Category Archives: Domestic Politics / Revolutions

Posts about internal politics that affect international relations, including revolutions and other changes of government

Glimmer of Hope for Cease-Fires

Syria talks photoMost wars end without military victory for either side, and whatever arrangements move a conflict toward resolution, they generally begin with a cease-fire. Recently several of the world’s serious armed conflicts took steps in the direction of cease-fires — certainly a welcome development in the period of backsliding from peace over the last five years.

The world’s worst war at present, in Syria, saw a baby step toward political resolution today as four major outside powers met in Vienna to discuss it — Russia, the United States, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia (Russia supports the Syrian regime; the others oppose it). The talks hardly justify or vindicate Russia’s violent military intervention in Syria, but it’s still better to have backers of different sides talking. Whether it’s better than nothing, or is actually nothing, remains to be seen.

In Ukraine, meanwhile, a real cease-fire has taken hold, probably because of Russia’s preoccupation in the Middle East now. Previously the Minsk Agreement was honored in part but fighting continued in places. Now the front line is quiet, which is a step forward.

Yemen also shows tiny steps forward.  The Saudi-backed government and the Houthi rebels who control the capital have finally agreed today to meet. The UN envoy charged with making it happen has not yet set the date or agenda. Perhaps it will happen before the Yemenis all starve.

In Mali, where Tuareg rebels signed a cease-fire with the government in February, two feuding Tuareg tribes who had been fighting each other have now reached agreement as well.

Myanmar (Burma) has just reached a peace deal with some, but not all, of its rebellious ethnic groups. Possibly the others will come on board in the future. Myanmar is preparing for its first elections since the military loosened its grip on the country somewhat.

South Sudan had been sliding over a precipice and facing widespread starvation after persistent and brutal fighting between the two largest ethnic groups in the world’s newest country (which had spent decades in a brutal civil war before splitting from Sudan). Recently the leaders in South Sudan also signed a political agreement and cease-fire, which has been holding imperfectly and may not last but nonetheless represents a ray of hope.

October 24 is “UN Day” and this year it’s the organization’s 70th birthday.  In Mali, South Sudan, and Yemen, all largely removed from great-power interests, the UN has been a key broker in negotiations.  In the conflicts directly involving Russia — Ukraine and Syria — the great powers make their own deals without the UN. In Myanmar outside mediators seem to have played little role, and in the recent peace deal in Colombia, the mediator was Cuba.

This diversity of approaches to making cease-fire deals underscores an important point — there is no one set route to end wars and broker agreements.  Sometimes it’s governments, sometimes the UN, sometimes NGOs or individuals, but if a war is to end someone has to go in and help the sides get to an agreement.  And that agreement almost always begins with a cease-fire.  The first step in ending a war is to stop the shooting.

Peace in the Western Hemisphere

Peace deal handshake

Cuba’s Raul Castro celebrates peace deal between Colombia’s president and FARC leader, Sept.2015

Amidst the violent turmoil in the Middle East and the world’s backsliding in its long-term progress toward peace, a piece of good news deserves notice. Last week a breakthrough finally occurred in peace talks between the government of Colombia and the FARC rebels. The talks, held in Cuba, had dragged on for several years but have now produced an agreement to definitively end hostilities in six months, in March 2016. A truth commission will sort out war crimes, and penalties will follow a compromise between impunity and severe punishment.

The agreement marks the end of the last war in the Western hemisphere and thus continues a trend over recent decades that have seen the zone of active fighting in the world shrink to an area now stretching from central Africa to Pakistan, with a tendril up into Ukraine and occasional little skirmishes in southeast Asia. (Actually fighting in Pakistan is much reduced this year, and a shaky peace deal was agreed last month in South Sudan, though Syria’s war rages on.)

Peace in the Western hemisphere does not mean an absence of violence. Thousands continue to die in drug-related violence in Mexico, homicides against indigenous people in Guatemala, and gang violence in El Salvador. But the historical contrast is stark.

Just a few decades ago, civil wars (with international involvement) ravaged Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. Argentina’s government waged a “dirty war” against leftists, Chile lived through a brutal coup and dictatorship, and Brazil had a military government. The United States invaded Grenada and Panama.

Although economic growth in Latin America has slowed recently, some 70 million people there rose out of poverty in the past decade. Literacy and education rates are very high, birth rates are low, and the region has become solidly middle-income. Actually, Latin America has become so successful that it’s easy to ignore amidst the troubles of other regions – making the evening news only when a big corruption scandal (Brazil) or especially violent incident (Mexico) flares up.

With the reopening of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States this year, the Western hemisphere now enjoys normal and peaceful interstate relations from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. It’s not paradise to be sure – inequality, corruption, violence, and racism have definitely not disappeared – but the progress is dramatic.

The war in Colombia lasted fifty years, took more than 200,000 lives, and displaced millions from their homes. Peace will be sweet.

The World’s Wars — An Update

Homs-tank feb 23 2012 reutersThe two most important wars currently are in Syria and Ukraine, but for different reasons.

The Syria war, now including Iraq, matters because it is by far the world’s deadliest current armed conflict, and because the so-called Islamic State (ISIS, or ISIL) has created a transnational challenge unseen in international politics in many years. The data team in Uppsala, Sweden, was unable to estimate battle deaths for 2013, and the data for 2014 will not be released for several more months, but we know the order of magnitude is tens of thousands per year and something on the order of 200,000 over the last four years. Apparently, somewhat more than half of these are military fatalities with the rest civilians. Many millions of civilians have been displaced and large numbers are suffering terrible deprivation. Humanitarian efforts are frustrated both by inability to reach populations in need and by inadequate funding.  (Contribute to UNHCR here.)

