Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Joke That Is The UN Human Rights Council

Much has already been written about the inability of the UN to take serious action on human rights, largely due to its preference of sovereign equality over human rights, in which states are able to enjoy their full rights within the UN regardless of their adherence to international human rights norms. This is nowhere more clear than in the new Human Rights Council, which was intended to solve some of these problems. However, it was clear from the beginning that the Council was flawed, as there were still no criteria for membership. To date, the Council has spent almost all of its time denouncing Israel for human rights violations in the occupied territories, but has made no mention of the situations in Darfur, North Korea, Zimbabwe, or anywhere else.

Over at Opinio Juris, guest blogger Elizabeth Cassidy from UN Watch has a post about a recent speech given before the Council by the Executive Director of UN Watch, Hillel Neuer. In the speech (which you can read here along with the response by the president of the Council, Luis Alfonso de Alba), Neuer argues that:

[The Council] has enacted one resolution after another condemning one single state: Israel. In eight pronouncements—and there will be three more this session—Hamas and Hezbollah have been granted impunity. The entire rest of the world—millions upon millions of victims, in 191 countries—continue to go ignored.

So yes, this Council is doing something. And the Middle East dictators who orchestrate this campaign will tell you it is a very good thing. That they seek to protect human rights, Palestinian rights.

So too, the racist murderers and rapists of Darfur women tell us they care about the rights of Palestinian women; the occupiers of Tibet care about the occupied; and the butchers of Muslims in Chechnya care about Muslims.

But do these self-proclaimed defenders truly care about Palestinian rights?

Let us consider the past few months. More than 130 Palestinians were killed by Palestinian forces. This is three times the combined total that were the pretext for calling special sessions in July and November. Yet the champions of Palestinian rights—Ahmadinejad, Assad, Khaddafi, John Dugard—they say nothing. Little 3-year-old boy Salam Balousha and his two brothers were murdered in their car by Prime Minister Haniyeh’s troops. Why has this Council chosen silence?

Because Israel could not be blamed. Because, in truth, the dictators who run this Council couldn’t care less about Palestinians, or about any human rights.

They seek to demonize Israeli democracy, to delegitimize the Jewish state, to scapegoat the Jewish people. They also seek something else: to distort and pervert the very language and idea of human rights.

You ask: What has become of the founders’ dream? With terrible lies and moral inversion, it is being turned into a nightmare.

In response, the president of the Council issued this statement:

For the first time in this session I will not express thanks for that statement. I shall point out to the distinguished representative of the organization that just spoke, the distinguished representative of United Nations Watch, if you'd kindly listen to me. I am sorry that I'm not in a position to thank you for your statement. I should mention that I will not tolerate any similar statements in the Council. The way in which members of this Council were referred to, and indeed the way in which the council itself was referred to, all of this is inadmissible. In the memory of the persons that you referred to, founders of the Human Rights Commission, and for the good of human rights, I would urge you in any future statements to observe some minimum proper conduct and language. Otherwise, any statement you make in similar tones to those used today will be taken out of the records.
The hypocracy of this is especially galling since, as Cassidy notes:
Over the past year in the Council, ambassadors have called each other, UN experts, and representatives of NGOs "ignorant" and other similar insults. Sudan and its allies have denied the existence of human rights violations in Darfur, and Iran has denied the Holocaust. Nigeria has defended the use of the death penalty by stoning against homosexuals. The invective against Israel has included accusations of "an Israeli Holocaust against the Palestinian people," a "thirst for the blood" of civilians, and of being "an apartheid regime" and even "an invader from the planet Mars." The United States has been accused of running a "concentration camp" at Guantanamo Bay and of "genocide" against Cuba. The United Kingdom has been called a "colonial slave-master." Sweden has been accused of "ethnic cleansing" against anyone who does not have the coloring of "former Viking conquerors." Yet all of these statements, and many others like them, have been thanked and deemed admissible by the Council Chair.
The UN simply cannot be an effective arbiter or monitor of human rights. So long as it refuses to place the value of those rights above that of sovereign equality, the Council will continue to be hijacked by those that seek to divert attention to Israel, that while perhaps deserved certainly does not excuse ignoring the much worse abuses going on elsewhere.

PS: Over at Opinio Juris, you can watch a YouTube video that highlights some of the things delegates have said in front of the Council that have been allowed as admissible....

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Coming Constitutional Crisis (?)

