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An anatomy of U.S. human rights diplomacy

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Authors: Zhou Dong-chen & Paul Wang

Over the past two weeks, the United States Congress has successively passed two acts concerning with Hong Kong human rights and democracy, and Uygur human rights abuses in Xinjiang. Accordingly, Beijing has urged the U.S. to stop slandering China’s anti-terrorism and cease interfering in its internal affairs. No doubt, the two acts passed by the U.S. legislation are not only an outrageous violation of the basic norms governing international relations but also seriously insult the Chinese people and the spirit of human rights.

Some experts testified the motivation behind the U.S. Congress, for example, as William Jones, Washington bureau chief of Executive Intelligence Review, put it that the United States has a history of interfering into other countries’ internal affairs. This time, their target is Hong Kong, one of the most important global financial hubs, and also aims at U.S. interference into China’s internal affairs. On September 11, the U.S. senate in effect passed a bill which condemns gross human rights violations of ethnic Turkic Muslims in Xinjiang. They are pretentious to think the U.S. can weaken the Belt and Road Initiative in this way, and subsequently demote China’s influence through the so-called human rights violations. Yet, Washington’s acts on Hong Kong and the Uygur ethnics in Xinjiang are typically hypocritical in nature.

Historically, international concern for what we nowadays call human rights, in the sense of fundamental and inalienable rights essential to human being, is nothing new. As early as the 15th century when the Europeans started their overseas expansion, some law scholars were heavily engaged in discussion on the natural rights that were to be accorded to every human being under any circumstances, and lashed out the mistreatment of the native inhabitants of America by the European colonizers. Yet, after more than 400 years, the United States tried in 1919 to provide an overall mechanism to insure fair treatment for the peoples of the world. Yet, the efforts were fruitless until 1945 when the United Nations Charter was signed to enact more specific and comprehensive protection for all individuals.

It is true that the United States has been so keen in promoting its values of democracy and human rights in foreign policy, even if that meant instability and the end of necessary diplomatic talks. As Joseph Nye put it, “Over and over in international politics, the question is not absolute order versus justice, but how to trade off choices in particular situations.” Taking a look into the Cold War era, the United States actively supported numerous the violations of human rights in the so-called “friendly” states, such as South Korea, the Philippines, Chile and Iran—here to mention a few only. The reason is that a grand strategy for protecting U.S. traditional vital interests and its global public goods needs Washington to address and act along with the third elements of human rights and democracy. Yet other countries and cultures have often interpreted these values differently and resented the U.S. intervention in their internal affairs as self-righteous unilateralism.

According to Henry Kissinger, in 1974, a sea change in the conduct of American foreign policy occurred. Prior to that, it had attempted to affect the domestic policies of other states by way of covert operations or quiet diplomacy. It means official intervention in the domestic affairs of other states had not yet become an accepted component of the U.S. foreign policy; Westphalian scruples still prevail. Yet, for the first time in 1975, the U.S. Congress applied legislative sanctions to promote its values such as human rights and democracy, making it a formal and public part of the U.S. foreign policy. From then on, intervention in what had been considered domestic policy became increasingly fashionable. Then President Ford even talked of “the deep devotion of the American people and their government to human rights and fundamental freedoms.”Ironically, the U.S. bipartisan consensus was reached on the human rights, even though they were split by the Vietnamese War. Now Presidents Carter and Reagan both appealed to the Wilsonian rhetoric of America’s crusading spirit against a hostile ideology. For instance, Carter affirmed that “we ought to be a beacon for nations who search for social peace, individual liberty and basic human rights.” Reagan reiterated it in a more assertive language: “America’s leadership in the world came to us because of our own strength and the values that guide us as a society.”

Final victory in the Cold War further encouraged this self-gratification even in other groups, turning it into a global triumphalism. For absent a Cold War and an alternative power center to the United States, the theory of an “end of history” achieved considerable plausibility. Ideological struggles might well have ended once and for all; the entire world including a Communist-led China was adopting variations of the American economic and political systems. As a result, U.S. foreign policy became increasingly driven by domestic politics, but behind it is the arrogance backed by its superior power. As scholars put it, when pressure on foreign countries appears free of risk, there is increasing scope for legislating American domestic preferences as objectives of foreign policy, a revealing case of the new congressional involvement was to connect the granting of Most Favored Nation status to China dependent on its annual demonstrations of progress on human rights in the 1980s.

