Cloak of Secrecy 8/19/15

Consorting with the devil

by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Throughout the Cold War, and doubtless right down to the present, professional people with skills relevant to “national security” have been secretly recruited to work for the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense. Universities are among those particularly targeted. Scholars and campus research centers have received CIA and DoD funding for conferences and publications, for collecting intelligence while abroad, and even for spying, all under cloak of secrecy.

Among the more notorious examples is the 1985 scandal at Harvard, in which the head of its Center for Middle Eastern Studies Center was found to have a financial contract with the CIA for research and conferences. He was forced to resign. Yale has had unusually close ties with the CIA dating back many years, contributing student recruits and directors.

Universities are hardly alone in having intelligence ties to government agencies. Foreign affairs specialists working at think tanks, living abroad, or serving in nongovernmental organizations are also prey. I was one of those people. In 1966, following my graduate education, I was hired by the RAND Corporation in California to work in a classified, DoD-sponsored project to assess “Viet Cong Motivation and Morale.” The project aimed at finding weaknesses in the enemy’s thinking that the US military could exploit through psychological warfare and bombing. I and others read field interviews with captured Vietnamese soldiers to try to discover what drove their dedication and willingness to fight no matter the hardships. Like some other of my RAND colleagues, I wound up concluding exactly the opposite of what the Pentagon funders of the project wanted, namely, that the “enemy” was us, and that Viet Cong motivation could not be overcome by napalm, Agent Orange, or carpet bombing (and in fact was heightened by such actions). The best US strategy, we concluded, was to get out of Vietnam. But most colleagues at RAND did not see things that way, and, the RAND-DoD partnership continued.

Telecommunication companies, starting with AT&T and Verizon, are also part of the intelligence network. Thanks to Edward Snowden, they are now known to have had a long and friendly relationship with the National Security Council under the NSC’s Special Source Operations. AT&T for over a decade (at least to 2013, perhaps still today) collaborated with the NSC in collecting billions of emails and wiretapping United Nations Internet communications. The companies received hundreds of millions of dollars for allowing the NSC to tap communications between foreigners and between US citizens and foreigners.

The latest revelation concerning those who “consort with the devil” concerns psychologists in the American Psychological Association. In utter disregard for professional ethics, a number of prominent psychologists worked closely with the CIA’s and the Pentagon’s torture programs in Afghanistan. They not only condoned but personally profited from torture, all in the name of supporting the US war effort. It was a case of first-class collusion, abuse of authority, and conflict of interest—and it went largely unnoticed until recently.

The report on the psychologists cited above finds that at every fork in the road, when choices had to be made about participation in the torture programs, they rationalized participation on the basis that the various torture tactics employed really didn’t amount to torture. Left unsaid was that some of the decision makers were under contract with the CIA or the Pentagon, or served on one of their advisory committees. Several of them used approval of participation in torture to then contract with the Pentagon or CIA for profitable work, including ways to improve interrogation techniques.

You would think that such unethical, indeed disgraceful behavior would warrant a complete overhaul of the APA’s ethics guidelines, dismissal from APA posts of those psychologists who participated in the torture programs, and public naming and shaming of others who were involved. But so far, despite not one but two major reports on the APA’s involvement the APA reportedly is merely considering what to do. As though the honorable thing to do is somehow unclear.

Private professionals working secretly on projects that enhance war making is a problem that is likely to get worse as opportunities outside government to pursue one’s chosen academic craft diminish. Anthropologists who can’t find tenure-track teaching positions are working for DoD in Afghanistan. Lawyers find government positions more lucrative than private practice—and then, as under George W. Bush, authorize torture and other illegalities. Think tank experts shill for the government in hopes of landing on the inside. All these people will, of course, vigorously assert their independence of mind, when in fact they have been coopted. The question then is, Who speaks for peace and what are the rewards for it?

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, and blogs at In the Human Interest.

Adversarial Relations 7/22/15

The engagement critics

by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

One of the predictable outcomes of any US effort to reset relations with an adversary is that allies start whining about their vulnerability and demanding some sort of compensation for it. Thus, no sooner was the nuclear deal with Iran concluded than the Israelis, Saudis, and other Middle East partners criticize it as representing abandonment and emboldening Iran to become a stronger meddler in neighbors’ affairs. All sorts of dire predictions about horrendous consequences are already on record, clearly intended to influence the Obama administration to give these folks something for their pain—like money, arms (both of which they get in abundance), and especially new commitments.

When such demands are made, moreover, US allies know full well that they can count on support from hawks in Congress and think tanks who have been issuing warnings for many months about the nuclear deal. These are people who feast on threats. Now they are in full throttle, talking as though engaging Iran amounts to something just short of treason. The Middle East will come tumbling down: Iran’s Shiia allies will make trouble in the Occupied Territories, Yemen, and elsewhere; Syria will go down the drain; new turmoil will mark Iraq and Afghanistan. And of course in the end, the predictions insist, Iran will develop nuclear weapons, compelling an Israeli response.

The burden will be on Obama to resist these pressures. He knew from the outset of negotiations with Iran that reaching an agreement that had the ayatollah’s blessing was only half the battle, that the other half was at home and with Iran’s enemies in the Middle East. One well informed analyst with the Brookings Institution in Washington argues that the Saudis and their friends will be especially insistent that the US “demonstrate its readiness to push back against Iran’s expansionism around the region. And the primary arena in which the Arab states wish to see that from the United States is in Syria.” But as this analyst goes on to say, Syria “is the one [place] where the current US president is least likely to undertake any more assertive action to counter Iran.” Let’s hope she’s right.

Critics of engaging Iran, and even supporters such as the analyst just quoted, make the common and dangerous error of putting their entire focus on Iran’s capacity for troublemaking. This, despite all the evidence that Israel and Saudi Arabia, among other US partners, are also guilty of troublemaking—and that Israel has never been pushed to open to inspection, much less reduce, its nuclear arsenal. Nor have the Sunni Arab partners, all autocracies, been pressed by the US to reform their political systems so as to be able to accommodate the many sources of inequity, which the Arab Spring evidently did not accomplish. Haven’t they ever heard of burden sharing? Failing to confront these realities leaves the US precisely where it is now: having to prove its “resolve” and its “leadership” by deepening its already steep, multi-front military involvement in the Middle East.

The administration should use the nuclear agreement as the opening wedge in a broader policy shift that seeks normalization of relations with Iran. Let Netanyahu and the Saudi princes rant; the US aim should be peace, security, and social justice for the peoples of the region, not satisfaction of other states’ destructive ambitions.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, and blogs at In the Human Interest.

