Thursday, 31 January 2013

SYRIA: '' The Israeli- Attacks'': Is Israel initiating war against Syria?

The wars in Mali and Syria have followed very different trajectories over the past month. While Syria has become symbolic of international inaction, France’s use of force in Mali has shown that some Western governments are still willing to launch new interventions abroad.

The crises also have very different geopolitical implications. The situation in Mali is the latest in a long series of French operations to stabilize its former colonies, although Paris enjoys an unusual level of African backing in this case. The battle over Syria looks like a replay of the Cold War, as Russia and the West compete for power in the Middle East. Mali may be in the headlines today, but the stakes are still higher in Syria.

Now, Israel is getting intensely impatient with the ongoing Syrian conflict. It is believed that Israel has requested the approval of the U.S and its allies to take the initiative in ending the everlasting Syrian conflict. Israelis top diplomats are trying to convince the West that a ''French Mali initiative style approach'' is required to secure Syrian chemical weapons and subsequently end the conflict. However, this short-sighted approach'' faces strong criticisms from West's top diplomats.

The West argues that the French military intervention initiative was an invitation of Mali's president to pull back Islamists advances. But also, the French intervention is Mali was indeed secured under UNSC resolution, even though precipitated under the circumstances. In Syria, there is no clear UNSC resolutions to suggest such move and Russia-China are mainly standing on the way.

In sign of frustration, possibly as a prelude to a wider military intervention in Syria, Israel carried two separate attacks in Syria.

First, Israel attacked a convoy of sophisticated anti-aircraft weapons en route to Hezbollah near the Lebanon-Syria border on Wednesday, although Hezbollah nor Syrian media would confrim this attack. The Israelis have always been sensitive to any increase in Hezbollah’s anti-aircraft capability.

There are political risks for Syria and Hezbollah should they protest the airstrike too vocally. Hezbollah and Syria may not raise any kind of ruckus about it because it points a bad finger at them if they are engaged in what would be seen as destabilizing activity when the areas is already in crisis

The Israelis basically want to be able to completely dominate the airspace over Lebanon. They don't want any threats to their ability to fly there. The SA-17 is an advanced, capable, mobile, modern anti-aircraft missile system, because the Russian-designed system is fully mobile, the missile launchers are more difficult to attack.

If these missiles were actually being transferred to Hezbollah, which is still somewhat of a question, it would give Hezbollah a boost in its anti-aircraft capabilities. A small shipment of SA-17 missiles would enhance Hezbollah’s air defense capability and complicate Israeli air operations in Lebanese airspace.

If Syria had decided to send such weapons beyond its borders, it would be either to enhance Hezbollah’s capabilities, or perhaps simply because of the risk that the weapons would otherwise fall into the wrong hands or the Syrians are just trying to get these weapons systems out of Syria, worried that they could get compromised, that they would be a lost asset for the Syrian government if they into the hands of the rebels.

Later on, Israel carried a second attack. Israeli fighter jets targeted a military research center near Damascus. The strike caused material damage to the center and a nearby building, killing two workers and wounding five others.

Hezbollah, the Arab League and Russia rebuked Israel Thursday. The attack is a glaring violation of Syrian’s sovereignty. The U.S and its allies, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Qatar and the West remain ''muted''. The attack has disrupted Syrian air defense system, and the Syrian government is not currently capable of any kind of organized response to Israeli action.

The pattern of these two separate attacks begs the questions of Israel's motivations behind them. Such unprovoked strikes are usually a first step to greater one.

Israelis officials believe that Bashar al Assad's fall will undoubtedly isolate Iran and Hezbollah, but seem to neglect the simple fact that the Syrian conflict could spread into a regional conflict. That is more than a truism, because Assads' fall could heighten the chaos in the country to the point where neighboring countries will feel compelled to intervene.

If Bashar fall, the Syrian conflict will be far from over. A double escalation looms. It will be about domestic power and the question of who Syria belongs to. The country is too important, too central and too divisive to be left to itself. Israel's primary political interest and security, must be carried out in orderly manner. The two ''unprovoked and barbaric'' attacks are indeed a dangerous game.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

U.S.: '' Foreign Policy'': John Kerry and new challenges

John Kerry takes over as Secretary of State, succeeding Hillary Clinton in the position. At 69, it’s a job he’s had his eyes on for some time, and President Obama rewarded his patience and his support. ''Diplomacy'' is one of the languages that John Kerry understands and speaks best.

He was born into a wealthy family, and went to elite schools in New England and in Europe. He signed up for navy duty in Vietnam when he was 24, and was wounded in action. He came home with medals and joined the anti-war movement.

As a Senator, John Kerry has travelled the globe, bolstering his foreign policy and diplomatic expertise. Israel, Gaza, Pakistan, Syria, Afghanistan… were among the hotspots he visited. Invariably favouring peaceful solutions, he hopes to make a mark in his new post by advancing the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, where Obama and Clinton have not.

Ten years after the U.S's precipitated war in Iraq, diplomacy is back in fashion in Washington. As secretary of state, Hillary Clinton has restored much of the confidence the State Department lost in the Bush era. Her successor, Sen. John Kerry, is likely to continue the healing process. It is obvious that as president, Barack Obama retains tight control over crucial foreign policy decisions, but it is equally obvious that he is a believer in the power of persuasion in international affairs.

It might seem to be ''an easy ride'' for John Kerry on paper, as many believe that John Kerry's life was an audience for this job, but the diplomatic renaissance in the U.S. seems to be coinciding with a worrying decline in interest in diplomacy among other powers. This might complicate further John Kerry's task as U.S's top diplomat.

John Kerry is known as a man of compromise. John Kerry does not need an introduction to the world’s political and military leaders; and will begin Day One fully conversant not only with the intricacies of U.S. foreign policy, but able to act on a multitude of international stages. John Kerry “a realist” will deal with unrest in Egypt, civil war in Syria, the threat of al-Qaida-linked groups in Africa and Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

In fact, John Kerry worked with Obama’s administration as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. As a White House emissary, Kerry has tamped down diplomatic fires for Obama. He also has stepped ahead of the administration on a handful of crises.

Hillary Clinton’s assiduous courting of Southeast Asian nations has markedly improved cooperation in the region, although this delicate process has alienated China. Kerry presumably hopes to pull off similar coups. A durable regional settlement in Central and South Asia to guarantee Afghanistan’s future is one possible, albeit hard, goal. A mechanism for managing conflicts in the Middle East is arguably even more urgent -- and harder.

Moscow and Beijing have taken advantage of a year of uncertainty in U.S. politics to flex their muscles. Leaders from Russian President Vladimir Putin to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needed to shore up their domestic positions with shows of strength. A mix of economic troubles and rising popular nationalism has pushed governments worldwide to embrace hawkish postures.

At Senatorial level, Kerry has pushed for reducing the number of nuclear weapons, shepherding a U.S.-Russia treaty through the Senate in December 2010, and has cast climate change as a national security threat, joining forces with Republicans on legislation that faced too many obstacles to win congressional passage.

He has led delegations to Syria and met a few times with President Bashar Assad, now a pariah in U.S. eyes after months of civil war and bloodshed as the government looks to put down a people’s rebellion. Figuring out an end-game for the Middle East country would demand all of Kerry’s skills.

On Syria dossier, for instance, Russia has persistently rebuffed American efforts to find a diplomatic modus vivendi over Syria. A very careful diplomatic approach is required to find ''common sense- diplomacy'' between U.S and its allies and Russia-China, as Israel is apparently taking the initiative of attacking Syria. The Syrian's conflict could blossom to another ''afghanistan'' if the diplomatic language is not spoken fluently.

As China and Japan have escalated their shadow-boxing over disputed islands in Western Pacific, they will certainly occupy a proportionally good part of John Kerry's diplomatic plate.

The U.S. is also vexed by Israel’s growing rejection of diplomacy as a means to contain Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Kerry’s first priorities as secretary of state will surely include persuading Israel and Japan to avoid unnecessary brinksmanship with their respective regional rivals. If he has time, he may reflect on why so many standoffs escalated simultaneously in 2012.

