Sunday, July 25, 2010

Under the Radar News

As I sit here without a car on a Sunday to get out of the metropolis of Maseru (with the added injury of being called at 7 ON A SUNDAY MORNING about borrowing it), I've been going over some news snips about matters that rarely covered but which may be of interest and - like the butterfly effect - could have consequences very far away.

If few outside of Eastern Europe, Russia and Caucuses have noticed, that's hardly a surprise.  But, recently the last dictator in Europe, President Lukashenko of Belarus has been at odds, to say the least, with Moscow. In a series of escalating moves, he has made an alliance of convenience with Georgia and its President, Sakaasvili to the extent that Sakaasvili was allowed to castigate Russia on a popular TV station in Minsk. To say that this has annoyed Moscow is an understatement.  I give it a month.

On the other side of the planet, Hugo the Great has severed ties with Columbia in a hissy fit claiming that Uribe was capable of and indeed, plans provoking a war with Venezuala and impeding regional integration. Chavez seems to be feeling left out of everything lately - haveing been so successful in destroyng the economy and unable of realizing it is Brazil calling the shots.

There has never been privately owned media in Turkmenistan - until now. The President, Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, has ordered it so.

In case it appears that the burqa ban is only an issue in Europe - Damascus has now made the move.

Finally, this is really discriminatory!  And from the Dutch, no less.

Independent Investigation Launched - Turkish Gaza Flotilla

About time.  Although it will come as a surprise to no one that Israel will refuse to cooperate with the UN on this investgation.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

and, speaking of Russia....and the ICJ

The recent advisory opinion by the ICJ regarding Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia will pose a problem for Moscow.  It's statements to the court may come back to haunt it.

Moscow stated that:
General international law prevents Kosovo from declaring independence, bearing in mind that the people of Kosovo do not enjoy a right to self-determination.

Russia rejects claims coming from those countries who support the unilateral declaration that international law "does not regulate independence declarations", and reminds that the UN Security Council declared Northern Cyprus and Rhodesia's independence to be illegal, since secession is forbidden outside the colonial context.
Violations of human rights of Albanians during the 1990s cannot be the justification for a unilateral declaration of independence in 2008.
Russia supported, to the extent of encouraging and sending troops to assist, breakaway regions of Georgia - Abkhasia and S. Ossetia.  At the time of Kosovo's declaration, Russia declared that acceptance would have consequences.  Many commentators pointed to the invasion of Georgia, ostensibly to protect the populations of Abkhasia and S. Ossetia from Georgian ethnic cleansing and prevent Georgia from reasserting central authority, as pay-back for Kosovo.

Yet the position that Russia's ambassador presented to the court does not reflect its positions regarding Georgian sovereignty and spells trouble for Chechnya and other non-Russian regions of the Federation.

It's first statement, that general international law does not allow Kosovar independence because the people have no right of self determination is not, in fact and law, true.  The court had previously decided in the case of East Timor that the right of self-determination exists in all circumstances under the fundamental principle of jus cogens - a principle of international law which is accepted by the international community as a norm from which no derogation is ever permitted.  Russia needs to consider the impact of this position on Chechnya.

The second point refers to a legal position that such unilateral declarations of independence can only be asserted within a colonial context.  This argument has been raised before, but has no general support in international law.  In any case, the advisory opinion distinguishes the Kosovo declaration as not an issue between nation states, but an internal matter which was triggered by the stripping of all of Kosovo's rights under the Yugoslav constitution under the Milosevic regime.  If Russia wants to pursue this position of independence only within a colonial context, how far back should we look?  Chechnya could, arguably, be considered a colonial possession, conquered and re-conquered several times in the  19th century by imperial Russia.  On the other hand, the Russian argument fails if applied to Abkhasia and S. Ossetia since they could not be considered colonies, ever, of Georgia.

Citing Rhodesia and Northern Cyprus in support of the illegality of the unilateral declaration of independence, Russia ignored the unique circumstances of each of those actions one of which involved the attempt to continue an oppressive colonial regime and the other which is political in nature. The political component is ignored by those, like Russia, who tend not to differentiate between the court's ruling which recognized the legality of the declaration as opposed to political recognition.  This is crucial for Cyprus, where the Greeks are opposing opening of any new chapters in EU accession talks for Turkey despite the commitment of the EU to do so based on the 2004 vote by Turkish Cypriots to reunite the island, while the Greeks voted it down. Only Turkey recognizes Northern Cyprus - a very similar situation to that faced by Russia in Abkhasia and S. Ossetia which have been recognized by Venezuela, Nicaragua and some insignificant island in the Pacific. Politically, it is unlikely that Northern Cyprus will be recognized as independent by anyone other than Turkey even if an argument can be made for legal recognition.