The US Senate has voted to support a date for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq. In a 50-48 vote, the Senate rejected a motion to remove the withdrawal language from the spending bill, meaning that the bill providing the money for the military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq requires a gradual pullout of combat troops from Iraq to begin within 120 days and to be completed by March 31, 2008 (although the final date is non-binding). The spending bill will be voted on later this week but is almost certain to pass given this vote outcome. Then, the Senate will have to sit down with the House of Representatives to reconcile the two versions of the bill, as the House version contains a mandatory withdrawal deadline of September 2008. The president has threatened to veto the bill and will most likely do so immediately after final passage.

What's the likely outcome here? When President Bush vetoes this bill, Congress will have two options: Strip the language out in order to get the bill passed (of course, Congress could leave in non-binding language to make a point but not actually have any impact) or pass an identical bill to put the issue back in President Bush's court. Remember, this bill is the funding for the operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Without it, military operations will have to be halted in a few months, at most. So if Congress continues to pass funding bills with binding withdrawal deadlines, at some point Bush will have to either allow the bill to become law, at which point he could either comply or refuse to comply (more on this later) or he could continue to veto the bill, let the funding run out on the troops in the field and blame Congress for abandoning the troops. For obvious political reasons, that last option is a disaster for Congress and the president alike, and both sides will want to avoid that outcome like the plague.

The most likely result of this is that once the president vetoes the spending bill, Congress will crow about the president obstructing the will of the people and then pass a bill without the withdrawal language. This enables Congress to do what it does best in foreign affairs: Express dissatisfaction with the current policies but avoid taking responsibility for it by refusing to force any changes.

If I had my druthers, however, I'd like to see Congress continue to pass bills that require a withdrawal that would force the president to sign the bill and then refuse to adhere to the deadline, claiming that the congressional action is an unconstitutional encroachment on the presidential war powers, specifically the commander-in-chief power. All too often, pending constitutional debates like these never get resolved because one side backs down for political reasons. But, as I read things, the spending bill as it is likely to be passed is, in fact, unconstitutional. Yes, Congress has the power of the purse over the US military. But the bill is not worded in the proper way to use that power. Simply placing withdrawal language in an appropriations bill is not the same as putting restrictions on the use of the appropriated funds. If Congress wants to stop the use of US military troops in Iraq, it needs to refuse to allow the president to use monies for that purpose. Congress is understood to not be allowed to "micro-manage" the military, and telling the president to withdraw troops is exactly what Congress cannot do. If the president signed the bill and refused to implement it, we would very likely get a Supreme Court decision on the war powers, which is all too rare and all too necessary.

The spending bill as it stands represents a congressional abdication of the role it is all too quick to loudly proclaim for itself. It is not a serious attempt to check the president, to bring the troops home, or to enforce the will of the American public. Rather it has the appearance of doing so without bringing the responsibility for such actions on Congress. The ultimate result of this will be nothing; until Congress grows a spine and refuses to appropriate funds for the war in Iraq, it will continue according to President Bush's plan.

Monday, March 26, 2007

A Tough Situation For Iran

For several months now, it had been looking like Iran had the upper hand in international politics. There seemed to be little slowing of its burgeoning nuclear program, the West, and especially the European countries, lacked any bargaining power, and Iran is clearly benefiting from the chaos in Iraq. However, in the last few days, Iran's fortunes have taken a drastic turn for the worse. First, Iran's primary patron, Russia, has turned on it, and is now supporting the extension and toughening of international sanctions. Second, Iran seems to have made a huge miscalculation by seizing 15 British sailors in the Shatt al-Arab waterway. Iran claims the sailors had strayed into Iranian territorial waters; Britain and Iraq claimed the ship was in Iraqi waters performing a routine and legal search of a ship bound for Iraq. The timing of the seizure, occurring right before the vote in the UN Security Council on the sanctions seems to have been a bad attempt to threaten the UNSC into backing away from the use of sanctions. However, Iran seems to have acknowledged its mistake, and is currently interrogating the sailors in what is interpreted to be an effort to release them in a face-saving gesture by determining that the violation of Iranian waters was unintentional.

So, what's going on with Iran? Why the sudden reversal of fortune? The most important component here is the loss of Russian support. While it's not entirely clear why Russia would turn on Iran, I strongly believe that US plans to build an anti-ballistic missile system in Eastern Europe has demonstrated to Russia, and President Putin in particular, that Russia is no longer the power that was the USSR, and that the US will no longer acknowledge Russian interests without some kind of quid pro quo. That is, if Russia wants the US to back away from building the missile defense system, it can't just rattle its sabers. Rather, it must cooperate with the US and the West, producing some kind of material benefit that it can then use as political capital to get what it wants. Don't be surprised if, in the aftermath of the imposition of sanctions, Russia tries to re-open a conversation about the ABM system.

