Saturday, October 30, 2010

The last 23 years of terror

Hamas is receiving a lot of publicity these days. A movement far of being united or acting unitary, given various foreign influences, up to the funding offered, but with a clear focus on terror and intolerance, including against its own Palestinian/Muslim fellows. The opposition to peace process is understandable, as the direct path to their political death. Voices in the Israeli media are pretending that the blockade contributed significantly to the current radicalization and the solution would be to "open" Gaza. Maybe, but what are the risks at stake for the state of Israel, once you don't have the control over the area? A typical Middle Eastern deadlocked situation, when you have to look more broadly and read the smallest details in the overall geopolitical context.

From the journalistic point of view, I have a small observation. Every time there is a conflict where the Israeli Army (IDF) is involved, the foreign media is abounding in critical and moving-to-tears articles about the victims. I didn't see too many - or not at all - critical articles about what this organization represents, about the fact that it is holding hostage since 2006 a soldier, Gilad Shalit, without allowing the international organizations or other third party to offer the normal assistance, about the terrorist threat and the intolerance towards normal standards of human rights. A blindness having its price.

Don't underestimate the terrorism threat

Key evolutions of a warning:

Cargo plane bomb plot: Key developments
The white powder on the toner cartridge in the bomb scare Photo: CBS

Oct 3 - The United States and Britain warned their citizens of an increased risk of terrorist attacks in Europe, with Washington saying al Qaeda might target transport infrastructure. Western intelligence sources said militants in hide-outs in northwest Pakistan had been plotting coordinated attacks on European cities.

Oct 5 - French police arrested 12 people in early morning raids the interior minister said were directly linked to a campaign to counter an elevated terrorism threat in Europe. France was on high alert after seven hostages, including five French citizens, were kidnapped by the North African wing of al Qaeda last month.

Oct 5 - The French government warned citizens travelling to Britain to exercise caution due to a very high risk of terrorist action in the country that could target public transport and tourist sites.

Oct 6 - Suspected al Qaeda militants attacked two Western targets in Yemen, firing a rocket at a senior British diplomat's car and killing a Frenchman at a gas and oil installation.

Oct 17 - French Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said France had been warned by Saudi Arabia that al Qaeda was targeting Europe and especially France.

Oct 27 - A Virginia man who allegedly believed he was helping al Qaeda plan bombings at Washington area Metrorail stations was arrested, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Oct 28 - Britain's top spy, in the first public speech by a serving UK espionage chief, said terrorists might hit the West again "at huge human cost" but nuclear proliferation by states was a more far-reaching danger.

Oct 29 - Security officials in Britain and Dubai intercepted parcel bombs being sent from Yemen to the United States in a "credible terrorist threat," President Barack Obama said.

The Jewish organizations in the area and from the US are under alert.

Several high level meetings are expecting to be held today, analyzing the impact and the emergency measures to be taken immediately.

Friday, October 29, 2010

What do we talk when we are talking about the Middle East

At the beginning of this week, I had the wonderful occasion to participate to the conference Qantara Conference organized in Berlin, by Deutsche Welle and the German Federal Foreign Office. Under the motto "Troublemaker or facilitator? The role of the media in intercultural dialogue", there were brought together media executives and journalists from the Middle Eastern region or with connections - included family ties - in the area.

It was very interesting to watch the perceptions from both sides of the world. During the Cold War, we had the East versus the West, now the poetry is to use the dichotomy "Middle East versus the West". There are strong connections between the two perceptions, as the Middle East used to be, as Africa, a playground for showing off the geopolitical muscles between US and the Soviet Union.

