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Et pour quelques tomates de plus

Le Monde Diplomatique - Wed, 04/09/2019 - 15:05
Nos habitudes de consommation ne sont pas sans conséquences. Dans un kilo de tomates, en hiver, on trouvera : un goût insipide, de l'exploitation, de la pollution, des profits et, in fine, une réflexion sur… la mondialisation des échanges commerciaux. / Bulgarie, Espagne, Europe de l'Est, France, (...) / , , , , , , , , , - 2010/03

Foreign Affairs Quiz

Foreign Policy Blogs - Tue, 03/09/2019 - 17:40


The post Foreign Affairs Quiz appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

De l'État-providence à l'État manager

Le Monde Diplomatique - Tue, 03/09/2019 - 17:03
Les réformes se succèdent apparemment en ordre dispersé ; la technicité les rend opaques ; leurs effets ne sont perçus qu'après coup. Et pourtant, derrière ce brouillard, une mobilisation sans précédent est à l'œuvre pour fabriquer un Etat réduit dans sa surface et renforcé dans ses structures de (...) / , , , , - 2009/12

Un conflit mondial dont personne ne voulait

Le Monde Diplomatique - Tue, 03/09/2019 - 15:02
La guerre qui éclata le 3 septembre 1939, personne ne l'avait voulue. Ni la France ni la Grande-Bretagne, bien sûr, dont les gouvernements y furent entraînés contre leur gré. Ni l'Allemagne non plus : Hitler et son état-major s'étaient certes préparés pour une guerre générale, mais ils n'envisageaient (...) / , , , , - 1990/03

Cette glace qui fond en Antarctique

Le Monde Diplomatique - Mon, 02/09/2019 - 17:00
Du 1er au 12 décembre se tiendra à Poznan (Pologne) le sommet des Nations unies sur le changement climatique. Au même moment, l'Organisation météorologique mondiale tire la sonnette d'alarme : les principaux gaz à effet de serre, à l'origine du réchauffement de la planète, ont franchi de nouveaux (...) / , , , , - 2008/12

Op-Ed: Remembering Bangladeshi Hindu leader Kalidas Baral

Foreign Policy Blogs - Tue, 27/08/2019 - 17:21

In recent days, Bangladeshi Hindus commemorated the murder of Kalidas Baral, a prominent leader in the Bagerhat district 19 years ago.  Kalidas Baral, who was a lawyer by profession, was shot dead on August 20, 2000. He was the President of the District Puja Udjapon Parishad, a central leader of the Hindu, Buddhist-Christian Oikya Parishad and a local leader of the ruling Awami League.  “He was a victim of political rivalry…the rivals within the party had decided to kill him as they could not face him politically,” a relative told the Hindustan Times.

Shipan Kumer Basu, President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, related: “Immediately after the killing of Kalidas Baral, there was a storm of massive protests and criticism throughout Bangladesh.  Bagherhat and the adjoining areas were 70 percent Hindu.  Besides, Kalidas Baral was a popular leader.  Sheikh Helal, brother of Sheikh Hasina, may never have become an MP if he remained alive.  That is why Hasina’s family murdered a popular leader.”

5 individuals were executed for murdering him but 9 were acquitted in 2013.   However, to date, the Baral family has not fully obtained justice for the Kalidas murder for many of the culprits who stand behind the murder remain at large.  For this reason, the wife of Kalidas was not satisfied with the verdict.  His family continues to suffer to date.  Aditas Baral, the daughter of Kalidas, faced four attempted murder attempts: on December 16, 2017, on July 3, 2018, on November 9, 2018 and July 25, 2019.  According to Basu, “No one can attack the Baral family without the direct assistance of local MP Sheikh Helal. One attack after another was carried out to erase the Baral family.”  

In memory of his father, Amitav Baral wrote on Facebook: “They did not stop the bullets to your chest.  They were trying to erase your ideals. The touch of your body still makes my blood fury, even today. I never deviated from your ideals. Do not be intimidated for a moment by your killers.”

He added: “I do not believe in vengeance or revenge politics. But Sheikh Hasina and her brother Sheikh Helal have been pushing us repeatedly. Until I can stop the harsh justice of Sheikh Hasina and Sheikh Helal, I will continue this struggle in the interest of obtaining justice.”

Basu added: “Through the killing of the popular leader Kalidas Baral, the Hasina family wanted to send a message to the Hindus all over the country that you do not have any place in this country.  You must go to India. When the Hindus leave for India, the property will slowly become theirs. The country’s ongoing ruthless Hindu repression proves this.”

Sultana Kamal, the head of a non-governmental organization (ASC) Aine O Shalish Kendra, once said, “If Hindus stay in the country, they will get to vote. If Hindus go, then they will get property.”  According to Basu, only for this reason, no Bangladeshi government has done anything good for the Hindus.

In conclusion, Basu proclaimed: “As I have said before, Sheikh Hasina is an extremist leader, who persecutes Hindus.   The present situation in her native district of Gopalgani, where Hindus are being killed on a daily basis, illustrates this point.  This persecution is carried out merely so that she can illegally stay in power.  To date, many Hindus in Bangladesh are afraid to speak out openly about how they are slowly being ethnically cleansed out of the country.  They are living in fear and terror dominates their lives.  Sadly, I don’t think that this oppression will ever end unless Sheikh Hasina’s government is ousted from power.   Her government is too in bed with radical Islam in order to be reformed and to tolerate minorities.   Therefore, a truly democratic government that will not only deliver justice to the Baral family but all Bangladeshi Hindus must be established at the soonest possible date.”

