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Weekly Foreign Affairs Roundup

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The Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs:



American Economic Leadership Recognized

Facts: US President Barack Obama made his first address to American Congress in the style of a State of the Union speech. He acknowledged the gravity of the global financial crisis and defended his ambitious plans to bolster the US economy in both the immediate (plans for mortgage assistance, bank stabilization and economic stimulus) and long-term (plans to boost education, health care and energy independence). Awaiting the G20 meeting in London next April where it is hoped the top 20 world economies will cement a plan for global economic recovery, the world seemed somewhat relieved by Obama's plan of action, even if the financial markets were more skeptical particularly related to his bank rescue plans.
SI Analysis: Pundits the world over comment on how global attention and hope has indeed turned to the US to be the leader out of the economic slowdown. Though there is a little bit of schadenfreude towards the American crisis, the repercussions are so dire the world over that America has become the economic superpower that people love to hate to love, but love all the same. American leadership on financial matters and security concerns seems to have gained a bit of clout and recognition despite the negative state of the American economy.

Pakistani Quagmire

Facts: Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi traveled to Washington for trilateral talks along with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta. He reportedly asked for American provision of drones to help his nation's fight against insurgents. Reports emerge explaining that the US has sent special forces to arm and train certain Pakistanis to fight other Pakistani extremists. And yet other reports have revealed that the Pakistani Army is arming civilians in the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) to combat Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents themselves. Also this week, the Taliban announced a unilateral ceasefire in Bajaur Agency in northwestern Pakistan. This follows a steep campaign in the area by the Pakistani army that has allegedly killed 1500 militants in the area. However, some reports suggest that Pakistan may have paid millions of dollars to obtain this particular ceasefire, not to be confused with last week's ceasefire in the Swat Valley.
SI Analysis:
Geopolitical analysts continue to warn that Pakistan is teetering on the brink of collapse -- FBI Director Robert Mueller explained that the greatest terror threat in the world is coming from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border region. It appears that Pakistan is refining a dual policy of negotiating with domestic tribal leaders and Taliban, while also more aggressively pursuing certain extremists and foreign insurgents. Analysts are divided on whether or not this move will truly increase security in Pakistan, boost NATO efforts in Afghanistan and restore order. Some argue that the truce extension in the Swat Valley merely gives the Taliban more time to regroup in order to attack the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Some see these latest developments as "last ditch attempts" to save Pakistan. Others however see this as an intelligent change in policy to address the growing problem of lawlessness by distinguishing between foreign and domestic insurgents. Some experts assert that the ceasefire suggests some of Pakistan's military campaign against insurgents is succeeding, despite the Islamic law-for-peace agreement forged last week.

Mexico - A Failed State?

Facts: Reports of drug gang violence against other gangs, civilians and Mexican security and police forces have exponentially multiplied over the past few months. Some accounts say that Mexican authorities are loosing total control of certain provinces and many say the US fears that the conflict will spill over into American borders. This week the US arrested 750 people across the nation in connection with the Mexican Sinaloa drug cartel.
SI Analysis: Reports emerge that the American Department of Homeland Security has drafted contigency plans in the case that drug violence moves north. Recent American action is seen as a move by the Obama administration to combat the drug trade south of its border, as Attorney General Eric Holder announced that drug cartels "will be destroyed". Some analysts argue that dwindling Mexican stability could be America's greatest security risk; having a failed state on the southern border could invite a whole host of chaos onto American soil.

