Wednesday, January 17, 2007

In Spite of Wailing World, Babel Takes Golden Globe

On a blogging hiatus -- but this piece of info ... man! Babel won the Golden Globe for Best Picture. Maybe Babel is becoming a pet obsession, but oh do I hope for any other film to twart Babel's daft little Oscar hopes. Of course, with my kind of luck -- or perhaps: penchant for criticizing the winners like I did with Crash -- it'll probably just run away with that prize too. The only consolation? It only took one of out the seven GG's it was nominated for.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Tic Tacs #3: Long War By Petraeus, Harrison and the Air Force

Introductory portrait of General Petraeus, the American Commander in Iraq, in the Washington Post. Very interesting -- my European readers should read this, not least because it seems that the self-evident truth for any US government watcher that administrative and doctrinal turf wars matter and make the Goliath seem less monolithic than it is is often overlooked -- wilfully? -- by those who criticize it easily. Never explain by malevolence that which can be explained by incompetence -- or a learning curve.

Oh, and if you haven't seen it, this great piece by Harrison, which came out before Christmas, on the role of culture in nation-building. Of course this was always for the long haul: we are in the business of shrinking the Gap, and the agenda is exactly about formatting minds with each new generation. 200 years more until the End of History.

The generational aspect pops up here in this old December intro to the Long War through Air Force (!) Brig. Gen. Schissler who's deputy director for the GWOT in Joint Staff (do they actually still call it that?).

Then a clearly disturbed story from the LA Times about the surge plan being aprt of renewed neocon cabale. Come on: they cannot both be responsible for screwing up the post-conflict part and for wanting and having wanted more troops all the time. But maybe now is the time to listen -- not necessarily for the neocon rationales, but to the extent that they concord with military sagesse. Either way, yelling at the neocons is exactly what we don't need when important decisions are being presented to the public (cf. the note on seeing a monolith only above).

Some things are moving already on the new Iraqi strategy: dealing with unemployment should have been focus area very early on ... instead of adding to it. According to the AP some projects have already been launched, making a total of 11.000 jobs supposedly supporting almost 150.000 Iraqis.

Finally, more details are emerging on the new African Command -- it will exclude Egypt while CJTF in the Horn of Africa will stay with Centcom for another 18 months. All from the Christian Science Monitor.

And, as usual, do go read MountainRunner, this time for his 11 Steps To Success in Iraq.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Bildt's Myopic European Vision for Sweden

Former EU and UN Balkan envoy and Swedish PM Carl Bildt was named Minister of Foreign Affairs in Sweden back in early October. Bildt is perhaps the Scandinavian politician with the most international experience -- and he is a smart man. As a MFA he held a speech before christmas outlining grand traits of Swedish foreign policy, which is worth the read: comprehensive and straightforward reasoning.

One clear weakness though, as so often with those who think primarily within the EU paradigm: The role of security policy looks strangely downplayed and the policy recipes are even more blueeyed. Basically, the way forward for Carl Bildt is a Europeanization of Swedish foreign policy.

Despite my tremendous optimism on the power and opportunities of globalisation, I am one of those who regard the strategic perspectives of the next few decades with deep concern. And who are convinced that only a more intensive strategic discussion on the challenges we are facing will be able to lead to policies that move us forward.

Basically, what is important is to safeguard and further develop all the opportunities of globalisation for an increasingly open and better world – but to do this in full awareness of the strength of the forces that, if they succeed in growing stronger, risk throwing everything into disarray.

No global era of liberation and new opportunities has lasted for ever. War and confrontation have not been written out of history.

And these crucial challenges are to be found in areas that, in terms of today’s distances, lie close to our Europe.

An attempt at predicting the future in 2025, recently published by the EU Institute for Security Studies – The New Global Puzzle: What World for the EU in 2025? – stated laconically that “the political, economic and security outlook at the borders of the Union is likely to have deteriorated considerably” before then, and warned of the possibility of “a systematic breakdown of the Middle East.”

The trends are not difficult to see. Authoritarian states that lack legitimacy. Stagnating economies and rapidly growing populations. And at the same time, the increased role of religion in politics as well –which is not limited to the Islamic world alone. (...)

In our globalised world, both security and insecurity are also globalised.

And as we now look ahead, it is the developments in the forecourts of Europe – over towards Hindu Kush, down towards the Strait of Hormuz, the Horn of Africa and the cultural dividing lines of the southern Sahara – that represent the most serious threats we must be able to face in order to have faith in the future potential of globalisation.

If we want to meet these challenges, and secure the better world that will so clearly be possible, there is no alternative to a stronger Europe – with the examples it sets, with its initiatives and as a partner in cooperation with others.

And that conclusion is further strengthened by all the other new challenges that now confront us.

It is no longer possible for anyone to ignore the substantially increased importance that global environmental issues will have. Can we protect maritime resources from depletion so that we do not create risks for future generations? And the challenges involved in the significantly increased demand for energy can hardly be underestimated. The work to meet the new risks posed by new infections and diseases, in a time when viruses can also quickly fly first class between the cities of the world, will also demand a new level of international cooperation.

