Weekly Foreign Affairs Roundup

05/04/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs:

New Israeli Leadership Sounds the Drumbeat to War

Facts: Israeli leader Binyamin Netanyahu, leader of the Likud party, assumed control as Prime Minister of Israel thanks to a strange coalition between far-right parties and the left. He named Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the right-wing Israel Beiteinu, as Foreign Minister who bluntly stated, "those who wish for peace should prepare for war." And he named Ehud Barak, leader of the Labor Party, Defense Minister. Though the EU and the US continue to call for continued pursuit of a two-state solution, Netanyahu announced last week that he expects "no pressure" from the US over peacemaking activities.

SI Analysis
: Though not as belligerent towards the recent peace efforts as his new Foreign Minister, PM Netanyahu has tried to distance himself from the sclerotic peace negotiation process and has said that he will focus on boosting the economy of the West Bank, while reaching a regional peace agreement and curtailing Iran's nuclear program. He has not clearly stated whether he believes the Palestinians deserve a state of their own. Thought leaders as varied as Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Quartet leader Tony Blair say that the prospect of peace is greatly diminished with the new Israeli administration. Arab leaders expressed deep concern over the new administration's statements and some analysts, including US CENTCOM Commander General Petraeus, speculate that another incursion into Gaza or an attack on Iran are highly likely.

Summary of Summits

SI Analysis: This week saw the application of a new US foreign policy of integration: one that seeks to engage deeply with traditional allies as well as emerging or "rising" powers such as China and India. Such a policy reflects new realities of a US forced to lead in the face of global crisis but deeply dependent on myriad players. US President Obama tried to make a palpable break with the previous US Administration and set a tone of engagement with the world. Global leaders were forced to make commitments to the common "good" to restore the global economy and curb Islamist militancy in South Asia, while also taking care not to compromise their national interests. Some valueless posturing was to be seen, but substantive gains were indeed made on many fronts. In any case, though the dearth of US leadership capital is palpable, it is clear that no other country is remotely positioned to take up the slack.

G20: London, England. Leaders of the world's 20 largest economies were in attendance.
SI Analysis Highlights
: Leaders committed $1.1 trillion in loans and guarantees to developing countries and made commitments to improve global financial transparency. The world media focused on the apparent conflict between "old" European calls for regulation pitted against American, British and Japanese calls for a global stimulus package. These reported "conflicts" detract from the true issue that both stimulus and regulations are needed and all parties were willing to see some measures of both but perhaps not enough of either. German and French opposition to stimulus reflects more their inability to conjure funds out of nowhere and domestic political imperatives to place blame elsewhere (After rejoining the military wing of NATO, Sarkozy's threat to walk out of the Summit was just posturing to affirm that "French exceptionalism" still exists). Efforts to set out ways to curb protectionism were made at least in name as were negotiations to give developing economies -- especially China and Saudi Arabia -- more leverage in the use of development funds and in the administration of the IMF.

Arab Summit: Doha, Qatar. Many Arab leaders were in attendance as were several Latin American leaders.
SI Analysis Highlights
: After all was said and done, the general view is that the Arab Summit was a big failure. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak didn't even come. No progress was made on the Palestinian issue. A large divide appeared between Arabs with a more favorable view to Iran and those traditionally opposed to Tehran, such as Saudi Arabia. Gas-rich Qatar has good relations with Iran, and a rumored surprise visit by Iranian President Ahmadinejad (he never actually came) kept many leaders wary. Ironically, one bit of progress resulted: the notorious Libyan leader Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi had a surprising reconciliation with Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah at the summit. The summit amounted to nothing more than a show of nominal unity... after all, the event was officially (and inimitably) called the Second Summit of Arab-South American Countries.

