Russia in Ukraine, ISIS in Iraq, war in Gaza and nightly riot-watch in Ferguson, Missouri: Could the world possibly handle another crisis?
Well, ready or not, here one comes: The resource wars -- the global quest for raw materials that is likely to define the 21st Century.
Cynics and realists will say that human conflict is always about resources -- from control of the salt roads in ancient times (Roman soldiers were paid in salt) to the undercurrent of oil access that has marked much of the conflict in the Middle East over the past 50 years. But today, the list of resources worth fighting over is growing with each technological advance to include row after row of the arcane metals and minerals in the Periodic Table of elements.
And technology is only one demand-driver. Demography is the other, as the global population will surge to a projected 9.5 billion people by 2050. That's 35 percent more than today's 7 billion -- the equivalent of adding a new Africa and China to the world in just over a single generation. And the demand for added resources will actually rise more than 35 percent, because the 4 billion people presently surviving on the equivalent of $5 a day or less won't be content to live at subsistence level for the rest of their lives. Lifting them up will take more -- much more -- of everything, as the average person living in the industrialized world today consumes or uses 40,000 pounds each year of metals, from aluminum to zinc, and more than 70 elements in between.
It is time to call a spade a spade. By annexing Crimea, supplying separatists with weapons and personnel, and now directly intervening in Ukraine, Russia has broken the rules-based system in Eastern Europe and has undermined international laws and norms. This has profoundly changed the security situation for Europe as a whole, but especially for the eastern-most NATO members. Western leaders meeting in Newport, Wales, for the NATO Summit have to meet this challenge head on.
When visiting Poland in June, U.S. President Barack Obama talked about his country's unwavering commitment to Eastern Europe's security. During her recent visit to Riga, Chancellor Angela Markel also reconfirmed Germany's commitment to NATO's Article 5, which sanctions collective defense. But the Alliance must not only be willing but also able to defend all of its members. While some allies - such as Poland, with its fast-growing defense budget and large military modernization program - are doing their part, NATO as a whole is not currently well-prepared to defend against the threat posed by Russia.
The lack of preparedness relates to the divide between old and new NATO allies enshrined in the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act. Through that agreement, which codified relations between NATO and Russia in the post-Cold War era, NATO committed to not having a significant presence in countries that joined the Alliance after 1999. But the Act was premised on the notion that Russia would be a partner of the West, and that Moscow would not undermine the security of Europe. Russia's recent actions mean that both of these assumptions are now clearly obsolete. The document itself needs not to be thrown out. But European leaders, particularly in Germany, need to stop referring to it as a basis for NATO's restraint. Poland and the Baltic states see such references as undermining NATO unity, by respecting obligations to Russia over those to treaty allies. It is time, then, to erase the line between new and old NATO member states. The Wales Summit presents a perfect opportunity to do so.
What would that mean in practice? Among other things, it would mean permanently stationing NATO assets, including troops and bases, where the threat is most acute in northeastern Europe. Such a presence on Europe's eastern periphery would not only enable an effective defense in case of an attack, but would serve as clear sign of the Alliance's resolve in deterring any potential aggression. Over time, this would also help lead to the de-escalation of the conflict in Ukraine. Russia is more likely to respond to a show of strength rather than to weakness.
What a difference half a year makes. In early 2014, NATO was preparing for a not-too-exciting summit in Wales on September 4-5, dutifully filling the agenda with issues such as this year's withdrawal from Afghanistan, partnerships with nonalliance countries, "smart defense," and readiness.
Six months ago, the big overarching question was how NATO could master the transition from an alliance deployed in Afghanistan and elsewhere to a postoperational organization, desperate to cling on to the military skills and lessons it had learned over a decade of operations.
Now, NATO is preparing for the most important summit in recent memory-perhaps not quite historic, but definitely under intense scrutiny and with potentially enormous ramifications for the alliance's future posture.
The unfolding crisis in Ukraine and the West's deteriorating relationship with Russia have contributed to this shift just as much as the devastating success of the Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East. Both issues have raised questions about the very nature of security in Europe. They also neatly mirror the balance NATO needs to strike between reassurance inside the alliance and the organization's role as a provider of security elsewhere in the world.
This analysis first appeared in Le Monde
Not a single stone. Not a single carat.
Since May 23, 2013, and the suspension of the Kimberley Process - the certification scheme for the origin of rough diamonds - the Central African Republic (CAR) has officially exported none of the many diamonds that lie in its rivers. It's a massive loss of income for this bankrupted state. In 2012, even though most of the stones were already fraudulently exported, almost 372,000 carats were transported out of the country legally for a value equal to around 45 million euros.
