinton said in a statement to The Miami Herald. ‘Last year’s natural disasters took a great toll, but Haiti’s government and people have the determination and ability to `build back better,’ not just to repair the damage done but to lay the foundations for the long-term sustainable development that has eluded them for so long.”
He’s been there before, of course (and with pretty distinguished company), and has long been interested in the country. Laura Rozen has more, and to Spencer Ackerman’s legitimate question — will Haiti’s government suppose that this provides it with a diplomatic “backchannel” to the White House? — I can only answer relatively pro forma: Bill is the UN‘s envoy to Haiti, not the United States’. And while, sure, the United States is the major player on the world stage (and especially on quasi-neighboring Haiti’s), Clinton provides no greater official connection between Haiti and the U.S. than, say, Kai Eide does between Afghanistan and Norway. Eide’s wife is not Norway’s foreign minister, of course (not that I know of, at least), but I can easily envision Obama making it pretty clear to his Haitian counterpart that Bill will not be playing unofficial go-between for Haiti’s government and his wife.
The SG: In Ethiopia over the weekend, the SG is now in the United Arab Emirates. Today he met with Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashed Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, where the two discussed developments in the region, including Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and in the Middle East Peace Process.