Thursday, 28 April 2011

BBC News: Beijing 'back-sliding on rights'

BBC News brings news that a top US diplomat has accused China of "back-sliding" on human rights, after two days of dialogue in Beijing....
Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner said he had raised the subject of the recent crackdown on dissidents and lawyers in China. But he said that no headway was made when specific cases such as that of detained artist Ai Weiwei were raised.

A Chinese spokesman said that US should not use human rights issues to interfere in China's internal affairs. Rights groups say the most extensive government crackdown on dissent in years is taking place. Government critics including lawyers, bloggers and activists have been targeted.

The BBC's Michael Bristow, in Beijing, says that some believe China has launched this crackdown because it fears unrest similar to that taking place in the Middle East and North Africa. Others believe that politicians looking to be promoted in next year's leadership reshuffle are trying to show how tough they are.

Mr Posner said that the two sides had "tough" discussions about issues "deeply" concerning to the highest levels of the US government. "In recent months we've seen a serious back-sliding on human rights, and a discussion of these negative trends dominated the human rights dialogue," he said.

He said that he had raised cases of several prominent dissidents, such as artist Ai Weiwei - a government critic who has not been seen since his arrest as he tried to board a plane to Hong Kong. The authorities say they are investigating him for "economic crimes".

"On that case, we certainly did not get an answer that satisfies," he said. "There was no sense of comfort from the response or the lack of response." He also raised cases including that of missing lawyer Gao Zhisheng and Liu Xia, the wife of imprisoned Nobel Peace laureate Liu Xiaobo, who is under house arrest.

The two sides also discussed the issues of Tibet and Xinjiang, both areas where minority groups seeking greater autonomy from China exist.

Mr Posner said the issue could harm bilateral ties. "Human rights is an essential feature of what we do, and so to the extent that there are serious human rights problems, those problems become an impediment to the relationship," he said.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said both sides "had frank and thorough exchanges on issues of mutual concern." "At the same time we oppose the United States using human rights to interfere in China's internal affairs," he added.

Guardian: Sweatshops are still supplying high street brands

The Guardian in its Poverty Matters blog today reveals the shocking results of a recent survey on sweated labour in a number of key developing nations:

More than a decade after sweatshop labour for top brands became a mainstream issue, the problem still seems endemic across the global clothing and footwear sector

Marks and Spencer's, Next, Ralph Lauren, DKNY, GAP, Converse, Banana Republic, Land's End, Levi's. And so the list of brands go on and on. What do they all have in common? According to a deeply depressing report (pdf) by the International Textile Garment and Leather Workers' Federation (ITGLWF), the factories in Asia contracted to make their products are still responsible for shocking working practices.
More than a decade after sweatshop labour for high street brands became a mainstream issue, and after plenty of companies have instituted monitoring of their supply chains, the problem still seems endemic right across the global clothing and footwear sector.

Many of the factories supplying the brands likely to dominate the Olympics in 2012, such as Adidas, Nike, Slazenger, Speedo and Puma, "are routinely breaking every rule in the book when it comes to labour rights", according to the ITGLWF.
The list of brands ultimately sourcing from the 83 factories surveyed in the report is so comprehensive, it seems to make a mockery of the whole idea that the high street has cleaned up its act.
Factories in three countries – the Philippines, Indonesia and Sri Lanka – were surveyed, and not one of them paid a living wage to their combined 100,000-strong workforce. Many of them didn't even pay the legal minimum wage. What the report also makes clear is that this is a gender issue: 76% of the surveyed workforce are women. Globalised supply chains exploit predominantly female labour. It's an irony that probably escapes most of the women who do the bulk of high street shopping in the west. Women shopping for products made by other, underpaid, exploited, women.
What's more, the survey suggests that things are getting worse, not better. Do take the time to read the whole piece - and think about wherw you're spending your money on the High Street.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Gareth Evans: Hypocrisy and War (R2P)

Gareth Evans, former Australian Foreign Minister and author of Responsibility to Protect, writes usefully, eloquently and at length on the principles behind R2P in an article syndicated today (text follows—and yes, you should read it!):
All the world hates a hypocrite. When states preach virtues they do not practice, or set lower hurdles for allies, trading partners, or co-religionists than they do for others, irritation and non-cooperation are the least they can expect. International policymaking is a hardheaded, cynical business, but tolerance for double standards has its limits.

Russia discovered that when it invoked the “responsibility to protect” doctrine to try to justify its 2008 invasion of Georgia. Democracy promotion by the United States and the European Union generates ridicule when it extends only to elections producing winners found palatable, as Gaza’s vote for Hamas in 2006 did not. Nuclear-weapons states keep learning the hard way that strengthening the non-proliferation regime is a tough sell when they drag their feet on disarmament.

