The Great Debate

Re-thinking U.S.-China relations

The United States and China have been searching for a new way to frame their relationship.  President Barack Obama’s trip this week to Southeast Asia, the focus of much U.S-Chinese tension, reminds us that with new leadership now set in both countries, it is time for them to carry on with that important task.

The new head of China’s Communist Party Xi Jinping called for a “new type of great power relationship” when he visited Washington last spring. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that Washington and Beijing “are trying to do something that is historically unprecedented, to write a new answer to the age-old question of what happens when an established power and a rising power meet.”

Obama’s China policy has been successful in securing U.S. interests. What’s missing, however, is the two nations’ shared understanding of how they can co-exist in peace decades into the future.

Instead, many Americans envision a stronger, more aggressive China that Washington may need to confront. Many Chinese, meanwhile, fear a United States that will seek to preserve its waning power by lashing out.

As China grows stronger, uncertainty about what will come next in the bilateral relationship may only increase.

Here’s how to handle Syria

Bashar al-Assad continues his war on the Syrian opposition, despite the presence of United Nations observers. His efforts have generated extremist reactions, including major bombings. The Syrian opposition continues to fragment, even as protesters manage to mount peaceful demonstrations in many parts of the country. The conflict is increasingly sectarian in character and has overflowed to Lebanon’s Tripoli.

There is no alternative in sight to the existing Security Council resolutions. Syria is not on the NATO summit agenda this weekend in Chicago. The Americans continue to need the Russians “on side” for nuclear talks with Iran that resume next week in Baghdad. Unilateral American action on Syria is not in the cards. Europe is preoccupied with its own financial crisis and is unable to act without American help. Qatari and Saudi weapons entering Syria are likely to increase violence and worsen sectarian tensions.

So what is to be done? Here are some ideas for the Obama administration:

    Lend wholehearted support to the Annan plan, which the United States has been badmouthing ever since the Security Council passed Resolution 2043 on Apr. 21. Talk with Moscow about ensuring that Russian vital interests in Syria, port access and arms sales, are protected once Bashar al-Assad is gone. The United States no longer needs to block Moscow’s access to a Mediterranean port, as it did during the Cold War. Russian arms sales to Syria are a small price to pay to bring down a regime that links Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Deploy civilian observers – including Americans – to Syria. The Security Council has already authorized a civilian component to the U.N. Supervisory Mission in Syria (UNSMIS). It would be too much to expect Syria to accept U.S. military observers, and the U.S. does not send its soldiers and Marines into harm’s way unarmed, as the UNSMIS observers are. But we have had good results with unarmed civilian observers in the Kosovo Verification Mission before the NATO-Yugoslavia war, when the lead observer spoke truth to power about a civilian massacre. Stop talk about arming the opposition. It isn’t what we should be doing or encouraging      because of the likelihood it will prolong sectarian conflict; we can’t control where the weapons end up; and there is no hope that an insurgency will defeat Assad anytime soon. Redouble encouragement for peaceful demonstrations, which are occurring every day in Syria, and try to ensure that the U.N. observers are present for them. Increase the flow of non-weapons aid to the opposition inside Syria, which claims to have received precious little so far, and provide intelligence on threatening movements of Syrian security forces. Present overhead video of heavy weapons in use against Syrian cities at the Security Council, along with other hard evidence of Annan plan violations. Anne-Marie Slaughter has proposed a U.N. website that would post video and photographs uploaded by Syrians. Tighten the application of sanctions, including implementing the draconian financial sanctions already adopted for Iran against Syria as well.

When the Security Council approved the Annan plan, the United States called for “swift and meaningful consequences … should the regime continue to flout its obligations.” The best way of getting those consequences approved in the Security Council is to support full implementation of the Annan plan. Then the United States can go to the Council in mid-July, when the observer mission has to be renewed, arguing that despite its sincere efforts, Bashar al-Assad has defied the international community and needs to be taught a lesson.

Let’s kick Syria out of the United Nations

The United Nations estimates that since Syria’s uprising began over a year ago, more than 9,000 Syrians have been killed. A recent assessment from Council on Foreign Relations Senior Fellow Elliot Abrams puts the total number of Syrian refugees at almost half a million. Worse, it appears that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are continuing to torture, imprison and kill Syrian civilians. It also seems that the recent peace plan promulgated by U.N.-Arab League peace envoy Kofi Annan, which Assad’s government agreed to, is dead. According to Turkey’s prime minister, Assad “is not withdrawing troops, but he is duping the international community.”

The conventional wisdom holds that the international community is out of alternatives, short of another potentially dangerous military intervention or the risky prospect of arming Syria’s rebels. Syria’s government has already thumbed its nose at sanctions and condemnations from the Arab League, Gulf Cooperation Council, European Union and various U.N. organs and individual countries. The Security Council, thanks to the vetoes of Russia and China, is also constrained to issuing awkward joint statements rather than passing binding resolutions.

But there is another option that has received surprisingly little attention.

Specifically, the United States as well as like-minded delegations in the West and Middle East should consider calling for Syria’s suspension from the U.N.’s most democratic and representative organ, the General Assembly (UNGA), where all 193 U.N. member states normally get one vote. Such an act would entail zero material costs, avoid veto authority and be a critical step toward alleviating the humanitarian nightmare unfolding in Syria.

We are letting Assad win

A year into the crisis in Syria, it’s time to admit that the world is prepared to allow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to slaughter his people. Unless force is used to back diplomacy, the international community will let Assad kill tens of thousands more than the 7,500 already lost.