No doubt, support for an active diplomacy on behalf of human rights is by no means unanimous within the United States. As David Newsom, a U.S. senior diplomat, put it, “foreign affairs and diplomacy are domestic political-often partisan-questions in the United States.” There is no recognition of diplomacy as a part of “the state” above politics, as in many European countries. Thus, primary opposition to diplomatic efforts on behalf of human rights in the U.S. has come from those in believing that such policy threatens their interests, particularly security and trade.

In term of China, the United States has combined aspects of both strategies: containment and engagement. The first one has two main prongs: an effort to slow down China’s amazing economic growth by denying it access to the large U.S. market; and to strengthen building up an alliances with China’s neighbors in order to provide an effective counter-weight to its growing power. Yet, the second one argues for taking China in a web of institutions dealing with security, trade, and finance, such as WTO, ASEAN, IMF and the World Bank. As a result, China’s leaders will find an assertive foreign policy—challenging the status quo—to be too costly.

Today, as the largest rising power of the 21st century, China has been described as “a revisionist power”, by analogy to the Soviet Union in the Cold War. To that end, the American promotion of human rights aims to undermine China’s domestic political structure and international prestige, or in a geopolitical sense, the United States tries to keep China permanently in a secondary position. Accordingly, China has made all efforts to reject the proposition that international order is fostered by the spread of liberal democracy and the international community has an obligation to bring this about, and especially to achieve its perception of human rights by real action. In light of that American can never abandon their values of democracy and human rights, no formal compromise is possible between the ruling power and the rising power; yet, as Kissinger advised, “To keep the disagreement from spiraling into conflict is one of the principal obligations of the leaders of both sides. After all, we are living in the same global village.

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Americas

Not a Usual “Trump Blunder” Rather US has Used a Cleverly Manipulated Strategy in Iran

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There is a little doubt that the recent move by Washington have already started having short term impacts in the Middle East but there are many other aspects which should not be forgotten and they might compensate for those short-term mishaps in the region.

Limited Menu of options for Tehran

Although Iran has started using its options of warfare in the region against US troops it has to be noted that it has a very limited scope of options available presently. It does have the warfare tools but present circumstances are such that Tehran is in no position to use them up to their maximum plausible extent. Washington seems to have taken a clear advantage of the crisis that Iran has been facing after the decision that White House took to revoke the Nuclear Deal with Iran in mid of 2018. Given the fact that Iran is suffering from domestic crisis and its citizens are echoing the democratic values inside the country, for US it could have been no better time to make an attempt to destabilize the Foreign policy aspects of Tehran. Soleimani, as an influential leader in the region, had an ability to easily gameplay the political affairs of other neighbouring countries and thereby increasing a probability of “Iran Friendly” region but after his assassination the vacuum created by him would not be filled sooner. In this context, Iran’s ability to persuade its neighbours in its favour during any possible conflict with US in future has also got a severe blow.

The options which Iran could have used are harming US bases in its nearby borders – which it has already done by blowing US bases in Iraq; using a covert warfare against Washington troops and officials – which yet again has been used when US embassy in Iraq came directly into attack from one of the radical military organisation known to have links with Tehran – the Hezbollah; it could also continue going against the provisions of Nuclear Deal up to an extent but not completely – because of segregation that it might face, in a worst case scenario, from other partners of Trade Deal which are also essentially members of European Union. Simultaneously considering the Syria problem and its own domestic issues, it is highly unlikely that Iran at this moment would like to have an excessive influence of Kremlin beyond a particular limit.

Also given the global slowdown; US Congress’ opinion in the further tussle with Iran; Tehran’s own economic issues;  and a regional political instability in Middle East, a full-fledged war is a hypothetical situation which is highly unlikely to take place in near future. So, Tehran, even after having a potential to compete US up to some extent wouldn’t be able to do so in the present global order.

Iran’s Domestic Problems

Presently Iran is stuck into its own domestic problems which revolve around its political and economic spectrum. After the Iranian Revolution of 1980s, the realities have changed when it comes to Iranian politics and its various important components. A complete contrast can easily be observed in the country. In the early years, there was more of a single party system having only Islamic Republican Party and more than half of the representatives belonged to one particular section of the society – the clerics. More profoundly, the electorates or the people weren’t literate enough, the media was not free from the state influence, and overall a much more conservative and non-vocal society was there.

Presently there’s a multi-party system in the country having a much more educated group of electorates which occasionally raises its voice on various issues, there’s no more unlimited censorship on the media and women participation in the parliament has also seen a growth.

Given the economic slowdown in the country after the US imposed the sanctions in 2019 on the countries importing the oil and other natural resources from Tehran and failure of JCPOA in long term to create employment among the youth of the country backed by the changed political reality has created a domestic turmoil in the country. People have come out on the streets and have shown their anger to the decision makers by raising their concerns of unemployment amid the economic backlash that country has been going through. Furthermore, the issues of corruption and shutting down the protesters by present regime have just escalated the turmoil.

In this situation where the regime was going through its domestic crisis, it faced a severe disadvantage of having a lack of public support and thereby giving an optimum chance to Washington to strike on its another stronger branch – the military. Now by striking the military and assassinating Iran’s one of the most prominent military leader since decades, it has left Iran in a situation where it is shaken from both within inside – by internal challenges as well as from outside – by loss of a military leader thereby affecting its influence in the region as well as in the direct warfare.

Middle East without US is Not Possible at the Moment

Thinking of Middle East, presently, without US involvement would be immature. The region has always been high on the political instability having a constant tussle among the regional players. Trump, for his political motivations, might have had announced his will to free the region from US military but the policy makers in the Washington themselves are aware that leaving Middle East in the an era which has marked the chaos of political instability could be a major risk and certainly couldn’t be afforded as it would directly or indirectly lead to the regional tussle as well as hurdle in the global imports and exports of the trade of oil, petroleum, and other natural resources. Given this, Trump has yet again got an excuse to maintain US’s presence in the region as well as countering his political opponents for not fulfilling the election promise which he had made.

The Economy that US would like to Excel

The core benefit that Trump would be getting from this warfare with Iran – which is quite far away from a direct full-fledged war – is the economic boost for US and simultaneous exponential economic loss for Tehran. Since 2018, world has seen a complete flip in an overall picture of Washington’s net import and export of oil and other natural resources. This initially had created a conundrum for the OPEC countries and their respective policies. Now Trump is using it as a covert warfare weapon against Iran in the given circumstances. In September 2019, the US exported 140,000 bpd more total crude oil and petroleum products than it imported; and total exports exceeded imports by 550,000 bpd in October. Also, the expected estimate for the same in 2020 is 13.2 billion bpd.

OPEC countries are mostly from Middle East and the political instability in the region clearly implies the hurdles in the exports of oil, petroleum and shale giving direct benefit in the trade and exports of these resources to the US. Moreover, the already imposed US sanctions on the countries importing the resources from Iran backed by the fact that deadline of May 2020 for exemptions of sanctions to those countries like India which didn’t face sanctions at first place will further reduce Iranian market of export of resources and giving a clear edge to US in near future.

Thus, it would be very much incorrect to perceive the killing of military leader of Iran mainly as a mistake of White House. Trump might have a history of doing blunders but this time he has played cleverly in the region. It would be noteworthy to have a look at future implications and how Iran – after suffering few major blows – finds a way to deal with the situation which presently is not in its favour and in future too is moderately likely to be reinforced on the US side unless a major mistake is committed by Washington.

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Americas

Reading tea leaves: US backs off support for regime change in Iran

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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An Iran hawk who advocated killing general Qassim Soleimani, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has ordered his diplomats to limit contacts with militant Iranian exile and opposition groups that support either regime change or greater rights for ethnic groups like Kurds and Arabs.

Coming on the back of the Soleimani killing, Mr. Pompeo’s directive appears to put an end to the Trump administration’s hinting that it covertly supports insurgent efforts to at the very least destabilize the Iranian government if not topple it.

A litmus test of the directive by Mr. Pompeo, known to have a close relationship with Donald J. Trump, is likely to be whether the president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, distances himself from the controversial National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an offshoot of the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, a group that was taken off the US Treasury’s list of designated terrorists several years ago.

Mr. Giuliani is a frequent, well-paid speaker at gatherings of the group that has built a significant network among Western political elites. The council and the Mujahedeen openly call for regime change in Iran.

The Mujahedeen were moved with US assistance from their exile base in Iraq to a reportedly Saudi-funded secretive facility in Albania.

A New Jersey-based lobbying firm hired by the NCRI, Rosemont Associates, reported last year in its filing as a foreign agent frequent email and telephone contact on behalf of its client with the US embassy in the Albanian capital of Tirana as well as Brian Hook, the US Special Representative for Iran, and Gabriel Noronha, an aide to Mr. Hook.

In his directive, Mr. Pompeo said that “direct US government engagement with these groups could prove counterproductive to our policy goal of seeking a comprehensive deal with the Iranian regime that addresses its destabilizing behaviour.”

The secretary went on to say that Iranian opposition groups “try to engage US officials regularly to gain at least the appearance of tacit support and enhance their visibility and clout.”

Mr. Pompeo’s cable, while keeping a potential negotiated deal with Iran on the table, does not stop other US government agencies from covertly supporting the various groups, that also include Arab Struggle Movement for the Liberation of al-Ahwaz (AMLA), the Komala Party of Iranian Kurdistan, and the Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran (KDPI).

Iran, which has long believed that the United States, alongside Saudi Arabia and Israel, supported the Mujahedeen as well as ethnic militants that intermittently launch attacks inside Iran, is likely to take a wait-and see-attitude towards Mr. Pompeo’s directive that could be seen as a signal that the Trump administration is not seeking regime change.

The timing of the directive is significant. Iran responded to the killing of Mr. Soleimani with carefully calibrated missile attacks on US facilities in Iraq in a bid to create an environment in which backchanneling potentially could steer the United States and Iran back to the negotiating table.

While it was uncertain that one round of escalated tensions would do the trick, potential efforts were not helped by the death of Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said, a key interlocutor who has repeatedly helped resolve US-Iranian problems and initiated contacts that ultimately led to the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

In his directive, Mr. Pompeo, referring to Komala, acknowledged that “Iran’s regime appears to assess that the United States and/or Israel support this group of militant Kurds.”

Iranian perceptions were reinforced not only by calls for regime change by senior figures like Mr. Giuliani and Saudi prince Turki al-Faisal, a former head of the kingdom’s intelligence service and ex-ambassador to Britain and the United States, but also the appointment in 2018 of Steven Fagin as counsel general in Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Shortly before moving to Erbil, Mr. Fagin met In Washington as head of the State Department’s Office of Iranian Affairs, with Mustafa Hijri, leader of the KDPI as it  stepped up its attacks in Iranian Kurdistan.

Iranian perceptions were further informed by the appointment of John Bolton, Mr. Trump’s since departed national security advisor and like Mr. Giuliani a frequent speaker at NCRI events, who publicly advocates support of ethnic insurgencies in Iran in a bid to change the regime.

As Mr. Trump’s first director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Mr. Pompeo named Michael D’Andrea, a hard-charging, chain-smoking covert operations officer, alternatively nicknamed the Dark Prince or Ayatollah Mike, whose track record includes overseeing the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, as head of the CIA’s Iran operations.

The appointment was followed by publication by a Riyadh-based think tank believed to be close to crown prince Mohammed bin Salman of a study for Saudi support for a low-level Baloch insurgency in Iran. Prince Mohammed vowed around the same time that “we will work so that the battle is for them in Iran, not in Saudi Arabia.”

Pakistani militants have claimed that Saudi Arabia had stepped up funding of militant madrassas or religious seminaries in the Pakistani province of Balochistan that allegedly serve as havens for anti-Iranian fighters.

The New York Times reported this week that aides to Prince Mohammed had in the past discussed with private businessmen the assassination of Mr. Soleimani, an architect of Iran’s regional network of proxies, and other Iranians as well as ways of sabotaging the country’s economy.

Mr. Pompeo’s directive is unlikely to persuade Iran that Washington has had a change of heart. Indeed, it hasn’t. Mr. Trump maintains his campaign of maximum pressure and this week imposed additional sanctions on Iran.

Nonetheless, potentially taking regime change off the table facilitates backchanneling that aims at getting the two nations to talk again.

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Entangling between Escalation De-escalation

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The US airstrike in Iraq has further fueled the already bloody race of having regional influence between the US and Iran. The Middle East has been hub of resources and encompasses crucial Sea Lines of Communications(SLOCs) i.e. Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz. These two SLOCs have been main trade routes for regional and extra-regional states for oil transportation. The region is significant so that’s why it has always been in conflict-prone situation. Interstate and intrastate actors have been involved. The wave of Arab Spring and emergence of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have already put region in chaos. Now US killing of prominent Iranian leader (Soleimani) of Quds force in Iraqmay takes region to the verge of war. In 2018, Trump declared Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force as a terrorist force. Trump has justified killing by saying that “ Soleimani was a terrorist and that assassinating him was a defensive action that stopped an imminent attack”. Now Iran is also following for tit for tat mechanism by declaring all US forces as terrorists and Iran did missile attack on US military bases held in Iraq and justified this attack in the same as the US did.

Trump acted unilaterally ,in which will of Iraq and world community were not included and this is true depiction of its imperial arrogance as Middle eastern region has been in warlike situation and this incidence may escalate the situation. There are chance of war as Iran unfurl red flag on mosque Jamkaran in first time in history and in Shiite religion red flag symbolizes vengeance. Gen Qasim Soleimani  was close to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who on Friday issued a statement calling for “three days of public mourning and forceful revenge, in a declaration that amounted to a threat of retaliation against the United States andhis departure to God does not end his path or his mission”.

Iran has made retaliation in response to Soleimani killing with missile attack on US bases; Al asad and Erbiland opted same time at which US attacked on Iranian general. In counter response to Iranian attack US put strict economic sanctions on Iran and also reiterated that NATO should strengthen its position in Middle east. While on the other hand, Trump said that US does not want war but peace. This is true illustration ‘Carrot and stick’ diplomacy. The Soleimani’successor Major General Ismail Qaani has given statement yesterday that “We promise to continue Martyr Soleimani’s path with the same strength and his martyrdom will be reciprocated in several steps by removing the US from the region”. After attack supreme leader of Iran said that this attack is slap on US face and it is not enough that US did. Moreover Iranian foreign minister , Javad Zarif also said that “we will defend our own territory, we will defend our people,” Zarif told CNN’s Fred Pleitgen. “The United States can defend the United States, but the United States cannot claim to be defending the United States several thousand miles away.” This is how Iran can retaliate and zaarif’s statement depicts that Iran wants to wipe out US from the region. US is extra regional states , whereas Iran is regional state and has allies and proxies in the countries.

“We have people on our side in this region,” Zarif said. “Beautiful military equipment doesn’t rule the world, people rule the world. President Trump has to wake up to the reality that the people of this region are enraged, the people of this region want the United States out.”

The statements from the Iranian personnel are true depiction that this airstrike it is possibility of full fledge war. Because the US has also military presence in the region i.e. Thousands of US troops have been deployed to Saudi Arabia, and there are some 5,000 at bases in Iraq. The US also has a chief air base in Qatar and a naval occurrence in Bahrain not only this also has troops in United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Jordan. Tehran  said that she is not in urgency and they will choose target wisely and will respond with decisive deterrent effect. Trump reiterated that  “If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way…and without hesitation”. Iran responded to it as , it was US, who started war now get ready to face the music. Iran has deployed it ballistic missiles( short and medium range) on ready mode and US bases in region are also vulnerable to threat but US also exercising its satellite for surveillance.

The US has been an established World Power so its US responsibility to not to escalate tensions as Great powers always have to choose the path; soft power or hard power. In the present situation diplomacy is best solution to de-escalate the crisis. After Iranian attack Trump mentioned in his speech that US wants peace but on the other hand also stress NATO to strengthen its position in Middle east and put sanctions on Iran. So still danger is there between Iran and US as Iran also has missiles and proxies that can hit America. On the other hand , US has been an unrivaled power and its alliances from Israel to Europe may damage Iran. US war with Iran, whether it be asymmetric or proxy, will be horrible.

Hence the region has been hub to regional and extra-regional powers and in any sort of conflict. State, non state actors, regional and extra-regional states may also engage which can in turn lead towards full fledged war. Moreover in the fighting of two, third part can take advantage of the situation i.e. ISIS in the Middle east can strengthen its roots in the region while US and Iran are busy in confrontation with one another. The world community should and will have to come with solutions to avoid inadvertent escalation between US and Iran and standoff between the two states may bring the region on the verge of war and in which no one will get anything but destruction.

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