Monday, July 30, 2012

Who are the German Pirates

My first encounter direct with the German Pirates Party was in 2011, when they were part of a huge demonstration in Potsdamer Platz, 10 years after 9/11 when some of the participants distributed various leaflets with toxic conspiracy theories about the events. 
Long before this moment, when I've hear about 'Pirates', it was in the middle of the international crisis of the real pirates from Somalia and was almost sure that it should be a party supporting the right of those people to be the Robin Hoods of the 21st century.
However, I was almost close of this idea: as I found out from Martin Haesler book about the German Pirates Party, when they are not fighting for the freedom of the net, they are against the capitalism as we all know it. A powerful force of the new hippies that won places in local parliaments and in the European Parliament. In Germany, they are also against the political parties that supported the Balkan Wars. Freedom of the Internet is cool and ACTA is not the smartest thing in the world, but as far as I remember from the political science classes, the aim of a party is to be in power and thus, I wonder what a pirate can say about the fiscal policies and foreign relations. 
The book is explaining the history of the German Pirates, their success and say something about some of the members situated in the hip area of Friedrichshain and are very much connected with the famous hacker group Chaos Computer Club. All the parties are part of the global network of Pirate Parties International - long time ago, only the communists were honoured to be party of the International, but nowadays, the Liberals are proud members too. 
The author tries to be neutral and to simply expose the main recent historical facts, the results at the last elections and some short interviews with 'famous' pirates, as well as some programs presented at the end of the book.
For someone fluent in German and curious about the Pirates, it is an useful lecture. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Crisis guide: Iran

Many people nowadays are trying to talk about Iran, some are doing it professionally, some in a biased way.

The Crisis guide: Iran, by the Council on Foreign Relations is trying to present as many points of view as possible, in a very interactive way. In less than 9 minutes, you can say and show a lot about one of the hottest point on the planet and at least from this point of view, it is a very interesting approach. 

You have an overview of the current situation, various historical timelines, details about the Iranian regime, the regional situation, the nuclear program as well as useful resources for those interested to find out more. The interviews and points of view of experts in the region and political leaders, are intercalated with images from Iran. 

An interesting idea that makes foreign policy and diplomacy readable to an extended audience.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Should Iran get the bomb?

I always like to read new and mind blowing perspectives on foreign affairs. In addition, I am a dedicated reader of Foreign Affairs for an early age and thus, was more than impatient to read why Kenneth N. Waltz considered that Iran should get the bomb (the nuclear bomb). 

The arguments are simple and the essay is short in comparison with what you can really expect in Foreign Affairs - I am wrong to notice that the famous the author the shorter the essay, it is as the fame will exempt you from expanding your arguments based on your well known credentials? In his opinion, Iran should have the bomb because it will create more responsibilities for the authorities in Tehran and will establish a certain nuclear balance in the region with long term effects on the regional stability. It is like a 'wow' effect, isn't it? How did we not realize it and how there are still people that do not realise the simplicity of the solution. 

But, wait a minute, are we talking about France or Germany, or any other countries with a clear - at least for the next 5 years - democratic perspectives and clear engagement to respect the international rules of behavior? We are talking about a country where, even though some worries about the degree of mental inadequacy could be overrated, continues to be unpredictable and unreliable in its engagement on behalf of the international community. What about a world free of nuclear power? It does not make too much sense for very practical reasons but maybe I will write more about this on a different occasion. 

In an interview for The Diplomat, he explained further his intentions and the perspective on the nuclear balance, but it does not make too much sense from the cultural and historical point of view, as he apparently ignores some basic facts about the reasons why some countries would need to have the bomb and the degree of responsibility in handling it. 

Following this week negotiations, Iran looks as a quiet dove interested in the scientific development. But when it comes to the legal obligarions, the situation is apparently a completely different one. You have a region with a high degree of instability and only one democracy - which is not Iran, by the way. Syria presents already a danger for the region due to the significant stockpile of chemical weapons. In addition, we often forget that Iran is a country with frequent earthquakes and as long as it is no reliable control on their nuclear facilities, you risk a bigger tragedy than in the case of Fukushima. 

