Monday, 27 December 2010

National Geographic: 7 Billion

National Geographic today posted a highly effective and visually compelling infographic to celebrate (?!) the imminent increase of the global population of human beings to 7 billion:

Friday, 24 December 2010

Scientists: Expect extreme winters thanks to global warming

Steve Connor, Science Editor for the Independent, summarises suggestions arising from recent research into changing British climate patterns:
Scientists have established a link between the cold, snowy winters in Britain and melting sea ice in the Arctic and have warned that long periods of freezing weather are likely to become more frequent in years to come.

An analysis of the ice-free regions of the Arctic Ocean has found that the higher temperatures there caused by global warming, which have melted the sea ice in the summer months, have paradoxically increased the chances of colder winters in Britain and the rest of northern Europe.

The findings are being assessed by British climate scientists, who have been asked by ministers for advice on whether the past two cold winters are part of a wider pattern of climate change that will cause further damaging disruption to the nation's creaking transport infrastructure.
Read the rest... It's good to know what we might (probably) be in for!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Economist Videographic: Europe - the inside story

The Economist has a tongue-in-cheek video examination of how Europe's history shapes the continent's modern geopolitics:

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Guardian: US Senate approves nuclear arms control treaty with Russia

Vote on new strategic arms reduction treaty passes 71-26 after 13 Republicans and two independents vote with Democrats
The US Senate ratified an arms control treaty with Russia today that reduces the number of both countries' nuclear weapons, giving President Barack Obama a major foreign policy success in the closing hours of the outgoing session of the current Congress.

Thirteen Republicans broke with their top representatives in the upper house and joined 56 Democrats and two independents to provide the necessary two-thirds vote to approve the treaty. The vote was 71-26.

The accord, which still must be approved by Russia, would restart weapons inspections as successors to President Ronald Reagan have embraced his edict of "trust, but verify".

Calling the treaty a national security imperative, Obama had pressed for its approval before a new, more Republican Congress assumes power in January.

The Obama administration has argued that the United States must show credibility in its improved relations with its former cold war foe, and that the treaty was critical to any rapprochement. The White House is counting on Russia to help pressure Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

The new strategic arms reduction treaty (Start) – signed by Obama and the Russian resident, Dmitry Medvedev, in April – would limit each country's strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from the current ceiling of 2,200. It also would establish a system for monitoring and verification. US weapons inspections ended last year with the expiry of a 1991 treaty.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Economist: Exploding Misconceptions (about Terrorism)

The Economist yesterday published a brief but interesting article (reproduced below) exploring the socio-economic background of typical terrorists:
“Extremely poor societies…provide optimal breeding grounds for disease, terrorism and conflict.” So said Barack Obama, arguing in favour of more development aid to poor countries. Mr Obama is not alone in regarding economic development as a weapon against terrorism. Hillary Clinton, America’s secretary of state, has called development “an integral part of America’s national security policy”. The idea that poverty could be associated with terrorism is not implausible. If acts of terror are committed by people with little to lose, then it is reasonable to expect them to be carried out disproportionately by poor, ill-educated people with dismal economic prospects.

Some terrorists certainly fit this profile. Yet the ranks of high-profile terrorism suspects also boast plenty of middle-class, well-educated people. The would-be Times Square bomber, Faisal Shehzad, boasts an MBA and is the son of a senior Pakistani air-force officer. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who stands accused of lighting a makeshift bomb on a transatlantic flight in the so-called “underwear plot”, had a degree from University College, London, and is the son of a rich Nigerian banker. The suspected suicide-bomber in this week’s attacks in Stockholm had a degree from a British university. Are well-heeled terrorists representative or are they exceptions to the rule?

Social scientists have collected a large amount of data on the socioeconomic background of terrorists. According to a 2008 survey of such studies by Alan Krueger of Princeton University, they have found little evidence that the typical terrorist is unusually poor or badly schooled. Claude Berrebi of the RAND Corporation compared the characteristics of suicide-bombers recruited by Hamas and Islamic Jihad from the West Bank and Gaza with those of the general adult male Palestinian population. Nearly 60% of suicide-bombers had more than a high-school education, compared with less than 15% of the general population. They were less than half as likely to come from an impoverished family as an average adult man from the general population. Mr Krueger carried out a similar exercise in Lebanon by collecting biographical information for Hizbullah militants. They too proved to be better educated and less likely to be from poor families than the general population of the Shia-dominated southern areas of Lebanon from which most came.

There is also no evidence that sympathy for terrorism is greater among deprived people. In a series of surveys carried out as part of the Pew Global Attitudes Project in 2004, adults in Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan and Turkey were asked whether they believed that suicide-bombing aimed at American or other Western targets in Iraq was justified. Their answers could be broken down by the respondents’ level of education. Although the proportions varied greatly between countries (with support lowest in Turkey), more schooling usually correlated with more agreement.

Some argue that poverty could be at the root of terror even if terrorists are not themselves poor. Anger about poverty in the countries they are from could cause richer citizens of poor countries to join terrorist organisations. This idea can be tested by looking across countries to see if there is a link between a country’s GDP per head and its propensity to produce terrorists. Mr Krueger did precisely this by looking at data on 956 terrorist events between 1997 and 2003. He found that the poorest countries, those with low literacy, or those whose economies were relatively stagnant did not produce more terrorists. When the analysis was restricted to suicide-attacks, there was a statistically significant pattern—but in the opposite direction. Citizens of the poorest countries were the least likely to commit a suicide-attack. The nationalities of all foreign insurgents captured in Iraq between April and October 2005 also produced no evidence that poorer countries produced more insurgents. If anything, there was weak evidence the other way.

What might explain why so many relatively well-off people from relatively well-off countries end up as terrorists? It may be that a certain level of education makes it more likely that people will become politicised. But the kind of people that terrorist organisations demand also matters. Unlike ordinary street crime, which does tend to attract the down-and-out, terrorism is a complex activity. So terrorist organisations prefer to recruit skilled, educated people to carry out their missions. Using a database of Palestinian suicide-bombers between the years 2000 and 2005, Mr Berrebi and Harvard University’s Efraim Benmelech find that more educated suicide-bombers are assigned to attack more important targets. Such terrorists also kill more people and are less likely to fail or be caught during their attacks.

The finding that more educated terrorists are deadlier may mean, however, that economic conditions can influence terrorism’s effectiveness. Using data on all Palestinian suicide-attackers between 2000 and 2006, Esteban Klor of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Messrs Benmelech and Berrebi show in a new paper that the skill level of the average terrorist rises when economic conditions are poor. They reckon that high unemployment enables terror organisations in Palestine to recruit more educated, mature terrorists. So better economic conditions could blunt the effectiveness of terror attacks by reducing the average quality of the talent that terrorist organisations are able to recruit.