Peace efforts for Syria are near a standstill.  There are no peacekeepers, no agreements, no negotiations, no UN Security Council resolutions laying out the path to follow. Russia backs the Assad government and the West opposes it. The UN envoy has been trying to get local cease-fires in specific places (currently working on Aleppo) with limited success.

Meanwhile ISIS holds territory in Syria and Iraq, most importantly the city of Mosul, Iraq.  ISIS challenges the entire state system on which international relations has operated for centuries.  This unites all the countries to stop them, from the United States and European powers to Russia, Iran, and the Gulf states. However, peace negotiations are not a viable option, and the military campaign against ISIS raises a collective goods problem in terms of who bears the costs.  Currently Iran and Iraq on the ground, and mostly the USA in the air, are providing the bulk of forces.  Given its lack of allies, ISIS will not pose a long-term threat, and is over-hyped in the media owing to its spectacles of barbarism, in my opinion.

The war in eastern Ukraine is far smaller and less deadly (about 6,000 deaths) but matters for another reason – it breaches red lines that had contained armed conflicts in recent years.  For the first time since the U.S. invasion of Iraq more than a decade ago, two state armies have been directly fighting each other. This is a bit ambiguous, however, since Russia has sent its forces into battle with insignia stripped off, as “little green men,” rather than overtly.

The Russian seizure of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 represents a very, very rare case in recent decades of one member of the United Nations taking territory from another by armed force. Iraq did so with Kuwait in 1990 but the border was restored the next year by an international coalition in the Gulf War. Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza in 1967 but the matter remains highly contested still.  These days, borders disputes are far more often resolved through international law and arbitration – this has happened in several Latin American cases and in West Africa in the past decade.  In Crimea, the land-grab is mitigated by the fact that Russia traditionally owned the peninsula and still has its navy based there. When Russia and Ukraine were both part of the Soviet Union, in 1954, Khrushchev abruptly transferred ownership to Ukraine. Still, many international borders have odd histories but using military force to readjust them would be an extreme step backward from the progress we’ve made over decades.

At the moment a shaky cease-fire (Minsk II) is in place in eastern
Ukraine, though it’s too early to say if it will hold up or just serve as a resupply lull.  Peace negotiations have included Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France.  Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) are present, though often frustrated in their efforts.  The Ukrainian government would like to see UN peacekeepers but Russia probably will not allow this.  Ukraine and Russia have lived with a wide range of conflicts, ranging from natural gas prices to ethnic/linguistic differences, ideological divergence, and territorial disputes, ever since the USSR broke up in 1991.  There is some hope that a political process in the coming years will allow the two countries to coexist peacefully, perhaps with Crimea joining Russia under a legal framework approved by Ukraine, and eastern Ukraine firmly returned to Ukraine’s control with local autonomy. Economic sanctions on Russia are taking a high price but may or may not change Russian behavior.

The Ukraine war is also the main, though not the only, instance of armed conflict spreading beyond the zone of fighting that has characterized recent years.  That zone extends from central Africa through the Middle East to Pakistan. Beyond, and at the edges, wars had been winding down.  This is still true in Colombia, the only important armed conflict left in the Western Hemisphere, where peace talks have been going on for two years and a cease-fire is taking hold. But in West Africa, new and serious fighting has broken out in northern Nigeria; in northern Africa, Libya is descending into civil war; and in Southeast Asia, new fighting has broken out in the north of Myanmar/Burma.  These are all reversal in areas at the edge of the world’s zone of active warfare, where wars of recent decade had been fading away and peace had been taking hold.

Smaller wars in the heart of that zone continue.  Brutal ethnic conflicts in the Central African Republic and in the world’s newest country, South Sudan, are abating somewhat but settlements remain elusive.  In both cases, outside powers are engaged in working for peace, and UN peacekeepers are present (sizable missions, about 10,000 in CAR and 15,000 in South Sudan). UN peacekeeping also continues in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (about 25,000 troops), where progress is being made slowly, and in Darfur, Sudan (about 20,000).  Somalia has made a lot of progress in the last few years, with insurgents pushed out of cities, but Yemen has become more violent in recent months and is in danger of splitting in half.  Israel and the Palestinians appear destined to fight recurrently as they did in Gaza last year. Afghanistan remains at war after the withdrawal of NATO combat forces (though direct talks with the Taliban are in the works).

The backsliding in recent years can only be discouraging.  This has accompanied an overall deterioration in top-level relations, especially between Russia and the West. China continues to be the most peaceful great power (in history, arguably), but has stepped up its alarming moves to claim large contested areas of the nearby seas. North Korea continues to add to its arsenal of at least a half dozen nuclear weapons, and Iran’s nuclear program could create a sizable arsenal within years, and a regional arms race, if current negotiations fail. The U.S. and Russian nuclear programs are “modernizing” after years of downsizing that saw stockpiles shrink by three-quarters over thirty years.

We should keep today’s wars in perspective, however.  Overall, the world’s armed conflicts are still smaller, fewer, and more geographically limited than during the Cold War.  Almost all of Central, East and Southeast Asia, southern Africa, Europe, and the Americas are at peace. In historical perspective, we just marked the 70th anniversary of the deadliest bombing raid in history, on Tokyo in 1945, which incinerated 100,000 civilians in one night – more than the total battle fatalities in the world last year.

