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May 16, 2013

Enrique Peña Confronts Hard Realities

April 20, 2013 by

Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto speaking in Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo León. Image via Facebook

With the election of Enrique Peña Nieto late last year, Mexican voters demonstrated that their distrust of his Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) was overshadowed by their anxieties surrounding the pressing issues facing the country. The PRI claims that its decades-long tenure during the 20th century means that it knows how to successfully run Mexico, and this time Mexican voters agreed by a substantial margin.

Setting arguments regarding its record aside, the PRI holds only a plurality in both houses, and so it remains to be seen whether it can be consistent and effective in forming the coalitions necessary to pass meaningful legislation. In his first four months in office Enrique Peña Nieto has quickly set the tone of his administration through a series of bold, attention-grabbing measures designed to build momentum and gain popularity. Nieto’s progress in taking on telecoms and television monopolies and reforming Mexico’s abhorrent education system has been meaningful and real; it is paramount, however, to not mistake substance for style.

Nieto is off to a good start, but if he is indeed serious about succeeding in his ambitions to raise Mexico’s annual growth rate to 6% and to nurture the country into a fully developed power, his battle for reform has only just begun.

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Mali is a Victim of Inconsistent U.S. Foreign Policy

December 27, 2012 by

Ethnic Tuareg in Northern Mali. Image via Foreign Policy

On December 20, 2012 President Obama issued a Presidential Proclamation suspending Mali from benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) program–due to coups the country underwent in 2012. At the same time President Obama approved South Sudan’s eligibility under the program—a country in conflict with its neighbor Sudan.

The African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) was established by Congress in May 2000 to create jobs in sub-Saharan Africa—to help reduce poverty—and build trade capacity with the United States. To qualify under the AGOA, countries needed to show improvements in democracy, rule of law, human rights, transparency, and a commitment to work standards that exclude the use of child labor. The AGOA includes over 6,000 items that can be exported to the U.S. duty free and quantity free. The program currently supports over 300,000 jobs (indirectly benefiting 10 million people) in sub-Saharan Africa.

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From Lisbon to Barcelona: Forgotten EU Instruments

December 13, 2012 by

Flags in front of the European Commission building in Brussels. Photo by Sébastien Bertrand

The cynical and misleading claim currently circulating European Union (EU) policymaker circles is: ‘multiculturalism is dead in Europe’.  Truth be told, the EU has silently handed over one of its most important debates – that of European identity – to the wing-parties for years. In turn, it is no wonder that recent selective foreign policy actions serve to challenge EU-member cohesion.

Europe’s economic unity, its fundamental future realignment as well as the maintenance of its overall public standing are embodied in the credibility of its strategic neighborhood and its enduring partnership. The reinvigoration of the EUs “everything but institutions” transformative powers including the European Neighborhood Policy, primarily that of the Barcelona Process, and the Euro-Med partnership (OSCE) remains a forgotten lever of consequential progress available.

By correlating the hydrocarbons with the present political and socio-economic landscape, scholar Larry Diamond’s research suggests that 22 states in the world, which earn 60 percent or more of their respective GDP from oil (and gas), are non-democratic/authoritarian regimes. All of these nations maintain huge disparities, steep socio-economic cleavages, sharp political inequalities and lasting exclusions, not to mention extremely dismal human rights records.

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The Arctic Gold Rush: How Global Warming can lead to Increased Global Energy Security

November 30, 2012 by

Offshore drilling rig. Image via Conflict & Security

At the end of August, NASA delivered a statement, later confirmed by the American National Snow and Ice Data Centre (NSIDC), as well as the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI), in which it stated that the extent of Arctic sea ice in 2012 has reached dramatically low levels.

Since 1979, satellite recordings of the Arctic have provided valuable data on the annual variations of the region’s changing ice sheet. The Arctic ice sheet is in constant motion. It grows during the cold arctic winters, and shrinks during the warmer periods reaching peak melt in mid September. However, since the measurements began, a steady decline of 13 percent per decade has been noted.