There are many reasons to promote economic development in poor countries but the elimination of terror is not a good one. The research on terrorists’ national origins suggested that countries which give their citizens fewer civil and political rights tend to produce more terrorists. Politics, not economics, is likely to be a more fruitful weapon in the fight against terror.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Seed Magazine: On Systemic Risk

In Seed magazine today, Ian Goldin, Director of the James Martin 21st Century School at Oxford University, summarises an article he recently co-authored in the academic journal Foreign Policy:
Many of the greatest challenges of the 21st century are not new. These include the elimination of poverty and disease, the avoidance of conflict and nuclear proliferation, and the loss of biodiversity and natural resources. What is new is the nature of interdependence and complexity, as more integration among an increased number of people, combined with new technology, has led to greater fragility and the creation of a global risk society. The financial crisis is only the first part of the 21st century systemic crisis to manifest. It is vital that we learn from it in order to manage deeper and more damaging global challenges, such as climate change and global pandemics, and to avoid a destabilizing cycle of more acute financial crises.
Read the whole thing:

Goldin presents a balanced assessment and a timely warning of the dangers (as well as the benefits!) of globalisation and interdependence.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Waiting for Reform in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia)

Originally published today in The Wall Street Journal, a wide-ranging and balanced article by Human Rights Watch researcher Christoph Wilcke poses the question: "Is one man's will strong enough to deliver change in Saudi Arabia?" (talking about King Abdullah, of course!)
As King Abdullah al-Saud recovers from his recent surgery in the U.S., his subjects in Saudi Arabia may be wondering what their future holds. The 86-year-old monarch has long branded himself an advocate for reform in the conservative kingdom, saying he supports women's empowerment, increased tolerance for criticism and religious dialogue, and overhauling the justice system. So how far has he managed to take Saudi Arabia.

Last year, the country had reason to hope for dramatic changes. In February 2009 King Abdullah shuffled his cabinet and other government bodies, ousting hard-liners and even appointing the first woman to the position of deputy minister for education. The king began promoting his Interfaith Dialogue Initiative abroad to bring together leaders of various religions. And in November last year, when flash floods in Jeddah killed more than 120 people, he called for the prosecution of city officials whose shoddy planning had allegedly made the floods so deadly.

That's hardly a democratic revolution, but in Saudi Arabia, where entrenched political and religious elites militate against any reform, these were bold steps. Over the past few months though, even these gains have been squandered, and Saudi Arabia has seen setbacks in all these areas of human rights. ...

Saudis are now wondering whether anything at all will come of King Abdullah's reformist talk, and indeed whether he is the symbolic figurehead they need to change their country. Even if Saudis broadly share King Abdullah's vision of a more modern country, their institutions remain rooted in the old ways. This means that lasting reforms will continue to hinge on one individual's will. So far, it has not been strong enough.
 Read the whole thing—I've only given you a taster, with the start and very end of the article... You may ask: Why should be so bothered with the internal affairs of Saudi Arabia? Well, if nothing else, Saudi Arabia's domain includes the Islamic holy cities of Makkah and Medina... The way things are done in the kingdom has the potential to send a very loud message to Muslims worldwide, either for good or for ill.

Commentary Magazine: The Palestinian Proletariat

Michael Bernstam in this month's Comnmentary magazine has a thought-provoking article regarding the use (and abuse) of what he terms "the Palestinian proletariat", currently 'imprisoned' within refugee camps and exploited by a variety of governments and agencies for their own ends... Nothing that hasn't been said before—particularly with regard to UNWRA—but rarely has it been articulated so succinctly:
British Prime Minister David Cameron recently called Gaza a “prison camp.” Former President Jimmy Carter has called it a “cage.” At first glance, these characterizations of the Hamas-ruled province seem like rhetorical excesses designed to cast Israel in the role of the unjust jailer blockading the strip. But Cameron and Carter have got it right, in a way. Gaza is a totalitarian paramilitary camp at war with its neighbors and other Palestinians. It is a paramilitary camp because it is a unique type of refugee camp. The narrow confines of the 139 square miles of the Gaza district—surrounded by Israel to the north and east, Egypt to the south, and the Mediterranean Sea to the west—feature eight separate Palestinian refugee camps, plus dozens of surrounding ghettos. Altogether, they combine the features of a refugee camp and a military camp and, cut off from the world, look to some extent like the cages Carter mentioned.

These camps were established in 1949 and have been financed ever since by the United Nations Relief and Work Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Yet far from seeking to help residents build a new and better life either in Gaza or elsewhere, UNRWA is paying millions of refugees to perpetuate their refugee status, generation after generation, as they await their forcible return to the land inside the State of Israel.

Though pundits and foreign-policy experts focus on the question of settlements or the current temperature of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, UNRWA’s institutionalization of refugee-cum-military camps is, in my view, the principal obstacle to peace in the Middle East. The chances of achieving peace and security in the Middle East will continue to be remote as long as UNRWA is, in effect, underwriting a self-destructive Palestinian cycle of violence, internecine warfare, and a perpetual war against Israel.

The core issue is a phenomenon we can call “refugeeism.” For 60 years, UNRWA has been paying four generations of Palestinians to remain refugees, reproduce refugees, and live in refugee camps. It is UNRWA that put them in refugee cages and watched the number of inhabitants grow. The Palestinian refugee population in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza has exploded from 726,000 in 1950 to 4.8 million in 2010. About 95 percent live under UNRWA care. The unprecedented nature of this guardianship is rooted in the unusual nature of this institution. UNRWA is a supranational welfare state that pays its residents not to build their own nation-state, for, were they to do so, they would forfeit their refugee status and its entitlements of cash, housing, health care, education, credit, and other largesse.

It is these perverse incentives above all that have undermined efforts to improve the lot of the Palestinian people, such as those measures aimed at fostering economic development in the West Bank undertaken by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and the Israeli government. If the international community truly wishes to serve the needs of the Palestinians and improve their lot, its first task would be the abolition of UNRWA.
 Just the introduction, of course - do read the whole article to get "the other side of the (usual) story" and see what you think....

Thursday, 9 December 2010

LSE Video Presentation: The Limits of Human Rights

Where do human rights come from? Are they universal across time and space, or do they, as Professor Chetan Bhatt (LSE) asks, "stop at the door of culture"? Should human rights organisations defend everyone, or have some persons forfeited their right to protection? When it was announced that Muslim cleric and prominent Al Qaeda spokesman Anwar al-Awlaki was to be the subject of a "targeted killing", a curious dilemma arose for human rights organisations.

Targeted killings – effectively, state-endorsed assassinations – are not unprecendented, but Al-Awlaki is an unusual case: he is an American citizen, currently believed to be hiding in Yemen. Can the President of the United States order the execution of one of his own citizens without due process, without prosecution in a public trial?

In the US, the American Civil Liberties Union and Center for Constitutional Rights launched a lawsuit protesting that the executive order against al-Awlaki was illegal. In response, members within those organisations protested that it was not the role of human rights organisations to militate in favour of persons who themselves had no respect for human rights. In this internal contradiction, a serious ethical situation has arisen. What limits are there to the defence of human rights?

