By Prabasi Nepali
Nepalese Peacekeepers in War-Torn Libya
Last week only the government-owned The Rising Nepal (TRN) covered an important event among all the English dailies. To recapitulate, The Himalayan Times praises itself as “Nepal’s No.1 English Daily”; The Kathmandu Post considers itself “Nepal’s Largest Selling English Daily”, and Republica is in a class of its own as it is published “in association & distributed with” The New York Times! However, they all missed out in reporting “NA to be first peacekeeping force in Libya” (TRN). Last Tuesday, the Chief of the Army Staff (CoAS), RajendraChhetri inspected the NA peacekeepers to be deployed in Libya at the Birendra Peace Operation Training Centre in Panchkhal.
According to Col. Prayog Jung Rana, the commandant at the training centre, the NA troops will be the first UN peacekeepers to be stationed in the war-ravaged country. Back in May of this year, Italy had retracted from its pledge to send 5,000 troops to the country, in spite of being Libya’s former colonial master and the most proximate European country to the failing state. In addition, in the shifting sea routes of Europe’s refugee crisis, Libya may be the springboard and Italy the nearest destination as the next big migrant route. MatteoRenzi, Italy’s prime minister, said then that his country would be taking a “different route” in coordinating the international response to Libya’s descent into anarchy. At the international meeting in Vienna, also attended by US Secretary of State John Kerry, it was then decided that the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSML) would be bolstered by Nepalese troops.
Nepal is one of the world’s top 10 providers of UN peacekeepers and had then committed to provide up to 5,000 of them should the United Nations request them. As of spring this year, Nepal already was providing 4,363 peacekeepers to 15 UN Missions, including Haiti, South Sudan, Congo, Syria and Lebanon. According to Col. Rana, the NA troops will work as a peace stabilizer force for a year as no other UN member nation was willing to send their forces to Libya. Thus, the NA peace force will be the first and historic contingent among all multinational peace-keeping contributing nations to show physical presence in Libya. The NA peacekeepers would provide escorting and extraction of UN officials if they get trapped by any armed force within the country. The Nepalese contingent will be led by commandant Lt.Col. Subhash Jung Thapa.
The former CoAS of NA, Gen. PrajwolShumsher J.B. Rana has welcomed the deployment of Nepalese peace-keepers to Libya as in the grand tradition of the NA, and as an opportunity to showcase Nepal’s major contribution to maintain international peace and security in these uncertain times.
Austria Avoids Electing Far-Right President
On Sunday, Austrians voted in a re-run of a presidential election which pitted far-right Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer against former Green Party head Alexander Van der Bellen. The vote last May was narrowly won by Van der Bellen, but the result was overturned by Austria’s highest court because of irregularities in the count. He won the recount too. Although the head of state role is largely ceremonial, the vote was watched closely in Europe as a barometer of how well populist candidates will do in upcoming general elections next year in France, the Netherlands and Germany.
Hofer had campaigned on an anti-immigration platform, and initially said Austria could follow Britain’s vote to leave the EU with a referendum of its own — ‘Oexit’ (a reference to Austria’s name in German, Oesterreich). He said that Germany’s decision to open its doors to refugees was a major mistake that has inflicted massive costs on the entire EU, as well as Austria and taxpayers. Austria has rejected the far-right candidate, but it is too small to know whether the populist tide is retreating. Then, there is, of course, Italy –- the counter example.
Italy in the Political Doldrums
Also on Sunday, Italians voted in a referendum which was also closely watched for further signs of anti-establishment sentiment in Europe. The vote called by centre-left Prime Minister MatteoRenzi, was formally on plans to streamline parliament, but was expected to be used by many as a chance to register discontent — as in the U.K. This turned out to be the case, and Renzi lost badly and has tendered his resignation. Italy now faces uncertain times, and the Euro itself is floundering. Italy has had 60 governments since 1948.
The “No” campaign was spearheaded by the anti-establishment Five Star Movement. It wants a referendum on whether Italy should keep the Euro. This and the anti-immigrant Northern League, another populist movement, will now receive a boost from Renzi’s setback. Furthermore, this will also reignite concerns about financial stability in the Eurozone’s third largest economy (after Germany and France).
The Italian president will now either ask Renzi to form a new caretaker government or appoint a technocrat as PM to serve until general elections due in 2018.
Trump Appoints Former General as Defense Minister
US President-elect Donald J. Trump has chosen retired four-star Marine General James N. Mattis to serve as his administration’s Secretary of Defense (minister). He will be the first former ranking general to assume secretary’s rank since George Marshall was appointed Secretary of State (foreign minister/ 1947-49) after the Second World War. He initiated the momentous US program of reconstruction and developmentin Western Europe known as the “Marshall Plan” and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953.
Gen. Mattis, 66, led a Marine division to Baghdad during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. His last posting was at the US Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, from 2010 to 2013. His tour of duty there was cut short by the Obama administration, which believed he was too hawkish on Iran. However, he was courted by both the campaigns of Trump and Hillary Clinton, and was also invited to speak at their political conventions, but declined. After retiring, Gen. Mattis told Congress that the Obama administration’s “policy of disengagement in the Middle East” had contributed to the rise of extremism in the region. He reminded lawmakers in 2015 that the United States needs to “come out from our reactive crouch and take a firm, strategic stance in defence of our values.”
The Defense Secretary in spediffers markedly from his future boss in some important policy areas. He considers, for instance, Trump’s conciliatory statements towards Russia as ill-advised. He views with apprehension Moscow’s expansionist or bellicose policies in Syria, Ukraine and the Baltics. He also believes –like the outgoing director of the CIA – that dismantling the Iran nuclear deal would not be in the strategic interests of the United States. He has already told the president-elect that torture does not work. If Gen. Mattis remains steadfast in his convictions, there certainly will be internal tensions in the new administration — not for nothing has he been nicknamed “mad dog” Mattis. Moreover, currently he is probably the most well-read US general, and Trump will have difficulty in claiming offhand that he knows more about the Islamic State (IS/ISIL/Daesh) than the generals!
Trump’s (Non)Diplomatic Skills on Show
According to The Washington Post, one of the chief concerns about President-elect Donald Trump in foreign policy “was that the brash and notoriously loose-lipped real executive wouldn’t be able to handle the delicate balancing act that is diplomacy. It’s one thing to make wild claims domestically; it’s another to inflame a fellow world power with a careless word or two.”Last week, he managed to exacerbate the other world power — China. From ‘would be’ world power Russia came words of wisdom, or caution (?). Russian President Vladimir Putin underlined that Trump’s business accomplishments revealed him as a “smart man”. At the same time very Delphic: “if he is a smart man, that means that he will fairly soon become aware of a different level of responsibility. We expect that he act with these considerations in mind.”
Trump’s controversial conversation with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen ran counter to the “One China” policy pursued by the US since the 1970s, since such a dialogue generally symbolizes government recognition. Of course, the US has trade and other relations with Taiwan, but not at the highest level! Since China considers Taiwan a province, the US has scrupulously avoidedcontacts at higher levels. Trump and his advisers are either very naïve, or have no knowledge of history and international relations — or both. If Trump continues to behave like a bull in a china shop, we can look forward to very interesting times
Dance of Small, Great & World Powers
By Prabasi Nepali