By the end of 2013, it appeared that a growing number of Americans and their elected leaders in Washington favored a reduction of America's role in the world. Yet after the successful uprising of the Ukrainian people and the aggressive, illegal response by Russia, no leader from either party has called for the United States to stay on the sidelines because the situation isn't relevant to America's security, prosperity or values. Good news indeed, and all the more because it contrasts so sharply with the prevailing anti-internationalist mood in Washington.
The invasion of Crimea struck a deep chord in the United States because it represents a threat to both American interests and values. One of the foundations of stability in the world is the absolute prohibition of employing force to adjust borders or annex the territory of another state. This is both a moral and a practical stance, because the wars of the previous century illustrated how a cascade of violence can be unleashed when borders are not respected.
The broad acceptance of this principle is reflected in the guarantees that both the U.S. government and Russia have provided to Ukraine regarding the sanctity of its borders. In the Budapest Memorandum of 1994, the U.S., UK and Russia all committed themselves to upholding Ukrainian sovereignty in exchange for Ukraine's return to Russia of Soviet-era nuclear weapons, as well as its agreement to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In1997, Russia acknowledged Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea in an agreement that allowed it to continue operating its naval base at Sevastopol. That same year, Russia also signed a Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Partnership recognizing Ukraine's sovereignty in Crimea.
By ordering Russian troops to invade Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has shown contempt for all these agreements. The American people understand that in a world where contempt for international agreements is allowed to stand, the risk of further aggression is substantial.
LILING, China (AP) -- The local Chinese official remembers the panic he felt in Room 109. He had refused to confess to bribery he says he didn't commit, and his Communist Party interrogators were forcing his legs apart.
Zhou Wangyan heard his left thigh bone snap, with a loud "ka-cha." The sound nearly drowned out his howls of pain.
"My leg is broken," Zhou told the interrogators. According to Zhou, they ignored his pleas.
China's government is under strong pressure to fight rampant corruption in its ranks, faced with the anger of an increasingly prosperous, well-educated and Internet-savvy public. However, the party's methods for extracting confessions expose its 85 million members and their families to the risk of abuse. Experts estimate at least several thousand people are secretly detained every year for weeks or months under an internal system that is separate from state justice.
Originally published in Kommersant
MOSCOW - The mayoral election is approaching in Novosibirsk, the largest municipality in Russia, as both candidates and observers there are fond of observing. But there's more at stake than just local leadership. Experts say the April election could be an important indicator of the Russian electorate's overall political mood.
Novosibirsk is a city that already has a "unified opposition," where representatives of different political parties are ready to cooperate to stand up against the government in power. It is also the capital of Siberia - a territory that plays an enormous role in the country's economy.
In the past few years, Siberian elections have been dull, and only the ruling center-right United Russia party has taken them seriously. But times are changing: There are several important political contests throughout Siberia in the next year and a half. What's surprising is that the issues candidates are talking about don't seem particularly Siberian. It's especially surprising that no opposition candidate has presented a platform tailored to the needs and challenges of the people living to the east of the Ural Mountains.
Is Pakistan fighting a losing war against the Islamists? It would appear so given the sort of confusion in the country about what this war is all about. There is also a lack of clarity on what is desirable (reconciling and reintegrating the Taliban, entering into a negotiated settlement the terms and conditions of which remain an enigma, or even an elimination and extermination of the Pakistani Taliban) and whether this is theoretically, let alone practically, possible. Then there is the nagging doubt about how much of what is achievable will be sustainable. Compounding to the problem are the multiple and often contradictory objectives (internal and external, tactical and strategic) which different agencies and organs of state seem to be pursuing. Worse still no one seems to have a clear idea on how to obtain these objectives, which is leading to state entities working at cross-purposes. The Taliban also have their internecine conflicts, turf wars, ego clashes and differences over tactics, for instance, on whether or not to talk with the Pakistani state. But despite this, they all are working (and killing) towards a common objective in pursuit of their ‘grand idea' of grabbing power and imposing their brand of Islam, first in Afghanistan and Pakistan and eventually in rest of the world. The Pakistani state and society, on the other hand, is split on who or what is the enemy, where it wants to go and how it wants to get there.
