Thursday, 31 October 2013

MIDDLE-EAST: The Diffusion of Power

Despite the surface froth, the Middle East has been frozen in place for the last few months. Nothing of consequence has happened in Egypt since General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's military coup and the blood clearing of the Rabaa sit-in.  Syria's civil war remains the grinding, destructive stalemate which was inevitable the moment the revolution morphed into an insurgency. Iran and the United States have made some tantalizing diplomatic moves, but nothing tangible has changed.

The key structural feature shaping today's Middle East, it seems to me, is the dissolution of power.  During the early days of the Arab uprising, this could be seen in the fall of long-ruling leaders and the surge of popular protests against the old order. But those uprisings have failed to create any enduring new regimes, and the power of popular movements has dissipated into sectarianism, political polarization, and -- in the worst cases, such as Egypt -- capture by the state.

This power fade can be seen at every level, though: the international system, where American struggles have not been matched by the rise of any competing power; the regional system, which lacks even a single serious great power; domestic politics, where almost all states suffer from institutional incompetence;  political movements, where old organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood are on their heels but no new alternatives have emerge. The diffusion of power to do anything constructive lies behind the political paralysis which seems to beset every Arab country today and the strategic floundering of almost every regional player.

The diffusion of power isn't necessarily a bad thing, of course. Arab states for decades had far too much power, which they used to ruthlessly repress and control their citizens and to maintain a highly unpopular regional order. Nobody should seriously mourn the problems these states now face in controlling the flow of information or ideas.

More people in the region will celebrate declining American power than will mourn it. But, as Libya and Yemen so painfully demonstrate today, a basic functional state which provides security, predictability, and legitimate governance is a necessary condition for politics. The absence of power also means that endemic problems will not be solved -- from unemployment to sectarian violence to the Syrian civil war.

Start at the global level. For all the brave talk about continuing American potential, it's pretty obvious that Washington has vastly reduced capability -- and not only willingness -- to engage deeply in the problems of the Middle East.  The refusal to intervene in Syria is not simply a matter of President Obama's gum-chewing indifference.  It is rooted in a deeply and widely held, bipartisan public opposition to any new military adventures in the region, grim opposition from an exhausted and wary Pentagon, the growing internalization of Iraq's painful lessons, and disillusionment with the failures of the Arab uprisings and the Libya intervention.

Invocations of the need for bolder leadership by the administration's critics ring hollow in the absence of any serious alternative policies to back up the louder words. A United States that couldn't even keep its own government open for weeks is going to retrench in the Middle East because it has little choice to do otherwise.

This does not mean, however, that American unipolarity has given way to some other familiar balance of power.  There is no rising power poised to grab the throne. Russia's more active diplomacy in the region is a mirage, backed by no economic, military, political, or cultural appeal. China has shown no interest or ability in playing a more active role beyond securing energy supplies from anyone and everyone. Europe remains largely irrelevant, whether on its own or as its constituent countries, and is hardly rising. 

America's necessary retrenchment is not matched by any real loss in relative power, then, which is why it has not been produced anything like the declinist panics which used to erupt during the Cold War.  The American-constructed and American-backed regional architecture is rusty and creaking, but nobody is stepping up to try to build a new one.

Moving to the regional level, the power vacuum is even more obvious.  There is arguably not a single great power remaining in the region.  The states traditionally at the core of Arab power politics -- Egypt, Syria, and Iraq -- are all flat on their backs, torn by political failure and societal division and unable to play any kind of meaningful role.

Qatar learned the limits of buying loyalty through unlimited cash, influencing mass publics through al-Jazeera and working with Islamist networks. It suffered a fierce regional backlash from competitors in the Gulf and resentful forces in the targeted countries which probably contributed to the deposing of the emir and his foreign policy mastermind. Saudi Arabia wants to lead a reinvigorated alliance of Gulf Cooperation Council states and weak, dependent allies such as Jordan and Egypt. But its failures in Syria have already shown the limits of its money and sectarian incitement, and its bid for regional leadership is likely to follow the same trajectory as Qatar's.

Nor are the non-Arab states in the region looking much more like real great powers. Turkey's bid for regional leadership, which seemed so promising (at least in Ankara) a few years ago, crashed and burned over Syria and domestic discontent. 

Iran's economic crisis and diplomatic isolation have taken their toll; the "resistance" identity it deployed so effectively in the mid-2000s has evaporated and few Arabs today look to Tehran for leadership. Israel exercises little influence or appeal, huddled behind its real and virtual security walls as it eyes Iran and the United States suspiciously and passively watches the prospect of a two-state solution with the Palestinians fade away.

The power failure is even more graphically clear at the level of domestic politics.  Almost every state in the region is suffering from some degree of debilitating state incapacity, political gridlock, and governance failure.  The most obvious examples are the countries which struggle to stand up any state at all.  In Libya, militias gleefully kidnap the prime minister to prove the state has no monopoly on the legitimate means of violence. Yemen's state, always weak, has largely ceased functioning for much of the country, and rising southern separatism puts its territorial integrity at risk.   No Syrian government, whether Assad or a post-Assad transitional government, is likely to be able to reassert any serious state control over a shattered country dominated by increasingly entrenched local armed groups.

These pathologies impose real limits the ability of leaders who want to reinstate semi-authoritarian regimes.  Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has demonstrated profoundly autocratic instincts and a desire to centralize control during his seven years in power.  But the Iraqi state has never recovered from Saddam's predation or the destructive shock of American occupation and civil war.


The region's non-transitional states may look better off, but this is only a matter of degree.  Jordan's and Morocco's monarchs are just hanging on.  Even the most secure Gulf leaders are so shaken that they have to jail poets and Twitter jokers. The most insecure, such as Bahrain's, are ordering more canisters of tear gas than they have citizens. And Saudi Arabia is projecting regional power from an increasingly shaky internal position and an impending leadership transition.  Even the most robust of the remaining Arab states are unable to stop their citizens from protesting.  The return to repression is a sign of their deep weakness and lack of legitimacy, not a sign of new power.

Meanwhile, new popular movements have proven themselves far better at protest than at politics.  There are vanishingly few examples of these protest movements making an effective transition to political parties, robust civil society or sustainable models of positive political engagement. Egypt's Tamarod represents the worst possible trajectory, depoliticizing and neutering popular movements by harnessing them to the interests of the state.

This power diffusion permeates almost every available diplomatic initiative.  The Geneva 2 conference for Syria, if it even happens, is handicapped by the long-standing difficulty of pulling together any representation for the Syrian opposition which could actually negotiate in their name and enforce any subsequent deal. 

The struggling, weak Palestinian Authority would be hard-pressed to deliver on its end even if a deal could against the odds be reached in the current talks with Israel.  Yemen's National Dialogue seems disconnected from developments across the country.  This may explain the relative enthusiasm for the diplomacy with Iran, where there is at least the possibility of a competent government which might be able to make and deliver a deal.

What, if anything, can be done about the pathologies associated with this diffusion of power at all levels? For one, the response should most assuredly not be the passive acceptance of renewed authoritarianism in the name of stability.  Whatever the conditions which might have in the past made dictators stable, they no longer exist -- and Washington backing them will be a losing bet, whether in Cairo, Baghdad, Damascus, or Riyadh.

At the same time, the United States is going to have to work with local partners to pool scarce resources if it hopes to get anything done on security, diplomacy, or political reforms.  The problem of alliance management which this tension creates is likely to only get worse as we move towards difficult periods in almost every key regional crisis zone.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
Researcher at ''De Montfort University''

Photo-Credit: AFP-Map of the Middle East

WORLD-ECONOMY: Why Free Trade?

Free trade has for a decade been languishing among many more interesting, global issues. This is wrong, because free trade might just be one of the best ways to help the world foster economic prosperity and development.

Yet recently, free trade has been getting more attention. British Prime Minister David Cameron has rightly put free trade on the top of his G8 agenda. And in past weeks, the EU and the US were going to continue their negotiations in Brussels towards a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. This however had to be postponed due to the US administration shutdown.

But why free trade? David Cameron explained in the run-up to the past G8 summit that comprehensive free trade “could boost the income of the whole world by more than $1 trillion.” As it turns out, this is likely a serious understatement.
We wouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel
The classic argument for free trade points out that specialization and exchange benefits everyone, because goods are produced by the countries that specialize in those goods and produce them most efficiently. The standard World Bank models show that realistic free trade would, even just by the end of this decade, increase global GDP by several hundred billion dollars per year, with perhaps $50 billion accruing to the developing countries. Towards the end of the century, the annual benefit will likely exceed Cameron’s $1 trillion annually, with half of that going to the developing world.

But a growing number of academic studies now show that the free trade story goes much further than simple specialization. History shows that open economies grow faster. Good examples include South Korea from 1965, Chile from 1974 and India from 1991 onwards, which all saw their growth rates increase significantly after liberalization (although in Chile’s case it also involved an unwelcome military dictatorship). Even modestly freer trade helps domestic markets become more efficient and get supply chains better integrated. At the same time trade transfers knowledge, which spurs innovation. Free trade means we don’t all have to reinvent the wheel over and over again.