Being Minister for Foreign Affairs in Sweden today is not the same as it was yesterday.

We are living at the beginning of a major paradigm shift of our own. We are in the midst of a new phase of accelerating globalisation. We see the darkness at the edge of Europe’s strategic horizon. And we see how states are weaker and more tentative when confronted with all these new developments.

Naturally, national foreign policy still has a role to play. We have a role in developing cooperation in the Baltic Sea region and northern Europe, which will become ever more important. We must safeguard our national interests even in an age of internationalism.

But even so, these are not the crucial tasks.

The crucial tasks lie in strengthening European cooperation which can make us, together, the force in the service of peace, freedom and reconciliation that the world will be in ever more desperate need of.

They lie in safeguarding the ideas of the open society, open economies and the open world against those forces that want to turn back the clock.

And they lie in building better networks for international cooperation that can provide globalisation with new opportunities. To a large extent, this is of course a matter of the United Nations – continuing to build on the five lessons that Kofi Annan presented in his recent speech.

Our society has increasingly become both more Europeanised and more globalised.

Our prosperity has always been based on our participation in European and global economic integration – but even in these respects, we see how developments are accelerating.

The very limited mentioning of the transatlantic relationship makes this very hard to accept as a bone fide foreign policy for a small Western country. But thought provoking that Bildt actually feels this way: very top people can also be fundamentally wrong.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Sovereignty Is Back: UNSG Ban Ends Paradigm of State Accountability

According to AP, new UNSG Ban Ki Moon makes a poignant start in his new job -- by changing the basic direction of the UN from "pro-state accountability" to "anti-interference in domestic affairs":
New U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon ran into trouble on his first day of work Tuesday over Saddam Hussein's execution when he failed to state the United Nations' opposition to the death penalty and said capital punishment should be a decision of individual countries. The U.N. has an official stance opposing capital punishment and Ban's predecessor Kofi Annan reiterated it frequently. The top U.N. envoy in Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, restated it again on Saturday after the former Iraqi dictator was hanged.

Ban, however, took a different approach, never mentioning the U.N. ban on the death penalty in all its international tribunals, and the right to life enshrined in the U.N.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. "Saddam Hussein was responsible for committing heinous crimes and unspeakable atrocities against Iraqi people and we should never forget victims of his crime," Ban said in response to a reporter's question about Saddam's execution Saturday for crimes against humanity. "The issue of capital punishment is for each and every member state to decide."

His ambiguous answer put a question mark over the U.N.'s stance on the death penalty. It also gave the new chief an early taste of how tricky global issues are, and how every word can make a difference. Michele Montas, Ban's new spokeswoman, insisted there was no change in U.N. policy in what she described as "his own nuance" on the death penalty. "The U.N. policy still remains that the organization is not for capital punishment," she said. "However, the way the law is applied in different countries, he left it open to those different countries."

Can we just put this remark aside as Ban's "personal nuance"? Probably not. First of all, there is no such thing as a personal pov of a leader in this kind of position. Danish PM Anders Fogh tried it a couple of years back, but there can be no discrepancy between the PM and the privcate person's attitudes and beliefs -- not in the public sphere at least.

Why is Ban's stance on the death penalty so significant? Because the reason he uses to justify the absence of condemnation of the death penalty is something that goes fundamentally against the strong UN intervention paradigm of the 1990s.

The paradigm consisted -- consists -- in the same kind of accountability principle which is at the heart of the US National Security Strategy: states sovereignty i, must be, curtailed by their responsibility vis-à-vis their own citizens. If they fail to treat their citizens according to a set of lowest common denominators -- human rights factored with a dose of pragmatic reality -- they can be held responsible to "world society". What "world society" means in practice is then the stone of contention: should it mean the UN Assembly, The UNSC, the West or the US or what? Of course an argument can be made that the countries that do fullfil these criteria are already identified: its the OECD, and that they have a certain moral capital to spend here. In this sense, the UN intervention paradigm, which has been perceived as very leftist in some policy circuitws in the States is inherently close to much of the moral part of the neocon paradigm -- they sharre rationales, but differ just on who gets to decide. Kofi Annan spoke out on several occasions for this paradigm (from the UN perspective) -- notably in a 1999 Economist "by invitation" oped.

Against this paradigm stands another, the non-intervention or non-interference paradigm supported notably by all the dictatorships of the world and many developing countries, including India and China. It is best expressed in the principles of
panchsheel, ironed out in common by India and China, are also the principles behind the Cold War non-aligned movement. As explained in this post, the panchsheel are also at the heart of China's African strategy and concrete policies. Arguably, today's basic grand strategy battle is between the human rights, pro-interference agenda -- and that of the right to oppress and mistreat your citizens.

Ban now visibly opposes the former concept, even on a seemingly small subject. I do not believe this to be a gaffe, as hinted in the AP article. It is a symbolical message from Ban to his supporters: the UN shall henceforth not be used to circumvent national sovereignty -- "Go do what you please, we won't mind." The momentum of freedom is indeed waning.