The United Nations Security Council has authorized African Union peacekeepers, bolstered by French troops, to use force to protect civilians and restore order in the Central African Republic (CAR). CAR has been in chaos since a coalition of rebel groups toppled President Francois Bozizé in March. The violence has begun to take on sectarian dimensions, with tit-for-tat killings of Christians and Muslims. As Security Council members cast their votes in New York, news filtered in of an upsurge of fighting in the capital Bangui, between fighters loyal to the former president and those representing Seleka, the rebel movement which ousted him. French paratroopers almost immediately fanned out across the city and begun to restore calm but the operation was too late to save up to 400 people whose bodies were counted by the French embassy in Bangui.
Q1: What led to the current crisis in the Central African Republic?
CAR has suffered chronic instability since gaining independence from France in 1960. Francois Bozizé, the latest in a succession of military rulers, seized power in 2003 but never gained a firm hold on the state, following a well-trodden path of misrule which eventually provoked armed rebellion. His position became increasingly shaky following his declaration of victory in elections in 2011 that were widely seen as illegitimate. A collection of armed groups, mostly from CAR's Muslim minority, formed a movement called Seleka, meaning alliance in the local Sango language. Sweeping south from their base near the border with Chad and Sudan, they grabbed power in the capital, Bangui, in March 2013 after President Bozizé reneged on the terms of an earlier ceasefire. Seleka leader Michel Djotodia became interim president but has never been able to control the armed factions who helped install him.
In September Djotodia attempted to distance himself from the abusive Seleka forces by announcing the dissolution of the movement and the integration of rebels into the state security forces. But Seleka fighters have continued to operate unchecked throughout the country, preying on the population and committing horrifying abuses. The violence has intensified in recent months due to the formation of vigilante protection groups called anti-Balaka by CAR's Christian majority to oppose the mainly Muslim-and in many cases, foreign-Seleka forces. This has led to sectarian attacks in which civilians have been targeted by both sides. As a result of the nine months of instability and violence half of the country's 4.6 million people are in need of urgent assistance and more than 400,000 have been displaced. While Bangui has experienced violence, looting and instability, Human Rights Watch and other NGOs have uncovered evidence of mass killings, torture, and forced displacement in rural areas. These accounts are supported by the head of the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance (OCHA) who said that only a small fraction of those displaced and in need of assistance can currently be reached.
Has Thailand lost the knack of democracy altogether? Another government, this time of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, has effectively been forced out of office by street protests.
We have seen this roadshow now for a decade - Red Shirts backing the various governments associated with former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra; Yellow Shirts supporting the Democrat Party, aligned with parts of the military, allegedly close to some sections of the palace, determined that the Thaksin network should not rule Thailand.
Truly, some things never change. The old adage that in Thailand governments are made in the countryside and destroyed in Bangkok is proven true again.
Thaksin's forces have very strong support in the north and northeast and among Thailand's poor. The Democrats are strong in the less heavily populated south, and Bangkok is split.
China is amassing debt at a blistering pace.
Since June of last year, more than 10 provinces and cities in China have loaded up on fresh stimulus plans that total up to 20 trillion yuan ($3.3 trillion), according to a recent report by the Chinese newspaper First Financial Daily.
Even in China, where everything is bigger, that figure is huge.
PARIS (AP) -- France is coming to the rescue again, deploying soldiers in a former African colony to help stave off catastrophe - dirty work that Paris says it doesn't really want. France has its eyes on a dynamic new Africa that is creating jobs, not conflicts.
But the image of France as the gendarme of Africa is hard to erase.
French troops deployed to deal with the deadly chaos in Central African Republic just as some 40 leaders from Africa, including the Central African Republic's transitional prime minister, met in Paris on Friday and Saturday.
The summit made progress toward creating a French-trained African rapid reaction force to enable the continent to meet its own security needs - while allowing France to maintain ties to the region that may pay off economically in the longer term.
BANGUI, Central African Republic (AP) -- French troops rumbled into Central African Republic on Friday, trying to quell violence in the capital a day after armed Christian fighters raided Muslim neighborhoods, leaving nearly 100 people dead.