This is perhaps best captured in a recent state-of-the-art literature review by Professor Kym Anderson for the Copenhagen Consensus Center. Anderson, one of the World Bank’s lead modelers, shows that the long-run benefits from even a modestly successful Doha free trade round would be vast. The annual GDP, when compared to a no extra free trade scenario, would in 2020 be about $5 trillion larger, with $3 trillion going to the developing world. Towards the end of the century, slightly higher growth rates will have accumulated to benefits exceeding $100 trillion annually, with most of it going to the developing world. By then, benefits would add about 20% annually to the developing world GDP.

Even the much more modest EU-US free trade agreement would cause an impressive impact. A recent study conducted by Bertelsmann Foundation shows that EU GDP would increase 5 percent as a consequence of transatlantic free trade, with the German economy growing 4.68 percent. Across sectors, 160,000 additional jobs would be created in the German labor market only. Wages would almost universally increase, with the low-skilled workforce profiting most (+0.9%).

It is hard to imagine that any other policy would generate more prosperity and development in the world. Compare this to the common promise to fight global warming. Even if political leaders could be successful – which they have not been in the past – economic models show that they would only avoid a fraction of one percent of GDP damages towards the end of the century. An outcome much less beneficial, much less achievable and likely but with an astonishingly higher price tag.

While the benefits of global free trade seem so starkly obvious to the world, it is also clear that vested interests, especially in agriculture, fight for their privileges. About 40 percent of government expenditure on global subsidies goes to agriculture. Despite farmers comprising only a very small proportion of the population in developed countries, agricultural interests seem to have a stranglehold over OECD governments to keep their $252 billion in annual support.

Protecting inefficient agriculture from competition may seem politically convenient but it has huge costs. It means higher food prices, which harms consumers. And it ignores one of the most amazing opportunities to grow the developing world and ensure development.
A monumental legacy for politicians
Yet, there are many reasons why we need to get farmers and others off subsidies. Even with austerity, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy makes up the biggest share of the EU budget, costing 363 billion euro between 2014 and 2020. The upcoming US farm bill might waste $950 billion over the next decade. Here, our politicians should take the creative and courageous steps necessary.

For example, they could compensate entrenched interests for their losses over the next decade or two, while it phases out subsidies and other trade distortions. This cost would run to another $50 billion per year globally, but would be a miniscule price to pay for the benefits yielded by free trade – for every dollar spent, the world would see much more than a hundred dollars of long-term growth benefits.

Kick-starting not only the transatlantic but also the global free trade agenda would be an ambitious and monumental legacy for our current politicians. The vast majority of the world’s people would benefit from free trade – not just today but also tomorrow. We have the opportunity to help the world’s poor, and ourselves, if we can just muster the courage.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP- This year G8 Free Trade Summit photo-Canada Prime MinisterStephen Harper, FRench President Francois Hollande & US President President Barack Obama

U.S.-GERMANY: NSA Scandal & Washington Talks

German diplomats have traveled to Washington to express anger over surveillance of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's phone -- but they have yet to make headway. The Obama administration seems "almost helpless" in the face of continued leaks.

Both groups sit together in a conference room of the White House for about 90 minutes. On one side are a half a dozen members of the European Parliament. Facing them is an equally-sized American delegation.

The agenda is full of issues that have become day-to-day business in trans-Atlantic relations: the scandal surrounding US monitoring of Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone, NSA espionage and accusations of spying. They're all uncomfortable topics that diplomats of allied nations usually prefer to keep quiet about.

But shortly before the meeting's end, the Americans appear to look inward. How should we proceed, they ask contemplatively. The US government representatives honestly looked like they didn't know what to do. And they left no room for doubt that more spying revelations are to be expected. The odd exchange is an accurate reflection of the environment in Washington.

The White House appears uncertain of how to respond to the almost weekly barrage of embarrassing spying scandals, most of them arising from the trove of secret NSA documents leaked by former agency contractor Edward Snowden. The tradition of silence is broken and trans-Atlantic relations are facing a new test. Both sides confront each other on intelligence infringements.

US representatives have made repeated accusations that Germany has also spied on Americans. The Washington Post reported on a case from 2008 when the BND, Germany's foreign intelligence service, inadvertently sent American officials a list of 300 phone numbers belonging to US citizens and residents -- raising suspicions that the numbers had been tapped.

A former deputy secretary of homeland security under President George W. Bush also described French and German intelligence agencies as "good" at spying on American officials. And US National Intelligence Director James Clapper on Tuesday testified before Congress that European allies are guilty of the same kind of spying that the US does.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel sent a delegation to the White House on Wednesday to address the cell phone monitoring, intending to send a clear signal of disapproval and demand concrete promises of change, like a mutual no-spying agreement akin to the "Five Eyes" pact that covers the US, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. But the meeting produced no announcement of any concrete agreements.

There is an impression of some kind of power struggle going on in the United States between civil rights advocates and defenders of the intelligence services. It remains to be seen if the current situation indeed amounts to a power struggle. What is clear is that the stakeholders involved -- the NSA, the White House and individual members of Congress -- are all following their own strategies, inevitably leading to tension in Washington.

NSA director Keith Alexander's brash performance before Congress was principally aimed at reassuring his own colleagues, as the NSA comes under increasing pressure. Alexander isn't going to allow the Germans, the Europeans or even the president turn him into a scapegoat.

However by Wednesday, Alexander took on a more conciliatory approach. Alluding to the Merkel cell phone scandal, he said that limiting some NSA programs may become necessary because, "in some cases the partnerships are more important." Alexander's tactic seems to be providing a show of strength while at the same time leaving the door open to future changes of course.

President Obama now seems willing to end alleged surveillance of allied leaders, carefully distancing himself from the intelligence services. Obama's inner circle has let it be known informally that the president learned of the surveillance only this summer, and ended it immediately. However members of previous administrations, chiefly that of George W. Bush, have been quoted in the press contradicting this version of events, claiming that Obama must have known about the surveillance earlier.

All the while, new details of NSA activities are constantly being revealed. The "Washington Post" reports that the NSA gained access to Google and Yahoo networks, an allegation which NSA director Alexander flatly denied. "I can tell you factually we do not have access to Google servers, Yahoo servers," he said, adding that any access would come through a court order.

The NSA is now suddenly coming under pressure from Congress, whose members had largely ignored the Snowden revelations until recently. Democrat Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, criticized the intelligence community with unusual force and called for a "total review of all intelligence programs." The following day, Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, and Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican, introduced a bill aimed at curtailing the NSA's ability to collect telephone metadata.

It increasingly seems that the Obama administration is no longer playing the lead role in the investigation of the surveillance scandal. Instead, the debate about NSA surveillance is being taken up by Congress and the media.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP-French President Francois Hollande & German Chancellor Angela Merkel

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

EUROPE: Spain out of Recession & The Crisis still on

In August, it was good news for southern Europeans countries when it was confirmed that the Eurozone came out of its long recession in the second quarter of this year- expanding by 0.3 percent.
And today the first green shoots of recovery in the Spanish economy have been officially confirmed. According to the National Office of Statistics, Spain has recorded 0.1 percent growth – the economy’s first expansion in nine quarters.

Strong exports have helped Spain edge into positive ground, though with demand at home still depressed, sustainable growth that creates jobs may remain elusive for years. Compared to labor-heavy sectors such as construction or services, export create few domestic opportunities and with more than one in four out of work, the recovery will ring hollow for many. Unemployment is still stubbornly high and Madrid hopes the jobless rate has already peaked at 26.3 percent.

Although the Eurozone emerged from recession in the second quarter of 2013, with the single currency area’s GDP increasing by 0.3 per cent, ( the situation has improved) , a closer look at the economic data would suggest reason for caution.

The root cause of Europe’s sovereign debt crisis may not have been excessive public spending, but rather a divergence between wages in sheltered sectors (largely in the public sector) and the manufacturing (export) sectors in European economies, which affected states’ external competitiveness. Until this problem is solved any recovery is likely to be short lived.

There’s a lot of talk of the Eurozone crisis abating. In that story, austerity and structural reforms have done their job, current account deficits have been reduced or disappeared altogether, and countries such as Spain are now more competitive than France, while Ireland is ready to go back to the markets and leave the umbrella that the European rescue package offered the country.

Some point out, bitterly, that the collapse of demand in the ‘peripheral’ economies of the Eurozone is the main reason why current accounts have become more balanced, killing off imports, but nonetheless accept that something positive has happened. Link that to the ECB’s policy to do whatever it takes and the permanent rise of the euro against the dollar and the pound – a sign of confidence by international financial markets – and the optimism seems to have firmer roots than the pessimists thought half a year ago.