We’ve seen this playbook too many times before — in Bosnia, Rwanda, and Sudan. It is time to face three brutal truths about the crisis. First, no country sees it as sufficiently in its interests to use airstrikes and eventually send forces into Syria to stop the attacks by the Syrian regime — the only way to end the current slaughter. While well intentioned and perhaps saving some lives, all the surrounding activity — summits, special envoys, humanitarian corridors, safe zones, arming the opposition, and efforts to reach a ceasefire — serves as a smokescreen for the Syrian regime to finish the job of wiping out the rebel “terrorists.” These negotiations will not work unless backed by force.

Second, the international community must not be fooled by the regime’s trick of negotiating small sideshows to end the killing. Diplomats will spend days and weeks negotiating tiny windows of breaks in the killing to evacuate the wounded. More weeks will be lost arguing about the details of humanitarian safe zones and corridors. While those steps would help save some lives and are important, they will not stop the crisis — and in fact could well prolong it by diverting attention from the need for force.

from David Rohde:

China’s newest export: Internet censorship

BEIJING -- This great city is the epicenter of a geopolitical battle over cyberspace, who controls it, and who defines its rights and freedoms. China’s 485 million web users are the world’s largest online population. And the Chinese government has developed the world’s most advanced Internet censorship and surveillance system to police their activity. 

Yet the days of Americans piously condemning China’s “Great Firewall” and hoping for a technological silver bullet that would pierce it are over. China’s system is a potent, vast and sophisticated network of computer, legal and human censorship. The Chinese model is spreading to other authoritarian regimes. And governments worldwide, including the United States, are aggressively trying to legislate the Internet.

“There is a growing trend toward Internet censorship in a range of countries,” said Rebecca MacKinnon, a prominent online democracy advocate and author of the forthcoming book “Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom.” “The same technology that helps secure your network from attack, that actually enables you to censor your network also.”

Young Israelis, Palestinians converge on entrepreneurship

By Ted Grossman
The opinions expressed are his own.

Today at the United Nations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas will speak for their peoples on the world stage in front of the General Assembly. Several hundred miles farther south on Capitol Hill, House Republicans have introduced legislation requiring the UN to adopt a voluntary budget model ending funding for Palestinian refugees, allowing Congress to control and allot the distribution of funds to Palestine, and cutting contributions to peacekeeping operations until management changes are made. And six thousand miles – half a world – beyond that, 44 Palestinian and Israeli students are working as business partners in the Middle East to run two entrepreneurial ventures. This summer, I witnessed an example of their cooperative spirit when the group – 20 Palestinians, 17 Israeli Jews, and 7 Israeli Arabs – came together at Babson College in Wellesley, MA for an intensive program in entrepreneurship.

The revolutions sparked during the Arab Spring show that social and political change can take root with just a handful of people.  Here at Babson this summer, I have been overwhelmed by the commitment of both Palestinian and Israeli students to do what previous generations have failed to do: bring about peace in their homelands.

Despite the violence and hateful rhetoric they have endured and the deep political and cultural divides that permeate their daily existence, these 44 undergraduates agreed to participate in a seven-week program focused on developing an entrepreneurial mindset and the business skills necessary to cooperatively launch two new businesses under challenging circumstances. Studying together, learning together and living together, they initially found it challenging to establish trust and overcome apprehensions.  But in a matter of days, these students were so busy with market research, supply chain dilemmas and writing business plans that they had little choice but to move beyond their emotions.

Hope for ending hunger in our lifetimes

By Josette Sheeran
The opinions expressed are her own.

I will never forget holding my newborn baby in my arms watching a television report on the 1987 famine in Ethiopia – hearing the haunting cries of babies whose hunger could not be met by their anguished mothers. Tragically, today we are seeing the same images as the worst drought in 60 years again devastates the Horn of Africa, throwing as many as 12 million into desperate hunger.

But there are hopeful signs that today’s drought need not result in the tens of thousands of deaths that we saw in earlier decades. Other than the tragic situation in South Somalia, where those in control have blocked humanitarian assistance, the drought’s impact has been blunted by advance preparation and resiliency programs. WFP, with the support of many, has been scaling up for more than six months.

Through a community adaptation program called MERET, WFP has been supporting the Ethiopian government in sustainable land management and rain catchment which has vastly increased food production and mitigated the impact of the drought. In the dry Karamoja region of northern Uganda, local communities are showing more resilience than in the 2007-2009 droughts, thanks to a new system of communal food stocks that are replenished at harvest time.

from Bernd Debusmann:

Who is the superpower, America or Israel?

On February 18, the United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution on Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories. The vote raises a question: Who dominates in the alliance between America and Israel?

Judging from the extent to which one partner defies the will of the other, decade after decade, the world's only superpower is the weaker partner. When push comes to shove, American presidents tend to bow to Israeli wishes. Barack Obama is no exception, or he would not have instructed his ambassador at the United Nations to vote against a policy he himself stated clearly in the summer of 2009.

"The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop," he said in a much-lauded speech in Cairo.

from The Great Debate UK:

A freakonomic view of climate change

Ahead of a U.N. summit in Copenhagen next month, scepticism is growing that an agreement will be reached on a global climate treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, due to expire in 2012.

The protocol set targets aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, which are believed to be responsible for the gradual rise in the Earth's average temperature. Many scientists say that reducing carbon dioxide emissions is key to preventing climate change.

But authors Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner argue in their new book SuperFreakonomics that humanity can take an alternative route to try and save the planet.

Obama in the footsteps of George W. Bush

Bernd Debusmann– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. —

Words of wisdom from an American leader: “The United States must be humble and must be proud and confident of our values but humble in how we treat nations that are figuring out how to chart their own course.

“If we are an arrogant nation, they’ll view us that way but if we are a humble nation, they’ll respect us.”