Normative Narratives


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The Democratic Costs of a “Grexit”

To Grexit, or not to Grexit?

Greece’s negotiations with its creditors have not gone smoothly.  The Greek government treated an interim deal reached in February as a starting point for negotiations, while it’s creditors considered it more of an non-negotiable outline of a deal. The result has been two sides talking past each other; the longer this situation persists, the more likely a “Grexit”–Greece leaving the Eurozone and / or EU–becomes.

There is a ton of middle ground for the two sides–both want Greece to return to growth and full employment. The Greek government also wants a safety-net for people negatively affected by labor market and other structural reforms; pushing already impoverished people further into poverty is not only morally reprehensible, it is bad economics.

To prevent this result, Greece has passed an “anti-poverty law” to protect its most vulnerable citizens. The problem is financing this program; the Greek government needs room to implement needed structural reforms without further destabilizing Greek society.

In addition to staving off a humanitarian crisis, Greece also needs a long-term growth strategy beyond structural reforms. There are few options for the Greek government:

1) It can completely comply with creditor demands.

2) It can continue to push its lenders for more fiscal space (smaller primary surplus and / or promises of greater EU level aid / debt relief).

Or,

3) It can default on its debts and exit the Eurozone.

The first option is a non-starter, as the Greek government feels current demands would exacerbate social and economic hardship in Greece.

The second option would allow Greece to leverage more public money for safety net programs, educational and workforce training programs, and public private partnerships. This would allow Greece to avoiding default while mapping out a plan to boost economic growth.

The last option would be painful in the short-run as Greece would get battered by financial markets and possibly have to deal with currency instability as it reintroduced the drachma(?), but it would open policy space and make Greece much more competitive in terms of cost of doing business. A Grexit could also lead to a domino effect–if other ailing E.U. countries see a post-E.U. Greece succeeding, it would bolster anti-E.U. parties within these countries.

It is obvious that the second choice is in everyone’s best interests. Unfortunately, that is no guarantee this route will be taken:

Herman van Rompuy [former head of the European Council of EU leaders] told a Brussels conference that if Greece were to leave the euro zone, that would also have geopolitical repercussions in the current standoff with Russiaover Ukraine, emboldening Moscow to see Europe as weak.

Van Rompuy urged all sides to consider the political and geopolitical implications of such a step and not just the economic and financial arguments.

“I hope we will never have to answer the Grexit question,” he added

Greece staying in the E.U. is important for both sides of the negotiation. There are enough crises in the world without manufacturing one in Greece. It is exactly times like these when budgetary restrictions should be relaxed in the name of pragmatic, longer-term priorities. But so far Greece and it’s lenders have been unable to map out a solution that worksall parties involved, and so the current impasse and possibility of an “accidental Grexit” persists.

Greece did submit a new proposal to it’s creditors yesterday, and it was apparently strong enough that it got an unofficial endorsement from French Prime Minister Francois Hollande. This could be meaningful development, as heads of major European states have to this point been reluctant to acknowledge Greek concessions. It is a step towards the “political dialogue” Tsipras has been pleading for (framing the debate less in adversarial terms between debtor and creditor, and more as a mutual compromise between equal partners working towards a common goal).

“Democracy in Recession”

If Greece were to leave the EU, (aside from the economic impact) there would be significant geopolitical repercussions, including a Greek pivot towards Russia. The Greek government has already signaled it disagrees with EU sanctions on Russia. More recently, it was reported that Putin and Tsipras “did not discuss financial aid” on the sidelines of the St. Peteresburg International Economic Forum. Generally speaking, whenever someone has to defend that something “wasn’t discussed”, it means it either was discussed or very likely will be in the future.

This is not to say that Greece would stop being functioning as a democracy if it leaves the EU. In fact, it is a strong belief in democratic ideals that underpin the current standoff between Greece and it’s creditors. But a fracturing of the EU would certainly be a blow to the ideals the EU stands for–peace and prosperity through a cooperative, democratic international system. Specifically, if Greece signed a natural gas pipeline deal with Russia, it would undermine the current sanctions regime against Russia.

Even more alarmingly, Greece’s problems are emblematic of a greater inward shift by major democratic powers:

A recent NATO Poll found that “At least half of Germans, French and Italians say their country should not use military force to defend a NATO ally if attacked by Russia,” the Pew Research Center said it found in its survey, which is based on interviews in 10 nations.

In the United States, the study notes, support for NATO remains fairly strong. Americans and Canadians, it says, were the only nationalities surveyed in which more than half of those polled believed that their country should take military action if Russia attacked a NATO ally.

This is further evidence of a worrying global trend, what Thomas Friedman calls Democracy in recession”:

“…perhaps the most worrisome dimension of the democratic recession has been the decline of democratic efficacy, energy, and self-confidence” in America and the West at large. After years of hyperpolarization, deadlock and corruption through campaign financing, the world’s leading democracy is increasingly dysfunctional, with government shutdowns and the inability to pass something as basic as a budget. “The world takes note of all this,” says Diamond. “Authoritarian state media gleefully publicize these travails of American democracy in order to discredit democracy in general and immunize authoritarian rule against U.S. pressure.”

Diamond urges democrats not to lose faith. Democracy, as Churchill noted, is still the worst form of government — except for all the others. And it still fires the imagination of people like no other system. But that will only stay true if the big democracies maintain a model worth following. I wish that were not so much in question today.

