04/27/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Weekly Foreign Affairs Roundup

The Week's Top Stories in Foreign Affairs:

A Failed Mexican State?

Facts: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Mexico and committed more US manpower and technology to fighting the arms and drug trade. She also acknowledged that US drug consumption is a major driver of the trade.

SI Analysis: Everyone is speculating about what growing instability just south of the US border means for regional security, and whether Mexico is a failing state (according to the US Joint Forces Command report suggesting that Mexico could suddenly collapse). However, US Spy Chief Dennis Blair unambiguously announced this week that "Mexico is in no danger of becoming a failed state." Also, Moody"s Investment Service says that Mexico is not at risk of failure and will maintain its investment-grade rating. In addition, Stratfor analysts say that Central America will have a growing role in the drug war because of increased reliance on land-based smuggling routes. The success of Washington's efforts to curtail the drug trade will depend on how it manages its relations with, in particular, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.

An American Strategy for Afghanistan?

Facts: The US announces its strategic plan for the war in Afghanistan today. This comes just ahead of a UN Conference on Afghanistan in The Hague on March 30 for all major stakeholders (which will include the US and Iran). In addition to a significant troop increase (17,000 plus 4,000 special forces) and enhanced funding, the US is expected to make the provision of basic civil services a priority. In preparation for the Obama plan's release, US aides expressed concern that elements in the Intelligence Service in Pakistan are actively aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan.

SI Analysis: The US Administration took a great amount of time to conduct a strategic review before setting out this strategy, which tries to address security, state-building and development needs. An action plan for what to do is pertinent and necessary. What will be more interesting will be to see the continued development of US policies towards Hamid Karzai's government in Afghanistan and Asif Ali Zardari's in Pakistan. Another important issue: how does the US plan to motivate NATO allies to remain committed to engagement in Afghanistan while providing a timeline for an exit? This is all the more important as some reports point to a realignment of Afghan and Pakistani Taliban forces to counter increases in US pressure.

All Eyes on the G20

Facts: On April 2, the world's 20 largest economies will meet in London to discuss the global financial crisis while setting out a strategy to rebuild the world economy, stave off inflation, prevent major acts of protectionism and lay the foundations for future financial regulation. British PM Gordon Brown, the host of the summit, has made optimistic statements saying there are grounds for significant unity and action. Critics suggest that all they see is division and lethargy on the part of many economies. The US and Britain have prioritized the stabilization of the global financial system and have introduced aggressive stimulus plans to restart their markets. Europe, led by France and Germany, has made inflation its main concern. Eastern European nations are hoping for a regional plan, partially because their financial woes and liabilities are larger than their own economies can support. China is hoping that it can boost trade (the World Bank says global trade has slowed for the first time since the end of WWII) and secure the value of US treasuries (while staving off any commentary on the Chinese human rights record, military growth and currency levels). Russia, focusing mainly on its domestic economic concerns, will play only a "peripheral role" at the summit, according to several accounts.

SI Analysis
: Stakes are very high, not only for the world economy. The current economic instability is tightly linked to political instability the world over. Catastrophists point to historical similitude ahead of both World Wars. Eastern Europe already appears to be coming apart at the seams, especially if recent events in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Latvia are to be any indication of what is to come. China is deeply concerned about its own domestic political stability if it cannot sustain aggressive growth for its economy. Countries as varied as Greece, Turkey, Pakistan, Egypt, Botswana and Indonesia -- to name only a few -- seem poised to face great political instability if they cannot bolster their markets. And this does not even speak of the countries with the world's poorest in Africa and Asia (and Haiti), who may not go hungry quietly. The G20 will also be an opportunity for President Obama to make initial direct overtures to China and Russia, hopefully setting a new tone for US foreign relations with Beijing and Moscow.

Sobering Moment of the Week: Rejecting Obama's New Year message

Facts: On Wednesday, Iran's Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani spoke in direct rejection to US President Obama's Nowruz (Iranian new year) video greeting to Iran. The video was aimed at growing a positive relationship between Washington and Tehran, especially given a host of regional potential synergies, ranging from Afghan and Iraqi security to alternative energy pipeline developments. Larijani spoke out against the video, and criticized Obama for ignoring the US' negative history with Iran. This follows Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's less vehement rejection earlier this week.

SI Analysis: There is a silver lining for Washington and peace-mongers: Neither Larijani nor Khamenei have directly rejected talks between the US and Iran. This week NATO and Iranian diplomats held their first formal talks in 30 years. On Thursday, Iran announced that it will indeed attend a UN-hosted international conference on Afghanistan on March 30 in The Hague. It will also be at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in Moscow Friday (March 27). Both conferences are chances for the US and Iran to meet on the sidelines.

Speculation of the Week:

Czech Collapse Bodes Poorly for US Missile Defense...

