28/12/2013

The Importance of Hope

Amidst the celebrations of the holiday season, there is an element of hope in all messages; hope for health and happiness in the new year, hope for seeing friends and family more often, hope for peace and prosperity, etc.

What is the importance of hope? The recent manifestations in Ukraine are an excellent example. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in icy weather to protest the refusal of President Yanukovitch to sign an accession agreement with the European Union (EU). There was never any promise by the EU that the agreement would lead to eventual membership. Nor were there any promises by the EU that it would bail out Ukraine from its catastrophic economic situation. The people of Ukraine were in the streets because they had hope that being affiliated with Europe would give them a better future.

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16/12/2013

Ukraine and the Art of Creative Diplomacy

When most people think of diplomats, they think of aristocratic families and their descendants who attend private schools like Eton, Harrow or Le Rosey and universities like Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard or ENA. When most people think of diplomacy, they think of flying on special planes, feasting at fancy receptions in elegant embassies, sleeping in luxurious suites in hotels like the Hotel Intercontinental or savoring haute cuisine meals in restaurants like the Perle de Lac.

One does not think of diplomats as being creative. However, there are situations in which creativity is needed to get out of seemingly intractable situations. The current crisis in Ukraine is an excellent example. A large country with over 40 million citizens, Ukraine appears torn between entering into a customs union with the Russian Federation and some former Soviet Republics and an accession agreement with the European Union (EU). President Viktor Yanukovich said he would sign the EU agreement in Vilnius at the end of November, then changed his mind and appeared in Russia negotiating with President Putin. No one, perhaps even Yanukovich, knows his intentions.

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06/12/2013

Kiev, the OSCE and the Swiss Chairmanship

It’s cold in Kiev. No, this is not a weather report, though it is freezing here. Rather, it is a reflection on the current political turmoil since the Ukrainian President, Viktor Yanukovitch, did not sign an accession agreement with the European Union (EU) at the end of November in Vilnius. Protesters are braving the weather to gather in squares in the center of the city to express their clear desire to have Ukraine become an official part of Europe rather than join a customs union with Russia. European Union flags are being sold by street vendors, Ukrainian flags on cars are another sign of support, although the manifestations are very limited to a specific area in downtown Kiev.

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28/11/2013

Friend or Ally? The United States and Israel/Saudi Arabia

Peace seems to be breaking out in the Middle East. An agreement has been reached with Iran to curb the development of its potential military nuclear program. The United States and the Islamic Republic are publicly talking. Over thirty years of diplomatic isolation appears to have ended. In addition, and not unrelated, a date has been set for a major conference in Geneva to stop the horrendous civil war in Syria. Diplomacy is working; sabers have been put back in their sheaths. Geneva is back in the news; the Hotel Intercontinental is doing land office business.

There are, however, two countries that are not jumping up with joy over the above.

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18/11/2013

The Importance of Nostalgia and the Kennedy Assassination

The 50th anniversary of the assassination of John Kennedy has brought forth an enormous amount of interest. Films about Jack and Jackie have flooded the television screens; interviews have replayed the terrible scenes of Dallas, the swearing in of LBJ, the salute of John John at the funeral, the riderless horse following the procession. Conspiracy theorists have been widely quoted; new evaluations of the famous 1000 days continue to be printed.

Why all this interest? During a recent interview, I was asked why so many people get emotional when analyzing the importance of JFK. And I admit I was as emotional as the others being interviewed. The tapes of the shooting, the arrest of Oswald and the second shooting, all came vividly back. Fifty years ago we were glued to our television sets for those horrible four days. We were not aware that history was being made; we just wanted to know what was happening, to have people help us understand what was going on.

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16:26 Publié dans Democracy, USA | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) |  Imprimer |  Facebook | | | |

06/11/2013

The Sadness of November and the Kennedy Assassination

November is a sad month. Christmas is not yet here and we are between brilliant fall colors and crackling snow. As we approach the 50th anniversary of the death of President John Kennedy in November 1963, there is an added sadness. For those of a generation that remember him, it was a defining moment, a moment when we witnessed a national trauma that transformed us. Later, we would witness the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy, but the death of John Kennedy was something unique that changed how we saw and continue to see the world.

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19:12 Publié dans USA | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) |  Imprimer |  Facebook | | | |

28/10/2013

Thoughts on the Upcoming Geneva Election and Democratic Deficits

Geneva citizens will soon be electing the seven members of the executive branch of the Cantonal government. The second round of voting, established by the new Constitution, will take place on November 10. Although it is reasonably simple to explain the system of voting and the election procedure, there are two particularities that remain puzzling.

