Monthly Archives: July 2008

One Man’s Jihadist is Another Man’s Criminal

A report recently issued by the Rand Corporation offers interesting insights into the current war on terror.  The report tracked 648 terrorist groups operating between 1968 and 2006.  It concludes that traditional most terrorist activities ceased for one of two reasons: “They were penetrated and eliminated by local police and intelligence agencies (40 percent), or they reached a peaceful political accommodation with their government (43 percent).”  Only 10 percent of all terrorist groups studied during that time ceased to operate as a result of military defeat.

The report’s findings offer new a poignant critique of the current war on terror.  The Rand Corporation—hardly a bastion of left-wing politics—concludes that US “military force has not undermined al Qaeda” and that the recent resurgence of al Qaeda “should trigger a fundamental rethinking of US strategy.”  That strategy, according to Rand, should focus on policing and intelligence, with terrorists being arrested and subject to legal proceedings while simultaneously minimizing the use of military force.  “Terrorists should be perceived as criminals, not holy warriors,” the summary concludes.

Read the full report here.

Can I Have a Big Mac, Fries, and a Coke With That?

Assessing political stability and comparing levels of economic development has always been a tricky business.   Take, for example, the use of gross domestic product as a proxy for levels of economic prosperity.  Everyone uses it—World Bank programs cite it, academics use it, and so on.  But no one ever really seems truly happy with it.  And with good reason.  As a measure of economic development, GDP leaves a lot out.  But if we want to look at levels of economic development, we really don’t have any good alternatives…or do we?

Last week NPR carried a story from the Africa correspondent for the Economist, Jonathan Ledgard.  (You can listen to the segment on the Day to Day website).  Ledgard argues that Coca Cola sales are a key indicator of political and economic stability across the African continent.  Why?  Well, Coke is widely available, relatively cheap, and almost always produced locally.  When Coke runs out, as in the case of Somalia, Eritrea, or Kenya, a crisis is usually brewing.  According to Legdard, Coke is

a pan-African product. It’s found in almost every African country… Even in the sort-of sub-villages, some guy on a bicycle will be taking five or six cases of Coke to a shack in the Congolese jungle or in the backwaters of Ethiopia. And it’s kind of amazing that that product can penetrate that far… A drop in the sales of Coke will be reflected in political, cultural, ethnic disturbances.

So it looks like we can add the Coca Cola index of political stability to the Economist’s Big Mac Index, which measures purchasing power parity, and Thomas Friedman’s Golden Arches theory—a restatement of Kant’s liberal peace—which asserts that no two countries with McDonald’s have ever gone to war with one another…almost true, except for the conflict in the former Yugoslavia and the recent war between Israel and Lebanon.

So does globalization mean peace and prosperity?  I’m not sure, but at least you can have  a Big Mac and a Coke with that.

The Death of Doha…Finally?

The Doha Round of international trade talks collapsed (again) today.  It seems that the World Trade Organizations Director-General, Pascal Lamy, was a bit too ambitious in hoping that the countries would be able to hammer out a deal.  The Doha Round was supposed to be the “development round” of WTO talks.  Ironic, therefore, that the US is blaming the developing countries, especially India and China, for the collapse of negotiations.

So what really happened?  It seems that countries could not agree on new rules to cover agriculture.  It’s the same thing that’s held up the WTO for years. The United States and Europe refuse to cut agricultural subsidies to their farmers, India and China refuse to cut market protections for their farmers, and so on.  The influence of the domestic farm lobby in many countries is astounding.  Even after the US and Europe announced plans to trim subsidies (largely through a shell game which would mean few real cuts and leave open the possibility of subsidies doubling from current rates, as Alan Beattie notes) China accused US negotiators of hypocrisy in their demands to open markets in the developing world while protecting American cotton farmers through subsidies.  And India’s trade minister, Kamal Nath, accused the US of “self-righteousness”.  Not exactly the stuff of friendly trade talks.

So what remains?  Lamy is hopeful the talks may resume in the fall, but this seems unlikely given political developments in the United States and India and his upcoming reappointment to the WTO’s directorate.  More likely, I think, is an increase in bilateral and regional agreements like NAFTA.  Globalization lite, so to speak.

Political Violence: Jihad or McWorld?

A series of apparently unrelated bombings hit a number of countries over the weekend: 

  • In India, two separate explosions in Ahmedabad killed 45 people and injured more than 300.  A group calling itself the Indian Mujahideen claimed responsibility.  Ten unexploded bombs were found by police in Surat, a city in the same Indian state, today. 
  • An explosion in Istanbul, the capital of Turkey, killed 17 and injured some 150 people.  Although no one has claimed responsibility, speculation is that Kurdish nationalist—possibly linked to the Kurdish Peoples Party, or PKK—are responsible.  On Tuesday, the Turkish government launched an airstrike against suspected PKK strongholds in Iraq, killing 40 according to the Turkish government. 
  • Female suicide bombers in Iraq were responsible for at least two attacks over the weekend.  The first involved three separate explosions targeting Shia pilgrims in Baghdad, killing 24 and injuring 79.  The second centered in the Kurdish political capital of Kirkuk, killed 12 and injured dozens.  No claim of responsibility has been made, but observers are pointing to the history of al-Qaeda in Iraq’s use of female bombers in the past. 
  • Finally, tensions between rival Hamas and Fatah parties in Gaza sparked a new round of violence over the weekend.  In one incident, a car bomb exploded in the Gaza Strip, killing several bystanders.  Hamas claims that the attack was orchestrated by Fatah in an attempt to kill some of its supporters; Fatah contends the explosions was likely part of an internal power struggle within Hamas.

