Category: Global Issues

Cdn Politics, Global Issues

G&M Oped: Afghan Deal Dreakers

Dave and I had the following op-ed in the Globe today:

Kandahar deal breakers: The Afghan poll is not a blank cheque
Special to Globe and Mail Update
November 2, 2007 at 1:03 AM EDT

The results of the poll of Afghans by Environics on behalf of The Globe and Mail, the CBC and La Presse were surprising to many. Afghans are broadly content with their government, happy that Canada is in Afghanistan, and believe the work being done is beneficial and effective. Canadians should be proud. We are making a difference.

What is potentially worrying, however, is the fervour with which the poll was greeted in Canada by some of the mission’s supporters. While a useful reminder of why we are in Afghanistan, this poll is not a blank cheque for any and all future engagement.

Future actions, by us or our allies, could alter the political conditions in Afghanistan, negatively shifting indigenous public opinion. Consequently, this poll should reaffirm the necessity of debating how we engage, and under what conditions we walk away.

Two looming scenarios could derail the mission.

Consider, for instance, the spraying of poppy crops. This winter, under the leadership of the former U.S. ambassador to Colombia, the Americans plan to spray opium fields with herbicides. Needless to say, the spraying will have little to no impact on the global availability of illegal opiates.

But the impact on Afghanistan will be dramatic. Opium is critical to the Afghan economy. Kill the poppies and you impoverish the farmers, their families and the communities they support. This will undermine Afghan support for the NATO mission and destabilize the Karzai government.

Perhaps most important, the U.S. spraying campaign undermines the agreed-on division of labour within the NATO alliance. Under the Afghan compact, Britain was given responsibility for counternarcotics. Unilateral spraying by the U.S. violates this agreement. Such actions call into question the terms under which the alliance agreed to function, and on which Canada agreed to sustain its presence in Afghanistan.

In short, a policy in which we have had no input, and we are not executing, will make Afghanistan more dangerous to our soldiers and less conducive to achieving a lasting peace.

A second possible deal breaker is also on the horizon. After the 2008 U.S. presidential election, the Americans are likely to shift troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. The purpose, strategy and tactics of this surge will have dramatic implications on the nature and potential success of our mission.

This influx of American troops could secure the troublesome Pakistani border and enhance the security environment for reconstruction and development. Alternatively, this force, hardened in Iraq, could engage in the most counterproductive forms of counterinsurgency, driving support to the Taliban. In short, a sea change in the composition of American forces could alter the nature of the mission into one that is unacceptable to Canada.

Neither the opium problem nor the insurgency can be solved with magic bullets. The appropriate policies are complex and long term. There are, however, things we should clearly not do.

In order for us to effectively react to, or ideally influence, these scenarios, it is not enough to be clear on our strategy and objectives. Canada must also outline to its allies the policies that so harm our actions that they negate our involvement.

This is not an empty threat. As Canadians already know, no one is willing to take over our role. Either our work in Kandahar is valuable to NATO, in which case we have influence, or it’s inconsequential, and we should be reconsidering our involvement. If the former, then we possess political leverage with which to shape the mission. What’s more, it is an aberration of responsibility to deploy our troops in the field but allow others to determine the course and strategy of the mission.

The Afghan poll gave us reasons to stay in Kandahar and to be proud of our role, but it is not a blank cheque. We must use our hard-won influence to negotiate with our allies on the terms and implementation of the mission. Poppy spraying and widespread use of aggressive counterinsurgency tactics should be deal breakers. Our military has won Canada real influence in Afghanistan; will our diplomats use it to ensure the mission’s success?

Cdn Politics, Global Issues

Africa is not a Liberal idea

David and I published this piece in Embassy Magazine this week. They’d asked for our reaction to PM Harper’s speech at the Council on Foreign Relations.

Embassy, October 3rd, 2007
Africa is not a Liberal Idea
Taylor Owen and David Eaves

“It was clear that he had a particular feeling about the continent (Africa) and particularly that underdog feeling of Mulroney’s where you want to come to the defence of the beleaguered. It was a fascinating dimension of the man which is not widely appreciated by Canadians.” – Stephen Lewis on Brian Mulroney

Of all of Prime Minister Harper’s remarks at the Council of Relations last week, what was most important, and revealing, was what he didn’t say. Amid the platitudes over US-Canada co-dependence and shared values was a noticeable omission.

Not once was Africa mentioned.