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Targeting China’s Core Interests Is A Fool’s Errand

Foreign Policy Blogs - Wed, 21/08/2019 - 21:14

Protesters deface the emblem of Hong Kong.

The U.S.’ great power competition with China is intensifying on a number of fronts simultaneously, namely trade, security, and human rights. Current U.S. pressure on China through the Hong Kong protests actually manages to intertwine all three areas concurrently. However, as with the origins of current U.S.-Russian tensions being traced back decades to several factors, including NATO expansion, it’s unrealistic to expect Chinese restraint to last indefinitely. The eventual collapse of this restraint as it pertains to China’s core interests should be expected and, prophetically, will have unforeseen effects not only on stability between the U.S and China, but on global stability as well.

The U.S.-China trade war has been ongoing and has lasted longer than either side has really anticipated. After the U.S.’ statement that U.S.-China talks in the shadow of the G20 Osaka meeting were “constructive”, U.S.-China trade relations are worse now than ever before with the U.S. now threatening to impose tariffs on virtually all Chinese imports into the U.S., including many consumer goods. While there are legitimate issues which the U.S. has with China relating to trade, current U.S. policy consists of constant moving of the goalposts, combined with conflation of various, seemingly-related, other issues.

With respect to trade, these issues are China’s development of 5G and support of Huawei on the technological side, combined with labeling China’s BRI as “debt-trap diplomacy” on the investment and development side. Additionally, there is now the U.S.’ labeling of China as a currency manipulator, after previously declaring that this wasn’t the case. This conflation and capriciousness on the part of the U.S. are now actually empowering more hardliners in Beijing and, as a result, has led to a more inflexible Chinese stance, leading many Chinese to see continued negotiations with the U.S., in any area, as an exercise in futility.

On the security front, there are several theaters which most concern both U.S. and Chinese strategists. From the Chinese perspective, priority is given to the South China Sea, East China Sea, and the Korean Peninsula, among others. While there are Chinese issues with respect to other states within these areas, no issue quite rises to the prominence of Taiwan. While several states globally may recognize Taiwan diplomatically as a de facto country, for China, this issue is non-negotiable. China will never recognize Taiwan as a state de jure, no matter what the U.S.’ Taiwan Relations Act says.

Concurrently, Taiwan’s importance to the U.S.’ Indo-Pacific strategy has risen in prominence recently with increased U.S. arms sales. However, this pales in comparison to increased U.S. naval pressure, demonstrated by U.S. ship maneuvers through the Taiwan Strait itself. Adding insult to injury, from the Chinese perspective, is similar maneuvers made by vessels from U.S. allies, the U.K. and France. After repeated Chinese warnings, its aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, was recently sent through the Strait as well, as a clear response.

Human rights has always been a sore point in U.S.-China relations, at one point the monitoring of which was explicitly tied to China’s continued MFN status. As important as both trade and security are to the U.S.-China dynamic, it is in the human rights realm where tensions have been increasing exponentially. Tibet and the status of the Dalai Lama have always had their supporters in the U.S..

However, the true lever which the U.S. is employing in this dimension against China is Xinjiang and the status of the Uyghurs within the province. Initially, various U.S. reports pegged the number at 1 million Uyghurs suspected of being imprisoned within the province’s concentration camps. Now, this figure has been inflated to 2 million, with no apparent ceiling in sight. Referencing the issue conflation cited above, these Uyghurs aren’t just being imprisoned, but they are apparently incarcerated in a high-tech fashion, replete with video surveillance, eye retina scans, and telephone-monitoring, among other security techniques.

However, current events in Hong Kong are drawing more U.S. attention and have proven themselves as an even more effective instrument than the Uyghurs in pressuring China on the human rights front. From the Chinese perspective, the Hong Kong demonstrators, far from being peaceful, are part of a concerted U.S. campaign to foster yet another “color revolution”, this time within China itself. Making matters worse, unlike Xinjiang, Hong Kong was a former territory of the Western powers, seized in a moment of weakness in Chinese history. Again, from the Chinese perspective, the unrest in Hong Kong touches upon a number of other issues as well as the city is a leading trade and financial hub for China, in addition to the entire affair being a strict matter of internal security.

All of these issues may apparently be unrelated, but the U.S. has not failed to use all of them in its toolbox to contain China, which it now sees as a “revisionist power”, along with Russia. The similarity among them is that they are all areas that touch upon facets which China considers to be among its core national interests, and therefore not subject to any kind of negotiation. With Taiwan and Hong Kong, China has made this abundantly clear on several occasions. With respect to trade, there may be more space for negotiation on these matters. However, even here, China would argue that a state’s right to choose its own model of economic development, here specifically China 2025 focusing on core future technologies, is indeed a matter of national sovereignty.

Just as with two prizefighters, there must be rules of the road to govern the increasing U.S.-China competition. However, by targeting China’s core interests, areas where  the Chinese have clearly articulated that there will be no negotiation, it appears that the U.S. prizefighter is increasingly hitting its opponent below the belt. However, as all prizefighters are keenly aware of, there are certain areas which are off-limits and, if deliberately targeted by their opponent, invite justifiable retaliation. To date, we have not seen specific U.S. core interests targeted by the Chinese, at least not to the full extent possible if they really wanted to. This restraint won’t be indefinite and the current U.S. policy of  threats and intimidation towards China can only invite more retribution, with concordant long-term, unforeseen ramifications.