John Kerry is taking over Hillary Clinton as U.S's top diplomat when diplomacy is losing is luster elsewhere. Across Europe, foreign ministries typically play second fiddle to finance ministries. In the U.K., Prime Minister David Cameron’s coalition government has instructed the Foreign Office to focus on promoting British trade abroad. British diplomats, having had to play the role of latter-day colonial administrators in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past decade, worry that they are now becoming traveling salesmen. In Germany, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle is a lame duck, blamed for mishandling the Libyan war.

Diplomats and foreign ministers exist to guide and manage the inevitable conflicts, whether economic, political or military, that develop between countries. In a period of shifting global power politics, such conflicts are both especially likely and difficult to resolve. This makes a network of capable foreign ministries that can calculate, mitigate and resolve clashes of all types more important than ever.

Nationalism is changing the essence of diplomacy worldwide. Compromise becomes a forlon and wishful thinking to many. Serious diplomatic investment is required to tackle modern political conflicts. John Kerry will have to search hard for the willing partners to achieve a realistic goal that might de-escalating some of the tensions that have surfaced over the past year, building a bridge for future conflicts.

Kerry has everything in place to forge a new era at the State Department and leave a long-lasting imprint in American foreign policy. But history will reveal his legacy as the U.S secretary of State.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: Wikipédia. John Kerry:U.S's Secretary of State

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

SPAIN: ''Corruption charges'': Dirty Politicians: exposed

New revelations about the corruption scandal that is rocking Spanish politics has put conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and his party on the defensive. Voters are beginning to lose patience.

The powerful reacted the way powerful people react when they are in a tight spot. Former Prime Minister José María Aznar instructed his attorneys to sue the newspaper El País. Current Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a conservative like Aznar, threatened to sue anyone who leveled accusations at his People's Party (PP).

For weeks now the Spanish media report on the country's biggest ever corruption scandal.
The general outline of the affair was known, but not the fact that the former treasurer of the People's Party, Luis Bárcenas, had amassed up to €22 million ($30 million) from dubious sources in accounts with Dresdner Bank in Geneva. The judge on the Spanish National Court only learned of this as a result of legal assistance from Switzerland. Even the conservative newspaper El Mundo could no longer refrain from delving into the scandal.

For as long as Bárcenas managed the PP's finances, El Mundo writes, the politician handed party officials envelopes filled with banknotes worth between €5,000 and 15,000 every month. A former member of parliament for the PP confirmed this practice. Although accepting additional pay is not prohibited if a person declares it on his tax return, the conservatives are nonetheless worried. Bárcenas may have recorded the source of the funds in his notebooks (anonymous donations to political parties have been banned since 2007), as well as to whom the money was passed and why.

Bárcenas accepted the equivalent of more than €1.3 million in bribes, a circumstance that businessman Correa bragged about in recorded conversations that led to the discovery of the scandal in 2009. Rajoy, head of the PP and leader of the opposition at the time, protected his treasurer at first, and the party paid an attorney. A year later, however, the conservatives forced Bárcenas to resign from his senate seat and to leave the People's Party.

A few days after Correa's arrest in 2009, Bárcenas began to move the money that had been parked in Switzerland, and by 2010 the Geneva accounts were empty. Thanks to a tax amnesty declared by the Rajoy government, he transferred close to €10 million back to Spain in recent months, said his lawyer. But that amnesty doesn't cover funds obtained illegally, stresses the finance minister.
Bárcenas denies all accusations. And if he is sent to prison, he has threatened that an "atom bomb" will explode.

PP Secretary General María Dolores de Cospedal denies any knowledge of envelopes stuffed with money, and she says that she never discussed such a practice with Rajoy. "The PP has nothing to do with the account, and this gentleman also has nothing to do with the party anymore." Rajoy, plagued with sovereign debt and a persistent budget deficit, ordered an internal and external audit. He also expects former party officials to sign a statement that they did not collect any illegal money. The prime minister plans to address the opposition's questions this week.

Alfredo Rubalcaba, leader of the Socialist Workers' Party, called for an anti-corruption pact at the very beginning of the year, but has so far found few takers despite the fact that more than 200 politicians face corruption charges in six of the 17 autonomous regions. In socialist Andalusia, six senior government officials face indictments in a fraud case involving early retirement funds. In Catalonia, officials are examining the business dealings undertaken by members of the long-time regional governmental head's family.
It is hardly a surprise that citizens no longer trust their politicians. In a poll, 95 percent of respondents said they were convinced that political parties in the country cover up corruption and bribery. Next to their concerns about unemployment and income, the Spaniards see politicians and nepotism as the country's biggest problem.

In the last elections, notoriously corrupt officials were reelected. But in the sixth year of the crisis, in which the conservative government is constantly calling for new sacrifices and raising taxes, and in which more and more people are losing their jobs, there is no longer any sympathy for the sweet life of the powerful.

When the first reports of Señor Bárcenas' alleged special payments were discussed on the radio and on Twitter, hundreds of people marched to the party headquarters in Madrid and protested against politicians lining their pockets at taxpayer expense.

There were also new revelations within the last week over how the king's son-in-law, married to the Infanta Cristina, may have diverted money from a charity to his own accounts. He has once again been called to testify on the matter in February, although he denies the charges. The trial could become unpleasant for the king, because his daughter's private secretary is also allegedly embroiled in the matter.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Reporter

Photo Credit: Wikipédia

EUROPE-UK: ''BRIXIT'': What's next if Britain leaves the EU?

David Cameron’s announcement that he intends to hold a referendum on the UK’s relationship with Europe has raised the prospect of the country leaving the EU. What would happen, however, if voters did choose to leave?

The UK’s membership of the EU has always been controversial and there are many who believe the UK’s interests would be better served outside of the Union. In his eagerly anticipated speech on Europe last week, David Cameron pledged that if he remains Prime Minister after the next election there will be an in/out referendum during the first half of the next parliamentary term. The promise of such a referendum has made the UK’s withdrawal from the EU a definite possibility, which raises an important question: what would happen if UK voters did opt to leave?

The member states of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), particularly Switzerland and Norway, are often cited as states that enjoy prosperity and success without the burden of EU membership. Could the UK not follow their example? The UK was after all a founding member of EFTA and the driving force behind its establishment in 1960, although thirteen years later it decided instead to join the European Economic Community (EEC), as it was called at the time. At first glance a return to EFTA may sound like an ideal solution to Eurosceptics who want the UK out of the EU, but who can’t ignore the potential economic costs of leaving the internal market completely. However, those who delve deeper into the EFTA states’ relations with the EU may no longer see this as an attractive or viable course of action for a country such as the UK.

Today the remaining EFTA States participate (to varying degrees) in the EU’s internal market, while arguably retaining national sovereignty and control over key policy areas such as fisheries and agriculture, foreign and security policy and justice and home affairs. However, Norway and Switzerland, though both members of EFTA, have very different relations with the EU. The Swiss-EU relationship is based on a series of bilateral agreements which, according to the EU, are complex, unwieldy to manage and “have clearly reached their limits”. It can therefore be considered unlikely that the EU would be eager to duplicate such a system for the UK if it left the Union.

The EU has, on the other hand, been considerably more positive towards the European Economic Area (EEA) Agreement which allows the three other EFTA States, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein, to participate in the internal market.

Access to the internal market, however, comes at a price as these states are required to adopt all EU legislation in relevant areas without access to the EU’s decision-making institutions. This includes provisions strictly related to the four freedoms (the free movement of goods, services, capital and persons) in addition to legislation in a variety of horizontal areas such as labour law, consumer protection, environmental policy, statistics and company law, which constitutes a large bulk of EU acquis.

The EEA Agreement allows some access to the Commission’s expert groups and comitology committees but no formal access to either the Parliament or the Council. The fact that the EFTA parties to the EEA Agreement do not have a seat at the table means that their impact is undoubtedly limited.

The EEA does contain various clauses to formally protect the EFTA States against loss of sovereignty. For example, EU acts do not automatically become part of the EEA Agreement or the EFTA states’ national legal orders. Nevertheless, refusal to adopt EU acts could lead to a partial suspension of the EEA Agreement and so this is not generally considered a viable option. Indeed, almost two decades of experience has shown that unwanted EU legislation can be delayed, but not thwarted. Thus there are indications that the EEA functions as a supranational agreement in practice. Some might even go so far as to argue that in practice the EEA Agreement involves a greater loss of autonomy than EU membership.

