Normative Narratives


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Conflict Watch: Will Western Powers Stand With the Ukrainian Opposition, Or Stand By As Democracy Flounders?

Ukrainian President Yanukovych withdrew from EU trade talks in favor of Russian support, sparking protests

Secretary of State John Kerry today reaffirmed the importance of U.S. and E.U. support for the Ukrainian Opposition at the Munich Security Conference:

Secretary of State John Kerry said on Saturday that the United States and European Union support the people of Ukraine in their pursuit of stronger ties with the West…’They have decided that means their futures do not have to lie with one country alone, and certainly not coerced. The United States and EU stand with the people of Ukraine in that fight.’

However, Ukrainian opposition leaders urged U.S. and EU leaders on Friday to go beyond vocal support for their fight and demand a halt to violence they blame on Yanukovich.

“What we need is not just declarations but a very clear action plan – how to fix the problem and fix the violence, how to investigate all these killings and abductions and tortures,” protest leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk said.

The uncompromising standoff, which turned violent after Yanukovich passed a short-lived law barring protests in early January, prompted a rare intervention from the military on Friday.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Friday in a statement on Twitter that he was “very concerned by attempts to involve the military in the crisis” and added that the “military must remain neutral,” but said he was encouraged by the eventual repeal of the anti-protest law.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday accused EU leaders of interfering in Ukraine’s internal affairs, helping stoke violent anti-government protests and displaying double standards.

“What does incitement of increasingly violent street protests have to do with promoting democracy?” Lavrov said in response to European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, who earlier said Ukraine’s future lay in Europe.

The EU and Russia have been at loggerheads over Ukraine since Yanukovich ditched an EU association accord in November under pressure from a Moscow seen to be trying to bring its former Soviet satellite back into its sphere of influence.

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Munich on Saturday, Leonid Kozhara, the Ukrainian foreign minister, called on Ukranians to distance themselves from the opposition, saying there was a “big misunderstanding between the government and the opposition.”

“For the first time in our country, we can see extremist groups,” he said.

Excuse us Minister Lavrov if I scoff at democracy lessons from the Russian Foreign minister…

The Ukrainian opposition is correct, they need more than words to support their movement towards more effective democratic governance. They need capacity building and organizational support from established democratic governments. Most importantly, they need economic support.

There are already disturbing trends emerging from these protests, namely military intervention and the introduction of an extremist narrative. The world has seen what happens when Western Powers “stand with” democratic movements (but really just stand by and offer little but supportive words). Over time, legitimate grievances and moderate oppositions are overrun by opportunistic extremist forces–the extremist narrative becomes self-fulfilling if a democratic movement is not nurtured. We have seen this sequence of events play out in Syria and Egypt in recent years; do not think because of Ukraine’s geography the opposition is less susceptible to anti-Western forces.

It is important to understand that those opposing democratic movements will not sit back and do nothing. While Russia may be less wealthy than the U.S. or the E.U., its political structure allows it more autonomy in foreign affairs. Despite pressing domestic needs, the Kremlin has proven willing to support to the Ukrainian government (in the form of a $15 billion loan, although this loan was recently suspended due to the inability of Yanukavych to squash his opponents).

Recognizing authoritarian regimes are not accountable when it comes to spending, Western powers must be more pragmatic and timely in their support. In conflict resolution, the thinking used to be solidify economic reforms, then focus on political reforms; history has proven this approach to be ineffectual.

Economic gains from democratization tend to be long term–innovation takes time. Demanding immediate economic reform in return for political support can undermine a budding democratic movement. If things get worse off right away (due to economic reforms), a new democratic regime may lose popular support (think the IMF demanding painful subsidy cuts as a condition for supporting the Morsi regime).

The only condition for economically supporting a democratic movement should be a commitment to pluralistic, inclusive democracy and human rights. Failing to support the Ukrainian opposition in this way means the champions of democracy are not learning from past failures. Furthermore, continued Western inaction could inadvertently undermine future democratic movements. Why would people who desire democratic freedoms risk reprisal if they have do not believe they will receive external support? While democratic freedoms are important, rational people will not oppose their government if they do not believe they have a legitimate chance of seeing their goals achieved.

Update: EU ready with “substantial financial aid” one Ukraine sets up its new government, following the ouster of Yanukovych.


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Conflict Watch: Machiavelli, Democratic Transitions, and The Great Recession

Polity IV Regime Types

Global Democracy, 1946-2008

(Disclaimer: This blog is based on generalizations, specific democratic movements deviate by varying degrees from theoretical democratic transitions explored here)

By happenstance, years ago I ended up in an undergraduate elective class at SUNY Binghamton– “Machiavelli and the Renaissance”. Although it was a random elective course from what seems like a lifetime ago, the analyses of Machiavelli’s “The Prince” have stuck with me (particularly, the concepts of virtú and l’occasione).

