NATO spurns Georgia and Ukraine
In spite of US endorsement to move Georgia and Ukraine to the next level of NATO participation, European member states have denied the countries access to the Membership Action Plan (MAP), conceding to reconsider in December. Claiming that neither country is stable enough yet to join MAP, pundits have also argued that accepting the countries would strike an unnecessarily hostile stance towards Russia, which strongly opposes their entry and threatened to cancel Putin's NATO visit if they were admitted. The issue of Georgian and Ukrainian membership revealed a diplomatic rift between the US and France and Germany, who expressed concerns about NATO expanding further into the former Soviet Union. Ultimately, the summit is seen as a victory for US interests. Though thwarted on Georgia and Ukraine, Washington won entry into NATO for Albania and Croatia and secured a missile defence deal with the Czech Republic that will see a US base constructed in the country as part of the larger "nuclear umbrella".
The ToD verdict: With the BBC describing the summit's atmosphere as "poisonous," the issue of new members proved to be particularly contentious, exposing political fault-lines between both Russia and the US as well as within Europe. While the US and smaller eastern European nations have strongly backed the extension of NATO into former Soviet territory, western Europe-and especially France-has sided with Russia, reluctant to expand NATO borders at the risk of causing further political tensions. Ultimately, this seems like a safe move, although perhaps excessively so-with Albania and Croatia granted entry into NATO, the borders are expanding, and if current member states plan on seriously reconsidering Georgia and Ukraine come December, they must first reach a consensus on how far NATO will extend, and more importantly, what to do about Russia.
China confirms protests among Uighur Muslims
In addition to the crackdown in Tibet, Chinese officials have confirmed that they are also dealing with ethnic unrest among Uighur Muslims in the northwestern region of Xinjiang. According to US-backed Radio Free Asia, protests began on March 23, after a prominent Uighur jade trader and philanthropist died in police custody. Witnesses report that roughly 600 protesters have assembled in Khotan, a small oasis south of the capital, demanding the end of government sanctioned torture, the release of political prisoners, and the lifting of a ban on headscarves.
Justice Department Memo reveals legal basis for torture
According to a newly publicised memorandum, in 2003 the U.S. Justice Department authorized military use of extreme interrogation methods, citing the supremacy of executive powers during wartime as a legal basis. The memo, detailing a legal brief written by a high-ranking official at the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, argued that the president's war powers overruled laws against torture, and is considered to be the legal foundation of the Bush administration's efforts to capture and detain "terror" suspects. The department has since rescinded the memorandum.
Pentagon expected to close controversial office
As part of a broader plan to reorganise intelligence units, the Pentagon is expected to shut down a controversial office that has drawn fire for domestic spying. The Counterintelligence Field Activity office was created in 2001 as part of an effort to combat international terrorism, and in 2005 it disclosed that its database contained information about peaceful antiwar protesters. The move is indicative of a larger effort by Defence Secretary Robert Gates to review and dismantle the massive intelligence infrastructure created by his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld.
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Lee Hamilton endorses Obama
Describing his foreign policy outlook as "pragmatic, visionary, and tough," former Indiana Representative and foreign policy expert Lee Hamilton endorsed Barack Obama's presidential bid on Wednesday, bolstering the campaign's momentum before the approaching Pennsylvania primary. As former chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Hamilton's endorsement is expected to combat criticism that Obama is inexperienced in terms of foreign policy and domestic security. Hamilton has noted that he shares Obama's positions on Iran and Pakistan. Hamilton co-chaired the Iraq Study Group, whose comprehensive recommendations on US policy in Iraq were brushed aside by the Bush administration in favour of the "surge".
Mugabe's party loses parliamentary majority
For the first time since 1980, Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF has lost the parliamentary majority in Zimbabwe, signaling further trouble for Mugabe after Saturday's close presidential election. According to Zimbabwean law, a candidate must win more than 50% of the vote in order to avoid a run-off, which opposition party MDC claims candidate Morgan Tsvangirai did, beating Mugabe's 43.8% with 50.3% of the vote. While Mugabe has agreed to contest election results in a run-off, he has described efforts to remove him from power as "wishful."
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