Friday, August 29, 2008

Making Intervention Work... let's not and say we did

Morton Abramowitz and Thomas Pickering have written an interesting piece in the latest Foreign Affairs called "Making Intervention Work: Improving the UN's Ability to Act."

Of course, since I don't believe interventionism can work, I'm compelled to respond.

The article is basically divided into 3 sections:
1. A litany of half-truths on the state of interventionism today
2. A compelling and accurate takedown of many of the more hairbrained non-UN-related schemes to legitimize and orchestrate future interventions.
3. A completely pie-in-the-sky, never-gonna-happen set of proposals for how to make the UN more pro-intervention.

I'll take each section in turn.

1. Abramowitz and Pickering start by unforgivably arguing, by fiat, that intervention in Myanmar after the cyclone would have been a great idea. (Please see my long "Myanmar and the Death of Responsibility To Protect" series a couple months back on why it would have actually been a disaster: the short version is, if you thought Iraq was bad wait 'til you try to occupy Myanmar, which is twice as big and has more punishing terrain, less infrastructure, plus great power backing.) Later in the opening section, the authors fail to distinguish between international acts of aggression (Bosnia), which are easy to justify a military response to, and domestic ones (Kosovo) that are much harder (especially after Russia retaliated to Kosovo's independence by basically doing unto Georgia what we once did unto Serbia, then laughing at us for hypocrisy when we objected). Lastly, the authors reject the idea of sanctions for two reasons. First, they argue, they hurt the already-suffering population, mentioning Iraq. True. But then, they argue that the sanctions do not impact government behavior, and they ALSO argue Iraq. This argument might have flown back when anyone believed that Iraq had developed WMD, but since it's become plain that they haven't, what can be surmised is that the sanctions put in place after the Gulf War were extremely effective. In that time, Hussein did not gas his people; invade neighboring states; or build a viable nuclear program, all of which he had done in the 1980s before the sanctions had taken place.
The authors then say that sanctions haven't affected the Burmese junta's actions either, which is amusing given that the sanctions are not UN sanctions but only from Western powers, and Burma's junta does just fine, thank you, by maintaining the ruby export racket and being a client state of China, which does not sanction them for anything.

2. Mission not accomplished, the authors embark on a list of proposed non-UN actions that could justify future post-Iraq interventions. They argue that;
- "coalitions of the willing" are a poor idea. "Many nations had misgivings over the absence of a prior UN blessing" even in Kosovo, they point out. After Iraq, these misgivings will only increase.
- regional peacekeeping forces from smaller regional players (Nigeria in Sierra Leone and Liberia, for example), have not been demonstrably effective. Nor have regional organizations like the African Union and ASEAN.
- The "League of Democracies" would have just as much legitimacy problems as a coalition of the willing, and would preclude peacekeeping efforts with important non-democratic states in various regions. I'm glad the authors agree with me on this.

3. So much for skirting the UN. The authors now attempt to reform the UN. I'm not sure either of them have ever been to Turtle Bay, but the naivete here is rather remarkable for a pair of men who have held ambassadorial posts in a combined eight countries. They propose that the 5 veto-wielding Council members agree to forgo the use of veto in a Council resolution authorizing humanitarian intervention if either the Secretariat recommended humanitarian action or 2/3 of the General Assembly membership voted in favor of a resolution authorizing a humanitarian response.
First of all, the P5 would never, ever agree to do this, but second of all, even if they did, nothing would be solved. The question would instead become "what requires a humanitarian intervention"? Never mind that the Chinese don't think the coercive humanitarian intervention is justified under any circumstance. Furthermore, since any P5 member can veto the reappointment of a Secretary-General, if China, for instance, wanted the Secretariat to not recommend humanitarian action in Burma, then Ban Ki-moon could only make such a recommendation at the cost of his job. Lastly, this policy would rebound on the West almost immediately, as the General Assembly would immediately start working on a resolution authorizing "humanitarian intervention" in Palestine, which would easily get the 2/3 votes required to pass. Ooops.
Apart from that, the authors offer an intelligent proposal that the P5 should each contribute 5,000 fully trained forces ready to go as global rapid responders (but not before falsely suggesting that lack of trained forces and planning doomed the Rwanda mission, as opposed to Council members dithering and refusing to give the force the personnel and materiel it needed to fulfill its mandate). Of course, the problem with this is that most of the would-be-interventions in question - Myanmar, Zimbabwe, Sudan -- would never, EVER consider accepting troops from the US, UK, or France. There's a reason why, out of over 100,000 UN peacekeeping personnel, only about 500 are English or American. The Sudanese won't even accept Scandinavians. And the authors' proposal of an "autonomous UN force" will be, um, politically difficult to accomplish, as they acknowledge.

