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Archive | July, 2013

North Korean Provocations will not Lead to War

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Military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea. Image via NOS Nieuws

Military parade in Pyongyang, North Korea. Image via NOS Nieuws

The media has been reporting often (with speculation) about the latest string of threats emanating from North Korea, including possible nuclear attacks on Seoul, Tokyo and Guam, a United States territory in the Pacific Ocean. The speculation on what will happen in Northeast Asia implies that no one can be certain about the intentions of the reclusive yet bellicose Kim Jong-un. The general consensus worldwide is that the North Korean regime is neither rational nor trustworthy, and therefore the international community should take its threats very seriously.

However, this is not the first time that a Northeast Asian leader and his regime have been labelled as as irrational and unpredictable. In 1950, analysts in the United States made similar judgements of Mao Zedong as a volatile leader as well. Two major foreign policy decisions by Mao – to enter the Korean War against the US in 1950, within a year of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, and to openly split with the Soviet Union in 1960 – were used as evidence of his “irrationality” by US analysts.

By drawing parallels between North Korea’s current sabre-rattling and Mao’s security posturing in the 1950s and 1960s, it is possible to introduce the perspective that Kim is acting according to an old script; his intention is to bolster sagging domestic support and strengthen North Korea’s international bargaining position. North Korea wants something, but it’s clearly not war.

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Challenges Facing New Somali Government

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State Debt. photo

State Debt. photo

Laura Hammond, School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, published an article titled “Somalia Rising: Things Are Starting to Change for the World’s Longest Failed State” in volume 7, issue 1 (2013) of the Journal of Eastern African Studies.

The article examines some of the challenges facing the new Somali government and assesses the dynamics which allowed the emergence of relative newcomers into important roles, especially President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud. She wonders if the recent optimism is justified and will it be sustained?

The Hitler Diaries and History

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Gerd Heidemann in 1983 holding what he said at the time were Hitler’s journals. Source: Deutsche Welle

Gerd Heidemann in 1983 holding what he said at the time were Hitler’s journals. Source: Deutsche Welle

Frauds in time become historical artefacts, objects of their own worth. As projects, they may not have succeeded in attaining the brand of authenticity – but that hardly matters. Their authenticity is merely of a different sort – the fake as real, the fake as its own genuine worth. And so the fate of the Hitler Diaries, 62 volumes in all, which made such a splash in 1983 as being the actual record of a dictator’s life, have now become part of the historical record.

Earlier in the week, the forged Hitler diaries were rendered official documents of history – at least of a certain type, finding their way into the vaults of the German Federal Archives. As its president Michael Hollmann explained, “The fake Hitler diaries are documents of the past.”

Without any trace of irony, Hollmann claimed that the documents were “in good hands at the Federal Archives.” This in itself is astonishing to ponder – fake documents that themselves assume a historical role, readjusting the parameters of debate, generating their own standard of what is genuine. But of course, the point here is that Hitler is but the shadow of the entire affair, the ghost of laughter riding the image portrayed by Stuttgart dealer and hoaxer Konrad Kujau.

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Attempt on Life of American Jihadi in Somalia

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Source: BuzzFeed

American jihadi Omar Hammami, who left Daphne, Alabama, years ago and eventually joined al-Shabaab said on 26 April 2013 that he was the subject of an assassination attempt at a tea shop somewhere in Somalia after falling out with al-Shabaab.

Associated Press journalist Jason Straziuso reported the story in an article titled “American Jihadi in Somalia Tweets on Kill Attempt.”

Malaise in the WTO

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Anti-WTO protest in Hong Kong.  fuzheado/Flickr

Anti-WTO protest in Hong Kong. fuzheado/Flickr

Born in the twentieth century, the World Trade Organization (WTO) is still largely built on the rules and dispute settlement mechanisms it adopted at its inception in the last century. However, world trade is a rather different beast in the 21st century and will continue to evolve. The WTO must adapt to this new world or it will be quickly marginalized.