While holding the rotating presidency of the EU, the Czech Republic's government passed a vote of no-confidence. Immediate implications include:
  • That the possible Czech ratification of the Lisbon treaty, which would allow for a permanent EU President and PM, looks unlikely. This could condemn the EU to a rotating (and inefficient, some say ineffectual) six-month leadership by its Member States
  • EU leadership and coherency at the upcoming G20 Summit will be more difficult to muster
SI Speculation: The prospect of European unity is under great duress due in large part to the global financial crisis. The economic environment has certainly stifled Eastern Europeans in their resolve to turn West. And one implication is less enthusiasm in the Czech Republic for backing US plans for an eastern European missile defense shield. The Czech Parliament was slated to confirm the country's commitment to hosting a US radar, a key component to the shield. This vote will likely be delayed, perhaps indefinitely. However, if a new reactionary leadership emerges from the rubble, the issue may never actually make it to the floor...

Hodge-Podge or Under the Radar:

Awaited Moment of the Week: Netanyahu's Rise to Power

Facts: Israeli leader Binyamin Netanyahu is finally ready to preside over the government of Israel after winning support from both right-wing Shas and Israel Beiteinu and left-wing Labor. All these groups will join Netanyahu's Likud-led coalition. The former Prime Minister is expected to lead a more hawkish Israeli government, despite his overtures to Palestinians this week. Many voices in the Arab world agree that Netanyahu is unlikely to be a broker for peace.

SI Analysis: Netanyahu will probably be a thorn in the side of US peace prospects in the Middle East. Attempting to keep Washington out of his business, Netanyahu announced this week that he expects "no pressure" from the US over peacemaking activities.

Geopolitical Shift of the Week: China in Africa

Facts: This week South Africa rejected a visa to Tibetan leader the Dalai Lama for his scheduled visit to a peace conference in Johannesburg. Many of the attendees, including several Nobel laureates, withdrew from the event in protest and the conference was canceled. South Africa reportedly admitted that it banned the Dalai Lama's visa due to a desire to please China, which is one of the country's chief international investors. In somewhat unrelated news, Chinese officials in Tibet have named March 28 "Serf Liberation Day" further cementing Beijing's hold on the region.

SI Analysis: While South Africa has received a great deal of criticism, and some say the visa denial "backfired," other commentators view the incident as a major victory for Beijing's influence in Africa. Reports point to a downturn of Chinese investment all over Africa given the global financial crisis and worries from Beijing that proposed infrastructure projects will not return sustainable profits. South Africa is clearly aware of this financial reticence from Beijing and is courting China to remain in good financial favor, especially given the large price tag of its upcoming 2010 World Cup.

Continued Countdown of the Week: North Korea

Facts: The global community continues to wait for North Korea's missile launch scheduled to take place sometime between April 4 and April 8. Pyongyang maintains that the launch is intended to be a test for its non-existent space program. The US, South Korea and Japan are convinced the launch is for an ICBM able to carry a warhead as far as Alaska. Tokyo, Seoul and Washington have spoken out against the launch. Japan has threatened to shoot down the missile and the US has suggested it would increase sanctions to prevent any North Korean actions. The missile will likely land in the Pacific Ocean if not intercepted.

SI Analysis: Pyongyang holds a major playing card. This week, North Korean border patrol forces captured 2 American journalists working along the China-North Korea border. The US must tread softly lest it compromise its position or have the incident elevate to a full-fledged crisis. In any case, North Korea has much to gain from the situation, especially renewed domestic faith in Dear Leader Kim Jong-Il who has been rumored to be ailing.

Report of the Week: Pentagon's Evaluation of China

Facts: On Wednesday the Pentagon released its annual report to US Congress on Chinese military activity. The findings: China's military continues to increase its technology and the scope and prowess of its forces. The Pentagon also says that there is a "lack of clarity" over what China's intentions are for its military might.

SI Analysis: It's unclear why the Pentagon releases these reports publicly without consent from China. China has responded angrily, calling the report an interference in Beijing's internal affairs and outright lies that inflate China's military programs. As the US and China increase bilateral ties, a formalized framework will likely be built to prevent public conflagrations of this nature.

Insult of the Week: Ignoramus

Facts: Venezuela-US relations continue to bristle. On Sunday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez called US President Obama an "ignoramus" for alleging that Venezuela supports terrorism and blocks progress in Latin America.

SI Analysis: While Venezuela-US relations are negative under Chavez's leadership and inherited policies from US President Bush, some of the rhetoric coming from Caracas can be interpreted as nothing more than posturing. Venezuela has been suffering under decreasing energy prices, and still half of its oil exports go to the US at market rates. (Much of the rest is sold at subsidized rates to sympathetic neighbors and China.)

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