Most damningly, Abramowitz and Pickering fail to surmount the two main problems with intervention. One, they fail to speak to the destabilizing and politicizing impact of coercive interventions. What would the impact be globally, and on the UN, of military forces going in to intervene on humanitarian grounds without the permission of sovereign governments? The short answer is, a lot more nuclear weapons would be the result. No one is going to intervene in North Korea, and if Iran ever gets the bomb, no one will "intervene" there either. And two, Abramowitz and Pickering fail to consider the impacts of the interventions themselves. How many successful UN peacekeeping missions have gone in and forcibly subdued a vile government that hasn't invaded a neighbor? Um, zero. There's a reason for that. UN peacekeepers are supposed to keep the peace, and if there's no peace to keep (Somalia, Darfur), or if sending them would lead to a geopolitical confrontation (Myanmar, North Korea), then it would not only not be helpful to send them, it would be counterproductive.

In the post-Iraq world, we should be looking for more ways to limit interventionism and we should be more skeptical of what military force against states that are not international aggressors can achieve. We should not be looking for new ways to justify using methods that don't work.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Russia Vs. Georgia, Round 6: FIGHT!

I feel I must give an additional post to the staggeringly sophomoric insult-hurling debate in the Council today. Paraphrased, it goes like this:

1. Georgia calls the meeting to protest Russia's brazen recognition of Georgian breakaway provinces Abkhazia and S. Ossetia this week.
2. Diplomats from Western powers circle the press stakeout outside the Security Council chamber before the meeting, reminding us innocent scribes not to be disappointed that everyone knows that no outcome will happen from the meeting because Russia will veto any Western initiative and the West will veto any Russian intiative. Russian Ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin, on the way in, is observed to be giggling and slightly red-faced, leading to media speculation that he is intoxicated. More likely, he was just delighted upon getting orders from Moscow to unleash verbal hell in the ensuing Council session.
3. The meeting begins. Georgian Ambassador Irakli Alasania accuses Russia of dismembering his country and of conducting widescale ethnic cleansing in S. Ossetia and Abkhazia. The Russians, of course, have repeatedly claimed that the Georgians were ethnically cleansing during the August war. They bicker.
4. Ambassador Churkin retaliates with a 22 minute speech (that's 11 times longer than the Gettysburg Adress, for those keeping score at home), forcing journalists to hit the cafeteria's espresso bar en masse to stay conscious. In the speech, Churkin reads in their entirety both decrees of recognition by Russian President Medvedev, even though Medvedev himself had read them two days earlier. Churkin then continues Russia's tactic of speaking of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili is a deranged mental patient who seized control of Georgia's government by force and, in his youthful lunacy decided to launch a Caucasus war for fun. Churkin calls Saakashvili's policies "aggressive an chauvinistic" (chauvinistic?) and using "crude blatant military force." (Remember, this is Russia accusing Georgia of crude blatant military force here.)
5. Churkin says that S. Ossetian and Abkhazian leaders should speak at the Council, and claims to have "broad support" for the idea. However, by "broad support" it turns out he means Russia and South Africa. All 13 other members, meanwhile, prove unreceptive. Even the Chinese — sovereignty buffs that they are — keep quiet. The Western powers naturally unite against Russia's position, while the developing bloc -- usually firm Russian allies -- all care too much about territorial integrity and sovereignty to support a Russian beatdown of a developing country. It turns out that sometimes the Non-Aligned Movement remembers its original guiding principles.
6. Now this is where it gets good. After the speeches are over, the right-of-replies begin. Or, more accurately, the right-to-issue-grade-school-insults-to-fellow-representatives-in-the-most-supreme-international-security-body-on-earths begin. Because that is what happens. Amb. Churkin mocks the hyprocrisy of the west as follows, and his comments must be typed in their entirety because they are hilarious:

