Welcome to the LSE IDEAS Blog

LSE IDEAS is a centre for the study of international affairs, diplomacy and grand strategy at the London School of Economics. This blog features articles, resources, reviews and opinion pieces from academics associated with LSE IDEAS.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Colombia: potential directions in foreign policy after Uribe

What implications will the Colombian constitutional court’s decision to deny President Alvaro Uribe's bid for a third term have on the fate of the country’s foreign policy?  The decision now means that Colombia will have a new president later this year and at present the choice appears far from certain.

Uribe remains a popular figure in Colombia, on account of his strong approach to public security and the ongoing guerrilla conflict. However, this stance has led to tensions with his neighbours, including Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez, who has voiced concerns at growing US military presence and bases in Colombia (and which was discussed at an LSE Ideas Centre event earlier this month), and with Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, following the Colombian army’s cross-border raid against a FARC leader.

Within Colombia Uribe’s appeal has largely been personal and reflected in his defeat of the traditional Conservative and Liberal parties in the 2002 and 2006 elections. Nevertheless, his support of US objectives and commitment to free trade marks him out as both the US’s closest ally in the region and a conservative. Consequently, who becomes Colombia’s next president may well emerge from the right of the political spectrum and continue the present direction in foreign policy. This would have significant regional implications, especially in the new president’s dealings with Ecuador and Venezuela.

At present the Colombian newspaper, El Tiempo, reports that there are seven potential candidates for the presidency, although none of them have a significant level of support. Juan Manuel Santos looks like the strongest potential candidate from Uribe’s own organisation, the party ‘of the U’. As a former defence minister he has already courted controversy, presiding over the operation that infringed Ecuadorian sovereignty and misuse of the Red Cross symbol during the operation to free the kidnapped former presidential candidate, Íngrid Betancourt from the FARC. One might therefore expect a great degree of continuity in Colombia’s foreign policies and arguably persisting tension between Colombia and its neighbours were he elected.

However, whether Santos is a viable candidate will depend on the Conservative Party’s choice of candidate in its primary next month. If the former agricultural minister, Andrés Felipe Arias, wins the then a coalition may be achieved with Santos for the first round of the election. Arias has been a strong supporter of Uribe in the past, being among the first to defend his links with paramilitary groups. By contrast, if Noemí Sanín wins, it is likely that Colombian conservatism will be split. A former peace negotiator with the FARC during the Betancour presidency (1982-1986) and Colombia’s foreign minister (1991-94), she ran for the presidency in 1998 and 2002. During the latter she was especially critical of Uribe’s paramilitary connections. If she were to mount a serious challenge for the presidency this time, Colombia’s regional relations could potentially be less confrontational.

Guy Burton is a research associate for the Latin America International Affairs Programme at the LSE Ideas Centre.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Afghanistan: Can the troop surge be effective?

Welcome to the Shifting Sands blog at LSE IDEAS. We invite PhD students and academics from throughout the UK and abroad to analyse current events in the Middle East and add to the ongoing deliberations over policy prescriptions. Our next contributor, Karl Sandstrom, explores how well General Stanley McChrystal’s new surge strategy in Afghanistan is working.

We look forward to exploring both regional and topical issues relating to current events.
Amber Holewinski, Editor, LSE IDEAS Middle East International Affairs Programme Blog

Afghanistan – Will the surge work?

By Karl Sandstrom

The surge and connected strategy are logical when viewing the situation through Westernised lenses but pose a number of issues. General McChrystal explained the strategy of expanding bubbles of security that the surge will support in a recent interview. NATO/ISAF forces would provide a slowly expanding security presence and gradually be replaced by Afghan forces. Under this security umbrella farmers would chose to grow wheat instead of poppy and go to the market instead of to the gun. This makes perfect sense in a Western perspective. The war however is in Afghanistan.

Firstly, the surge is limited in time and there are questions about the capacity of the Afghan security forces to eventually assume responsibility. The main concern seems to be technical and numerical capacity but there are more serious issues in the shape of ethnicity. The focus of General McChrystal’s plan is on the Pashtun South of the country but the Afghan National Army is controlled by non-Pashtun groups. Government representatives have already made themselves very unpopular among other power-holders in the South. Add to this a ‘security force’ controlled by non-Pashtuns in an ethnically fragmented and violent environment and there is a distinct risk that the insurgency will grow. Ethnic mobilisation has a long shelf-life as shown, for example, in Bosnia. In Afghanistan, the civil war in the 1990’s, the ethnic divisions, and the ‘Northern Alliance’ ousting of the Taliban with outside help makes the violence recent and close to the surface. The atrocities committed against Pashtuns by other Afghans under the guise of targeting the Taliban are not likely to be forgotten any time soon. Not in Balkh, not in Kunduz, and certainly not in the South when the surge now goes on the offensive partnered with a non-Pashtun Afghan army.

