Monthly Archives: June 2009

State Failure, 2009

Foreign Policy has just released its 2009 Failed State Index. The index calculates the likelihood of state failure, ranking states into five categories (critical, in danger, borderline, stable, and most stable) based on twelve measures of political and economic stability (such as demographic pressure, internal cleavages, uneven development, economic performance, and security). Here are the top 10 failed states (glossary), according to this year’s rankings.  For sake of comparison, I’ve listed their 2008 ranking in parentheses.

  1. Somalia (1)
  2. Zimbabwe (3)
  3. Sudan (2)
  4. Chad (4)
  5. Democratic Republic of the Congo (6)
  6. Iraq (5)
  7. Afghanistan (7)
  8. Central African Republic (10)
  9. Guinea (11)
  10. Pakistan (9)
  11. Ivory Coast (8)
  12. Haiti (14)
  13. Burma (13)
  14. Kenya (26)
  15. Nigeria (19)
  16. Ethiopia (16)
  17. North Korea (15)
  18. Yemen (21)
  19. Bangladesh (12)
  20. East Timor (25)

These twenty states share a number of common features. While defined by their inability to deliver political goods (glossary), they are all heavily dependent on a small number of primary commodities for foreign exchange earnings, making them particularly vulnerable to commodity price shocks and the ravages of the global economic crisis. Many have also suffered from years of poor governance and civil war. And all are likely to be dramatically affected by global climate change  which is likely to undermine food production, exacerbate water shortages, and further facilitate political and economic instability in already fragile countries.

Coup in Honduras

BBC News is reporting that Manuel Zelaya, President of Honduras, has been forced by the country’s military into exile. According to the BBC, Zelaya was flown by the Honduran military to Costa Rica, where he remains. Manuel Zelaya won election in 2006 as part of a center-right coalition. At the time, Zelaya supported a free trade deal with the United States and appeared to be in position to normalize relations with the United States. However, he gradually shifted to the left and became an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Zelaya’s ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, blamed “the Yankee empire” for the coup, while the United States and the European Union joined the Organization of American States  in condemning the coup.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The death of Michael Jackson dominated news coverage this week, pushing other major developments aside. Indeed, with so much popular interest generated that popular sites like Twitter and Facebook were overwhelmed with traffic and unable to keep up with bandwidth demands. By Sunday morning, networks were slowly returning to other coverage.

In other news from the previous week:

1. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband issued a statement expressing “deep concern” over the decision of the Iranian government to arrest eight local employees working in Tehran. The eight Iranian employees at the British embassy were charged with involvement in the ongoing protest over the outcome of Iran’s presidential elections. The arrests follow developments last week in which Britain and Iran each expelled two of the other’s diplomats. The arrests (and the continuing deteriorating relationship more generally) will likely be a topic for informal discussions at the G8 meeting this weekend.

2. Meetings between NATO and Russian foreign ministers over the weekend set the stage for greater cooperation in Afghanistan, counter-terrorism, and nuclear proliferation. Relations between Russia and the west had deteriorated after the Georgian war last year. The Russian government also announced plans to restructure the country’s military.

3. Taro Aso, Japan’s prime minister, is facing increasing pressure to resign from his post ahead of general elections which must be held by October. Aso’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan has dominated post-war Japanese politics, ruling the country for all but 11 months of the last 53 years. But Japan’s ongoing economic crisis, combined with allegations of corruption and political infighting within the LDP, has led to a sharp decline in popular support for the party—and a potential radical shift in Japanese politics, with the opposition Democratic Party of Japan poised to seize the opportunity.

4. Lebanon’s new prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, has begun the task of forming a new parliament for the country. Hariri won a surprising victory over rival Hizbollah last month, but now faces the daunting task of uniting Lebanon’s three rival factions, the Sunnis, Shi’as, and Christians. In order to maintain good relations between Lebanon’s three factions, Hariri has proposed to establish a government of national unity. (glossary) But Hizbollah has so far refused to accept the possibility of a unity government unless it is granted veto power, a development which Hariri opposes. Hariri was the favored candidate of the United States and Saudi Arabia, but was sharply opposed by Syria. Stable relations between the three countries are seen as vital to the maintenance of peace and stability in Lebanon.

5. Human Rights Watch accused the government of Zimbabwe of engaging in murder, forced labor, and torture in its diamond mining operations in the Marange district in the eastern part of the country. The accusations come shortly after a campaign by the country’s prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, failed to secure the western economic aid it had hoped for. Zimbabwe faces considerable challengesin its attempt to address the ongoing economic and political crisis which has plagued the country for more than a year. While inflation has come down from its record 231 million percent last year, the political standoff between President Robert Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980, and his political rival, Prime Minister Tsvangirai, remains unresolved.