The presentation lasts about 4 mins 30 secs - worth watching!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Guardian: WikiLeaks: Shell's grip on Nigerian state revealed

The Guardian outlines the latest scoop from the Wikileaks cables exposé: From the oil-rich nation of Nigeria, US embassy cables reveal a top Shell executive's claims that company 'knows everything' about key decisions in Nigerian government ministries.

Full article:

Clearly, these revelations have considerable significance for the apparent capacity of multinational companies to compromise the sovereignty of states in the developing world (the article notes that 70% of Nigerians live below the poverty line, despite the oil).

A brilliant example of recent globalisation or something that has already gone on for centuries?

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

New York Post: US in Mideast? Now They Want Us

Michael J. Totten, a key American commentator writing in yesterday's New York Post, sums up the apparent accommodation with a US presence—even an American offensive—in today's Middle East region:
Few Americans seem to have noticed, but a huge number of Middle Easterners have a very different opinion about the deployment of American military power in the region than they did a few years ago.

In the run-up to the 2003 war, no Middle East government -- not even Israel -- lobbied for regime change in Iraq. Indeed, the US-led invasion was all but unanimously opposed in the region. Today, by contrast, Middle East governments almost unanimously support a US military strike against Iran's nuclear weapons facilities.

The only reason Iran has not been attacked, or at least threatened with an attack if it doesn't stand down, is because both the Bush and Obama administrations have so far been against it. We were too aggressive for most in the Middle East earlier, but now we're too passive. Just look at the latest batch of WikiLeaks.
 In summary, Totten quotes another blogger:
American "imperialism" apparently isn't so bad if it serves regional interests. As Middle East blogger Jesse Aizenstat once put it, "There is nothing like a fanatical band of Persian cats to bind the Semitic tribes".

Monday, 6 December 2010

Economist Daily Chart: China's Missiles

An interactive diagram (Flash-based) from The Economist today in their Daily Chart series:

MISSILES have been a pillar of China’s military modernisation. After awesome demonstrations of American firepower, in Operation Desert Storm in the first Gulf war, and then in 1996, when the United States sailed two carrier strike groups close to Taiwan to deter Chinese aggression, China felt that it could no longer depend on sheer manpower for its defence. So it has invested heavily in the strength and technical sophistication of its missiles. The Pentagon has described China’s programme as “the most active land-based ballistic- and cruise-missile programme in the world”. Missiles are good value. Compared with a fully equipped aircraft-carrier, which might cost $15 billion-20 billion, a missile costs about $1m. And missiles can be potent. The chart shows how, in terms of numbers, China has concentrated on short- and medium-range missiles. This puts Taiwan within easy range of a devastating cruise- and ballistic-missile attack. Military analysts fear that the Second Artillery could retarget the missiles, putting Japan at risk, as well as America’s Asian bases. China also has a few intercontinental ballistic missiles, able to carry a nuclear payload. And American strategists are closely watching an experimental anti-ship ballistic missile with a manoeuvrable warhead, which could make it hard for American fleets to approach the Chinese shore. China recently hinted that it may be ready to cut the number of missiles targeting Taiwan. Whether this comes to anything will depend upon relations with the island—and they can be highly unpredictable.

Malaysia urged to stop caning 'epidemic'

BBC News Online has a summary of an Amnesty International report, published today, regarding corporal punishment in Malaysia:
Caning as a form of judicial punishment in Malaysia has reached "epidemic" proportions and should be banned, according to a human rights group.

Blows administered to the body with a long cane are a legal punishment for more than 60 offences in the country.

Amnesty International claims at least 10,000 prisoners and 6,000 refugees are caned there each year.

The government says caning is a legal and effective deterrent from criminal activity.

But Amnesty says the practice amounts to cruel and inhumane treatment as it leaves both physical and psychological damage, and should be banned.
Whole article:

Original report:

By the way, rattan canes are used for religious punishments elsewhere in the world (Indonesia, for example).

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Guardian: Iran unveils use of locally mined uranium for first time

Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation reveals use of domestically produced refined ore in defiance of the west, as reported by The Guardian in an article this evening:
Iran took a step towards nuclear self-sufficiency today, using locally mined uranium for the first time in an act of defiance to the west on the eve of the resumption of talks over its atomic programme.

The Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran announced it had used domestically produced uranium yellowcake (refined ore) at its conversion plant in Isfahan. The mining and milling of uranium ore is not banned by UN resolutions (which focus on uranium enrichment), but one of the ways the international community has sought to close down Iran's nuclear programme is to stop it importing yellowcake.

Today's announcement appeared to a signal that such measures would not stop Iran pursuing its nuclear ambitions. For the time being, however, it is little more than a symbolic step as Iran's ore deposits are mostly low grade and its capacity to produce yellowcake is limited.

The timing of the announcement is unlikely to be accidental, observers said, coming the day before Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, is due to meet diplomats from six major powers in Geneva, to resume a dialogue over Iran's ambitions after a break of 14 months. ....

... The regime has shown no sign of making concessions over the central issue – UN demands for Iran to suspend its enrichment of uranium. Tehran insists the programme is for entirely peaceful means, and portrays the UN sanctions against it as an attempt to deny its sovereign rights.

WikiLeaks portray Saudi Arabia as cash machine for terrorists

The Guardian has the latest (non)-surprise: a Hillary Clinton memo highlights Gulf states' failure to block funding for groups like al-Qaida, Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Saudi Arabia is the world's largest source of funds for Islamist militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba – but the Saudi government is reluctant to stem the flow of money, according to Hillary Clinton.
"More needs to be done since Saudi Arabia remains a critical financial support base for al-Qaida, the Taliban, LeT and other terrorist groups," says a secret December 2009 paper signed by the US secretary of state. Her memo urged US diplomats to redouble their efforts to stop Gulf money reaching extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

"Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide," she said.

Three other Arab countries are listed as sources of militant money: Qatar, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.

The cables highlight an often ignored factor in the Pakistani and Afghan conflicts: that the violence is partly bankrolled by rich, conservative donors across the Arabian Sea whose governments do little to stop them.
 The rest of the article is well worth a read. Interestingly, American cartoonists Cox & Forkum produced a cartoon several years ago that cleverly captured suspicion for this double-handed activity that even then prevailed amongst many in the West:

Observer: Afghanistan's propaganda war takes a new twist

In The Observer today Andrew Anthony includes a hard-hitting piece that poses the following dilemma:
Critics say that pictures of an Afghan girl disfigured by the Taliban are being used to justify the occupation. But can we just abandon women like Bibi Aisha to their fate?
Anthony's article balances the vexed presence of (largely) Western coalition forces in Afghanistan—and the desire of many to see them removed—with the likely fate of Afghan women under a restored Taliban regime (almost certainly the fate of the country if outside support is removed). In the midst of this debate is one woman, Bibi Aisha... Is she merely a propaganda tool or are concerns regarding her human rights (and those of her fellow Afghan women) a legitimate concern? Read it: see what you think.

The New York Times had a similar article back in August:

You can read the original Time magazine article (29 July) online as well—it explores the religious and human rights dimensions in far greater depth.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

So, what has Europe ever done for us? Apart from...

