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Say what you will about French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, but the guy’s got two things going for him: Mr Kouchner then requested that the UN be given access to the civilians trapped with the Tigers. When the Defence Secretary responded that it was not safe for anyone to enter the area, Mr Kouchner volunteered to go himself. “A smiling Rajapaksa told the French Foreign Minister that the LTTE was so desperate that he, too, would be taken hostage,” the report said. “I don’t mind that risk,” said Mr Kouchner, who co-founded the medical aid agency, Médecins sans Frontières (Doctors […]

Recent reports of a nuclear power station being built in Albania with Croatian assistance generated about as much heat as they did light. Two weeks ago, Croatian, Montenegrin and Serb newspapers all reported — without naming their source — that the governments of Albania and Croatia had agreed to build a 1,500-megawatt power station near lake Skadar, which is divided between Montenegro and Albania. The cost of the project, they said, would be around €5 billion. But the reports are untrue, according to Tomislav Mazal, an adviser to Croatia’s head negotiator on the issue, Vice Prime Minister Damir Polancec. “We […]

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This hasn’t been a particularly good week for anyone concerned by the creeping militarization of foreign policy in general, and development aid in particular. When President Barack Obama announced his Afghanistan strategy last month, a lot was made about the “diplomatic surge” element — roughly a thousand civilian posts to boost development work in the country. I remember thinking at the time that an increase of 1,000 civilians didn’t stack up so well with the increase of 21,000 troops that was announced at roughly the same time. But at least it was a start. Only trouble is, the NY Times […]

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Sadly, this NYT article about the rise in violence against the Roma (i.e. gypsys) in Eastern and Central Europe doesn’t surprise me. Of course, the Roma, perhaps even more than Jews, are the epitome of a wandering people, and the violence they’ve both encountered over the years has often represented what happens when ethnic prejudice overlaps with resentment over immigration. What’s more, the far right, which has maintained a surprisingly resilient presence on the European political landscape even during the past fifteen years of relative prosperity, is likely to make inroads in light of the current economic hardship. That still […]

As an IMF note to the G-20 leaders gathered at the recent London summit put it, “Growth also plunged across a broad swath of emerging economies. Against this backdrop, global activity is expected to contract in 2009 for the first time in 60 years.” In 1998, the Asian financial crisis left a lasting mark on politics in Southeast Asia. The Suharto regime fell in Indonesia and, arguably, ongoing turmoil in Malaysia and Thailand can be traced to the impact of ’98. However, this time around, the region is expected to come through the current recession relatively unscathed, in comparison with […]

Russia and NATO have been trying to “reset” their relations in parallel with the ongoing reconciliation between Washington and Moscow. Although progress along these lines has occurred, Russia-NATO differences over Georgia remain a major impediment. Belying Moscow’s hopes that the new American administration and other NATO members might reduce support for the current Georgian government in order to secure Russian assistance regarding Afghanistan, Iran, and other issues, the alliance appears unwilling to abandon Tbilisi despite Russian threats and inducements. NATO’s decision to conduct a major military exercise, “Cooperative Longbow/Lancer-09,” in Georgia from May 6 through June 1 has reignited the […]

Only a few days remain before the opening of the United Nations anti-racism conference in Geneva, and maneuvering surrounding the controversial event is reaching a fever pitch. The stated goal of next week’s Durban Review Conference, as it is officially named, is to “evaluate progress” in the global fight against racism since the U.N.’s 2001 anti-discrimination conclave held in Durban, South Africa. That original Durban meeting turned into an embarrassing fiasco for the U.N., prompting Western nations to brace for a difficult and possibly unsuccessful effort to keep the “Durban II” gathering in Geneva from becoming another propaganda tirade in […]

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The current global financial crisis is unique in that, unlike most previous crises — which started in the periphery of the world economy, and whose deep and long-lasting impacts were limited to isolated parts of the globe — today’s crisis is rooted in Wall Street, at the heart of the globalized market, from where it has grown and spread worldwide. As a result, powerful, globalized economies have taken the first and hardest punches. Although still a bit groggy, they are now struggling to get back on their feet. But while economists discuss how and when economies will emerge from this […]

As the world economy stares down the most severe crisis it has seen in nearly a century, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) finds itself positioned somewhere between danger and opportunity: Danger lurks in emergent alternatives to the fund; opportunity lies in reform. Yet, reform requires change, and change does not come easily in the realm of international politics. Invariably, it creates winners and losers. The United States and Europe have long been the beneficiaries of the international financial institutions crafted during the waning hours of World War II. But the world of today is a far cry from that of […]

