Monthly Archives: March 2013

Peacekeeping vs. Peacemaking in the DR Congo

UN Peacekeeping Forces in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

UN Peacekeeping Forces in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The United Nations Security Council last week took the unusual step of authorizing UN Peacekeepers in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to “carry out targeted offensive operations” to “neutralize” armed rebel groups.  The new force, dubbed the Intervention Brigade, will be deployed by July and includes soldiers from South Africa, Tanzania, and Malawi.

Adoption of the new mandate was unanimous, meaning that the Rwandan government, which currently holds a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council, supported the measure. This is surprising because the government of the DR Congo has accused Rwanda of supporting rebel groups operating in that region. Much of the ongoing fighting and instability in that region is the direct result of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which resulted in Hutu extremists fleeing across the DR Congo-Rwandan border to escape prosecution in Rwanda.

The move was also surprising in that it represents a considerable expansion of the UN mission in the Congo. Traditionally, United Nations peacekeepers have been authorized to use force only in self-defense. They generally observe and monitor existing agreements and provide a stabilizing force in the conflict. They have generally not been authorized to use force to end conflict or establish a peace. Indeed, there is considerable debate in the literature as to whether or not the United Nations either should be involved or can be effective in such a role. And since the dramatic failure of the UN mission in Somalia in the early 1990s, the United Nations has been incredibly hesitant to expand its peacekeeping role.

The expanded mission in the DR Congo thus represents in interesting development for the United Nations. It the mission proves successful, and the United Nations forces are able to establish stability in the region, successfully disarm rebel groups, and ensure the security of civilians in the area, then we might see greater use of the tool in the future. If the mission fails—as happened so dramatically in Mogadishu in 1993—then UN peacekeeping operations might be derailed for another decade.

What do you think? Should the United Nations be engaged in peacemaking operations? Or should UN forces keep within their narrow peacekeeping mandate? Will the mission in the DR Congo be a success? And what will be the effects of a successful (or unsuccessful?) operation there? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Another Reason for Literature in the Classroom

A student emailed me a very powerful Ted talk this morning that follows nicely on yesterday’s post on Chinua Achebe. In the Ted Talk, Chimamanda Adichie, a Nigerian author, explains the danger of a single story.

From the video: “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story…Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.”

Remembering Chinua Achebe: Using Fiction in the Political Science Classroom

Nelson Mandela was a fan of Chinua Achebe’s work, having said that while reading Achebe’s novels as a prisoner of Robbin Island for 27 years, “prison walls fell down.” Mandela also said that Achebe’s work, “brought Africa to the rest of the world.”

Nelson Mandela was a fan of Chinua Achebe’s (left) work, having said that while reading Achebe’s novels as a prisoner of Robbin Island for 27 years, “prison walls fell down.” Mandela also said that Achebe’s work, “brought Africa to the rest of the world.”

Nigerian author and poet Chinua Achebe died on Friday. He was 82. Achebe’s work centered on understanding the effects of colonialism and corruption in Africa. His first—and most famous—book was Things Fall Apart. Published in 1958, the classic text analyzed the clash between African and British colonial values in Nigeria, seeking to understand how local norms and values were undermined by colonialism.

In the book, Obierika comments that, “The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peaceably with his religion. We were amused at his foolishness and allowed him to stay. Now he has won our brothers, and our clan can no longer act like one. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”

Although Achebe was never awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, he was regularly held in the pantheon of the best African writers, including Wole Soyinka, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and Lewis Nkosi. Achebe also served as a role model for countless younger African authors.

His passing was indeed a tragedy. But it also provided me pause. I had regularly used fiction, most notably Achebe’s Things Fall Apart (Nigeria), but also other works such as Tsitsi Dangarembga’s Nervous Conditions (Zimbabwe), Soyinka’s The Lion and the Jewel (Nigeria), Chukwuemeka Ike’s Bottled Leopard (Nigeria), and Gillian Slovo’s Red Dust (South Africa), among others, as part of my introductory comparative politics course. Finding myself constantly trying to fit additional materials into the course, I stopped using novels in favor of other (nonfiction) readings covering key themes and debates.

Yet increasingly I suspect that fiction should have a more central place in the class again. Good fiction provides students with an additional avenue to make sense of the issues faced in regions and societies far removed from their own. While a well-written journal article or textbook chapter can covey all the factual information students need, the more emotive, visceral, and evocative learning atmosphere created through fiction speaks to students in a different way. Students, in short, get a better “feel” for the places they are studying.

I’ve provided a few recommendations for books covering several African countries above. I’d welcome recommendations for some of the other regions we typically cover in an intro to comparative politics course. Leave your suggestions below. And thanks!

Weekly Quiz: Test Yourself on This Week’s Events

The weekly quiz is now live. Good luck!

Diplomats as Political Appointees

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) and U.S. Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin (R).

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy (L) and U.S. Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin (R).

One of the unique features of the U.S. Foreign Service that it’s highest ranking personnel are not generally professional diplomats. Sure, for some posts—mostly places people don’t want to spend a lot of time—they are. But for many posts, including in many important U.S. allies, the ambassador is a political appointee who raised a lot of money for the winner of the presidential election.

