Lee Hamilton is Director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University. He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for 34 years.
Where Congress falls short, and where it doesn’t
At a public gathering this year, someone asked me how I’d sum up my views on Congress. It was a good question, because it forced me to step back from worrying about the current politics of Capitol Hill and take a longer view.
This article was written by two Spring 2012 Participants in PSA’s Congressional Partnership Program. All CPP articles are produced by bipartisan groups of Democrat and Republican Hill Staff who were challenged to develop opinion pieces that reach consensus on critical national security and foreign affairs issues.
In 2004 and 2007, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea was presented to the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and both times the Committee passed the Convention. However, the Convention was never brought to the Senate for a full vote on both occasions. With the United States Navy patrolling every ocean in the world and an American economy struggling with high energy costs, the United States Senate should ratify the Convention as soon as possible.
Andy Semmel served as deputy assistant secretary of state for nuclear nonproliferation in the George W. Bush administration. He is on the board of directors of Partnership for a Secure America. This article originally appeared in the Washington Times.
SEMMEL: Nuclear terrorism treaties still incomplete
Congress hasn’t given its best effort to prevent nuclear terrorism. Despite broad bipartisan recognition that nuclear terror is one of the biggest threats of our time, two common-sense anti-terrorism treaties have been on the “to-do” list for more than half a decade. The Senate has the opportunity to pass those treaties in the weeks ahead and should do so for one simple reason: They would make America more secure.
Anthony Scavone is a recent graduate of Boston University where he studied International Relations focusing specifically on International Development and Sub-Saharan Africa. He served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali from October until they were evacuated in mid-April. You can read more about his personal experiences as a Peace Corps Volunteer in his personal blog, Anthony in Africa. This is the first post in a two-post series about the motivations and impact of the recent military coup in Mali.
To boil down all the implications of recent events in Mali into a single post would not give justice to the true breadth of what has happened. Instead I will split this into two separate pieces: part one will focus on what this coup means for Mali and Malians. The second will focus more on what this means for me, the Peace Corps, and the international community at large.
Part 1: Mali and Malians
It’s become relatively common knowledge that the main grievance that drove the military to overthrow Amadou Toumani Toure (Better known as ATT) was the belief that ATT was strangling the military effort to maintain security in the vast northern regions of the country. Lack of food and supplies, while facing a Tuareg rebellion recently augmented by the fall of Gaddafi and the return of arms and trained Malian Tuaregs from Libya, drove mid-ranking military leaders to try to take matters into their own hands.
PSA Advisory Board Co-Chairman Lee Hamilton and former Secretary of State James Baker III authored the following Washington Post op-ed calling on lawmakers to resolve the Executive and Legislative branch conflict over war-making authorities, an issue most recently highlighted by US involvement in Libya, and propose the War Powers Consultation Act as a possible means to do so.
With our country engaged in three critical military conflicts, the last thing that Congress and the White House should be doing is squabbling over which branch of government has the final authority to send American troops to war. But that is exactly what has been happening, culminating with the House’s rebuke of the Obama administration last Friday for the way it has gone about the war in Libya.
On one hand is a bipartisan group of House members who argue that President Obama overreached because he failed to seek congressional approval for the military action in Libya within 60 days of the time the war started, as required by the War Powers Resolution. The lawmakers are particularly upset because the administration sought, and received, support from the United Nations — but not from them.
On the other hand is the White House, which argues that history is on its side. The 1999 NATO-led bombing over Kosovo lasted 18 days longer than the resolution’s 60-day requirement before the Serbian regime relented.
Stuck in the middle are the American people, particularly our soldiers in arms. They would be best served if our leaders debated the substantive issues regarding the conflict in Libya — and those of Afghanistan and Iraq — rather than engaging in turf battles about who has ultimate authority concerning the nation’s war powers.
As Hungary prepared to take the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union on New Year’s Day, the country faced a slew of criticism over its new censorship laws. The laws put Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his ruling Fidesz party in control of overseeing the public media and create a party-run media council to regulate both public and private broadcasters. Hungary’s Nepszabadsag newspaper declared that “the freedom of the press in Hungary has come to an end.” A Washington Post editorial decried the law as “more suited to an authoritarian regime than to a Western democracy.”
Troubling as the media censorship is in itself, it is even more troubling when considered in tandem with the approach Orban is taking to deal with the ailing Hungarian economy. Since his party’s victory in the parliamentary elections in April of last year, Orban has focused on short-term measures to the chagrin of the EU and the International Monetary Fund, which both want Hungary to focus on long-term spending cuts. One measure is a controversial reversal of a 1997 pension reform, a move that may in the long-run slow efforts to deal with Hungary’s debt, which is 80 percent of its GDP. Orban has also sought to increase the party’s influence on monetary policy, allowing a Fidesz-controlled parliamentary committee to fill vacant posts on the Central Bank’s Monetary council. But rather than ease these concerns, the measures have done little to assure others. International unease continued as Fitch rating agency downgraded Hungary’s foreign currency credit rating to just above junk status last month. (more…)
The Afghanis and the global community will be sorting out the effects of the September 18 Parliamentary elections for weeks if not months. Reports from the Independent Election Commission, and thousands of local and international observers, including those deployed by Democracy International (of which I served as a short term observer), will no doubt be mixed. Nine years after the U.S. – led invasion and months after the American military “surge”, much of the country remains in the control of insurgents. For up to date election-related information check the Democracy International website www.afghan2010.com.
