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How is Canada redistributing its foreign embassies?

April 16, 2009 Leave a comment

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I admit, I don’t yet have a good sense of the potential significance of this. The Canadian government seems to be reorganizing its distribution of embassies throughout the world, possibly signaling a new foreign policy emphasis that has been underway since 2007.

On April 16, it was reported that Canada will close its embassy in Bosnia. Canada’s ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina, David Hutchings, when interviewed by RFE/RL, said that “we can continue to be effective and provide programs, but reduce costs and consolidate our activities.” RFE/RL states that Hutchings “cited the closure of other Canadian missions around the world while noting the opening of new ones in China, India, Brazil, and Mexico.”

Also on April 16, the embassy in Cambodia is slated for closure in May. It’s been operating there for 17 years. From the official statement, the Canadian government “has decided to change the nature of its diplomatic representation in Cambodia… Our intention is that a Canadian Ambassador in a nearby country will be accredited to Cambodia.” Xinhua news reports that “new Canadian government offices will be opened, ‘mainly to take advantage of emerging markets…’ Three of these have already been opened, with two in India and one in Mongolia.”

The Foreign Affairs and International Trade website lays out its policy under the title “A Global Commerce Strategy for Securing Canada’s Growth and Prosperity.”

Below is an excerpt from the document:

“The Government of Canada has pledged to improve Canada’s competitiveness and to support Canadian firms as they pursue opportunities in the global marketplace. Through its Global Commerce Strategy, the Government is taking action to:

– Boost Canadian commercial engagement in global value chains;
– Secure competitive terms of access to global markets and networks for Canadian businesses;
– Increase foreign direct investment in Canada and Canadian direct investment around the world; and
– Forge stronger linkages between Canada’s science and technology community and global innovation networks.”

A related document by Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada states that since 2007 transformation has been taking place because, “we are aligning the department’s organizations and focusing on delivery of the government’s foreign and trade policy priorities: greater economic opportunity for Canada, with a focus on growing or emerging markets; the United States and the hemisphere; and Afghanistan, including in the context of neighbouring countries. We are also changing the way we operate in order to respond quickly and flexibly to new and emerging priorities as they arise.”

(First published at Rabble.ca)

Afghanistan on life support

February 24, 2009 1 comment

First published at Rabble.ca

Afghanistan appears stuck in a decades old calamity of continuous war, and now Canada and its NATO allies are in the thick of it. Since the initial ouster of the Taliban from the seat of power, things appear only to be getting worse and no clear route to success illuminates the future.

This is not how it was supposed to be.

“The Canadian Forces are making an immense sacrifice to bring freedom, democracy and self-reliance to the people of Afghanistan, all the while protecting Canada’s values and security,” reads a recent statement by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, following the death of yet another Canadian soldier.

Canada’s presence in Afghanistan will cost from C$14 billion to C$18 billion by 2011, indeed a very large commitment. Canada is also committing the lives of its soldiers, and presenting its support of the international mission in Afghanistan as an example of its principles of justice and democracy.

Afghans have no illusions about their government, which has little presence outside of the capital city. The running joke is that President Hamid Karzai is the ‘mayor of Kabul’. So, the US prepares to send up to 30,000 additional troops in order to fight back an empowered Taliban and allow Afghanistan’s central government to expand its influence.

The renewed international focus on Afghanistan suggests that the problem of stability and sustainability stems from a lack of commitment from the international community. That’s why U.S. President Barack Obama has given the green light to continue with the Bush era plan to double the size of the Afghan National Army to 134,000 soldiers.

Yet the U.S. Government Accountability Office recently concluded that “only 2 of 105 army units are assessed as being fully capable of conducting their primary mission.” The local Taliban, with no Western training or funds, continue to grow and fight international forces while the Afghan National Army fails to meet the standard of “self-reliance” expressed by Prime Minister Harper.

The plan to enlarge Afghanistan’s army and police forces are estimated to cost US$3.5 billion annually. Afghanistan’s Minister of Finance, Anwar-ul-Haq Ahadi, calculates his government’s revenue at US$685 million. Another failure at self-reliance: the country cannot afford to pay for its own security.

This meager revenue from Afghanistan’s ailing economy, destitute from decades of warfare, is supposed to pay not only for security. Development, social services, and civil servants’ wages also compete for this very small till.