UN Afghan Conference: The Hague, Netherlands. Leaders from 80 countries were in attendance, most importantly US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Mehdi Akhundzadeh, and US Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke.
SI Analysis Highlights
: The summit was intended to give world leaders a forum to create ideas to help stabilize Afghanistan and deal with the rising Taliban insurgency. Strategies on how to engage with some "moderate Taliban" as well as luring regional war lords and militants away from the Taliban were discussed. There was general enthusiasm for the new US strategy in Afghanistan though little commitment for real support from key allies. Meanwhile back in Washington, US lawmakers and Pentagon officials evoked the possibility of increasing both spending and troops to Afghanistan (above the 21,000 newly committed) while increasing aid to Pakistan and debating the reliability of the Pakistani Intelligence Service. The new risk of a joint Afghan and Pakistani Taliban militant campaign against NATO forces, as well as Baitullah Mashud's recent threats for increased violence in Pakistan, were assessed as well.
All this being said, most of the attention was paid to what happened at the sidelines. The summit was a chance for US and Iranian diplomats to meet. And just as obscured as US-Iran relations are in reality, so was the confusing interaction between Akhundzadeh and Holbrooke. Following the summit, Clinton announced that the two men had a "brief and cordial exchange". Iran came out the next day denying that such a meeting took place.

Turkey's AfPak Summit: Ankara, Turkey. Turkish PM Recep Erdogan hosted Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari.
SI Analysis Highlights
: Turkey further cemented its role as an arbiter for international conflict both in the Middle East and Central Asia (on the edge of Russia's sphere of influence). Little else was truly accomplished other than that both Zardari and Karzai paid lip service to better military cooperation to thwart Islamist extremists.

Palestinian Unity Summit: Cairo, Egypt. Representatives from Egypt, Fatah and Hamas attended.
SI Analysis Highlights: In the third effort in as many months to form a unity government, talks were almost immediately suspended for three weeks so that parties could consult their leadership on new proposals. Many feel that the lack of support, attention and unity coming from the Arab Summit in Qatar did nothing to spur Palestinian talks along. Others say that the position of the new Israeli government may in fact encourage greater unity shortly.

Meetings of Minds:

  • Obama - Hu Jintao: China's emergent prominence in global economic affairs underscored this meeting. The US sought to reassure China as to its efforts to curb inflation and keep the dollar sound in the face of the global economic crisis. China discussed moving the main reserve currency away from the dollar, but that idea did not gain any real traction for now. Most importantly, the parties pledged to work together as equal partners through bolstering the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.
  • Obama-Singh: Both sides expressed a desire to strengthen their relationship. Indian PM Manmohan Singh stated his case against protectionism with regards to the global financial crisis but focused mainly on how to work with the US on fighting Islamist militancy in the region (which could include qualifying some US aid to Pakistan). Obama encouraged India to work with Pakistan on security and the resolution longstanding disputes.
  • Obama - Medvedev: This was the first meeting between Medvedev and Obama. The two leaders pledged renewed cooperation and made a political commitment to reach a START-II treaty by the end of the year. Key issues were discussed such as NATO expansion, Missile Defense in Eastern Europe, Iran and Russia's sphere of influence in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.
  • Medvedev-Merkel: On Tuesday, Medvedev met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin to coordinate their agendas before going to the G20 summit. The two leaders called for a change to the global economic "architecture". Medvedev went so far as to reiterate his call for a new global currency system that rejects protectionism and promotes advances in international trade.
  • Medvedev-Brown: While press reports on this meeting were scarce, the meeting between the British Prime Minister and the Russian President was expected to discuss energy transportation to Europe and improving bilateral ties that have soured in recent years.
  • Medvedev-Hu Jintao: On Wednesday, the two leaders met in London. The two leaders agreed to carry out existing bilateral trade and energy deals while implimenting new ones. No specifics were determined for any new plans. Many analysts agree that Sino-Russian cooperation guarantees these two large economies a greater say in the global financial system.

Ongoing or Upcoming Summits:

  • NATO Summit in Baden-Baden, Germany and Strasbourg, France: On the occassion of NATO's 60th Anniversary, US President Obama will seek to secure more NATO member commitment to the new US Strategy in Afghanistan, while welcoming the latest members Croatia and Albania and pondering the raison d'etre of the international body. Most NATO nations are expected to disappoint US President Obama's expectations for more troops in Afghanistan. A growing number of analysts remark on how Obama's presidency presents a challenge to European leaders who are used to a unilateral American foreign policy. Obama has proven himself to be conciliatory with a priority on alliance building.
  • US/EU Summit in Prague: The summit will be held on April 5 and 6. Obama is expected to give a speech reiterating his calls for trans-Atlantic unity.
  • US-Turkey Summit in Ankara: The summit will be held on April 6 and 7. This meeting is possibly the most important for Obama in terms of promoting a new US foreign policy. Obama is expected to reaffirm bilateral ties with Turkey while courting an increasingly anti-American populace. Most significantly, Obama is expected to lay out a "fundamentally new US foreign policy in the region" with more nuance with regards to Israel and the Iraq War. Important to note, this trip will not include a much anticipated speech discussing American relations with the Muslim world. Curiously, Turkish press reports that Iranian opposition leader Mohammad Khatami will be in Turkey while Obama is there, leaving some to guess that Ankara is trying its hardest to continue in its self-made role as international arbiter.