(I suppose Machiavelli would have said there is no happenstance, and that fortuna dictates the future of men. Furthermore, Machiavelli is regarded by many as a father of modern political science, so these concepts sticking with me is not so coincidental either. But I digress…)

it would appear if they owed anything to fortune except opportunity (l’occasione), which gave them matter into which introduce whatever form they thought good; without the opportunity, their virtú would have been wasted, and without virtú the opportunity would have been in vain…The more the innovator is though of as subverting and replacing a previously existing structure of custom and legitimacy, the more he will have to cope with the contingencies of suddenly disoriented behavior and the greater will be his exposure to fortuna.”

Scholars debate exactly the meaning of Machiavellian virtúbut most agree it has something to do with strength, cunning, and an element of ruthlessness; the characteristics needed to maintain rule in a principality. L’occasione refers to the opportunity for these characteristics to shine through. Fortuna refers to chance, or things outside individual control.

Machiavelli was referring to ideal characteristics of a Prince; during the time he lived, the predominant governmental structure was the principality. I believe these lessons are still appropriate today, in the context of democratic transitions.

In the context of modern political theory and democratic transitions, virtú takes on a different meaning. In the following analysis, virtú refers to the popular sentiment for human rights that underlies attempted democratic transitions. L’occasione refers to the opportunity for virtú to crystallize into a concerted democratic movement.

The virtú of democracy–the human rights based approach to development–is not going away; it is a central foreign policy tool of “Western” powers, and is championed at the highest level of global governance (the U.N.). Furthermore, due to their empowering nature, human rights and liberal democracy are concepts that will continue to be championed by the masses. L‘occasione, however, is fleeting.

I recently wrote how time is an enemy of legitimate democratic grievances. Over time, legitimate grievances are overrun by opportunistic forces seeking wealth / power. However, other forces also oppose democratic transitions.

One of these forces is those seeking to maintain the status-quo; vested interests invoke the specter of chaos and insecurity–the fear of the unknown–to undermine the legitimacy of their opposition.

Another opposing force in the current context–financial constraints due to The Great Recession–has lead to lackluster support for budding democracy movements. It is due to the very nature of democratic governance that The Great Recession has hindered support for democratic movements more-so than it has hindered support from those supporting authoritarian rule.

Financial aid for democratic movements, whether it comes from individual governments or IEOs such as the I.M.F, tends to come with constraining preconditions. These movements need to be able to prove they are legitimate and in control of different factions present in the oppositions. They have to prove they are committed to human rights and liberal democracy. They also have to agree to unpopular fiscal decisions, in order to prove they will be able to pay back loans in the future.

Democracies are accountable to their people (indirectly through freedoms of press / expression / assembly, as well as directly through elections). In the context of The Great Recession, it is difficult to “sell” sending aid abroad with pressing social problems at home and austerity proponents calling for budget cuts. In order to garner support, democratic governments impose conditions on loans to prove they are not throwing money away.

Authoritarian governments are naturally more insulated from domestic concerns. They are also more sensitive to currently authoritarian states transitioning to democracies; they see democratic transitions in the context of the global democratization movement and an existential threat to their survival. Therefore, they are generally willing to provide support under the condition that it will help the incumbent regime stay in power. Furthermore, authoritarian regimes tend to be high organized and built on a system of loyalty; the issues of organization and unity are not present (unlike in the opposing democratic movement).

Democracies tend to be the countries with the highest levels of wealth and standard of living. Therefore, one would expect that democracies would be better equipped to financially support democratic transitions than authoritarian regimes would be to support their allies.

However, there are many contextual realities (addressed earlier in this blog) that buck this expectation. Authoritarian regimes are more insulated from domestic pressures, and believe they have more at risk from losing an ally than democracies believe they have from gaining a new ally.

Democratic transitions need to be supported, or else they will be overrun by opportunistic factions /vested interests who wish to remain in power. Countries do not stay in political limbo for long, either democratic aspirations are realized or a pivot back towards authoritarianism is cemented. Once an opportunity for democratic transition is gone, there is know telling when it will present itself again.

Those supporting authoritarianism do not hold back in their support. A mechanism for supporting budding democratic movements must be established and adequately funded–perhaps alongside the UN Democratic Governance Trust Fund. Failure to do so sends the wrong messages, that the international community does not care about people with legitimate democratic aspirations, and/or that democracy cannot work in certain contexts.

Neither of these messages are true, but the international community must put its money is; as the saying goes, “actions speak louder than words”. Perhaps instead of extending loans, we should consider supporting democratic transitions as part of development aid, money which will be paid back in the future through increased trade opportunities and greater regional / global security


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Conflict Watch: Ghosts of Egypt’s Past, Present, and Future

Quick historic background on the Muslim Brotherhood

The NYT has an excellent interactive timeline of events Egypt from the resignation of former President Mubarak–present day.

