Monthly Archives: January 2010

Haiti Aid Update

The international response to the earthquake in Haiti has been remarkable. More than 40 countries around the world have responded with donations. Even relatively poor countries—like the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has suffered from instability, poverty, and war over the better part of the last decade—donated $2.5 million to the relief effort.

The international response has been impressive, but two caveats are important. First, as most aid observers know, there is a big difference between pledging assistance and delivering the check. As the Guardian’s Datablog site illustrates, many of the largest donations have yet to be delivered. Australia has pledged about $13 million but has delivered only 45% of its pledge. Other countries have similarly fallen short: Germany has delivered 49% of its pledged aid, the Netherlands 50%, Canada 51%, Denmark 53%, France 55%. The United States has performed relatively well so far, delivering 88% of its pledged aid. Only four countries (Ireland, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Switzerland) have delivered 100% of the aid promised.

The second caveat centers on how we measure the generosity of states. Both Guyana and New Zealand have pledged $1 million for the Haitian relief effort. But on both a per capita basis and as a percentage of the economy, Guyana’s donation could be considered more generous (Guyana’s donation is $1.31 per person, 0.088% of its GDP; New Zealand’s is $0.23 per person, or 0.0008 percent of its GDP. 

So which countries have been the most generous? It depends on how you approach the question.

Donations to Haitian Relief by Country (Selected)


Pledged Total

$ per person

Donation as % of GDP

United States
























































DR Congo
















New Zealand





So, to the answer to who is the most generous looks different depending on how you measure it. The top five by category are:

Most Generous (total donations)

  1. United States ($168 million)
  2. Canada ($131 million)
  3. Spain ($45 million)
  4. United Kingdom ($32 million)
  5. France ($31 million)

Most generous on a per capita basis ($ per person)

  1. Canada ($3.89 per person)
  2. Sweden ($2.51 per person)
  3. Norway ($2.16 per person)
  4. Denmark ($2.05 per person)
  5. Finland ($1.48 per person)

And finally, most generous as a porportion of the economy (% GDP)

  1. Guyana (0.088%)
  2. Ghana (0.018%)
  3. Canada (0.0087%)
  4. Sweden (0.0048%)
  5. Estonia (0.0043%)

Is the U.S. Economy Now in Recovery?

On Friday the Bureau of Economic Analysis released its fourth quarter 2009 estimates of economic performance in the United States. The figures were surprisingly positive, with gross domestic product [glossary] growing at an annualized rate of 5.7 percent. According to the BEA, the increase was driven primarily by an expansion in business inventories. Consumer spending increased at a much slower pace (2.0 percent in the fourth quarter, down from 2.8 percent in the third quarter).

Analysts were surprised by the growth in GDP, which had been forecast to increase at a much slower rate. The Obama Administration expressed cautious optimism regarding the figure, with Christine Romer, chair of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors describing it as the “most positive news to date on the economy” and concluding that, “There will surely be bumps in the road ahead, and we will need to continue to take responsible actions to ensure that the recovery is as smooth and robust as possible. Nonetheless, today’s report is a welcome piece of encouraging news.”

Most observers now agree that we are unlikely to experience a “double-dip” recession. But the nature of the recovery still remains uncertain. Job figures released last week suggest that unemployment remains high and that employers remain hesitant to add jobs—thus Obama’s proposal to offer a $5,000 tax credit to employers who create new jobs. The concern—and one that seems entirely plausible given recent economic reports—is that the recovery of the U.S. economy will resemble the performance of the Japanese economy over the past decade, a “jobless recovery”  in which economic growth continues at a slow pace but unemployment remains high.

Fairness, International Law, and Crimes Against Humanity

Ali Hassan al-Majid, better known as “Chemical Ali” was sentenced to death by an Iraqi court last week. The sentence—death by hanging—was carried out on Monday.

Checmical Ali playing card issued by U.S. military forces in 2003.

