The move by the Palestinian leadership to go to the UN and ask what’s due to them is pretty understandable, to say the least. Israel under Netanyahu has worked very hard at becoming an international pariah, and this seems to be the only way left to get them back at the negotiating table. And apart from the US and a couple of European countries, the majority of governments in the world seem to support this move.
And not only that: populations across the globe, including in the US, support the Palestinians on the matter of statehood, this new BBC poll shows. So there should really be no discussion about this. If Obama really wants to tap into the Arab Spring, and wishes to improve the relationship between the West and the Arab world, he won’t let the US unilaterally block the Palestinians from more international recognition that is wanted by a majority of UN members. But with the Israel lobby as big as it is in Washington, that is probably not going to happen…
As debate continues over whether the Palestinians should ask for a UN resolution recognising Palestine as an independent state, a new global poll for BBC World Service reveals that, in all 19 countries surveyed, more citizens would prefer to see their government vote to support the resolution than vote against it – although only by a modest margin in many countries.
The poll of 20,446 citizens conducted by GlobeScan shows that, while the public is five to two in favour, with three undecided, in only nine countries is there an outright majority of citizens in support of recognizing Palestine as a state.
Across the countries surveyed 49 per cent back the resolution, while 21 per cent say their government should oppose it, and a large proportion (30%) either say that it depends, that their government should abstain, or that they do not know what their government should do.
Support for recognition is strongest in Egypt, where 90 per cent are in favour and only nine per cent opposed. But there is also majority support in the other three predominantly Muslim countries polled – Turkey (60% support, 19% oppose), Pakistan (52% support, 12% oppose) and Indonesia (51% support,16% oppose). Chinese people are the second most likely overall to favour their government voting for recognition of a Palestinian state, with 56 per cent in support, and just nine per cent opposed.
In terms of countries with a higher level of opposition, Americans (45% support, 36% oppose) and Indians (32% support, 25% opposed, with many undecided) are the most likely to prefer that their government vote against recognizing Palestine, along with Filipinos (56% support vs 36% oppose) and Brazilians (41% support vs 26% oppose).
If Obama can get us out of Iraq, and if he can use his good offices to keep the pressure on the Egyptian military to lighten up, and if he can support the likely UN declaration of a Palestinian state in September, the US will be in the most favorable position in the Arab world it has had since 1956. And he would go down in history as one of the great presidents.
If he tries to stay in Iraq and he takes a stand against Palestine, he risks provoking further anti-American violence. He can be not just the president who killed Bin Laden, but the president who killed the pretexts for radical violence against the US. He can promote the waving of the American flag in major Arab cities. And that would be a defeat and humiliation for Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda more profound than any they could have dreamed.
Add to that, on the domestic level, the pushing through of universal healthcare, hopefully a recovery of the economy, and the legalization of marihuana (just kidding), and you have a pretty succesful president. To use an understatement.
Now to end the Bush-Cheney legal architecture for counterterrorism.
- Edit: Of course there’s still the absurdly high public debt and deficit, which did multiply under this president.
The military intervention (or war) in Libya was initially argued for and supported (including by yours truly) in terms of its circumscribed goals – implementing a no-fly zone and preventing humanitarian disaster, no regime change - its legitimization by UN mandate, and its international character.
Judging from an April 14 joint op-ed in the Telegraph by President Obama, Prime Minister Cameron and President Sarkozy, entitled ‘The bombing continues until Gaddafi goes’, however, one or more of these features is now about to change. Instead of the NATO under a UN flag keeping Ghadafi’s air force and tanks immobilized and letting the rebels fend for themselves, the goal of the mission is now apparently regime change.
Regime change! Iraq, anyone?
This is not what this mission was intended for. And not only that, the question is now also to what extent this is still in terms with UN Resolution 1973, which does not provide for regime change at all.
In my opinion, the legitimacy of this mission is now being severely challenged (which is not to say, by the way, that the picture above of Libyan rebels firing what look like Hind-24 helicopter missiles from a truck is not extremely cool).
Of course, there is no question that Libya -– and the world –- would be better off with Qaddafi out of power. I, along with many other world leaders, have embraced that goal, and will actively pursue it through non-military means. But broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake
Our duty and our mandate under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 is to protect civilians, and we are doing that. It is not to remove Gaddafi by force. . . . However, so long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations so that civilians remain protected and the pressure on the regime builds. Then a genuine transition from dictatorship to an inclusive constitutional process can really begin, led by a new generation of leaders. For that transition to succeed, Colonel Gaddafi must go, and go for good.