The general situation of the media in the region is far of being clear: there is no country for free media and the political regimes are imposing their lines without limits - one example is the rule to use anti-Semitic and stereotypical descriptions of the state of Israel. I was familiar with this situation of intensive repression against the critical thinking and serious journalism before attending the conference. But, I was extremely surprised by the position of some journalists originally from the region living in the Western world, as it was the case of Abdelbari Atwan, editor-in-chief of Al Quds Al Arabi (Arab Jerusalem, in English) from London, a town where he lives - as he outlined several times during his interventions - for decades. The cartoon "crisis" was portrayed incessantly as an example of the "hate", "animosity", "misunderstanding" of the Western world towards the cultural sensitivities of the Middle East. But such a presentation in itself is an example of misunderstanding: in the West, media are free and any direct involvement of the state - including by creating codes of conduct against attacking religion, as it was proposed on various occasions during the conference. Hate speech of any kind might be prosecuted - I wondered how nobody asked bluntly about the high volume of anti-Semitism and xenophobia you might read and watch in the Middle Eastern media - but it is very important how and who is setting the terms of the journalistic discourse.

As long as we have to deal with journalists respecting their works and, implicitly, their readers, you don't need laws and censorship. The heritage of the Enlightenment in Western Europe is that the human beings are perfectible through education and culture.

The issues of interest for the journalists from both parts are similar: the social influence of widespread 2.0 world - it was interesting, for example, to discover how in Egypt, the division between Sunni and Shi'a become of public interest following the various debates held on forums, during the war in Iraq, how to educate the public opinion by writing positive news. Each time the discussion was moved at this level, the ethnic and geographic origins don't matter. But, once it was pronounced the word "Palestine" and "Israel", the normality was down. And this is the situation we are facing now.

Case in which, the Western media have to continue to behave professionally, with high concern for check-and-balances, in dealing with the Middle East, including by going through a proper documentation before reporting about the region. There are encouraging examples, as most part of the reports from Spiegel online and Deutsche Welle. But, equally, it is a need for improving connections with the journalists from the region, also by offering them possibilities to understand the critical thinking and the need to separate your inner beliefs from the naked facts. And, talking with people and exchanging ideas is the first step towards a long waited change.

If this conference disappointed me a bit and confirmed my pessimistic prospects for a prosperous, democratic and peaceful Middle East, my optimism was rescued at the end of the week, while watching the interventions at TEDxHolyLand. Palestinian and Israeli women, outperforming in their domains, shared their journeys. When politics are put aside, the future have a sound, other then the sound of the guns. I don't expect too much to be achieved in the area of peace from the part of the politicians, but I truly hope that free minds think alike.


As 2010 is about to end, but not yet at its end, it is about time to evaluate, think, measure, look back and plan the future. In 2009, I wanted to publish a book screening the most important events of the year, with publication deadline the beginning of 2010. For various reasons - the procrastination and the very bad time managements had their share here - the plan was postponed from a month to another, despite the careful documentation of the events. The last time I was thinking - but not writing - about publishing this project was probably September. Now, at the end of October, I remembered about this idea and insist to have it done - this time. This will be the writing project for the month of December, as November is fully booked with the project about 2.0 foreign affairs.
For the next week, the competition is open for ideas, suggestions and other inspirational advices about the events to be included in the 2010 foreign affairs diary.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Israeli chess grandmaster takes world record from Iran

Sports are present very often in our political and international representations. As an example, think about the terrible confrontations at the Olympic Games between the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War.

The same logic is available in the case of the new post-Cold War confrontations. But, beyond the national symbolism, there are situations when you have to think about battles of minds and confrontations of ideas. It is why I appreciated the remarks of the new world champion chess grandmaster, representative of the state of Israel: "Hopefully all our wars against Iran will be on the chess board".

Monday, October 18, 2010

New Wikileaks

Pentagon is carefully, and probably nervously, watching these days Wikileaks, preparing for the release of another 400,000 intelligence files regarding the war in Afghanistan.

It is funny - really funny - to read that a team of 120 people are ready to analyse the documents. I innocently ask myself why they were not ready to prevent such an embarrassing situation. To be continued.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Spectre of a Multipolar Europe

The French seaside resort of Deauville came to prominence in the late 19th century – a time of grand hotels and swanky casinos. It was also a time when Europe was divided up between great powers who each jealously guarded their own little patch of Europe, with individual spheres of influence scratching up against each other. It is therefore a fitting location for a summit meeting involving three of the continents’ perennial great powers – Germany, Russia and France (Monday 18th October) – at a time when Europe is once again becoming a multipolar continent.

Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy are reaching out to Russia because they believe European security is no longer a matter for NATO or the EU alone. They are correct. The United States has signalled that it is less interested in European internal security – not least when President Obama declined to turn up for the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The current order is also dysfunctional, failing to deal with wars in Kosovo and Georgia, recent instability in Kyrgyzstan or several so-called frozen conflicts dotted around the continent. The grand project of expanding EU membership eastwards has faltered of late. Even when – as we at the European Council on Foreign Relations strongly hope – Turkey and the Western Balkans become members of the EU, it is clear that NATO and the EU will never be the main security institutions in Europe, covering all European states. There is therefore a pressing need for Europeans to start rethinking their security. But while the summit has the right agenda, it has the wrong participants.

Russia needs to be at the table. It never accepted the post-Cold War order, and is now strong enough to openly challenge it. It is, however, also open to engagement, and Medvedev himself suggested working towards a new European security treaty a couple of years ago.

Another seat at the table must be given to Turkey, an emerging pole on the European continent. As the country’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, puts it, his country is an actor, not an issue. The Turkish sphere of influence ranges from Central Asia, through the Caucasus, Middle East and into the Western Balkans. European influence and interests in this contested neighbourhood, just as with the areas that Russia considers its own Near Abroad, requires either competition or engagement.

The EU must be there but many member states cavil at the idea that Paris and Berlin represent them. It would make more sense for the member states to mandate Baroness Ashton as their representative instead. This would both be a response to the Lisbon Treaty while allowing the EU to end the anomaly where the EU – one of the most important suppliers of European security – is not represented in any of the continent’s security institutions.

Rather than trying to tinker with the existing institutions, the idea would be to re-invigorate them from the bottom up. By involving Russia in the US-initiated missile defence shield, NATO can build on Obama’s ‘reset’ to cement a continent-wide security identity, focusing minds on external threats to Europe. But alongside this, the EU needs to engage its neighbours in advancing security within Europe. It needs to build trust between Europe’s powers and challenge them demonstrate resolve – by engaging Russia in solving frozen conflicts such as Transnistria, for instance, or supporting Turkish involvement in Bosnia. A regular informal trialogue could bring together the EU, Russia and Turkey to work on these issues, alongside other interested states.

The Deauville meeting, and November’s NATO summit looking at the new NATO Strategic Concept, support the feeling that the time is ripe for rethinking European security. The EU has spent much of the last decade defending a European order that no longer functions while hoping for a global multilateral order than will probably never come. ‘The spectre of a multipolar Europe’, which has just been published by the European Council on Foreign Relations, calls for a creative and mature response to a shifting environment, and the demands of Russia and Turkey to be taken seriously as credible actors. To paraphrase Lord Ismay, the goal of rethinking security should be to keep the EU united, Russia post-imperial and Turkey European.

A version of this article first appeared in Open Democracy

Click to listen to audio podcasts with Mark Leonard and Dimitar Bechev

We oppose indifference!

"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death", Elie Wiesel

We have a couple of naked facts and figures: "Unsafe water and lack of basic sanitation cause

80% of diseases and kill more people every year than all forms of violence, including war. Children are especially vulnerable, as their bodies aren't strong enough to fight diarrhea, dysentery and other illnesses. 90% of the 42,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are to children under five years old. Many of these diseases are preventable. The UN predicts that one tenth of the global disease burden can be prevented simply by improving water supply and sanitation".

The UN Millenium Development Goals (UNMDG) set the following targets: "By 2015, reduce by half the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water", starting from the basic reality: "One billion people lack access to safe drinking water, 2.4 billion to adequate sanitation. To achieve this target, an additional 1.5 billion people will require access to some form of improved water supply by 2015, that is an additional 100 million people each year (or 274,000/day) until 2015".