And the invasion of Iraq in 2003 is a gift that keeps on giving to the world’s malcontents: embracing the Security Council only when you get your way, but ignoring or undermining it when you don’t, is no way to promote a cooperative rule-based international order.

But in the real world, how consistent is it possible to be in responding to genocide and other mass atrocities, treaty breaches, border violations, or other serious trespasses against international law? To demand that every case that seems to look alike be treated alike might set the bar impossibly high, and certainly runs the risk of becoming hostage to critics – like those who attack the intervention in Libya – who assert that if you can’t act everywhere, you shouldn’t act anywhere.

The hardest cases, always generating the strongest emotions, involve the coercive use of military force. Why strike in Libya but not in Darfur – or in Yemen, Bahrain, or Syria? If military intervention in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire were correct decisions, why wasn’t the Iraq invasion in 2003, given Saddam’s many crimes? What credence can the responsibility to protect have when we know that however bad things get in Tibet, Xinjiang, or the Northern Caucasus, military action against China or Russia will always be off limits?

Former US President George W. Bush famously did not “do nuance.” Nor do most of the world’s foreign-policy pundits. But nuance is exactly what is required. And there are tools for applying it in the five tests of legitimacy for the use of force – in any context, not just mass atrocity crimes – recommended by former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the High Level Panel he appointed to advise the 2005 World Summit on reforms to the global security system.

These guidelines have not yet been formally adopted by the General Assembly or the Security Council, and remain only background noise in current international debates. But their practical utility, combined with long philosophical pedigree, justifies much greater visibility.

The first test is seriousness of risk: Is the threatened harm of such a kind and scale as to justify prima facie the use of force? The risk of an imminent civilian bloodbath was as real in Benghazi and Abidjan last month as it was in Rwanda in 1994. By contrast, there was no such imminent risk in Iraq in 2003, though there certainly had been a decade and more earlier for the country’s northern Kurds and southern Shiites.

The current situations in Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria are on the cusp: ugly, but smaller in scale and perhaps retrievable by pressure short of military action (of which the US and its allies could usefully apply much more).

The second test is whether the primary purpose of the proposed military action is to halt or avert the threat in question. Libya passes, as would most other recent cases: had oil – or regime change – been the primary motivation, the Arab League and the Security Council would never have endorsed military intervention. Russia, by contrast, found it hard to find any takers for its assertion that civilian protection was the primary rationale for its South Ossetian adventure in 2008.

The third test whether every non-military option has been explored and found wanting. Libya again followed the textbook: Resolution 1970 applied targeted sanctions, an arms embargo, and the threat of prosecution at the International Criminal Court to concentrate Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s mind on civilian protection. Only when that failed did Resolution 1973 embrace the military option. In Iraq in 2003, lesser options had far from run their course, which is arguably true now in Bahrain, Yemen, and Syria.

The fourth test is one of proportionality: Are the scale, duration, and intensity of the proposed military action the minimum necessary to meet the threat? As military stalemate looms in Libya, there will be a growing temptation to stretch the UN’s legal authority – and the moral and political support that goes with it – to the breaking point, and NATO is now close to that line. It must not cross it if it wants to preserve its own credibility, and the world’s capacity for intervention in similar conscience-shocking cases.

The final, and usually toughest, legitimacy test attempts to balance the consequences: Will those at risk be better or worse off? This was always the showstopper in Darfur: any attempted invasion of Sudan would have been disastrous for the two million displaced people, and would have re-ignited the country’s even deadlier north-south conflict.

This test explains the effective impunity of China, Russia, or any other major power; however badly it behaves internally, any attempted invasion would trigger a much larger conflagration. Resolving Libya’s agony will take more than military action. But, as in Côte d’Ivoire, it is hard to argue that the use of force will cost more lives than it will save.

Steering a course between double-speak and necessary selectivity is hard. But, when examined against the right criteria, cases that initially look alike are often very different. Even when they’re not, a higher principle surely comes into play. When our common humanity is under threat, even if we can’t do everything we should, shouldn’t we at least do what we can?

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Economist: The case against globaloney (globalisation)

Schumpeter in this week's The Economist has an interesting article pointing up—and reviewing positively—the imminent publication of an important new book on globalisation by one Pankaj Ghemawat. Entitled World 3.0, the newspaper characterises its thesis: "At last, some sense on globalisation":
Geoffrey Crowther, editor of The Economist from 1938 to 1956, used to advise young journalists to “simplify, then exaggerate”. He might have changed his advice if he had lived to witness the current debate on globalisation. There is a lively discussion about whether it is good or bad. But everybody seems to agree that globalisation is a fait accompli: that the world is flat, if you are a (Tom) Friedmanite, or that the world is run by a handful of global corporations, if you are a (Naomi) Kleinian.