Whatever one thinks about this war limited humanitarian intervention on the merits, this is not the mission that Obama cited when justifying America’s involvement. It’s the opposite: ”broadening our military mission to include regime change would be a mistake” v. “so long as Gaddafi is in power, Nato and its coalition partners must maintain their operations.” To claim that “regime change” is subsumbed under the goal of ”protecting civilians” is to define that objective so broadly as to render it meaningless and, independently, is to violate Obama’s explicit decree at the start that regime change would not be the military goal. Finally, note the blithe dismissal of the very limited U.N. Resolution that initially justified all this: it does not provide for regime change in Libya by force, acknowledged the three leaders, but that, in essence, is what we’re going to do anyway (continue “operations” until he’s gone).
Meanwhile, the NYT is reporting that Colonel Ghadafi is firing cluster bombs into residential areas – which, if true, is of course a flagrant war crime. But I’m beginning to doubt whether a newspaper like the NYT can still fully be trusted on such matters. When all is said and done, after all, a paper like the NYT is a perennially establishment-supporting news outlet (up till now, they’re still refusing to call the Bush administration’s interrogation techniques ‘torture’, even though they employ that term when the same techniques are employed in other countries), and reports like this broaden the case for war (compare it to reporting about the atrocities of Saddam Hussein, for example). Embedded journalists on the ground get their information via military forces, moreover, such as the rebels.
Articles are now also being written about the possible exaggeration by Obama of the humanitarian disaster in for instance Benghazi had the coalition not intervened. I don’t know about that – to me, the prevention of an atrocity is still a legit ground for international, UN-mandated intervention – but it’s good to remain watchful.
Two days ago 12 people, including 7 United Nations workers, were killed brutally in Afghanistan. During a mass protest a United Nations building in Mazar-I-Sharif was stormed by a huge mob who were protesting against the Quran-burning by pastor Terry Jones. Or was it? Well, the people were indeed killed by a larger group of people, but there was no mass protest and the mob was relatively small. The role of Hamid Karzai was also very crucial in this matter. Fareed Zakaria explains:
Now that the military intervention in Libya is entering its third day, some doubts about the whole action are beginning to arise in the mainstream media and online. Well, actually, on the blogosphere, notably in the US, the enthusiasm doesn’t seem to have been great to begin with. Also, here, the legitimacy and even domestic legality of the military actions are being called into question. The NYT, though, now also has a good piece about what is the fundamental problem with this intervention: what conclusion do we want it to have? What is the purpose of this intervention?
Basically, two answers to that are possible. One is the removal of Colonel Ghadafi by coalition military might. The other is the implementation of the no-fly zone (and, by now, it seems, also the destruction of the Libyan military), thus either allowing the rebels to topple Ghadafi, or pushing for negotiations between them and Ghadafi. I have the impression that the second option is what the coalition is pretty explicitly pushing for - although some (French) officials have also hinted at the first option, and Obama has indicated that to him the only outcome of negotiations can also be the removal of Ghadafi. The problem is, though: what if the second option doesn’t work out, and either the rebels are defeated, unable to conquer the entire country, or Ghadafi remains in (partial) power? Then we have an open-ended military commitment; and that is something we do not want to have.
The first option, though, is evidently outside of the scope of UNSCR 1973.
So this military intervention is predicated on a huge gamble, namely that the rebels will be able to swiftly re-conquer the country. If not, then we have a problem – the West is then embroiled in a third war in a Muslim country, and public support for this undertaking, both in the West and in the Arab world, will quickly ebb away. The model seems to be Afghanistan with the Northern Alliance doing the ground work (and then letting them install a government), rather than Iraq 2003. The comparison with the Iraq War, though, is already now increasingly being heard online. I would like the main point of this blog post to be that while the pitfalls of this mission (as stipulated above) must be recognized, any comparison with the Iraq War falls flat and is completely unfair. Let’s compare the two.
The Iraq War was a US-led war of aggression, against a state that posed no direct threat to the US. It was based on a fraudulent case about so-called weapons of mass destruction, that was embarassingly argued for by Colin Powell in the UN – a top aide later admitted this to be the lowest point in his career. There was a doctrine called ‘pre-emptive war’, which was up till then unheard of in international relations, and was accepted only in US neocon circles. There was no substantial international coalition backing this invasion, and what’s more, it was illegal: the UN resolution that was in place at the time did not provide for a full-scale war and toppling of the government.
The Libyan intervention, on the other hand, is a UN-instigated, UN-backed mission primarily meant to prevent the massacre of thousands of people. The pretty strong-worded Resolution 1973 fully, legally provides for everything that is happening right now. As co-blogger blsd has also argued here, this is what the Security Council was set up for! Only because of the Cold War did it never come around to do so. The international coalition supporting this mission is much broader than in the case of Iraq (ranging from Europe to the Arab League), and while Russia, China and India may be bitching now, they could’ve prevented this intervention in the Security Council if they’d wanted to, yet they didn’t. The Arab League is also still on board. The military action up till now may have been bold, but it effectuated what was stipulated in the Resolution: implement a no-fly zone.
