Monthly Archives: June 2013

Expanding the European Union


European Union leaders last week agreed to move forward with accession talks with Serbia, whose application for EU membership had been stalled as a result of disputes over the status of its breakaway region of Kosovo. Currently, eight countries are waiting to join the European Union: Albania, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia, Iceland, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey. Croatia’s membership has already been approved, and the country will officially join the European Union on July 1.


Joining the European Union is a long and complicated process. Applicant countries must meet specific criteria and satisfy benchmarksrelating to democracy, the rule of law, market economy, and adherence to the European Union’s goals of political and economic union. There are 35 specific “Chapters” governing membership, and countries must meet specific targets in all areas to be granted membership.

Turkey’s application for EU membership has been further complicated by its historical relations with France and Germany, which have resulted in much slower progress than other applicant countries have seen. The Turkish government’s harsh response to protests in recent days may now further delay its application.

Serbia’s accession talks have been complicated by disputes over the status of the breakaway region of Kosovo. While Kosovo has been recognized by the European Union and most Western countries, Serbia asserts that Kosovo remains part of its territory. As recently as March 2013, Serbia’s Prime Minister, Ivica Dačić, asserted that his government would never recognize Kosovo’s independence, that “Kosovo is ours,” and that Serbia retained the right to define its own borders. But two weeks ago, Kosovo and Serbia exchanged liaison officers (diplomatic officials short of formal ambassadorial staff). It remains to be seen if Serbia and Kosovo can reconcile their differences as Serbia moves forward with its application for EU membership.

What do you think? Should the European Union move forward with Serbia’s accession talks? Or does the disputed status of Kosovo undermine Serbia’s application? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

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International Corporate Liability

The government of Singapore last week was considering legal action against two Singapore-based companies for operations in neighboring Indonesia. The government of Singapore believes that the two companies, Asia Pacific Resources International and Sinar Mas, which are both headquartered in Singapore but have Indonesian owners, are engaged in slash and burn techniques to clear land in Indonesia for use as palm oil plantations. The use of slash and burn techniques has generated considerable pollution, which has drifted into Singapore creating a thick haze and forcing the government to issue several health warnings for poor air quality. The government has indicated that the warnings could remain in place for weeks.

The recent developments provide a classic example of the problem of externalities. Because the costs resulting from the pollution associated with slash and burn techniques are displaced out of Indonesia, there is little incentive for the Indonesian government to address the situation. Further, because the cost of the pollution is not priced into the operations of the companies themselves, the companies have no incentive to curtail their activities. Rather, the costs are borne by the people of Singapore, who must endure poor air quality (and associated health problems).

In this case, the government of Singapore has some resource, because two of the companies engaged in the polluting activities are based in Singapore. But there are at least 30 other companies engaged in similar activities in Indonesia over which Singapore has little influence. And it’s not entirely clear on what grounds the two companies will be charged.

The land is being cleared for the production of palm oil, which historically has been used as edible oil in the region. But increasing demand for biodiesel in the European Union (which mirrors increased demand for ethanol in the United States) has led to sharp increases in palm oil production in southeast Asia. Ironically, the increased pollution in Singapore is thus driven, at least in part, by efforts to reduce air pollution in Europe.

What do you think? Should multinational corporations face liability in one country for their operations in another? What are the implications for such a position? Could you envision an American company being sued in foreign courts for operations in the United States? Are there any limits to this sort of liability? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

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The Australian Military Scandal(s) and Feminist IR Theory

Lieutenant General David Morrisson, Chief of the Australian Army

Lieutenant General David Morrisson, Chief of the Australian Army

Blogging at Duck of Minerva, Megan McKenzie raises some very interesting questions this week about the Australian military scandal. In the past couple of weeks, members of the Australian Defense Force have been accused of secretly videotaping sex without permission and streaming it other soldiers and, in a separate indecent, several soldiers were accused of emailing explicit and degrading descriptions of female soldiers. And to make matters still worse, these recent incidents follow on scandals last year that prompted the Australian military command to “rid the force of sexism” following another sandal last year.

