Asia Seeks Obama's Assurance in Territorial Spats

Julie Pace - April 19, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) -- As President Barack Obama travels through Asia this coming week, he will confront a region that's warily watching the crisis in Ukraine through the prism of its own territorial tensions with China.

Each of the four countries on Obama's itinerary - Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines - has a dispute with Beijing over islands in the South and East China Seas. Their leaders will be weighing Obama's willingness to support them if those conflicts boil over.

"What we can say after seeing what happened to Ukraine is that using force to change the status quo is not acceptable," said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, whose country is in one of the fiercest disputes with China.

Administration officials, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, have taken a tougher line on the territorial issues in recent weeks, sternly warning China against the use of military force and noting that the U.S. has treaty obligations to defend Japan in particular. But in an attempt to maintain good relations with China, the U.S. has not formally taken sides on the question of which countries should control which islands.

Why Obama Can't Explain Himself

Robert Kaplan - April 17, 2014

Secretary of State John Kerry evidently runs a tight ship, given the paucity of leaks that emerge from his office. So we know he is organized and disciplined. He is also an energetic risk-taker, jumping into high-wire negotiations with Iran, and forcing the Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table -- enterprises that could likely end in failure and ruin his reputation. This is a man with character. By contrast, his predecessor at State, Hillary Clinton, appeared to take few risks and has been accused of using the position of secretary of state merely to burnish her resume in preparation for a presidential run.

But there is one thing that Kerry has not been good at: explaining what he is doing and why to the public. How do these high-wire negotiations fit into a larger strategic plan? What do the Iran talks have to do with those between Israel and Palestine? What is the relationship between the two sets of Middle East negotiations and American strategy in Asia and Europe? The Obama administration has provided the public with little insight on any of these matters.

Why can't the administration explain better what it is doing? I believe the reason is that the administration cannot own up to the philosophical implications of the very policy direction it has chosen. It is as though top officials are embarrassed by their own choices.

The administration has refused to intervene in Syria in a pivotal way, and it has very awkwardly still not managed to make its peace with Egypt's new military dictatorship -- though it does not oppose the new regime in Cairo outright. But it is embarrassed that it has done these things. The Obama team wants to pursue a foreign policy of liberal internationalism, in the tradition of previous Democratic administrations. It wants to topple a murderous dictatorship in Syria. It wants democracy in Egypt. But instead, it finds itself pursuing a foreign policy of conservative realism, in the tradition of previous Republican administrations, like those of Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush. It is doing so because realism is about dealing with the facts as they exist on the ground with the goal of preserving American power, whereas liberal internationalism is about taking risks with the facts on the ground in order to seek a better world.

The Ukraine Crisis Leaves Germany Weaker

Ulrich Speck - April 17, 2014

The Ukraine crisis, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently remarked in the German parliament, really is a conflict between two worlds. On the one hand are the "postmodern" politics of the twenty-first century, the world of negotiations, compromises, and treaties. On the other hand is the world of classical power politics, whose rules are clearly paramount for Moscow. For Germany, there is more at stake here than for many other nations. German security, German freedom, and German prosperity are tied to the precondition of postmodern politics. In a world of pure power politics, Germany would be at a major disadvantage.

Germans abandoned power politics in 1945. Germany's total defeat was the moment at which the country abandoned everything that it had upheld for years: thinking in terms of war, conquest, and destruction. The new Germany was to be a better Germany, purged of militarism and aggression. The country's internal disposition had its external equivalent: a geopolitical environment in which the United States assumed foreign and security policy on behalf of a defeated Germany. West Germany was founded as a socioeconomic entity under a U.S. security umbrella. Only with great reluctance would the country yield to calls for rearmament.Speck is a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, where his research focuses on the European Union's foreign policy and Europe's strategic role in a changing global environment.

Today, Germany is the paradigmatic postmodern state. It has transformed its considerable economic potential not into military strength, as great powers do, but into prosperity and the construction of the EU. The EU itself is also a postmodern entity: a mesh of treaties and institutions whose strength lies not in the availability of battalions-hard power-but in the willingness of its members to recognize the EU's legal order. Conflicts are dealt with through communication, and diverging interests are evened out through compromise. In the short term, that is often arduous, but in the long term, it has been very successful.

As a postmodern state, Germany has created this congenial environment together with its European partners. Unlike countries such as France, however, Germany very much depends on such a postmodern environment. Germany can prosper only when the logic of power politics is superseded on the international stage by the logic of international and transnational cooperation. And only to the degree that strength is exercised in terms of economic power, and not capacity and readiness for war, is Germany an influential player on the world stage.

