article placeholder

Statistic of the day

During the past two decades, the quantity of weapons-usable nuclear material safeguarded by the [International Atomic Energy Agency] has increased tenfold without a corresponding growth in funding.

That's from a great article by Richard Weitz at World Politics Review, on the challenges facing incoming IAEA director Yukiya Amano.

The thrust of the piece -- that Amano is facing some really difficult challenges -- underscores a point that we didn't really make in our coverage of the contentious IAEA elections: that whoever its director is, be (s)he from the global North or South, the IAEA's success will depend mostly on the countries that make up its members -- and, of course, donors.

Point is, IAEA countries will have to pony up.  The Obama Administration has requested a twofold increase in funding from the U.S., which is good, so long as it follows through.  It also makes current director Mohamed El Baradei's request for an 11% budget increase seem eminently reasonable.

On the operational side, the countries that aren't meeting their commitments to the agency -- or are flouting them -- need to either fall in line, or face the possibility that the IAEA be strengthened enough to be able to levy automatic sanctions on rule-breakers, which is an option that Weitz raises in his piece.

Let's hope Amano is getting ready for his tenure to begin in November, but, even more so, let's hope that every country -- from the nuclear powers to the nuclear longshots -- will support him more than they have his predecessor.

article placeholder

Does stopping climate change only require two countries?

Recognizing that the issues on which the United States and Russia are extremely unlikely agree to are limited to a relatively small sub-sphere is, unfortunately and erroneously, not enough for some commentators.  Dave Schuler, at Outside the Beltway, for example, finds nothing on which the former Cold War foes can build a relationship.  Yet how Schuler can argue in one paragraph that "[t]here is no more important bilateral relationship between nations than that between Russia and the United States" and in the next that "[w]e don’t really need Russia’s cooperation on pressing world issues like climate change" is utterly baffling to me.  His point is that, as much as the two countries need a good relationship, "there isn't much basis" for one.  On the contrary -- I'd argue quite easily that the very need for this good relationship -- evidenced by, say, their ability, cited by Schuler, "to destroy the world" -- is more than basis enough.

Dan Drezner respectfully disagrees with the logic Schuler uses to connect Russia's strategic position with its U.S. relationship.  The flaws in the logic that he uses to dismiss the mutual needs and interests of this relationship, I'd add, are encapsulated by that flabbergasting statement: "We don’t really need Russia’s cooperation on pressing world issues like climate change."  As a country, Russia is the world's third largest emitter of greenhouse gases.  China, the United States, then Russia.  How, pray tell, could any global emissions reductions system have any success whatsoever without inducing Russia to stopper its smokestacks?

(This is precluding, of course, the admittedly rather faint possibility of one particularly environmentally interested country, or billionaire, saying "screw it" and sucking all of the carbon out of the atmosphere themselves.)

(image from flickr user otodo under a Creative Commons license)

article placeholder

Obama, Medvedev pledge to reduce nukes, dress the same

Diplomacy in action:

At a signing ceremony, Obama and Medvedev, wearing identical dark suits, white shirts and red ties, pledged to finalise a treaty by the year-end to cut the number of deployed nuclear warheads on each side to 1,500-1,675 from levels above 2,200.

If they both happened to wear the same thing, then maybe they just happened to choose similar target numbers for warhead reductions.

Of course, that's not how diplomacy is conducted. I have to agree with Matt Yglesias that, in terms of negotiating with Russia, the game of huffing and puffing about topics on which neither side is at all likely to budge is far inferior to conducting negotiations on issues about which the two countries may actually come to an agreement. If one of these happens to be fashion, then so be it.

To read this Wall Street Journal editorial, one might seriously conclude that Medvedev doesn't deserve to wear the power suit that befits an American president.

Here's an idea. Set aside the dime-store national psychoanalysis and return to first American principles and interests. This summit rests on a fiction: That Russia is an equal power to the U.S. that can offer something concrete in return for American indulgence.

