Archive for January, 2011

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Is Putin Losing Russia’s War on Terror?

January 29, 2011

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, center, and other Cabinet members observe a minute of silence in memory of the victims of Monday's suicide bombing at Moscow's main airport, in Moscow, Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011. Putin is vowing retribution for the suicide bombing attack at Russia's busiest airport that killed several dozen people. (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Alexei Nikolsky, Pool)

By Kaeleigh Forsyth, Contributor

The Moscow suicide bombing at the Domodedovo airport that killed 35 people and injured approximately 130 more is raising questions about how to increase security measures in large public places with public access, known as “soft targets.”

This attack on an area of relatively little security is similar to past acts of violence by militants from the northern Caucasus region of southern Russia.  Rebel groups from republics such as Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Dagestan have attacked Russian interests for years.  In 2010 these groups were responsible for a similar attack on the Moscow subway system.

This incident raises questions about the effectiveness of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s war on terror.  He was appointed in 2008 under the banner of fighting terror, yet jihadist acts of violence have grown six times since he’s been in power, according to former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov.

Putin and Medvedev’s challenge now is to reign in national security in the face of growing public fear and anxieties. The political obstacles only increase as mistrust and disapproval of the government become stronger.

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Lebanon, Syria & Saudi Arabia: Alone Together

January 20, 2011

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, right, meets with Saudi King Abdullah, center, and Syrian President Bashar Assad, left, upon their arrival at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, July 30, 2010. The leaders of Syria and Saudi Arabia launched an unprecedented effort Friday to defuse fears of violence over upcoming indictments in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

By Kaeleigh Forsyth, Contributor

A peaceful resolution to the current conflict in Lebanon suddenly seems like a distant pipe dream, as the collapse of the country’s government last week has resulted in the worst political crisis that the region has seen in years.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal announced on January 19 that the Saudi kingdom is withdrawing from its mediation efforts in Lebanon.  Adding to the contention this week is the UN-authorized Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) investigation of the former prime minster’s assassination, which will potentially result in the indictment of prominent leaders from the region’s militant Shiite political party, the Hezbollah.

This makes a Lebanese civil war an imminent possibility save an understanding between Saudi Arabia and the other middleman in the region’s ongoing conflict, Syria.  Action from the Hezbollah remains a looming threat as alliances unexpectedly break and relationships suddenly shift within the region.

The appearance of relative civility in Lebanon has made it the Middle East’s top prospect for peaceful cohabitation between varying religions and ethnicities.  Now, this precarious state of peace is tenuously dependent upon how these regional relationships shift, as Saudi completely abandoning Lebanon and leaving Iran to dominate the region would lead the nation right to the doorstep of civil war.  Syria, Qatar and Turkey know that this political instability will result in social problems for their own countries, and are trying to rally an international conference to assist Lebanon in quickly establishing some form of government.

Saudi Arabia and Syria are waiting for each other to return to the negotiation table because of their interests in containing Iran and the Hezbollah in Lebanon, respectively. While all three countries hang in a state of suspension, Lebanon will probably engage in what their long history of violence and mediation have caused them to become exceptionally well-versed in—accommodationist politics.

 

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The Immense Value of Incremental Progress

January 19, 2011

Against a backdrop of ice covered trees, national flags of China and the U.S. fly along Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House in Washington January 18, 2011. Chinese President Hu Jintao on Tuesday flew to the U.S. for a state visit. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

By Kaeleigh Forsyth, Contributor

Add mounting economic and military tensions with an upcoming election and you have a recipe for political paralysis during this week’s talks between China and the United States. Many issues will be addressed during Chinese President Hu Jintao’s delayed trip to Washington, including the appreciation of the Yuan, a strategy for subduing North Korea, the reform of China’s territorial claim strategy, and the reigning in of Beijing’s growing cyber capabilities; yet significant progress is not anticipated on any of these fronts.

