Tag Archives: foreign policy

Cuba stays at home watching the Vampire Diaries… while the other countries party

So I can’t help but think of high school politics when looking at the recent Summit of the Americas. Seems like all the kids had a party but deliberately snubbed one kid (Cuba) because the big bullying jock (the USA) and his sidekick (Canada) have a problem with him, while the other kids aren’t happy about it they aren’t really in a position to do anything, except maybe skip the next party themselves. Obviously the complexities of the Cuba-US relationship are deeper than those of a bunch of hormonal teenagers, but the whole situation got me thinking that perhaps the US needs to rethink its approach to the Cuban regime. While the days of planting exploding cigars to blow up Fidel Castro might be gone, the US still maintains its embargo on Cuba. Obama might claim this is because Cuba has a poor human rights record and has not made steps towards democracy, but that position is laughably hypocritical when you consider how close the US is with Saudi Arabia, a country whose human rights record is surely among the worst in the world  – especially if the definition of human rights is one taken from a liberal Western standpoint (which I will assume Obama’s definition is).

Anyhow, I was wondering if the embargo and isolation approach is even a good idea if the US and its allies want Cuba to democratise. Obviously this approach hasn’t worked for over half a century so maybe a change of tact is needed. If Cuba was opened up to US trade, the resulting wealth and increase in American soft power due to an increase in American firms and products in the country might force the country’s leaders to embrace free market reforms themselves as the pressure grows from a swelling middle class. After all, this basic model of democratisation following economic growth is widely accepted, and an increase in trade with the US could only bolster Cuba’s economy.

Food for thought… and even some mainstream pundits in the US are thinking the same way. After all, I think the US can safely claim it won the Cold War: no need to be scared of commies anymore! These days it’s the Chinese and/or the Muslims everyone’s afraid of (except Mitt Romney).

Being worried about communism is so last century.


Some reasons for people to chill out over North Korea

In an earlier post I explained why I think Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities are kinda scary. Continuing on this theme, here are a few reasons why I think North Korea’s missile test and possible nuclear test aren’t things to stress about:

  • North Korean leaders are not insane – they want to remain in power. When you are isolated and threatened by much bigger, more well armed opponents it can be useful to appear insane because people will be wary of you. Having nuclear weapons will mean that the North Korean regime will continue to be propped up by international (primarily Chinese) food aid because the world is scared of what North Korea will do if it starts to collapse. Developing a missile just means that the threat of North Korea going nuts isn’t as hollow, because they have a delivery system for their nukes now. Using a nuke as an offensive weapon would be suicidal on the part of North Korea’s leaders, and I really don’t think they want to be nuked themselves.
  • Following on from the previous point, this exercise is about the North Korean leadership maintaining internal control as well. Nothing like a missile test and setting off a nuke to get the people cheering for your weird Stalinist quasi-monarchy thing you have going on.
  • No one, least of all China and the US, wants war on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea knows this so it can push the boundaries knowing it is safe from retribution. Case in point, the torpedo attack on that South Korean naval ship a while back. Ballistic missile and nuclear tests are naughty, but definitely not naughty enough to go to war over.
  • Breaking a UN Security Council Resolution, as these tests will, doesn’t actually mean anything unless there’s actions the UN members can take to punish you. North Korea’s already diplomatically isolated and under economic sanctions, so what can the big boys do except cutting off aid or military action – neither of which they will do because they don’t want North Korea firing off a nuke as it is attacked and/or collapses because it can no longer feed its citizens.

North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are effectively a way of ensuring the long-term survival of the Pyongyang regime – something akin to a guy in a crowded room holding a hand grenade and threatening to pull the pin unless his demands are met. Odds are he won’t do it, but no one will want to take that risk.

It is important to note that China also wants North Korea to survive, as it provides a useful buffer between China and the liberal capitalist ally of the US in the form of South Korea. Having a land border with such a state is not something the Chinese government wants to have to deal with. At the same time, although the US and South Korea would both rather North Korea did not exist the cost of  making this happen would be far too high to contemplate.

Hold on, did Syria just invite a NATO attack?

Well it was only a matter of time until I wrote a blog about the Syria mess, so here it is.

Yesterday reports emerged stating that Syrian government forces had fired across the borders into Lebanon and Turkey. While Lebanon is probably used to its neighbours firing shots into its territory by now the situation with Turkey is potentially a game-changer, for a simple reason: Turkey is a member of NATO. If Turkey can claim that its territorial integrity is under threat (when another government starts shooting people inside your borders I’d say you’ve got a good case) then under the terms of the North Atlantic Treaty its NATO allies are obliged to join the fight. Furthermore, NATO has already established a precedent for just such an operation without a mandate from the UN Security Council, so those pesky vetoes from Russia and China could be rendered meaningless. A NATO operation in Syria would arguably be more legitimate than the Kosovo one because it would be the result of an attack on a NATO member.