I’m not saying this is without enormous risks, or even that it’s the best thing to do; but to compare it with Iraq is to demonstrate an Americentric worldview that supposes that once again this is an American mission with the rest of the world merely looking on. The US may bear the brunt, true; but the rhetorical lipservice being paid to this being an international coalition, and most importantly the fact that this is a circumscribed, UN-mandated mission, makes this an essentially different thing. It’s the reason that I, for one, can back this thing for now, as I suspect a far larger percentage of the European populace does than in the case of Iraq.
Of course this thing may be running out of hand, and then I’ll hate it was ever started and pound my head and ask, ‘Have we learned nothing?’ But for now, to me it seems that if there ever was a reason for an intervention, and a process to give it legitimacy and an international coalition, it’s this one and now. Let’s hope that it essentially stays limited, that there’s a quick way out, and that it doesn’t blow up in everybody’s faces.
Just a couple of hours ago, a French fighter jet fired on and destroyed a Libyan military vehicle, the first use of force by the international community under the mandate of UN Security Council resolution 1973 (2011), adopted last Thursday. This seems to signal a turn-around in the situation on the ground in Libya – Colonel Kaddafi’s luck may finally have run out.
Beyond Libya, the consequences of this bold move by France may prove even more significant. For the first time in a very long period, the UN Security Council has shown to be able to take forceful action against a leader and a state that massacres its own people in violation of international law. This is rather unique: in 1994, the Security Council failed to stop the genocide in Rwanda, and in 1999 the Council’s inertia prompted NATO’s unilateral intervention in Kosovo. As a result, many have criticized the Security Council for being irrelevant and outdated, and academics and policy-makers have actively sought ways to circumvent the Council (see, for example, the debate on a “responsibility to protect”, or R2P).
Enter Resolution 1973 (2011) and its swift enforcement by France and Britain. The current events are reminiscent of the military action by the international community in Kuwait in the early 1990s. Then, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War instilled great optimism in the future of world politics (see, for example, Bush sr.’s “Toward a New World Order” speech in 1990). Resolution 678 (1990), authorizing states to use “all necessary means” to restore peace and security in the Gulf area, was hailed as an awakening of the Security Council after decades of deadlock. Now, after some bad experiences with semi-unilateral actions in the last decade (most prominently Iraq and Afghanistan), states are returning to the Council – despite talks about its irrelevance. Thursday’s vote gives the Council renewed credibility as the primary global forum to deal with international crises. It may herald an era of new, more mature optimism about the role of the Security Council at the centre of global politics.
Another point of interest is that, this time, it is not the US who is taking the lead. Quite the opposite: the US is very careful not to be seen as targeting yet another Muslim nation. Strategically, this seems the right choice. But it demonstrates that a hitherto hegemon feels that it has reached the limits of its powers and is painfully aware of the dangers of imperial overstretch.
The Libyan announcement of a unilateral ceasefire made by foreign minister Moussa Koussa leaves several important questions unanswered. Is it simply a ploy to divide the UN after the approval of the security council resolution? And how will a ceasefire be monitored and verified? Will the UN be allowed in? Fighting was reported from the port of Misrata shortly before his press conference in Tripoli. His offer of dialogue has already been rejected by the Benghazi-based rebels. The Gaddafi regime is pretty low on credibility so there will be plenty of scepticism about this statement. And Koussa pointedly refused to answer any questions after dropping his bombshell.
I’m wondering what this means for the rebels. Can they keep on fighting? Is there gonna be like a dialogue between them and Gadhafi?
- Original post: So the UN, in a probably way too late, yet nevertheless pretty strong resolution, has installed a no-fly zone above Libya. This is not just some gesture: it means that Libyan military airplanes will be shot down by Western ones to actually implement and enforce this no-fly zone. This is what the worries of Chancellor Merkel are about (and why Germany abstended in the Security Council vote). In other words: we’re potentially in for a long, protracted military conflict with Colonel Gadhafi. No idea what the aftermath of that will be like.
Meanwhile, British fighter jets are under way; the French are getting ready; Belgium (yes, Belgium) will send 4 F-16′s; Denmark will send 7 F-16′s; the Netherlands wants to join in as well, but is waiting for a request; and Egypt is supplying the Libyan rebels. So, the international community is now actively taking sides in this conflict. Gadhafi ordered the biggest bombardments as of yet on the city of Misurata, so he ain’t backing down. Guess we’ll have to wait until the bombs start falling.
I’m probably not gonna be able to liveblog what’s happening (maybe other LSD bloggers are), but here’s some links to follow, and some analysis.
Only hours after the United Nations Security Council voted to authorize military action and the imposition of a no-flight zone to try to avert a rout of rebels by forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, French officials said on Friday that military action would start soon. News reports said British and French warplanes would spearhead the attack.