Last night I stayed up until 2:30 am to watch the UNDP Oslo Group / FAFO conversation on Egypt’s immediate future. Silly me, as I could have just streamed it today.

Today I will focus primarily on major events since the Mubarak ouster (credit to the NYT), and insights from the conversation last night. It is also helpful to brush up on some of the basic historic power-dynamics of Egypt’s current major political players.

Mubarak Steps Down

Feb. 11, 2011

David Kirkpatrick and Anthony Shadid report from Cairo on the aftermath of President Mubarak’s resignation.Zena Barakat

Vice President Omar Suleiman announces that President Hosni Mubarak, 82, has turned over all power to the military, passed all authority to a council of military leaders and named his prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, to lead the cabinet.

The announcement, which comes after an 18-day revolt led by the young people of Egypt, shatters three decades of political stasis and overturns the established order of the Arab world.

Egypt’s Military Extends Its Power

June 15, 2012

Protesters gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo as Egypt’s military rulers moved to consolidate power on Friday, the eve of the Egyptian presidential runoff election. The day before, the Supreme Constitutional Court moved to shut down the Islamist-led Parliament, locking out lawmakers and seizing the sole right to issue laws.Adam Ferguson for The New York Times

Egypt’s military rulers move to consolidate power on the eve of the presidential runoff election between Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood and Ahmed Shafik, a former prime minister to Mr. Mubarak. They shut down the Islamist-led Parliament, predicated on acourt ruling a day before, and seize the sole right to issue laws even after a new head of state takes office. Their charter gives them control of all laws and the national budget, immunity from any oversight and the power to veto a declaration of war.

The military counsel also issues an interim constitution, all but eliminating the president’s authority in an apparent effort to guard against a victory by the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mohamed Morsi of Brotherhood Sworn In as President

June 30, 2012
President-elect Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood spoke to hundreds of thousands of supporters in Tahrir Square. Tomas Munita for The New York Times

Mr. Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, is the winner of Egypt’s first competitive presidential election, handing the Islamists both a symbolic triumph and a potent weapon in their struggle for power against the country’s top generals.

Mr. Morsi, 60, an American-trained engineer and former lawmaker, is the first Islamist elected as head of an Arab state. He becomes Egypt’s fifth president and the first from outside the military. But his victory is an ambiguous milestone in Egypt’s promised transition to democracy.

Military and President Escalate Their Power Struggle

July 2012

Graffiti in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, the epicenter of antigovernment protests that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, depicts members of the former government. From right are Mr. Mubarak; Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces who had acted as head of state until last week and will maintain the title of defense minister; Amr Moussa, a former foreign minister and presidential candidate; and the former general and presidential candidate Ahmed Shafik. Tomas Munita for The New York Times
The battle between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military intensifies when Mr. Morsi summons back into session the democratically elected Parliament that the generals had dissolved after a hurried court ruling. Egypt’s highest court and generals dismiss the order, but Parliament meets in defiance and votes to appeal the court’s decision, creating a chaotic mess of conflicting legal authorities and jurisdictions.

The power struggle reflects dueling claims to Egypt’s emerging politics, with each side trying to frame the debate as a contest for ideals, legitimacy and democracy.

Morsi Seizes New Power

Nov. 22, 2012
Supporters hail President Mohamed Morsi’s move to take new power and retry his predecessor.Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

With a constitutional assembly on the brink of collapse and protesters battling the police in the streets over the slow pace of change, President Mohamed Morsi issues a decree granting himself broad powers above any court as the guardian of Egypt’s revolution and uses his new authority to order the retrial of Hosni Mubarak.

The unexpected breadth of the powers he seizes raises immediate fears that he might become a new strongman.

Nov. 29, 2012

Egyptian Islamists Approve Draft Constitution Despite Objections

The Islamists drafting Egypt’s new constitution vote to approve a charter that human rights groups and international experts say is full of holes and ambiguities. The result will fulfill some of the central demands of the revolution. But it will also give the generals much of the power and privilege they had during the Mubarak era and will reject the demands of ultraconservative Salafis.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands fill Tahrir Square to protest Mr. Morsi’s expansive new powers.

Egypt Struggles to Revive Ailing Economy

March 2013
Egyptians in a gas line in the city of Luxor. Tara Todras-Whitehill for The New York Times

A fuel shortage has helped send food prices soaring. Electricity is blacking out even before the summer. And Egypt is struggling to pay the billions of dollars it owes foreign oil companies.

For months, the government has been negotiating a $4.8 billion loan on fairly easy terms from the International Monetary Fund. The thinking is that if the I.M.F. approved a loan, it could give the government the credibility it needs to unlock billions more dollars in aid and loans. But if a deal is reached, it will probably mean reducing subsidies for energy — a step many fear will incite the public.