As long as the violence in Syria remained contained within its own borders then arguments for intervention could always be countered by the principle of sovereignty, but the moment those shots crossed the border a new justification became available to those who want intervention. Of course a few gunshots over a border might not seem like much of a threat to Turkey’s territory and the Syrian government can deny that it was their troops who fired. Nonetheless, the spread of violence beyond Syria itself indicates a fundamental shift in the nature of the crisis and offers a potential way to approach it outside of the confines of the UN Security Council system.

Whether intervention would be a wise idea is not a question I am going to go into here. I just wanted to point out the implications of the attacks in Turkey as I see them. With the failure of Kofi Annan’s ceasefire plan (gee, that was unexpected…) the idea of a diplomatic solution seems dead and buried, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see some sort of shift in Western powers’ approach to the crisis. It might be a good time to buy shares in the companies that make those fancy drones and smartbombs.

Enough about Iran, lets talk Pakistan

There is a country which has well-publicised links to extremist Islamic terrorists, has a long-standing beef with one of its neighbours,  is dangerously unstable, and has around 100 nukes ready to go… and surprise, surprise, it is not Iran.

Leaving aside the question of whether Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and what that might mean, Pakistan is still the number one risk for something unpleasant going down. North Korea might enjoy rattling its sabre and low-key showing off its giant-breeding programme but Pyongyang knows its nukes are effectively a bargaining tool and a defensive weapon, and are highly unlikely to ever use them. There is always a risk of a collapsing North Korean regime firing off its nukes in a final blaze of un-glory or selling nuclear secrets/weapons to other regimes/terrorists, and although these are scary scenarios they are not as pressing as the issue of Pakistan.

Pakistan is after all a country where a handful of militants can storm a military base and hold it for 16 hours, and where a terror suspect with a $10,000,000 bounty on his head can live in the open, taunting a government that is in theory an ally of his own. And don’t forget that the Taliban already have control over a sizeable chunk of Pakistan. Meanwhile, despite their leaders attending cricket games together, India and Pakistan are still an incident away from full-blown war. Overall then the risk of something scary and nuclear happening in Pakistan is probably higher than any other country by a considerable distance. Islamic extremists steal a nuke? Nuclear war with India? State collapse and lost nukes in the chaos? With so many potential scenarios it must be about time for a Tom Clancy novel on the subject. Maybe this is why Pakistan is stoking the fire in the Iran nuke debate – to divert the world’s eyes from their own impending sh*tstorm. Still, it is nice to see a nuclear power not being a hypocritical dickwad to Iran like all the others.

So why doesn’t Pakistan’s situation get more attention? I don’t recall it being mentioned at all during the recent nuclear  security summit in South Korea, which included Pakistan as a participant. My take on it is that Pakistan is almost too much of a threat to stability and security in South Asia to be told to buck up its act. It is, despite appearances to the contrary sometimes, a vital “ally” in the war in Afghanistan and is a big power thanks largely to those very nukes. Furthermore there is the very hard question of what can be done about it. Clearly stabilising the Pakistani state would help a lot but given the current political situation in Pakistan this seems unlikely. If India gave up its nukes there is perhaps a chance Pakistan would too, but I wouldn’t bet on it – regardless of whether India has nukes, Pakistan having them is a good deterrent against India. Plus India wouldn’t want to give up their nukes unless China gave up theirs, and China wouldn’t unless the US and Russia gave up theirs, and they wouldn’t until Britain, France, and North Korea gave up theirs and if all that happened then it might actually be useful to have some nukes because they could thaw hell out of its deep-freeze. At least Israel would still have some…

So yeah, its kind of one of those problems without an easy answer. Makes you just want to ignore it and go chasing Joseph Kony through the African jungle or something. Of course if it is ignored it might just stay as it is with a risk there but nothing actually happening. However, with US and Chinese aid and support Pakistan might be able to stabilise and stamp out the extremists, and come to some sort of long-term understanding with India to reduce the risk of conflict between them. This may be what will happen anyway, but until that day the safety and security of Pakistani nukes and the need to maintain peaceful Pakistani-Indian relations should be just as high on the international diplomatic agenda as North Korea or Iran, if not higher. Plus as a bonus for cricket fans like myself, if their country became more stable and peaceful Pakistan’s team would be able to play home games again without the hotel they and their opponents are staying at being bombed. That sucked.