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As negotiators from the UN Security Council (+ Germany) prepare to sit down with Iran in the next few days to discuss the country’s nuclear program, Iran has decided to saber-rattle by test-firing new long-range missiles. This comes on the heels of another troubling announcement from the Obama administration: Iran is constructing a new nuclear plant at Fardou.

With the United States and the Europeans pushing for tougher sanctions, and the Russians and Chinese still kicking their feet around in the sand, the UN Security Council may face yet another impasse on the Iranian nuclear issue. Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel is certainly going to voice for serious action, and may even act unilaterally to curb Iran’s program. All this has placed the Obama administration in a tough spot–forcing it to, on the one hand, impose sanctions while, on the other, constrain Israel from acting.

Why has Iran chosen now as the moment to test these missiles? To escalate tensions between the US and Israel and to signal its unwillingness to compromise on its nuclear program. Even if sanctions succeed they will not preclude Iran from finishing its nuclear weapons program, argues Blake Hounshell. It’s a diplomatic quandary with no easy answers: either you let Iran obtain the bomb (and become a threat to Israel’s existence and make a mockery of the non-proliferation treaty) or you force Iran “militarily”–bomb it–to abandon its program (and destabilize the entire Middle East).

One option, that I find oddly appealing at this late hour, is offered by Anne Applebaum at The United States should destabilize the Iranian regime through a global human rights campaign; the President should hold up pictures of dead and beaten Iranian protesters; and the United States should support Iranian dissidents to the fullest extent.


A Sunday Times reporter reveals the contents of a letter A.Q Khan wrote to his daughter before he was placed under house arrest in Islamabad. I’d treat it–like all “damning” pieces of evidence–with a grain of salt. It does, however, present an interesting picture of the world of nuclear proliferation. Khan asserts that Pakistan’s political and military leaders put him up to selling nuclear secrets and components to Iran, North Korea and Libya, which is something I’m inclined to believe because Khan’s operation would have been impossible without intelligence and military support.

Finally, the G7 (or G8, if you are feeling inclined to include the Russian Federation) have expanded their membership to include those who are most affected by the decisions they take: the developing nations. Permanently including counties like India, China and Brazil, shows forward thinking in terms of addressing the issues that have serious repercussions on most of the world’s population. Furthermore, increased membership shows willingness to admit that these industrialized nations don’t always have the answers, as shown by the policies in place that led to the massive banking meltdown that the world is still reeling from today.

The table gets bigger

The table gets bigger

But what does this expansion really mean for these countries? India in particular had weathered the recession pretty well due to the strong stimulus measures that it introduced late last year but most developing nations have not been so fortunate. A declining growth in GDP (from 6.5% to 1.5% for developing countries across the board) leads to a decline in real capita per income, as any good economics student knows. While this not only screws up India’s stats in terms of its goals of world (economic) domination, it translates into about 90 million people across the world falling below the poverty line. One can argue that this just a matter of semantics, that these people have always been impoverished and the only difference is that they are now classified as being so, but the fact remains that poor people are neither happy nor productive people. This poses a very real problem to not only the economic welfare of developing countries but also to their political stability.

Though it’s great that several developing nations have been allowed to join the exclusive country club that was the G7, unless membership is coupled with a true exchange of ideas, such as taking the appeal to lower protectionism seriously, the G20 will continue on its present path- a truncated United Nations, pretty from the outside without any sort of real power to make change.

We have a new official contributor to Affaires étrangères–my dear friend and NYU political science grad student, Priyanka.

…I think Steve Coll is an amazing journalist. His latest post, concerning the challenges faced in building up a national Afghan army, is definitely worth a read for those wishing to gain a historical and pertinent perspective.

The political-military history of Afghanistan since 1970 is one in which outside powers have repeatedly sought to do with Afghan security forces what the U.S. proposes to do now. It is also a history in which those projects have repeatedly failed because the security forces have been infected with political, tribal, and other divisions emanating from unresolved factionalism and rivalry in Kabul. Armies—especially poor, multi-ethnic armies, such as the one Afghanistan has—can only hold together if they are serving a relatively stable and unified national government. This has generally not been available to the Afghan Army since 1970.

