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Weekly Foreign Affairs Roundup

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The Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs:



Pakistan's Civil War?

Facts: Gunmen attack the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, Pakistan on Tuesday and several people are killed in the 30-minute-long barrage of fire. The gunmen elude the Pakistani police who are slow to respond. Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group widely believed to be responsible for the November Mumbai terror attacks, is a prime suspect. Other Pashtun groups from near the Afghan border are suggested culprits too. A group called Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), responsible for an attack on the New Zealand cricket team in 2002, is cited as well. Some predictably blame the attack on al-Qaeda, and Pakistan's police so far have no formal suspects.
Meanwhile, three rival Pakistani Taliban groups form a united front to counter international forces in Afghanistan and intensify the fight against the incoming US surge there.
SI Analysis:
Many thought leaders insist that Pakistan is "in a state of war" and that the growing chaos is indicative of a "security collapse". The attack emphasizes Islamabad's lack of ability to protect its civilians and provide services in the midst of a massive and powerful Islamist insurgency. One can draw a parallel between the recent peace deals in the Swat Valley and tribal areas and the Lahore attacks, suggesting that the attack is in response to conciliatory actions by certain tribal leaders. Incredibly, some blame India, suggesting it was an act of retaliation for the Mumbai bombings, seeking to mimic Islamist terror tactics. More believably, others say that the attack was meant to be a show of force against US efforts to pursue Taliban leaders in Pakistan. Regional experts say that this is only the beginning and that Pakistani militants are "ready for more".

Russia, Russia, Russia Facts:
  • Russian President Dimitry Medvedev formally rejects a proposal in a letter written by US President Barack Obama to Moscow. The letter called for a bargain involving a retreat in plans for the eastern European missile defense shield in exchange for Russia's support to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. While Russia rejects the proposal, it does hail Obama's willingness to talk about the issue, and suggests that it might be amenable to other ideas that have a more "global" scope.
  • Meanwhile, Russia accepts NATO overtures for renewed formal relations that were severed after last summer's conflict in Georgia and its breakaway province of South Ossetia. In addition, Moscow calls for a new European security pact to redefine arrangements that govern the relationship between Russia and Europe.
  • Russia vows to continue to provide facilitation and fuel to the Iranian nuclear power plant in Bushehr.
SI Analysis: Russia is making both conciliatory and provocative moves at the same time. While expressing willingness to talk with the US, NATO and members of the European Union on renewing and redefining relations, it is also working hard to reassert itself and its sphere of influence -- whether it be in Central Asia, Eastern Europe (particularly in Ukraine), the Middle East (with regards to Iran) or the Arctic.
Clinton, Clinton, Clinton Facts: SI Analysis: Analysts grapple on whether US foreign policy has really changed under Obama, compared to former President Bush. Some analysts would argue that Obama's policies on key issues such as Iran's nuclear program, NATO enlargement, Chinese currency, and cross-border raids into Pakistan bear no difference to those of Bush. However, many commentators have noticed a marked difference in delivery style, as Clinton is certainly on a charm offensive and has been almost universally well received. Other analysts posit that this is part and parcel of a new policy of international engagement. Furthermore, America's rumored overtures to Russia and strong tone with Israel regarding the 2-state solution are evidence of a real change.
Testing the waters, the air, and spaceFacts. This week, China successfully crashed a lunar probe into the Moon. The Chang'e-1 probe is the first of several installments for Beijing in its lunar program. The event is of national importance for China, and also underlines growing Chinese influence in space. Also last week, it was revealed that Canadian fighter jets rebuffed a Russian warplane attempting to cross into Canadian Arctic air space on the eve of US President Barack Obama's visit. This followed recent maritime events, including a crash between French and British nuclear submarines performing manoeuvres in the Atlantic, the sinking of a Chinese cargo ship by a Russian warship, and a tense standoff between Chinese destroyers and an Indian submarine off the coast of Somalia. SI Analysis. While all these events seem to be unrelated, they do have one thing in common: they involve jockeying by global powers other than the United States to increase influence over the seas, the air, and, in the case of China, outer space.

Speculation of the Week:

Israel on the Offensive Facts: The new chairman of the US National Intelligence Council will be Charles "Chas" W. Freeman Jr. He will be responsible for providing the new US administration with most reliable and unbiased intelligence available. Freeman has expressed views in the past that are in sharp contrast to the common pro-Israeli line of the US government, according to some commentators. AIPAC (the American-Jewish lobby) has expressed their vehement disdain for the appointment. The Israeli Ambassador to the US, Sallai Meridor, has just resigned (though some believe this has more to do with domestic Israeli politics than the NIC appointment). Meanwhile, air raids into Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces are increasing. SI Speculation. Israel will likely panic. Israeli Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu will a lead a hawkish, conservative, and small majority that will feel the need to prove itself to its constituents and to a new American administration. Expect shows of force like the September 2007 mysterious bombing of a Syrian facility. Exhibitions of Israeli power could include: continued bombing of tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, country-wide training drills, increased settlement building in the West Bank, and heightened threats against Iran.

Under the Radar:

Assassination of the week: Guinea-Bissau's President Joao Bernardo Vieira is assassinated this week just hours after the killing of the head of the country's army, General Batista Tagme Na Waie. Most reports link the assassinations to the drug trade that runs rampant in the country. While Vieira was a dictator, his absence creates a power vacuum in the country and sparks worries of instability if the interim government cannot maintain control.

Non-event of the week: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown meets with US President Barack Obama and speaks before American Congress, urging America to be the leader through the global economic disaster. Brown receives high reviews from American politicians for his speech, but many commentators note that his appearance was intended even more to shore up faltering support in the UK where the financial crisis is hitting deep. Most economic analysts agree that Brown's visit accomplished little other than to announce the honorary knighthood of US Senator Ted Kennedy.

Insult of the week: "Eat It". On Wednesday, the International Criminal Court in The Hague issues a warrant for the arrest of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for humanitarian crimes mostly related to the Darfur genocide. In response, Sudan expels at least 10 humanitarian groups from the country including Oxfam, MSF-Holland, Mercy Corps, Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council, the International Rescue Committee, Action Contre la Faim, Solidarites and CHF International. While organizations promoting peace in Darfur call the arrest warrant a big step in the right direction, President al-Bashir responds by telling The Hague to "eat it." US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that al-Bashir should "have his day in court" if he feels he is being wrongfully accused.

When $4.5 billion doesn't matter:
Facts. One way to look at it: The International Donors' Conference to rebuild the Gaza Strip, held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt on Sunday and Monday exceeded expectations. The organizers were asking for $2.3 billion and unexpectedly received nearly $4.5 billion in pledges instead.
SI Analysis. Another way to look at it: it doesn't matter, for 3 reasons. First, Israeli restrictions on what enters the Gaza Strip are incredibly tight even with some easing of controls on border crossings in deference to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Even so, Israel continues its raids on the Gaza Strip just as Palestinian militants continue their rocket launches into Israel. Next, much of the money pledged is earmarked. For example, of the $900 million pledged by the US, $600 million is intended to go to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Finally, Hamas, the group elected by the majority of Palestinians and in control of the Gaza Strip, has been left out of the equation entirely. It appears the international community is aimlessly throwing money at the Palestinian National Authority and exiled NGOs instead. Many commentators have remarked that it's only a matter of time before the US and its allies will have to deal directly with Hamas. The pertinent question: will Hamas adapt as well?

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