Taliban Victory in Afghanistan Would Pose Problem for Pakistan

Riaz Hassan - April 17, 2014

As the world awaits the outcome of the Afghan elections and the beginning of NATO withdrawal, it's generally assumed that Pakistan would welcome Taliban victory in post-2014 Afghanistan. This assumption is based on the perception that Pakistan supports the Taliban, yet a deeper look into intertwined demographic makeup of the two neighbors, the rugged geography and long history of conflict might lead to another conclusion.

The Pashtun make up about half of Afghanistan's population and have long regarded themselves as the "core" of their ethnic homeland. But that only tells part of the story. The Pashtun nation consists of around 42 million, and only 14 million live in Afghanistan with the rest living in Pakistan, where they represent about one sixth of the population. The Pashtuns straddle both sides of the Durand line, the international border between the two countries, which Afghanistan has never recognized. The Pakistani Pashtun areas now are the center of revolt against the Pakistani state. During the proxy war between the Soviet Union and the United States in the 1980s, Pakistanis were encouraged by the United States to allow the Mujahidin to seek refuge in Pashtun areas of Pakistan - the very areas devastated by the US-NATO and the Pakistani military campaigns against the Taliban insurgents. These areas have borne the brunt of the US drone attacks.

Pakistan treads a delicate tightrope. The Pakistani state is not hostile to its Pashtun population and has considerably sympathy towards the Afghan Pashtuns struggle to regain political power in Afghanistan. Given that Afghan Taliban are the most powerful Pashtun group, Pakistan has sought political alliance to appease Pakistani Pashtun and prevent more Pashtun from joining the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan or Pakistan. Pakistan also seeks such an alliance to have political and strategic influence in the post-2014 political configuration of Afghanistan. At the same time Pakistan does not want the Afghan Taliban as a sole political power in Afghanistan because that would encourage Pakistani Taliban to resurrect the old Afghan dream of Pashtunistan uniting the Pashtun of Pakistan and Afghanistan, this time led by Taliban under the banner of jihad.

Pakistan recognizes that the Taliban must share power with other ethnicities, including Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek, for an effective and enduring peace in Afghanistan. Pakistan does not want to see the resurgence of ethnic conflicts in post-2014 Afghanistan that would threaten the territorial integrity of Afghanistan and may also threaten Pakistan's national and territorial integrity. These considerations have given rise to competing imperatives in Pakistan's Afghan policy which it seeks to reconcile. The statement by Pakistan's national security advisor Sartaj Aziz, that "Pakistan does not have favorites in Afghanistan," reflects this realization.

Evacuation Came Too Late for Many on Sinking Ferry

Youkyung Lee & Foster Klug - April 17, 2014

MOKPO, South Korea (AP) -- An immediate evacuation order was not issued for the ferry that sank off South Korea's southern coast, likely with scores of people trapped inside, because officers on the bridge were trying to stabilize the vessel after it started to list amid confusion and chaos, a crew member said Thursday.

The first instructions from the captain were for the passengers to put on life jackets and stay put, and it was not until about 30 minutes later that he ordered an evacuation, Oh Yong-seok, a 58-year-old crew member, told The Associated Press. But Oh said he wasn't sure if the captain's order, given to crew members, was actually relayed to passengers on the public address system.

Several survivors also told the AP that they never heard any evacuation order.

The loss of that precious time may have deprived many passengers of the opportunity to escape as The Sewol sank on Wednesday, not too far from the southern city of Mokpo.

Why American Foreign Aid Works

Christopher Griffin & Patrick Christy - April 17, 2014

President Obama's visit to South Korea next week will highlight not only a critically important alliance, but also one of the greatest success stories of foreign aid in American history. South Korea, which once ranked among our aid recipients, is now a global partner that plans to increase its budget for foreign assistance by 11 percent this year. South Korea's success shows how U.S. foreign assistance can advance both America's security and economic prosperity.

The Korean War decimated South Korea's population and destroyed much of the country's economic and military capacity. The United States worked to rebuild its shattered ally over the following decades, investing roughly $35 billion in economic foreign assistance (adjusted for inflation), and working to secure Korea from future North Korean aggression. Today, of course, South Korea is a mature democracy with a flourishing economy, and Seoul an essential bulwark of security and stability in the Asia-Pacific.

South Korea's transformation was both a diplomatic triumph for the United States and a smart investment for American businesses and workers -- the entire $35 billion in economic foreign assistance that the United States provided its ally amounts to less than what the United States exports to South Korea annually. Because of its economic miracle, South Korea is now the tenth largest export market for U.S.-made goods, and is set to import even more U.S. goods as Seoul continues to implement the U.S.-South Korean free trade agreement reached in 2012.

