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A Crack in the Iron Curtain: Freeing Sharansky

As General Secretary of the Communist Party, Mikhail Gorbachev authorized the release of thousands of Soviet Jews who wanted to leave the USSR. In 1986 only 914 Soviet Jews were allowed to emigrate; by 1990 the number was 186,815.  A group of about 11,000 who had been denied emigration visas were known as refuseniks. Natan Sharansky, a spokesperson for the refuseniks during the mid-1970s, helped draw global attention to their desire to leave and to human rights abuses in the USSR. Arrested on charges of espionage and treason, in 1978 he was sentenced to 13 years of forced labor. His wife Avital led an international campaign to free him.

Under pressure from President Ronald Reagan, Gorbachev released Sharansky on February 11, 1986. Sharanksy moved to Israel, where he founded the Yisrael BaAliyah party and later represented the Likud Party, serving as Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister of Israel.  He continues to be active as the Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Read more

The Immigration Game — Visas and the Mexican Border

Illegal immigration remains a hotly contested issue within the United States, as evidenced by the subject’s repeated appearance in American political discourse over the years. Formulating effective policy to reform America’s immigration system has been a major struggle for both parties in the United States, but the implementation of any policy has also created significant challenges for the hundreds of Foreign Service officers stationed in Mexico who review and process visa applications in a country where thousands seek to enter America every year. Unable to legally enter the United States easily and quickly, many Mexicans have attempted to cross America’s southern border in desperation, often with dire consequences.

Immigration became a particularly prominent focal point in U.S.-Mexico relations when businessman Vicente Fox acceded to the presidency of Mexico in 2000 and won power from the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which had dominated Mexican politics for over 70 years. After his inauguration in 2001, President George W. Bush wasted little time in attempting to solve the difficult immigration issue with his Mexican counterpart, demanding that a solution be found within a matter of months.  (Photo: Matt Clark) Read more

The Fight for Non-Proliferation Begins at Home

The development and potential use of nuclear weapons defined the Cold War era and kept the world under the shadow of Mutually Assured Destruction. A major step towards dispelling that threat came with the 1970 ratification of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which is predicated on the three pillars of non-proliferation, disarmament, and the right to the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

Even though the treaty was originally conceived with a limited duration of 25 years, the signing parties decided, by consensus, to extend the treaty indefinitely and without conditions during the Review Conference (REVCON) in New York City on May 11, 1995, culminating successful lobbying efforts led by Ambassador Thomas Graham Jr., who often was outnumbered in the discussions within the U.S. government on the issue. Read more

A Bum Rap for April Glaspie — Saddam and the Start of the Iraq War

In the summer of 1990, concerns were growing that Saddam Hussein, who was massing troops near the border with Kuwait, was preparing an all-out invasion. U.S. Ambassador to Iraq April Glaspie met with Saddam Hussein on July 25, 1990 to convey the United States’ position. While she did not have a demarche from Washington, she reiterated U.S. policy that border disputes should be resolved peacefully. However, her meeting did not forestall an Iraqi invasion; Saddam invaded just a few days later, on August 2.

Soon thereafter and several years since the end of the Gulf War, Ambassador Glaspie was widely blamed for allowing or even encouraging an Iraqi invasion. The New York Times on September 23, 1990 quotes Glaspie as saying, “We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait. Read more

Getting Kosovo Right: Working to Avoid Another Bosnia

Yugoslavia had long been a simmering caldron of ethnic and nationalist tensions. After the death of Yugoslav strongman Josip Broz Tito, the thin ties keeping the country together began to fray. Kosovo Albanians demanded that their autonomous province be upgraded to a constituent republic. Serbs in turn saw the high autonomy of the provinces and the weakness at the federal level as inimical to Serbian interests.

