06
Apr 14

Diplomatic Recognition

Officially, Taliban control of Afghanistan ended in 2001.  The movement, which had brutally enforced its interpretation of Sharia law for half of a decade, was overthrown by the American invasion and replaced by a democratic government led by Hamid Karzai.  Unfortunately, the official change of power did not entirely alter the reality in Afghanistan.  The Taliban remains in control of a number of the nation’s more remote sectors, and continues to pose a threat to the stability of the new government, particularly as it prepares for a new leader to take office.

Recognizing that the Taliban still wields power, Karzai and U.S. leaders have made attempts to deal with its leaders diplomatically, holding formal talks with Taliban representatives on several occasions.  Holding peace conferences would be a natural approach for most leaders facing a hostile government, but the Taliban is not a legitimate governing body (and was hardly recognized as one while it was still the leading Afghan power from 1996 to 2001); therein lies the problem.

On one hand, the United States can hardly ignore the reality that the Taliban still retains control in many areas.  Progress can only be made by accepting and confronting the actual situation.  However, dealing with the Taliban as if they are a legitimate governing body has unwanted implications.  It grants the group official recognition and elevates its status despite the fact that it no longer has any authority to govern.

This balancing act led to a considerable amount of political strife when the Taliban recently opened an office in Qatar.  The administrative building was accepted by the United States as a necessity to facilitate ongoing negotiations and talks with Taliban representatives; nevertheless, many remained wary of granting the group diplomatic recognition.  Their concerns proved valid as the Taliban quickly began to overstep, using the building to display the flag and name under which it had ruled over Afghanistan.  Naturally, Afghan leaders and many others were outraged.  The chance of any peaceful resolutions emerging from the new Taliban office quickly dimmed, and the building has since been indefinitely closed.

The Qatari incident illustrated how easily something as simple as recognition could escalate the diplomatic situation with the Taliban, especially as the group is almost certain to attempt to leverage as much power as possible out of any opportunity that it can seize.  Unfortunately, the closing of the only permanent means of maintaining political discourse with the Taliban has proved how difficult it is to conduct negotiations with a body that has no official offices or delegates.  There is no clear solution to the problem; the U.S. must essentially choose between partially validating the Taliban’s claims to power in hopes of progress or being unable to conduct effective negotiations with the group and having almost no diplomatic interaction with Taliban representatives.

There are valid arguments on both sides; however, it is likely more advantageous (albeit somewhat inconvenient) for the United States to avoid granting further recognition to the Taliban.  As events in Qatar showed, attempts to be diplomatic with the Taliban will not dissuade them from attempting to seize power.  If the Afghan government is weakened (a valid concern with a presidential transition in the near future), the Taliban will not hesitate to reestablish control.  Therefore, the United States must focus on establishing and maintaining solid relationships with Afghanistan’s new leaders, hopefully allowing for continued involvement of American military support.  Attempting to negotiate with the Taliban would likely harm relations with the Afghan government; ultimately, a strong alliance with the nation’s legitimate leaders is more valuable than a chance to converse with its enemies.

Treating the Taliban diplomatically could also set a dangerous precedent for foreign relations.  While it was once a governing body, it is now very similar to the terrorist organizations that have taken control of remote regions in Pakistan and other countries.  If the United States begins to treat the Taliban as a legitimate group, it may find itself having to negotiate with other organizations that claim to be governing bodies as well.  This situation would be difficult to handle under current circumstances, but could be made even worse should a group such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (known for violence and extremism) gain control of a city or region.  If the U.S. deals diplomatically with the Taliban, it would likely be expected to take the same approach to any other group claiming governance.  The potential harm of such a situation far outweighs any small gains that may or may not be made by holding talks with the Taliban; therefore, diplomatic recognition should be reserved for legitimate governments alone.

Source:

McKirdy, Euan. “Who’s Running? The Candidates Vying to Be Afghanistan’s next President.” CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 06 Apr. 2014. <http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/02/world/asia/afghan-elections-candidate-profiles/index.html?hpt=wo_c1>.