Secondly, the assumption that farmers will choose the market over the gun - if surge forces provide security - assumes that mobilisation of insurgents is largely economic. This may be a contributing factor but there is also pressure from local leaders and loyalty issues involved. There exist local conflicts that put families or other factions on opposing sides and there is no reason to assume that the pattern will be different than in, for example, the Kapisa province. While the smallest of the Afghan provinces, the Southern part of it is the scene of a violent competition between a number of shuras as well as several ongoing feuds. The scale in the South of the country however will be much larger. Social constraints are very much present for local commanders but less so for outside Taliban fighters. Some local commanders have shown that they are willing to allow schools and clinics under some conditions if the population so demands. One example of local mediation is increasing Islamic teachings from two to five hours per week making a school ‘acceptable’. Understanding these dynamics at the fragmented level required, after close to 40 years of war and displacement, will be time consuming but necessary. Localised conflicts should be addressed and the surge may create a window of opportunity for doing so. If this happened it could reduce the capacity of outside insurgents and other elements to use these conflicts to gain a foothold and support in areas where they were previously not welcome. Such an effort requires understanding of the context of the local conflict and concentrated planning which unfortunately is unlikely to be in place.

Thirdly, with providing security also come a need to apply repressive pressure but the intelligence quality generates problems. Major General Flynn has criticised the capacity of the US Army for social analysis and understanding of networks and drivers in Afghanistan. There are many accounts of interpreters and others using this weakness to manipulate NATO intelligence and, for example, airstrikes can be provoked by false intelligence in order to settle local disagreements. While less trust is now placed in limited sources, the capacity to contextualise the information appears to be as weak as before. Confusingly there is a function, the Human Terrain System, created to provide social analysis and context. If this situational and operational understanding is lacking then what is the strategy of the surge and the assumptions of Afghan responses based on?

Fourthly, will US/ISAF unit commanders pull in the same direction? A few incidents involving incorrect targeting or raids on women’s wards in hospitals will jeopardise any gains. Overall NATO/ISAF command may be onboard but if unit commanders can run their own boots-through-the-door-operations the ‘security’ provided will hardly endear Afghans. While the knee-jerk modifications of reality seem to have been replaced by a standard statement along the lines of taking all allegations of misconduct seriously, will it be enough to sway the remarkably fast Afghan word-by-mouth? During research in Kabul there were repeated protests in reaction to an alleged burning of the Quran by foreign forces in Wardak. An independent Afghan investigation had reportedly concluded that the rumour was not true but it still generated large protests weeks later.

This conflict is largely about perceptions and contextualising action and intent. It is about not being perceived as an occupying force, a threat, an imposition. This has obviously been understood, but something happens between realisation and implementation in both military and civilian strategies. The right questions are there after eight years but the answers seem removed from local reality. The possible respite created by the surge should be used to understand the social context and dynamics but time appears to be in short supply. The surge looks more like an ‘Iraqification’, the propping up of the situation to create the illusion of stability and facilitate an exit.

But the perceived broken promises left behind will not be forgotten and abandonment is not likely to be forgiven. Not again.

Karl Sandstrom is currently in his final year of his PhD thesis at the University of St Andrews’ School of International Relations. He is informed by field research in the US, the UK, Somaliland (NW Somalia), and Afghanistan. Karl continues to keep a close watch on the developments in these regions and how they affect strategy formation and implementation.

Next Week: Iraq: What happens when America pulls out?

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

The poisoned bases. Reflections on the new US-Colombian military agreements.

The poisoned bases.

Reflections on the new US-Colombian military agreements.

by Vanni Pettinà

Madrid is not the Paris of the late 1970’s, the city where the Argentinean Julio Cortazar, along with a copious group of Latin American intellectuals, took shelter form the shocking bloodshed rocketing the Southern Cone in those dark years. Still, the Spanish capital city is a place where you can have interesting encounters. It was in Madrid, a few years ago, where a friend of mine, a professor at Bogotá University who fled due to the threats she has received from paramilitary groups in her country, introduced me to Roland, the front man of a Colombian music band called the Pasajeros. Roland, a skinny guy with long hair and lively eyes, had just landed in Spain as a political refugee. In July 2004, after an exhibition, the Colombian police had arrested him and the other members of the band on charges of rebellion and support for terrorism. Eventually, after this, the Pasajeros had managed to exile themselves to Spain, where they now live under the status of political refugees. Pasajeros’s music style, La Canción Propuesta, is a successful mix between the sounds of Cuban singer and songwriter Silvio Rodriguez and the Chilean folksinger Victor Jara. Their songs, whilst particularly poetic, are heavily charged with social content and, above all, are extremely critical of the Uribe government. Not surprisingly, the text of one of their song, Seguridad Democrática (Democratic Security), which is also the name adopted by the Colombian government to indicate its policies of contention of political violence in the country, was used as evidence against them. The lyrics of the song explicitly criticize the costs bared by the Colombian society in term of the reductions of freedoms and civil rights as a consequence of Álvaro Uribe’s internal counterterrorist policies.

