Month: November 2012


Yesterday’s forced-march approval of Egypt’s draft constitution by its rump constituent assembly bodes ill.

If there is anything constitution-making experts agree on, it is the need for a consensual and inclusive process in drafting and approving a new constitution.  This is often far more important than the specific language and provisions.  Usually a fairly small portion of any given constitutional draft is contested.  But when it comes to those provisions that raise the hackles of one group or another in the society, it is vital that they be involved and that there be a search for consensus, which can only be obtained by broad participation in a deliberative and transparent process.

Egyptian President Morsi decided instead to ramrod the draft through, before the Egyptian constitutional court could intervene to dissolve the constituent assembly as it had the lower house of parliament.  Most of the secularists and minorities who were in the constituent assembly have already left in protest earlier in the process.  Morsi claims he is accelerating approval by the mostly Islamist rump in order to end any need for him to retain the dictatorial powers he gave himself last week.

This is bizarre and circular logic.  It amounts to saying:

I gave myself dictatorial powers.  Now to prevent me from using them you have to accelerate approval of the constitution and accept the draft that I want.  Then I can give up the dictatorial powers, because the constitution gives me what I really need.

Morsi plays this game because he fears two things:  the “remnants” of the Mubarak dictatorship, especially in the judiciary, and the liberal secularists, who are uniting with minorities and others for what I imagine will be massive demonstrations today.  Rather than bringing them into the tent, Morsi has chosen to keep them out.  Their massive demonstrations won’t count for much if Morsi wins his bet by putting the new constitution to a quick referendum and getting it approved.

The merits and demerits of the new constitution are not really the issue.  It will take time to evaluate them.  Early reports suggest it does not protect women’s or minority rights as fully as the secularists would like.  The role of Sharia as the main source of law is the nominally the same as it was under the little applied Mubarak constitution, but with some indication that it will be applied more vigorously.  Presidential and military powers are greater than many would like.

But Egypt is not going back to Mubarak-style dictatorship.  That would be an optimistic view.  The real risk is continuing chaos, economic breakdown, social division and eventual theocracy aimed at establishing law and order.   Morsi has opened a door to hell, but it is also the door to Muslim Brotherhood heaven.  Those who thought Egypt was back because it brokered what is likely to be a short-lived ceasefire between Hamas and Israel are likely to be disappointed.  The transition ahead for Egypt is still a long and difficult one.  And where it ends up–democracy or theocracy–is still uncertain.

PS:  For a knowledgeable view of the human rights provisions of the constitution, see Egypt: New Constitution Mixed on Support of Rights.

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Sins venal and cardinal

The Republican effort to block UN Ambassador Susan Rice from becoming Secretary of State is unseemly at best.  Not because Susan is without fault.  She should not have uncritically used talking points from the intelligence community–does she not remember what those jokers did to embarrass Secretary of State Powell with talking points about biological weapons in Iraq?  And she should have known better than to put forward a narrative about the Benghazi attack that lacked verisimilitude. A simple statement that we were still investigating what happened and would report to the American people as soon as we reached definitive conclusions would have sufficed, even in the heat of the election campaign.

The truth is there are still uncertainties.  How many attackers were there and what weapons did they use?  Why were at least some of the consulate guard force unarmed?  Was it wise for the Ambassador to go to the safe haven?  Why did he leave it?  How did he get separated from his security detail?  We won’t likely have a complete picture until the Accountability Review Board reports, if then.

But Susan’s sins were venal, soon forgotten if not forgiven in the rush of Washington events.  Anyone with serious responsibilities will make a few of these boo-boos per week.  The Senate Republicans are committing cardinal sins:  not by trying to block a nominee, but by doing it for blatant political advantage (gluttony, greed, wrath, envy).

They want John Kerry to become Secretary of State, so they get another crack at a Massachusetts Senate seat.  They could be in for a nasty surprise there:  Elizabeth Warren beat Scott Brown by 8 percentage points.  But the Democrats will not want to take the risk.  They may well think Chuck Hagel or Jon Huntsman, either of whom would make a good Secretary of State.  President Obama would enjoy nominating someone Republicans think of as a RINO (Republican in name only).  They won’t be able to oppose him.   The two I’ve mentioned are all too clearly qualified, and former senators to boot. Honor among you-know-whats.

