Latin America and the illusion of peace

The security architecture of Latin American is inadequate to prevent further military escalation in the region, said Professor David Mares at the IISS-US launch of the Adelphi Book, Latin America and the Illusion of Peace. Mares, professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego argued that Latin American nations must find different options for building a better architecture that would make the threat of force an unacceptable option and stress the necessity of Latin America as a zone of peace. He was joined at the launch by Michael Shifter, president of Inter-American Dialogue, who offered a more optimistic outlook for peace in the region.

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Union of Gulf states ‘unlikely’

Despite Saudi Arabia’s push for it, a Gulf union was a ‘non-starter’ in the near future, Professor
F. Gregory Gause
said this week at the IISS-US. In a speech entitled ‘Prospects for a Gulf Cooperation Council Union’, Gause was doubtful that all Gulf states shared the Saudi king’s vision of a closer Arab world. Even a smaller union between Saudi Arabia and Bahrain was unlikely, Gause, the chair of political science at the University of Vermont, suggested.

Gause noted that the proposal for a Gulf Union and the invitation to extend GCC membership to Morocco and Jordan were personal initiatives of Saudi’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who saw the Arab Spring as both a domestic threat and as a regional risk because of the potential for Iranian influence.

Saudi Arabia was interested in preserving its leading status in the region and the king saw himself as ‘the last dam against the spread of Iranian influence in the Arab world’. Other GCC member states were more concerned with the ensuing loss of sovereignty concomitant with greater integration. These states did not see Iran as a geopolitical threat and were more concerned with their domestic political conditions following the Arab Spring.

Gause said that a GCC union would have been better received in early 2011, right after the Arab Spring, as the GCC states tended to put aside differences in the face of an external threat. However, when threat perceptions were low, there was a greater emphasis on sovereignty and less incentive for cooperation. This proposal for a GCC union was a ‘hiccup’ that was not indicative of a fundamental change in GCC relations, Gause claimed.

Gause also said a union between Bahrain and Saudi Arabia would be highly controversial, facing opposition from Bahraini Shi’a and the Iranians.

D-Day for sanctions on Iran

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Photo: Iranian Presidents Office)

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

Today is the day when biting US sanctions fully apply to foreign oil purchases through the Iranian central bank. But as yet there is little public gnashing of teeth. On Sunday, another sanctions deadline will fall when the EU ban on oil sales, and on the provision of insurance for tankers carrying Iranian oil, takes full effect.

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Euro pique

Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy at the EU-Mexico bilateral summit at Los Cabos (Phot copyright: Council of the European Union

By Dr Dana Allin, Senior Fellow for US Foreign Policy and Transatlantic Affairs; Editor of Survival

Last week was another bad one for the euro, with the eruption of a particular brand of pique that I’m frankly surprised we haven’t seen more of. At the G20 meeting in Mexico, Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the EU Commission, reacted badly to a Canadian journalist’s question about why North Americans should ‘risk their assets’ to support the Europeans. ‘Frankly’, replied Barroso, ‘we are not here to receive lessons in terms of democracy or in terms of how to handle the economy. This crisis was not originated in Europe … this crisis originated in North America and much of our financial sector was contaminated by, how can I put it, unorthodox practices from some sectors of the financial market.’

Barroso was right, of course, and he was also spectacularly wrong. He was right about the origins of the crisis, and he might have added something about long-running imbalances of American over-borrowing against Chinese over-saving that fed the housing bubble. But this would have raised the awkward parallel problem of chronic imbalances within the eurozone, such as those that fed Spain’s real-estate bubble. Except in the relatively minor case of Greece, government spending had little to do with it.

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Eikenberry: Lessons from Afghanistan

At the end of his Fullerton Lecture on the future of Afghanistan, former US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry was asked to reflect on the lessons he had drawn from the US intervention. His first lesson was the importance of clear political goals for the use of force; he suggested these had been lacking before President Barack Obama’s review of Afghanistan policy in 2009. The second was the problem of unintended consequences of intervention and occupation. Finally, he told a story about how village elders in southern Afghanistan remembered USAID and Peace Corps volunteers from the 1950s and 1960s, and reflected on ‘those brave Marines who had fought so hard’, who ‘sadly would not be remembered’ so fondly.

Watch the complete Fullerton Lecture: The Future of Afghanistan

Lesson 1: Clear political goals

Lesson 2: Second- and third-order consequences

Lesson 3: Roger & Bob

Eikenberry on Afghanistan’s future

Those of us in the London office who missed the early-morning broadcast from Singapore this week have really enjoyed watching Karl Eikenberry’s recent Fullerton Lecture on video. Before he gets down to the very serious issues at hand, the former US Ambassador to Kabul tells an amusing anecdote that is also a helpful reminder about the potential for misunderstanding for Westerners working in this Central Asian nation.

