Tag: peace talks

New Minsk, Not Quite the Same as the Old Minsk

After a grueling seventeen hours of negotiation, German, French, Ukrainian, and Russian leaders emerged with a compromise agreement aimed at ending the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Although similar to last September’s failed Minsk accords, the new deal provides more details on timing and implementation, which may help a ceasefire to hold. After so many prior failures, strong skepticism is understandable. But if U.S. and European leaders actually commit to the specifics of the deal, it can provide Ukraine with much-needed time to rebuild, reform and address its dire economic problems.

The all-night negotiations between leaders in Belarus showed how far apart the parties were on a number of key issues, including whether the deal should rely on the boundaries laid out in the Minsk I ceasefire, or on the current situation in Eastern Ukraine. Since rebel forces have made substantial territorial gains since September, neither side is keen to concede on the issue. Other issues, including which side will control border crossings into Russia, and the withdrawal of foreign fighters and equipment, proved equally thorny.

Admittedly, the deal still leaves many issues unsettled. It calls for an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weapons and a demilitarized buffer zone in Eastern Ukraine.  It also mandates constitutional reform to allow the eastern regions increased autonomy, as well as amnesty for those involved in the fighting. But the issue of boundary lines is left effectively unsolved, requiring Kiev to adhere to the current front lines when withdrawing weaponry, and the rebels to adhere instead to the boundaries agreed upon in September. There is also no real mechanism to ensure compliance, although the situation will be monitored  by the OSCE.

Still, Minsk II provides more concrete details on each issue, which may help this deal to succeed. Timing is more clearly defined for the start of the ceasefire, the removal of troops and heavy weapons, the creation of the buffer zone, while all constitutional reforms and elections are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2015. The sequencing of events is also more clearly defined: the agreement calls for control of the border to be returned to Ukraine only after new elections in the region, which themselves must follow constitutional reform in Kiev. Since Minsk I’s failure can be attributed in part to disagreement between both sides over who would implement such steps first, this is a welcome change. The restoration of social transfers from Kiev to residents in rebel-controlled areas is also welcome, and may serve to reduce some of the misery in the region.

Are Our Goals in Afghanistan ‘Fairly Modest’?

In an interview that aired yesterday on CBS’s Early Show, President Obama said his objective for Afghanistan is “fairly modest.”

On its face, the mission seems modest enough: “don’t allow terrorists to operate from this region; don’t allow them to create big training camps and to plan attacks against the US homeland with impunity.” In reality, such a policy is not modest in the least. A commitment to never allow terrorists to resurface not only serves as a convenient rationale to prolong the mission but also as an open-ended justification to intervene anywhere in the world without hesitation.

Moreover, the president claims that strengthening the capacity of a sovereign Afghan government will enhance America’s security, but the basis of this correlation is never explicitly clarified. It’s also unclear how promoting “a more capable, accountable and effective” Afghan government; cracking down on the cultivation of illegal narcotics; providing economic assistance to a Pakistani government that supports the very insurgents our soldiers are fighting; and enforcing Western rule of law is “fairly modest.” To imagine that we can create a functioning economy and bring major improvements to state institutions through some “government in a box,” social-engineering laboratory underscores the ignorance and arrogance of our government planners.

If indeed our goal is to monitor terrorists and prevent the creation of big training camps, rather than propping up a failed state, U.S. leaders should scale-down to a narrower counterterrorism mission that can assemble quickly and strike effectively and cheaply at “real” enemies.

Lately, it has become popular to endorse peace talks with the Taliban. After nearly a decade at war, any face-saving way out sounds intuitively appealing. But this policy prescription is not the panacea that it is made out be. Indeed, such a power-sharing deal may open a Pandora’s box.

For the U.S. and NATO, the red line to their nation-building endeavor is the Afghan constitution. Not only is this document the foundation of Afghanistan’s democratic political institutions (wobbly and imperfect as they may be), but it also enshrines the legal and political rights of the Afghan people we ostensibly seek to protect. For the U.S. and NATO to scale down its presence in Afghanistan–and because there is no assurance that the Taliban will adhere to these new political and social conditions–peace talks implicitly demand a third-party with the wherewithal to enforce the terms of any power-sharing agreement. Enter: a prolonged U.S.-NATO occupation of Afghanistan.

Unless the Taliban acquiesce to the norms introduced since the 2001 invasion, there is little to stop them from committing actions in flagrant violation of any shared agreement. In this respect, peace talks with the senior Taliban leadership must commit the residual presence of U.S. troops long after our official date of withdrawal.

In short, no agreement, law, treaty, or contract is self-reinforcing. And unless the United States is prepared to enforce the conditions of a power-sharing agreement, it should  renounce its commitment to spread the legal rights articulated in the Afghan constitution.