Things have started to go better for the euro, it is because the euro area’s external position has improved quite substantially: EMU now has a trade surplus of the order of 2.5 per cent of GDP against the rest of the world, and things have moved a bit within the Eurozone on the back of that. But fundamentally not much has changed. The case of Spain.

Competitiveness would improve if two conditions were met: one, if costs in the sheltered sector in Spain (adjusted for productivity) grew at a rate that was considerably slower than in the sector that is exposed to trade; two, if costs, including wages, in the Spanish export sector (shorthand for tradables, ie. exposed) grew, again adjusted for productivity, at a slower pace than those of their main trading partners in the same sectors. And that has not happened, he claims, or at least not enough.

In a recent LEQS paper co-authored with Alison Johnston and Suman Pant from Oregon State University, we analyse, in all EMU member states and a few outside, the divergence in wages (expressed in unit labour cost terms, ie. adjusted for labour productivity) between sheltered sectors (primarily the highly unionised public sector) and the manufacturing (export) sector in the run-up to the crisis of EMU.

Those countries that ended up in serious trouble around 2010 all had a massive divergence between these two wage developments, while the others did not. Where trouble emerged, public sector wage growth translated into a higher aggregate price level, which became a problem for external competitiveness.

The export sector, then, was incapable of controlling wages in the public sector through laws or other forms of coercion, was unable to compensate for inflationary pressures by raising its own productivity while moderating wages, or failed because of institutional weakness, low productivity traps or simply its relatively small size. The result: a collapse in relative competitiveness and a massive current account gap.

EU policymakers say it is premature to say the Eurozone’s crisis is over and call on governments to press on with the painful reforms that can return business dynamism to the bloc, beyond the expected improvement in the third quarter. And if we are right in our understanding of where the roots of the problem lie, then the crisis of the euro is far from over.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
World Affairs Analyst

Photo-Credit: AFP-Spain Economy Unemployment Photo

EUROPE-U.S.: The End of Transatlantic Relationship

When EU leaders agreed last Friday that Paris and Berlin would talk to Washington about the latest revelations of spying by the U.S. National Security Agency, it was a sign of Europeans’ growing frustration with the transatlantic relationship.

The United States has always spied on its allies. But the extent of recent snooping—allegedly grabbing data on 70 million French telephone calls per month and even listening in on German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone—seems entirely excessive. It’s as if the United States believes Europeans are enemies and potential terrorists rather than friends and allies.

Trust among allies has eroded to the extent that it might finally dawn on both Europeans and Americans not that the old transatlantic relationship is in need of fixing—but that it is over. Building a new one will present enormous challenges for U.S. and European foreign and security policy.
Trust between both sides never was that deep.

In the aftermath of World War II, the transatlantic relationship was built on necessity; it was rarely questioned. The Cold War ensured that this bond, built on the American security guarantee for Western Europe, was kept intact. Remarkably, when the ideological struggle with the Eastern bloc ended with the collapse of the Berlin Wall almost twenty-four years ago, the transatlantic relationship at first continued as if nothing had really changed.

What finally shook both sides out of their complacency were the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. For Americans, those events were a collective shock that galvanized public opinion into supporting a ruthless war on terror. The Europeans’ political and emotional support, though genuine at first, evaporated quickly as the full scope of the war on terror became known.

The administration of former president George W. Bush prosecuted that war relentlessly, sending soldiers into Afghanistan and Iraq while also involving some of America’s European allies in renditions. And while the administration of President Barack Obama brought home American troops from Iraq and is withdrawing from Afghanistan, the war on terror continues. It is the ideological nature of this struggle that is straining relations between Europeans and Americans.

On the face of it, the first obvious problem is the continuing existence of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp. That has sullied America’s reputation for decency and upholding civil liberties, as Obama himself has acknowledged. Yet in spite of many declarations of goodwill, he has not yet closed down the camp.

The use of drones is another issue that causes strife between the United States and its European allies. The massive and nontransparent use of drones against suspected terrorists, which is supported by over 65 percent of Americans, has damaged Washington’s reputation in Pakistan and Yemen, but also in Europe.

European leaders know full well that drones are a part of the future military kit—and can replace boots on the ground and limit risks to troops. But without clear and transparent rules for their use, European publics will not support such use for military missions. Those guidelines would have to apply to NATO as well, once the alliance begins using drones. But even those two issues are not enough to explain the end of the post-1945 transatlantic relationship. The most important cause is the fact that both sides of the Atlantic have completely different perceptions about the threats they face.

The U.S. National Security Strategy pulls no punches about how it views the threats facing the country. When you read the disparate strategic reviews of the EU’s member states, you rarely get the same sense of a country being menaced.

The fact that most EU leaders don’t see any need for a European security strategy shows that that they have shut their eyes to this issue: they want to discuss neither the idea of threats, nor how they should deal with them, nor how they might anticipate them. It is this complete discrepancy in the perception of threats on the two sides of the Atlantic that marks the difference from the Cold War. Yesterday’s feelings of solidarity and kinship are no longer sustained by a common perception of the outside world.

So what can be done to establish a new modus vivendi? In the short term, very little. European leaders are too divided to agree on which threats to take seriously. Nor do they know what kind of new relationship they want with the United States. Above all, they don’t want to acknowledge that the post-1945 bargain is over. As for the Obama administration, which is increasingly distancing itself from Europe, it has yet to decide if the relationship is worth rebuilding.

Yet the longer both sides dither, the greater the opportunity for drift and misunderstanding. Russia, China, and other authoritarian countries will relish the eclipse of the post-war Western liberal order. Surely, that is not in the interests of people on either side of the Atlantic.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
World Affairs Analyst

Photo-Credit: AFP-European Leaders: German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron, last Friday in Brussels

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

GREAT BRITAIN: Britain's European Union Review

The UK government’s announcement in July 2012 that, as agreed at the insistence of the Conservative Party as part of the 2010 Coalition Agreement, it was to conduct a full review of the EU’s involvement in British life, has now reached its half way stage. In July 2013 the government published six reviews: health, taxation, the single market, animal health and welfare and food safety, development cooperation and humanitarian aid, and foreign policy. A total of 32 reviews will be published by the autumn of 2014.

Each review follows a similar format: first explaining the historical development of the area reviewed; second, assessing the current situation; third, asking what the UK’s national interest is in the area; and finally exploring what options there are for going forward, such as repatriation of powers. The reviews avoid making recommendations, their intention being to inform the political decision that will follow the review. Each draws on evidence submitted in writing or taken in person at a range of meetings. While 26 reports are still to be published, it is already clear that for academics the review can open up to analysis a variety of issues in current British and international politics.

For students of how the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition is operating, the political management of the review, its origins and eventual use offer a way of examining how the three groups that shape the government on this issue – Liberal Democrats, the strongly Eurosceptic parts of the Conservative Party, and the less Eurosceptic parts of the Conservative party – approach an issue that deeply divides them. Accusations by John Redwood, a strongly Eurosceptic Conservative MP, that the review is turning into a whitewash shows how it may be seen by some Eurosceptics. Given the depth of such tensions it remains to be seen whether the review will last the course. Nevertheless, both its political outcomes and its use as an instrument for managing such a deep political tension will be a focus for studying the operation of Britain’s first post-1945 coalition government.

It is, of course, nothing new for a government to use a technical, in-depth inquiry to neutralise a sensitive issue. This review, however, will have presented unique challenges for Whitehall, thanks to its implications for coalition relations, cross-governmental scope, international implications and wider domestic sensitivity.

The review then offers a unique example of officialdom walking the fine line between the political and technical, with the language used in the review, indeed the very bureaucratic sounding name, intended to ensure it runs as a technical and inherently dull activity. So far the reviews published provide a wealth of technical detail. Nevertheless, despite the 390 public submissions I count so far, questions will inevitably be asked about how open, selective and thorough the process has been. If the review is to serve as a central plank to any British renegotiation then the method of the review, and thus the reliability of the approach, will come under significant political, media and academic scrutiny.

The sheer breadth of the 32 reviews in themselves tell us something about the nature of the UK-EU relationship, something Eurosceptics will point to as what they feel is wrong. At the same time, the detail of the review, and to a lesser extent exercises such as the Conservative group ‘Fresh Start’, have provided a welcome injection of detailed evidence based analysis to the debate. This in itself is a radical change given how, as the Leveson Report on Press Regulation made clear, Britain’s media has often resorted to simply making up stories about the EU.

For academic analysis, particular interest will be into how – or if – a technical review shapes final public opinion. Will politicians, the media and voters be swayed by an approach based on the opinions of experts and evidence, or will emotion, gut instinct and made-up stories prevail? And how will the narrow reviews connect to the wider cross-cutting debates about Britain’s political economy, identity, constitution, security and place in the world?

