We've detected an outdated browser.

You may want to consider updating your browser. International Policy Digest requires a modern browser in order to view the website properly.

Click here for information on how to update your browser.

Continue Anyways
Long Reads

Archive | Long Reads

Ethiopia and China: How Two Former Empires Connected in the 20th Century

|
Liu Zhen/China News Service
Liu Zhen/China News Service

Liu Zhen/China News Service

Ethiopia was never colonized and along with China has a long imperial history. China’s imperial period came to an end with the fall of the Qing dynasty and formation of the Republic of China as a constitutional republic in 1912. The overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974 by a left-wing military junta ended Ethiopia’s empire. In 1970, four years before the end of Ethiopia’s empire, the People’s Republic of China established formal diplomatic relations with Haile Selassie’s imperial government.

Continue Reading →

Can the Internet Democratize Capitalism?

|
Has the Internet helped democratize capitalism?

Technological fixes to time-honoured problems are all the rage these days.

Has the Internet helped democratize capitalism?

Bitcoin is meant to fix money, social media are seen as an antidote to Rupert Murdoch and assorted tyrants, networked robots are to help countries like Japan deal with demographic declines etc. Perhaps the largest claim is that the Internet has helped (or is about to help) democratize capitalism. Ten years ago that claim struck me as both fascinating and dubious. So, I sat down and wrote an article about it (circa 2004). Its gist: The Internet is a wonderful leveller.

But democracy requires a great deal more than mere ‘levelling.’ Primarily, it requires political institutions that enable the economically weak to have a decisive say on policy against the interests of the rich and powerful. Ten years later, I am re-visiting this question, under the shadow of a global crisis that made it even harder to convert an e’Demos into genuine e’Democracy. What follows is an updated version of the original paper.

Continue Reading →

Unmanned Aerial Drones: If Kill You Must…

|
President Barack Obama in the Oval Office with Thomas E. Donilon, left, the national security adviser, and John O. Brennan, his top counterterrorism adviser.  Pete Souza/White House

UAS (unmanned aviation systems), popularly known as drones, are playing an increased role in armed conflicts. They are used both for collecting intelligence and for deploying lethal force.

President Barack Obama in the Oval Office with Thomas E. Donilon, left, the national security adviser, and John O. Brennan, his top counterterrorism adviser. Pete Souza/White House

Whereas in 2007 there were 74 drone strikes in Afghanistan and 5 in Pakistan, by 2012 the military was executing an average of 33 drone strikes per month in Afghanistan, and the total number of drone strikes in Pakistan has surpassed 330. Drones have been employed in multiple theaters of the counterterrorism campaign, including Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, and Libya.

They are now included in the arsenal of many nations including Israel, China, and Iran. They have even been operated by a non-state actor (Hezbollah) which has flown at least two drones over Israel. Several nations are currently developing drones that will be able to carry out highly-specialized missions, for instance tiny drones able to enter constricted areas through narrow passages. Given the move by the American military away from deploying conventional forces on the ground (in Iraq and Afghanistan) to a ‘light footprint’ strategy of ‘offshore balancing’ (as employed in Libya), drones are likely to play an even more important role in future armed conflicts. Like other new armaments (e.g., long-range cruise missiles and high-altitude carpet bombing) the growing use of drones has triggered a considerable debate over the moral and legal grounds on which they are used. This debate is next reviewed.

Continue Reading →

Challenges for China-Africa Relations

|
President Jacob Zuma addresses the China-Africa roundtable meeting hosted by China's President Xi Jinping in Durban, South Africa. Source: GovernmentZA

Adapted from Amb. David H. Shinn’s Speech to the Cosmopolitan Club in Manhattan.

President Jacob Zuma addresses the China-Africa roundtable meeting hosted by China’s President Xi Jinping in Durban, South Africa. Source: GovernmentZA

Before making any predictions it is important to begin with a few basic assumptions about China that will also impact its relations with Africa. I believe China’s leadership will remain stable and in full control of the country through at least the Xi Jinping era. China’s focus will remain on ensuring domestic political stability and economic development. But structural challenges such as its aging demography, continued migration to cities, higher population growth rate as a result of loosening restrictions on the one child policy, higher labor costs, dangerous levels of income inequality, lack of a universal social security system, worsening environmental conditions, more severe weather events due to climate change, increasing domestic pressure for input on decision-making by ordinary Chinese, and growing global competition from other emerging nations will take their toll on China’s society and system of governance.