France began sending reinforcements within hours of a U.N. vote Thursday authorizing its troops to try to stabilize the country. But French officials insisted the mission's aims are limited - to bring a minimum of security to Bangui, where people now fear to leave their homes, and to support an African-led force.
"You have to secure, you have to disarm," French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Radio France Internationale. "You have to ensure that the vandals, the bandits, the militias know they can't use the streets of Bangui for their battles."
The streets of Bangui were deserted Friday morning, with the only vehicles on the road belonging to either international security forces or the rebel fighters who claim control of the government.
North Korea's regime is often casually dismissed as "crazy." Indeed, the existence of a hermetically sealed state -- a combination of communism and national fascism -- so closed-off to the outside world that the Internet does not exist except for a privileged few, strikes outside observers as beyond belief. Many aspects of North Korean totalitarianism, especially the personality cult surrounding its leader, Kim Jong Un, and trade and agricultural policies that cause widespread shortages, may border on the insane. But in one key aspect, in particular, there is nothing insane about it: its nuclear weapons program. North Korea's nuclear program makes perfect sense.
North Korea would have to be crazy to give up its nuclear capability. Why? Because of one word: Libya. American behavior toward Libya over the past decade may have convinced North Korea's ruling elite never to negotiate away its nukes. And that is true no matter what the Iranians may do.
In December 2003, nine months after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, a time when the invasion was still being viewed as a triumph of American power, Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi announced that he was giving up his nuclear and chemical weapons programs -- his entire weapons of mass destruction capacity, in fact -- and would open up his territory to international inspections, in order to ascertain his compliance. True, the Libyan nuclear program was not exactly dynamic, not nearly to the degree of the Iranian one. Yet, it existed. In any case, Gadhafi kept his word and the United States went on to normalize relations with Libya following decades of the latter's partial diplomatic isolation. For good measure, Gadhafi ensured that his intelligence services helped the Americans where they could in the Greater Middle East.
Then in early 2011 the so-called Arab Spring toppled regimes in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt. The moment anti-regime unrest surfaced in Libya, the United States deserted Gadhafi, encouraged his enemies, and, under pressure from humanitarians, intervened militarily along with NATO to aid the Libyan rebels. The intervention, by its choice of targets, had the undeclared aim of assassinating Gadhafi. As it happened, Gadhafi's grisly death was the upshot of a NATO attack on his convoy, leading him to be captured by rebels. Such was the thanks he received from Washington for voluntarily giving up his WMD. While Gadhafi's WMD program might not have posed a significant threat, its very existence was highly symbolic. Libya has since fallen into partial chaos -- chaos that has further destabilized regimes in the nearby Sahel region.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of the Front National in France, recently threatened to sue anyone who labelled her party as “extreme right”. This is interesting in many respects, most notably because it demonstrates the new-found confidence of a party increasingly portrayed as a normal, “democratic”, “republican” contender in the French political landscape.
Today, the Le Pens’ legitimisation strategy is commonly promoted beyond the party. It is implicitly accepted within mainstream politics and the media, but also increasingly within sections of academia – despite a large body of evidence suggesting the need for caution.
I recently participated in debates where it was argued that the Front National should no longer be classified as extreme right, and that it has become harder to claim that it is even right-wing. A non-specialist on the questions even declared, without irony, that the Front National was today more a mix of nationalism and socialism, and therefore neither left nor right, unwittingly reviving an old debate in fascist studies.
Yet just like its far right predecessors, the few social measures in the FN’s programme do not mean that it is leftist, let alone an alternative to “market economy”.
JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Nelson Mandela, who became one of the world's most beloved statesmen and a colossus of the 20th century when he emerged from 27 years in prison to negotiate an end to white minority rule in South Africa, has died. He was 95.
South African President Jacob Zuma made the announcement at a news conference late Thursday, saying "we've lost our greatest son."
His death closed the final chapter in South Africa's struggle to cast off apartheid, leaving the world with indelible memories of a man of astonishing grace and good humor. Rock concerts celebrated his birthday. Hollywood stars glorified him on screen. And his regal bearing, graying hair and raspy voice made him instantly recognizable across the globe.
