Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Online updates for the US elections

US  elections are only a couple of months away and the boiling online environment is getting ready little by little.
We will publish in the coming days an in-depth analysis of the main challengers and the possible results, but till then, we found an interesting overview of the most important sources of information for the next time, via Storify
One of the merits of Pres. Obama was to introduce the 2.0 into the American politics and I am ready to learn more about the e-campaigns this time too. For the moment, there are alreaby digital handbooks being published, some in a very innovative way
What's next? What should we follow mostly, mainly when it comes to the next electoral fight in the US? Working hard to publish some interesting insights soon.

Foreign policy news on Tumblr?

I am familiar with Tumblr and even operate a blog on this platform, and I am aware of the constraints. In general, the most successful Tumblr blogs are covering colorful domains, as fashion, arts and spectacular teens productions.
However, with a lot of inspiration,Tumblr could be used as well for foreign policy news and blogging. An example is the new blog of the International Relations and Security Network - ISN ETH Zurich that launched recently a new online media tool. It is an elegant and appealing presence, pleasant to read and with a very interesting content.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Poland's challenges

Poland in between worlds, continents and geological challenges. A Stratfor analysis worth to read.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

New story of UNFIL Mandate in Lebanon

In a couple of days, UNFIL Mandate in Lebanon is about to expire. In August 2010, the mandate was extended for another two years.

Due to the tensed situation in the region, it could be possible to expend another extension of the mandate. Some local politicians even requested the expansion of the mandate within the joint border with Syria. At the end of June, Turkey already decided to continue to allow its military in UNFIL for one more year.

The extension should be decided by the UN Security Council. 

After so many tensions and conflicts, Lebanon continues to be a stronghold of influences from Syria and Iran. More or less openly, the official representatives of this country are regularly involved in influence the daily local policies. Very often, the literary sources mention the Lebanon as the 'Paris of the Middle East' and maybe it used to be so - apparently, Paris is the fascination cities of so many continents and countries than the reference is sometimes too stereotypical to be at least 50% true - but how culture could flourish when it is no independence and secret services are careful to oppose any manifestation of independence. In comparison with Syria, the Lebanese intellectuals did not cope with the same pressures, but the regular presence of Hizbullah terrorist within their borders diminished clearly the cultural strength and attractivity of Lebanon. 

Maybe, one day.

Is Somalia ready for a new president?

At the beginning of the next week, Somalia will held presidential elections, over a year after the Islamic forces were kept away of the official game. 

The country still faces democratic problems, corruption and the need to counter the influence of Al Shabaab who continues to control large areas of the country in order to guarantee security and stability. 

Local analysists are optimistic and hope that at least little by little the situation will enter a certain path of normality. Some are even returning back in the country with big hopes and desire to contribute to the reconstruction process. In many areas of the country, the fights against Shabaab continues. 

The candidates promise to restore the rule of law and to contribute to the overall peaceful efforts. The neighbouring countries as Kenya are equally interested in a positive outcome due to the potential of regional conflict represented by the Islamist forces. 

Obviously, not only the president will be needed to end up the political turmoil, but the coordinated efforts of the Parliament, Government and international organizations involved in the area. 

The top agenda of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation summit in Mecca

For the next two days, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation - with status of permanent observer mission to the UN in New York - extraordinary summit will take place in Mecca, discussing the latest top issues for the member countries, among which:

- The decision to suspend Syria's membership from OIC following the serious situation affecting this country. As expected, Iran opposes.

- The issue of democratic transition in the region - including possibly the latest situation in Egypt.

- The idea of this extraordinary meeting was: "to examine the situation in many countries of the Islamic world, intensify efforts to confront this situation, address the sources of discord and division therein, reunite the Islamic ummah and promote Islamic solidarity". A nice objective, but the reality tells that the Islamic countries are divided not only by the classical Shi'a vs. Sunni division line, but also by the clear difference in terms of culture, democratic experience and political committment.

- Afghanistan-Pakistan discussions are scheduled on the sidelines.

- The conference will be attended also by the US Special Envoy Rashad Hussain.

Securitizing Migration

For those interested in the various aspects of migration - economic, social and security mostly - they could consider listening to this podcast, by the deputy director of the Geneva Center for Security Policy, via the International Relations and Security Network.

Women in Tunisia are fighting for their rights

Shortly after they won the right to protest following the January 2011 regime change, the women in Tunisia went back on the streets again, asking for their rights. 

Over 6,000 Tunisian women requested at the beginning of the week against the predicted restrictions against women's rights that might be introduced into the new Constitution, under the influence of the politicians close to Salafi Muslims. 