The Chief of the Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison issued a public video statement condemning the actions of the soldiers engaged in these activities and telling them to “find something else to do with your life… Those who think that it is OK to behave in a way that demeans or exploits their colleagues have no place in this army. On all operations, female soldiers and officers have proven themselves worthy of the best traditions of the Australian Army. They are vital to us maintaining our capability now and into the future. If that does not suit you then get out. You may find another employer where your attitude and behaviour is acceptable but I doubt it.” The complete video (just over 3 minutes) is available on YouTube.

General Morrison continues, calling on innocent members of the armed forces to “show moral courage” and take a stand against such behavior in their ranks.

But as MacKenzie notes in her blog this week, Morrison’s video marks an important departure from previous efforts that tend to define such activities as the individual behavior of “a few bad apples.” Instead, Morrison contends that the culture and values of the military should be incompatible with such actions, and that individual soldiers should leave if they feel they cannot accept this. In doing so, MacKenzie observes that,

He may not realize it, but Morison also moves to redefine Australian militarised masculinity when he says that he doesn’t believe that toughness can be built on humiliating others and that all members of the force should ‘show moral courage’ and take a stand against such behavior. It may not seem like a big deal, but shifting the way that courage and toughness are defined could mean more than any grand declarations to rid the military of perpetrators. He also talks about the band of brothers AND sisters- making a concerted departure from a particular masculine image of the force.

There is always room for cynicism at a time like this, but here’s hoping that a thoughtful, prompt, and meaningful reaction to activities that have been brushed off for too long as ‘par for the course’ within defense and defence forces around the world may show times are changing.

Writing for the Sydney Morning Heard, Rachel Olding goes slightly further, describing General Morrison as an “unlikely feminist hero” and summarizing similar sentiments expressed by other Australian personalities.

What do you think? Do General Morrison’s comments represent a new, more feminist orientated way to approach the question of professional behavior in the military? Will he be successful in his efforts to shift the culture within the Australian military? And what might we learn from the Australian example? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

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The Role of Summits in Global Politics

US President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping are meeting this weekend at a private estate in Southern California at an informal summit. It’s the first such meeting between the two leaders since Xi became president of China in March. At the summit, the two leaders emphasized the need for overcoming differences and forging a new, more productive relationship between the two countries. The agenda includes several “areas of tension,” ranging from North Korea’s nuclear ambitions to cyber espionage and the status of Chinese political prisoners.

While the summit will likely produce flowery rhetoric from both sides, the real purpose of the summit is to develop greater understanding between the two countries. It’s particularly interesting that this summit is being billed as an “informal meeting” rather than a formal state visit. During a formal state visit, formal dinners are held, military honor guards and parades perform, gifts are exchanged, and cultural ties between the countries are promoted. But the formality of such events often precludes more meaningful, unscripted exchanges between the country’s leaders. Summits on the other hand provide an opportunity for leaders to engage in precisely the kind of frank talks that can lead to more productive outcomes.

As Alan Romberg, Director of the East Asia Program at the Stimson Center observes, the summit is

clearly aimed at creating a productive working relationship for the long term…Overcoming deeply ingrained suspicion will not be easy. But if policy deliberations at the top are characterized by greater mutual confidence, this can help inform more objective mutual perceptions throughout each system. This would significantly enhance both sides’ ability to handle key problems, not only avoiding and managing crises, but creating positive outcomes across a broad spectrum of issues.

The risk, as Gary Schmitt, Director of the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies at the American Enterprise Institute notes, is that

the meeting’s real goal is to start building a personal relationship between the two leaders in the hope that it will create momentum for addressing problems of US-China relations in the future. But rarely does statecraft work this way, especially when the disputes between the two countries are not ones of misunderstanding but are, instead, rooted in fundamental differences in history, political systems, and the norms that should guide the international system.

The danger is not that, after two days, the two presidents will not get along personally. The real danger is that, in an effort to get along, they will be less than frank with each other about the actual sources of the problems in the relationship. That’s a recipe for greater, not lesser, problems down the road.

In short, the informal summit appears to be higher-risk, higher-reward strategy to improving US-China relations. If it’s effective, a greater level of US-China cooperation in the global community could help to resolve longstanding tensions in North Korea, Syria, and elsewhere. If it’s unsuccessful, however, it could actually serve to undermine prospects in both the global security situation and in the global economy more broadly.

