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Looking Back to the Future in Gaza

| July 30, 2014

For the majority of people who are watching the current war in Gaza with sympathy for all of those being killed and dispossessed, and even for those whose empathy is confined to just one side, the current situation is bewildering and frustrating. Ceasefires are repeatedly postponed and rejected by one side or another; demands that appear reasonable but contradictory are leveled, and both sides accuse each other of horrendous war crimes. Why is this macabre dance continuing? Everyone knows there will be a ceasefire fairly soon and that it will largely be a return to the status quo ante? Why the delay?

The answer is not simple, nor is it invidious. Both sides are playing a long-term strategic game with one another, and both assume—correctly—that this will not be the last of these mini-wars. Neither side wants to grant “legitimacy” (an elusive concept at best) to the other, and needs to guard its own. And both sides have frustrated and angry constituencies to satisfy, or at least pacify (even authoritarian governments worry about public opinion, and we should not forget that Hamas was elected in one of the freest and fairest elections in the Middle East).

Every government tries to intertwine its own political survival with the fundamental interests of the country and population it governs. That provides it with the legitimacy it needs to function. Indeed, most do that in good faith whether they are democratic, authoritarian, or despotic. To understand the current conflict in Gaza, it is essential to realize that Hamas is now in the most desperate straits it has been in since its founding. This desperation has taken hold for a variety of reasons: a loss of diplomatic support from Egypt, Syria, and Iran; a loss of revenue from the tunnels to Egypt that enabled it to evade the Israeli blockade; and a consequent desperate economic situation now exacerbated by the huge amount of destruction in the current war. See Nathan Thrall’s piece in the New York Times, demonstrating how both “the West” and Israel have weakened Hamas over the past year. More …


Israel and Gaza: With Rights Come Responsibilities

| July 30, 2014

“Canada believes that Israel has every right to defend itself, by itself, from such belligerent acts of terrorism” (Foreign Minister John Baird, July 8).

True, and accepted by most of the international community, with a caveat: with rights come responsibilities.

A central responsibility, in fact a legal obligation of any belligerent in conflict, is to distinguish between civilians and legitimate military targets. Indiscriminate military action is prohibited, as is the deliberate targeting of civilians (Hamas’s indiscriminate rocketing of Israel communities is prima facie a war crime). International law acknowledges that civilian casualties might occur when military targets are attacked, but it requires warring parties to minimize injury and death among civilians. Complexity gives no dispensation from this principle, nor does the unlawful behaviour of the other side.

Further, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the statutory guardian of international humanitarian law, “if an attack is expected to cause ‘collateral civilian damages’ that are excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated, it must be cancelled or suspended” (ICRC–“International law on the conduct of hostilities: overview”). More …


Canada’s Foreign Policy: The Case for Reset

| July 29, 2014

If a different government emerges after next year’s election, a long list of priorities await it. One of them will be to review and ultimately reset our foreign policy.

During the Stephen Harper years, our trajectory has not only deviated from our traditional and once respected role, but Canada’s leadership on the world stage has been significantly diminished.

Previous Conservative and Liberal governments followed a shared foreign policy approach. Recall Brian Mulroney’s leadership on the issues of South African apartheid, free trade with the United States, and the environment. That common ground was founded on four pillars: A fundamental belief in multilateralism; a vigorous engagement with friends and foes alike; a partnership with civil society; and thinking big. More …


Why We Remember WWI

| July 29, 2014

We often prefer not to think about war, to see it as an aberration and interruption of the normal, and peaceful, state of affairs. Like it or not though, war is deeply woven into human history. A century ago the Great War broke out in Europe and in the course of the next four years drew in over twenty nations from around the world including, of course, our own country. The impact and consequences of that gigantic struggle were huge and we cannot understand the 20th century without taking that into account.

As Canadians commemorate what is now called the First World War, we should reflect that many others, from India to Serbia, are remembering it too. The war was a significant event in the history of many nations and it lies across modern history like a great shadow. Things really were different after the guns fell silent. The war, which few had expected would last for over four years, destroyed lives: 9 million soldiers died and many more were wounded, women lost husbands or those they might have married, and children grew up fatherless. More …


Ukraine: Fighting For Fields of Debris

| July 29, 2014

The grotesque tragedy of the downing of MH17 has led to a rapid escalation of the war in Ukraine, with heavy Russian arms flows to the rebels now no secret and reports of cross-border fire from both sides proliferating.