Pankaj Ghemawat of IESE Business School in Spain is one of the few who has kept his head on the subject. For more than a decade he has subjected the simplifiers and exaggerators to a barrage of statistics. He has now set out his case—that we live in an era of semi-globalisation at most—in a single volume, “World 3.0”, that should be read by anyone who wants to understand the most important economic development of our time.

Mr Ghemawat points out that many indicators of global integration are surprisingly low. Only 2% of students are at universities outside their home countries; and only 3% of people live outside their country of birth. Only 7% of rice is traded across borders. Only 7% of directors of S&P 500 companies are foreigners—and, according to a study a few years ago, less than 1% of all American companies have any foreign operations. Exports are equivalent to only 20% of global GDP. Some of the most vital arteries of globalisation are badly clogged: air travel is restricted by bilateral treaties and ocean shipping is dominated by cartels.

Far from “ripping through people’s lives”, as Arundhati Roy, an Indian writer, claims, globalisation is shaped by familiar things, such as distance and cultural ties. Mr Ghemawat argues that two otherwise identical countries will engage in 42% more trade if they share a common language than if they do not, 47% more if both belong to a trading block, 114% more if they have a common currency and 188% more if they have a common colonial past.

What about the “new economy” of free-flowing capital and borderless information? Here Mr Ghemawat’s figures are even more striking. Foreign direct investment (FDI) accounts for only 9% of all fixed investment. Less than 20% of venture capital is deployed outside the fund’s home country. Only 20% of shares traded on stockmarkets are owned by foreign investors. Less than 20% of internet traffic crosses national borders.
And what about the direction rather than the extent of globalisation? Surely Mr Friedman (author of “The World is Flat”) and company are right about where we are headed even if they exaggerate how far we have got? In fact, today’s levels of emigration pale beside those of a century ago, when 14% of Irish-born people and 10% of native Norwegians had emigrated. Back then you did not need visas. Today the world spends $88 billion a year on processing travel documents and in a tenth of the world’s countries a passport costs more than a tenth of the average annual income.

That FDI fell from nearly $2 trillion in 2007 to $1 trillion in 2009 can be put down to the global financial crisis. But other trends suggest that globalisation is reversible. Nearly a quarter of North American and European companies shortened their supply chains in 2008 (the effect of Japan’s disaster on its partsmakers will surely prompt further shortening). It takes three times as long to process a lorry-load of goods crossing the Canadian-American border as it did before September 11th 2001. Even the internet is succumbing to this pattern of regionalisation, as governments impose a patchwork of local restrictions on content.

Mr Ghemawat also explodes the myth that the world is being taken over by a handful of giant companies. The level of concentration in many vital industries has fallen dramatically since 1950 and remained roughly constant since 1980: 60 years ago two car companies accounted for half of the world’s car production, compared with six companies today.

He also refutes the idea that globalisation means homogenisation. The increasing uniformity of cities’ skylines worldwide masks growing choice within them, to which even the most global of companies must adjust. McDonald’s serves vegetarian burgers in India and spicy ones in Mexico, where Coca-Cola uses cane sugar rather than the corn syrup it uses in America. MTV, which went global on the assumption that “A-lop-bop-a-doo-bop-a-lop-bam-boom” meant the same in every language, now includes five calls to prayer a day in its Indonesian schedules.

Mr Ghemawat notes that company bosses lead the pack when it comes to overestimating the extent of globalisation. Nokia, for example, spent years trying to break into Japan’s big but idiosyncratic mobile-handset market with its rest-of-the-world-beating products before finally conceding defeat. In general companies frequently have more to gain through exploiting national differences—perhaps through arbitrage—than by muscling them aside.

This sober view of globalisation deserves a wide audience. But whether it will get it is another matter. This is partly because “World 3.0” is a much less exciting title than “The World is Flat” or “Jihad vs. McWorld”. And it is partly because people seem to have a natural tendency to overestimate the distance-destroying quality of technology. Go back to the era of dictators and world wars and you can find exactly the same addiction to globaloney. Henry Ford said cars and planes were “binding the world together”. Martin Heidegger said that “everything is equally far and equally near”. George Orwell got so annoyed by all this that he wrote a blistering attack on all the fashionable talk about the abolition of distance and the disappearance of frontiers—and that was in 1944, when Adolf Hitler was advancing his own unique approach to the flattening of the world.
Clearly, a most interesting publication and one vital to our understanding of this phenomenon—an opportunity to gain some perspective on one of the most characteristic international phenomena of our age.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

WSJ: The New Cold War (Iran and Saudi Arabia)

The Wall Street Journal reports that there has long been bad blood between Iran and Saudi Arabia, but popular protests across the Middle East now threaten to turn the rivalry into a tense and dangerous regional divide:
For three months, the Arab world has been awash in protests and demonstrations. It's being called an Arab Spring, harking back to the Prague Spring of 1968.