Churkin: "If here in our chamber today for the first time we had had aliens from outer space [emphasis mine: ALIENS FROM OUTER SPACE?!], I'm sure that having listened to our discussion he would have been filled with pride for the member of the Security Council, how consistently they champion the principles of international law. I must say I in particular liked the statement of the permanent representative of the United States, reminding the members of the Security Council that states in their activity must refrain from the use or the threat of the use of force. And I would like to ask the distinguished rep of the United States, weapons of mass destruction, have you found them yet in Iraq? [emphasis mine: pause given so all the journalists in the house can yell "OOOH DAMN!" at the same time] I would like to ask the distinguished rep of the US as to whether there are threats coming out of Washington against another member of the UN to use force against that other member and even wipe it off the face of the earth. Now, several other members of the Council have referred to the importance of complying with resolutions of the Security Council, complying with the principle of territorial integrity. And where, dear colleagues, were you when we were discussing Kosovo?"

Responses to this devastating diatribe are rather pathetic. UK Ambassador John Sawers basically wrinkles his nose in disgust (rather understandably, I must say, although if it had been me, I wouldn't have been able to do even that without laughing). US Amb. Alejandro Wolff, after admitting that he's not a psychoanalyst, points out that a lot of countries recognized Kosovo (actually, only about 1/5 of the UN membership has so far), before dropping this head-in-the-clouds comment: "There were divisions on the Iraq war, those are well known. We thought we'd overcome them. Apparently there's still some lingering frustrations."

"Lingering frustrations," indeed.

China, meanwhile, very cleverly doesn't say a damn thing.

Georgia Amb. Alasania then attempts to psychoanalyze Churkin, saying that he's a good guy who isn't really comfortable saying all the rhetoric he's been instructed to say from Moscow. Churkin responds in kind, saying that it's a good thing that Amb. Wolff is not a psychoanalyst, and perhaps Amb. Alasania should admit as much about himself as well. "I am perfectly comfortable," Churkin assures the Council membership, before asking if Alasania is comfortable representing and evil and reckless genocidal regime!!! By this time, the poor Russian translator (Churkin speaks a mile a minute in either Russian or English) is missing whole sentences and is nearing a nervous breakdown.

Churkin, who is by this point chuckling aloud while the other members are reading their statements, then gets into a pissing contest with — quite improbably — the Ambassador of Costa Rica, after Costa Rica accuses Russia of aggression. Churkin ridicules Costa Rica's delegation and calls them hypocrites for recognizing Kosovo, leading the Ambassador of Costa Rica to righteously huff "Might does not make right!" (Note: Costa Rica is the only UN member state who actually thinks this.)

7. Wait, hang on, can you believe they're actually saying this stuff? These are preeminent diplomats to the most powerful and important countries in the world and they're just throwing spitballs at each other!!!! * head explodes *

I know you are but what am I?

In Russia's statement in the Security Council today, Russian Ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin accused Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili of "authoritarian actions in crushing dissidents within Georgia."

Apparently, irony does not translate well into Russian. But on the other hand, Russian insults apparently don't translate well into English, or else the translator's booth, during Churkin's speech, would have picked a more fitting word to describe Georgia's policies than "chauvinistic."

Did I mention that today's Council meeting on the situation in Georgia was the biggest load of pointless, juvenile insult-hurling I have seen in a long time? (And when it comes to open Security Council debates, the sort that former US Ambassador John Bolton once derided as "therapy sessions," that's saying something.) This state of affairs really does not benefit the West at all. Not only does it demean the Council, but -- to be perfectly honest -- the Russians have proven themselves to be way better at witticisms and one-liners than the Americans or British have, at least since Bolton left Turtle Bay. No one could go toe to toe with the Russians on zingers than Bolton. Maybe they should bring him back.

Russia gets testy

Another open meeting of the Security Council on Georgia. The Americans, along with virtually everybody else, accused the Russians of aggression. Russian Ambassador Churkin's response:

"So, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq... have you found them yet?"

No, really, he said this. In the Security Council chamber's open meeting.

And thus do American-Russian relations go down, down, down...

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

another casualty of the Georigan war

Looks like the Russian-US nuclear deal will be shelved. Sigh...