Look, I get it. The world is still emerging from a generational economic crisis. Democracies are first and foremost accountable to their electorates, and in the face of short-term problems it is difficult to sell the importance of dealing with seemingly longer-term issues. But this is what we should demand of our political leaders–the ability to meet peoples short term needs while simultaneously laying the groundwork for long-term peace and prosperity.

The Democratization Process

Modernization theory and recent history support the idea that sustained democratic movements must result from organic desire by local factions. When these natural movements towards democratic governance emerge, they must be nurtured.

Democratic movements are always opposed by those who stand to lose power should they succeed. If the primary champions of democracy (the U.S. and the E.U.) seem increasingly unwilling to provide the resources needed to defend those who share our values, democratic movements are less likely to take shape against adversaries that tend to have economic and military advantages.

Autocratic rulers have always used propoganda and media control to make democracy look less appealing. This job becomes easier when traditional democratic stalwarts appear unable to govern effectively at home, and unwilling to defend their ideals abroad.

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Green News: The Needed E-Recycling Movement

Artist rendition of an e-waste pile from the movie “Idiocracy”

If you live in the developed world, chances are you either have or know someone who has a drawer, cabinet, or closet full of “e-waste”–a combination of old electronic devices and wires that serves absolutely no purpose but to take up space. Why does our e-waste get hoarded? I believe it is because e-recycling options are few and far between.

The head of the United Nations body tasked with setting the global environmental agenda today stressed the need to limit the use of dangerous chemicals and to find a solution to the masses of electronic waste building up around the world, as a Conference of Parties to three major Conventions on the subject began in Geneva today.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), told journalists that the “tsunami of e-waste rolling out over the world” not only accounted for a large portion of the world’s non-recyclable “waste mountain” but also needed dealing with because many elements found in electronic equipment are potentially hazardous to people and the environment.

“Never mind that it is also an economic stupidity because we are throwing away an enormous amount of raw materials that are essentially re-useable,” said Mr. Steiner. “Whether it is gold, silver or some of the rare earths that you have heard about perhaps in recent years, it is still an incredible amount.”

Mr. Steiner said that the amount of some such materials that are available above ground in unused electronics now exceeds the amount still in the ground and he looked to the potential of the Basel Convention to help access ‘urban mines’ by working to better inform people of how to dispose of their e-waste.

“Annually, one million people die from occupational poisoning,” Mr. Steiner said, referring to the effects of the use of chemicals on people’s bodies. “This is something that is, in this day and age, not only unnecessary it’s really intolerable. And this is why the sound management of chemicals is something that has brought Governments, civil society but also the private sector and the chemical industry together.”

One of the more well known theories of Technology, “Moore’s Law“, states that the number of transistors per square inch on integrated circuits has doubled every year since their invention, and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future–this “law” has remained relevant for 50 years. While Moore’s law may sound like techno-babble that doesn’t affect the average person, it has a lot to do with our collective e-hoarding problem; due to some combination of technological innovation and planned obsolescence, the viable life of electronic products is incredibly short.

Between consumption patterns in developed countries and efforts to bridge the “digital-divide” in the developing world, the world’s e-waste problem will only get worse if left unaddressed. Absent a systematic way of dealing with our e-waste, we will continue hoarding rare-earth metals while simultaneously extracting them from the ground (with all the environmental degradations that accompany resource mining).

E-recycling can also help lower the costs of producing the stripped-down versions of smart-phones and tablets that play an important role in reducing poverty in poor countries. Due to the value of rare earth metals and the costs of extraction, e-recycling could potentially provide a revenue stream for cash strapped municipalities.

So we come to the need to promote global e-recycling efforts. To be effective, this movement should involve all concerned private and public sector actors. 

I would like to end this blog with a personal anecdote. I have a broken computer in my apartment that has been sitting there for weeks as I try to figure out how to dispose of it in a responsible way–What exactly should I do?

If your answer involves going online and researching how to dispose of e-waste where I live, then I say to you this unnecessary burden is representative of the exact problem I am railing against. Most people do not have the time or desire to take this extra step. Instead, they will just throw out their e-waste, trashing valuable resources, necessitating further extraction of rare earth materials, and endangering public health.

It is not as if we are waiting for some technological breakthrough to address this issue. A solution as simple as e-recycling bins or designated days for e-waste pickup could help solve this looming global problem.


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Its Human Rights, Stupid!

Two weeks ago, the Obama Administration hosted a summit in Washington D.C. on countering violent extremism. With terrorist organizations such as ISIL and Boko Haram massacring people with relative impunity, high ranking government officials from around the world, representatives from the United Nations, and experts in the field came together to discuss how best to counter such groups.

Without trivializing the essential role of military operations, there is a growing consensus that a comprehensive, multi-dimensional approach is needed to effectively counter terrorism. A military response alone does not address the root causes which enable the formation and continued operation of extremist organizations, and can be counter-productive by fueling anti-Western propaganda (drone warfare has been particularly contentious in this regard).

An important component of this multi-dimensional approach is the promotion and protection of human rights. This sentiment was echoed by both President Obama and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Obama:

As he sought to rally the world behind a renewed attack on terrorism, President Obama argued on Thursday that force of arms was not enough and called on all nations to “put an end to the cycle of hate” by expanding human rights, religious tolerance and peaceful dialogue.