The story of Roland and the Pasajeros popped up in my mind a few weeks ago while listening to Mauricio Rodríguez Múnera, the Colombian ambassador in London, giving a talk in a roundtable at LSE-IDEAS. The event, organized by the IDEAS Latin America International Affairs Program focused on the issue of the new military agreements between Bogotá and Washington, which give US troops broader access to Colombian military facilities placed in several distinct parts of the country. The other guests of the gathering, the journalist Grace Livingstone, Liam Craig-Best, Director of the NGO Justice For Colombia and Spencer Wood, Partner at O.H. Parsons, Trade Union solicitors, bitterly criticized the agreement, arguing that it will bring more repression within Colombia and negatively affect the already problematic human rights conditions in the country. By contrast, the skilled Colombian diplomat defended the record of the Uribe government in reducing violence and in rolling back the main guerrilla force still active in the country - the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias Colombianas (FARC) - which only a few years ago controlled a considerable part of Colombian territory. The new military agreements, the ambassador pointed out, will help to strengthen the Colombian government’s capacity to check the guerrillas and to fight against their lucrative business: narco-trafficking. The diplomat then concluded that the result, would be a clear improvement in the stability of the country and its democracy.

It is true that Uribe’s Democratic Security strategy may have brought some results when it comes to reducing insecurity. In addition, it has probably weakened the FARC, whose control over Colombian territory is now less effective and extended. Indeed, during the last decade, positive electoral results have repeatedly shown a good amount of popularity for Uribe and his party. Nonetheless, the costs in terms of human rights and political repression are, as underlined by the case of the Pasajeros and by many NGO reports, severe. A look through web pages of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch clearly highlights that, in spite of what the Ambassador argued, the problems Colombia has faced in the last forty years are all still there. The drug trade, the resurgence of paramilitary groups and their penetration of local authorities, state violence and repression, huge population displacements and a guerrilla movement, weakened but not defeated at all, are nightmares still shadowing Colombians. The Andean country is not a failed state but its chances of becoming one are still very high.

This being said, what is the connection between the human rights context in Colombia and the new military agreement between Washington and Bogotá? To put it in other words, could the American redeployment in Colombia truly have an effect on the human rights problem in the Andean country as suggested, for example, by all but one of the speakers at the IDEAS roundtable? I would say that there is a clear problem of political opportunity, which should and could dissuade Washington to pursue the bases agreement. In fact, military collaboration with a government constantly criticized for its disregard for civil and human rights is not exactly what one would expect from the new Barack Obama administration. It is unlikely that US troops deployed in the Colombian army bases will increase or decrease the number of crimes against Colombian population or civil rights violation against Trade Unions, NGOs, intellectuals or singers. Nonetheless, the agreement legitimizes a government that should be challenged and forced to improve its policies in the human rights field. In this sense, criticism against the agreement by the speakers who antagonized the Colombian ambassador during the IDEAS-LAIAP roundtable is more than justified and should be supported.

During the Cold War, Washington faced a Cuban-Soviet threat in the region in different ways. Support for democracy and development alternated with sustaining assistance for dictatorships and antisocial, ultraliberal economic policies. Some of these may have proven successful, but the consequences of the pro-dictatorship cycles in the region have been appalling. The 1970’s, with 30,000 victims of repression only in Argentina and in such a relatively short time (1976-1983), are still a monument of mourning in what was a period of Henry Kissinger’s policies of pragmatism and appeasement toward the dictatorships of Jorge Videla, Augusto Pinochet and co. Thankfully, the end of the Cold War then gave the impression of bringing to an end the schizophrenia that had marked US foreign policy in the region. However, the recent US-Colombian military agreement seems to hark back to the bad old days. The Uribe government should not be considered a dictatorship at all. To the contrary, he has been democratically elected twice even if the contents of his internal security policies resemble Carl Schmitt’s notorious transition from liberal democracy to democratic dictatorship. In this sense, supporting governments not able to protect and guarantee the welfare of their own citizens is a shortcut Washington should not follow again. Barack Obama still has enough credibility and political capital to pursue other paths.