Just Causes

Christopher Hitchens writes a good review of Gary J. Bass's book Freedom's Battle in Foreign Affairs. The Hitchens piece is subtitled "The case for Humanitarian Intervention," so given that I've pretty much posited that "humanitarian intervention" is an oxymoron at this point, it was an interesting read.

Much of Bass's book and Hitchens's case dwells on the 19th century, with which I am less familiar. However, regarding the 20th and 21st, Hitchens writes of the US's constant shuffling on the issue:

"avoiding one humanitarian commitment by implictly adopting other ones. These days, this happens every time someone who wants to leave, say, a Saddam Hussein alone is rash enough to wonder out loud what should be done about Darfur, Myanmar, Tibet, or Zimbabwe."

Of course, that's not a problem on this page, where I've argued that military or coercive action should be taken in none of the above cases (and been proven largely correct by events in most of them, I feel). Disagree with me if you like, but at least I'm consistent.

Ultimately, though, I feel Hitchens in his piece falls prey to the same issues that bedevil interventionists everywhere: failing to appreciate internal conflicts or abuses vs. external ones, autocracies vs. aggressors, dreadfully run states vs. true international threats, and inevitable ethnonationalist/tribal turf wars vs. truly preventable instances of heinous crimes against humanity. The issue is not whether we should use American power to defend free states against aggressors: that is hopefully beyond dispute. But the question of whether we should "seek monsters to destroy" and interfere in the internal workings of states whose governments we don't like is as relevant a question today as it was in 1823, when we had virtualy no projective power to seek monsters out anyway. Now that we have the power, it's still a fair question as to whether, how, and when we should use it. On the questions of internal sovereign states like Myanmar and Zimbabwe, Hitchens fails to convince me that anything called "humanitarian intervention" will make these countries, or the world at large, a better place, or that it's worth the cost. Hitchens quotes Bass: "The value of stability is that it saves lives." Given the destabilizing impact of so-called humanitarian intervention in Iraq, such an observation should be a death knell for the more hairbrained schemes of the early 21st century (delivering food aid at gunpoint to Burma comes to mind). In this context, lamenting the West's unwillingness to prevent Tsarist Russia's annexation of Poland in the mid-18th century, as Hitchens and Bass do, is not particularly relevant to the current debate anymore, if it ever was.

In short, sovereignty once again carries the day. Nice try, though, Mr. Hitchens. More compelling than most.

Feng Shui?

Some evidence that you'll sleep better if your bed is aligned north-south rather than east-west. No, really. It works for ungulates, why not us?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Let's welcome the 194th and 195th members of the international community... South Ossetia and Abkhazia!

#193 was Kosovo, by the way. They will join the 192 members of the United Nations shortly after hell freezes over.

Way to go ethnonationalism! 195 countries! Who could have thought? Can we push for 200? Darfur, anyone? South Sudan? Chechnya? Nagorno-Karabakh? Crimea? Trans-Dniestra? Another random eastern half of an Indonesian island? We can do it!

Violating territorial integrity is only ok when we do it

With Russia's surprisingly swift recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent, it's worth listening to these hilariously hypocritical reactions from Western powers. "Absolutely unacceptable," said Angela Merkel. "We fully support Georgia's independence and territorial integrity, which cannot be changed by decree from Moscow," said David Miliband, who also promised "the widest possible coalition against Russian aggression in Georgia."

These were the same people, of course, who six months ago did the exact same thing in Kosovo. The Russians, of course, are hypocrites as well. They took the exact opposite position on Kosovo as they're taking now. But at least they have the guts to admit it. Russia's action, which they've been threatening for months, is clearly a retaliation against the recognition of Kosovo. I'm not saying it's right or wrong, but if we're going to consider the Kosovo independence a good idea, we have to understand that this is the price, that great powers can recognize independent breakaway provinces in their sphere of influence anywhere now, that we can't have an international order where we get to do it but they don't. Is it worth it? That one's up to you. I just loathe the hypocrisy of it all.

Somalia and the Sovereignty Principle

In an excellent example of how not following my Sovereignty Doctrine makes the world less safe, American and Ethiopian policy in Somalia has radicalized the Somali population and drawn them closer to al Qaeda. Did we think that sponsoring an Ethiopian invasion and launching airstrikes into the country would help stabilize it? Did we think at all?

On the whole, I would rather let the Somalis run their own affairs -- however dreadfully -- than be a party to a policy that makes the situation worse and makes us less safe.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ambassador at Large is back!