The WTO is not keeping pace with the changes taking place in the world. The cross-border flows of goods, services, know-how, investment and people participating in international production networks – supply-chain trade in economic jargon – have transformed the global economy. The WTO is caught between fulfilling its original mission and addressing new and emerging realities.

It seems mired in malaise. The 20th century conflicts over tariffs and agricultural barriers prevents the WTO from concluding the Doha Development Round commenced in November 2001. It seems equally incapable of moving forward in other areas. Consequently, the most stalwart WTO members are developing trade arrangements independent of existing WTO structures in order to regulate 21st century trade.

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Can Nieto Deliver the Goods?

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Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto. Image via Facebook

Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto. Image via Facebook

Mexico’s President Nieto was handed a poor set of cards when he assumed power last December. His predecessor, Felipe Calderon, was brought down by a bloody war against the drug cartels that led to more civilian deaths than the total number of U.S. troops killed in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. Mexico’s GDP per capita shrank more than seven percent between 2008 and 2010. And Nieto received just 38 percent of the popular vote representing the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) — which had a corrupt and authoritarian past for much of Mexico’s modern political history. While economic and security conditions have improved under his brief leadership, it cannot yet be said that President Nieto has earned the average Mexican’s trust, or that his honeymoon period will last.

Between December 2012 and March 2013, Mexico’s homicide rate decreased 14 percent year-on-year, but many Mexicans remain justifiably skeptical that this trend will continue given the ongoing drug-related violence in many parts of the country. Early in Calderon’s presidency, the national army was sent to confront the drug cartels and the homicide rate also declined, only to be followed by a surge in killings that cost more than 60,000 lives.

Nieto is approaching the drug war differently by emphasizing the need to reduce violent crime rather than taking on the drug cartels full throttle. He has stated his opposition to any truce with the cartels, as well as to drug legalization. It remains to be seen whether the conditions that prevail for the remainder of his term will compel him to reconsider his approach, especially given the prospect that the power of the cartels may increase, and the Mexican government could lose de facto control of parts of the country (some would argue that is already the case).

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UN and African Union Peace Operations

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Source: The International Peace Institute

The International Peace Institute (IPI) published a paper in April 2013 titled “Peace Operations, the African Union and the United Nations: Toward More Effective Partnerships.” The authors are Arthur Boutellis, research fellow at IPI, and Paul D. Williams, associate professor in the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University.

The paper analyzes the evolution of collaboration between the UN and AU on peace operations and asks how they can cooperate more effectively. It looks at the AU mission in Somalia as a case study that exemplifies some of the positive and negative aspects of the UN-AU relationship. The paper then summarizes some of the challenges that will need to be overcome if the two organizations are to optimize their collaboration and deploy legitimate and effective peace operations. It concludes by offering some practical recommendations for enhancing UN-AU relations.

Reshaping the Global Banking Industry

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Home in foreclosure

Home in foreclosure

The subprime crisis – and the following global crisis – set in when a bank considered “too big to fail” was actually allowed to fail and go bankrupt. Despite five years of reform efforts, the too-big-to-fail syndrome is far from a memory, and it is imperative that economic decision-makers do not divert their attention from this issue so easily. On the contrary, more research into analyzing the costs and benefits of various structural reform schemes would help monetary authorities put the world’s financial system back on the right track.

Prior to the subprime crisis, 29 large global banks saw their ratings raised to just over one point by credit rating agencies because markets expected that they would be able to get state support. Today, those same behemoths benefit from hidden support of nearly three notches, and expectations of public funds support have tripled since the beginning of the crisis.

In real terms, this amounts to an enormous subsidy to the world’s largest banks at artificially low funding costs, ensuring greater profits. Before the financial crisis hit the world economy, tens of billions of dollars were put in big banks as reserves on an annual basis; today, it amounts to hundreds of billions. In other words, if we are to believe the financial market’s expectations, the regulations put in place by governments and international institutions have not prevented the “too-big-to-fail” syndrome.

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Heavy Death toll in Syrian Suburbs

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Source: Basma

Once again President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are proceeding ahead with a major offensive against rebels in Jdaidet Artouz and Jdaidet al-Fateh suburban districts - around 15 kms southwest of the Syrian capital, Damascus - killing countless in the process. In fact, the government troops, as reported, were trying to encircle the contested town of al-Quasyr, so as to quell gains made by the rebels.

