Belgium holds the line

Brief recap: about six months ago, the EU suspended candidacy negotiations with Serbia because Belgrade was refusing to cooperate with the Hague Tribunal.

In particular, the Serbian government had stopped even pretending to look for accused war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. As chief Hague prosecutor Carla del Ponte put it, “I’m telling those who still wish to receive me – and fewer and fewer prime ministers and foreign ministers now find the time or interest to do so – that since last October, Belgrade has not been cooperating with the Tribunal at all. Not only has it failed to provide full cooperation – there has been no cooperation whatsoever.”

So the EU shut down candidacy negotiations. Kudos all around, right? Cooperation with the Hague was always a clear prerequisite for negotiations. The EU had made that clear, and the Serbs had agreed. No cooperation, no candidacy.

Then some EU members started getting cold feet.
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Bosnia: Exit the Doctor

Here’s the short version. Bosnia has this thing called a “High Representative”. The High Rep is not a Bosnian. He’s a European charged with overseeing implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement (the 1995 treaty that has kept the various Bosnian groups from each others’ throats), and also with “representing the international community” in Bosnia.

The High Rep is much more than a diplomat. He’s really more like a colonial governor. He can pass laws and fire Bosnian politicians. If he flexes his muscles, he’s really the final authority in the country. You might think this is strange in what’s nominally a sovereign European state, but Bosnia is a strange place.

For four years, 2002-6, the High Rep was a British fellow named Paddy Ashdown. Paddy took his job seriously and did not hesitate to use his powers. He didn’t like nationalist politicians and he wanted Bosnia to act like a real country. So he banged some heads and stepped on a lot of toes.

Many, both in Bosnia and in the international community, did not like this. Paddy was accused of being an old-fashioned imperialist, high-handed, divisive. Furthermore, said many, he was stunting the political growth of the Bosnian state. As long as Paddy was there to twist arms, the Bosnians would never learn to solve their own problems.

So when Paddy left, the job was given to an elderly, mild-mannered German politician, Dr. Christian Schwarz-Schilling. Dr. Schwarz-Schilling made it clear in advance that he did not plan to use the powers of the High Rep’s office. In fact, he saw his job as overseeing the position’s liquidation. He “didn’t believe in colonialism for Bosnia,” said the good Doctor. The High Rep’s office would gradually ramp down, aiming for a complete shutdown within a year or two. The Bosnians would assume responsibility for their own destiny. Polite clapping all around.

That was a year ago.
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Italy and the Eurozone

John Kay had an article in the Financial Times earlier in the week, and this seems to have caused quite a ripple around the blogsphere (Eurozone Watch, Economonitor, Claus Vistesen at Alpha Sources). The article was about whether or not it was technically possible for Italy to leave the Eurozone. (Update: Sebastian has a fresh post over at Eurozone Watch Blog continuing the discussion).

John Kay’s conclusion, and it is supported by a very reasoned commentary by Sebastien Dullien at Eurozone Watch Blog (welcome Sebastain and Daniela), is that there is no in-principle technical difficulty in exit. The most authoritative piece of work on this topic that I know of comes from Harvard International financial law specialist Hal Scott. The paper was written back in 1998, and was provocatively entitled “When the Euro Falls Apart“. Despite the title the paper is a tightly reasoned piece of work whose main conclusion is that not only is euro-exit technically perfectly feasibe, in fact the mechanisms which would make this possible were incorporated from the start (in particular keeping independent central banks with their own reserves). I think those who were able to think clearly back then – and were able to use some emotional intelligence – were always aware that there were question marks over Italy’s ability to go the distance.

So the problem is not a technical one. But as John Kay indicates it *is* a political one:
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The new great game

Our next anniversary guest post is written by the the great Jonathan Edelstein.

It’s starting to look like the season of referenda in the near abroad.