The issue of human rights is crucial but not the only one that should be taken into account in approaching the Colombian quagmire and the problem of the new military agreement. In fact, the evident limitation of a criticism focused exclusively on human rights overshadows the international dimensions of the problem. I suspect that the lack of interest in the international aspects of the issue is only partially a coincidence. In fact, understanding the international setting in which the agreement is taking place, means also analysing the strategies Colombia’s neighbours have carried on during recent years. In particular, I would argue, there is a clear link between the new military agreement between Colombia and Washington and the international strategies countries like Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia have developed recently. Some commentators seem to ill at ease to criticize decisions and strategies undertaken by La Paz, Quito and Caracas. Nonetheless, the sometimes ill-conceived strategies of Evo Morales, Rafael Correa and Hugo Chavez have also contributed to escalate the tension in the region, creating the climate for the deployment of US troops in Colombia.

What is certain is that in the Andean region a new Cold War atmosphere is silently mounting and its deactivation relies on a prompt identification of its causes. Both the Uribe and the Obama administrations have gone on record as saying that the military redeployment is an answer to the narco-trafficking issue. I believe this is only a small part of the problem. In fact, the military agreement with Colombia comes on the heels of the decision to redeploy the US fourth fleet to protect American interests in the Caribbean and South America. The new US military presence in South America and the Caribbean seems to come as a consequence of the web of international alliances Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador have weaved during the last years. In particular, it comes as a reaction to a quick strengthening of the relations with Russia, China and Iran. What is going on in the Andean region is therefore not merely a case of “businesses as usual.” Rather, there is a geopolitical logic behind this strategy of alliances, which is epitomized by the selection of partners. In fact, for Washington, Russia, China and Iran are, to different extents, challenging powers in the new multi-polar international evironment that is slowly taking shape from the ashes of the Cold War. While Ecuador and Bolivia have mainly increased the volume of economic cooperation and trade agreements, including arm transfer, with China, Russia and Iran, Venezuela has gone a step forward. In April 2008, Caracas and Teheran signed a Memorandum of Understanding assuring each other full military support and cooperation. Furthermore, as reported by Fernando Llanos in one of his LAIAP News Analyses , Chavez has visited Russia four times in the last few years and has committed to buying Russian high tech weapons for a value of two billion dollars. Even more important, in November 2008, Venezuelan fleet participated in a joint naval exercise in the Caribbean with a Russian task group belonging to the Northern Fleet. I am not sure the Bolivarian twenty-first century socialism project, whose aims of social reform are absolutely legitimate, should be compatible with an alliance with autocratic Putin-Medvedev’s Russia or the even more gloomy and repressive Iranian regime. Since these new alliances are far from being crucial for solving Bolivian or Venezuelan social problems, this strategy looks like an ill-conceived policy if not a straightforward provocation.

The lack of an ideological alternative to US hegemony in the current international evironment, which is nonetheless marked by mounting rivalry, prevents history from happening again. Moreover, neither Russia nor Iran or China have the capacity and the will, which the Soviet Union possessed during the Cold War, to project their influence in the Western Hemisphere. But history repeats itself, first occurring as a tragedy, second as a farce. The Cold War is not coming again, but the mounting tensions are once again unnecessarily distracting economic and political resources from urgent social problems in the region. And, still more important, the new conflictive context is not helping to address the imperative human rights issue in Colombia. On the contrary, it is allowing the Uribe government to eschew the problem and to improve its legitimacy.

Madrid will probably hold on to its Parisian atmosphere for some time, but, sadly for Roland and the Pasajeros’, their return tickets to Colombia will have to wait.

Vanni Pettinà is PhD candidate at the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid and Associate Fellow to LSE-IDEAS Latin American Program

Argentina and the Falklands: the domestic politics behind Cristina Kirchner's protests

There is a clear separation between President Cristina Kircher’s support at the international level and lack of it domestically. On one hand she is receiving cross-continental solidarity to her opposition to British oil drilling off the Falkland Islands at the current Rio Group summit of Latin American states in Mexico. On the other she is struggling from a weak political position at home. The focus on the Falklands may therefore be seen as not only a reassertion of Argentine ownership over them (which it has never renounced despite defeat against Britain in 1982), but also as a means of recovering political support, especially among the marginalised.

Cristina Kirchner’s stock has fallen since her election in October 2007. Despite winning the presidency with 45% and by a margin of 22% from her nearest rival, she soon found herself embroiled in a political crisis. Months after taking office she introduced of a variable tax on soybean exports, Kirchner faced opposition from the agricultural sector as producers went on strike and took to the streets and leading to the Senate overturning the policy in July 2008 and a subsequent cabinet reshuffle. Soon after came the global financial crisis and growing dissatisfaction in her presidency, from 41% in February 2009 to 54% by the end of the year according to Poliarquía Consultores. Along the way her husband and predecessor as president, Nestor Kirchner, achieved 30.8% of the poll in the mid-term legislative elections (more than the other two coalitions) in June 2009, but still lost majorities in both houses of Congress.