Eikenberry takes a very measured view of the upcoming transition to Afghan control of security at the end of 2014. He lists four potential obstacles…

Four obstacles

… and four reasons to be positive about the future. You can read more about both the security challenges and the advances in education, infrastructure and other socio-economic factors in the IISS’s Adelphi Book Afghanistan to 2015 and beyond.

Four reasons for optimism

Talking with the Iranian media

By Mark Fitzpatrick, Director, Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Programme

Given the depth of distrust and misunderstanding between Iran and the West, I try to take whatever opportunities present themselves for communication. And having been enjoined from official contacts with Iranians during the 26 years that I represented Uncle Sam, it’s a welcome liberation.

I particularly appreciate opportunities to speak to the Iranian public. So when the BBC Persian service, VOA or other Iran-directed broadcasts ask for an interview, I accommodate. I don’t see much value in giving interviews to Iranian English media outlets like Press TV that are outwardly a direct propaganda arm of the regime. But I do talk with the state Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) because their stories are usually for both domestic and international audiences.

Giving interviews to IRNA can be fraught, though, and on both sides. On the eve of the Moscow talks, an IRNA journalist posed 13 questions to me about the West’s position. I tethered my answers to orthodoxy, knowing that any hint of disagreement with Washington’s views would be highlighted and possibly taken out of context.

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The rule of law in Burma

Aung San Suu Kyi at the LSE. Picture from LSE in Pictures flickr feed

The rule of law will be vital to ensuring that the recent changes in Myanmar continue, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi underlined yesterday. During her first visit to her former home, the United Kingdom, in 24 years the Nobel Peace Prize winner and former political prisoner said at the London School of Economics (above) that unity in her country would only be achieved within a legal framework.

On the BBC’s Newsnight programme broadcast yesterday evening, presenter Kirsty Wark reminded the Burmese icon that her party, the National League for Democracy, had at first argued that it was undemocratic to have 25% of the seats in parliament reserved for the military: ‘So, presumably that is one of your earliest priorities, to change the constitution?’

Aung San Suu Kyi replied that: ‘Well, quite recently the … defence minister said at a conference in Singapore that the military had no intention of holding on to the 25% forever, and that when the time was right they would decrease their … role in parliament. So that was not bad to begin with, and this after we had said that we wanted amendments to the constitution.’

The conference in question was the Shangri-La Dialogue 2012, and Aung San Suu Kyi was referring to the question and answer session with Lieutenant General Hla Min. In response to a question from Richard Lloyd Parry of the Times newspaper in London, the Myanmar defence minister said:

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El Salvador’s 100 days of relative peace

Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes. Photo: Presidency of El Salvador

By Antonio Sampaio, Research Assistant, Survival and the Armed Conflict Database

Central America’s ‘northern triangle’ has been the most murderous region on earth recently, as discussed in a recent Voices blog post. But there is a growing ray of hope in El Salvador, where street gangs, or maras, have accounted for a significant amount of the violence. An unlikely truce between the two leading maras in March has halved homicide rates. The mechanics of the deal are controversial, and there have been doubts about how long it could last. However yesterday, 100 days into the truce, gang leaders announced they were willing to start negotiating a permanent peace.

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Russia: Protecting expats and more in Syria

Syrians hold photos of Bashar Assad and Vladimir Putin during a pro-government demonstration in front of the Russian embassy in Damascus, Syria, Sunday, March 4, 2012. (Photo: Freedom House)

By Dr Nicholas Redman, Senior Fellow for Geopolitical Risk and Economic Security; Editor, Adelphi Books

Russia is preparing to send two warships plus marines to Syria, as the civil war in that country shows no sign of letting up.

Russia has for months supported the government of Bashar al-Assad at the UN Security Council, blocking resolutions authored by Western and Arab League states to sanction Damascus and pressure Assad to step down.

Most of Russia’s motivations for doing so are well known. Firstly, it is determined to ensure there is no Security Council cover for any external effort to topple a sovereign government, whether by military or other means. The principle of non-intervention is one that Moscow is desperate to defend. Secondly, the government of Vladimir Putin has no wish to see another president – in the Middle East or the former Soviet Union – ousted by the mob, for fear the virus could spread further. Thirdly, it fears the regional destabilisation that could accompany Assad’s downfall. And fourthly, Russia has commercial, diplomatic and military ties with the Assad government that would be in jeopardy if the opposition came to power. These interests include arms sales, use of the Tartous naval base, energy-sector investment opportunities and a close diplomatic alignment with Damascus.

The latest dispatch of naval vessels to Syria is on one level a further statement of support for the Assad government and the interests that Russia wishes to defend. So too is the delivery of reconditioned military helicopters to Syria. Yet sending ships and marines to the coast of Syria also points to an interest that sets Russia aside from all other permanent members of the UN Security Council – it has people on the ground. Rather a lot of people, in fact. Read the rest of this entry »


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