Eurocontrol, Europe’s air traffic control agency, said in Brussels on Friday that Libya had closed its airspace.
On the ground, forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi unleashed a barrage of fire against the rebel-held town of Misurata in the west of the country while one of the colonel’s sons, Seif el-Islam, was quoted as saying government forces would encircle the rebel stronghold of Benghazi in the east.
François Baroin, a French government spokesman, told RTL radio that airstrikes would come “rapidly,” perhaps within hours, following the United Nations resolution late Thursday authorizing “all necessary measures” to impose a no-flight zone.
But he insisted the military action “is not an occupation of Libyan territory.” Rather, it was designed to protect the Libyan people and “allow them to go all the way in their drive, which means bringing down the Qaddafi regime.”
The action seemed to have divided Europeans, with Germany saying it would not participate while Norway was reported as saying it would. In the region, Turkey was reported to have registered opposition while demanding ceasefire, but Qatar said it would support the operation.
Like it or not we are now in it for the long-haul. The history of UN-mandated missions does not support the notion that this will be a quick or easy campaign. The UN is still present in Bosnia and Kosovo and it seems quite possible, even if this mission achieves its stated goals, that it will be in Libya for years to come. That’s probable, surely, even if or perhaps especially if the end result is the partition of Libya. Indeed,a Kosovan-style outcome may now be the best available.
The question naturally becomes: what’s victory? How does this end? The United Nations has approved a tactic. It hasn’t set out a strategy. The fact that France showedmore enthusiasm than the U.S. for the no-fly zone underscores the lack of agreement about just how far this intervention will go. Logically, the endstate implied by the U.N. vote is the end of Gadhafi’s rule over Libya. But it’s far from certain that’s what nations signing on to a no-fly zone are committed to bringing about, especially if Gadhafi proves to be resilient.
- Update: A CNN crew was nearly hit by an aerial bomb near Brega in the eastern part of Libya. Watch a report here. Brega seems to have been recaptured by Gadhafi troops. When will the U.N. establish a no-flying zone?
- Update: The speech has ended. Some “highlights”:
“Parents must take arms away from our children, and those who are behind them must be known. … It’s no longer a joke as they imagined it.”
“If Libya is destabilized, if Libya ceases to exist, you’ll see what kind of destruction will happen to the countries of the Mediterranean… It’s Libya who is stopping illegal immigration in the Mediterranean. It’s Libya who is stopping (Osama) bin Laden in North Africa.”
“They don’t have the right or the legitimacy to freeze Libyan assets… It’s looting, that’s quite clear to the naked eye. … I found it funny when they said they would attach my assets. I have no assets. I said give me some assets. Give me one million dinar. My assets are history, the people.”
“Peaceful demonstrations are taking place in the streets and squares. If anyone wants to disrupt these demonstrations, Libya will stay strong and we will get rid of these”
- Update: Gadhafi is giving another one of his trademark coo coo speeches on Libyan State Television. Watch live on CNN
- Original post: A few days ago a swift defeat of Colonel Gadhafi seemed imminent. Now, as the strategic situation becomes clearer, it seems that Ghadafi’s position is not as bad as it first seemed when most of his subjects and large parts of his army turned against him. This CNN clip makes clear that the option of a long during stalemate is very likely. It will be extremely hard for the ill-equiped and badly trained opposition forces to defeat Gadhafi’s remaining army divisions and mercenaries in Tripoli and the cities of Sirt and Zawiya. Yesterday and today forces loyal to Gadhafi have launched counterstrikes against rebel forces. Today Gadhafi gave the order to bomb an ammunition depot near the eastern town of Ajdabiya, which is held by the rebels.
The big question now is: will the United Nations do their part? The rebel leaders are currently debating if they want to ask the U.N. for airstrikes against strategic military positions. An extensive foreign intervention is out of the question for these leaders and the U.S. probably won’t take the risk, so airstrikes under the U.N. banner would be a more agreeable option. They will definetely need some big bunker busters or MOABs to crush Gadhafi’s reinforced Bab al-Aziziya bunker, which reportedly can withstand a nucleair bomb.
In the meanwhile the atrocities of the Gadhafi regime are being unveiled. Here is a report by ABC News on the discovery of an underground complex in Benghazi used by the regime for torture.
Een gevoelig verlies voor de verdedigers van privacy en burgerrechten in Nederland, en winst voor de betuttelende, controlerende overheid. De rechter in Den Haag heeft de zaak van burgerrechtenorganisatie Privacy First en 21 andere eisers niet-ontvankelijk verklaard. Dit omdat burgers volgens de rechter ‘zelf’ naar de rechter kunnen stappen wanneer zij zich in hun vrijheid aangetast voelen door het opslaan van hun biometrische gegevens in een centrale databank. En zich blijkbaar niet kunnen laten vertegenwoordigen door een organisatie.