Indeed, the weakness of Cristina Kirchner’s position can arguably be traced back to her husband’s presidency. This may seem surprising since Nestor Kirchner’s popularity rose during his term, at the same time that the economy appeared to be recovering after the 2001-02 financial crisis. That he achieved this was all the more impressive given his relative obscurity as the former governor of distant Santa Cruz province and the inauspicious way in which he gained the presidency (following former president Carlos Menem’s decision to withdraw from the 2003 second round when it was clear that he would lose).

However, Nestor Kirchner was never able to build a sufficiently strong base of political and social support which would outlast his presidency and transfer to that of his wife’s. First, despite his efforts to create a ‘transversal’ leftist coalition within and outside his Peronist party, he was unable to do so, meeting entrenched opposition from his party. By 2005 he had largely abandoned this project. Second, although his support was especially prominent among the unemployed and underemployed found in the picatero (picketing) movement, he failed to re-structure the economy, leaving his supporters dependent on economic recovery which was achieved at the hands of Argentina’s traditional elites in the agricultural and export sectors.

Cristina Kirchner’s appeal to her peers may therefore be seen as a way of reconnecting with the Argentine public. By emphasising an issue on which there is broad public support, she may be trying to appeal to the haves and haven-nots: both the economic elites who never supported her or her husband in the first place and their former supporters who lost out twice, first in 2001-02 and more recently since 2008.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Turkey: Reengagement with the Middle East?

Welcome to the Middle East International Affairs (MEIA) blog at LSE IDEAS. We invite PhD students and academics from throughout the UK and abroad to analyse current events in the Middle East and add to the ongoing deliberations over policy prescriptions. Our next contributor, Christopher Phillips, explores the reasons Turkey is moving toward greater engagement with its neighbours in the Middle East.

We look forward to exploring both regional and topical issues relating to current events.
Amber Holewinski, Editor, LSE IDEAS Middle East International Affairs Programme Blog

Reengagement is not realignment

By Christopher Phillips

Turkey’s reengagement with the Middle East in recent years has been widely misunderstood. The AKP government’s perceived falling out with long-standing ally Israel, its drawing closer to Syria, Iraq and Iran, and a seemingly less enthusiastic approach to EU accession has led many to conclude that Ankara is shifting Eastwards in its foreign relations priorities. Yet this reorientation should not be over-exaggerated. Far from abandoning old alliances in the West for new friendships in the Muslim world, Turkey is instead settling into a new role as a regional power that was thrust on it after the power vacuum produced by the Iraq war and a decade of economic growth.

To an extent, Turkey’s past disconnection with the Middle East has been exaggerated. Turkey’s longest borders are with Arab states and basic issues such as security and trade have long been discussed between governments. Nevertheless the extent of Ankara’s involvement since 2003 is substantially more than before. Turkey has concluded free-trade and visa-free agreements with Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran, and has invested heavily in each economy. Improved ties with Syria have been particularly fast-paced. President Bashar al-Assad became the first Syrian leader to ever visit Ankara in 2004, after 60 years of relations, yet now trade between the two states has doubled and April 2009 saw the first ever Syria-Turkish joint military exercise.

Parallel to this, Turkey’s older political, economic and military alliance with Israel appears to foundering. Prime Minister Erdogan heavily criticised Tel Aviv’s assault on Gaza in winter 2008-9 and subsequently cancelled joint military exercises. Many see the various diplomatic spats that followed, coupled with the AKP’s Islamist origins, as evidence that the alliance cannot last.

Yet such an analysis is too Middle East focused and ignores the wider changes in Turkey’s foreign policy. Since the Iraq War, the AKP have pursued an increasingly realist foreign policy devised primarily by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. He argues for, “zero problems with neighbours,” whatever their past or current misdeeds. This has allowed the regime to put aside its ideological differences and historical disagreements with not just Syria, Iran and Iraq, but also older enemies in Armenia, Greece and Russia. Israel, whilst also a neighbour, had a privileged position in the past and, in effect, Erdogan’s admonishing has simply stripped it back to a place of average importance. Yet there is no chance of the alliance ending completely. Military cooperation in particular is deep and unlikely to end. Moreover, even Turkey’s Arab allies in Syria have voiced their support for a continued Tel Aviv-Ankara alliance, recognizing its ally’s ability to restrain its enemy.

Another reason behind Turkish reengagement south is its desire for new markets. Following an impressive decade of economic growth, Davutoglu advocates increased Turkish ‘strategic depth’ with its neighbours – promoting its cultural, economic and political influence further than in the past. Turkey’s under-developed Middle Eastern neighbours may provide appealing markets, but they will be explored alongside, not instead of the European trade that built Ankara’s strong economy.