Although the precise number of those killed in the latest fighting has not been ascertained, the UK based, Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said that the death toll might rise to as high as 250, mostly due to indiscriminate shelling. The fact stands, further substantiated by the records of another activist group called Local Coordination Committee, which estimated the casualties to be an even higher. It said that most of the victims were killed in Jdaidet Artouz.

The state run-news agency SANA also acknowledged that the Syrian troops had “inflicted heavy losses” on the rebels. Justifying the strong retaliation by government troops, a government official in Damascus told the Associated Press that the rebels were the real culprits behind the “massacre” in Jdaidet al-Fateh. Against this backdrop, the army had no option but to press on with its heavy offensives near the Lebanese border, a strategic region because it links Damascus with the Mediterranean coastal enclave that is the heartland of Mr. Assad’s Alawite sect.

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The White House’s Flawed North Korea Strategy

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President Barack Obama meeting with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in the Oval Office where they discussed among other things tensions with North Korea, February 28, 2011. Pete Souza/White House

President Barack Obama meeting with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in the Oval Office where they discussed among other things tensions with North Korea, February 28, 2011. Pete Souza/White House

In the current crisis on the Korean Peninsula the Obama administration is virtually repeating the 2004 Bush playbook, one that derailed a successful diplomatic agreement forged by the Clinton administration to prevent North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons. While the acute tensions of the past month appear to be receding—all of the parties involved seem to be taking a step back— the problem is not going to disappear and, unless Washington and its allies re-examine their strategy, another crisis is certain to develop.

A little history. In the spring of 1994, the Clinton administration came very close to a war with North Korea over Pyongyang’s threat to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, expel international inspectors, and extract plutonium from reactor fuel rods. Washington moved to beef up its military in South Korea, and, according to Fred Kaplan in the Washington Monthly, there were plans to bomb the Yongbyon reactor. Kaplan is Slate Magazine’s War Stories columnist and author of The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. “Yet at the same time,” writes Kaplan, “Clinton set up a diplomatic back-channel to end the crisis peacefully.” Former President Jimmy Carter was sent to the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of North Korea (DPRK) and the Agreed Framework pact was signed, allowing the parties to back off without losing face.

In return for shipping their fuel rods out of the country, the U.S., South Korea and Japan agreed to finance two light-water nuclear reactors, normalize diplomatic relations, and supply the DPRK with fuel. The U.S. pledged not to invade the North. “Initially, North Korea kept to its side of the bargain,” say Kaplan, “The same cannot be said for our side.” The reactors were never funded and diplomatic relations went into a deep freeze. From North Korea’s point of view, it had been stiffed, and it reacted with public bombast and a secret deal with Pakistan to exchange missile technology for centrifuges to make nuclear fuel.

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History of Economic Growth in India

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Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India during the World Economic Forum's India Economic Summit 2009 held in New Delhi. Photo: Eric Miller

Manmohan Singh, the prime minister of India during the World Economic Forum’s India Economic Summit 2009 held in New Delhi. Photo: Eric Miller

Last month, Morgan Stanly and HSBC lowered India’s economic growth forecast for fiscal years 2013 and 2014 from 5.2 to 5 percent and from 6.2 to 6 percent respectively. These numbers do not sound encouraging, but compared to a GDP growth of 4.5 percent for October-December quarter of FY2013, this news provides some encouragement for India’s economy. According to Finance Minister Chidambaram Palaniappan, India’s economy would grow 6.2-6.7 percent during FY 2014. If accurate, it would be a good economic recovery.

Although it is nowhere near the double digit GDP growth India was enjoying a few years ago, the recent news of an economic turnaround is a cause for celebration, especially when U.S. and European economies are still struggling to get back to pre-recession levels.