South Korea has also transitioned from being a heavily dependent foreign aid recipient to a major international donor. In 2010, South Korea became only the third Asia-Pacific nation -- after Australia and Japan -- to join the OECD's Development Assistance Committee (DAC), a prestigious group of the world's largest funders of foreign assistance.

Is the West Powerless to Stop Russia?

Stefan Wolff - April 17, 2014

As the situation in Ukraine rapidly spins out of control, various Western leaders have stepped up their verbal warnings to Russia.

President Obama, in a telephone call with President Putin on Monday night, urged his Russian counterpart to stop meddling in Ukraine and threatened further sanctions.

The Secretary-General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, called on Russia to “stop being part of the problem, and start being part of the solution”, including by pulling back its troops from Ukraine’s borders. At the same time, the NATO Secretary-General emphasised NATO’s commitment to further strengthening collective defence at sea, in the air and on land in terms of “re-enforced defence plans, enhanced exercises and appropriate deployments.”

The EU’s foreign affairs chief, Baroness Catherine Ashton, issued a similar statement of concern following a meeting of its member states' foreign ministers on Monday, echoing NATO’s calls for Russia to pull back its troops and to stop further destabilisation of Ukraine. Similar to the US, the EU not only reiterated its political and economic support for Ukraine but also committed to further tightening its sanctions against Russia.

Sanctioning Russian Resources May Hurt U.S. More

Daniel McGroarty - April 16, 2014

With Russia showing no signs of standing down in eastern Ukraine, the U.S. and European Union are looking for ways to ratchet up non-military options to compel a Russian recalculation in the region. Sanctions against some of Vladimir Putin's favorite oligarchs, we've been assured, are just the front-edge of our arsenal. We can hit Russia, with its one-dimensional resource-based economy, where it hurts.

As Treasury Under Secretary David Cohen testified earlier this month:

"On March 20, the President signed the latest [Executive Order], which authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury, in consultation with the Secretary of State, to sanction any individual or entity determined to operate in sectors of the Russian economy specified in the future by the Secretary of the Treasury, including the energy, metals and mining sectors."

The under Secretary deemed the new authority "a very powerful yet flexible tool that will allow us to respond quickly and meaningfully as events develop in Ukraine."

Leveraging resource access may indeed be a powerful and flexible tool, but in whose hands? Because the hard truth is that at some point, since the end of the Cold War, the U.S. became far more dependent on Russian resources than policy-makers may realize. So much so that any effort to expand sanctions to Russia's energy, metals and mining sectors could prove a case study in the dangers of U.S. resource dependence.

Putin's Plan for Overturning the European Order

Ivan Krastev - April 16, 2014

Ivan Kratsev is Chairman of the Centre for Liberal Strategies in Sofia and a permanent fellow at the Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna. This essay is featured in the eBook "Crisis in Ukraine" from Foreign Affairs. Order your copy here.

Russia's willingness to violate Ukraine's territorial sovereignty is the gravest challenge to the European order in over half a century. The conflict pits a vast nuclear power against a state equal in size to France, an autocratic regime against a revolutionary government. The Russian intervention in Ukraine raises questions about the security guarantees that the West made to Ukraine after the country gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994, and it flies in the face of many Europeans' belief that, in recent years, a continental war has become all but impossible. The end result may be the emergence of a third Russian empire or a failed Ukrainian state at the center of Europe.

Russia's aggression in Ukraine should not be understood as an opportunistic power grab. Rather, it is an attempt to politically, culturally, and militarily resist the West. Russia resorted to military force because it wanted to signal a game change, not because it had no other options. Indeed, it had plenty of other ways to put pressure on Kiev, including through the Russian Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol, the Ukrainian city in which the force is based; playing with gas prices; demanding that Ukraine start paying off its government debt to Russia; and drumming up anti-Ukrainian sentiment among Ukraine's sizeable Russian population. Further, senior American figures had already noted that the Ukrainian crisis could not be solved without Russia, and European leaders had expressed their unhappiness about a new (and unfortunate) law that Ukraine's transitional government passed soon after it was formed, which degraded the status of the Russian language. In other words, resorting to force was unnecessary.