Shortly after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, the then ISI chief, Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha declared Pakistan's then enemy no. 1, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) chief Baitullah Mehsud, a loyal and patriotic Pakistani. The message that Pasha was sending was clear: in the event of hostilities breaking out with India (the eternal enemy!), he expected Mehsud to throw in his weight behind the Pakistan Army. This was almost as though the Pakistan army had more confidence in the TTPs fanatics than on its own firepower in taking on India.
The current Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar, who is trying to take on the mantle of security czar and chief peacemaker rolled into one, took a leaf out of Pasha's book when he declared in the National Assembly that ‘a clear majority of the Taliban were not enemies of the country...most Taliban groups had no animosity to the state of Pakistan' and that the elements that were targeting the state were doing to at the behest of foreign agencies (read CIA, RAW and Mossad). Amazingly, just days before he gave the Taliban a certificate of patriotism, Chaudhry Nisar had triumphantly unveiled the National Internal Security Policy to stem the tide of terrorism and Talibanisation in the country.
Surely there is something seriously wrong. In a country where the government spends nearly nine months to come up with a policy document to fight terrorists responsible for the deaths of nearly 50,000 people, and yet the man who makes the policy doesn't consider these terrorists enemies of the country! Of course, this comes as no surprise in a country where TTPs denials of involvement in an attack readily lapped up even though their fingerprints and footprints are clear in the involvement. Instead of condemning terror and demanding action against the perpetrators, politicians and religious leaders blame the government for its lapses and its inability to make peace with the terrorists. It is also a country where politicians and ministers in charge of the security policy are so terrified of coming into the cross-hairs of the terrorists that they are reported to be sending messages to the TTP about how they have carefully avoided saying anything against the Taliban. In these messages these leaders have washed their hands off the air strikes which they have explained as being ordered by the army in retaliation to TTP attacks, and have pleaded with the TTP to announce a ceasefire so that they could push ahead with a dialogue with them. From this it should be quite clear how this ‘phony war' is being fought and why it can't be won.
As bad ideas go, the creation of a new ethnic enclave separated from the historical motherland as a means of solving an international problem is about as bad as they get. But that's precisely what Russia's parliamentary embrace of the idea of a Crimean secession from Ukraine - and subsequent marriage to Mother Russia - envisions.
You don't need to cite history to prove this point: A quick scan of today's headlines provides irrefutable evidence that where shrinking empires and badly drawn borders have left behind isolated enclaves of one country's territory cut off by the territory of another, trouble isn't far behind.
Gaza, Guantanamo, Nagorno-Karabakh, Hong Kong, Gibraltar - enclaves or exclaves all - fuel violent or angry diplomatic disputes between rival claimants.
Extend the example just a bit further to include separatist enclaves or exclaves that have yet to win widespread diplomatic recognition and the case is even stronger. A short list of those would include Republika Srpska, the ethnic Serb section of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the breakaway "republics" of Georgia, and even Taiwan, which China regards as a renegade province.
KIEV, Ukraine (AP) -- One of the biggest mysteries hanging over the protest mayhem that drove Ukraine's president from power: Who was behind the snipers who sowed death and terror in Kiev?
That riddle has become the latest flashpoint of feuding over Ukraine - with the nation's fledgling government and the Kremlin giving starkly different interpretations of events that could either undermine or bolster the legitimacy of the new rulers.
Ukrainian authorities are investigating the Feb. 18-20 bloodbath, and they have shifted their focus from ousted President Viktor Yanukovych's government to Vladimir Putin's Russia - pursuing the theory that the Kremlin was intent on sowing mayhem as a pretext for military incursion. Russia suggests that the snipers were organized by opposition leaders trying to whip up local and international outrage against the government.
The government's new health minister - a doctor who helped oversee medical treatment for casualties during the protests - told The Associated Press that the similarity of bullet wounds suffered by opposition victims and police indicates the shooters were trying to stoke tensions on both sides and spark even greater violence, with the goal of toppling Yanukovych.