It is true that the EEA/EFTA states have generally found that the benefits of the EEA Agreement outweigh the costs. However, lack of access to the EU’s decision-making institutions would arguably be a much larger price to pay for the UK due to its size and international standing.

The UK is one of the EU’s largest member states. It has the resources to participate actively in all policy areas and it is an important actor when it comes to coalition building and Qualified Majority Voting within the EU. Losing access to the decision-making institutions, while still having to adopt EU legislation, would therefore be a substantial blow.

True, if the UK did join the EFTA pillar of the EEA Agreement, the relationship between the EU and EFTA would become slightly less asymmetrical. Nonetheless, the EEA Agreement, at least in its current form, is very much a one-way street whereby the EFTA states follow the EU’s lead. Taking such a subordinate role would undoubtedly be difficult for the UK.

Indeed, in his speech David Cameron rejected the idea that the EEA or Swiss-bilateral agreements could be seen as potential models for the UK. Instead he argued that the UK should play a leading role within a reformed EU. In his vision, the single market would be at the heart of European integration. Any further political or economic cooperation could be pursued at the discretion of individual states, but not forced upon them.

To many this may sound like an attractive solution, not only for the UK, but also for other European nations including perhaps the EFTA states. The question is: will it work in practice? The experience of the EEA shows that a focus on the internal market, while excluding other areas can be challenging.

Over the years, the EU’s methods of legislating have become more comprehensive and acts are adopted which span different policy areas. In many cases some elements of an act are relevant to the internal market, while others are not. A strict separation between internal market and other issues may therefore be difficult to achieve. Thus, in addition to persuading the EU heavyweights to move forward with this plan, the challenge will be where to draw the boundaries.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

EGYPT: The Unfinished Revolution'': Morsi orders to annul curfew

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has told provincial governors to ease or annul emergency procedures following the declaration of a state of emergency on Sunday. Egypt has seen at least 56 deaths in the past week as violent protests erupted in three major cities: Port Said, Ismailia and Suez. The Islamist President responded by declaring a state of emergency in the cities, and imposing a 9:00pm curfew for residents.

As three Egyptian cities defied President Mohamed Morsi's attempt to quell the anarchy spreading through their streets, the nation’s top general warned Tuesday that the state itself was in danger of collapse if the feuding civilian leaders could not agree on a solution to restore order.
The general’s warning punctuated a rash of violent protests across the country that has dramatized the near-collapse of the government’s authority. With the city of Port Said proclaiming its nominal independence, protesters demanded the resignation of Mr. Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, while people across the country appeared convinced that taking to the streets in protests was the only means to get redress for their grievances.
What is happening is obviously disturbing, but it is also a completely predictable and probably protracted struggle for power. And unless the ''Arab spring'' is quite atypical, the political revolutions that began two years ago are to take years to work out.
Revolutions are usually characterized by violence. Even when the old regime collapses quickly, there is likely to be a violent struggle afterwards. The issues at stake are enormous, because the process of redefining a political community places everyone's future at risk. Until a new order is firmly established, no one is safe from exclusion and the temptation to use force to enhance one's position is difficult to resist. The possibility that winners will take all and losers will lose everything heightens the level of suspicion and insecurity. Fears of plots and conspiracies abound. Disagreements over specific policies can become life-or-death struggles . . . and achieving consensus on what new rules and institutions should govern the society is likely to be a difficult and prolonged process.
The unfinished Egyptian Revolution follows the pattern of  others revolutions in history:  The Russian Revolution was also a prolonged process. The revolutions in Turkey, Mexico, China, and Iran were also violent and uncertain affairs, and in each case it took years before the final form of the new regime was reasonably well-established.
There are several lessons to take from the quick history of revolutions. First, unless the old guard somehow manages to regain full power quickly (thereby cutting off the revolutionary process), what is happening in Egypt (and elsewhere) will take a long time to work itself out.
Second, outside powers can influence this process, but they cannot do so predictably. In fact, the more extensive and heavy-handed outside interference is, the more likely it is to backfire.
Third, the revolutions tend to increase security competition and increase the risk of war. Among other things, they do this by altering the balance of power, creating fears of contagion, encouraging spirals of suspicion.
Just five months after Egypt’s president assumed power from the military, the cascading crisis revealed the depth of the distrust for the central government left by decades of autocracy, two years of convoluted transition and his own acknowledged missteps in facing the opposition. With cities in open rebellion and the police unable to tame crowds, the very fabric of society appears to be coming undone.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
Photo-Credit: Wikipédia

U.S.: ''Immigration Reform'': Obama's second term domestic priority

President Barack Obama hailed the Senate's bipartisan immigration framework at a major speech on that topic this afternoon in Nevada, but threatened to send his own alternative legislation to Capitol Hill if Congress fails to act.

The president embraced of a statement of principles offered Monday by four Democratic and four Republican senators, which would strengthen border security and employment verification in exchange for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants in the United States.
"The good news is that -- for the first time in many years -- Republicans and Democrats seem ready to tackle this problem together," Obama said in his speech in Las Vegas, according to prepared excerpts.

''And yesterday, a bipartisan group of senators announced their principles for comprehensive immigration reform, which are very much in line with the principles I've proposed and campaigned on for the last few years," the president also said. "At this moment, it looks like there's a genuine desire to get this done soon. And that's very encouraging."

But in a speech in Nevada -- a Southwestern state that has experienced a boom in its Hispanic population -- the president said he refused to allow comprehensive immigration reform "to get bogged down in an endless debate."

"It's important for us to realize that the foundation for bipartisan action is already in place," he said. If lawmakers fail to advance their own proposal, Obama said he would send legislation to Congress based on his own principles "and insist that they vote on it right away."

He said at the top of his speech: "I'm here because the time has come for common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform."

The president used Tuesday's speech in Nevada to outline many of those principles, which rest on four pillars: strengthening border security, cracking down on employers who hire undocumented workers, streamlining legal immigration and -- most importantly -- offering undocumented workers an earned path to citizenship.

Those pillars mostly resemble the bipartisan Senate framework unveiled on Monday by lawmakers, which has prompted hopes that Congress would finally be able to advance a comprehensive immigration reform law, a priority that eluded Obama during his first term, and President George W. Bush before him.

The primary sticking point in those fights has been the pathway to citizenship, which conservatives deride as "amnesty" for those who have broken the law. Already, some prominent conservatives have expressed their skepticism of the Senate framework for exactly that reason.
"Yes, they broke the rules," Obama said of those undocumented immigrants. "They crossed the border illegally. Maybe they overstayed their visas. But these 11 million men and women are now here."

Republicans in particular had been closely watching Obama's actions for cues as to how the administration might handle immigration, and the emerging Senate deal. Republican lawmakers have openly worried that the president might stake out stark positions and oppose some of the enforcement measures included in the Senate framework, namely the trigger that would only allow a pathway to citizenship once the border enforcement mechanisms had been verified.

"There are a lot of ideas about how best to fix our broken immigration system," said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. "Any solution should be a bipartisan one, and we hope the President is careful not to drag the debate to the left and ultimately disrupt the difficult work that is ahead in the House and Senate."

But Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a rock star to conservatives who's seen as eyeing a run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016, has taken an active lead in selling this proposal to the right. Rubio has appeared in conservative media to both discourage Obama from opposing enforcement provisions, but also talk up the proposal as the best chance at compromise for Republicans.

"If, in fact, this bill does not have real triggers in there -- in essence, if there's not language in this bill that guarantees that nothing else happens unless these enforcement mechanisms are in place -- then I won't support it," Rubio, a member of the bipartisan gang of eight, told conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh on Tuesday. "But the principles clearly call for that."

But the president generally spoke in broad terms, and did not draw any bright lines as it relates to the Senate proposal.
"I believe we are finally at a moment where comprehensive immigration reform is finally within our grasp," he said.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer

Photo-Credit: AFP

Monday, 28 January 2013

CHINA: '' Resource Race-Arctic Waters'': China's long term thinking

China is hungry for natural resources, and the Arctic is home to a wealth of them. Growing alarm about its ambitions has led Beijing to take a softer approach, stressing exploration and research over exploitation.