For an hour and a half discussion that covered the breadth of Canada’s Foreign Policy agenda, this is remarkable. For just over 20 years, Canada has progressively increased its presence in Africa. Largely driven by CIDA funding, but also through the support of peacebuilding missions and humanitarian relief operations, we have developed tremendous experience and expertise in African development.

And for good reason.

For a country that balances its foreign policy between the promotion of values and national interests, and that defines these values in notably humanitarian terms, there is no better place to project our resources and influence than Africa.

However, it is no secret that the current government sees Africa as a Liberal idea. Canada’s “New” Government has sought to distinguish itself from the past whenever and wherever possible, and Foreign Policy is no exception. This has manifested as a major regional shift in policy towards Latin America and a corresponding thematic shift to democracy promotion and trade liberalization.

This is of course the Prime Minister’s prerogative. There are, however, real costs to this regional and thematic shift. Moving to Latin America means both rebuilding our in-house regional expertise, and devoting resources to developing a new skills, networks and institutions focused on democracy promotion and trade liberalization rather than on local development and humanitarian relief. It also shifts our limited resources from a continent struggling with extreme poverty, communicable disease and war, to one much further along the path of development.

The sad irony of course, is that Africa was never a Liberal idea. If anything it was a Conservative one.

Both Chretien and Martin were certainly strong supporters of Canada’s role in Africa. But Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney was there first. Prompted by a public outcry to the devastation they saw on their televisions, he led the world in responding to the Ethiopian famine in 1984. More importantly, this leadership wasn’t just financial. Canada acted diplomatically, breaking ranks with its Western Allies and becoming one of the first countries to talk to Ethiopia’s then-Marxist government. In addition, it is widely accepted that Mulroney took special interest in tackling apartheid and again broke ranks with our allies by pushing for tougher sanctions.

More ironic still was how Prime Minister Harper’s partisan-influenced remarks stand in contrast to much of the American Foreign policy discourse, driven in no small part by the Council on Foreign Relations. The Council has been critical in enabling America to discuss its role in the world within a bipartisan community. In the US, the promotion of national interests and values are seen as largely non-partisan issues, with many foreign policy issues discussed with a degree of centrist objectivity.

The Prime Minister however, did the very opposite. He went to great pains to point out that whereas he wants to lead by example, previous (read Liberal) governments, were content to lecture the world. Ignored in this twice repeated sweeping generalization was: the Land Mine Treaty, Responsibility to Protect and the International Criminal Court. Together these foreign policy successes have become symbols of our role in the world and of our national identity. They are representative of multilateral tradition and our capacity to mobilize the international community.

More than a partisan oversight, this slight by the Prime Minister is emblematic of an underlying insecurity among many conservatives towards foreign policy. By viewing past initiatives like our focus on Africa, through a partisans lens they risk implementing reactionary and counterproductive policies that will marginalize past successes and impede future accomplishments.

More importantly, however, this insecurity is unnecessary. Many of our great foreign policy initiatives, such as the response to the Ethiopian famine, the Acid Rain Treaty, and the fight against Apartheid, were led by conservative governments. Like the Mine Ban Treaty, the ICC and R2P these were not partisan, but national accomplishments..

Rather than lead Canada out of Africa, the Prime Minister could use the network, infrastructure and expertise Canada has developed to – by his own words – lead by example. His successes would be celebrated by Canadians as national, rather than partisan, achievements for which we can all be proud.

Cdn Politics, Global Issues

Canada and Iraq: A Looming Foreign Policy Challenge

Yesterday, David and I had the following oped in the Toronto Star.  Let me just add that the point is not that we should be sending in troops, but that the current default positions of pretending the crisis does not exist and blaming the Americans for screwing it up, are simply untenable for a country that seeks to have a voice in the world on humanitarian issues.  Also problematic is leaving the fighting to other nations while we do the humanitarian relief.  Either we think there should be force, and therefore there is no reason we should not be contributing soldiers, or we don’t, in which case we should be advocating against others doing so as well.  While Afghanistan is probably best described by the former, on Iraq, I think the latter applies, although there may be a case for a peacekeeping force at some point.

Iraq suddenly appears on Canada’s radar screen

Aug 29, 2007 04:30 AM
Taylor Owen and David Eaves

For the past five years, Canadian leaders have had little to say about the Iraq war. Content not to be in but careful not to be too
critical, most have adopted a laissez-faire position on the conflict. This position is unsustainable.

In just over a year’s time, Americans will elect a new president. Regardless of whether the victor is a Democrat or a Republican, the last ardent defender of the Iraq war will have left the international stage and the world will look at Iraq through a new lens. The Iraq war, “Bush’s War,” will be over. Iraq the humanitarian crisis will be in the ascendant.