Such an outcome would be a big victory for the larger policy of engagement, in which the US backs away from pressuring countries to make political reforms in favor of economic liberalization. This is the same policy that the US has long applied to China. If the country becomes connected to the larger Western and international economy, it may not be willing to risk those connections to support rogue patrons like Iran, North Korea, or Sudan. Recently, we have seen China become more willing to pressure its patrons, and now Russian pressure on Iran seems to fit the bill as well. The US needs to keep the pressure on, convincing these states that their future economic success, as well as their political status in the international community, depends on them reining in their clients and playing by the rules of the system.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A Few Days Off

First, let me apologize for the sparse blogging lately. I'm buried under papers and exams that need grading.

Also, Security Dilemmas will be dark for a few days. I'm heading to Kobe, Japan tomorrow for a few days. I've been invited to serve as an outside evaluator of a new course on maritime security at Kobe University. I'll be back on Monday, so posting should resume by the middle of next week.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Now THAT'S Diplomacy

From Reuters:

Israel has recalled its ambassador in El Salvador after he was found drunk and naked with sex toys lying nearby in the yard of his official residence, Israeli media reports said on Monday.

A foreign ministry spokeswoman confirmed that the ambassador, Tsuriel Raphael, was recalled but offered no details. "The ministry sees his behavior as unbecoming of a diplomat," the spokeswoman said.

Israeli media reported that local police found Raphael in the yard of the official residence in San Salvador. The reports said he was drunk, naked, and bound and gagged with a rubber ball in his mouth and sex toys lying near him.

The foreign ministry spokeswoman said the incident took place two weeks ago.

"As soon as the episode was brought to attention of the foreign ministry it reacted and the ambassador was recalled to Israel. He is going to remain in Israel," she said.

Israel would seek another ambassador in El Salvador, an Israeli official said.

The Surge May Be Working

The early signs from Iraq are promising...the surge may in fact be working. Robert Kagan has a piece in Sunday's Washington Post arguing that the recent (and on-going) increase in US troops is succeeding. Kagan writes:

Leading journalists have been reporting for some time that the war was hopeless, a fiasco that could not be salvaged by more troops and a new counterinsurgency strategy. The conventional wisdom in December held that sending more troops was politically impossible after the antiwar tenor of the midterm elections. It was practically impossible because the extra troops didn't exist. Even if the troops did exist, they could not make a difference.

Four months later, the once insurmountable political opposition has been surmounted. The nonexistent troops are flowing into Iraq. And though it is still early and horrible acts of violence continue, there is substantial evidence that the new counterinsurgency strategy, backed by the infusion of new forces, is having a significant effect.

Before the arrival of Gen. David Petraeus, the Army's leading counterinsurgency strategist, U.S. forces tended to raid insurgent and terrorist strongholds and then pull back and hand over the areas to Iraqi forces, who failed to hold them. The Fadhils report, "One difference between this and earlier -- failed -- attempts to secure Baghdad is the willingness of the Iraqi and U.S. governments to commit enough resources for enough time to make it work." In the past, bursts of American activity were followed by withdrawal and a return of the insurgents. Now, the plan to secure Baghdad "is becoming stricter and gaining momentum by the day as more troops pour into the city, allowing for a better implementation of the 'clear and hold' strategy." Baghdadis "always want the 'hold' part to materialize, and feel safe when they go out and find the Army and police maintaining their posts -- the bad guys can't intimidate as long as the troops are staying."

A greater sense of confidence produces many benefits. The number of security tips about insurgents that Iraqi civilians provide has jumped sharply. Stores and marketplaces are reopening in Baghdad, increasing the sense of community. People dislocated by sectarian violence are returning to their homes. As a result, "many Baghdadis feel hopeful again about the future, and the fear of civil war is slowly being replaced by optimism that peace might one day return to this city," the Fadhils report. "This change in mood is something huge by itself."

Apparently some American journalists see the difference. NBC's Brian Williams recently reported a dramatic change in Ramadi since his previous visit. The city was safer; the airport more secure. The new American strategy of "getting out, decentralizing, going into the neighborhoods, grabbing a toehold, telling the enemy we're here, start talking to the locals -- that is having an obvious and palpable effect." U.S. soldiers forged agreements with local religious leaders and pushed al-Qaeda back -- a trend other observers have noted in some Sunni-dominated areas. The result, Williams said, is that "the war has changed."

It is no coincidence that as the mood and the reality have shifted, political currents have shifted as well. A national agreement on sharing oil revenue appears on its way to approval. The Interior Ministry has been purged of corrupt officials and of many suspected of torture and brutality. And cracks are appearing in the Shiite governing coalition -- a good sign, given that the rock-solid unity was both the product and cause of growing sectarian violence.