Today, the French embassy in Bangui is calling for the sanctions to be lifted. The aim of the embargo decreed two months after the Muslim Séléka rebels took over power was to prevent armed groups from financing themselves by trading stones, but this measure led to a boom in smuggling. And it was enough to worry the World Diamond Council (WDC), which, on June 30, threatened to punish all those who violate this prohibitive measure. The WDC declaration followed a search carried out two weeks earlier in Antwerp, in Kardiam Diamond Tools' facilities.
The beheading of American journalist James Foley by the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq was much more than an altogether gruesome and tragic affair: rather, it was a very sophisticated and professional film production deliberately punctuated with powerful symbols. Foley was dressed in an orange jumpsuit reminiscent of the Muslim prisoners held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay. He made his confession forcefully, as if well rehearsed. His executioner, masked and clad in black, made an equally long statement in a calm, British accent, again, as if rehearsed. It was as if the killing was secondary to the message being sent.
The killing, in other words, became merely the requirement to send the message. As experts have told me, there are more painful ways to dispatch someone if you really hate the victim and want him to suffer. You can burn him alive. You can torture him. But beheading, on the other hand, causes the victim to lose consciousness within seconds once a major artery is cut in the neck, experts say. Beheading, though, is the best method for the sake of a visually dramatic video, because you can show the severed head atop the chest at the conclusion. Using a short knife, as in this case, rather than a sword, also makes the event both more chilling and intimate. Truly, I do not mean to be cruel, indifferent, or vulgar. I am only saying that without the possibility of videotaping the event, there would be no motive in the first place to execute someone in such a manner.
In producing a docu-drama in its own twisted way, the Islamic State was sending the following messages:
-- We don't play by your rules. There are no limits to what we are willing to do.
-- America's mistreatment of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo Bay comes with a "price tag," to quote a recently adopted phrase for retribution killings. After all, we are a state. We have our own enemy combatants as you can see from the video, and our own way of dealing with them.
-- Just because we observe no limits does not mean we lack sophistication. We can be just as sophisticated as you in the West. Just listen to the British accent of our executioner. And we can produce a very short film up to Hollywood standards.
-- We're not like the drug lords in Mexico who regularly behead people and subsequently post the videos on the Internet. The drug lords deliver only a communal message, designed to intimidate only those people within their area of control. That is why the world at large pays little attention to them; in fact, the world is barely aware of them. By contrast, we of the Islamic State are delivering a global, meta-message. And the message is this: We want to destroy all of you in America, all of you in the West, and everyone in the Muslim world who does not accept our version of Islam.
-- We will triumph because we observe absolutely no constraints. It is because only we have access to the truth that anything we do is sanctified by God.
Welcome to the mass media age. You thought mass media was just insipid network anchormen and rude prime-time hosts interrupting talking heads on cable. It is that, of course. But just as World War I was different from the Franco-Prussian War, because in between came the culmination of the Industrial Age and thus the possibility of killing on an industrial scale, the wars of the 21st century will be different from those of the 20th because of the culmination of the first stage of the Information Age with all of its visual ramifications.
Last summer, as President Obama was strolling along the White House grounds with Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, contemplating airstrikes on the regime of Bashar al-Assad for its use of chemical weapons in the Ghouta district of Damascus, everyone who until then had professed confusion or ignorance as to the complicated nature of the Syria conflict became an expert on the subject overnight. A special focus was on the anti-Assad rebels’ perceived shortcomings and alleged extremist orientation. If America was to have another war in the Middle East, our media establishment would be damned if it was to be on “slam-dunk” pretenses or in the service of inscrutable beneficiaries. Articles were duly produced attempting to link the nominally US-backed Supreme Military Council of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) to terrorists – no matter if the timeline or the evidence got a bit fudged in the rush to press. Questions both hard- and tender-headed were asked, not least by congressmen with tetchy constituencies. If we further armed these proxies, wouldn’t the weapons fall into the hands of terrorists? Why wasn’t the poorly-armed and poorly-trained FSA waging a multi-front effort against Jabhat al-Nusra, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, now IS), the regime, Hezbollah, the shabiha, Iranian-built National Defense Forces, and Iranian-built Iraqi Shia militias? If we weakened Assad, would the rebels take Damascus – and if so, then what? Could we afford to see “another Benghazi” occur in a country where we no longer had an embassy or consulate? How could we weaken Assad, even in an “unbelievably small” manner and if only once to teach him a lesson, when he had “formidable” air defense systems capable of downing American aircraft?