In anticipation of this emerging shift, the Security Council last week voted unanimously to increase the UN’s role in Iraq. The
international body will endeavour to do what it – and notably not what the U.S. military – does best: engage in essential diplomatic, negotiation and humanitarian activities.

And this is only the beginning. While the departure of U.S. and British troops will undoubtedly remove one aggravating factor,
sectarian strife, a humanitarian crisis and a failing state will remain.

Within a year, Iraq will have shifted from a precipitous and ill-executed American invasion and occupation, into an
internationalized humanitarian crisis.

And a crisis it is.

According to a recent UN report, there are 1.8 million internally displaced persons and 2 million refugees in neighbouring countries, with an additional 40,000 to 50,000 leaving per month; 54 per cent of the population lives below the extreme poverty line of $1 a day; 43 per cent of children under the age of 5 suffer from malnutrition; inflation is 70 per cent, and in 2006 there were 34,452 recorded civilian deaths and 36,685 recorded civilian injuries.

Compare these numbers to Kosovo and East Timor, and add the regional consequences of a prolonged Iraqi civil war, and surely there is a case for active international engagement.

As the recent Security Council resolution indicates, a global strategy is starting to take shape. There will be calls for still
greater UN intervention, possibly even a peacekeeping force. Over the next 12 to18 months, an international plan for dealing with Iraq will likely emerge.

Will Canada help shape it?

We could opt not to. That would be politically expedient, although it would confirm our declining status on the international stage.

Or we could see this as a diplomatic opportunity where we are uniquely positioned to lead. Canada is an ally of the United States and Britain but had the integrity and self-confidence to not participate in the flawed invasion. Canada is not burdened with a colonial or imperialist past in the region. Unlike Germany and France, Canada has had limited financial interests in Iraq. And, in contrast to Russia and China, Canada possesses a relatively well-respected record on human rights.

By helping to develop a solution that could bring stability to Iraq, the region and the international community, Canada could shine. Indeed, the parallels to the event that launched Canada’s much vaunted but greatly diminished status as an international peace broker are noteworthy.

During the 1956 Suez crisis, the world’s powers were equally hamstrung. What made us so useful then is what could make us so useful today.

This potential is, of course, complicated by our role in Afghanistan. It could reasonably be argued that Afghanistan is our
primary international commitment and that we simply do not have the resources to contribute to two major peace-building efforts. But military constraints need not curtail our diplomatic role in a new UN-led effort in Iraq.

Any future mission in Iraq will require a legitimacy that the U.S. invasion lacked. Our position within the UN, coupled with our unique standing in the international community, could make sure this is achieved.

As a country, we need to remember that, regardless of the causes, Iraq today is a humanitarian crisis and a geopolitical time bomb, a country whose collapse or breakup could destabilize the immediate region, and potentially much more.

Here’s hoping Canadian humanitarianism helps shape the way forward.

Taylor Owen is a doctoral student and Trudeau Scholar at the University of Oxford. David Eaves is a frequent speaker, consultant and writer on public policy and negotiation.

Global Issues

Johnson’s Release

This is wonderful news. At the time of his kidnapping, Johnston was the only western journalist permanently based in Gaza. His kidnapping has had a serious effect on our knowledge of the region, and the wider conflict. Something that benefits no one. This line is also interesting:

Mr Johnston said Hamas’s seizure of power in Gaza and its subsequent pledge to improve security in the territory had facilitated his release.

“The kidnappers seemed very comfortable and very secure in their operation until… a few weeks ago, when Hamas took charge of the security operation here,” he said.

It seems as if the Hamas pressure may have had a real hand in securing the release.

Global Issues

3D Peacebuilding in Afghanistan

I have a couple of articles on the concept of 3D peacebuilding currently being used in Afghanistan. Both are co-authored with a friend, Patrick Travers. The idea that defense, development and diplomatic initiatives must coordinate in fundamentally new ways is seen by many as the future of peacebuilding. This, however, brings with it a host of challenges that are not easily reconciled.

The focus of these pieces is on the Canadian mission, but the argument is applicable to other nations participating in Afghanistan, and increasingly, elsewhere. I was recently at a NATO conference where the very themes were discussed by US Army participants. Though different countries use different terminology, all are struggling with the same questions: How to achieve multiple objectives (counter-terrorism, reconstruction, development, humanitarian assistance, etc.) when tactics are often counterproductive? How to change strategic cultures used to full independence, to collaborate with other actors in a conflict zone? How to peacebuild when military tactics are driving people to the enemy, and a situation is deemed too insecure for development workers? How to collaborate with nations who have varying tactics, objectives and operating procedures?