Guide to Middle East Complexity

WaPo ME chart BSm0bOBCYAAAph6The idea seems to be gaining traction that the Middle East is incredibly, incredibly complex – far too complex for Americans to ever understand and far, far too complex to intervene in with any hope of success, be it military strikes on Syria, peace negotiations with Israel and Palestine, or military aid to Egypt. Last week the Washington Post’s foreign affairs blogger Max Fisher published a chart of Middle East players filled with arrows in every direction — sheer chaos (the chart was from an Egyptian blogger, “the big Pharoah”).

I’ve redrawn the chart – breaking “Syrian rebels” into four constituent groups but otherwise retaining the same actors — and it’s not that complicated. (Sure, a level down from here, on either chart, lies lots of complexity down to individual personalities and cross-cutting ties, but that wasn’t the original chart’s point.)

Goldstein Middle East Chart

Fisher comments on his chart:  “There are rivals who share mutual enemies, allies who back opposite sides of the same conflict, conflicting interests and very strange bedfellows.” But actually, on my version you see mostly a two-way split between the Russian-backed Shi’ite axis in the upper right and the actors on the left. The main complexity is a rivalry between Qatar (home of al Jazeera TV) and Saudi Arabia (along with the other Gulf states). They back opposing sides of the conflict within Egypt between General Sisi and the Muslim Brotherhood. They both support the Free Syrian Army but favor different factions within it (the Saudi-backed side is dominant now in the Syrian rebel leadership). In the lower right, al Qaeda and the Kurds each control territory in Syria and are more concerned with administering it than bigger ambitions.

There are a few anomalies but not of great significance. For instance, Israel likes the USA, which likes Qatar (where we held military exercises this year), which likes Hamas, but Hamas does not like Israel!

Thirty years ago studying international relations in graduate school, my professor Nazli Choucri taught me that “the Middle East conflict” was actually at least five conflicts layered over each other.  Today it’s even less about Israelis versus Arabs than then. But the region is not a swirling cloud of unpredictable and shifting conflicts that no one could ever understand. Journalists at the Washington Post, and elsewhere, should try to understand and explain these conflicts, not throw up their hands. My opinion.

For those of you who would like a map to go with the chart, here you go:

middle east map

Syria War Reverses Trend in Battle Deaths

UCDP battle deaths to 2012The latest battle-deaths data, for 2012, have arrived from the researchers in Uppsala, Sweden, and the news is bad. With the civil war in Syria killing tens of thousands last year, the world total battle deaths jumped up about 70%, reversing the downward trend of recent decades, though not reverting to the high fatality levels of the Cold War years.

The big picture here is a long-term decline of armed conflict worldwide from the World Wars (a hundred times worse than today) to the Cold War proxy battlefields (several-fold worse than the post-Cold War era) to the most recent decade of fewer and smaller civil wars and generally no interstate wars. The Syria spike in 2012 marked the highest battle fatalities since the Eritrea-Ethiopia war ended in 2000. Since then, war deaths had been bouncing along at historically low levels, with some ups and downs. Other than the one-sided clashes of the U.S. coalition with Iraq in 2003 (several weeks) and of Russia with Georgia in 2008 (five days), the world has not had an interstate war since the early months of this century. Maintaining the taboo on interstate war is a prime imperative as the crises in Syria, and elsewhere, threaten to get worse.

There was a similar spike in battle deaths in 2009 when the bloody, brutal end of the Tamil Tigers insurgency in Sri Lanka pushed up the worldwide total. But that spike was smaller than the 2012 one, and lasted only two years before dropping down again. Syria might (or might not) go on for a lot longer than two years.

It is important to understand that the “battle deaths” measure is a partial estimate of total war deaths. Although it includes both military and civilian deaths, only those from violence are counted—be it a gun battle, air strike, or suicide bombing—and only those that occur in the context of a battle, where two sides are attacking each other. So, for example, a government massacre of peaceful protesters would not be included, nor would the many people who disappear and whose bodies show up dumped in the street (or never show up). Disease and starvation among refugees also are not counted, and only verified deaths are included.

The Syria battle-death total for 2012 was about 15,000—clearly just a subtotal of the war’s cost, but a useful subtotal for tracking change through time. That 15,000 was up from 1,000 in 2011, and was almost double the annual battle deaths in Sri Lanka in 2008 and 2009. It was higher, per year, than either Iraq or Afghanistan at their worst (of course, they lasted for years and we have yet to see about Syria). It is possible the Syria number reflects in part a greater effort by several parties to document deaths in the war, compared with other armed conflicts around the world. But in my view this effect does not explain most of the striking rise in deaths.

Other than Syria, 2012 showed few changes from 2011. Battle deaths in Afghanistan remained around 7,000; those in Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Pakistan each fell between 1,000 and 3,000; and those in Iraq were below 1,000. Other low-level armed conflicts sputtered along in Sudan, Nigeria, Turkey, Burma/Myanmar, D.R. Congo, southern Russia, South Sudan and Pakistan (in decreasing order of battle deaths, all between 300 and 1,200). The world total for 2011 was 23,000, and it increased in 2012 to 38,000.

Fundamentally, we don’t know the answer yet to the big question:  Is the 2012 spike the start of a sustained reversal of the declining war trend, back to the bad old days of the Cold War? Or is the 2012 spike like the 2009 spike but higher and longer-lasting, namely a temporary jump in war that reverts in a few years to a low world battle deaths level (and perhaps future temporary spikes)?