25
Mar 14

Removing Russia from the G8

Russian President Vladimir Putin has always been somewhat unpredictable, seldom taking the course that other world leaders would deem only logical.  His recent decision to intervene in Crimea and ultimately annex the region therefore, considering the nature of moves that Putin has made in the past, should have come as no surprise.  Nevertheless, the brazen act was hard to fathom for many leaders who have come to expect their counterparts, however eccentric, to play within the bounds of certain rules.

Although Putin largely ignored early repercussions, including U.S. sanctions against his inner circle growing in number and severity, the annexation of Crimea is beginning to draw more serious diplomatic responses.  The most notable action, taken by the United States and her most powerful allies, was the ejection of Russia from the G8 (now referred to as the G7).

The G8, a group of industrial powers that met regularly to discuss the future of economic issues, does not technically have authority.  It is a subset of the nations that compromise the G20, the more inclusive group that seeks cooperation between nations on economic policies.  Therefore, exclusion from the G8 does not entirely prevent Russia from influencing the matters that it discusses; nevertheless, it will have a significant impact.

Most immediately, removing Russia from the G8 serves as a diplomatic way of protesting Putin’s recent actions.  Although it will not have immediate effects on the Russian economy, ejection from the G8 has importance in its symbolic meaning.  It illustrates that the remaining G7 nations (the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan) condemn the military-aided annexation of Crimea and will not support such a violation of the expectations for international conduct.  Furthermore, it distances Putin from other leaders and suggests (as his actions already have) that he should not be a representative in a group focused on cooperation between countries.

The decision to remove Russia from future meetings also reinforces the recent approach that the Obama administration has been taking to many international issues, emphasizing long-term, diplomatic consequences over threats of immediate action or military intervention.  While the Russian government has downplayed exclusion by the G7, it has undoubtedly lost valuable opportunities to voice its stance on economic issues at a time when the ruble is already suffering.  Losing influence in economic matters will only further complicate the challenges that Russia is currently facing.

The G7 has left Russia’s reentry into the group on the table, although only by stopping short of explicitly denying that possibility.  In reality, Russia will likely remain alienated from many Western powers for the foreseeable future.  Trust has broken down on both sides of the relationship.  The United States and her allies have grown weary of Russia’s unpredictable actions and disregard for diplomacy, while Putin continues to reference past injustices that he feels the West has committed against Russia.

The Russian stance on relations with the West could lead to a significant drawback when it comes to the G7 suspending Russia.  Putin, a former KGB officer, is largely a product of the Cold War; he feels that his country was slighted by the West and, unfortunately, many Russians agree.  The G7 did not become the G8 (by including Russia) until as recently as 1998; although the Cold War had ended and the Soviet Union had become the Russian Federation, it was excluded from G7 negotiations for a number of years.  This is one of many Western actions that Russians have viewed as an insult, and the re-formation of the G7 reminds many of their anger over such issues.

In this way, Russia’s exclusion could stir feelings of nationalism and bitterness toward the West, helping to justify the the annexation of Crimea (which was separated from Russia when the Soviet Union was dissolved).  Nevertheless, American focus must remain on the long term.  Despite its possible downside, the diplomatic action taken against Russia remains highly preferable to a military response; it will simply require more time to be effective.  Eventually, Russia will recognize its need (particularly economically) to work with other nations.  The resentment that has recently boiled over will be overcome by necessity and present the opportunity for new, diplomatic relations to be formed.  Ultimately, the time required for exclusion from the G8 and other sanctions to take effect will be worthwhile, resulting in stronger and more stable relations with Russia in the future.

Source:

Acosta, Jim, and Victoria Eastwood. “U.S., Other Powers Kick Russia out of G8.” CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 24 Mar. 2014. <http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/24/politics/obama-europe-trip/>.


06
Mar 14

Speaking Softly

In the complex world of diplomacy, governments are almost constantly switching between the use of incentives and threats as they try to gain foreign cooperation.  The United States, as an influential global power, has a stake in a broad range of interrelated issues and therefore must play this game extremely carefully.  Unfortunately, as of late, the U.S. approach to many issues has come under criticism from the American media and public.