What do you think? Is the high-risk, high-reward strategy of the informal summit between the United States and China worth it? Will the US-China summit this weekend produce results? Will it fissile out? Will it fail? Take the poll or leave a comment and let us know what you think.

Gum Arabic: The Next Conflict Resource?

According to a report by the BBC, ongoing fighting in the Darfur region of South Sudan is being fuelled in part by demand for gum arabic. The BBC notes that more than 60 people have died in fighting for control of an arid region of Darfur between two groups seeking to control an area of pasture and acacia trees from whose sap the gum is made.

Gum arabic is a popular stabilizer used in many soda drinks, gumdrops, marshmallows, M&Ms. It has other non-food uses as well, including in show polish, lickable adhesives on stamps or envelopes, and in various printing processes. Sudan is the world’s leading producers of gum Arabic, accounting for approximately 80 percent of global output. An estimated 5 million Sudanese farmers depend on gum Arabic for their livelihoods.

Interestingly, Sudan’s control of the world’s gum arabic supplies has given it a degree of leverage in global politics. In 1997, when the US Congress was looking to impose sanctions on the Sudanese government for supporting terrorism (and for giving refuge to Osama bin Laden), the beverage industry successfully campaigned to limit the sanctions and exclude trade in gum arabic from the list of embargoed items. As a result, Sudan was largely spared the real impact of the sanctions.

Neither Coca-Cola nor Pepsi will confirm the source of their gum Arabic, though given Sudan’s dominant position in global production it seems unlikely they can avoid sourcing at least some of their supplies from the country.

When people learned that the wars in Sierra Leone, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and elsewhere were being funded through “blood diamond” sales,  a campaign was launched to stop the practice. The Kimberly Process, however imperfect, was the result. Then there were conflict resources (think coltan used to make cell phones and other consumer electronics and used to finance the war in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) and later “blood chocolate” in Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. One wonders when gum Arabic will make the list of conflict resources.

(This story was originally blogged at Global Food Politics and is reprinted here by permission).

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Beyond the Millennium Development Goals

Millennium Development Goals Promotional Poster

Millennium Development Goals Promotional Poster

The United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were a series of eight goals to which all UN Member States were to commit themselves. The MDGs were important because they included specific targets and measures through which progress towards achieving the goals could be measured, because they included a specific timeframe by which targets should be met, and because they broadened our understanding of development beyond the simple measure of economic development as growing the size of the economy.

Specifically, the MDGs included eight broad goals:

  1. Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger,
  2. Achieving universal primary education,
  3. Promoting gender equality and empowering women,
  4. Reducing child mortality rates,
  5. Improving maternal health,
  6. Combating HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases,
  7. Ensuring environmental sustainability, and
  8. Developing a global partnership for development.

And as previously noted, each of the eight goals was accompanied by one or more targets, each of which has several specific measures. If we look only at MDG 1 (eradicating extreme poverty and hunger), for example, it included three targets: Target 1A: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day; Target 1B: Achieve Decent Employment for Women, Men, and Young People; and Target 1C: Halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger. Each of these targets included between 2 and 4 specific measures.

Most of the MDGs were supposed to be met by 2015. However, only a few actually will be. On most, the international community will fall far short of its goals. Which leaves the United Nations in something of a conundrum. Should it set new goals? Should it recommit to the old goals that it could not achieve in the past 15 years? Is not meeting all the goals a failure, even if some goals were met? And so on.

So, blogging in the UN Dispatch this week, Mark Leon Goldberg suggested that a High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda could provide some answers. Some of the goals look pretty similar to the MDGs, for example, eradicating extreme poverty by 2030. It’s more ambitious than the MDGs’ goal of halving the number of people living on less than $1.25 per day. Other targets, such as those dealing with women’s health, AIDS, malaria, and TB are right out of the MDGs. Others, like dealing with climate and sustainability concerns, as well as concerns over reducing bribery and violent deals and ensuring universal access to birth registration are new. The specific proposals include:

Universal Goals, National Targets (Goals 1-3; all goals are available at the UN Dispatch)

Universal Goals, National Targets (Goals 1-3; all goals and their measures are available at the UN Dispatch)

What do you think? Does the international community’s inability to meet all the Millennium Development Goals mean that the MDGs were a failure? Are the proposed 12 goals more likely to be reached? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.