The most worrisome aspect of the Syria war is its potential to spread geographically and potentially spark much larger armed conflicts. Already low-scale but lethal violence has jumped borders into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. Currently, the Syrian government receives weapons and soldiers from Iran and from the Lebanese Shi’ite militia Hezbollah, a client of Iran’s. Meanwhile the Syrian rebels receive weapons from Qatar, a Sunni emirate right across the Gulf from Shi’ite Iran, and the Sunni Islamist fighters in Syria receive volunteers, weapons, and money from various foreign populations, notably Sunni areas of Iraq. If that weren’t bad enough, the old superpowers, America and Russia, are also lined up on opposite sides. One reason for the high battle deaths of the Cold War era was that outside weapons and money on both sides kept proxy wars going for years. This could all too easily happen in Syria.

Because there are so few good options to improve the situation in Syria, media and public attention tend to drift away from the issue. That is a mistake.

Unfortunately, the international community failed, earlier in the conflict, to use the United Nations effectively as the powerful tool that it could be.  Because Americans (public and officials) underestimate the potential of the UN, we do not put enough effort into using that potential. In October 2011, the Syria problem came before the Security Council. I thought the great powers should find what they agree on and pass a resolution to enact it. That would have meant deep compromises to get Russia on board. But it would have brought the Syria problem within the UN where the great powers could exert influence to contain and manage the problem.

Instead, the U.S. administration, in an exception from its generally solid foreign policy record, pushed an anti-Assad resolution that guaranteed a Russian veto. Then we passed a similar resolution in the General Assembly by a huge margin, having absolutely no binding effect but embarrassing Russia when few countries sided with it. The United States thus deftly used the Syria crisis to show how bad Russia is, and demonstrate the moral superiority of America and its allies. U.S. and western officials declared fervently that Assad must go. This may all be true, but it did not help the Syria people one bit. And when China took Russia’s side in the UN, the attempt to isolate Russia more or less failed too.

Now, so many months and so many deaths later, the United States is trying to get on the same page with Russia to work out some kind of solution in Syria.  It is vastly harder now. It still needs to be tried.

One point of my work on the decline of war is that the continuation of the recent trend is not inevitable. There is an ever-present potential for a reversal. What happens in the coming years will depend on the choices that people make. We’ve made some bad ones about Syria. But now the job of making the best of a bad situation is vitally important for the entire world, before Syria’s lethal wildfire intensifies and spreads along the Sunni-Shi’ite divide and beyond.

 

[Data source:   UCDP Battle-Related Deaths Dataset v.5-2013, Uppsala Conflict Data Program, www.ucdp.uu.se, Uppsala University.]

Benghazi — Truth vs. Politics

Call me old-fashioned but I still believe that truth and falsehood exist; that with some effort a nation’s policymaking and political establishment can determine one from the other; and that any nation that fails to do so when it comes to foreign policy — with such huge stakes and so many lives on the line — puts itself in mortal danger. I guess it’s my Realist streak.

Once upon a time, and here I reveal how old I am, American foreign policy managed, not always but often, to rise above politics. There was this quaint concept called the “bipartisan consensus” with its poetic mantra, “Politics stops at the water’s edge.”  The many erroneous or wrong-headed policies of the time generally came out of ignorance, especially of new developments in a changing world, rather than willful disregard of facts. It took a while to realize that nuclear weapons were not just very big artillery shells, that Vietnam was not the same kind of war as WWII, and that China and the Soviet Union might both be communist but not necessarily allied, for instance.

In the past decade or so, however, facts and truths seem to have gone out of style altogether. Partisan politics drives everything. Foreign policy discussions play out without questioning the underlying assumptions even when the latter are totally unfounded. And this is not happening just on minor or obscure issues, but the most important ones. When we invaded Iraq (leaving aside whether that was such a bright idea), the number of troops needed to occupy the country could be calculated based on past experiences, such as the forces that successfully kept the peace in the Balkans just a few years earlier. But when the head of the Army, Eric Shinseki, provided that number, the political leadership just pushed him aside and said, oh no, we don’t like that number, we’ll do it with far less. The result was a costly disaster for U.S. foreign policy.

Another example: political leaders and the public assume that levels of violence and threat in the world are increasing, when in fact hard evidence shows the opposite to be true (see my book). As a result, the USA spends more on the military than during the Cold War, spending that is helping drive the country into deep debt and economic malaise. It’s not just that we can’t afford it, but that we don’t need it. Yet political leaders talk on about the need to keep up military spending to face these terrible new threats. And speaking of new threats, our political leaders constantly harp on the threat from a rising China, conveniently forgetting that China has not fought a single military battle in 25 years. Not one. Why? It’s not in their national interest. Do we Americans remember that old concept, “national interest?”

Now comes the latest doomed stand for Truth — the dispute over the attack on our consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Was it a protest against the anti-Muslim video that went wrong and turned violent?  Or was it a premeditated attack by al Qaeda timed for the anniversary of 9/11?  This debate goes on and on and on, the Energizer Bunny of inane foreign policy discussions.  Politicians and media, please just shut up and listen!  We know the answer!  It’s not a debate, it’s not a mystery, and it’s not exactly either of the above stories.

We’ve known the full story for at least six weeks, since New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick published it after interviewing the eyewitnesses and participants in Benghazi. Yes, published it not in a fly-by-night blog or a partisan rag, but in the New York Times. Does anybody read it anymore? “To those on the ground, the circumstances of the attack are hardly a mystery,” he wrote.

