Friday, November 19, 2010

U.S. Should Push for Democracy in Egypt

By James M. Dorsey

World Politics Review

Human rights were glaringly absent from U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's agenda when she recently met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit ahead of Egypt's Nov. 28 parliamentary elections. The silence is noteworthy, given Cairo's suppression of the political opposition in advance of the elections as well as its overall dismal human rights record.

The Obama administration fears that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak will respond to criticism by withdrawing both political support for the stumbling Israeli-Palestinian peace process and logistical support for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. The administration is also concerned that criticism would boost the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's popular Islamist opposition group. Finally, should Egypt simply reject the criticism, it could paint President Barack Obama as too weak to influence one of the United States' closest allies and a major recipient of U.S. aid.

Apparently testing the waters, State Department spokesman P. J. Crowley called on Egypt in a written statement to allow peaceful political gatherings and open media coverage, and to admit international election observers. Egypt immediately rejected the call, saying it has a system of judges and other safeguards in place to monitor the fairness of the elections and that the government has issued guidelines for free and fair media coverage of the campaign.

To be sure, repression of the opposition, intimidation and control of the media, and electoral restrictions virtually guarantee that Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party will win the elections. But for the U.S., the long-term risks of being perceived as perpetuating authoritarian rule in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world may well outweigh the short-term benefits of turning a blind eye to flagrant human-rights violations and measures that stymie democratic development.

Read more at World Politics Review

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Proposed NATO Defense Shield Fuels Discussion of New European Security Architecture

By James M. Dorsey

A proposed $280 million NATO missile defense system upgrade is straining relations between the United States and Turkey in the run-up to this week’s NATO summit in Lisbon. Turkish officials say they will only agree to having radar components of the system on Turkish soil if NATO abstains from identifying any potential target of the system and promises not to share intelligence with non-NATO members.

The Turkish demands reflect a mounting divergence in US and Turkish foreign policy with Turkey no longer signing up to Western policies simply to align itself with the West but instead making cost-benefit analysis a key element of its decision-making. As a result, Turkey is demanding a quid-pro-quid for its accommodation of the proposed missile defense shield upgrade that threatens to put it between a rock and a hard place.

If Turkey rejects the upgrade, it risks angering its US and NATO allies; if it joins the shield, it would upset Iran, a neighbor and major energy supplier, and could complicate its relations with Russia, which opposed the upgrade when it was first proposed by US President George W. Bush. "We do not perceive any threat from any neighbor countries and we do not think our neighbors form a threat to Nato," says Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

The Turkish demand that NATO refrain from identifying the system’s target strikes at declared US policy: a White House fact sheet recently described Iran as the threat the proposed shield would be designed to counter. Turkey opposes Iran becoming a nuclear power but advocates continued engagement in the hope to expand its trade with Iran to $30 billion a year over the next five years. The US Treasury’s point man on Iran sanctions, Stuart Levy, last month failed to convince his Turkish counterparts to go further than the largely symbolic United Nations sanctions, which Turkey opposed, and endorse the much stricter US sanctions regime.

Turkey, concerned that any US or Israeli military effort to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program would further destabilize the Middle East, moreover wants assurances that any intelligence garnered from radars on its territory will not be shared with Israel. Turkish officials refused to confirm or deny reports that the Turkish Security Council last month approved changes in its national security document, called the "Red Book," removing Iran and Syria and adding Israel to the list of countries that pose a "major threat."

Turkey fears that allowing the radar to be based in Turkey will raise Iranian suspicions that it would be associated with a potential US or Israeli strike against the Islamic republic. The United States wants to base the radars in Turkey after US President Barak Obama promised Russia in September of last year that it would seek to accommodate Russian objections against basing them in Poland and the Czech Republic. Turkey’s position on the defense shield is influenced by the fact that its past accommodation of US and European interests has not pushed forward as Turkish leaders had hoped its efforts to join the European Union.

The quid-pro-quid Turkey is seeking for possible accommodation of NATO is US pressure on France and Germany to reverse policies that are preventing progress in negotiations for Turkish European Union membership. The US has signaled its willingness to accommodate the Turks by putting high on the agenda of a US-EU summit scheduled immediately after the NATO gathering Turkish EU membership. In expectation of a NATO compromise, Turkish officials say they have begun technical studies on the radars in preparation for possible deployment. The studies are in part designed to reduce tension between the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the armed forces, which view Iran’s nuclear program as a threat and favor deployment of the NATO missile shield.

While most analysts and officials believe that Turkey is genuinely seeking to balance its long-standing commitment to Western interests with the impact of paradigm change since the end of the Cold War, some analysts caution that a failure to take Turkish interests into account could provoke a rupture with Turkey feeling forced to choose between the West and Iran.

Mitigating against a rupture is the fact that Europe may have a renewed interest in embracing Turkey because of the United States’ perceived preoccupation with security risks posed by the Middle East and China at the expense of its past focus on Europe. Calls in Europe for a new European security architecture that would put a greater emphasis on the role of Turkey as well as Russia are gaining momentum. A recently published European Council on Relations report entitled "The spectre of a multipolar Europe" argues that Obama’s failure to participate in ceremonies marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall was the latest sign that the US is no longer focused on Europe’s internal security. “Washington has its hands full dealing with Afghanistan, Iran and China and is no longer a European power,” the report concluded.

To fill the void, the report calls for an informal dialogue that would allow the EU, Turkey and Russia to build a new European security architecture from the ground up. This would require blowing new life into Turkey’s EU accession negotiations by expanding them to include common security and defense policies as well as energy. “The post-Cold War order is unraveling. Rather than uniting under a single system, Europe’s big powers are moving apart. Tensions between them have made security systems dysfunctional: they failed to prevent war in Kosovo and Georgia, instability in Kyrgyzstan, disruption to Europe’s gas supplies, and solve frozen conflicts… The EU has spent much of the last decade defending a European order that no longer functions. Russia and Turkey may complain more, but the EU has the most to lose from the current peaceful disorder,” the report says.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

US Risks Little With Support for Egyptian Human Rights

Human rights were glaringly absent on the agenda of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit in the run-up to Egypt's parliamentary elections scheduled for November 28.


U.S. officials fear that criticism of Egypt's dismal human rights record could jeopardize Egyptian support for the Middle East peace process and U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan encourage the country's popular Islamist opposition and set President Barak Obama up for a failure if Egypt ignores U.S. pressure.


Repression and electoral restrictions virtually guarantee that the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) will win this month's elections, but the long-term risks of perpetuating authoritarian rule in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world may well prove costlier than the short-term benefits of turning a blind eye to flagrant violations of human rights.


Analysis of the feared risks, moreover, shows that they are grounded more in perception than in reality and that U.S. support for adherence to human rights is a battle that can be won over time rather than a zero-sum game. Divided over whether or not to participate in the elections, Egypt's foremost opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, is going into the elections substantially weakened with many of its leaders in prison and a quarter of its candidates barred from standing as candidates. Egypt would risk U.S. Congressional support for its substantial annual aid package by backtracking on support for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process or logistics for U.S. military operations in the region or reducing intelligence. Similarly, Obama could avoid perceived failure by raising the human rights issue publicly without invoking threats or sanctions and instead taking a leaf out of former President George W. Bush's playbook.


Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak would surely reject Obama's criticism. Nonetheless, Obama's public focus on human rights and democracy would shape debate in Egypt, encourage activists and influence perceptions of the United States. All in all, the United States has more to win by nudging Egyptian and Arab debate about democracy and human rights and more to lose by maintaining a policy that so far has exclusively identified it with repressive, corrupt regimes and significantly tarnished its image.