Archive for March, 2008


Basra Offensive

March 31, 2008

By Mark C. Partridge

31 March 2008: Last month, I outlined some of the inner workings of the “surge” in Iraq, highlighting the diplomatic goings-on that have accompanied the increase in U.S. troop numbers, which in turn have led to a reduction in violence in recent months. These developments include alliances with Sunni militias-the Awakening-and a ceasefire by the leading Shia militia, the Mehdi Army.

I pointed out that one “risk is that the Sunni Awakening and the [leader of the Mehdi Army] Moqtada al-Sadr’s ceasefire are simply ways for the two sides to regroup, strengthen vis-à-vis each other, and bide their time until the U.S. military has fewer troops on the ground.”

Another wrinkle has arisen this week illustrating the complexity of the situation in Iraq. On Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s orders, the Iraqi Army-made up mainly of Shias-launched attacks on Shia militias in the southern city of Basra, the largest of which is the Mehdi Army.

The stated reason of the assault is to return order to the city. Since British forces withdrew last year, Basra-and in turn its wealth of oil reserves-has fallen into the hands of the militias. This is particularly problematic as the city is crucial to Iraq’s political and economic stability; the Basra province provides 90% of Iraq’s federal budget; $40 million through its petroleum exports. These riches have been a boon to militias who siphon off oil, which is then sold on the black market to local refineries. A single militia can make up to $5 million a week, if reports are to be believed. This money is in turn used to fund attacks on Coalition forces, as well as rival militias.

There are reasons to believe that other motives are at play though. Some believe that Maliki is hoping to weaken Sadr’s base of support in the upcoming provincial elections, as Slate‘s Fred Kaplan explains:

“Late last month, Iraq’s three-man presidential council vetoed a bill calling for provincial elections, in large part because [Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq]’s leaders [who support Maliki] feared that Sadr’s party would win in Basra. The Bush administration, which has (correctly) regarded provincial elections as key to Iraqi reconciliation, pressured Maliki to reverse his stance and let the bill go through. He did-at which point (was this just a coincidence?) planning began for the offensive that’s raging now.”

As such, the battle currently being waged in Iraq between these Shia forces highlights the number of factions that are at work within the country. As has been oft-stated, it is too simplistic to view the country in blocs such as Shia, Sunni, or Kurd. Within these groups, there are strong divisions and rivalries. Groups such as the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq or the Mehdi Army, both of which are Shia, have a tense relationship-and a history of violence. Furthermore, even these movements have their own divisions; despite Moqtada al-Sadr’s call for peace, members of his militia continue to battle Iraqi and American forces.

The Basra fighting is the greatest test of the surge’s success to date. Interestingly, it is a test not of the U.S. forces stationed in Iraq, but of the alliances that General David Petraeus and the U.S. have formed to neutralize the country’s warring factions. Will the violence continue to spread across the country? If this internecine violence continues, can Sadr continue his ceasefire? And if the largest Shia militia returns to its violent tactics of the past, will the Sunni militias stay “awake” or will the country backslide into the nightmare of sectarian strife?

This looks to be the moment that President George W. Bush has talked about for years: Iraqi forces are finally standing up. Can U.S. forces now afford to step down? The outcome of the fighting in Basra will go a long way to conclusively answering this question.

What are your thoughts on the matter, loyal readers? Send your comments to and we will publish them below this blog.


Un-Ordained Diplomats

March 27, 2008

By John Bavoso 

27 March, 2008: A theme, which constantly seems to reemerge-yet never resolve itself-is that of celebrities and national icons making political declarations about a party or an issue or coming down on one side of a heated debate. The commentary seems to fall mainly into one of two camps: those who feel that celebrities are obligated to use their fame in the promotion of causes and, as human beings, are entitled to their own opinions, or those who feel that cultural icons should more or less “shut up and sing”-that artists and famous personalities should stay out of affairs which they are not well-versed in and which are highly divisive and sensitive.  