India’s economic journey from an impoverished country to an emerging global economy is an inspiring example for many developing nations. In order to understand India’s economic voyage, it is essential to shed some light on India’s political and economic history. After 200 years of British rule, India became an independent sovereign nation in 1947. This newly born nation faced a number of issues including a shattered economy, a minimal rate of literacy and horrific poverty. It was a mission impossible for Indian leaders, but Sardar Patel, Nehru and others transformed India into a secular and democratic nation.

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Terrorist Threat Growing with New Breed of Jihadists

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Source: NPR

The influence of radical Islam is on the rise around the world — and in the United States. Mosques and Islamic schools called madrassas increasingly are teaching extreme, fundamentalist interpretations of the religion that presumably inspired the Chechen-born suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings.

“The way to gain influence among the Muslim community is to control the mosques — to control what people think — to have the right imam preach the right message,” says Steven Emerson, an award-winning journalist and author.

Mr. Emerson, executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism, shared with me shocking insights about the growth of radical Islam in the United States, noting that terrorist network cells have grown rapidly since 1991.  A map painstakingly produced by his nonprofit organization identifies 127 terrorist training and teaching centers in more than 36 states.

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Mali Elections may be in Trouble if France Leaves

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Source: The Washington Times

In January, French President Francois Hollande responded to interim Malian President Dioncounda Traore’s urgent request for military help to keep Islamists from advancing to the capital, Bamako. Since then, the coalition of French and African troops have driven Islamist extremists affiliated with al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa from the northern towns of Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal although sporadic suicide bombings have continued.

On April 11, Malian Prime Minister Diango Sissoko visited Gao, the highest-ranking government leader to do so since the French incursion in January. His mission was to thank Malian troops and reassure the 60,000 residents that elections to form a national government would go forward in July.

The plan includes restoring a government presence in the town and more security. When the Islamists took over northern Mali in March 2012, government officials fled, leaving village leaders to fend for themselves. Malian government leaders fear their army cannot resist the Islamists alone. Mr. Sissoko said that French troops need to stay, at least until stability is achieved.

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2013 Top Young Celebrities Helping Africa

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Source: YPIA

Editor’s Note: In partnership with YPIA, we are especially delighted to cross-post this 2013 list. The 2012 Top 5 winners can be found here.

YPIA is once again happy to announce its top five young megastars under 40 years old who take time out of their busy schedules to help the African continent. This is an annual award and serves as a precursor to the May release of YPIA’s top 35 under 35.

And the winners are:

Jessica Alba, 31

Jessica, who turns 32 on 28 April, has been involved in Africa for several years. In 2010, as Co-Chair of 1GOAL, Jessica went on a campaign to provide education to all children. She joined the ONE team in Senegal and Ghana, and spent a lot of time in South Africa. In 2013, Jessica became the newest global ambassador for Earth Hour, the world’s largest mass participation event that has become the iconic symbol of people’s commitment to protect the planet. She also helped bring awareness to the STUDIO AFRICA initiative by Diesel+EDUN that produces a collection that threads ethical consciousness with creativity.

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Justice Delayed: Efraín Ríos Montt trial Suspended

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Pictured: Efraín Ríos Montt, Guatemala's former dictator

Pictured: Efraín Ríos Montt, Guatemala’s former dictator

Truth commissions are implemented in countries where the judicial system has been tainted by corruption and malfeasance, typically to find ways to defend or justify the perpetrators of human rights abuses. The recent decision to suspend the trial of Efraín Ríos Montt in Guatemala City illustrates the weakness and susceptibility of Guatemala’s judicial system.

Investigating Genocide

Guatemala’s progression toward truth and reconciliation began during the 1994 Oslo Accords with the formation of the Historical Clarification Commission. The internationally sponsored commission was created to investigate human rights violations that occurred throughout the 36-year conflict. Its resulting evidence, based upon domestic and international documents, illustrated the state’s devastating assault on the country’s rural, primarily Mayan, communities.

After a five-year investigation, the commission found “that human rights violations caused by state repression were repeated, and…were…especially severe from 1978 to 1984.” Moreover, it was found that the bloodiest period of the civil war occurred “between 1981 and 1983,” where the military, commanded by then-President Efraín Ríos Montt, willingly “committed acts of genocide against groups of Mayan people.”

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