Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chili bomb!

India has weaponized the world's spiciest chili, creating "chili grenades" to incapacitate terrorists and other evil-doers.

No, really.

I guess if you are famous for the world's spiciest chili pepper, you can't pass an opportunity like that up. Wouldn't the world be a better place if there were more stories about NPT-flouting nations weaponizing chilis and less about them weaponizing plutonium? I think so.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

America sucks at nation-building?

James Traub thinks so.

Women's rights on the decline in Iraq

For all the talk about how we need to stay in Afghanistan to make sure that women have rights and young girls can go to school, few are pointing out that in Iraq our intervention has had the exact opposite effect. Terraviva points out that the new Shiite regime has significantly curtailed women's rights relative to the old secular Baathist regime of Saddam. The "Women Miss Saddam" headline the authors went with is a little inflammatory, but the fact is, if you were a woman in the Baathist party, you probably had more rights and opportunity for advancement under Saddam than you do today.

Somalia and the Death of Responsibility To Protect

Went to a Foreign Affairs Live talk on state-building featuring Somalia expert Bronwyn Bruton yesterday. While the other panelists (James Dobbins and Claire Lockhart) were optimistic on state-building, Bruton was not, arguing that in places like Somalia, foreign aid and international state-building efforts can actually make things worse. Some points she made:

- Countries like those in the Horn of Africa can't raise enough tax revenue to actually have a central government. Ethiopia gets 80% of its budget from aid. It creates a cycle of dependency for the government to even exist. (One can also apply this to Afghanistan, where the military and police forces being trained are far in excess of what the country will ever be able to pay for.)
- In a conflict zone, if you want to build a state you have to pick a winner and once you do it is hard to rein them in. You wind up with incompetent or autocratic regimes like the Somali Transitional Federal Government or the Ethiopian government, and it looks much more like a necolonialist or Cold War arrangement.
- America has struggled to discern international threats to itself from local Islamist groups. Al Shabaab and any threat it poses to the US is a result of this. The organization basically did not exist until the establishment of the TFG.
- In a place like Somalia, trying to build a central government is not necessarily a good idea. The Siad Barre government was a terrible regime and most Somalis distrust central authority now. By contrast, in the years after the Black Hawk Down incident, Somalia was relatively stable and had living and economic standards comparable to its neighbors without having a central government.
- To the extent Somalis even want a state, they want it to include parts of several other countries, including much of Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya. It might not be best to encourage this sort of thing.

And now comes a report from today that as much as half of the aid going to Somalia goes not to the needy but rather to corrupt contractors and pirates. Call me a pessimist, but can we all agree to just stay the hell out of Somalia now?

Monday, March 8, 2010

the most dysfunctional Security Council ever

Ambassador At Large has added it up and determined that over half the current members of the UN Security Council have active wars or ethno/sectarian secessionist movements within their territory. New members Bosnia, Lebanon and Nigeria tipped the balance, joining Turkey with its Kurdish problem, Mexico with its drug cartel war, Uganda with its war with the Lord's Resistance Army, China with Xinjiang/Tibet, and Russia with Chechnya.

Technically the UK has sovereignty disputes too (Northern Ireland, Falklands), though neither is currently extracting a high death toll, so this list could be higher than it is. Not to exclude any nation from Council membership, but one should probably have one own's house in order before joining. Eg. Because Lebanon's Hezbollah militia has ties to Iran, that country cannot take any action for or against on the question of Iran sanctions. A country like Lebanon has enough issues without the added geopolitical stresses of being on the Council.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Iran sanctions update

So you know all these stories about Iran sanctions? A few things that should be cleared up.

1. Where are we now? It has been reported that the US circulated a draft in New York to the six powers who negotiate on Iran. Actually, the text is still being negotiated in capitals and is not a "draft" at all but rather elements of what the US would like to be in one. We're a long way from new Iran sanctions.

2. Will Russia and China support sanctions? Russia has been much more open about sanctions than China, though both are reluctant. But yes, eventually, diplomats tell me they will both probably sign on to some sort of sanctions resolution. The Chinese even reaffirmed today in the UN Security Council that they favor the "dual-track approach" of both diplomacy and pressure, and one senior UN diplomat told reporters that the Chinese resistance is a "moving target." But Russia and China will see to it that the final resolution will be a lot weaker than what has been proposed... and certainly nothing to convince the Islamic Republic to play ball without a great deal more diplomacy.

3. What about the rest of the Council? even if Russia and China sign on, this will not be a unanimous resolution like some of the previous ones. For starters, there is no way in hell Lebanon will vote in favor, given Iran's ties to Hezbollah. An abstention is almost inevitable from the Lebanese. Not only that, but yes votes cannot be assured out of Turkey, which values its role as regional peacemaker, and Brazil, which has its own reasons. If China signs on, most of the Council's nonpermanent members will likely follow, but the US, UK and France will have to work hard to get the support of these and other nonperms. For starters, they'll have to not piss off the Turks.

4. When will it get passed? Not in May. Lebanon happens to be Council's rotating president that month. Also, the NPT Review Conference will take place in New York that month and it would be "unfortunate," in the words of one UN diplomat, if the Iran resolution overlapped. Ideally, it will be done in April, when Japan is the President. If not, maybe June. But not May.

That's what the Ambassador At Large knows today.

Ambassador At Large Is Back

After computer troubles knocked me out of commission, and sloth and indolence kept me there, I am back to continue blogging about global affairs and the UN!

I am NOT going to blog about football... at least for the next few months. I'm still in a postmortem over the Colts' heartbreaking loss in the Super Bowl.

I would, however, like to recall my last Colts-related post and how prophetic it was. Specifically, I said the team couldn't reach the Super Bowl if it had to play New England, San Diego, or Pittsburgh along the way. Well.... Pittsburgh played its way out of the playoffs, Baltimore took down the Patriots and the New York Jets upset the Chargers, and lo! The Colts merely had to handle two 9-7 clubs at home to make the Big Game... where they promptly lost to the first double-digit win team they hit in the postseason. Gooooo Indy!