The irony is that today Susan Rice will like suffer a defeat today at the United Nations General Assembly, which will confer on Palestine the status of non-member state (like the Vatican).  Unless there are last-minute changes that allow the United States and Israel to vote in favor, it will pass easily over their objections.  Few in Congress will criticize her for this.  So long as we do what Israel wants, there is no domestic political risk.

But the foreign policy merits of the case, depending on the specific wording, may well point in the direction of abstention or even a vote in favor.  General Assembly resolutions are like preseason football games.  They may be well played, but they don’t count in the standings.  Palestine doesn’t become a state because of a General Assembly vote.  It is already recognized as such by about 130 countries, which is good enough reason for the United States to hesitate to allow itself a defeat on Palestine becoming a non-member state.  Without a positive recommendation by the Security Council, it cannot become a UNGA member, which is the gold token of sovereignty.  And Palestine, though in some ways a state, lacks a vital attribute of sovereignty:  fixed borders and a monopoly over the legitimate means of violence.

Be that as it may, I prefer to remember Susan not for today’s defeat but rather for her yeoman efforts and real success in gaining UNSC approval for protection of civilians in Libya and for sanctions on Iran and Syria.  Those were real diplomatic achievements.  It is a cardinal sin to forget them.

PS:  I admit Jon Stewart said some of this better, though he missed the part about John Kerry:



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Justice still doesn’t always mean convictions

The International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) acquittal today of Ramush Haradinaj and Idriz Balaj has elicited the expected reactions in Serbia and Kosovo.  The Kosovars are celebrating while the Serbs denounce the ruling.

My own reaction, at least until I have a chance to read the decision, is the same as the one I had a couple of weeks ago, when an ICTY appeals panel found two Croatian generals not guilty:  justice does not always mean convictions.  All neutral observers I know think the prosecutor in Haradinaj/Balaj case simply failed to meet the burden of proof.  Why that was the case is not so clear, but it left the court with little choice.  “Not guilty” does not exonerate.  It only finds that adequate evidence was not presented to prove the case.

That is not how Serbs and Albanians view court verdicts.  Serbs see this and the previous acquittal as demonstrating ICTY bias against Serbs.  Albanians view the verdict as validation of the war conducted by the Kosovo Liberation Army against Belgrade’s security forces.  Both are wrong.  The court did not consider the general question of justification for the armed uprising in the late 1990s.  It considered the specific allegations against two specific people, both of whom unquestionably committed acts of armed rebellion that violated Yugoslav law of the time.

I have a little personal experience with Ramush, who came to see me without publicity repeatedly after the war, when he had already laid down his arms and was beginning his political career.  He pursued that with vigor until he was indicted the first time in 2005, when he resigned from the prime ministry and went to The Hague.  I also visited him in2001 in Gllogjane/Glodane, the village where his family reigns supreme.  He took me to the graves of his two brothers killed in the war and described to me in some detail the fighting he was involved in against Yugoslav security forces.  He did not–but who would?–admit to any violence against Serb civilians.  He also denied that his family was involved in any way in the fighting in 2001 in Macedonia.  That, I believe, was untrue.

Ramush will now return to Kosovo, where it is widely expected that Prime Minister Thaci will try to restore his uncertain majority in Parliament by bringing Ramush’s party into the government.  Ramush may extract a substantial price for his support.  This could complicate the ongoing political-level talks between Pristina and Belgrade, which have seen a couple of business-like, but as yet unproductive, meetings.  Unafraid of being criticized for being soft on Serbs, Ramush is likely to take a pragmatic approach to relations with Belgrade.  But Belgrade’s politicians will find it harder to meet with him than with Thaci, whose war-time role was primarily political rather than military.

Proving things in court more than ten years after the fact is not easy.  I don’t know if Ramush committed the acts he was accused of or not.  If someone in Belgrade has stronger evidence than the prosecutor presented, they should have made it available.  I do know that an orderly and deliberative court using modern methods and procedures has found him not guilty.   You may not like the outcome, but little purpose is served by denouncing the court.  Justice still doesn’t always mean convictions.