As South Africa's first black president, the ex-boxer, lawyer and prisoner No. 46664 paved the way to racial reconciliation with well-chosen gestures of forgiveness. He lunched with the prosecutor who sent him to jail, sang the apartheid-era Afrikaans anthem at his inauguration, and traveled hundreds of miles to have tea with the widow of Hendrik Verwoerd, the prime minister at the time he was imprisoned.
During the Cold War, against all odds and the tenets of realpolitik diplomacy, every White House and U.S. Congress championed the cause of the ‘captive nations' of central and eastern Europe locked behind the Iron Curtain. The accession over the next two decades of Poland, Estonia and others to NATO and the European Union ended Cold War divisions and made the vision of a Europe whole and free a reality.
Unfortunately, Vladimir Putin's ongoing effort to roll back freedom's gains in Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia puts them at risk of becoming today's captive nations. To avoid marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall next year with the erection of a new wall separating a democratic and prosperous Europe from an authoritarian and kleptocratic Eurasia, the U.S. must develop a strategy for Europe's east.
As European leaders met in Vilnius, Lithuania, last week to chart the next chapter of European integration, the U.S. did not have a seat at the table. However, the future of the EU's relationship with six post-Soviet nations (Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia) in the Eastern Partnership will have enormous strategic consequences for American interests.
The Eastern Partnership began as a modest effort to strengthen the ties of Europe's east to the EU without offering membership. It has become the best way to foster transformation of post-Soviet nations by offering political affiliation, economic integration and elimination of barriers to travel with Europe. The partnership is driven by attraction, not coercion. Its powerful unspoken premise is that sovereignty requires democracy.
CLAREMONT, California-As U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visits Asia amid growing tensions between Beijing and Tokyo, another possibly more important development in underway in China. In mid-November, the third plenum of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) endorsed a blueprint of economic reform. At first glance, it is a bold step forward. After a year in office, Chinese President Xi Jinping has finally produced an action plan that, if fully implemented, should transform the Chinese economy.
The document not only endorses the principle of allowing market forces to play a decisive role in allocating economic resources, but also announces several major social and administrative reform measures. For instance, the system of "reform through education," which has been abused by local authorities to lock up protestors and minor offenders for up to three years without judicial review, is set to be abolished. The infamous one-child policy will be relaxed, although not eliminated. And rural migrants will be allowed to obtain full residency rights where they work and will have access to public services in small towns and cities, although not in medium-sized and large cities for now.
But even as Xi is to be applauded for his political courage in formulating this bold plan, there are limitations and difficulties involved in translating reform rhetoric into specific policies and outcomes. The plenum's outcome represents a political compromise among competing interests in the CCP. The plenum's final document leaves several critical reforms unaddressed, imposes substantial limits on some announced measures, and lacks specifics and a timetable.
The issue that is most conspicuous by its absence is the reform of state-owned enterprises (SOEs). While SOEs' corporate governance should be strengthened and they will increase their dividend payment to the social security fund by 30 percent over the next seven years, they will essentially continue to enjoy their monopoly protection and access to various subsidies. Maintaining the special status of the SOEs both contradicts the spirit of allowing market forces to allocate resources and dilutes other reforms. Obviously, SOEs will make it harder for private firms and foreign companies to compete on a level playing field. To the extent they keep their monopolies and access to cheap capital, they will hamper China's efforts to make its economy more productive and innovative.
With as many as 500,000 Ukrainians taking to the streets in recent days to protest over their government's failure to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union, President Viktor Yanukovych must find himself wondering whether he is facing a second Orange Revolution.
Twelve days on, there's no let up in the demonstrations, and cracks are appearing in the edifice of governmental power. Two members of parliament have already resigned -- along with the head of the presidential administration (though Yanukovych refused to accept the resignation) -- and some powerful oligarchs appear ready to similarly jump ship from what's beginning to look like an imperiled regime.
Yanukovych is right to wonder whether it's 2004 all over again, not least because the opposition, riding a wave of popular anger sparked by the jettisoning of the EU deal, is calling for him and his entourage to resign. Yes, the protests have occurred mainly in the central and western regions -- the most pro-EU and anti-Yanukovych parts of Ukraine -- but there have also been more modest anti-government demonstrations in the Russophone south and east (the Donbas), Yanukovych's bastions.