You didn't hear much Chinese spoken on the Mackenzie River until the summer of 1999. But then excitement swept through the sleepy Tuktoyaktuk settlement in Canada's Northwest Territories, when a vast ship with a crew from the Asia-Pacific unexpectedly docked in the port. Local authorities were caught off-guard by the arrival of the research icebreaker Xue Long, which means "snow dragon." The vessel -- 170 meters (550 feet) long and weighing 21,000 metric tons -- had in fact informed faraway Ottawa of its intention to sail into Canada's arctic waters, but the message hadn't been passed on.

Today, such an incident probably wouldn't happen. States around the North Pole keep careful and regular watch on visitors from China. Its "growing interest in the region raises concern -- even alarm -- in the international community. And this despite the fact that "the Arctic is not a foreign policy priority" for Beijing.

The equation seems simple. China is hungry for natural resources, and the Arctic is rich in natural resources. What could be more straightforward? But Beijing insists that its interest in the region is first and foremost for research purposes, that the Arctic can help shed light on climate change, that it offers useful shipping routes, and so on and so forth.

Indeed, for now, the Chinese government has no official Arctic strategy. And it doesn't say much at all about natural resources in the region, especially because the economic superpower can -- for the time being, at least -- get what it needs elsewhere, such as in Africa.

China's thirst for natural resources including wood and minerals is leading to massive deforestation in Africa and the destruction of crucial wildlife habitat.

These areas containing unlogged forests are very desirable to, particularly today, China, with China's desperate effort for economic growth. Basically, they have almost exhausted their own supplies (of wood and minerals) so they go to Africa and offer large amounts of money or offer to build roads or make dams, in return for forest concessions or rights to minerals and oil.

Currently, China has not carried out any exploration activities in the Arctic. China officials claim that China is more interested in joining forces with other states to study trans-regional issues. However, ten years ago, China had implied the same great diplomatic finesse with Africa. But today, China has become one the most powerful investor in Africa.

Even though China is trying to avoid being overbearing, it can't hide its growing interest in the region. Chinese companies have understood that although oil and gas from the Arctic could make a long-term contribution to the country's energy supply, it won't come cheap. China will have to play by the rules of capitalism. Right now, for example, the China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) wants to acquire its Canadian competitor Nexen, but the deal first has to be approved by US authorities.

Beijing's raw-materials managers are also eyeing Greenland. Just outside the capital, Nuuk, a British company has teamed up with Chinese financiers to develop a giant iron ore mine. Over 2,300 Chinese workers will be employed here, boosting the island's population by 4 percent. The total investment will be around €1.7 billion.

Greenland needs it -- at least if it is ever to make its dream of independence come true. Sara Olsvig is a member of the Danish parliament who represents a separatist party in Greenland. She points out that, as of 2040, Greenland's state coffers will be seeing a shortfall of some €134 million a year. "We are interested in securing additional income," she says. "And where should we look for that if not in the fastest-growing nations of the world?"

So far, Olsvig says, no decisions have been made, but Chinese investment in Greenland's mining sector would be as welcome as investment from any other country. "China is all over the world. It is no surprise that they are also interested in Greenland's resources," she says. The iron ore mine project is, however, not uncontroversial in Greenland. Among other things, critics are unhappy about the prospect of China bringing low-cost labor to the island.

Traditionally, China has upheld the principle of non-intervention. Accordingly, at the conference in Tromsø, the Chinese ambassador to Norway resorted to a linguistic slight of hand to justify his country's focus on the Artic region: Northeastern China, Zhao explained, stretches almost to 50 degrees north latitude, making his country what he called "a near-Arctic state."

China's arctic research is still at the starting stage. In 2004, China -- like many other countries, including-- set up a research station on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. Meanwhile, the Polar Research Institute in Shanghai trains scientists specialized in the region, while another 120-meter-long icebreaker is currently being built with Finnish help.

The Xue Long has now made five trips to the Arctic. The last was in the summer of 2012, when it traveled from Iceland via the North Pole to the Bering Strait. As it entered the waters off Spitsbergen, the Norwegian coast guard was there in an instant -- in stark contrast to Canada's casual response back in 1999.

China spends much more on research in the Antarctic than the Arctic. For now, using Antarctica's natural resources is prohibited by the Antarctic Treaty System. But that ban might be lifted in the decades to come. Maybe they are just preparing themselves.  Why not? because we all know that China is very good at long-term thinking.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: Wikipédia

AFRICA: ''Portfolio Investment'': A changing perspective

The past decade has witnessed marked changes in the volume and composition of financial flows to Africa. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the level of foreign direct investment (FDI), portfolio investment and official development assistance surged almost fivefold, from US$27 billion in 2000 to about US$126 billion in 2010. It is the changing composition of these flows that shows Africa’s resolve to harness the opportunities provided by globalisation.

Since 2005, Africa has received more FDI than official development assistance. According to Ernst & Young’s 2012 Attractiveness Survey on Africa entitled ‘Building Bridges,’ the number of FDI projects rose by 27 per cent in 2011, with a total of 857 projects, a steep increase from 421 in 2007.

Investors and multinationals now see Africa – home to a dozen of the globe’s fastest-growing economies and the last major region on Earth still largely unexplored – as the next ‘big destination’ for global investment. Strong growth in new projects is expected from 2012 onwards, reaching US$150 billion by 2015. This investment in infrastructure and other long-term development projects will have positive ‘multiplier-effects’ upon the real economy, creating badly-needed jobs in manufacturing and enhancing activity in the extractive sector.

Social and demographic changes, such as urbanisation, an expanding workforce and a burgeoning middle class of consumers are creating new opportunities. Sustained, robust economic growth has led to a significant increase in the size of the African middle class, which the AfDB predicts will surge from 355 million in 2010 to 1.1 billion by 2060. This middle-class remains the key to future investments into non-extractive sectors. Consumer spending in Africa is predicted by the McKinsey Global Institute to reach US$1.4 trillion by 2020.

Despite the recession in the eurozone and growth slowdown in China, Africa continues to offer numerous opportunities. While minerals, particularly hydrocarbons, will probably attract the bulk of FDI over the medium term, new investment has arrived in non-resource sectors such as tourism, information and communications technologies, manufacturing, financial services, renewable energy, agro-production and construction.
Infrastructure: Sub-Saharan Africa can only achieve parity with other regions by developing strong basic infrastructure that connects capitals, ports, border crossings, secondary cities and rural areas with efficient transportation and communication networks. This is the key to increasing intra-African trade and achieving Millennium Development Goals. The continent also needs a decade or more of sizeable fixed investment – estimated by Professor Paul Collier of Oxford University at nearly US$500 billion. The two sub-sectors of electricity supply and transportation are essential for solid region-wide growth and improved business productivity. Thus, Africa needs 7,000 megawatts of new power generation capacity a year, according to The World Bank. The transport infrastructure required to rehabilitate ports and roads, maintain airports and get railways on track, will require an annual spend of US$18 billion.

Greener Energy: The continent boasts the capability to generate clean, renewable energy, which is pivotal in the global battle against climate change. Environmentally-friendly investors seek renewable sources of energy. Africa is well positioned for developing solar and hydropower, as well as producing biofuels. It has a similar water endowment to other continents, but captures much less for its own development. Thus, only 5-10 per cent of agricultural land is irrigated, whilst 90 per cent of hydropower potential remains untapped. As Lord Nicholas Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, explained: ‘Africa can, in coming decades, play a leading role in cutting global emissions.’

Agriculture: The growing demand for food, reflecting a booming global population, and fertile soil in much of Africa make the agricultural sector attractive for investors, especially state-owned entities from Asia and the Middle East, such as sovereign wealth funds and European private equity groups. The continent is endowed with almost 60 per cent of the world’s uncultivated arable land, and strategic investors have acquired over 134 million hectares of African land, during the last decade. Improved food processing and storage could help stabilise agricultural markets and encourage much-needed rural innovation. Investment in agricultural skills and infrastructure, for example, could prompt a green revolution. To make the agricultural system work efficiently (ie boost productivity), experts estimate that Africa requires additional annual investments of as much as US$50 billion.
Financial Services: According to US-based Bain & Co, Africa’s banking sector is growing rapidly at a projected compound annual growth rate of 15 per cent between 2009 and 2020. Financial services are expected to contribute about one fifth to Africa’s total gross domestic product by 2020. Lucrative opportunities remain, be it in financing trade, expanding current product offerings (basic savings and loan products), increasing product penetration, bringing the ‘unbanked’ into the mainstream financial system, or capitalising on the rise of a new consumer class by developing innovative services, such as leasing, credit/debit cards and home mortgages. The McKinsey Global Institute predicts household spending on banking to reach US$30 billion by 2020. Most of the African markets are unusually open to foreign banking. Standard Chartered (operating in 16 countries) aims to double its African revenues to US$2.5 billion within the next five years.

