Monthly Archives: July 2011

Oslo Terror and the “Clash of Civilizations”

Norway terror suspect Anders Behring Breivik leaves an Oslo courthouse on July 25.

The massacre of 76 people last Friday in Norway has focused increased attention on anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe. 32-year-old Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik has confessed to the killings, making the following statement in court: “The operation was not to kill as many people as possible, but to give a strong signal that cannot be misunderstood: that as long as the Labor Party keeps driving its ideological line, and keeps deconstructing Norwegian culture and mass-importing Muslims, then they must assume responsibility for this treason. Any person with a conscience cannot allow his country to be colonized by Muslims.”

Although Breivik’s actions were obviously extreme, many analysts have pointed out that xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment has grown in Europe in recent years as migrants from Turkey, North Africa, and elsewhere have challenged European countries’ national identities.  There is fear that this xenophobia, evidenced by the rise of right-wing parties in Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, and France, could produce more discrimination against “outgroups” and more acts of violence. Breivik’s 1,500-page manifesto approvingly quotes American bloggers and writers who have warned against the threat of Islam, prompting some analysts to charge that these bloggers bear some responsibility for actions such as Breivik’s, a charge they vehemently reject.

In 1993 Samuel Huntington warned of a coming “Clash of Civilizations” in which the battle lines would be drawn not between states (like in the 18th and 19th centuries) or conflicting ideologies (like in the 20th century) but between large cultural entities known as civilizations. Civilizations, in Huntington’s famous formulation, are like nations (groups of people who share a common identity) but at a much broader level. He envisioned 7 or 8 major civilizations in the world: Western, Islamic, Orthodox, Latin American, Sinic, Japanese, Hindu, and (maybe) African. He also predicted that major clashes would come between “the West vs. the rest” and Islam vs. others on its borders. Although critics have subjected Huntington’s thesis to considerable scrutiny, world events (particularly since 9/11) have led many to believe that Huntington’s work contains at least a kernel of truth that we would be wise not to ignore.

What do you think?  Is the Norway massacre and the broader xenophobic sentiment in Europe evidence of a clash between the Western and Islamic civilizations?  Will these large cultural groupings naturally clash due to their religious and historical differences?  Or do such explanations give undue weight to the acts and ideologies of a few extremists and ignore the generally peaceful relations that exist across “civilizational” divides?

Brinkmanship and the U.S. Debt Ceiling Standoff

A tense meeting between President Obama and House Speaker Boehner this morning at the White House.

Brinkmanship is defined by Merriam-Webster as “the art or practice of pushing a dangerous situation or confrontation to the limit of safety especially to force a desired outcome.”  It was a common practice during the Cold War standoff between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, when strategists such as Herman Kahn and Thomas Schelling mined metaphors like “rocking the boat” and the game of “chicken” to analyze superpower brinkmanship.

The logic of brinkmanship as a bargaining strategy is that by raising the stakes and threatening to let events spiral out of control you can coerce the opposing actor to back down and accept your demands.  During the Cuban Missile Crisis President Kennedy’s decision to place a naval “quarantine” around Cuba increased the chances of a naval clash and subsequent escalation between tense, nuclear-armed adversaries.  In this crisis, both sides used the very real threat of impending doom to wring concessions from the other.

Today we are witnessing a good example of brinkmanship in the standoff between President Obama and Congressional Republicans  over raising the debt ceiling.  The August 2nd deadline is looming for the U.S. to raise the ceiling or risk defaulting on its obligations–not quite as bad an outcome as nuclear holocaust, but bad enough that many analysts are using the terms “apocalypse” and “armageddon” to describe the economic consequences of a default.  For analyses of the consequences of a default for the U.S. and the global economy see here, here, and here.  Summing up the concerns, a senior economist at Wells Fargo is quoted in a recent Huffington Post article as saying: “It would be an earth-shattering event. It’s taken as a given that U.S. Treasuries are a safe asset. Once you question that assumption, it shakes the foundations of global finance, and the way it’s been established over the last 50 years.” Yet despite these dangers, President Obama walked out of talks last week and House Speaker John Boehner broke off talks last night, raising the heat and signaling that they were willing to court economic disaster if the other side didn’t budge. Some analysts believe that the willingness of some Congressional Republicans to accept the prospect of no deal by August 2nd gives them the upper hand in negotiations, and analysts such as Thomas Schelling would agree. The problem with brinkmanship, however, is that it requires increasing the likelihood of catastrophe, and if that catastrophe happens both sides have lost.

