Monthly Archives: September 2013

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Improving US-Iranian Ties

President Obama speaks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

President Obama speaks with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani today made news when they spoke directly by phone for 15 minutes. It was the first top-level conversation between the two countries in more than 30 years, and marks the culmination of a week of speculation surrounding various United Nations presentations. According to the White House, the call was initiated by the Iranian President with the support of the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and focused largely on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

The United States severed diplomatic relations with Iran following the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran. That revolution resulted in the overthrow of the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and the rise of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Revolutionaries sympathetic to the Ayatollah seized control of the American embassy and held 52 American diplomats hostage for more than a year.

But Iran’s current president, Hassan Rouhani, is widely viewed as a moderate who desires improved relations with the West. Opening conversations with the Obama administration could be the first step in a broader strategy to do just that.

What do you think? Is Iran serious about improving relations with the West? Does Rouhani have the support of the key elements of the Iranian government—most notably the Ayatollah—to pursue his agenda? Or will Iran’s commitment to maintaining its nuclear weapons program undermine prospects for improved relations with the United States? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Weekly Quiz: Test Yourself on This Week’s Events

The weekly quiz is now live. Good luck!

The Politics of Parliamentary Systems

GermanElectionAs German voters head to the poll this weekend and interesting challenge is emerging for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats. While the CDU appears to be well positioned to retain its dominant position in parliament, early polling suggests that their coalition partner, the Free Democrats, may underperform. If the Free Democrats do as badly as expected, Merkel may be forced to find a new coalition partner or to include a third party in the ruling coalition, making the government more fragile. Some analysis are even projecting another “grand coalition” that forces rival center-right Christian Democrats and center-left Social Democrats into a government together.

The news is not good for Merkel, whose party is ironically expected to win their largest share of the vote ever. But that’s the politics of parliamentary systems. The voting system encourages a larger number of parties, representing a broader array of interests and issues, to participate. But because of the large number of parties, compromise between rivals is often necessary for government to function effectively, and no single party is usually able to rule without the assistance of others.  It will be interesting to see what the vote—scheduled for Sunday—produces.

What do you think? Does the more inclusive nature of proportional representation systems like that of Germany offset the disadvantage of greater instability? Or is the stability of first-past-the-post electoral systems preferable to the inclusiveness of parliamentary systems? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

The Instability of States

We tend to think of states as fairly stable and long-lasting institutions. But a new video tracing the rise (and fall) of states in Europe from 1000AD to the present highlights the importance of national boundaries. What’s of particular interest is the relatively brief period in which the map looks like it does today. At just over 3 minutes, it’s a fun way to introduce the concept of statehood in your IR and comparative classes.

Weekly Quiz: Test Yourself on This Week’s Events

The weekly quiz is now live. Good luck!

Measuring Progress in Ethiopia

Two Farmers in Ethiopia Pick Coffee Cherries, the fruit processed into coffee beans (Image courtesy The Upcoming).

Two Farmers in Ethiopia Pick Coffee Cherries, the fruit processed into coffee beans (Image courtesy The Upcoming).

A new report issued by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) claimed thatthe child mortality rate in Ethiopia has been cut from more than 200 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 68 per 1,000 today. With a per capita gross domestic product of less than $1,200, Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranking 169th (out of 180) according to World Bank estimates. The Ethiopian economy is heavily dependent on coffee exports, which account for more than a quarter of the country’s export earnings. Coffee production—like agricultural production in Ethiopia more generally—is highly dependent on rainfall. But the Unicef report suggests that Ethiopia—a country with a long history of famine and malnutrition—is one of the few African countries making progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing child mortality rates. The country’s success, according to Health Minister Kesetebirhan Admasu, has been based on a strategy of “aggressively expanding its primary healthcare network.” Increased household incomes have, according to Admasu, “also resulted in better nutrition for children [and] women; this has translated into better sanitation – all these have direct or indirect impact on the survival of children.”

Global Coffee Stocks and Prices (Image Courtesy Marginal Revolution)

Global Coffee Stocks and Prices (Image Courtesy Marginal Revolution)

Ethiopia’s success has been driven, at least in part, by a price increase for coffee between 2003 and 2010 (see graph above). This price increase generated additional employment and income at the household level and higher tax and excise revenues at the national level. But since 2010, global coffee production has grown sharply and prices are starting to decline. And with lower coffee prices, Ethiopia’s development strategy might falter as well. For now, though, Ethiopia is rightly basking in the limelight, having shed its image as a land of famine and hunger.

What do you think? Does Ethiopia’s success in reducing child mortality rates suggest a path for other developing countries? Or is Ethiopia’s dependence on coffee exports too risky a model? Take the poll or leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

(An earlier version of this story was originally blogged as “The Role and Risk of Coffee-Based Development in Ethiopia” at Global Food Politics. This version is reprinted here by permission).