In far too much of the world today, conflict consists of the same kind of heroic struggle at arms that Homer depicted 2,800 years ago in the Iliad, modified only by the longer-range lethality of modern weaponry. Such a contest has long been underway in Syria.
Those of us excused by accident of birth from participation in such struggles should take a moment to reflect on our monumental good luck -- and on what obligations might flow from it.
U.S. President Barack Obama declared four years ago that preventing genocide and mass atrocities is "a core national security interest and a core moral responsibility of the United States." Clearly, he did not see Syria as a test of this commitment. It is equally clear that there is no better illustration than Syria of the validity of both of the president's claims -- whether he still believes them or not.
True, as a result of a deal that spared President Obama the need to make good on his threat of military reprisal for Syrian ruler Bashar Assad's use of chemical weapons, the bulk of those weapons stocks are gone from Syria. That's no small reassurance considering what the Islamic State group would likely do upon capturing such weapons. Atrocity prevention duly noted and appreciated.
The recent battle over a plan to relocate asylum seekers across the European Union did little to appease the already deep fault lines among member states. The proposal was eventually approved, but only after a succession of threats, unilateral moves and violations of EU rules. During the negotiations Berlin was unusually uncompromising - an attitude it also showed during the discussions over Greece's third bailout program.
Although the economic crisis has made Germany the single most powerful country in Europe, Berlin is often unwilling or unable to completely shape the direction of the Continental bloc. Germany tends to lead its relatively weaker partners without having complete control of the process. In recent months, Berlin has decided to take a more visible role in decision-making in the European Union, increasing frictions with other member states.
Changing power relationships and polarities have defined Europe's geopolitical history; the Continent traditionally has had multiple power centers competing and sometimes cooperating with each other. Situations where a single power controls the rest are very rare. Berlin's recent behavior therefore raises questions about the future of the distribution of power in Europe.
Germany's Shifting Position
All political parties struggle to reconcile their core convictions with their desire to win elections. But apparently there's one party so pristinely principled that it despises its own electoral successes.
I refer, of course, to Britain's Labour Party. In choosing as its new leader Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time fixture of the hard-left fringe, the party has emphatically repudiated the winning ways of "New Labour."
Corbyn is a throwback to the doctrinaire socialism of the 1970s and 1980s, which became linked in the public mind to crippling strikes by imperious labor unions, economic stagnation, welfare dependence, reflexive anti-Americanism and enthusiasm for "revolutionary" forces around the world. An iconic image of the era: the actress and prominent "Trot" Vanessa Redgrave holding a Kalashnikov aloft while dancing with PLO gunmen.
The party's thralldom to the "looney left" paved the way for Margaret Thatcher's ascension and kept Labour out of power for 18 long years. Finally, in the early 90s, a band of young reformers led by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown jettisoned the party's tired collectivist dogma and launched a drive to modernize the party's image and governing philosophy. Inspired by Bill Clinton's success here, they borrowed heavily from his "New Democrat" playbook.
For the past six years, President Barack Obama has dominated the annual opening of the UN General Assembly, his words and initiatives driving the agenda and media coverage. This year, it was Russian President Vladimir Putin, making his first UN appearance in a decade, who stole the diplomatic show. Putin's call for a "grand coalition" against the Islamic State, an idea backed by even some U.S. allies, has placed the Obama administration, which has long clung to an "Assad must go" position in Syria, on the defensive. Although it would require at least a partial U.S. climb-down, Putin's initiative could help resolve a grinding conflict that has killed more than 200,000 people, facilitated the rise of the Islamic State, and generated a humanitarian catastrophe in Syria and neighboring states and the worst migration crisis in the history of the European Union. At the same time, Putin's address underscored how different the world looks from Moscow's vantage point-and how inconsistent Russian authoritarianism and realpolitik is with President Obama's dream of an open, rule-based international order.