In the international realm when celebrities, artists, and athletes become de facto diplomats, these concerns become magnified and the entire situation can become more complex. One of the reasons for this is that as both individuals and citizens of a particular nation, a celebrity in the international community not only represents him/herself but also embody the identity of their home country-for better or worse-in the eyes of both the sending and receiving nations.  

The New York Philharmonic’s historic visit to North Korea earlier this year sparked a lively debate over the merits and pitfalls of musical diplomacy. While many saw the visit as a chance to build cultural bridges between two countries that are still technically at war, others saw a willingness to be friendly with a regime accused of grievous human rights abuses. Now, with the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing approaching-an event during which both open international exchanges and strong feelings of nationalistic pride are simultaneously prevalent-the issue of understanding the power of unofficial ambassadors becomes more urgent.

American history alone provides a wealth of examples of cultural icons serving as unofficial diplomats. Bobby Fischer’s defeat of defending World Chess Champion Boris Spassky in 1972 serves as an interesting example of how a chess match evolved into a diplomatic battle and then a diplomatic victory. Fischer’s win was seen as a major victory for the United States over the Soviet Union during the Cold War. When he competed in a rematch against Spassky in 1992 in Yugoslavia, however, he came into conflict with the U.S. Government, which saw his participation as a violation of the UN’s embargo of the country. As a result, Fischer became an expatriate, never to live in the U.S. again.

This example highlights the difficulty in recognizing celebrities as unofficial diplomats: since no real connection to the state exists, it becomes challenging to determine where state-sponsored action ends and individual priorities take over. Whether or not the actions of individuals are attributable to a state is a fundamental consideration in international law. The matter is complicated further by the fact that states are generally more than happy to be associated with such figures as Fischer when it engenders national prestige, and are quick to create distance when personal and national interests diverge. The lines were blurred even further in the case of the 1972 World Championship because the Soviet participants were subsidized by their government, further causing them to personify their sending state.

Sometimes a public figure can serve as a diplomat for more than just his/her home country. This was famously the case with Jesse Owens, who shattered expectations during the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Nazi Germany by winning four gold medals in track and field events. While on the surface, it may seem like a triumphant moment for the United States over a future adversary and a setback for Hitler’s public display of German vitality, it was Owens’ racial identity which ultimately made his story so important. In fact, Owens made very public statements to distance himself from the United States government and famously announced that “Hitler didn’t snub me-it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.” It wasn’t until 1955 that Dwight Eisenhower belatedly bestowed upon Owens the title of “Ambassador of Sports.”

While the government and the news media saw an opportunity to portray a diverse American team being shunned by a racist Germany, in many ways the opposite was true. Owens was frequently asked for autographs by Germans in the street, was able to stay in a racially-mixed hotel (unlike in the United States), and when the media tried to say that Hitler snubbed him because of his race, Owens replied, “When I passed the Chancellor he arose, waved his hand at me, and I waved back at him. I think the writers showed bad taste in criticizing the man of the hour in Germany.” Clearly, the United States wasn’t looking for any American to defend or validate the Nazi regime on the global stage.

Clearly, the international nature of being an unofficial diplomat makes things more complicated. As an individual, one does not always wish to be viewed as a representative of his or her nation, but only as a single human being. Because of this, the priorities and agenda of a nation and of an individual understandably do not always mesh. Identities are always multi-faceted and when the entire global community is involved things have a way of become even more complicated.

This still begs the question: is all of this just a moot point anyway? As the world becomes more and more globalized and individuals have morphed into empires, is one’s nationality even at the forefront of his or her identity anymore? The 2008 Summer Olympics is already shaping up to be an event that will bring identity to the forefront. As China prepares itself to impress the world and validate its superpower aspirations, individual athletes have already stated that they will not compete in the games given China’s human rights record. Similarly, athletes from traditionally excluded groups are now being charged with representing their nationality and their group, as well as themselves as individuals. Regardless of how things turn out, one thing is for sure: this summer should provide an interesting case study of the current state of the debate over un-ordained diplomats and their relationship with their sending and receiving nations.


New ‘Star Wars’

March 25, 2008

Talks about a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe are reminiscent of Cold War times.