According to a New York Times piece, the Taliban are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their attacks on NATO troops. Not only have they begun spreading their geographic scope– attacking beyond their stronghold in the south–but they have become adept at strategic communications with both Afghans and NATO member states. The Taliban are naturally far more successful at getting their message across to Afghans. They are also exploiting elections in European states, having recently lured a German air strike that killed nearly 90 people just as parliamentary elections are underway in Germany. The Taliban is, moreover, receiving strategic support from the “Quetta shura” based in Pakistan, which the article asserts is backed by the Pakistani Inter-Intelligence Services agency.

The New York Times article quotes various anonymous American intelligence and military sources, which begs the question of why the administration has chosen to do this. In Washington, and for that matter capitals everywhere, foreign policy leaks are a common tactic to say things out loud without incriminating any actual officials. Is this part of a new move to put greater pressure on Pakistan’s ISI to do more? Or an effort to scapegoat Pakistan for a fledgling war in Afghanistan?

“They’re looking at me with my blue beret and they’re saying, “What in the hell happened? We were moving towards peace. You were there as the guarantor” — their interpretation — “of the mandate. How come I’m dying here?” Those eyes dominated and they’re absolutely right. How come I failed? How come my mission failed?” Roméo Dallaire, writing in Shake Hands with the Devil, poured out those tormenting questions. They afflict not only his conscience; these questions seep into the minds of many.

Today, the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies released a report, calling on Canada and other nations to intervene diplomatically and militarily to stop genocide. Drawing upon the catastrophe of the Rwandan genocide and the events of Kosovo in 1999, the report urged that the Prime Minister create a portfolio minister responsible for coordinating anti-genocide policies and that preventing genocides should become a priority. The idea of coordinating greater diplomatic effort towards ending and preventing genocides is a good one, and a cause that must be supported by every political party, but the call to intervene military is a dangerous one. Supporting military intervention entails asking tough questions about when it is right to intervene and if it would even work.

The institute and its Will to Intervene project, which released the report, have morally laudable goals. They do not just cry genocide from a pulpit but rather study how to mobilize North American public opinion against ongoing genocides. One of the report’s insights–that of intervening diplomatically as early as possible to prevent genocide–is particularly valuable. We have long evaded our moral responsibility to act by hiding behind the veil of state sovereignty. But state sovereignty is a limited concept, born out of 17th century European inter-state conflict and the Treaty of Westphalia. It ignores the changing reality of an interdependent world–not only in terms of economics, but in terms of values, politics and communities. We are each somehow closely affected by conflict elsewhere through the people we know, through the ideas we espouse or the values we share. The idea that state boundaries, which were often drawn up haphazardly in Africa and Asia, still reflect the interests of many people does not bear true.

Does this mean that the rights of states should be done away with? No, because they remain the only, if imperfect, way for people to represent their aspirations and interests at a global level. The discussion about the rights of states is an important one if we are to fully understand the implications of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine supported by the Institute for Genocide Studies. The report made a perilous call upon Canada and the western world to intervene militarily to stop genocides. But what gives other countries the right to attack others without provocation, and more importantly, what gives other countries the right to determine–and from what basis–that a country has relinquished or lost its right to not be invaded. It opens up many questions: did Israel’s invasion of Gaza constitute a genocide? Or does Lebanon support genocide by allowing Hezbollah, a group that has vowed to destroy Israel, to function in its territories? At the release of the report, Robert Fowler, a former Canadian diplomat feebly asserted “it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out when outside intervention is warranted.” This is akin to the you’ll-know-it when-you-see-it test, a test that places no limits and is easily manipulated.

A more bothersome implication of the right to militarily intervene is that it assumes that armed force can successfully stop conflict and that it does not have any consequences of its own. The report drew its lessons from Kosovo, where a peacekeeping and military operations was capable of preventing a spiral of violence. The Kosovo-model cannot, however, be replicated everywhere. Some places, like Afghanistan and the Congo, have proved difficult to peacekeep in because of longstanding local rivalries and the lack of sufficient military resources. The Congo is a deeply underfunded peacekeeping mission, a fact that would remain so because armies across the western world are stretched. Military power, as we should have learned from Iraq and Afghanistan, is a blunt instrument–successful at exacting casualties but ineffective at keeping peace.