The very arguments trotted out against the Obama administration’s seemingly imminent intervention were in fact the very inventions of his administration, which had spent two years drumming them in to a more complacent and accommodating press, then eager to justify the standing policy of non-intervention. But as the policy appeared to change, so too did the urgency of the facts – or, at any rate, the information. Luckily, Vladimir Putin came along with a deal to save everyone from themselves. Not a single shot was fired. This is why there have been more chemical attacks, Assad’s chemical production facilities are still intact, and no one really knows for sure if all of his sarin or tabun stockpiles have been destroyed.
Well, summer is once again drawing to a close, Syria’s death toll has about doubled, and Obama is once again strolling the White House grounds in deep, photo-opped thought with McDonough. Only this time, the prospective war on their minds is against the IS, which, in the intervening year, has made a staggering conquest of territory, "slightly larger" than the United Kingdom, running from the Levant to Mesopotamia.
The IS is the most well-financed and successful terrorist organization in history; it operates, according to military experts, more as a terrorist army run by a functioning terrorist state. Its fighters range between 10,000 and 80,000 in number, depending on who’s counting – and everyone is. It commands a corps of foreign volunteers drawn collectively from a host of nations, including the United States, Britain, France and Belgium, the domestic security services of which are said to be stretched trying to monitor them all. Assuming that these foreign-born jihadists have not destroyed their passports, and assuming that Turkey’s border control is as lax as I remember it, there is every expectation that a few will return to their countries of origin and continue their holy war at home. In fact, they don’t even have to return from Syria to make the IS’s presence felt in the West: this new, too-extreme-for-al-Qaeda franchise can easily inspire or radicalize “lone wolves” sympathetic to the revolutionary romanticism it claims to espouse. YouTube sermons of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi or the latest takfiri hurrahs on Twitter may be all that is needed to have a disaffected teenager, whom everyone will later remember as the pleasant, fun-loving sort, decide to set something off in his native city. Former deputy CIA director Mike Morell said that he “would not be surprised” if an “ISIS member showed up in a mall in the United States tomorrow with an AK-47 and killed a number of Americans.” I would not be surprised if Baghdadi already relishes that idea.
It might seem odd but two inward-looking countries from old Europe and the Pacific, troubled twins with such strong cultures, offer insights into the future of globalization: Italy has campanilismo, or loyalty to the village bell-tower. The Japanese talk about takotsubo-ka, being caught in the clay pot that traps octopus. Japan is the world's third largest economy and Italy is ninth - though both have slipped in recent years. Both attract millions of visitors each year and sell their products around the world, yet remain stuck in a mindset that is fundamentally provincial.
Provincialism. Insularity. They may seem like bad words, but any visitor to these countries senses that fierce attachment to culture is part of what make Italy and Japan attractive. Visitors strolling into any village in either country, who ask for the local speciality, are treated to unforgettable delights. Both countries have an astonishing array of living dialects that are nearly incomprehensible to people from other parts of the country.
Provincialism can just be a snooty way of saying cultural vibrancy, but it can also be an economic shackle.
Japan and Italy are major developed economies that are struggling mightily with the trade-offs between preserving a way of life and adopting reforms - such as inviting foreign workers, promoting free competition and liberalizing labor - that could allow them to succeed in a globalized world.
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) -- The third Gaza War in six years appears to have ended in another sort of tie, with both Israel and Hamas claiming the upper hand. Their questionable achievements have come at a big price, especially to long-suffering Palestinians in Gaza.
In a sense, Israel got what it wanted: Hamas stopped firing rockets in exchange for mostly vague promises and future talks. But the cost to Israel was huge: Beyond the 70 people killed - all but six of them soldiers - the economy has been set back, the tourism season destroyed, its people rattled for 50 days and its global standing pummeled by images of devastation in Gaza.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces bristling from people who sense that Hamas controlled events and could not have its grip loosened on the Gaza Strip, which it seized by force from the Palestinian Authority in 2007. Around the corner lie international investigations into war crimes allegations.
Hamas is celebrating its success after surviving Israel's far superior firepower. The Islamic militant group's rocket fire emptied a string of Israeli border communities and disrupted Tel Aviv's international airport. Weak a few months ago, it may emerge as more of a player in Palestinian politics, and the plight of Gazans is again atop the world's concerns.
Lebanon was created out of the Sykes-Picot Agreement. This agreement between Britain and France reshaped the collapsed Ottoman Empire south of Turkey into the states we know today -- Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, and to some extent the Arabian Peninsula as well. For nearly 100 years, Sykes-Picot defined the region. A strong case can be made that the nation-states Sykes-Picot created are now defunct, and that what is occurring in Syria and Iraq represents the emergence of those post-British/French maps that the United States has been trying to maintain since the collapse of Franco-British power.