Taking the podium as the morning's second speaker (after Brazilian president Dilma Roussef), Barack Obama described a turbulent world, balanced precariously between stability and chaos. At this critical juncture, the nations of the world had a choice to make. Would they rededicate themselves to the principles upon which the United Nations was founded seventy years ago, seeking shared security, prosperity, and human dignity through international cooperation? Or would they follow the siren song of those who still believe that "might makes right," both at home and abroad? Implicitly referring to Russia and China, the President Obama castigated oppressive regimes that seek the illusory order of tyranny, the "strongmen" who refuse to trust their people, who seek vainly to strangle the idea of freedom, and by their actions simply spark the "revolutions of tomorrow." Abroad, those same governments too often abandon the international rule of law for the law of the jungle, ignoring that power politics inevitably backfires in an "integrated world." Consider, for example, Russia's aggression in Ukraine, which had brought such economic pain (in the form of sanctions) to Russia itself. How much better would Russia have fared, the president asked, had it simply pursued its goals through diplomatic means? Not for the first time, Obama seemed genuinely perplexed that Putin-or any other world leader-would regard realpolitik as a legitimate form of statecraft, rather than an atavism no longer appropriate in a world of shared transnational threats like climate change, Ebola, and uncontrolled migration.
The problem, of course, is that Putin never got the memo that power politics is obsolete. In recent days the Obama administration has repeatedly warned that Russia's use of the UN Security Council (UNSC) veto in Syria threatens the credibility of that body. In his own speech from the UN podium, Putin reminded listeners that the postwar international order agreed at Yalta was founded explicitly on big power privilege. Each of the five permanent members (the P5) was endowed with a veto precisely to prevent a subset of the P5 from using the UNSC's enforcement power contrary to the will of one of its members. Putin also suggested that the United Nations should think long and hard before undermining or infringing upon state sovereignty through military interventions or the "export" of democratic revolutions. As evidence, one need look no further than the Middle East and North Africa. According to Putin, "instead of the triumph of democracy and progress we got violence, poverty and a social disaster," as outside interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria had created "power vacuums" filled by "extremists and terrorists," most notably the Islamic State. Implicitly addressing the West, he asked: "Those who have caused this situation: Do you realize now what you have done?" Rather than continuing down this path, the time had come for the international community to form "a broad international coalition against terrorism," akin to the one that defeated Hitler seventy years ago. The government of Syria, he insisted, must be part of this coalition against the Islamic State.
Putin's realpolitik was also on display in his discussion of the Ukraine conflict (a topic that caused the Ukrainian delegation to the UN to walk out). It was NATO's expansion into the post-Soviet space, he claimed, had created a "logic of confrontation" between "West" and "East." Indeed, he implied, the West had engineered the coup against Yanukovich that set off Ukraine's turmoil, seeking to force its exclusive alignment with the West. This was clearly too much for Moscow. As he made clear in his 60 minutes interview with Charlie Rose on Sunday evening, Putin is determined to protect the rights of the twenty-five million Russian compatriots that the collapse of the Soviet Union left outside of Russia's borders. In sum, Russia will insist upon some degree of sphere of influence over its "near abroad."
Today the U.N. General Assembly convenes in New York City to discuss and approve the long-planned Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Taking the place of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which end in 2015, the SDGs set new goals and targets for a wide variety of development issues, from global poverty to healthcare, over the next 20 years. With the Ebola outbreak still fresh in the public consciousness, and with chronic and tropical diseases grabbing headlines, there has never been a better time to reassess and refocus global healthcare goals.
As the goals and targets of the SDGs are debated, however, health policy makers need more than mere words to achieve results. A recent study by Hudson Institute revealed that many global health programs failed to take into account the challenges of political will and transparency, the importance of local participation in design and implementation, and the vital role of the private sector with its diversity in financing, product development, and service delivery.
According to its own evaluations, the World Bank found that many of its health programs were poorly implemented, with unrealistic targets and limited impacts on health. The African Union's 2001 Abuja Declaration, which required signatory nations to pledge 15 percent of gross domestic product to healthcare, was upheld by just six countries due to a lack of political will. Similarly, in 2003, the World Health Organization's "3x5" Initiative set out to treat 3 million victims of HIV/AIDs by 2005. In addition to not meeting its target, the WHO allowed 36 AIDS drugs to enter the African marketplace without evidence of bio-equivalency.