Kosovo is recognized, so far, by 69 countries, including the US, Germany and Turkey. Politics matters.  Citing Rhodesia and Northern Cyprus is an unwise legal position since both can be used to show the illegality of Abkhazia's and S. Ossetia's unilateral declarations.

Violation of human rights in the 1990s cannot be used as a reason for Independence in 2004 - the next argument put forward by Russia.  However, the court did not rely on the violation of human rights as the basis of its decision. Rather, it pointed to the stripping of constitutional rights granted to other regions of Yugoslavia - a position successfully put forward by Croatia.  Conversely, violation of human rights is precisely the argument used by Russia to inject troops in support of the Abkhazian and S. Ossetian independence movements. 

Despite the frequent admonitions that Kosovo is a unique situation and not precedent - admonitions made by Russia, Turkey (with it's eye on the Kurds in northern Iraq), the UK, US and Germany (in recent statements in Cyprus), it will be used as precedent.  But it will be politics, not international law that will govern the outcome.

New Russian PR Web Site

I''ve done my share of Russia bashing, but this new PR site by the Russian Federation - called Modern Russian - is pretty cool.  It actually provides some interesting information which would not normally be found in the news - except perhaps in Russia, and perhaps not even then.  Check it out.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

International Court of Justice - Kosovo can say what it wants

I have not read the advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice today regarding the legality of the Kosovar declaration of independence from Serbia in 2008, but will.  However, from the bits that I have read, it seems that the old saying "be careful what you ask for" really applies to this opinion.

Distilled, it seems the court opined that the declaration of independence by Kosovo was not illegal under international law.  This is a punt, it seems to me. Anyone can declare independence with impunity. It is not quite the same as shouting "fire" in a packed theater, but the court essentially affirmed the right to say whatever you want, to a point.  From what can be gleaned from the BBC reports, the opinion never stated that the secession was legal.  For what it is worth, I think that it is, but we can get into that at another time.

The ultimate result will be how this opinion will be interpreted by, say, South Ossetia, Abkhasia, the Basque region of France and Spain, Chechnya, Russia, France, Spain and Georgia - to name a few.  After I have had the chance to actually read the opinion, there will be additional analysis.  For the time being, I can positively guaranty that Prishtina will be celebrating and Belgrade will pout.

Update on Investigation for the Kyrgyz Republic

OK.  So, the OSCE refused my advice. Again. I'm astonished.

Here comes the investigation to determine why people killed each other in Osh.  Write your own conclusions.  It'll be as good as theirs.

Monday, July 19, 2010

International Investigation in Kyrgyzstan?

Yurt in Moonlight, KyrgyzstanImage by dwrawlinson via Flickr
The bloody inter-ethnic fighting in southern Kyrgyzstan, centred for the most part in the city of Osh, remains the subject of conspiracy theorists and confusion. However, I don’t find these arguments that have been put forward for an international investigation compelling.

Was the violence due to third party instigation? Probably, considering that the Kyrgyz Republic has suffered little from ethnic violence since independence. Osh is a predominantly Uzbek city, but there is little to indicate that the majority of Kyrgyz bore any sort of animosity toward the majority. Only in 1990 has the area seen this type of violence which has more to do with culture than ethnicity. The third party may indeed be the Bakiyev family whose removal from power cost their clan a great deal – both in power and money. Bakiyev’s son, who ran a particularly venal and corrupt operation, lost control of his cash generating vehicles of water and hydro-power, not to mention his percentage interest in the casino at the Hyatt in Bishkek. Attempting to destabilize the interim government by provoking attacks against Uzbek’s in southern Kyrgyzstan would be one, albeit short-sighted and ineffective ways of reversing the results of the revolution. Ineffective because, should the violence had continued it almost surely would have provoked a Russian military intervention and Moscow was decidedly in favour of the interim government. Furthermore, Tashkent might have intervened as well, although Russian troops would have likely prevented that from ever taking place.

Would Russia have been so cynical as to incite civil war for the sole purpose of sending troops to assure control over Bishkek? This does not seem plausible for two reasons. The first is that they supported the ouster of Bakiyev in the first place. Not the least because he reneged on the deal to toss out the NATA (read US) airbase in Manas, but also because he was completely unreliable – for anyone. The second reason is that Russia would need an invitation to rescue the interim government, which never came. The last thing Russia needs is another Georgia either politically or militarily.

