Global News Journal

Gaza war – Early test for Obama?

January 14, 2009

The slow pace of talks between Hamas and Egyptian mediators on Cairo’s proposal for a Gaza ceasefire is raising speculation in Israel over whether the Islamist group is playing for time, hoping to get a better deal once Barack Obama is sworn in as U.S. president on Tuesday.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Obama and his South Asian envoy

January 12, 2009

There's much talk about President-elect Barack Obama possibly appointing Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy to South Asia. The New York Times says it's likely; while the Washington Independent says it may be a bit premature to expect final decisions, even before Obama takes office on Jan. 20.

New world shapes up off Somalia

January 9, 2009

The Somali pirates who released a Saudi supertanker got a $3 million reward, according to their associates. Good money in one of the world’s poorest and most war-blighted corners.But the waters off Somalia are getting ever more crowded with foreign ships trying to stop the pirates. As well as potentially making life more difficult for the hijackers, it has become a real illustration of the much talked about global power shift from West to East in terms of military might as well as economic strength.This raises a question as to whether this will lead to close cooperation, rivalry or something altogether more unpredictable.This week the United States said it planned to launch a specific anti-piracy force, an offshoot of a coalition naval force already in the region since the start of the U.S. “War on Terror” in Afghanistan in 2001.It wasn’t clear just what this would mean in practical terms since U.S. ships were already part of the forces trying to stop the modern day buccaneers, equipped with speedboats and rocket-propelled grenades. It was also unclear which countries would be joining the U.S.-led force rather than operating under their own mandates.The U.S. announcement came two days after Chinese ships started an anti-piracy mission in the Gulf of Aden. This is the first time Chinese warships have sailed to Africa, barring goodwill visits, since Ming Dynasty eunuch Admiral Zheng commanded an armada 600 years ago.As my colleague Sanjeev Miglani wrote last month, the Chinese deployment was being scrutinised by the strategic community from New Delhi to Washington.The Chinese had actually been catching up to other Asian countries. India already had ships in the region. So did Malaysia, whose navy foiled at least one pirate attack this month. Reasserting its might, Russia had sent a warship after the big surge in piracy in the Gulf of Aden between Somalia and Yemen. The European Union has a mission there.For Asian countries there is good reason to send warships. This is the main trade route to markets in Europe and their ships have been seized. Attacks on shipping push up insurance rates and force some vessels to use more fuel on the longer, safer route around Africa instead of taking the Suez Canal.But there certainly appears to be evidence too to back up the U.S. National Intelligence Council’s “Global Trends 2025” report late last year that highlighted the relative decline in Washington’s long term influence in the face of the rise of China and India.As well as being a chance for the world’s old and new powers to show their strength in terms of numbers, the anti-piracy operations off Somalia could prove something of a test of effectiveness.While the hardware the navies have will always outclass that of the pirates, the new powers may have an advantage in more robust rules of engagement. That might lead to mistakes, however. In November, India trumpted its success in sinking a pirate “mother ship”. It later turned out that a Thai ship carrying fishing equipment had been sunk while it was being hijacked. Most of the crew were reported lost.There is a lot of sea to cover, one of the reasons why naval forces have had so much difficulty in stopping the hijackings, but the presence of so many navies in the same area at the same time must raise questions over how well they are going to work together.Will this become a model for cooperation in a new world order? Or are there dangers? Might this also end up being a display of how little either East or West can do in the face of attacks by armed groups from a failed state with which nobody from outside seems prepared to come to grips? What do you think?(Picture: Commanding officer of a U.S. Navy guided-missile cruiser monitors the pirated ship off Somalia REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Handout)(Picture: Forces from French naval vessel “Jean de Vienne”, seen in this January 4, 2009 photo, capture 19 Somali pirates in the Gulf of Aden. REUTERS/French Navy/handout)

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Is Indian “patience” paying off over Mumbai?

January 9, 2009

Shortly after the Mumbai attacks, I asked whether India faced a trial of patience in persuading Pakistan -- with help from the United States -- to take action against the Islamist militants it blamed for the assault on its financial capital. India's approach of relying on American diplomacy rather than launching military action led to some  soul-searching among Indian analysts when it failed to deliver immediate results.  But is it finally beginning to bear fruit?

Smoke-filled cafe diplomacy at the United Nations

January 9, 2009

UNITED NATIONS – High-level diplomacy usually occurs behind closed doors, but at the United Nations on Thursday, a smoke-filled basement cafe was where Arab ministers at one point haggled over the final text of a ceasefire resolution for Gaza.
 
Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa puffed on a chunky cigar in the modest Vienna Cafe, joined at the table by foreign ministers of Egypt, Libya, Saudi Arabia and a few other Arab countries trying to stop Israel’s incursion into Gaza. 
 
At one point late in the afternoon, a British diplomat joined the ministers at the table, showing them proposed amendments to the resolution while the Arab diplomats chewed in public view on a late lunch of sandwiches and muffins and sipped espresso.
 