For those interested in how a state identifies its national – or European – interests, the review process opens up the British system, although much remains behind closed doors. The evidence submitted to each review lays bare the competition between private, civil society, international, political and governmental interests that so often shape a state’s views. It shows an EU member state coming to terms with how to balance sovereignty, competing national and sectoral interests, international obligations and membership of the EU.

The reviews specific purpose of informing a possible renegotiated relationship between the UK and EU, one that is to reflect the UK’s national interest, should make it a central point of reference for studying any such attempt. When the history of the 2010-2020 period of UK-EU relations is written it could well be about a renegotiation, an in-out referendum and potentially a withdrawal; events that will have defined so much of UK politics, Britain’s place in the world and an EU changed by a change in relations with one of its largest members. The review will underpin much of this, and be referred back to for guidance should the UK opt to withdraw.

Comparisons have already been made with other reviews intended to propose reforms to the EU, such as the Dutch review. The British review will take its place amongst the many studies and academic reviews of an EU in a state of flux. Academics are in a position to put aside the politics that led other member states to decline involvement in what some see as a unilateral British review. Instead we can examine and assess a review that is amongst the most extensive, well-resourced and organised of any review of EU activity since the 2001-2003 European Convention.

For students of international relations and European integration the review does something we rarely see: a state comprehensively cataloguing the impact on it of the international. Any reading of the reviews also shows how Europeanisation often reflects globalised pressures or wider Western multilateral efforts.

With the EU remaining an organisation of member states, the UK’s experiences can to some extent be extrapolated to other member states. Here the scale of EU involvement in British life might seem to point to some form of downloading or spill-over theory of integration, but the reviews also point to examples where Britain has successfully uploaded or cross-loaded its policy agenda. As Simon Usherwood has noted of the published reviews, that they point to a broadly appropriate balance of competences reflects the complex negotiating system of the EU.

Theoretical debates aside, with the EU in a state of flux the review serves as an exercise of taking-stock of the EU’s development, an entity which remains ''sui generis'' in international relations. That today many in the EU struggle to think of it as an international organisation, which it technically remains, is demonstrated in page after page of the published reviews.

How will academics analyse the review in several years’ time? Will we see it as a futile, politically motivated activity, subsumed into the larger political tensions of the coalition government at a time of heightened tensions between the UK and the EU? Or will we look at both the politics and beyond it to see a review, which while it has its problems, stands as a unique experience for both Britain and the EU, and a unique opportunity for the study of both?

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
Researcher at ''De Montfort University''

Photo-Credit: Wikipedia- British Prime Minister David Cameron

SAUDI-ARABIA: No Women -No Drive

One of the most infamous and well known examples of the Saudi Arabia's government misogyny and religious fundamentalism is the countrywide ban on female drivers. Support for the ban remains strong among more hardliners of Saudi Arabia's society.

The ban on female drivers originated with a ''Fatwa'', a formal legal opinion, and is not encoded in law. In 1991, the nation's Grand Mufti Abd bin Baz argued that a woman driving entails unlawful ''Khalwa'' (being alone with a member of the opposite sex), unveiling the face, careless and free intermixing ( of men and women), and committing adultery, which is the main reasons for the prohibition of these practices. In line with this legal opinion, the kingdom does not issue driving licenses to women, resulting in a de-facto ban.

Last weekend, 60 women in Saudi Arabia got behind the wheel in a rolling protest against Saudi Arabia's ban on female drivers. Although those women are reluctant to call their courageous act a ''revolution'', there is no mistake that despite their small numbers, what those women did is definitely a revolution.

Saudi Arabia’s social code prohibits women drivers. Those female citizens who need transportation also need a male driver. Without the latter, the lone woman who chooses to defy convention can find herself deprived of her liberty, her job, or both.

But to examine why it is that Saudi Arabia prohibits this seemingly minor stab at independence, we first have to analyse what kind of threat driving can pose to its society. One leading Saudi cleric argued that women ran the risk of damaging their ovaries and pelvises when they drove cars, increasing the possibility of giving birth to children with "clinical problems."

But perhaps none of these reasons are more ludicrous than the one charging that female drivers( careless) would increase car accidents.  The Kingdom's actually has one of the planet's worst safety records. Indeed, the biggest argument against the ban could be Saudi drivers' atrociously high road accident death toll, consistently rating among the highest in the world.

According to the most recent World Health Organization figures, Saudi Arabia has the 21st highest road-related death toll in the world, but that number becomes even more exceptional when you look at the group of countries that are faring worse. The countries with the worst fatalities are overwhelmingly low-income countries, with the South Pacific island of Niue registering the highest number.

The fact that a lot of these countries struggle with basic road infrastructure and an inadequate police force to enforce traffic laws makes the number in Saudi Arabia, a wealthy country, even more striking. Saudi Arabia has the highest accident-related death toll among high-income countries.

A 2013 study by the Kingdom's General Directorate of Traffic found that 19 people die per day in traffic-related fatalities in Saudi Arabia, predicting that if current rates continue, by 2030, 4 million people will die annually in a car accident there. The biggest reason for the high rates is simply reckless driving - the report has found in past years that a third of all car accidents in the Kingdom are cause by drivers jumping red lights, and 18 percent were caused by illegal u-turns.

Saudi Arabia has a pretty well-registered case of reckless driving, affected by what commentators call "tufush," a national boredom among the country's young men that stems from chronic unemployment the constraints of ultraconservative social mores. This boredom has reportedly spawned a thriving underground car culture, in which wealthier men drag race high-end cars and lower-class men "drift" cars through traffic.

The scene has led observers to compare the streets of Saudi Arabia to a mix of Death Race and The Fast and the Furious. Of course, the relationship between a culture of reckless driving and the all-male Saudi driver base could be more than coincidental: a recent U.S. study by Quality Planning, a firm that conducts research for insurance companies, found that men were 3.4 times as likely as women to be ticketed for reckless driving and 3.1 more times as likely to get a ticket for drunk driving.

At least sixteen women have been fined for defying the ban on driving in Saudi Arabia in recent demonstrations, but a post on the campaign's Facebook page vowed that women in the country would keep up the protest.  If the current state of driving in Saudi Arabia is any indication, that kind of resolve from other women might be the best thing for the country's public safety. Furthermore, defying courageously the ban on female drivers by getting on the wheel is indeed a ''revolutionary act''.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
World Affairs Analyst

Photo-Credit: AFP- A Saudi Arabian woman defies the female drivers ban..

Monday, 28 October 2013

ICELAND: Iceland's Politics & The Left

Over the last decade Iceland, more than any other country, has been held up as a model of how to do things right. Pre-crash Iceland was championed by the Right as a shining example of the benefits of liberalised finance. After the financial crisis of 2008 proved them disastrously wrong, Iceland was again touted as an example to emulate, this time by the Left. It was lauded as the country that had not taken the crash lying down.

According to this narrative, Icelanders had with righteous fury thrown out their government, let their banks go bust, jailed their bankers and created the world’s first “crowd-sourced” constitution. As before, the Iceland cited abroad bore little relation to reality, as became clear in April this year when Iceland’s left-wing coalition government was comprehensively defeated in national elections. So what, exactly, has been going on in Iceland post-2008? And what’s in store for it now?

Both left and right narratives of Icelandic triumph were misleading, without being wholly false. Let’s focus on the left-wing account. It is true that mass protests outside the Icelandic Parliament – known as the Pots and Pans Revolution (búsáhaldsbyltingin) after the kitchen utensils wielded by the protestors – forced the government to collapse in 2009. Its replacement did let several banks go bust, although not on the scale that is widely assumed and not without incurring huge debts to prop up the economy.

It did, moreover, instigate a major investigation into the banking crisis which culminated in court proceedings that are still on-going. Notably, former Prime Minister, Geir Haarde, was charged and found guilty, but only for a minor offence (failure to hold certain emergency ministerial meetings during the crisis) carrying no punishment. This is a tougher response than any other country, granted, but hardly constitutes ‘holding those responsible to account’.

Finally, praise for Iceland’s “crowd-sourced” constitution is mostly wide of the mark. There was a broad consultation and general public involvement, involving a thousand-person assembly and an elected “constitutional council” tasked to come up with a draft proposal. But all of this was non-binding, turnout for the final vote was low and the final draft was constitutionally unsound, and thus easily killed off in parliament through a mixture of government inefficiency and right-wing opposition.

Amidst the hyperbole, though, are some genuine achievements, which together point towards an alternative to neoliberal austerity. In the years following the crisis, the rich in Iceland paid more tax, welfare payments increased, and unemployment came down. This is particularly impressive given Iceland’s political history. Unlike its Nordic counterparts, Iceland is not a bastion of social democracy and the conservative Independence Party has dominated its politics since independence in 1944.

The 2009 protests produced a coalition government comprising two left-wing parties, the Social Democratic Alliance and the Left Green Movement, neither of which existed before 1999. This, Iceland’s first ever wholly left coalition, represented a historic opportunity for the Icelandic Left. What went wrong?