But comparison to the short-lived flowering of protests 40 years ago in Czechoslovakia is turning out to be apt in another way. For all the attention the Mideast protests have received, their most notable impact on the region thus far hasn't been an upswell of democracy. It has been a dramatic spike in tensions between two geopolitical titans, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

This new Middle East cold war comes complete with its own spy-versus-spy intrigues, disinformation campaigns, shadowy proxy forces, supercharged state rhetoric—and very high stakes.

"The cold war is a reality," says one senior Saudi official. "Iran is looking to expand its influence. This instability over the last few months means that we don't have the luxury of sitting back and watching events unfold."

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Food prices: World Bank warns millions face poverty

BBC News today carries the current warning from the World Bank that rising food prices, driven partly by rising fuel costs, are pushing millions of people into extreme poverty:
World food prices are 36% above levels of a year ago, driven by problems in the Middle East and North Africa, and remain volatile, the bank said. That has pushed 44 million people into poverty since last June. A further 10% rise would push 10m more below the extreme poverty line of $1.25 (76p) a day, the bank said. And it warned that a 30% cost hike in the price of staples could lead to 34 million more poor.

"More poor people are suffering and more people could become poor because of high and volatile food prices," said World Bank president Robert Zoellick. Mr Zoellick was speaking before IMF and World Bank spring meetings later this week.
The World Bank says prices of basic commodities remain close to their 2008 peak, with the prices of wheat, maize and soya all rocketing. The only exception is rice, which has fallen slightly in price in the past year.

The bank suggests a number of measures to help alleviate the impact of high food prices on the poor. They include encouraging food-producing countries to ease export controls, and to divert production away from biofuels production when food prices exceed certain limits.

Other recommendations include targeting social assistance and nutritional programmes to the poorest, better weather forecasting, more investments in agriculture, the adoption of new technologies - such as rice fortification to make it more nutritious, and efforts to address climate change. It also said financial measures were needed to prevent poor countries being subject to food price volatility.

Economist Daily Chart: Lives not Lived

The Economist Daily Chart series features statistics emanating from a recent report in the medical journal The Lancet regarding the numbers of stillbirths currently occurring around the globe:
The past 15 years have seen a substantial drop in the rate of stillbirths. In 2009 the world saw some 2.6m stillbirths, down from 3m in 1995. The average yearly decline of stillbirths over this period was 1.1%, slower than the decline for child or maternal mortality. In the crowded field of global health, ailments must beg for attention. Stillbirths suffer particular neglect. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals fail to track them; countries do so sporadically.
New research, published this week in the Lancet and paid for by the Gates Foundation, tries to fill the void. The global drop in stillbirths also masks a wide variation within countries. A mother in central India is more than three times as likely to have a stillbirth as is a mother in India’s southern state of Kerala. In Britain, black women are twice as likely as white ones to have a baby die during labour. Despite these gaps, the widest differences are between rich and poor countries. Just five countries: India, Pakistan, Nigeria, China and Bangladesh account for more than half of all stillbirths.
The correlation between high rates of poverty and low rates of development is fairly clear, I believe.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Israel warns Iron Dome still at experimental stage

The Guardian, amongst many others (including BBC News, three days ago), has the story - with a video:
The initial success of Israel's Iron Dome missile-defence system has been hailed as an example of "Jewish genius" – but the army insists it is still at an experimental stage. Since 7 April the system has shot down nine rockets fired at Israel from Gaza, although it was unable to stop at least 11 others.

Boaz Ganor, the director of the Institute for Counter-Terrorism said: "It's a technical revolution that shows us what may be possible in the future. The success has been limited by the fact that we only have two batteries, but it has proven itself accurate and efficient."

The Iron Dome consists of three units: a missile-tracking radar, a control centre and a missile-firing unit. The moment a rocket is launched its trajectory is relayed to the control centre, which decides whether it will land in an open or built-up area. If the rocket threatens a densely populated area a missile is fired at it.

