Tag Archive | "The United States"

News Post: Signs of Democracy in Burma

Burma: a small yet increasingly geopolitically important country to the South of China. Little has been made in recent years of this reclusive military junta until it surprised the world with its democratic by-elections this past Sunday. The National League for Democracy (NLD), the pro-democracy party in Burma, won nearly all of the seats it contested in the legislature.  Though elated with the results, the Burmese people maintain a modest posture. One citizen said, “we can’t say we are on the democratic path yet… but over the next few years, under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, I think there will be more changes.” Daw  leads this incipient Democratic movement, and having won herself a seat in the national elections, takes on huge expectations in a country still dominated by men who served under the autocratic regime.

Aung San Suu Kyi

In response to these elections, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the Obama administration would ease sanctions against Burma, however; this move falls short of what the Burmese government expected. The harshest sanctions against Burma are targeted at the military and current government. They forbid international banks from conducting transactions with the country, rendering Burma unable to use credit, and, to make matters worse, they may only be repealed with Congressional approval. The administration plans to bypass Congress on national security grounds to repeal some of the lesser sanctions. Additionally, the U.S. plans to name an ambassador to Burma, establish a USAID mission and United Nations development program, allow non-profits to start initiatives focused on democratic movements, health, and education, and begin issuing visas to select government officials.

On its face, this sounds like a genuine response to humanitarian progress in Southeast Asia. Surely, this is all a consequence of Obama’s much touted approach to engage with authoritarian regimes and “meet action with action.” Not so fast, says George Friedman, geopolitical analyst and owner of the private intelligence analysis agency Startfor. Other, grander motives are at play here. Many, including Friedman, believe this is a smaller move in the Obama administration’s strategic “pivot” to Asia.

The Chinese have courted not only Burma, but Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Kenya over the past decade or so, building state-of-the-art port facilities in hopes of obtaining, as much as they possibly can, something China will never have: a border on the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean is an epicenter for global, commercial sea-lanes, and of increasing importance are those sea-lanes that carry oil and gas from the Middle East to fuel Asia’s profound economic development. Having been distracted by events in the Middle East for over ten years, the U.S. left China ample room to expand its reach threatening U.S. domination of the South Pacific region both economically and militarily. Now that the U.S. is turning its eyes towards Asia, it is reacting to China’s increased strength. Cozying up to what remains a very authoritarian regime in Burma is one such example.

China-hands will continue to watch this fascinating match-up between two geopolitical heavy-weights unfold, which undoubtedly will raise both political and legal issues concerning free access to international sea-lanes and ports, territorial sovereignty, and global influence in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea.

Posted in DJILP Staff, Michael Cox, TVFA PostsComments (0)

News Post: U.S., Russia try to Dissuade Israel from Preemptive Strike on Iran

In recent months, tensions between Israel and Iran have been on the rise and speculation has been growing that Israel may attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (The Inquisitr)

Although Iran says its nuclear program is meant to develop energy, it has refused to negotiate guarantees that the program is peaceful, giving rise to security concerns – particularly in Israel, where leaders think that Iran’s nuclear program is a threat to the continued existence of Israel.  Recently, discussion in both the U.S. and Israel has turned to the issue of whether an Israeli strike can do enough damage to the Iranian program to be worth the risks.

Military analysts at the Pentagon say that an Israeli attack meant to setback Iran’s nuclear program would be a highly complex operation.   Michael V. Hayden, prior CIA director from 2006 to 2009, said that “airstrikes capable of seriously setting back Iran’s nuclear program were ‘beyond the capacity’ of Israel’” However, military analysts have also said that if the United States decides to get involved, it has the military power to effectuate an attack of the scale desired by Israel.

Last week, America’s top intelligence official told a senate committee that a successful bombing of Israel may set Iran’s nuclear development program back by one or two years at most. Most experts agree that Iran now possesses so much technological information that no air campaign could destroy its ability to someday produce a nuclear weapon. Both the United States and Russia have advised against a preemptive attack on Iran, but Israeli’s foreign minister has said that the state will not give in to pressure in deciding whether to attack Iran.