Finally, Turkish reengagement is based on military necessity following the collapse of Saddam’s Iraq. Still fighting Kurdish insurgents in its south, Ankara fears instability in the Arab states will provide safe havens for its enemies to rearm and train. This fear was demonstrated in 2007 when Turkey invaded northern Iraq to smoke out Kurdish rebels. A desire to use its economic, political and military clout to co-opt stability in its southern neighbours is therefore driving policy more than any desire to refashion the region around its interests.

Turkey may be reengaging in the Middle East both out of necessity and out of choice, however this does not mean ideological realignment. Far from pursuing an Islam-centric foreign policy, Ankara is displaying the traits of an emerging realist regional power: extending its influence wherever it can, whenever it can.

Christopher Phillips is a PhD student in International Relations at the London School of
Economics and Political Science and Programme Assistant on the IDEAS Middle East International Affairs Programme.

Next Week: Afghanistan: Can the troop surge be effective?

Saturday, 13 February 2010

NATO goes into Marjah

NATO launched a major offensive today against the Taliban stronghold of Marjah in central Helmand. The strategy is interesting and unique for a few reasons. First, the attack was widely publicised in an attempt to get civilians out of the way to avoid casualties, but also in the hopes that the inhabitants of Marjah would side with the NATO forces and inform on the Taliban. Second, this is the first NATO assault where Afghan government forces - military, civilian, and police - will be following immediately in the wake the NATO operation. NATO forces will also remain in situ, but the Afghans are supposedly going to be starting with development and governance as soon as the dust follows. This is good in theory, but it remains to be seen how effective this has been. There as supposedly 1,000 Afghan police following on NATO's heels. If these are 1,000 honest and well trained police then Marjah will certainly be better off. If these are a bunch of poorly trained, corrupt and belligerent police - problems endemic in the Afghan police force - I am not sure their presence will do much good. Ultimately Marjah will be a test case for the wider NATO and Obama strategy in Afghanistan. The question is, why should the Taliban stay and fight in Marjah when they can melt away and move to other parts of the country not saturated with international forces? Hopefully the new strategy works, but I have my doubts given that international forces will never be present enough in all parts of the country to shut down the Taliban. Therefore, in addition to offensive operations the Government of Afghanistan needs to establish parameters outlining how to involve some Taliban in the government, while the international community needs to be much more effective at training and equipping Afghan police and military forces.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Israel and Palestine: Can peace talks resume?

Welcome to the Middle East International Affairs (MEIA) blog at LSE IDEAS. We invite PhD students and academics from throughout the UK and abroad to analyse current events in the Middle East and add to the ongoing deliberations over policy prescriptions. Our next contributor, Anne de Jong, examines an option for moving out of a stalemate in Middle East peace negotiations.

We look forward to exploring both regional and topical issues relating to current events.
Amber Holewinski, Editor, LSE IDEAS Middle East International Affairs Programme Blog

Peace or Justice

By Anne de Jong

It all started so promisingly—the famous Cairo speech on the 4th of July by President Obama, the appointment of Northern Ireland peace broker George J. Mitchell as his special envoy to the Middle East and an unprecedented commitment from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Yet barely one year in, preconditions kept the negotiation table untouched, the situation in Gaza in a state of ‘permanent humanitarian crisis’ and prominent commentators already declared this new initiative dead. With even the ever optimistic Mitchell acknowledging ‘unforeseen complexities and difficulties,’ one should ask: Are peace talks possible in Israel/Palestine?

Negotiating Negotiations

One would assume that negotiations start at the negotiating table, but the first obstacle to resuming peace talks is preconditions made by both the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli State. The Palestinian Authority demands a full settlement freeze because, as Palestinian lawyer Michael Tarasi put it, ‘we are negotiating about dividing a pizza and in the meantime, Israel is eating it.’

A settlement freeze was fully supported by the U.S. administration with a strong statement by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: “The president wants to see a stop to settlements-not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions. That is our position.”

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected this position, however, no sanctions or pressures were put in place. Rather than placing conditions on loan guarantees or limiting military aid, Clinton applauded Netanyahu’s offer of ten months settlement restraint and labeled it ‘an important step forward.’

This settlement restraint does not concern expansion in occupied East Jerusalem where the construction of almost 700 new apartments has just been approved. Nor does it cover infrastructure development to and from settlements in the West Bank. Welcoming Netanyahu’s settlement restraint, and thus renouncing their own demand for a full settlement stop, not only labels the U.S administration as inconsistent, but more seriously it endangers the credibility of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

He has already finished his term in office without elections and made little progress toward overcoming the internal rivalry between Fatah and Hamas. He cannot come to the negotiation table without losing the already fragile support of the Palestinian people as long as settlement construction is ongoing.