What do you think?  Who is playing the game of brinkmanship better in this standoff?  How will it end?  Are both sides acting irresponsibly by raising the risks of economic disaster, or is one side more to blame for holding the economy hostage to extract self-interested concessions?

Hard Power, Soft Power, and the Arab Spring

Soft power defeating hard power? Egyptian protesters sleep in the tracks of tanks in Tahrir Square.

The extraordinary developments of the “Arab Spring” (which are still ongoing in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and elsewhere) illustrate the promise–and the limits–of “hard power” versus “soft power” in today’s world. Harvard political scientist Joseph Nye, who coined the term “soft power,” examines the sources and uses of different types of power in his book Soft Power: the Means to Success in World Politics.  This book remains an indispensable read for students of world politics.

Nye (and many other scholars) define power as the ability to influence other actors’ behavior in order to get the outcomes you want.  Hard power includes the use of both negative instruments (e.g., military force, threats of violence, economic sanctions) and positive inducements/bribes (e.g., development aid, the offer of an alliance) in order to get others to do what you want them to do.  You are basically taking an actor who doesn’t want to take “action X” and changing their calculations through external rewards or punishments so that they decide to do X.   Soft power involves influencing others through your attractive culture, values, or policies so that they actually want to be more like you or conform to the principles you espouse, and they therefore take action X of their own accord.

The developments of the Arab Spring, which began in early 2011, offer numerous examples of both hard and soft power in action.  Government crackdowns on protesters and rebels in Syria, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and elsewhere are a classic use of hard, coercive power to affect the calculations of the anti-regime actors.  And (implicit or explicit) threats of violence by these anti-regime elements also represent attempts to employ hard power against intransigent regimes.  Such tactics do affect governments’ calculations and helped to produce the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia.  NATO air strikes on behalf of Libya’s rebels is another clear example of hard power.  But the pro-democracy movements that have emerged in the Arab world were not bribed or coerced by external actors to take action–they are largely motivated by their attraction to democracy and human rights.  This is why many Western analysts have concluded that while hard power can overthrow governments (e.g., Iraq and Afghanistan), the best means for promoting democracy long-term is the soft power of Western ideals, culture, and rhetoric.  Real change, they contend, must come from within and cannot be imposed by hard power.

What do you think?  Can hard power be used effectively for democracy promotion?  What other examples of hard and soft power in the Arab Spring can you identify?

Recognizing Libya’s Rebels

Are Libya's rebels ready to take the reins of power?

Yesterday the United States took the important step of formally recognizing Libya’s rebels as the legitimate government of Libya. This recognition will theoretically allow the U.S. to free up $30 billion in Libyan assets that had been frozen in order to provide badly needed aid to the rebels. (For an analysis of the rebels’ shockingly amateurish, if determined, approach to warfighting, see here).  However, as Foreign Policy blogger Josh Rogin points out, a number of thorny legal questions must be answered before the aid can be delivered:

“First of all, it’s unclear how the various U.N. and U.S. sanctions that have been levied on Libya since March will now be applied, considering that the [rebel Transitional National Council] is now seen as the ‘Libyan government.’…U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970 prohibits sending arms to Libya. Does that now apply to the rebels? Does the White House now have to rescind executive orders on Libya, some of which call for restrictions aimed against the ‘Government of Libya’?”

As discussed in a recent blog post, there is a  big difference between juridical sovereignty, a legal right implied by external recognition, and empirical sovereignty, the actual ability of a government to control its territory.  In this case, the Libyan rebels are only in charge of the eastern part of the country–Qaddafi’s forces hold most of the west, including the capital city of Tripoli.

Historically, the U.S. and other countries have granted official recognition to those regimes that possessed empirical sovereignty, even if those regimes were deemed distasteful.  Joshua Keating rightly describes this unusual recognition of Libya’s rebels as a “Wilsonian” move (invoking former U.S. president and quintessential idealist Woodrow Wilson).  Idealists emphasize human rights, democracy, and other values in ways that lead them to depart from “power politics” considerationsRealists, who embrace power politics and claim to view the world as it is rather than as they might wish it to be, would decry the recognition of an ineffectual government as wishful thinking.   But as Keating points out, “Wilson’s creative interpretation of the law of recognition helped establish the international illegitimacy of Huerta’s regime [in Mexico] and certainly contributed to his downfall.”  Could America’s action yesterday similarly hasten the demise of Qaddafi’s regime?

Nations, States, and the Independence of South Sudan

Celebrations marked the birth of South Sudan in Juba, the new country's capital.