The post Targeting China’s Core Interests Is A Fool’s Errand appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

Do You Hear the People Sing?

Foreign Policy Blogs - Mon, 19/08/2019 - 19:55
Protesters occupy the departure hall of the Hong Kong International Airport during a demonstration on August 12, 2019 in Hong Kong, China.

Democracy is always messy, because people by nature are not perfect. Democracy is neither a perfect solution or system because it is run and set up by people who are often flawed and make mistakes. That being said, it is the best system of government that has been created in human history. It has achieved this status because it promotes honour in equality, even if it is impossible to achieve in its perfect form. To honour equality there is a set of rules that must apply to everyone, whether rich or poor, powerful or weak, sick or healthy. These rules must be also applied equally, and there is a financial and societal obligation by citizens to make sure justice serves the people, and not only those running the government. Since 2009, those who did not have democracy were chosen as targets by some of the most brutal regimes in modern history, and mostly ignored by other nations comfortable in their own democracies. Those who learned they had to speak out were brutalised, and those who’s grandparent’s spoke out forgot to honour their achievements by ignoring those who wanted equality.

Neda was a young Iranian woman who wanted to change her country, her own life, and gain equal opportunities in the process. Like many in her community she was killed by her own government because she wanted a society that honoured equality. For those that were not killed, the government arrested and tortured them while the world ignored them. Unfortunately, a trend was learned by other regimes against those who wanted equality. Along came Syria’s war and an entire conflict learned from the death of Neda and others like her on how to oppress with success. Once they know that no one is watching, they applied these lessons against equality. Some of the most ancient communities in the middle east have been subject to a genocide in our generation because they wanted to just to exist. Being left alone to survive was the only equality they could hope for. Because they were not of the right blood, religion or family, people like the Yazidis, Kurds and other regional minorities were subject to the repeat of a new Holocaust. This occurred in the post civil rights era, where feminism is on the mind of most when forming their societies and families, but we ignored the most brutalised women in human history.

Democracy once achieved, needs to be maintained and developed. The costs of applying justice are great, but they are as necessary as water and shelter. Even in some of the most fair and democratic societies, there is a constant and persistent need to maintain a fair democracy. Whether it is realising that a justice system does not apply laws equally, Protects police members to a different degree than it does a citizen murdered by the police, or tries to justify moving the goal post of large corporations against the will of the people, the legal community and the Justice Minister herself, policies must always be made while honouring equality. When those same policymakers try to legitimise fence sitting while their fellow democratic cousins are shouting for their rights, they are dishonouring their grandparents and their parents who fought for the same rights many are fighting for today. If that cannot be comprehended by those in power in modern times, it gives the impression that they do not understand the countries they govern. If they will not fight for equality, then citizens will do it for themselves, even if it is messy and comes at great costs.

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Op-Ed: Why Trump and Netanyahu should help Bangladeshi Hindus

Foreign Policy Blogs - Wed, 14/08/2019 - 21:17

Next month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to visit India.   Shipan Kumer Basu, the President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, stressed that the 55 million Bangladeshi refugees who are presently being sheltered in India are very excited about this visit, believing that Netanyahu can potentially join forces with Modi in order to help them: “With the arrival of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to India, Bangladeshi refugees in India have begun dreaming of returning to Bangladesh. They hope that, with the combined intervention of Benjamin Netanyahu and Narendra Modi, they will be able to return to their homes in Bangladesh, to be able to reclaim their abandoned lands and to live in their homeland once again.” 

Basu reiterated that the present Bangladeshi government is very anti-Israel.  Under Sheikh Hasina’s leadership, Bangladesh and Israel do not share diplomatic relations.   Bangladeshi citizens are barred from traveling to Israel and Israelis cannot visit Bangladesh.  Sheikh Hasina also routinely makes public statements against the Jewish state.  She condemned the US President for moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, accused Israel of violating Palestinian human rights and her ministers routinely spread conspiracy theories against Israel.  In fact, Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan even had the audacity to accuse Israel of killing secular bloggers and members of minority faiths in Bangladesh.  In a recent Bangladeshi newspaper article, Mendi Safadi, an Israeli Druze citizen who heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, was even accused of being part of an international conspiracy against Bangladesh and I was accused of being “his lapdog.”  Such anti-Israel conspiracies are typically spread in newspapers originating in undemocratic Muslim majority countries led by tyrants who seek to distract their population from the horrors that they experience on a daily basis.     

However, Basu is hopeful that with Netanyahu’s, Modi’s and Trump’s help, Bangladesh does not need to always be just another non-democratic Muslim majority country.   Unlike many other Muslim dictatorships, Bangladesh was a democracy in the past.  Furthermore, he argued that the sentiment on the Bangladeshi street is not as hostile towards Israel as it used to be.  Basu stressed that democratic elections within his country could lead to the rise of a new leader who will not only respect minority rights but will also establish diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.   According to him, Safadi has been advocating for the establishment of free and fair elections under international supervision across the globe so that the minorities of Bangladesh will be liberated from Sheikh Hasina’s tyranny.  After US President Donald Trump was briefed by Priya Saha on the horrific plight of minorities in Bangladesh, Basu also hopes that the US President will also begin to see the merits of supporting the minorities of Bangladesh and thus will support Safadi’s efforts within the international community.