Hunting around for some additional resources on the European Union led to a useful "Top 50"-style presentation from the Independent newspaper of the benefits of the European Union to its citizens. It's largely from a UK perspective and dates from the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome (21 March 1957), but still very useful to aid understanding of some of the motivation for countries joining (and remaining within!) the EU:

The general factors that have fostered European integration is a likely focus of questions in the Unit 3 paper, so this is an article well worth reading!

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Wikileaks: Saudis urge US attack on Iran to stop nuclear programme

As reported in The Guardian today, the big story from the Wikileaks US Cable release today is the (un)surprising revelation that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly urged the United States to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme, according to leaked the US diplomatic cables that describe how other Arab allies have secretly agitated for military action against Tehran:

The list of countries in the Middle East region seen lining up against Iran in the cables is significant: Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Qatar.

A convenient summary of an article that you should definitely read in full:
The revelations, in secret memos from US embassies across the Middle East, expose behind-the-scenes pressures in the scramble to contain the Islamic Republic, which the US, Arab states and Israel suspect is close to acquiring nuclear weapons. Bombing Iranian nuclear facilities has hitherto been viewed as a desperate last resort that could ignite a far wider war.

The Saudi king was recorded as having "frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons programme", one cable stated. "He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake," the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah's meeting with the US general David Petraeus in April 2008.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Economist Videographic: EU Enlargement

Back in January this year, The Economist published a useful videographic on the topic of European Union enlargement, an important focus within the syllabus for the topic of Regionalisation:

Friday, 26 November 2010

Telegraph: Nato mission in Afghanistan as long as Soviet occupation

The Telegraph points up a significant way point for NATO's involvement in Afghanistan, due tomorrow:
The Nato-led mission in Afghanistan has now lasted as long as the Soviet army's doomed occupation during the 1980s.

Coalition troops, including 9,500 British, will on Saturday surpass the nine years and fifty days which the Red Army spent unsuccessfully trying to build a socialist state.

The milestone comes as Nato has 140,000 troops deployed in the country and levels of violence are at their highest since the US-backed ousting of the Taliban in October 2001.
A useful article, contrasting motivations, methods and possible outcomes of the intervention. Read it!

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Economist Videographic: World Population Growth

The Economist has today released a new videographic exploring the background—as well as the future—of world population growth:

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Observer: Rise of the robots and the future of war

With the RAF and the Pentagon pouring huge sums into robotics, Jon Cartwright asks how this could change warfare and what ethical and legal challenges will follow...

Worth a read!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

ICOS: 92% of Afghans have never heard of 9/11

The Raw Story features an interesting—and quite frankly amazing—report (PDF) from the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS):
Fewer than one in 10 Afghans are aware of the 9/11 attacks and their precipitation of the war in Afghanistan, says a study from an international think tank.
A report from the International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) shows that 92 percent of those surveyed had never heard of the coordinated multiple attacks on US soil on September 11, 2001. It also shows that four in 10 Afghans believe the US is on their soil in order to "destroy Islam or occupy Afghanistan."
To be sure, the survey can't claim to be definitive: It only canvassed men, and relied primarily on respondents from Helmand and Kandahar, the two most war-torn provinces in the country. But the results nonetheless show that Western forces fighting insurgents in Afghanistan have largely failed to connect with the local population.
Could it be that this (a) lack of awareness and (b) complete misunderstanding is responsible for the deaths of many Western troops and aid workers in Afghanistan? It seems impossible to conclude otherwise...

Friday, 19 November 2010

Economist Videographic: Climate Change and Food

Again exactly one year ago, The Economist published a useful videographic on the topic of Climate Change and Food. The two models presented in the video differ in details, but both agree that food will grow more expensive as the earth warms:

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

UN: Food prices may rise by up to 20%

The Guardian summarises the current report by the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO):

Poor harvests put global food reserves under pressure, with African and Asian countries likely to be worst hit. Opening paragraphs:
The UN today warned that food prices could rise by 10%-20% next year after poor harvests and an expected rundown of global reserves. More than 70 African and Asian countries will be the worst hit, said the Food and Agricultural Organisation in its monthly report.

In its gloomiest forecast since the 2007/08 food crisis, which saw food riots in more than 25 countries and 100 million extra hungry people, the report's authors urged states to prepare for hardship.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Economist Videographic: India, Pakistan and Kashmir

Exactly one year ago, The Economist published a very useful videographic on an enduring flashpoint between the two nuclear powers in South Asia. Kashmir's history of division and conflict are explored:

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Times (archive): Europe rises as the modest superpower

From behind the great Times paywall comes an archived article that should be of interest to students of global power, global governance and the European Union (that's you!):

(It's a two page article, so make sure you lick through to the second page).

Published a year ago on the eve of the appointment of the first European President, the article concisely spells out reasons for considering the European Union as a nascent superpower.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

West cannot defeat al-Qaeda, says UK forces chief

BBC Online today reports on recent comments made by General Sir David Richards:
The West can only contain not defeat militant groups such as al-Qaeda, the head of the UK's armed forces has said.

General Sir David Richards, a former Nato commander in Afghanistan, said Islamist militancy would pose a threat to the UK for at least 30 years.

But he told the Sunday Telegraph newspaper a clear-cut victory over militants was not achievable.

The BBC's Frank Gardner said the comments reflect a "new realism" in UK and US counter-terrorism circles.
Full article:

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Tea with the Economist: Shami Chakrabarti on Human Rights

Some time ago now, Tea with the Economist released a video interview with Shami Chakrabarti on the topic of human rights. Human rights flourished after the Second World War.... The director of Liberty now hopes their recent decline is an anomaly:

Friday, 12 November 2010

MEMRI: New Trends in Arab Anti-Semitism

This MEMRI production shows examples of anti-semitism in modern-day Arab media, including using original national socialist footage to justify Islamic resentment against Jews. Originally presented to the UN Human Rights Commission, Geneva, September 28th 2010, this presentation serves to illustrate how fundamentalist religious beliefs can be employed to produce conflict and hatred.

New Trends in Arabic Anti-semitism from Henrik Clausen on Vimeo.

AFP: North Korea 'giving nuclear material to Iran, Syria'

Google News has the AFP report on worrying findings published this week at the United Nations [link]:
UNITED NATIONS — North Korea is supplying banned nuclear and ballistic equipment to Iran, Syria and Myanmar using "surreptitious" means to avoid international sanctions, according to a UN report released Friday.

China had blocked publication of the report which has been ready for six months, diplomats said.
North Korea is involved with "the surreptitious transfer of nuclear-related and ballistic missile-related equipment, know-how and technology" to countries including Iran, Syria and Myanmar, said the report.

A UN sanctions committee panel of experts called for heightened vigilance to stop the nuclear trade and for more detailed investigation into the sophisticated means used by North Korea to circumvent sanctions.