Nogal een formalistische uitspraak, als je het mij vraagt. Op deze manier kunnen gedupeerden (en de gehele Nederlandse bevolking is door deze wetgeving gedupeerd) zich nooit verenigen. En dit terwijl de 21 mede-eisers er toch namens zichzelf zitten. Nu is al het werk van Aaron Boudewijn, Paul Cuijpers en vele anderen voor niets geweest. Ik ben benieuwd hoe het nu verder gaat; en ik neem aan dat er doorgeprocedeerd wordt.
Let wel: het betreft hier geen geweeklaag van overgevoelige burgers. Er is geen land in Europa dat verder gaat dan Nederland in het grootschalig, gedwongen opslaan van biometrische gegevens van alle burgers (inclusief kinderen) in een landelijke database, voor de ‘veiligheid’. In nazi- en Oost-Duitsland zou de staat haar vingers hebben afgelikt bij de wijze waarop in het eenentwintigste-eeuwse Nederland door de overheid omgesprongen wordt met de persoonlijke gegevens van een gehele bevolking – en dat is niet overdreven.
De Europese Commissie, bij monde van Eurocommissaris Viviane Reding (Justitie en Grondrechten), heeft gisteren bekend gemaakt een onderzoek te starten naar de houdbaarheid van de Nederlandse wetgeving in het licht van Europese wetgeving voor de bescherming van data. Alleen in Nederland worden de vingerafdrukken, verkregen bij de uitgifte van paspoorten (en dus noodzakelijk voor de uitoefening van je burgerrechten), opgeslagen in een centrale databank. In Groot-Brittannië werd een vergelijkbaar project door de nieuwe conservatieve regering stopgezet, na zorgen over de privacy van burgers. Ook de WRR, en de Mensenrechtencommissie van de VN hebben hun zorgen geuit over de Nederlandse situatie.
Uit onderzoek van een consortium van Britse privacyorganisaties, uitgevoerd in opdracht van de Europese Commissie, blijkt dan ook dat Nederland onderaan de ranglijst in de EU staat als het gaat om de bescherming van privacy.
Dat krijg je, met jarenlang het CDA en de VVD in de regering.
De enige zaak die nog loopt is die van Louise van Luijk. Hopelijk redt deze het wel, en kan deze zaak doorgang vinden, wellicht tot aan het Europese Hof.
In de zaak van Privacy First en 21 mede-eisers tegen de Nederlandse staat over de opslag van vingerafdrukken zijn de eisende partijen niet-ontvankelijk verklaard door de rechter in Den Haag. Belangrijkste argument van de rechter is dat burgers zelf naar de rechter kunnen stappen bij bezwaren van de centrale opslag van biometrische gegevens als de vingerafdruk in het paspoort. Privacy First vertegenwoordigt in deze zaak geen eigen belang, maar dat van iedereen van 12 jaar en ouder die een paspoort aanvraagt, of aan kan vragen, aldus de rechter.
Privacy First en de andere partijen spanden de zaak tegen de Staat der Nederlanden aan vanwege een aanpassing in de paspoortwet. Die aanpassing maakt het mogelijk dat de vingerafdrukken die van iedere Nederlander die een paspoort aanvraagt worden afgenomen, worden opgeslagen in een centrale database. De eisende partijen vinden dat te ver gaan, en zijn bang dat de privacy van burgers in het geding komt, doordat de database gehackt zou kunnen worden, of gebruikt zou kunnen worden voor opsporingsdoeleinden.
Het ministerie van Binnenlandse Zaken zegt dat er genoeg maatregelen zijn genomen om dat te voorkomen.
Hoewel het nieuwe paspoort – dus met vingerafdruk – Europees geregeld is, is het niet verplicht om een centrale database aan te leggen.
Juist gisteren maakte de Europese Commissie, het dagelijks bestuur van de Europese Unie, bekend zich te buigen over de Nederlandse paspoortwet. Eurocommissaris Viviane Reding (Justitie en Grondrechten) gaat onderzoeken of de wet in strijd is met Europese wetgeving over bescherming van data.
Reding handelt op aandringen van D66 in het Europees Parlement. De Nederlandse overheid behandelt burgers als potentiële criminelen omdat vingerafdrukken van onschuldige Nederlanders worden opgeslagen, aldus D66-Europarlementariër Sophie in ‘t Veld gisteren.
Nederland gaat met de opslag veel verder dan andere Europese lidstaten. De overheid vraagt vier vingerafdrukken, die in een database op het gemeentehuis komen en vervolgens in een centrale database terecht moeten komen. Ook de Mensenrechtencommissie van de VN is heel kritisch over de mogelijke kwalijke gevolgen voor de privacy, aldus In ‘t Veld.