“Since 1947, the Hindus of Bangladesh have been slowly ethnically cleansed from the country,” Basu declared.  “During the Liberation War of 1971, 10 million Bangladeshi Hindus fled to India.   During Bangladesh’s War of Independence, millions of Hindus were massacred by the Pakistani Army over a period of nine months.  Over the course of the 1971 genocide, Bangladeshi Hindu women and girls were also raped and gang raped en masse.  Many others were forcefully converted to Islam.”  

Although the 1971 genocide is over, Basu emphasized that the oppression against the Hindu minority has not stopped: “Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the ISKCON Temple (The International Society for Krishna Consciousness) in Bangladesh a few years ago. Two fundamentalist organizations called Hefazat-e-Islam and the Bangladesh Islamic Movement in Bangladesh have conspired against ISKCON today. With the help of the government, they have been organizing rallies and meetings against peace-loving Hindu religious organizations. Their demand is to ban a peaceful Hindu religious organization called ISKCON in Bangladesh.”  

In addition, Basu noted that Hindus to date have been barred from reclaiming their property that was seized by the Bangladeshi government following the Liberation War of 1971.   Furthermore, he added that Bangladeshi Hindus to date are being murdered, raped, gang raped, abducted, forcefully converted to Islam and having their property seized as the Bangladeshi government turns a blind eye to these atrocities.  For this reason, he fears that Bangladeshi Hindus don’t have a future in their own country unless fresh democratic elections are held under international supervision.  However, he emphasized that Bangladeshi Hindus are no longer willing to sit passively by and accept their horrific fate: “We Hindus are no longer weak.  We will see to it that Sheikh Hasina will pay for her crimes.”      

The post Op-Ed: Why Trump and Netanyahu should help Bangladeshi Hindus appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

The Trade Bone’s Connected to the Yuan Bone …

Foreign Policy Blogs - Mon, 12/08/2019 - 20:59


We have not yet begun to fight!

The Trump Administration’s August 5 designation of China as a currency manipulator marks a new crossing of policy lanes in US-China relations.  In the many facets of that relationship and the rising tension between the two, America needs a clear understanding of our objectives and priorities.  

Followers of trade policy know that matters of tariffs, quotas, and other “strictly trade” measures are usually kept separate from issues of monetary policy, at least formally.  Currency levels inevitably affect trade and at times academics, politicians, companies, and officials question whether a country deliberately depreciates its currency for trade reasons.  Japan in the 1980s faced this suspicion.  But whatever the reasons, governments tend not to play currencies and trade measures against each other explicitly.  

China’s central bank allowed the Yuan to drop through a market benchmark, apparently in response to President Trump’s announcement of a new round of tariffs.  The administration’s “manipulator” designation, symbolic in economic terms, signals that the U.S. sees the linkage, and will engage China on that basis.

As policy measures cross into each others’ old lanes, who will link more issues together, and to what end?  Is America out to counter China’s initiatives by exacerbating strains on the Chinese system?  It seems not, given reports of the Trump Administration’s internal instructions for the August trade talks. But Chinese leaders could see an existential threat even if a U.S. administration only wants them to enforce patent rights.  Is China’s harassment of an American diplomat in Hong Kong a linkage that reflects this fear?  Conversely, might the Chinese think we attach lower priority to, say, political repression, than we actually do?

In recent history we seem to have tolerated “a degree of intellectual property theft and unequal market access in the belief that China was making some progress toward market principles and the rule of law,” and a hope that that would lead in the direction of more democratic practice.  Today, Xi Jinping’s consolidation of governing power has dashed that logic.  Xi also exhibits geopolitical ambition in the Belt And Road Initiative’s investments in Eurasian nations; militarization of islands in the South China Sea; even cultural influence campaigns.  U.S.- China relations are entering a new mode.   

Reviewing a broad backdrop of many issues and several decades, the observer can see U.S. priorities careening between human rights, economics, and geopolitics.  China can always justify aggressive geopolitics toward us, as we might always swerve toward confrontation, but need never take our concern for rights and democracy to heart, as we always veer back to economics.  Chinese leaders could all too easily see the swings as fecklessness masking hostile underlying motives: our protests over rights as interference to weaken them internally; our economic pragmatism as serving capitalist exploitation; and our security posture as hegemonic.  

In the coming transformation in Sino-American relations, policymakers must clarify our essential purposes.  Doubts about American goals, and even America’s nature, are rising.  The post-modern age’s bewildering developments complicate the task. Coherence in national priorities becomes more difficult just as it becomes more important.  

Amb. William Burns, in his diplomatic memoir The Back Channel, notes how “Shaping the principles of policy debate … is often the first step toward winning it.” Principles need not be controversial, but clarity is “critical to shape our approach and tactical choices,” especially as new issues, new technologies, and new developments keep changing the tactical landscape.

America has clear core principles, and today’s transitions give an opportunity not only to apply them, but to remind ourselves of our priorities.  Principles for an approach to China might follow lines like:

  1. The sanctity of individual rights and government’s first duty to secure them form the core of America’s values.
  2. Our friendship with China or any other actor will grow as they develop toward that principle, and wane as they diverge from it. China’s compatibility with us is their sovereign choice.
  3. Security for the U.S., beyond safety of Americans and our essential functions, includes a primary interest in security for nations that embody our core values, and an interest in societies that are developing toward freedom.  
  4. Free enterprise and attendant rights are integral to individual liberty.
  5. Economic well-being, for the U.S. and globally, is a major goal of U.S. policy because it supports freedom and its development.

Note that it is China’s choice to move toward or away from us.  And, although the divergences run deep, even a neo-Confucian governing doctrine could admit of a modus vivendi with us.  Meanwhile, the U.S. gives explicit voice to where we stand, guides our own actions by that principle, and affirms our nature to ourselves and the world.