And this is what happened:  A local prominent Islamist armed militant group called Ansar al-Shariah has openly operated in Benghazi for some time. They are radical Islamists like al Qaeda, but are focused on local aims, not global attacks on America. “Other Benghazi militia leaders who know the group say its leaders and ideology are all homegrown,” wrote Kirkpatrick. Because Libya does not have good governance yet, after the overthrow of its longtime dictator Moammar Gaddafi last year, there are many of these armed militias roaming around and controlling various territories within the country.

Last September 11, without a thought to the meaning of that date and without prior planning, the members of Ansar al-Shariah watched news coverage of a protest in Cairo against the offensive anti-Muslim video. They became enraged, grabbed their automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, and attacked the American consulate. The hundreds of attackers overwhelmed the defenses and burned the building. U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens was inside and died of smoke inhalation.

In the context of Libya, it was not such a strange action — a similar attack hit the Italian embassy in 2006 after a perceived Italian insult to the prophet Mohammed. But it did not in any way represent the Libyan people. After the attack, Libyans in Benghazi who realized they’d lost a great friend in Ambassador Stevens were outraged at Ansar al-Shariah, marching on its headquarters and throwing its members out.

Was it a terrorist act? Sure. A protest gone wrong? No. Was it a premeditated attack timed to 9/11? No. A spontaneous reaction to the video? Yes. An al Qaeda plot? No. Mysterious and complicated? No!

And by the way, what does any of this have to do with our UN ambassador Susan Rice, who repeated CIA talking points on Sunday talk shows (points that had omitted references to Ansar’s phone calls, in which they bragged to their ideological cousins in “al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb” [North Africa], so that Ansar wouldn’t know we’re listening in)?

Author Tom Ricks (The Generals) went on Fox News recently and offered that  the Benghazi story had been “hyped” by Fox. They booted him off the air instantly. Ricks has also been making the media rounds in the wake of the Petraeus sex scandal, arguing that we should assess generals based on how well they fight wars, not their private lives. (His take is that Petraeus was a good general but that the same can’t be said for a lot of our other top brass who led us through Iraq and Afghanistan.)

Personally I’m ready to lay off the sex scandals, the political talking points, the ideological certainties, and have an adult conversation about some big issues our country faces. Like the war that’s still going on in Afghanistan. Like the defense budget. Like the Arab uprisings in Libya and across the region that have left unstable places groping their way toward democracy and prosperity. Unstable places where maybe an ambassador gets killed trying to help — but that’s not even the main point. Let’s start from facts and look to the big picture.

The world’s first published Realist was the Chinese military advisor Sun Tzu in ancient times (The Art of War). His idea of the best general was not the one who had the good character to resist sexual temptation, nor the most brave or aggressive one, nor the most cautious one. It was the general who could cooly calculate the costs and benefits of each course of action. And realize the other side was doing the same thing.

Costs and benefits. National interest. Fact-based assessments. Bipartisan consensus. These are the best elements of Realism, a school of thought that has many deficiencies but some enduring strengths as well. I’m not a Realist overall, but we could use a dose of it right now.

Michael W. Doyle — Democratizing World Politics

 [By Michael W. Doyle. Part of the series “Global Challenges in 2030”  (Goldstein & Pevehouse), January 2010.]

World politics has often been said to be a dangerous “jungle.” But are its dangers a product of the absence of a world policeman or the presence of rapacious state “beasts”? The most sensible answer is, surely, both. But while global governance tends to focus on creating new rules for the “jungle,” we should not neglect reforming the “beasts.” Indeed, one transformation that appears to have long-run prospects for reforming world politics into a much more governable world is changing the character of states: democratic liberalism.

Democratic liberalism embodies constitutional government, representative institutions, minority protections, human rights, and roles for private property and civil society. It is one of those great 19th-century revolutions, together with nationalism and industrialism, that is still transforming world politics. These revolutions began in Western Europe and have swept outward with revolutionary effects. Democratic liberalism grew from the handful of constitutional regimes in the early 19th century to more than 60 spread around the world today.

“Democracy is … a vital source of transformation with enormous upside and downside potential.” These citizens celebrate the narrow victory of the opposition presidential candidate in 2009 in Ghana, one of Africa’s few stable democracies.

Democratic liberalism is still a revolutionary idea. Its positive effects are profound and extensive, as this partial list suggests:

• It promotes peace and mutual respect among democratic peoples. For two centuries, democracies that are committed to the ideal of individual liberty and endowed with well-established constitutional governments have tended to maintain, and likely will continue to maintain, a reliable peace with each other.

• Democracy, at higher levels of participation, promotes human rights and decreases state repression. It also serves to protect the mass of a population from state indifference during a natural disaster, thus reducing the danger of large-scale famine.

• It tends to foster economic growth. Although there is no appreciable direct effect, democracy not only does not harm growth (as some have charged), it has robust, positive, indirect effects by increasing human capital (education, etc.), lowering inflation, reducing political instability, and enlarging economic freedom—all of which are positively associated with economic growth.