The United Nations' final report on the MDGs never mentioned the contributions of the private sector or the diminishing role of official government aid in the changing landscape of global health. For example, during the first 12 years of the MDGs, Hudson Institute found that 29 companies contributed $94.8 billion in monetary and product donations, technology transfers, voluntary licenses, training of healthcare cadres, and infrastructure building projects. Merck & Company, together with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, built Africa's first pediatric AIDS hospital and outpatient clinics in Botswana. Eli Lilly and Company transferred its multi drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) production technologies and technical support staff to companies in South Africa, India, Russia, and China.
When Chinese President Xi Jinping comes to Washington next week, will U.S. President Barack Obama again miss an opportunity to permanently deter conflict with China over Taiwan, as he and his predecessors have repeatedly done?
Obama is proud of accomplishing things no other president could achieve: health care reform, recognizing the Communist government of Cuba, and negotiating the Iran nuclear deal.
A Landmark Decision
During Xi‘s visit, the president can unilaterally announce a landmark decision that won't require either the concurrence of the U.S. Congress (which would support him on this issue in any event) or reciprocal action by the government of China. On his own, Obama could declare publicly that the United States will defend Taiwan against aggression or coercion from China.
BERLIN-During the last two weeks, it has been widely reported that the U.S. government has been developing a package of unprecedented economic sanctions against Chinese companies and individuals it alleges have benefited from cybertheft by their government. There seems to be a consensus in the United States behind a tougher response to Chinese hackers - five of whom were already indicted in May 2014. But, according to several reports, there were differences within the administration about whether or not to announce the sanctions before Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Washington, which begins on September 22. While the State Department wanted to delay the announcement - one official quoted in the Financial Times said it would "crater" the visit and there has even been speculation that China could cancel the visit if sanctions were imposed beforehand - law enforcement officials want to send a message that the United States was serious.
If the United States does go ahead with this tough new approach, it may create a dilemma for Europeans analogous to the one they faced after the United States imposed economic sanctions in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea last year. Although the sanctions the United States is now considering imposing on Chinese companies and individuals are not as extensive as the sanctions imposed on Russia, they suggest that the U.S. government could be prepared to apply a hard "geo-economic" approach to China despite the economic interdependence between them. It is easy to see how sanctions could be extended and expanded in future - China itself may retaliate and prompt a further escalation. In any case, although the United States may not expect EU member states to impose similar sanctions of their own, its sanctions will force banks operating in the United States to cease doing business with sanctioned companies and individuals and will therefore also affect European banks as sanctions against Iran did. Last July, for example, BNP Paribas was fined $8.97 billion and banned from dollar clearing operations for a year for violating U.S. sanctions against Iranian companies and individuals.
In some ways, it could be even more difficult to maintain transatlantic unity over sanctions against China than it was to do so over sanctions against Russia. While the annexation of Crimea and destabilization of Ukraine was widely seen as a clear threat to the European security order, even in those countries such as Germany that were generally in favor of close co-operation with Russia, the European interest is much less clear in this case - not least because revelations about U.S. National Security Agency surveillance have left some Europeans worried about U.S. cyber spying. Though European companies are also concerned about cybertheft, the temptation will be strong for European governments to stay out of what some may see as a bilateral dispute between China and the United States. While EU member states are not dependent on China for energy as they are on Russia, they are increasingly dependent on China as an export market and as a source of investment. For example, Germany's exports to China are almost double its exports to Russia. Meanwhile the U.K.'s focus on making the City a center for renmimbi trading led one U.S. official to accuse it of "constant accommodation toward China."