There are seven members of the Geneva executive because there are seven departments. However, when voting in the election, citizens are only asked to select the candidates without any reference to which department the person will head if elected. In other words, we will be voting for individuals as members of political parties with no knowledge about which part of the government the elected will head. When voting, how many citizens will vote for a candidate thinking that that person is eminently qualified for a specific job which the person may not wind up getting?

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21/10/2013

A Final Word (Hopefully) on the U.S. Shutdown

How to evaluate the outcome of the 16 day U.S. government shutdown? Most “referees” judge that President Obama won by a knockout. “Republicans backed down,” we are told. “The President got an extension of the budget and the debt ceiling without caving in to Tea Party demands. In addition, Republicans are being blamed. No contest.”

There are, however, more losers than just the Republican Party. The image of the United States as the world leader was seriously damaged. How can the rest of the world rely on the dollar as the global currency when the Congress cannot responsibly manage its national budget and debt ceiling?

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10:34 Publié dans obama, Populism, USA | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0) |  Imprimer |  Facebook | | | |

08/10/2013

The Consequences of the Rise of Populism in the U.S. and Geneva

A question making the rounds during the shutdown in the U.S. asks: “What’s the difference between terrorists and the Republican Tea Party?” Answer: “At least you can negotiate with terrorists.” Having failed to overturn President Obama’s overhauling of the country’s health system, the Republicans are now threatening to have the U.S. default on all its payments on October 17. The Suicide Caucus, as it is known, failed over 40 times to pass bills to repeal Obamacare; now House Republicans are trying to defund the entire government.   

Their motive is that any form of national health insurance is leading the country down the slippery slope of socialism, and obviously ruin. And from this position they will not budge. Led by a group of 80 or so members of Congress from safe districts, they are willing to not only furlough 800,000 federal government workers but on October 17 to have the government default on its debt obligations, which will send shockwaves throughout the world.

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01/10/2013

The Difficulty of Aligning Emotions and Politics

The recent positive Swiss vote on maintaining obligatory military service was an important statement. Beyond strategic considerations of how the country can best be defended, there was a certain part of the population saying that conscription re-inforces national identity. In a country with three distinct languages and cultures, the military experience has long been considered an important element in creating a sense of national unity.

Belonging to some group matters. We all like to feel that we are members of a community. From the very local to the national level, people’s identities are crucial to their emotional well being. While in many ways societies have evolved from tribes and clans, there is no question that belonging still matters, even if it means sharing feelings with others on Facebook or Twitter. Virtual communities are still communities, and in many ways reflect nostalgia for being with others through modern technology in spite of the loss of face-to-face interaction.

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22/09/2013

New Examples of Chutzpah by Sudan and the United States

The classic definition of the New York expression chutzpah is that of an only child who pleads clemency to the court because he is an orphan after murdering his parents. Two new examples of chutzpah have appeared surrounding the proposed visit of the Sudanese leader Omar Hassan al-Bashir to the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.


According to an article in the New York Times of September 18, the President of Sudan has submitted a visa request to attend the U.N. meeting in New York. The United States, as the host country, is obliged to grant visas to foreign heads of states who wish to attend. The chutzpah of Mr. al-Bashir is that he is under indictment by the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.) on genocide charges stemming from mass killings committed in Sudan’s Darfur region. If the visa were granted, he would be the first visiting head of state to visit the United Nations in New York while under indictment by the International Court. Leaders who have been violently opposed to the U.S. like Fidel Castro or Nikita Khrushchev were never under criminal indictment.

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12/09/2013

Kerry - Lavrov: a most interesting reset of the reset button

                In March 2009, Hillary Clinton presented Sergey Lavrov with a reset button in Geneva. The symbolic gesture was to usher in a new era of a cooperative relationship between the United States and the Russian Federation. No more missile crisis, no more pounding shoes on a desk at the United Nations. If the fall of the Berlin Wall had symbolized the end of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the gift of the reset button was supposed to symbolize the beginning of positive cooperation.

