A New Path to Engagement


The goals of Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons seem unachievable at the moment though president Obama has not abandoned the laudable objectives of nuclear non-proliferation worldwide. During his first presidency, Obama gained popularity for making the goal of freeing the world from nuclear weapons as one of the priorities of American foreign policy.

Needless to mention that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2010 was awarded to president Obama for his vision on world peace which he pledged to promote by abandoning the acquisition and possession of all nuclear weapons from the arsenals of the nuclear powers. His historic speech at Prague in June 2009 utilizing which he proclaimed the vision of a nuke-free world is considered to be his most captivating address to the world community. Then as a young energetic president of world’s only existing superpower, Obama was praised for his commitment to rid the world from the scourge of nuclear weapons.

If one has to judge his history of contributions to the cause of global nuclear non-proliferation, one finds that he made sincere efforts to stem the proliferation of nuclear weapons by taking a lead in concluding landmark arms control treaty with Russia, another major nuclear power in the world. The most significant endeavor is seen in the signing of START II in 2010 in the negotiations of which Obama played a very crucial role.

Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) has a special place in the field of arms control because it involves the reduction of very destructive weapons with long-range capacities. The first such treaty was negotiated between the U.S. and Russia, the global nuclear giants possessing almost 95 per cent of nuclear weapons in 1991 in the beginning of the post-Cold War era.

The second START was the hallmark of president Obama’s presidency as the treaty not only pledged to drastically cut down the number of strategic weapons of both America and Russia lowering up to 1500 each side, but also incorporating the provisions of verification, which is very important. Through verification system the signatories to any treaty can be held accountable, if there is cheating on their obligations.

Since 2010 there seems to be a setback in the field of nuclear disarmament as both major nuclear powers are apparently at odds with each other on other political issues, including Ukraine.  Arms reduction treaties between America and Russia can hopefully spur the process of nuclear disarmament but geopolitics has influenced their behavior in the recent years prompting some analysts to fear the emergence of new Cold War.

The U.S.-Russia relations have soured and the chances of initiating negotiations between them on further nuclear weapons reduction are becoming slimmer day by day. On many issues like Iran, Syria and the question of Palestinian statehood, they have clashed several times at the global forum. The most recent example of American-Russian confrontation was visible at the United Nations Security Council meeting in December 2014, when the Arab league had tabled a resolution concerning Palestine statehood, which was opposed by the U.S. and supported by Russia.

This antagonism between the U.S. and Russia is reasonably casting a pall on the prospects of the goals of Korean Peninsula with no nuclear weapons. In the aftermath of START II there were some indications that North Korea and the U.S. would enter into some kind of dialogue, which could add momentum to restarting the stalled six-party negotiations on ending the nuclear weapons program in North Korea. Despite some overtures from the North Korean side to start talks with the U.S. even during Kin Jong Il’s regime, no dialogue could take place for which both sides should be responsible.

The multilateral negotiations for curbing the nuclear aspirations of Pyongyang  involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the U.S., have deadlocked because of differences between Washington and Pyongyang.

The situation in the Korean Peninsula after the election of new South Korean president has not significantly changed although the current leader Park of South Korea is considered to be a moderate unlike her predecessor, who was a hardliner refusing to sit for dialogue with North Korea. During her presidency she has taken some initiatives for consultations with North Korea and South Korea’s desire to improve relations with North Korea can be encouraged by the American leadership when Pyongyang has recently expressed its willingness for a temporary moratorium in order to promote engagement with Seoul for reconciliation.

Notwithstanding the fact that North Korea has put up a condition before the U.S. that it should cancel its joint annual military exercises with South Korea for its desire to place a transitional moratorium, the offer is still worthwhile at a time when progress on nuclear disarmament is almost nil. North Korea’s nuclear arsenals are not supposedly safe and the prospects of nuclear theft are increasing when terrorist groups like Boko Haram and Islamic State in Syria and Iraq desperately need the nuclear weapons.

Unfortunately, the relations between Pyongyang and Washington are souring further with the imposition of new American sanctions (January 2, 2015) on North Korea in retaliation for the Sony hacking.

According to the New York Times Editorial Board, the U.S. government has been pursuing a policy of strategic patience toward North Korea, which means imposing tough sanctions and refusing a new round of nuclear negotiations until the North takes steps to halt its nuclear program.

It may be wise for the Obama administration to review such policy which has not served its purpose of seeing no nuclear weapons in the world, let alone Korean Peninsula. In January 2003 when North Korea retaliated by announcing its decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it had no nuclear weapons, yet today it is obvious that it has enough fissile materials for as many as dozen warheads.

There should be no delay in capitalizing on the overtures made by North Korea, which is another way of engaging the country so that nuclear weapons curtailment program could be advanced.

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Desperation or Provocation


The issue of Palestinian statehood has again captured the agenda of the UN as highlighted by the recent resolution on the subject before the Security Council, which though was defeated for failing to obtain the necessary number of positive votes from the members. The Palestinian leadership should have been aware of this outcome in view of unrelenting American support for its closest ally Israel.

There has been a debate among foreign relations experts whether Palestinian Authority was becoming provocative by pushing for such a vote at the UN Security Council. The last time when the Palestinians took such a step to gain statehood recognition internationally was in 2011. Then the Palestinian Authority had presented a formal request at the UN for granting it the full membership of the world organization, in which it has observer status.

The Security Council vote on the resolution on Palestine, which took place on Tuesday December 30 2014 is reminiscent of September 2012 when the resolution concerning granting of UN full membership to Palestine Authority faced the same fate of failing to garner the nine required yes votes. Then as in last December (2014) the U.S. leadership lobbied hard in favor of Israel to block the Palestinians’ move for UN membership by persuading the Security Council members to oppose the same.

It is no surprise that the Palestinians enjoy greater sympathy among the members of the UN General Assembly and so could have gained membership had the U.S. and its allies not obstructed the membership resolution, which needs to be passed by the UN Security Council. The UN General Assembly can decide whether to approve any country’s membership application only on the recommendation of the Security Council.