By Mark C. Partridge

25 March 2008: Twenty-five years ago, then-President Ronald Reagan sat in the Oval Office and addressed the citizens of the United States, proffering an audacious plan: “[t]hat we embark on a program to counter the awesome Soviet missile threat with measures that are defensive. Let us turn to the very strengths in technology that spawned our great industrial base and that have given us the quality of life we enjoy today.”

His idea was to build a system that that would “intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil.”

This program-dubbed “Star Wars”-has evolved and grown over the years. Following the fall of the Iron Curtain, there was little development on this front as the threat of nuclear attack receded. But the U.S.’s missile defense shield has seen a revival under the Bush Administration with the aim of protecting the U.S. against the threat of rogue states.

Recent efforts to expand this system have centered on Europe, where the U.S. plans to establish tracking systems and interceptor missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic.

This proposal has upset Russia, largely because the Kremlin believes that the U.S. is encroaching on its traditional sphere of influence. The result has been a dramatic worsening in Russo-American relations over the past two years, which has coincided with Moscow’s efforts to reassert its authority on the international stage.

Since this program was announced, Russia has resumed its practice of sending its bombers on patrols-something that it had not done for 15 years (in part because of cost concerns).

The U.S.’s missile defense efforts have sparked concern among other nations as well, particularly China, who saw the shooting down of an American satellite by a U.S. ship in order to test the missile defense system as a belligerent and hypocritical act. Washington was among those who criticized Beijing’s decision to shoot down one of its own satellites early last year.

China is becoming increasingly active in outer space in an attempt to catch-up and eclipse the U.S.’s current lead in the space race. According to Michael Griffin, NASA Administrator, China’s space program to send humans into space employs more than twice as many people as its American counterpart. The threat of being outclassed in the space arena is a major problem for the U.S. and its military, which rely heavily on satellites for intelligence gathering and communications, among other things.

The impetus for Washington’s renewed efforts in this area? Iran. President George W. Bush has asserted that a nuclear-armed Tehran is seen as a real threat to the U.S. and its allies around the world, thus: “The need for missile defense in Europe is real, and I believe it’s urgent.”

These developments show how complex the world of international relations has become in this day and age. Just as technological advances and global communications are intertwining countries and peoples, so too, they are affecting the power dynamic in this increasingly multi-polar world. The “very strengths in technology,” which Reagan spoke of, no longer exist as America’s rivals have invested heavily in this area. Washington might simply be looking to neutralize the threat from rogue states like Iran and North Korea, but re-emerging powers like Russia and China are taking notice-and have the technology to react accordingly.

Finally, when President Reagan spoke all those years ago he summarized U.S. defense policy thusly: “The United States does not start fights. We will never be an aggressor. We maintain our strength in order to deter and defend against aggression-to preserve freedom and peace.” I would venture a guess and say that President Bush would argue that his predecessor’s maxim still stands today.

However, with the erosion of the U.S.’s monopoly on power, can the “strength for peace” argument still hold in this multi-polar world-if it ever held at all? Also, the greatest danger facing the U.S.’s citizens and its interests comes not from air-born missiles, but from terrorists with low-tech weapons; a missile shield cannot be seen as an effective deterrent or defense again this threat.

Consequently, has the U.S.’s missile defense efforts strengthened Washington’s position vis-à-vis its enemies or simply piqued its adversaries?

Send us your thoughts.


The Dollar and Economic Woes

March 17, 2008

By Mark C. Partridge

17 March 2008: Over the past few months, the U.S. dollar has seen a sharp fall in its value against other major world currencies. Every week there seems to be headlines about the new depths that the greenback is plumbing. Last week saw the dollar depreciate against the Japanese yen, dropping below the ¥100 mark for the first time in twelve years. The euro also set new records against the dollar, which has even reached new lows against the Chinese yuan – a currency that Washington has routinely criticized for its artificially low valuation.

The freefall that the dollar is experiencing is due in part to the weakening U.S. economy with inflation, slowing growth, and financial instability all present. Furthermore, in an effort to simulate growth and prop up the flagging economy, the U.S. Federal Reserve has slashed interest rates and injected more dollars into the marketplace causing investors to look elsewhere for investments with higher rates of return.