Government reliance on foreign funds is not new to the country. Barnett R. Rubin, a leading expert on Afghanistan, claims that the country has become “a weak rentier or allocation state. From 1958 to 1968 and again in the 1970s the state financed over 40 percent of its expenditures from revenue accruing directly from abroad.” (The Fragmentation of Afghanistan, Yale University Press, 2002)

In the 1980s the government depended on Soviet money, intervention and military occupation. In the 1990s, American, Saudi, Pakistani, Russian, and Iranian money and weapons fueled different factions of a bloody civil war. (Details of this history can be found in Ahmed Rashid’s Descent Into Chaos, Viking, 2008.) And now the government relies on the U.S. and its allies.

The US invasion has not made Afghanistan independent from foreign influence but rather changed the formula of who provides funds and who receives them.

Dr. Rubin states that historically, “the most important effect of foreign aid was to provide both cash and weapons for the accumulation and concentration of the means of violence in a modern army and national police.” This has not required the government of the day to forge a broad-based consensus among Afghanistan’s peoples and political blocs. So, the central government sees foreign donors as one of its most important constituents, the source of much of its treasury. (Rubin, p. 65)

“It has been a disaster. There has been no change in the lives of most ordinary Afghan people,” says the former Planning Minister, Ramazan Bashardost. Now a member of the Afghan Parliament, Mr. Bashardost resigned from the ministry in objection over government and foreign NGO corruptions.

“There is minimum improvement in the lives of the ordinary people. All ministers and key government figures have lost their legitimacy,” he said.

Consider the Louis Berger Group’s contract to build 1,000 schools, each costing $274,000. Ann Jones, who for years worked in Afghanistan as an aid worker, says that Louis Berger, “already way behind schedule in 2005, had finished only a small fraction of them when roofs began to collapse under the snows of winter.”

Sustaining an Afghan government financially on foreign life support requires multiyear planning from all donors involved. This requires that Afghanistan’s needs be incorporated into the budgets of NATO countries, and that many of the political decisions on funding be made by foreign governments accountable to their own people. There is not much room for self-reliance in this scenario.

Eventually international military presence will have to come to an end. There will also come a time when NATO countries will not be willing to commit tens of billions of dollars to Afghanistan on a yearly basis. Already, many NATO countries, wary from years of war without a discernable end, are straining popular support by staying. General withdrawal is on the horizon.

In the past, a sharp drop in foreign grants and loans has resulted in state financial crisis in Afghanistan. Considering the country’s less than billion dollar revenues, it is hard to imagine a different outcome this time around.

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Roundup of Analysis and Investigative Articles: Israeli air strike on Syria, Canadian intervention, War, Diplomacy, and Trade Unions

October 15, 2007 Leave a comment

Ray Close on the Mysterious Israeli Air Attack on Syria. Ray Close, who was CIA bureau chief in Saudia Arabia for many years, sent around these musings on the Israeli raid on Syria. This is my Monday morning (speculative) analysis of the mysterious Israeli air attack on Syria on September 6, 2007 (with due thanks to others who have contributed their wise perspectives): 1. The Israelis offered us intelligence that Syria is beginning to develop a nuclear capability based on North Korean technology. They urged the US to cooperate with them in mounting a military attack to destroy the Syrian site. The advantages of this action, as presented to the Bush administration with great urgency by the Israelis, would be… (Syria Comment)

Deconstructing the Haiti coup. Below is from the National Film Board: Darren Ell interviews the director of the Institute for Justice & Democracy in Haiti, Brian Concannon, about the political situation and specifically the crimes of UN forces (MINUSTAH) in Haiti. Concannon is a thorough, articulate and elequent speaker on the subject of Haitian politics.
Yves Engler is co-author of the groundbreaking book Canada in Haiti: The War on the Poor Majority. It is the first and only in-depth analysis of Canada’s participation in the 2004 coup d’état against the democratically elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In this podcast, Yves discusses key elements of Canada’s participation in the coup.

White Guys with Guns: Canada’s Military in Afghanistan. With a few exceptions, media coverage of the mission has been generally sympathetic to the claims and actions of Canadian military officials. It is the purpose of this essay to shed light on the less-reported aspects of the mission, about which our military and government officials rarely speak. (Dave Markland, Mostly Water/ZNet)

Slum Fights. The Pentagon Plans for a New Hundred Years’ War. Duane Schattle doesn’t mince words. “The cities are the problem,” he says. A retired Marine infantry lieutenant colonel who worked on urban warfare issues at the Pentagon in the late 1990s, he now serves as director of the Joint Urban Operations Office at U.S. Joint Forces Command. He sees the war in the streets of Iraq’s cities as the prototype for tomorrow’s battlespace. “This is the next fight,” he warns. “The future of warfare is what we see now.” He isn’t alone. “We think urban is the future,” says James Lasswell, a retired colonel who now heads the Office of Science and Technology at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory. (Nick Turse, TomDispatch)