Mindful of journalists’ eavesdropping on their conversations, the ministers then moved back to their private conference room to talk further and await answers from the British, French and U.S. foreign ministers to changes to the text.

Austria’s Haider: a hero beyond the grave?

November 5, 2008

He may have died in a car crash last month whilst drunk, but Austrian rightist Joerg Haider is not gone.

Does crisis give China new opportunity in Africa?

October 8, 2008

chinese-workers-in-kenya.jpgWith the West reeling from the financial crisis and pulling back some of its investment in Africa, could China step into the breach and expand its footprint on the continent - a presence that already worries Western powers?

Rice eats way through North Africa during Ramadan

September 7, 2008

rice.jpgRABAT – How many Iftars can you eat in a day?

For U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, that became a concern during her tour of North Africa in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Turkish-Armenian Soccer Diplomacy

September 5, 2008

  Following the national soccer team to a foreign country is usually a safe enough bet for any national leader. Photographs of the president or premier smiling and waving, the local colour, the national flags all play well at home; a few platitudes to charm the local press and a  handshake. Simple, harmless political fun.            Turkish soccer fans watching a big match                                                                                                                                                   When Turkish President Abdullah Gul visits Yerevan this weekend for Turkey’s World Cup qualifier against Armenia, however, there will be nothing simple about it.    For the two countries, divided over a wartime slaughter that occurred early in the last century, it will be a historic moment, fraught with perils.      For many Armenians, Gul’s presence will be an act of sheer effrontery by a state they accuse of an act of genocide against the Armenian people; an act of savagery by the old, collapsing Ottoman Empire for which they demand an apology and redress.   For many nationalist Turks, his unprecedented venture, the first visit to Armenia by a Turkish leader, borders on betrayal of their country which they say committed no genocide. Hundreds of thousands, Turks and Armenians alike, they argue, died in the fierce fighting  that consumed the region. Opposition leader Deniz Baykal gave a taste of that mood, remarking sarcastically that Gul should lay a wreath at the Yerevan genocide monument.      Recklesness or statesmanship? Whichever it is,  if it is either,  it is arguably an act of political courage — as was the invitation issued by Armenian President Serzh Sarksyan. Gul might have left well alone as generations of Turkish leaders have done before him. Few in Turkey or Armenia, would have raised an eyebrow.     There may well be anti-Turkish demonstrations in Yerevan and rumblings at home. Gul, a naturally mild-mannered man, must watch his words and his body language. Maybe soccer diplomacy could break the ice between Armenia and Turkey in the same way ping-pong diplomacy launched relations between the United States and Communist China.     Gul’s visit to Armenia is the latest in a string of Turkish foreign policy interventions around his country’s troubled border areas, involving Syria, Iran, Israel, Iraq and more recently Georgia. Gul and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan might be seen as panderTurkey's Gul and Germany's Merkeling to a foreign policy fantasy nurtured by Washington and Brussels of a Turkey building bridges between the West and the Arab world, helping secure the energy routes of the Caucasus and healing the wound of Cyprus; but Ankara is pursuing its own vested interests. While the Turkish economy may prosper in Istanbul or central Anatolia, the country’s east remains steeped in poverty.    Why? Look around.    Eastern Turkey is caught, effectively, in a dead end, surrounded  by closed or virtually closed borders and weak neighbouring economies. Armenia is one such neighbour, but an important one.     A landlocked country still emerging from the ruins of the Soviet Union, Armenia also suffers from a closed border with its huge western neighbour.    The argument about whether or not the events of the last century were an act of systematic killing, a genocide,  will continue with a passion.    The idea that governments write history or interpret it is not one that sits easily with me. I’ve lived in countries where the history books are written by the government or the Party.   The Turks have compromised themselves over decades on this count by prosecuting historians or journalists who dare to entertain the question of whether there was genocide; but things in Turkey are changing. The country is opening, if not quickly enough for some.    Armenians might argue that the killing in what is today eastern Turkey is not history but very much a modern event for families driven into exile and living with the consequences. Some of those exile families, from Paris to Los Angeles, are among the most vocal proponents of diplomatic action against Turkey.     Soccer matches can be emotional occasions. Turkish and Armenian colours will vie for attention. Hopefully, the emotion this time will be confined largely to the action on the pitch, but politics will be foremost in many people’s minds, within and beyond the borders of Turkey and Armenia.    A risky and courageous political act by Gul or a move long overdue for both Turkey and Armenia? Much depends on what comes after the final whistle. Both sides are showing good will. The Armenians, for instance, are removing from the emblems on their kit the image of Mount Ararat,  a mountain now in Turkey but closely linked to Armenian culture and history.    As Turkish national coach Fatih Terim said on Tuesday, the team is going to Yervan ‘to play a game and not to fight a war’.    

Gaddafi – No longer “Mad Dog” of Middle East

September 3, 2008

Libyan leader Gaddafi listens to a speaker at the African Union summitOnce called the “mad dog of the Middle East” by President Ronald Reagan, Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi will meet U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week.