In addition, Israel put forward a precondition for negotiations which it knows that no Palestinian leader can accept: the recognition of Israel as the ‘nation-state of the Jewish people.’ The PLO already recognized the right of Israel to exist as a state in 1993 in a series of official and public letters leading up to the Oslo Accords. The difference this time lies in the acceptance of the national character of Israel as Jewish. This would predetermine negotiations on the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees and further relegate the status of Palestinian-Israelis to non-nationals.

Knowing quite well that the Palestinian Authority cannot afford to disregard 1.5 million Palestinians living in Israel and approximately 5 million refugees and their descendants living in the diaspora, it appears that Netanyahu is stalling if not sabotaging any final status negotiations. And where the Obama administration proved to be flexible on the precondition of a settlement freeze, they blindly accept this far-reaching Israeli demand.

What kind of Peace?

It is possible, though unlikely, that the U.S. might use their economic muscle to force both parties to the table. Once there, however, the ‘endgame’ looms large. With an apparent worldwide consensus for a two-state solution, it will be Mitchell’s job to transform this consensus into a pragmatic peace process.

The Palestinian demands are clear: a sovereign Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital. A full withdrawal from the Occupied Territories would not only halt Palestinian hostilities towards Israel, but would also guarantee full normalized relations with the 22 surrounding Arab countries, in line with the 2002 Arab Initiative.

Israel’s demands are less straightforward. While Netanyahu expressed the wish for an independent Palestinian state to be created alongside Israel, his Four No’s would prevent any pragmatic steps towards that end.

According to Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, Netanyahu’s Four No’s—No to a settlement freeze, No to dividing Jerusalem, No to 1967 borders and No to refugees—would render impossible ‘a viable, independent, and sovereign Palestinian state.’ Netanyahu’s vision of a demilitarized Palestinian state without control over its own borders, riddled with Israeli settlements and with a continued Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley would create a ‘Palestinian state’ without sovereignty or independence at all.

Peace or Justice

That brings us to the disturbing contemporary reality: a stalemate in negotiations with an eerie resemblance to the 2000 Camp David breakdown. Without Jerusalem, without sovereign borders, and without at least compensation for the refugees, Palestinians are left with Netanyahu’s vision of an ‘economic peace’ under complete Israeli military control.

Gaza would remain isolated and the West Bank divided into pockets of Palestinian reserves. East Jerusalem, whose annexation by Israel is unrecognized by the international community, would see a continuation of house demolitions and evictions. The status of 1.5 million non-Jewish Israelis as second class citizens would not be addressed, and continued institutional and social discrimination against them would be justified under the banner of the Jewish State.

Are peace talks possible? Sure. But without Jerusalem or viable final borders on the table—without talks that are rooted in international law—they will be empty at best. At worse, they will be a fig leaf for ongoing settlement expansion in the West Bank, ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem, collective punishment in Gaza and continuing military oppression based on ethnic segregation.

Perhaps a more apt question would be: Would peace talks under current conditions be part of a genuine peace process or merely a continuation of the rapidly-deteriorating status quo?

Anne de Jong is a Dutch PhD student at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the department of Anthropology with a specialization in the Middle East. By combining academia and journalism she aims to contribute to a more nuanced understanding of the contemporary Middle East with a special interest in the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Next Week: Turkey: Reengagement with the Middle East?

Friday, 5 February 2010

Iran: What is the effect of more sanctions on domestic Iranian politics?

Welcome to the Middle East International Affairs (MEIA) blog at LSE IDEAS. We invite PhD students and academics from throughout the UK and abroad to analyse current events in the Middle East and add to the ongoing deliberations over policy prescriptions. Our next contributors, Adel Al Toraifi and Gregorio Bettiza, examine the implications of new sanctions on Iran as the US, Britain, France and Germany consider a fourth round of UN sanctions.

We look forward to exploring both regional and topical issues relating to current events.
Amber Holewinski, Editor, LSE IDEAS Middle East International Affairs Programme Blog

Don’t sanction the people!
Why current proposals for sanctions against Iran can do more harm than good.

By Adel Al Toraifi

A diplomatic resolution to the Iranian nuclear programme is certainly the most desirable outcome. However, it seems that the chances for such a resolution are diminishing by time, to the extent that rumours of a possible US or Israeli air-strike on Iranian nuclear facilities has become a weekly routine in the current media for the past year. The debate over the issue has spanned now more than six years, three of them in which Iran has continued publicly to defy the UNSC Resolution 1696 ban on its uranium enrichment programme. A fourth round of sanctions proposed by members of the six nations has not even been agreed upon despite a year of negotiations. China and Russia have been stalling the approval of further sanctions due to their economic interests with Iran; nevertheless both states have demonstrated some pressure on Iran to comply with UNSC resolutions. Lately, the improvement of Russian-US relations has proven to be productive, as Russia refused to set a delivery date regarding its arms deal to sell the sophisticated S-300 anti-aircraft system to Iran.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle in the face of new sanctions is China. The Chinese government has continuously opposed any new sanction on Iran and its position could determine the fate of the proposed sanctions. China has pledged to retaliate for U.S. arms sales to Taiwan and warns Sino-U.S. ties will suffer further when President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama meet - as expected - later this month. Nevertheless, U.S. officials and China experts believe Beijing - despite heated anti-U.S. rhetoric of recent days - will not stand in the way.