The fluidity and flexibility of al Qaeda is undergoing a defining test in Syria, where two of its affiliates, the al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), are engaged in a full-scale conflict with each other. Suicide attacks, mass executions, and random bombardment of disputed areas have rendered the conflict indistinguishable in its scope and violence from the presumably central confrontation between regime and opposition. Beyond the depletion of its ranks, al Qaeda also faces a severe challenge to its credibility, due to the abject failure in governance in the areas under its affiliates' control. Yet, in the midst of this, the jihadist cyberspace witnessed the circulation of a recording by al Qaeda's leader Ayman al-Zawahiri on a so-far unexplored topic: Bangladesh. But what may at first glance seem to be a diversion or digression on the part of Zawahiri could be part of al Qaeda's repositioning and its promotion of new vision and mission for the global network.
Bangladesh is presented in Zawahiri's words as an exemplary Muslim society. He stipulates that the true popular will is that a religious order be instituted in society and politics. Democracy, he opines, is illegitimate, and is also a farce, selectively withdrawn to disempower Islamists and applied to empower their detractors. Islamists who accept the democratic political process are thus in error and ought to radicalize. The Bangladeshi government, he insists, is on a campaign to undermine Islam and impose Western-style secularism. Radical apolitical Islamists, therefore, ought to politicize in their turn. While previous messages by al Qaeda ideologues had disparaged Islamists who do not subscribe to political radicalism, Zawahiri has now widened the demarcation line to be more inclusive. And contrary to the unforgiving rhetoric and practices of ISIS, Zawahiri proposes a code of conduct that dramatically moves the al Qaeda ethos toward more mainstream acceptability.
Zawahiri's message is notable for slamming Bangladesh's 1971 War of Independence, and it has been vocally condemned in Bangladesh. The fractured political culture of Bangladesh's capital, Dhaka, has seen the ruling coalition use Zawahiri's statement to accuse the opposition of harboring terrorist sympathizers, while the opposition has in turn accused the government of leveraging the message to obscure the retreat of democracy and secure international support. Zawahiri's statement seems to be of no relevance to the dispute raging in Bangladesh between the two main political blocs. However, it does address the ongoing discord among Bangladeshi Islamists.
While Bangladesh has enjoyed procedural democracy since 1991 - with a two-year hiatus in 2007-08 - the credibility of its frail democratic system has suffered amid corruption, dynastic politics, and an increasingly polarized political culture. At the same time, discourse of Bangladeshi exceptionalism - that it is a country less affected by the rise of Islamism - has continued, enabled by an active civil society scene with a visible women's movement, a youth culture enhanced by an upwardly mobile urban middle class, and the deeply entrenched political patronage system through which the main political parties maintain their constituencies. Furthermore, the collusion between Islamists and Pakistani oppressors in Bangladesh's War of Independence presumably precludes any rehabilitation that Islamists may seek, a fact that is continuously highlighted in the media and by the ruling coalition.
Nationalism is in the air. The scholars may talk about universal values and the need to combat all forms of determinism and essentialism. The media may see the world through the prism of universal human rights. The global elite may meet at Davos and proclaim the ability to engineer a liberal order that can defeat what it sees as primordial divisions. And yet nationalism -- as well as other exclusivist tendencies such as tribalism and sectarianism -- manages to survive and prosper.
Nationalism is alive and well throughout East Asia, where modern states united by race and ethnicity, such as China, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines, contest not lofty ideas but zero-sum geography -- that is, lines on the blue water map of the Pacific Basin. The advance of military technology (fighter jets, ballistic missiles, surveillance satellites, warships) has created a new geography of strategic competition between two great world civilizations, those of China and India. The Middle East has experienced less a democratic revolution than a crisis of central authority, in which ethnic, tribal, religious and sectarian identities have become more important than ever in modern times. In Europe, the steady decline of the European Union, originating in a half-decade-long economic crisis, has led gradually to the resurgence of national identities and right-wing, anti-immigrant movements. In the heart of Africa we see fighting and the fear of ethnic cleansing based on religious and tribal identities in the Central African Republic and South Sudan. Clearly, the scholarly, journalistic and business elites are speaking a different language than large elements of the masses worldwide.
The elite vision of a world in which a universal identity would vanquish narrower ones was a product of the end of the Cold War and the onset of the communications revolution. The Cold War's conclusion fostered the hope that a democratic universalism would make increasing headway, now that ideological battles were a thing of the past. The communications revolution that followed -- that is, the dynamic development of the Internet, smartphones, social media and more frequent and cheaper air transport links -- was believed to be an additional force for global unity.