Kagan notes, as do many critics of the surge, that the disappearance of the Shiite militias from the scene may be only temporary, and that once the US troops leave, as they eventually will, the Mahdi Army will return. But that misses a crucial dynamic: the militias, whether Shiite or Sunni, are dependent on public support in a way that the al Qaeda-linked insurgency is not. The ethnic militias rely on their constituencies believing that violence is a better means to protect their interests than is the political process. If "regular" Iraqis" come to understand that peace, quiet, and the Iraqi government are better able to providing for the future than is violence, the militias will lose their support and purpose. The longer these groups are lying low, the longer that peace, security, and stability hold in Baghdad, the more Iraqis will develop faith in the government at the expense of the militias.

It's still too early to predict success, but things do seem to be trending in the right direction. As the rest of the surge forces (only three of five brigades have arrived in Iraq so far) continue to deploy and provide security, it just may be possible for the US to create the conditions for a working, stable society.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Congress Makes A Move

The US House of Representatives has apparently decided to challenge President Bush head-on about the length of the Iraq War. House Democrats today unveiled legislation designed to bring all US combat troops in Iraq home by the fall of 2008, at the latest. If the Iraqi government does not meet certain specified benchmarks of progress, troops would be withdrawn earlier. The bill would require President Bush to certify by July 1 and October 1 that the Iraq government is making satisfactory progress in providing security for the country, distributing oil revenues, and improving the method by which the constitution can be amended; if President Bush in unable to certify progress, all US combat troops would be withdrawn in six months. Assuming progress is made, troop would begin leaving Iraq in March 2008 and all combat soldiers would be back by September. The bill also requires the Pentagon to enforce its standards for training and equipping all troops being sent into Iraq, but allows Bush to issue waivers of the requirements (the intent is to force the president into publicly admitting that the troops are lacking equipment and training).

It is not entirely clear that the bill will pass the House. Nearly every Republican is likely to oppose it, and several Democrats have already spoken out against the bill. If it does pass, however, President Bush would face a difficult decision of whether to veto, as it will contain an extra $1.2 billion for the war in Afghanistan and $3.5 billion more for veterans' care and health care for active troops.

If the bill passes, the most likely outcome is that President Bush would not veto it, and instead simply ignore its dictates. The bill is of highly dubious constitutionality, as it smacks of the sort of micro-managing the US military that is off-limits to Congress. Congress' war powers do not extend to telling the president how many troops he may deploy to a combat zone. Congress could deny funding to the president for combat operations in Iraq, which would force the withdrawal of troops. But the president is the commander-in-chief of the US military, and only the commander-in-chief can make decisions about troop levels. The standards for training and equipment sound like they would fall under Congress' power to make rules for the regulation of the armed forces, but Congress has yielded such specific rule-making to the Department of Defense; any interference now without a statutory change would be unconstitutional.

This move by Congress will not succeed at bringing the boys home. If Congress really wants to end the war, it will have to step up, cut off the funding, and accept responsibility for the outcome. Anything else is merely spineless posturing.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Recasting The Darfur Debate

The US State Department has named the on-going genocide in Darfur the world's worst human rights abuse of 2006. The just-released 2006 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices noted that "the Sudanese government and government-backed janjaweed militia bear responsibility for the genocide in Darfur" and that "all parties to the conflagration committed serious abuses, including widespread killing of civilians, rape as a tool of war, systematic torture, robbery and recruitment of child soldiers." The reappearance of the word "genocide" is particularly notable; it was first used in reference to Darfur in 2004 by then-SecState Powell, but has largely disappeared from official reports and speeches on the situation.

The US Special Envoy for Darfur, Andrew Natsios, is scheduled to meet with Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir two days from now in an effort to convince al-Bashir to allow UN/AU peace keepers to increase their presence in the region. However, there are no signs of a imminent reversal by Sudan, which has to date steadfastly refused to allow a larger and better-equipped force into Darfur to protect the people there.

So, what the US do? While China has been willing to press Sudan a bit, it is unlikely that China (or Russia for that matter) would ever permit the Security Council to authorize an intervention without the acquiescence of the Sudanese government. Therefore any international action to protect the people of Darfur is likely to be, a la Kosovo and Iraq, conducted outside the bounds of the UN and international law. Given the experience of the US in interventions over the last 15 or so years -- Somalia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan -- there is likely to be little stomach for an armed intervention. Even the success of Kosovo is more an exception that proves the rule, as Kosovo was a more traditional "war" involving state-against-state violence, while an intervention in Sudan is more likely to resemble Somalia or Rwanda.