Let's hope that the proud women in Tunisia will be able to continue enjoying the right to ask for their rights and will not give up the obvious pressures that the Islamist forces are ready to exert against them.

Stratfor: 'The Israeli Crisis'

The Israeli Crisis is the name of the latest analysis of Stratfor. 

The evaluation of the threats faced by Israel is interesting, but this was always the situation from the beginning of the history of the state of Israel. What I consider it is stereotypical and repeated ad nauseam without understanding the real challenges is the following fragment of sentence: 'Israel's national security - particularly if its strategic environment deteriorates - rests on the US'. The international community should realize that the security and existence of the state of Israel is not a matter of special relationship between Washington and Jerusalem (the capital city of the state of Israel, fyi), but a consideration of life and death of democracy. It is not a gamble under the table in order to do not harm the new and old Arab friends from the Middle East, but it is a test of democracy and credibility of the European institutions. The advantage of the chaotic and inarticulated policies of Obama administration in the Middle East was that it left a lot of place for the Israeli diplomacy to state its interests which are not in contradiction with the overall interests of the democractic community.

The comparison between the state of Israel and the French Third Republic would deserve, maybe, a better explanation beyond stylistic rhetorics. Till then, let's hope that the democracies and the wise people from Bruxelles will realize that the state of Israel should exist and enjoy the autonomy of a free and autonomous state. Otherwise, we may rather speak about the 'democracy crisis'.

New clashes in Yemen

New clashed erupted this Tuesday in Sana'a months between various military groups pro and against the new rule in Yemen. As in the case of Algeria or Egypt, the representatives of the military are part of an elite that sometimes decides the fate of the country and the latest clashes were likely determined by the declared intentions of the new government to go further with reforming the Army.

A reform of the Army, in Yemen and elsewhere - Turkey, for instance -, cannot be done smoothly, as each group has its own interests and political games. Strategically speaking, Yemen is part of the main frontline against Al Qaeda and the counter-terrorism measures and preparations took at the local level continue to be an important part of Western interest in the area. 

As in the case of many other countries affected by the 'spring' it is difficult to make predictions about what the future will bring for Yemen: to the serious economic problems or the water crisis, there are several separatist worries and the structural need to cope with corruption and organized crime - looting state institution is part of the daily normality in Sana'a and elsewhere. 

Many people are poor and hopeless while the smart and young intellectuals prefer to apply for scholarships in the US. Safety is important but in order to achieve it you should be done more for setting up the new institutions. A new Iraq within Yemen? Hard to say it clearly now.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Russia and Internet freedom

I spotted a couple of days ago in Der Spiegel an interesting analysis about why Internet is considered dangerous in Russia and how its effects are countred through various official policies.

The debacle in Greece, a new episode?

The economic and social situation in Greece seems to continue the dangerous turn, as the EU leaders - mainly Germany - are not satisfied with the turn over of the reforms. The most dangerous though in this context is the resurgence of the far right and the increased hate against foreigners. Following an ambiance already heated by the presence of the far-right into the Parliament, the home affairs officials decided a couple of days ago to detain around 6,000 persons, out of them 1,600 will be deported soon, because considered illegal immigrants. On Sunday, supporters of the far-right attacked a car with a Pakistani man accused of murder

We should not ask ourselves what could be next. Take your time and look in the history books.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

South Korea-Japan, the new episode of the old story

An interesting evaluation of the latest evolutions in the South Korea-Japan bilateral relations, by the International Security Network

Friday, August 10, 2012

Is Angola ready for the elections?

On August 31, Angola will organize parliamentary elections, for the first time since the end of the civil war. For 27 years after Angola became independent from Portugal, the country was revaged by a civil war that made over 300,000 victims. 

The current president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos is in power for 33 years and the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) - which is expected to win again - is in power since 1975. During the Cold War, MPLA benefited from the support of Cuba and the Soviet Union. The main opposition is represented by the Union for the Total Liberation of Angola (UNITA) which includes former Army rebels and which is very active in the oil-rich enclave of Cabinda. Cabinda is an important source of oil for the US and China. Angola is rich in other natural resources, as gold, uranium, diamonds and gas.

In 2001, a young movement was created following the model of the 'Arab spring', but the organizers are usually harassed by the police and the representatives of the security forces - and the so-called 'caenches', muscle men. A new Constitution was adopted in 2010, but the level of application depends at a great extent by the good will of the Santos regime. 

According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, there are a couple of problems that the authorities in Luanda should consider seriously in order to guarantee a free and fair choice. 

