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One Problem With A “League of Democracies”

Mark is right to call attention to the “new international institutions” that John McCain alluded to in his speech today. In proposing a “League of Democracies” — an idea that, interestingly, resembles a Bush administration proposal from September 2005 — McCain’s speech very neatly mirrors the foreign policy address he gave at the Hoover Institution over a year ago, when he first launched the idea of an organization that “could act where the U.N. fails to act.” What, exactly, does he have in mind? Straight from the horse’s mouth, courtesy of an op-ed he wrote in Financial Times last week:

The nations of the Nato alliance and the European Union…must have the ability and the will to act in defence of freedom and economic prosperity. They must spend the money necessary to build effective military and civilian capabilities that can be deployed around the world, from the Balkans to Afghanistan, from Chad to East Timor.

While McCain’s commitment to working together with other countries is welcome, his seemingly singular focus on a U.S.-Europe alliance could detract significantly from the objective of international cooperation. True, the UN General Assembly often grapples with tensions between the global “North” and the global “South,” between “developed” countries and the “developing” 130 countries in the so-called “G-77.” The existence of these tensions — which often frustrate American objectives — is not, however, a reason to exclude such a substantial number of states from the global decision-making process.

In the 1950′s and 60′s, the UN reached a seminal point in its history, welcoming a flood of newly decolonized countries in Asia and Africa. To create an alliance consisting largely of militarily strong ex-colonial powers would be, to say the least, a disturbing development, both philosophically and practically. If as President McCain is serious about working with the rest of the world to address the pressing problems of the day, then he should commit to working with the — admittedly imperfect, but hugely necessary — institution that already exists — the United Nations.

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McCain calls for Strengthening the NPT through Disarmament

On the heels of his trip to the middle east, John McCain is billed to give a major foreign policy address today. The Washington Post got its hands on some highlights.

“The United States cannot lead by virtue of its power alone,” McCain said. Instead, the country must lead by attracting others to its cause, demonstrating the virtues of freedom and democracy, defending the rules of an international civilized society, and creating new international institutions to advance peace and freedom, he said.

“If we lead by shouldering our international responsibilities and pointing the way to a better and safer future for humanity … it will strengthen us to confront the transcendent challenge of our time: the threat of radical Islamic terrorism,” said McCain.

Naturally, “creating new international institutions” catches my attention. Later in the article, it seems that McCain is referring to building a coalition of democracies and renewing American commitment to nuclear disarmament through strengthening the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. For a thorough explanation of why this first idea may be problematic, I’ll encourage readers to (pre) order Matt Yglesias’ new book Heads in the Sand. Meanwhile, it’s really encouraging to see McCain throw his support behind not just disarmament, but the NPT in general.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, created in 1968, maintains that nuclear weapons proliferation can only be curtailed if nuclear countries make moves toward disarmament and the rest of the world be allowed to access civilian nuclear technology. However, this “three pillar” strategy has taken a beating in recent years, in part because some nuclear powers have largely ignored its disarmament protocols in pursuit of so-called tactical nuclear weapons. Re-affirming American support for nuclear disarmament is not only a good thing on its own, but it helps to strengthen our entire international non-proliferation regime. Supporting the NPT– which means abiding by its precepts and working with allies to raise the costs of non-compliance — is critical to curtailing the global spread of nuclear weapons.

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Celebrities and their UN-affiliated Causes

Angelina Jolie looks after refugees, Drew Barrymore helps feed the world, Nicole Kidman takes on violence against women and Bono promotes the MDG’s. But this week belongs to Jay-Z, who explains why water is for life.

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Colbert’s Water Day episode

For those of you who missed it, Stephen Colbert dedicated his entire show last Thursday to World Water Day. He introduced Aqua Colbert, visited the American Museum of Natural History’s water exhibit, and interviewed Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway and a promising new water purification system.

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The Questionable Efficacy of a “Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Sudan” Strategy

Mark Helprin’s “Bomb Sudan” piece in the New York Times today would have been a bit more persuasive back in 2004-2005, when the Sudanese government was more directly responsible for the fighting in Darfur. Today, it reads as completely detached from reality on the ground.
Helprin advocates a bombing campaign targeted against Sudanese military interests in Darfur in order to force Khartoum to “stop the mass killings and dislocation and…to pressure Sudan into negotiating settlements in good faith,” This is obviously a sentiment which I would totally agree. However, Helprin seems to not really have paid much attention to political and military developments in Darfur over the last two years.

Ever since the Darfur Peace Agreement in May 2005, the conflict has proliferated from the government and janjaweed vs three distinct rebel groups to a conflict that pits a panoply of over 15 rebel groups fighting the government, former janjaweed, each other, and sometimes humanitarian workers and peacekeepers. Some of the janjaweed have joined the regular Sudanese armed forces, some have joined the rebels. (This International Crisis Group report gives an excellent overview of each group’s parochial aims.)

Frankly, there is a reason that people who follow the situation in Darfur most closely, like activists at the Save Darfur Coalition or experts at the International Crisis Group or Enough Campaign do not advocate strategic bombing. After the dust settles and the Sudanese army is evicted from Darfur, what kind of peace do we expect will take hold? To be sure, the government is responsible for much of the violence, but not all of it–IDP camps and villages will still be attacked by marauding janjaweed and rebels.

Countries with sophisticated air power capabilities can bomb all they want, but bombing alone will not protect people as they gather firewood or water or help them return home. Rather, security for people on the people of Darfur can only be achieved through a large infusion of ground forces in Darfur. So far, the only organizations willing to take on this challenge are the African Union and UN peacekeeping, which Helprin dismisses as a “camping trip to the tower of babble.” The fact is, these peacekeepers that Helprin mocks are the only armed forces putting their lives on the line to save Darfur. We just need more of them–and they need more equipment like APCs and Helicopters. The best way to provide security for the people of Darfur is to empower the peacekeeping mission there, not devote precious resources to a fanciful bombing campaign.

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Tuesday Morning Coffee

Top Stories

>>Pakistan – Within minutes of assuming his new role, Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Yousaf Gillani released a dozen judges, including Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry, detained by President Musharraf last year. PM Gillani also called for a UN investigation into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

>>Iraq – Government security forces battled with Shi’ite militias in Basra today in an attempt to bring the city under federal control. The battle may prove important in the British exit strategy. Meanwhile, followers of Muqtada al Sadr continued to engage in a national civil disobedience campaign.

>>Comoros – The archipelago nation of Comoros, located off the coast of Mozambique, has, with the assistance of 1,350 African Union troops, taken control of the rebel island of Anjouan. Anjouan, an island of 300,000, was led by Mohamed Bacar, who had clung to power after an illegal election last year. Comoros has endured 20 coups since it gained independence in 1975.

>>Tibet – Protesting Tibetan monks, joined by locals hundreds of locals to call for the return of the Dalai Lama, were fired on by Chinese paramilitaries in Garze, which borders Tibet. Reports suggest that at least two were killed.

Yesterday in UN Dispatch

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