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Trouble in Chiapas: The Zapatista Revolt

Economic development in Mexico has been uneven for generations, as some blamed the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for exacerbating the nation’s income disparity and leaving southern states like Chiapas behind. Dissatisfaction with the government’s economic policies and growing resentment regarding its indifference toward Chiapas eventually led to an all-out revolt in the state. On January 1st, 1994, the day that NAFTA took effect, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, a revolutionary leftist guerrilla group, went public and began occupying several areas inside Chiapas.

The Zapatistas and their primary spokesman, a mysterious, pipe-smoking figure known as Subcomandante Marcos, quickly gained international attention. News teams swiftly descended upon Chiapas to document the revolt, anxiously awaiting Mexico City’s response. The rebels claimed several early victories, including the capture of San Cristóbal de las Casas, a prominent religious center, but counterattacks launched by the Mexican Army drove the Zapatistas into remote areas of the Lacandon Forest before the government called a truce less than two weeks later, on January 12. Read more

“Austria is Free!” Part II — Negotiating with the Soviets

For several years since the end of World War II, the U.S., UK and France had done what they could to support war-torn Austria economically and promote fledgling democratic institutions. Efforts to negotiate a treaty which would grant Austria its full independence and allow the withdrawal of the Four Powers were continuously blocked by the USSR, which was actively plundering the small country. Things changed dramatically in March 1953, with Stalin’s death and Moscow’s desire for detente with the West.

However, negotiations of this magnitude, especially with an adversary like the USSR, are fraught with tension even under the best of circumstances. The U.S. side had to sit it out and make sure it did not give in to Soviet tactics. Read more

“Austria is Free!” Post-War Vienna Escapes the Soviet Bloc

May 15th, 1955, was a momentous occasion for a war-battered Europe, and for the national history of Austria as the Foreign Ministers representing the Occupying Powers  gathered to sign the Austrian Independence Treaty. Leopold Figl, the former Chancellor and then the Foreign Minister, famously appeared on the balcony of Vienna’s Belvedere Palace (now home to a dazzling Klimt collection), waved the signed paper and uttered the words Österreich ist frei! (“Austria is free!”),

This treaty reinstated Austria’s sovereignty for the first time since the March 1938 Anschluss with Nazi Germany, which had annexed Austria and made it the province of Ostmark.  It called for the withdrawal of the four occupying state’s forces, outlawed any future Anschluss with Germany, and banned Nazism. The newly independent country formally declared its neutrality in October of that year. Read more

How a Former Secretary of State Won an Ancient Temple for Cambodia

Like many nations, Thailand and Cambodia share the colonial legacy of an ambiguous border which has led to violent conflict. Ownership of the ancient Preah Vihear Temple complex has been the subject of rancorous debate within Cambodia and Thailand since the late 19th century. In 1954, Thai troops occupied and claimed the historic site.  The two nations brought the dispute to the International Court of Justice, and Cambodia’s Prince Sihanouk hired Dean Acheson, former Secretary of State, to represent Cambodia.

Acheson built his case on the basis of colonial-era treaties to regain what the Cambodians regarded as part of their cultural heritage. After a year of deliberations, on June 15, 1962, the court ruled in Cambodia’s favor and the Thai government was forced to withdraw its troops from the temple. Acheson became a national hero in Cambodia and was awarded the Grand Cross of the Cambodian Order. Read more

A U.S.-Chinese Mid-Air Collision and “The Letter of Two Sorries”

A collision in the air, a destroyed Chinese fighter jet and a U.S. ‘spy’ plane forced to make an emergency landing at a Chinese airbase — mix together to create a maelstrom of chaos and outrage. Add in the fact that the U.S. had accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade just two years earlier and you have the makings of a real diplomatic challenge.