In conclusion, even if I enjoyed reading Waltz' piece of opinion, I dare to say that it does not say too much about the reality and even if it would have been an advertorial it blindly ignores almost every chunk of naked reality.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The passionate life of international workers

There are a couple of things that would recommend Love at the speed of e-mail for a review for a blog dedicated exclusively to foreign affairs and international policy. The author, Lisa McKay belongs to the category of the experts in the field of humanitarian work. Even though as a person passionate about foreign policy you love rather to debate about global crisis and big theories, you might know that sooner or later you should think about people that make those theories happen. Beyond their dedication for changing the world and making it a better place, they are looking for a sense of home and a life of their own. 

With the help of this book, you will better understand the life and professional challenges of the humanitarian work, by following Lisa's travels from all the world, from the Balkans to South-Eastern Asia and Africa. It is both a travel book, a memoir and a delicate love story that you would love to carry with you for the summer. 

Another good reasons that determined me to post my book review on this blog is that a portion of the profits will be going to support two charities in Laos - where Lisa is currently living: Pencils of Promise and Luang Prabang Boat Library

Disclaimer: We received a complimentary copy from the author.

The Syrian-Turkish relations

It is a cheap idea to support how united the countries from the Middle Eastern area are. In fact, with the exception of their hate against Israel – as a tool to excuse their disregard for basic rights for their citizens - and the support for the extremist Palestinian factions, there is no interest in going and acting together.
As Syria is in the news – but not in the minds of the decision makers – daily, the old and deepening conflict between Syria and Turkey I decided that I should start looking more carefully to the history of the bilateral relations between Damascus and Ankara.

Overall diplomatic framework

Syria has an embassy in Ankara and two consulate general in Istanbul and Gaziantep. Turkey has besides the embassy in Damascus one consulate general in Aleppo.

Both Turkey and Syria are members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and of the Union for the Mediterranean.

The relation between Damascus and Ankara were molded at a great extent by the so-called ‘independence’ attitude of the new authorities in Ankara – to be read more tempted to follow the usual religious oriented patterns. Within the various Islamic fora, Turkey was often accused of being a Trojan horse, due also to the previous good relationships with the state of Israel, and its prestigious position in NATO. Many Muslim countries clapped their hands when the Turkish Parliament refused in 2003 to cooperate militarily with the US for the invasion in Iraq.

In 2004, Assad was the first ever president that ever went to Ankara in a state visit. In 2008, Turkey started to play the role of mediator between Damascus and Jerusalem on the issue of the Golan Heights, but it gave up its neutral role after qualifying the 2008-2009 operation in Gaza as ‘crimes against humanity’ committed by the Israeli Defense Army. On 26 April 2009, Syria and Turkey organized three-day joint military exercise developed in the border areas.

The casus belli

There are a couple of points that marked regularly the relations between the two countries:

-       -  The 1939 conflict regarding the annexation of the Hatay Province to Turkey. Hatay Province won in 1938 independence from the French Mandate of Syria and as the Republic of Hatay decided to join Turkey through a referendum that was never recognized by Damascus. Even though the province appears on many maps in Syria as still being part of this country, following the historical visit to Ankara, Assad declared that Damascus has no more interests in winning back the province. According to various media reports, it is said that many Syrian nationals bought in the last years properties in this Turkish region.

-        - The water dispute within the Southeastern Anatolia Project refers to the decision ot Turkey to build several dams on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers

-       - Syria’s open support for the Kurds. Repeatedly, it was alleged that Kurdish separatists were trained in Syria by one of the most sought Nazi war criminals, Alois Brunner who apparently was received open arms here  Eastern Syria – or what the Kurds call Western Kurdistan – is home for more than 2 million Kurds who should be considered in any discussions regarding the future of the region. However, in October 1998, the Syrian authorities decided to expel the Kurd leader Abdullah Ă–calan to Turkey where he was put in prison, following unprecedented tensions when the Turkish tanks were deployed at the border. In the coming months, the issue of the Kurdish minority will continue to be at stake, as Turkey clearly outlined that it will not accept the creation of a Kurdish entity within Syria.