Against this backdrop of deepening war, the truth of MH17 will try to out. The Dutch, the Malaysians, and the Australians, tragically thrown together, look like an A-team for the purpose, but their unarmed police contingents and investigators are kept from the site—near the war’s front lines.

The MH17 catastrophe might yet transcend propaganda, the way Chernobyl did, the way Katrina did. It could also test President Putin as never before in the eyes of the world and of the Russian people. It will certainly colour his legacy. The present stakes are high, too. Putin would surely lose vital standing at home were his Ukrainian incursions to break bad, as they are now clearly threatening to do, dreadfully so, with the limits of the cynical strategy and masked tactics of the Kremlin’s meddling unto war in Ukraine exposed and the threat of a Slavic civil war looming, all at enormous cost to Russia’s economy, its stature in the world, and all on top of the USD$50 billion fine just slapped on Russia for taking Yukos down ten years ago. More …

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  • Rocket-Attack

    Israel’s campaign will not destroy Hamas, argues Paul Scham. It will only reinstate the status quo.

    “With a walrus moustache, a fiery temper and a reputation for brutality, Igor Bezler is the most feared of all the rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine,” writes Shaun Walker for The Guardian. And he may have been responsible for shooting down Flight MH17. Walker’s interview with Bezler ended when Bezler threatened to have the journalist shot.

  • Gaza

    Israel has the right to defend itself, says Paul Heinbecker. But it must do more to distinguish between civilians and legitimate military targets.

    In the 13 years since the ousting of the Taliban, Afghanistan has seen the return of an entrepreneurial class, writes Michael Peel for Financial Times. But with the flow of foreign money slowing and the possibility of increased violence in the future, the entrepreneurs might flee once again.

  • Harper

    Sergio Marchi on the shortcomings of Stephen Harper’s ‘hit and run’ foreign policy.


    We cannot understand the 20th century without understanding the impact of the First World War, argues Margaret MacMillan.

  • Ukraine

    Any victory Russia might achieve in Ukraine would surely be Pyrrhic, says Christopher Westdal. It is time for Moscow to cut its losses.


    The world is more stable now than ever before, and we have the two world wars to thank, argues Steve Saideman.

  • on-patrol

    Inclusive development depends on both freedom from want and freedom from fear, argues Robert Muggah.

    “Along with countless shells and missiles, what Russian President Vladimir Putin has lobbed into Ukraine is a set of ideological challenges to the post-Second World War peace built on progressive pluralism and European cooperation,” writes Doug Saunders for the Globe and Mail.

  • Somalia

    Kenyan troops were deployed in Somalia to reduce insecurity at home. Instead, the opposite has happened. Now Kenya has to decide what to do next.

    Ben Judah sketches out Putin’s private habits and routines based on a series of interviews with Russian officials in a rather personal look at “this latter-day dictator”, published by Newsweek: “He is obsessed with information. The thickest, fattest folders at his request are not intelligence reports: they are press clippings.”

  • When you’re the ambassador of a country of 100,000 people, it can be difficult to make your voice heard in a place as big as China. But when your country relies on the outside world for its livelihood, you find a way, writes Oscar Holland for That’s: “It is easy to dismiss these embassies as glorified travel agencies, but their work is wide-ranging.”


    Whatever issues Canada may have with Russia elsewhere in the world, the Arctic is no place to air them, argues Vanessa Gastaldo.

  • “Inspired by a vision of a pre-modern world with more freedom to wander, [Ecuador] has been experimenting with making political boundaries more flexible. It’s one of the world’s boldest contemporary efforts to reinvent human migration,” writes William Wheeler for The Atlantic. The results have been mixed.


    Robert Bothwell recounts how Canada found itself at war on August 4, 1914.


    Ramesh Thakur on how the Bank challenges the Western-led global economic system.


    70 years since Bretton Woods, the multilateral system is once again in need of reinvention. Brett House on what to do.