On April 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy EP-3 signals intelligence aircraft collided with a Chinese fighter jet some 70 miles off the Chinese island of Hainan. The Chinese jet had actually harassed the EP-3 just days earlier, getting so close that the Chinese pilot held up a piece of paper with his e-mail address, which was visible to the American crew. The collision caused both planes to lose altitude quickly — the Chinese fighter was unable to recover and was killed. Against all odds, the EP-3 somehow rolled out of its nearly inverted dive and managed to limp towards the closest air base without its nose. This airbase, however, was on Hainan, the same site that had sent the downed fighter. Read more

Tiananmen: Another Bump in China’s Road to WTO Accession

Deng Xiaoping’s 1978 Open Door policy unleashed China’s economy beyond its borders through political reforms and regional trade agreements. This led to rapid growth and China’s emergence as a major player in the global economic system. China began the process of negotiating membership in GATT, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, in July 1986, gaining observer status. However, it took fifteen years and changes in its tariff, foreign investment and industrial policies for China to be admitted to GATT’s successor organization, the World Trade Organization (WTO), on December 11, 2001.

The role of the U.S. in China’s bid for accession was complicated by competing priorities: economic security and support for freedom of global commerce vs. defense of human rights. China was among the fasting-growing markets for U.S. goods and services; conversely, imports from China to the U.S. almost doubled from 1996 to 2001. Read more

Ping Pong Diplomacy, April 1971 — Opening the Road to China

Following the Chinese Civil War and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China on the mainland, a “Bamboo Curtain,” the Chinese equivalent of Russia’s “Iron Curtain,” was established, closing off China from the non-Communist world. The 1966 Cultural Revolution only served to strengthen the Communist Party’s commitment to isolation from the West. However, by 1971 China was growing desperate for foreign investment while the United States sought an end to the Vietnam War as well as ways to increase its leverage vis-a-vis  the Soviet Union. These diplomatic objectives led to President Richard Nixon’s historic opening to China.

But before his February 1972 to Peking there was ping pong diplomacy. Sports had long been a diplomatic tool for the Chinese under the slogan “Friendship First, Competition Second.” Thus, on April 6, 1971, the Chinese national ping-pong team invited the American team to visit China while the two teams were at the World Championships in Nagoya, Japan. Read more

The INF Treaty, Part III — Crossing the Finish Line

A unified stance by NATO members and Gorbachev’s realization that it was better to go to global zero than to deal with the Pershings ultimately led to the signing of the INF Treaty by President Ronald Reagan and Gorbachev on December 8, 1987. It was ratified by Congress in May 1988 and helped mark the end of the Cold War.

Maynard Glitman was head of the INF delegation in Geneva from 1985-1988. He recalls the difficulties in successfully negotiating the INF treaty while working with Soviet officials and Washington delegates and the extreme stress the delegation endured working long hours as they hammered out an agreement. He also talks about his experiences at all levels of negotiating the treaty – from defending word usage to managing his temper when waiting for Soviet delegates who went out skiing. Read more

Paul Nitze and A Walk in the Woods  — A Failed Attempt at Arms Control

In 1976, the USSR deployed hundreds of intermediate-range SS-20s (pictured), which were an upgrade of the older SS-3 and SS-4  missiles. They carried nuclear warheads and, with a range of about 3400 miles, were capable of reaching almost any target in Western Europe and were thus considered a threat. Oddly enough, many arms control experts in the U.S. considered these weapons more destabilizing than the USSR’s longer-range strategic missiles which could strike the U.S, since the SS-20s only threatened European territory and thus delinked NATO from the United States, which in turn would make it difficult for Washington to reassure its allies.

The U.S. initiated a two-track response to address the SS-20 threat. Washington began developing a parallel system, extending the range of Germany’s Pershing missile, while simultaneously pushing for negotiations with the USSR over intermediate range missiles. Read more

On the Road Again — Kissinger’s Shuttle Diplomacy

In January and May 1974, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger engaged in “shuttle diplomacy,” a term coined by the members of the media who followed Kissinger on his various short flights among Middle East capitals as he sought to deal with the fallout of the October 1973 Yom Kippur War. After three weeks of fighting, a ceasefire found Israeli forces entangled with the Egyptian and Syrian forces. This presented President Richard Nixon and Kissinger with an opportunity to play a lead role in disengaging these armies from one another and possibly laying the groundwork for further steps to peacefully resolve the 25-year conflict.

In January 1974, Kissinger helped negotiate the first Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement in eight days, and in May, he arranged a Syrian-Israeli disengagement after a month of intense negotiations. Kissinger’s shuttle diplomacy secured one last deal in September 1975 with the conclusion of a second Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreement. Read more