General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff acknowledged in a recent television interview that Israel and the U.S. have divergent views on the best course of action on Iran. “I’m confident that (Israel’s leaders) understand our concerns that a strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve their long-term objectives,” Dempsey told CNN. However, Dempsey did not go so far as to say that the U.S. has persuaded the Israelis that it was best not to attack Iran.  The White House has said that it believes the intense punitive sanctions imposed on Iran have had some impact and that there is still time for a peaceful resolution to be reached.  Even so, many in the U.S. fear that Israel will act unilaterally, and that the United States will be sucked into finishing the job.  Others believe that increased U.S. involvement in the Middle-East will cause an increase in oil prices and endanger Obama’s reelection campaign.

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Sources: BBC, Washington Post, CBS

News Post: Implications of a U.S. Drone in Iran

Sources: BBC, Washington Post, CBS

Sources: BBC, Washington Post, CBS

On December 4th Iran surprised the world with claims that it had downed and captured an American surveillance drone. At first, these claims were met with skepticism, that is until Iran finally unveiled video footage of the actual drone. The video depicted the seemingly undamaged RQ-170 Sentinel stealth aircraft. Iranian officials claimed that its forces electronically commandeered the aircraft approximately 140 miles from the Afghan border and were then able to safely land it inside Iran. Considering the little damage to the drone, BBC security correspondent saysthis is likely to be true. Iranian officials then acknowledged the wealth of technological information that could be garnered from the aircraft.

Meanwhile, the United States denied Iran’s assertions that the drone was either shot or brought down by a cyber-attack. Explanations for the occurrence claim it was more likely a technical failure that led to a crash. The drone was actually being operated by the CIA, which is said to have possession of almost a dozen such aircraft, and has been using them over the past four years to conduct surveillance deep inside Iran, most likely of nuclear weapons. The use of these drones mirrors the Obama administration’s more confrontational posture towards Iran in recent months. Obama, in 2009, famously tried to reach out to Iran to improve relations, but there is growing skepticism within the administration over the effectiveness of these diplomatic overtures and increased economic sanctions. Increased arm sales to Iran’s neighbors along with threatening statements by U.S. officials have accompanied this change in posture. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, has reaffirmed that all options remain on the table, including use of the military, to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. U.S. officials have noted the administration’s strategy is to ratchet up the diplomatic pressure while increasing covert operations with Iran with the hopes of coercing Iran to abandon its nuclear activities.

The U.S. also fears a dangerous setback to its advanced stealth technology programs. Iran could “reverse-engineer the chemical composition of the drone’s radar-deflecting paint” and the highly advanced optics technology. Additionally, Iran could sell the technology to Russia and China, something that U.S. officials dread. Iran has come to view this as a volatile propaganda tool as well, as the drone was presented in front of two banners: one proclaiming “The U.S. cannot do a damn thing” and the other depicting the American flag with skulls instead of stars.  Iran has also called on the UN to denounce the “provocative and covert operations” of the U.S. and calling it “tantamount to an act of hostility.” Iran also summoned the Swiss ambassador to protest the “invasion” of Iranian airspace.  Iran and the U.S. have severed diplomatic ties; thus, Switzerland’s embassy represents American interests in Iran.

The implications for international law are expansive. The U.S. is and has been using stealth aircraft within the sovereign territory of Iran to collect intelligence, and it is also threatening that further military options are possible due to Iran’s continued refusal to abandon its nuclear ambitions. Iran has already denounced the act as “tantamount to an act of hostility” using language that seems to imply that the U.S. is already using or almost using illegal use of force. The question remains, however, whether the U.S.’ actions are justified in light of Iran’s own disregard for international law based on its refusal to abandon its nuclear program and oppressive treatment of its citizens.

Posted in DJILP Staff, Michael Cox, TVFA PostsComments (0)

Sources: CNN, BBC, Dawn.com

News Post: NATO military accident leads to Pakistan’s likely withdrawal from Bonn Conference

Sources: CNN, BBC, Dawn.com

Sources: CNN, BBC, Dawn.com

Over the weekend continued disputes on the Kunar border led to the accidental deaths of 24 Pakistani soldiers in their military outpost and Pakistan’s boycott of the Bonn conference.  This was not the first of such accidents involving NATO or the United States near Kunar (Afghanistan), which borders Pakistan.  Past incidents include a disputed military action in 2008 where Pakistan claimed that 11 soldiers were killed in a bombing attempt aimed at Taliban insurgents.