These investors have sought refuge in commodities, and oil has generally grabbed the headlines. A barrel of oil touched $111 with gasoline prices in the U.S. now averaging $3.22 a gallon – up $.67 from a year ago, according to the Department of Energy. There is even talk of oil costing $175 a barrel in the not-to-distant future, according to Goldman Sachs – which would only further undermine confidence in the U.S. economy. Gold, a traditional safe haven during times of uncertainty, traded at over $1,000 an ounce of gold for the first time, in part because of the depreciating dollar.

The Financial Times summarized the situation thusly: “Analysts said the market stress was being driven by the sharp decline in the dollar and forced sales by hedge funds under pressure from their bank lenders to reduce their portfolios. ‘The broad story is one of dollar weakness,’ said Alan Ruskin, a strategist at RBS Greenwich Capital.”

Furthermore, OPEC president Chakib Khelil rejected concerns about supplies and high prices in the oil market, stating that the price increase “is linked not to a lack of production but to the devaluation of the dollar which has given speculators the opportunity to invest in oil.”

While it is true that the dollar and the weakening U.S. economy is wreaking havoc in the global economy, the idea that the dollar’s falling value is the main reason for these high prices is myopic and ignores the tremendous growth that is being experienced in emerging markets – and the resultant boom in demand for raw materials and goods.

Iron ore, for one, has reached record prices this year on strong growth in emerging markets, like China and India. Copper prices are also high for the same reason, and “supply issues” have pushed up aluminum prices as well. An International Energy Agency report from 2007 stated that China and India accounted to 70% of the energy demand over the previous two years, and that the two Asian giants’ crude oil imports are expected to quadruple by 2030.

As the Economist cogently explains:

“China’s burgeoning consumption has helped push the price of all manner of fuels, metals and grains to new peaks over the past year … China, with about a fifth of the world’s population, now consumes half of its cement, a third of its steel and over a quarter of its aluminum. Its imports of many natural resources are growing even faster than its bounding economy. Shipments of iron ore, for example, have risen by an average of 27% a year for the past four years.”

The fact is that the number of consumers in the world is growing faster than the number of goods and this is causing prices to go up. (Indeed, it is the very definition of inflation, which is slowly creeping into the global economy.) This fact is well illustrated by the costs in other goods, including fine art. As the world’s population gets wealthier, new millionaires and billionaires in former third-world countries are looking to do as the wealthy do and are buying up paintings and sculptures from auction houses around the world.

Another example is the cost of food, which have spiraled upwards, in no small part because of the drive towards biofuels. In China, consumer prices have risen nearly 8% since last year, largely because of shortages of vegetable and pig supplies. American consumers are feeling the pinch when they reach the supermarket check-out, and now the United Nations World Food Program needs an extra $500 million to meet its obligations because of rocketing wheat and corn prices.

With the ballooning costs across such a wide swath of commodities and goods, it is difficult to accept that the falling value in the dollar is the primary catalyst – not the least because this trend began before the greenback’s current troubles. Consequently, there is a need to address the underlying problems of global supply, demand, and consumption – as well as the dollar issue.

Is concern about the supply of goods and materials justified? How does the race for commodities like oil, metals, and grains affect diplomacy and international relations? And what, if anything, can diplomats do to ameliorate the shortages that are inevitably hitting on the world’s poorest and neediest citizens?

Send us your thoughts.


Dueling Narratives

March 14, 2008

Debating Kosovo’s Past, Present, & Future

By John Bavoso 

14 March, 2008:  For those who haven’t been following closely the situation in the Balkans for the last decade, Kosovo’s declaration of independence on February 17th and the subsequent riots in the Serbian capital of Belgrade may have seemed like a sudden or spontaneous occurrence. For many individuals without a vested interest in the region, Kosovo’s saga may have seemed to come to an end with the Kosovo War in the late 1990’s. With this region of the world being once again thrust into the spotlight on the world stage, many are looking to understand exactly what led to Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence and what it means for the future. This task is complicated by the fact that the past, present, and future of Kosovo appear fundamentally different depending on who one asks.   