• Expanding the democratic franchise tends, overall, to reduce economic inequality as politicians respond to the majority’s demand for greater welfare. Being a democracy, however, is no cure-all. The very international respect for individual rights and shared commercial interests that establish grounds for peace among liberal democracies establishes grounds for additional conflict in relations between liberal and nonliberal societies, as they do in U.S.-Russian and U.S.-Chinese relations today. Liberal internationalism is no recipe; it needs constant, prudent vigilance to avoid crusades and misguided interventions. Liberal Britain, France, and the United States have been among the most expansionist empires, sometimes producing order and progress and at other times fostering chaos, oppression, and war. The “liberation” of Iraq is only the latest in these costly adventures.

Nor is becoming a democracy a cure-all. Globally, every step toward more democracy within countries reduces the chances of both international and civil war. That is the good news. But the good news needs to be qualified: where the rule of law and public institutions are weak, politicians will be tempted to use violence to achieve and hold office.

Democracy is thus a vital source of transformation with enormous upside and downside potential. The question remains: how to foster the first and avoid the second?

First, we need to avoid a repeat of the Bush administration’s “forced democratization.” Following the Iraq fiasco, it is unlikely to be repeated soon, but the ethical and practical lessons still need to be absorbed. Selfgovernment
should mean authentic “self” government, not laws and regulations imposed by foreigners, even if well-meaning. Democracy is not only government “for” and “of,” it is also government “by” the people. Unless the people see themselves as a people, are prepared to pay taxes, defend their borders, and abide by majority rule, democracy is not sustainable.

Second, we should also avoid attempts to replace the UN with leagues of democracies. It is a strategy of democratic association likely to do more harm than good. Few if any of the world’s major challenges can be met by dividing democratic sheep from nondemocratic goats. Effective trade negotiations and effective arms control need to include all the world’s major producers that are prepared to abide by agreed rules, whether they are democratic or not. Refusing to negotiate and shunning a potential Gorbachev or a new De Klerk is
not the best way to win their confidence.

Democratic transformation is best fostered peacefully. It spreads by good example, by incentives and assistance. Promoting democracy is best done indirectly through trade, investment, and foreign aid. These can help diversify societies. Diversified growing societies tend to demand responsive governance over the long run. Among the most powerful weapons in the arsenal for international democratic transformation—the shock troops of democratization—are students, tourists, and business investors.

For direct promotion, multilateral assistance is particularly useful because it frees the recipient organization from the taint of foreign control. The recently established UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF) has an especially significant role in this endeavor. Authorized at the 2005 World Summit in a unanimous General Assembly resolution, it distributes about $30 million per year, predominantly to civil society organizations who apply for a grant to promote measures such as voter education and mobilization.

Strategies like these are the best prospects for expanding the zone of peace among fellow democracies and reaping the benefits of democratization.

 

MICHAEL W. DOYLE is the Harold Brown Professor of International Affairs, Law and Political Science at Columbia University. Professor Doyle is currently one of the Secretary-General’s personal representatives and the chair of the board of UNDEF. These comments do not necessarily reflect the views of UNDEF, its donors, or the UN.

Andrew Moravcsik — Affirming Democracy in International Organizations

[By Andrew Moravcsik. Part of the series “Global Challenges in 2030”  (Goldstein & Pevehouse), January 2010.]

Are international organizations undemocratic? Many activists, politicians, and political scientists believe that globalization and global governance are reducing citizens and their elected politicians to rubber stamps. Decisions are made behind closed doors by networks of unelected diplomats, technocrats, and judges. Neither individual citizens nor national parliaments exercise meaningful oversight. Yale law professor Jed Rubenfeld has contrasted international organizations that are “bureaucratic, diplomatic, technocratic—everything but democratic” with the U.S. Constitution’s “process of popular deliberation and consent.”

In the United States, international organizations elicit complaints from left and right alike. Conservatives criticize activist lawyers, judges, and NGOs for seeking to import interventionist foreign standards—the death penalty, global warming standards, and gay rights—without running the gamut of the normal legislative process. Progressives worry about the unchecked influence of corporate interests, which appear to use multilateral organizations such as the WTO to protect profits at the expense of social, health, safety, and  environmental standards.

Many Europeans share sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf’s view that internationalization “invariably means a loss of democracy.” The European  Union’s recent and contentious effort to promulgate a “constitution” was launched in order to bring it “closer to its citizens” and provide “better  democratic scrutiny.” Yet the impression of illegitimacy was bolstered by referendum defeats in France, the Netherlands, and Ireland before a  watered-down version finally passed in 2009 as the Treaty of Lisbon.

“Even in the European Union, the world’s most ambitious international institution, around 90% of lawmaking remains under national control.” French laws mainly govern the owner, crew, and cargo of this barge passing the European Parliament building in Strasbourg.

Critics propose two remedies.  “Sovereigntists” would reassert national  sovereignty, reinforce  domestic control, and block multilateralization of  new issues. “Cosmopolitan democrats” would establish elections, parliaments, and other popular democratic institutions at the global and regional levels. While these criticisms seem intuitively plausible, closer scrutiny reveals important counterarguments.

National institutions impose tight control over international organizations. National governments decide most important questions by consensus,  affording each member government a role in either approving or blocking an action. In nearly all bodies, international officials remain weak and secretariats are small. Each government remains responsible to its population in accordance with domestic law. Citizens in democratic societies can reward or punish their governments for the decisions they take in international organizations, just as they would for any other decision. Issues such as payment of UN dues in the United States, compliance with IMF programs in Argentina, or ratification of a new EU constitution in Britain spark spirited domestic debates.