Syria has presented an especially difficult situation.  When the Obama administration assured the Assad regime that use of chemical weapons in its ongoing conflict would result in harsh consequences, many assumed that the United States was threatening to intervene militarily.  However, such action would almost entirely undermine the administration’s recent efforts to reduce U.S. involvement in the Middle East.  Entering a new conflict just as American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have shifted to playing a support role would ensure more years of entanglement.

Therefore, when the Syrian government did launch a chemical attack, the administration chose to resolve the issue diplomatically.  Arrangements were made for the entirety of Syria’s chemical weapon stores to be transported from the country and destroyed.  While this move was likely more practical than a military response, which could not have ensured that chemical weapons would not fall into the wrong hands, many viewed it as taking a weak stance.  Delayed deadlines and other problems in exporting the weapons for destruction drew greater criticism.  The administration, however, stood by its decision.  Now, roughly one third of Syria’s chemical weapons have left the country and the rate of exportation has actually increased.

The issue of chemical weapons in Syria illustrated the effectiveness of a diplomatic approach.  Conflict was avoided and, ultimately, a more favorable outcome was the result.  Nevertheless, critics remain.  Many Americans either prefer or are simply used to the past use of direct intervention by the United States.  Making concessions often raises fears that America will appear to be weaker than in the past, trying to appease other nations out of necessity.  However, the reality is that America can act diplomatically because of its clout.

Theodore Roosevelt’s view on foreign policy is often quoted: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”  This is exactly what the Obama administration has been doing.  America’s capabilities, military or otherwise, are well-known.  There is no need to resort to threats in order to assert dominance; most nations recognize that the military option, last resort or not, is always on the table.  Therefore, it is often more advantageous for U.S. officials to take a less threatening approach.  It prevents formation of the idea that the United States is forcing foreign powers to take certain paths and often makes other governments more receptive or willing to bargain without the U.S. having to give up anything.

This tactic was also evident during recent events in Ukraine.  As protests raged throughout the country, the U.S. refrained from direct involvement, moving to support the Ukrainian opposition indirectly through economic options.  This diplomatic approach prevented supporters of the Ukrainian government, specifically Russia, from having evidence to back their claims that Americans were interfering in Ukraine.  It also avoided the concern that always arises when considering military support for revolutionaries: weapons falling into the hands of extremists.

The diplomatic approach continued to work successfully after the protesters took control of their government.  When Russian forces moved into the Crimean region of Ukraine and asserted control over military bases, the U.S. again refrained from military involvement.  Instead, it threatened to levy sanctions against and freeze the assets of Russian officials responsible for the troop movements.  Furthermore, the Obama administration warned of the economic and trade consequences of such action, and made efforts to build European support.

Again, diplomacy was more successful than a military response would have been.  With the Russian currency suffering and the promise of more economic consequences, Russia began allowing Ukrainian military forces to return to their posts and loosening its grip in the Crimean region.  Although this situation is far from being entirely resolved, the events that have already transpired further support the American administration’s recent approach to such issues.

While military responses will undoubtedly be a necessity in the future, the recent efforts to avoid entering a conflict have proven a beneficial tactic.  The use of force should remain a last resort; in most cases, it is entirely effective as a deterrent alone.  Taking the political approach, although sometimes less popular, is ultimately the lowest risk way of pursuing American interests.

Sources:

Baker, Peter. “Top Russians Face Sanctions by U.S. for Crimea Crisis.” The New York Times 4 Mar. 2014: A1+. Print.
Cumming-Bruce, Nick. “Syria Speeds Its Deliveries of Chemicals for Disposal.” The New York Times 5 Mar. 2014: A4. Print.
Gordon, Michael R. “Kerry Takes Offer of Aid to Ukraine and Pushes Back at Russian Claims.” The New York Times 5 Mar. 2014: A6. Print.