The post The Trade Bone’s Connected to the Yuan Bone … appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

On America’s Role in the World

Foreign Policy Blogs - Wed, 07/08/2019 - 20:48

As the United States matures as a global power, how should America assert itself in the world?

The United States is the world’s preeminent superpower and barring some unpredictable catastrophe that fact is not going to change over the short term. For the United States to maintain its leadership role over the long term, however, America’s approach to foreign affairs and international engagement will need to respond both to a changing security landscape and the gradual economic rise of other powers. Just as the United States understood its role in the world differently after the First World War, the Second World War, and following the Cold War, the United States should work to preemptively understand the consequences of the continued Eastward movement of the world economy’s center of gravity and the continually changing nature of asymmetrical security threats. While that guidance might seem so obvious as to be meaningless, the challenge comes in understanding those changes in light of America’s relative decline when compared to more rapidly growing powers. The United States has long been an economic powerhouse, but America’s short history combined with its unparalleled dominance over the global economy following the Second World War has led to distorted expectations for the certainty of outright American hegemony. None of this is to say that the United States is in absolute decline (which is to say that the United States would be getting weaker when compared only against itself) or that America is not capable of sustaining a major international presence long into the future. Instead, it is to suggest that for the United States to maintain its top-tier power and influence over the decades to come it should seek to rebalance its international activities toward more up-stream and cost effective approaches towards global engagement while gradually (yet strategically) trimming the fat off of America’s bloated international military presence. 

Perhaps the first and most obvious consideration is that reducing American military presence does not necessarily mean a policy of isolationism, or even reduced American influence in the short term. After all, if a short term reduction in America’s military spending only served to foster uncertainty or instability that forced the United States to return to, or perhaps even exceed, current military expenses the whole merit of the idea would be wasted. Instead, the United States could look to trim some of its most excessive deployments, curtail the raw production of military goods (which would not necessarily mean dramatic cuts in funding for R&D), and exert a more watchful eye over ongoing military actions to ensure that there is no unwarranted mission slip. 

Perhaps the most obvious, or at least historically peculiar, example of America’s international military presence is the continued stationing of forces through Western Europe. There is little historical precedent for that sort of military basing, even among close allies, and as conditions have shifted from the Cold War era, so too should America’s approach. While the move to withdraw forces from Europe might be seen as a symptom of weakening American commitment to NATO (especially in light of current conditions), there is nothing that would prevent the United States from simultaneously managing its resources more frugally while maintaining an unquestioned commitment to all of NATO’s key provisions. In the same sort of way, other opportunities for rebalancing American deployment could come about on the Korean Peninsula if the idiosyncratic relationship between President Trump and Kim Jong-un continues to gradually ease tension there. It might even prove to be the case that as a consequence of gradually reducing America’s military presence in tense, yet peaceful, regions, those regions might become less tense with time as potential rivals feel more stable in their security environments.

Of course, an undertaking like this would not only require a focused diplomatic effort to effectively communicate, but it would also require a reinvigorated State Department and a strong commitment to effectively use America’s soft power. These would be fundamental elements of any effort to ensure that American power matures gracefully. Unless we are willing to assume that American allies impacted most by the suggested rebalancing would simply ignore their security responsibilities (something that seems unlikely in light of America’s many capable allies and a careful approach to military withdrawal), close diplomatic relationships with our allies would prove both more important and more effective when called upon. American allies might even be more easily persuaded to join the United States when military force is needed if they can feel confident that the American diplomatic service has consistently been involved and that the potential diplomatic options have been exhausted. In modern instances where the United States has worked closely with its allies on military action, most notably the Persian Gulf War, those partnerships frequently proved successful in accomplishing their military objectives while avoiding mission creep. 

Unfortunately, when the United States has not carefully considered diplomatic and intelligence options and has failed to work with international partners, American military action has proven more costly and less effective. There is little doubt that America’s actions in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan have had serious unforeseen consequences that brought about increased regional instability, to say nothing of reduced American influence. While some might suggest that comparing American unilateral action in these wars to America’s multilateral approach in past conflicts like the two World Wars, and even the Persian Gulf War, is disingenuous to the extent that the nature and scope of the threat is so different, it might be worth considering instead what that means for what sorts of ills that America can actually solve internationally. In order for the United States to remain a global superpower and a reliable and effective military partner over the long term, it must avoid the classical historical blunder of over-extension that helped bring about the collapse of empires as ancient as Rome and as modern as the Soviet Union. The United States has been in more than twice as many wars since the end of the Cold War than it had during an equal length of time during the Cold War era. This is a remarkable statistic given that one could easily argue that the threat during the Cold War surpassed the threats that exist today, and Sun Tzu, author of the Art of War, warned us that “There is no instance of a nation benefitting from prolonged warfare.” This sort of effort would begin with a careful and honest assessment of the costs and benefits of America’s ongoing military action, and would continue into the future by ensuring that decisions to use military force incorporate the American congress and international partners.