                Things did not work out that way. President Medvedev was replaced by President Putin and the atmosphere surrounding his relationship with Barack Obama has been described as chilly at best. The high (or low) point of that relationship occurred when President Obama canceled a meeting with the Russian President in Moscow before the recent G20 summit in St. Petersburg. The ostensible reason for the cancellation was the Federation’s granting of asylum to Edward Snowden, considered a traitor by the United States for leaking secret information about the National Security Agency’s eavesdropping activities, an obvious poke in the eye to the United States.

                How are we to understand the meeting in Geneva between Lavrov and John Kerry on September 12? How are we to understand the U.S./Russian cooperation on Syria? Is this the beginning of a true reset in the relationship?

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08/09/2013

Judgment by the Other in Syria and Switzerland

President Obama has made two decisions that are fundamentally undemocratic. No, I do not mean the potential bombing of Syria nor the request for Congress’ approval. First, President Obama has decided that his intelligence service’s analysis that President Assad has used chemical weapons is correct. Second, he has decided that he, representing the United States, speaks for the entire world. “I didn’t draw the red line, “ he said. “The international community drew the red line.”

Democracy is not just a system of voting. It is based on the recognition that others have the right to decide what an entire population should do. In a democracy, those in the minority must accept the majority’s will. The minority accepts the majority’s decision hoping that sometime in the future the roles will be reversed.

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29/08/2013

50 Years After: President Obama's Speech Commemorating the March on Washington

Dr. Martin Luther King's August 28, 1963, speech "I Have a Dream" has become an iconic moment. Before over 250,000 people in front of the Lincoln Memorial, King captured the hopes of millions of Americans for racial equality in a deeply divided country. Over time, the speech has become a rallying cry throughout the world for freedom movements, from behind the Iron Curtain to South Africa.

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27/08/2013

Fifty Years after the March on Washington

The August 28, 1963, March on Washington was an emotional and political watershed. Over 250,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial during the centennial year of the Emancipation Proclamation, which had officially ended slavery in 1863. The highlight of the March was a short speech part sermon that has become a rallying cry for other freedom movements throughout the world. The riveting “I Have a Dream” by Martin Luther King Jr. was part optimism about the future and part realism that the promises of equality following the Civil War had not yet been met. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was the legislative culmination of the civil rights movement and the March. Despite ferocious, often physical opposition, legal segregation was finally ended in the United States.

The recent celebration of the 50th anniversary of the March in the U.S. was a bittersweet moment. 

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15/08/2013

Switzerland’s Image Abroad: Thinking of Nicolas Bideau

This past week has not been a good one for Switzerland’s image abroad. The American TV and film star Oprah Winfrey went very public with accusations that she was the victim of racism in an exclusive store in Zurich, although she later played down the implications of the accusation. Whether or not the charges are true or merely publicity for her and her new film, the Swiss Tourism office was forced to apologize, which they later said might have been premature. On top of that, the international media was reporting that Bremgarten in the Swiss canton of Aargau had introduced several "exclusion zones" for asylum seekers, including public swimming pools and sports facilities.

Nicolas Bideau is the Head of Presence Switzerland, the person primarily responsible for Switzerland’s image abroad. The seasoned diplomat - educated in China, having served in the Swiss Embassy in India, former diplomatic advisor to Pascal Couchepin during his Presidency of the Confederation as well as the former Mr. Cinema Swiss - is reported to be vacationing on a Greek island.

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12/08/2013

The End of the Arab Spring?

With continuing tensions and violence in Egypt, a horrendous civil war in Syria with over a million refugees and internally displaced persons destabilizing neighboring countries, assassinations in Tunisia, a supposed plot to seize an oil port in Yemen, it is perhaps understandable for people to ask what has happened to the Arab Spring.

Rather than answer that question directly, it would be better to revisit the so called Arab Spring itself. In other words, before questioning whether something has faded or died, it is important to understand what we are talking about in the first place. In his famous book, Orientalism, Edward Said argued that the Western world had created a vision of the Orient and the Middle East from a biased point of view. The Eurocentric vision, according to Said, helped justify what he saw as colonial or imperial activities by the West. By caricaturizing Arabs in a certain way, the West could sell weapons, extract oil, and invade in the name of the international community. Said’s central point is that Western academics and diplomats saw the Orient from their perspective and used it for their interests.

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29/07/2013

Roger Federer, Meritocracy, Bottom Line and Corporatization

Evaluating success or failure is always difficult. One of the reasons why I enjoy playing and watching sports is that there is usually a winner and loser, at least in the three major American sports; basketball, baseball and football. On the other hand, surgeons will often say “I did my best,” rather than pronounce success or failure. Doctors are evaluated according to “faute de moyen,” not “faute de resultat.” The mantras of sports and business are win or lose, make money or lose money; no one wants to know how hard you tried.