South Sudan became an independent state today, six months after its people voted in a referendum to break away from Sudan and form their own country. You can watch videos of the festivities here.  The north and the south have fought two civil wars in Sudan, with the latest (ended by a peace agreement in 2005) claiming over two million lives. The international recognition of South Sudan will confer upon its government juridical (legal) sovereignty–the recognized right to rule within a defined territory without external interference. But empirical (actual) sovereignty is something different–the government’s ability to control its territory and maintain independence from outside interference.  Often a government possesses juridical but not empirical sovereignty (consider Pakistan’s inability to control its tribal areas) or empirical sovereignty without international recognition (Taiwan).  It appears that South Sudan may have a shot at both types of sovereignty, although there remain internal ethnic divides and unresolved disputes with Sudan over the south’s oil resources and territorial boundaries in the regions of Abyei and South Kordofan that could tempt the north to intervene and undermine South Sudan’s sovereignty.

With the independence of South Sudan from the Republic of Sudan, both countries become closer to meeting the ideal of a “nation-state” than they were before.  The north is predominantly Arab and Muslim, whereas the south is black, Christian, and Animist.  Reflecting the sentiment of many in South Sudan, a man celebrating the country’s birth carried a hand-painted sign that read “From today our identity is southern and African, not Arabic and Muslim.” Political scientists use the term nation to describe a group of people who have a common identity.  Usually this group shares a history and such characteristics as culture, religion, and language, but the common identity–a sense of “we-ness”–is the most important attribute.  In contrast, the term state refers to a political entity (a government) that controls a defined territory and population.  Many states are actually multinational (Sudan before the south broke away would definitely qualify), and frequently nations are split between several states.  This is particularly common in Africa, where imperial powers created boundaries based on their colonial interests rather than the realities of where ethnic and tribal groups lived.  Nation-states only exist where the nation and the state coincide (examples would include Japan and Egypt), and these are the exception rather than the rule worldwide.  Of course, a mismatch between political boundaries and ethnic or cultural boundaries is a frequent cause of conflict.  In the case of Sudan, the Arab and Muslim north’s political and economic domination of the south reinforced the these identity boundaries and helped to produce today’s new political and territorial boundaries. Financial Times blogger Gideon Rachman suggests that this redrawing of boundaries could even be the wave of the future:

“A peaceful partition would also obviously have implications for the rest of Africa. It is a commonplace that many of the borders inherited from the colonial era make little sense. But there is understandable anxiety about the potential for conflict, if African borders start being withdrawn. If the division of Sudan demonstrates that this can be more or less peacefully, it may not be that long before the world has 200 states.”

Two-Level Games and the Greek Financial Crisis

Violence erupts on the streets of Athens in response to the Greek parliament's approval of harsh austerity measures demanded by the EU and IMF.

The financial crises that have gripped debt-ridden countries in the eurozone in the last year offer some excellent examples of the challenges and complexities of “two-level games.” A two-level game, as defined by political scientist Robert Putnam, refers to a common situation faced by political leaders when negotiating agreements such as trade deals with foreign states. To reach an acceptable agreement a leader must take into account the demands of actors at two levels: the domestic level and the international level. For example, in negotiating a trade deal with China, President Obama would need to try to balance the demands of China’s government with the demands of domestic actors such as Congress and business or labor interest groups. These demands restrict the set of acceptable outcomes at each level, and the final agreement must therefore be located within that window of overlap where both domestic and international actors would find an agreement acceptable. The absence of an overlapping set of acceptable options would ordinarily produce a negotiating failure (examples might include the Kyoto and International Criminal Court Treaties, which President Clinton favored but could not get the U.S. Senate to ratify). The theory of two-level games also highlights the fact that leaders can use constraints at one level to gain leverage at the second level. So Obama might tell China’s leaders that he can’t budge any further on trade concessions due to American business demands, or he might tell Congress this is the best deal they’re going to get from an intransigent Chinese leadership.

What does all of this have to do with the eurozone financial crises? Debt-ridden countries such as Ireland, Portugal, and Greece have sought emergency loans from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in order to stay afloat financially, but the EU and IMF have attached strict conditions to these loans. Recipient countries have been required to enact harsh austerity measures designed to correct the problems that necessitated the emergency bailouts. These unpopular measures include raising taxes, slashing welfare spending, and cutting government jobs and pensions. Leaders such as the Prime Ministers of Ireland and Greece have faced strong opposition to these internationally imposed demands from a range of domestic actors (the general public, interest groups, and some members of parliament). George Papandreou, the Greek Prime Minister, narrowly survived a no confidence vote in parliament on June 22, and violent protests have erupted in the streets of Athens in response to the proposed austerity measures. Papandreou succeeded in holding together enough domestic support to get these measures approved by parliament, although clashes between riot police and protesters escalated after the vote.