The answer, in short, is a combination of coalition failures, deep public disillusionment and an entrenched opposition, not just in parliament but from the media and private economic interests.
The government of Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir set out to confront almost every special interest and controversial issue facing the Icelandic economy. Its programme could have scarcely been more ambitious, including major reforms to fisheries, industrial policy, the environment, the financial sector and Iceland’s relationship with the European Union. The only emotive issue the government did not attempt to stir up was Iceland’s membership of NATO.

Nearly all of these areas are and have long been controlled by entrenched special interests, which overlap extensively and are densely inter-linked with each other, the Independence Party and the media. After the crisis these special interests were down but not out, and they put up fierce resistance. The press, largely owned by former PM Davíð Oddsson (“Iceland’s Thatcher”), relentlessly hounded the government; targeted sectors (notably fishermen) staged large-scale protests, and the opposition in parliament constantly filibustered.

In the face of this opposition the Icelandic Left won concessions that, in any other term, would have been remarkable. However this was not any other term and therein lies the problem. The promises the parties made in 2009 were so extravagant that even the government’s most impressive victories were painted as defeats. This created disillusionment and a negative narrative quickly stuck.

The organised opposition was aided by the government’s own failings. First, it fell into the classic left trap of continually splitting. The coalition government began with a majority of 11, significant in a chamber of 63. By the last few months of its term splits within both governing parties had reduced it to a minority government. This weakened the government in parliament and reduced its popularity – as also illustrated in Australia recently, it’s surprising how many will tolerate bad decisions, but not disorganisation and disunity.

Second, the coalition compounded its reputation for watered down radicalism by going against the spirit of its mandate. The government in general didn’t let the banks collapse; worse, it bailed out a handful of very indebted private insurance companies, a move that was deeply unpopular. The nail in the government’s coffin was Icesave.

Icesave is largely forgotten in the UK, but it involved repayments on money lost by Dutch and British savers. It briefly came to prominence in 2009 when Gordon Brown used counterterrorism legislation to freeze Icelandic assets. The issue rumbled on and in February of this year Iceland won its case.

One might imagine that this would help the government, but in fact it worked in the opposition’s favour. The government had earlier decided against taking the fight to the court of the European Free Trade Area, and only did so after the President of Iceland, in an uncommon step (Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson was the first President to use his power of veto which he did in 2004 over reforms to the media), vetoed its decision and put the matter to two popular referenda.

The gamble paid off, but having opposed taking it, the government reaped no reward from the victory. It redounded instead to the benefit of current Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson. He, along with the President, became a figurehead for Icelandic populism. What the international left credited to Iceland’s left government – a heroic refusal to pay international creditors – was in fact the achievement of a popular nationalism directly opposed to the left coalition.

All these factors allowed the opposition to take the advantage. Remarkably, however, it was the (now ruling) Progressive Party that took the lead rather than the establishment Independence Party. Like many Nordic former agrarian parties, the Progressive Party has spent a long time trying to find itself, eventually settling on a populist right-wing nationalism with very little substance (similar to UKIP in the UK). Prime Minister Gunnlaugsson, from the Progressive Party, was emboldened by the Icesave “win”, which also stoked a populist sentiment that obscured his party’s lack of workable policies.

So what’s next for the Icelandic left? It has suffered a major defeat that will take a lot of effort to overcome. But the election also threw up some potentially positive developments. Though the established left of the Left-Green Movement (LGM) and the Social Democratic Alliance (SDA) suffered a horrendous night, two other sections of the left did very well.

The biggest surprise was the entrance of the Pirate Party to parliament, with three members. A left of centre liberal party called Bright Future, based in Reykjavík and the Mayor of Reykjavík Jón Gnarr’s “best party”, also outperformed expectations. It will be interesting to see how these develop over the course of the parliamentary term and what effect they have on the more established parties.

The election results continued a trend in Icelandic politics away from the traditional four parties. Since 2009 the portion of votes going to them has fallen from 90 per cent to 75 per cent and the amount of “dead” votes (votes that went to a party which did not get a seat in Parliament) rose from 2 per cent to 12 per cent. This is encouraging for the left, since it indicates that although the public is dissatisfied with the left coalition, neither is it convinced by the other two big parties. Yet it also poses a problem, because it fragments the left and splits its vote far more than it does the right.

More broadly, though, one has to bear in mind the distinction between left-wing popular forces and the formal left parties. The Pots and Pans revolution was the biggest eruption of popular protest since the 1949 anti-NATO demonstrations. Although many members of the SDA and LGM took party in it, it must be recalled that the SDA sat alongside the Independence Party in the very government the revolution overthrew. Indeed, the SDA’s former leader, Ingibörg Sólrún Gísladóttir was almost indicted along with former PM Geir Haarde.

The movement that produced the uprising is unlikely to resurface, but more demonstrations and extra-parliamentary activity can be expected. This has already occurred under the new government with the green movement, which is now the popular organisation most able to mobilise a mass, cross-sectional public. On May Day this year, the green movement held a rally that dwarfed the traditional one organised by the union. A few weeks later a green demo held outside the Prime Minister’s office attracted over 2,000 people.

In July, a petition was delivered to President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson regarding changes to a tax on the so-called “fishing barons”. In 2004, Grímsson had set a precedent whereby on receiving a petition of at least 35,000 signatures he would intervene and call for a referendum. As noted he did this twice during the Icesave affair. The July petition was bigger than either of the two Icesave petitions, and organised in a shorter time, but the president opportunistically rejected it. Nonetheless, it is clear that a large section of Iceland’s population remains able and ready to mobilise quickly, both online and off.

Iceland’s economy is still in a critical condition. Its biggest problem is the continued use of capital controls. Controls were introduced as a temporary stop-gap to prevent foreign capital fleeing, and they did their job – foreign capital twice the size of Icelandic GDP is still in the country. But the country is now trapped: without lifting the controls the economy cannot be sustainable, yet lifting them would trigger a crippling capital flight. Solving this problem and finding a way to pay the first instalments on Iceland’s debt are the central economic problems facing the next parliament.

It is against this economic backdrop that the battle over Iceland’s future will be waged. At the moment, there is a worrying lack of positive ideas being put forward by the Left, a problem we can identify with left-wing and centre-left parties across Europe. In the absence of convincing contributions from the Left, the Right is dominating the political space.

Make no mistake, the course adopted by Iceland’s new Progressive and Independence Party coalition will lead to a second crash sooner rather than later. Their vision would see Iceland once more in the hands of bad business, dodgy investments and cheap credit, its environment destroyed in order to attract aluminium companies. This is a vision which the majority does not want, and the Left in its many forms has a duty to provide an alternative.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
Researcher at ''De Montfort University''

Photo-Credit: AFP-Icelanders March..

ROMANIA: EU & Mining Debate

The EU’s low-profile position on the controversial gold mining project in Romania’s Rosia Montana is at odds with its proclaimed leadership in shaping the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Agenda. The EU’s lack of a firm position in this case calls into question its commitment to sustainable development and environmental legislation.

For the past eight weeks, tens of thousands of Romanians have taken to the streets in cities across Romania and Europe in the country’s largest demonstrations for two decades. The protests are fast becoming Europe’s largest environmental movement, in opposition to the proposed gold mining project in Rosia Montana, a small village in northern Romania.

Using cyanide-based technologies, the Canadian firm Gabriel Resources Ltd wants to extract from the site, the largest of its kind in Europe, around 300 tonnes of gold and 1,600 tonnes of silver. The company promises around 800 jobs over the seventeen year exploration, with a higher employment number in the initial years. The value of the gold to be extracted stands at over 20 billion USD.

The cash-strapped Romanian state, which has a 25 per cent stake in the project and would levy a 6 per cent royalty on the gold extracted, has given the project its approval and tabled a draft law in Parliament in late August. If passed, the law would give the go-ahead for the exploration by allowing Gabriel Resources to expropriate land on the site of the proposed mine from the remaining land owners who oppose the project. Voting has been postponed until a special Parliamentary Commission, set up as a response to the unprecedented public mobilisation, evaluates the project.

The EU has been conspicuously silent on the issue. Only when prompted about the European Commission’s position on the project, the Commissioner for Environment, Mr Janez Potocnik, stated on September 9 that the responsibility for applying EU legislation rests with the Romanian government. This is not surprising as EU institutions have been divided on the use of cyanide-mining technologies.

On May 5 2010, the European Parliament voted in favour of a Resolution that urged the Commission to take the legislative steps implied by existing EU legislation, such as the Water Framework Directive, to ban cyanide mining technologies. The Commission has so far insisted that Member States have the freedom to take up the implementation of the Resolution. According to the Commission, the EU Mining Waste Directive contains strict provisions that would reduce the risks to the environment and public health.

The Commission’s stance on Rosia Montana and on the broader issue of cyanide mining technologies represents an unfortunate position given the desire of the EU to set the tone of the debate on the post-2015 Millennium Development Goals Agenda.

