After Israel’s offensive

by Jordan Tama | June 30th, 2006 | |Subscribe

This week’s Israeli offensive in Gaza and the West Bank demonstrates that Israel intends to retaliate against violence perpetrated or backed by the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority as forcefully as it responded to acts of terrorism by Hamas before the group was elected to power.  The offensive might thereby provide a useful wake-up call to Hamas and its supporters.  But in order to advance Israel’s interest in long-term security, the Olmert government should subsequently begin laying the foundation for a new round of peace talks.

Israel’s assault is understandable given recent violence by Hamas militants in Gaza — in particular, the launching of Qassam rockets into Israel and the murder and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers.  Israel must show restraint, though, focusing its retaliation on Hamas leaders and institutions.  (Its strike on a Palestinian power plant was unjustified because it indiscriminately punished half the population of Gaza.)  Israel should also emphasize that it has no intention of reoccupying Gaza, but rather seeks only to stop Palestinians from using the area as a staging ground for attacks on Israelis.

If Israel succeeds in liberating its kidnapped prisoner, it should halt its attack, pull back its forces, and release any Hamas Cabinet officials and legislators that do not have blood on their hands.  By that point, Israel’s actions will have made clear to Palestinians that it will hold Hamas accountable for violence against Israelis.  That demonstration, however, will not be sufficient to induce Palestinians to stop attacking Israel.  (more…)

The Future of the U.S.-Japan Strategic Relationship

by Christopher Preble | June 28th, 2006 | |Subscribe

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to the United States, his last as prime minister, has elicited considerable comment from Japan watchers. There have been op eds and public discussions (here and here) contemplating Koizumi’s legacy, and what it means for U.S.-Japan relations. There has been speculation about his likely successor. There has been discussion of the role of nationalism, particularly the ongoing controversy over Koizumi’s visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. And there have been stories about Koizumi’s impassioned defense of these visits.

This attention is warranted — the U.S.-Japan relationship is extremely important — but the speculation about the future is producing more heat than light. We should all spend less time focused on the personalities at play, and far more attention on the common strategic interests of our two countries.

As I argue in a recent Cato paper, President Bush and Prime Minister obviously share a genuine friendship:

but U.S. and Japanese policymakers should seek to craft a strategic partnership that will endure long after Koizumi and Bush have passed from the scene. Under the current arrangement, the United States pledges to defend Japan in exchange for basing rights. In addition, however, Japan’s security dependence has led the Japanese to defer to the United States on regional security issues. More recently, Japan has sent a token force to a far-off land in order to curry favor with its benevolent patron, but not necessarily out of a sense of shared strategic objectives. This is not a sustainable model over the long term. (more…)

Will Proliferation Be the New Genocide?

by Benjamin Rhodes | June 27th, 2006 | |Subscribe

Much has been said about the international community’s failure to live up to its “never again” rhetoric when it comes to genocide. Whether the finger is pointed at the U.S., Europe, the U.N., or elsewhere, Darfur has pretty much exposed the lack of will and/or capacity to intervene in order to stop mass killing.

Will nuclear proliferation be next? India and Pakistan have already tipped. But it’s hard to imagine a country more troublesome than North Korea going nuclear – a vital region, a flashpoint stand-off with a neighbor, a serial human rights violator, an unpredictable leader (check out this Dear Leader propaganda) known to sell weapons for cash, and the potential for some nuclear dominoes (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan). And Iran seems poised to go next. While there is still noise about the IAEA and the NPT (the Iranians in particular will likely continue insisting that they’re within their legal rights), if North Korea and Iran both go nuclear, it may very well represent a nuclear tipping point – as one new book contemplates.

As Eugene Gholz points out, the U.N.’s role in this mess is somewhat curious. In the case of both North Korea and Iran, the Security Council is often referenced as a potential destination where bad things (sanctions? force?) might be enforced on the proliferators. But the real action – the Six Party Talks, the EU 3 + the US – lies elsewhere, and the threats of UN action are often followed by a qualification that it would be difficult to get any tough, punitive measure through the Security Council. In part because Russia and/or China might stand down. In part because, well, the U.S. (at least under this Administration) hasn’t shown much faith in the Security Council.

But proliferation is quite different from human rights catastrophes in that it clearly and directly impacts the security and interests of the United States. So while the failure to stop genocide gave the lie to some of the more idealistic pronouncements of the international community, the failure to stop proliferation may take that somewhat further. Instead of an international system that is dysfunctional in protecting our values, the U.S. may be faced with an international system that has proven to be dysfunctional in protecting our vital interests. Then what?