North Korea, known officially as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, "employs a broad range of techniques to mask its transactions, including the use of overseas entities, shell companies, informal transfer mechanisms, cash couriers and barter arrangements," said the investigators.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Economist: Thinking the UNthinkable (UN Security Council)

Redesigning the United Nations Security Council might not be easy, but it would be a great prize

... so says the Leader in this week's issue of The Economist:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason, T.S. Eliot wrote, is “the greatest treason”—a familiar one in the world of politics. This week’s culprit is Barack Obama, who has pledged American support for reforming the Security Council of the United Nations (UN), and giving India a permanent seat on it.

By backing India, the president proved that America rates it as a world power and helped set it against China, which quietly opposes permanent Indian membership. And, since UN reform has long been blocked by regional rivalries and powerful countries with something to lose, America can be pretty sure that nothing will come of it.

Mr Obama’s pledge was all the more forceful because his foreign-policy rhetoric has put store by rules and international consensus. Stoking India’s unfulfilled ambition will only fuel the sense that the UN’s most senior body fails to represent the world as it is. That will do the UN no good at all.

To lessen the chance that his India policy comes at the expense of his UN policy, Mr Obama needs to be as good as his word and to put America squarely behind a reform of the Security Council. Reform would be just, it is overdue, and it would make the UN work better. It might even be achievable.

Pretty much everyone agrees that the Security Council’s permanent, veto-wielding membership reflects a bygone age, when what mattered was who won the second world war. An increasingly unrepresentative, anachronistic Security Council speaks with diminishing authority. It is less able to debate the issues that matter, because important actors may be missing. And it is less able to hand down opinions that count, because they do not bear the seal of all the world’s great powers. Whether you think the UN can accomplish a little or a lot, a better Security Council would be able to get more done.

Who shall come to the ball?
Alas, the consensus ends there. Among today’s permanent members France and Britain worry about their declining influence. China objects to Japan as a permanent member. Mexico and Argentina object to Brazil. Italy objects to Germany. African states cannot choose between South Africa and Nigeria. Do you need a Muslim state? And if so, which?

It is a mess and it has been debated fruitlessly for years. Diplomats roll their eyes and say that talking about reform is a waste of breath. Yet international governance can eventually change—just ask the IMF, where Europe is finally giving up some of its clout, or ask the leaders turning up this weekend in Seoul for a summit of the G20, eclipser of the G7.

Any plausible UN reform starts with compromise. The Security Council needs to be large enough to be representative, but small enough to do business. It should reflect real power in the world, but aim not to reward anti-social behaviour. It should strive for the best council for today, but it cannot start with a clean sheet, because the original membership controls the reform under the original rules. Extending permanent membership would help the council, but extending the veto to a lot of new countries risks making it unworkable.

Such ideas help sketch out a plan. Emerging countries need more say. Brazil is the most plausible candidate from Latin America, as Britain’s foreign secretary reiterated this week. In Africa Nigeria is too anarchic, despite its size and supply of peace-keepers. South Africa would be better. Ideally the European Union would have one seat, but Britain and France would veto that, so Germany makes it by default. As an economic power, but not a geopolitical one, Japan barely scrapes in, despite an American promise to back it. A Muslim country would give the council clout: best would be Turkey or Indonesia, which increasingly see themselves as regional powers. And Mr Obama is right: India has the strongest claim of all.

The case for reform is overwhelming. America’s unipolar moment has passed. Rules help in a world where power is shifting. The longer Britain and France wait, the weaker their negotiating position. Russia could probably live with reform, so long as it kept its veto. If China were faced with a united front, it might go along, however reluctantly. Nobody should think that designing a new UN would be easy. But the alternative is a declining UN in a messy, interconnected world. That would not be easy either.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Location, location and how the West was won

Ian Morris, Stanford University professor and author of a recent book entitled Why the West Rules - For Now: The Patterns of History, and What they Reveal About the Future has placed a summary of his findings in the BBC News Magazine:

full article:
On his current visit to Beijing, UK Prime Minister David Cameron has said China will soon reclaim its position as the world's biggest economy - a role it has held for 18 of the past 20 centuries. But how did the US, Britain and the rest of Europe interrupt this reign of supremacy? It comes down to location.
Morris combines a close examination of developing economic realities with a large dose of geographical determinism to explain the world we live in—and the world we may yet live in!

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Obama backs India on permanent Security Council seat

Big news yesterday, reported (amongst others) by BBC News and arising from US President Barack Obama's current visit to India and several other Asian states:
US President Barack Obama has backed India's ambition for permanent membership of the UN Security Council. In an address to India's parliament at the end of a three-day visit, Mr Obama lavishly praised India's development.

His remarks will delight India, which has been lobbying for a seat at the UN's top table for years. Analysts say it does not mean India will get a permanent seat immediately; the unspecified UN reforms Mr Obama mentioned could take years.

India's long-term rival Pakistan issued a quick response opposing the move, saying the US should not be swayed by "power politics".

Mr Obama said the Washington-Delhi relationship would be one of this century's defining partnerships. The loudest applause came when Mr Obama told dignitaries: "As two global leaders, the United States and India can partner for global security - especially as India serves on the Security Council over the next two years.

"Indeed the just and sustainable international order that America seeks includes a United Nations that is efficient, effective, credible and legitimate.

"And that is why I can say today, in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed United Nations Security Council that includes India as a permanent member."

There are currently five permanent members of the Security Council: the US, China, France, the UK and Russia, which have the power to veto resolutions. Some nations have criticised the format as not reflecting the 21st century world.
The article goes on to discuss the possible regional political ramifications and describes the increasingly close nature of the US-India relationship. Take a look!

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Guardian: Globalisation at the crossroads

Economist Kenneth Rogoff argues in The Guardian's Comment is Free section that the US has championed free trade – at grave cost to itself. Rogoff asserts that in order too avoid a trade war, other countries must now share the burden...
American hegemony over the global economy is perhaps in its final decades. China, India, Brazil and other emerging markets are in ascendancy. Will the transition will go smoothly and lead to a global economy that is both fairer and more prosperous?

However much we may hope for this, the current rut in which the US finds itself could prove to be a problem for the rest of the world. Unemployment in the US is high, while fiscal and monetary policies have been stretched to their limits. Exports are the best way out, but the US needs help. Otherwise, simmering trade frictions could suddenly throw globalisation sharply into reverse. It wouldn't be the first time.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Economist Videographic: Smart Systems

The Economist today published an interesting videographic feature on "smart systems"—yet another example of how technology and globalisation are making the world a smaller, more interconnected place:

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Infographic: The Carbon Economy

A year ago today, XPLANE and the The Economist put out a video infographic—entitled "The Carbon Economy" to coincide with the latter's Carbon Economy Summit:

Definitely worth watching a year later as a means of getting some handle on how government and business worldwide are getting to grips with the new thinking on the environment.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Guardian: What is Globalisation?