Veto-wielding member like the U.S. in the UN Security Council has always been a guarantor of support for Israel. This is why Israel has been adamant in peace negotiations with the Palestine Authority ever since the American Secretary of State John Kerry led the initiative of secret talks between the Israelis and the Palestine, which bore no fruit despite nine months of shuttle diplomacy. Unfortunately the U.S.-initiated peace process in the Middle East, which president Obama wanted to see succeed before leaving his office next year, has almost collapsed with increasing desperation on the part of the Palestinians. The UN move by the Palestinians is an example of their utter frustration due to fruitless peace talks with Israel.

The latest vote count at the Security Council reveals that Americans have succeeded in foiling the attempts of the Palestinians for pushing for a time table for negotiations even without having to cast their veto to kill the resolution. But it does not hide U.S.’s designs and maneuvers to deny the Palestinians their right to claim statehood despite American support for a two-state solution principle endorsed by UN Quartet. This Quartet includes the U.S., UN, Russia and the EU.

The ramifications of the UN action on the situation in the Middle East are not difficult to imagine with likely growing rift between America and the Arabs. If the deliberations in the Security Council in the wake of the UN vote are any guide, a lot of anguish is expressed by the representative of Jordan, which represents the Arab countries in the council. As substantiated by the relevant UN documents, the Jordanian representative has said, “The UN Security Council has failed in its duties by not adopting the resolution.”

Interestingly, even France has supported the UN Security Council resolution, which if approved, would have required to complete Israel-Palestine negotiations within one year. The finalization of such negotiations would have laid the foundation for peaceful solution to the situation in the Middle East. Consequently, a congenial environment for establishing an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital would have been created.

The time table requirement for finalizing peace talks has been one of the points which has received strong US objection. The U.S.’s ambassador to the UN Samantha Power has labeled the said draft resolution as unbalanced and unconstructive. Of the three remaining permanent members of the UN Security Council, Britain abstained in the voting but China and Russia lent their support to the resolution.

The UN action on Palestinian vote has again brought rupture between the U.S. and Russia at a time when the former needs the latter’s cooperation more urgently to deal with emerging new terrorist threats posed by Islamic State and Iraq and Syria. Resolving the Syrian crisis that has been getting worse requires Russia’s tacit support as evidenced by the vetoes Russia cast at UN Security Council meetings in the past.

Ominously, U.S.-Russia bilateral relations have turned more confrontational seen against the background of the crisis in Ukraine, where Russia feels that the West has unjustly encroached in its neighborhood. Needless to mention that the interference of the U.S. in the affairs of Ukraine to push for NATO’s expansion in the Russia’s doorstep has been a serious bone of contention between the world’s two largest nuclear powers. The issue of compliance with 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty) has compounded the problem between the U.S. and Russia, which have signed the above significant arms control treaty. Russia has been accused of violating the INF treaty.

The most immediate after effect of defeat of Palestine resolution has been reflected in the decision of the Palestine Authority to accede to the Rome Statute to become the member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has been criticized by Israel and the U.S. governments. Both the U.S. and Israel have even vowed to punish for Palestinian move to obtain ICC’s membership as they fear that cases of war crimes against Israel could be registered with the world court by the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Responding to the allegation that PA action of accession to the Rome Treaty is tantamount to provocation, the permanent observer PA to the UN Rijad Mansour has said, “This is a very significant step to seek justice through a legal action. We delivered a letter to the Office of Registrar at the Hague requesting retroactivity with regards to the crimes committed during the last war in Gaza and reserving our right for other retroactive crimes committed by Israel.”

Hence a debate has ensued whether this legal action on the part of the Palestinians is an act of desperation for seeing no hopes of peaceful resolution to their conflict with Israel for more than six decades or a provocative step to derail the stalled peace process in the Middle East.

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Post-2015 Agenda


As UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015, all eyes are set on how the world community prepares to develop successor framework for environmental and development policy. The UN MDGs were agreed in 2000 to respect and uphold the limits of our earth. Then the world leaders assembled in New York for the Millennium Summit marking the fifty-fifth session of the UN General Assembly decided to push development agenda setting eight time-specific goals in areas of education, health, and environment etc.

The review of those goals shows the mixed results. In some areas of development progress is satisfactory but in others the countries have lagged behind in meeting the goals. Even Nepal has taken pride in fulfilling the goals in health by drastically reducing child mortality rates though our achievement in education is not encouraging.

When the international community starts working on formulating the post-2015 development agenda, which though will be known as sustainable goals, it needs to take a serious note of our past accomplishments. The new goals by whatever name they will be known will focus on both economic development and environment.

Barbara Unmuessig, President of the Heinrich Boil Foundation (Project-Syndicate piece on Radical Goals for Sustainable Development, December 23, 2014) has said that combining environmental and developmental frameworks is a good idea. Her contention is premised on the fact that such frameworks are supported by the success of a number of international conventions and agreements concluded at the auspices of the UN. These UN agreements cover a range of issues like conservation of biodiversity, human rights protection and the reduction of poverty considered to be vital for development.

In Barbara’s opinion, to make sustainable goals achievable and help promote sustainable development the world community has to pay attention to arresting environmental degradation, which is due to destruction of fertile top soil and global plastic production. There are no international agreements crafted so far in addressing these problems and she believes that forthcoming sustainable development goals should deal with problems of environment, human rights and development holistically.

As opined by Jeffrey D. Sachs, a Professor of Sustainable Development, (Project Syndicate “The Year of Sustainable Development” December 9, 2014) coming year will be our generation’s greatest opportunity to push the agenda of sustainable development. According to him three upcoming UN conferences slated between July-December, 2015 will be utilized for reshaping global development agenda. These negotiations will be related to financing for development, approving sustainable development goals (SDGs) to guide national and global policies until 2030, and conclusion of an international treaty on climate change.

In this vein the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s appeal to the international community in defining the goals of sustainable development clearly looks pertinent. Ban has explained that only clearly-defined goals of development can inspire people, business leaders, politicians, scientists, and civil society around the world to move toward those goals. His message on the subject can be better understood by recalling the report he produced for the General Assembly known as “The Road to Dignity by 2030”. This is a synthesis report by the UN chief on the Post-2015 Agenda.

