Normative Narratives


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Conflict Watch: The End of Team America World Police (Part 7)

Obama’s Strategic Plan For National Security:

The latest installment of my ongoing series “The End of Team America, World Police” focuses on President Obama’s second and final National Security Strategy (full document can be found here):

“The question is never whether America should lead, but how we should lead,” Mr. Obama writes in an introduction to the document, a report that seems to mix legacy with strategy. In taking on terrorists, he argues that the United States should avoid the deployment of large ground forces like those sent more than a decade ago to Iraq and Afghanistan. In spreading democratic values, he says, America should fight corruption and reach out to young people.

“On all these fronts, America leads from a position of strength,” he writes. “But this does not mean we can or should attempt to dictate the trajectory of all unfolding events around the world. As powerful as we are and will remain, our resources and influence are not infinite. And in a complex world, many of the security problems we face do not lend themselves to quick and easy fixes.”

“There is this line of criticism that we are not leading, and it makes no sense,” said Benjamin J. Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser. “Who built the effort against ISIL? Who organized the sanctions on Russia? Who put together the international approach on Ebola?”

The strategy lists eight top strategic risks to the United States, starting with a catastrophic attack at home but including threats like climate change, disruptions in the energy market and significant problems caused by weak or failing states.

Regardless of your opinion on how effectively the Obama administration has handled foreign affairs, it is hard to argue the United States is not leading from the front on major global issues. Yet it is important that our future leaders recognize, as President Obama has, the limits of both our government’s resources and our ability to sustain democratic revolutions through unilateral military intervention.

In a highly interconnected world, confronting global problems is in America’s economic and security interests (not to mention ethical considerations). This does not mean, however, that we should rush headlong into battle without carefully considering the probability of success and costs of alternative courses of action. There are other tools in America’s foreign policy toolkit–the other components of the D.I.M.E (diplomatic, intelligence, military, economic) framework–which should be considered before sending our military (and particularly ground troops) to war.

Military interventions are never quick, easy, or cheap. Even when successful, they leave a power void that must be carefully managed, lest that void be filled by ineffective leaders or extremist groups (or, as is often the case, both). When mismanaged, even the most well intended interventions can be counter-productive, fueling anti-Western propaganda and empowering the very ideologies we seek to destroy.

American tax dollars are a precious resource. Every dollar we spend abroad is a dollar we cannot use for nation building at home. The American government is solely responsible for managing America’s domestic affairs, but we have many allies who share the same ideologies and interests as us (and who should therefore more proportionately shoulder the cost of defending them).

A NATO By Any Other Name…:

NATO was established in recognition that global security was part of the “global commons” (and remains even more-so today). This brings us to recent comments on NATO’s future by outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel:

Hagel, making his final appearance at NATO as U.S. defense chief, said the alliance faced several challenges, including violent extremism on its southern rim, Russian aggression in Ukraine and training security forces in Afghanistan.

“I am very concerned by the suggestion that this alliance can choose to focus on only one of these areas as our top priority,” Hagel told a news conference. “And I worry about the potential for division between our northern and southern allies.”

“The alliance’s ability to meet all these challenges at once, to the east, to the south and out-of-area, is NATO’s charge for the future,” Hagel said.

“This is a time for unity, shared purpose and wise, long-term investments across the spectrum of military capability,” he added. “We must address all the challenges to this alliance, all together and all at once.”

Often times, one can speak most candidly when their tenure at a position is coming to an end. Those who oppose the ideals of NATO will not coordinate their attacks one at a time. In fact, knowledge that NATO resources are strained (due to say, simultaneous humanitarian crises, a wear weary American public, or underinvestment in the global security commons by the rest of the international community) is only likely to embolden our enemies. While NATO needs to be able to effectively counter more than one major threat at a time, this does not mean the American army alone needs that capacity.

As the world becomes “smaller”, the exclusively Northern Atlantic nature of NATO should be reconsidered. Two major democracies–India and Japan–are not members of NATO, limiting the groups ability to fulfill its goals. Furthermore, having regional actors involved in security operations helps builds legitimacy, underscoring the strategic importance of greater Indian and Japanese involvement.

President’s Obama and Modi recently met and discussed, among other things, defense cooperation. India must become a major partner in promoting peace and democracy in the Middle-East (particularly in coordinating the fights against the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban) even as it itself modernizes.

More Turkey Please:

An Op-Ed published in the NYT today by two Arab professors teaching at American Universities was very supportive of Turkey’s level of involvement in the Middle East:

There have been sharp disagreements over the 2013 coup in Egypt, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the need for intervention in Syria. Turkey’s critics have called into question its reliability as a NATO ally, including in the fight against the radical Wahhabi group known as the Islamic State.

But much of this concern is misguided. The ongoing crises in the Middle East have only underscored Turkey’s pivotal geostrategic position: It’s no surprise that Pope Francis, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain have visited Ankara in the past few months. And Turkey’s detractors, partly because they do not understand the sources of its new assertiveness, fail to see that its transformation actually serves America’s long-term interests.