The views on these issues have come to fall more or less along two different conflicting narratives, each of which can, for the sake of simplicity, be identified with the major international powers which support and promote them.

The first narrative is held by the United States and its Western European supporters, who almost immediately recognized the existence of an independent Kosovo. The opposing view belongs most notably to Russia and Serbia along with some major supporters, such as China, which refuse to formally acknowledge the actions taken by the Kosovar Assembly. What is so interesting and troubling about these dual narratives is that they disagree fundamentally on the facts, history and future outcomes associated with this situation.

One side of the debate is comprised of those who generally believe that Kosovo’s declaration was inevitable and unavoidable and now feel the focus must be shifted to moving forward with a peaceful and united Europe. “It is inconceivable that the outcome could have been any different than what we have today,” says Ambassador Frank G. Wisner, Special Representative of the Secretary of State to the Kosovo Status Talks, and a leading promoter of this narrative.

This view comes from its adherents’ perspective on the events leading up to the landmark decision and the position Kosovo has been in for the last decade. Since NATO intervened in the late 90’s to stop the ethnic cleansing of Albanians in Kosovo by Milosevic’s regime, the region was placed under the auspices of the United Nations, under which it has remained for the last nine years. The UN could not maintain this position indefinitely, this perspective argues. Repeated attempts to secure independence through the United Nations were blocked by Russia and China, and those supporting Kosovo’s actions believe that the terms Serbia was presenting in negotiations were unreasonable. “There was no bridge,” Wisner says of the failed negotiations. He feels that the terms offered by Serbia gave Kosovo little autonomy and were unacceptable. He also blames Russia for having an inflexible position throughout the negotiations. According to this view, the decision has been made, and now the international community must cope.

Wisner sees the future of Kosovo hinge on three determinants: the international community-especially the United States and NATO-must fulfill the promises it has made to Kosovo in terms of support; Serbia must be included in the process and it must learn to deal with the psychological shocks associated with such a break and move forward; and Russia must abandon its polarizing positions and actions within the United Nations and throughout the process for the good of everyone involved.

The opposing side is held by Russia and Serbia who understands the facts of the situation in a very different way. “The United States must know that there is a second narrative,” says Dimitri K. Simes, President of the Nixon Center. Moscow has already made it clear that it will never accept an independent Kosovo. Russia views the past through a very different lens than those on the other side of the debate and this has colored its past and present actions with regards to Kosovo and will continue to guide its future behavior as well.

One of the key interpretations shaping its views is that the Russian government considered the 1999 attack on Yugoslavia by NATO a violation of international law rather than a humanitarian and peacekeeping mission. Russia views the United States’ encouragement of Kosovo’s independence to be just another instance of the U.S. ignoring international law. This view-that many dangerous and important precedents have been set-will continue to shape Russian foreign policy in the future.

Simes expressed that several important consequences will result from this interpretation. First, Serbia has already strengthened its ties with Russia-and Moscow values this opportunity to increase its influence in the Balkans. Also, Russia sees a precedent being set by the breaking away of regions unilaterally-and it is considering the implications for areas such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia. Finally, this set of events will shape Russian foreign policy for years to come. “As a result of the U.S. violating international law and UN Resolutions,” Simes explains, “Russia will also view these Resolutions as optional, depending on its own national interests.” According to the Russian view, the terms of autonomy for Kosovo offered by Serbia were more than generous. Russian leaders also resented the fact that the United States entered negotiations with the attitude that they could only result in an independent Kosovo, which according to Simes, provided no incentives for Russia to be flexible and cooperative. All of these precedents taken together will surely impact Russia’s dealings with countries such as China and Iran, Moscow has implied.

In the complicated and convoluted realm of international politics and diplomacy there is a rarely one objective, monolithic narrative for any given event. The independence of Kosovo is no exception. For such a small region, the implications stemming from the situation in Kosovo, which have spanned years and will reach far into the future, are surely too numerous to count.