Iran - Going Nuclear For Real

Facts: Iranian and Russian officials successfully tested the controversial Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran. The plant is expected to be fully operational by the end of 2009. Recent reports by the International Atomic Energy Association and others suggest that Iran may have more enriched uranium than previously thought. A few hours after the test is announced, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak issues a statement revealing that "all options are on the table" to confront Iran and prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons. In other news, France, Germany and the UK (the EU3) propose a tougher sanctions package against Iran that could boost the Obama agenda. And as for Obama's agenda, US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice announced on Thursday that the US' goal is to end Iran's mission for "illicit nuclear capacity". Iran responds to this with an angry letter to the UN Security Council saying that Obama needs to "stop talking like Bush." Iranian posturing in general is on the rise as Tehran has territorial altercations with Bahrain and the GCC (whom Iran has previously been courting). SI Analysis: Some suggest that the reports of Iranian advancement are exaggerated to give Iran a face-saving bargaining position to negotiate on its nuclear program. Other factors to consider include Iranian elections in June and the global economic crisis -- including the declining price of oil -- which has certainly weighed down Iran's ability to maintain a strong stance on its nuclear program while maintaining economic and political stability. Therefore some analysts suggest that some of Iran's posturing is an indication of a nervous Iranian leadership perhaps more vulnerable than before and perhaps finally willing to negotiate with the West. Others say that the posturing is simply proof that the Iranian agenda is advancing according to its own agenda and that sooner or later a nuclear Iran will be a reality.

Speculation of the Week:

"Non-Military Goods" making their away across Central Asia
Facts: Following the Kyrgyz Parliament's revocation of permission to use its strategic Manas Air Base, the US military and NATO urgently seek out alternative ways to supply their operation in Afghanistan. Presidents Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan and Gurbanguly Berdimuhammedov of Turkmenistan have both somewhat unexpectedly outwardly acknowledged that they have granted permission to the US and NATO to transfer non-military goods across their territory and airspace. SI Speculation: Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, both former Soviet republics, are in Russia's backyard. They seem to be looking westward, and, as long as they publicly insist that they allow non-military convoys, it may not matter what is actually transported across their territories. The development could be a new sticking point in improving relations between Washington, NATO and Moscow.

Under the Radar:

Mosul Falling Away?

Facts: Reports emerge that US President Obama is formalizing his plan for a withdrawal from Iraq. At the same time, there is more and more evidence that some areas of Iraq, notably in Diyala Province and the city of Mosul, may require a sustained American presence so as not to fall into lawlessness.
SI Analysis: There are indications of tensions in Mosul beyond the traditional Arab/Kurd rivalry. Other minorities as well complain that they are underrepresented and marginalized politically. Furthermore, violence could be exacerbated. There is indication of political infighting, allegations of corruption and general instability within the Kurdish Regional Government itself. On another note, Tom A. Peter of the Christian Science Monitor writes an informative piece describing some of al-Qaeda in Iraq's rural and desert strategy.

North Korea Posturing

Facts: North Korea says it will launch a new missile in an effort to put a communications satellite into space. Most Western military analysts expect a long-range missile to be fired and argue that the launch is just another excuse by North Korea to further its nuclear program. The BBC has a good background video here: North Korea Launch on BBC. Despite US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's strong words and the continuation of 6-party talks, North Korea appears to be steadfast in its military mobilization. South Korean leaders announce that Pyongyang has deployed a new missile and increased numbers of its elite forces. Seeking to guarantee Washington's continued concern, Seoul says that North Korea's new missile is capable of striking Guam. SI Analysis: Many regional experts assert that North Korea is actively seeking to advance its nuclear program, which many see as a desperate effort as the country falls deeper into economic stagnation under a possibly fatally ill Kim Jong-Il.

Human Rights Slight of the Week:

Closing Tibet and US State Department Report
Facts: Beijing announced that the region of Tibet will be closed until the end of March to tourists. This marks the anniversary of the violent Tibet uprisings that occurred during the Tibetan New Year celebrations in 2008 that saw more than 200 Tibetans killed. A Chinese crackdown on Tibet is expected this year. While some Tibetan monks protested within China, Tibetans in exile marked the anniversary with silent protest. Though US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demurred from broaching the issue of Human Rights while in China earlier this week, the US State Department issued a scathing report on human rights. China gave a curt response to the report telling Washington not to interfere in Chinese internal affairs. SI Analysis: Nothing will change for Tibet now because China is firmly in control of the region. The US State Department's report was poorly timed. The economic downturn does not allow for niceties like addressing human rights with key partners like China.
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