The United States has long allowed client states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel to pursue shortsighted goals in the Middle East. This has only brought despotism and strife. Washington’s failure to fully support the democratic government of Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt contributed to its collapse, and so to the instability and violence that have occurred there since. And it was President Obama’s cynical abandonment of the Syrian opposition during the first two years of the uprising against Mr. Assad that set the stage for the advent of the Islamic State.

To avoid any more such calamities, policy makers in Washington, and other Western capitals, should abandon their counterproductive approach: They should embrace Turkey’s growing, and positive, engagement in the Middle East.

I could not agree more.

But I do not think America’s leaders are opposed to Turkey asserting itself in the Middle-East. Indeed, as a primarily Muslim democracy and NATO member, it must play a large role in Obama’s plan of relying more heavily on regional partners in curtailing Islamic extremism.

I agree the Obama administration was wrong on Syria and Egypt, I am on the record saying as much. But in this case, two wrongs don’t make a right. Turkey cannot afford to play the moral high ground on these issues while the dogs of war bark at it’s door-step. Furthermore, Erdogan’s delayed and half-hearted support of the Kurdish peshmerga reeks of political calculus, not someone who considers ISIS a serious threat to regional stability.

So I am not exactly sure what these professors are talking about–they appear to be building a straw-man just to knock him down. I think it is pretty clear the Obama administration wants more Turkish involvement, including ground forces, in the fights against Assad and ISIS, not less.

Japan and Germany (Finally) Begin to Shed Their Post-WWII Identities:

Updating a previous blog about Japan and Germany shedding their post-WWII pacifist identities, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing Japan to change it’s pacifist Constitution:

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said that he wants to start the process of revising Japan’s Constitution as early as next year, a senior lawmaker in his party said Thursday, giving the clearest indication yet that the Japanese leader will seek to change a document that has undergirded the country’s postwar pacifism.

Mr. Abe told Hajime Funada, the leader of a group of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers, on Wednesday that the best time to begin the difficult political task of amending the Constitution would be after elections for the upper house of Parliament, scheduled for the summer of 2016…

The Constitution, which also prohibits Japan from possessing the means of war, was written by American occupiers after World War II to prevent the defeated nation from ever again engaging in militarist expansion. The document proved so popular among Japan’s war-weary people that it has never been amended.

But Mr. Abe has seized on the murders of the Japanese hostages to make some of his strongest appeals yet for unshackling the nation’s military. Saying Japan was unable to save the hostages, he has called for easing restrictions on its purely defensive armed forces to allow them to conduct rescue missions, evacuations and other overseas operations to protect Japanese nationals.

The hostages, Kenji Goto, a journalist, and Haruna Yukawa, an adventurer, were beheaded a week apart by the Islamic State, a militant group in Syria and Iraq that had demanded a $200 million ransom for their release. The murders outraged and sickened Japan, which had seen itself as largely immune to the sort of violence faced by the United States and other nations that have been involved militarily in the Middle East. Since 1945, Japan has adhered to a peaceful brand of diplomacy that has seen it become a major donor of economic and humanitarian aid to the Middle East and elsewhere.

It remains unclear whether the shock of the killings will swing the Japanese public in favor of Mr. Abe’s harder line. Since the murders, opposition politicians have stepped up attacks on the prime minister, accusing him of provoking the Islamic State by allying Japan more closely with the United States-led efforts to destroy the militant group. Just days before the ransom demand appeared, Mr. Abe pledged $200 million in nonmilitary aid to countries in the region confronting the Islamic State.

However, on Thursday, the lower house of Parliament unanimously adopted a resolution condemning the killings and calling for increased coordination with the global community to combat terrorism.

Germany to Play a More Active Role in Global Security?:

Germany must ramp up defense spending starting in 2016 to ensure its military is able to take on a bigger role in crisis zones, according to two top lawmakers in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition.

Germany spends about 1.3 percent of gross domestic product on the military, short of the 2 percent level pledged informally by North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies.

Merkel’s spokesman has said no additional funding will come in the short term as the government struggles to hold on to its target of balancing the budget next year and with 2015 spending already largely negotiated.

Germany must engage in international missions “earlier, more decisively and more substantially,” Gauck told the Munich Security Conference on Jan. 31.

Fiscal responsibility is usually good, but like anything, overzealous attachment to an ideology can preclude pragmatic policy. Economics is context sensitive, and in the current context, Germany’s dedication to running a balanced budget has left holes in the Eurozone economy and the global security commons.

A large scale increase in German defense spending would bolster global security efforts (particularly in countering Russian aggression in former Soviet Republics), while simultaneously providing a partial answer to Europe’s economic stagnation (by “buying European“).

Please do not confuse my views with war-mongering or advocating for the military-industrial complex, I just recognize that there are bad actors in the world who only understand realpolitik. In order to provide room for the forces of human dignity and freedom to flourish, these bad actors must be marginalized.

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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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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