Naast de bodemprocedure die Privacy First en de andere eisers aanspanden tegen de Nederlandse staat, loopt nog een zaak van Louise van Luijk. zij heeft op dit moment geen paspoort, omdat ze weigerde haar vingerafdruk af te staan. De eerste zitting in die zaak is op 15 februari.
This really boggles me. Revealed by the publication by WikiLeaks of a quarter millon classified diplomatic cables from American embassies, is a massive secret intelligence campaign directed by the U.S. government against the leadership of the United Nations.
This included the gathering of personal details, biometric information (fingerprints and iris scans), passwords, credit card numbers, use of private networks and frequent flyer accounts of the secretary general, permanent Security Council representatives, undersecretaries, heads of agencies, chief advisers, heads of peacekeeping operations and other key top UN personnel.
While of course in the dark side of international relations such a thing shouldn’t surprise anyone, I’m still amazed at the grandiosity of this scheme.
Washington is running a secret intelligence campaign targeted at the leadership of the United Nations, including the secretary general, Ban Ki-moon and the permanent security council representatives from China, Russia, France and the UK.
A classified directive which appears to blur the line between diplomacy and spying was issued to US diplomats under Hillary Clinton’s name in July 2009, demanding forensic technical details about the communications systems used by top UN officials, including passwords and personal encryption keys used in private and commercial networks for official communications.
Washington also wanted credit card numbers, email addresses, phone, fax and pager numbers and even frequent-flyer account numbers for UN figures and “biographic and biometric information on UN Security Council permanent representatives”.
The secret “national human intelligence collection directive” was sent to US missions at the UN in New York, Vienna and Rome; 33 embassies and consulates, including those in London, Paris and Moscow.
The operation targetted at the UN appears to have involved all of Washington’s main intelligence agencies. The CIA’s clandestine service, the US Secret Service and the FBI were included in the “reporting and collection needs” cable alongside the state department under the heading “collection requirements and tasking”.
The leak of the directive is likely to spark questions about the legality of the operation and about whether state department diplomats are expected to spy. The level of technical and personal detail demanded about the UN top team’s communication systems could be seen as laying the groundwork for surveillance or hacking operations. It requested “current technical specifications, physical layout and planned upgrades to telecommunications infrastructure and information systems, networks and technologies used by top officials and their support staff”, as well as details on private networks used for official comunication, “to include upgrades, security measures, passwords, personal encryption keys and virtual private network versions used”.
The UN has previously asserted that bugging the secretary general is illegal, citing the 1946 UN convention on priveleges and immunities which states: “The premises of the United Nations shall be inviolable. The property and assets of the United Nations, wherever located and by whomsoever held, shall be immune from search, requisition, confiscation, expropriation and any other form of interference, whether by executive, administrative, judicial or legislative action”.
The 1961 Vienna convention on diplomatic relations, which covers the UN, also states that “the official correspondence of the mission shall be inviolable”.
The emergence of the directive also risks undermining political trust between the UN leadership and the US, which is the former’s biggest paying member, supplying almost a quarter of its budget – more than $3bn (£1.9bn) this year.
Washington wanted intelligence on the contentious issue of the “relationship or funding between UN personnel and/or missions and terrorist organisations” and links between the UN Relief and Works Agency in the Middle East, and Hamas and Hezbollah. It also wanted to know about plans by UN special rapporteurs to press for potentially embarrassing investigations into the US treatment of detainees in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, and “details of friction” between the agencies co-ordinating UN humanitarian operations, evidence of corruption inside UNAids, the joint UN programme on HIV, and in international health organisations, including the World Health Organisation (WHO). It even called for “biographic and biometric” information on Dr Margaret Chan, the director general of WHO, as well as details of her personality, role, effectiveness, management style and influence.
The United Nations (UN) weather agency the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) released a new report today, stating that the level of greenhouse gassed in the world’s atmosphere has never been as high as it is at the present.
That itself is scary enough, but what’s really scary is that, due to the warm weather of the last few years, the permafrost on the northern hemisphere is starting to melt, releasing large amounts of methane. As methane itself is a greenhouse gas, this creates a feedback loop, in which the newly released methane itself becomes a further cause of global warming. In other words: a climate time bomb.
Concentrations of the main greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have reached their highest level since pre-industrial times, the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) said today.
Concentrations of the gases continued to build up in 2009 – the latest year of observations – despite the economic slowdown, the UN weather agency said in its latest Greenhouse Gas Bulletin.
Rises in the amount of greenhouse gases increase radiation in the atmosphere, warming the surface of the Earth and causing climate change.
“The main long-lived greenhouse gases including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have reached their highest recorded levels since the beginning of the industrial age, and this despite the recent economic slowdown,” said WMO deputy secretary-general Jeremiah Lengoasa.