Some people point to the recent breakthrough with North Korea as evidence that sanctions can work, particularly in the globalized world. But North Korea is more of unique case that I'm not sure can be applied to Sudan. North Korea has little to export the world, while Sudan has resources and oil. North Korea is politically and economically isolated, making it easier to close the flows, while Sudan is not.

If a military intervention is the only likely way to end the genocide and protect the long-suffering people of Darfur, how can the US overcome its reluctance to engage in these kinds of humanitarian operations? In a presentation I gave this past weekend to the local Darfur Action Group, I talked about how the discussion needs to be recast. Talking about the horrors and atrocities may help raise public awareness and sentiment, but it's not going to convince policy makers that action should be taken. The debate needs to be less about why Darfur is worthy of intervention, and more about why intervening in Darfur should be understood as part of US national interest.

Why should the US risk its soldiers and treasure to protect the people of Darfur? In Somalia, there was no clear answer to this question, and so when 18 US Rangers were killed, the country and the president lost their nerve and withdrew. If the US is to take action in Darfur, it must be made clear to the American public and decision makers that the action is the American interest and that US soldiers should die to protect the people of Darfur. I believe that case can be made. There are lots of ways that protecting innocent people being slaughtered by their government is in the US interest. There are lots of ways that stabilizing a volatile region is as well. President Bush in particular has shown himself to be open to this kind of argument; unfortunately, much of its force has been discredited by the debacle in Iraq.

But Darfur should not be forgotten. This country has a strong and vital interest in ensuring "Never Again."

Friday, March 02, 2007

Switzerland Invades Liechtenstein!

Seriously. Well, sort of seriously. The New York Times is reporting that a company of Swiss soldiers got lost on a training mission and crossed the border into Liechtenstein.
According to Swiss daily Blick, the 170 infantry soldiers wandered 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) across an unmarked border into the tiny principality early Thursday before realizing their mistake and turning back.

A spokesman for the Swiss army confirmed the story but said that there were unlikely to be any serious repercussions for the mistaken invasion.

''We've spoken to the authorities in Liechtenstein and it's not a problem,'' Daniel Reist told The Associated Press.

Officials in Liechtenstein also played down the incident.

Interior ministry spokesman Markus Amman said nobody in Liechtenstein had even noticed the soldiers, who were carrying assault rifles but no ammunition. ''It's not like they stormed over here with attack helicopters or something,'' he said.

Liechtenstein, which has about 34,000 inhabitants and is slightly smaller than Washington DC, doesn't have an army.

A Time To Not Be Unilateral

Reuters is reporting that friction is developing between the US and some of the other members of NATO about the potential deployment of an anti-ballistic missile defense system in Eastern Europe. Germany, in particular, along with several other European NATO members are concerned that the ABM system will destabilize relations with Russia, which has expressed serious concerns over the system, seeing it is an encroachment on the (former) Russian sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, as well as a signal of divergent interests between the West and Russia. Germany is calling for discussions in the NATO-Russia Council, while the US has declared its intentions to press ahead with development and deployment, even without NATO approval or participation, if necessary. The basic plan is to deploy a radar system in the Czech Republic and a missile battery in Poland to protect Europe against missile launches from states like Iran or North Korea.

Germany and NATO are right to be concerned about the ABM system, but the object of their concern is misplaced. There's no real reason to worry about Russia; the former superpower is a shell of its former self and simply no longer matters in global politics. There's no reason to be antagonistic towards Russia, but Russia's concerns and needs should not be serious impediments to pursuing things deemed important for US/European/NATO security and interest.

There are two other reasons why the US should defer to NATO here. First is the need to assuage hurt feelings. Germany and France are still smarting from the rejection of NATO assistance in the early days of the invasion of Afghanistan and the subsequent invasion of Iraq. The US should be looking for any low-cost opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to NATO and multilateral structures, and this seems like such an opportunity, as building an ABM system should be low on the US's list of security priorities.

As I have blogged about before, I am no fan of ABM systems. I don't buy the arguments that they won't work...although I am suspicious of their efficacy. But the real question is: Is the benefit worth the cost? In a world in which our military is stretched thin, where our soldiers are having trouble getting equipment and training, the massive amounts of money being spent on ABM defense could be much better spent simply paying to enlarge the armed forces.

Given the concern expressed by our NATO allies, the Bush Administration should simply drop this issue. There's no reason to upset our friends, nor spend the money that could be better used elsewhere.