The ‘Fine Art’ of Diplomacy

March 13, 2008

By John Bavoso 

13 March, 2008: Last October I wrote a piece detailing the impact that a South African play was having in its attempts to heal post-conflict areas around the globe. While this project was lauded for its unique and innovative approach to unifying conflict-torn regions around the world, more often than not the intersection of Fine Art and international politics and diplomacy is vastly overlooked. While the old cliché about music being the world’s universal language may be a bit simplistic, one should not underestimate the power that artistic expressions can have in bridging political divides and overcoming cultural differences in ways that even the most skilled diplomats often cannot.

While the diplomatic power of the Arts may often go unnoticed the majority of the time by those in the diplomatic community, occasionally an event comes along which makes even the most hardened of political strategists sit up and take notice. Earlier this month, the New York Philharmonic made news with its landmark visit to North Korea. During its two day stay in the communist state the NY Phil offered tutorials and musical lessons, were treated to exclusive performances of traditional North Korean dance and song, and ended its trip with a performance of Antonin Dvorak’s New World symphony and George Gershwin’s An American in Paris. While the visit of America’s oldest orchestra to North Korea is certainly a major event in musical history and the group’s own director denies any motivations for the event beyond the artistic, the press and political pundits have been more focused on the potential political implications of music-as-diplomacy.

American orchestras have a long history of playing-and being well-received-in countries whose diplomatic ties to the United States could at best be described as “strained.” In 1956, during the Cold War, the Boston Symphony Orchestra toured the Soviet Union; the NY Philharmonic played in Peru in 1958 when American politicians were not popular; and the Philadelphia Orchestra visited China in 1973, making its members some of the first Americans to enter the country following the Communist Revolution. While it was clear that American musicians were more readily accepted and welcomed than their governmental counterparts, did these instances of cultural exchange have any lasting positive impact on diplomatic relations between the United States and the receiving countries?

Many commentators have pointed out that the NY Phil’s performance in Pyongyang was hardly a free and open cultural exchange. The members of the orchestra were not allowed to mingle with ordinary citizens or travel without a North Korean guide and Kim Jong Il backed out of attending the performance at the last minute. And while the concert was aired on television, the state-run newspaper conspicuously avoided mentioning the visit at all.

( Christopher Hitchens, columnist for Vanity Fair and Slate has been very critical of the Pyongyang regime and the United States’ policy of diplomacy. He says this of the humanitarian crisis in the isolated country:

“North Korea is, in fact, a slave state in the true meaning of the word. Everybody within its borders is forced to toil in famine conditions for the members of a dynastic crime family. When runaway slaves are caught, fleeing across frozen rivers to the grim and inhospitable border provinces of China, they have been known to be led back in coffles, with wire threaded through their noses or collarbones, before being handed over to the punishment system.”  (

Even the Administration’s Human Rights Envoy Jay Lefkowitz has been critical of diplomacy. As Hitchens explained, Lefkowitz has said during a speech at the American Enterprise Institute that “The State Department’s insistence on ‘diplomacy,’ had yielded nothing but another round of stalling and obfuscation from Pyongyang on the weapons issue. It was time, he concluded, that the United States ‘should consider a new approach’ to this longstanding impasse.”

But while this historic cultural exchange may not have brought about an immediate end to hostilities between the United States and North Korea or an end to human suffering in North Korea, there was some impact-of both a symbolic and long-term nature. The opening of the concert provided an interesting embodiment of the aims and strengths inherent in using music as a diplomatic tool. Lorin Maazel, the NY Philharmonic’s musical director who speaks seven languages but does not know Korean, refused to use a translator for his opening remarks. Instead he composed a brief orchestral piece to be played during his speech, which reflected musically the emotions he was conveying verbally. It was a poetic example of the music succeeding where language can fail.