This is an area rife with conflict.  Accidents commonly occur due to the lack of available intelligence and the difficulty of surveillance in the mountainous region.  It is occupied by both the Pakistan and Afghan military, but it is also a common spot for Al Qaeda, Haqqani and Hezbi groups to travel between borders.  As one Afghan analyst stated, it is “the perfect storm” for the disputes and military accidents to occur. This complicated structure leading to accidents has increasingly led to issues between NATO, the U.S., Pakistan, and Afghanistan.

These continued attacks have led to Pakistan’s boycott of the Bonn conference and could potentially lead to problems with the withdrawal of American troops from Pakistan beginning next year.  At this time, Pakistan is claiming that the NATO attacks were unprovoked and that NATO’s claims that this was a response to defend troops under fire are untrue.  As a result, Pakistan is protesting the upcoming Bonn Conference and Pakistan’s participation seems unlikely at this time.

However, while Pakistan is currently boycotting the Bonn conference and its leaders are reluctant to attend the Bonn conference, Afghan officials and NATO are urging Pakistan to reconsider.  The Bonn conference is meant to help facilitate and eliminate conflicts such as this. Afghanistan and other nations are hopeful that Pakistan will reconsider the boycott.  However, at this time it appears that Pakistan will not be involved in the Bonn Conference.

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The pink elephant in the room

The Pink Elephant in the Room

What makes a Palestinian intifada different from other Arab revolutions?  David Aronofsky, University of Montana General Counsel and adjunct faculty member in the Schools of Law and Education, asked this very provocative question during this year’s Sutton Colloquium. The Colloquium, which hosted a diverse group of panelists from around the country, came to a rather uncomfortable pause. After a minute or two, Lt. Colonel Rachel VanLandingham pointed to Professor Paul Williams’ tie (adorned with pink elephants) and announced, “There’s a pink elephant in this room.”

The pink elephant, of course, was Israel.

Israel and the United States share an intimate relationship. Since 1985, the United States has provided nearly $3 billion in grants annually to Israel.  Israel also enjoys widespread protection by the United States’ veto in the U.N Security Council, as well as the power America holds by threatening cuts in financial support to any satellite U.N agency that contemplates the thought of Palestinian statehood.

The pink elephant in the room

The pink elephant in the room

Much of this intimacy is codified in federal law. Following Palestine’s recent admission into the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), for example, the Obama administration immediately halted payment of more than one-fifth of the agency’s total funding (a whopping $60 million).  Why? Because according to legislation passed during the 103rd meeting of Congress in 1994, the United States is prohibited from funding any U.N. agency that recognizes the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as being of the same standing as member states.  The administration enforced the law in this instance because Mahmoud Abbas, current chairman of the PLO, submitted the original request for UNESCO’s recognition of Palestine.

Why does federal law single out the PLO specifically from international recognition? The alienation may stem from the fact that the PLO used to be considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department until the Oslo Accords in 1994.  Congress very well may have decided to de-list the PLO as a terrorist organization but still wanted to ensure that it would never gain international recognition in the form of the Palestinian statehood. Interestingly enough, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party also has terrorist roots. Most recognizable of these roots is the Irgun, a paramilitary organization that was responsible for the infamous King David hotel bombing during the years of the British-Palestinian mandate.

President Obama has not been so keen to respect other federal and constitutional laws, however. This includes Western involvement in Libya. Arguably, American intervention in the recent NATO incursion in Libya was all but prohibited by the War Powers Resolution and constitutional provisions restricting the executive power of the president. Libyans are different from Palestinians in that they do not have their own Israel to deal with. But does President Obama have the authority to cherry pick which federal laws to enforce?