It is important to emphasize that the United States could, and absolutely should, maintain the ability to quickly respond to changing security environments and maintain a steady and active presence in all sorts of international affairs. These efforts would include maintaining a forward presence in particularly troubling or symbolically complicated regions of the world. It is also important that the United States remains on the cutting edge of all aspects of military technology, including cyber threats, in order to remain on top of the global pecking order. While, in general, this paper does make the argument that the United States would stand to benefit over the long term from more frugal commitment and use of military force, the end goal of those adjustments would be to maintain American strength, both domestically and abroad, over the long term. Streamlining America’s military presence would simultaneously allow for more full-throated commitment to truly vital interests, and could result in savings that would benefit the strength of America’s economy- which, at the end of the day, is a key factor in ensuring that the United States would be able to organize a sufficient military response to a major threat like war with another global power. Towards this end, the United States should work to adjust its long term strategic approach not only to a post-Cold War world, but to the eventual (potential) ascent of other players on the global stage to peer status. 

A nation whose foreign policy has long been guided by notions of its exceptionality might find its greatest test in its ability to mature gracefully.

Peter Scaturro is the Director of Studies at the Foreign Policy Association. The opinions expressed here do not necessarily represent the views of the Foreign Policy Association.

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Opportunities and Risks in Zelenskyy’s New Ukraine

Foreign Policy Blogs - Tue, 06/08/2019 - 17:17

What to make of the new political realities in Ukraine? Both, the presidential and parliamentary Ukrainian elections of 2019 delivered historic results. Ukraine never had a President with so much electoral support (73%), and so little connection to the country’s old political class. Moreover, independent Ukraine never had a parliament with as dominant a party as Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s “Servant of the People” whose faction will command more than 250 of the 450 seats. The two elections were a perfect storm that swept away the majority of previous politicians and top bureaucrats in the presidential office, national government, Verkhovna Rada (Supreme Council), and general procuracy.

Regress or Reset?

Such a high concentration of power, in the hands of the “Servant of the People” party, as a result of Zelenskyy’s landslide victories in the presidential and parliamentary elections is being assessed very differently by various observers, in and outside Ukraine. Many intellectuals in Kyiv warn against the authoritarian and security threats that such one-party dominance could entail. They fear – within what one could call the “post-Soviet” or “Thermidorian paradigm” – a political development in Ukraine that will follow that of other former republics of the USSR.

Authoritarian regression has been the rule rather than the exception in much of the post-Soviet space from Belarus to Kazakhstan. Many thus worry that a kind of Thermidorian Reaction could undo most of the gains of the Euromaidan Revolution. Ukraine could also become a typically post-Soviet dictatorship or again a Russian colony – or both.

In a more favorable perspective, Ukraine’s novel political landscape can also be contextualized within the logic of the Westminster model or so-called pendulum democracy with its “winner takes it all” idea. This approach to democratic rule partly rejects division, balance and checks of power. The Westminster paradigm instead emphasizes clarity of public responsibility, as well as a sharp differentiation between the roles of a country’s ruling majority party, on the one side, and opposition forces, on the other.

Ukraine’s elections have now delivered a result where all executive and most legislative power rests in the hand of only one party. What is left under yet incomplete control by the otherwise hegemonic “Servant of the People” party are constitutional amendments that need a two-thirds majority of votes in parliament. A change of Ukraine’s basic law thus still demands collaboration of some MPs not elected with the support of Zelenskyy’s party.

Such a, for Ukraine, largely novel constellation implies enormous opportunities and risks. Zelenskyy’s overwhelming dominance in the executive and legislative branches of power provides him, for the coming years, with many instruments to swiftly implement his ideas – whatever they are. It also puts responsibility for Ukraine’s future successes and failures squarely into his and his followers’ hands. That reminds of a situation after a House of Commons election in the United Kingdom, in the past.

The Major Challenge for Zelenskyy

Unlike in the British proto-typical constellation, however, Zelenskyy’s absolute majority in parliament and staff in the executive is, to considerable extent, made up of newcomers with no previous experience in public office. This problem, in fact, is reminiscent of his own lack of exposure to national politics, public administration and international relations. The parliamentary and ministerial novices will moreover will be operating in an under-institutionalized and highly “monetized” political environment. They will make and implement decisions under a – mildly speaking – incomplete rule of law. They will also encounter many political and personal challenges – among them seductive offers from Ukraine’s notorious “oligarchs” – that they may not be prepared for.

Against such a background, the main question for the coming years will be less whether Ukraine becomes again authoritarian or/and Moscow-controlled – as some alarmist commentators warn. Rather, the principal question will be whether “habitual elite continuity” – once formulated as Ukraine’s key domestic political challenge, by German political scientist Ingmar Bredies – will reassert itself or not. Ukraine experienced considerable change among the holders of its highest public offices not only as a result of this year’s elections. This had happened repeatedly before, after previous elections or after the popular uprisings of 1990, 2004 and 2014, i.e. the so-called revolutions on the granite, in orange, and of dignity. In spite of frequent and sweeping fluctuation in the upper echelons of political power, the habitus or behavior of the Ukrainian elite did not change much, over the last 30 years, however.

Instead, Ukraine’s parliament, among other institutions, has been characterized by habitual elite continuity, i.e. a stunning stability in the patterns of political conduct by Ukraine’s MPs. They have shown a surprisingly continuous inclination to engage in informal exchanges, bribe-taking, outright nepotism, little disguised favoritism, secret deal-making and far-reaching clientelism. These pathologies, to be sure, are also present in the operation of advanced democratic systems. Yet, they have been – since 1991, if not before – far more prevalent in Ukraine and in most other post-Soviet republics than in Western states.

The main question thus is whether Zelenskyy’s landslide can finally disrupt these behavioral patterns. Will Ukraine’s almost three decades old habitual elite continuity be finally broken, with this new exchange in the composition of its political class? Or will private interests again be able to infiltrate political decision making, as it happened after earlier replacements of deputies and ministers? What instruments can secure a truly sustainable break in Ukraine’s political class behavior, and magnify the already sweeping change in the composition of the parliament?