In an example of popular music following on the heels of classical, it has been reported in the international media that Eric Clapton has also been invited to perform in Pyongyang, making him the first Western rock star to receive such an honor. While even the guitar skills of Clapton may not be enough to settle disputes between the international community and North Korea over nuclear, political, and humanitarian issues, it hopefully represents the beginning of a process. As Maazel said in a recent interview, “we may have been instrumental in opening a little door.” The hope is that with each subsequent cultural exchange the door will open a little more, until it’s wide enough for diplomats to walk right through.


Elections and Foreign Interference

March 10, 2008

By Mark C. Partridge

10 March 2008: Foreign interference in elections is hardly a new phenomenon. It was a staple of imperialism and was also used by the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the cold war. It was forthright, obvious, and unapologetic with foreign governments installing and propping up foreign heads of states. In the age of globalization-that old chestnut-it seems to be occurring again, but in a different manner.

U.S. Primary

Over the past month, stories of Senator Hillary Clinton’s imminent demise in the race for the Democratic nomination were ubiquitous. Her rival, Senator Barack Obama, had strung together 11 straight primary and caucus victories and vaulted into the lead. Members of Mrs. Clinton’s staff were backbiting and she had fired her campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle. The Clinton campaign was reeling as she tried to win two states that had previously been considered her “firewall” against the surging senator from Illinois-Ohio and Texas. She was particularly vulnerable because of her previous support of the North American Free-Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a trade deal that was signed by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and is the bête noire for many Americans.

Then came a bombshell; according to a Canadian news report, a leading advisor to the Obama campaign-later identified as University of Chicago professor Austan Goolsbee-had informed a Canadian government official that any anti-free-trade rhetoric coming from the Obama camp was simply that-rhetoric. (Apparently, someone from the Clinton campaign also informed America’s neighbour to the north to take any anti-NAFTA talk “with a grain of salt.”)

The backlash was quick with Senator Clinton claiming convincing wins in both primary contests, which was seen as essential if her campaign was to continue, leading to the inevitable Comeback Kid metaphors. Mark Penn, the chief strategist to the Clinton campaign, later acknowledged that the affair had a “significant impact” on the two crucial races.

Iran’s Upcoming Election

In the upcoming elections in Iran (check out the Courier‘s Spring Issue for more on the subject) there have also been cries of international interference. According to the AFP, a leading Iranian cleric lambasted the United Nations for passing “a hasty resolution in order to influence the elections, so that people would not go and vote.” Last week, the UN passed a third round of sanctions against Iran for its refusal to halt its uranium enrichment. Whether there was any political calculus involved in the timing of the sanctions effort is unclear, but it is not out of the realm of possibility.

So while Prime Minister Stephen Harper might reject claims that Canada “could interfere in the American election and pick their president for them … [and] deny any allegation that this government has attempted to interfere in the American election,” the fact is that such interference is a fact of life in this day and age.

International Interference

It is not so simple to remove all international interference. Indeed, it’s inevitable that it will happen. No longer can an election guru rest his or her case about an election with “it’s the economy, stupid.” The economy is now influenced by Hyderabad’s IT industry, Shanghai’s booming exports, and oil facilities in Niger delta as never before. The same can be said for many key election issues; they have gotten more complex with the addition of more global factors over the past two decades.

You might say that international relations have always played a role in elections and that is true. But the Internet and 24-hour news has made the relationship far more dynamic. Now, smaller issues are going to have a larger impact. The influence of Youtube was seen in the 2006 elections in the U.S. and its reaches, by their very nature, are not restricted by international boundaries. In the future, it is inevitable and unavoidable that domestic elections will be influenced by external forces that previously would not have come to bear.

In this brave new world, it is no longer possible for politicians and diplomats to address a domestic audience or a foreign audience. As never before, any word or gesture made by the world’s leaders will be seen and analysed by everyone-regardless of whether the viewer lives in Boston, Berlin, or Bangladesh. To lead a country or a constituency, this is now a fact of life, and indeed this fact may even alter a campaign’s message.

So what is the role of diplomacy in this increasingly globalized world? Can the effects of the so-called Internet 2.0 be controlled? How much harder is it to control the message in an election? And finally, do foreign countries have a responsibility to stay out of the domestic elections of other states?

Send us your thoughts.