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Between the US and Iran, Confusion Reigns

U.S. President Donald Trump declaring his intention to withdraw from the JCPOA at the White House in Washington, May 2018

President Trump has said he wants to negotiate a new deal with Iran, but no one seems to think that will happen anytime soon. After surveying diplomats and policymakers from key countries, Sanam Vakil writes in Foreign Affairs of wide consensus that America has “called for something—a deal—that requires diplomacy but then consistently reached only for the bluntest of coercive instruments,” failing to lay any groundwork for talks or to consider what Iran’s interests might be.

Without exception, these respondents were either American or Iranian (notably, the Americans we interviewed who had been involved with the JCPOA did not share this perspective). Those who could envision reaching a new deal pointed out that the issues the JCPOA had left unresolved really could be settled only with an agreement between Tehran and Washington. Only the United States could provide Iran with the security guarantees and comprehensive sanctions relief necessary for a larger compromise deal, these respondents argued. Moreover, only the United States could placate the anxieties of Israel and the Arab Gulf. These interviewees saw Europe, caught in the middle, as not particularly relevant to the dialogue.

And yet the overwhelming majority of experts across the globe were very skeptical that the Trump administration could facilitate a grand bargain. Many argued that third parties such as Russia, China, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia were exploiting the Iran standoff for their own political purposes. Most interviewees from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates could not even begin to countenance renewed U.S. talks with Iran, and Russian and Chinese experts assessed that their countries were not willing to extend themselves beyond the limited efforts they’d already made to preserve the JCPOA.

If the U.S. president truly seeks that bigger, better deal, his administration must reevaluate its Iran strategy. Rather than simply doubling down on unilateral sanctions that have yet to yield any meaningful result, the administration should build bridges back to Europe and prepare the sorts of openings and sweeteners that have effectively brought Iran to the negotiating table in the past.

As the US escalates its pressure campaign, Iran has a menu of potential responses, Frida Ghitis writes at the World Politics Review—from attacking US troops in the region to blocking Gulf oil shipments to restarting its nuclear program to holding tight until Trump leaves office—but it will make those calculations without any clarity on what the US really wants.

It Takes a Village to Negotiate With North Korea

S. Korea: North Korea launches 'unidentified' projectiles

North Korea has resumed some of its provocations, but John Merrill writes at the Nikkei Asian Review that we shouldn’t worry about where things are headed. Since the failed Hanoi summit, Russia, China, and Japan all seem less certain the US can reach an accord with North Korea bilaterally and have signaled appetites for getting involved and warming their relations with Kim Jong-Un.

The main future sticking point will be the sequencing between the lifting of sanctions and denuclearization. A hopeful sign is Trump telling Moon recently that he agreed with Seoul giving food aid to North Korea.

The U.S. has long had a psychological fixation on sanctions. But most academic studies show sanctions are largely ineffective. They are also sticky — once put in place they become devilishly hard to lift. Worse, sanctions can backfire or make the target state unpredictable.

In the case of North Korea, a major negative effect is that sanctions block Pyongyang’s self-proclaimed attempt to shift from a “dual track” military/economic policy to an “economy-first” policy, which promises to greatly contribute to peninsula-wide stabilization. This should be encouraged not stymied.

The increased involvement of Xi, Putin and Abe and their possible promises of economic development aid may now give Trump the political cover he needs domestically to partially ease sanctions in return for Kim’s gradual dismantlement of his nuclear program.

Illustration: Craig Stephens

China, meanwhile, appears uniquely well positioned to help, Chan Young Bang writes at the South China Morning Post: As North Korea’s closest ally integrates with the world economy and starts cooperating with international institutions, Xi Jinping can show Kim the way toward economic reform and openness.

The core of the reform of North Korea’s socialist system is the privatisation of state-owned means of production, the liberalisation of the labour market, freedom of economic activities, and the formation of autonomous prices according to supply and demand.

It should also include legalisation of private market operations, estimated to account for more than 60 per cent of GDP, and the opening of commercial banks to replace today’s illegitimate moneylending operations by the entrepreneurial donju or “master of money” class.