Information and Communications Technology: Africa has made great strides by becoming the world’s second most connected region after Asia in late 2011, with 616 million mobile subscribers, according to UK-based Informa Telecoms & Media. Broadband penetration has also increased in the past five years, thanks to the continent’s efforts to develop high-tech industry, and is projected to reach 99 per cent of the population by 2060 according to an IMF survey. However, the ability to take advantage of new technologies depends mainly on human capital: a skilled workforce is essential for the adoption of new technologies and for globally competitive production. The region now needs a second round of investments to upgrade the Information and Communications Technology sector, and to expand mobile banking and internet access.
Attracting FDI into diversified and higher ‘value-added’ sectors remains a challenge for most African countries. Many governments are tackling this challenge and show commitment to improving institutional frameworks.
Africa's ‘resource-rich’ region is firmly on a path to sustainable growth and foreign direct investment will steadily grow. However, to accelerate and take advantage of this growth opportunity, national governments are conscious of the need to further improve the micro-business environment, promote social corporate responsibility and transparency, and nurture human capital to create a more skilled workforce. This will be vital if the ‘new Africa’ is to acquire some of the 85 to 90 million labour-intensive jobs in light manufacturing that rising wage pressures could force firms in China and East Asia to relocate to sub-Saharan Africa over the medium- to long-term.

Of course, the ‘risk factor’ could be high, due to instability, conflict or natural disasters in some countries, but levels of profitability are high too, with competition in some sectors relatively low.

Encouragingly, Africa is currently ranked in the same category as South America and Eastern Europe in terms of attractiveness for investors – a marked improvement on a decade ago.

Regional GDP growth of 5.4 per cent in 2012 – exceeding both Latin America and Central Eastern Europe – offers a glimmer of hope to the global economy. By contrast, the IMF expects advanced economies to grow at best by 1.4 per cent.  An efficient infrastructure, however, would make Africa an attractive destination for intra-regional trade and increased foreign investment.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Sources: Foreign direct investment (FDI),
               World Bank reports & forecasts
               International Monetary Funds Reports & forecasts
               Ernst & Young forecasts
               Oxford University forecasts

Friday, 25 January 2013

EUROPE:'' BRIXIT'': Britain is sleepwalking toward EU departure

In calling for a British referendum on EU membership, Prime Minister Cameron thought he might get some support from reform-minded partners on the Continent. But the praise has been almost non-existent, and Cameron is feeling the heat.

Indeed, Cameron's anouncement on Wednesday that his government would hold a referendum on Britain's membership in the 27-nation bloc before the end of 2017 put the island's euroskeptics in an ecstatic mood. They have already coined the word for it "Brixit," the name given to a possible British exit from the EU. But Pro-European voices have warned that Britain is sleepwalking toward a departure from the union.

With the announcement, Cameron has achieved his first goal. His fractured Conservative Party looked more united than ever on Wednesday. But Cameron also chalked up a second success on the domestic political scene because the issue of Britian's EU membership is driving a wedge into the Labour Party. Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister with the Liberal Democrats, portrays the referendum prospect as a dangerous distraction from genuinely important issues.

Still, the satisfaction Cameron enjoys from these domestic gains probably won't last long. The EU problem will catch up with him again soon -- in other words, when it becomes obvious that the demands he has made on Brussels have fallen on deaf ears.

Cameron was already defending himself in an international forum on Thursday. Speaking at the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Cameron warned European leaders against forcing member countries into ever-deeper political union. "Countries in Europe have their histories, their traditions, their institutions, want their own sovereignty, their ability to make their own choices," Cameron said. "And to try and shoehorn countries into a centralized political union would be a great mistake for Europe, and Britain wouldn't be part of it."

The British seem to have a taste for referendums at the moment. This year, the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands will vote on their status as a British overseas territory. Then, in 2014, the Scottish government will hold a referendum on independence from the United Kingdom. Now it looks like there could be another nationwide referendum after that -- on Britain's membership of the European Union.

The current coalition government laid the groundwork for a referendum when it took office. Last year, to appease Conservative euroskeptics, it introduced the so-called Sovereignty Act that stipulates that Britain must hold a referendum if it transfers additional powers to Brussels.

In any case, Cameron has a two-stage plan: First he wants to negotiate a "better deal" that will give Britain further exceptions to EU regulations. Then he wants his people to vote on whether they want to remain in the EU under these new terms.

Cameron is betting that his EU partners will find a way to grant him concessions out of their desire to make sure that Britain remains part of the EU. And he's hoping that support for such exceptions will come from other reform-minded members of the bloc, such as Germany, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian countries.

However, initial reactions from these countries' governments were not particularly promising. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that she was "of course prepared to talk about British wishes".

Other leaders perceived to be warmer toward reform proposals also gave a cool response to his speech. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said he didn't want to interfere with a domestic political issue in Britain, but followed up a day later in Davos saying he backed some of Cameron's statements.

Meanwhile, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt said that the United Kingdom and Denmark, which is also not a member of the euro zone, "have chosen to follow two different paths" and that Danish interest "are best served by staying as close to the EU core as possible."

Finally, Swedish Prime Foreign Minister Carl Bildt tweeted that: "Flexibility sounds fine, but if you open up to a 28-speed Europe, at the end of the day there is no Europe at all. Just a mess."

There are no signs, either, that this opposition will abate anytime soon. Sooner or later, the British are likely to voice increasing doubt about Cameron's strategy. Cameron said that he would hold the referendum "in the first half" of the next parliamentary term if his party wins the next general election, scheduled for 2015. But two years is still a long way off. And if the Tories can't show that they've secured any concessions by then, Cameron is likely to face ire anew from the euroskeptic ranks of his party in parliament.

There is also the possibility that Cameron won't be in charge anymore following the 2015 election. Indeed, merely holding out the prospect of a referendum on EU membership won't be enough to drive masses of voters into his party's arms.
EU leaders's cool response is really nothing more than a noncommittal and polite formality aimed at preventing any escalation of tensions between EU and British officials. After all, locking horns with Cameron now would be a bad idea since they need his signature in early February, when EU leaders meet for a summit to approve the bloc's budget for the next seven years.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

U.S.: ''Social networks & Foreign Policy'': From H. Clinton to J.Kerry

John Kerry will take over as Secretary of State, succeeding Hillary Clinton in the position. Clinton has been a veritable hub for innovation. She has overseen the craft of the American foreign policy agenda being developed into a malleable tool shaped by a new set of actors, traditional and less-traditional. It is a revitalized Department of State that – not without tries and errors – is now a much better fit to the ongoing shift of power seen around the world, from hierarchies to social actors.

Clinton’s State Department has been solidly nurturing a true engagement with the world,  transforming foreign affairs in to a participatory process where top-down policies often find bottom-up solutions. It is a new diplomacy that Secretary Clinton calls 21st Century Statecraft, an innovative approach that embraces technology and communications tools while reaching out to new players.

Moving beyond traditional diplomacy is the true challenge that awaits Senator Kerry. Traditional diplomacy is characterized by an excessive faith in the potential benefits of ‘engagement’ with rogue regimes and dictators. Rather then dealing exclusively with governments, Secretary Clinton opened the engagement to the masses, the people, civil society, think tanks, the business sector, and the growing communities of innovators and coalitions.

Secretary Kerry will have to face this new way of actuating foreign policy in a world where governments are not the only interlocutors. Let’s call it social diplomacy, where social actors play as important a role as Presidents and Prime Ministers.

This shift is partly linked to the spread of technology and how innovation – not just technology per se – has changed the way we now see the world. Social media and mobile communications have increased the speed of the information cycle as well as how widely available news and information have become. They have also empowered citizens making their voices louder while bringing change all around the world and bridging the gap between the people and the democratic structures they want.