But this isn’t the end of the story. As Foreign Policy blogger David Rothkopf notes in a post entitled “15 Things the Greek Austerity Vote Won’t Accomplish,” the parliament’s decision to approve the controversial measures “won’t guarantee that Greece sticks with the plan that’s approved. Riots in the streets illustrate that the people of Greece are deeply unhappy with what they perceive as a foreign-imposed squeeze. They can force a political reversal that leads to a policy reversal.” In other words, round one of this two-level game may have been won by actors at the international level, but the game continues…and domestic actors in Greece, Portugal, and elsewhere may yet be able to exert sufficient pressure on their leaders to change the game decisively in their favor.

The International Criminal Court and Global Governance

Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi, the target of an ICC arrest warrant.

The International Criminal Court’s decision this week to issue an arrest warrant for Libyan leader Moammar Qaddafi has revived debate about the power and usefulness of the ICC in world politics.  The ICC is an international governmental organization (IGO)–an organization whose members are states–that was created by the 1998 Rome Treaty and today has 114 members.  Its purpose is to prosecute individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.  (The charges against Qaddafi, his son, and his military intelligence chief were for crimes against humanity stemming from the regime’s  crackdown on anti-government protesters).  The ICC operates according to the principle of complementarity, which means that it can only act when national court systems are unable or unwilling to take action against the perpetrators of such crimes.  The United States has refused to sign the Rome Treaty and has expressed fears that its soldiers or government officials could be subjected to politically motivated prosecutions by the court, but it has increasingly shown a willingness to use the ICC as a tool to accomplish its foreign policy goals, as discussed in this piece by Colum Lynch.

“Global governance” refers to efforts to move beyond an anarchic system of sovereign states and create structures that can make and enforce rules at the global level.  The ICC is obviously a crucial part of these efforts.  However, a fundamental weakness of the ICC (and other global bodies) is that it does not have an army or police force that can enforce its arrest warrants and bring indicted war criminals such as Sudan’s President Bashir or Libya’s Moammar Qaddafi to justice.  One commentator described the ICC indictment as a fairly impotent call for Qaddafi to “please turn yourself in, now.”  Without “teeth” to enforce its dictates, the ICC must rely on cooperation from state actors, and a number of analysts have raised doubts about whether the NATO forces that are carrying out the bombing of Libya will extend their mission to enforcing the arrest warrant against Qaddafi and his associates.  David Kaye, director of the International Human Rights Law program at UCLA’s School of Law, put it this way:

“Arresting the three would require “boots on the ground,” a scenario that has largely — if not categorically — been taken off the table, especially by the United States. The last time NATO faced such a predicament, in Bosnia in the 1990s, it long resisted devoting any of its resources to enforcing arrest warrants issued by the UN International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, even when it had significant numbers of troops on the ground.”

Beyond questions of enforcement, other analysts have argued that the ICC indictments, while morally and legally justified, represent a tactical blunder that reduces the chances of a peace deal that could end the bloodshed in Libya.  Foreign policy analyst and former National Security Council official James Lindsay argued in a May 17 Op-Ed piece that an arrest warrant “…would give [Qaddafi]  additional reason to dig in his heels. With the threat of arrest and trial in The Hague hanging over his head, he knows he will not have the option given dictators of old – going into exile to Paris (Baby Doc Duvalier) or retreat to Saudi Arabi (Idi Amin)…Both a rebel victory and a stable ceasefire remain out of reach. A diplomatic initiative to persuade Gadhafi to step down offers one way out of the current stalemate. But Monday’s ICC indictment simply gives him another reason to hang on and fight.”  For other thoughtful articles on the conflict between justice and peace in this case, see here and here.

The Atlantic’s Max Fisher provides a somewhat different view, arguing that “Ultimately, the arrest warrant is likely to serve as little more than another bargaining chip in any negotiations over ending Libya’s civil war. That’s a good thing — as fighting worsens and civil society degrades, anything that makes peace more likely is essential — but it’s not quite international justice in the legal sense of the term.”

A final critique, aimed not at the indictment of Qaddafi per se, but at the inconsistent application of international law (i.e., why Qaddafi and not others?)can be found here.

What do you think?  Was the ICC’s indictment of Qaddafi a wise step?  How can the structural impediments to global governance (foremost among them, state sovereignty) be overcome to enforce human rights globally and consistently?  Or would the surrender of state sovereignty to supranational organizations actually create more problems than it solves?