Finally, it is difficult to follow the reasoning behind the claim of Islamic extremists. There is no evidence of any type of Islamic militancy being behind the events. It is in the interests of Tashkent – who threw the militants out of the Ferghana valley – and Bishkek to share any information regarding Islamic militant activity. The fact that the Uzbek military made no move to intervene makes this scenario exceedingly unlikely.

Which brings me back to the original point. Why convene an international investigation? The threat to stability in the region is certainly a concern – but not to the UN which would take forever to come to a conclusion while simultaneously irritating everyone in Bishkek, Tashkent and Moscow and accomplish, as usual, nothing.

An investigation by the OSCE, currently chaired by Kazakhstan, might be of some use, but to what end? To assign blame? That would be an enormous waste of time and might raise the temperature rather than the opposite. A regional discussion would be useful, behind the scenes and one not aimed at identifying a culprit. In Central Asia issues such as this are not discussed publically. They are addressed in private and in Astana, Bishkek or Tashkent. Keep in mind that the Kazaks treat the Kyrgyz as their little brothers, with more than a little condescension. The Uzbeks are the largest and most powerful country in the region, a fact that causes concern in the Kremlin, and not inclined to be tolerant of bad publicity. The Kyrgyz are fiercely proud and already feel put upon by the US, Russia, China and the rest of their neighbours, except the Tajiks, who are in worse shape.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Saturday, July 17, 2010

EU Consolation Prize for Losing Ukraine and Turkey: Georgia

There is nothing really wrong with the recent European Union decision to launch talks with Georgia on an association pact that would strengthen relations, although the title implies otherwise.  It's a little late and the big prizes, Ukraine and Turkey, have already been lost.

No one, of course, will admit to the fact that France and Germany blew it in Ukraine and deliberately removed Turkey from the accession table.  EU foreign policy remains a mystery of logic. But then, if it makes Sakashavili happy, what's the loss?

START and future Tea Bagger Foreign Policy

Since I am on my soap-box of the dangers to the rest of the planet arising out of future US foreign policy should the militaristic racist wing of the Republican Party seize control because of the lazy apathy of progressives in the US (where fortunately I don't have to live if I don't want to), let's look at Mitt Romney's recent Washington Post Op-Ed from two weeks ago.  Aside from the fact that the START treaty has the support of every thinking Republican and Democrat including Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and James Baker, former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger, former National Security Advisers Brent Scowcroft and Stephen Hadley, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Senator Richard Lugar, the ludicrously fact-challenged piece by Romney is wrong on every single point his pathetic ghost-writer attempts to make.

Let's create an index to measure Romney's (and every other race-to-the-crazy-right racist teabagger out there) mendacity. The scale is 1 - 10, with 1 indicating a more or less sane, logical and fact supported approach to developing a policy - in this case, foreign - and 10 indicating a severe case of moronous conservetousness best exemplified by the tea baggers spokesperson, Bachmann.

First, the strap-my-dog-to-the-car-roof ex-presidential candidate seems to believe that the preamble of a treaty is legally binding.  It's not.   And the fact that it allows a party to withdraw from the treaty if it felt national security was in danger is not unusual. It is normal and has been for every previous treaty. Of course, I am assuming the Mittster would not want to waive that right of withdrawal.  On the scale, this merely rates a 5 as it simply shows he needs to study more.

Next, in typical Romneyesque style, he absorbs and regurgitates the perennial uniformed view of the wingers that the US would be prevented from pursuing missile defence strategies. It does not. Rinse, repeat. It does not.  Since this is an outright lie, it rates an 8 on the index.

Amusingly, Romney also asserts that the treaty would allow Russia to build up its bomber based nuclear arsenal.  What color is the sky on his planet?  The entire concept of strategic nuclear bomber systems is a joke and has not be seriously pursued by either the US or Russia in 20 or more years.  Sure, Russia could march down that path. So what? The US could withdraw from the treaty or demand that the treaty be amended.  On the index, this rates a 7.

Finally, Romney asserts that the treaty allows Russia an advantage in warheads. The limitations on each side are the same.  This is an outrageous lie and earns a 9 on the index because it leads to his ultimate conclusion that the START Treaty endangers US security.

His conclusion flies in the face of even Bush's policy on nuclear weapons.  How far right is that. 

So, tell us Mitty - are you as stupid as Sarah?  Are you so desperate that you want to portray the US as the militaristic, racist society it is in danger of lapsing back into?  The failure to ratify START would send a signal to the rest of the world, particularly Russia and China, that the US was re-entering the shoot-first foreign policy choices of the right wing lunatics. 

The planet needs to take note that US foreign policy may take a turn for the worse, endangering others for purely ideological grounds and threatening military adventures which the world needs to think about now so that they can be countered if they come to pass with the rise of the right wing in the US.