The Limits of Cap-and-Trade

On Friday night, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the country’s first cap-and-trade system intended to reduce carbon emissions. The bill, which passed by a narrow 219-212 (largely party-line) vote, still must be passed by the Senate, where it faces strong opposition. The House bill would reduce U.S. carbon emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. The legislation introduces a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions and by mandating energy producers increase production from renewable sources such as wind and solar.

While this is a positive development, there is certainly room for concern. Indeed, environmental groups are divided on how to respond to develops in the United States. Many have celebrated the development, but some, including Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, have criticized the bill for being too watered down and having too many compromises to effectively address the challenges of global climate change.

The real question is will this work? The European Union has been developing its cap-and-trade system for years, with little real success. Most countries have failed to meet targets (those that came close did so largely because of economic downturns, such as Germany’s progress as a result of the collapse of industrial production in the former east). And the European Union was forced to retool its approach after it became clear that most member states were gaming the system, over-estimating their baseline emissions to make meeting reductions easier.

Meanwhile, there’s a blame-game going on. Australian doesn’t want to establish targets for reductions until the United States does; the United States doesn’t want binding international targets unless China is a part of the system, and China wants to measure reduction levels in different ways. Indeed, the question of fairness in reducing carbon emissions remains unresolved. As Roberts and Parks point out in thier book, A Climate of Injustice: Global Inequality, North-South Politics, and Climate Policy (a great read, by the way), there are at least four ways one could measure emissions, each with different implications for fairness:

  1. Total Emissions: just add up the total carbon emitted by a country and establish reduction targets based on this figure. This measurement would benefit the industrialized countries, since their target levels (as a percentage reduction fo current emissions) would be higher.
  2. Per Capita Emissions: divide current emissions by population, then establish reduction targets. This approach is favored by countries which large populations, like China and India, for obvious reasons.
  3. Efficiency of Emissions: divide current emissions by GDP, resulting in a measure of emissions per unit of production. This approach is favored by developed countries with large economies, like the United States, for obvious reasons.
  4. Historical Responsibility: measures total carbon emissions over the past fifty (or so) years. Because carbon emissions remain in the atmosphere for fifty years or more, gasses that were released in the 1960s are still contributing to climate change. This measure forces those with the greatest historical responsibility for emissions (like the United Kingdom and the Untied States) to pay for those emissions as well.

The different systems of calculation have real implications. If we look at total emissions, China is the world’s second largest producer (with approximately 5.1 billion tons of carbon dioxide emitted in 2005, just behind the United States at 5.8 billion tons emitted). China should be a party to any effective international agreement addressing carbon emissions. But if we look at par capita emissions, China emits just 3.9 tons per person, placing 91st overall and falling well behind countries like the United States (19.6 tons per person), Australia (18.4 tons), Russia (10.8 tons), Spain (7.9 tons), France (6.2 tons), and Iran (6.0 tons). Based on this measure, China could easily claim that their emissions do not rise to the level of those in the developed world (of even much of the developing world), and it is therefore justified in continuing to increase its emissions.

Questions of fairness need to be addressed. But even setting those thorny questions aside, it remains unclear whether or not a cap-and-trade system could even work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in time to avert catastrophic climate change. (For a great parody of the cap-and-trade system, visit the folks at Cheat Neutral).

A bleak picture indeed.

Iranian Election Update

The British think tank Chatham House published an analysis of the Iranian election results, suggesting that the official outcome suffered from a number of irregularities, including:

  1. Voter turnout rates that exceeded 100% in two conservative-leaning districts.
  2. The dramatic increase in voter turnout was unlikely to break so heavily in favor of Ahmadi-Nejad, given previous election results.
  3. In one-third of all provinces, official election results would require that Ahmadi-Nejad win all centrist and conservative voters and nearly half of all reformist voters–an unlikely outcome to say the least.
  4. In previous elections and in pre-election polling, Ahmadi-Nejad was polling very poorly in rural areas. But in this election, Ahmadi-Nejad won all rural districts throughout the country. Again, a very unlikely outcome.

The report is certainly likely to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the election’s outcome, and could further fuel protests that have been ongoing for the last week. The report is well worth a read.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The turmoil over last week’s Iranian elections continued into this week, with thousands of people defying a statement  by the country’s spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and orders by President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad and the country’s Revolutionary Guard banning such protests. Over the weekend, hundreds of supporters of Mir-Hossein Moussavi were arrested during protests. Moussavi’s supporters believe the election was rigged, but international observers and foreign governments have so far refused to comment.