On September 17, less than a week from today, voters in the unrecognized republic of Transnistria, located between Moldova and Ukraine, will be asked to vote on whether to “renounce [their] independent status and subsequently become part of the Republic of Moldova” or “support a policy of independence… and subsequent free association with the Russian Federation.” The option of “free association” with Russia, which is widely considered a prelude to outright annexation, is reportedly backed by a large number of Russian-financed business and political organizations, some with long-standing presence in Transnistrian politics and others apparently formed for the occasion. In the meantime, South Ossetia, which had earlier explored the possibility of petitioning Russia’s constitutional court for annexation, has just announced its own referendum for November 12, and although Abkhazia currently denies similar plans, there are rumors that a plebiscite may be in the works there as well.

The referenda, which are rather transparently supported by Moscow, represent something of a change in policy for the Russian Federation. It’s certainly nothing new for post-Soviet Russia to attempt to maintain its influence over the countries comprising the former Soviet Union, and it has at times used Russian citizenship to cement the “soft” annexation of neighboring territories; for instance, at least 90 percent of Abkhazians and South Ossetians now hold Russian passports. Nevertheless, up to now, it has soft-pedaled the issue of de jure territorial expansion. The forthcoming vote on whether Transnistria should become a second Kaliningrad suggests that policymakers in Moscow are at least starting to think seriously about taking formal responsibility for the territories that have broken away from other former Soviet republics.

At first glance, it’s hard to see why Russia would push such a policy at the present time. All three of the breakaway republics have substantial minorities who oppose union with Russia; Transnistria is almost evenly divided between ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and Romanians, and despite post-Soviet ethnic cleansing, South Ossetia and Abkhazia retain Georgian minority enclaves. The recent wave of terrorist bombings in the Transnistrian capital of Tiraspol may well be linked to the referendum, and Russian annexation of the Georgian breakaway republics would only intensify border conflicts such as the Kodori Gorge. Nor would successful plebiscites lend a veneer of legitimacy to a Russian annexation; indeed, given the current international attitude toward non-consensual secessions from recognized states, this would only make Russia’s legal position worse by transforming it into an occupying power.

In other words, the referenda seem like a recipe for stirring up ethnic conflict within the breakaway republics, making Moldova and Georgia even more alarmed over Russian political ambitions than they already are, and creating new diplomatic and legal problems for Moscow. Which leads naturally to three questions: why now, what does Russia stand to gain in compensation for these risks, and how much should the rest of the world (and particularly Europe) care?
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Lebanon: So much for a “strong mandate”

According to today’s Haaretz, Israel has abandoned the idea of an international force in Lebanon designed to disarm Hezbollah. What they are now talking about is a 1 km wide “demilitarized zone” along the Israeli border where Hezbollah can’t deploy, enforced by Israeli artillery over the border in Israel.

Since Hezbollah’s rockets go a lot further into Israel than that, this indicates, if the report is true, that stopping rocket attacks is no longer seen as a viable goal for this conflict. And, a demilitarized zone enforced by artillery fire has no impact on Hezbollah’s ability to undertake the kind of border skirmishes that served as pretext for this fight. So, deployment of an international force is becoming not much more than a cover for Israel to declare some form of victory in a conflict they certainly appear to be losing. So much for “strong mandates” and avoiding, in Condoleeza Rice’s words, “temporary solutions”.

Beirut’s Daily Star is offering a more optimistic outlook this morning, suggesting Israel will accept some kind of negotiated trade for its kidnapped soldiers (which it could have gotten in the first place without going to war) and that Hezbollah might agree to stop to rocket attacks on Israel in return for some sort of settlement on the Shebaa farms area, an end to Israeli harassment of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and some other outstanding issues. If either side was going to be honest in making such an agreement, an international force would hardly be necessary to keep the peace. In a true flight of fancy, the Lebanese editorialist sees such an agreement as opening the way to settlements between Israel and Syria, and to addressing Palestinian grievances. Fat chance.

Hezbollah’s chief is openly declaring the intent to continue rocket attacks even while declaring itself open to political discussions to resolve the conflict. He also admits that no one expected Israel to freak out like this. This willingness to discuss options from Hezbollah, and Israel’s apparent willingness to accept reduced demands, might be indicative of an openness to some kind of agreement, as the author of the editorial suggests. But it almost certainly means no meaningful solution.