Thus the new U.S. sanctions illustrate once again the potential that the rise of China has to undermine the transatlantic relationship. In a conversation with Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton famously asked: "How do you deal toughly with your banker?" It is striking that, since then, the United States seems to have found a way to do exactly that. But Europeans now increasingly face their own version of Clinton's question. For some EU member states, particularly exporters like Germany, the question will be: How do you deal toughly with your customer? For other member states, particularly the countries of the eurozone "periphery," it will be: How do you deal toughly with your investor? Unless EU member states can find answers to these questions, China could again divide the West as it did over the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
They were the "best and the brightest" but on a spaceship, not planet Earth, and they exemplified the liberal optimism of their era. The original Star Trek, whose three-year TV run began in 1966, featured a talented, multiethnic crew. The indomitable Captain Kirk had the can-do sex appeal of a Kennedy; his chief advisor, the half-human, half-Vulcan Mr. Spock, offered the cool rationality of that "IBM machine with legs," then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. And the USS Enterprise, on a mission "to boldly go where no man has gone before," pursued a seemingly benign anthropological interest in seeking out, engaging with, and trying to understand the native populations of a fascinating variety of distant worlds.
The "prime directive," designed to govern the conduct of Kirk and his crew on their episodic journey, required non-interference in the workings of alien civilizations. This approach mirrored the evolving anti-war sympathies of series creator Gene Roddenberry and many of the show's scriptwriters. The Vietnam War, which raged through the years of its initial run, was then demonstrating to more and more Americans the folly of trying to re-engineer a society distant both geographically and culturally. The best and the brightest, on Earth as on the Enterprise, began to have second thoughts in the mid-1960s about such hubris.
Even as they deliberately linked violent terrestrial interventions with celestial ones, however, the makers of Star Trek never questioned the most basic premise of a series that would delight fans for decades, spawning endless TV and movie sequels. Might it not have been better for the universe as a whole if the Enterprise had never left Earth in the first place and if Earth hadn't meddled in matters beyond its own solar system?
As our country contemplates future military interventions, as well as ambitious efforts to someday colonize other planets, Americans would be smart to address this fundamental question. Might our inexhaustible capacity for interfering in far-flung places be a sign not of a dynamic civilization, but of a fatal flaw -- for the country, the international community, and the species as a whole?
The British government is leading the country inexorably out of the EU. That would have serious geostrategic consequences for Britain, Europe, and Ireland.
For Irish Europhiles, the election of Jeremy Corbyn on September 12 as the new radical left-wing leader of Britain's opposition Labour Party might just offer a glimmer of hope.
Not that his campaign to become Labour leader was reassuring for those who want Britain to remain a serious foreign policy player in Europe. Corbyn didn't hide his disdain for NATO, for U.S. foreign policy, or for Britain's involvement in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003-or his disparaging views about Europe.
But less than a week into the job, Corbyn wrote in a statement to his party's members of parliament that "Labour will be campaigning in the referendum for the UK to stay in the European Union," referring to the in-or-out vote on Britain's EU membership to be held by the end of 2017. He set very tough conditions for his support for membership, such as the imposition of a hefty financial transaction tax on the City of London.
BRUSSELS - Turkey, with a population of 75 million, is hosting around 2 million refugees from the ongoing wars in Syrian and Iraq. Lebanon, with less than 5 million citizens, is hosting over 1 million. Jordan, population 6.4 million, now hosts close to 1 million. These well-known figures show how the series of disputes among European decision-makers over relocating 120,000 refugees is ludicrously incommensurate with the problem. Yet it might well constitute another step toward the unravelling of the European Union.
The signatories of the Schengen Agreement, which created a borderless area across much of Europe, can certainly reinstate national borders in exceptional circumstances, as Germany unilaterally did earlier this week. It is not the first time that has happened. In addition to a couple of circumscribed episodes in the 2000s, Denmark did so in 2011 allegedly to combat smuggling, and France in the wake of the Arab Spring revolutions to prevent 20,000 Tunisians from entering from Italy (just as Tunisia was hosting 400,000 refugees from war-ridden Libya). Indeed, in 2011 there was talk of a Schengen crisis and the need to change rules. Countries on the frontiers of the EU have repeatedly called for better burden-sharing. But nothing has ever been done about it.