We’ve seen it the importance of technology in foreign relations in what is now known as the Arab Spring. From the town of Sidi Bouzid, where the 2010 Tunisian Revolution originated – spreading out to social networks like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube – to the protests in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, and Syria.

Technology was not the cause of these movements, rather it accelerated the process, but they showed the power of the best of old ideas allied with the best of new technology – iFreedom. As technology for the sake of technology is not the final objective, the focus should be on complementing traditional diplomacy with new tools and a clear vision on the road ahead.

The latter is where John Kerry, whose life seems like audition for Secretary of State excels.
“In a sense, John’s entire life has prepared him for this role,” President Obama said of Kerry, when he announced his pick to succeed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. Kerry has traveled around the globe on behalf of the Administration to mend frayed relationships and has played a central role in every major foreign policy debate for nearly 30 years.

“I’ve appreciated John’s partnership in helping to advance so many of my foreign policy priorities, including the ratification of the New START Treaty,” as Obama highlighted. “I’ve called on his talents and diplomatic skills on several occasions, on complex challenges from Sudan and South Sudan to the situation in Afghanistan. And each time he has been exemplary.”

But Kerry’s high profile diplomatic skills will have to face a new balance between the old and the new, between tradition and innovation, between the power of policies and the power of ideas.
Today’s State Department, as shaped in the past four years by Secretary Clinton, works on different fronts. It has incubated innovation and ideas to create a better balance between the “Billiard Ball World” and the “Lego World”.

The first is “a world in which states are reduced to their heads of state, their foreign ministry, and their army, and they interact with other states almost entirely in terms of power,”. The second is “a world in which states come apart […] and have the ability to network or partner or make an alliance with social actors. […] It is a horizontal world. There are no ladders because there are no hierarchies.

In other words, rather then focusing only on policies – most times forged at the White House and actuated at the State Department – Secretary Kerry will have to familiarize himself with a world in terms of “Lego” bricks and to harness the power of innovation. It is a challenging task that Clinton was able to address quite successfully – but not without set backs and criticism.

Clinton initiated a veritable revolution in the way diplomacy is implemented, not only in the United States, but also all around the world.  Hillary Clinton helped re-focused the State Department to better understand – as well as interact with.

While John Kerry is very familiar with the behind-closed-doors diplomacy, he’s not a novice when it comes to technology and harnessing innovation.

Kerry has everything in place to forge a new era at the State Department and leave a long-lasting imprint in American foreign policy. Innovation and ediplomacy are part of Hillary Clinton’s legacy. What will Secretary Kerry’s be?

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: Wikipédia

Thursday, 24 January 2013

NORTH KOREA: ''Rocket launches'': Refuses to bend on its plans

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) on Thursday vowed to conduct more rocket launches and a higher-level nuclear test targeting its "sworn enemy" -- the United States.

In a statement carried by the KCNA news agency, the National Defense Commission criticized the resolution adopted Tuesday by the UN Security Council to condemn the country's recent satellite launch.

"We do not hide that a variety of satellites and long-range rockets will be launched and a nuclear test of higher level will be carried out in the upcoming new phase of the anti-U.S. struggle, targeting against the U.S., the sworn enemy of the Korean people," the statement said.

The commission also declared that "there will no longer exist the six-party talks and the Sept. 19 joint statement," as "the UN Security Council has been reduced into an organization bereft of impartiality and balance."

"We will launch an all-out action to foil the hostile policy toward the DPRK being pursued by the U.S. and those dishonest forces following the U.S., and safeguard the sovereignty of the country and the nation," it said.

"No dialogue on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula will be possible in the future even though there may be dialogues and negotiations on ensuring peace and security in the region including the Korean Peninsula."

The 15-member UN Security Council on Tuesday unanimously approved Resolution 2087 which requires the DPRK to comply with all relevant resolutions approved by the Security Council and not to use ballistic missile technology for any launch.

It also reiterated to seek a peaceful, diplomatic and political solution to the issues concerned and advocated the renewal of the six-party talks over the denuclearization issue on the Korean Peninsula.
On Dec. 12 last year, the KCNA confirmed that the DPRK launched and orbited the second version of the Kwangmyongsong-3 satellite. After the launch, the DPRK has defended its right to launch satellites for peaceful and scientific purposes.

The North was banned from developing missile and nuclear technology under sanctions dating from its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests. First tests used plutonium, were detonated underground and had limited success. This time around, the international concern is that Pyongyang may use highly-enriched uranium and get better results.

There is no clear indication of an imminent nuclear test, observers say. However, satellite photos recently taken at North Korea's underground nuclear test site in the far northeast showed continued activity that suggested a state of readiness even in winter.

North Korea has enough weapons-grade plutonium for about four to eight bombs, according to nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker, who visited North Korea's nuclear complex in 2010. In 2009, Pyongyang also declared that it would begin enriching uranium, which would give North Korea a second way to make atomic weapons.

By Guylain Gustave Moke

Photo Credit AFP

FRANCE-MALI :'' Mali Intervention'': Creating an African-style afghanistan

France has found early success in its fight against Islamist extremists in northern Mali. But Saharan terrorist groups have close ties and are prepared for a prolonged battle. The hostage crisis in Algeria shows that the new front in the war on terror could become a protracted conflict.

Initially, the French intervention in Mali looked as though it would be over quickly. But President Hollande has vowed to drive out Islamist extremists and establish democracy in the country. As in Afghanistan, the operation could take much longer than expected.

Just as the international community did at the beginning of the Afghanistan intervention, Hollande has set the bar high. To be sure, the comparisons between the current crisis in Mali and the situation in Afghanistan on Sept. 11, 2001 are far from perfect. Still, the goals the French president has set for Mali are just as distant as those established by Washington when it launched the war in the wake of the devastating al-Qaida terror attacks in the US. And in Afghanistan, 12 years after that mission began, very few of those original goals have been met.

Hollande's position is clear that the French operation is not merely a brief intervention to stop the Islamist advance from northern Mali toward the capital in the south. Rather, Paris is looking for support from Africa, Europe, the US and elsewhere for an operation aimed at freeing northern Mali from the yoke of Islamist extremism and establishing long-term stability in the country. Those who join him must be prepared for a long and difficult war.

According to Philippe Hugon, a Paris-based expert on Mali, it could be possible to drive the Islamists out of major cities within about six months. But years could go by before remote areas along the borders with Algeria and Niger are under control.

Reinforcements are expected in the coming days. Some 400 troops from Nigeria, Togo and Benin arrived Sunday in Bamako, Mali, to take part in the campaign against Islamist rebels, France said. Chadian troops also reportedly arrived in Mali. French fighter planes and helicopter gunships carried out a dozen operations over the weekend in Mali, most aimed at "terrorist vehicles." African nations are expected to take the lead in the operation launched by France on January 11. The cost of the Africa intervention could top $500 million, a top official with the West African regional bloc said.

Despite the regional support -- and France's clear military advantages, demonstrated in recent days with targeted airstrikes and small special forces assaults on Islamist positions -- the mission remains a dangerous one. "If you start a mission with lofty goals and moral claims, it is difficult to quickly withdraw later," says one veteran NATO diplomat with experience in Afghanistan. Indeed, despite widespread popular support at home, the leadership mantle that France has donned could ultimately become a political boomerang.

The Mulathameen Brigade, which claimed credit for the mass hostage-taking at an Algerian gas plant, has threatened to carry out more attacks, SITE monitoring service said. The Al-Qaeda-linked group said in a statement on Monday that the hostage-takers had offered to negotiate freeing the captives seized at the plant, but the Algerian authorities used military force, Reuters reported. The brigade said it would attempt further such attacks until Western forces end their military involvement in northern Mali, where French forces are fighting to retake control from Islamist groups.

Likewise, there is still no clear strategy for how to fight the Islamists. Intelligence officials have estimated that they have some 2,000 fighters who are extremely mobile and have excellent local knowledge of Timbuktu, Gao, Kidal and other towns and cities in northern Mali, which they were able to quickly overrun in the spring. It seems likely that they would pursue a strategy similar to the one the Taliban used in Afghanistan: first fleeing the international force to neighboring countries and then waging a guerrilla war from there.

The political situation in Mali is also a complicated one. An interim government has held power in the country since a military coup d'état last March. In recent days, government leaders have promised to hold elections in April, but it is impossible to know just how serious they are about democracy. Given that the country is essentially split in two, holding an election would be extremely challenging.