Like all Ambassadors, yours truly got an August vacation. Now back on duty, my first post is to alert my loyal readers that the new Speaker of Parliament in Zimbabwe's name is Lovemore Moyo. Really, if anyone can bring peace to Zimbabwe, it's got to be a man named Lovemore.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Afghanistan and triage?

People write less about Afghanistan because everyone's largely in agreement that the war is just and the ends are worthy, and so it's interesting and a bit refreshing to see this analysis in today's New York Times. The author, whose name is Bartle Breese Bull (really, that is his name: I'm insanely jealous. I want my name to be Bartle Breese Bull) argues that a "surge" in Afghanistan is a bad idea, because our goal shouldn't be occupying the country, but rather to simply disrupt terrorist havens and thwart terrorism overall. To that end, very little of what went on for 9/11 happened in Afghanistan itself, he points out. And counterterrorism requires far less troops than we have there now, he claims. He also dismisses other arguments as irrelevant or counterproductive (stopping poppy growers, developing a "moderate Islam," etc.).

To his argument, I'll lend one more: development in Afghanistan is demographically impossible. Afghanistan's population has tripled in the last 50 years or so, from 8 million to some 25 million. It's due to soar to nearly 80 million by 2050, a 10-fold increase in a century. For a mountainous, landlocked, arid country with limited arable land and very little in the way of natural resources and no reliable means of income apart from poppy cultivation, Afghanistan is careening towards a Malthusian abyss. It may simply not be worth the money we are pouring into the country to stop what, at this point, can pretty much not be stopped.

Georgia and the Sovereignty Principle (update 2)

So the Russians have continued to occupy Gori, and are saying they will recognize S. Ossetia and Abkhazia.

So far, the US and EU response has been firm but measured, which is probably what's appropriate.

We have to ask ourselves, though, what we're willing to accept as an outcome. If we insist that S. Ossetia and Abkhazia remain in play, I sincerely doubt we'll ever get Russian agreement. We can consider these two breakaway provinces to be, perhaps, the price of Kosovo's independence. But we can still protect Georgia's sovereignty without the two provinces, even if the Georgians themselves don't see it that way.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Georgia and the Sovereignty Principle

So the Washington Post is giving a platform to people who don't understand what sovereignty means but talk about it anyway, while the Wall Street Journal says the conflict has put the UN Security Council in "Cold War mode."

I feel necessary to explain how stupid all of this is. First, for Njoroge Wachai's piece likening Zimbabwe to Georgia... Zimbabwe is an internal issue. Georgia is a battle between sovereign states over territory whose status is in dispute. These conflicts have zilch in common. Georgia is clearly an issue that falls under the Security Council's purview, and Zimbabwe pretty clearly isn't.

So why isn't the Council taking action on Georgia? Well, as the Journal points out, Russia is blocking such action. But let's turn it around for a second. When the Council was deadlocked on the US invasion on Iraq, or when the US blocked any Council action on the Israeli-Hezbollah war in August 2006, which allowed the two sides to inflict punishing airstrikes and rocket attacks on each other for 34 days with no result, this wasn't "Cold War mode." The fact is that, thanks to the veto power, when a great power is directly involved in a conflict, of course the Council's ability to take action is limited. This is the price of the veto power, which was necessary to bring the US and Russia into the UN in the first place.

The whole point of the Sovereignty Principle is that countries control their territory, and the international system exists to defend free sovereign states against aggressors. But who is the aggressor in the Russia-Georgia case? Both sides have been goading each other for years, and finally Georgia invaded the disputed territory of South Ossetia, which was patrolled by Russian peacekeepers, and where much of the population has been granted Russian citizenship. No powerful country on earth would not respond to something like this. As I argued previously on this page, South Ossetia and Kosovo have a lot in common. Was it "Cold War mode" when the US and European countries recognized Kosovo's independence? No? Then calm down. As for the airstrikes and attacks in Georgia proper, the US did precisely the same thing in Serbia during the Kosovo action in 1999. Was that "Cold War mode"? No? Then calm down.