The main observations of HRW are:
- the need to limit the political and security forces involvement in harassing media and the political oppositions;
- the need to clarify the situation of organizers of anti-governmental protests that disappeared since March;
- the National Election Commission should guarantee the impartiality of the electoral process.

Even though the results of the elections are predictable, the content of change depends at a great extent of the change taking place till the next elections is hard to predict. 

Cleaning the traces of the Vietnam War

37 years after the end of the Vietnam War, the Agent Orange continue to produce effects in Vietnam. The issue is part of the bilateral dialogue between Hanoi and Washington and recently US announced that it will get involved in cleaning the contaminated areas.

Wars are a never ending story, in fact, and more important that who the winner is, is the way in which the post-war collaboration develops.

Foreign Policy lectures: Cicero

When you are in Germany, read what Germans read. And this sentence could be repeated for various countries that I am visiting all round the year. As long as I know the local language, it is important to get connected through the local political culture. And apparently, I cannot live too much without knowing what is going on in the cultural life. 

As for Germany, for a long time I used to read regularly FAZ and Der Spiegel. Most of the news I hear from radio or, when necessary, I have the Google alerts that offer a basis for further documentation. In the last months, I started to read also Cicero, the "Magazine for Political Culture".

It was created in 2004 as part of Ringier Group and with the aim to be the German variant of The New Yorker or the Atlantic Monthly. Together with the advertising and arts publication Monopol, it is part of the serious porfolio of Ringier. I do not have yet the explanation of the choice of the name Cicero for the publication.

It counted as contributors various local politicians or literary stars - as Wladimir Kaminer or Martin Walser - but also Madeleine Albright and Umberto Eco. Initially planned for 15 pages, it reached around  40 in the first issues, and over 100 nowadays. The design is friendly and you can find almost everything you need for a lazy monthly lecture. If you are a foreigner and you are curious about what is going on in the German political life, buy Cicero and your image will be less blurred. 

A big part of the publication is focused on various local issues, including, in the July issue, the Schlecker case, but during time it also addressed various controversial issues. In 2005, the publication was the subject of a state investigation after it published secret documents about the terrorist of Jordanian origin al-Zarqawi

Most German media - of Western origin - was created in the 1970s, but Cicero succeeded at a certain extent to win permanently new readers. Within the first 2 years, it suceeded to reach a 50,000 copies and nowadays it sells around 83,000. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

EU and Syria

I continue to keep my strong opinion that in the case of Syria, EU was completely out of sight. It could be because EU doesn't matter too much in the area, but also because it did not find any convincing and reliable way to support its opinions. When you do not have any influence and credibility in time of peace, do not expect to find one out of the box during the war. And, as many from the EU are well aware, Syria is in war for more than 12 months.

When it comes to the coercition measures, EU restricted the freedom of movement of top Syrian officials and forbade the exportation of luxury goods to Syria. Also, top EU ladies aired a video appeal to Assad's elegant wife to convince his husband to give up the slaughtering of his own people. 

Today, the European Council decided to impose the right to local authorities the right to inspect vessels and aircrafts bound for Syria, in search of weapons. The Brussels authorities expressed their concern regarding the situation of Syrian refugees, some of them recently returned back from Lebanon. 

Maybe once the war will be over, EU should reconsider its role and strategy regarding not only Syria, but the Middle East in general, and end up by focusing obsessively only on one issue managed disastrously partly for leftist bias, partly for complete lack of sensibility for the subject

Some knowledgeable words about the Muslim Brotherhood

When it comes to decision-making process in the field of foreign affairs, I strongly believe that the local knowledge is very important. As an experienced top diplomat, you need to know not only the local culture, but also the local psychology and the deep history of some political parties and movements.

Especially when in discussion is the Middle East, many Western countries wish more than understand the reality. Of course it is difficult to clearly refuse to be in touch with the elected representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, but at least, they could better prepare their homeworks and be more reserved when it comes to patting them all smiles on the shoulder.

For those curious to find out more about the 'Brothers', whose networks covers all the Muslim countries in North Africa and the most of the Middle East, here is a short description and history of the gang, by a former ambassador of Israel in Jordan and Egypt, as part of Moshe Dayan Center dedicated series.

Another interesting information about the top leadership of the Brotherhood is provided in this analysis of the Council on Foreign Relations. When reading the couple of lines dedicated to the current president of Egypt, I could not resist but thinking about Ahmadinejad - a level 2 bureaucrat with good connections (in the latest case, the Revolutionary Guards). It seems that Dr. Khairat al Shater is someone that we will hear about soon more often in the next months. 