The world first became aware of the possibilities of missile defence during the Gulf war in 1991. US Patriot missile batteries in Israel and Saudi Arabia appeared to be successful at eliminating scud missiles fired by Iraq. In fact, the system was far less effective than it appeared and subsequent analysis estimated it had a success rate of about only 10%.

During the Iraq war in 2003 the improved Patriots proved more successful against allied aircraft than long-range rockets. Iraq did not fire any long-range rockets and the Patriots downed one British jet and one American jet, killing both crews.

Israel has long been the target of short-range rockets such as the Russian-designed Katyusha, supplied to Palestinian groups in Jordan and Lebanon in the 1970s and 80s. More recently, Hezbollah fired some 4,000 rockets at Israel in the 2006 Lebanon war, killing 44 people.

Israel has developed the Arrow long-range missile-defence system but, after its experience in 2006, the government decided to invest in the Iron Dome system instead. The cost of its development and deployment is estimated at more than £1bn, some of which will be subsidised by the US.

Critics point out that each Iron Dome missile costs about £25,000, while the rockets they eliminate are worth less than a few hundred, which could allow militants to wage economic warfare against Israel. Others suggest it would be easy to fool missile-defence systems with decoys.

"We know that terrorists are elusive and on a learning curve. There is no doubt that this success will challenge them to rethink and fine tune their tactics," said Ganor, "The whole idea of launching rockets at Israel was a response to the failure of other tactics. If Iron Dome proves to be successful, Hamas and Hezbollah will certainly try to think of new methods of attack."

World Bank urges new focus on global development in fragile states

From today's Guardian newspaper:
The World Bank is calling for a new focus in global development efforts towards providing justice, law and order to the estimated 1.5 billion people living in fragile and failed states.

In its World Development Report 2011 (link), the bank warns that one of the biggest threats to development in the 21st century is chronic insecurity caused by cycles of criminal and political violence that defy easy answers.

The report asks: "How is it that, almost a decade after renewed international engagement with Afghanistan the prospects of peace seem distant? How is it that entire urban communities can be terrorised by drug traffickers? How is it that countries in the Middle East and north Africa could face explosions of popular grievances despite, in some cases, sustained high growth and improvement in social indicators?"

Patterns of global violence have changed in recent years, with fewer conventional conflicts between two identifiable sides. The number of deaths from civil wars are only a quarter of what they were 30 years ago. In their place, since the end of the cold war, is what Sarah Cliffe, one of the report's directors, calls more fluid types of violence, often driven by cross-border crime, such as drug trafficking.

"Peace processes in southern Africa and central America have been threatened by criminal violence," Cliffe said. "In Guatemala you have more people dying now from criminal violence and from drug trafficking than you did during the civil war."

In such circumstances, conventional development spending may do little or nothing to improve the situation for ordinary people.

Cliffe said: "The message is that getting the basics in place is crucial. Without a basic functioning justice system, for instance, and an economic stake in society for people, then more sophisticated plans to improve education or health systems or infrastructure tend not to work, because they get undermined by turbulence and instability."

Escaping from repeated cycles of violence in fragile or failed states could take a generation at best, the report argues, but it is possible through the gradual rebuilding of legitimate institutions. It says the priority should be placed on those institutions that provide three crucial ingredients of a stable society: citizen security, justice and jobs.

This means outside assistance is often best provided by specialists in human rights, mediation and policing, alongside traditional humanitarian and development aid workers. The international community has a role in trying to cushion an affected society from the external stress of conflicts on its borders or drug trafficking.

The report cites Ethiopia, Mozambique and Rwanda as countries that have successfully emerged from violent conflict and are making rapid progress towards reducing poverty.

"What we look at in the experience of countries which have gone through these transformations is the emphasis on what it takes to keep the peace during periods of dramatic change," Cliffe said. "It's very much less linked to technocratic approaches to how to build the best schools or dams."

Friday, 8 April 2011

BBC News: Hamas attacks school bus, declares ceasefire with Israel

BBC News has the story of the latest flare up in and around the Gaza Strip, with Hamas militants making a terrorist attack on an Israeli school bus:
Islamist group Hamas says it has brokered a deal for Gaza's militant groups to stop firing on Israel, amid the most serious fighting since 2009. The move comes after militants hit an Israeli school bus with an anti-tank shell on Thursday, injuring two people.