International institutions expand the scope of democratic choice. In an increasingly interdependent world, the advancement of one country’s national interest increasingly depends on policies adopted by foreign governments. If citizens wish to defend themselves against external enemies, set an effective environmental standard, or protect human rights at home, they must increasingly do so in cooperation with foreigners. International cooperation offers governments a chance to exchange unilateral policy discretion at home for expanded influence over the policies of foreign governments, thereby realizing vital domestic policy objectives that would otherwise be unachievable. A blanket refusal to delegate authority to multilateral institutions, as sovereigntists recommend, would not only be self-defeating, but would also arbitrarily restrict national democratic choice.

International institutions can improve domestic democratic processes. International institutions may be distant, but critics of multilateralism go to the opposite extreme: They idealize local democracy. National elections and other forms of political representation often contain serious biases and flaws, which international institutions can help correct. Even in European countries, where human rights standards are well established, international courts have imposed higher human rights protection in matters such as the death penalty, gay rights, and the right of asylum. Many international institutions help promote democracy. The WTO helps overcome special interest dominance of unilateral trade policy making.

Governments reserve the issues most salient to voters to themselves. Even in the European Union, the world’s most ambitious international institution, around 90 percent of lawmaking remains under national control. These include the most salient issues to citizens: taxing and spending, social welfare provision, health care, pensions, education, law enforcement, local infrastructure, and defense spending. Even at home, we often choose to delegate issues handled by international institutions—such as human rights protection, financial and regulatory policy, nuclear proliferation—to more independent and expert officials and judges. This is as it should be.

If international decisions remain under tight democratic control, why are multilateral institutions so widely perceived as “undemocratic”? In part, this perception reflects the relative unfamiliarity of such institutions and the latent nationalism of publics. But also, many criticisms of “undemocratic” international organizations are advanced by those who are seeking a rhetorical edge in domestic debates about the content of specific decisions. At least critics seem equally divided. The fact that such criticisms appear to come equally from both the left and the right suggests that international organizations are doing something right.

 

ANDREW MORAVCSIK is Professor of Politics and International Affairs, and Director of the European Union Program, at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School. He has authored over 100 academic publications on European integration, transatlantic relations, international organizations, global human rights, international relations theory, and Asian regionalism. He is Non-Resident Senior Fellow of the Brookings Institution, Contributing Editor of Newsweek magazine, and Book Review Editor (Europe) of Foreign Affairs magazine. His policy experience includes service as an international trade negotiator for the U.S. Department of Commerce, special assistant to the Deputy Prime Minister of the Republic of Korea, and assistant in the press office of the European Commission.

Charli Carpenter — Securing the Seas

[By Charli Carpenter. Part of the series “Global Challenges in 2030”  (Goldstein & Pevehouse), January 2010.]

Forget Johnny Depp. Real-life maritime piracy is no laughing matter. According to the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), 78 vessels were boarded and 39 hijacked worldwide in the first half of 2009—an increase of nearly double from the previous year. Unlike the pirates of yore, today’s sea bandits use satellite technology to track their prey; sneak up alongside ships in speedboats; are armed with machine guns, rocket launchers, and grenades; and board vessels with grappling irons. Once aboard, pirates plunder or ransom cargo and terrorize crews.

All kinds of ships—yachts, freighters, cruise ships, supertankers—fall victim to attack. In 2008, a Ukrainian cargo ship laden with Russian tanks, ammunition, and other military equipment was captured by pirates and later ransomed for $3.2 million. Humanitarian shipments to famine-ravaged lands are favorite targets off the Horn of Africa, meaning piracy is not just bad news for maritime crews and arms merchants but also for hungry civilians—not to mention the entire system of international trade, since 90 percent of what consumers use travels by water. And there are significant concerns about the connections between piracy and international terrorism.

“Ultimately, action at the global level is necessary to protect shipping lanes and empower legitimate international actors to stamp out piracy.” Here, Turkish commandos in 2009 arrest pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Commentators have different views as to what drives this problem: grinding poverty that makes piracy look like easy money, technological changes that make it easy for non-state actors to take on states and corporations, the collapse of state governance in many parts of the world. But an important contributing factor is the simple lack of global coordination to address the problem. States are responsible for policing their coastlines, but much piracy occurs on the high seas—outside of any one state’s jurisdiction. Because the  oceans are a radically transnational, ungoverned space, no one state has the power or authority to quell piracy on its own.

Governments acting in concert in specific contexts have shown that maritime piracy can be controlled. Four years ago, the Straits of Malacca were the most dangerous shipping lanes in the world. Then a coordination regime between Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore reduced piracy markedly. But piracy hotspots move. At the same time that piracy declined in South Asia, it spiked off the Horn of Africa as marauders sought a more lawless region to ply their
trade. A coalition of 45 nations is now policing East Africa. But Somalia is not the only hotspot today: piracy remains a problem in South Asia and off the
coast of Nigeria.

Ultimately, as with other global problems, a global response is required. Unfortunately, no international organization exists whose responsibility is to protect shipping lanes globally or punish offenders once caught. The UN has no global police force, and was primarily designed to prevent territorial aggression among middle powers, not solve transnational security threats. In fact, the UN Charter is part of the problem: ships on the high seas cannot  legally pursue pirate boats into the territorial waters of sovereign countries. On a case-by-case basis, the UN Security Council can authorize exceptions to this rule, but this approach has not worked well in Somalia, partly because governments also need to be required to do the actual policing. And Security Council resolutions regarding Somalia cannot be transplanted to other  contexts.