Ticking clocks and ‘accidental’ war. Whilst Washington looks at the Iranian prospects through the prism of a binary, to bomb or to acquiesce decision, facing President Bush over the remainder of his presidency, the actors in the region see the conflict as imminent and arriving in a roundabout way, through the backdoor – either via escalation of Western and Israeli tension with Syria; or from events in Lebanon, or a combination of both interacting with each other. All these key actors are convinced that conflict, should it occur, will convulse the entire region. (Alastair Crooke, Conflicts Forum)

Pearls for coal. Palestinian and Israeli negotiators began a series of secret meetings on Monday in an effort to draft a joint document for the upcoming US-sponsored peace conference, scheduled to take place in Annapolis, Maryland, in November. The two sides continue to be deeply divided on the major issues at the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. According to Palestinian officials close to the talks, the two negotiating teams are likely to spend more time on formulating and asserting their own respective opening positions than bridging the gaps between them. (Khaled Amayreh, Al-Ahram)

Egypt: Mutual support? Forget it. What should be made of the voluntary cancellation of the editions of 22 independent and opposition newspapers? Is it a coherent way to protest against what journalists believe is a concerted campaign to silence voices critical of the regime? Or is it a shot in the foot? Such questions came to a head when the vast majority of independent and opposition newspapers failed to appear on 7 October in protest against the latest round of custodial sentences handed down to journalists. (Shaden Shehab, Al-Ahram)

Egypt: The Militancy of Mahalla al-Kubra. For the second time in less than a year, in the final week of September the 24,000 workers of the Misr Spinning and Weaving Company in Mahalla al-Kubra went on strike — and won. As they did the first time, in December 2006, the workers occupied the Nile Delta town’s mammoth textile mill and rebuffed the initial mediation efforts of Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). (Joel Beinin, Middle East Report)

Turkey fears Kurds, not Armenians. “We did not exterminate the Armenians,” Ankara says in effect, “and, by the way, we’re going to not exterminate the Kurds, too.” Turkey’s threat to invade northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebels is linked to its outrage over a US Congressional resolution recognizing that Turkey committed genocide against its Armenian population in 1915. Why the Turks should take out their rancour at the US on the Kurds might seem anomalous until we consider that the issue of Armenian genocide has become a proxy for Turkey’s future disposition towards the Kurds. (Spengler, Asia Times)

The Turnaround in Sino-Indian Relations. Many observers have recently argued that the newly forged Indo-U.S. alliance will work against its “intended aims of Chinese encirclement.” Although India denies its part in any attempt at “Chinese containment” to the publicly acknowledged satisfaction of China, the theory nevertheless persists. China’s response to the Indo-U.S. alliance is, however, quite creative. Instead of reacting with alarm, Beijing has gone on a charm offensive to draw New Delhi into a triangular entente among China, India and Russia. India, which has languished under foreign subjugation for centuries, has a visceral aversion to strategic alliances with world powers. Since its independence in 1947, it has followed what could be described as the “Third Way” in world diplomacy, which manifested itself in the birth of the Non-aligned Movement (NAM) in the 1950s. China is now building bridges to India based in part on the latter’s instinctive wariness of foreign influences, which is evident in India’s homegrown opposition to its nuclear deal with the U.S. (Tarique Niazi, Japan Focus)

Roundup of Analysis and Investigative Articles: Foreign aid, treason, enemy combatants, weapons and strategy

October 9, 2007 Leave a comment

Nuclear Weapons, Criminal States, and the US-India Deal. Nuclear-armed states are criminal states. They have a legal obligation, confirmed by the World Court, to live up to Article 6 of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which calls on them to carry out good-faith negotiations to eliminate nuclear weapons entirely. None of the nuclear states has lived up to it. The United States is a leading violator, especially the Bush administration, which even has stated that it isn’t subject to Article 6. On July 27, Washington entered into an agreement with India that guts the central part of the NPT, though there remains substantial opposition in both countries. India, like Israel and Pakistan (but unlike Iran), is not an NPT signatory, and has developed nuclear weapons outside the treaty. With this new agreement, the Bush administration effectively endorses and facilitates this outlaw behaviour. (Noam Chomsky, Japan Focus)

