Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Is It A Good Idea For The US To Escalate Military Operations In Pakistan?

An ultimatum was issued to Asif Ali Zardari, Pakistan's president, last week by US officials.  The US is dissatisfied with Pakistan's reluctance to deal with the Taliban's ruling council, which is believed to be situated in Quetta Shura, a region in Baluchistan.  The US position is that the militant leadership residing in Quetta poses a grave threat to Nato forces operating in Afghanistan, and may be targeted for drone attacks.  This however, moves such drone attacks much deeper into Pakistani controlled territory - bringing with it almost certain protest from the Pakistani people and an escalation of tension.

While it is militarily understandable that the US would want to eliminate a powerful Taliban stronghold, politically this could be disastrous.  Pakistan's stability rests on very fragile ground.  Extremists would very likely take advantage of the public outcry against these attacks to recruit.  This is especially true if these drones end up killing many civilians, which is likely given that the Quetta region is more heavily populated than current strike zones.  An uptick of radicalization within the much needed moderate population poses as much, if not more of a security threat than any Taliban.

Bruce Riedel, a Brookings Institution scholar who also served as the co-author of Obama’s review of Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, has previously stated that Pakistan, "has more terrorists per square mile than anyplace else on earth, and it has a nuclear weapons program that is growing faster than anyplace else on earth.”

A Pakistan that veers out of control, brimming with US supplied money and arms, could send the entire Middle East as well as India into chaos - and large scale attacks into the heart of Pakistan could very well open up a Pandora's box of trouble.  Why play with fire?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Bill Clinton Hosts CGI Panel On Northern Ireland - A Peek Inside

I had the good fortune to attend a panel discussion this afternoon at the Sheraton Hotel.  It was a Clinton Global Initiative meeting, hosted by the man himself, Bill Clinton.  The room was packed to the max - he still has that level of star power.  The topic of discussion was the Northern Ireland peace process and the immense progress both sides have made to achieve a level of stability only dreamed of a few decades ago.  The panel included: Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin, Northern Secretary of State Shaun Woodward, and Declan Kelly, who was appointed by Clinton's wife, Hillary, to be the US economic envoy to Northern Ireland.

In the audience was Gerry Adams, Bertie Ahern and Martin Scorsese.  Yes, Martin Scorsese.

There was a brief discussion of the successes achieved with the peace process.  And it has certainly been a kind of success that could be a blueprint for other countries facing sectarian and/or religious conflict.  Indeed, Mr. Martin pointed out that delegates from Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka have visited NI to study their methods.  All the politics talk was over quickly however, as the main thrust of this event was to promote investment.  Declan Kelly was particularly animated, and his enthusiasm for NI economic and investment potential was so enthusiastic it seeped into the audience, and his speech got a hearty round of applause.  I think Hillary made a good choice in her selection of Kelly!

Mr. Kelly went on to argue that NI has a particularly strong workforce that is highly educated.  Combined with a low cost base, the lowest unemployment in the EU, it was no wonder that almost a billion dollars was invested by over 40 companies during the worst of the global financial collapse.

It seems that NI it attempting to develop into a major economic player in the EU.    They are playing smart - having achieved long fought for stability, they are ready to take advantage of their built-in benefits: a young, highly educated workforce, cultural and language compatibility with Western nations, and low operating costs.  It seems Clinton and CGI are trying to broker as many deals as possible right now.  In fact, Clinton declared that any company could contact CGI directly for help with initiating business with NI.

I have a feeling a lot of deals will be made out of this meeting.  There were hundreds of people in attendance, with at least 300 who were turned away due to capacity.  All in all, a fun afternoon.  The biggest laughs came when Clinton was reminiscing about Frank McCourt's recent memorial service held in a bar across the street, (Rosie O' Grady's for you NY'ers -and if you've read Angela's Ashes, you will understand why he would have preferred a pub over a church service).

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hope For A Greener Future

Here in New York this week, it is a mishmosh of traffic, random mystery motorcades, amazing talks and panels, and more traffic.  It's like this every September during the week of the summit of world leaders at the United Nations.  President Obama certainly has a lot on his plate.  Near the top is the ongoing negotiations on climate change.  This morning, Secretary Ban Ki-moon (who wrote an eloquent op-ed in the NY Times last Thursday), is convening a meeting with over 100 heads of state to specifically discuss the issue of climate, with Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao addressing the group.

There is tremendous pressure on both developed and developing countries to reach a deal at the upcoming Copenhagen summit.  Pressure not only derived from the noble desire to protect our environment, but also growing pressure from investors and businesses within the green industry.  Here's hoping that we can finally reach some sort of consensus in the upcoming months.  To keep that hopeful vibe going, here are a few articles that demonstrate how varied and effective green technologies can be.

The first one looks at Germany's massive expansion of their offshore wind farm program.  The next - about the upcoming construction in New York of a spinning flywheel, of which a single 20 megawatt plant will have the equivalent carbon emissions reduction impact of planting 660,000 trees. More offshore wind farms in Denmark, and finally, an article arguing that China is far surpassing the US at the moment in pioneering clean energy solutions.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Remembering Someone Who Fought World Hunger...