Democratic Strategist

For those in the US - here is the warning. And remember Germany 1932.

Democratic Strategist

Sunday, July 11, 2010

World Cup Effects

Today is the final.  I happen to support Spain although I will be watching the game surrounded by the Dutch or their descendants in South Africa's Free State just across the border.  Everything where I live is decked out in orange.  If Spain wins - and their ball control performance has been nothing short of astounding - I'll have to run for it.  But I won't be able to run far because, among other things, the approval process for reports on my project go through a Dutch run implementation unit.

Nevertheless, one of the results of this World Cup has been a better view of Africa, and particularly South Africa by the rest of the world.  Yes, crime is awful in South Africa although concentrated in its major cities.  But - no one was mugged. No one was murdered. The vast majority of visitors - and the most came from the United States - had a great time and their eyes were opened to a continent whose public image is not great, to put it mildly. 

The media openly wondered whether South Africa would be ready.  Would the new, state of the art stadiums be finished on time?  What about infrastructure and transport?  What about safety?  What about...whatever? Would Soweto descend with knives drawn on spectators and tourists?  Lions in the streets? Nothing happened - except a hugely successful display of welcome, efficiency and hard work. Very few people in the developed world, especially Europe or the US thought South Africa, a relatively young country, could pull this off.

But then, take a look at Greece. A history of 2,000 years. The construction of the main stadium for the Olympic games was late.  Infrastructure construction and transport were insufficient. They were lucky to pull it off.

It would be nice to think that the roads, stadiums, housing, buses and police services do not need this type of event to be built.  South Africa is a rich country.  Yes, Soweto is still there and should not be given the governments wealth.  South Africa is the economic elephant in the room south of the equator and should be building its infrastructure, erecting schools, eliminating the Soweto's and corruption.  All without the need for a World Cup. 

To be fair, the same can be said of England.  Infrastructure improvements and development in London only started because of the upcoming Olympics.  That should not be the case anywhere.  Governments have the money to do these things - now. 

An Olympics or World Cup should not be the catalyst for improving the lives of people. 

Some other good things happened during this one month celebration.  Germans loudly and enthusiastically supported a great national team composed of largely non-Germans, including players from Africa and Turkey. The US discovered the game by watching and attending in person games played by its strong, it-ain't-over-till-it's-over team which impressed the commentators from Germany, England and South Africa.  FIFA, due to some truly outrageously bad calls (England's denied goal in particularly against Germany) is now discovering "technology" and "electronics" - previously rejected on some vague grounds.

The games were, however, Africa's moment.  Congratulations on a job very well done indeed.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Break's Over

Time to start posting.  And, just to get it out of the way, a comment on the recent Marist Poll indicating a whopping 26% of the US public does not know from whom America won its independence.  In case you think this is just about internal US social and educational problems, think again.

Because the fact that one quarter of the adult population is either unsure or, more alarmingly, named other countries (including China!) may have something to do with the election of some of the most stupendously ignorant people on the planet. 

Representative Michelle Bachmann (R Minn), believes, among other things, that the G20 is a harbinger of world government because economic cooperation and coordination leads to political cooperation and coordination. And that is bad because the US should not surrender its sovereignty to others - a logical leap into the abyss of stupidity.

Governor Jan Brewer (R Ariz) claims that the flood of immigrants from Mexico indulge in beheading (among other things) of Americans. Which is why she needed the racial profiling and fascistic law so that police would be required to say "your papers - let me see your papers" because if they did not, any red-neck could sue the police department for failure to be Nazi-like enough.

Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC) - claims that Hezbollah is partnering with Mexican drug cartels in the U.S. borderlands and may be planning "Israel-like car bombings of Mexican/USA border personnel or National Guard units."  The last time she poked her head out from whatever rock she lives under, she was exposing Muslim intern spies on Capital Hill and terrorists running convenience stores.

Republican National Chairman Steele claims that Afghanistan is Obama's war of choice and the US should not be there, apparently forgetting all the years from 2001 when Obama was not in power and Steele's friends were.

Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX) says that the US Constitution, Article 14, is a threat to security because it allows terrorist organizations to send pregnant women to the US, where any child born is automatically an American citizen. Consequently, I suppose, when they grow up they can embark on a terror campaign withing the US.

This list can go on and on.  The trouble is that these people glorify their ignorance in order to appeal to the least intelligent groups in the US and when elected, due to either a bitter, left-behind knuckle-dragging racist majority or the lethargy of those at the opposite end of the spectrum, can and do affect the foreign policy of the US with usually less than beneficial results.  These are the representatives of the 26%. The rest of the world should take note that if they come back into power, life will become much, much worse - for everyone.