More important, there have been no rallies -- apart from some lackluster, stage-managed ones -- in support of Yanukovych, even on his home turf. Russia has shown no inclination to come to his rescue, though Vladimir Putin has bizarrely likened the demonstrations to a pogrom, adding that they were not spontaneous but organized well in advance to shape Ukraine's 2015 presidential election.
Israel has expressed serious concerns over the preliminary U.S.-Iranian agreement, which in theory will lift sanctions levied against Tehran and end its nuclear program. That was to be expected. Less obvious is why the Israeli government is concerned and how it will change Israel's strategic position.
Israel's current strategic position is excellent. After two years of stress, its peace treaty with Egypt remains in place. Syria is in a state of civil war that remains insoluble. Some sort of terrorist threat might originate there, but no strategic threat is possible. In Lebanon, Hezbollah does not seem inclined to wage another war with Israel, and while the group's missile capacity has grown, Israel appears able to contain the threat they pose without creating a strategic threat to Israeli national interests. The Jordanian regime, which is aligned with Israel, probably will withstand the pressure put on it by its political opponents.
In other words, the situation that has existed since the Camp David Accords were signed remains in place. Israel's frontiers are secure from conventional military attack. In addition, the Palestinians are divided among themselves, and while ineffective, intermittent rocket attacks from Gaza are likely, there is no Intifada underway in the West Bank.
Therefore, Israel faces no existential threats, save one: the possibility that Iran will develop a nuclear weapon and a delivery system and use it to destroy Israel before it or the United States can prevent it from doing so. Clearly, a nuclear strike on Tel Aviv would be catastrophic for Israel. Its ability to tolerate that threat, regardless of how improbable it may be, is a pressing concern for Israel.
HONG KONG: Ending months of speculation before the meeting of the Communist Party's Third Plenum and days of suspense since its conclusion, Beijing has revealed its reform plan. A 20,000-character document, called the "Decision on major issues concerning comprehensively deepening reforms," presents a sweeping 60-point plan to normalize China.
The plan leaves no doubt that reforms were designed to strengthen the party's control, with ever-so-cautious language hinting at an effort to contain internal critics on the left and wide-ranging decisions that go far beyond the economic realm.
In some ways, China is moving towards easing criticism on the human-rights front by abolishing the reeducation through labor prison camp system, easing the one-child-per-family restriction, and making the judiciary more professional and less dependent on local governments.
But the country is still run by the Communist Party, which shows few signs of willingness to ease its tight security grip. To safeguard control over implementation of reforms, the party established a new body called a Leading Small Group for the Comprehensive Deepening of Reform. No doubt, it will be headed by Xi Jinping, both party leader and state president.
For all the bluster and thundering certitudes of President Obama's critics, no one really knows for sure if Iran's new government is serious about pursuing a nuclear weapon. Thanks to the deal struck in Geneva last weekend, we are likely to find out sometime in the next six months.
The agreement is intended to test Iran's willingness to neuter its nuclear program in exchange for a way out of its deepening economic and political isolation. It is probably Tehran's last chance to avoid a U.S. or Israeli military strike aimed at destroying its nuclear facilities.
Although fairly modest in scope, the Geneva deal carries some obvious risks. Relaxing economic pressure now may sap the international community's will to maintain stiff sanctions on Iran indefinitely. And if the deal succeeds, Iran will gain a measure of international legitimacy without having to relent on its harsh internal repression, support for terrorism or hostility toward Israel.
Nonetheless, the worst outcome of all -- for the United States, for Sunni Arab states terrified of Shiite Iran's regional ambitions and for Israel -- is an Islamic Republic with nuclear weapons. President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry are trying to stave off that strategic calamity without resorting to war.
This analysis first appeared in Caixin
BEIJING - The recent government shutdown in the United States prompted a chorus of comparisons in China of the two countries' political systems. The general sentiment? "The American model of democracy is not the only way. The Chinese style may be another option."
But the comparison is inappropriate because it is based on two false assumptions. First, there is the belief that the political institution is the only variable that affects economic growth. Second, the idea that rapid economic growth is always positive.
Herbert Simon, the late American Nobel laureate in economics, explained that the factors that lead to growth are a subject that should be studied scientifically. Simply declaring growth a good thing is a value judgment, not a scientific one.