But technology is value-neutral. It can be a force for division as well as for integration. The more that people of different origins and values come in contact with one another, the more they become aware of not just how similar they are, but of how different they are. Proximity, whether real or virtual, can ignite the deepest animosities.
Count me among those - a dwindling minority, I'm afraid - who think that politics should end at the water's edge. No one, Republican or Democrat, ought to take pleasure at the spectacle of America's foreign policies failing and the perception of America as a hobbled giant.
That is, self-evidently, what we're seeing: Russian boots are on the ground in Ukraine. North Korea is firing missiles. Iran's negotiators are playing high-stakes poker, while the U.S.-led side doesn't seem to know a flush from a straight.
In Syria, Iran's proxies confront al Qaeda forces (forces the administration two years ago congratulated itself for having defeated) while the much-ballyhooed agreement to remove chemical weapons has stalled.
Hard-won gains in Iraq have been squandered. There's a real possibility that the Taliban will reclaim Afghanistan once American troops depart. Venezuela is in turmoil. China is acting the bully in Asia.
As Venezuela passed the one-year anniversary of the death of strongman Hugo Chavez today, his successor Nicolás Maduro continued his crackdown against protestors demanding an end to corruption, rampant crime, and economic mismanagement. Since nationwide demonstrations began a month ago, clashes between Venezuelan security forces and protestors have resulted so far in at least 18 deaths and over 250 injuries.
Chavez's socialist experiment has left Venezuela's economy and society in shambles. A Gallup poll recently reported that the dire economic situation "pushed Venezuelan pessimism about the nation's economy in 2013 to an all-time high-62% of Venezuelan adults said the economy is getting worse, while a record-low 12% said it was getting better." Even official Venezuelan government figures show that one in four basic household goods, such as milk or toilet paper, is in short supply. What's more, growth in violent crime has accompanied the oil-rich country's economic slide. The Venezuelan Violence Observatory, a non-governmental group that tracks trends in crime, estimated that the country's homicide rate had quadrupled since 1998.
As many thousands of Venezuelans across the country have taken to the streets to demonstrate against their deteriorating economic and social conditions, Maduro has used increasingly heavy-handed tactics to silence critics, control the flow of information, and violently suppress political dissent. Regime security forces have banned street protests, fired tear gas and pellets into crowds, and raided offices of opposition members, while also temporarily blocking users from sending or receiving Twitter images, taking a Colombian television station off the air, and threatening CNN and other international media stations covering the protests. News reports indicate the Maduro government has also utilized pro-regime gangs known as colectivos to crack down violently on protestors. As opposition deputy leader María Corina Machado-a member of Venezuela's National Assembly whom pro-regime lawmakers physically attacked on the legislature's floor last year-recently warned: "We live under ruthless repression not only by State security bodies, but also by colectivos, and armed paramilitary groups protected by the Government."
The Maduro government's resort to violence and intimidation reflects, in no small part, the regime's growing fragility. Although Chavez used massive state oil revenues to buy public support, years of mismanagement at the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela have brought the Maduro government's foreign exchange reserves to a ten-year low. Moreover, Maduro's failed currency reform has resulted in rampant, 56% inflation. For Maduro, the Wilson Center's Eric Olson recently noted, "[p]ast strategies for navigating economic hardship with oil largesse are no longer viable given that oil production is falling, some unexploited oil has already been monetized, and the dual currency program is proving economically costly and increasingly untenable."
The recent transit of three Chinese warships between Java and Christmas Island, as well as the new Chinese aircraft carrier being deployed in the South China Sea, are causing predictable overreaction.
The fact is that neither of these are momentous events and they certainly do not herald the coming of Chinese naval superiority in the Western Pacific.
China is still way behind advanced navies, such as those of the US. It will be a long time before it has a true distant power projection capability able to wage sustained naval warfare. It has no history of carrying out modern warfare at sea or in the air and if it confronts the US on the high seas it will certainly lose.
None of this is to deny that China is making some quite impressive progress in its naval modernisation. That is only natural for an emerging power that until recently has not had a navy worth talking about. China is now highly dependent on seaborne trade and will be increasingly interested in securing its trade routes where possible. The fact is, however, that no nation is capable of defending all its trade routes. The best one can do is to co-operate with like-minded friends and share the burden of maritime security.