In the opening speech of a Commission-organised event in July framed around the UN published Report on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, Development Commissioner, Mr. Andris Piebalgs, who is also one of the signatories of the Report, highlighted sustainable development as the driving philosophy behind economic activities. Mr Potočnik seemed to agree. He also asserted the need for a comprehensive approach that linked the proposed 12 universal goals into a more coherent framework. This is the policy line also supported by the EU Council’s Conclusions on the Overarching Post 2015 Agenda, of June 25 2013.

The EU’s proclaimed intention to place environmental sustainability at the core of its post-2015 MDGs Strategy, and to achieve ‘policy coherence’ for development in the EU and abroad, must be buttressed by action. Rosia Montana should serve as the EU’s test case.

The EU could start by using all institutional means to put pressure on the Romanian government to rethink its position vis-à-vis the project. The Water Framework Directive and Hazardous Waste Directive are appropriate tools in this context. The Romanian Academy and the Romanian Institute of Geology have already indicated that the geological set up of Corna Valley, with its numerous water springs, rock fissures and high rock permeability, means that the cyanide-contaminated water will leak into the region’s waterbed.

The Commission should therefore consider extending the precautionary principle, which underpins European climate and environmental policy, to the use of cyanide mining technologies in the EU.

Similarly to radioactive water, the cyanide-contaminated water used in extracting the metals must be contained and cannot be released into the ground. In Rosia Montana, the exploration will use around 12,000 tones of cyanide annually compared to, for example, 1,000 tones Europe wide, totalling a staggering 204 million tones throughout the lifetime of the mine. The contaminated water must be placed in a 400m deep and 8km wide pond, which is meant to last forever.

As history shows, the impact on the environment, public health and on the long-term sustainability of communities can be dire when unpredictable weather patterns, failing maintenance standards and human error meet. The spill of cyanide-contaminated water at another Romanian mine in Baia Mare in 2000, which involved ‘only’ 100 tones of cyanide tainted water, has been deemed Europe’s worst environmental disaster since Chernobyl. This should convince EU decision-makers that some economic activities carry too high an economic, environmental and social cost.

In choosing to act on its environmental legislation, the Commission would give an impetus to sustainable economic activities in the region, which UNESCO advisory body ICOMOS considers worthy of being counted as a world heritage site due to its unique pre-Roman, Roman and Medieval mining galleries. Not least, the Commission would also lend legitimacy to Romanian state institutions, which delivered legal judgments and feasibility studies against the project in spite of corporate and government pressure to the contrary.

In short, Rosia Montana would be an opportunity to link in a coherent strategy, as the EU intends for its post-2015 MDGs Agenda, sustainable development, good governance and the promotion of effective state institutions.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP-

U.S.: The Collapse of Hypocrisy: Leaks, Spying & Hacking

The U.S. government seems outraged that people are leaking classified materials about its less attractive behavior. It certainly acts that way: three years ago, after Chelsea Manning, an army private then known as Bradley Manning, turned over hundreds of thousands of classified cables to the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, U.S. authorities imprisoned the soldier under conditions that the UN special rapporteur on torture deemed cruel and inhumane.

More recently, following the disclosures about U.S. spying programs by Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency analyst, U.S. officials spent a great deal of diplomatic capital trying to convince other countries to deny Snowden refuge. And U.S. President Barack Obama canceled a long-anticipated summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin when he refused to comply.

Despite such efforts, however, the U.S. establishment has often struggled to explain exactly why these leakers pose such an enormous threat. Indeed, nothing in the Manning and Snowden leaks should have shocked those who were paying attention. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who dissented from the WikiLeaks panic, suggested as much when he told reporters in 2010 that the leaked information had had only a “fairly modest” impact and had not compromised intelligence sources or methods.

Snowden has most certainly compromised sources and methods, but he has revealed nothing that was really unexpected. Before his disclosures, most experts already assumed that the United States conducted cyberattacks against China, bugged European institutions, and monitored global Internet communications. Even his most explosive revelation -- that the United States and the United Kingdom have compromised key communications software and encryption systems designed to protect online privacy and security -- merely confirmed what knowledgeable observers have long suspected.

The deeper threat that leakers such as Manning and Snowden pose is more subtle than a direct assault on U.S. national security: they undermine Washington’s ability to act hypocritically and get away with it. Their danger lies not in the new information that they reveal but in the documented confirmation they provide of what the United States is actually doing and why. When these deeds turn out to clash with the government’s public rhetoric, as they so often do, it becomes harder for U.S. allies to overlook Washington’s covert behavior and easier for U.S. adversaries to justify their own.

Few U.S. officials think of their ability to act hypocritically as a key strategic resource. Indeed, one of the reasons American hypocrisy is so effective is that it stems from sincerity: most U.S. politicians do not recognize just how two-faced their country is. Yet as the United States finds itself less able to deny the gaps between its actions and its words, it will face increasingly difficult choices -- and may ultimately be compelled to start practicing what it preaches.

Hypocrisy is central to Washington’s soft power -- its ability to get other countries to accept the legitimacy of its actions -- yet few Americans appreciate its role. Liberals tend to believe that other countries cooperate with the United States because American ideals are attractive and the U.S.-led international system is fair. Realists may be more cynical, yet if they think about Washington’s hypocrisy at all, they consider it irrelevant. For them, it is Washington’s cold, hard power, not its ideals, that encourages other countries to partner with the United States.

Of course, the United States is far from the only hypocrite in international politics. But the United States’ hypocrisy matters more than that of other countries. That’s because most of the world today lives within an order that the United States built, one that is both underwritten by U.S. power and legitimated by liberal ideas. American commitments to the rule of law, democracy, and free trade are embedded in the multilateral institutions that the country helped establish after World War II, including the World Bank the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, and later the World Trade Organization. Despite recent challenges to U.S. preeminence, from the Iraq war to the financial crisis, the international order remains an American one.

This system needs the lubricating oil of hypocrisy to keep its gears turning. To ensure that the world order continues to be seen as legitimate, U.S. officials must regularly promote and claim fealty to its core liberal principles; the United States cannot impose its hegemony through force alone. But as the recent leaks have shown, Washington is also unable to consistently abide by the values that it trumpets. This disconnect creates the risk that other states might decide that the U.S.-led order is fundamentally illegitimate.

Of course, the United States has gotten away with hypocrisy for some time now. It has long preached the virtues of nuclear nonproliferation, for example, and has coerced some states into abandoning their atomic ambitions. At the same time, it tacitly accepted Israel’s nuclearization and, in 2004, signed a formal deal affirming India’s right to civilian nuclear energy despite its having flouted the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by acquiring nuclear weapons.

The reason the United States has until now suffered few consequences for such hypocrisy is that other states have a strong interest in turning a blind eye. Given how much they benefit from the global public goods Washington provides, they have little interest in calling the hegemon on its bad behavior. Public criticism risks pushing the U.S. government toward self-interested positions that would undermine the larger world order.

Moreover, the United States can punish those who point out the inconsistency in its actions by downgrading trade relations or through other forms of direct retaliation. Allies thus usually air their concerns in private. Adversaries may point fingers, but few can convincingly occupy the moral high ground. Complaints by China and Russia hardly inspire admiration for their purer policies.

The ease with which the United States has been able to act inconsistently has bred complacency among its leaders. Since few countries ever point out the nakedness of U.S. hypocrisy, and since those that do can usually be ignored, American politicians have become desensitized to their country’s double standards. But thanks to Manning and Snowden, such double standards are getting harder and harder to ignore.

To see how this dynamic will play out, consider the implications of Snowden’s revelations for U.S. cybersecurity policy. Until very recently, U.S. officials did not talk about their country’s offensive capabilities in cyberspace, instead emphasizing their strategies to defend against foreign attacks. At the same time, they have made increasingly direct warnings about Chinese hacking, detailing the threat to U.S. computer networks and the potential damage to U.S.-Chinese relations.

But the United States has been surreptitiously waging its own major offensive against China’s computers -- and those of other adversaries -- for some time now. The U.S. government has quietly poured billions of dollars into developing offensive, as well as defensive, capacities in cyberspace. And Snowden confirmed that the U.S. military has hacked not only the Chinese military’s computers but also those belonging to Chinese cell-phone companies and the country’s most prestigious university.

Although prior to Snowden’s disclosures, many experts were aware -- or at least reasonably certain -- that the U.S. government was involved in hacking against China, Washington was able to maintain official deniability. Protected from major criticism, U.S. officials were planning a major public relations campaign to pressure China into tamping down its illicit activities in cyberspace, starting with threats and perhaps culminating in legal indictments of Chinese hackers. Chinese officials, although well aware that the Americans were acting hypocritically, avoided calling them out directly in order to prevent further damage to the relationship.