A total of 17 target areas have been identified by the committee of the UN for enhancing sustainable development within the next 15 years. As past negotiations suggest the member states were in favor of keeping 10-12 goals that would cover all 17 areas of priority. Negotiations on the issue have been continuing since 2012 when sustainable development goals were first proposed before the UN. It is likely that such meetings will be convened until the end of next year before finally agreeing on the exact text.

The very title of UNSG’s report shows that there would be priority on issues of ending poverty and conserving the earth’s ecosystem, among other things. What is note worthy about the report is that it has accorded due attention to past mistakes in launching development agenda. Appropriately, the report quotes from Rio+20 Outcome Document, “The Future We Want”. This document was agreed during the 2012 conference organized in Rio as a follow-up to 1992 Rio Summit on Environment and Development.

According to the Outcome Document, “We recognize that people are at the center of sustainable development and, in this regard, we strive for a world that is just, equitable and inclusive, and we commit to work together to promote sustained and inclusive economic growth, social development and environmental protection and thereby to benefit all.”

It becomes clear that we are looking forward to action-oriented and people-oriented programs that should lead us to a world characterized by justice, equity, and inclusiveness. There is emphasis on inclusive economic growth, social development, and conservation of the planet.

It may be opportune to list here the sustainable development goals, which the UN committee has identified and the source is The Report of the Open Working Group of the General Assembly on Sustainable development Goals (A/68/970). These are related to ending poverty and hunger, ensuring healthy lives and equitable quality education, sustainable management of water and access of affordable and modern energy for all and sustainable consumption and production patterns.

Moreover, there are goals concerning the reduction of inequality within and among nations, conservation of earth resources, combating desertification, the promotion of peaceful societies for sustainable development, among others. Identification of goals is important but not enough. We need to learn good lessons from past experiences. The Millennium Development Goals could not be achieved as expected despite the efforts. The world community should thoroughly review the 2001-15 period for us to take guidance from the same and reformulate the policies in the areas where we have lagged behind.

We have been warned by the scientists time and again that we must strive for the conservation of finite resources and stop global warming to make this earth inhabitable. Therefore, it is hoped that all world leaders would become serious to conclude an internationally verifiable climate treaty by the end of 2015.

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A Constructive Approach to Diplomacy


With July 20, 2014 deadline approaching fast for concluding a comprehensive agreement to resolve the issue of Iranian nuclear program, talks between the concerned parties in Vienna seem more urgent than ever for overcoming the differences that have so far impeded the progress.

Ever since the 1980s when the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) expressed doubts about the peaceful intentions of Tehran’s nuclear program, the world community has raised alarms over the risks involved in the nuclear program, which outsiders assume that Iran’s leadership is inclined to build nuclear weapons under the guise of civilian nuclear energy program.

Of all the anxieties shown over such program, the 2002 IAEA report questioning the compliance of Iran with the international obligations devolving upon it from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of the Nuclear Weapons (NPT) has prompted Iran and the global powers like the U.S. and the EU to seriously engage in negotiations to explore the peaceful settlement of nuclear problem.

Following critical reports of the IAEA alleging Iran of failing to meet its international obligations under the NPT, which is to refrain from seeking or building nuclear weapons, the UN Security Council has punished Tehran by imposing severe economic sanctions. Feeling the pressure of biting sanctions Iranian leaders have demonstrated their willingness to sit for negotiations with the international community, which is at present represented by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Under the framework of P-5+Germany several rounds of talks to resolve the Iranian nuclear impasse have taken place so far and fortunately an interim agreement on the subject was sealed between that group and Iran almost six months ago. That temporary agreement was possible because of the conciliatory approach taken by the new Iranian president Hasan Rauhani, who since his coming into power following the last election, has signaled to the U.S. that his country is willing to negotiate in good faith for resolving the nuclear issue.

In his widely-quoted opinion piece “Time to Engage” published by “The Washington Post” on September 19, 2013 president Hasan Rauhani has sounded optimistic. He has said “International politics is no longer a zero-sum game but a multi-dimensional arena where cooperation and competition occur simultaneously. World leaders are expected to lead in treating threats into opportunities.”

With such cooperative gestures displayed by the new leader of Iran, the country has been found meeting its obligations arising from interim nuclear agreement as follows:

  1. Elimination of its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium.
  2. Limitation of country’s enrichment capability by not installing or starting up additional centrifuges.
  3. Refraining from making further advances at its enrichment facilities and heavy water reactor.
  4. Permission for new and more frequent inspections.

Looking at the above list one feels that Iran has progressed a lot in assuring the international community that its nuclear program has civilian purposes only. Nevertheless, the western world has not been fully convinced of Iran’s commitment to match its words with commensurate action.

Echoing such skepticism on the part of Iran in fulfilling its commitment to reassure the world community about Iranian true intentions behind the nuclear program, the U.S. secretary of State, John Kerry has written an article in The Washington Post (June 30, 2014).

In the article entitled “Iranian Nuclear Deal Still is Possible but Time is Running Out”, John Kerry has forewarned the Iranian leaders that they have two hard choices to make. Either the Iranian leaders assure the world that their nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful or they can squander a historic opportunity to end Iran’s economic and diplomatic isolation and improve the lives of their people.

Iran, as claimed by John Kerry, can disprove the presumption that it has been secretly building nuclear weapons and establish the proposition that all its nuclear activities are designed to meet civilian needs. But to do so Iran has to take a number of measures that remove the suspicion among the members of the international community that Iran is not intending to fulfill the civilian nuclear requirements only.

In this vein the American Secretary of State has recalled the Geneva Joint Plan of Action (June 24, 2013) concerning the steps that are to be taken to resolve the nuclear imbroglio of Iran. That agreement basically deals with key parts of Iranian nuclear program in exchange for temporary relief from some economic sanctions. If implemented in full measure, the above mentioned Joint Plan of Action will constitute a first pause in the country’s nuclear program in more than a decade. Additionally, agreement’s implementation will make it virtually impossible for Tehran to build a nuclear weapon without being detected.