Roots of corruption: the episode Pfizer

One of the main incentives of corruption is when you know that you will always find people keen to pay you more in exchange of a basic service. The more bureaucratic and obscure the system, the more temptations for companies and individuals to accept the extra fees for quality.

The health system is one of the main targets of corrupt people: in many countries form all over the world, the medicine and normal medical service cannot be obtained for free, despite the fact that some of those going to the doctor are life-long tax payers. You need to bribe the nurses for a good meal and the pharmacist for the basic medicine. 

As in the case of the fight for resources in Africa, the fight for survival in many former communist countries implies the presence of many big international companies. By paying bribes - many included in the category of 'protocol' and 'local maintenance costs' - the big companies operating at the local level have the guarantee of a successful business. And, it is enough that one big player accepts the rules of the local games: later, it will be difficult to play otherwise.

The recent bribery case of Pfizer reminded me of all those unacceptable situations that are very often the norm overseas. The bribes were paid for gaining regulatory approval from authorities in, among others, Russia, China, Croatia, Bulgaria and Kazahstan. I wish more it is written about how those countries - many of them EU members - are rotten by the corruption that viciates completely the perspectives of life and politics for a long time from now. Media is corrupt by journalists accepting to write (only) in exchange of small attentions, the international companies are fuelling the underground economy by supporting local politicians, the MPs are ready to support only the cause of the big lobbysts that paid them accordingly. 

Maybe at least for a couple of generations, it is not too much to be done there? I expect that Pfizer is only the top of the iceberg of corruption in Eastern Europe.

Moldovan Journalist, arrested in Ukraine

While the negotiations on Transdniestr continue to be frozen, the relations between Moldova and Ukraine continue to register variations with more downs than ups. Even though at the first time it could be hard to understand the reason of the moves, very often the lecture should take into consideration an important contribution of the Russian strategies in the region. 

Transdniestr is one of the pieces of this game. When the Moldavian Parliament decided mid-July to ban the use of Communist symbols, the first victims were the communists from Tiraspol which are still using the hammer and sickle. The same Parliament decided the condemnation of the crimes commited under the Soviet regime, another arrow sent in the direction of Moscow.

The consequence: a couple of days ago, a journalist from Moldova, Semion Niculin, who worked for the Unified Control Commission in Kyiv, was arrested on suspicion of spionage. The information was confirmed by the Ministry of Interior and European Integration from Kishinev. Niculin was arrested in an apartment in Kyiv where, according to the rumors and news released by now, he was trying to obtain secret documents. At the first sight, Niculin - who risks from 8 to 15 years of prison if the accusations are proved true - might be a small fish. On the other hand, due to the fact that he was employed by the Unified Control Commission as press officer, might shed a bad light on the institution as such and on the entire negotiation process. 

Regardless of what will happen with Niculin, this is a short warning sent by Moscow to Moldova - EU and NATO candidate - via the loyal supporters from Ukraine. A new and more important episode of the dispute could occur at any time. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Financial Markets, Politics and the New Reality

The latest analysis from Stratfor on: Financial Markets, Politics and the New Reality.

Quo Vadis Pussy Riots?

Sometimes, I feel that people that are not too much in love with democracy are trying to do their best for convincing other people about their disregard for democracy. The more you criticize them, the more they would enjoy doing something bad against those who do not agree with their opinion.

Arts of any kinds are one of the domains that always gave serious headaches to people without too much interest or sympathy for human rights and plurality of opinions in general. Some might remember how much hate the communists had against rock bands and creative arts, and how happy they were to impose their 'standards' on visual representations - by qualifying as 'decadent' everything that failed to meet the simple and anti-artistic standards of the nomenklatura.

This interest towards 'purity' in arts concerns both the ideological and religious based regimes. The Middle East countries is a case apart that will address on another occasion. My inspiration for the above thoughts was represented by the case of the punk rock Russian Band Pussy Riot. Three girls of the band - Maria Alyokhina, Nadezhda Tolonnikova and Ekaterina Samutsevitch - are about to be condemned to 3 years of prison for protesting against President Vladimir Putin in a church. They are accused of hooliganism and religious hatred, despite the fact that nothing was vandalized in the church. However, the process in itself could be an inspiration for an absurd novel, in the old style of the good Russian literature. 