Eight years ago today (2002!), The Guardian newspaper published a succinct article by Simon Jeffery explaining the origins and meaning of (what was by then) a ubiquitous term, viz. "globalisation":
It was the anti-globalisation movement that really put globalisation on the map. As a word it has existed since the 1960s, but the protests against this allegedly new process, which its opponents condemn as a way of ordering people's lives, brought globalisation out of the financial and academic worlds and into everyday current affairs jargon. But that scarcely brings us nearer to what globalisation means. The phenomenon could be a great deal of different things, or perhaps multiple manifestations of one prevailing trend. It has become a buzzword that some will use to describe everything that is happening in the world today.

The dictionary definition is a great deal drier. Globalisation (n) is the "process enabling financial and investment markets to operate internationally, largely as a result of deregulation and improved communications" (Collins) or - from the US - to "make worldwide in scope or application" (Webster). The financial markets, however, are where the story begins.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the business model termed the "globalised" financial market came to be seen as an entity that could have more than just an economic impact on the parts of the world it touched.

Globalisation came to be seen as more than simply a way of doing business, or running financial markets - it became a process. From then on the word took on a life of its own. Centuries earlier, in a similar manner, the techniques of industrial manufacturing led to the changes associated with the process of industrialisation, as former country dwellers migrated to the cramped but booming industrial cities to tend the new machines.

So how does the globalised market work? It is modern communications that make it possible; for the British service sector to deal with its customers through a call centre in India, or for a sportswear manufacturer to design its products in Europe, make them in south-east Asia and sell them in north America.

But this is where the anti-globalisation side gets stuck in. If these practices replace domestic economic life with an economy that is heavily influenced or controlled from overseas, then the creation of a globalised economic model and the process of globalisation can also be seen as a surrender of power to the corporations, or a means of keeping poorer nations in their place.

Low-paid sweatshop workers, GM seed pressed on developing world farmers, selling off state-owned industry to qualify for IMF and World Bank loans and the increasing dominance of US and European corporate culture across the globe have come to symbolise globalisation for some of its critics.

The anti-globalisation movement is famously broad, encompassing environmentalists, anarchists, unionists, the hard left, some of the soft left, those campaigning for fair development in poorer countries and others who want to tear the whole thing down, in the same way that the original Luddites attacked mechanised spinning machines.

Not everyone agrees that globalisation is necessarily evil, or that globalised corporations are running the lives of individuals or are more powerful than nations. Some say that the spread of globalisation, free markets and free trade into the developing world is the best way to beat poverty - the only problem is that free markets and free trade do not yet truly exist.

Globalisation can be seen as a positive, negative or even marginal process. And regardless of whether it works for good or ill, globalisation's exact meaning will continue to be the subject of debate among those who oppose, support or simply observe it.

A recent report in the Press Gazette, the trade magazine for journalists, dealt with attempts by a BBC focus group to throw some light on how far television audiences understand news reports.

In one clip, economics editor Evan Davies referred to "globalisation - whatever that means". A panellist replied: "Well if he doesn't what it means, how the hell are we supposed to?"

Yemen Package Bombs in Suspected Terrorist Attacks

The big international news story of the last 48 hours has been the discovery of package bombs apparently consigned to cargo planes from terrorist operatives in the Yemen.

Now that the media has gained some perspective on the story, we can spend some time examining this new threat:

The Guardian - Terror bombs were primed to down cargo planes in mid-air (30/10/2010) - Security officials say explosive packages found on US-bound aircraft in UK and Dubai were meant to bring them down

The Guardian - Cargo bombs from Yemen open new front in al-Quaida terror war (30/10/2010) - The discovery of explosive devices on board planes in the UK and Dubai appears to confirm Saudi warnings that terror groups based in the Arabian Peninsula are determine to mount a new wave of attacks on the west
The bomb was found inside a printer and its toner cartridge

Saturday, 30 October 2010

The Independent: Countries join forces to save life on Earth

The Independent today gives prominence to the last-minute deal that was hammered out at the UN Convention on Biodiversity in Nagoya, Japan:
A historic deal to halt the mass extinction of species was finally agreed last night in what conservationists see as the most important international treaty aimed at preventing the collapse of the world's wildlife.

Delegates from more than 190 countries meeting in Nagoya, Japan, agreed at the 11th hour on an ambitious conservation programme to protect global biodiversity and the natural habitats that support the most threatened animals and plants.

After 18 years of debate, two weeks of talks, and tense, last-minute bargaining, the meeting of the UN Convention on Biodiversity agreed on 20 key "strategic goals" to be implemented by 2020 that should help to end the current mass extinction of species.
Michael McCarthy in the same newspaper provides some perspective and adds a warning: "The Nagoya deal shows the world has at last woken up".

Read both articles: They provide good insights into a current example of collective efforts regarding the global environment (Unit 4) and are an instance of the United Nations working (slowly!) together to improve the world.

Economist Videographic: Global Fertility

A year ago, The Economist published a useful examination of the issues surrounding global fertility and its effect on current and future population growth. The verdict? That the spread of modernity is bringing fertility rates down to replacement level for most of the world. That is a good thing!

Friday, 29 October 2010

BBC BiteSize Revision (Video): Globalisation

The BBC's BiteSize Revision service has a convenient, nicely retro-looking video on the topic of globalisation, summarising the main points found in their online materials elsewhere (intended for GCSE Geography syllabi, but actually quite useful for our purposes in Global Politics!):

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Anglo-French armed forces plan greater military co-operation

The Guardian (amongst others) brings news that the UK and France are currently destined for greatly enhanced military co-operation—the respective governments insist that sovereignty will be retained nonetheless...
Britain and France are putting the finishing touches to plans for unprecedented co-operation on defence across all three branches of the armed forces, ranging from military operations to simulated nuclear tests.

What is described as a "whole package" of measures, including a major army exercise in Flanders, will be unveiled at a summit meeting between David Cameron and France's president Nicolas Sarkozy in London on 2 November, top officials say.

The two countries account for what one senior diplomat called a "critical mass" of Europe's military capabilities, including 45% of all EU military spending, half the total number of armed forces, and 70% of military research and development in the EU.
The extraordinary tempo and detail of work carried out by senior British and French military staff has been triggered in part by similar financial pressures facing the two countries and the realisation that their forces will be much more effective acting together.

The two governments are acutely aware of the political sensitivity of military co-operation. They will insist that national sovereignty will be preserved and there will be no question of "sharing" weapons systems, including aircraft carriers.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Globalisation: Small is Beautiful

Three years ago today, The Economist published an interesting infographic regarding an important recent trend in globalisation:
Small, rich and stable countries tend to be the most globalised, at least according to an index of 72 countries by A.T. Kearney, a consultancy, and Foreign Policy magazine. The index uses 12 measures which cover economic integration, personal contact, political engagement and technological connectivity. Singapore and Hong Kong make the top spots, boosted by the larger weighting given to the economic variables of trade and foreign-direct investment as a percentage of GDP. America, not entirely convincingly, scores poorly on the economic measures. Jordan comes in ninth, helped by its top ranking for political engagement as a result of its involvement in UN peacekeeping missions. The index may be most useful for starting debates.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

G20 summit agrees to reform IMF

BBC Online brings news of a slight re-balancing within world economic governance—towards emerging economies—at the G20 Summit currently being held in South Korea: [link]
Finance ministers from the G20 leading economies have agreed reforms of the International Monetary Fund, giving major developing nations more of a say.