The same UNMDG outlines: "The main indicators for progress towards this goal are:

- Proportion of population (urban and rural) with sustainable access to an improved water source".

One of the advantages of living in the 21st century is the extended possibilities that we, as individual citizens of the world, have to share ideas, actions and global awareness campaign all over the world. The Internet, with a limited usage in the regions more affected by global poverty and water shortages, is one of the most powerful weapons we have for creating the proper environment for action. Twitter, Facebook, youtube and other opportunities we have at our disposal through social media constitute a valuable tool in pushing new ideas and calling for action. It creates visibility and global conversations, pushing ideas right on the table of the world decision makers.

On the other hand, the possibilities for a valuable change and for targeted decisions from the part of the global players are still limited. In the last decade, many campaigns started in the virtual world were not able to get translated into real policies and purposive actions. Beyond data and statistics are real people, with real needs, and the 2.0 might be only the first step from a long-term strategy aimed to reverse our usual indifference. For a real success we have to believe that our case is a good one and we have to be aware that every human being counts. We have to think about this every time we are sipping or wasting a drop of water. It is called global responsibility of individual citizens.

I wish we'll have good luck!

Help Solve the Global Water Crisis with Social Media

Blog Action Day 2010: Water
It is time for action, not for indifference and lost opportunities. Today may be the first day of the real responsibility.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Winter in Baghdad

I am passionate about books or movies introducing elements or fragments of the international affairs. Despite the high occurrence of disinformation or of literary re-interpretation of facts, being able to read with a clear mind allows me to understand the mental world we are living in. An useful exercise of X-Ray the history of mentalities.

About the war in Iraq I watched several movies and read a couple of novels. The same predominant pattern and messages: the war is wrong, because of the "invasion" people were left in the streets, killed, arrested, the generalized violence is the daily life of the Iraqi people desperately fighting to live from a day to another.

I never been to Iraq, but it is not hard to understand that the situation is not a bed of roses and, definitely, people are facing a daily violence and lack of proper institutions to defend them against the abuses. It is outrageous, of course.

But we have to take into account that it is not a completely new situation for the people in Iraq. "Before", when Saddam Hussein was still alive and in power, he used to control everything, via a corrupt and repressive system. Who dared to express against the regime, was killed, and we, the Western European were hardly aware of the situation. In any case, I never saw any mass demonstration against Saddam Hussein at the size of the anti-war demonstration in Europe after Saddam was out.

The movie Invierno in Bagdad/Winter in Baghdad is presented as a documentary, describing the life "under occupation", through the eyes of people living in the city, mostly children and women. What new information are you acquiring after the movie is over? Almost nothing, except how to do not make a movie introduced as documentary. Beyond the anti-American and anti-war messages, too common these days, I was surprised by the lack of any curiosity from the part of the film director. The movie it is not intended to show us something different about Iraq - as for example, why there are so many children under 11 supporting their parents by working in the street, where are their parents - but to reassert usual stereotypes. And I was disappointed to waste my time watching people talking about what they expect about democracy when in a bar, without being asked where they were when Saddam was killing people. Or, the Western "emissaries" of peace, why they didn't try to protest the constant violations of human rights during the former dictatorial regime. There are used the powerful strong images common to illustrate the situation from the Middle East, with crying and shoot to death. And, in fact, it is very sad and unhelpful that so many children are victims of conflicts.

Of course, there were mistakes and the war is not a way to solve a problem. And, of course, there were many tactical and strategical mistakes, following a precarious cultural knowledge of the country and of the region. People from Iraq, as some of them are outlining, went through a number of wars in the last decades and it is very difficult to see a clear future when you are used to fight for survival from a day to another. And this situation reflects to the way in which Iraqis are getting involved or not in their political institutions, with limited investment of time and resources, as long as you are not sure when the situation will change and in what direction. And people continue do die.