But Beijing’s logic changed after Snowden’s leaks. China suddenly had every reason to push back publicly against U.S. hypocrisy. After all, Washington could hardly take umbrage with Beijing for calling out U.S. behavior confirmed by official U.S. documents. Indeed, the disclosures left China with little choice but to respond publicly. If it did not point out U.S. hypocrisy, its reticence would be interpreted as weakness. At a news conference after the revelations, a spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of National Defense insisted that the scandal “reveal[ed] the true face and hypocritical conduct regarding Internet security” of the United States.

Washington has been forced to abandon its naming-and-shaming campaign against Chinese hacking.
Manning’s and Snowden’s leaks mark the beginning of a new era in which the U.S. government can no longer count on keeping its secret behavior secret. Hundreds of thousands of Americans today have access to classified documents that would embarrass the country if they were publicly circulated.

As the recent revelations show, in the age of the cell-phone camera and the flash drive, even the most draconian laws and reprisals will not prevent this information from leaking out. As a result, Washington faces what can be described as an accelerating hypocrisy collapse -- a dramatic narrowing of the country’s room to maneuver between its stated aspirations and its sometimes sordid pursuit of self-interest. The U.S. government, its friends, and its foes can no longer plausibly deny the dark side of U.S. foreign policy and will have to address it head-on.

The collapse of hypocrisy presents the United States with uncomfortable choices. One way or another, its policy and its rhetoric will have to move closer to each other. The easiest course for the U.S. government to take would be to forgo hypocritical rhetoric altogether and acknowledge the narrowly self-interested goals of many of its actions. Leaks would be much less embarrassing -- and less damaging -- if they only confirmed what Washington had already stated its policies to be.

The problem with this course, however, is that U.S. national interests are inextricably bound up with a global system of multilateral ties and relative openness. Washington has already undermined its commitment to liberalism by suggesting that it will retaliate economically against countries that offer safe haven to leakers.

If the United States abandoned the rhetoric of mutual good, it would signal to the world that it was no longer committed to the order it leads. As other countries followed its example and retreated to the defense of naked self-interest, the bonds of trade and cooperation that Washington has spent decades building could unravel. The United States would not prosper in a world where everyone thought about international cooperation in the way that Putin does.

A better alternative would be for Washington to pivot in the opposite direction, acting in ways more compatible with its rhetoric. This approach would also be costly and imperfect, for in international politics, ideals and interests will often clash. But the U.S. government can certainly afford to roll back some of its hypocritical behavior without compromising national security.

Secrecy can be defended as a policy in a democracy. Blatant hypocrisy is a tougher sell. Voters accept that they cannot know everything that their government does, but they do not like being lied to. If the United States is to reduce its dangerous dependence on doublespeak, it will have to submit to real oversight and an open democratic debate about its policies. The era of easy hypocrisy is over.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
Researcher at ''De Montfort University''

Photo-Credit: The Guardian-Edward Snowden, NSA Whistleblower

Friday, 25 October 2013

VENEZUELA: Nicolas Maduro's Troubles

Nobody can accuse Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro of not trying hard enough. But the results of his efforts in trying to turn a struggling economy around are difficult to see. He agreed a deal on a visit to China in September 2013 to sell nearly one million barrels of oil per day (bpd), up from the current level of 600,000 bpd to China, making Venezuela the supplier of more than 20 per cent of Chinese oil imports.

In return, China has promised to make investments in Venezuelan petrochemical plants and help develop a new heavy oil bloc, known as Junin 1, which is expected to produce 200,000 bpd.
The China Development Bank has also agreed to extend a US$5 billion line of credit for social development.

These are impressive deals. But over the past decade, the Chinese and Venezuelan governments have signed agreements worth more than US$20 billion. Except for deals directly related to the sale of oil, and credits to Venezuela in exchange, almost none of the investments has materialised. It remains to be seen what will come of the current round of deals.

The domestic situation in Venezuela is deteriorating and is in danger of spinning out of control. The rate of inflation in the past 12 months has increased to 45 per cent.

The downward spiral started under the stewardship of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s president for 14 years. Mr Chavez largely escaped blame because of his enduring charisma and political mastery of using social subsidies to quell discontent. But he left Nicolas Maduro, who was elected president in April 2013, shortly after the death of Hugo Chavez, with a catalogue of problems.

Even for a country awash with cash as Venezuela has been since 2004, Chávez's spendthrift ways have left behind a worrisome level of debt, fiscal deficit, and independence on imports. Maduro, Chavez' successor must make an economic adjustment, to borrow a phrase from the International Monetary Fund.

The national oil company has been bled dry and cannot maintain production. Private investment has been taxed so much that it has dried up. Government controls on the exchange market have driven billions of US dollars out of the country, and the exchange rate has soared. Domestic production of some basic goods has come to a halt because of bureaucratic inefficiency and a crazy array of regulation and taxes.

The most recent problem was the sudden shortage of toilet paper. President Maduro sent the army to the Manpa factory, in the northern city of Maracay where it is produced, to supervise production.
Shortages of food are also widespread. They are often accompanied by power cuts because of inefficient management of Venezuela's power grid.

The Maduro government has signed an agreement with the government of Colombia to import US$600 million worth of foodstuffs in the coming 12 months. Venezuela is the only country in Latin America that is a net importer of foodstuffs. The president is convinced that his government is faced with a covert economic war, financed by the United States and led by Venezuela’s opposition.

Maduro's most recent moves were to expel three US diplomats in September 2013, accusing them of supporting plots to sabotage Venezuela's electrical grid and the economy, and to order the seizure of a research vessel, the MV Teknik Perdana, off the coast of Guyana, which had five Americans on board.

Caracas accused the ship’s crew of carrying out ‘illegal activities’ within a maritime area claimed by Venezuela. The ship, which has now been released, was under contract to the Houston-based Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, which was working for the government of Guyana.

It seems to me that Maduro has not learnt something valuable from Chavez. Chávez enjoyed provoking the Americans, but only to certain point, and never so much that the United States brought an embargo down on his head. He played his anti-Americanism conservatively. But also, contrary to conventional wisdom, Chávez's spending habits matched only by his selling habits.

Between 1999 and 2011, Venezuela exports to the United States, mostly oil and oil products, totaled $341 billion. This was a extraordinarily large sum for an anti-imperialist bastion of only 29.2 million people. Indeed, Venezuela is almost as dependent on oil sales to the United States today as it was before Chávez. He wanted to be remembered as the most anti-American leader the world has ever seen since Fidel Castro. In reality, Chávez broke with Fidel's approach to the Yankee empire early on.

President Maduro is in trouble. The next round of local elections is in December 2013. If the food shortages and power cuts continue, even people who voted for him in the past presidential election will vote for the opposition. The inefficiency of the state bureaucracy is a major factor in the economic breakdown. The popular disenchantment is exacerbated by the rising rate of crime, especially against the poor in Venezuela's major cities.

President Maduro has few options. He cannot change course because the military and leaders of the political movement that Hugo Chavez created would probably kick him out and put in another of the inner circle. He must hope that the Chinese will come through with the money they have promised and that the national oil company finds a way to produce more oil. But the main indicator to watch with Venezuela is the price of oil. If it falls towards US$100 per barrel, the government will get increasingly nervous.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
World Affairs Analyst

Photo-Credit: AFP- Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's photo

Thursday, 24 October 2013

TUNISIA: The Political Paralysis

Tunisia was the birthplace of the Arab Spring over two years ago. But growing frustration and violence have caused the chasm between secularists and Islamists to widen, leading many to fear political chaos like that gripping Egypt.

Unlike in Egypt, however, Tunisia's army has no political ambitions. But here there is the powerful UGTT trade union, which played a decisive role during the revolution and is exerting pressure on the Islamists in the current conflict.

Thousands of opposition activists have protested in central Tunis, demanding the resignation of Tunisia's Islamist-led government, before a national dialogue aimed at ending months of political deadlock. The Tunisian Prime Minister Ali Larayedh on Wednesday confirmed Ennahda was ready to resign, but insisted on the completion of the country's new constitution, the establishment of an electoral commission and a clear election date before handing over power.

Wednesday's demonstration came just hours before the start of a planned national dialogue between the ruling party Ennahda and the opposition, which has now been delayed until Friday. Mediators hope the talks will bring an end to the political paralysis gripping the country since the July killing of opposition MP Mohamed Brahmi and mark a crucial step in the country's democratic transition.

According to a political roadmap drawn up by mediators, the national dialogue will lead within three weeks to the formation of a new caretaker cabinet of technocrats. Negotiators will also have one month to adopt a new constitution, electoral laws and a timetable for fresh elections, key milestones in the democratic transition which has effectively been blocked by wrangling between the Islamists, their coalition allies and the opposition. A coalition of secular opposition parties are demanding the immediate departure of the government, which it accuses of clinging to power.

In a country where the youth created the revolution, it is old men who are now overseeing the transition to democracy. Young people are frustrated that things are taking so long and even developing a sort of nostalgia for the days of the revolution. Hardly anyone knows what is happening in the country, but everyone wants to have a say, and this creates a mixture on the streets of truth and suspicion, hysteria and fear, rumors and anger.