Urgent Tasks: Deputies’ Salaries, Rule of Law, Gender Equality

First and foremost, the new MPs need to get salaries that will make their possible bribe-taking morally more hazardous than it currently is. As of mid-2019, Ukrainian parliamentarians earn, per month, about 28,000 Hrivnas or approximately 1,000 US-Dollars in cash. In addition, they receive a number of additional privileges that improve their material situation somewhat. To be sure, the overall package of monetary and non-monetary remuneration makes Ukraine’s MPs relatively well-off people, within the overall Ukrainian socio-economic context.

However, Ukraine’s capital Kyiv where the MPs are supposed to live most of the time is more expensive than the rest of country. Kyiv city has salary-, service- and price-scales of its own. The current MP reimbursements may be enough to survive for single MPs who do not have any larger family obligations. Yet, the current pay makes it difficult for those with financial responsibilities for children, parents or other relatives to take up a seat in the Verkhovna Rada – while only living on their official income as parliamentarians.

Even for those without greater family obligations, the current parliamentary moneys system is dysfunctional. In the best case, it limits the MPs’ lifestyles to one of constant counting of expenses for food, transportation, clothing etc. In the worst case, it creates a situation in which MPs feel ethically justified to take side-payments so as to be able to use Kyiv’s restaurants, taxis, and other services that their peers in business corporations, international organizations and foreign embassies use on a regular basis.

To overcome this situation, Ukraine could – with reference to its Association Agreement with the EU – adopt the EU’s formula for salaries paid to the members of the European Parliament. The MEPs receive about a third of the salary that the highest judges of the EU’s courts are paid. For some time already, Ukraine’s top judges receive, by Ukrainian standards, extraordinarily high salaries (though, in absolute terms, not as high as EU judges). If Ukrainian MPs would receive about a third of the salaries of Ukraine’s highest judges, this would apply the EU formula, significantly increase their monthly remuneration, and make their interaction with business-people, Kyiv’s diplomats, and foreign politicians more relaxed. Such a deal would also provide a justification for withdrawing immunity from MPs and increasing penalties for bribe-taking as well as other misbehavior by Ukraine’s new parliamentarians.

Second, there have been statements of the new president and his team on the possibility of early local elections. It is plausible to argue that a deep change in Ukrainian public administration would need a swift exchange also of local elites. Many current deputies and administrators on the regional and sub-regional levels are corrupt. Yet, for oblast and local elections to be effective as a mean to secure change on the regional and municipal levels, it is necessary to attain, at least, some improvement of the rule of law. New committed teams in the prosecution office and various anti-corruption bodies need to be appointed.

Furthermore, the role, function and reimbursement of oblast, rayon and communal administrators and deputies need to be adjusted. The official salaries of mayors, for instance, are lousy while members of city councils do not get any reimbursement for their work time. As on the national level, such framework conditions naturally lead to corruption – independently from possibly good intentions that citizens may have when becoming public executives or people’s deputies. New elections by themselves will not change this.

Third, many Ukrainian governmental bodies suffer – especially when it comes to their top positions – from more or less egregious gender imbalance. This is not only fundamentally unjust in view of the fact that more than 50% of Ukraine’s population are women. Organizational research has found that collective bodies, whether private or public, function better when, at least, one third of its members are female – a scale still not reached in certain Western institutions too. The argument about bringing more women into government is thus not only about equality, but also about the effectiveness of ministries, parliaments, services or parties.

The composition of the Rada, to be sure, has changed for the better as a result of the last elections. Yet, the share of women among parliamentarians only increased from 12% in the last Supreme Council to 19% in the new one. Worse, almost all parliamentary parties are headed by men. Zelenskyy himself is male – as are his first major appointments, like the Chairperson of the Office of the President of Ukraine, Andriy Bohdan, or Secretary of the Council for National Security and Defense of Ukraine, Oleksandr Danyliuk.

Given this circumstance, there are thus good reasons to sharply increase the number of women in top positions not yet filled – whether within the executive, legislative or judicial branches of government. Currently, there is a high overrepresentation of men on those posts that have already been distributed or taken. This includes seats in parliament, ministerial positions, heads of services, or leading party functions. It may thus be even necessary to simply stop, for a while, appointing any men to top offices. Only in this way, there may still be a chance to reach, at the end, the above-mentioned recommended share of one third among Ukraine’s crucial decision makers in various state organs. Given the high number of well-educated, emancipated and career-oriented women in Ukraine, this should not be a problem.

Getting to the Roots of Post-Soviet Problems

The already accomplished sweeping change in the composition of Ukraine’s political class this year may be deceptive. Zelenskyy’s stunning electoral triumphs over the last months could suggest to him and his team to go ahead and start reforming this or that part of legislation, the economy, foreign affairs, cultural matters etc. However, first things come first.

Numerous new laws, resolutions and policies need to be implemented to make Ukraine’s state better work. Yet, the responsible decision formulating, making and executing bodies in all three branches of power as well as in local administrations are still hampered by deep structural defects with regard to the formation and remuneration of their personnel. Unless these basics are changed radically, the outcomes of the work of Ukraine’s state organs may remain as wanting as they have been so far.