But the challenge of his approach was staring him right in the face. His audience of invited guests, putative allies in a fresh international counterterrorism campaign, included representatives from some of the world’s least democratic and most repressive countries.

Critics say the terrorism fight has simply enabled autocratic regimes to go after their political foes without worrying about American disapproval. Egypt’s leaders, for instance, have moved to stifle the Muslim Brotherhood, the opposition group they deem too radical. “It is futile to distinguish between bad terrorists, which must be defeated, and good terrorists, which can be accommodated,” Mr. Shoukry said.

The White House acknowledged the disconnect between advocating human rights and teaming up with human rights violators. But aides said it was one Mr. Obama had learned to live with, given the importance of maintaining an international coalition to fight the Islamic State and other terror threats.

“It’s a perennial challenge of the U.S. government that some of our partners are much more aggressive than others in how they define their domestic terrorist challenge,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser to Mr. Obama. That dynamic is “most obvious in Egypt, where essentially there’s been a very broad brush in terms of who represents a terrorist threat.”

“When people spew hatred toward others because of their faith or because they’re immigrants, it feeds into terrorist narratives,” Mr. Obama said. “It feeds a cycle of fear and resentment and a sense of injustice upon which extremists prey. And we can’t allow cycles of suspicion to tear the fabrics of our countries.”

Ban Ki Moon:

“Let there be no doubt,” Mr. Ban proclaimed to a room full of high-level delegates including US Secretary of State John Kerry, “The emergence of a new generation of transnational terrorist groups including Da’esh [or the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] and Boko Haram is a grave threat to international peace and security.”

“These extremists are pursuing a deliberate strategy of shock and awe – beheadings, burnings, and snuff films designed to polarize and terrorize, and provoke and divide us,” the UN chief added, commending UN Member States for their political will to defeat terrorist groups and at the same time, urging them to stay “mindful of the pitfalls.”

“Many years of our experience have proven that short-sighted policies, failed leadership and an utter disregard for human dignity and human rights have causes tremendous frustration and anger on the part of people who we serve,” the UN chief said.

…preventing violent extremism requires a multi-pronged approach. While military operations are crucial, they are not the entire solution. “Bullets are not the silver bullet,” Mr. Ban said, emphasizing that while missiles may kill terrorists, good governance kills terrorism.

“Human rights, accountable institutions, the equitable delivery of services, and political participation – these are among our most powerful weapons,” the Secretary-General stressed.

Why Isn’t More Done?

If such a consensus exists around the significant role human rights violations play in a variety of negative outcomes (including violent extremism), why don’t policymakers do more to promote human rights? One explanation is that human rights encompass many issues: economic, social, cultural, political and civil rights. Furthermore, no consensus exists with regards to the hierarchy of human rights. Fulfilling some human rights obligations are inherently expensive (economic and social rights), while others have more to do with those in power loosening their grip (political, civil, and cultural). In other words, human rights include both positive and negative rights. Which rights should be prioritized in a world of finite resources and political capital?

I am of the camp that believes human rights are inter-dependent; one human right violation enables others, culminating in armed conflict and/or “extreme poverty”. Therefore, there really is no hierarchy. The exception to this rule is the right to life / security; a violation of this right (murder) is permanent and obviously must be upheld before other rights can be considered. This reality is often bastardized to justify restricting rights in the name of security, an issue I will address later in more detail.

Another issue is that the “ends” of promoting some human rights are not immediate, which historically has made verifying progress difficult. To this end, the UN’s Post-2015 Task Force has placed an emphasis on developing indicators for previously non-quantifiable aspects of human rights. These indicators can help verify when progress is being made on longer-term goals, and when ineffective programs need to be adjusted or scrapped.

Promoting and protecting human rights, while admittedly an ambitious goal, gives direction to sustainable development agendas (likes the SDGs / post-2015 development agenda) in both “first world” countries and the world’s least developed countries. Specifically which rights should be prioritized is context sensitive and should be identified through the democratic process.

Problems With Partners

Many of America’s partners, particularly in the Middle-East, are authoritarian regimes which do not share our beliefs in pluralism and human rights. These regimes tend to fight extremism by further restricting peoples rights in the name of security, exacerbating a vicious cycle of violence, under-development / poverty, and human rights abuses. They often characterize any dissenters as “terrorists”, even if their actions are entirely peaceful.

But relying solely on “Western” actors is not financial sustainable or effective, as it fuels the “Western Imperialism” terrorist narrative. Regional partners must play a leading role in combating extremist activities and ideologies. Although imperfect, we must work with these partners as they are, while simultaneously cultivating local support for human rights. 

Even our “democratic” allies may find it in their best interest to restrict certain rights. Take Egypt for example, where extremist violence has led to popular support for an unaccountable military regime. One could certainly argue that it is in the Egyptian governments best interest to manage, but not eliminate, violent extremism.

And of course, the American-led coalition has its limits–for example, it refuses to work with the Assad despite the military benefits such a partnership would entail.

The Case for an American National Human Rights Institution:

Human rights accountability outlines the responsibilities of different actors–corporations, the public sector, international development organizations, NGOs, and civil society–in promoting and protecting human rights.

National Human Rights Institutions (NHRI), which have proliferated over the past two decades, can act as human rights watchdogs. These institutions are most effective when they have a strong mandate, a working relationship with the criminal justice system, and receive their funding independently of federal budgetary decisions.