At a meeting in South Korea, they agreed a shift of about 6% of the votes in the IMF towards some of the fast-growing developing countries.

Those nations will also have more seats on the IMF's Board, while Western Europe will lose two seats. But the US will retain the veto it has over key decisions.

Such decisions require an 85% vote - Washington holds 17% under the IMF's weighted voting system.
The Guardian has more [link]:
Fast-growing emerging economies will get more clout at the International Monetary Fund under a landmark agreement clinched on Saturday that reflects a shift in global power from industrial countries.
Under the deal, more than 6 percent of voting shares at the Fund will shift to dynamic developing countries such as China, which will become the third-biggest member of the 187-strong Washington-based lender. Europe will give up two of the eight or nine seats it controls at any given time on the IMF's Executive Board, which will continue to have 24 members, according to a statement issued after a meeting of finance ministers from the Group of 20 leading economies.
As part of a wide-ranging package, the G20 also agreed to double the IMF's quotas, which determine how much each country contributes to the IMF and how much it may borrow from it. The quotas currently total about $340 billion. The IMF staff had argued for a doubling, which it said would put the fund "in a strong position to forestall or cope with potential crises in the coming years".
The G20 said the reforms would make the Washington-based lender "more effective, credible and legitimate". The governance reforms amount to an overhaul of the global economic order established when the Fund was set up after World War Two, prompting IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn to describe the agreement as historic. "This makes for the biggest reform ever in the governance of the institution," he told reporters.
The reduction in Europe's representation is less than the United States was seeking. However, Washington, which has a 17.67 percent share of IMF quotas will retain its veto on the Fund's most important decisions. These will continue to require a super-majority vote of 85 percent, according to IMF officials.
Without doubt, today's news represents an important update on World Governance (Unit 3) - should a question on the International Monetary Fund come up in the exams, this development would form a valuable current example!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Economist - Bloggers in the Middle East: Don't be too cheeky

Governments in the Middle East are cracking down on bloggers

The Economist today has a short article revealing efforts now being made by some Middle Eastern regimes to discourage freedom of expression by the means of web logs ("blogs"):
Governments across the Middle East are increasingly twitchy about their citizens’ online activities. As internet use in the region has soared—up 19-fold since 2000, compared with a fivefold rise in the rest of the world, according to Internet World Stats, which monitors global internet usage—so the number jailed for what they do on the web has shot up too.

According to Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based watchdog, at least 17 “netizens” are in jail across the Middle East: eight in Iran and the rest in Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Syria and the United Arab Emirates. China may be the biggest online represser, but the Middle East is not far behind.
We might add that these repressive efforts are a clear attack on bloggers' human rights in these countries and directly contravene the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (to which these states have signed up!)

Article 19: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

CFR - Crisis Guide: Climate Change

It's now two years exactly since the Council on Foreign Relations' publication of this particular interactive feature—it remains an essential introductory resource nonetheless...

This feature should prove very useful to those students wanting to bone up on what is one of the key controversies within the Environment as a Global Political Issue (Unit 4).

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Information is Beautiful: The True Size of Africa

From David McCandless' stunning publication and associated website, Information is Beautiful, comes this graphic revealing the true size of Africa in comparison with several parts of the world more prominently thought of...
This evocative image forms but the centerpiece of a larger statistical comparison (click to enAfricanate!):
Certainly puts things into some perspective!

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Economist: Global Hunger Index - Feed the World

This from The Economist today in their Daily Chart series:
How hunger has changed across the developing world

TWENTY-NINE countries suffer from “alarming” levels of hunger, most of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, according to a report published on Monday October 11th. The “Global Hunger Index” (GHI) gives developing countries scores based on three indicators: the proportion of people who are undernourished, the proportion of children under five who are underweight, and the child mortality rate. The worst possible score is 100, but in practice, anything over 25 is considered “alarming”. Scores under five, meanwhile, are indicative of “low hunger”. Since 1990 the overall level of the index has fallen by almost a quarter (though the data do not cover the period of the global recession beginning in 2008). Two-thirds of the 99 countries counted in 1990 have reduced their populations' hunger levels. Kuwait, Malaysia, Turkey and Mexico have been the most successful, cutting their scores by over 60%. Those where hunger has increased include North Korea, Comoros and Congo. Congo's GHI score fell by over 60%, the worst of any country.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Information is Beautiful: War Games

Six months ago today, the Guardian newspaper published a series of data visualisations exploring military expenditure around the world—with some surprising results...

An excerpt follows:
Check it out!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Joseph S. Nye: The Future of Power

Joseph S. Nye,former US Assistant Secretary of Defense, Harvard University professor and author of The Future of Power, provides an up-to-date perspective on the "future of power" in our increasingly multipolar world:
Global government is unlikely in the twenty-first century, but various degrees of global governance already exist. The world has hundreds of treaties, institutions, and regimes for governing interstate behavior involving telecommunications, civil aviation, ocean dumping, trade, and even the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

But such institutions are rarely self-sufficient. They still require the leadership of great powers. And it remains to be seen whether this century’s great powers will live up to this role.

As the power of China and India increases, how will their behavior change? Ironically, for those who foresee a tri-polar world of the US, China, and India at mid-century, all three of these states – the world’s most populous – are among the most protective of their sovereignty.

Some argue that our current global institutions are sufficiently open and adaptable for China to find it in its own interests to become what Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, once called a “responsible stakeholder.” Others believe that China will wish to impose its own mark and create its own international institutional system as its power increases.

The countries of the European Union have been more willing to experiment with limiting state sovereignty, and they may push for more institutional innovation. But it is unlikely that, barring a disaster like World War II, the world will witness “a constitutional moment” such as it experienced with the creation of the United Nations system of institutions after 1945.

Today, as a universal institution, the UN plays a crucial role in legitimization, crisis diplomacy, peacekeeping, and humanitarian missions, but its very size has proven to be a disadvantage for many other functions. As the 2009 UN climate-change summit in Copenhagen demonstrated, meetings of 192 states are often unwieldy and subject to bloc politics and tactical moves by largely extraneous players that otherwise lack the resources to solve functional problems. As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton put it recently, “the UN remains the single most important global institution…but we are constantly reminded of its limitations….The UN was never intended to tackle every challenge; nor should it.”

Indeed, the main dilemma that the international community faces is how to include everyone and still be able to act. The answer is likely to lie in what Europeans have dubbed “variable geometry.” There will be many multilateralisms and “mini-lateralisms,” which will vary by issue with the distribution of power resources.

For example, on monetary affairs, the Bretton Woods conference created the International Monetary Fund in 1944, and it has since expanded to include 186 countries. But the dollar’s global pre-eminence was the crucial feature of monetary cooperation until the 1970’s. After the weakening of the dollar and President Richard M. Nixon’s decision to end its convertibility into gold, in 1975 France convened leaders of five countries in the library of the Chateau de Rambouillet to discuss monetary affairs. The group soon grew to seven, and later broadened in scope and membership – including Russia and a vast bureaucratic and press apparatus – to become the G-8.