By resolutely getting to the core of Ukraine’s post-Soviet issues, Zelenskyy can, moreover, provide a model for other former republics of the USSR. With regard, for instance, to gender balance in state organs, most post-communist countries still lack far behind Western countries. A deep transformation in the composition and functioning of the political class of as large a country as Ukraine could – in distinction to earlier progress in, among others, the three Baltic countries – not be easily ignored by politicians and intellectuals in the successor states of the outer and inner Soviet empire. Western embassies and donors should, therefore, insist on Kyiv’s completion of the current reset in the make-up and structure of the Ukrainian political class.

The post Opportunities and Risks in Zelenskyy’s New Ukraine appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

Pensions for Some, but Not for Others

Foreign Policy Blogs - Wed, 31/07/2019 - 20:24
Congress members celebrate as Brazil’s pensions reforms cleared their first legislative hurdle after years of wrangling © Reuters

Pension reform is something that has a great effect on the future of Brazilians, Latin Americans and to be honest the rest of us as well. Brazil was always a unique case, a country that built an administrative centre in the middle of the country in the 1950s that is populated by mostly government administrators with fairly good pension packages. The citizens of Brasilia did not initially come to their careers or pensions in an average process where a union fought for reforms to match wages with those of the private sector. The creation of Brasilia was a massive national project that also created the place for a public sector that really formed much of the middle class in Brazilian society at the time, existing to this day.

With the attempt at industrializing Brazil and Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s came stronger workforces, with capable union support to fight for the rights of their workers. By the 1990s and the post economic crisis of the 80s came Worker’s Party Presidents like Lula and balanced economic policy approaches with the support of unions in pushing the economy forward. While memories of those years were positive and a somewhat healthy mix of classically liberal economic policies supported by labour unions with some targeted social programs, the last few years has shown that there was corruption feeding off corruption, and it hurt average Brazilians the most. Whether it was elite members of labour unions or elite wealth, middle and lower income Brazilians were treated as an afterthought.

The debate in Brazil and the rest of the region likely follows a similar debate in your country as well. Pensions for those who were fortunate enough to be employed in the public service seemed to become very lucrative over the years. With many private sector employers cutting back or losing their businesses altogether, many became unemployed and felt that the little income they had should not go directly towards a set raise for union employers that depended on underemployed taxpayers. Public sector jobs were now out-competing benefits-wise and pay-wise with private sector employment that no longer existed due to economic disruptions over the years. The end result is that the pension packages that were lucrative and part of the labour contracts in the past still needed to be paid, but without an economy that can sustain many of those packages.

It is understood by a community that taxes should go to support everyone in a community, for schools, hospitals, police and other utilities. What percentage however is a reasonable amount to go to a pension fund from the community’s public purse? While it is well understood that public and private sector pensions should not be cut or eliminated because those employees have spent their careers depending on those future benefits, what cost should the entire community endure to pay those pensions before other necessities? Even in the case of California, Michigan and Ontario in Canada, public pension costs are forecast to be so consequential that there is no real plan to cover them without going into permanent debt. How can an elected government make the community a priority if they have an impossible political battle over pensions when making difficult policy decisions?

The case of Brazil and Latin America may have even more desperate consequences. With much of the lower income workforce being precariously linked to the national and regional social services systems and a weakened private sector middle class, there is little political strength to pressure the government and unions to take policy decisions to benefit the average worker. Even in the case of private sector union employees who lack hours or a place to work, the private sector unions have little power if there is no employment in their sector. Such a scenario occurred in the last US election, with private sector unions pulling away from their traditional Democratic roots because their members had no employment to effectively support their union movement. While is it extremely difficult to reform contracts and take money from the pockets of active union members, it might be that the resolution of this issue determines the future health of a community.

The post Pensions for Some, but Not for Others appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

Governments at UN forum on development urged to close spending gaps, honour aid commitments

UN News Centre - Thu, 18/07/2019 - 00:16
The main UN platform following up on Member States’ actions to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) continued its work Monday taking up the issue of finance, including examining ways to better align and distribute funds for development at national, as well as global levels.

Emulate his example’ urges UN chief as world celebrates Nelson Mandela: a ‘global advocate for dignity and equality’ 

UN News Centre - Thu, 18/07/2019 - 00:00
Nelson Mandela was an “extraordinary global advocate for dignity and equality” who anyone in public service should seek to emulate, Secretary-General António Guterres said marking the International Day that honours the iconic anti-apartheid campaigner, and South Africa’s first democratically-elected President. 

Wednesday’s Daily Brief: Ebola Public Health Emergency in DR Congo, young peacemakers, defining moment for Sudan, war crimes fugitives, migrant ‘crisis’ in Hungary

UN News Centre - Wed, 17/07/2019 - 23:13
In today’s Daily Brief: the DR Congo Ebola outbreak is officially declared a Public Health Emergency; UN Youth Envoy briefs Security Council; an ‘exciting and potentially defining’ moment for Sudan, says UN adviser; more cooperation’s needed to secure arrest of war crimes fugitives; and politicizing the migrant ‘crisis’ in Hungary

‘Young people care about peace’: UN Youth Envoy delivers key message to Security Council

UN News Centre - Wed, 17/07/2019 - 23:11
After visiting refugee camps in Jordan, UN-backed schools in Gaza, municipalities in Kosovo and Youth Councils in Denmark, the UN’s Youth Envoy visited the Security Council on Wednesday with a simple message from the field that “young people care about peace”.

The Abyss Is Opening Under China-U.S. Relations

Foreign Policy - Wed, 17/07/2019 - 22:44
Cool heads are needed in both Beijing and Washington.