The Invention of Middle East Nation-States
Sykes-Picot, named for French diplomat Francois Georges-Picot and his British counterpart, Sir Mark Sykes, did two things. First, it created a British-dominated Iraq. Second, it divided the Ottoman province of Syria on a line from the Mediterranean Sea east through Mount Hermon. Everything north of this line was French. Everything south of this line was British. The French, who had been involved in the Levant since the 19th century, had allies among the region's Christians. They carved out part of Syria and created a country for them. Lacking a better name, they called it Lebanon, after the nearby mountain of the same name.
The British named the area to the west of the Jordan River after the Ottoman administrative district of Filistina, which turned into Palestine on the English tongue. However, the British had a problem. During World War I, while the British were fighting the Ottoman Turks, they had allied with a number of Arabian tribes seeking to expel the Turks. Two major tribes, hostile to each other, were the major British allies. The British had promised postwar power to both. It gave the victorious Sauds the right to rule Arabia -- hence Saudi Arabia. The other tribe, the Hashemites, had already been given the newly invented Iraqi monarchy and, outside of Arabia, a narrow strip of arable ground to the east of the Jordan River. For lack of a better name, it was called Trans-Jordan, or the other side of the Jordan. In due course the "trans" was dropped and it became Jordan.
ISLAY, Scotland (AP) -- Carl Reavey plunged his nose into the glass, inhaled the amber liquid's scent, then sipped. Slowly.
It's said that Scotch tastes of the place where it is made, so Reavey's Bruichladdich Black Art single malt would offer a touch of barley, a splash of the sea, and a whiff of salt from the island of Islay, 140 miles (225 kilometers) west of Glasgow.
That taste takes time - a long time - to produce, with top-rated Scotch aged for decades. And it means distilleries need to have long-term plans for investments and financing - all of which could be thrown into turmoil in a single day, Sept. 18, when Scotland votes on whether to leave Britain.
Whisky makers and many other businesses are worried about the risks involved in finding themselves overnight in a new country with, among other things, a different currency.
The elaborate diplomatic dance between India and Pakistan has been interrupted once again. The two sides remain far from a major breakthrough in their troubled relationship. As long as the Pakistani Army continues to view India as an existential threat and maintains its grip over security policy, the twain may never achieve permanent peace.
India has called off the meeting between its Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh and her Pakistani counterpart Aizaz Chaudhry scheduled for August 25 in Islamabad, after Pakistan's High Commissioner in Delhi met Kashmiri separatist leaders. This has ended the euphoria following Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's journey to New Delhi for the inauguration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi last May. Pakistan's decision to remind Indians of their dispute over Kashmir followed Modi's comments about Pakistani support for terrorism during a recent visit to Kargil, where the two countries fought a war in 1999.
Both Sharif and Modi spoke of the need to bury the hatchet during their meeting on occasion of Modi's inauguration. But the expressions of desire for normalization could not contain the more substantive problems in the India-Pakistan relationship. India remains unhappy over Pakistan's failure to prosecute terrorists involved in the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Sharif, on the other hand, must deal with hardliners in Pakistan's military who insist on seeing India as their country's permanent enemy - unwilling to look too closely at the terrorists involved in the attack.
For India, the 26/11 Mumbai attacks were as much a challenge as the 9/11 assault was for Americans. The 12 coordinated shootings and bombings carried out by ten Pakistani terrorists killed 164 people and terrorized India's commercial capital for almost three days before commandos flushed them out of various buildings, including five-star hotels and a Jewish Community Center. The images of the attacks, telecast live into Indian homes, are seared in the memory of most Indians.
Reality can be harsh. In order for the United States to weaken and eventually defeat the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, it could use help from both the Iranian regime and that of President Bashar al Assad in Syria. In the Middle East, it takes illiberal forces to defeat an even more illiberal force. The mullahs' Iran and al Assad's Syria sadly represent the material at hand, with which the United States must somehow work or tolerate, however surreptitiously, however much it will deny it at the same time. Ah, you might say, What about the moderate, liberal opposition in Syria? Answer: Such forces are more viable on paper than on the battlefield.
The truth is understood but cannot always be admitted, either by officials or by journalists -- the truth being that order is preferable to disorder, meaning dictatorship is preferable to chaos, even if dictatorship itself has often been the root cause of such chaos.