Nevertheless, China’s GDP growth rate will continue to out-perform the world average, but at a less impressive rate than during that past three decades. China will also maintain a high savings rate and contribute disproportionately to global economic growth. While it will try to change elements of the existing international order, it will operate within this system rather than try to replace it.

Continue Reading →

Understanding Egypt’s Political Map

|
A general view for the first Egyptian parliament session after the revolution that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, January 23, 2012. Asmaa Waguih/Reuters

If parties from across all of Egypt’s political spectrum agree on one thing, it’s this: the country is currently witnessing the greatest turmoil since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster and is facing upheaval with no end in sight.

A general view for the first Egyptian parliament session after the revolution that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, January 23, 2012. Asmaa Waguih/Reuters

The unity and resolve displayed by millions of Egyptians two years ago when they decisively deposed the authoritarian and corrupt Mubarak regime is long gone. Throughout these tumultuous two years, there emerged two major fault lines across the country’s political class: one that resulted from the revolution, namely the revolutionary vs. the counter-revolutionary groups; and one along ideological grounds, namely the Islamic vs. the secular parties.

All agree that the revolution was launched spontaneously by non-ideological youth groups, who paid the heaviest price and made the biggest sacrifices during the early days of the revolution. Such groups proclaim the mantle of the revolution and maintain that it has been hijacked by better-organized and established groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the Salafis.

Continue Reading →

Latvia’s Economic Disaster as a Neoliberal Success Story

and |
Street in Riga, Latvia. Photo: Pablo Pecora

A generation ago the Chicago Boys and their financial supporters applauded General Pinochet’s anti-labor Chile as a success story, thanks mainly to its transformation of their Social Security into Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) that almost universally were looted by the employer grupos by the end of the 1970s.

Street in Riga, Latvia. Photo: Pablo Pecora

In the last decade, the Bush administration, seeking a Trojan Horse to privatize Social Security in the United States, applauded Chile’s disastrous privatization of pension accounts (turning many over to US financial institutions) even as that nation’s voters rejected the Pinochetistas largely out of anger at the vast pension rip-off by high finance.

Today’s most highly celebrated anti-labor success story is Latvia. Latvia is portrayed as the country where labor did not fight back, but simply emigrated politely and quietly. No general strikes, nor destruction of private property or violence, Latvia is presented as a country where labor had the good sense to not make a fuss when faced with austerity. Latvians gave up protest and simply began voting with their backsides (emigration) as the economy shrank, wage levels were scaled down, and where tax burdens remained decidedly on the backs of labor, even though recent token efforts have been made to increase taxes on real estate. The World Bank applauds Latvia and its Baltic neighbors by placing them high on its list of “business friendly” economies, even though at times scolding their social regimes as even too harsh for the Victorian tastes of the international financial institutions.

Continue Reading →

America’s Deceptive Fiscal Cliff

|
Wall Street in New York City.  Source: Gawker

When World War I broke out in August 1914, economists on both sides forecast that hostilities could not last more than about six months. Wars had grown so expensive that governments quickly would run out of money. It seemed that if Germany could not defeat France by springtime, the Allied and Central Powers would run out of savings and reach what today is called a fiscal cliff and be forced to negotiate a peace agreement.

Wall Street in New York City. Source: Gawker

But the Great War dragged on for four destructive years. European governments did what the United States had done after the Civil War broke out in 1861 when the Treasury printed greenbacks. They paid for more fighting simply by printing their own money. Their economies did not buckle and there was no major inflation. That would happen only after the war ended, as a result of Germany trying to pay reparations in foreign currency. This is what caused its exchange rate to plunge, raising import prices and hence domestic prices. The culprit was not government spending on the war itself (much less on social programs).

But history is written by the victors, and the past generation has seen the banks and financial sector emerge victorious. Holding the bottom 99% in debt, the top 1% are now in the process of subsidizing a deceptive economic theory to persuade voters to pursue policies that benefit the financial sector at the expense of labor, industry, and democratic government as we know it.

Continue Reading →

Egypt’s Democracy on Hold

|
Protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy

By the time President Mohammed Morsi issued his Constitutional Decree on November 22, the political battle lines in Egypt had been clearly drawn.

Protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy

One side, mostly comprised the forces of political Islam led by the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). But it also included the conservative Salafi groups such as Al-Noor (Light) and Building and Development Parties, as well as other moderate ones such as Al-Wasat (Center), Al-Hadara (Civilization) and Al-Asalah (Authenticity).

The other side encompassed an array of groups and parties from the far left to the far right: those who represented traditional liberal, socialist, and nationalist forces as well as the Coptic Christian church. Ironically, they also included some of the most active revolutionary youth groups such as the April 6 Movement, as well as powerful remnants of the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak, whom the revolutionaries had vowed to bring down and put on trial for corruption and repression.