For many Western democracies, Vladimir Putin is considered a long-term reliable partner and many EU capital cities prefer stability and avoid spontaneous changes. True is that Russia is a huge country, with so many contradicting realities and interest groups ready to die for a slice of power that someone as Putin is seen as the only one that could control them. He did it in the last 12 years, but the question will be, what could happen after he will assume that his power should end? However, the witch hunt against a punk group and the possible new restrictions imposed to the freedom of speech and human rights in general, might worry the big powers. 

As China demonstrated successfully, you do not need to have democracy for outperforming economically and being considered an important player on the international stage. Russia is a difficult and complicated player, with a long history of problematic democratic developments - if any. The key to change is to have more people committed to democracy and understanding why you should accept that even Pussy Riots have their right to say something against you. 

AIDS as a foreign policy issue

AIDS is more than a strictly health problem, as it touches upon demographic issues and economic challenges that should affect policies and economy on long term. Very often, coping with AIDS issues is a matter of policies of foreign aid of rich countries and one of the main supporter of such policies is represented by the US.

The current top diplomat Hillary Clinton was involved successfully in AIDS related initiatives when she was the first Lady and it was obvious that such concerns will be continued as part of the mandate at the Foreign Office. However, due to the economic crisis and many other priorities introduced on the daily agenda, the support for the policies aimed to put an end to AIDS were wavering across time and various political interests. 

Following the July 2012 International AIDS Conference, CFR Senior Global Health Fellow Laurie Garrett explained in an interview the main failures and chances of success of the US global policies in this domain

Thus, even though the eradication of AIDS is still a very far away objective, the need for funding is very serious. We may think that it is very problematic to find the sources of funding for African countries, we should keep in mind that in the US the efforts to identify HIV infected population are also problematic. Another aspect of fighting AIDS is that is presents as well a dimension of fighting for women's rights and thus, you have clearly an engaging dimension of foreign policy. An important milestone of the fight against AIDS could be considered the coming 2015 Millenium Development Goal when many of the objectives should be revisited in a dramatic way. 

NATO News: New Supreme Allied Commander Transformation

From September 2012, the new Supreme Allied Commander Transformation is the Air Force General Jean-Paul Paloméros. He will replace Air Force General Stéphane Abrial. 

Paloméros is the 49th Chief of Staff of the French Air Force, position he took from Abrial. He participated at two international operations during the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Operation Crécelle, aimed to restore democracy and Deny Flight, aimed to the enforcement of a UN no-fly zone over Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Allied Commander Transformation are the only NATO Command in North America and the only permanent headquarters outside Europe. Situated in Norfolk, Virginia, its role is to lead the tranformation of NATO's military structure, aiming among other at enhancing the training and promoting new concepts for increasing the inter-operability between the member countries. 

Belarus is affraid of teddy bears

Since the start of the Cold War, many where the tools used by free countries to put an end to communist dictatorships: leaflets distributed from the air, financial and moral support for the democratic opposition, creation of special radio stations - as Radio Free Europe - dedicated to break the walls. Unfortunatelly, the success was to be seen only one generation after and following the innocent killing of many people who sincerely believed in democracy.

Nowadays, in the 21st century, there are still many countries still fighting to go out of the communist night. I have no idea why it takes for so long to accept that change should be done - and why Moscow still insist to support people like Lukashenko or the Kims from Phenian. 

On July 4, a Swedish airplane coming from Lithuania blown in Belarus teddy bears with pro-democratic messages. Sweden is for a long time openly involved in supporting democracy and the anti-dictatorship forces in Minsk. However, the teddy bears created a big row in Minsk and following, the diplomatic credentials of the Swedish Ambassador Stefan Eriksson were not extended. In other simple words, he was expelles. According to the official Belarusian television, this was in fact a routine procedure as the local authorities are not happy with the ways in which the ambassador supported the bilateral relations and it seems that the fact that IKEA did not enter yet the Belarusian market counted in shortening Eriksson  mandate. The EU issued a declaration condemning the expulsion and announcing new possible political retaliations against the regime. EU has special relations with Belarus, part of the neighborhood policies, but the main focus is represented by the support for democratic institutions and media freedom. 

Lukashenko was not able to attend the Olympics due to a EU travel ban he is subject to, but he was able to visit recenlty his friend Chavez, from Venezuela. He is considered the last dictator in EU as he continues to behave as in the time of the Soviet Union - including by using the rouble. 

On September 23, new elections are expected in Belarus but the opposition fears already the possibility of a fraud. The European history is still on the making.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Women and Girls Lead Film Collection - ITVS

This is a first story and a short video about 6 Palestinian women that want to do something for their future. Six widows created a short commercial company and sell pickles, in a community that wants to keep them under control. It could be a nice message for the future.