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Christopher Herbert and Victoria Kataoka Rebuffet

Christopher Herbert and Victoria Kataoka Rebuffet

Posted April 17, 2009 | 11:45 AM (EST)

Weekly Foreign Affairs Roundup


The Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs:



Obama and the Rest of the Americas Facts: US President Obama travels to Mexico to meet with President Calderon, where the need to control drug and gun trafficking dominated the discussions. Obama then heads to Trinidad and Tobago for the Summit of the Americas where he will meet his fellow American leaders.
SI Analysis: Stars seem to have aligned for the Summit of the Americas to garner more international press and import than it may have in recent years: the US will be pushed to further recognize Cuba and drop the American embargo, Hugo Chavez has floated the possibility of making overtures to the US (although the Obama and Chavez will not meet privately at the Summit), the insurgency group the Shining Path made an attack in Peru underscoring the risk of violent insurgency in the Americas, Colombia arrested a major drug lord "Don Mario" and Bolivia's President Evo Morales ceased his hunger strike after reaching an agreement on electoral procedure with his country's opposition.

Pirates are Here to Stay Facts: Piracy off the coast of Somalia is nothing new, and a recent rise in pirate attacks was no anomaly. The past week has seen a surge of vessels being captured by pirates in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean off the coast of Somalia. Of note this week, however, is the dramatic rescue of the American captain of the Maersk Alabama, Richard Phillips. Following these increased attacks, especially the first that directly harmed American citizens, the Obama Administration announced a plan to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton laid out a 4-prong plan to combat piracy. This includes diplomatic action, such as sending an envoy for the International Somali peacekeeping and development meeting in Brussels and meetings with the international Contact Group on Piracy. It also includes working with global shippers to review their safety and self defence mechanisms. Meanwhile, the French navy went on the offensive, capturing a pirate ship and seizing 11 men. In more bizarre news, China reported that a group of dolphins prevented the pirates from capturing a Chinese ship.
SI Analysis: Clinton's plan for combating piracy does not address the key issue and the reason for why the pirates earned influence in the first place: the lawlessness and chaos of the government-less Somalia. While companies specializing in maritime security might be benefiting now, the real losers continue to be average Somalis, living in chaos and poverty, many on the verge of famine. Some of the origins of Somali piracy can be attributed to western companies that carried out illegal fishing and toxic dumping practices. But even more so, the problem can only be solved by supporting a stable Somalia, encouraging a strong government and providing aid to build civil society that will encourage the pirates from the coast to leave their dangerous (and potentially lucrative) avocations and return to a stable and resurgent nation. The new Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed (a moderate Islamist sanctioned by the UN) appears to be the most poised of any recent leader to bring all sides together, provided he can come to terms with radical Islamist groups such as al-Shabaab. Wednesday's shooting of a prominent Somali lawmaker does not make the task look easy.

Hizbollah in the News Facts: Egypt made public accusations against Hizbollah this week, saying the Lebanese Shia militant group was attempting to foment rebellion against President Hosni Mubarak's government, while bolstering Hamas in Gaza. Elsewhere, residents in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley accuse Hizbollah of abandoning them during a recent government crackdown on crime, thus presenting a challenge to the group in upcoming elections.
SI Analysis: This news is the most concrete evidence that Hizbollah as a movement may have international as well as domestic ambitions. However, their struggle to gain electoral and international legitimacy may cause them some grief at home from their base of constituents that brought them to power in the South of Lebanon. It seems that Hizbollah's recent victories (obtaining effective minority veto power from the Lebanese government, eschewing any effort to disarm it and the laurels for winning the war against Israel two years ago) may have bolstered its pursuit of an international agenda that aims for greater Shia influence in the region along side a war with Israel.