For the moment, the situation in Iraq remains unclear and tormented by violence. A never ending violence. It is what we read in the news every time when we type the word "Iraq" on the web. But the future relies on going out of this stereotypical and self-complaining situation and daring to wish more for yourself and your family. With more education, open mind and courage to face narrow-minded perspective. From this point of view, the movie must encourage those who are thinking differently, and beyond the black-and-white narrative, to outline what is different.

About civil resistance in Bosnia

I attended recently a web discussion about civil resistance and civil movement in Bosnia Herzegovina. The full content can be find here, so no need to rephrase ideas and points of view already expressed.

I would like to have only a couple of remarks, on various aspects.
Foto right: Victims of the massacre from Srebenica

First of all, I am happy to remark again how interesting is to live in this 2010, and to enjoy living in a free country, including benefiting of free Internet access allowing me to listen and be part of great conversations about topics I am interested in, independently of my current geographical location.

Second, I was very happy to be part of a discussion about an area I always was very interested in. For various reasons, my interests switched recently on other areas, but I will still keep an eye to my dear South-Eastern Europe.

What this live webinar reminded me is that Bosnia and Herzegovina changed a lot in the last years, not only as a consequence of the steps forward on the road to the EU integration, but thanks to the civil society networks created shortly after the end of the Balkan wars. The initiatives started from the communities not involved directly in the public life, as it is the case of the women, and, more specifically, the relatives of victims, as was in the case of Mothers of Srebenica.

The past is complicate and you cannot simply delete the terrible memories from the time of the wars. The situation of war criminals is far of being solved - thanks to various political arrangements as well - and democracy is advancing shyly. But the determination of some organisations is vital and changing the society they used to live by now. Dosta was able to mobilize enough people - also via the 2.0 - for permanently pressing the authorities to fight corruption. And, as a consequence, a prime-minister resigned in 2009.

I would like to have more time to follow closely the complex transformations the new countries from the former Yugoslavia are going to. What I can remark is that it is under way a new form of civic involvement and a new type of civil society that we, in the West, preferred to limit to cultural action and social-environmental militantism. A new trend for a new type of society.

Israel and the digital diplomacy

Facebook, Twitter, YouTube - the newest places to find information and news on diplomacy. And the newest, coherent presence in the digital world of international affairs: the state of Israel.
Better late than never, as the latest flotilla incident, at the beginning of the year, offered another clear example of the high level of misunderstanding, hate and stereotypes regarding the situation from the area.
What can this digital presence achieve: it is offering another image of the country, and quick answers when necessarily. On the other side, don't wait for 2.0 to make peace in the Middle East or to uproot terrorism and hate-speech. The digital world is offering information for those who would like to know more, but don't have the sources. The undecided people. For radicals, it is a different cure and treatment.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Elections for the UN Security Council

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday elected Germany, India, South Africa and Colombia to two-year seats on the U.N. Security Council, while Canada and Portugal went to a second round of voting.

Either Canada or Portugal will join the other four countries to serve two-year terms beginning in January 2011 and ending in December 2012 as non-veto-holding members of the 15-nation body, the powerhouse of the United Nations with the authority to impose sanctions and deploy peacekeeping forces.

The results of the second-round vote to decide whether Canada, which has served six terms on the council and never lost a bid for a seat, or Portugal, which has been on the council twice, has received the requisite two-thirds majority in the 192-nation General Assembly will be known shortly.

In the first round of voting, only Germany managed to cross the 127-vote threshold in the category known as "Western Europe and Others." India, South Africa and Colombia were all uncontested in their respective geographic groups.

There are five veto-holding permanent members of the Security Council -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, the victors of World War Two -- and 10 temporary elected members without vetoes.

But the elected members have some power because a council resolution needs nine votes in favor as well as no vetoes.

The five rotating members serving on the council until the end of 2011 are Bosnia, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon and Nigeria. The five nations leaving the council at the end of this year are Austria, Turkey, Mexico, Japan and Uganda.