Here's the thing. It doesn't matter that Russia is not "an equal power." Nobody this side of the Cold War is disputing that. But it doesn't change the fact that Russia and the United States have some interests in common, and other issues in which they differ, but both have a lot at stake. The way to achieve these "first American principles and interests" is not to rail against Russia's autocracy and heavy-handed role in certain small, independent countries in its orbit (the protection of Georgia's freedom may be important, but an American "principle" of the first order?). Reducing Russia's nuclear stockpile, securing its cooperation in fighting climate change -- these are the concrete goals that the Journal scorns. And it's going to take something much more nuanced than "indulgence" -- and, okay, more substantive than matching suits -- to reach them.

A picture of the two leaders from before their historic agreement to wear suits that are more than just almost identical.

(image from The Official White House Photostream)
article placeholder

More bombs, more sanctions?

The Security Council is holding a closed-doors meeting in five about two minutes to discuss North Korea's most recent missile launch.  In the meantime...

A U.N. sanctions committee is considering blacklisting more North Korean companies and individuals for supporting Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs. It is meant to complete its work by Friday.

The folks in Pyongyang don't seem to be doing themselves any favors.

article placeholder

A couple of positive outcomes from the UN investigation in Gaza

Even though Israel is not participating, or did not allow the commission -- headed by South African judge Richard Goldstone -- to pass through Israeli territory, it seems to have helped bring about two developments that can be applauded.

First, despite its opposition to the probe, which is mandated to investigate actions of both the Israeli military and Hamas, the Israeli government has agreed to provide compensation for the damage inflicted upon UN buildings, including a school, in Gaza during the December/January offensive.  This is a welcome step, though it does not of course excuse the inexcusable: bombing a UN building, even by accident, but particularly if targeted, makes Ban Ki-moon very, very angry.

Second, and more directly, the commission was able to hear from Israeli witnesses, most prominently the father of captured soldier Gilad Shalit, in Geneva.  That the investigation is seeking out such witnesses should be signs enough to the Israeli brass that it is not "hopelessly biased," but alas, that train, as they say, has sailed.

article placeholder

Sanctions might be working, but North Korean politics are still crazy

Analyzing the rumor that Kim Jong-Un might not be North Korea's next designated "Dear Leader" "Brilliant Comrade" after all, Brian Fung speculates that Pyongyang's internal political dynamics might just be responding to the pressure of UN sanctions.

Without reading too much into it, the announcement raises a handful of questions. One: does this mean UN sanctions are having an effect? Jong-Un's close association with the North Korean military could be a liability at a time when the regime's funds have been frozen overseas, and its cargo ships are under surveillance. Picking a less militant leader could prompt the UN Security Council to loosen the sanctions, or lift them entirely.

I'd like to believe it, but I'm not sold. What last month's missile tests seemed to indicate was that North Korea's military hardliners were making their presence felt, responding to questions of Kim Jong Il's choice of successor with an emphatic "we're still the ones in control." And while I wouldn't preclude the possibility of North Korea's leaders amping up their rhetoric to the outside world as a way to conceal any possible internal moderation, threats of a "fire shower of nuclear retaliation" don't exactly befit a state that wants to move away from a political system dominated by the military.

This is not to say that the UN sanctions aren't working. As Brian's FP colleague James Downie wrote yesterday, the North Korean ship that a U.S. destroyer has been tracking -- and that may or may not have been carrying banned nuclear materials -- abruptly turned around. This could indeed have been an elaborate North Korean ruse, as James suggests, but, as some of Barack Obama's more hawkish detractors would be far too quick to note, counting on the carefully measured U.S. president to launch a precipitous military strike seems a rather ill-considered gambit. More likely, I'd wager, that North Korea didn't feel so comfortable moving its cargo about with a U.S. destroyer breathing down its neck.

(image from flickr user jonprc under a Creative Commons license)

article placeholder

Kosovo joins the IMF

Kosovo's long march toward international recognition took a big step today as Kosovo became the 186th member of the International Monetary Fund. 