Israeli strikes later that day had killed five people and injured more than 30, Palestinian doctors said. And on Friday, two Hamas men had been killed by an air strike shortly after dawn, the group said in a statement. Another four Palestinians were injured overnight in separate Israeli attacks at Rafah airport, according to Palestinian sources. Israel says it is responding to Palestinian attacks. Earlier, Israel said it had used a new short-range missile defence system for the first time to destroy rockets fired from Gaza. ....
The past month has seen the most serious violence in and around Gaza since Israel's major offensive here more than two years ago, our correspondent adds.
On Thursday an Israeli teenager was critically injured near the Nahal Oz kibbutz when a school bus was targeted by a missile fired by Hamas militants. The 16-year-old boy suffered a serious head wound and was taken to hospital for surgery.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

High-tech warfare: Something wrong with our **** chips today

The Economist provides a new insight into high-tech (post-modern?) warfare in this week's issue:

Kill switches are changing the conduct and politics of war
In the 1991 Gulf war Iraq’s armed forces used American-made colour photocopiers to produce their battle plans. That was a mistake. The circuitry in some of them contained concealed transmitters that revealed their position to American electronic-warfare aircraft, making bomb and missile strikes more precise. The operation, described by David Lindahl, a specialist at the Swedish Defence Research Agency, a government think-tank, highlights a secret front in high-tech warfare: turning enemy assets into liabilities.

The internet and the growing complexity of electronic circuitry have made it much easier to install what are known as “kill switches” and “back doors”, which may disable, betray or blow up the devices in which they are installed. Chips can easily contain 2 billion transistors, leaving plenty of scope to design a few that operate secretly. Testing even a handful of them for anomalies requires weeks of work.

Kill switches and other remote controls are on the minds of Western governments pondering whether to send weapons such as sophisticated anti-tank missiles, normally tightly policed, to rebels in Libya. Keeping tabs on when and where they are fired will allay fears that they could end up in terrorist hands. Such efforts would not even need to be kept secret. A former CIA official says the rebels could be told: “Look, we’re going to give you this, but we want to be able to control it.”
The 'post-modern' ability to control weapons technology by means of kill switches and other devices certainly has its advantages—as the article points out, however, there are also distinct drawbacks. Do take the time to read the entire article.

Is Britain to blame for many of the world's problems?

David Cameron has suggested that Britain and the legacy of its empire was responsible for many of the world's historic problems. But is that view fair?

Answering questions from students in Pakistan on Tuesday 5 April, the prime minister said: "As with so many of the problems of the world, we are responsible for their creation in the first place."

In an article published today, BBC News outlined the views of two academic historians on the controversy (Nick Lloyd, lecturer in defence studies, King's College London and Andrew Thompson, professor of imperial and global history, University of Leeds), as well as opening the debate to readers' comments.

Scientific American: The Evolution of Prejudice

Scientists see the beginnings of racism in monkeys

Scientific American has a thought-provoking article, published Tuesday, that may go some way to explaining human propensity towards racism and prejudice:
Psychologists have long known that many people are prejudiced towards others based on group affiliations, be they racial, ethnic, religious, or even political. However, we know far less about why people are prone to prejudice in the first place. New research, using monkeys, suggests that the roots lie deep in our evolutionary past.
Yale graduate student Neha Mahajan, along with a team of psychologists, traveled to Cayo Santiago, an uninhabited island southeast of Puerto Rico also known as “Monkey Island,” in order to study the behavior of rhesus monkeys. Like humans, rhesus monkeys live in groups and form strong social bonds. The monkeys also tend to be wary of those they perceive as potentially threatening.
To figure out whether monkeys distinguish between insiders (i.e. those who belong to their group) and outsiders (i.e. those who don’t belong), the researchers measured the amount of time the monkeys stared at the photographed face of an insider versus outsider monkey. Across several experiments, they found that the monkeys stared longer at the faces of outsiders. This would suggest that monkeys were more wary of outsider faces. ....
.... Overall, the results support an evolutionary basis for prejudice. ....
There's some good news, however:
The fact that prejudice often occurs automatically doesn’t mean we can’t find ways of overcoming its negative effects. For example, there is evidence that when people are made aware of their automatic prejudices, they can self-correct. And when we are encouraged to take the perspective of an outsider, it reduces our automatic prejudice towards that person’s group.
Given that most of the difficult conflicts we face in the world today originate from clashes between social groups, it makes sense to devote time to understanding how to reduce our biases. But our evolutionary past suggests that in order to be effective, we may need to adopt a new approach. Often we focus more on political, historical, and cultural factors rather than the underlying patterns of thinking that fuel all conflicts. By taking into account the extent to which prejudice is deeply rooted in our brains, we have a better chance of coming up with long-term solutions that work with, rather than against, our natural tendencies.
Not a long article: do read it, to get more details on how the experiment was conducted (quite ingenious!) and what it revealed.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Libya, Côte d'Ivoire: Sarkozy's motives under intense scrutiny

Analysts disagree on what drives France's interventions in Afghanistan, Libya and Ivory Coast

The Guardian today has an interesting article looking at the analyses of possible motivation behind France's new-found urgency to intervene around the world:
As French forces take part in three different wars for the first time in the history of the Fifth Republic, President Nicolas Sarkozy is under intense scrutiny at home and abroad over the motives for his foreign military expeditions.
With 4,000 French troops still in Afghanistan, French warplanes having fired the first shots in the western intervention in Libya, and with French tanks moving through the streets of Abidjan at the climax of Ivory Coast's civil war, there is little doubt that France's relationship with the rest of the world is on a new and more assertive footing.