19
Feb 14

Venezuela: Responding to Expulsion

The past several years have seen numerous movements for independence across the globe.  A single act of defiance gave birth to the often violent uprisings of the Arab Spring; a surprisingly peaceful referendum brought about the new nation of South Sudan; and more recently, protesters in the Ukraine have begun fighting for the right to determine their country’s future.  Venezuela has become the latest to join the ranks of nations experiencing unrest as a growing number of demonstrators take to its streets.

Nicolás Maduro, the current president of Venezuela, has faced a broad spectrum of problems since his disputed election to office.  Rising inflation, lack of access to basic necessities, and soaring crime rates have finally caused the public to speak out.  What began as peaceful demonstrations, unfortunately, quickly escalated.  In the first day of protests, three Venezuelans were killed by riot police.  This has fueled broader action and brought larger numbers, particularly students, to the streets.

Although some of the protesters’ complaints have been longstanding, demonstrations of this type were rare under Hugo Chávez (Maduro’s predecessor).  Furthermore, potential allies of the Venezuelan government are largely distracted by a mountain of other problems facing the region, and have been reluctant to commit themselves to offering assistance.  Maduro, perhaps worried by the unfamiliar instability and political uncertainties, has been taking gradually stronger measures against protesters.  He has cracked down harder on the ongoing demonstrations and called for the arrest of Leopoldo Lopez, an activist and leader of the opposition.

Maduro has also lashed out at the United States.  Claiming that several American diplomats were using a Visa program to help incite and organize protests, he has expelled them from the country.  It is no secret, of course, that the United States supports democracy and independence.  However, American officials have made it clear that they have no intention of interfering with Venezuelan affairs; they maintain that the future of the South American nation is to be determined by its people, without interference.

Nevertheless, Maduro remains adamant that the Americans have been working against him.  With no official international support and protests gaining momentum, it is not surprising that Maduro would not want to take the risk of allowing his opponents to gain support from the U.S.  However, his far from diplomatic approach in resolving the matter (combined with the fact that he has already expelled American diplomats twice this year) raise questions about the future of relations with Venezuela and Maduro’s government.

Naturally, it would be tempting for the U.S. to withdraw from Venezuela and its affairs, avoiding further accusations from Maduro.  This, however, would ultimately hurt both nations.  The latest expulsion of U.S. diplomats is part of what many recognize as a pattern in Maduro’s behavior: creating political conflict (especially with the U.S.) to distract public and media attention from other issues.  Therefore, while it may be best to temporarily avoid giving the Venezuelan government any reason to suspect American interference in the ongoing protests, the U.S. should remain poised to deal with the country in the long run, whatever the outcome of the current unrest.

Because many have recognized the political motives behind Maduro’s claims about the U.S., as well as the exaggeration and manipulation of evidence he has cited to support them, his move may have served as more of a blow to his own interests than to those of the United States.  As the protests continue, Maduro has only further hurt his credibility, which was already in question after he accused Lopez, who has only called for peaceful demonstrations, of inciting violence.  This may weaken the Venezuelan leader’s position as he attempts to garner support from neighboring governments or appease his own citizens.

With the truth behind Maduro’s claims well known, the U.S. has no need to assert its innocence.  On the contrary, it can allow the accusations to further discredit Maduro and thereby help the cause of the Venezuelan people.  Furthermore, with Lopez willingly turning himself in and the majority of protesters remaining nonviolent, the demonstrations are gaining considerable momentum even without American support.

Sources:

Neuman, William, and Andrew W. Lehren. “Venezuela Orders 3 U.S. Embassy Officials to      Leave.” The New York Times 18 Feb. 2014: A3. Print.
Shoichet, Catherine E. “Venezuela: Expelled U.S. Diplomats Have 48 Hours to
     Leave.” CNN. Cable News Network, 17 Feb. 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2014.
     <http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/17/world/americas/venezuela-expels-us-
     officials/index.html?hpt=wo_c2>.

30
Jan 14

Syria: Choosing a Side

The Syrian Revolution has been making headlines since 2011, growing increasingly complex and unstable as the Assad regime and its Hezbollah allies wage war against a variety of rebel groups, including some linked to terrorist organizations.  Wary of being drawn into another conflict in the Middle East, the U.S. administration has offered selective support to rebels free from the influence of extremists while working toward a diplomatic solution with the Assad government.  However, with international peace talks finally under way, this policy of technical neutrality has changed.