North Korean Posturing Facts: Tensions continued to rise around North Korea this week. First, on Monday, the UN Security Council issued a tardy condemnation of the controversial April 5 missile launch that Pyongyang claimed to be central to the North Korean space program. In response, North Korea announced on Tuesday that it was withdrawing form the 6-Party talks and restarting some of its disabled nuclear facilities. Pyongyang expelled International Atomic Energy Agency nuclear inspectors from the country and therefore left the Yongbyon nuclear plant without any form of on-the-ground international surveillance. On Thursday, the US announced that it was looking for ways to expand UN-mandated sanctions against North Korea.
SI Analysis: Following this bluster of news from Pyongyang, it is evident that North Korea is playing its cards effectively. The North knows it has the upper hand and that it is putting US President Obama in a tough position. Pyongyang is still holding 2 American journalists in custody, appears to have even more leverage over controlling its nuclear future, and has even flaunted its government in recent photos. By retaining belligerent continuity in its foreign and domestic policy, North Korea is strengthening its hand ahead of what it hopes will be direct talks with the Americans. What remains to be seen is whether China, Pyongyang's closest ally, can bring North Korea back to the table to 6-Party talks or whether a new strategy entirely will need to be engaged.

Speculation of the Week: India Elections Facts: This week India begins a month-long national election that includes 5 rounds, culminating on May 15. Though the ruling Congress party-led coalition has an leg up over the alliance headed by the Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Indian elections are notoriously difficult to predict and exit polls are banned. The real success of either larger block will depend on their ability to win support from the hundreds of smaller specialized regional and local parties. India is the world's largest democracy with an estimated 714 million voters. Some violence has already surfaced, as Maoist guerrilla attacks kill 17 in Bihar.
SI Speculation: Indian elections are very complicated and difficult to follow, especially given the size of the elections and the number of diverse parties. The BJP opposition presents a potential challenge, but most likely the ruling Congress party will retain power if it plays its cards correctly. What is of more concern, however, is rising violence, not just by Maoists, but by other insurgents (remember the Mumbai massacre?) and separatists.

Hodge-Podge and Under the Radar:

Leadership Changes of the Week and on the Horizon

Military Security Policy Quagmires of the Week SI Analysis: Policies that champion negotiating with "moderate" Islamist militants were challenged this week by developments in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. US Military leaders admitted difficulty in effectively recruiting (read: paying off) Afghan warlords to fight against the Taliban in an effort to replicate the strategies of the Anbar Awakening in Iraq. Moreover, there is evidence that US forces are applying new violent tactics to fight the Taliban themselves. Despite their pledge to do so, the Taliban is not disarming in the Swat Valley, making Pakistan's peace deal with the group very tenuous. And there is evidence that Taliban are effectively recruiting poor tenants of wealthy landlords, exploiting class tensions for their own gain. The US government expressed concern that the Shia dominated Iraqi government's continued crackdown on "allied" Sunni militias and its failure to continue to pay them as part of a security agreement could reignite deep sectarian conflict and possible civil war.

Strange Spy Saga of the Week SI Analysis: A Lebanese general admitted to spying for Israel. Retired Brig. Gen. Adeeb al-Alam says he worked with the Mossad to plan bombings and assassinations in Lebanon. Apparently his wife came forward with some evidence against him. Other mid-ranking officials like him have been arrested recently on allegations that they were monitoring Hizbollah.

Russia and Germany, Energy Bedfellows SI Analysis: While on visit from Germany, Russian PM Vladimir Putin told former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder that Russia's Nord Stream Pipeline will position Germany as the premiere energy hub of Europe. In related news, Turkey said that Azerbaijani participation in the Nabucco Pipeline is necessary for the project to move forward. The competition between Western and Russian pipelines continues, but all-in-all Russia is winning.

Military Sale of the Week SI Analysis: Russia made big fanfare of its announcement of its sale of S-400 Triumf missiles to Belarus (and not Iran). Though Iran is certainly reeling, the US cannot be happy. Arming Belarus in this way, in light of its geopolitical positioning, means that Russia is willing to play hardball over US Missile Defense Plans. Gulf States, however, are a little relieved as they feel this gives Israel less of an immediate imperative to attack Iran (a scenario for which they are apparently making massive contingency plans).

See this feature on Simple Intelligence here.