Military intervention in the name of genocide is thus both a malleable–and easily abused–ideal and a blunt one at that. By defining or associating the anti-genocide movement with a call for military intervention the movement risks placing too much political capital in an idea that would ultimately have drastic consequences. It is far more effective to embrace the ideal of diplomatic engagement in preventing genocides than to wade into the questionable currents of armed intervention. With a strongly defined policy prescription for stopping genocides, urging the diplomatic route over the militarized, the Institute and the movement can speak with a powerful voice and an assured morality, one that cannot be subsumed by those with malicious intents.

Another reason why we should consider increasing CSIS’ budget and get serious about foreign policy and national security: Canada is swarming with foreign spies, according to a revealing book by a former CSIS agent.

I ran across a youtube video of a debate between Charles Krauthammer and Tariq Ali, which probably dates back to the post-invasion period (2002). Ali’s warning that the invasion will have serious repercussions in Pakistan and would further destabilize Afghanistan now seems prescient. Enjoy.

It’s election time in Canada. Michael Ignatieff, leader of the opposition Liberals, has put the Conservatives “on probation” and spent the summer digging up issues to force the government to fall come this new parliamentary session. Initially, the major divisive issue was Employment Insurance (EI) reform, revolving around mundane EI hours-worked criteria. But, now, Ignatieff’s time for action has come–and since the EI issue has found little traction–the Liberals are accusing the Harper government of having neglected Canada’s place in the world. In a recent speech to the Canada Club in Ottawa, the Liberal leader called for a “muscular internationalism” and a greater global role for Canada at the UN and in Africa. I’m glad that a party leader finally wants to discuss Canadian foreign affairs, but I’m disappointed at the lack of substance.

Like all politicians, he spoke in hollow platitudes and feel-good language, talking about Canadian peacekeepers and recalling the middle power status Canada enjoyed during the Cold War. He affirmed that inflated sense of purpose that far too many Canadians have–that we actually matter as a country. More precisely, we tend to think that we matter more than we actually do. The Cold War is over, meaning that Canada can no longer leverage a role as a buffer and negotiator between the USSR and the United States. And no longer can we rely on our economic prowess to make our presence felt. Today, in the multipolar world, emerging countries like India and China have already surpassed Canada in terms of GDP (PPP adjusted). Although per capita we remain far ahead, in international politics what counts is the total wealth of a nation: Russia ($15,922 PPP per capita) matters more than Luxembourg ($82,306 PPP per capita). The vapid rhetoric, pronouncing Canadian relevance to foreign affairs–“the world needs more Canada”–is nothing but nostalgia.

The Conservatives are equally liable for propagating the myth. The recently announced plans to stage battles replicating Canadian combat in Kandahar–with explosions and all–at the Embassy in Washington, D.C speaks to a desperation for attention in Ottawa, a cry for relevance. In what is Canada’s largest combat role since the Korean War, Afghanistan, we’ve contributed 2000 troops, or about 2% of the total foreign troop presence. Some of the blame lies with the severe budget cuts the Armed Forces faced in the aftermath of the Cold War under the Chretien governments. But this decrease is largely due to the de-militarization of Canadian society over decades. Like all Western nations, with perhaps the exception of the United States, Canada sees no need to exert or even posses a military force capable of defending the nation. By extension, its influence, which is always a function of the fear one instills in others, wanes. The de-militarization has also been good, allowing us to spend on the health, education and well being of our citizens. But it has its obvious drawbacks.

With a relatively smaller economy and weaker military arsenal, are we condemned forever to insignificance? Bluntly put, yes. However, nations can always carve out roles of importance–as we did during the Cold War, and earlier within the British Empire–by coming to terms with reality. Pointless talk about Canada taking a lead in international politics or past Canadian contributions to peacekeeping will get us nowhere. If we are not willing, and more likely cannot, to make significant contributions to the world, then our rhetoric must match that reality. That means moving away from empty boasting and entering into a serious debate about the limits of Canadian foreign policy and, along with it, what we actually can and should accomplish. It requires escaping the false illusion of Canadian power that existed under the American Empire. In a multipolar world, we no longer have an empire patron to help advance our goals, and we no longer have the military or economic power that we once did.

Forty-four years ago, George Grant lamented for a nation that had never developed a true sense of nationalism and a global role, succumbing to the shadow of the American Empire almost instantaneously as the sun set over the British Empire. Now we live in the shadow of multiple powers. It’s time to think hard about what the implications are and to ditch the platitudes.