The findings will be studied at a UN meeting in Cancún, Mexico, from 29 November to 10 December to discuss climate change.
Carbon dioxide is the single most important greenhouse gas caused by human activity, contributing 63.5% of total radiative forcing. Its concentration has increased by 38% since 1750, mainly because of emissions from burning fossil fuels, deforestation and changes in land use, the WMO said.
Natural emissions of methane due for example to the melting of the Arctic icecap or increased rainfall on wetlands – themselves caused by global warming – are becoming more significant, it said.
This could create a “feedback loop” in which global warming releases large quantities of methane into the atmosphere which then contribute to further global warming.
These natural emissions could be the reason why methane has increased in the atmosphere over the past three years after nearly a decade of no growth, the WMO said.
Human activities such as cattle-rearing, rice planting, fossil-fuel exploitation and landfills account for 60% of methane emissions, with natural sources accounting for the rest.
Via PhD studies in human rights (a must read blog) comes news that the UN Human Rights Council has released its investigation into Israel’s handling of the humanitarian aid flotilla:
Yesterday, the fact-finding commission appointed by the Human Rights Council to investigate the attack by Israeli forces on the humanitarian aid flotilla issued its report, which is available on the website of the Human Rights Council. According to the summary, ‘The fact-finding mission concluded that a series of violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, were committed by the Israeli forces during the interception of the flotilla and during the detention of passengers in Israel prior to deportation.’
It will be interesting to see whether this becomes an issue in the current round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks being supported by the United States and whether or not there is any effort to enact sanctions on Israel.
Jeffrey Goldberg, an American-Israeli journalist writing primarily for The Atlantic, has a huge article in the September 2010 edition of the magazine about a looming foreign policy question: the possibility of a military attack by Israel on the nuclear facilities of Iran. The article can be read here.
It’s based on interviews with 40 past and present Israeli decision makers, as well as American and Arab officials since March 2009. While of course in the Netherlands, no media outlet has paid any attention at all to this very important article, in the U.S. it has unleashed a debate. No surprise: according to the article, there is consensus among the policy makers Goldberg spoke to that there is a more than 50 percent chance of Israel attacking Iran by July 2011.
How this is, what consequences this might have for Middle East (and global) politics, but also what the ramifications of a nuclearized Iran could be, is explored in-depth in the article. Because the latter possibility is what probably no one wants; yet the consequences of Israel taking military action are grave. It will shake up Middle Eastern politics by igniting retaliation actions, for example by the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah, and possibly a complete regional war (which will make Afghanistan look like a minor problem in Obama’s hands), with all the human, social and economic misery that entails; it might solidify the Iranian theocratic regime; it could drastically raise oil prices and havoc the world economy; and in general, it will make so much more problematic the position of Israel in the Middle East, not to mention the standing of the US in the Islamic world.
On the other hand, consider the possible ramifications of Iran acquiring nuclear weaponry. Not only does a large segment of the Israeli governing elite and population view this as an ‘existential threat’ comparable to the Holocaust (if you take some of the anti-Semitic and violent rhetoric of President Ahmadinejad literally, that is not such a overblown thought; on the other hand, the chances of Iran actually using it on, for example, Tel Aviv are probably slim); it would in the first place indisputably raise Iran’s raw geopolitical power, thus drastically altering the balance of power in the region. Arab regimes would feel threatened (maybe sparking an arms race) and militant groups supported by Iran like Hezbollah would feel empowered under a nuclear umbrella. It would also mean a possibly fatal blow to international nuclear non-proliferation efforts (led by Obama), and a huge slap in the face of the United Nations and the IAEA.
The US, EU and UN currently have sanctions in place, as Iran has repeatedly ignored Security Council demands to stop enriching uranium, and keeps building nuclear reactors. A May 2010 report by IAEA inspectors (who are denied access to facilities) indicated that the country currently has enough nuclear fuel to, when enriched, make two nuclear weapons. According to Goldberg’s article, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a NATO meeting in June that “most intelligence estimates” predict that Iran is a few years away from building a nuclear weapon. So, like with Iraq at the time, the question of whether they are pursuing nuclear weaponry is open – but they’re not doing themselves a favour by not cooperating with the international community, and regularly threatening Israel with annihilation. The Obama administration has called the nuclear program “a threat” to the region and has consistently not ruled out the option of a military strike against the reactors, but in all probability are not very keen on doing so.
So that leaves the question what Israel’s gonna do… Which is what Goldberg’s article is about.