This scribe has time and again argued through this paper that any resolution of Iran’s nuclear issue depends on the unhindered exercise of the country’s right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. No doubt that the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of the Nuclear Weapons provides all of its members the right to peacefully exploit nuclear energy. Peaceful use of nuclear energy by any member of the NPT is linked to simultaneous obligation on the part of the member to comply with the relevant articles of the treaty. Such articles require the treaty members to refrain from using nuclear fuel and related technology from manufacturing atomic bombs.

As Iran’s president has stated that in today’s world both cooperation and competition can go hand in hand, there appears a window of opportunity to resolve the nuclear issue diplomatically. Based on the interim agreement between P-5+ Germany and Iran and the subsequent nuclear talks between them since then, we can hope that a constructive approach to diplomacy can produce a comprehensive deal that will stop Iran from building nuclear weapons and lead to the lifting of all UN sanctions as well as multinational and national sanctions imposed on Iran, which will bring prosperity to all.

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Avoiding Stupid Stuff


U.S. president Barack Obama’s speech delivered at the West Point Military Academy on May 28 2014 has sketched the contour of American foreign policy. This was his second commencement speech for the graduating cadets of Military Academy. President Obama first addressed them in 2009. That marked the height of U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan.

Much water has flown since then and the geopolitics has undergone tremendous transformation prompting major world powers to introduce changes in the priorities of their countries’ foreign policies. The American foreign policy hugely impacts on world political landscape. Therefore, Obama’s emphasis on intervention and internationalism will largely determine as to how the global problems will be handled in the near future.

In the aftermath of America’s complete military withdrawal from Iraq and the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan lowering up to 9800 this year and bringing that number further down in next two years, president Obama has given an indication that the U.S. will less likely be interventionist in future wars. One of the points in his oft-quoted Foreign Policy speech is that America cannot ignore what happens beyond U.S. boundaries.

“America must lead the world stage”. This was announced by Obama on May 28 2014 (The New York Times May 29 2014). What it makes obvious is that isolationism is not America’s option. President Obama has added that the U.S. will not favor unilateral approach either. The U.S. administration is prepared to use force, if necessary. It will take muscular action only by taking allies together.

Refuting his critics who accuse the Obama administration of failure to establish its global supremacy seen its hesitancy to apply military force to resolve the civil war in Syria, he has clarified that not every problem has a military solution. This has been favorably received by those who fear that America might be tempted to use its military muscle in resolving problems around the world. America’s involvement in Iraq war (2003) even without UN authorization and its leadership of military coalition against the Qaddafi government resulting in regime change (2011) have aroused apprehension among the militarily weaker nations of the developing world.

Regarding the threats to global peace and security, Obama has identified terrorism as the most serious one and he points to Al Qaeda affiliates as the most active terrorist entities at the present time. His reference to places in Yemen, Mali and Nigeria underscores the view that the U.S considers the remnants of Al Qaeda to be of deep security concern. This is why his administration has announced a new program of assistance to the above countries in fighting terrorism. $ 5 billion would be allocated to Terrorism Partnership Fund, which would assist the terrorism-affected countries in North Africa to take effective counter terrorism measures.

President Obama has warned not to misread U.S. policy as being isolationist only because America has refrained from using military force in Syria to end the crisis there. It has also been made obvious that withdrawal of American forces from Iraq and Afghanistan is not the symbol of decline of U.S. role in managing global affairs. President Obama has also rejected the arguments that the U.S. should retreat from its post-World War II centrality in global affairs (Mark Lander The New York Times).

While dealing with global crises Obama has laid emphasis on the fact that no American soldier’s life will be put at risk even when the U.S. military muscle is used in safeguarding the national interests. For this objective the U.S. will put sincere efforts in mobilizing the international coalition to tackle problem like Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

But Andrei Piontkovsky, a Russian political scientist and a fellow with Hudson Institute, Washington DC in his essay “Putin’s Brave New World” (Project-Syndicate May 30 2014) has argued that the immediate response of the U.S. and the EU to Russia’s annexation of Crimea was to declare that military intervention was “absolutely excluded”, given that Ukraine is not a member of NATO.

The political scientist in the above essay further explains why the Russian president will likely escalate the Ukrainian crisis. According to him, during the Cold War (1945-1989), both sides’ acceptance of “Mutual Assured Destruction” (MAD) ensured that nuclear weapons served as a deterrent and thus supported strategic stability.

In Putin’s case the threat to use nuclear weapons is a perfectly logical tactic in Andrei Piontkovsky’s opinion. He adds that Putin can assert international authority only by claiming a free hand in the entire post-Soviet space and menacing the West with a limited nuclear war if it interferes with Russia’s imperial ambitions. For Putin such tactic seems more practical given the fact that Russia’s conventional weaponry is limited.

As Thomas L. Friedman, a columnist of The New York Times has recently quoted Obama saying in private conversation that “America should not do stupid stuff”, one doubts whether the president, who will complete his second term in about two years and a half, will undertake muscular measures to settle crises, including Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The recourse to military action in resolving disputes is always the least preferred option but diplomacy not backed by force can hardly deter the aggression in Europe and elsewhere. However, one may be optimistic as pointed out by Shinzo Abe, the incumbent Prime Minister of Japan, in his Project-Syndicate essay “Securing the Rule of Law”. Abe believes that in today’s world, countries should not fear that coercion and threats will replace rules and laws.

If the world becomes as law-abiding as the Japanese Prime Minister wishes to see, then Obama’s assertion that the U.S. should not do stupid stuff, may be a pragmatic policy option. In this vein former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s contention (“A Manifesto for European Change”, Project-Syndicate) that the twenty-first century world order will be dramatically different from that of the twentieth century lends credence to the above optimism. Let us hope that the world turns less violent with fewer occasions to have to take military action.

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Shift in Rhetoric and Action


Seemingly the relations between Russia and China are characterized by a shift in action as demonstrated  in the wake of Ukraine crisis. With more sanctions from the west in the foreseeable future against the country as crisis in Ukraine shows no sign of resolution, president Putin has successfully embarked on a diplomatic mission to cultivate deeper economic relations with China.