In April, Egypt presses to increase the loan size, but discussions are pending and won’t start again until October.

July 3, 2013

Army Ousts Egypt’s President; Morsi Denounces ‘Military Coup’

In an announcement read on state television, Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the Egyptian defense minister, ousts Mr. Morsi, the nation’s first freely elected president, suspending the Constitution, installing an interim government and insisting it was responding to the millions of Egyptians who had opposed the Islamist agenda of Mr. Morsi and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood.

The military intervention, which Mr. Morsi rejects, raises questions about whether the 2011 revolution will fulfill its promise to build a new democracy at the heart of the Arab world.

Dozens of Morsi Supporters Are Killed in Cairo Protest

July 8, 2013

Supporters of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s ousted Islamist president, demonstrated outside the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo on Monday.Yusuf Sayman for The New York Times

Soldiers and police officers open fire on hundreds of supporters of Mr. Morsi outside the facility where he is believed to be detained, killing at least 54 people and wounding more than 300.

A military spokesman, contradicting dozens of witnesses who say the attack had been unprovoked, says the violence had started when Brotherhood members attacked the officers’ club of the Republican Guard.

It is the single deadliest episode of violence since the final days before Mr. Mubarak’s ouster.

Sudden Improvements in Egypt Suggest a Campaign to Undermine Morsi

July 10, 2013
Relatives of Christians killed near Luxor, where Muslim mobs invaded Christian homes and set them alight while besieging other Christians in their homes.Ibrahim Zayed/Associated Press 

The sudden end of crippling energy shortages and the re-emergence of the police suggest that those opposed to Mr. Morsi had tried to undermine his administration.

The new military-led government accuses Mr. Morsi and his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood of a campaign to incite violence before and after his ouster as president.

July 16, 2013

Egypt’s New Government Doesn’t Include Muslim Brotherhood

Muslim Brotherhood supporters tried to block the Six October Bridge in Cairo during demonstrations Monday into Tuesday morning.Mahmoud Khaled/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Adli Mansour, Egypt’s interim president, swears in a new cabinet that is dominated by liberal and leftist politicians. Not one of the 34 cabinet members belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood or to any other Islamist party. The cabinet does include three women and three Coptic Christians, making it slightly more diverse, in some respects, than Mr. Morsi’s cabinet.

Crackdown in Egypt Kills Islamists as They Protest

July 27, 2013

This was the second mass killing of demonstrators in three weeks.Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

The Egyptian authorities unleash a ferocious attack on Islamist protesters, killing at least 72 people in the second mass killing of demonstrators in three weeks and the deadliest attack by the security services since Egypt’s uprising in early 2011.

The tactics — many were killed with gunshot wounds to the head or the chest — suggest that Egypt’s security services felt no need to show any restraint.

Egyptian Forces Storm Pro-Morsi Sit-Ins

Yesterday (Aug 14)

Supporters of the ousted president, Mohamed Morsi, tended to the wounded near the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in the Nasr City district of Cairo.Narciso Contreras for The New York Times

Security forces launch a bloody crackdown on two sit-ins by supporters of Mr. Morsi, setting off waves of violence in the capital and across the country. More than 500 are killed and 3,700 people injured in the the bloodiest day since Mr. Mubarak’s ouster. Muslim Brotherhood supporters urge followers to take to the streets the next day.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the interim vice president and a Nobel Prize-winning former diplomat, resigns in protest, as General Sisi declares a one-month state emergency.

(Again big thanks to the NYT for putting together such an extensive timeline)

Since my most recent post about the crisis in Egypt, things have taken a decidedly ominous turn. Here’s an excerpt from my post two weeks ago:

Is Egypt spiraling into or out of control? I suppose the answer you receive to that question would depend on who you ask. Ask a Morsi opponent, and he will tell you that the Morsi regime was little more than an illegitimate power-grab. Ask a Morsi supporter and they will tell you Morsi’s failures were due to the “deep state” (military, police, judiciary) and a refusal of his opponents to embrace the democratic process, undermining his rule.

So instead lets look at the indisputable facts. Sectarian divides are stronger now than they were when Mubarak fell–did the coup avert a civil war, or lay the foundation for civil conflict? Human rights are not being upheld in an indiscriminate way, as anybody that supports Morsi may be silenced with impunity by the military (either by having media outlets shut down / being arrested / or killed). A larger budget deficit is all but certain for Egypt’s next democratically elected government.

In Egypt, as long as the army has a popular mandate (or what it deems a popular mandate), it can act with impunity. Human rights violations, unsustainable fiscal policy and government deficits, media censorship, and lack of accountability from the military are week pillars to build democracy on.