The international community is also missing global rules about how to punish or deter piracy. As a crime of universal jurisdiction, piracy on the high seas is in theory punishable by any state that captures a pirate. But such trials are rare: no country wants to set a precedent for trying pirates in domestic courts, and be faced with a backlog from others bringing their own captured pirates to its jurisdiction. The International Criminal Court offers a potential venue for trying and punishing pirates, but at present its jurisdiction includes only the other universal jurisdiction crimes—genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

Given this political and legal vacuum, shippers are fending for themselves these days with acoustic weapons and private security personnel, in some cases arming merchant crews in their own self-defense. But these remain band-aid solutions—and they create additional risks to human life and  maritime security. Ultimately, action at the global level is necessary to protect shipping lanes and empower legitimate international actors to stamp out  piracy.

International institutions have been created to solve other global problems: nuclear proliferation, ozone depletion, pandemic disease. What might a “regime” for combating piracy look like? Whatever the means chosen, governments will need to seriously rethink the governance of the ocean over the next two decades if they are to stem the rising tide of high seas brigandry.

 

CHARLI CARPENTER teaches international relations at the University of  Massachusetts-Amherst, and blogs about war law and human security issues at Duck of Minerva and Current Intelligence. She is the author of Innocent Women and Children: Gender, Norms and the Protection of Civilians (Ashgate  Publishing, 2006).

John Gerard Ruggie — Governing Transnational Corporations

John Ruggie photo[By John Gerard Ruggie. Part of the series “Global Challenges in 2030”  (Goldstein & Pevehouse), January 2010.]

The international community is still in the early stages of adapting the human rights regime to provide more effective protection to individuals and communities against corporate-related human rights abuses—sweatshop conditions in factories supplying branded global firms; communities forcibly displaced for the benefit of oil and mining companies’ installations; food and beverage firms found with seven-year-old children toiling on their plantations; or collaboration with paramilitary forces accused of killing labor organizers.

Business is the major source of investment and job creation, and markets can be highly efficient means for allocating scarce resources. They constitute powerful forces capable of generating economic growth, reducing poverty, and increasing demand for the rule of law, thereby contributing to the realization of a broad spectrum of human rights. But markets work optimally only if they are embedded within rules, customs, and institutions. Indeed, history teaches us that markets pose the greatest risks—to society and business itself—when their scope and power far exceed the reach of the institutional underpinnings that allow them to function smoothly and ensure their political sustainability. This is such a time, and escalating charges of corporate-related human rights abuses are the canary in the coal mine signaling that all is not well.

Cocoa plantation photo

“The governance gaps created by globalization . . . provide the permissive conditions for wrongful acts by companies of all kinds.” This 14-year-old from Mali works on a cocoa plantation in Ivory Coast in 2001, providing cheap labor to multinational corporations selling chocolate globally.

The root cause of the business and human rights predicament today lies in the governance gaps— between the scope and impact of economic forces and actors, and the capacity of societies to manage their adverse consequences—created by globalization. These governance gaps provide the permissive conditions for wrongful acts by companies of all kinds without adequate sanctioning or reparation.

Thus, the legal rights of transnational corporations have been expanded significantly over the past generation. This has encouraged investment and trade flows, but it has also created instances of imbalances between firms and states that may be detrimental to human rights. The more than 3,000 bilateral investment treaties currently in effect are a case in point. While providing legitimate protection to foreign investors, these treaties also permit those investors to take host states to binding international arbitration, including for alleged financial damages resulting from the implementation of legislation to improve domestic, social, and environmental standards—even when the legislation applies uniformly to all businesses, foreign and domestic. A European mining company operating in South Africa recently challenged that country’s black economic empowerment laws on these grounds.

At the same time, the legal framework regulating transnational corporations operates much as it did long before the recent wave of globalization. A parent company and its subsidiaries continue to be construed as distinct legal entities. Therefore, the parent company is generally not liable for wrongs committed by a subsidiary, even where it is the sole shareholder, unless the subsidiary is under such close operational control by the parent that it can be seen as its mere agent. Furthermore, despite the transformative changes in the global economic landscape generated by offshore sourcing, purchasing goods and services even from sole suppliers remains an unrelated party transaction in which the buyer is not legally liable for acts conducted by the supplier. Factors such as these make it exceedingly difficult to hold the extended enterprise accountable for human rights harm.

Each legally distinct corporate entity is subject to the laws of the countries in which it is based and operates. Yet states, particularly some developing countries, may lack the institutional capacity to enforce national laws and regulations against transnational firms doing business in their territory even when the will is there, or they may feel constrained from doing so by having to
compete internationally for investment. Home states of transnational firms may be reluctant to regulate against overseas harm by these firms because the permissible scope of national regulation with extraterritorial effect remains poorly understood, or out of concern that those firms might lose investment opportunities or relocate their headquarters. To attract investments and promote exports, governments may exempt national firms from certain legal and regulatory requirements or fail to adopt such standards in the first place.

And what is the result? A study I have conducted surveyed allegations of the worst cases of corporaterelated human rights harm. They occurred, predictably, where governance challenges were greatest: disproportionately in low-income countries; in countries that often had just emerged from or still were in conflict; and in countries where the rule of law was weak and levels of corruption high.

How to narrow and ultimately bridge these global and national governance gaps in relation to human rights is a fundamental governance challenge for the 21st century.

 

JOHN GERARD RUGGIE is the Berthold Beitz Professor in Human Rights and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government; Affiliated Professor in International Legal Studies, Harvard Law School; and Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Business and Human Rights.