The Islamic State is the fruit of chaos. It arose in a vacuum of authority. That vacuum was created by both the weakening of an absolutist (albeit secular-trending) regime in Syria and the inability of a stable, power-sharing system to take hold in Iraq following America's dismantling of Saddam Hussein's own repressive rule. And the worse the chaos, the more extreme will be the reaction. Thus, from the conflicts in Syria and Iraq that together have killed many hundreds of thousands of people and have featured a plethora of armed groups, the Islamic State has emerged in all its horrifying barbarity.
This harsh moral and political reality extends beyond Syria and Iraq to the larger Levant and the Middle East. Egypt is now, once again, governed by an illiberal, Pharaonic regime, worse arguably than that of the deposed military dictator Hosni Mubarak. It has killed many demonstrators in the streets. It features a budding personality cult around its president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Yet it is a friend of Western and Israeli interests, whereas the democratically-elected government it illegally deposed, that of the Muslim Brotherhood, was demonstrably not a friend of the West or Israel. That's right, Western interests can sometimes -- often, actually -- be better served by autocracies than by democracies: that's if the autocracy in question happens to be more liberal and secular in its values than the democracy in question. It is the regime's philosophical values that are crucial -- more so than the manner of how it came to power.
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- The explosions rocking the Gaza Strip may seem far removed from the flashy cars and skyscrapers of ultra-rich Qatar, but efforts to end fighting between Hamas and Israel could hinge on how the tiny Gulf Arab state wields its influence over a Palestinian militant group with few friends left.
Qatar has been home to Hamas chief-in-exile Khaled Mashaal since 2012 and has carved out a role as a key financial patron for Gaza, buying influence while shoring up an economy overseen by Hamas.
That support is prompting accusations that Qatar helped scuttle a lasting truce in the monthlong Gaza war, piling on pressure as the U.S. ally finds itself increasingly isolated as larger Mideast powers marginalize Islamists following the Arab Spring.
An official from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement suggested Wednesday that Qatar torpedoed the peace talks. After signs of progress last week, Hamas negotiators returned to the table after consultations in Qatar with new conditions - prompting a similar response by Israel, he said.
The United States has a border crisis - with more than 50,000 unaccompanied minors streaming into the country overwhelming the administration. The obvious reasons behind their desperate journey of up to 1,600 miles are well known - fleeing violence, drug crime, poverty and lack of opportunities. But the solutions offered by the US government and politicians are short-term palliatives that do not address the fundamental causes including gender inequality and poor governance.
Most of the minors are fleeing from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, which have high rates of homicide and poverty. The violence threatens livelihoods, and in addition, about 40 percent of the minors coming from these three countries have a parent or family member living in the United States. Regional migratory surges are common when a struggling country has easy access to stronger, more developed economies and a constant onslaught of images touting wealth and comforts. Conflicts emerge when many in the host country fear the sudden influx might precipitate demographic, cultural or security threats. Migrations are more complicated when the influx is composed mostly of unaccompanied minors - a migratory challenge transforms into a humanitarian and moral dilemma.
The suggestions from politicians are many, ranging from a tough response from the United States and demands for emergency funding to strengthen border security, hasten deportations and relocate the humanitarian crisis to militarizing the border and setting up detention centers in home countries. Central American leaders ask for more US economic aid.
These are but shortsighted attempts to end the flow of children - as politicians and commentators bend over backwards to ignore the region's major challenge - high birthrates that contribute to desperate poverty.
Russia and Ukraine continue to confront each other along their border. Iraq has splintered, leading to unabated internal warfare. And the situation in Gaza remains dire. These events should be enough to constitute the sum total of our global crises, but they're not. On top of everything, the German economy contracted by 0.2 percent last quarter. Though many will dismiss this contraction outright, the fact that the world's fourth-largest economy (and Europe's largest) has shrunk, even by this small amount, is a matter of global significance.
Europe has been mired in an economic crisis for half a decade now. Germany is the economic engine of Europe, and it is expected that it will at some point pull Europe out of its crisis. There have been constant predictions that Europe may finally be turning an economic corner, but if Germany's economy is contracting (Berlin claims it will rebound this year), it is difficult to believe that any corner is being turned. It is becoming increasingly reasonable to believe that rather than an interlude in European prosperity, what we now see is actually the new normal. The key point is not that Germany's economy has contracted by a trivial amount. The point is that it has come time to raise the possibility that it could be a very long time before Europe returns to its pre-2008 prosperity and to consider what this means.
The German economy contracted despite indications that there would be zero economic growth. But the rest of Europe is faltering, too. France had zero growth. Italy declined by 0.2 percent. The only large European economy that grew was the United Kingdom, the country most skeptical of the value of EU membership. Excluding Ireland, which grew at a now-robust rate of 2.5 percent, no EU economy grew more than 1 percent. Together, the European Union scarcely grew at all.