Russia expects to gain a large share of market for its energy supplies in China by strengthening bilateral relations with its neighbor, with which it shares a border of 2600 miles and long history of uneasy relationship. Both Russia and China clashed with each other briefly on border issue in 1969. The economic compulsions prompted by western sanctions and a gradual change in geopolitics have left a huge impact on current China-Russia relations.

Neil MacFarquher and David M. HERSZENHORN have commented (The New York Times May 19 2014) that western sanctions are helping to disrupt Russian economy and also pushing Russia toward greater dependence on China. President Putin’s recent summit meeting with his Chinese counterpart has to be analyzed against this backdrop.

That visit has heralded a new era of economic collaboration between China and Russia. The 30-year $400 billion Sino-Soviet gas deal marks a landmark achievement in improving relations between the two countries. Interestingly, China and Russia have been on-again and off-again Cold War allies.

President Putin has described the deal as an epochal event. The relations have been solidified that had been warming since 2012 when Xi Jinping rose to the pinnacle of power in China.

Strobe Talbott, president of Brookings Institution and Chairman of Secretary of State John Kerry’s Foreign Policy Board, who has been quoted by Jane Parlez (“China and Russia Reach 30-year Gas Deal” The New York Times May 22 2014) has sounded more optimistic “The Sino-Soviet rift that brought the two countries to the brink of nuclear war in the 1960s has been healed rather dramatically”.

Analyzing the Ukraine crisis and its implications on geopolitics, Walter Russell Mead, Professor of Foreign Affairs and Humanities at Bard College, in his Foreign Affairs essay “The Return of Geopolitics” (May-June 2014) has said that geopolitical rivalries have stormed back to the center stage. In the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the U.S. and the EU have been in the fore front to impose economic sanctions against Russia.

According to the professor, since the end of Cold War (1989), the most important objective of the U.S. and EU foreign policy has been to shift international relations away from zero-sum issues toward win-win ones. Professor Mead recalls the conclusions made by the political scientist Francis Fukuyama, which were famously debated and contained in the book “The End of History”. He explains that Fukuyama’s formulation that the end of the Cold War meant “the end of history” was a statement about ideology. He elaborates that for many people, the collapse of the Soviet Union didn’t just mean that humanity’s ideological struggle was over for good; they thought geopolitics itself had also ended.

Justifying the reemergence of geopolitics, Professor Walter Russell Mead presents a number of examples, which seem credible. The ongoing crisis in Ukraine reflects the rivalry between the U.S. and Russia. In Asia-Pacific region China is involved in maritime disputes with South East neighbors, more prominently with Japan and Vietnam. The frequency of sectarian violence in Iraq and Syria and continuing stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian conflict demonstrate that Cold War has still not altogether disappeared even 25 years after the dismantling of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.

Against such background comes the analysis of Bogoban Klich, a former Polish defense minister ( Project-Syndicate essay “NATO after Ukraine”) in which he argues that the Cold War institution continues to be as relevant to today’s global  order as it has been since 1949. He appreciates that NATO has a special provision in the famous Article 5 of the treaty which says “all for one, and one for all”. Pursuant to this all NATO members should consider the territorial accusation of any one of them as an attack on their territorial integrity. He emphasizes that NATO should review its existing relationship with Russia in view of latter’s revanchist policy.

But in the opinion of Ian Bremer (Project Syndicate essay “Cold War or Cool Calculations”) the March 27 2014 UN vote on the legitimacy of Crimea’s annexation when only 10 other countries supported Russia does not necessarily indicate that Cold War politics has dominated the global political landscape. To him a few countries in Russia’s orbit like Armenia and Belarus, traditionally Latin American countries and rogue states voted against the resolution that criticized the Russian move.

The warming of Sino-Soviet relations as observed in Shanghai summit nonetheless, a former Israeli foreign minister Sholmo Ben-Ami has said that China and Russia are not true revisionists. He says that Putin’s foreign policy is “more a reflection of his resentment of Russia’s geopolitical marginalization than a battle cry from a rising empire” (Foreign Affairs May-June 2014).

As Russia is punished by increasing wave of severe economic sanctions at a time when its economy is in serious need of revitalization, it is no wonder that Putin looks elsewhere than Europe, which has traditionally been its major consumer of gas. This scenario has been capitalized by China, the world’s number one energy consumer, by agreeing to make huge investment in implementing the gas deal under which Russia will supply 38 billion cubic meters of gas annually to China. According to George Schemann (The New York Times May 24 2014) the energy export agreement is Russia’s strategic alternative to Europe.

The agreement has given Moscow a mega market for its leading export. China has greater advantage in securing gas, a cleaner energy than coal and oil. Conspicuously, China and Russia are joining hands in countering the global clout of the U.S. in which they have common interests. Russia displays a shift of policy in action by coming closer to China predominantly on the economic front.

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Search for a Diplomatic Way


As the crisis in Ukraine gets deepened with signs of growing rift between Russia and the west, analysts are alleging that even those countries clamoring for established norms in external relations, are excusing Russia’s violation of international law. Perhaps they are doing this with the belief that economic compulsion is a crucial factor to determining whether norms of international law can be respected at all times.

Respect for a nation’s territorial integrity and independence is always an issue of high political significance and more so viewed from the perspective of international law. The role of international law in guiding the inter-state relations can never be undermined and the world community has duly emphasized it in the aftermath of World War II. The new world order that emerged in the wake of the above war is fundamentally based on the rule of law and non-adherence to this principle is not excusable.

A new world order was orchestrated and practiced as well after the birth of an international organization like the United Nations, whose Charter is considered by all the members to be the pillar on which inter-state relations are managed. This Charter envisions a world order under the framework of which all states recognize the inviolability of each other’s sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity.

For more than six decades since the UN was born in 1945 all its member states have abided by the norms of international relations as enshrined in the Principles and Purposes of the Charter though with some exceptions. There are some cases of violations of a member state’s territorial integrity by its neighbor. The UN Security Council authorizes enforcement action to restore a member state’s sovereignty if the same has been found infringed upon by an aggressor state. The Ukraine crisis has been a unique case in which the global community has been found hesitant in enforcing the rule of law.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq by the U.S. is perhaps one of the despicable evidences of naked aggression, which the UN could not halt, increasing number of nations criticizing the move nevertheless. Among them were U.S. allies France and Germany, in particular. The U.S. allies then justified their action on the basis of international law, which does not permit any military action against any nation unless being authorized by the UN.

