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Weekly Foreign Affairs Roundup

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The week's top stories in foreign affairs:

Redirecting Missile Defense

SI Analysis: The Obama administration announces that it is scraping plans for a Eastern European based Missile Defense Shield in favor of a more mobile and agile naval-based missile defense strategy. Critics of the administration contend that the US has weakened its nuclear deterrent strategy and relinquished a key card in negotiations with the Russians (planned Missile Defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic irked Russia to no end, as they said such a shield could only be aimed at them; but more importantly they felt that Missile Defense coupled with NATO expansion policies pushed too far into their sphere of influence). From this perspective, relinquishing the program without a solid quid pro quo from the Russians is a waste of an opportunity. Proponents say it is a savvy move: to better position the US ahead of the UN Security Council meeting next week and impending negotiations with Iran scheduled to start at the beginning of October; to bolster the US policy of anti-proliferation and to boost strategic arms reductions talks (START II) with the Russians; and to relieve the US of a costly, so-far ineffective and contentious program in favor of a more agile and reliable system. Some speculate that the move is indicative of a grand bargain reached with the Russians over pursuing greater sanctions against Iran (e.g. halting oil imports into Iran) if it does not quickly change course on its nuclear program. Whatever the reason, it was an expected decision and practical as it eliminates all sorts of distractions from key security policy (e.g. opposing European positions on the shield, debates about its cost and efficacy, arguments that say it spurred a new generation of arms races, a oft-cited reason for Russian opposition to myriad forums of international cooperation).

Countdown for Iran
SI Analysis: A flurry of stories has hit the airwaves ahead of Iran's showdown with the UN Security Council next week and Iran appears to be dictating every move: the UN nuclear agency IAEA says that Iran has enough fissile material to make a nuclear weapon; Iran, in an about-face, suddenly has allowed the nuclear watchdog to inspect its facilities (via CCTV); Iran agrees to hold talks about re-engagement with the West (but not specifically about its nuclear program) beginning the first week of October (one week after the Security Council meeting). Meanwhile internally all seems to be going the way of President Ahmadinejad and the Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: the President's picks for key ministerial positions such as oil, intelligence and the interior have been approved; in a provocative move, the next defense minister Ahmad Vahidi is wanted by Interpol for his lead role in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Argentina; latent repression is reported in universities, where the feared baseej militias are skulking about to warn off any potential student uprisings and the Supreme leader has hinted on cracking down on dissenting professors and liberal arts curriculum. All eyes, especially Israel's, are watching closely to see whether Iran will actually engage in talks over its nuclear program. If not then it will be up to the US to convince the Russians and the Chinese to go along with tougher sanctions and contain the hawkish actions of the Israelis.

Analysis in Brief:

President Putin Again?
SI Analysis: Reports emerge that Putin may run for President again in 2012. The Russian constitution bars politicians from serving more than two consecutive terms. But nothing, constitutionally (or politically, or logistically, or realistically) keeps the present Russian Prime-Minister from reclaiming the throne, er political office, after President Medvedev's term expires.

Black Hawk Not-So-Down-At-All
SI Analysis: In the most ambitious and brazen action in Somalia since its harrowing and failed incursions of the 1990s, US special forces made a daylight incursion into Somalia to track and kill Saleh Ali Nabhan, a supposed link between the extremist al-Shabbab militia in Somalia and al-Qaeda at large as well as a suspect in the al-Qaeda attack on a hotel in the Kenyan port of Mombasa in 2002.

Chavez taking the lead in the South American Arms Race
SI Analysis: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's recent statements and dealings have lent greater weight to those who argue, including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that a new arms race is afoot in Latin America. Citing recent agreement to permit US anti-narcotic operations to launch from Colombian military bases as impetus, Chavez has just concluded a significant arms deal with Russia and, in defiance of international law, claims to be pursuing a nuclear cooperation agreement with Iran.

Ugandan Strife
SI Analysis: Riots and violence opposing the central government with members of the majority ethnic Bagandan group rocked Kampala. The reasons for the uprisings were not initially understood since the parties traditionally tend to get along; some speculate political maneuvering to seduce minority factions ahead of 2011 elections; others say a personal falling out between the Bagandan King Ronald Mutebi and Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, an Akole; still others lay the bizarre claim that Libyan President Qaddafi is funding the Bagandan uprising.

Victor: President Karzai
SI Analysis: Incumbent Hamid Karzai emerges as the winner of the Afghan Presidential elections, but not without significant controversy and claims of massive fraud. The Independent Election Commission and the Election Complaints Commission are pursuing different strategies to investigating the reports of fraud and validating the election or calling a run-off election. But time is running out and many worry that supporters of Abdullah Abdullah will not accept the official results in any case. There are reports that the EU, whose election-observing mission claims up to one third of all votes could be fraudulent, may be trying to broker a power-sharing deal between Abdullah and Karzai, but those are unconfirmed. Meanwhile, in the US debate continues on how best to continue fighting the war in Afghanistan and how to measure success there. Some, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen, argue for massive troop increases, others, like chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Senator Carl Levin, call for state-building and empowerment of Afghanistan's own security forces... both will have to take place in order to change the present course of the war.

This briefing can be seen in the Huffington Post and on the Simple Intelligence site.