Having said all this, there does seem to be a legitimacy with the new Egyptian coalition government; it has said all the right things and seems to back the will of Egypt’s pluralistic civil society. But actions speak louder than words, and the actions of Egypt’s military and interim government–combined with The Muslim Brotherhoods determination to play spoiler in Egypt’s second attempt at democratization–does not bode well for the implementation of Egypts “road-map to democracy”.

Even I, who was pessimistic about the implications of the coup for political Islam and democracy since the beginning, did not foresee the military misplaying it’s hand as catastrophically as it has. And again, as always, time has answered many questions that a few weeks ago were a mystery.

The Military has shown it’s true colors. Mass killings, media censorship, and a further grip on power have defined the so called “road-map to democracy”. The interim government was formed without a single MB member, while military loyalists assumed many top positions. VP Mohamed ElBaradei, a former UN negotiator, Nobel Prize winner, and bastion of legitimacy for the interim governments, resigned from his position in dissent of the army’s actions. Experts expect further resignations in the coming days and weeks. 19 / 27 provincial governors appointed were ex-military (for comparison sake, 11/27 appointed under Morsi were from the MB).  The police have come back essentially as another arm of the military. The state media has become an anti-Morsi propaganda engine, (even more-so than it was during Morsi’s rule)

The fact of the matter is that, regardless of how much of a power grab the MB made during Morsi’s brief time in Presidency, it pails in comparison to the power grab the military has staged for the last half a century. The military cemented it’s rule prior to Morsi’s election, via confirmation from a Mubarak era judge, fueling speculation that the “deep state” never truly gave up power. For all we know, Mubarak is living in the lap of luxury; his resignation a calculated move to win popular support for the military in order to further sustain it’s nontransparent, undemocratic rule. OK, maybe I am getting a little ahead of myself, but at this point no revelation would surprise me.

The Egyptian army is concerned only with self preservation–everybody else is dispensable. The military has little reason to care for the people; as long as it can continue to finance it’s operations, the productive capacity of society is a distant secondary concern. It was willing to let Morsi rule, until it seemed that the MB could become so powerful that it would be able to hold the military to account. Seizing on popular dissent, the army removed the MB “threat” as part of a “mandate of the people”. Very soon, if not already, liberal Egyptians will come to realize their revolution was hijacked not by Morsi, but by Sisi. 

Democratic gains made during the revolution have been reversed since the coup. Political and civil rights and freedoms, including rights of self-expression and assembly, no longer exist. Media liberalization has been reversed. The economy continues to collapse, while the military only exacerbates the problem by borrowing more, creating more debt and larger future cutbacks for whoever ends up ruling Egypt. The sectarian divide is deeper than ever, putting Egypt on the verge of civil war. It is interesting to note the rule the Salifi movement  has played in Egypt’s ongoing political chaos. A historically conservative group, it has emerged as an even handed, pluralistic, pragmatic, and centrist force in Egyptian politics. Of course it remains to be seen how the movement reacts to the most recent massacre of the MB. Consolidation of Islamic forces between the MB and Al Nour would make Civil War that much more likely.   

Egypt is bleeding, literally and figuratively. The ghosts of authoritarian regimes past have reared their ugly heads–Sisi yesterday imposed a month-long “state of emergency”, further exonerating his forces from any wrongdoing. Just like in the past, the MB is being excluded from politics and driven to the margins of society, where their human rights can be violated with impunity. The ghosts of the present are the people currently being massacred in an attempt to “restore order” to Egypt. The ghosts of the future may be casualties from a future Egyptian Civil War, or perhaps they will be ghosts of westerners, as the jihad movement seizes on the coup as a way to recruit disenfranchised young Muslims.

I can no longer find any reason to be optimistic about Egypt’s democratic transition. It seems that the army did not fully think the coup through by underestimating the resolve of the MB; after 3 separate massacres totaling close to 700 MB deaths, a prolonged civil conflict–if not an all out civil war–seems almost unavoidable at this point. Far from a “road map to democracy”, it seems Egypt’s military is steering the country down the Highway to Hell.


If you have made it this far, and want more insight, take a look at my notes from last nights conversation on Egypt’s current and future prospects.

FAFO_UNDP_Egyptnotes

Two general lessons from this talk.

1) The situation is still very fluid and there impossible to predict (but it wont stop me from hypothesizing!) 

2) Both the Egyptian military and the MB are running parallel and conflicting propaganda campaigns. It is very difficult to get a straightforward account of what is going on on the ground. Every movement has conservative, moderate, and liberal components. Things are not as black and white as they appear.

I am admittedly not always impartial here, that is not what Normative Narratives is about. When I take a stance here at NN, I am speaking in the aggregate; there will always be individual examples that run counter to my arguments. I take information from the most transparent sources I know (mainly the NYT and Reuters), and combined with my education experience and knowledge of history (which is of course not all-knowing), come up with what I believe are reasonable conclusions. Sometimes I am wrong, sometimes I am right, but I will never not have an educated opinion on a matter I find important.