Yet, Goldberg is not without his critics. This especially has to do with a 2002 article in The New Yorker, in which he wrote that Iraq’s nuclear program posed ‘a significant threat’ to the US, and went into ‘evidence’ that Saddam Hussein had close connections with Al Qaeda… In short, almost exactly the message he seems to have now. According to Robert Wright as the NYT Opinionator blog, this article is remembered “on the left” as a “monument to consequential wrongness”. Goldberg also supported the Iraq war. This leads blogger Glenn Greenwald (in a rather ad hominem piece, I have to say) to point out that in his current article, Goldberg paints the 1981 Israeli strike against the Osirak reactor in Iraq as a succesful effort to halt that country’s nuclear program, while in his previous article, he constructed it as unsuccesful, leading Saddam to double his efforts – making Goldberg a propagandist for military action against Iran. Greenwald asserts that it is the 1981 strike against the Osirak reactor that led Iraq to pursue a nuclear program.
In short, Goldberg is accused of trying to shift the debate with this huge piece; of making the prospect of a military strike against Iran seem inevitable, of making it a question who is going to undertake it, rather then whether it should be undertaken. Critics like Greenwald assume a warmongering neoconservative agenda behind his writings. Goldberg, again, is to some extend defended by writers like The Atlantic‘s James Fallows and TIME’s Joe Klein, who are saying he is just trying to expose the Israeli government’s thinking.
Personally, I’m not sure; while definitely more an attempt at in-depth, resource material rich journalism rather than “propaganda”, I do think the article leans towards an understanding of Israel, and too much of a closed case against Iran (and the possibility of a military strike). The best way to form an opinion, however, is to read it yourself; because whatever you may think of it, it’s definitely the most consequential piece on this looming crisis you’ll read in a while.
For the Obama administration, the prospect of a nuclearized Iran is dismal to contemplate— it would create major new national-security challenges and crush the president’s dream of ending nuclear proliferation. But the view from Jerusalem is still more dire: a nuclearized Iran represents, among other things, a threat to Israel’s very existence. In the gap between Washington’s and Jerusalem’s views of Iran lies the question: who, if anyone, will stop Iran before it goes nuclear, and how? As Washington and Jerusalem study each other intensely, here’s an inside look at the strategic calculations on both sides—and at how, if things remain on the current course, an Israeli air strike will unfold.
It is possible that at some point in the next 12 months, the imposition of devastating economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran will persuade its leaders to cease their pursuit of nuclear weapons.It is also possible that Iran’s reform-minded Green Movement will somehow replace the mullah-led regime, or at least discover the means to temper the regime’s ideological extremism. It is possible, as well, that “foiling operations” conducted by the intelligence agencies of Israel, the United States, Great Britain, and other Western powers—programs designed to subvert the Iranian nuclear effort through sabotage and, on occasion, the carefully engineered disappearances of nuclear scientists—will have hindered Iran’s progress in some significant way. It is also possible that President Obama, who has said on more than a few occasions that he finds the prospect of a nuclear Iran “unacceptable,” will order a military strike against the country’s main weapons and uranium-enrichment facilities.
But none of these things—least of all the notion that Barack Obama, for whom initiating new wars in the Middle East is not a foreign-policy goal, will soon order the American military into action against Iran—seems, at this moment, terribly likely. What is more likely, then, is that one day next spring, the Israeli national-security adviser, Uzi Arad, and the Israeli defense minister, Ehud Barak, will simultaneously telephone their counterparts at the White House and the Pentagon, to inform them that their prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just ordered roughly one hundred F-15Es, F-16Is, F-16Cs, and other aircraft of the Israeli air force to fly east toward Iran—possibly by crossing Saudi Arabia, possibly by threading the border between Syria and Turkey, and possibly by traveling directly through Iraq’s airspace, though it is crowded with American aircraft.
When the Israelis begin to bomb the uranium-enrichment facility at Natanz, the formerly secret enrichment site at Qom, the nuclear-research center at Esfahan, and possibly even the Bushehr reactor, along with the other main sites of the Iranian nuclear program, a short while after they depart en masse from their bases across Israel—regardless of whether they succeed in destroying Iran’s centrifuges and warhead and missile plants, or whether they fail miserably to even make a dent in Iran’s nuclear program—they stand a good chance of changing the Middle East forever; of sparking lethal reprisals, and even a full-blown regional war that could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Iranians, and possibly Arabs and Americans as well; of creating a crisis for Barack Obama that will dwarf Afghanistan in significance and complexity; of rupturing relations between Jerusalem and Washington, which is Israel’s only meaningful ally; of inadvertently solidifying the somewhat tenuous rule of the mullahs in Tehran; of causing the price of oil to spike to cataclysmic highs, launching the world economy into a period of turbulence not experienced since the autumn of 2008, or possibly since the oil shock of 1973; of placing communities across the Jewish diaspora in mortal danger, by making them targets of Iranian-sponsored terror attacks, as they have been in the past, in a limited though already lethal way; and of accelerating Israel’s conversion from a once-admired refuge for a persecuted people into a leper among nations.