The unfortunate irony is that in the very places that could benefit the most from effective NHRIs, these conditions are not met. Critics argue NHRIs are ineffective and put in place to create the illusion of promoting and protecting human rights. While this may be true in some cases, it is not in all; ultimately, NHRIs can be as effective or ineffective as their mandates and operating space allow.

The absence of an American NHRI is particularly conspicuous. While America does have strong protections of many rights, it lags in other areas (particularly privacy concerns). A NHRI could provide a forum for people to directly address grievances against the government. Perhaps the whole Snowden debacle could have been averted with a functioning ombudsman system.

An American NHRI could be an political mouthpiece for people, helping to restore faith in the American government (which, sadly, is the lowest amongst the financially insecure–the very people who could benefit from public policy the most). Who knows, an American NHRI institution could play a part in jump-starting stagnant wages and promoting social mobility! While far from a cure-all, an American NHRI could “punch above its weight” in terms of resources required to run it.

Perhaps most importantly, an American NHRI would act as a model for NHRIs in other countries, assisting with financial support, technical knowledge, and capacity building. An American NHRI would unaccountably be a strong voice within the the international coordinating committee (ICC) of NHRIs.

These are hypothetical results, and the presence of effective NHRIs does not mean the realization of human rights would progress in a perfectly linear fashion. The closer people get to acquiring new rights, the harder vested interests dig in against them. This is what is playing out now in the Middle-East and in the Ukrainian Civil War–extremists and authoritarians clinging to the remnants of an old order.

The power of effective democratic governance and a human rights based approach to development is truly awesome. Next time someone asks how America can promote progressive values both at home and abroad, just tell them “it’s human rights, stupid!”

Note: This blog focused exclusively on the relationship between human rights and violent extremism. Click the following links for more information on the linkages between human rights, armed conflict, and economic development (which are themselves related root causes of violent extremism).

In Development as Freedom, Amartya Sen argues promoting human rights is not only a means to an end (“positive peace“, sustainable development, poverty and inequality reduction), but also an important end in itself (empowering people, enabling self-determination)–I fully agree!

Taking a holistic view of the benefits of upholding international human rights norms, an even stronger argument can be made for their promotion and protection.


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Awareness, Self-Interests, People Power, and The End of Poverty

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Inside the Bill and Melinda Gates Visitor Center in Seattle, WA

While finishing up my first business trip in Seattle, WA, I walked by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Due to my studies and interests, I was familiar with the organization’s important work in the related fields of Education, Healthcare, and Poverty Eradication both in the US and abroad. Intrigued, I went in.

While walking around the visitors center, I was struck by something I read. Explaining the origins of the foundation, a plaque stated that Bill and Melinda gates started their mission by providing Internet access to public libraries in America. Then, in the 1990s, Bill and Melinda “learned” of the extreme poverty affecting children around the world (specifically lack of access to medical care), and expanded the scope of their work.

This line took me a while to comprehend. Growing up during the age of globalization and global news coverage, the plight of people in the developing world was something I had always taken as obvious. How could it be that someone, let alone one of the smartest people in the world, would have to “learn” about these injustices later in life?

Then I began to think about what growing up in a hyper-connected world meant. For those who grew-up in previous generations, understanding the plight of people in the developing world required an active and time consuming search for information. Conversely, growing up in generations Y / Z, with globalized news coverage and internet access, not knowing about the existence of extreme poverty requires willful ignorance.

There are many self-interested reasons for wanting to  promote sustainable human development and end poverty, including: stopping violent extremism, stemming the “offshoring” of jobs to lower income countries through economic convergence, and creating new markets for sustainable trade-based growth (the Great Recession was a perfect example of the unsustainability of relying too heavily on financial innovations for growth).

But universal awareness will also play a large role in ending poverty (much like the first step to finding a solution is admitting there is a problem). The “silent majority” of the global community believes in basic rights and human dignity for all. It is in the long run interests of the global community, and resonates with mankind’s central tenets as ethical, social beings. Ultimately, it is this awareness which will galvanize the global effort to end poverty.

The Post 2015 Development Agenda is an important element of the fight to end poverty, as it will help direct trillions of dollars of public and private development resources over the next 15 years. Building on the successes (and learning from the shortcomings) of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the Post 2015 Development Agenda is being drafted in an inclusive and consultary manner. Incorporating input from the very people it is intended to help, the agenda recognizes the importance of civil / political rights, good governance, multi-sectoral accountability, and self-determination in ending poverty. With human rights and empowering the world’s most vulnerable people at its core, the Post 2015 Development Agenda is poised to make great strides in poverty eradication.

As the world continues to get “smaller” and more interconnected, the costs of environmental degradation, human rights abuses (in relation to terrorism and protracted social conflict / genocide), and economic inequality will more acutely impact not only to the world’s most vulnerable, but also people in first-world countries (who have historically have considered themselves largely immune to such issues).

While it will not be easy, ours is the generation that must make meaningful strides towards ending poverty and promoting sustainable human development in the worlds least developed countries (LDCs). Failure to do so would gravely affect us all, and this (now) common knowledge is (slowly) creating unstoppable momentum towards positive, sustainable change.


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Transparency Report: Is A Peaceful Transfer of Power Possible In Afghanistan?