MADRID, Spain — FRIENDS AT LAST: Every Wednesday, a large crowd gathers at noon on the edge of the parade ground of the Royal Palace in Madrid to watch the ceremonial changing of the guard. Started a year or so ago, the ceremony involves all the traditional elements of military choreography — colorful uniforms, a band, cavalry, and even two horse-drawn field artillery pieces. Unlike at Buckingham Palace, where a similar drill has been carried out every day for centuries, the guard does not have the symbolic duty of protecting the Spanish monarch: Spain’s king and queen live some distance […]

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The news that U.S. representatives will join the P5+1 talks with Iran is significant, but not really news. Same goes for the reaction from Tehran, which remains cautiously receptive and noncommittal. I’m more curious about the reaction from the EU3, particularly France. My hunch is that that will have a lot to do with what “reaching out to Iran on a one-to-one basis” — as per White House officials cited by the NY Times — amounts to. If that takes place on a strictly defined, single-issue basis — i.e. Iraq security cooperation, or Afghanistan supply routes — it shouldn’t cause […]

Anyone who hoped President Barack Obama would return to Washington with a suitcase full of gifts from his mostly European tour will find the souvenirs largely disappointing. While Obama managed to bring back some important achievements, most of them came in the form of warm feelings. Those are hard to gift-wrap. Following his maiden overseas voyage as U.S. president, Obama arrived home to find the same urgent crises he had left behind, compounded by new foreign policy challenges that had arisen during his absence. Making matters worse, the trip itself, while undeniable fruitful, produced few tangible results. When viewed through […]

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I took a bit of a drubbing around the web for my post about President Barack Obama’s Prague speech yesterday. Matt Stone pointed out that our NPT commitment to “methodically disarm” (his words) is the flip side of the deterrence coin, while John Boonstra suggested that “bad timing” is a weak reason to foreswear the goal of no nukes, because “it will never be a good time to pursue nuclear disarmament.” I don’t disagree with either. In fact, having gone through Obama’s speech again, I find myself in agreement with all of the actual policy initiatives he identifies, ably summarized […]

Recurring efforts by Armenian-Americans to secure official U.S. condemnation of the Armenian genocide have often been portrayed by opponents as “counterproductive” to U.S.-Turkey, as well as Turkey-Armenia, relations. But the campaign to pass a non-binding congressional resolution has actually helped focus these relations by catalyzing Armenian-Turkish dialogue, advancing democratic debate inside Turkey and, perhaps most counterintuitively, helping navigate the U.S.-Turkish partnership through a troubled stretch. An Ancient Relationship Separated by religion and language, for almost a thousand years Armenians and Turks shared one homeland — a large area known alternately as Eastern Turkey and Western Armenia. It was never a […]

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Tom Barnett pushes back against the Global Zero goal evoked by President Barack Obama with what is certainly today’s quote of the day, and might even be the quote of the year: The system is nowhere near prepared or integrated enough to abolishnuclear weapons, and even if it was, I’d keep them on the sheerassumption that not everybody and everything I might meet in spacesomeday is going to like me. Anne Applebaum pushes back, too, with a point that is often obscured by the bilateral U.S.-Russian lens through which we see nuclear arms control: Plus I’m not sure the French, […]

As part of hitting the “reset button,” the Obama administration has decided to focus its Russia policy for now on the urgent need to replace an expiring Russian-American nuclear arms control treaty. The approach represents a reversal of the Bush administration’s stated goal of collaborating with Moscow on a broad range of issues, and also contrasts with the posture the Obama White House has adopted toward China. Unresolved Russian-American differences concerning strategic offensive arms control could impede this focused effort. And past experience makes evident that unrelated issues might easily disrupt the strategic arms control dialogue. The two strategic arms […]

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A final thought on this weekend’s NATO summit. In his WPR Briefing on the subject, Soeren Kern had this to say: Obama put a brave face on the paltry results by saying they werea “strong down payment on the future of our mission in Afghanistan andthe future of NATO.” Butby providing only modest assistance incomparison to Obama’s 21,000-troop surge, NATO as an alliance hasessentially failed in Afghanistan. Indeed, the mission in Afghanistanis becoming increasingly Americanized: By the end of 2009, nearlytwo-thirds of the estimated 95,000 permanent foreign military personnelin Afghanistan will be American. Not only do I think that’s right, […]

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