Checmical Ali playing card issued by U.S. military forces in 2003

Ali was convicted of crimes against humanity for his role in a series of chemical weapons attacks against Kurds in northern Iraq under regime of Saddam Hussein in the 198s. The campaign resulted in the destruction of an estimated 4,000 Kurdish villages, the death of more than 180,000 and deportation of an estimated 1.5 million Kurds. His willingness to use a number of chemical weapons, including mustard gas, sarin and VX nerve agents, earned him the nickname “Chemical Ali,” though Kurds often referred to him as the “Butcher of Kurdistan.” Ali’s sentence and execution marked the highest level execution of a former Hussein-regime official since the execution of Saddam Hussein in 2006.

Crimes against humanity were defined during the Nuremburg Trials at the end of World War II as “Murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.” The definition was later clarified by an Explanatory Memorandum to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which explained that crimes against humanity are

particularly odious offences in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority. Murder; extermination; torture; rape and political, racial, or religious persecution and other inhumane acts reach the threshold of crimes against humanity only if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice. Isolated inhumane acts of this nature may constitute grave infringements of human rights, or depending on the circumstances, war crimes, but may fall short of falling into the category of crimes under discussion.

The trial of perpetrators for crimes against humanity has often been difficult and controversial. Accusations that the Sudanese government has engaged in crimes against humanity in operations in Darfur, for example, have generated tension between the ICC and the African Union. Similarly, the trials of individuals involved in the Rwandan genocide has led to diplomatic standoffs between the post-genocide Rwandan government, the United Nations, and the government of France.

The challenge often centers on accusations of politically-motivated trials and the dangers of “victor’s justice,” where the rules of war (and more generally of right and wrong) depend on the nationality of the winner. Critics of the U.S. anti-terrorism policy often claim that the United States is engaged in victor’s justice in its decision to use water boarding against individuals with suspected links to terrorism. This claim is based on the decision of the U.S. government to try (and ultimately execute) Japanese soldiers after World War II on charges of war crimes for water boarding American soldiers.

Clearly, the situation in Iraq is different. But the case does beg the question of fairness in international law. We all know that “to the victor goes the spoils” and that “history is written by the victor.” But does international law allow for equity and fairness that are the foundation for contemporary legal systems?

Belgium the Most Globalized Country

Despite the linguistic divide that appears to be fracturing the country, Belgium was named the “most globlaized country” in the 2010 KOF Index of Globalization. The annual survey attempts to measure political, economic, and social globalization around the world using a host of sub-indices. Rounding out the top 10 are:

  1. Belgium
  2. Austia
  3. The Neterhlands
  4. Switzerland
  5. Sweden
  6. Denamark
  7. Canada
  8. Portugal
  9. Finalnd
  10. Hungary

Overall, 20 of the 25 (and 31 of the 50) most globalized countries are in Europe. (Anyone sensing a pro-Europe bias here?) the United States comes in at 27th; China comes in at 63rd.

Still, the report makes for some interesting discussion points.

The European Union’s Foreign Policy Struggles

Baroness Catherine Ashton

Baroness Catherine Ashton, Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The European Union seems to be experiencing another round of growing pains. According to a report in Charlemagne’s Notebook, key European officials are turning on Catherine Ashton, the EU’s top foreign policy official. Ashton was the surprise pick for the position last November, becoming the EU’s first full-time official in that position. At the time, many believed that the pick was a compromise between various camps in the EU, particularly between Britain, which had been pushing for Tony Blair to fill the post, and Germany and France, who wanted someone with more “pro-Union” credentials. 

Ashton’s latest problems arose as a result of her response to the situation in Haiti. After the European Union committed €400 million in aid following the earthquake, Ashton was asked if she would be visiting Haiti personally. After indicated she would not visit the island because the United Nations had requested dignitaries to refrain from making such visits, which tend to disrupt the relief effort. But, a few days later, as Tony Barber reports on the Financial Times Brussels Blog, Michel Barnier, France’s nominee to be the next European Commissioner for internal market, issued a damning statement, noting that after the 2004 Asian tsunami, he visited the region as French foreign minister. As Barber observes,

What this episode reveals is that Ashton really has her work cut out to win the respect of some of her European peers.  They know perfectly well that she was appointed EU foreign policy high representative almost by accident last November and that she lacks experience in the field.  Barnier is not the only one sneering at her or trying to pull attention away from her…To non-European outsiders, this looks chaotic and amateurish.  British anti-Europeans are having a field day.  Someone has to restore order fast…Otherwise the EU’s image on the world stage, which took a hammering at December’s Copenhagen UN climate change conference, will slip even further.