Germany is one of the top contributors to the United Nations and one of several countries, along with India, Japan and Brazil, that are considered prime candidates for permanent seats on the council if U.N. member states can ever agree on a formula for expanding it.

Over a decade of talks on a possible expansion of the Security Council to better reflect the nature of the world have failed to yield a consensus.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Who's afraid of China?

The last week announcement of the Chinese winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Liu Xiabo, might have the potential of opening a new discussion regarding the need for a change in the area of human rights in China.

On the other side, given the high economic potential between China and its Western partners, and the permanent ties with the government of Beijing, despite the problematic situation of meeting the democratic standards, it is highly improbable that a radical change will occur in the next period of time. It is not the first time when the "business as usual" type of mentality prevails. Among other things going on after the nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize went public, Liu Xiabo's wife is said to be missing, or at least in home isolation and the Chinese authorities warned Norway about an inevitable deterioration of the bilateral relations.

The systemic problems of China are not new or special. It is almost the same kind of issues countries from Central and Eastern Europe faced and, in some cases, are still facing. It is about the consequences of the high level of centralization of the decision making processes, the personalization of politics and the widespread corruption. On the other side, the demography and geography of China, plus the specific history of the political system - very different of what we are used with in Europe - are making the Chinese case a very special and different one.

Does the social media have a potential of change? As in any other cases, the answer is "not only". When thinking about China we have to think about the tight control of the state over the Internet. A fact impossible without the tacit acceptance from the point of view of big Internet companies, even, at least in the case of Google, the situation went, probably, beyond the accepted professional limits. Hence, the various harassment, the most recent being the news that Google warned about a possible hacking attempt originating from China. In the mainland China - but not in Hong Kong, Twitter is blocked, and Facebook and Google from time to time. As a compensation, Chinese authorities created their own micro-blogging platform Sina Weibo. In these conditions, what potential for change and how these changes might look like?

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Arts beyond borders

We, the Western optimistic people, we are very often talking, open heartily about how important bridges are built, mainly in conflict situation, by the power of arts. The intellectuals elites from two countries in conflict can change over time the negative reciprocal perception by intensifying the cultural dialogue, through exhibitions, participation to art and literature fairs, public conferences etc.

But, what we, the Western optimistic people, omit to mention is that in many situations, the very idea of being able to travel - financial reasons, but also the visa regime - is almost impossible.

A couple of days ago, I was listening a conference about how difficult is to create collections of contemporary artworks from India, Pakistan and Central Asia given the bureaucracy and the complicate goods and travel requirements. And I was not surprised to hear this, as I know very well the situation from Central and Eastern Europe after the fall of communism - when the huge enthusiasm to travel free outside the borders of the prison-country they used to live in for decennials, was faced by the long waiting lines in the front of the embassies of the Western countries, begging for visa. Or, how it was in some former Yugoslav countries, where the political and military disagreements made almost impossible for a long period of time - a very important one for a theoretical post-conflict healing - valuable cultural contacts. And the same I've heard as well from African musicians, tired to run from a country to another for applying for visa for France or Germany, and to be rejected, very often.

The non-optimistic conclusion: public diplomacy is representing an important tool in bringing people together, but let's use public diplomacy as well for conquering a free space for arts and intellectual understanding. Here, I am maybe too optimistic.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


After almost two years of - almost - permanent blogging, we are changing a bit. For the beginning: the design, after deciding to have a new web hosting location.
There will be some changes from the point of view of the content as well:
- A weekly review of an article or of a book dedicated to foreign policy
- A focus on 2.0 and social media and the ways in which these tools might influence diplomacy and foreign relations - in preparation of a booklet I am writing right now
- Reports from meetings and international events
- Regional reports, following main events
- Weekly analysis of the main event of the week
- Forecasts of the coming international events
- Focus on areas non-traditional for the foreign affairs, as the environmental issues, but with a defined place on the international agenda of the last years