The Republic of Kosovo became the 186th member of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) today when President Fatmir Sejdiu and Prime Minister Hashim Thaçi signed the IMF’s original Articles of Agreement at a ceremony in Washington D.C.

 Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn welcomed President Sejdiu and Prime Minister Thaçi into the Fund at IMF headquarters.

 “It gives me great pleasure to welcome Kosovo, the first new member to join the Fund during my tenure,” Mr. Strauss-Kahn said. “Kosovo’s decision to join the Fund highlights the enduring importance of multilateralism in today’s world.”

The Managing Director expressed satisfaction with progress made in institution building in Kosovo. “I am particularly pleased with the commitment of the Kosovar authorities to further strengthening the sustainability of their policy framework.”

The obvious question is "how will Russia take it?"  The United States and some 22 EU member states decided to recognize Kosovo's sovereignty shortly after it unilaterally declared independence in February 2008. According to the website Kosovo Thanks You, 60 UN member states in total have recognized Kosovo. 

The IMF's admission of Kosovo, however, makes it the first large international institution to admit Kosovo as The Republic of Kosovo.  Unlike the UN, voting power in the IMF is attributed to a member state based in its financial contributions to the fund, meaning that western Europe and the United States wield the most power.  Thus, it would seem that Russia and its allies were powerless to stop this vote from passing. 

article placeholder

Coup in Honduras

It's mainly being looked at through a Hugo Chavez-centric lens, but yesterday, the Honduran military arrested the country's president, Manuel Zelaya, in Latin America's first post-Cold War coup. Zelaya was an ally of the Venezuelan leader, and Chavez is already blaming the CIA for having a hand in Zelaya's ouster.

The reality seems to be that this was more of an internal Honduran political affair. The Huffington Post, in fact, is reporting that the Obama Administration had been trying "for weeks" to avert a coup. So both Chavez and the United States (as well as other bedfellows like Fidel Castro and the Organization for American States) are calling on the military to restore Zelaya to power.

It's tough to say what is less democratic here, since the immediate cause of the coup was a rather Chavez-like attempt on the part of Zelaya to negate his term limits, but the U.S. State Department is playing the safe card of, you know, opposing military coups and not looking like they’re trying to topple governments in Latin America. Given U.S. history in the region, that's probably the safe bet.

Here's a video from China's CCTV. I was on the lookout for bias, but the most I found was some apparent indignation that Zelaya was "detained while still in his pajamas!"

UPDATE: Brookings' Kevin Casas-Zamora argues (in The Argument, of course) that, even though he started this whole thing, Manuel Zelaya needs to be reinstated.

article placeholder

Bolton’s Bombs: Regime change, or…bombs

Let us return to Boltonland, shall we? With yet another ridiculous op-ed in a major paper, former U.S. ambassador to the UN (*shudder*) John Bolton gives us the current state of the Battle for Iran (war has already begun!): the people are longing to rise up, but they only need a helpful American hand to help them overthrow their government (not that we haven't tried that before...); a feckless and "empathetic" Barack Obama is so eager to sit down and sip tea with Iran's hardest hardliners that he can't understand that Iran is going to nuke everyone and everything no matter what we do; and if we just poke a stick into Iran's complicated ethnic politics, everything will be hunky-dory.


As vehement as his hatred for diplomacy may be, Bolton's chief target here is, quite simply, the Obama Administration. The op-ed, like many others on Iran, is written for baldly partisan purposes. Nowhere does Bolton actually suggest how the United States could "support" his desired goal of regime change; he is able to get away with such ambiguous criticism because, were his preferred policies of strict belligerence and hawkish interference to actually be pursued, his party would bear the inevitable political fallout. As it is, though, even when he admits that "we’re not really in a position now to offer much concrete assistance" (h/t ThinkProgress), his criticism will emerge unscathed. And whenever something violent or unsavory happens in Iran -- imagine that! -- he will undoubtedly reclaim his mantle as the right wing's favorite bullish prognosticator.