The Lisbon Treaty was intended to streamline decision-making within the European Union by, among other things, institutionalizing key leadership positions. It appears, however, that the Union’s political struggles continue.

Updates on Previous Stories

An update to my post on the fungability of Ameircan power in Haiti: Judah Grunstein has a great analaysis on Haiti and the Constraints of American Hegemony, arguing that the U.S. position in the world left foreign policy decision makers with no choice but to come to Haiti’s aid. Grunstein writes,

What I find more revealing about the Haiti response is the degree to which U.S. policymakers felt they had no choice in the matter. For any number of reasons, they were right — certainly with regards to the humanitarian intervention, and most likely with regards to the subsequent reconstruction efforts. That reflects, in part, the responsibilities inherent in the role of global hegemon, and it underscores a paradox we’d do well to consider. Iraq and Afghanistan have already demonstrated the limits of military force, in particular, and American power more generally. And Haiti itself is a testament to the limits of nation-building. And yet, despite the near-certainty that results will be disappointing, we have no choice but to act.

To paraphrase Madeleine Albright, What good is global hegemony if we have no choice but to use it?

Haitian Aid and the Fungibility of American Power

82nd Airborne's Relief Mission , Photo courtesy US Military (

Aid is finally beginning to flow to Haiti, despite bottlenecks at key transit points. The U.S. 82nd Airborne division has turned a golf course in Port-au-Prince into a makeshift refugee camp, ferrying relief supplies in by helicopter.
An estimated 50,000 people are now living on the country club’s grounds.

Meanwhile, the Pentagon announced yesterday that the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which had been scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan, would be diverted to assist the relief effort in Haiti.

The use of the U.S. 82nd Airborne, the 24th MEU, and other units to assist in relief operations in Haiti illustrates the changing missions of the U.S. military. Their role in Haiti stands in stark contrast to ongoing combat operations in Afghanistan. But President Obama’s decision to deploy U.S. military personnel to Haiti presents an interesting example of the fungibility [glossary] of hard power as well. Traditionally, international relations scholars have contended that hard power (military force) was really only good for one thing: fighting wars. At the end of the Cold War, many scholars were concerned that U.S. soft power [glossary] was declining at the same time that hard power [glossary] became less relevant.

President Obama’s article in Newsweek illustrates his thinking. He states that the United States acts

for the sake of the thousands of American citizens who are in Haiti, and for their families back home; for the sake of the Haitian people who have been stricken with a tragic history, even as they have shown great resilience; and we act because of the close ties that we have with a neighbor that is only a few hundred miles to the south. But above all, we act for a very simple reason: in times of tragedy, the United States of America steps forward and helps.

But Obama also notes that

When we show not just our power, but also our compassion, the world looks to us with a mixture of awe and admiration. That advances our leadership. That shows the character of our country. And it is why every American can look at this relief effort with the pride of knowing that America is acting on behalf of our common humanity.

This is a classic example of the exercise of soft power in international relations.

Cruise Ships, Haitian Relief and the Paradox of Poverty

Labadee Beach, Haiti

Labadee Beach, Haiti, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Two stories appeared side by side in my browser today. The first discusses the challenges Haiti is facing getting relief supplies into the capital.  The extensive damage caused by last week’s earthquake left Port au Prince’s port facilities in ruin and the airport is overwhelmed by traffic. The vast majority of the estimated $1 billion in aid pledged by the international community remains in warehouses, waiting shipment to the people in need in Haiti.