Assuming, arguendo, that American intervention in Libya was a mere military excursion supported by Resolution 1973, what, then, becomes of the U.S.-vetoed Security Council resolutions forcing Israel to comply with international law?  President Obama, to an extent, clarified this stance in his March address to the nation on U.S. intervention in Libya. He clarified that America’s responsibility to protect (“R2P”) is contingent upon her national interest.  He subsequently discussed the importance of democracy in the Middle East.

It appears that President Obama was asserting that democracy abroad is of national interest to the U.S., both in terms of ideology and security. This assertion works, for now, to tie the loose ends with its allegiance to Israel. After all, many peg the allegiance to Israel with the notion that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.

Or is it?

Following the successful revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, it appears that Israel is not the sole democratic kid on the block anymore.

Moreover, Israel seems to be heading in the opposite direction: with a rising Arab-Israeli population, and what is becoming an unsustainable presence in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel is fast-approaching the point where it will have to choose between being a legitimate democracy or a Jewish state.

Does President Obama’s pro-democracy stance also mean that Tunisians, Egyptians, and Libyans will also enjoy similar packages of foreign aid and Security Council protection? And if they do, what makes Tunisians, Egyptians, and Libyans so vastly different in their opposition to violence directed at their own people and their support of universal rights, than the Palestinians against the Israelis?

The International Court of Justice has made itself clear on Israel’s obligations to international law, a stance similarly taken in Resolution 1973. Perhaps the most famous of the Court’s proclamations is in its 2004 Advisory Opinion on the legality of Israel’s West Bank wall, where the Court stated: “Israel is bound to comply with its obligation to respect the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination  and its obligations under  international humanitarian  law and international human rights.”  Not surprisingly, Ariel Sharon reacted furiously and refused to comply.

Something is definitely amiss in this responsibility to protect doctrine that President Obama proposed. Nevertheless, it is more important now than ever that the United States take care of the pink elephant before it turns white.

Posted in Maha Kamal, TVFA PostsComments (0)

Sources: CNN, The Atlantic, Reuters

News Post: Looking into the Alleged Iranian Plot

Sources: CNN, The Atlantic, Reuters

Sources: CNN, The Atlantic, Reuters

The United States claims to have uncovered a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States.  The U.S. filed a criminal complaint against Manssor Arbabsiar alleging that Mr. Arbabsiar solicited a Drug Enforcement Agency informant, thought to be a Mexican drug cartel member, to bomb a D.C. restaurant while the ambassador was present.  The complaint further alleges that Mr. Arbabsiar, a U.S. naturalized citizen, conspired with a member of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to pay the hit men from the Mexican drug cartel $100,000 as a down payment, followed by $1.5 million more if the attack was successful. 

Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi announced Monday, October 17th,  that Iran would be willing to consider the evidence alleging Iranian involvement in the plot.  The announced willingness of Iran to consider the issue contrasts the response by Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  Khamenei called the allegations “meaningless and absurd” and contends that the allegations are part of scheme by the United States to isolate Iran.

Khamenei is not the only critic of the allegations alleging Iranian involvement.  Reza Aslan, a religious scholar and author, told CNN that the plot “just does not fit the Quds Force’s [modus operandi].”  If Iran was targeting Saudi Arabia, there are a lot of other places to have carried out an attack, not on U.S. soil.  An attack of a Saudi ambassador on U.S. soil would clearly be construed as an attack on the United States and contrary to “Iran’s interest in any legitimate way.”

The allegations are supported by four pieces of evidence: taped conversations between the informant and Mr. Arbabsair, taped conversations between Mr. Ababsair and his alleged co-conspirator in the Quds Froces, details about the $100,000 down payment transfer, and a confession by Mr. Arbabsair made after his arrest on September 29thCritics remain skeptical as to the motivation behind Mr. Ababsair’s confession and the strength of the connection between Mr. Ababsair and the Quds Forces.  The original complaint against Mr. Arbabsair, which remains sealed, might explain part of the motivation behind Mr. Arbabsair’s confession.

As of now, Mr. Ababsair is in U.S. custody, while his co-conspirator is at-large and believed to be in Iran.  The U.N. Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, announced Monday, October 17th, that the issue has been referred to the U.N. Security Council.  President Obama has promised to push for the “toughest possible sanctions” against Iran.

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