Indeed, free elections in the north are virtually impossible for the time being, and a vote in which only those in the south could cast their ballots would risk strengthening the north-south divide.
Officials in Paris are well aware of the challenges facing them. As recently as the weekend, the Defense Ministry in Paris was promising the mission would only last "a few weeks." Now, just a few days later, hardly anyone believes that the withdrawal will be anywhere near as rapid.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

ISRAEL:'' Coalition prospect'': King Bibi weaken but not shaken

The slogan of Benjamin Netanyahu's election campaign had been "a strong leader for a strong nation," but on Tuesday he suffered a major setback. With significant gains in the center-left, the incumbent right-wing Israeli leader could have trouble building a stable government.

Netanyahu called for early elections expecting an easy victory that would cement his power for years, he recently suggested privately. Instead the results have put him in a bind.

Netanyahu linked his party to the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) party of his former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, on the suggestion of American political strategist and spin doctor Arthur Finkelstein. The strategic alliance fell far below expectations and Netanyahu overestimated his potential. In 2009, the two parties garnered 42 seats, but this time around they only have around 30 in the 120-seat Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem.

After this latest election night, there will be less talk about the Finkelstein-ization of Israeli politics. Netanyahu is now paying the price for a campaign that wasn't really conducted as one. He had merely seized upon the election as an opportunity to shower himself with self-adulation. During the campaign, Likud and coalition partner Yisrael Beiteinu presented no political platforms. Instead, the parties ceaselessly repeated the jingle that "our strength is in our unity," as if that alone would be enough to bring in the votes.

But voters apparently had another thing in mind. They have overturned the political certainties of the past years, which many believed were carved in stone. The certainty of the continued existence of two political blocs, for example, with the incumbent conservative-religious right on one side and the centrist and leftist parties on the other.

Netanyahu himself has only grudgingly voiced conditional support for a Palestinian state, and his own party is now dominated by hard-liners who oppose even this. A likely coalition partner, Naftali Bennett of the Jewish Home Party, which won 12 seats, has called for annexing large parts of the West Bank, the core of any future Palestinian state.

The biggest surprise of this election, which wasn't even supposed to have any, is the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party led by Yair Lapid, which is firmly grounded in the center of Israeli politics. His success completely stunned pollsters. Lapid -- a prominent former television talk show host and columnist who is a wealthy, self-made man -- received almost three times as many parliamentary seats as surveys had projected.

The some 20 seats his party has won now put him securely in the position of the second-strongest political force in the Knesset, even though not a single candidate on his party list has ever held a seat in parliament before. The party will most likely now tip the balance in any coalition-building talks.

The party's message of change, at least, appears to have become self-fulfilling. It is the middle class, in particular, that Lapid is seeking to represent -- and he wants to ensure that burdens are equally shared throughout society. "We will not be part of a government that will not enlist the ultra-Orthodox in the military and get them into the job market," Lapid says. The livelihoods of the ultra-Orthodox, called the Haredim, who often have the largest families and many children, are, with few exceptions, heavily subsidized by the state.

Lapid has made additional conditions for his party's entry into government. He is prepared, he says, to work side by side with Netanyahu, but refuses to be some kind of popular fig leaf for an ultra-right religious government. He has little sympathy for its clientele of settlers, ultra-Orthodox and religious nationalists.

Among Lapid's other requirements is the stipulation that Netanyahu also include another party from the center-left spectrum in a coalition. But that could be tough given that Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich has rejected this option from the beginning. What's more, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of the new Hatnuah (The Movement) party would be difficult for Netanyahu to accept as a coalition partner. Lapid also says that he refuses to be a part of any government that would be unwilling to negotiate with the Palestinians.

Either way, it won't be Lapid's conditions alone that make it difficult for Netanyahu to forge a stable coalition government. The only thing that looks certain at this point is that Netanyahu will ultimately be given the task of forming one.

Even together with the so-called natural coalition partners in his current government -- the ultra-Orthodox Shas and ultra nationalist, pro-settlement Jewish Home parties -- Netanyahu's Likud-Yisrael Beitenu alliance, which had been the largest faction in the Knesset until this election, won't have enough seats to achieve a comfortable majority. Election experts say that even the highly unlikely option of a center-left-Orthodox government can't be ruled out.
Of course, one person would almost certainly be excluded from such a government: Netanyahu.

Palestinians viewed the election results grimly, seeing it as entrenching a pro-settlement government.
“Even if Netanyahu brings some center-left parties to his coalition, he will continue building in the settlements, he said that clearly and that is what we expect him to do,” said Mohammed Shtayeh, an aide to the Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Netanyahu has won praise at home for drawing the world’s attention to Iran’s suspect nuclear program and for keeping the economy on solid ground at a time of global turmoil. But internationally, he has repeatedly clashed with allies over his handling of the peace process. Peace talks with the Palestinians have remained stalled throughout his term, in large part because of his continued construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

UK-EU: '' D. Cameron's speech'': Europe á la Carte: The Impossible Mission

British Prime Minister David Cameron has finally given his long-awaited speech on the European Union in London today. British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday said he would hold a referendum on Britain's EU membership, if his Conservative Party wins the next election, expected in 2015.

"It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time for us to settle this question about Britain and Europe," Cameron said in a long-awaited speech on the future of Britain-EU relations.
"Disillusionment" with the EU is at "an all-time high," Cameron said. "That's why I am in favor of a referendum."

But British Prime Minister David Cameron's speech is more of ''blackmail'' than a ''reform's quest''. He pledges a referendum on EU if he fails to renegotiate Britain's relationship with the EU. If  EU leaders do satisfy his egostistical plan, then there will be no referendum. In both cases, David Cameron's pledge on EU referendum remains a big ''IF''...everything lies on the outcome of the next general election.

The PM stressed there was widespread frustration with a “rigid and cumbersome” union that has cut living standards and enforced austerity throughout the continent. Cameron described an ever-widening gap between the citizens of Europe and an uncompromising leadership.

Despite Cameron's assertive tone, anti-European sentiment within the British population appears to be diminishing, especially among 18 to 34 year old, a new poll has found.
The survey -- commissioned by Britain's Fabian Society, conducted by pollster YouGov -- found that two-thirds of Brits within that age group would vote in favor of their country remaining in the EU if it were put up to a vote in a referendum. The reverse held true for those over the age of 60, a segment of the population in which two-thirds believe the country should leave the European political bloc.

The pollster found that the reason for the divide in thinking about the EU is personal experience. Only 19 percent of young Britons say that they have not profited from the Europe, whereas 51 percent of those over 60 make that claim. It is believed that the Labour Party will win thr next general election....if that happens, then, David Cameron's promise of referendum on EU will be washed away with him.

Calls for a referendum on ''Britain in or out'' are absurd. It will produce closure when openness is most welcome. A means must be found to sustain free and fair trade in Europe as a whole without infringing national sovereignty that electorates will not stand for it.

Reopening the treaty, however, is a political minefield. Other EU capitals have, for the moment in any case, gone cold on the idea. Top EU officials have voiced strong doubts about reopening the EU treaties to retool Europe after years of debt crisis, further complicating Cameron's strategy, whcih hinges on renegotiating the Lison treaty in order to secure concessions for Britain. David Cameron's quest for a new deal for Britain in Europe by clawing back powers from Brussels could cause the EU to fall apart quickly and inflict immense damage on the single market.

Few policy-makers in the EU would be willing to do Cameron any favours, resulting in an enfeebled, lonelier Britain, on the other hand. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius reacted on David Cameron's speech. He said : ''leaving the EU would be dangerous for the UK''.  “You join the [football] club, but once you are in you can’t say that you want to play rugby,” said Fabius, dismissing Cameron’s reform ideas as a push for Europe à la Carte''.

David Cameron recognizes that it would not be "right for Britain" to leave the EU entirely. Britain is perfectly entitled to ask for changes to its relation with EU, particularly in light of the fact that the EU is changing the nature of the organization. In exchange for greater European integration, Cameron believes that Britain should be allowed to take back some powers from the EU.