What Khrushchev Thought 6/24/15

The Pentagon Slush Fund

By Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Back in 1959, President Eisenhower and Soviet Premier Khrushchev took a break from their summit and walked in the woods around Camp David. Khrushchev, in his memoirs, relates a conversation in which the president complains of how hard it is to resist the military’s demands for more money. Military leaders, said Eisenhower, invariably insist the US will fall behind the Soviet Union unless he gives them the money for this or that weapon system. “They keep grabbing for more, and I keep giving it to them.” He asked Khrushchev if that was also the case in the USSR. “It’s just the same,” said Khrushchev, who went on to describe virtually the same script. “Yes,” said the president, “that’s what I thought.”

Congress members are very much a part of the military-industrial complex, which is why someone long ago suggested that the more accurate term is MAGIC: the military-academic-governmental-industrial complex. Most people elected to Congress, and certainly any among them who serve on the armed services committee of either house, think two things when it comes to national security: the more weapons produced, the more secure we are; and the more money allocated to “national defense,” the better. These folks never met a weapons system they didn’t like. And when, in relatively lean times, they have to decide between social well being and the Pentagon’s wish list, well, they don’t have to think twice.

These days Congress members, mainly on the Republican side, are busy finding clever ways to hide stuffing the Pentagon’s stocking with strategically senseless, duplicative, exceedingly expensive weapons and related items. Remember sequestration in 2013? It was supposed to cap military and other spending in order to help bring the overall budget back to balance. Clearly, in the minds of the military-firsters, this effort was never meant to apply to the Pentagon, as evidenced by the much larger budget hit that social welfare programs took compared with the military, and by the little publicized Overseas Contingency Operations fund, which is not subject to sequestration. Yes, military spending has gone down a bit over the last three years, but at over $600 billion (not counting veterans’ benefits and interest on the national debt from past wars), it’s around 54 percent of all US government discretionary spending and still close to 40 percent of global military spending.

All the whining in Congress and the Pentagon about how the US defense posture is undermined by sequestration and compels a leaner military is just so much theatrics—not just because the US military is bloated both in money and weapons, and continues to fight and prepare for wars on several fronts, but also because in Washington (including in the White House) the tricks are well known for giving the military everything it wants and then some. The fundamental problem isn’t budgetary, it’s US globalism.

Reporting on the “Pentagon slush fund,” the New York Times notes that the next military budget, as voted in the House of Representatives, will have a dozen more nuclear submarines at $8 billion apiece, a $348 billion modernization program for nuclear weapons over the coming decade, billions more for missile defense and faulty jet fighters, and, by the way, funding to maintain the Guantanamo prison-base in Cuba that the president had long ago promised to close down. US military leaders have not asked for all this money, and probably would prefer that more be allocated for conventional warfare and humanitarian missions such as in Nepal. But it’s hard to rein in the military big spenders in Congress, especially when they couch their check-writing in patriotism.

It’s funny: the Pentagon is forever complaining that China has no reason to keep increasing its military spending. It needs to look in the mirror.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.

Chinese Activities 6/17/15

The Looming US-China Crisis in the South China Sea

by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

The long-running, multi-party dispute over control of islets in the South China Sea (SCS) is worsening both in rhetoric and provocative activity. Meeting in late May at the Shangri-La Dialogue on regional security, US and Chinese defense officials sparred over responsibility for the increased tension, though they stopped short of issuing threats. In fact, all sides to the dispute say they want to avoid violence, prefer a diplomatic resolution, and support freedom of navigation.

Both the US and China insist that the dispute notwithstanding, their relationship overall is positive and enduring. But China, claiming indisputable sovereignty over the SCS, is backing its claim in ways that alarm the US and several Asian governments: construction of an air strip on the Spratly Islands, a land reclamation project that has artificially expanded its claimed territory, and most recently emplacement of two mobile artillery vehicles.

The Pentagon has responded by publicly discussing US options such as flyovers and navigation in Chinese-claimed air and sea space. A US navy surveillance aircraft has already challenged China’s sovereignty claim by overflying Fiery Cross Reef in the Spratlys, prompting a Chinese order (which the aircraft ignored) to leave the area. In the meantime, US military assistance to other claimants, including Vietnam and the Philippines, has enabled their coast guards to at least keep an eye on Chinese activities.

The US-China debate over the SCS would be a tempest in a teapot were it not for two other sources of contention. One is the gas and oil potential underneath the South China Sea, long subject to intense competition. The other is the friction arising from the different US and Chinese strategic postures in East Asia. The US deploys enormous air, naval, and nuclear power across the region. Rising China, one Chinese scholar writes, “is no longer susceptible to U.S. coercion or bullying. Under President Xi Jinping, the more confrontational stance Washington takes, the more assertive Beijing will become in response.”

The US “rebalancing” of forces in Asia since 2009, with emphasis on deploying additional naval power to the Pacific; its backing of Japan in Japan’s territorial dispute with China in the East China Sea; and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement that aims to undercut China’s commercial as well as political success in Asia—these are among the US moves in Asia that have prompted Chinese pushback both economically and militarily. China’s gradual buildup in the SCS should be seen as part of that pushback. Its latest official strategy statement, issued (surely not coincidentally) on May 26, explicitly links “maritime military struggle” and “active defense” to the “provocative” actions and “meddling” of foreign parties in that area. The strategy statement conceives of a greatly increased role for the Chinese navy in “offshore waters defense.”

Although China’s declared position would seem to make the sovereignty issue nonnegotiable, that doesn’t rule out conflict management. Ownership can be separated from, and thereby detached from, political and economic issues. All sides might agree, for instance, not to object to others’ sovereignty claims and to freeze the situation on the ground, disallowing further construction and land reclamation, entry of vessels and weapons, and introduction of civil or military personnel.

Crafting a binding code of conduct is an option that seems to have support from China and the 10 nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). They agreed on the current version of the code, the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, in November 2002. It commits the parties to resolving disputes by peaceful means, without using threats or force and in accordance with international law, including UNCLOS, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. The parties also “undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features and to handle their differences in a constructive manner.” Unfortunately, what constitutes self-restraint and how actions would be handled constructively remain to be determined. Instead, the concerned Southeast Asian nations rely on multilateral trust-building efforts to ease tensions, while the Chinese prefer bilateral talks and, it seems clear, unilateral actions to strengthen their claim.

More formal legal avenues might also be utilized despite China’s objections, including the Philippines case before UNCLOS and recourse to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The US does not stand on firm ground, however, when it comes to international legal remedies. First, the UNCLOS, as a treaty, has been awaiting Senate approval since 1994! (Many, including Professor Jerome A. Cohen, a leading expert on international law, urge US ratification). Second, the US has a long record of ignoring adverse ICJ decisions. Third, since 1986, the US has rejected the court’s compulsory jurisdiction. The US could be a more effective actor here if it were more law-abiding—certainly more effective than by deploying forces to test China’s intentions.