The unfolding political catastrophe in Ukraine has led not only to a vivid debate about appropriate crisis management but also to deep European soul-searching about the root causes of the disaster.
The situation is complex, and no one actor deserves all the blame. But it is now clear that the EU made almost every strategic mistake possible in its handling of the Ukraine file. Europe's leaders should examine those mistakes carefully to avoid making them again in the future.
Initially, the EU's Eastern Partnership appeared to be moving in the right direction. Until late 2013, the EU had an interesting offer for Ukraine: a series of association and free-trade agreements that would grant the country access to Western money and markets.
The EU institutions made the project a priority and created an impression of political unity around it. Even the European Neighborhood Policy's conceptual flaws, analyzed lucidly in a recent paper by Carnegie Europe's Stefan Lehne, did not derail the undertaking. Everyone expected the Ukrainian government to sign the EU accords at a summit in Vilnius in November 2013.
As illustrated by recent events in Ukraine, the post-Soviet space is still undergoing significant economic and political transformations. After the Soviet Union collapsed, the world welcomed 15 new sovereign states. Each of them chose a different path, some of which led to democracy and others that went astray.
Central Asian countries are still resolving many issues of statehood. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan all gained their independence in 1991. The first few years after the USSR's breakup were marked by enthusiasm for democracy, especially in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. The new electoral systems in these countries were characterized at first by a great deal of innovation. However, the political nomenclature, firmly embedded in a communist era, has failed to deliver.
The U.S. political scientist M. Steven Fish claims that the depth of change among elites determines the efficiency of economic reforms in countries transitioning to democracy. Central Asia's past political model could not have served as a basis for a constructive future. The ruling classes still share the Soviet mindset, leading to a centralized political system with a high level of economic and political state penetration. The controlled media are vulnerable to pressure, and the opposition movements, if they exist, are blocked and marginalized. The worst situation is probably in Turkmenistan, which is continuously among the lowest-rated countries in freedom assessments.
The Central Asian states are all distinct, but they share certain common features. The dominant religion is Islam, ranging from 60 percent in Kazakhstan to over 90 percent in Turkmenistan. After the Soviet era, national languages were revived, four of which - apart from Tajik - belong to a Turkish language family.
In occupying Crimea, Vladimir Putin has brought the Russian bear, snarling and clawing, out of its post-Cold War hibernation. An anxious world awaits America's response.
President Obama's challenge is three-fold. The first and most urgent task is to discourage Putin from authorizing deeper incursions into Ukrainian territory on the pretext of protecting their Russian-speaking compatriots from "fascists." That could be the thread that unravels Ukraine's independence.
Sending Secretary of State John Kerry to Kiev this week is a welcome gesture of U.S. solidarity, but in truth there is little Washington can do to stop Putin from grabbing a larger chunk of the country. No one is prepared to go to war over Ukraine, and the Russian strongman knows it. Nonetheless, Obama should spell out an escalating chain of penalties Russia will incur for further aggression.
Second, Washington must orchestrate a global chorus of condemnation of Russia's blatant violation of Ukraine's sovereignty, reinforced by sustained diplomatic and economic pressure on Putin to withdraw his troops. The third task is to solicit economic aid to help stabilize Ukraine's fragile new government and lessen its dependence on Russia.
It happened again. The defeat of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa in the municipal elections of Feb. 23 is not an isolated case. It is possible that 21st-century socialism, its ideological neighbors and the circuit of countries in the "Bolivarian" circle, known by acronym ALBA, are in a downturn.
There is a certain fatigue with the foolish language popularized by the late "Bolivarian" leader, Hugo Chávez. The pendulum is swinging in the opposite direction. The Venezuelan spectacle, with Maduro's bloody mistreatment of unarmed students, is too repugnant.
It happened earlier to Cristina Fernández in Argentina, to Manuel Zelaya in Honduras (he sacrificed his wife, Xiomara Castro, in the last round of elections), to José María Villalta in Costa Rica, to populist presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico, and Aníbal Carrillo in Paraguay.
That dusty statist discourse no longer convinces, although it retains its attractiveness in some places that are indifferent to experience.