The real threat to sovereignty at this point is if Russia decides it has the authority to remove the leadership in Tbilisi. The US and EU have done a good job of standing up for Georgia's sovereignty, while not overplaying their hand and making demands about the future of the disputed provinces. Is Russia very much in favor of Saakashvili stepping down? Yes. Have they said they will remove him? No, quite the opposite. Have they occupied Tbilisi and deposed Saakasvhili? No. Wake me up when that happens, because until then, this is just a bloody territory spat, and nobody's sovereignty is in long-term danger.

Sovereignty! Live it!

when is a ceasefire not a ceasefire?

When both sides accuse the other side of continuing to fight.

Meanwhile, Matthew Yglesias points out that this war torpedoes the Golden Arches theory of international relations, namely, that countries with McDonald's in them have never fought each other.

Yglesias also has an interesting comentary, taking McCain to task for his "today we are all Georgians" comment. In terms of holding McCain and his ilk accountable for egging Georgia on, he's spot on the ball. However, I doubt Yglesias is against Kennedy's "Ich Bein Ein Berliner" statement, which is essentially in the same sentiment.

reports of Smart Cars being too small are somewhat exaggerated

If Shaq can fit into one, you can too. Think of all those petro-autocracies that will grow a little less filthy stinking rich because of it.

no, the usurper's flesh will not LITERALLY be my food. That's gross.

When Palestinian national poet Mahmoud Darwish died, the UN put out a statement mourning his loss.

One of the more controversial Darwish passages reads, "But if I become hungry, the usurper's flesh will be my food." So today at the noon briefing, a pro-Israeli reporter demanded an explanation for whether the UN supports cannibalism.

In response, the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, Farhan Haq, was compelled to announce that, no, the UN does not support cannibalism, but does appreciate good poetry. Furthermore, according to Haq, the UN recognizes a difference between metaphorical and literal interpretations. (English majors rejoice.)

Glad we have that all cleared up.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

who to believe?

It's been very difficult to get a handle on what's going on in South Ossetia, just because Russia and Georgia are both declaring completely different things. The only reliable source of information, the United Nations peace observers, are only in Abkhazia, from which they reported the arrival of Russian peacekeeprs and non-peacekeeping troops and the fact that the Abkhazians forced them to leave the disputed upper Kodori Gorge.

As for Georgia and Russia, they both accuse each other of starting the conflict, they both accuse each other of ethnic cleansing, and the only thing they agree on is that Georgia was trying to take South Ossetia and Abkhazia back. For the first 24 hours of the conflict or so, Russia appeared to be merely preventing this from happening, which I'm not at all convinced was the wrong thing to do. After that, it became clear that the Russians sought to humiliate their Georgian rival.

What is clear early on is that the French deserve a lot of credit for really weighing in and helping to defuse this, at least temporarily. It seems the US has also done well during the conflict, taking a firm line in defense of Georgia's sovereignty while preventing this from escalating into a great power war. What the US did leading up to the conflict, though, is open to criticism.

"Headline News," meanwhile, has decided that rather than wade into the difficulties of covering this war, it would be better to broadcast the results of a meeting between the grandparents of some missing girl named "Caylee" with a psychic detective.

No, I'm not kidding, a psychic detective.



More evidence that the Palestinian question cannot be solved.

Monday, August 11, 2008

no one cares about Mauritania

So Mauritania had a coup. You'd figure the UN Security Council would have a reaction, right?

You'd figure wrong. And there are no bad guys here. Quite simply, no one raised it. No one felt it was necessary for the Council to weigh in. No one cared.

Why? Well, as previously expressed on this blog, I have my own theory: namely, that US media can only handle a certain number of African conflicts at a time. Like, about three of them.

The junta has certainly tried to make it politically convenient for the US not to raise an eyebrow, but that didn't stop the Bush Administration from whacking all non-humanitarian aid. So why they haven't gone to the Security Council, when virtually every country has already condemned the coup and no country has a strong reason for opposition, is beyond me.

Anyway, as long as people stop confusing Mauritania with Mauritius, I have to feel like we're making progress.

South Ossetia and Kosovo

The West has taken great pains to argue that the case of Kosovo is sui generis and is not applicable to secessionist movements anywhere else, but the more I read about South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the harder I find it to square that semantic argument with reality. After all, Kosovo was an ethnic enclave seeking independence from a newly formed state in the context of the breakup of Yugoslavia. South Ossetia is also an enclave seeking independence from a newly formed state in the context of the breakup of the Soviet Union.