Now, the crucial question is not whether the six nations would manage to sanction Iran or not, but how important this step would be?

The current proposal, discussed in New York last month, would most likely target Iranian shipping companies that have violated the UN arms embargo. They would also likely bar nations and international lenders, such as the World Bank, from giving Iran any grants, loans or other financial aid, except for humanitarian or development purposes. Moreover, the sanctions would also target Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). According to the Council on Foreign Relations' report titled Iran's Revolutionary Guards (June 2009), the IRGC has evolved into one of the country's most influential domestic institutions. It controls strategic industries, commercial services and black-market enterprises.

Proponents of the current sanctions proposal say that they simply need to be stronger, but a tougher sanctions regime has a number of problems. First, it will take yet more time to adopt any new measures and, with each passing day, Iran’s program advances. Many experts already believe Iran can now build a bomb and the point of no return has passed. Second, sanctions have already been in place for decades and have not stopped Iran’s progress. The current sanctions have proven ineffective because a number of countries have undermined them, with recent talks between Iranian and Brazilian officials on a Biofuel project as a clear example.

Perhaps the most significant problem with the idea of sanctions is that, as Mitchell Bard recently noted, “it gives the impression of action without really achieving anything.” This is true, despite UN, US and EU sanctions over the years, the Iranian regime has not changed course. New sanctions would mostly target the ordinary population more than it will harm the Ayatollahs. These measures tend to undermine the fact that half of the Iranian economy and civil services are owned or run directly by the same people and institutions it wants to punish. The fallout of the 2009 elections has proven to be an important force for positive change the country, and the policy of “wait and see” by the West, though passive, has denied the conservatives in Iran from using one of the most effective tools in the hand of the regime, blaming the West.

Any meddling in the current situation could easily swing the pendulum to the other side. The international community should demonstrate its will for halting proliferation of nuclear programmes; nevertheless, imposing more sanctions at this stage might aid those whom were responsible of violating the NPT treaty in the first place.

Adel Zaid Al Toraifi is a political analyst and researcher, based in London. His area of specialty is International Relations, concentrating on Middle Eastern affairs: Saudi foreign policy and Iranian politics.

Sanctioning Iran, what for?

By Gregorio Bettiza

The question often asked about America implementing further sanctions on Iran, is whether these sanctions will work. But this is the wrong question. The issue is not whether sanctions themselves will succeed or not in curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, in fact they will not. The real issue is, what will the Obama administration decide to use sanctions for.

If sanctions are simply intended to pressure Iran into abandoning its nuclear program, these will be futile. Iran has proven resistant to multiple previous rounds. Indeed, financial and trade restrictions so far have not stopped Iran from enriching uranium or building secret nuclear facilities. If instead sanctions are intended to weaken the Iranian regime and strengthen the opposition, in the hope for a more favourable deal, this is wishful thinking. In fact, sanctions are likely to empower the regime, not undermine it. In most other cases (i.e. Cuba, Iraq, North Korea, Myanmar, Sudan) they have done exactly that, entrenching governing elites while these pass on the costs to the population.

Since sanctions alone will not work, Obama could consider using them as a symbolic gesture of last resort before military action would be seriously taken into consideration. Accompanied by the threat of intervention, sanctions may gain some traction. Indeed, like most regimes, the Iranian one is keen on ensuring its survival. After witnessing the neighbouring Taliban and Iraqi governments toppled, Tehran may yield to the threat of force. Yet, how credible is this threat in the first place? Very low. And both the Americans and Iranians know this. Setting aside the difficulties of bombing all hidden and underground nuclear facilities, the political, military and economic costs of a war would be astronomic.

The only way in which sanctions may succeed, and this is far from guaranteed, is if they are used to build a common anti-proliferation coalition among all major powers, particularly the US, Russia and China. If great powers demonstrated a strong commitment to curbing nuclear proliferation worldwide by credibly reinvigorating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, only then real international pressure would be exerted on Tehran. While this seems to be the most viable option, it would need a stroke of diplomatic genius from the Obama administration to make it happen.

Gregorio Bettiza is LSE IDEAS Center Stonex Scholar and Transatlantic Programme Programme Assistant. Gregorio is a PhD candidate in the International Relations Department at LSE, where he is teaching and a research assistant.

Next Week: Israel and Palestine: Can peace talks resume?