What is less clear is whether the expeditionary surge is the result of a considered plan or a response to circumstances; whether it is driven by geopolitical factors or domestic political considerations.
An important consideration to make is whether any humanitarian intervention can be entirely altruistic—this article makes a refreshing change from the usual examinations of either American or British motives in foreign intervention. Somewhat predictably, opinion is divided:
At home, Sarkozy has been accused of using war for domestic ends. Mustapha Tossa, a French-Moroccan journalist wrote on the news website "This sudden passion of Nicolas Sarkozy for military operations raises numerous questions: over and above the political explanation that suggests the president of the Republic wants everyone to forget the failings in the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, suspicious voices are raised suggesting he wants to use international [affairs] to conquer what he has lost at home."

Jean-Marie Le Guen, a Socialist MP said: "There is a little bit of [George] Bush in Mr Sarkozy", adding that the president had "a habit of using force before politics without truly taking into consideration the current and future political consequences."

Richard Gowan, an analyst at New York University's Centre on International Cooperation argued, however, that rather than hurtling into a third conflict, Sarkozy had been excessively cautious in Ivory Coast.

"I don't think you can say the French approach has been zealous. The French tried to avoid firing a shot," Gowan said. He pointed out that in 2008, Sarkozy overruled his then foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, who wanted to send troops to eastern Congo. This time, Gowan said, the ghosts of the past could not be ignored.

"However much he might be criticised for acting, the consequences for inaction would have been much worse. To be accused of colonialism is one thing. To be accused of a second Rwanda is quite another."

Why the UN can never stop climate change

For any progress to be made, diplomacy should shift to smaller forums, with achievable goals and focus on adaptation—this is the message of David G. Victor, professor at the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego and author of Global Warming Gridlock: Creating More Effective Strategies for Protecting the Planet (Cambridge University Press).

Writing in Monday's Guardian, Professor Victor reviews the likelihood of any meaningful advance in tackling global warming during the UN summit that opened last Sunday:
On Sunday in Thailand diplomats opened another round of formal United Nations talks on global warming. For more than 20 years, the UN has been working on this problem, with little progress. Expectations have never been lower. The December 2009 conference in Copenhagen that was supposed to finalise a new treaty to replace the expiring Kyoto protocol ended in deadlock. Last year's talks in Cancún ended without agreement on most of the important new issues.
... failure to make progress.... is mainly due to bad strategy. The United Nations forum is the wrong place for serious diplomacy. One of the chief strengths of the UN system – that it involves every nation on the planet – is a huge liability for global warming. By working in large groups, UN talks are often held hostage to the whims of even small players – as happened in Copenhagen and Cancún when Sudan and Bolivia and a few other nations whose emissions of warming pollution are tiny. The UN system has also relied on legally binding agreements, which sound good in theory yet have proved difficult to tailor and adjust in light of the many different interests that must be reflected in any serious international pact to control emissions.
Professor Victor makes three suggestions: 1. that discussion should only take place in small forums that involve only the larger countries; 2. shift focus of discussions to that which is really achievable; and, 3. talks must shift from focusing exclusively on controlling emissions to dealing with the reality that lots of climate change is inevitable....

Read his opinion piece in full in order to review his suggestions in more detail. It all sounds very sensible! Meanwhile, the professor succinctly-stated views help to document reasons why tackling climate change is / has been so difficult—grist to our examination mill!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Telegraph: UN air strikes show West's new appetite for military action

An article published yesterday in The Telegraph by NY correspondent Jon Swaine demonstrates that any textbook is only truly up-to-date on the day it is submitted to the publisher:
The UN air strikes in Ivory Coast suggest Libya was no fluke: the West's appetite for military action has recovered robustly from the diplomatic trauma of the Iraq war.