Again, I have to ask: Why should anyone send troops to Lebanon if the intended outcome is nothing more than a restoration of the status quo ante that led to this war in the first place? If negotiation is supposed to end this conflict without actually undermining either side, then what purpose is served by a peacekeeping force with no mandate to keep the peace? Why should outsiders participate in saving face for Israel and in solidifying what will no doubt be perceived in the Middle East as a Hezbollah victory?

NATO peacekeepers in Lebanon: Why Europe should just say no

For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind – Hosea 8:7

The new American-Israeli proposal for peace in Lebanon is a NATO-led force with a “strong mandate” rather than UN-led blue helmets. “NATO” in this case is a code word for European troops under effective US command, since it must be presumed that American forces are about as welcome in Lebanon as the IDF, and Israel is unlikely to tolerate a strong international force under any independent authority.

It would be an incredibly stupid idea for Europeans to go along with this. The “strong mandate” of such a force would no doubt be the suppression of Hezbollah. Let the Israelis do their own damn dirty work. They lost a war in Lebanon once already, let them lose again. I see no reason why Europeans should have to back Israel up in its campaign of collective punishment against the people of southern Lebanon. “Israel has the right to defend itself” – this has been the mantra of Israeli governments for decades, evoked in defense of every atrocity it commits. So let them defend themselves. Why should Europe intervene in support of a state that targets civilians?
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The HRC is dead, long live the HRC?

The UN has elected a brand new Human Rights Council to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission. Why was the old HRC discredited? Well, basically and officially, because several of its members were known to violate human rights and/or to protect their own interests. It is only logical. However, who will be taking a seat in the new and improved HRC? Right, some of those very same countries that were known to violate human rights: China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
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Xenophobia and human nature

There has been some cricket chirping on AFOE the past few days, so allow me to make a little bit of noise here and chase them away.

Amnesty International has a new report out, called Russian Federation – Violent racism out of control. I shall quote part of the report below the fold and ask some questions to our readers.
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Montenegro – the other side

Well, we are united in our diversity here at Fistful. I have to say I disagree with almost every point Doug made about Montenegro in his last post, and will respectfully dissect his arguments below. But first off, a plea for some sanity here. Too many people seem to think that the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1990-93 was in some way the EU’s “fault”; that it failed to act quickly enough, to apply diplomatic pressure, or even (in contradiction to the evidence) that the EU’s recognition of Croatia and Slovenia in December 1991 somehow caused the wars. Nonsense. The fact is that Yugoslavia was broken up by the policies of the Serbian leadership. Outsiders tried to ameliorate or decelerate the process and the consequences; they largely failed. The international community does bear some responsibility for its inaction in the face of evil. But the larger share of the responsibility belongs to the local actors – especially, though not only, the Serbian political leaders. The fact is that we can plan all we like for international do-gooding, but the forces in action on the ground will always be the crucial factor. And so it is in Montenegro.

I’m sure Doug agrees with me on most of that. Now let’s get to the points of our disagreement. It’s important to realise that Montenegro has been effectively independent since 1997, when Djukanovic, then Prime Minister, threw the pro-Milosevic elements out of the ruling party and won the Presidential election against his former patron. Montenegro has had a separate customs area since roughly then. It adopted the Deutsch Mark (now the Euro) as currency in 1999, while Serbia retains the dinar to this day. The State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, established in 2003, remains largely fictional apart from the foreign ministry. Montenegro’s referendum, if successful, will merely formalise the reality of its independence. In fairness, Doug states most of this as well. Yet he seems to think that rolling history back is both possible and desirable.
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The battle of Wobbly Knee: Dutch troops in Afghanistan

The Netherlands is talking about sending an additional 1,200 troops to Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province. The Dutch already have 540 people working in Afghanistan under the umbrella of the ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) peace mission and another 674 under the umbrella of Operation Enduring Freedom. For other Dutch international deployments look here.

Why is it hard for the Dutch to finally make good on a promise their government made back on December 22nd 2005?
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