The second story dealt with a new controversy: the decision of the cruise company Royal Caribbean to continue to bring passengers to Labadee, a private beach leased by the company on Haiti’s northern coast. Located less than 100 miles from Port au Prince. The decision has generated some controversy (to say the least), with lots of people chiming in (pro and con) on the CNN blog.  Some passengers on a recent trip described the idea of vacationing on Haitian beaches while “tens of thousands of dead people are being piled up on the streets, with the survivors stunned and looking for food and water” as “sickening.” Royal Caribbean defended the visits, noting that “We also have tremendous opportunities to use our ships as transport vessels for relief supplies and personnel to Haiti…Simply put, we cannot abandon Haiti now that they need us most.”

The disparity of 3,000 wealthy vacationers visiting scenic Haitian beaches while tens of thousands of Port-au-Prince’s new homeless wander the streets in search of food and water is indeed dystopian. But the contradictions of poverty amid plenty are not unique to Haiti. Rather, the two stories merely bring to light global disparities between rich and poor. The central question moving forward should be how to we address the problem of global poverty which set the foundation for the disaster in Haiti.

Government Spending and Economic Growth: The Role of Political Culture

Baseline Scenario has a great discussion of the relationship between government spending, inequality, and economic growth. At issue is a central debate in political economy; namely, does increasing government spending lead to slower rates of economic growth? This seems to be a popular question these days, with both Paul Krugman and Clive Cook chiming in on the topic.

This is hardly a new debate. Adam Smith and Karl Marx both raised similar questions more than 100 years ago. Today, the debate is usually framed as the U.S. vs. the European model, with each side pointing out the flaws in the other. Yes, Europe has slower rates of economic growth than the United States. Yes, the United States has lower rates of taxation (at least over the past twenty years) than Europe. Yes, social services are generally better in Europe. Yes, the United States has better health care system, if you can afford it. The argument goes on and on.

What both sides of the debate seem to be missing is the cultural element. The proposition that  smaller government leads to higher rates of economic growth and prosperity—a point, at best, impossible to prove in the real world due to differences in factor allocations, political histories, and other facts which don’t often fit neatly into our theoretical models—has come to be accepted as common sense. But even conceding the point that smaller government lead to higher rates of economic growth doesn’t tell us what the ideal size of government should be. That question, it seems to me, is largely the outcome of specific national political cultures [glossary] which conceive of differing roles for the state. Higher taxes may indeed mean slower rates of economic growth. But they also may mean the provision of better services by the state. The expectation that the state provide at least some fundamental services to its citizens—ranging from national defense and policing to providing a minimum level of social safety to more expansive services like health care and education—is largely a function of political socialization [glossary] and political culture. And political cultures often prove incredibly resilient. Americans are unlikely to wake up tomorrow and demand a host of new services from the state (The Democrats are learning this the hard way as they try to reform the U.S. health care system). Similarly, most Europeans are unlikely to embrace the night watchman state [glossary] that seems to inform American political culture. Any debate that misses this is likely to have little effect in the real world.

Updates to Recent Stories

Two quick updates on recent stories:

Two interesting developments on the situation in Haiti occurred late last week. First, the Obama administration announced it would grant Temporary Protected Status in the United States. This has the effect of temporary suspending deportation proceedings against the estimated 30,0000 Haitians currently pending in the United States. A number of groups have been campaigning for TPS for Haiti.

The International Monetary Fund announced it would make available $100 million in credit for the government of Haiti to fund relief efforts. While the government could certainly use assistance, the debt forgiveness group Jubilee has condemned the use of long-term loans to finance relief efforts, arguing that this will only exacerbate Haiti’s debt problems.

Finally, with respect to the French identity debates, Time magazine on Monday published a story on the problem many French citizens now face in proving their citizenship. According to the story, many people born to French parents abroad are having difficulty proving their citizenship under strict new rules designed restrict the ability of foreigners to obtain French citizenship. Some French citizens have been asked to prove the nationality of their parents and grandparents, providing original birth certificates to support their claims. The policy has been condemned, however, as running the risk of creating new populations of stateless persons.