-        The recent evolutions

The immediate effect on the current uprising on the bilateral relations was the high number of refugees – around 300,000 that flew to Turkey at the beginning of the conflict. The same Erdogan that hold hands with Assad declared to the Anatolian Agency that “Syria is not acting in a human manner. This is savagery”. Part of the change of perspective was the serious incident that took place a couple of months ago after on 22 June 2012, Syria shot down a Turkish F-4 Phantom military jet near the Turkish-Syrian border, due to what the Syrian military alleged it was a violation of the Syrian airspace by Turkey. In the last years, Assad decided to grant Syrian citizenship to some Kurds another example that, in fact, in many Middle Eastern countries, governments are not acting for the sake of an idea, but rather against a particular other.

Despite the recent political turmoil in Ankara, Turkey continues to be an important NATO member and a candidate country to the EU. Even though the Cold War is over, some of the disagreements could be included on the old bill that Russia will never ask to be paid from the US in the Middle East. After officially losing the control in Central and Eastern Europe, Moscow could be as desperate as to negotiate some influence in the Middle East and thus cannot accept by itself to loose Syria (too).

Turkey is interested in a stable Middle East and, eventually, in a regime with whom to continue its quiet expansion of its interests

Have your Say!

Did you want to send your impressions and wishes to the UN Youth Initiative? Now, you have the occasion to be yourself and tell your inputs! As an organization or as an individual concerned about issues such as employment, education, political inclusion and citizenship, you can express your thoughts in French, Arabic, English, Russian, Chinese and Spanish, the UN official languages

Each one of us can try to change something, regardless of the final results!

The United Nations is developing a System-Wide Action Plan on Youth. This Action Plan will affect the way the whole UN system will work with and for youth in the coming years. The Action Plan will focus on the five priority areas identified by the Secretary General:

- Employment
- Entrepreneurship
- Education, including education on sexual and reproductive health
- Citizenship and protection of rights
- Political inclusion
Before developing this Action Plan, the United Nations is reaching out to youth, youth-led organizations and others for their inputs. Please take a moment to fill out the questionnaire.

Tell us what you think.We are listening.

The questionnaire is available in all UN six official languages:







Diplomacy 2.0 - Storyful and Storify

Storyful is presented as the social network whose aim is ‘to create an authentic cooperative and socially useful journalism’. Many of the contributors are not journalists, but their social media activities – specifically Twitter – due to the fact that they are in the middle of the events. It does not mean that what do they air is the absolute truth and thus, the reader has the responsibility of carefully connect the information with other previous or ulterior sources.

Most specifically, Storyful gather the most important news on Twitter and tries to recreate the full picture of an event. Due to the demand of more information among journalists, it offers a paid version addressing the media organizations. Storyful was also partnered with YouTube for increasing the quality of the content offered to their readers.

A similar project was developed by Storify which was launched in2011 which operated similarly with the news from both Twitter and Facebook.

Both websites are easy to use and offer content that at a certain extent is filtered by the professionals which made the selection of Tweets and posts and include them in the big stories.

Advantages and disadvantages

In both cases, the systems are in process and thus it is difficult to make an evaluation and to give a definitive verdict. However, there are many advantages of using both systems, as a way to find out integrated news about the stories of the day. For instance, I watched a lot lately the updates regarding the terrorists attacks in Bulgaria, the situation in Libya and Syria. As a journalist, you can contribute and be included in news package and thus, your information is automatically spread to a diverse audience. The combination of the social media tools offers more authenticity to the media as for instance the cooperation between Storyful and YouTube. Social media tools offered a lot of possibilities for close investigation and authentification of the sources and the authors. It is truth that anyone with an Internet connection could post information but the good nose of the journalist continues to be to check the information at least from threereliable sources. Of course there are many entertainment and sport news that could be considered a waste of time for the foreign policy planners, but think about the effect of the stories about big international events and the effect on various calls for international help in areas affected by international crisis. The truth is in the eyes and responsibility of the authors. 

Diplomacy 2.0

As part of my editorial plans, I will continue in the next weeks the work to a project I have in my mind for almost two years: diplomacy 2.0. The aim of the project is to explore the ways in which traditional diplomacy was challenged by the new social media tools and most specifically. I started to think and read 2-3 lines the month to this project long before the ‘Arab Spring’ and waited for a while trying to understand how things went on. Meanwhile, new tools were added and I accumulated more writing and academic experience to be able to finish the project as soon as possible.