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Good news, and bad

As world leaders meet in Doha for the climate change conference, IEA officials presented the World Energy Outlook 2012 at a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace event.  Jessica Matthews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, labelled the year “paradoxical.”  Some of the fundamental facts of world energy are changing, especially in the United States, which is on track to becoming the largest oil producer in 2020, passing even Saudi Arabia.  This development, brought on by the unconventional oil and gas revolution, in combination with recent improvements in efficiency, suggests a bright energy future for the U.S.  But Matthews reminded the audience that the Outlook ultimately concludes the U.S. and the rest of the world are not on track for a sustainable energy future.   If trends continue, the world will become 3 degrees Celsius warmer by mid century and 4-6 degrees Celsius warmer by 2100.  Such warming will have catastrophic implications.

Daniel Poneman, the Deputy Secretary of Energy, seconded Matthews’ point that more oil and gas in the U.S., and in turn, more independence, is a result of higher production and decreased demand.  Production of shale gas began slowly, but it now accounts for about 35% of annual gas production.  If trends continue, the US will overtake Russia in 2015 as the largest natural gas producer.  Increasing natural gas production in the U.S., Canada, and Australia will globalize the natural gas market, according Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency (IEA) and overseer of the World Energy Outlook.  New producers will diversify the market and traditional gas exporters will face lower exports and prices.

At the same time, energy consumption is shifting from the West to the East.  By 2035, OECD countries will use only about 30% of total energy production.  Ninety percent of oil from the Middle East will go to Asia.  This is partially due to rising standards of living in China, India, and the Middle East.  About 20% of the global population (1.3 billion people) still have no access to electricity, however.  Birol calls this an energy, economic and moral issue.  Despite electricity generation growth in India, electricity consumption per capita in 2035 India will equal per capita consumption in 1947 America.

Iraq is another game changer.  Right now it is the third largest oil producer.  Its production is expected to increase as exploration discovers greater reserves.  Iraq will produce 6 million barrels per day in 2020 and 8 million by 2035, noted Maria van der Hoeven, the IEA’s Executive Director.  Iraq will account for 45% of growth in global oil production from now until 2035, passing Russia and becoming the second largest oil exporter in the mid 2030’s.  By 2035 almost 50% of world oil production will come from OPEC countries.  Iraq will be a significant contributor, with much of its oil going to China.  Thirty percent of growth in Iraq’s oil exports will come from Chinese-owned oil fields in Iraq.

The prospects for climate change are sobering.  Progress has been made on energy efficiency, but energy demand is growing due to many factors, including population increase and movement away from nuclear power in some countries.  Fossil fuel subsidies, which Birol calls the greatest threat to climate change, are a serious problem.  Fuel subsidies are up 30% to $523 billion in 2011, with the Middle East and North Africa in the lead.

According to Birol, the global goal of a 2 degree Celsius rise in temperature or less will not be met with current policies.  For the first time a decline in renewables is expected in 2012. Much of past and future renewable growth is dependent on subsidies.  If it were possible to halt building of new infrastructure for the next 20 years, we would still use up 80% of the emissions permitted to keep the global temperature change under 2 degrees Celsius.  We are not remotely doing all we can to improve efficiency.  Two-thirds of the economically viable potential for improving efficiency is not being used.  We have until 2017 to make serious changes, which will likely require a legally binding international agreement.  If we don’t make changes by then, there will be no way to keep the planet from warming two degrees Celsius or more.  If we become more efficient now, we might have until 2022 to make serious changes.  The longer we wait, the more costly changes will be, which will make striking an international agreement harder.

The Outlook forecasts good news on energy production, but still bad news for climate change.

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Negotiating the Arab spring

The Arab Spring is most often regarded through a conflict lens: among contestants for power, between Old and New orders, between differing visions of the state. But it can also be viewed through a negotiation lens: even when there is sustained civil war (as in Syria and Libya), the many interactions between and within contending forces amount to negotiation. Although it is premature to talk of Arab Spring outcomes, the process so far reveals distinct patterns useful for policymakers, as the appropriate reaction to each of these patterns is different.