Quite paradoxically, Germany is seemingly supporting Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which is a peninsula under the jurisdiction of Ukraine. Some of the former German Chancellors like Helmut Schmidt and Gerhard Schroder have argued (as quoted by Clemens Wergin in his Project-Analysis article “Why Germans Love Russia”) that NATO and the EU were the real aggressors, because they dared to expand into territory that belonged to Moscow’s legitimate sphere of interest.

Jeffrey Mankoff, Deputy Director of and a fellow in the Russia and Eurasian Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, in his Foreign Affairs (May-June 2014) essay “How Putin Won Crimea and Lost Ukraine” argues that each time Russia has undermined the territorial integrity of a neighboring state in an attempt to maintain its influence there, the result has been the opposite.

To illustrate the above contention Jeffrey Mankoff provides the examples of a few former Soviet republics like Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova, in whose separatist movements Russia provided support and consequently pushed all three into the fold of the west implying no dependence on Russia. He believes that current behavior of Russia vis-à-vis Ukraine will only bolster Ukrainian nationalism and push Kiev closer to Europe.

It needs to be borne in mind that a majority of Ukrainians favored association agreement with the European Union and had started protests only after then president Victor Yanukovych refused to sign the agreement. Anyway, the interim government of Ukraine has signed the association agreement with the EU.

Indeed Russia’s occupation and annexation of Crimea has plunged Europe into one of its gravest crises since the end of Cold War in the opinion of Jeffrey Mankoff. Germany has been in a dilemma whether to oppose Russia’s flouting of international norms in view of its greater stakes in economic relationship with Russia. Available statistics reveal that about a quarter of EU’s gas supplies come from Russia. EU’s trade with Russia amounted to almost $370 billion in 2012, compared with U.S.-Russia trade $ 26 billion.

The above economic consideration notwithstanding, the voting pattern observed while adopting the recent UN General Assembly resolution on Ukraine crisis demonstrates a painful picture in which regional powers like India have hesitated to favor the vote. This is why a former foreign minister of India, Jaswant Singh in his project-analysis essay “India’s Next Foreign Policy” has blamed the NAM diplomacy pursued by Manmohan Singh government, which according to him, impacted India to partially endorse Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

In the same vein one really wonders why Nepal could not support the UN move that criticized the Russian annexation of a neighbor’s territory. That resolution adopted by the General Assembly despite some abstentions including Nepal’s has emphasized the essence of UNGA resolution XXV (2625) of October 24 1970, which approved the Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in accordance with the Charter of the UN. It is beyond any doubt that Nepal’s failure to disprove the accusation of a small nation’s territory by a bullying neighbor ,which is against any norm of international law, may have serious policy implications on her in the days to come.

While the international community remains effortful in finding out a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine, no civilized member of the United Nations can just overlook an event involving state sovereignty, when a powerful nation thumbs its nose at international law and seizes part of a neighboring country only because that grabbed piece of land carries high strategic value to the aggressor. No rule-based system can permit this behavior.

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Iran’s Nuclear Aspirations


For the last few years no issue other than Iran’s nuclear ambitions has captured the global agenda more frequently. An interim nuclear agreement sealed between Iran and world’s major powers on 16 November 2013, has raised hopes of settlement in the foreseeable future.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council viz China, France, Russia, UK, and the U.S. plus one (Germany) have been engaged in negotiations with Iran for years in order to reach an acceptable conclusion of nuclear impasse of Iran ever since the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the world’s nuclear watchdog, raised alarm bells about intentions of Iranian nuclear program.

Nevertheless, Iran has been defending that peaceful use of its nuclear program has been authorized under the provisions of the Treaty on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation of the Nuclear Weapons (NPT), of which it is one of the parties. Undisputedly, any member of the NPT possesses the legitimate right to pursue nuclear program for non-military objectives. Additionally, the nuclear members of the NPT, have the obligation to assist non-nuclear weapon states members of the treaty in conducting nuclear research by providing nuclear fuel and related technology.

The debate of Iran’s nuclear program has been revolving around whether Iran can go ahead with its so-called nuclear research program, if it is in conformity with the articles of the NPT. The treaty provisions are obligatory on the part of the world’s major powers (P5+Germany), being treaty members, the main purpose of which is to establish the global regime of nuclear nonproliferation.

The main points of difference between the major powers and Iran are related to adherence to the provisions of the NPT. Iran says that it is not in contravention of the treaty because there is no military dimension to its nuclear program whereas the west has suspicion about the same.

It is the exactly this background against which the approach of the western countries vis-à-vis Iran’s nuclear problem has been designed in adopting UN resolutions critical of Iran and imposition of economic sanctions on the country with a view to pressurizing the Iranian government to forgo nuclear enrichment program.

Unfortunately, the imposition of severe economic sanctions impacting on the country’s economy, the Iranian leadership apparently looks determined not to abandon nuclear weapons capability by the harsh reality that establishes that once the nation is deprived of nuclear weapons, it falls prey to outside military intervention.

In 2011 Libya’s loss of sovereignty by coercive action under the guise of UN authorization to compel then Libyan leader to cede power, many have apprehensions that a country can be forced to surrender to outside interference in case it has no nuclear weapons. It is a fact that Libya had a few nuclear weapons until it surrendered them in the wake of its agreement with the west to cultivate normal friendly relations as it had been thrown into isolation for years following its involvement in Pan Am disaster in the 1980s.

Ominously, Ukraine crisis seen as reflected in Russia’s annexation of Crimea, which headquarters the Russian Black Sea Fleet, is signaling to the world that non-nuclear weapon state very often becomes vulnerable to external threat. Suffice it to say that until 1994 Budapest Memorandum was signed by the U.S., UK and Russia designed to provide Ukraine a kind reassurance about security, Ukraine was a nuclear weapon state. This agreement did not however guarantee the Ukrainian territorial integrity but helped Ukraine give up nuclear weapons it inherited from former Soviet Union. Ukraine acceded to the NPT as a non-nuclear weapon state in 1994.