Hodge-Podge and Under the Radar:

Deal of the Week: Russia and Azerbaijan on Gas

Facts: On March 27, Russia's Gazprom and the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan (SOCAR) signed a Memorandum of Understanding essentially guaranteeing that Moscow will match any competitor's price for gas coming out of Azerbaijan. This means that by 2010, most Azerbaijani gas will be shipped to Russia and will ensure Russian energy dominance, at least in the Caucasus.

SI Analysis: The deal is a success for Moscow in its attempts to deter progress on the EU's Nabucco Pipeline which seeks eventually to transport Turkmen gas via Azerbaijan, Georgia, Turkey, and the Balkans to Vienna. The Nabucco plan has been mired in indecision of late and the MoU with Russia is a signal of Baku's impatience. That being said, Azerbaijan could change plans if the Nabucco managers offer a more reliable and profitable model than Russia is able to give for gas exports.

Election of the Week: Turkey

Facts: In municipal elections Turkey's ruling AK Party won 39% of the vote, down from the 47% it received in last year's parliamentary elections.

SI Analysis: The key here is that while the AK Party did not lose the election, it did sustain a drop in support. One Turkish publication writes that the AK Party was "warned" that it needs to act more effectively on the economic crisis. Some speculate that Turkey's more prominent role in international politics may be distracting Ankara from domestic issues.

Continued Countdown of the Week: North Korea

: North Korea is fueling up the rocket that it will launch sometime between April 4 and 8. The rocket is officially part of Pyongyang's non-existent space program, but is regarded by most analysts as a test for an ICBM capable of hitting Alaska. Meanwhile, Pyongyang has increased its rhetoric against Japan, South Korea and the US.

SI Analysis
: The US and its allies are put in a precarious position. There is little they can do to prevent the rocket from flying into a likely landing in the Pacific Ocean. What's more, Washington is hampered by the detainment of 2 US journalists by North Korea now facing a lengthy trial with the possibility of harsh punishment. In any case, most commentators agree after this show of "force" that a starving North Korea will return to the negotiating table.

Security Risk of the Week: Iraq

Fact: Some leaders of the Awakening Councils (Sunni members of a group called the Sons of Iraq) were arrested this week by Iraqi security and US forces for their alleged links to the re-emergent Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, prompting violence and rioting by many Sunnis. In addition, Kurdistan's autonomous regional government reached an agreement on how to conduct regional elections. However, its proposals and calendar were rejected in part by the central government in Baghdad on technicalities.

SI Analysis
: With reports of insurgent activity on the rise, these arrests (coupled with the Shia's government inability to integrate more Awakening Sunni militia members into the Iraqi security forces as promised) could lead to a rupture in the tenuous peace that is vital to improved security in Iraq. Keeping the Kurds on the periphery of political dealings could also backfire, provoking both political and security upheaval.

Election to Watch: Lebanon

Facts: On Wednesday, Hezbollah announced its 11 candidates for upcoming Parliamentary elections in June (three fewer than it currently holds) and said a vote for the Shia minority was imperative to maintain national unity. Also, Lebanese President Michel Suleiman lauded Beirut's improved ties with Syria, while underscoring the importance of respecting national sovereignty in regional relations.

SI Analysis: After years of political stalemate and paralyzed leadership (following the assasination of PM Rafiq Hariri), Lebanon is poised to hold Parliamentary elections that could set the tone of the political landscape for years to come. Many say that Hezbollah has already solidified its political gains from the 2006 war with Israel and violent uprising last summer (resulting in veto rights despite its minority representation) thus making them a legitimate and unavoidable player in country politics.

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