President Obama said he believes the “Afghans have done a commendable job in setting up as best as they can a structure for a fair and important election.” This understated sentiment certainly does not do justice to the tremendous, and perhaps overwhelming, challenges facing the Karzai administration. A significant number of polling centers did not open or closed early due to Taliban attacks. I counted at least twelve mortar attacks, a firefight, and a Taliban truck blaring threats to anyone who voted in one contested provincial capital. Even the Afghan security forces were unable to deploy to many polling sites. Over three thousand formal complaints, allegations of fraud, intimidation, and technical problems further degraded the poll’s legitimacy in the minds of many voters. (more…)
Nowhere have the principles of self-determination and territorial integrity clashed more persistently and tragically than in the Balkans, which remain unsettled after the genocidal Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. Kosovo is one of the major loose ends left to tie up in the region. Eleven years after the 78-day NATO bombing campaign against Serbia, Kosovo has yet to win recognition as an independent state. In 2008 Kosovo declared independence and passed a new constitution, issued passports, established 19 embassies, formed a military, and chose a national anthem. However, its international status remains ambiguous to this day. Bloody conflicts still erupt between Albanians, who comprise nearly 95 per cent of the population, and Serbs despite the presence of 9,900-member international peacekeeping force. Ironically, its presence may be all the more needed since the International Court of Justice (ICJ) announced that Kosovo’s declaration of independence “did not violate general international law.” Although publicized as a victory for Kosovo, the ICJ July 22 ruling has only increased ambiguity over Kosovo’s sovereignty.
The international community cannot continue to sit on the fence about the Balkan problem as it had for disturbingly long while Slobodan Milosevic’s forces rampaged from Slovenia and Croatia to Bosnia and Kosovo. It is time the world recognizes Kosovo, which has suffered from Serbian genocide and accepted compromise after compromise while its international status was being debated, and establishes clear rules for negotiating ethno-national conflicts in the future to ensure Kosovo’s recognition does not set a dangerous precedent. Until then, the lack of clarity on evaluating the antithetical principles of self-determination and territorial integrity will continue to be politically exploited in the Balkans and elsewhere. (more…)
Kyrgyzstan, a former Soviet state in Central Asia, has made many headlines after its corrupt President Kurmanbek Bakiyev was toppled in April. On June 10th, riots erupted between the Kyrgyz and the Uzbek minority in Bakiyev’s stronghold Osh, leaving hundreds dead and sending a flood of refuges to neighboring Uzbekistan. The June 27th constitutional referendum ratifying a new constitution was deemed successful, but true peace is elusive in southern Kyrgyzstan. The violence continues as the Kyrgyz police abuse ethnic Uzbeks, and the unrest threatens to spread to neighboring countries. Riots may flare up anew when the local clans start vying for power in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Kyrgyzstan’s weak central authorities are unable to rein in the violence.
During this time, only the lazy refrained from opining about the Kyrgyz misfortune, but nevertheless world governments have not followed words with actions. Russia and the United States have limited their response to Kyrgyz pleas for help to providing humanitarian relief. Their continued inaction may have dire consequences. Even in the unlikely scenario that the conflict resolves itself, the indecisiveness of the two world powers will leave a bitter aftertaste in the former Soviet republics. (more…)
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For the past 8 months, Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Mines has been amassing a huge stockpile of diamonds plucked from the Marange diamond field in the eastern part of the country. The stockpile, which now tips the scale at around 4.6 million carats, is the unwanted byproduct of the Kimberley Process, the UN-backed regulatory body that certifies diamonds as conflict-free. Under the auspices of the Kimberley Process, 75 countries have agreed to adhere to strict standards governing the mining and sale of diamonds to ensure that the stones do not fund regional conflicts or contribute to human rights violations. If member countries are unable to meet the standards of the Kimberley Process, they are suspended or barred from selling diamonds under the Process. Zimbabwe fell into that category this past November when the Process suspended the country after investigations confirmed that the Marange mine was the site of grave human rights violations, including the alleged massacre of several hundred illegal miners by the Zimbabwean military.
Zimbabwe’s temporary suspension, however, is now under reconsideration and may soon be lifted. Several weeks ago, over 70 representatives from Kimberley Process member countries met in Israel to consider Zimbabwe’s case. Although the meeting ended without a decision, the Zimbabwean government’s position has enough support to make it conceivable that exports may be approved the next time the representatives meet. The South African businessman sent by the Kimberley Process to inspect Zimbabwean mines recommended that the country be approved, and African countries have largely backed Zimbabwe’s position. The main opposition to approval comes from three Western countries- the US, Canada and Australia- and numerous NGO and advocacy groups.
If the Kimberley Process member countries decide to lift the suspension, they will do so to the detriment of Zimbabwe’s future. On the surface, the Kimberley Process decision rests on whether Zimbabwe can prove that the Marange mining operation does not contribute to conflict or violate human rights in any way. However, as the US well knows, any decision to allow Zimbabwe to sell vetted stones on the international market will carry repercussions not only for miners in Marange but for the country as a whole. (more…)
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.