All the parties, and especially Washington and Beijing, surely see the downside to continued tension, notably the retreat of US-China relations to Cold War-style tests of resolve. “Conflict is bad for business,” the new head of US Pacific forces is quoted as saying. It’s bad for many other things too, but countries have gone to war over far lesser stakes when clashing notions of self-righteousness and national security prevail over common sense.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.

Amazed Conservatives 5/6/15

The Iran framework: A case study in engagement

by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

We have every reason to celebrate the so-called framework agreement with Iran. It exemplifies the best of President Obama’s foreign policy, namely, engaging adversaries. Remember when candidate Obama’s argument for engagement during campaign 2008 was ridiculed by Hillary Clinton, among many others? Now Obama has two major engagement successes to crow about, leaving behind those who are quick to criticize the deals with Cuba and Iran as anything from foolish to treasonous. Needless to say, neither of those understandings is complete; the devil is always in the details, and there are plenty of them. But to reach this point after more than 35 years when other administrations have either failed to cut a deal or refused to try is nothing short of extraordinary. And in the case of Iran, the nuclear agreement comes at a crucial moment, not merely in terms of Iran’s nuclear-weapon potential but more broadly with respect to the chaotic shape of Middle East politics.

John Limbert was a political officer in the US embassy in Tehran when the nightmare hostage crisis unfolded in 1979. Out of his captivity has come a seminal guide, Negotiating with Iran: Wrestling the Ghosts of History (2009), which reflects his deep background in Persian studies and his commitment to dialogue and mutual understanding. His book examines several cases of crisis in Iran and then offers a number of guidelines to successfully negotiating with the Iranians. At a time when we are hearing loud criticisms of the nuclear deal and efforts by Congress members, and Israel, to undermine it, we should pay attention to what experts like Limbert have to say.

Limbert proposes fourteen negotiating lessons. I have selected seven of them, and added one of my own. Comparing the lessons with the framework just concluded allows us to see how effectively the two countries’ diplomats worked together.

Avoid legalisms; seek solutions based on “mutually agreeable standards” that Iran can claim as a victory. Having two MIT scientists who knew of one another discuss technicalities was a key to successful talks. That allowed many details of an accord to focus on science, not politics. As for claiming victory, while Secretary of State John Kerry and other US officials could cite major concessions by Iran, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif could boast that Iran will keep its centrifuges and nuclear enrichment program, its major nuclear research site at Fordo, and some of its uranium stockpile.

“Be aware of Iran’s historical greatness” and past grievances based on humiliations by foreign powers. President Obama, in an interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times and elsewhere, has shown his attentiveness to Iran’s history and culture. He has pointed to the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s mention of Iran’s unhappy history with the US, and has made respectful comments about Iran’s greatness and right to acknowledgment as a major regional power. (The interview is a must-read: nytimes.com/2015/04/06/opinion/thomas-friedman-the-obama-doctrine-and-iran-interview.html.) Throughout the years of talks with Iran, its leaders have above all else demanded “respect,” i.e., justice and recognition of Iran’s legitimacy. The nuclear negotiations have provided that.

Clarify lines of authority: be sure to talk with the right people, but also present a common US position. This was a challenging lesson to follow inasmuch as the ayatollah deliberately kept in the background, letting his negotiators do their thing but without committing himself to the outcome. On the US side, Republican and others’ sniping presented obstacles for negotiators, in particular when 47 US senators signed a letter to the ayatollah warning that any agreement was subject to Congressional review. Nevertheless, the “right people” were evidently at the table and were able to craft an agreement that, on Iran’s side, the ayatollah did not negate and, on the US side, amazed even some conservative critics.

Understand Iranian interests. Obviously, removing the sanctions was essential to a deal, but not at any price. Iran’s insistence on keeping fuel rods at home and not shipped to Russia was essential face-saving, and US negotiators did not allow that position to halt the talks. Likewise on the centrifuges issue: The US negotiated down their number (from about 19,000 to 6,000), but Iran still has some 5,000 allowed to operate according to CIA director John O. Brennan.

Do not assume the Iranians are illogical, uncompromising, untrustworthy, duplicitous. US negotiators clearly did not. Hopefully, they kept in mind that many Iranians view Americans the same way.

Ignore hostile rhetoric and grandstanding; be businesslike and professional—and be willing to stay the course.

Remember that there were successful US-Iran talks in the past, for example in 2001-2002 over Afghanistan following the fall of the Taliban.

Be ever-conscious of the politics of a deal—the fact that on each side, it must be sold to wary buyers and outright opponents who want to see it fail. This is why the “optics” of the deal are so important, with each side having a different narrative of the deal’s strengths so as to make it more attractive domestically. The message here: Don’t interpret public statements about the deal by the other side as backsliding with the intention to subvert it.

The nuclear deal with Iran, if it holds, could potentially open a new era in US relations with the Middle East. Though the Saudis, the Israelis, and some other supposed friends of the US will object, a cooperative US-Iran relationship is a critical piece in the overall puzzle to find a path to something resembling stability. We can see the outlines of cooperation with Iran in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Washington and Tehran have common interests. Simply put, Iran’s leaders feel threatened by ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban. To be sure, there are also places—Yemen, Israel/Palestine, Libya, and Syria—where the US and Iran are at odds. But if the nuclear deal can move forward, and termination of sanctions can lead to a fruitful economic relationship, the agenda of cooperation may expand and violence-by-proxy may greatly reduce. For the US, an end to one-sided relationships in the Middle East would be a blessing, with positive ramifications for Israel and others.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.

Status of India’s Women 4/29/15

India’s Shame, and the World’s

by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

A democracy is supposed to have the advantage of affording people of any social class, gender, or religious or ethnic group the opportunity to advance. In contrast with authoritarian political orders, democracies should be superior in their openness to change, to everyone’s participation in politics, and to equality before the law. In a word, democracies are based on the politics of hope and the virtues of transparency. Or so the theory goes.

India defies these expectations. Though it has democratic institutions and vigorous political competition, at least among elites, when it comes to human development and human security, India falls very short—embarrassingly so when compared with China. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which measures human development and reports annually on conditions in nearly all countries documents the comparison. Overall, among 177 countries for which data are available, India ranks 135th (in company with Tajikistan, Bhutan, and Cambodia), whereas China ranks 91st (along with Thailand, Armenia, and Fiji). In fact, there are very few categories of human development in which India does better on average than China, which surely explains why developing countries (and many Indian specialists!) looking for economic models are far more likely to choose China than India.

Statistically, among the most telling indicators of human development are those affecting children and women. Infant mortality is exceptionally high in India (44 percent, compared with China’s 12 percent), and life expectancy for children is lower than in the poorest African country. Poor nutrition and sanitation, and limited access to health care, are the observable reasons. Child labor in India, at 12 percent for ages 5 to 14, is also uncommonly high.

Equally shameful is the low status of India’s women, a fact recently brought home in two very different ways. One is the film (produced in Britain), India’s Daughter, which explores the culture of rape, based on the well publicized incident last December in which a young woman was gang-raped on a public bus in New Delhi. The woman died of her injuries, the rapists were not the least bit repentant, and the government has banned the film on the specious argument that it will encourage more such assaults. The low status of Indian women is also the key factor in their limited access to prenatal and other health care. As a result, they are, as the article puts it, dangerously underweight.

In short, India is one of the worst places in the world to be a woman. Never mind Sonia Gandhi and other successful Indian women. For the overwhelming majority of Indian women, degrading treatment, sexual violence, and last-in-line access to the means of well being are the norm. (China is hardly a model here, but the status of women is certainly higher in China than in India.)

India’s shame is also the world’s. The latest UN report on the status of women presents the first “Platform for Action” since the landmark 1995 international conference in Beijing. The report finds that although women have advanced globally by some measures, such as political office holding and education, violence against women is pervasive everywhere. In the words of the report:

“Recent global estimates show that 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime. While there is some variation across regions, all regions have unacceptably high rates of violence against women.”

In India, according to the UNDP, more women than men (54 percent to 51 percent) believe wife beating is justified. Though few countries can match the depth of violence against women that characterizes Indian society, global and regional averages suggest that violence, and acceptance by men and many women of its legitimacy, cut across income levels.

When it comes to preventing violence against women and girls, the UN ECOSOC report repeats all the well-known reforms that are needed—in law, education, community awareness, and police enforcement—but accepts that cultural norms run deep. Thus the report notes that “although States are increasingly recognizing the importance of prevention, very few have introduced long-term, coordinated and cross-cutting prevention strategies, with the vast majority reporting on short-term piecemeal activities.” This is bad news for women and girls everywhere, and nowhere more so than in India.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.

The Umbrella Revolution ? 10/15/14

Hong Kong on the Brink – Umbrella Revolution or Tiananmen?

Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

By Mel Gurtov

The tense situation in Hong Kong is at a critical juncture. The protesters have made plain that they are there to stay, though their numbers are dwindling. They are demanding that the Beijing-appointed chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, resign. They want China to live up to its promise that elections in 2017 will be freely contested, not constrained by being limited to Beijing-approved candidates.

Hong Kong’s student leader Joshua Wong recently called for international support in forcing Beijing to participate in negotiations for universal suffrage. The British and American governments have expressed “concern” and sympathy for the demonstrators, but Beijing will easily deflect such “interference in China’s internal affairs,” as the criticism will be called. Already, as happened in June 1989, the Beijing press has seen “the hand of Western powers” in the demonstrations, insisting that the Western media invented the term “umbrella revolution” just as it invented “color revolution” and “jasmine revolution.” But, will the outcome be an “Umbrella Revolution” or another Tiananmen?

An ominous sign of a potential police crackdown is use of the word “chaos” in Renmin ribao (People’s Daily, the official newspaper) to describe Hong Kong events. “Chaos” (luan) was the word used in the spring of 1989 to signal the Beijing leadership’s unwillingness to let the protests at Tiananmen drag on indefinitely. The word has a particular resonance in China: Its tumultuous modern history is replete with failed efforts to unify the country and prevent the formation of secret political cliques and factions. In the lead up to the Tiananmen crackdown, top leaders signaled through the press that the students were causing chaos and that “turmoil” would not be tolerated. Although Premier Zhao Ziyang met with students in the square, earning 16 years under house arrest, supreme leader Deng Xiaoping convinced his colleagues that the demonstrations were a threat and had to be put down. Martial law followed.

Beijing is following the same script today. Editorials on October 1 and 3, 2014 in Renmin ribao’s online editions dwelled on the demonstrators’ “illegal assembly” and “absurd and crazy kidnapping” of law and order. The protesters are being called an “extremist opposition group” that is not only breaking the law but also threatening to disrupt years of prosperity and stability.

The editorials scoff at the protesters’ talk of democracy and freedom, saying, “freedom without order isn’t real freedom, and will lead to social disharmony and instability.” Far from suggesting a path to compromise, the editorials are a warning of potential use of force.

Beijing’s chief concern is the domino effect of lending legitimacy to the pro-democracy forces. Even if it does not concede on the election issue, it no doubt wants to avoid appearing weak in the face of a popular protest. Beijing knows people in Taiwan, Tibet, and other parts of its self-proclaimed realm are watching for signs of flexibility, and successful demonstrations in Hong Kong might be followed by more of the same elsewhere in China, just as happened in 1989.

While Beijing has apparently ruled out concessions, it has authorized Hong Kong’s executive secretary to meet with some students. But to meet does not signify when or what to negotiate. Finding a face-saving formula will be extremely difficult, particularly since the demonstrators have no leaders, no common program, and no agreed-upon end game. Should talks fail, or not be held, the opposition will face a choice: Go home, hang on and risk losing public support, or escalate pressure such as by seizing an official building or office.

Beijing will do whatever is “necessary” to bring the Hong Kong situation under control. But will this be another Tiananmen? Hong Kong’s people have numbers, drive, and access to information technologies not available in 1989. Beijing will not be able to erase the “umbrella revolution” from national memory or discourse; social and new media will widely broadcast even the smallest slip-ups. And if the students and others do go home, chances are they’ll be back another time—and another. If Beijing wants to save face in the long term, it should honor its commitment to free elections and not interfere in the nomination process or the outcome.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly, and blogs at In the Human Interest.

Apply the Brakes 10/8/14

Pull the E-Brake on Perpetual US War in the Middle East

By Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

The New York Times editorial board has finally awakened to Obama’s “strategy” in the “war” (as it is officially called now) against ISIS. It is essentially the same strategy that has guided literally hundreds of US military operations abroad since World War II: achieve the maximum objective with the minimum commitment of US power and prestige. Trouble is, the strategy just doesn’t work, mainly because the enemy won’t cooperate and friendly forces are either inept or unpopular (or both). Thus begins the slippery slope to wider and deeper involvement.

The Sept. 16, 2014 testimony of General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is what got the Times’ attention: “If we got to the point where I believe our advisers should accompany Iraqi troops on attacks against specific ISIL targets, I’ll recommend that to the president.” A day later on Sept. 17, the Army chief of staff, General Ray Odierno, chimed in: “You’ve got to have ground forces that are capable of going in and rooting [IS forces] out.” In short, Obama’s supposed commitment not to deploy US ground troops to combat in Iraq or Syria—“a profound mistake,” he said Sept. 7 on the NBC News program Meet the Press—is as firm as mud. As happened in Vietnam, there will be “advisers,” more and more of them, as it becomes plain that the mini-max strategy of relying on air power to “degrade and destroy” ISIS proves insufficient.

