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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

The King and I and The Missionary’s Wife

The Foreign Service has attracted some very talented people over the years and many of those are the spouses of Foreign Service Officers. Julia Child is one notable example. Another is Phyllis Oakley, who was forced to resign from the Foreign Service when she got married, rejoined in the 1970s, and rose to become Assistant Secretary. A lesser known example is Margaret Landon, whose book on a heretofore obscure Siamese king would — against all odds — become a smash movie and a beloved musical.

Her spouse, Ken, joined the State Department in 1943, after they served as missionaries in Thailand. He became a political officer in the Bureau of Far Eastern Affairs, where he specialized in Southeast Asia. Their experiences in Siam, now Thailand, inspired Margaret to write a book based on the autobiography of Anna Leonowens, who served as governess to the many progeny of King Mongkut in the 1860s. After several years of research, Margaret’s book, Anna and the King of Siam, was published. Read more

De-Baathification and Dismantling the Iraqi Army

The 2003 American invasion of Iraq, which came not long after the invasion of Afghanistan, proved to be highly controversial, not only for the rationale behind the invasion (Saddam Hussein and his putative support of 9/11 and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction) but for how the war itself and the governing of the country were conducted. On May 11, 2003, President George W. Bush appointed L. Paul “Jerry” Bremer as the Presidential Envoy to Iraq and then the top civilian administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Shortly thereafter, two of the CPA’s most notable decrees entered into force, on May 16, 2003 and May 23, respectively:  CPA Order Number 1 , which banned the Ba’ath party in all forms, a process otherwise known as de-Baathification; and CPA Order Number 2, which dismantled the Iraqi army. Read more

Pain at the Pumps: The 1973 Oil Embargo and Its Effect on U.S. Foreign Policy

It may be a challenge for those who did not experience it to imagine a time when the supply of gas was so restricted it had to be rationed, leading to massive lines at gas stations across the country. Yet this was the situation the United States found itself in during the autumn of 1973, when an oil crisis was in full swing. The shortage was related to political developments in the Middle East resulting from the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, or as some refer to it, the Yom Kippur War.

On October 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel’s forces in the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. Wanting to avoid both an Arab defeat and military intervention, the Soviets began to resupply Egypt and Syria with weapons. By October 9, following a failed Israeli Defense Forces counter-attack against Egypt’s forces, the Israelis requested that America do the same for them. Not wanting to see Israel defeated, President Nixon agreed, and American planes carrying weapons began arriving in Israel on October 14.  Read more

North Korea Blows up South Korean Airliner

Someone once described the dissolution of the USSR as a typical Soviet divorce — you’re no longer married but you’re still forced to live in the same apartment. So it is with North and South Korea, which have had more than their share of animosity the past half century, which has, not surprisingly, affected the U.S. in one way or the other.  North Korea has tried to assassinate the South Korean President and when that failed, it doubled down and seized the USS Pueblo.  A few years later, North Korean soldiers hacked two United States Army officers in the DMZ to death. And there’s the more recent missile-rattling by current Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un. Read more

A Peace That Couldn’t Last – Negotiating the Paris Accords on Vietnam

Signed on January 27, 1973, the Paris Peace Accords were intended to finally end the Vietnam War, which had cost the lives of thousands of American soldiers, not to mention the millions of Vietnamese civilians who were killed, injured, or displaced. Initially, the Accords were negotiated in secret by National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, the lead North Vietnamese negotiator. These secret negotiations took place over the course of five years in Paris, from 1968 to 1973, but it was only in the early 70’s that any real progress was made.

The secrecy of the negotiations, along with slow technology and the time differences between Washington, D.C., Paris, Hanoi, and Saigon, ensured that the negotiating process was time-consuming and tedious. In spite of these challenges, the two sides were, after many deadlocks and near agreements, able to come to a compromise in January 1973. For their efforts, Kissinger and Le Duc Tho were awarded the Noble Peace Prize in 1973, although Le Duc Tho refused to accept the award since he believed the U.S. and South Vietnamese were in violation of the Accords. Read more

Brunei: The Richest Little Country You’ve Never Heard Of

Brunei, situated on the northern shore of the island of Borneo in the South China Sea, is one of the smallest yet richest states in the world. With a population of less than 500,000, its socialist society is arguably the closest any nation has gotten to a total welfare state:  the Sultan’s government pays for education, healthcare, and most other living expenses of its citizens, financed through Brunei’s massive oil and natural gas wealth, thus the nickname “Shellfare.” The Sultan is one of the richest men in the world and he flaunts his wealth shamelessly. (At right, the Sultan’s (in)famous gold Rolls Royce.)

The tiny nation, covering only 2200 square miles, has been ruled by the same family for the past 600 years. Due to its long history of monarchal rule, relatively small territory, and fabulous wealth, the nation has a variety of culture and governmental quirks that American diplomats encountered during their time there.  Read more