Photo: S. SABAWOON./ Published: 04/5/2014 12:16:53 NY Daily News

Original article:

The process to check thousands of ballot boxes in the Afghan presidential election run-off is now underway after several delays, the United Nations mission in the country confirmed, calling for local commitment to complete the audit without any more postponements.

In a written statement, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) “urged the full commitment of the parties for the unprecedented and vital endeavour that should be completed without any further delays and interruptions.”

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), under whose authority the audit is being carried out, with international supervision, resumed the process on 3 August, following the Eid holiday, but without the participation of representatives of one of the two candidates, Abdullah Abdullah.

“After today’s consultations, we expected that the process of the audit will continue smoothly and without any interruptions,” Ján Kubiš, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and UNAMA head said on Saturday, in a press conference alongside IEC Chairman Ahmad Yusuf Nuristani.

In a statement today, Mr. Kubiš added that he fully understands that Dr. Abdullah, and his opponent, Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, would need reassurances concerning the audit process.

“It could not be otherwise given the high stakes and widespread mobilization of supporters they were both able to achieve over two rounds of voting,” he said.

Meanwhile, more than 200 full-time international observers – hailing from the European Union and including its Election Assessment Team and the American non-governmental organizations National Democratic Institute, Democracy International and Creative, as well as Asian Network for Free Elections, are now in auditing warehouses in the capital.

According to a UN proposal, which has been agreed to by both candidates, they joined IEC audit teams to scrutinize some 23,000 boxes of ballots from the 14 June run-off using a 16-point checklist to look for things such as inconsistencies in marking the boxes or obvious patterns.

That information will then be reviewed by the IEC Board of Commissioners in open meetings –in the presence of international and domestic observers, candidate agents, the media and UN advisors – where they will decide to accept, recount or invalidate the results.

UNAMA has said that these “extraordinary international mobilization and transport efforts” are meant to provide Afghans with “unprecedented reassurance that the popular will which they bravely expressed on 5 April and 14 June will be known and respected.”

The proposal for the audit varies from past polls, where election officials relied on sampling and trends to extrapolate the extent of possible fraud.

Auditing every single audit box is a “unique opportunity,” said senior UN international elections expert, Jeff Fischer, who directly advises the IEC Board on international best practices.

“It meets international best practice, is consistent with the Afghan constitution and laws, and will produce a robust, credible and thorough audit that detects and eliminates fraudulent ballots while protecting valid votes,” he said.

The audit is led from the UN side by the UN Development Programme’s Enhancing Legal and Electoral Capacity for Tomorrow (UNDP ELECT II) project, which has spent the last four years promoting the capacity of Afghan electoral institutions.

I do not know enough about the two candidates–Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai–to try to determine whose positions and policies are in the best interests of the Afghan people. This is exactly why we have elections, to let people who will be directly affected decide for themselves. Whoever wins (whether Ahmadzai’s victory is upheld or overturned by the audit process) certainly has their work cut out for them. Afghanistan is one of the poorest, corrupt, insecure and culturally fragmented countries in the world.

Despite all these challenges–despite threats from the Taliban and lacking a history of effective democratic governance–about 40% of eligible voters turned out for the second round “run-off” elections held on June 14th. It is the job of an  independent and international auditing body to determine who will ultimately win the election. An unprecedented full audit of all votes is currently underway–the success or failure of this experiment could resonate in many forthcoming elections in the developing world.

The question remains, however, if either side is willing to accept defeat. Recently, candidate Abdullah’s camp has voiced discontent with the purportedly independent audit process:

The United Nations, which is assisting with the audit, and the Afghan Independent Election Commission announced a decision on the criteria for invalidating votes and tried to resume the audit on Sunday, but Mr. Abdullah’s team refused to participate, citing further objections to the criteria. Mr. Kerry made phone calls to both candidates on Friday, with little apparent progress.

Also on Sunday, Mr. Abdullah’s campaign manager released an audiotape on which he said Vice President Karim Khalili could be heard directing his followers to support Mr. Ghani in the runoff. An aide to Mr. Khalili has denounced the tape as fake, according to the independent television news channel Tolo TV.

In the tape the speaker, who sounded like Mr. Khalili but had not been independently verified as such, said that the international community, the election commission and the president all supported Mr. Ghani for president. He even suggested that Afghanistan’s allies would tolerate the use of any means to achieve such a result.

“Our international friends have promised us that by using any means and using any opportunity, the election outcome must turn in favor of this team, even if these opportunities, even if these means are against electoral mechanisms,” the voice said.

Mr. Abdullah’s campaign manager, Baryalai Arsalai, said the tape proved that the election fraud had been planned to return a victory for Mr. Ghani.

“This evidence was released today to inform our countrymen that our president, other government elders and the so-called election commission are instruments,” Mr. Arsalai said. The election was a public process, he said, calling it the right of the Afghan people, not the president or the commission chief. “We have a responsibility to let people know that their rights are being violated,” he said.

After lengthy last-minute negotiations, and clarifications issued by the United Nations on the criteria for disqualifying fraudulent ballots, Mr. Abdullah’s team announced it had provisionally agreed to attend the audit on Monday.

It seems to me (and this is just speculation) that the Abdullah camp, by calling into question not only the technical aspects of the audit process but the legitimacy of the whole operation, is setting itself up for an “out” should the audit results be against his favor. This is to say nothing of Dr. Ahmahdzai, who would surely cry foul play should his “victory” be found to be illegitimate.