In fact, the other EU leaders want to avoid treaty change as it could result in years of gruelling negotiations and open a pandora's box of competing claims. From Brussels to Berlin, Dublin to Paris, EU leaders cast doubt on whether a major revision of the treaty – essential to Cameron's strategy – would actually take place. They argue that EU states could not agree on what they wanted to change in the treaty, so the prospect of a renegotiation is remote.

''At this stage of the debate we don't need as much treaty change as people think," said Van Rompuy, the full time president of European Council. "For those ideas for where treaty change is needed there is simply no consensus. So the possibility of having treaty changes in the near future or present are not very high.

This begs the questions: will EU leaders have ''change of heart'' and then play ball with British Prime Minister David Cameron's quest? If the Conservative Party wins, which is unlikely, will David Cameron change his mind( it happens a lot with politicians) or campaign for the UK to stay in EU?. Will Britain be ''Great Britain'' if it pulls out completely from the European Union after the referendum?

For now, we all know for sure where David Cameron stands. It will certainly be a challenge to convince EU leaders to play ball.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: Wikipédia

CYPRUS: ''Bailout package'': Lost Romance between EU, IMF & TROIKA

Cyprus is in urgent need of money from the euro rescue fund, but the troika responsible for the bailouts is split over how it should be structured. The IMF is worried that the country's debt load is not sustainable.
Christine Lagarde, 57, the French managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is currently unwilling to discuss giving aid money to ailing euro-zone member Cyprus.  As such, it remains to be seen whether the IMF will ultimately participate in a loan program for Cyprus. The statutes of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the euro zone's €700 billion ($931 billion) permanent backstop fund, stipulate that the IMF must rubber stamp a country's debt sustainability before any cash can flow.

But this time around, the IMF is hesitating. A member of the troika which is currently negotiating the bailout deal with the Cypriot government, the IMF has an entirely different notion as to how the program should look.

In particular, there are differing points of view over whether the Mediterranean island nation will ever be able to repay its debts. According to current forecasts, the Cypriot debt load will grow to 140 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) by the year 2014.

The IMF believes that such a sovereign-debt level is unsustainable over the long term. Internally, they have made it clear that a country's debt level should not be allowed to exceed 100 percent of GDP at the end of an aid program. To achieve that level, the IMF is insisting that Cyprus be required to adhere to much stricter measures than those being called for by the Europeans. It is a similar debate to the one which nearly caused a rift between the IMF and the EU during negotiations over the Greek bailout.

The IMF is demanding that the ESM step in to save Cypriot banks. Such a scenario would mean that Cyprus would no longer be solely responsible for paying back the €10.8 billion that has been earmarked for the country's banks. Instead, the European bailout fund would have to share the risk. This would make it possible to put a more positive spin on Cyprus' debt sustainability figures.

The second IMF demand is for the creditors of Cypriot banks to forego a portion of their claims -- a debt haircut in other words. Europe is not unsympathetic to such a move, but would prefer to involve only so-called junior debt holders -- denoting those whose debt is prioritized lower in the event of an insolvency.

The IMF, however, would also like to see senior debt holders be forced to pay up.
Even individuals who have entrusted their savings to Cypriot banks may have to accept losses. Here the experts are not considering accounts held by small savers, but rather the billions of euros that have been deposited by Russian oligarchs.

Another issue has also caused an air of mistrust to creep in between the IMF and a number of member states. Germany, Austria, Finland and the Netherlands don't trust the findings reached by a team of IMF experts last autumn with regard to Cypriot money laundering activities. The experts from Washington came to the conclusion that Cyprus is largely playing by the book and only minor legislative amendments are required.
This doesn't go far enough for the northern countries in the euro zone. They don't just want to know whether Cypriot laws meet international standards -- they want to find out whether they are actually applied. Schäuble and his counterparts from the other donor countries intend to put forward an initiative to address these concerns at Monday's Euro Group meeting. They realize that it could take months to answer these questions, but that doesn't deter them.

Everyone on the troika team agrees, though, that the Cypriot government should sell extensive government holdings, primarily its valuable stakes in the Electrical Authority of Cyprus (EAC) and the Cyprus Telecommunications Authority (CYTA). But it's unclear how much money can be raised via such privatizations. The government has tapped heavily into state companies to keep its head above water until parliamentary elections in February.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: Getty Images

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

ISRAEL: The Election and the Future of Peace Process

Israelis have begun voting in general elections to pick a new parliament, with expectations for an easy win for right-wing incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. And growing fears for a more right-wing new government and a remarkable feature of Israel's election campaign has been the way politicians on the left have shunned the peace slogans they passionately promoted in the salad days of the peace process.

Israeli polls indicate that a majority of seats in Israel's 120-member parliament will go to right-wing, pro-settler or Jewish ultra-Orthodox religious parties, with Netanyahu's Likud the largest among them. Netanyahu could comfortably form a coalition government with these parties, seen as his natural ideological allies.

The conflict with the Palestinians and the fate of the occupied lands, hotly debated in Israel for decades, were largely missing from Israeli political discourse this campaign season. The centrist Labor Party, which led peace talks with the Palestinians in the past, has shifted almost exclusively to domestic concerns, such as growing income gaps.

This Israeli campaign has thrown into stark relief the growing rift between how the world and how Israelis view the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To the world, Israel faces a clear choice -- either go on ruling the Palestinians or meet their demand for independence. Israelis used to agree that this was indeed the dilemma -- in years past, it's what elections were fought over. Not anymore, though.

The Israeli's campaign that culminates on today's election, the idea of uprooting West Bank settlements, ending the 45-year military occupation, and making way for a Palestinian state has been pushed off center stage. It's now the preserve of marginal candidates in the multiparty electoral system, artist and intellectual types. A new idea has risen to take its place: More than ever, popular voices are calling for Israel to annex the bulk of the West Bank, which is the primary territory of a would-be Palestinian state.

Most of the opposition has seemingly given up on the peace process. Among mainstream candidates, only former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni runs on a peace platform -- but she undercuts her credibility by seemingly angling for a spot in the next government, which, barring the Messiah's arrival, will be led again by Netanyahu, only this time with an even more hard-line, anti-Arab supporting cast. Livni's party, at any rate, is sinking in the polls and is expected to have a negligible presence in the next Knesset.

The reasons for the Israeli peace camp's disintegration are clear. The bus bombings of the Second Intifada killed the public's belief in negotiations; then the rockets from Gaza that followed the 2005 "disengagement" from the strip killed their belief in unilateral withdrawal. As far as the Jewish majority is concerned, that leaves only one solution -- managing the conflict with military force. That is what Netanyahu has done, and he has been able to keep a lid on the situation -- in the four years of his term, Israelis have been almost untouched by political violence. They feel safe, which is more important than anything else -- including the future, which they feel they have no control over anyway.

But  also  Netanyahu's supposed change of heart, dating to his acclaimed 2009 speech at Bar-Ilan University, when he purportedly broke with a lifetime of opposition to Palestinian statehood by accepting it in principle. Since then , fatalism has taken place. Two states for two peoples was never part of [Likud's] election platform.

While no organized political opposition exists, some political figures have tried to make hay over Netanyahu's palpable disdain for cutting a deal with the Palestinians.

Israeli politics abhors a vacuum, especially during election season, so a new "solution" has been run up the flag pole -- annexation. This plan involves making "Area C" -- the patchwork of territory that makes up nearly 62 percent of the West Bank and surrounds the 350,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank -- a legal part of the state of Israel. The roughly 50,000 Palestinians living in Area C would be offered Israeli citizenship, including the right to vote.

As for the 2.5 million Palestinians in the remaining 38-plus percent of the West Bank, they wouldn't be offered Israeli citizenship -- but they would get "autonomy" and would be allowed to run their lives without overt interference from Israel. The Jewish state, however, would retain sovereignty over the area, including military control, just in case the Palestinians didn't go along with the program. As for the 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza, they would go on living under Israeli blockade, cut off from the West Bank.

Netanyahu is a milquetoast liberal among this crowd. The prime minister is not a member of the annexation camp -- it's inconceivable that he would provoke the international community in this way, especially when the world wouldn't recognize the annexation of the West Bank any more than it does Israel's annexations of East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Palestinian officials largely view Benjamin Netanyahu's expected re-election with despair, fearing the Israeli hard-liner's ambitious plans for settlement construction over the next four years could prove lethal to their dreams of a state.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist