Friday, 27 November 2020
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diplomacy

By George Friedman

Julian Assange has declared that geopolitics will be separated into pre-"Cablegate" and post-"Cablegate" eras. That was a bold claim. However, given the intense interest that the leaks produced, it is a claim that ought to be carefully considered. Several weeks have passed since the first of the diplomatic cables were released, and it is time now to address the following questions: First, how significant were the leaks? Second, how could they have happened? Third, was their release a crime? Fourth, what were their consequences? Finally, and most important, is the WikiLeaks premise that releasing government secrets is a healthy and appropriate act a tenable position?

Let's begin by recalling that the U.S. State Department documents constituted the third wave of leaks. The first two consisted of battlefield reports from Iraq and Afghanistan. Looking back on those as a benchmark, it is difficult to argue that they revealed information that ran counter to informed opinion. I use the term "informed opinion" deliberately. For someone who was watching Iraq and Afghanistan with some care over the previous years, the leaks might have provided interesting details but they would not have provided any startling distinction between the reality that was known and what was revealed. If, on the other hand, you weren't paying close attention, and WikiLeaks provided your first and only view of the battlefields in any detail, you might have been surprised.

Let's consider the most controversial revelation, one of the tens of thousands of reports released on Iraq and Afghanistan and one in which a video indicated that civilians were deliberately targeted by U.S. troops. The first point, of course, is that the insurgents, in violation of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, did not go into combat wearing armbands or other distinctive clothing to distinguish themselves from non-combatants. The Geneva Conventions have always been adamant on this requirement because they regarded combatants operating under the cover of civilians as being responsible for putting those civilians in harm's way, not the uniformed troops who were forced to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants when the combatants deliberately chose to act in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

It follows from this that such actions against civilians are inevitable in the kind of war Iraqi insurgents chose to wage. Obviously, this particular event has to be carefully analyzed, but in a war in which combatants blend with non-combatants, civilian casualties will occur, and so will criminal actions by uniformed troops. Hundreds of thousands of troops have fought in Iraq, and the idea that criminal acts would be absent is absurd. What is most startling is not the presence of potentially criminal actions but their scarcity. Anyone who has been close to combat or who has read histories of World War II would be struck not by the presence of war crimes but by the fact that in all the WikiLeaks files so few potential cases are found. War is controlled violence, and when controls fail as they inevitably do uncontrolled and potentially criminal violence occurs. However, the case cited by WikiLeaks with much fanfare did not clearly show criminal actions on the part of American troops as much as it did the consequences of the insurgents violating the Geneva Conventions.

Only those who were not paying attention to the fact that there was a war going on, or who had no understanding of war, or who wanted to pretend to be shocked for political reasons, missed two crucial points: It was the insurgents who would be held responsible for criminal acts under the Geneva Conventions for posing as non-combatants, and there were extraordinarily few cases of potential war crimes that were contained in the leaks.

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By Jorge Rivera

Last week, President Obama and his Russian counter-part President Medvedev signed an agreement for further reductions to their nuclear arsenal. It is being labelled as the most significant pact for a generation, and will limit the number of operationally deployed nuclear warheads to 1,550, which is 30% lower than the deployed strategic warhead limit of the 2002 Moscow Treaty. It also limits the number of deployed and non-deployed inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) to 800 launchers.

The effects of this pact will take several years to be fully realised but it will put pressure on NATO to re-evaluate its stance on its nuclear capabilities. NATO's nuclear deterrence strategy has evolved significantly since the end of the Cold War as has the Alliance's force posture in order to meet the new security challenges. Changes to the international security environment on the other hand have posed serious obstacles to the nuclear free world that President Obama envisioned in his speech in Prague, Czech Republic 2009. However, the arduous journey towards complete worldwide nuclear disarmament has begun this month, albeit slowly, creating ripples rather waves in this area of policy.

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Written by Simon Roberts

While Tony Blair, as Middle East envoy, may be finding it difficult to gain direct access to Hamas, Sir Jeremy Greenstock is not. Through his work with the charity Forward Thinking, Sir Jeremy has made direct contact with Hamas and in an interview with BBC Radio Four's Today programme, discusses the merits of open diplomacy.

The whole tenor of the interview is that Hamas and the Palestinian cause is a much misunderstood one. Sir Jeremy cites the fact that Palestinian Muslims are of the Sunni rather than the Shi'ite faction and thus are not beholden to Iran nor do they want to establish a Taliban style government in Gaza.

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Dr Robert Crowcroft

Two decades ago, analysts expected the reunified Germany to adopt a more assertive role in international politics. Yet since 1991 Germany has been only a small and generally unimpressive presence on the world stage. In footballing terms, a Premiership club, certainly; but more West Ham than Arsenal. While Berlin is insistent on playing the role of a 'good' neighbour so as not to reawaken memories of German aggression for the most part this is down to routine diplomatic incompetence and policy misjudgement. A brief historical detour underlines this. In the early 1990s, German ambition was obvious. The country hoped for permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council, and made a major financial contribution to the costs of the 1991 Gulf War. But the focus of German policy was directed at Europe, and here German assertiveness and influence was clear. The Maastricht Treaty transformed the EC into an EU on German lines; agreement was reached for a single currency, again on German lines; and a form of federalism was adopted, fully compatible with German understandings of that concept. Germany also led the way in recognising the collapse of Yugoslavia, and facilitated the entry into the EU of pro-German nations like Austria, Sweden, and Finland. In essence, there was every sign that the old German 'customs union', Mitteleuropa the dream of the Kaiser was at last about to emerge.

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