Aside from a fully independent and internationally monitored audit of all votes, there is little more that can be done in the name of legitimacy. I fear for the sake of the Afghan people, however, that “legitimacy” in the eyes of the two candidates is tied to their own victory–two positions which are clearly mutually exclusive.

The people of Afghanistan showed great bravery by turning out to vote on two separate occasions, risking their lives in order to enable a system they are unfamiliar with. I hope I am wrong, and that both candidates will respect the results of the audit. If not, it is the duty of the international community to ensure that the legitimate winner takes power in a peaceful manner. The U.S. has a big role to play in this peaceful transfer, as the resources it provides Afghanistan (security, economic development, humanitarian, etc.) should provide considerable leverage.

As I said before, whoever ends up as the President will surely have their hands full; Afghanistan has a long march towards modernization. Transferring power peacefully through legitimate democratic elections is only the beginning of what is sure to be a difficult and nonlinear modernization process.

Update: It appears both candidates have agreed to a “power share” deal, where the losing party in the audit will get substantial positions within the government. It sounds good in theory, I hope they both stick to this plan when the results come in.


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Conflict Watch: Hard Power, Soft Power, and Sustainable Human Development

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The Importance of Soft Power:

May 3rd marked World Press Freedom Day, during which high ranking UN officials recognized the important roles that freedom of expression, press, and access to information play in the development process:

The United Nations is marking World Press Freedom Day today with an appeal to all States, societies and individuals to actively defend press freedom as a fundamental right and as a critical contribution to achieving and sustaining the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

This call was made in a joint message by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Irina Bokova, Director-General of UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), who said UN bodies are already working together and with other partners under UNESCO’s leadership to create a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers around the world.

Their message goes on to stress that this year, the international community has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to prepare a long-term agenda for sustainable development to succeed the MDGs when they end in 2015.

“Successfully implementing that agenda will require that all populations enjoy the fundamental rights of freedom of opinion and expression, the officials said, underscoring that those rights are essential to democracy, transparency, accountability and the rule of law. “They are vital for human dignity, social progress and inclusive development.”

Also marking the Day, 31 specialists from the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system called on all Governments to promote and protect the rights to freedom of expression and information, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association and public participation.

Protection of these fundamental freedoms is essential for full realization of all human rights for all and for the achievement of related development goals. “States must develop more inclusive political processes and allow the media to play a key role in guaranteeing the right of everyone…to freely access information and engage in meaningful development related discourse.”

The experts, known as Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, comprise the Organization’s largest body of independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world.

“Without free media to advocate for and monitor the implementation of the new set of post-2015 targets, there can be no real development for all marginalized, vulnerable or discriminated against. Not now, not ever,” declared the experts.

Mr. Ban said that every day of the year, the fundamental freedom to receive and impart ideas through any media is under assault, “to the detriment of us all.” Indeed, journalists are being singled out for speaking or writing uncomfortable truths – kidnapped, detained, beaten and sometimes murdered.

“Such treatment is completely unacceptable in a world ever more reliant on global news outlets and the journalists who serve them,” said the UN chief.

He told the briefing that last year, 70 journalists were killed; many caught in the cross-fire of armed hostilities. Fourteen more have suffered the same fate this year. Also last year, 211 journalists were being held in prison. Some 456 journalist have been forced into exile since 2008. And since 1992, well over 1,000 journalists have been killed – nearly one per week.

As for the post-2015 agenda, he said free media, traditional and new, are indispensable for development. They can promote transparency about the new goals that Member States will adopt – progress as well as shortfalls. “Social media and mobile technologies offer new tools for accelerating citizen participation and economic and social progress,” he said, adding that the media’s watchdog function is essential for holding Governments, businesses and others to account.

Echoing those sentiments, John Ashe, President of the UN General Assembly, said freedom of expression and freedom of the press are fundamental rights that form an essential pillar of democratic societies. “When journalists are able to report freely, they support informed citizen participation in political and social processes and promote civic engagement,” he added.

The Limits of Soft Power:

Access to information can combat corruption, fuel populism, and give a voice to the voiceless; the role press freedom in sustainable human development cannot be understated.

However, as much as it pains me to admit it, there are limitations to what “soft power” can achieve. A free press essentially acts as a “spotlight” on abuses of power and social injustices. There are forces that are directly opposed to “Westernization” or “Modernization”; against such forces, shining a “spotlight” is almost entirely ineffective.

An example of such targeted violence is currently playing out in Nigeria, where Boko Haram terrorists (loosely translated to “Western education is a sin”) last month kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls:

These girls, ages 15 to 18 and Christians and Muslims alike, knew the risks of seeking an education, and schools in the area had closed in March for fear of terror attacks. But this school had reopened so that the girls — the stars of their families and villages — could take their final exams. They were expected to move on to become teachers, doctors, lawyers.

Instead, they reportedly are being auctioned off for $12 each to become “wives” of militants. About 50 girls escaped, but the police say that 276 are still missing — and the Nigerian government has done next to nothing to recover the girls.

“We are now asking for world power countries to intervene,” the desperate father of a missing 18-year-old girl, Ayesha, told me by phone. He said that the parents had given up on Nigerian government officials — “they are just saying lies” — and pleaded for international pressure on Nigeria to rescue the girls.

If the girls aren’t rescued, “no parent will allow their female child to go to school,” Hadiza Bala Usman, who has led protests in Nigeria on behalf of the missing girls, warned in a telephone interview.