In other news from the previous week:

1. The World Bank issued a statement urging the developed world to focus on the global economy in their recovery efforts. The collapse of global credit markets over the last year, the Bank noted, had led to a dramatic decline in private capital flows, with investment in developing countries declining from $1,200 billion in 2007 to an estimated $363 billion this year. Meanwhile, announcement of the new stimulus package by the Chinese government led the World Bank to increase its forecasts for the Chinese economy this year. But the decision of the Chinese government to include a ‘Buy China’ policy in its stimulus package has led to increasing tensions over the specter of protectionism in the global recovery effort.

2. French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave a rare address to the country’s parliament at the Palace of Versailles this week. For more than 130 years, the French President had been constitutionally prohibited from entering parliament—an attempt to ensure legislative independence. But after the constitution was amended last year—in the name of increasingly parliamentary oversight—the restriction was removed. French Green and Communist parties boycotted the speech in protest of what they see as an attempt to increase the power of the French presidency. Sarkozy used the opportunity to outline measures intended to address the problem of rapidly detiorating public finances, sparked by the global economic crisis. In the speech, Sarkozy rejected the introduction of austerity measures, instead focusing on the need to protect jobs.

3. The situation in Iraq deteriorated over the past week, as the number of bombings as increased. On Saturday, a large truck bomb exploded outside a Shi’ite mosque in the Kurdish town of Kirkuk. The attack, the deadliest single attack in more than a year, killed 73 people. Meanwhile, a series of smaller attacks in Baghdad killed 15 people on Monday. The declining security situation comes as the United States prepares to begin its withdrawal from Iraqi towns, handing responsibility for day-to-day security over to Iraqi police by the end of June.

4. The speaker of the parliament in Somalia has issued a call for neighboring countries to send in troops to help prop up the country’s fragile government. The security situation in Somalia remains grim. On Thursday, the government’s security minister, Omar Hashi Aden, and more than 20 others were killed in a suicide attack by Islamic militants known as al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab seeks to overthrow the country’s western-backed government and impose its vision of strict sharia law in Somalia. So far, international assistance has been limited, and al-Shabaab has confined the influence of the government to the country’s capital, Mogadishu. Meanwhile, according to United Nations estimates, some 122,000 civilians have been forced to flee as a result of fighting which began in early May.

5. Tensions between the government of Hugo Chávez and the anti-government television station Globovisión have increased in Venezuela in recent days. Chávez accuses the station of “media terrorism” as a result of its critical coverage of his government, particularly following a minor earthquake which hit the capital, Caracdas, in early May. According to observers, the station makes an easy target for Chávez, who has stepped up his efforts to transform Venezuelan society and economy in recent months.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

According to the G8, it looks like we may be starting to see signs that the global economic crisis is beginning to ease. The final communiqué of the G8 summit on Saturday expressed the sentiment that the worst of the crisis may now be over, and that it may be time to begin addressing the challenges of inflation rather than stagnation. According to the communiqué,

There are signs of stabilisation in our economies, including a recovery of stock markets, a decline in interest rate spreads, improved business and consumer confidence, but the situation remains uncertain and significant risks remain to economic and financial stability.

Despite the relatively upbeat assessment, hopes for a quick recovery in the Eurozone (glossary) continue to be thwarted by sharp declines in industrial production and high unemployment.

In other news from the previous week,

1. Incumbent president Majmoud Ahmadi-Nejad decisively won Saturday’s presidential elections in Iran, defeating the moderate reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Moussavi. Although Moussavi alleges Ahmadi-Nejad’s victory was the result of unfair electoral practices and intimidation and has demanded a new poll, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has declared the results final, suggesting any challenge would be unsuccessful. Turnout in the election was high—surpassing 85 percent. Protests broke out across Tehran after the election, and the international community is watching developments in Iran with great concern. The elections carried big implications not just for domestic Iranian society, but also for U.S. foreign policy.

2. The United Nations tightened sanctions on North Korea on Friday. After several weeks of increasing tensions in which the government of North Korea had expanded nuclear warhead and missile tests, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution expanding sanctions beyond the narrow focus on weapons and weapons technology (which has long been in place) to now include suspending foreign aid, loans, and export credits outside of humanitarian aid. The passage of sanctions by the Security Council signals a shift in Russian and Chinese policy. The two countries had long opposed intensifying sanctions on North Korea, fearing the collapse of the unstable regime.

3. In a dramatic shift in Russian foreign policy last week, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced the country would drop its bid to join the World Trade Organization and would instead seek to develop a customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus. Russia has been negotiating for WTO membership for 16 years, but has been blocked largely as a result of U.S. opposition. Two schools of thought to explain the shift in policy have emerged. According to the first, this represents Russia’s frustration with the process and is merely a ploy to speed up accession talks. According to the second, Russia is more interested in expanding its influence in its former sphere of influence, and the new customs union would help to achieve that goal. Whatever the truth, the move clearly surprised most observers and confounded analysts.