Even without Dempsey’s and Odierno’s remarks, the Times and others should have seen the handwriting on the wall: The widening of air targets from those originally announced (they were supposed to be limited to protecting threatened populations and US personnel); the increasing number of US advisers; the avoidance of a Congressional vote; the quick resort to air strikes in Syria without United Nations or Syrian authorization; the shift in categorizing the conflict from a “counterterrorism” operation to “war”; the shrill voices of pro-war Republicans and former military officers tied to defense contractors—all these suggested mission creep.

President Obama has followed in George W. Bush’s footsteps by indicating that the war against terrorism will extend well beyond his presidency. Recall Bush’s speech to West Point cadets in 2006: “The war began on my watch. But it’s going to end on your watch.” Now here is Obama on Sept. 12: “This [conflict] will be a problem for the next president, and probably the one after that.” At the UN on Sept. 23, Obama formally upgraded the “problem” of ISIS to an historic venture, saying it would determine, “whether the nations here today will be able to renew the purpose of the UN’s founding; and whether we will come together to reject the cancer of violent extremism.” He spoke as though announcing the start of World War III.

ISIS poses a serious threat to various governments in the Middle East, but it is not a national security threat to the United States. Though several governments are now said to be contributing to the US air strikes in Iraq and Syria, make no mistake: This is an American operation, just like the two Gulf Wars and Afghanistan. Take away US control and Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan and the others would actually have to defend themselves. Interviewed on “60 Minutes” last Sunday, Obama acknowledged US leadership of the war, but said that has always been the case and that—in an eerie echo of a famous Madeleine Albright remark—“we are the indispensable nation.”

In his Sept. 16 article in the Financial Times, the perceptive observer Ahmed Rashid has written that governments and publics throughout the Middle East, most certainly including those now being counted on to support the latest “coalition of the willing,” are deeply suspicious of and hateful toward the US. As much as they fear ISIS, Rashid writes, they don’t trust the US after watching it fumble and stumble in Iraq and Syria; and they worry about associating with the US and becoming a target of pro-ISIS groups in their own country. Professor Mark Katz, reporting about a conference he attended in Riyadh, adds to this picture in his Sept. 19 blog post: Influential people in the Arabian Gulf states tend to blame the US for the rise of ISIS, believe dealing with ISIS is therefore mainly a US responsibility, and point to other security issues that are equally important to them (such as the unstable situation in Yemen, Shi’a extremism, and of course the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.)

So, here are the bottom-line questions: Is it sensible, and in the US national interest, to support ever-deepening intervention in the Middle East? Does anyone believe a military solution to the ISIS advance is possible or desirable, particularly inasmuch as ISIS arose out of three civil wars (in Gaza, Syria and Iraq) that can only be resolved by political agreements? No and no. Our media may not get it fast enough. Regardless, Congress and the American public must swiftly pull the e-brake on the ISIS mission and perpetual US warmaking in the Middle East. Our national security and that of the next generation depend on it.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.

Short of Victory but.. 10/1/14

Scotland’s Vote and the Future of Civil Society
By Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Scotland’s vote for independence fell well short of victory. But pro-independence Scots will surely try again, just as the Quebec Sovereignty Movement has stayed optimistic over many years in its fight for independence. From a practical point of view, perhaps the Scots are better off staying in the United Kingdom. Independence would have raised difficult challenges concerning foreign and defense affairs, oil and the environment, among many others. Yet as we look around the world, we find that governments have become increasingly unable to placate widespread anger and demands for change. The sovereignty and decentralization envisioned by Scotland and Quebec is not just appealing, but a rational response of civil society to ineffective, unresponsive leaders.
What might have been the implications beyond Scotland if it had gained independence? Would the success have inspired others, much like the rapid diffusion of the Arab Spring? Would Scottish independence have prompted a similar movement in Wales? Might Catholics in Northern Ireland have raised demands for union with Ireland? What about Catalonia? Kurdistan? Tibet? Chechnya?
Secessions of parts of a state to form a new one generally are not well received by other countries. An independent Scotland—not to mention an independent Quebec, Kurdistan, or Tibet—does not have support from the US or any other major country, so far as I’m aware. Eastern Ukraine’s breakaway only has Russia’s support. The general assumption among policy makers is that backing another country’s breakup might come back to haunt their country.
Of course there are exceptions. The breakup of the USSR and the split of Sudan into North and South did not seem to arouse much disapproval. But the international approach to Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan is more typical: for all the ethnic, religious and political forces within those countries that are pulling them apart, and that might make the case for division into new countries, no one seems in favor. We might reasonably assume that governments are not concerned with the blowback of supporting secession more than they are with the empowerment of civil society.
We are on the threshold of a new era, the likes of which we haven’t seen since decolonization in Africa and Asia after World War II, in which attempts at breakaways will be more common. Popular dissatisfaction with government is rampant around the world, regardless of the political system. Demand (for services, satisfaction of grievances, regulations or deregulation) greatly exceeds what large centralized governments can supply. And the opportunities for people to display, communicate, and organize their dissatisfactions are also far greater than ever before. Many groups will demand not just greater local autonomy but the right to fully govern themselves.
This possibility should not be surprising. Americans, Chinese, Russians, French, Iraqis and many others are fast reaching the point where it is apparent that units of governing have become too large to accommodate the scope of the demands placed upon their national leaders. It’s no longer just a matter of ethnic or religious differences. Climate change and other large-scale environmental problems, rapidly growing rich-poor divides, unemployment, cross-border immigration, migrant workers, tainted food and water deficits, unmanageable public health crises—all these are creating serious protests that challenge the managerial abilities of governments. Central governing units need to be smaller if they are to be responsive, accountable and effective in the public interest.
“We are living in an era of unprecedented level of crises,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said as a new General Assembly session opened in New York. For how long can these crises be contained or ignored? Will they be handled nonviolently? I’m old enough that it’s possible I won’t be around when these questions are answered. When they are, I can only hope the Scottish option is accepted as a reasonable alternative to terrible destructiveness. My grandchildren may one day be living in a country called Cascadia (the Pacific Northwest of the US and Canada), and that increasingly sounds like a good idea.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University and blogs at In the Human Interest.

Under The Gun 9/10/14

Democracy Under the Gun Across Asia

By Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

“Communist Party, you choke people,” reads the placard raised by a demonstrator in Hong Kong the other day. He and a few thousand others belonging to Occupy Central (in Chinese, the organization is called Heping zhan zhong, or Peacefully Occupy the Center) have been protesting for months against anticipated restrictions imposed by Beijing on elections for chief executive of Hong Kong. Now those restrictions have been enacted. By tightening the rules concerning nominations for the position, China’s legislature has made it fairly impossible for an independent-minded leader to be elected. Pro-democracy forces in the city had hoped that by 2017, they would gain control on the basis of one person, one vote. But the system is now rigged to deny that principle in practice. The new rules reflect just how scared China’s leadership is of losing control over a key city.

