Foreign Policy

A few miles from Houla, a massacre hits home

BEIRUT - Pulling into the Lebanese Army checkpoint at Wadi Khaled, bustling Beirut seemed a world away. Thick gray clouds hugged the mountainside, and a fierce wind whipped across the roadway. A text message on one of our cell phones welcomed us to Syria - an indication of just how close we were to that war-torn country.

It was a foreboding way for my Refugees International colleagues and me to start our afternoon in this remote region, where displacement and cross-border violence have become the norm in recent months. Villagers have been kidnapped, journalists have been shot at by Syrian border guards, and aid deliveries were briefly cut off this month as the violence escalated.


US taxpayers aid to UNRWA tops $10 billion

A battle erupted on Capitol Hill over the mandate of the organization charged with disbursing international aid to Palestinian refugees. Last week, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) challenged the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for including the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of Palestinian refugees among those who qualify for support. The addition of these descendants has inflated the numbers of refugees on UNRWA’s books from 750,000 in 1949 to 5 million today, making the problem nearly impossible to solve.


Safe zones needed on Syria's borders

After three stalled diplomatic attempts to stop Syrian President Bashar Assad's government from killing thousands of unarmed civilians, it's time for the international community to intervene. The United States should partner with its allies to establish safe zones on the borders of countries neighboring Syria.

Since popular demonstrations began more than a year ago, Syria's democracy movement has evolved into a national uprising. Like their counterparts in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Syrians took to the streets to demand political reforms. In response, the Assad regime has offered lip service to reform but in fact has confronted peaceful protesters with military force and a campaign of atrocities.


'UNRWA reform' effort will harm Middle East peace effort

Israel’s friends in Washington are at it again, working to discredit the United Nations and its specialized agencies in the Middle East. Last October, the chief target of their wrath was the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) because its member states admitted Palestine as a member after more than two-thirds rejected American intimidation and chose to vote in favor. In response, and after much pressure from pro-Israel groups and U.S. Congress, the Obama Administration announced that it would eliminate its funding to UNESCO – crippling the organization. This time the chief target of the pro-Israel lobby’s wrath is the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) that was established in 1949 to provide assistance and protection for the now 5 million Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza, who had fled or been expelled during the hostilities when Israel was established in 1948.


Lebanon is close to tipping point

BEIRUT - Lebanon is a country of tremendous complexity. But the country's mood today can probably be summed up in one word: tense. It may not seem that way to tourists in Beirut, where the mix of cosmopolitan nightlife and Mediterranean views is enough to keep any visitor occupied. But residents say that the bars are not as busy as they once were. Soldiers are patrolling streets where they would have been absent a few months before. More and more people are arming themselves, and have been using those arms in clashes in Beirut and Tripoli.

Some claim that this does not represent a trend: "This is Lebanon," they say, "these things just happen sometimes." But many more are genuinely worried - and their worries are rooted across the border in Syria. Looking at their giant neighbor, they see horrendous violence that shows no signs of stopping, a failing UN monitoring mission, and rising militancy on both sides. They also see a country on which they have depended - economically, politically, and militarily - for decades, and whose problems could very quickly become their own.


EU and US - Strategic partners in peace and security

The majority of the world's current crises take place within a 7-hour flight from Brussels. From the Balkans to North Africa and the Middle East, the world faces wide-ranging challenges that require different nuanced responses in each situation. The European Union has taken the lead in responding to many of these "hot zones" through a mix of civilian and military crisis management and conflict prevention operations as part of our Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP).

Thousands of EU personnel are currently staffing 13 active peace-keeping missions around the world in fragile states. Civilian missions help train police in Afghanistan, establish the rule of law in Iraq, and contribute to Kosovo’s efforts to develop an independent and multi-ethnic justice system and police and customs services. Military operations have helped stabilize conflict zones in the Western Balkans and parts of Africa. Our most important naval operation to date—EUNAVFOR Atalanta—helps deter, prevent, and repress acts of piracy and armed robbery on the high seas and protects vulnerable vessels cruising off the Somali coast.


Why U.S. Senate should ratify Law of the Sea Treaty

What do Somali pirates, polar bears and the Chinese government have in common? Aside from reasons to resent the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, not a whole lot.

The treaty, also known as UNCLOS, forms the legal foundation under which Somali pirates are prosecuted, regulates activity in the polar bear’s habitat as it melts, and undercuts the territorial claims behind the Chinese government’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea. And with the heads of the Defense and State Departments, along with the U.S.’s highest-ranking military officer, lobbying the Senate on Wednesday to take up the treaty, this week marked the beginning of the Obama Administration’s official push to ratify the treaty once and for all.


Nuclear weapons - Something we can all agree on

The future of U.S. nuclear weapons is being hotly contested in bitter Congressional debates over the budget. The result is serious uncertainty in defense planning, and that comes with a cost. When nuclear policy is left to be blown about by erratic political winds, there are frequent and sharp changes in direction—changes that are expensive for the American taxpayer, reduce the effectiveness of what we procure, confuse allies, and risk unnecessarily exacerbating tensions with potential foes.
We are two nuclear experts who disagree on a lot, including whether the United States should pursue the eventual abolition of nuclear weapons. In spite of these differences, however, we both agree the U.S. nuclear enterprise must be modernized and additional arms control measures should be pursued. And what we can agree on, if implemented consistently, would provide some much needed stability in the U.S. approach to the weighty issues of nuclear weapons.


For America, Law of the Sea Treaty is a loss of sovereignty

Between secret deals with Russia to weaken our missile defense, the relaxation of conditions on military aid to Egypt, and the granting of visas to the progeny of a dictatorial Cuban regime – just to name a few troubling actions – the current Administration’s flippant attitude toward America’s sovereignty and its role on the world stage is a major cause for concern. This concern is not eased by the Administration’s latest efforts: A push to ratify the United Nations’ Law of the Sea Treaty.
The Law of the Sea Treaty seeks to regulate and limit the use of the world’s oceans for commercial use and environmental management and would determine the extent to which national territory extends off a nation’s coasts. In doing so, the treaty ignores centuries of already established international practices regarding freedom of navigation on the seas and would empower multiple U.N.-established bureaucracies.


NATO's failure to reopen Pakistani supply routes

Early in the morning on Nov. 24, 2011, two NATO Apache helicopters, an AC-130 gunship and two F-15 strike fighters entered the Mohmand Agency in Northwest Pakistan from Afghanistan and struck two Pakistani border patrol checkpoints, killing 24 soldiers. Pakistan officials protested about the strike, the Pakistani public remains up in arms about the deaths of 24 soldiers, and the Pakistani government canceled NATO access to the Shamsi Airfield (which used to host the flying Predator drones) and to vital Pakistani supply routes.

In the meantime, the United States had been building an alternative to Pakistan. Starting in 2008, the United States began inking deals with various countries in Central Asia and Europe, including Russia, to create a Northern Distribution Network (NDN) that would allow the United States to break its reliance on Pakistani territory to resupply the war effort. When Pakistan closed down its supply routes, it found, suddenly, that it didn’t have quite the same leverage over the United States it once did. The United States could still run the war, even if the northern resupply cost more than the old Pakistan-based routes.