Slobodan Milošević came to power in Serbia in 1987 and was able to gain de facto control over Kosovo. In 1990 separatist parties won victories in Yugoslavia’s first multi-party elections and in 1991-92, Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina proclaimed independence. After a string of inter-ethnic incidents, the Yugoslav Wars ensued, first in Croatia and then, most severely, in multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina. (Photo: Reuters) Read more

Iraqi Kurds, Operation Provide Comfort, and the Birth of Iraq’s Opposition

In the aftermath of Iraq’s crushing defeat during Operation Desert Storm in February 1991, protesters and rebels in the northern and southern parts of Iraq took advantage of what they saw as weakness in Saddam Hussein’s regime and attempted to overthrow his government. Anticipating American military support, their rebellion failed in the face of Iraqi army helicopters and tanks as the United States was too slow to react and provide assistance to the rebels. As Saddam Hussein’s forces retaliated against the rebels, hundreds of thousands of people in the north and south fled. In the south, the Shia refugees found haven across the border in Saudi Arabia and were able to take shelter in refugee camps.

However, in the north, Kurdish refugees were not as fortunate, as the Turkish government refused to allow them to enter Turkey in fear of adding to the already restless Turkish Kurdish population. Read more

Winning the Peace – USAID and the Demobilization of the Nicaraguan Contras

In the 1980s, one of the focal points of U.S. foreign policy was the rise of leftist militants throughout the globe, particularly in Central America. Under the Reagan Doctrine, the U.S. in 1982 began actively supporting anti-Communist insurgents — the Contras — in Nicaragua in their fight against the Sandinistas. By 1985, public support for the Contras had waned after reports surfaced that the Contras had trafficked in cocaine and used “death squads.”

After Congress prohibited aid to the Contras, the Reagan Administration, under Lt. Col. Oliver North, began funding them illegally, in what would be known as the Iran-Contra Affair. After the Contras and Sandinistas agreed to a cease-fire in March 1988, Congress passed a law that put non-lethal Contra aid under the auspices of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). Read more

Iraq’s Rocky Road to Recovery Post-Saddam

In the wake of the U.S.-led Coalition Forces invasion of Iraq in March, 2003 and dissolution of the Ba’ath Party, a transitional administration was created, the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). The CPA held executive, legislative and legal authority for a little over a year, beginning April 21, 2003, while a more permanent Iraqi government was being established. The goal was to undo the damage of Saddam Hussein’s regime and get the country back on its feet as an active member of the world community. As the top civilian administrator of CPA, Paul “Jerry” Bremer ruled by decree, notably banning the Ba’ath party in all forms and dismantling the Iraqi Army.

On July 13, 2003, Bremer approved creation of the Iraqi Interim Governing Council, chose its members and empowered the CPA to develop and implement a new Iraqi constitution. These transitions were far from smooth. Iraqis opposed having foreigners control their government and different components of society struggled for power in the new regime.   Read more

Combining Forces to Counter Terrorism — The Birth of S/CT

U.S. inter-agency coordination on countering terrorism was limited, for bureaucratic and technical reasons, prior to the mid-1980s. As hijackings and terrorist assaults against U.S. military personnel became more frequent after the Vietnam War, Washington responded in part by creating the position of Coordinator for Counterterrorism in the State Department (S/CT). However, the position was not given funding priority until the Reagan administration.

Ambassador-at-Large for Counterterrorism L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer discusses how S/CT was created and the bureaucratic wrangling and inter-agency cooperation which followed. He also describes a hijacking that went sadly wrong and his experiences in dealing with his counterparts in Europe and elsewhere.  Read more

Stop the MADness — Arms Control and Disarmament

The end of World War II ushered in an era of intense arms competition between the Soviet Union and the United States. Both sides produced nuclear armaments and other weapons of mass destruction at increasing rates as the bipolar world order evolved, finally achieving a state known as “mutually assured destruction” or MAD. President Eisenhower initiated efforts to control the proliferation of arsenals, which ultimately led to the Arms Control and Disarmament Act, enacted September 26, 1961.

This legislation, passed by 87th Congress and signed by President John F. Kennedy, established the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA).  ACDA was designed to conduct, coordinate, and support research of the formulation for the arms control and disarmament policy, manage and prepare U.S. participation in international negotiations for arms control and disarmament and coordinate information to the public on arms control policy. Read more