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The (Real Beginning of the) End of Team America World Police Part 3(? 4? 5?, I’ve Lost Count…)

I started my narrative on this topic with a two-part political and economic analysis of current U.S. Defense Policy. I then wrote a piece on the true cost of the war on terror, and more recently a piece on how Europe’s shrinking military expenditure is hurting it’s credibility as a meaningful security partner to the United States. Current U.S. military policy has long been an issue affecting America’s fiscal space, constraining resources for social programs which compromise our future growth prospects and social mobility, thereby perpetuating rising inequality in America. At the heart of the matter is the uneven proportion of Global Security expenditure that America pays. Today, President Obama signaled he is of similar mind on the subject.

“Taken together, the president’s words and deeds added up to an effort to move the country away from the perpetual war on terrorism envisioned by his predecessor, George W. Bush, toward a more limited campaign against particular groups that would eventually be curtailed even if the threat of terrorism could never be eliminated.

‘Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.’

Mr. Obama rejected the notion of an expansive war on terrorism and instead articulated a narrower understanding of the mission for the United States. ‘Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror’ but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America,’ he said.

‘Neither I, nor any president, can promise the total defeat of terror,’ Mr. Obama added. ‘We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. But what we can do — what we must do — is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend.’”

“As our fight enters a new phase, America’s legitimate claim of self-defense cannot be the end of the discussion,” Mr. Obama said. “To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance. For the same human progress that gives us the technology to strike half a world away also demands the discipline to constrain that power — or risk abusing it.”

“The changes reflect a conclusion by the White House that the core of Al Qaeda has been decimated by years of strikes and the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. But in the speech, the president said that the threat had evolved in a complicated mosaic of dangers from affiliated groups and homegrown terrorists, like the bombers who attacked the Boston Marathon.”

As is to be expected, Republicans were critical of Obama’s realistic, transparent, straightforward and even-handed speech:

“Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, issued 10 questions to the president in reaction to previews of his speech. “Is it still your administration’s goal to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda?” he asked. “If you are scaling back the use of unmanned drones, which actions will you be taking as a substitute to ensure Al Qaeda’s defeat? Is it your view that if the U.S. is less aggressive in eliminating terrorists abroad, the threat of terrorist attacks will diminish on its own?”

Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, was sharper in reaction. ‘The president’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory,’ he said. ‘Rather than continuing successful counterterrorism activities, we are changing course with no clear operational benefit.'”

First to address Senator Chambliss, are you sir a moron? how could the winding down of the war on terror have “no clear operational benefit”? Does making a military mission less costly both in dollar terms and American lives have no effect on the operational benefit of The War on Terror? Not to mention the impact on public opinion of the U.S. abroad (which is directly related to terrorism). Or do you not consider the costs of an operation unless the money is going to those lazy “takers”? (i.e. any social program the G.O.P. will fight tooth and nail). If anything, we should have much sooner reconsidered the operational benefit of the War on Terror in the first place (which has been marginal at best, as highlighted by recent sectarian violence in Iraq).

Speaker Boehner’s questions are more substantive; I have actually grown to like Senator Boehner, I almost pity him for the impossible job he has of trying to legitimize the current cluster-fuck of ridiculous soundbites and indefensible policy advocacy that has come to define the G.O.P. I’m sure Mr. Boehner did not imagine his constituents would be so unrealistic and uncompromising that his time as House Speaker would be marked as a period of historically low congressional approval ratings.

But back to Congressman Boehner’s Questions. Questions 1 and 2 (“Is it still your administration’s goal to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda?” he asked. “If you are scaling back the use of unmanned drones, which actions will you be taking as a substitute to ensure Al Qaeda’s defeat?”) were already addressed by President Obama in his speech:

“But what we can do — what we must do — is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend.”  

Obviously Al-Qaeda would be considered a “network that poses a direct danger to us”, probably the primary of such networks. One has to question whether John was not sleeping through the President’s speech with questions like those. And to expect a President to openly discuss his defense strategies, probably our most important national security secret, is not exactly proposing a reasonable question.

President Obama also alluded to the answer to Speaker Boehner’s 3rd question in that very same breath. Mr. Boehner asked, “Is it your view that if the U.S. is less aggressive in eliminating terrorists abroad, the threat of terrorist attacks will diminish on its own?”

The answer to that is, of course not. The President stated he planned to “make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold”, but what exactly does that mean? It could only mean putting more resources into preventative peace-building and diplomacy efforts, as I have advocated for here at NN.

Conflict resolution theory tells us that the majority of todays armed conflicts are “Protracted Social Conflicts”. This means that their roots are in human rights violations, which almost always involve inadequate service delivery and security being provided by a country’s government. In situations like this, conflict is likely to break out. When conflicts break out, there is no military to keep terrorist activities at bay (assuming the regime in power is not allied with extremist groups to begin with).