The first article is in the Walrus Magazine and available here. The second, more academic paper is published as a CIR Working Paper, here.  As the latter is a work in progress, I would be very appreciative of thoughts.

The lead of the Walrus piece is below.

A hundred and twenty years before Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan, a British prime minister identified the issue at the heart of current attempts to defeat the Taliban and reconstruct the country. In the midst of the “Great Game” between the British Empire and Tsarist Russia over influence in Central Asia, William Gladstone urged his fellow citizens to “remember that the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan, among the winter snows, is as inviolable in the eye of Almighty God, as can be your own.”

Preserving the sanctity of life, however, is difficult when the enemy strikes unexpectedly, blends into the local populace, and enjoys growing support. Last October, for example, some twenty Afghan civilians were killed during two separate NATO attacks. First, a 2 a.m. helicopter strike on Taliban fighters destroyed several huts in the village of Ashogoh. The same day, a rocket accidentally struck a house during a firefight between NATO troops and the Taliban. President Hamid Karzai has summed up Afghanistan’s vulnerable position, stating, “We can’t prevent the terrorists from coming from Pakistan, and we can’t prevent the coalition from bombing the terrorists, and our child­ren are dying because of this.”

Karzai’s comment encapsulates the challenge Canada now faces in Afghanistan. We must win local support for reconstruction efforts while also making war. These two tasks are not easily reconciled. As Afghan legislator Shu­kria Barakzai has warned, killing civilians will undermine NATO’s mission in Afghanistan (to say nothing of harsh treatment of detainees).

Although this poses a dilemma, it’s no reason to leave – a point on which a near consensus has emerged. While the Liberal Party supports moving for­ces out of Kandahar province (where the heaviest fighting is) in 2009, all national parties save the New Democrats agree that the humanitarian costs of withdrawing completely from the country outweigh the many challenges of staying. Indeed, successive Canadian govern­ments have ultimately justified the mission in similar terms. Unlike Gladstone, we are trying to help the Afghans build a viable and independent state. With the official debate over Canada’s presence resolved for the time being, the question remains: how do we go about building peace while we’re still at war?

Global Issues

So, NOW we reinstate Palestinians aid?

So let me get this straight….The moment the democratically elected government is undemocratically reconfigured is the right time for aid to be re-instated? hmmm, now what lesson does this send to those for whom this aid is rightly intended?

Tangentially, can we please put the absolutist democracy promotion rhetoric to rest. Yes, democracy is good, but for a whole host of good and bad reasons, its promotion alone does not make a cohesive foreign policy narrative. My guess, post-bush, is that democracy will slip off the top-tier list of guiding principles for US foreign policy. There are simply too many counter-factuals for it to be instructive in and of itself.

ps. just to be clear, I’m not making a judgment on the reinstating of aid, or on any policy that rewards undemocratic behavior, or on democracy being a good thing (ok, I am on this, I DO think its a pretty good thing). Rather, I am making a judgment on those who claim that in certain cases the promotion of democracy is an absolute, and in other cases it is well, a little more flexible. Democracy can have good and bad implications, depending wholly on how free people choose to act. Foreign policy must therefore be based on more than simply its “promotion”. It is not a particularly useful meta-narrative.

Global Issues, US Politics

Cambodia Bombing Redux

The article I wrote with Ben Kiernan on the US bombing of Cambodia has been reprinted in Japan Focus.  The newer version was slightly updated and a few more maps were added. A critique of the piece sent to the Walrus is here and our reply is here. A series of zooms that I kind of like, but were not included in either version are below. Finally, the piece is a finalist for a Canadian National Magazine Award – fingers crossed.

“The town of Chantrea was destroyed by US bombs… The people were angry with the US, and that is why so many of them joined the Khmer communists”

The bombing in this map represent 2245 tons, 221 sorties and 89 targets hit with A-37, B-52, F100, F5, A1 aircraft. The large rings are areas hit by B-52s and the small rings are cluster bomb areas.

Global Issues, US Politics

Wanna buy a war?

Together, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have just become the second costliest in US history (as absolute dollars, not percentage of GDP). So what have other US wars cost? Below is a list from the Congressional Research Service, figs are in Billions of 2006 bucks.