Some pessimists conclude that a comprehensive agreement to peacefully resolve the Iranian nuclear problem is less likely in the aftermath of prolonged crises in Syria and Ukraine. They have credible grounds to justify their analyses. Russia’s relations with the U.S. in particular, and with the European Union, have strained severely in the wake of recent economic sanctions against Russia for its adventurism in Ukraine. The role of Russia in facilitating settlement in both Syria and Iran is too crucial to ignore. Evidence shows that the UN resolutions criticizing Syria have been vetoed by Russia. Russia is one of the main interlocutors with Iran under the framework of P5+One (Germany).

At a time when the west sorely needs to have a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran, the advice from George F. Kennan to the current American leadership is quite opportune. Frank Costigiliola in his New York Times (22 February 2014) column “What Would George F. Kennan say to Obama” has said that Kennan believed that the wisest foreign policy limited military intervention abroad while affording hard-headed diplomacy.

Against the backdrop of negligible progress in concluding a permanent nuclear agreement with Iran to replace the interim one of November last, Kennan’s emphasis on diplomacy and soft power looks more pragmatic as he propounds that these instruments are most cost-effective in influencing a rival’s intentions.

One may prudently recall the past history of bilateral relations between the U.S. and Iran before suggesting a more viable way to normalize them let alone advising on how the nuclear deal can be expedited. The hopes for nuclear deal have been ambitiously raised in the aftermath of conciliatory UN speech in September 2014 by the incumbent Iranian president.

It is certain that the people of Iran require reassurance in the form of respect for their prestige, who nurture both pride in their history and resentment of their humiliations, such as the CIA-orchestrated overthrow of their elected leader, Mohammad Mossadegh, in 1953.

There is no doubt that an internationally-verifiable and acceptable comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran is essential to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon power. Nonetheless, Iran deserves to be recognized as an NPT non-military nuclear power. Once again Kennan’s counsel that a settlement resented as unfair would be undermined by overt or covert resistance is still worthy of consideration. The controversial 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Friendship is not an exception either.

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Containment Doctrine Revisited


The ongoing crisis in Ukraine has deeper ramifications for the post WWII world order. Coincidentally, the adventurism reflected in Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a territory of a neighboring Ukraine has occurred at a time when the international community looks forward to view in retrospect, the hundredth anniversary of the bloodiest war of the century.

Christopher R. Hills, the dean of political science, Harvard University has succinctly remarked in his project-analysis essay “The end of world order” that the bedrock of the foreign policy embraced by the global leaders in the aftermath of the II World War (1939-45) has crumbled following accusation of a nation state’s sovereignty by another powerful neighbor.

The doyen of American foreign policy George F. Kennan, who is widely considered to be the main architect of West’s containment policy of Cold War era, has been quoted by Robert Skidelsky in his latest article “Kennan’s Revenge” carried by project-analysis. Kennan in 1996 commented that NATO’s   expansion into former Soviet territory was a “strategic blunder of potentially epic proportions”. This demonstrates the fallacy of western policy vis-à-vis Russia, which has also contributed to Putin’s revanchist approach in its dealing with Ukraine.

Moreover, at some quarters it has been  stated by some analysts that the 1994 Budapest Memorandum signed by the U.S. UK ,Russia and Ukraine, that led to abandonment of substantial stockpile of nuclear weapons of Ukraine, has motivated the present leadership of Russia to infringe upon the sovereignty of the neighbor. Then in 1994 Ukraine decided to accede to the Treaty on the Nuclear Nonproliferation of the Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as a non-nuclear weapon state. Following commitment by the west, especially the U.S. to the protection of Ukraine’s territorial integrity and political independence, Ukraine had remained assured of security. This commitment from the western countries has not been fulfilled as seen in their ineffective response to Putin’s flagrant violation of Ukrainian territorial integrity.

Understandably, no coercive action against Russia can be approved from the United Nations Security Council because of Russian possession of veto power.  It makes one surprised however, to know that even the UN vote by the General Assembly on March 27 last concerning Ukraine crisis could not be supported by America’s closest ally in the Middle East.  A former Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Itamar Rabinovich has discussed Israel’s Ukraine Dilemma thoroughly in a recent essay (project-analysis), which shows how America has become weaker in international affairs failing to garner even its most reliable partner’s support in UN.

The UN General Assembly resolution 68/262 on crisis in Ukraine was not supported by Israel for no other reason than that it decided to compromise on its adherence to the purposes and principles of the UN Charter only not to antagonize a powerful country Russia, which has been a strong backer of Syria in latter’s protracted civil war with immediate impact on Israel’s security.

It would be propitious to recall the famous UNGA resolution 2625(XXV) of 24 October 1970, which has been referred to in resolution 68/262 and deserves scrutiny at a time when a UN member like Israel shows disregard for UN’s cardinal principles in its lack of support for demanding protection of a fellow nation’s territorial integrity. The resolution 2625 has approved the Declaration of Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in accordance with the Charter of the UN. One of the most important principles emphasized in UN’s Charter (Article 2) is that no territory of a State shall be the object of occupation by another State resulting from the threat or use of force, and that any attempt at the partial or total disruption of the national unity and territorial integrity of a State or country or at its political independence is incompatible with the purposes and principles of the Charter.

Judged against the above principles contained in resolution XXV (24 October 1970), the behavior of Russian leader with regard to Ukraine is completely in contravention of Charter of the UN. Russia’s Putin may try to justify the annexation of Crimea on the basis of so-called referendum in the disputed territory of Ukraine conducted last month. It needs to be borne in mind that the results of above referendum were foregone conclusion as Russian-speaking communities were then encouraged to vote for secession.

The recent developments in Ukraine cannot be disregarded as trivial. Such events carry ominous significance for many other smaller nations that have contiguous borders with mighty neighbors. Nepal may not be an exception to this albeit our democratic government is encouragingly effortful to cultivate balanced bilateral relationships with her powerful immediate neighbors.