Roger Federer has now lost in three consecutive tennis tournaments to players he would have beaten easily when he was dominating the sport. In the past month, the Swiss star, considered by many to be the greatest player of all time, has lost to No. 116 Sergiy Stakhovsky at Wimbledon, No. 114 Federico Delbonis at Hamburg, and now No. 55 ranked Daniel Brands in only the second round at the Swiss Open. Federer has fallen to No. 5, his lowest ranking since he won Wimbledon in 2003.

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18/07/2013

Syria: U.S. Leading From Behind ?

Western countries are agonizing over what to do in Syria. As Assad’s government troops, with the aid of their allies, continue to pound cities like Homs and appear to be winning the civil war, Great Britain and its allies are hesitating in furnishing weapons to the rebels. Who are the rebels? How can we be sure that the weapons delivered will stay in the right hands? How can we be sure that the weapons will be enough to turn the tide? All these questions remain unanswered as the slaughter continues while hundreds of thousands of refugees - those who are lucky enough not to be trapped - flee the country.

But what about the United States?

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01/07/2013

Buildings are necessary, but not sufficient to keep Geneva as the capital of multilateralism

Walking through the old town of Geneva, I was once again struck by the plaque showing the meeting place of Henry Dunant, Gustave Moynier, Henri Dufour, Louis Appia and Theodore Maunoir. Near the Cathedral, on the wall of a simple building, the plaque marks the apartment where the idea for the Red Cross began.

Geneva has often been called the capital of multilateralism. With about 30,000 international civil servants and organizations like UNOG, WIPO, ILO, UNHCR, UNHCHR, WTO, ITU, WHO. IPU, WMO, UNCTAD, WEF and the ICRC, there is reason for the Genevois and Swiss to be proud of a small city being at the center of so much international activity. (Even if you are not familiar with all the above initials, please bear with me for my argument.)

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25/06/2013

Brazil, Turkey: “The Street’s the Place to Go”

Whether in Turkey or Brazil, “the street’s the place to go” (from a song by the Weather Girls). Social media has allowed hundreds of thousands to protest against government policies throughout the two countries. But questions remain about the identity of the protesters, what they are protesting against, and the outcomes desired.

 

There were two specific issues during the 1968 protests in the United States: ending racial segregation and ending the Vietnam War. Although the protests were not necessarily identical, these were the fundamental issues around which students and sympathizers coalesced. Many of the same people participated in both protest movements, united by the two progressive causes. (I will ignore those cynics who said that the real issue behind the May 1968 movements was for students to get out of final exams.)

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20/06/2013

Banking Secrecy and the Reconciliation of Swiss Values

The recent pressure on Switzerland to cooperate with the United States and eventually other countries to transmit banking information has sent shock waves from Zurich to Geneva and afar. The lower house of Parliament has voted not to consider the Federal Council’s proposal to cooperate with the American authorities. The general opinion throughout Switzerland has been of unfair intervention in internal affairs by the U.S., if not a downright violation of sovereignty. In addition, the vocabulary used bemoans capitulation before the forcing exercised by the superpower. In sum, a grave injustice is being done by the United States to Switzerland.

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11/06/2013

Edward Snowden and Acts of Conscience

A young, former C.I.A. technician has publicly stated that he was behind the recent revelations about the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs. According to a June 9 New York Times article, “he took the extraordinary step because ‘the public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong.’”

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07/06/2013

“Going down in flames if that was required”: The Limits of Liberal Interventionism

Frenzied diplomatic action is taking place in Geneva and around the world to prepare for an eventual conference to try to halt the continuing fighting and grave human rights, humanitarian law violations in Syria. Originally scheduled for June, the conference is now being touted as perhaps taking place in July in Geneva.

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29/05/2013

The Leadership Enigma

Leadership is an important quality universally admired. Courses and seminars are given on how to be a good leader. In the public and private sectors, figures like Charles de Gaulle and Steve Jobs, Mahatma Gandhi and Jack Welch are looked up to; people try to imitate their personality traits in order to achieve positions where people will follow them. Internationally, many worry that the decline of United States leadership in the post-World War II international system will leave a void, perhaps to be filled by an unwelcome China. Leadership, supposedly, is always positive.

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