Terrorist groups seize onto this absence of government human rights “duty bearers” and begin to provide services and security themselves. People on the ground, having no other option other than living in extreme poverty and extreme discomfort, welcome these terrorists in with open arms. Terrorists are able to buy goodwill, gain footholds for their operations, and attract a new generation of young Jihadists.

The only way the President can prevent new terrorist groups from forming is to scale up the capacity of strong, democratic governments in developing countries around the world (or factions within countries that do not have democratic governments). If America undertakes this much more noble pursuit, we can build sustainable relationships that foster greater economic and security alliances, rather than destroying nations and then attempting to build them back up from scratch, which is costly in money, time, and lives.

We must remember that building these relationships is not easy. Transitions to democracy and a higher standard of living take time, and the process is not always linear. Vested interests will never give up easily, as they have so much to lose as society reaps the benefits of modernization, and more resources are invested into basic infrastructure as well as physical and human capital.

Though we face an uphill battle, we must never falter in our fight to promote peace, security, and mutually beneficial and environmentally sustainable economic relationships. Only through cooperation and coordination can the global community confront and overcome the issues we collectively face in the 21st century and beyond.

And we must always remember we are not alone in this fight. Our Allies around the world remain committed to the same vision as us. Institutions such as the UN, NATO, WB, IMF, WHO and countless other international, national, and regoinal institutions, alongside non-governmental organizations, charities, and civil society organizations join our ranks. The day when extreme poverty and human rights violations are no longer a threat is just beyond the horizon, and I look forward doing whatever I can to work towards that future.


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Conflict Watch: Pakistan; Modernization v. Vested Interests, Effective v. Formal Democracy

Today, Pakistani’s are voting in a milestone election. Before diving into specifics of how effective Pakistani democracy may be, some background on the lead-up to the election:

The election is Pakistan’s 10th since 1970 but only the first where a civilian government has served a full five-year term and is poised to peacefully hand power to another political administration.

Unlike previous elections, in which the military’s Inter Services-Intelligence Directorate had been widely accused of vote manipulation and intimidation, there was little evidence of involvement in this campaign by the military, which has ruled Pakistan directly for more than half its 66-year history.”

“The election has evoked a rare sense of enthusiasm for politics in Pakistan. Some 4,670 candidates are fighting for 272 directly elected seats in the national Parliament, while almost 11,000 people are battling for the four provincial assemblies. Aside from more traditional politicians, candidates included astrologers, openly transgender candidates, former models and the first female candidates in the tribal belt along the Afghan border.

Also standing for election are dozens of candidates from Sunni sectarian groups, some with links to violent attacks on minority Shiites.

But the sense of a vibrant, if flawed, democracy has been tempered by Taliban attacks throughout the campaigning. The militant movement’s ability to derail wide tracks of the campaign, particularly in the mountainous northwest, is being taken as a signal that it has evolved beyond its nihilistic guerrilla roots and has become a powerful political insurgency bent on upending Western-style democracy in Pakistan.

In a statement on Friday, the Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud ordered his commanders to attack the “infidel system” of democracy, warning that teams of suicide bombers would hit targets across the country.

At least 17 people were reported killed in attacks across Pakistan on Saturday, including a gunfight and an attack on a polling station in the western province of Balochistan, and two explosions in the northwest, including Peshawar, that left several people injured. The deadly bombing in Karachi appeared directed at a candidate from the Awami National Party, one of three secular-leaning parties that have borne the brunt of Taliban attacks in the last month that have killed at least 110 people.”

But after a slow start to polling, large numbers of voters emerged by midmorning, including many women. About 300 burka-clad women stood in line outside the Lady Griffith High School, where policemen warned photographers not to take their picture.”

“There were also signs of irregularities that have tainted some past votes. At least one party, Jamaat-e-Islami, withdrew its candidates from Karachi and Hyderabad to protest against alleged rigging of the elections at different polling stations of the city.

“The votes of J.I. are being frightened and harassed by MQM armed activists in different parts of the city,” said Muhammad Hussain Mehanti, the party’s chief in Karachi, referring to the party MQM, which has traditionally dominated the city. He called for a peaceful strike on May 13 as a sign of protest against alleged rigging in the polls in the city.

Prominent officials of both Mr. Zardari’s PPP party and Mr. Sharif’s PML-N party lodged accusations of vote rigging in Karachi, saying they would reject results in the city.”

While time will tell whether the claims of J.I. party have any truth, and violence surrounding the elections is troubling, overall the elections seem to be going very smoothly. It would be naive to think that nobody would try to play “spoiler” in the first true democratic election Pakistan has ever had.

But Pakistani’s, who have “election fever” remain undeterred. It will be interesting to see what the overall voter turnout is once the election is over. Modernization and democratization cannot be imposed from the outside, they have to come from the will of the people, and it seems that Pakistani’s have fulfilled this important prerequisite for sustainable democracy.