  • The American Revolution: $1.54
  • War of 1812: $1.14
  • Mexican War: $1.71
  • Civil War: $61.9 (Combined Union and Confederate armies)
  • Spanish American War: $9.3
  • World War I: $346.67
  • World War II: $3,235.96
  • Korea: $409.09
  • Vietnam: $536.23
  • Gulf War: $90.24
  • Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: $609 (so far…)

Global Issues, US Politics

A US-Iran-Syria Negotiation Strategy?

Following the comments to my post about potential regional negotiations between the US, Iran and Syria on Iraq, I asked a friend, David Eaves (who moonlights as a negotiations consultant), how he might approach such talks.

Specifically, I asked: ‘how would you run ME regional talks on Iraq using negotiation theory? Say US, Syria and Iran were willing to talk. What would the process be? What would be the base positions, what degree of flexibility would participants have to enter with etc.’ Below is his great reply, also posted on his blog, here:

Back in the 1970’s Roger Fisher used a method called the one-text that helped create the document that became the basis for the 1978 Sinai Agreement between Israel and Egypt. The one-text process is a variation of mediation that is simple, but powerful. Clinton also proposed using the process in 2000 with the Israeli’s and Palestinians.
The one-text process feels appropriate because it works best in multi-party negotiations where trust is low. Iranian-Syrian-American relations have deteriorated to such an extent that any conversation is unlikely to be open, honest, or even civil. In short, they are unlikely to be productive. The basis for an agreement, and even just communicating, will be hard to establish. Think that diplomacy is above that? Then why did Bush feel the need to confirm that if Condi ran into her Iranian counterpart, she would be civil?

Indeed, this is the main issue: can the parties trust each other? There are enormous opportunities for joint gain… but the domestic risks for each of the actors are also enormous. This is the tragedy of the situation. Each actor (Syria, Iran and the US) is now hostage to the negative perceptions their domestic populations have of one another, negative perceptions their respective elites helped create, foster and nurture. How can Iran, America or Syria cut a deal with a country that have for 20 years been labeled as a mortal enemy? This would be, at best, politically problematic in the US and potentially destabilizing for the Syrian and Iranian governments.

Consequently any functional solution cannot threaten (in the short and medium term) the legitimacy of any of the actors domestic standing. This probably means that any negotiated solution will have to be discrete. The parties may come to agreement, but they cannot be seen coming to an agreement.

A back channel one-text thus becomes the obvious choice. The starting point being that all the parties recognize the opportunity cooperating presents, but also recognizing they can’t be seen working together. Of course, the other challenge is that this means there are huge risks for cooperating, but the costs of defection (particularly if the interest calculus shifts) are low. The negotiators would have to find a way to make the costs of defection feel relatively high versus the costs of cooperation. A one-text process that explores their interests may reveal such an outcome, but if I had an answer to that quandary offhand I’d probably be in an air conditioned room in Turkey right now, working with State Department officials.

Ironically, the main obstacle to using the one-text process would likely be a reluctance on the part of the United States to submit itself to a mediated process. I suspect that although the Americans feel it is a good enough process for everybody else, the world’s only superpower will never enter into mediation.

Global Issues

The vicious circle of civilian casualties

OK, so this is well trodden ground and I realize I am a broken record on this, but I really think that the strategic costs of civilian casualties are the central challenge of the peacebuilding effort in Afghanistan. This story, for example, perfectly captures the challenge facing NATO.  The circle between fighting neo-Taliban, accidentally killing civilians, and the resulting increased Afghan support for the neo-Taliban and anger against the coalition/Karsai, is intractably vicious. 

So what do we do about it?  I wish I knew.  It is not without a lack of thought though.  I have been working recently on the concept of 3D peacebuilding.  I will share papers/articles once published asap, but one of the things that the principle necessitates is fundamental collaboration and mission planning between the three D.  While this is incredibly difficult, and advocates of the concept are themselves unsure about what exactly this would look like, I think that this is where we have to be going. 

3D collaboration goes far beyond simply better communication.  Instead it means shared decision making.  For example, if an air strike is desired for military objectives, and the development workers believe the risk of civilian casualties outweighs this strategic imperative, then a tactical compromise must be reached.  Idealistic, perhaps unrealistic, and undoubtedly messy, trust me, I know.  But I think that dealing with this is the only way out of the vicious circle we remain trapped in.  I don’t think we can win unless we recalibrate the constituents (defense, development and diplomacy) in this decision making process.

Using this calculus, for example, there probably isn’t a good case for heavy artilery, tanks, and air strikes (in all but the most remote regions) in Afghanistan.  The costs to the long term objective, Afghan Peacebuilding, are simply too devasting.  As this weeks 60 deaths and widespread protests illuminate.