The unfolding refugee disaster is symptomatic of a profound European crisis. It shows yet again the fractures that have dramatically surfaced across the eurozone. These fractures have not split the EU yet, but this summer leaders came close to a tipping point, and there is nothing to signal that there will not be another roller-coaster negotiation as long as the deeper structural deficiencies of economic convergence across the continent are not addressed.
The current problem should also have been anticipated. The refugee crisis, incorrectly characterized by many as a migration crisis, has not merely fallen upon Europe. It is also a consequence of a foreign policy failure, shared by Europeans and many other countries, where international inertia allowed the 2011 Syrian uprising to become an interminable civil and then regional war.
Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris recently announced plans to buy a Greek island to give refugees from the Middle East and Africa a country of their own. Though he referred to his proposal as a “crazy idea” on Twitter, Sawiris is serious.
As a radical solution to providing land for the peoples of a war-torn continent, it certainly pales in comparison to an earlier plan from the first half of the 20th century, which was seriously considered by heads of state and, at one point, even the United Nations: the plan for Atlantropa, which would have involved the partial draining of the Mediterranean Sea and the creation of a Eurafrican supercontinent.
A German version of this article appeared in Suddeutsche Zeitung
The experience with the two last enlargement rounds has shown how important it is that EU accession candidates are given sufficient time and support to establish true rule of law. We are still coping with the consequences of badly enforced legal reforms.
Why is rule of law so crucial? The protection of human rights is at the heart of EU values. People living in the European Union are protected by the state and its institutions. Even if this does not work everywhere 100 percent, our level of protection is very high on a global scale. The rule of law, aimed at the protection of the individual, is the institutional implementation of the protection of civil liberties. The fact that so many people are currently coming to us from regions in the Middle East facing civil war has a lot to do with this. They know that they can find real protection here.
Rule of law, however, is more than laws and independent, functioning institutions. The essence of the rule of law lies in: an independent judiciary system; equality before the law; consistent interpretation of the law by the administration; and protection of media freedom -- all to be upheld by society at large. Parliament needs to protect these values with conviction and across parties. This is one of the reasons why it is so important that there be broad public and political support for enlargement in EU candidate countries.
Mother Russia can be quite generous when it comes to her collection of statelets. In the early 1990s, when a broken Russia had no choice but to suck in her borders, a severely distracted Kremlin still found the time and money to promote and sponsor the fledgling breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in Georgia and Transdniestria in Moldova. And as Russia became more economically coherent over the years, the number of Russian troops in these territories grew, and a bigger slice of the Russian budget was cut out to keep the quasi-states afloat.
These post-Soviet statelets have a good deal in common. They are all tiny - South Ossetia is roughly 3,900 square kilometers (1,500 square miles) and has about 40,000 inhabitants, Abkhazia covers 8,500 square kilometers and its population is about 240,000, and Transdniestria is 4,100 square kilometers and has a population of 555,000. They are also all economically isolated, effectively run on black and gray economies, and are largely dependent on Russia's financial largesse for survival. Most important, from Russia's point of view, they each occupy strategic spaces in the post-Soviet sphere where Russian troops and thus the potential for further intervention can apply acute pressure on Georgia and Moldova should they draw too close to the West. The presence of Russian troops in these breakaway territories forms the tripwire that any Western patron will be wary to cross when it comes to defending those countries in their time of need. This, after all, is the true deterrent value of statelet sponsorship.
But Russia's strategy has also gotten to be a lot more burdensome and much more complicated in recent years. In addition to readopting Crimea (covering 26,000 square kilometers with a population of 2 million), Russia has added to its basket of statelets the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic and Luhansk People's Republic (16,000 square kilometers collectively with a population of 1.5 million and 2 million, respectively) in eastern Ukraine. Though exact figures are hard to come by, various compiled estimates show Russia has annually been injecting about $300 million into Abkhazia and at least $100 million into South Ossetia and Transdniestria each to finance their annual budgets, provide cheap fuel, pay pensions and so on. In addition, Russia has allocated at least $2.42 billion in 2015 to support Crimea (not including military costs) and, according to a report written by Higher School of Economics analyst Sergei Aleksashenko, Russia has allocated at least $2 billion in the federal 2015 budget to sustain its military support in eastern Ukraine, a figure that continues to grow.