Continue Reading →

How Neoliberal Tax and Financial Policy Impoverishes Russia

|
IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard.  Stephen Jaffe/IMF

Russian poverty is unnecessary. Like all poverty in today’s high-productivity age, it is the result of bad policy. There is no technological need for it, nor is Russia lacking in a full spectrum of natural resources and economic potential. So future historians no doubt will puzzle over how the nation was convinced to de-industrialize its economy and impoverish much of its population in favor of exporting fuels and minerals, and to impose more regressive taxes on labor and industry than existed anywhere in the West – having been assured that this would streamline growth, not stifle it.

IMF chief economist Olivier Blanchard. Stephen Jaffe/IMF

Neoliberal advisors promised that Russia would become more efficient and affluent by following an almost diametrically opposite path from that which Britain, the United States, Germany, Japan and modern China took to raise themselves to industrial power – the policies that classical 19th-century liberals endorsed to reduce the power of rentiers over the economy and government. Instead, post-Soviet polarization between rich and poor over the past twenty years has seen falling living standards and a dismantling of manufacturing, education and public infrastructure go hand in hand with creation of a new class of instant billionaires at the top of a steeper economic pyramid than exists in Western industrial powers.

This polarization was implicit in the policy advice outlined in 1990, a year before the Soviet Union dissolved, at meetings with the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other inter-governmental organizations in Houston, Texas. It is part of the worldwide dynamic of financialization centralizing planning in the banking sector – a combination of debt leveraging, privatization and dismantling government’s traditional role.

Continue Reading →

Burma Washes Its Hands of the Rohingyas

|
A Rohingya Muslim who fled Myanmar pleads with Bangladesh border authorities after his boat was intercepted. Source: MILLA Project

To outside observers, the carnage inflicted on the Rohingya minority – a five-month spasm of violence and de fact ethnic cleansing ostensibly stemming from the rape of a Buddhist woman by three Rohingya men – in Rakhine Province is indefensible and inexplicable.

A Rohingya Muslim who fled Myanmar pleads with Bangladesh border authorities after his boat was intercepted. Source: MILLA Project

What is even less understandable to Westerners is the virtually universal closing of ranks among local and national governments, pro and anti-government Buddhist monks, junta apologists and pro-democracy activists, President Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi, all uniting to deny the apparently undeniable fact that an old fashioned pogrom is taking place against Rohingya minority and other Muslims.

Friends of Myanmar are puzzled and dismayed that the progressives they have championed have joined forces with the country’s most reactionary forces to deny the overwhelming evidence that Rohingya – a dark-skinned Muslim ethnic minority with cultural and linguistic ties to neighboring Bangladesh – are being driven out of their homes by a campaign of intimidation, arson, and violence in 2012 that builds upon years of marginalization and demonization.

Continue Reading →

Emerging Powers expand ties with Africa

|
Chinese and Chadian workers at an oil site in southern Chad. Ruth Fremson/New York Times

The end of the Cold War resulted in the strategic disengagement of western countries, including the United States, from Africa. They continued their trade, aid and assistance relationship with Africa, but once the threat of communist expansion disappeared, the West interacted with the continent in a different way. This change permitted an opening for several emerging countries to expand their ties with Africa.

Chinese and Chadian workers at an oil site in southern Chad. Ruth Fremson/New York Times

As some of these emerging non-African countries became economically strong, they increasingly replaced western influence and engagement in Africa, particularly in certain countries. This new development has fundamentally changed the relationship between the fifty-four countries of Africa and the rest of the world.

China is the most important emerging actor in Africa today. In fact, China has become the principal non-African presence—western or non-western—in a number of African countries. Other emerging countries are also rapidly expanding their activities on the continent. Most notable is India, which has long-standing ties to East Africa and South Africa.

Continue Reading →

Financial Predators v. Labor, Industry and Democracy

|
Source: Images Money

The Eurozone lacks a central bank to do what most central banks are supposed to do: finance government deficits. To make matters worse, the Lisbon Agreement limits these deficits to 3% – too small to pull economies out of depression by offsetting private-sector debt deflation.

Source: Images Money

Even if central banks could monetize higher levels of deficit spending, there are good reasons not to subsidize unfair tax systems and tax cuts on the real estate and financial “free lunch” windfalls that classical economists urged to be the tax base. Under classical tax policy, Europe would not have had a land-price bubble in the first place. “Free lunch” economic rent would have become the tax base, not capitalized into bank loans to be paid out as interest. Government budgets would have been financed in a way that kept down property prices.