It is now seventeen years since authority over Hong Kong passed from Britain to China. Unlike other so-called autonomous regions of China, Hong Kong has enjoyed an unusual degree of political, social and economic freedom in keeping with its long-running stature as an international crossroads and Beijing’s pledge not to interfere with the city’s way of life for 50 years. “One country, two systems,” Deng Xiaoping promised following China’s takeover. But Beijing’s control has never been remote; it has maintained predominant influence over who runs Hong Kong and by which rules, and Hong Kongers are fully aware that China’s military can be quickly deployed should widespread “instability” occur.

Opinion polls show substantial majorities in favor of open contests for legislative and executive positions. China’s leaders read these polls, and the growing public protests behind them, as security issues: Allow Hong Kong more political liberties and people in other Chinese cities are sure to demand them too. Moreover, people will start organizing parties to challenge the Communist Party’s authority, and the next thing you know, the one-party state will come under challenge. Those elements of “instability” have always been unacceptable to Beijing.

Hong Kong’s legislature either must now adopt a new voting plan that reflects Beijing’s latest decision or stick with the old system that keeps political power in the hands of pro-China people. In the meantime, leaders of Occupy Central and pro-democracy groups are deciding how best to influence politicians and public opinion—strikes? Sit-ins? Large-scale demonstrations? China will not be patient with lengthy “chaos” in the streets, as they will call it. But at the same time, its international image will suffer if it suppresses the protest movement. In the worst case, we might witness another Tiananmen. Yet one looks in vain for any government that is speaking up for the people of Hong Kong or taking China to task. Economic interests do wonders at silencing criticism.

Democratization is taking a hit elsewhere in Asia, though a few bright spots have emerged. Thailand and the Philippines are supposed to be the most democratic countries in Southeast Asia. But the Thai military has once again intervened in politics following several months of turmoil in the streets. A general now rules, backed by a rubber-stamp parliament composed entirely of his supporters. In the Philippines, the president is seeking another term in office, which requires a constitutional change, at a time when corruption is again widespread. Pakistan’s politics continues to be chaotic. Protests in Islamabad against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s rule and allegations of election fraud, now entering their third week, are becoming increasingly violent, raising the question how long the military will remain on the sidelines.

The brighter spots are Indonesia, where people just elected Joko Widodo president–a man of humble origins who defied the experts by defeating a former general, Prabowo Subianto, who stands accused of extensive human rights violations. And in Burma (Myanmar), though repression of a religious minority continues, the country seems to be gradually moving away from direct military rule and toward competitive politics. These stories are incomplete, however; democratization could be rolled back at any moment, depending on the military’s outlook. In Indonesia, for example, even though Prabowo accepted defeat, the military is not known for graciously stepping aside, and neither is he.

Democratization is a never-ending process; keeping it on track requires constant vigilance and struggle. South Korea took over 30 years to get rid of military-backed authoritarian rule, and even now, President Park Geun-hye’s popularity has evaporated thanks in part to a pattern of governing that reminds many people of the bad old days when her father ruled. Thus, while Asia gets plenty of kudos for economic successes, we should pay at least equal attention to the many ways the democratization project is being threatened.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly and blogs at In the Human Interest.

Drones Flying Overhead 9/3/14

The Lone Ranger Rides Again – America’s Return to Iraq

By Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

In an interview with Thomas Friedman of the New York Times on August 8, President Obama stressed that the US was only fighting the Islamic State (IS, or ISIS) in Iraq as a partner, not as Iraq’s or the Kurds’ air force. Obama claims his officials are reminding everyone, “We will be your partners, but we are not going to do it for you. We’re not sending a bunch of US troops back on the ground to keep a lid on things.” Now, less than three weeks later, the strategic picture has changed, and emphases on “partnerships” have faded while the US military complex advances largely on its own.

US air strikes temporarily stalled the IS advance, but its expanding territorial control (now roughly equal in area size to Jordan) and the beheading of an American reporter led Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel to declare IS a threat “beyond anything we’ve seen.” Washington has increased the number of US advisers sent to Iraq, and there is even talk of carrying out air strikes in Syria. Drones are already flying overhead.

We have witnessed this sudden turnaround many times before, haven’t we? The pattern is all too familiar. First, the President and other top US leaders soft-pedal talk about a modest direct role in a conflict: no boots on the ground, just a few air strikes to create better odds for our side. Then the characterization of the threat changes, from local to regional and even global, exemplified Pentagon press secretary Rear Admiral John Kirby’s warning on August 26, of the “global aspirations” of ISIS.

What was once called a terrorist group is now an insurgency with grand ambitions that may carry to our doorstep. This change in scope is followed by dropped talk of partnership and political reform in our ally’s capital. Now the threat takes on highest priority. Congress follows the administration’s lead by abandoning its responsibility to authorize war or otherwise challenge the commander-in-chief.

Once the stakes have risen in the minds of decision makers, the US role becomes paramount. After all, if not us, who? The US thus becomes the victim of its unilateralist impulse. When presidents of both parties have decided to intervene abroad—in Korea, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama and Iraq, for example—they always acted in the name of national security and were quite prepared to go to war without allies. When they accepted offers of help, it was only on the condition of total US control of war making. War “by committee” was unacceptable, as Donald Rumsfeld famously said in relation to the first Gulf War. What the US wants are “coalitions of the willing”—governments willing, that is, to follow US orders.

Now the US is facing the IS largely on its own. The “we” in Obama’s interview with Friedman includes no one else but us—unless, that is, you include Syria, whose dictator has already thrown down the welcome mat at the prospect of the US becoming involved in its civil war and bombing IS soldiers.

Where are US allies in this supposedly monumental battle—not just the Europeans in NATO but the Japanese, the Koreans, and the Australians? If the IS is an “imminent” threat to “international security,” as Chuck Hagel has suggested, why haven’t others clamored to join the battle? Why hasn’t the US brought this global threat to the United Nations?

The US is again playing sheriff without a posse and the consequences are predictable and dire. US bombs will kill a certain number of IS fighters, but how many more recruits will IS gain as a result? How much more likely will an attack on a target in the US become as Washington makes the war on IS its own? How much less likely will a political settlement of Iraq’s internal struggle be?

As the US, the Lone Ranger, focuses its attention and resources on the threat du jour, political change and the development of civil society in Iraq and Syria will remain on hold. Yet those transformations are the keys to demobilizing the IS and neutralizing its grandiose ambitions. Trying to level the playing field unilaterally with bombs and advisers is a sucker’s game and will only make things worse.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly, and blogs at In the Human Interest.

Genuine Engagement with Kim 8/27/14

Why and How the U.S. Should Engage North Korea Right Now
By Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

U.S. relations with North Korea have been pushed into the background by events in the Middle East. But the so-called “North Korea nuclear issue”—“so-called” because the larger issue, which involves the interests of several countries, is security and strategic stability on the Korean peninsula—remains unresolved and potentially dangerous.

I and many other specialists have urged the U.S. and other governments to genuinely engage North Korea. But engagement doesn’t just mean contact or involvement; it means a process that includes reaching out to an adversary in efforts to catalyze new directions for policies on all sides.

Genuine, effective engagement should: Create a political environment conducive to policy change, focus on joint actions that will move the parties from destructive conflict to collaborative transformation, involve incentives and mutual rewards in security and peace, and be undertaken in a spirit of mutual respect. Only genuine engagement with North Korea holds out hope of settling the nuclear issue and easing tensions that could again engulf the Korean peninsula in war.

In April 2014, David Sanger reported in the New York Times that President Obama’s North Korea specialists feel “stuck” on where to go next with North Korea, having explored every option. However, what the Obama administration has offered during its six years in office is not engagement but sticks and carrots based on North Korean concessions: If North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons, the United States will then have dialogue with its leadership. But engaging North Korea should not be exclusively about North Korean denuclearization. It should above all be about enhancing security for parties with interests in the Korean peninsula, such that nuclear weapons become irrelevant for strategic or political purposes.

There are many strategic reasons why the U.S. should initiate win-win engagement with North Korea, but here are just three.
First, every time North Korean leaders feel threatened or ignored, they undertake a weapons test or other provocative action, such as the July 2014 threat of nuclear attack on the White House, provoked by U.S.-ROK (South Korea) military exercises. Those exercises may seem like standard procedures to us, but to the North Koreans, they are a reminder of their vulnerability. In November 2002, Kim Jong-il sent a written personal message to President George W. Bush that said: “If the United States recognizes our sovereignty and assures nonaggression, it is our view that we should be able to find a way to resolve the nuclear issue in compliance with the demands of a new century. … If the United States makes a bold decision, we will respond accordingly.” That position has been restated a number of times since, and nonaggression assurances are best made through dialogue.
Second, by abandoning engagement, the U.S. strengthens the hand of those in North Korea’s leadership who doubt the usefulness of negotiations, and prevents opportunities for dialogue with leaders who want to reduce tensions and gain concessions. According to Charles Pritchard, in an October 2003 Brookings editorial, Kim Jong-il told Madeleine Albright in October 2000 that, with U.S. security assurances, “he would be able to convince his military that the United States was no longer a threat and then be in a position to refocus his country’s resources.” There is no reason to think Kim Jong-un does not possess comparable authority and similar goals.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, engagement increases opportunities for direct contact with the North Korean people. We have many examples of how appreciative Korean people have been when they receive meaningful help. Focusing on young people, as the Pyongyang Project does, may provide a framework of support for the critical projects that NGOs carry out and potential transformations within the country.
North Korea is just as tired of talk for talk’s sake as the United States is. It too won’t “buy the same horse twice.” Fruitful negotiations can proceed only if Pyongyang sees engagement as strengthening regime and state survival. North Korea would most likely be interested in proposals that:

– Provide some assurance against U.S.-designed regime change.
– Enhance North Korea’s legitimacy as an independent socialist state.
– Provide international guarantees of North Korea’s security and eventually end sanctions.
– Pave the way for long-term development assistance, increased trade and investment, and short-term food and fuel aid, thus also reducing dependence on China.
– Undermine arguments in South Korea and Japan for keeping open the nuclear-weapon option.

The United States and other nations should present a package to North Korea that, in return for verifiable steps to neutralize North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, provides the North with security assurances, a proposal for ending the Korean War and signing a nonaggression pact with big-power guarantees (with China and Russia on board), and meaningful economic assistance from both NGOs and governments.

We have to accept the fact that the Kim regime is not going to just go away. Washington expectations that the regime will either self-destruct or wither away under outside pressure are mostly wishful thinking; by every indication Kim Jong-un remains firmly in command. If the U.S. and its allies continue to assume imminent regime change and a disengaged, zero-sum approach, they will embolden the most hawkish of North Korean leadership, providing them with “evidence” that more nukes provide the only real security against an untrustworthy America.

To be sure, engagement of the North does not guarantee its good behavior or friction-free interaction. But we should seriously explore what North Korean officials have long insisted: that if the United States abandons its “hostile policy,” the nuclear issue and much else can be resolved. We should test that view, one step—and one incentive—at a time.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, Editor-in-Chief of Asian Perspective, an international affairs quarterly, and blogs at In the Human Interest.

 

How We Can Help 8/6/14

War’s Other Casualties: The Situation in Gaza and the Global Refugee Crisis
by Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

Mel Gurtov

By the time John Kerry left Tel Aviv and a 12-hour ceasefire began on July 26, 2014, the body count in Gaza had reached 856 Palestinians and 40 Israelis dead, as well as several thousand wounded. Now, the Palestinian toll has exceeded 1,000. Left out of the casualty figures, but no less important, are all the people who have been forced from their homes and have become refugees in their own country. This reality, that war’s heaviest impact is on civilian populations, is often obscured by its frequency. People flee as the bombs fall; another refugee camp is set up to house thousands of them; and thousands more line the roads leading to another country. How often have we read such reports?
The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) says there are around 5 million Palestinians in the Middle East who count as refugees, making them the world’s largest refugee population. About a third of them are registered with the agency in 58 camps located in Gaza, the West Bank and surrounding countries. The other two-thirds are not in camps. Except for those living in Jordan, Palestinians are stateless; they do not have citizen rights, whether in Israeli-occupied territory or in Syria and Lebanon.
With the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the figure for Palestinian refugees is rising again. It draws our attention to the desperate worldwide refugee situation. The main United Nations refugee organization—UNHCR, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees—provides statistics and, along with numerous nongovernmental organizations, various forms of relief. Its 2013 report gives a total worldwide refugee population of around 11.7 million, of whom UNHCR assists about 8.5 million. That figures does not include a staggering 24 million IDPs (internally displaced persons) who, like the refugees, overwhelmingly live in the Middle East and Africa. When all types of forcibly displaced persons are counted, the global figure is over 45 million, the highest total in twenty years.
You can imagine what the costs of helping all these people must be, and how increasingly difficult it must also be to raise adequate funds when the problem keeps growing and when so many other global issues compete for money. At the end of 2013 UNHCR’s budget called for around $5.3 billion. Yet, it only raised about 60 percent of that amount from governments and private sources. (The US, at 36 percent; Japan, at nine percent; and the European Union at seven percent are the top three governmental donors. Private donations account for seven percent of all funding.)