‘Enemy Combatant’ or Enemy of the Government? By introducing the concept of war into national law, the latest U.S. anti- terrorist law, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA), produces a turning point in the legal and political organization of the Western world. It puts an end to a form of state that succeeded in “establishing peace internally and excluding hostility as a concept of law.”1 It is the constituent act of a new form of state that establishes war as a political relation between constituted authorities and national populations. (Jean-Claude Paye, Monthly Review)

Unable to Defeat Mahdi Army, U.S. Hopes to Divide It. Although the U.S. military command’s frequent assertions that the primary threat to U.S. forces in Iraq comes from Iranian meddling, its real problem is that Shiite cleric Moqtada al Sadr’s Mahdi army is determined to end the occupation and is simply too big and too well entrenched to be weakened by military force. The U.S. command began trying to enter into a political dialogue with Sadr’s followers in early 2006 and now claims that such a dialogue has begun, according to a Sep. 12 article by Ned Parker of the Los Angeles Times. But the George W. Bush administration is not prepared to make peace with the Mahdi army. Instead it believes it can somehow divide it if it applies military pressure while wooing what it calls “moderates” in the Sadr camp. Parker quoted an anonymous administration official last month as suggesting that there were Sadrists “who we think we might be able to work with”. (Gareth Porter, IPS)

India holds key in NATO’s world view. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s agenda is centered on its further enlargement as well as lengthening its reach to undertake missions with new partners in every corner of the world. Many of its main challenges are in the Indian Ocean region, which makes a friendly India a priority. Washington fully backs a NATO-India partnership, while Delhi has some critical decisions to make. (M.K. Bhadrakumar, Asia Times)

At last, some good news from Iraq. Iraq’s two rival Shi’ite clerics, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim and Muqtada al-Sadr, who with their powerful militias have long fought for control of the Shi’ite community, have decided to lay down their arms and unite their efforts to bring stability and security to the country. It’s the first genuinely good news from Iraq for a long time. (Sami Moubayed, Asia Times)

CIDA: foreign “aid” in name only? Recent stories about Canada’s foreign aid programs should make us ponder some important foreign policy questions. A Senlis Council report released in August detailed the failure of Canadian programs supposedly aimed at alleviating poverty in Kandahar province. The mainstream media criticized the Canadian International Development Agency’s (CIDA) inability/unwillingness to successfully distribute aid and even questioned Canada’s justification for a military presence in Afghanistan. Six months earlier, the media was abuzz over a report that called for the abolition of CIDA because of its failure to alleviate poverty in Africa. On the surface this criticism seems reasonable. All government spending should be effective. But what if this focus on the effectiveness of aid to alleviate poverty narrows the parameters of the debate and excludes the real questions that should be asked?
(Yves Engler, Rabble)

Pakistan at Sixty. Disillusionment and resentment are widespread. Cultivating anti-Indian/anti-Hindu feeling, in an attempt to encourage national cohesion, no longer works. The celebrations marking the anniversary of independence on 14 August are more artificial and irritating than ever. A cacophony of meaningless slogans that impress nobody, countless clichés in newspaper supplements competing for space with stale photographs of the Founder (Muhammad Ali Jinnah) and the Poet (Iqbal). Banal panel discussions remind us of what Jinnah said or didn’t say. The perfidious Lord Mountbatten and his ‘promiscuous’ wife, Edwina, are denounced for favouring India when it came to the division of the spoils. It’s true, but we can’t blame them for the wreck Pakistan has become. In private, of course, there is much soul-searching, and a surprising collection of people now feel the state should never have been founded. (Tariq Ali, London Review of Books)

Somalia’s President Yusuf Loses His Grip on Power. The failures of the two national conferences aimed at devising a political formula for Somalia — the National Reconciliation Conference (N.R.C.) sponsored by the country’s internationally-recognized Transitional Federal Government (T.F.G.), and the Somali Congress for Liberation and Reconstitution (S.C.L.R.) organized by the political opposition based in Eritrea — have led to a continuation of Somalia’s spiral into political fragmentation and conflict. (Michael A. Weinstein. Power and Interest News Report)

Egypt: Rumour and retribution. The trial of Ibrahim Eissa, editor-in-chief of the independent daily Al-Dostour, opened on Monday only to be adjourned until 24 October. More than a dozen armoured vehicles added to the daily congestion in Downtown Cairo’s Galaa Street while the scenes around the Galaa Court Complex, blockaded by state security personnel, plain clothes security men and high ranking police officers speaking loudly into walkie-talkies, resembled the trials of Muslim Brotherhood members or else of a high- profile spy rather than that of a journalist accused of spreading false rumours about the health of President Hosni Mubarak. (Shaden Shehab, Al-Ahram)

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