Focal Points Blog

The Former Yugoslavia: Nationalist Passions v. Political Interests

Thompson, Mark

Mark Thompson, author of “A Paper House: The Ending of Yugoslavia.”

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com. John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and observing its transformations since 1989.

The disintegration of Yugoslavia was a triumph of nationalist passions over political interests. If the latter had prevailed, the process would at least have proceeded peacefully, as was the case with Czechoslovakia. Instead, three wars took place one after the other, in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo, along with NATO attacks on Serbia.

Some of those passions can still be glimpsed in the region – in divided Kosovo, in a Macedonia busy building statues to Alexander the Great. But the worst excesses have subsided.
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Obama Fumbles Syria Policy

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

President Obama announced in a speech to the nation on Tuesday night that he will delay a congressional vote on authorizing U.S. strikes on Syria. This comes in light of a Russian-brokered deal that has seen Syria commit to giving up its chemical weapons.

“It’s too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps it commitments,” the president said. “But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force, particularly because Russia is one of Assad’s strongest allies.”
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Has Nuclear Disarmament Passed Its Sell-by Date?

BantheBomb

From the Partial Test-Ban and nuclear Non-Proliferation treaties through Reykjavík in the eighties to START I in 1991, arms control was beginning to look like it might corral nuclear proliferation by other countries and on our own soil. Instead, institutional blockades have slowed its pace while the nuclear-industrial complex has found a rhythm that it’s capable of keeping up for the long haul.

Worse, those of us advocating for disarmament can’t help but be prone to thoughts that we’re fighting yesterday’s fight. Some of us who advocate disarmament feel as if we’re viewed like figures from others eras who fought for unions, and women’s and civil rights. Those are battles perceived as long since won, however much those three causes remain under assault via attacks, respectively, on collective bargaining, abortion, and voter identification.
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Applying the Lebanese Template to Syria

Diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, architect of the Taif Accord. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, architect of the Taif Accord. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Syria’s devastating civil war is unfortunately nothing new in the Levant. A similar civil war, in fact—marked by sectarianism, the involvement of foreign states, and the loss of tens of thousands of lives—ravaged Syria’s smaller neighbor Lebanon for over 15 years.

Like Syria today, Lebanon unraveled along sectarian lines. The pluralistic composition of the population—composed of Shias, Sunnis, Maronite Christians, Alawites, and many others—set the stage for a free-for-all conflict that nearly led to the disintegration of the country from 1975 to 1990. Massacres from one side followed massacres from another side, as foreign powers such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United States, and Iran frequently intervened and provided patronage to differing sides.

Indeed, the commonalities between Syria today and Lebanon just a few decades ago are so rife that a lay person could hardly be blamed for mixing them up.

Once thought to be an endless conflict without hope for a solution, Lebanon’s war eventually came to a peaceful end. How? Hint: it involved negotiations, not more bombs.
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Putin Could Steal That Nobel From Kerry

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

On Sept. 8, Secretary of State John Kerry made the offhanded suggestion that if Syrian President Bashar al Assad were to “turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week,” the United States would call off its plans to launch missile strikes at Syria. Russia then offered a proposal to Syria, which it accepted, to submit its chemical weapons to international supervision under which they would eventually be destroyed. Acting Editor of Foreign Policy in Focus Peter Certo wrote: “John Kerry may have just accidentally earned himself a Nobel Peace Prize.”
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Germany’s Third Generation East

Landsberg, Marie

Marie Landsberg of Third Generation East

Cross-posted from JohnFeffer.com. John is currently traveling in Eastern Europe and observing its transformations since 1989.

It’s already been nearly a quarter of a century since the two Germanies were reunified. An entire generation that never experienced life in a divided country has already graduated from university. Common sense suggests that young Germans are looking exclusively at the future, and the country has moved on from the debates over reunification and the fate of East Germany.

But common sense is wrong.

Born in East Germany, Marie Landsberg was only six years old when the Berlin Wall fell. When she was growing up, like so many of her peers in what had once been East Germany, she didn’t pay much attention to the past.

“It wasn’t cool,” she told me in an interview in February in Berlin. “Everyone tried so hard to be Western. At school when we did history, we didn’t really deal with the GDR past. We had so much about the Second World War for years and years, and it was like the teachers didn’t know how to touch this topic because it was still so close. The first one that tried to touch the East-West situation, the GDR, and West Germany was a very young teacher from West Germany who tried to deal with it in the lessons. But he was also a bit insecure because he didn’t want to touch anyone’s emotions. It was still very touchy business. The schoolbooks were very one-sided, very much written from the Western perspective on the GDR. We didn’t really deal with the past.”
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Syria: Suddenly a Race to Peace?

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Suddenly it seems as if the United States is competing with Russia to find an alternative to attacking Syria.

As we posted this morning:

“The Syrian government has accepted a Russian proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control to avoid a possible U.S. military strike, Interfax news agency quoted Syria’s foreign minister as saying on Tuesday,” reports Reuters.

Now, reports Politico, “in response to a Russian offer Monday that Syria should give up its chemical weapons in order to avoid the prospects of military strikes”
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Will Turning Over Control of Its Chemical Weapons to Russia Prevent the U.S. From Attacking Syria?

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

“The Syrian government has accepted a Russian proposal to put its chemical weapons under international control to avoid a possible U.S. military strike, Interfax news agency quoted Syria’s foreign minister as saying on Tuesday,” reports Reuters this morning.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, “Syria had agreed because this would ‘remove the grounds for American aggression,’ the report said.”

Of course, Lavrov is scarcely speaking for President Obama, who spoke for himself with Scott Pelley of CBS News about the proposal.
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Prompt Global Strike Too Prompt for Its Own Good?

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS), still under development, is a weapons system designed to provide the military with the option to strike fast, even on the other side of the world. It affords the speed of nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles, but without nowhere near the destructive power of a nuclear warhead.

I know, it’s odd that intercontinental missiles have never been developed without warheads, or that they weren’t developed first. Even though it’s not nuclear, CPGS comes with its own set of problems. Foremost among them: that a state targeted might experience difficulty determining if the incoming is a CPGS or a nuclear warhead – with the retaliation decisions the latter would entail. At Global Security Newswire, Elaine Grossman outlines its other problems.
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Assad and Obama Whiff at Chances to Defuse Crisis

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The hypothesis that the Syrian chemical weapons attacks may not have been perpetrated by President Bashar al-Assad – or the opposition – has been graining traction. Reuters reports (Sept. 8):

Syrian brigade and division commanders had been asking the Presidential Palace to allow them to use chemical weapons for the last four-and-a-half months, according to radio messages intercepted by German spies, but permission had always been denied … Germany’s Bild am Sonntag paper reported on Sunday, citing German intelligence.

In other words

Syrian government forces may have carried out a chemical weapons attack close to Damascus without the personal permission of President Bashar al-Assad.

Meanwhile, on Sept. 6, in a New York Times op-ed Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) lamented the Obama administration’s failure to share intelligence on Syrian chemical-weapons attacks with – never mind the public – lawmakers themselves.
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