In the coming days, I will share some of my ideas, bibliography and online sources on the blog, while continuing to keep a careful eye to the powder keg that is our world. 

Syria’s chemical danger

As the fights in Syria continue, and the international community is unable to stop the slaughter that last for over a year, there are many other technical aspects related to this country that should worry the big democracies. One is represented by the fate of Syria’s chemical warfare. The main players in the next government in Damascus are not known, but the need to rely on a democratic – non-jihadist – government would be more than wishful thinking. However, the world is worried and is hoping/wishing/sending the message that they would prefer that the chemical stockpile will be transferred into ‘democratic hands’.
Till then, a short review of Syria’s chemical dangers.

The legal framework

Syria is not part of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and its support for the ban on WMD was only at the declarative level. It is signatory of the Biological Warfare Convention but has not ratified it yet. Also, it is part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and maintains a civil nuclear program. The international community tried for years to investigate suspicions that Dair Alzour facility produce plutonium but failed to obtain clear evidences. However, the same was said about the chemical warfare that was officially declared by officials in Damascus a couple of years ago. The declarations of the officials were directed against possible attacks from abroad.

With an international community too busy with the London Olympic Games, the crisis in Europe and the summer holidays to intervene, the only possible target of the declarations could be only the State of Israel, where the official declarations were very cautious.

The history of chemical weapons

The involvement of Syrian authorities for developing the stockpile of chemical weapons started in the early 1980, according among others, to a declaration of the then CIA director William Webster in 1989. With the help of Russia and other big powers – France, among others – Syria succeeded to have it. It is also said that the first chemical weapons were offered by Egypt in 1973, on the eve of the attack on Israel, but the main provider seems to be the same Moscow. After Egypt and Israel signed the basic treaty in 1979, this support for Damascus took and end and Moscow became officially the main direct provider.

As in many other countries with problematic democracies and long history of oppression of their own citizens – see Iran, North Korea, for instance – such weapons involves a lot of investment and under the table negotiations with the big powers – to be read corruption. As many other countries in the area, the excuse of the regime for such programs was that they feel threatened by the state of Israel, a lame excuse to justify their underdevelopment and lack of any concerns for the fate of their ‘people’. However, the acceleration of the efforts towards acquiring chemical weapons was determined as well following various conflicts with Turkey, either due to the support of Syria for the Kurdish independence, or the various water sharing conflicts over the Euphrate river. The so-called political ‘Muslim’ unity manifests rather when it is about a hate-based cause.

For the moment, it is supposed that it manufactures: Sarin, VX, mustard gas and Tabun. The production is developed at least in five locations, many of them the playground for different recent fights: Al Safir – where it probably it is hosted as well a Scud missile base, Cerin – where the biological weapons are developed -, Hama – where cyanide gas was used in 1982 against an uprising of the Muslim Brotherhood -, Homs, Latakia and Palmyra. Some of the biological weapons that the Syrian scientists developed could be: anthrax, tularemia, cholera, ricin, canulpox. It is also said that Syria helped Russia to install anthrax in missile warheads.

The current Syrian production could be of few hundred tons of chemical agent per year. The clear locations and the exact capabilities remain at a great extent vague.
Moscow continue to be a strong supporter of Assad’s regime – and latest media news outlined that his glamorous and British educated wife found refuge in Putin’s Russia. And, as in many other post-Cold War cases, the old people from the old guards continued to get involved in various businesses with or without the direct support of their new bosses. Some paid for this as it was the case of retired Lieutenant General Anatoliy Kuntsevich in 1996, found guilty for shipping 800-kilograms of precursor chemicals to Syria.

What’s next

Both Moscow and Washington are trying to deter Assad – wonder how do they keep in touch nowadays? – and his cronies to give up the idea of using the chemical weapons.
The big question will be how to keep a tight control of the nuclear capacities and the chemical stockpile in the middle of the chaos. Among all the ‘spring’ countries, Syria presents the most dangerous situation and thus, the old enemies should decide to work together. Once again, at least when it comes to the Middle East affairs, the EU gave another proof of inadequacy.