While Russia has been imposed economic sanctions by the western countries for its questionable behavior in connection with interference with her neighbor’s territorial integrity, its president Vladimir Putin has displayed Cold War-like reaction by announcing that gas giant Gazprom could start demanding advance payment for the energy supplies to Ukraine. This seems to be Russia’s evidence of further intimidation against a neighbor that relies heavily on it for the supply of energy. Nepal as a dependent of energy supplies has to face a similar situation off and on. We have to blame our own imprudent and unsustainable policies concerning petroleum products.

According to George F. Kennan, his containment doctrine was wrongly interpreted in the past. He has reemphasized that political and economic accommodation rather than military build ups would make containment policy more sustainable.

He has been quoted saying that under the popular banner of democracy and human rights, the west actively sought to pry the ex-Soviet countries from Russia’s orbit. Kennan cites the NATO membership of former Soviet republics like Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania as an act of imprudence on the part of the U.S. and Europe.

His advice to the policy makers in the west that they (U.S. and EU) should engage themselves in finding out the means to work with Russia is undisputable and it behooves on all stakeholders to realize that increasing confrontation rather than advancing collaboration with Russia would lead to further chaos not tranquility. The containment policy of last century is still relevant.

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Diplomatic Drama!

  As the deadline of April 29 for agreeing on the core elements of future agreement on Middle East peace draws closer, the chances of resuming bilateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians seem more remote. The bilateral talks started since July under the auspices of the U.S. administration, have recently hit snags as blame game continues between the concerned parties to the peace negotiations.

The concerted efforts of the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to keep the negotiating process alive amid growing tensions between the Palestinian Authority and Israel notwithstanding, indications are that an agreement on core principles for guiding the future peace deal is less likely.

The parties are busy blaming the other partner for disruption and this may be their tact to convince their own constituencies about their sincerity to negotiate in good faith. The latest episode impeding talks is the allegation of the Palestinians that Israel has not fulfilled its promise of releasing the Palestinian prisoners as agreed earlier. Remaining stick to this accusation the President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas has decided to go ahead with their plan of joining 15 international conventions and treaties.

Reacting sharply to the above Palestinian move the Israeli government has warned of imposing further sanctions against the Palestinian Authority and has also threatened to stop releasing the Palestinian prisoners, a process which is already delayed.

Some commentators, in view of current stalemate in negotiations, have said, as reported in the New York Times, by Mark Lander under the title “Mideast Frustration, the Sequel” that the Middle East peace process has become a diplomatic drama playing on an endless loop. The same reporter has quoted John Kerry, as saying ‘both sides (Israel and Palestinians) have bore responsibility for unhelpful actions, the precipitating event was Israel’s announcement of 700 new housing units for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem.” Even the chief Israeli negotiator and a member of current cabinet Tzipi Livni has criticized her housing minister for non cooperation in the peace process by making inappropriate announcement of new construction in the occupied Arab land.

Against the background of eroding trust between the Israeli and the Palestinian negotiators in the recent times, Jodi Rudroren, a columnist for the New York Times in his report titled “Keeping Peace Talks Alive Has Become an End in Itself” has said,” Keeping the Palestinian track alive helps Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies in U.S. Congress from taking steps that could threaten diplomacy with Tehran.”

The reason why active diplomacy with Iran is so crucial to U.S. national interests is better explained by Thomas L. Friedman in his most recent op-ed column in the New York Times (Sunday Review, April 6, 2014). Friedman has said that by supporting Palestinian militants dedicated to destroying any peace process, Tehran hopes to keep Israel permanently mired in the West Bank (the Occupied Territory) and occupying 2.7 million Palestinians, denying them any statehood and preventing the emergence of a Palestinian state that might recognize Israel and live in peace alongside it.

The environment in peace talks has been poisoned by the series of accusation leveled by the Israeli side against the U.S. secretary of State John Kerry, who during his most recent testimony before the American Senate Relations Committee, has detailed the chain of events that led to the verge of breakdown of peace negotiations.

Isabel Kershnev of New York Times has said that Israel has been deeply disappointed by John Kerry’s remarks on peace talks. Kerry seems to have put the primary blame on Israel for the crisis in the American-brokered Middle East peace process. Israel has compared the current attitude of the Palestinians to that of 1967 in the immediate aftermath of Six-Day Arab-Israeli War, when the Israeli side annexed a large swathe of Arab territories including East Jerusalem, where illegal construction is disappointedly continuing.

In the famous Khartoum Resolution (1967) adopted by the Arab Heads of State certain principles were embraced, which in Israel’s opinion, were guided by the rejectionist policy vis-à-vis Israel. Then three Nos were highlighted viz no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiation with Israel.

In a recent opinion page of New York Times entitled “The Limits of Special ‘K’, columnist Roger Cohen, has said that neither side is serious today about a two-state peace settlement after nine months of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiation in which John Kerry has invested significant resources shuttling between Washington and the Middle East several times.

Roger Cohen describes the present stalemate in peace talks as pathetic as more squabbling and horse-trading have been more clearly visible. It is difficult to disagree with him when he says that the gap between the maximum potential Israeli offer and minimum Palestinian demand has kept growing. The decision of the Israeli government to move forward with plans to build 700 new settlement units in Jerusalem reflects that the present coalition government of Netanyahu is determined not to surrender an inch of land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River. This is because of estrangement fueled by 66-year-old conflict and 47-year-old Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

Surprisingly, Israel has been insisting on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state whereas it has not demanded the same of either Egypt or Jordan, the two Arab nations with whom it has signed peace treaties. This has reasonably infuriated the Palestine Authority at a time when Israel has also failed to meet its deadline of March last to release the fourth group of prisoners as promised earlier.

Worryingly, the Obama administration is domestically constrained to show the courage to state again what the president said in 2011 that any territorial settlement should be based on the 1967 lines with agreed land swaps, which is only possible foundation for realizing two-nation concept. Under the two-state framework Israelis and the Palestinians live alongside in peace, security, freedom, and prosperity. Considering this, one wonders whether the American-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become a diplomatic drama.

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