Another Take on 9/11 Conspiracies

by Brian Vogt | June 24th, 2006 | |Subscribe


I was quite amazed when I looked that the Across the Aisle blog yesterday and saw there were over 80 comments posted in one day!  I wondered, what foreign policy issue was generating such intense interest?  It must be a debate on the future of our forces in Iraq, or a debate on the volatile situation in the Middle East, or a discussion on how our country deals with nuclear threats from Iran.  Or perhaps commentators were discussing how we deal with our dangerous dependency on foreign oil.

Sadly, it turned out that nearly all of these comments were from readers who adamantly felt that 9/11 was a government conspiracy.  Of course, you can probably guess from my tone that I do not believe in such theories.  Although I do concede that over the years the US government has been guilty of numerous crimes and covert actions that in many cases make me ashamed, I find it quite hard to believe the conspiracy theories that are presented by these commentators.  Of course, I’m no physicist and I don’t pretend to understand the mechanics of what happened on September 11th.  However, I felt that Ben’s link to a Popular Mechanics article written by a wide variety of reputable sources was quite convincing – certainly much more convincing than many of the links and videos presented by the ensuing commentators.  That, combined with the extensive research done by the 9/11 Commission, makes me skeptical of those arguments in favor of conspiracy theories.  Certainly, there are many questions and unknowns about what happened that day.  However, those questions and unknowns, when taken in total, seem insufficient to prevent a believable case against the conventional explanations of what happened.  (more…)

What’s the UN Security Council for?

by Eugene Gholz | June 21st, 2006 | |Subscribe

The U.S. alleged this week that North Korea is preparing to test fire a multi-stage missile with the theoretical range to reach American territory. Of course, such a missile, if deployed, would offer the North Koreans the next step of nuclear deterrence against the U.S. So it is not hard to understand why the North Koreans might want to test that capability, and it is also not hard to understand why the U.S. might not want them to take that step. A missile test is a matter of power and interests.

Japan and South Korea have more reasons than the U.S. to worry about North Korean military capabilities. They live close to North Korea and have direct, intrinsic conflicts with the North Korean regime. So it is little surprise that they have joined the American efforts to dissuade the North Koreans from their possible missile test.

What is curious in this tiff is the role of the UN. Japanese officials in particular have threatened the North Koreans that they will lodge a protest of the test with the Security Council [as if that "threat" would impose a real cost -- E.G.]. And the U.S. Ambassador to Japan got caught up in the same spirit, suggesting that the U.S. might seek UN sanctions against North Korea in the wake of a missile test. But on what grounds would the Security Council act in this scenario? (more…)

Supporting Military Interventions to Protect Human Rights

by Jordan Tama | June 20th, 2006 | |Subscribe

In his most recent post Christopher Preble expresses concern about the advancement of the “responsibility to protect” norm, which grants the international community the right to intervene militarily when massive human rights violations are being perpetrated on a population whose government is responsible for those violations or is unable to stop them.  In my view, the benefits to the United States and the world of promoting the norm outweigh the risks. 

The responsibility to protect norm clearly goes beyond the UN Charter’s prescriptions, which only authorize the use of force in self-defense or when approved by the UN Security Council “to protect international peace and security.”  But the Charter, like the U.S. Constitution, must be treated as a living document subject to evolving interpretation and amendment over time.  When the Charter was written, intervention to protect human rights was not on the international agenda and was not a priority of any major power.  Today it is on the global agenda and is sometimes — though too sporadically — a priority of the United States, Britain, France, and other democratic nations.  International rules on the use of force will become irrelevant if they do not evolve to reflect this change in world politics.

The September 2005 UN summit declaration called on the international community to intervene when necessary through the Security Council to protect a population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, or crimes against humanity.  This was a significant advance for advocates of international action to protect human rights, marking the first time the world’s nations endorsed a version of the responsibility to protect norm.  But the promise of the declaration might turn out to be hollow because it leaves the Council with a legal monopoly over use of force decisions.  If just one of the Council’s permanent members objects to a military intervention, governments seeking to protect a population will be left with no legal way to do so.  Given the general opposition of Russia and China to protective interventions, the norm will rarely be put into practice if this legal monopoly is upheld.  Consider the ongoing atrocities taking place in Darfur and then decide whether the Council should possess this monopoly. (more…)

What Do We Mean by UN “Reform”?

by Christopher Preble | June 19th, 2006 | |Subscribe

I commend my fellow bloggers (Victoria Holt and Ben Rhodes) for weighing in on American attitudes toward the United Nations, a conversation prompted by Brian Vogt’s analysis of remarks by UN Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown.

Picking up on this thread, I’d like to take the conversation in a slightly different direction, pertaining specifically to discussions of UN reform.