Kim’s legitimacy will then no longer stem from the self-reliant Juche socialist ideology promoted by Kim Il-sung, but will be cemented through the building of an affluent welfare society, substantial system reform and spectacular growth.

No degree of external security can guarantee Kim’s security and legitimacy. Staring down impending famine and unrelenting economic sanctions, Kim must decide which way to turn: towards economic crisis, humanitarian calamity and ultimate illegitimacy, or towards reformation of the system and the establishment of permanent prosperity.

To follow in the footsteps of its closest ally, North Korea needs a blueprint for economic development, as this is the only measure which can ensure domestic legitimacy and internal security – and Xi is the only head of state who holds the key to unlocking this path.

The Eurosceptics Back Off

gros122_Christian MinelliNurPhoto via Getty Images_lepenpressconference

Europe faces a moment of political irony: Populist, anti-EU parties are poised to make significant gains in European elections later this month, but the EU itself appears to be as popular as ever with residents, Daniel Gros of the Center for European Policy Studies writes at Project Syndicate, with the economy improved and the migration crisis under control.

The real test will come after this month’s elections, when the Euroskeptic parties will have to articulate an alternative coherent vision of Europe and the EU’s role in it. Such a vision is unlikely to emerge. The key steps in recent years toward further EU integration – including the establishment of the European Stability Mechanism to help financial distressed member states, the EU’s banking union, and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency – were clearly necessary, because national efforts in these areas had not worked. Tellingly, even staunchly Euroskeptic parties are not calling for these institutions to be abolished.

Euroskeptics make vague claims that Europe is not working, and that only they can defend the interests of their national electorates. But in practice, it has been impossible to translate this “my country first” into coherent policy within the European Parliament – not least because most of what the EU does benefit member states. Moreover, Euroskeptic parties find it difficult to forge coalitions. Northern European populists, for example, would like to stop all assistance to the EU’s periphery, whereas their Southern European counterparts think they are not getting enough support.

It seems that Europeans now love both the EU and populists. Instead of bemoaning this fact, much less viewing it as a threat, pro-Europeans should seize the opportunity to start a necessary debate about the continent’s future.

As a consequence, populist parties have backed off their demands to leave the EU or break it apart; they lack a powerful anti-EU agenda, and if they gain more power in Brussels, Gros argues, they won’t threaten European coherence so much as they’ll open a healthy debate.

The Populist Pervasion

Photo Gallery: How to Stand Up to the AfD

What can a German barbecue teach us about the unexpected problems caused by far-right populism? Quite a bit, by Der Spiegel’s reckoning: After a far-right politician was told he wasn’t welcome at a Labor Day barbecue hosted by two unions (despite being a union member himself), the paper notes that German social organizations of all stripes are being forced to decide whether or not to welcome members with far-right political affiliations. The barbecue incident illustrated just how thoroughly far-right populism has seeped into the national culture.

As the Alternative für Deutschland raises new questions about what beliefs are acceptable, German organizations from schools to church groups are similarly struggling to decide whether to shun members who belong to AfD or other far-right groups; it’s a political problem for institutions at various levels of society.

Does the Law of War Apply to Robots?

Illustration by Matt Field. Based in part on photos by gloucester2gaza and Julian Hertzog via Wikimedia Commons. CY BY-SA 2.0 / CC BY 4.0. Stylized.

For six years, the UN Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons has been debating how to handle autonomous weapons systems, and it’s yet to come up with an answer, writes Ariel Conn in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Lethal autonomous weapons are becoming increasingly possible, with autonomous drones, underwater vehicles, and tanks at various stages of development, and it’s not yet clear whether international conventions do, or should, allow those machines to kill people.

As militaries seek to develop AI-driven weapons that can “swarm” adversaries, and as governments may be tempted to patrol their borders with robots that can use deadly force, Conn warns that if these weapons aren’t banned soon, “lethal autonomous weapons could become ultra-cheap, easily accessible weapons of mass destruction.”

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