Archive for September, 2008

What should be the US foreign policy in the new administration?

New US president will be elected on November 4th when American voters will elect their 44th president for next four years. Other than economic recession the challenge faced by the new administration will be realignment of foreign policy with war in Iraq at the center of the debate. US foreign policy is largely driven by three main interests. First, US believe that ideals of human liberty and freedom should be promoted around the world in the form of democracy and free markets. Second, US want to maintain the economic life style of its people by ensuring access to markets, supply of energy and natural resources from around the world. Third, US believe that the security of its people and homeland is important by engaging in preemptive actions around the world including non-state organizations like Al Qaida.

Ideals of human liberty and freedom are not political objectives but rather values that are promoted by all religions including Christianity and Islam. This means that these noble ideas are the basic premise of creation and makes it a mainstay of human society. This could mean that societies around the world should be eager to participate and join hands with USA. But this can only be achieved if US is able to attain the respect of a true leader without strong bias in its own favor or favorites. Accepting Palestinian right of return and abandoning the support of autocratic rulers would be two important steps in this direction. Similarly, bringing change within a society requires patience and perseverance rather than adoption quick fix through military intervention to introduce abrupt change by removing an autocratic regime at the cost of innocent lives as collateral damage. It would be wise for US to adopt the policy of engagement and negotiation to promote ideals and resolve issues. This will earn it the respect it deserves as bastion of liberty, freedom and equal rights.

The exponential rise of oil prices and its negative impact on the US society has driven the point home that energy security is extremely important for US economy. Sending militaries in Middle East to ensure steady supply of oil can not solve this issue in the long run especially when most of these countries are run by autocratic rulers. China and India with close proximity to Middle Eastern countries are as eager to out bid USA for this resource. On the other hand Russia is playing this card to its advantage by exerting influence on energy rich central Asian states. US should realize that they can solve their energy problem by adjusting their lives giving up on gas guzzling SUVs for smaller cars while at the same time making investment in research and development of alternate greener energy source.

The most important element of US foreign policy for the last eight years has been the security of American lives and property from the terrorist threats. US have natural barriers in the form of Atlantic and Pacific Ocean to prevent any direct military threat to its home land. To further augment this natural barrier US formed North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) with its Western allies. This cold war era edifice could also become a new flash point with reemerging Russia if US is too eager to allow Soviet states of Ukraine and Georgia to become members. Russia which still feels insecure after its break up in 1991 needs a neutral buffer between its bounders and Western Europe with which it fought many wars over centuries. The expansion of NATO should be reconsidered by the new administration if they would want to avoid another cold war with Russia. This NATO expansion would force Russia to reinvigorate their long forgotten WARSAW pact with some new friends and allies.

The other important corner stone of the new US administration should be to reestablish credibility of international platforms like United Nations to resolve issues. It has become apparent that ignoring UN to pressure Saddam regime was a foreign policy mistake resulting in tremendous loss of goodwill, treasure and lives. US should redouble its efforts to help reform UN so that it becomes an effective organization in solving international issues. One such step would be reconstitution of the Security Council, to represent the new world realities, by awarding an observer status to Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) and adding more permanent members to the council.

US also need to redefine its meaning of a terrorist by removing the emphasis that somehow Islamic faith has religious support for inhuman acts. A faith can not attain a global acceptance if it is not driven by truth and human values. A terrorist is a criminal with no real understanding of Islam or any other faith. The recent monk movement in Burma shows that it is not the religion but political injustice that forces peaceful people to take an extreme position. Redefining terrorist will not only help US regain its lost respect in the Muslim world but will also inspire governments around the world to cooperate in this fight without fearing a backlash from masses. By labeling terrorists as Islamic terrorist implicate the whole Muslim world as suspects until proven guilty. Any bomb going off anywhere in the world is immediately labeled as Islamic terrorism without carefully considering the evidence. This negative perception of a large innocent majority creates a moral dilemma for people which ultimately results in sympathizing with an underdog that is looking for a popular support. A terrorist in most situations is a product of poor governance and bad politics.

Resolution of Arab-Israel conflict, Kashmir struggle, Iraq war and removal of NATO forces from Afghanistan would help improve the US image and contribute towards world peace. US strategy to send military forces around the world creates an impression of imperialism that turns the popular opinion against them. US is probably the only country with military presence around the world including Germany, Korea, Japan, Iraq, Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. Use of soft power through economic, cultural and political relations would go a long way in ensuring security for US people.

If the prime reason for a governments existence is to provide a good life for its community then US government is failing miserably. The economic meltdown can be partly blamed on foreign policy. It is now apparent that US could have avoided invasion of Iraq as it took away valuable resources from the local economy. It will be a mistake for the new president to change the label of the war from Iraq to Afghanistan. Instead objectives of eradicating terrorist could be achieved by supporting local governments to fight through indigenous efforts.