Last summer, I spent some time reviewing Secretary General Annan’s reform proposals as put forward in the report In Larger Freedom. There was bipartisan support for UN reform, as evidenced by Newt Gingrich making common cause with George Mitchell. The task force participants, Sen. Mitchell notes, included a veritable who’s who of American foreign policy think tanks: “the American Enterprise Institute, the Brookings Institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Heritage Foundation and the Hoover Institution.”

I did not share this apparent bipartisan enthusiasm for reform. I still don’t. I am particularly troubled by bipartisan attitudes pertaining to the preventive use of military force. (more…)

The UN in the eye of its beholders

by Benjamin Rhodes | June 15th, 2006 | |Subscribe

Is the UN a club for white wine-swilling, cheese-eating surrender monkeys to come together and scheme about claiming American property or perpetrating sex crimes under the guise of peacekeeping missions? Or is it a shining beacon of international peace and cooperation, joining the nations of the world in enlightened common interest and effective multilateral action?

Neither, of course. But as with most UN controversies, the reaction to Malloch Brown’s speech has prompted most partisans into their respective camps – UN as pariah, or UN as panacea.

Two points on the speech:

At least implicitly, Brown was – as Brian Voight points – calling out the U.S. for engaging the UN to advance its own agenda. But what is unique – or wrong – about that? The UN is, after all, made up of member states. It is not unreasonable for those member states – including the U.S. – to act in their own interests.

But Brown is absolutely correct that “much of the public discourse (on the UN) that reaches the US heartland has been largely abandoned to its loudest detractors such as Rush Limbaugh and Fox News.” And that’s not good for U.S. interests. Because those on the right have to realize that there’d be a lot more ways to deal with messes in the world – and a lot less burden on the U.S. – if the UN could more efficiently deploy resources and expertise (wouldn’t it be nice to have all those international civil servants helping with capacity-building in Iraqi ministries?). And liberal internationalists have to get past the fear of being attacked as global test

advocates, and make their pro-UN arguments to the whole of the country on the basis of pragmatism and not merely an idealistic vision that can be undercut by the next UN scandal, real or imagined.

The UN Mirror on the USA: What is this fight about?

by Victoria Holt | June 14th, 2006 | |Subscribe

The dust-up caused by Amb. John Bolton’s reaction to UN Deputy Secretary General Mark Malloch Brown’s speech has brought attention to the simmering crisis among UN members, already cited in this blog, over UN reforms and the US approach to winning them. This is dangerous bluster, argues the Post’s Sebastian Mallaby.

Today things look worse, not better, for achieving important measures and resolving the debate without a budget crisis in the next few weeks.

This crisis will give some in Congress an excuse to start withholding US dues to the UN, which would impact its headquarters and touch on everything from monitoring sanctions against terrorists to planning the UN mission in Darfur. The House has such legislation ready to go. 

Does the US have a domestic constituency that can’t stand the UN, as suggested by Brown (which then offended Bolton)? Yes, absolutely, and Members of Congress know it. The campaigns come and go, but they are constant. Recall those convinced by interest groups that the UN will steal private property from landowners in the West; will prevent you from spanking your child; and will impose a tax on American citizens.  (more…)

Getting Our Economic Policy Right… Because Our Security is at Stake

by Seth Green | June 13th, 2006 | |Subscribe

As Americans allow more and more of our products to be made in China, and as we allow the Chinese to own more and more of our economy, we should at least be asking questions about what our increasing dependence on China means for our security. And if we asked these questions, this week’s news would raise grave concerns about how we’re failing to connect our economic and security policies toward China.

Two stories dominated the U.S. headlines about China this week. First, we learned that our trade imbalance with China is continuing to balloon. China’s trade surplus hit a record high last month of $13 billion, driven significantly by a growing imbalance with the U.S. Second, we learned that Chinese President Hu would be meeting with Iranian President Ahmadinejad. And this meeting may not be entirely to condemn Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Instead, China appears to have arranged the meeting in part because, recognizing its increasing need for Iranian oil, the Chinese government seeks to further engage Iran notwithstanding the country’s nuclear program.

What these two news stories illuminate is a dangerous disconnect between our economic and security strategy. As we know, money is power and economic might can be as important as military strength. What’s concerning is that we have an economic policy that is openly selling our country’s assets to China and not even pressing the Chinese to upgrade a clearly undervalued currency. This, in turn, makes us weaker vis-à-vis China and further limits our discretion to deal with the Chinese government head-on if they ultimately try to undermine international efforts to contain a nuclear-hungry Iran.

We’ve known for a long time that the “spend now and saddle the future with debt” economic policy of the Bush years is bad on its face because it burdens our children with paying back today’s excesses. But this week’s news stories show it’s a potentially dangerous policy as well.

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All blog posts are independently produced by their authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of PSA. Across the Aisle serves as a bipartisan forum for productive discussion of national security and foreign affairs topics.