Entering these discussions after years of deteriorating relations, China’s impending leadership transition will only serve to further handicap any potential progress. What is anticipated to result from these talks are a number of “new cooperative deals,” including minor concessions in sectors such as energy, environment, infrastructure, and technology. But how meager these agreements will really be deemed depends on how much value is placed on the diplomatic intangibles- evidence that these two superpowers are still capable of working together within the confines of civil discourse, as well as experience compromising with each other on issues of equal economic investment, seemingly insignificant as they may be.

With a “cold-war”-type confrontation looming overhead, a week of friendly dialogue may serve to be more valuable than it appears.  U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates reported after his visit to China last week that North Korea’s missile program will pose a threat to the U.S. within five years save mediation on China’s part. In regards to China’s resistance of an appreciating Yuan, it seems more likely that the U.S. will allow the already immense pressure in Congress to build than it does that any confrontational action will be taken during this week.  Considering this context, what value does maintaining a discursive foundation of civil diplomacy have, and how much effort can a country justify expending in its name before seeing significant political compromise?  This week may reveal insight into President Obama’s answer to these questions.

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Australian Flooding vs. U.S. Food Prices

January 17, 2011

By Kaeleigh Forsyth, Contributor

After weeks of cataclysmic rainfall in a continent on the other side of the world, the United States Department of Agriculture is telling consumers to gear up for a year of surging food prices.  Australia’s devastating flood has all but exhausted their crop supply, necessitating the importation of food from places in the world that could use it themselves.

In an increasing trend of large natural disasters offsetting food and energy prices around the world, these Queensland floods are expected to inflate global prices in wheat, fruit and vegetable crops. Crop destruction is already estimated at over $2.5 billion, notwithstanding the damage to their globally dominant coal industry, their permanent infrastructure, and the livestock supply that feeds the entire continent.

Weather-triggered crop output setbacks are already resulting in public riots in less developed places like Algeria and Mozambique, which do not get the benefit of affording importation alternatives when confronted with massive crop loss.  In an increasingly globalized and interdependent food industry, the repercussions of these natural disaster setbacks are no longer constricted to the geographical area where they occur.

World Bank Chief Robert Zoellick, who seeks to calm the panicking consumers, thinks we can still restructure markets to make them more resilient to natural disasters by establishing regional humanitarian reserves in disaster-prone and infrastructure-poor areas.  But with climate change making disaster-prone areas less and less predictable, are these suggestions short-term solutions to long-term and increasingly prevalent problems?

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Hack Job

January 14, 2011

Men burn a picture of Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali as they demonstrate against Ben Ali on January 11, 2011 in Paris. Anger over a government crackdown on protesters in Tunisia grew Tuesday as a union official said 50 were killed in three days of violence, more than double a toll issued by the interior ministry. (LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)

By Kaeleigh Forsyth, Contributor

Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali appeared to have resigned last week, and he seemingly chose to make this alarming and unexpected announcement via….blog?

A letter of resignation was reportedly forged on the foreign minister’s personal website, entreating the citizens of Tunisia to be more graceful toward him and his family, and apologizing for the violence that he had caused during his tenure in the presidency.

Had the post been legitimate, a public apology from a long-time serving member of the government would have exposed some serious instability in the already precarious Tunisian leadership, especially considering that their army is about to be deployed across the country any day now while their number of civilian protestor deaths continues to rise by the second.

The forger of the letter appears to be a hacker who runs a website called takriz.com.  Hours after posting the fake resignation, they added two follow-up entries: one of a French icon which implored people to defend Internet freedoms, and the other showing a video of dead Tunisian protestors under the headline, “Look at this! Tunisia is being murdered by BEN ALI.”

This is the latest in a series of reports of hackers targeting Tunisian government websites in response to the strict government-imposed Internet censorship group known as “Ammar.”  These censorship protests raise compelling questions about the function of strict government censorship in the face of social unrest.  Is hacking governmental websites an effective approach to combating this censorship, or was momentary global exposure the culprit’s sole objective?