The stampede over the weekend in Karachi, Pakistan that killed at least 14 women and children illustrated in the most tragic way possible that hunger still has yet to be beaten.  Free flour was being handed out, presumably in a disorganized way and in a narrow, confined space.  However it was the unexpected numbers of women and children that showed up to receive the flour that caught the distributers by surprise. Last week, we lost Norman Borlaug, a scientist who made it his life's work to improve agricultural output and was a pioneer of the Green Revolution.  In 1970, he was awarded the Nobel Peace price for his advances in plant breeding that increased yields throughout Latin-America and Asia, where he was single-handedly credited for saving millions of lives from starvation.  He remained steadfast in his position that population growth was the true instigator of hunger, and also faced critics arguing that the Green Revolution was an unsustainable, ecologically unsound practice.  Whatever may be your opinion on the matter, here is a tip of the hat to a man that undoubtable made an impact on all of us - as Gary H. Toenniessen, director of agricultural programs for the Rockefeller Foundation states in a New York Times article, half the the world's population every day consumes grain descended from one of the high-yield varieties developed by Dr. Borlaug and his colleagues of the Green Revolution.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Will Israel Attack Iran?

There are mounting signs that Israel is indeed gearing up for a possible attack in the near future.  A major issue seems to be the growing split with the Obama administration, which seems committed to arriving at a diplomatic solution and whose foreign policy approach so far lies in stark contrast to Bush’s hawkishness.

On Thursday, the US State Department rejected a proposal by Iran to engage in international talks regarding its nuclear program.  Israel has been increasingly impatient with the US’s approach to Iran – Obama will wait until the end of the year to decide whether to offer the negotiation track, or increase sanctions. Many in Israel, who feel that their immediate security concerns are gravely threatened, view this as political drag footing.  AIPAC has also been making the rounds in Washington, lining up support to put pressure on Obama. According to a Senate aide quoted in a TPMCafe article by M.J. Rosenberg, “For AIPAC, it's all Iran, all the time. I don't think they have come in about any other issue for a year or two.”

Russia’s role has been spotlighted recently.  The recent disappearance and reappearance of a Russian cargo ship in the Arctic Sea was rumored to be carrying anti-aircraft missiles bound for Iran.  It is also believed the ship was intercepted by the Moussad before it could complete the transaction with Iran.  This could all be dismissed as idle speculation, yet the very surprising secret visit to Moscow last week by Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to confirm something is brewing.  It appears he chartered a private jet to take him for a meeting with Russian officials to possibly dissuade them from selling those missiles to Iran, as well as inform them of a potential attack.

There is an excellent article in Slate, written in April, that not only foreshadows some of these recent rumblings, but also offers a very good analysis as to why an attack on Iran falls within Israel’s rational interests. And for all of you political theory fans, can be explained using plain old-fashioned balance of power concepts.  What is does offer up, is the argument that Israel’s current political ideology believes that the way to insure the establishment of a Palestinian state is to knock out Iran’s nuclear program.  In essence, the ability to offer up territory and the security threats that come with this would be mitigated by an Israel that appears militarily strong.  In return, the Middle East with an established Palestinian state and a weakened Iran would see some happy neighbors – Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan to Lebanon.
It’s a complicated mess, and one that the US needs to keep its eye on.  What are YOUR thoughts?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Can Turkey and Armenia Be Friends?

It came as a surprise to many when Armenia and Turkey announced today that they would establish diplomatic ties after decades of extreme animosity towards one another.  Yet talks have been ongoing for the past year, most notably with negotiations in Switzerland.  With the current economic climate, it is to both countries advantage to advance their political relationship.  Turkey remains committed to winning membership into the EU, and without some resolution of the Armenia situation, its chances were slim of gaining admittance. (Although the Cypriot issue remains as another major roadblock.  There is a good blog post by Tony Barber in the Financial Times, regarding some of Turkey's EU ascension issues.)

In addition, Turkey seems very interested in increasing its stature in the region, and by currying favor with the Russians  - who are the main source of military and economic aid to Armenia – as well as the US and EU, Turkey is attempting to smooth the road for numerous deals involving energy, security and political advantage.  Both countries seem aware that securing the Caucasus  - or at least appearing to be working towards that end – is beneficial for their respective goals.

Yet, will much of anything truly progress after this announcement?  There still remains enormous bitterness over the lack of acknowledgment by Turkey over its refusal to admit it committed acts of genocide back in 1915.  Diplomatic will notwithstanding, it will be interesting to see if the people of Armenia will tolerate the opening of borders without a formal declaration of apology from Turkey.  There is also a sizable Armenian population residing in the US, which will likely be vocal in their protests.  In addition, the final steps of establishing diplomatic ties lie with parliamentary ratification, which could easily become mired down with opposition and political maneuverings. "I don't see it as a breakthrough, because as long as everything is tied to parliamentary approval ... you can always go back to square one," said Nigar Goksel, an Istanbul-based analyst with the European Stability Initiative, who has closely followed recent diplomacy between Yerevan and Ankara.

The two governments set a six week deadline for consultations within their respective parliaments before beginning the process of ratification.  Interestingly enough, this deadline expires very close to a planned October visit by Armenia's president, Serge Sakisian, to Turkey to attend a World Cup qualifying match.  Can football diplomacy succeed?  Stay tuned...