Subsequently, the G-8 began the practice of inviting five guests from the emerging economies. In the financial crisis of 2008, this framework evolved into the G-20, which boasts a more inclusive membership.

At the same time, the G-7 continued to meet on a narrower monetary agenda; new institutions, such as the Financial Stability Board, were created, while bilateral discussions between the US and China played an increasingly important role. As one experienced diplomat put it, “if you’re trying to negotiate an exchange-rate deal with 20 countries or a bailout of Mexico, as in the early Clinton days, with 20 countries, that’s not easy. If you get above 10, it just makes it too darn hard to get things done.”

He’s right, of course. After all, with three countries, there are three bilateral relationships; with ten, there are 45; and with 100 players, there are nearly 5,000. That is why, on issues like climate change, the UN will continue to play a role, but more intensive negotiations are likely to occur in smaller groups such as the Major Economies Forum, where fewer than a dozen countries account for 80% of greenhouse gas emissions.

Much of the work of global governance will rely on formal and informal networks. Network organizations (such as the G-20) are used for setting agendas, building consensus, coordinating policy, exchanging knowledge, and establishing norms. As Anne-Marie Slaughter, Director of Policy Planning in the US State Department, argues, “the power that flows from this type of connectivity is not the power to impose outcomes. Networks are not directed and controlled as much as they are managed and orchestrated. Multiple players are integrated into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.”

In other words, the network provides power to achieve preferred outcomes with other players rather than over them.

To cope with the transnational challenges that characterize a global information age, the international community will have to continue to develop a series of complementary networks and institutions that supplement the global framework of the UN. But if major countries are divided, it is unlikely that even network organizations like the G-20 can set the agenda for the UN and the Bretton Woods financial institutions to act upon.

In the immediate aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the G-20 seemed to help governments to coordinate their actions and avoid rampant protectionism. The world waits anxiously to see how it will perform when it meets again in Seoul this November.

Kosovo: Declaration of Independence - Sovereignty

The Guardian has a very useful interactive published back in July, revisiting the history of Kosovo, and culminating with the recent news that the International Court of Justice has ruled that Kosovo's Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) from Serbia in February 2008 did not violate international law:

By way of quick context, upon Kosovo's UDI in 2008, Serbia and Russia immediately declared the action illegal—meanwhile, the United States and much of Europe rushed to recognise the newly-declared state. Clearly, this Kosovan example represents a very useful recent example of recognition and incipient sovereignty in action.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

CFR - Crisis Guide: Pakistan

The Council on Foreign Relations, an independent, nonpartisan membership organization, think tank, and publisher, has published a useful interactive feature on the troubled South Asian state of Pakistan (click image to access):

Crisis Guide: Pakistan

Friday, 1 October 2010

LSE Video: New internationalism needed for new world order

18 months months ago today, a resource interesting for our current studies on Globalisation and World Governance surfaced on the London School of Economics website:
Global institutions such as the United Nations risk fragmenting unless they become more democratic and share greater power with developing nations, warns a LSE political scientist Professor David Held|.
Professor David Held points out that the world today is very different to the post-war era that gave birth to the United Nations in 1945. 'The world has changed dramatically. Power has diffused across the world' he says. "We have seen the rise of Asia and China and the rapidly developing BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) and these are only partially, if at all, represented in many of our global institutions."

In this video, Professor Held claims that, given this transformed world, institutions such as the UN and bodies such as the IMF are flawed in two crucial ways: "Firstly, many have a system of representation that is anachronistic and too skewed to the old western powers that have had their own way for a long time. Their other flaw is that they depend for their finance on the good will of the powerful countries."

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Cautious welcome to the World Bank's rejection of old orthodoxies

The one-size-fits-all development strategy is dead, says Robert Zoellick. But will the World Bank therefore be run differently? - asks The Guardian newspaper in its PovertyMatters Blog [link]:
The World Bank provided one of the three pillars of the Washington consensus. Along with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the US Treasury, it was the source of an economic orthodoxy exported, often ruthlessly, from America to the rest of the world.

Put simply, the Washington consensus provided a one-size-fits-all solution to the problems of development. Countries were told to privatise and to liberalise, to slim down the size of the state, bear down on inflation, reduce their budget deficits and concentrate on exports. "We know what works", the advocates of the consensus said. "Free markets work."

So it was fascinating yesterday to find the World Bank's president, Robert Zoellick (pictured), acting as the gravedigger for the once-all powerful dogma. Urging a rethink of development economics, Zoellick said in a speech in Georgetown: "This is no longer about the Washington consensus. One cannot have a consensus about political economy from one city applying to all. This is about experience regarding what is working – in New Delhi, in Sao Paolo, in Beijing, in Cairo, and Accra. Out of experience may come consensus. But only if it is firmly grounded – and broadly owned."

Some might say this is simply bowing to the inevitable, since one big casualty of the crisis has been the economics profession, with its over-elaborate mathematical models and its messianic belief in the invisible hand of the price mechanism. But, as Zoellick rightly noted, even before the crisis broke there was a questioning of the orthodoxy and a sense that development economics needed to be rethought.

Critics such as the Cambridge economist Ha-Joon Chang said that no country in history had ever based a successful development strategy on the free-trade model: all protected their fledgling industries. It was also noted that the countries most successful in riding out the economic storm, India and China, were those that had defied the Washington consensus and kept controls on capital flows in place.

There is, though, a bit more to it than that. The rapid growth of the bigger emerging nations – China, India and Brazil in particular – has given them added clout on the world stage. The first manifestation of this was at the World Trade Organisation, where it is no longer possible for the US and the European Union to cook up a private deal and then present it to the rest of the world on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.

Now the developing world wants a bigger say in the running of the World Bank and the IMF. Change to the anachronistic governing structure – which reflects the world as it was in 1944 rather than as it is in 2010 – is happening, even if at a somewhat glacial pace. Developing countries are also reluctant to see the World Bank take charge of a new fund that will help poorer nations adapt to climate change, and want it to be run out of the United Nations instead. So when Zoellick says, as he did yesterday, that a multi-polar economy requires multi-polar knowledge, a cynic might say he was trying to ingratiate himself with the policy makers in Beijing and New Delhi.

There was a sense of genuine humility in Zoellick's speech. "We need to democratise and demystify development economics, recognising that we do not have a monopoly on the answers. 

"We need to throw open the doors, recognising that others can find and create their own solutions. And this open research revolution is underway. We need to recognise that development knowledge is no longer the sole province of the researcher, the scholar, or the ivory tower."

All absolutely true, and very welcome. Talk, of course, is cheap. The real test is whether Zoellick's openness to new ideas makes a difference to how the World Bank is run and how it acts.
Important news for our current understanding of how the World Bank operates in the present-day world—vital insights for World Economic Governance in Unit 3D, particularly in regard to criticisms that have been made of the past approach to economic development and governance by the World Bank!