When President Barack Obama was elected, 32 of the 58 ambassadorial appointments he made were to large campaign contributors. And less you think that Obama is an anomalies, he was simply following a longstanding tradition. Fifty of Preside George W. Bush’s ambassadors were each responsible for campaign donations of at least $100,000. Since the Eisenhower administration, approximately 30 percent of all ambassadorial appointments have been to campaign donors. That is an exceedingly high figure when you think that the United States has embassies in approximately 198 countries around the world.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this process can create problems. As one blogger put it,

American political appointee Ambassadors are usually neophytes – all too often innocents abroad – as opposed to career people who have worked their way up the ranks of the all too hierarchical U.S. foreign service and have had extensive exposure to the country, language and culture to which they are being assigned – e.g. the professionals usually know something about the country of their posting, or if not, know how to make an Embassy function, the policies of whatever the administration is in the White House and how to deliver them as well as basic Ambassadorial does and don’ts.

But a recent story in The Atlantic suggests that the use of political appointees as ambassadors is not necessarily a bad thing. Profiling Charles Rivkin, the U.S. Ambassador to France, The Atlantic argues that political appointees can carry greater connections to the White House, often bring a fresh perspective on relations and issues between the two countries, and frequently possess significant management and leadership skills developed during their time in the business world.

What do you think? Does the appointment of campaign donors to key posts in the U.S. Diplomatic Corps undermine U.S. foreign policy and national security? Or can business leaders make effective diplomats? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

North Korean Propaganda and the Korean Conflict

The North Korean government released a new propaganda video this week. The video, complete with amateurish graphics, threatens the United States with devastation, noting that “The White House has been captured in the view of our long-range missile, and the capital of war is within the range of our atomic bomb.”

The video echoes the trailer for the 2012 remake of the Cold War classic Red Dawn. The 2012 remake positions North Korea as the invading force occupying the Pacific Northwest. (In an interesting aside, the studio spent more than a million dollars in post-production to change the enemy forces after the film had been shot. Originally, the invading army was supposed to be Chinese, but they were recast as North Koreans in an effort to expand box office earnings in China).

But while the parallels between the two are humorous, the increasing bellicosity from the North Korean regime is causing concern among Korea-watchers. The North Korean government last week announced it was invalidating the armistice that ended direct hostilities in the Korean War in 1953. It has also stepped up nuclear testing  and long range missile testing in recent months. Meanwhile, the United States is expanding operations on the Korean peninsula, engaging in joint training operations with the South Korean military this week.

North Korean belligerence seems to come in regular cycles. But the current cycle appears to be more intense that others, leading some spectators to question whether the current leader, Kim Jong Un, is more dangerous and less predictable than his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung, both of whom led the country previously. Interestingly, North Korea’s closest ally, china, appears to be growing increasingly frustrated with the regime, and has supported expanding sanctions on North Korea in recent months.

What do you think? Does North Korea pose a threat to the United States and South Korea? If so, what measures should be taken to address the North Korean threat. Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

The Cyprus Bailout and European Banking Stability

Cypriot protestors demonstrate against the EU's proposed savings tax.

Cypriot protestors demonstrate against the EU’s proposed savings tax.

The Cypriot parliament on Tuesday rejected a proposed bailout package from the European Union that would have imposed a surcharge on bank deposits. The tax was resoundly defeated, with 36 members of parliament opposing the measure and 19 abstaining; no one voted in support. Meanwhile, thousands of protestors had taken to the streets to voice their opposition to the measure.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble noted that he “regretted” the Cypriot parliament’s decision, asserting that “There is a danger they won’t be able to open the banks again at all.”

The measure would have imposed a 6.75 percent levy on all deposits of less than 100,000 euros, and a 9.9 percent surcharge on deposits of more than 100,000 euros. In a last-ditch effort to save the measure, the government of Cyprus announced ahead of the vote that accounts of less than 20,000 euros would be exempted from the tax.

Cyprus, which like Ireland and Iceland had attempted to position itself as an international banking center, had an exceptionally large number of foreign depositors. It was estimated that approximately 40 percent of all deposits on the small island were held by foreigners, mostly Russians. The European Union’s measure angered the Russian government, which announced that it would need to reconsider the terms of a 2.5 billion euro loan it had made to Cyprus in 2011. Cyprus’ Finance Minister, Michalis Sarris, was in Moscow on Tuesday, hoping to extend repayment terms and lower the interest rate on the original loan.

International observers widely condemned the European Union’s proposed bailout package, the terms of which were released on Saturday. Economist Paul Krugman argued that,

You can sort of see why they’re doing this: Cyprus is a money haven, especially for the assets of Russian beeznessmen; this means that it has a hugely oversized banking sector (think Iceland) and that a haircut-free bailout would be seen as a bailout, not just of Cyprus, but of Russians of, let’s say, uncertain probity and moral character…The big problem, however, is that it’s not just large foreign deposits that are taking a haircut; the haircut on small domestic deposits is a bit smaller, but still substantial. It’s as if the Europeans are holding up a neon sign, written in Greek and Italian, saying “time to stage a run on your banks!”

The Cypriot case is particularly interesting. According to an IMF report, the country was doing well before the 2008 global economic crisis, experiencing “a long period of high growth, low unemployment, and sound public finances.” But the global financial crisis hit Cyprus particularly hard, as the country was exceptionally dependent on foreign depositors. By 2011, concerns were emerging. Cypriot banks had made loans to Greek barrowers totaling more than 160 percent of the Cypriot GDP, and those ties to the Greek economy were beginning to drag down Cyprus.

What’s interesting is the moral hazard that the imposition of the new levy poses for other banks in the European Union. As Krugman notes, Europeans watching from other troubled economies (think Spain, Portugal, and Italy) the bailout requirements in Cyprus may be an incentive for them to relocate their assets before their country is forced to undertake similar reforms.

What do you think? Are the conditions imposed by the European Union on Cyprus as a prerequisite for receiving a rescue package reasonable? Or do they threaten to undermine economic stability in other troubled European economies? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.