But bank lobbyists have blocked the Eurozone from creating a true central bank to finance public budget deficits. They also have reversed classical tax policy, un-taxing real estate and finance while putting the burden on labor, corporate profits and consumers by the turnover tax (VAT). These twin financial and fiscal policies have strengthened the wrong sectors and made the current sovereign debt crisis inevitable, turning it into a general economic and political crisis.

Continue Reading →

Back to Square One in Egypt?

|
A general view for the first Egyptian parliament session after the revolution that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, January 23, 2012. Asmaa Waguih/Reuters

On Thursday June 14, the High Constitutional Court in Egypt will rule on two pending motions that may radically change the future course of Egypt and determine the fate of its remarkable – but unfinished – revolution.

A general view for the first Egyptian parliament session after the revolution that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo, January 23, 2012. Asmaa Waguih/Reuters

The two motions are the constitutionality of the political ban on the former regime senior officials, such as Gen. Ahmad Shafiq, the undeclared military’s candidate for president, and the constitutionality of last winter’s parliamentary elections. Each decision might drastically alter the power structure in the country, and possibly propel another revolution whose fate remains unclear. But how did we get to this point of complete uncertainty?

History will show that the unity displayed by the Egyptian people during the eighteen revolutionary days in early 2011 was decisive in convincing the Egyptian military to dump Mubarak and side with the people. Although the revolution was initially called for and led by the youth groups on January 25, soon after most political and social movements, religious and secular, and civil society groups including labor unions, professional syndicates, students, as well as the common man and woman in the street were demonstrating across Egypt by the millions, demanding the ouster of their dictator and the end of his corrupt regime.

Continue Reading →

Disaster Management in Southeast Asia: Issues and Challenges

and |
Damaged coastline from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. Photo: Samuel Lippke

When several countries in Southeast Asia announced their intention to develop nuclear power recently, many inhabitants of that region were spooked. Even as developed countries are shutting down their nuclear power plants, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam have indicated that they will be building their first nuclear power plants. The biggest concern is that Southeast Asia is prone to frequent natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis.

Damaged coastline from the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. Photo: Samuel Lippke

If a major earthquake or tsunami set off a nuclear disaster equal to that which struck Japan in March 2011 were to hit any one of those countries mentioned above, the devastation for the region as a whole will almost certainly be much greater since countries in Southeast Asia are located in close proximity to one another. For example, a nuclear disaster in Malaysia or Indonesia will almost certainly place the five million inhabitants of Singapore in serious peril. Even worse, Southeast Asian countries have yet to develop the capacity to mount effective disaster relief operations.

Southeast Asia is made up of 11 countries and in terms of landmass, the region is roughly half the size of the United States. With a total population of approximately 620 million and an average per capita GDP of US$2,500 (in 2009), Southeast Asia has experienced two major natural disasters in the last decade: the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and the 2008 Cyclone Nargis. The two natural calamities claimed the lives of more than four hundred thousands and caused tens of billions in damages in an already impoverished region. But despite the devastation, most Southeast Asian countries remain ill-prepared today to deal with major calamities for three crucial reasons.

Continue Reading →

The Calculus of Egypt’s Presidential Race

|
Salafi Islamists rally in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Photo: Jonathan Rashad

“President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from his position as president of the republic.” Uttered by former Vice President Omar Suleiman on the evening of February 11, 2011, these words set in motion jubilations by millions of Egyptians celebrating the ultimate triumph of their will over the obstinate dictator.

Salafi Islamists rally in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Photo: Jonathan Rashad

Although the previous eighteen tumultuous days had united the overwhelming majority of Egyptians regardless of political orientation, religious persuasion, economic class or social strata, the ultimate victory of the revolution was not inevitable. The massive demonstrations that started on January 25, were originally called for by groups dominated by youth activists such as the April 6 Movement and “We are All Khaled Said,” in reference to the young blogger who was murdered by state security agents. Most established political parties and social movements including the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) did not initially support the calls to protest in anticipation of the security crackdown, though they did not discourage their members from participation.

Within days the demonstrations escalated and it became clear that the security forces were not able to stop the growing protests. By January 28, the protesters called for a Day of Rage, and all genuine opposition parties, led by the MB, took to the streets calling for the ouster of Mubarak. Within two weeks, the regime was ousted and the military, under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which refused to back Mubarak and violently disperse the demonstrators, assumed political control, promising a peaceful transfer of power to a democratically elected civilian government within six months.

Continue Reading →