I’ll be moderating a discussion of policy options for negotiating the Arab spring 4:30 pm December 4.  Bill Zartman, Fen Hampson and colleagues from Clingendael will be presenting the conclusions from recent research efforts.  Here’s the program:

The SAIS Conflict Management Program
in conjunction with the
Netherlands Institute of International Relations
Processes of International Negotiations (PIN) Program
and the
Institute for the Empirical Study of Governance
invite you to

Negotiating the Arab Spring – Policy Options
Fen Osler Hampson
Distinguished Fellow and Director of Global Security Centre for International Governance Innovation

I William Zartman
Professor Emeritus, Conflict Management Program Paul H Nitze School of Advanced International Studies

Ellen Laipson President, Stimson Center

Regina Joseph
Instituut Clingendael/ The Netherlands Institute of International Relations

Floor Janssen
Instituut Clingendael/ The Netherlands Institute of International Relations

Daniel Serwer
Professor, Conflict Management ProgramPaul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies

Tuesday, December 4
Rome Auditorium
1619 Massachusetts Avenue, NW

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“Nobody has any idea what to do about it”

I’ve never met Laura Seay, except briefly in cyberspace.  All I know is that she is @texasinafrica, a Morehouse professor and smart.  Her 2009 analysis of the breakdown of governance in “what to do in the congo” holds up well today, but her proposed solutions aren’t happening:  the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) aren’t getting any better and the UN force (now called MONUSCO) isn’t able to handle the situation the way she suggests.  When I queried her about the need for an update, she answered:  “Nobody has any idea what to do about it.”  We should all be so clear and concise.

Washington is nevertheless sending its “top Africa diplomat.”  That’s Assistant Secretary of State Johnny Carson, a veteran of great virtues.  But his means are very limited.  To show disapproval of support for the M23 rebels who have taken the provincial capital Goma in Eastern Congo, the United States has suspended $200,000 in military assistance to Rwanda, which has repeatedly supported rebellions across its western border.  That’s pocket change even in Kigali, probably intended to support military education for Rwandan officers in the United States.  Cutting it off isn’t likely to have much impact.

Meanwhile M23 is wreaking havoc on a mineral-rich area that has already seen several decades of conflict.  some of Laura Seay’s suggestions from 2009 are still apropos:

  • …the root causes of the conflict – land disputes and citizenship rights – need to be sorted out. This means getting the courts functioning and creating an enforcement mechanism for implementing court decisions about land claims. It also means guaranteeing the citizenship rights of Kinyarwanda-speaking Congolese, which should involve a massive public education campaign. This won’t solve all of the problems, but it would be a start.
  • In the provision of public goods other than security, the international community needs to work with local organizations who are already providing efficient, quality services rather than pretending that government institutions are the best entities with which to cooperate. Most government health and education institutions are already being run by third parties (in particular, churches and mosques). International donors should work with these communities to implement positive, locally conceived solutions to seemingly intractable problems.
  • Local solutions, proposed by community leaders and the victims of violence, should be privileged in conversations about what needs to be done on almost every issue. Goodness knows the army of international experts (myself included) who pontificate on the DRC have proven that we don’t know how to solve the country’s problems. Let’s give people who might a chance, and let’s take their suggestions seriously for once.

This all makes eminently good sense to me, but none of it is likely happen unless some semblance of stability emerges.  I purposely did not say “is reimposed,” as none of the forces in Eastern Congo seem strong enough to definitively dominate the others. The best one can hope for is a balance of forces that is relatively nonviolent and allows the local population to fend for itself.

This will disappoint another of my Twitter acquaintances, Doudou Kalala (@kalala), a Congolese citizen and MA in Human Security and Peacebuilding  from Royal Road University, Victoria BC.  He is currently volunteering with Cuso International in Jamaica.  He argues that DRC is a classic intractable conflict that requires a major, multi-facted, long-term international intervention.  In his words:

The point I am trying to make is that, the solution to the conflict in the Congo is a long process that should start now and lead to building administrative infrastructure, accountability, justice, social and intellectual capital, army, police through EDUCATION and research…

The trouble is I don’t see any prospect of that any time soon.  Even a balance of forces that allows the local population to fend for itself may be too much to hope for.  So let’s wish Johnny Carson good luck.  He is going to need it.

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