The main difference, of course, was that Milosevic was carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, which is why I'm finding it unsurprising that Russia is accusing Georgia of ethnic cleansing, or that Georgia and its allies are accusing Russia of the same.

Moreover, in liberating Kosovo, the US spread the conflict far beyond Kosovo itself, bombing Belgrade's infrastructure and military capacity. The Russians can argue that they're currently doing the same thing by spreading the conflict to Georgia proper.

The main question now is whether the Russians seek regime change in Georgia. US Amb. Khalilzad yesterday asked the Russian delegation this very question, twice, after revealing that Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov had told US Secretary of State Rice in a phone conversation that Saakashvilli needs "to go." Amb. Churkin of Russia said that "regime change is an American term" but suggested darkly that leaders who cause their country harm need to take "courageous decisions" and step aside. For anyone who is a fan of Georgia's democracy (imperfect, yes, but way more democratic than any other country within several hundred miles of them), this is not reassuring.

Still, it was amusing to hear Amb. Khalilzad say that "the days of overthrowing leaders by military means..." Beat. "... in Europe are gone." (Georgia being in Europe seems a bit of a stretch, though technically the Caucasus are considered part of both continents.) Apparently, overthrowing Middle Eastern governments is okay, but in the Caucasus it's beyond the pale. Boy have Iraq and Kosovo really torpedoed our ability to make a coherent argument at the UN Security Council.

a real Council issue

Russia has repeatedly pointed out that the Council only has the mandate to deal with threats to international peace and security, that is, conflicts between states. Thus, no Council action on Zimbabwe. Well, now we've got a conflict between states. Somehow, I doubt Russia will support action here either.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

on top of it

John McCain calls for the US to convene an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the situation in Georgia.

Someone should probably tell him that they already did that. Twice. And that they're meeting again today.

Did I mention how glad I am that the EU blocked Georgia's accession to NATO? If they hadn't, we would currently have Russian tanks in the sovereign territory of a NATO ally. Mildly terrifying, right?

Friday, August 8, 2008

League of Democracies

So I'm delighted to see that I'm not the only one who thinks the League of Democracies is a crappy idea. That article, in case you can't access it, credits moderate Democratic scholars G. John Ikenberry and Anne-Marie Slaughter with setting the idea out first in 2006, but the truth is, I think The Onion thought of it first, nearly three years earlier. "US Creates Own UN," I recall the headline being.

Not surprisingly, the overseas reaction is tepid or worse, as exemplified by this excellent piece by Shashi Tharoor. Over at the Financial Times, Gideon Rachman is against it too.

South Ossetia

So last night I was called in to the UN for an emergency 11pm meeting of the Security Council on Georgia. The Russian delegation sought to pass the world's shortest Council statement ever, but the US still managed to find something wrong with it (they wouldn't accept a call for both parties to "renounce the use of force"). Russia wouldn't accept the US's proposed changes, so no text. And I stayed up 'til 1am for diddly-squat.

But, now that Russian tanks are rolling into South Ossetia, one must ask: what if George Bush's request for them to be included in NATO had been granted?

Thursday, August 7, 2008


If the US doesn't talk to Iran directly, Iran will continue enriching uranium. And if they do, we'd better be prepared for this.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Myanmar and the ... yeah, you know the rest

John Holmes writes an excellent piece in the Washington Post today, and says:

"we must stay focused on the goal: assisting people in crisis. From the first, the aid operation in Myanmar -- as is true everywhere we work -- had to be about helping vulnerable people in need, not about politics. In this post-Iraq age, I am concerned that humanitarians are often pressured to choose between the hammer of forced intervention and the anvil of perceived inaction. Was there a realistic alternative to the approach of persistent negotiation and dialogue that we pursued? I do not believe so. Nor have I met anyone engaged in the operations who believes that a different approach would have brought more aid to more people more quickly."

Of course, the Post's editorial page, which since the Iraq War has tried to outdo itself and even the Republicans in hawkish browbeating and slavering neocon scrivenery, feels otherwise.

All I know is, Holmes's measured, determined diplomacy was a proper execution of Responsibility To Protect, and it saved many many lives in Burma. The Washington Post and its ilk who called for military invasion and regime change? They didn't save any lives, but if enough people had listened, they could have destroyed a fair few.