In the eyes of Tunisians, the Islamists are to blame for mounting violence in the country. Ennahda has close ties to Salafists and to the radical Islamist group Ansar al-Sharia, the party's opponents say. It's true that some extremists have been set free under the current government, and that the government initially didn't seem like it wanted to take action against radicals.

Many among the opposition deny Ennahda's legitimacy, saying the party's electoral victory was bought from the start, although there is no proof to back up this claim. Others believe the draft constitution's mention of Islam as the "state religion" will lead directly to Sharia law, even though similar phrasing existed in the previous constitution.

The post-revolution drama being played out in the political theaters of Tunisia is not only likely to spread throughout the region, but throughout the entire Muslim world. Though the issue of contention is myopically described as a duel between secularists and Islamists, the real issue—though not in full fruition—is whether or not extreme secularism and extreme Islamism can co-exist.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist
African Affairs Expert

Photo-Credit: Reuters-Protesters in Tunis, Tunisia-photo

GERMANY-U.S.: The US tapped German Chancellor's cell phone?

The newest allegations of US spying have unleashed a torrent of criticism and concern in Europe. If suspicions unearthed that the US tapped Chancellor Merkel's cell phone turn out to be true, the ramifications for trans-Atlantic ties could be immense. Even diplomatic relations between France and the US have been strained following reports that millions of French calls had been monitored by US intelligence agencies.
 
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle took the unusual step Thursday morning of summoning the US ambassador, John B. Emerson, who is set to meet with the minister today. But the new allegations also cast a new light on Obama and the US intelligence community. During his visit to Germany, the US president grandly promised a trustful cooperation. But even Merkel now seems to have lost her belief in that. It's hard to even imagine how Obama's intelligence services deal with hostile states when one sees how they behave toward their closest allies.
 
Even if the cell-phone allegation turns out to be false, it doesn't change anything of the substance. The real central issue is that a threshold has already been crossed. No one can and must be indignant that a global power like the US has such an efficient information-gathering service. But, in the sensitive area of security, the monstrous possibilities offered by modern technologies oblige states to work alongside friendly and allied countries with the maximum degree of coordination, with respect to the limits and rules that should govern such activities.
 
On Wednesday, Jay Carney found himself in particularly treacherous territory when he was asked during a press briefing whether US intelligence services had monitored the mobile phone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leader of one of America's staunchest allies. Carney read from a prepared statement. He said that Obama had spoken on the telephone with Merkel to discuss the accusations, and that the president has assured the chancellor that the United States "is not monitoring and will not monitor" her communications. "The United States greatly values our close cooperation with Germany on a broad range of shared security challenges," he added.
 
There is really no reason for reassurance if one listens closely to what Obama's spokesman Carney said. Again: "The President assured the Chancellor that the United States is not monitoring and will not monitor the communications of Chancellor Merkel." That statement is made in the present and future tenses. But what about the past? Has Merkel's phone been under surveillance in the past, or not?
 
If the accusations are substantiated, Obama will be in an extremely tight spot. On Monday, the US president spoke on the phone with his French counterpart François Hollande, who also expressed "deep disapproval" after French daily Le Monde reported that the NSA had eavesdropped on more than 70 million private phone calls of people in France. Washington rejected the report as flawed. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and the Mexican government also protested alleged eavesdropping on their private communications.

Obama is increasingly putting the credibility of the US on the line, even with the country's allies -- all the while calling for America to go back to using its "soft power." The repeated line from the US government that all intelligence services employ similar methods is hardly believable any longer. One thing has become clear: Not all intelligence services have the same capabilities as those of the United States.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP-US President Barack Obama & German Chancellor Angela Merkel, drinking French Campagne

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

COLOMBIA: The Peace's Talk in Havana

The never-ending negotiations to pacify Colombia’s 50-year-old guerrilla war have bogged down, and both the government and the insurgents have turned to more bellicose actions to get the upper hand in the peace talks. But neither side wants to pay the political price for breaking off the negotiations on which many Colombians have placed their hopes for a settlement that would end the horrors of a conflict that has killed 220,000 people, many of them unarmed civilians.

The negotiations, being held in Havana under international sponsorship led by Norway, resumed this week, but 16 rounds of talks during nearly a year have produced agreement on only one item, rural development, on the six-point agenda. This new round has been preceded by truculent exchanges between President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, who deeply wants a settlement, and the prominent leaders of the FARC guerrilla insurgency involved in the negotiations.

There is no agreement because the FARC refuse to provide substantive commitments on demobilizing their estimated 8,000 fighters, giving up their arms, and converting their rural insurgency into a legal political party, as the government proposes. The main sticking point is that the guerrillas refuse to accept a “transitional” justice arrangement in which most of the leaders would be given lenient judicial treatment for atrocities, kidnappings for ransom, enrollment of child soldiers, and other crimes.

Given the impasse in Havana, the peace process has been overtaken by bare-knuckle action back in Colombian. After receiving an insulting public message from Timoleón Jiménez, the FARC’s top military commander, known as Timochenko, Santos called a meeting of Colombia’s military commanders and, flanked by the top brass at an airbase, announced that a new combined force command of 50,000 soldiers and airmen was being created to combat the FARC in southern Colombia’s Cauca and Putumayo valleys, where the guerrillas have strongholds.

Addressing Timochenko, Santos said, “Don’t think you can play games with the government.” The FARC, who still have far-flung armed insurgents in a score of “fronts” in the interior of Colombia, replied by stepping up sabotage of electric power lines and oil pipelines, bombing of isolated military and police outposts, and new kidnappings. These actions pose no security threat to the government but they have an economic cost a “peace” settlement would supposedly reduce.

One of the stumbling blocks has been the rejection by the FARC of a proposal by Santos to submit any agreement reached in Havana to a national referendum in which Colombia’s 15 million voters will approve or reject the peace deal. The lower house of the Colombian Congress gave an overwhelming vote of approval to the referendum procedure last week and the Senate is sure to follow, as well as the Constitutional Court. But unless an agreement is reached in Havana very soon, the referendum will be meaningless because there will be nothing to approve or reject.

Colombia’s electoral calendar is putting pressure on both Santos and the FARC negotiators in Havana. Santos has until mid-November to decide if he will run for reelection next year. It is in his political interests, as a candidate, that a peace agreement be in place before the elections next May. The FARC may also see advantage in the reelection of Santos over conservative political forces identified with former President Álvaro Uribe, a critic of Santos for being too “soft” in dealing with the criminal aspects of the guerrilla movement, which kidnapped and later assassinated Uribe’s father.

The Colombian peace negotiations are being followed closely in Latin America because the conflict is the last of the great insurgencies that swept through Latin America in the 1970s. Revolutionary movements inspired by the success of Fidel Castro’s military insurgency in Cuba tried unsuccessfully to take power by force of arms and popular mobilization, often with Cuban backing.

When the late President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela launched his Bolivarian movement of 21st-century socialism, with strong ideological and material coordination with Cuba, the FARC guerrillas were seen as potential winner who would overthrow Colombia’s democratically elected government.

In this Bolivarian strategy, FARC leaders corresponded by e-mail with Venezuelan authorities and FARC combatants received sanctuary in Venezuela, which has a long border with Colombia. This support for armed insurgency combined revolutionary aims with profit from narcotics through shared production and marketing of drugs, a major source of income for the FARC. The Colombian security forces claim to have confiscated 180 tons of cocaine in raids on the group’s strongholds.

One of the unresolved points on the peace agenda is a commitment by FARC to give up operations that organize and exploit peasants to produce the coca leaves and marijuana that are the basis of the drug trade. Instead, the FARC has been stirring up public protests by peasants in rural areas against government programs to eradicate drug crops by fumigation and support for alternative crops.

There has been no sign in the talks that the FARC will agree to curtail drug production, which is the main source of their funds. Instead FARC has demanded that the government agree to establish large peasant land reserves where the Colombian security forces would be banned, a proposal government negotiators rejected. The talks in Havana provide the FARC with a propaganda platform from which they repeatedly launch messages through the Colombian media that have political repercussions on the home front.

Those messages, which range from denunciation of Colombia’s system of free markets and private enterprise to calls for a drastic reduction of Colombia’s armed forces, are not on the agenda for the peace talks. Without some shift in the new round of talks that began this week, the Havana negotiations will become irrelevant to the political concerns that will increasingly focus on the elections next year (congressional in March and presidential in May).

In the meantime, the future of peace in Colombia will depend on what happens on the battlefield, where the Colombian armed forces claim the number of FARC deserters seeking to come back to legal livelihood has topped 8,000, reducing the FARC fighting force by half in the last four years.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Political Analyst/Writer
Investigative Journalist

Photo-Credit: AFP--Colombia, FARC rebels-photo