After a brief honeymoon following the successful mission to protect Kosovo in 1999, it seemed the Blairite era of "liberal interventionism" had been buried along with tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians.
The chaos after the steamrollering of the UN Security Council by Tony Blair and George W. Bush in 2002-03 seemed likely to usher in a new period of isolationism.
Barack Obama swept to power in 2008 on a wave of anti-war sentiment, while David Cameron entered Downing Street last year insisting that the West "can't drop democracy from 40,000ft".
Yet the past three weeks have found the council – this time with a less noisy Anglo-American wing – willing to pass stunningly powerful resolutions allowing missile strikes against murderous leaders.
Both resolution 1973 on Libya and resolution 1975 on Ivory Coast give external forces the authority to take "all necessary" measures to protect civilians from violence – practically a carte blanche.
A Western diplomat at the UN last night said the resolutions showed members were taking seriously the "Responsibility to Protect" doctrine, adopted in 2006, promising "timely and decisive action" against atrocities.
"TV pictures and the threat of humanitarian catastrophe have made people not want to wait for massacres to happen, as in Rwanda," he said, in language strikingly reminiscent of the Blair-Clinton era.
The diplomat said that crucial in both cases had been the endorsement of action by the respective regional authorities – on Libya, the Arab League and on Ivory Coast, Ecowas and the African Union.
"It's very difficult if you're Russia or China to say 'no' if the Arabs and the Africans themselves are saying 'yes'," he said.
Also important has been the belligerence of Paris. The site of the Chirac-era "Non!" has become gung-ho, ensuring military – and symbolic – backing from the European mainland.
While Mr Obama has stayed almost invisible, the domestically embattled Nicolas Sarkozy has taken personal "ownership" of both interventions, rushing out his statements before anyone else.
It may not last. "There will be a price to pay for rushing these things through," the diplomat said. "The Indians are very unhappy and agreed only reluctantly."
But for the time being, the "something must be done" attitude of the late 1990s – and talk of a single-willed "international community" – has made a surprise return to New York's Turtle Bay.

UN (and France) move to stop another bloodbath in Ivory Coast

Humanitarian intervention seems to be firmly back on the agenda these days—first NATO and a few Arab partners in Libya, now France and the UN working together in the Ivory Coast. The Independent this morning has a convenient summary of developments overnight:
The United Nations and France joined the offensive to dislodge Ivory Coast's presidential pariah Laurent Gbagbo last night, launching air strikes against forces loyal to the man who has refused to cede power after losing an election.

The battle for Abidjan took on an unprecedented international aspect as the UN responded to days of attacks against its peacekeepers by stretching its mandate to protect civilians to the maximum with a show of force. ...
... In what appeared to be a premeditated move to support the forces of Mr Ouattara, France quickly authorised its military to join in the UN campaign. Last night, the attack was intensified with rockets fired at targets close to Mr Gbagbo's official residence in Abidjan.

Ivory Coast's rival presidents have been locked for days in a violent stand-off in the commercial capital, with hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped amid the fighting.

The sudden escalation came after diplomats in New York confirmed warnings by the UN's special representative to Ivory Coast, Choi Young-jin, that peacekeepers were planning to use "air assets" to fire back at Gbagbo forces who have wounded 11 UN personnel in recent days.

An especially strongly worded resolution passed last week by the UN Security Council condemned "in the strongest terms the recent escalation of violence throughout the country which could amount to crimes against humanity". The unanimous resolution also stressed the Council's "full support" for the UN peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast "to use all necessary means to carry out its mandate to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence... including to prevent the use of heavy weapons against the civilian population."
 Read the rest of the article in an effort to gain good insight into this developing current example of outside intervention motivated by humanitarian concerns.

Saturday, 2 April 2011

BBC News: Ivory Coast: '800 die in Ivory Coast ethnic violence'

It seems that the Ivory Coast is on the verge of fulfilling the UN's definition of the scene of 'major conflict' (1,000+ deaths per annum) as fighting in the West African state this week claims over 800 fatalities, according to respected sources. BBC News has the story and video coverage:
At least 800 people are reported to have been killed in the Ivory Coast city of Duekoue this week, as rival forces continue to battle for power.

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) staff visited Duekoue and said the scale and brutality of the killings were shocking.

The city was captured by fighters supporting UN-recognised president Alassane Ouattara this week.

His forces have ringed Laurent Gbagbo's troops in the main city, Abidjan.

Mr Ouattara was internationally recognised as president after winning a run-off vote in November, but Mr Gbagbo also claimed victory and refused to leave office.
Do read the rest, providing insights into what promises to be one of the bloodiest conflicts of the year—and Africa's 'other war' (Ivory Coast does not get nearly as much media attention as Libya).

BBC News also has a convenient Q&A page regarding the "Second Ivorian Civil War".