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The United Nations is set to declare caste systems a human rights violation at the current meeting of its Human Rights Council in Geneva, in a bid to recognize centuries-old institutionalized discrimination against the world’s estimated 200 million Dalits, or untouchables. Draft principles being considered by the Council call for the “elimination of discrimination based on work and descent.” Dalits and similar groups face discrimination under existing caste systems in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Japan and Somalia. While Nepal came out in support of the move, India has objected to the use of the word “caste” in the draft principles […]

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I wanted to revisit this post on the growing meme of President Barack Obama as weak and vacillating, in which I said that on Israel-Palestine, Afghanistan and Iran, “there definitely seems to be a hesitation on following through on initial convictions and openings. . . . Obama has blinked.” Because in trying to address a number of interconnected trains of thought, I might have crossed some of the tracks up. To begin with, on Afghanistan, I don’t think Obama is wrong to pause and consider the strategic objectives before signing off on the resources requested. The problem is that I […]

Although Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou’s historic rapprochement with China has ushered in a period of stability in cross-strait relations, the military imbalance between the two neighbors continues to grow. Beijing’s military modernization is rapidly dwarfing Taipei’s capabilities and blunting Washington’s ability to defend its ally in the event of conflict. Left unchecked, this growing imbalance will make it increasingly difficult for Taipei to maintain the necessary deterrent required to preserve its independence from the mainland, and for long-term stability to prevail in the Taiwan Strait. The calm that has pervaded the Taiwan Strait since Ma’s inauguration last year is certainly […]

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Let’s face it, the meme that’s currently taking shape is that President Barack Obama is weak and vascillating. And that’s a particularly lethal meme for a foreign policy oriented around engagement, cooperation, shared responsibility and a careful husbanding of dwindling U.S. power resources. Is it a fair characterization? It leaves out a number of policy positions where he has taken bold initiatives and followed them up well. His nuclear nonproliferation agenda, for instance, which I initially dismissed but have since come to appreciate, offers promising openings on a number of fronts. His handling of the much-needed U.S. image makeover, too, […]

KUALA LUMPUR — If timing matters in the art of diplomacy, then those responsible for the death of Noordin Mohammad Top did the foreign services of Indonesia and Malaysia a big favor. The killing of Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorist came as neighborly relations were sliding rapidly into a political abyss amid declarations of a “cultural war.” Opportunists on the fringe were even calling for the real thing as the foreign ministers from both countries tried to mend a few broken fences torn apart over the historic origins of a traditional dance. “As for Noordin M Top, while Indonesians were […]

The term “lawfare” is increasingly used to characterize the pervasive role of law in the conduct of war, but there is nothing new about the concept. Law has always played a role in war, requiring that a pragmatic balance be struck between the necessities of war and the need to protect the innocent. The significance of this balance between military necessity and humane treatment under the law has never been more central to the credibility of U.S. military operations than it is today. The real question raised today is whether “lawfare” will come to define a fundamental distortion of this […]

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As China prepares to mark 60 years of communist rule, one of thegreatest challenges facing the country’s rulers remains uniting China’sdiverse ethnic groups, as recent unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang provincedemonstrates. Ninety-two percent of China’s 1.3 billion people areethnic Han Chinese,while the rest consists of a mix of 55 officially recognizedethnic minorities, from Mongols and Manchus, to Tibetans andMuslim Uighurs. Al Jazeera’s Melissa Chan reports from Sichuan province.

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NATO’s new secretary general says thealliance remains committed to the fight in Afghanistan, despite greaterviolence in the country and a rising death toll among U.S. and NATOtroops. Monday in Washington, Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the need formore resources to battle Taliban militants comes at a time when publicsupport for continued operations in Afghanistan is waning in manyallied nations. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.