The question now can turn from sustainable democracy to effective democracy—the existence of democracy on paper does not ensure it will work in practice. To this end, there are mixed signals for what to expect. I will base effective democracy on the following criteria; the ability of people to vote and run in elections, indiscriminate protection of human rights, an independent judiciary system, and the existence of independent media outlets. There are certainly others, but I had to draw the line somewhere for the sake of writing this piece. I left out military control, as the NYT article already highlights that the military has remained uninvolved in this election (perhaps too much so, as the military arguably should be providing security and not letting 100+ people die during the buildup to the election).

Ability of people to vote and run in elections: As stated in the article, “Some 4,670 candidates are fighting for 272 directly elected seats in the national Parliament, while almost 11,000 people are battling for the four provincial assemblies. Aside from more traditional politicians, candidates included astrologers, openly transgender candidates, former models and the first female candidates in the tribal belt along the Afghan border.” Clearly the right to run for office has been upheld.

As far as voting rights, while the system is not perfect, steps have been taken to make the voting process indiscriminate. “In January 2002, President Musharraf introduced a “joint electorate,” lifting the requirement to declare religion when registering to vote. Millions of Hindus and Christians in Pakistan were listed along with Muslims, and could vote in general elections.”

“Pakistan’s constitution sets aside 10 seats in Parliament for religious minorities, but they are not filled by direct elections. After general elections, each political party nominates candidates from minority communities for the seats based on the party’s proportional representation in the new Parliament.”

Women are also voting in this election, while expatriates will not have their votes counted. The system is not perfect, but it is certainly heading in the right direction.

Indiscriminate protection of human rights: In this sense, the country is not doing as well as it could be. Deaths surrounding the election (over 110), show that the right to life is not being protected indiscriminately. The Ahmadi community is particularly disenfranchised:

“Pakistan’s Supreme Court took up a petition against the practice last month, but neither Pakistan’s Attorney General nor the Election Commission replied to the court’s request to explain why Ahmadis were being listed separately. The listing could also allow religious extremists to easily identify Ahmadis in each electoral district, the Ahmadi spokesman said. In 2010, 86 Ahmadis were killed in attacks on worshippers in two mosques in Lahore.  Last year, at least 20 Ahmadis were killed in Pakistan”

Effective democracy must uphold the will of the majority and the rights of the minority. A national human rights institution (NHRI) passed parliamentary voting late in  2011, but has yet to be operationalized. Having such an institution in place would go a long way in making Pakistani democracy more effective. Assuming the election goes as planned, operationalizing the NHRI should be one of the first objectives of the new Pakistani government.   

Independent judiciary system:In Pakistan, neither the judiciary as an institution nor the individual judges are independent… Independence of judiciary is the hallmark of liberal democracies. On the other hand, our judicial process is based on arbitrary principles, from the appointment and removal of judges to the process of deciding the cases. And particularly, the absolute powers of the chief justices to grant cases to different benches.”

Independent media outlets:Since 2002, the Pakistani media has become powerful and independent and the number of private television channels has grown from just three state-run channels in 2000 to 89 in 2012, according to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority.

Pakistan has a vibrant media landscape and enjoys independence to a large extent. After having been liberalised in 2002, the television sector experienced a media boom. In the fierce competitive environment that followed commercial interests became paramount and quality journalism gave way to sensationalism. Although the radio sector has not seen similar growth, independent radio channels are numerous and considered very important sources of information – especially in the rural areas.”

However, recent news that a NYT reporter was expelled from Pakistan on the eve of elections has to draw concerns about media independence. Certainly this one instance does not undo recent gains in Pakistani media independence, but it does question the countries commitment to media’s role in providing information transparently and indiscriminately.

There are many signs suggesting that Pakistan is ready for democracy. However, there are still hurdles to be cleared. The first is obviously a smooth transition of power following elections. After that, judicial reform should be pursued and a NHRI must be established. These two actions will ensure that human and civil rights are upheld indiscriminately. Additionally, the independence of media outlets, both domestic and international, should be reaffirmed (an official apology, explanation and invitation back to Pakistan for the expelled journalist would be a good start).

An effective democratic government must also protect personal and societal security. The newly elected leaders must figure out a way to reduce the homicide rate, which has been a problem since before the recent uptick in violence surrounding the elections began . 

What do my readers think? Is Pakistan ready for effective democracy? Will vested interests whom oppose democracy (for example, the Taliban) allow a peaceful transition to democracy? This is an exciting time for the sixth largest country in the world, with a population of 180 million people. A democratic transition in Pakistan could greatly shift the geopolitical landscape in the Middle-East and Southern Asia. I will try to update the Pakistani shift to democracy whenever a relevant story presents itself.

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