It was also dangerous: Ukraine is a big country, and its public, still in a revolutionary mood, is primed to fight for a patriotic cause. Moscow's intervention will provoke strong anti-Russian sentiments in Ukraine and will perhaps bring what's left of the country closer to the EU and NATO. Military intervention in Ukraine also risks unleashing a real humanitarian crisis within Russia. According to Russian sources, nearly 700,000 Ukrainians have fled to Russia over the last two months. Around 143,000 of them have asked for asylum. A war in Ukraine could triple these numbers. Finally, it is easy to foresee that Moscow's use of force will increase Russia's political isolation. It has already resulted in some economic and political sanctions, which could be a knockout punch to Russia's stagnating economy. By some estimates, the direct costs to Russia of a war in Ukraine could reach over three percent of Russian GDP (over $60 billion).

NATO Gets Tougher on Russia

Juergen Baetz & John-Thor Dahlburg - April 16, 2014

BRUSSELS (AP) -- NATO is strengthening its military footprint along its eastern border immediately in response to Russia's aggression in Ukraine, the alliance's chief said Wednesday.

Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO's air policing aircraft will fly more sorties over the Baltic region and allied ships will deploy to the Baltic Sea, the eastern Mediterranean and elsewhere if needed.

"We will have more planes in the air, mores ships on the water and more readiness on the land," Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Brussels, declining to give exact troop figures.

Moscow must make clear "it doesn't support the violent actions of well-armed militias or pro-Russian separatists" in eastern Ukraine, he added.

China on the Edge

Gordon Chang - April 16, 2014

There is something very wrong in China at the moment. China, I believe, has just passed an inflection point. Until recently, everything was going its way. Now, however, it seems all its problems are catching up with the Chinese state at the same time.

The country has entered an especially troubling phase, and we have to be concerned that Beijing-out of fundamental weakness and not out of strength-will lash out and shake the world.

So what happened in the past decade?

To understand China's new belligerent external policies, we need to look inside the country, and we might well start with the motor of its rise: its economy.

Australia's War on Science

Lyn Eyb - April 16, 2014

SYDNEY - Scientists here in Australia say they've discovered their foe: Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Since he came to power in September, some of Australia's finest researchers point out that their budgets have been slashed. They say their expertise is being ignored in favor of the views of skeptics with a dubious commitment to the facts.

Now the science community is speaking out over fears that the government's first annual budget could see a raft of further cuts at world-class research facilities, leading Australia to lose its reputation for cutting edge science and medical research.

A leading researcher who asked not to be named out of fear for his own funding tells GlobalPost that budget reductions are leaving scientists feeling as though science "is being systematically removed at all levels." He pointed to past and future cuts at universities, the Australian Research Council and even the country's premier science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO).

Nicolas Maduro's Failures All Too Apparent

Carlos Alberto Montaner - April 15, 2014

Nicolás Maduro didn't fare well in the first round of talks at Miraflores Palace. Man does not live by slogans alone.

He, his government and half of Venezuela for the first time had to (or could) listen in silence to the complaints and recriminations of an opposition that represents at least half of the country.

A revolutionary leader is a voracious and strange creature that feeds on empty words.

It is easy to spout revolutionary rhetoric in a pompous voice, gaze lost in space, perhaps looking for talking birds or miraculous faces that appear on walls, while accusing the victims of being fascists, bourgeois or any other nonsense that comes to mind.

Have the West's Actions Encouraged the World's Rogues?

Colin Robertson - April 15, 2014

It's a testing moment for the international order.

How will we respond to Russian actions that Prime Minister Harper describes as "aggressive, militaristic and imperialistic"? Is the NATO Alliance prepared to draw red lines? Will we defend the system that President Obama said we have worked "for generations to build"?

Collective diplomacy gets its shot at the Ukrainian crisis when ministers from the Ukraine, Russia, USA, and European Union meet this week in Geneva.

Success will depend on whether Russia commits to troop pull-back, removal of agitators, non-interference in the May 26 Ukrainian elections and then recognition of its new government. Ukrainian authorities must guarantee the rights of its Russian-speaking minority.

Pistorius and the Fear That Grips White South Africa

Pierre de Vos - April 15, 2014

The week has not begun well for Oscar Pistorius. Under relentless cross-examination from prosecutor Gerrie Nel, the Paralympian athlete, standing trial for shooting and killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, came across as an evasive witness.

Pistorius first told the court he had “accidentally discharged” his firearm, then he said he acted out of fear because he thought his life was in danger, and then he said he did not mean to pull the trigger. Only the second of these claims provides a plausible legal defence.

Because there was no actual threat to Pistorius' life, he cannot rely on the principle of self-defence. However, in South African law, the principle of putative self-defence may apply where the accused genuinely believed his or her life was threatened.

Where an accused is found to have genuinely believed their life was in danger and to have accordingly believed they were using reasonable means to avert an attack on themselves or their property, they may escape conviction for murder on the grounds that they lacked requisite intention.