TOKYO — Days after being formally elected Japan’s new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama hit the diplomatic ground running, traveling to New York last week to deliver a speech at the U.N. meet on climate change, before heading to Pittsburgh for the G-20 summit. The trip was widely viewed as a success, with Reuters saying Hatoyama handled his diplomatic debut with “aplomb.” The Japan Times praised his “strong” start, particularly his pledge to slash Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent on 1990 levels. The headline-grabbing promise on emissions is just the latest sign, according to veteran Japan commentator Karel van […]

The U.N. climate change negotiations currently underway and set to conclude in Copenhagen late in 2009 seek to establish new arrangements in anticipation of the termination of the Kyoto Protocol in 2012. According to our current understanding of the science, a successful outcome to these negotiations is critical to maintaining a stable climate, even if the estimates of the costs of damage from inaction vary widely. The negotiations are currently beset by a series of obstacles. But if these are overcome, the resulting agreement will change the global landscape in terms of trade, politics and the entire international system. The […]

After two days of high-profile meetings and deliberation last week, the G-20 managed to make official something everyone already knew: the United States and Europe can no longer effectively manage the whims of the global economy on their own. To that end, the group reached consensus on two major fronts: 1) the more diverse G-20 should effectively replace the Western-dominated G-8 as the world’s primary economic coordinating body; and, 2) voting power within the IMF should be reformed to give greater voice to emerging powers. Stop the presses, right? Yes and no. This is big news, but not necessarily new […]

BERLIN — After four years of an uncomfortable alliance with the liberal Social Democratic Party marked more by inaction that by any major initiatives, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her conservative Christian Democrat party won a sweeping victory in federal elections here yesterday, putting the legislative pieces in place to make significant policy changes in her second term. The pro-business Free Democrats pulled off a major upset, winning enough votes to form a grand coalition with the CDU. Meanwhile, the election marked a major defeat for the SDP, with party candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier calling for a reassessment of the party’s […]

President Barack Obama’s performance at the United Nations last week was widely hailed — and condemned — as a clear departure from that of his predecessor, George W. Bush. His most telling statement spoke volumes about the limits of U.S. power in an interdependent world: “Those who used to chastise America for acting alone in the world cannot now stand by and wait for America to solve the world’s problems alone.” Subtext? Atlas has put down the heavy globe and has neither the intention nor the wherewithal to pick it up again. If that makes for an uncertain age, it’s […]

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Russian President Dmitry Medvedev emerged from a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama with a more open attitude toward tougher sanctions against Iran in the event negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program don’t produce results. That’s a pretty quick dividend from the missile defense decision, but I think Nikolas Gvosdev is spot on here: But the crux of the matter for the U.S. is not when Tehran crosses theline and has a working bomb, it is trusting Iran to have a nuclearinfrastructure like Japan’s. I think that Russia will be far moresupportive of “trusting” Iran with nuclear technology than a U.S. […]

NEW DELHI — With the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) decimated in the northern provinces of Sri Lanka, India is now seeking greater involvement in the welfare of the Tamils in the island country. New Delhi is looking to supply electricity, rehabilitate and resettle displaced Tamils, and rebuild infrastructure in general. And this month, Rahul Gandhi, the general secretary of the ruling Congress party and son of the all-powerful Sonia Gandhi, emphasized that India will do everything in its power to protect the rights of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka. “The central government is applying as much pressure […]

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Everywhere in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, posters featuring smiling soldiers holding rocket launchers and machine guns celebrate the recent end to the nation’s 26-year civil war. But in the government-run camps that still house more than 250,000 ethnic Tamils displaced by the war’s fighting, the mood is far from celebratory. In late August, heavy rains at the largest camp, Manik, flooded tents and led to unsanitary conditions. According to aid worker K Thampu, “The situation was heartbreaking. Tents were flooded and mothers, desperate to keep their children dry during the night, took chairs and […]

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Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg delivers a keynote address on the Obama Administration’s vision for the future of the U.S.-China relationship at a conference hosted by the Center for a New American Security in Washington. Full transcript.

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