Are all these attacks related?  Not in the sense that they were coordinated by a single group.  The groups involved—the Indian Mujahideen, the PKK, al-Qaeda in Iraq, Hamas, and Fatah all have their own objectives and are not likely to want to work together.  But in the broader sense, I think there are some common threads.  In his class work Jihad vs. McWorld, Benjamin Barber argues that there are two driving trends in the world today.  He writes,

Just beyond the horizon of current events lie two possible political futures—both bleak, neither democratic. The first is a retribalization of large swaths of humankind by war and bloodshed: a threatened Lebanonization of nationalstates in which culture is pitted against culture, people against people, tribe against tribe—a Jihad in the name of a hundred narrowly conceived faiths against every kind of interdependence, every kind of artificial social cooperation and civic mutuality. The second is being borne in on us by the onrush of economic and ecological forces that demand integration and uniformity and that mesmerize the world with fast music, fast computers, and fast food—with MTV, Macintosh, and McDonald’s, pressing nations into one commercially homogenous global network: one McWorld tied together by technology, ecology, communications, and commerce. The planet is falling precipitantly apart AND coming reluctantly together at the very same moment.

Perhaps Barber is right.  Perhaps we are seeing the world fall apart and come together at the same time.  It’s a bleak notion, but one for which Barber, I think, finds a comforting solution: strong democracy.

Is Climate Change a Laughing Matter?

The Independent Newspaper has published a series of political cartoons from around the world on the topic of climate change.  The cartoons were gathered as part of a contest promoted by the Ken Sprague Fund, which encouraged artists to submit their creations.  After receiving submissions from 300 artists in 55 countries around the world, the Fund chose its favorites.

After developing a shortlist of the top 16 entries, the Fund chose its favorites.  First place went to Mikhail Zlatkovsky of Russia, second to Constantin Ciosu of Romania, and third to Tawan Chuntraskawvong of Thailand.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

There were many important and interesting stories this week.  WTO talks have resumed, the economic slowdown in the United States appears to be spreading to Europe and Japan, and Russia continues to reassert its position on the world stage.  But for now, here are five stories from the previous week you might have missed.

1.  Republican presidential candidate John McCain launched an attackon rival Barack Obama yesterday.  Obama cancelled a scheduled visit with wounded American troops in Germany after the Pentagon raised concerns about the potential political use of soldiers.  In a new television ad, McCain claimed that Obama would rather woo foreign leaders than visit US soldiers.  Obama countered that he refused to allow American soldiers to be used as pawns in a game of political back and forth.  The visit was supposed to be part of Obama’s international tour last week, when he visited leaders in Afghanistan, Iraq, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.  The tour, which included a speech drawing more than 200,000 Berliners, was heralded as a success by the Financial Times editorials staff.

2.  Former Bosnian Serbian leader Radovan Karazic was arrested in Belgrade on Tuesday.   Karazic was the leader of Serbian forces responsible for Srebrenica massacre, where 8,000 people were murdered.  Karazic was wanted by the International Court of Justice and has been charged with crimes against humanity and genocide.  He had going by the name Dragan Dabic and earning a living as naturalist and alternative medicine guru since 1995.

3.  On Wednesday the Israeli Defense Ministry preliminarily approved plans to expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank.  The proposal must still be approved by Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.  Under international law, the settlements are illegal, but more than 450,000 Israelis live in such settlements.  According to Palestinian officials, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are the most fundamental obstacle to peace in the region.

4.  Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has proposed to expand his cheap oil initiative, known as Petrocaribe, to more countries in Central America.  Chavez developed the plan as a way to curry the favor of countries in the region, hoping to sway allies in struggle against the United States government.  The plan allows countries to purchase oil from Venezuela at a reduced price and to finance purchases over low interest rates over 25 years.  High oil prices have increased participation in the plan, and now, even center-right governments in Central America are singing up.

5.  Tens of thousands of workers have taken to the streets in Johannesburg, South Africa.  Workers from across the country are participating in a nation-wide strike called by the country’s largest federation of local unions, COSATU.  Workers are protesting declining standards of living due to economic slowdown and a proposed 27.5 percent increase in the price of electricity.

New Confidence in a Nuclear India

Fareed Zakaria, foreign affairs analyst for CNN, posted a brief analysis of the domestic and international implications of the confidence vote in India.  Last week, I briefly discussed the difficulties facing the Indian government over the civilian nuclear power deal signed with the United States.  On Tuesday, the government narrowly survived the confidence vote and approved the deal—by a vote of 275 in favor, 256 opposed.

Zakaria’s analysis is insightful.  He argues that the victory of the Congress Party in the confidence vote likely means big changes for India.  Domestically, Zakaria argues that the ruling Congress Party’s break with their Communist Party allies means that economic reform, which had stalled for years in the face of leftist opposition, is now likely to move forward.  We’re likely to see more dramatic moves towards liberalization and privatization in India, which may spur economic growth (and perhaps growing inequality as well).

Internationally, the vote signals a shift in the balance of power in Asia, with India moving closer to the United States as a potential ally to rival China.  Big imlications from the Indian political re-alignment.