The best tool to fight extremism is education, especially of girls — and that means ensuring that it is safe to study. The greatest threat to militancy in the long run comes not from drones but from girls with schoolbooks.

More than 200 teenage girls have just been enslaved because they had the brains and guts to seek to become teachers or doctors. They deserve a serious international effort to rescue them.

According to Modernization theory, democratization and other rights based movements are the result of civil society initiatives, which occur when large portions of society become empowered via human capital investment. If people believe they will become targets for embracing “Western” ideals, and that they will not be protected, they will be less inclined to invest in their futures, stymieing modernization efforts.

To be clear, the sort of security that enables human capital investment comes from police forces, peacekeepers, and armies that are accountable to their people, not by international forces dropping bombs / drone strikes, which actually fuels radical sentiments.

Synergy Between Soft and Hard Power:

In the field of poverty reduction / economic development, it has long been recognized that peace and security are necessary preconditions for sustainable human development. As advances in information and communication technology and improvements in good governance theories shift the focus towards “soft power”, we must not forget the important role that basic security plays in sustainable human development. This is not an either or issue, but a question of finding the right balance between these two synergistic forms of assistance.

While national governments are the primary human rights duty bearers, in the developing world many governments lack the capacity to provide even basic security / public goods. The international community must compliment “good governance” via both “hard” and “soft” support.

Third World Injustices Result In First World Problems:

When discussing injustices in the developing world, people often say (with varying degrees of indifference) “why should I care?”. If the moral / ethical reasons do not get you, there are “selfish” reasons to promote sustainable human development.

Essentially, sustainable human development it is the only way to reverse trade imbalances and the flow of jobs being outsourced to the developing world. Maybe you do not care about people in other countries, but you probably care about having a job and the general state of your countries economy.

If the “Great Recession” has tough us anything, its that we cannot financially innovate our way to prosperity in an increasingly divergent global economy–it does not work for 99% of us even in the developed world! Only through partial global economic convergence can the majority of people in the developed world hope for “a better future”.

In a blog a few months ago, I ran into an interesting study called “I’m The Guy You Pay Later“; written by law enforcement officials, it argues that money not invested in early childhood education ends up being spent on the back-end on criminal justice expenditures. I can’t help but recognize similarities in the debate over official development assistance (ODA); we can support “good governance” now, or pay the prices later (unsustainable levels of military spending / related underinvestment in other aspects of our economy, the decline of living-wage jobs / high unemployment, etc.).

Another argument against ODA is that it is never effective–this is simply not true. ODA (both “soft” and “hard”), when complimenting “good governance” domestic resource mobilization in the developing world (natural resource revenue accountability, stemming illicit financial outflows, tax system reforms) can help finance the various programs (at all levels; global, regional, national, state, local) the vast majority of people in both the developed and developing worlds need.


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Conflict Watch: The U.S. is Teaching China How to be a World Power

“In remarks directed at China, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke Saturday of a “growing threat” of cyber-attacks against the United States and called on America and its allies to “establish international norms of responsible behavior in cyberspace.”

“The United States has expressed our concerns about the growing threat of cyberintrusions, some of which appear to be tied to the Chinese government and military,” he said in a speech largely devoted to the Obama administration’s defense posture in Asia.

“At the same time, Mr. Hagel stressed the need for more talks between the American and Chinese militaries to build trust and reduce the risk of miscalculation at a time of mounting rivalry.

His remarks were immediately challenged by a Chinese general in a question-and-answer session after his speech. A delegate to the conference, Maj. Gen. Yao Yunzhu, director of the Center for China-America Defense Relations at the Academy of Military Science in Beijing, said she was not convinced — and China was not convinced — that the United States wanted a “comprehensive” relationship with China. The new United States policy in Asia and the Pacific amounts to containment of China, General Yao said.”

Mr. Hagel responded that Washington wanted more transparency in military dealings with China. “You have to talk to each other, be direct with each other, be inclusive,” he said.”

Over all, he said, the United States will keep its “decisive military edge,” an oblique but distinct reference to American military superiority. China has announced an 11.2 percent increase in military spending this year, part of its rapid military modernization.

He stressed that new technologies would entail spending fewer resources in a smarter way, saying that the Navy had launched an experimental drone from an aircraft carrier last month for the first time. It was a feat, he said, that ushered in a new era of naval aviation. Unstated — but understood by many in the audience — was the fact that China just last year put into service its first aircraft carrier, an old Ukrainian vessel refitted by the Chinese.

Mr. Hagel also said the United States would deploy a solid-state laser aboard the Ponce, a naval vessel, next year. He said it would provide “an affordable answer” to counter threats like “missiles, swarming small boats and remotely piloted aircraft.”

The complex relationship between the U.S. and China has been a recurring theme here at NN. The two countries combined account for roughly 1/4 of the world’s population and 1/3 of global economic output. The relationship between the two countries has become even more important as technological advances continue to make the world “smaller”.

The new major threat to U.S. security is cyber-attacks. Not terrorists attacks on U.S. soil, not an invasion from a foreign enemy, but cyber-attacks. The world is connected through the internet and other satellite technologies, and there is no turning back from further integration. The problems facing the world in the 21st century require cooperation, coordination, and global governance. This is why we see so much emphasis on transparency and accountability in international relations, because what happens in one country has direct effects on other countries in today’s globalized world.