Congress recently made American aid to Syrian rebels official.  Although this means relatively little on the ground considering that the United States has been providing the rebels some form of aid, beginning with monetary support and growing to shipments of small arms, for many months now.  However, it is a decision with significant diplomatic meaning, one that has already upset Assad and his compatriots.

Much as Congress had not technically acknowledged U.S. aid to Syrian freedom fighters before this week, the Assad regime has avoided recognizing its opponents as rebels.  Although Syria is clearly in the midst of a revolution, its leaders maintain that their opponents are terrorists, fighting against the will of the nation rather than for it.  The recognition of and commitment to continued assistance for the rebels is, therefore, about much more than providing weapons.  Congress has, in essence, recognized the legitimacy of the rebels.

Although Russia has been openly supporting the Assad regime, providing money, weapons, and political assistance, the Syrian government views this as an entirely different arrangement.  From their perspective, it is an allegiance between two governments like any other.  By aligning the United States with Syrian rebels, Congress took official action that symbolically elevates the rebellion, showing that it carries the same status as an official government.  This broadens the divide between the United States, which is working to establish a transitional government that would bring an end to Assad’s rule, and the Syrian leadership that refuses to acknowledge that it is truly at war.

Despite the potential for diplomatic backlash, this is a step that the United States needed to take and timed extremely well.  First and foremost, it makes the American position on Syria inescapably clear.  As delegates for the Syrian government attending the current peace talks remain unwilling to budge, the U.S. has responded by digging into its position as well.  Congress has demonstrated that the establishment of a transitional government (which is supposed to be the entire purpose of the talks) is not up for debate.

The act could potentially lead Syria to reconsider its current position on aid as well.  Assad is fighting a war of attrition against his own people; unable to escape from blockaded cities, many innocent civilians are now suffering from malnutrition and related ailments.  Nevertheless, Assad’s representatives have repeatedly denied the United Nations’ request that humanitarian aid be allowed to reach the suffering.  The American decision is a way around the government’s obstinance; if it will deny its people basic necessities, the U.S. will provide that and then some.

Hopefully, the Syrian government will attempt to bargain, finally allowing humanitarian aid missions in exchange for a limit on military assistance to the opposition.  But even if they reject the chance to act diplomatically, aid will still be delivered to the rebels.  The U.S. stance falls short of backing Syrian leaders into a corner, but it will get the job done either politically or practically.

Furthermore, political backlash may not be the worst outcome.  Assad’s delegates have refused to compromise or even discuss the most pressing issues on the table at the peace conference.  Their counterparts representing the revolutionaries, however, have demonstrated much more professional and diplomatic behavior.  It is an ironic and slightly unexpected situation, but it has lent credibility to the rebellion.  Should the representatives from the Syrian government become outraged or begin making accusations, shifting the talks further from the topic of a transitional government, it will only further hurt their case.

The situation in Syria and the conference currently in session are highly intricate in terms of politics, with a large number of stakeholders contributing to their progress.  It is impossible to accurately speculate about the impact of any decision, but from almost any angle it is largely certain that official recognition of U.S. aid to the rebellion will only serve to strengthen the American position.


22
Jan 14

Final Topics (Passion and Civic Issues Blogs)

I have decided to continue using my Passion Blog topic from the Fall semester: Cultures and Customs.  It gives me the opportunity to delve into some lesser-known traditions from around the world, and I have a hard time thinking of anything else that would keep my interest for another ten weeks.

For the Civic Issues Blog I will be examining U.S. Foreign Policy and Diplomacy.  Recently, there seem to be a lot of issues related to how problems being are handled, many of which are interrelated.  The Syrian Peace Conference being held in Switzerland, for instance, has fueled long-standing conflicts between several Western nations and Iran.  I hope to gain more insight into how complex issues are intertwined and the intricacies of modern-day diplomacy.


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