The year 2007 has left many issues of international relations unresolved. In almost every geographical region, tensions and challenges demand coordinated, focused attention. It is the way these political, economic, social and environmental problems are addressed that will shape the course of human events in 2008.
In 2007, the number of suicide attacks in Afghanistan has soared, aid workers and other civilians are increasingly being targeted, and the Taliban have resurfaced as a major power even in formerly peaceful regions.
In response to this, NATO allies have found themselves bickering over the "right" strategy for their mission in Afghanistan and have thus underscored the challenges facing the alliance six years after US-led forces invaded the country.
Germany in particular has been routinely criticized by the United States for refusing to allow their troops in Afghanistan to join US forces on the front line against the Taliban in the insurgents' southern strongholds.
US and British pleas for multilateral assistance also say much about the health of NATO itself, and the way this mission is seen as a test of the alliance's political will and military capabilities. Yet, while some blame the alliance's organisation, others find fault outside NATO's structure.
One major issue for the alliance will be to debate and define Pakistan's role in Afghanistan and another will be how they deal with the influx of Taliban and Al-Qaeda extremists from the tribal areas. The success of the mission also depends on a better harmonization of the international community in Afghanistan, as lack thereof has led to a sub-optimal use of the resources used so far.
Consequently, there have been calls for the creation of a "super-envoy", who would coordinate NATO's 40,000-strong peacekeeping force, a smaller US-led military coalition, the EU police mission and the UN presence in Afghanistan. Yet, the creation of such a high-powered post could rile sensitive Afghans and add to tension among international bodies on the ground. The allies need to overcome their differences and agree on a strategy to stabilize Afghanistan, with additional resources, if needed. The future of NATO is set to be decided in Afghanistan this year.
The Annapolis conference in November 2007 has raised hopes for a possible solution to the decade-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Defying all expectations, the meeting, chaired by US President Bush, achieved a pledge by the parties involved to begin immediate negotiations with a goal of reaching a peace treaty, based on a two-state-solution, by the end of 2008. Recent efforts by President Bush, who travelled to the Middle East in January 2008, have given the peace process a much needed sense of urgency. This can be explained by the fact that Mr. Bush only has this one year of his presidency left. Bush, much like Bill Clinton in 2000, seems keen on securing his legacy as visionary of a better, more peaceful and democratic world.
Nonetheless, the basic issues of confrontation remain, and while the good intentions might be there, the plans have to be realised quickly, if history is any guide: similar promises were made and similar enthusiasm was displayed after President Bush Sr's 1991, President Clinton's 2000 and President Bush Jr's 2003 peace talks; despite that optimism, the conflict is still unresolved.
Ultimately, with a considerable effort by the Middle East Peace Quartet and its new European envoy Tony Blair, 2008 could actually be the year where the road map is finally implemented, ensuring Palestinians their long-promised homeland and helping make Israel more secure. It could also diminish the appeal of Islamic extremism and begin to repair the West's battered relationship with the Muslim world. This, however, is only possible if Europe and the US can work together.
Following the passing of an international deadline to broker a deal between Serbia and its breakaway region of Kosovo in December 2007, the once war-torn province regained a lot of attention. Now that Kosovo has unilaterally declared independence on Sunday, February 17, the stage has been set for new tensions between Russia and the West and possible instability in the Balkans. Already, the move has provoked violent reactions from its ethnic Serb minority and fuelled a growing dispute between the West and Russia, with the latter likely to refuse Kosovo's membership of the UN and all other international bodies where it has a veto.
In the face of renewed insecurity in the Balkans, a common transatlantic position on the issue would be very helpful, especially since NATO, under UN resolution 1244, still acts as protecting power of Kosovo, with currently over 16,000 soldiers from 37 nations. While most,but not all, western countries welcomed Kosovo's declaration, Security Council members Russia and China have expressed outright opposition and "grave concern," warning of a possible return to conflict in the region. In addition, a number of EU states, such as Cyprus and Spain, fear that Kosovo's independence could set a precedent for separatist claims by their own minorities.
The transatlantic alliance, and Europe especially, must now ensure the road to EU membership remains open for Kosovo and the rest of the western Balkans, especially Serbia. This perspective gives local leaders an over-riding aim attractive enough to bring together even people divided by war and ethnic differences. In this context, the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) mission to bring the rule of law to Kosovo could prove a step in the right direction. Yet, there is a risk that Kosovo becomes dependent on these missions and thus simply an EU protectorate.
Meanwhile, Russia has rightly not yet been allowed a veto over Kosovo’s future. The challenge in 2008 for the West will be to manage Kosovo's independence without prodding Moscow over the issue. The sooner Kosovo ceases to be a point of east-west conflict, the better for Kosovo and the whole of its troubled region.
The results of the recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iran's nuclear program have revealed, surprisingly perhaps, that Iran stopped its nuclear enrichment program in 2003. Yet the report reveals nothing distinctly different from previous findings, and remains ambiguous on whether Tehran has restarted its military program. Nevertheless, the ensuing debate could prove critical to long-term transatlantic strategy on Iran."
The strategic implications of the new NIE suggest that Iran may opt for an ambiguous nuclear strategy to reduce pressure for new international sanctions but simultaneously retain its strategic weight in the international scene.
The report also implies that the EU should continue with their diplomatic approach despite US calls for more unilateral sanctions. Such an approach should be based on a broad international consensus which clearly communicates that the issue is proliferation and not the nature of the Iranian regime, and which comes with an earnest offer of dialogue and engagement. Negotiations should also aim at strengthening the more moderate pragmatic Iranian forces in the political dialogue. This is especially important, as parliamentary elections in Iran are due in March 2008.
Slowly, even the US seems to be realizing that threats of war alone will not have an effect on the Iranian regime: President Bush's visit to the Middle East in January 2008 could be interpreted as an attempt to form a strategic anti-Iran coalition in the region.
Lastly, the report implies that the Iran management debate can, in 2008, focus more on longer-term requirements for both negotiation with Iran and for the containment of a nuclear threat.
Benjamin Lucas Schoo is a member of the Atlantic Community's editorial team. Born and raised in Luxembourg, he attended the European School of Luxembourg and the University of York, where he completed his B.A. in Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) in July 2007.
Related Materials on the Atlantic Community:
- Dieter Farwick: NATO at Crossroads - Not Only in Afghanistan
- Anatol Lieven: America Holds the Key to Mideast Peace
- Members of the Atlantic Community on Kosovo: Making the Transition
- Ralf Fuecks: Iran is Still Dangerous: The United States Must Negotiate