It is because of this that the U.S. is taking such a hard-line approach with China. The U.S. must have very conclusive evidence to continue to name the Chinese government and military as the source of many cyber-attacks in America. America’s leaders fully understand the complexity and importance of our relationship with China; it is because of this that the U.S. generally treads carefully with regards to China–we pick our battles.

But the U.S. is also making it abundantly clear that while national sovereignty may be enough to avoid international military intervention (as Russia and China continue to emphasize with regards to the Civil War in Syria), it is not a shield which a country aspiring to become a hegemonic power can hide behind.

Sustainable hegemonic power requires transparency and accountability. It requires a strong citizen base, with investments in human capital and overall enjoyment of life. It requires the freedoms and social capital needed for people to pursue meaningful lives, to innovate and push the frontiers of whatever industry their passion lies in. It requires a long-term vision of the world, and sustainable development policies to realize that vision. It requires post-modern values and an appreciation of human rights for all people in the world. And it requires a modernized military to back up your normative view of the world.

China is an economic power, but not yet a global power. Until China loosens the reigns of authoritarianism, and provides its people with the hope and optimism that equality of opportunity, social mobility, and freedom of expression bring, China will not realize it’s true growth potential. In recent years China has made great strides in reform and modernization, but in reality has only begun the process.

President Obama is set to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping on June 7th and 8th. “On his previous U.S. visit last February, President Xi proposed the concept of “a new type of relationship between major countries, a concept which was accepted in March 2013 by Tom Donilon, National Security Advisor to the President Obama. American Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, Secretary of State John Kerry and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey have all visited China recently and raised concerns over North Korea’s nuclear program, cyber security, trade and military communications.

We have not seen the U.S. accept many diplomatic initiatives proposed by China and perhaps the most pressing concern in U.S. circles centers on just what form the “new type of relationship between major countries” will take. The meeting is also a great opportunity for both sides to voice their concerns and reach some kind of consensus.”

President Obama will likely address President Xi directly over matters such as Cyber-security, the Korean Peninsula, and the Syrian Civil War. Part of being a global power is taking an active role in international affairs, and going beyond fulfilling the negative rights of a “do no harm” international policy.

The United States has almost a century of experience being a modernized hegemonic power; China can learn from our experiences and expedite the modernization process, or it can continue to hide behind the shield of “national sovereignty”, depressing its future growth potential.

If Xi wants to really change the relationship between China and the U.S., trusting that the U.S. has China’s best interests in mind is a good place to start. The U.S. is not trying to undermine Chinese development–the two countries are too interdependent on one another. The first step towards achieving Xi’s goal is building real trust and friendship between the countries leaders. 

Hopefully the meeting between the two reform-minded leaders will act as a catalyst to allow the U.S and China to begin building this relationship. The U.S. government can provide the Chinese government with the leeway and responsibility in global affairs it desires, if the Chinese government can prove it can be more transparent and accountable for its actions.

It will be interesting to see how each side views the talks, and what sort of changes in U.S.-Chinese relations occur.


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Conflict Watch: Pakistan

7 teachers and health workers were killed today in Pakistan; 6 of the 7 were women. This is the second such killing in the last month, the other included 8 polio treatment workers. This is a disturbing trend indeed.

“There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But the shooting, in the Swabi district of the northwestern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, fit a pattern of militant attacks against charity and aid workers across the country in recent weeks that officials have attributed to the Pakistani Taliban.”

Extremists are targeting these groups in particular for 3 reasons:

1)      “Senior militants leaders have long accused vaccination drives of being a cover for government and international espionage and regularly threatened workers and officials involved in the effort, though never before to such deadly effect.”

2)      These groups represent an empowerment of the people, which runs counter to extremist goals.

3)      Pakistan, a predominantly Islamic state, does not like the empowerment of women represented by international aid organizations and western culture in general (relating back to 1 and 2).

1 is an obvious propaganda move based completely on lies. International aid workers and teachers are there to benefit society, and most NGOs have no government affiliation, hence the acronym NGO: Non-Governmental Organization. This justification, as weak as it is, is not based in reality.

2 relates to how extremists groups operate. These groups go to the most disenfranchised people in the most underdeveloped regions of the world, places where peoples basic needs are not being met by the government. They provide social services in exchange for protection and goodwill, and establish deep ties within communities. When international organizations provide services, or empower governments to provide services, it takes away one of the main footholds of extremist groups.

3 refers to gender inequality, which is prevalent in many LDC (least developed countries) but particularly significant in Islamic countries, where women are subjugated to traditional roles in the name of religion. Pakistani women of all ages are less educated than men; most women are what we would call “stay at home moms”—not by choice, but by lack of other opportunities. Only 12.6% of women work in non-agricultural jobs, which diminishes their earning capacity (and therefore their power in the household). Attached is some select data from the World Bank, highlighting gender inequality and underdevelopment in Pakistan.

There are both short run and long run implications of these actions. In the short run, the government or perhaps NATO must provide security for aid workers. If these attacks continue, aid workers will not go to Pakistan, in which case the extremists will have “won” (and will be emboldened by their successful use of force).

Long run implications are aligned with human development and reducing gender inequality. These goals are much more difficult to achieve as is— if NGOs deem Pakistan too dangerous for aid workers, these goals will become even more difficult to attain.

Pakistan Data