4. The oil giant Royal Dutch Shell reached a settlement with the family Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other activists executed by the Nigerian government in 1995. According to the suit, Shell had requested the Nigerian government to intervene—going so far as to finance and assist in operations against groups in the Niger River delta region. Without conceding any involvement in their deaths, Shell agreed to pay $15.5 million in damages to settle the claim. The case was one of the first to be brought before U.S. courts under the Alien Tort Statute of 1789, which gives non-U.S. citizens the right to sue in U.S. courts for human rights violations committed abroad. Shell had unsuccessfully sought to have the case dismissed.

5. The crisis in Peru continued last week, as protestors continue to confront police in the capital Lima. A national strike had been called by indigenous groups and labor unions to protest changes in land rights laws. An estimated 10,000 people turned out on Thursday before police dispersed the crowds. The government of Peru is now moving to suspend the law which led to the protests.

What Happened to the Obama Effect?

Iran’s election results are in. Although the reformist candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, disputes the results, it seems clear that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be the winner. In recent weeks, the campaign had grown increasingly vicious, with each side accusing the other of illegal behavior.  The late surge of the Mousavi campaign, combined with the surprising defeat of Hezbollah by a coalition of pro-Western parties in Lebanon, has led some to speculate about an Obama effect.

Perhaps the strongest advocate for the Obama effect has been Juan Cole. Blogging at Salon just after the Lebanese election, he wrote  “President Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo last Thursday may already have borne fruit. His call for political moderates in the Muslim world to fight extremism may have helped tip the weekend’s parliamentary elections in Lebanon to the anti-Syrian March 14 Alliance.” Cole was careful to remind readers that local politics likely influenced the outcome of the election far more than Obama’s speech.

Daniel Drezner is a bit more blasé about the impact of Obama on elections in the Middle East. Certainly, the results from Iran raise questions about the potential of a change in U.S. leadership to affect electoral outcomes. But I think Stephen Walt’s analysis is probably correct. As he surmised,

It would be a mistake to give Barack all (or even most) of the credit for these developments, but I don’t think it’s completely unrelated either. By striking a fundamentally different tone towards all three countries (and the Arab/Muslim world in general), Obama hasn’t made reflexive anti-Americanism go away. But he has made it a less potent political weapon, so leaders like Ahmadinejad or Sheik Nasrallah don’t reap the same domestic benefits from America-bashing.

In other words, the Obama effect may not enough to determine the outcome of an election, it’s perhaps one of many influential factors in close elections, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Addressing the Resource Curse

A fascinating proposal was advanced by Martin Sanbu and Nicholas Shaxson in on Financial Times last week. In an op-ed piece, they advocate that countries which rely extensively on extractive industries distribute the revenues from those industries directly to their citizens, then tax the citizens to secure state revenue for infrastructure development. The proposal is an attempt to address the resource curse often associated with resource-rich countries like Nigeria, Angola, and Saudi Arabia. Countries which rely on resource extraction (usually but not always oil) for the vast majority of government revenue tend to be undemocratic and often very poor. The paradox, according to many observers, is that despite having extensive resource wealth, there is little incentive for the government to be responsive to the people. Consequently, revenue from resource extraction tends to be captured through corruption. Mineral wealth, similarly, seems to correlate with civil war; countries with extensive mineral wealth (like the Democratic Republic of the Congo) tend to be more likely to experience civil war than less resource-rich neighbors.

The problem, according to Sanbu and Shaxson, is that when the state earns its wealth through resource sales rather than taxes, there is little incentive for them to respond to the demands of the people. And because they do not pay taxes, there is little reason for the ordinary citizen to believe their government should be accountable.

As Sanbu and Shaxson observe,

Today’s prosperous democracies became what they are because their rulers taxed the population to finance government, forcing them to grant the people a share in power. “No taxation without representation”, and vice versa: mutual dependence underpins a social contract. But resource-rich states tax extractive companies, not citizens. When citizens lack leverage, the social contract withers.

Our proposal is the only policy that directly addresses this power imbalance. It is automatically transparent: people can see what is in their hands.

An interesting—if potentially difficult to implement—solution.

European Elections

Ever wonder which party you’d vote for in European-wide elections? There’s a fun little quiz available through Vote Match that will tell you. And over at Nosemonkey’s Europa, there’s a couple of great short videos on the E.U. The first is a brief overview of how the E.U. works. The second is a good short explanation of the voting system. Both are definitely worth a look.

Elections for the European Parliament take place on the basis of proportional representation (glossary). And if you are curious why voting systems matter, have a look the Fair Vote blog.

After all, as Stalin said, “It’s not the the people who vote that count. It’s the people who count the votes.” Or perhaps more accurately, it’s how the votes are counted.