Keeping up with the world refugee crisis is virtually impossible. Just look at what has happened in the Middle East this year. Millions of Syrians and Iraqis have fled to neighboring countries or calmer parts of their own country (such as Kurdish territory in Iraq). Many Iraqi families have become refugees for the second or third time in recent years. Afghan refugees, numbering 2.6 million, are stranded in Pakistan and Iran. Meanwhile, in Africa, very large numbers of people from Somalia, Sudan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Eritrea have also been forced to flee. The strain on the budgets of host countries is enormous, and the stresses that providers must face as they try to meet basic needs are huge. Moreover, refugee camps are fertile ground for gangs, recruitment by terrorist groups and political factions, and fights over scarce resources.

And let’s remember that “refugees,” as politically defined, does not include migrant workers and their family members – although it should. Consider, in the US alone, the roughly three million undocumented migrants from Mexico and beyond as the many thousands of children who have crossed the border alone from Central America. They aren’t exactly receiving a warm welcome from Texans and Arizonans–though I’m pleased to note that the governor of Oregon has declared those children are welcome here.

Or take the North Koreans who manage to cross the border with China to escape horrendous repression. They must somehow blend in with the Korean Chinese population; but if they are caught and returned to China, they are treated as migrants and thus denied the rights granted to refugees under international law. We need to remind ourselves that ever since the enormous refugee problem at the end of World War II, refugees who have “a well-founded fear of persecution” have the right to resettlement in another country, and cannot be sent back by the receiving country. Tell that to Beijing.

Interested in helping? Mercy Corps, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children, Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam, CARE, and the International Committee of the Red Cross are among the many relief organizations that are doing wonderful work. Global Corps offers a full list of organizations working with civilians suffering under the thumb of violence, and we can all help. When the elephants dance, the grass gets trampled, as they say. If we can’t immediately end the violence or reconcile the parties, we must, at least, care for the people most affected.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University, and Editor-in-Chief of the international affairs quarterly Asian Perspective, and blogs at In the Human Interest.

Safe Terrain 8/6/14

Political Will Is the Obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian Peace

by Mel GurtovUnknown-1

One of the cardinal lessons of international conflict resolution is that two warring parties will not be interested in a peaceful settlement if they believe continuing to fight is worth more than negotiating.

John Kerry faced this truth as he struggled to broker something more meaningful in Gaza than a few hours or days of so-called peace. Unfortunately for him, both Israeli and Hamas leaderships came to believe that peacemaking on their terms would yield few gains, whereas fighting might achieve gains that had been unachievable before. As Jimmy Carter said in his 1979 speech to the Knesset, “The people support a settlement. Political leaders are the obstacles to peace.”

Reports from Israel point to an increasing conviction among its leaders that now is the time to eliminate Hamas once and for all. The tunnels have to be entirely wiped out and the rockets silenced. Hamas’ leadership has to be discredited. Gaza has to have a permanent Israeli military presence. For Hamas, continued fighting justifies its existence and establishes its legitimacy as a negotiating partner. Fighting is also the only way, apparently, Hamas leaders see to end Israel’s blockade of Gaza, open border crossings with Egypt, and thus free Gazans from the economic squeeze that has dramatically reduced their quality of life.

For both sides, and especially for the innocent people who are paying the highest costs for more fighting, this war is particularly anguishing because it was avoidable, as Nathan Thrall of the International Crisis Group recently argued in his July 17, 2014 New York Times editorial. Thrall pointed a finger at Israel, with US support, for obstructing the reconciliation agreement reached by the PLO and Hamas last April, which might have laid the groundwork for a new peace accord with Israel. Hamas was in a weakened condition then, and agreed to put the Palestinian Authority in the driver’s seat in Gaza as it is in the West Bank. A few generous acts by Israel and the US at that time might have produced entirely different reactions when the kidnappings and murders occurred earlier this month.

In his July 27, 2014 New York Times editorial, David Grossman, Israeli author of The Yellow Wind and other outstanding books on Israeli-Palestinian differences, suggested it may finally be dawning on Israelis of diverse political persuasions that there are no winners in war, and that Israel must negotiate with Hamas. He wrote in the name of a common humanity as well as a deep conviction that Israel’s leadership has failed its people by rejecting a peace that has long been within reach. But nobody in Tel Aviv is listening. Benjamin Netanyahu seems to believe that war is the answer—that somehow, contrary to all the historical evidence about resistance movements, the civilian and military survivors of Israel’s attacks will accept their fate and allow the occupying power to do what it wants. Netanyahu and his supporters will be proven wrong, but before that happens, the suffering of Israelis and Palestinians alike will continue.

And what of the US role? The Israeli air attacks have been met with “understanding” by the President, the Secretary of State, and other high US officials. Yes, they have expressed “concern” about the “heartbreaking” toll on the Palestinians these attacks have caused—over 1,888 dead and 9,000 wounded last I looked. Israel has lost 63 soldiers and 3 civilians. Public and Congressional opinion in the US seems to support the official view that Hamas is to blame for this latest round of conflict, so Obama is just where he wants to be—on politically safe terrain.

Kerry said the US goal in Gaza was “an unconditional humanitarian cease-fire.” But the Israelis were never really interested in Kerry’s cease-fire efforts, minimal though they were, until they had achieved their military objectives. As was reported by the Associated Press on Saturday, August 2nd, Netanyahu upbraided the US ambassador to Israel by saying the Obama administration should never “second guess me again” on dealing with Hamas. You have to hand it to Netanyahu; he knows how to manipulate the Israel-US relationship to his advantage. He knows how rarely Washington follows up its “concern” about Israeli military and political actions with any withdrawal or reduction of support. Thus, he lets the US leadership fret (or pretend to fret) for awhile, and engage in endless shuttle diplomacy, while he goes about his business. Already, Washington has announced a resumption of $225 million in aid to Israel for its antimissile system, and you can bet more will be forthcoming.

The US approach to a Middle East peace, like Israel’s and Hamas’ approaches, is one-sided and doesn’t effectively address the core obstacles that have bedeviled diplomacy for decades. A just peace would mean Israeli-Palestinian sharing of authority over Jerusalem, with assured access to all religions; mutual recognition by Israel and the new Palestinian state of each other’s sovereignty and right to exist; compensation to Palestinian refugees; and a land-for-peace formula that would swap arable land annexed by Israel for an equal amount of land Israelis have settled, allowing for creation of a contiguous Palestinian state. Jimmy Carter’s Geneva Initiative and Tikkun magazine’s Geneva Accord are among the sources that demonstrate that a just peace can be constructed if only the various parties have the will to do so. What is lacking to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace is not so much a fair and viable plan as the political will to carry it out.

Mel Gurtov, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Portland State University and blogs at In the Human Interest.

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