And the list is only getting longer. As the world has observed in recent weeks, Russian military support for Syrian loyalist forces in the coastal Alawite enclave of Latakia has dramatically increased, with all signs pointing to a long-term stay. Knowing that any negotiated settlement is likely to fall apart in the end, the Russian plan is to help Syria's Alawites carve out a de facto state. Meanwhile, back in the Caucasus, the long frozen conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh may also be taking a significant turn in the coming months. We see growing indications that Russia and Azerbaijan may be collaborating to shake up the status quo between Azerbaijan and Armenia, with Russia readied to send in peacekeepers and stay for the long haul in a bid to tighten its grip in the region.
As Republican presidential candidates bicker over who would tear up the Iran nuclear agreement fastest -- a spectacle which will be on full display at tonight's debate at the Reagan Library -- events last week in Congress made it all but certain that the deal will be a defining feature of global politics for the next decade.
The question is no longer whether we should move ahead with the deal, but how. While many of the agreement's opponents will live in denial and continue talking about what they would do to the deal, as though a wave of a wand (or an election) could make it go away, the rest of us need to start focusing on what we can do with the deal. Skeptics and supporters should be able to agree on one thing: The next American president needs to be someone who sees both the strengths and vulnerabilities of the agreement and, just as important, has a real plan to make it work.
We must be clear-eyed about both the challenges of this deal and the intent of the Iranian regime we negotiated with. Implementation is not inevitable -- in the coming years, it will require leadership that is vigilant and able to continue to rally the same international toughness that got us here.
Moving forward, our common posture towards Tehran needs to be one of steady distrust and unstinting verification. The burden of proof remains on Iran, and this agreement gives us the tools to deter violations and to catch anything that Iran tries. For this to work, Iran's leaders must understand that any attempt at evading its terms will be quickly detected and met with a decisive reaction from the United States and its partners.
Political responses to crises are often tardy and embarrassingly fad-driven, as with the current global outcry over the image of a three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on the Turkish shore. He was hardly the first innocent victim of this century's most brutal war. Where has the world been for the past 54 months? Indeed, the unfolding humanitarian crisis was an entirely foreseeable consequence of President Barack Obama's spineless Syria policy, and the Western European leaders who followed it. So, despite Obama's efforts to anesthetize the public, it is understandable if some collective shame for Western failures - driven by tragic images that went viral - has prompted Europe suddenly to announce that it will accept more refugees from the war-torn Middle East.
But how did the West become more responsible for the Middle East refugee crisis than the wealthiest Middle East states (whose funding of Islamist rebels helped to create that crisis)? According to news reports and think tanks, Arab Gulf donors have funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to Syria in recent years, including to Islamic State and other groups.
Even if Gulf states weren't at all responsible for aggravating the Syrian refugee crisis by strengthening IS, their wealth, proximity and cultural/religious affinities with the refugees should still make these countries far more responsible than Europe is for their welfare. The vast majority of refugees are Muslim Arabs. They therefore share a common language, religion, culture and ethnicity with the wealthy Gulf countries that have shunned them for reasons of national security (as if the West didn't have such concerns). Any dialect or denominational differences Middle East refugees may have with Gulf states are nothing compared to the cultural, linguistic, ethnic and religious differences between most Middle East refugees and the European countries they hope to enter.
Even more absurd, Gulf countries are bringing in foreign laborers to build up their vast, oil-rich territories. Putting aside their horrific exploitation of those workers (which is a scandal all of its own, even if campus protests, international boycotts and UN resolutions never mention it), why aren't they instead accepting Middle East refugees who would happily accept the work that imported labor is now doing? Similarly, why have no Gulf countries granted Palestinian refugees citizenship if they so readily advocate for them at the UN out of purported concern for their welfare? The cynical hypocrisy is staggering.