US is the last best hope for humanity to achieve peace. The stakes are too high for the world. We can all hope that sensibility will overcome emotion and a new approach will be adopted. Comedian Jon Stewart said it all when he commented on one of his programs that America will always have 19 people, referring to 911 hijackers, who want to commit harm but in eradicating those 19 it can not have an unfavorable opinion among the rest of the world.


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Rise of Russia on the corpse of United Nations?

A league of nations was created after First World War to prevent violent power struggles between imperial Western powers that controlled large part of the world as colonies. The objectives of the organization included prevention of war and improving quality of life. Within fifteen years of its creation the league failed miserably to prevent Second World War in the face of a Nazi regime that considered its national interest to acquire more landmass more important than the eminent loss of human lives. When the war ended in 1945, at the US President Franklin D Roosevelt initiated efforts to convert the league of nation into a more global United Nations organization with membership offered to most countries of the world. Regardless of the sincerity of intent of the founding members the organization was raised on a faulty foundation when it created dual set of membership for its Security Council by awarding permanent status to five countries. Ironically three of the five permanent members were colonial powers namely France, Britain, Russia, China and USA. These permanent members have veto powers to reject any proposal brought to the council for consideration regardless even if it has majority vote from the twelve council members.

Since its inception in 1945 UN has proved to be totally ineffective in preventing major world conflicts including Israel/Arab war, India/Pakistan Kashmir dispute, US involvement in Vietnam war, Russian invasion of Afghanistan, US invasion of Iraq, Russian engagement in Georgia and deteriorating situation in Afghanistan after the deployment of NATO forces in response to 911. Permanent members have voted on UN resolutions whenever it suited their national interest and rejected UN altogether when it was not possible to get a resolution in their favor. US brought its case against Iraq before UN to seek cooperation and authorize war to replace the autocratic ruler Saddam. To make its case for the war US demonstrated the proofs of existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). US made it clear to UN that they will engage in a war with or without the approval of the world body which was mandated to prevent such wars. The members of the general assembly and Security Council expressed serious concerns about existence of WMD and refrained from extending any cooperation. Former General Secretary Kofi Annan tried to prevent Iraq war by emphasizing importance of diplomatic isolation for Saddam and by supporting forces of opposition in Iraq, but he was ridiculed and embroiled in corruption charges which later proved baseless. He has been redeemed when US accepted their failure to locate any WMD in Iraq and accepting failure of the military operations in the aftermath of fall of Baghdad. After 4 years of war it is now clear that if US had listened to the world we might still have to deal with an Iraqi dictator but the destruction of one of the oldest civilization might have been prevented with tremendous loss of human lives as collateral damage.

US invasion of Iraq have provided diplomatic precedence for other nations to ignore UN in persuasion of their national interest without brining them to the floor of Security Council. Recent Russian actions in Georgia are a clear indication that in the new world order UN is totally ineffective. We have two options available to reinstate the lost credibility of this organization. The first option is to change the structure of the Security Council to remove the special powers of permanent members. The second option is more radical which is to disband the organization into smaller regional entities with cooperation agreements in place between them.

The changing dynamics of the world has made it clear that we are moving clearly towards a multi-polar world in which US, Russia, China, Brazil, India and Iran will play a significant role. These competing world powers will need a client organization to exercise their powers on the satellites. US already have NATO in place to use their influence on Western European countries. In the light of Georgian situation and US security agreement with Poland, Russia can reinstate its long forgotten WARSAW pact with a new name allowing membership to former USSR states. China will use ASEAN and other regional arrangements to create its sphere of influence while India will rely on SAARC as their client. Middle Eastern and Muslim countries can restructure the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) to create a platform for negotiating their concerns. Brazil can change the scope of trade agreement Mercosur among South American nations to include foreign policy with strong backing from Argentina. African Union with strong leadership from South Africa and support from Ethopia can form their own block.

Emergence of these regional organizations can make it possible for the world to negotiate peace. Globalization of politics has proved to be wrong as regional interests based on culture, language, religion and borders are stronger. It is not possible for a North American leader to fully understand and appreciate the concerns of South Americans as Brazil can do. Each organization with a strong economic and military sponsor can make it possible to negotiate fair agreements backed by a genuine interest to implement it. It is always better to have a cold war with fine balance rather than an actual war with tremendous loss of innocent lives as collateral damage. The events of 911 have disturbed the world balance of power and it is very important to achieve a new balance which might be possible when the whole world is engaged through organizations promoting their regional interests.

United Nations is costing global humanity close to US$5billion every year without much progress to show. UN has not bee able to prevent famine in Ethiopia or genocide in Rawanda & Darfur by acting too slowly because of the competing interest of permanent members. We need to all come together and form a new world order that gives much weight to regional interest rather than making the world hostage to the veto powers of five countries.

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