Additionally, alternative ways of measuring the extent of Arctic ice, such as sonar scans performed by submarines and seabed tethered buoys, have indicated to a drop in the thickness of the ice by over 40 percent compared to the levels recorded in the 1980s. Combining the loss in extent as well as in thickness, the total volume of Arctic ice is now a mere third of what it was in the 1980s.

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A Carbon Tax for Fiscal and Climate Stability

November 18, 2012 by

President Barack Obama and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie look at Hurricane Sandy storm damage along the coast of New Jersey on Marine One, Oct. 31, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

The White House currently confronts a rare coincidence of environmental and fiscal pressures. Hurricane Sandy has raised the visibility of climate change as a national issue; the storm was the latest in a series of extreme weather events over the past ten years. Ocean surface temperatures have increased over the past few decades, and this trend contributed to Sandy’s gargantuan size and strength. Many scientists attribute this ocean warming to global climate change abetted by human activities.

Meanwhile, the imminent “fiscal cliff” threatens to end the U.S. economy’s recovery.

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UK Seeks to Strengthen Middle East Ties

November 13, 2012 by

The recent announcement that Britain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have signed a defense partnership, which could include military sales from BAE (BA.L), EADS (EADS: NV), and Finmeccanica (FNC.MI) indicates that Britain is seeking to strengthen economic as well as diplomatic ties with its Middle Eastern partners to facilitate regional security and to counter the growing threat of Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

British Prime Minister David Cameron’s visit to the region also focused on addressing recent diplomatic dustups, which have called into question some of Britain’s energy investments in the region, specifically British Petroleum oil concessions in the UAE.

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US Foreign Policy and the Middle East: The Next Four Years

November 11, 2012 by

Syrian fighter during fighting in Aleppo, Syria. Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

Syria

The most immediate problem in the region is the on-going civil war in Syria, a conflict with local and international ramifications. The war—which the oppressive regime of Bashar al-Assad ignited by its crushing of pro-democracy protests— has drawn in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, Iran, and the monarchies of the Persian Gulf, in particular Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The U.S., France and Great Britain are also heavily involved in the effort to overthrow the Assad government.

The war has killed more than 30,000 people and generated several hundred thousand refugees, who have flooded into Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. It has also badly damaged relations between Turkey and Iran. The former supports the insurrection, the latter supports the Assad regime. Pitting Shite Iran (and to a certain extent, Shite Iraq and the Shite-based Hezbollah in Lebanon) against the largely Sunni Muslim opposition has sharpened sectarian tensions throughout the region.

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What the Middle East will Look Like if Iran is Attacked

November 5, 2012 by

Two weeks ago the US denied that an agreement was made to meet with Iranian officials to discuss the Iranian nuclear program after the American election. It appears that Iranian officials either expect Mr. Obama to be reelected or are trying to get back to the negotiating table before they are forced to negotiate with a Romney administration. Iran seems to be signaling its opening position - that it will settle for a “break-out” nuclear capability (wherein the components of a weapon are available for assembly but not readily available) in exchange for the end of sanctions, or an agreement with Israel not to strike. Last month the Iranian Foreign Ministry stated its flexibility in negotiating to “ease western concerns”. In the face of crippling sanctions and an increasing likelihood that Israel may indeed bomb Iran, has Iran finally blinked?

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Convergence of US and Chinese interests on African Security? The Case of the Two Sudans

November 2, 2012 by

Liberian children hold Chinese flags before the arrival of China’s President Hu Jintao in Monrovia in 2007. Christopher Herwig/Reuters via Reuters

There has been intense interest in and outright alarm expressed by western civil society and governments on the rapidly increasing Chinese presence in almost all spheres in African life. Many articles paint a picture of a saintly west and a demonic China in Africa, charging the Chinese on the hearsay evidence of abuse of African workers and poor Chinese workmanship of roads and infrastructure projects. The Chinese focus on resources and infrastructure and its pragmatic and self-interest motivated policy of non-interference in domestic affairs is paraded as the smoking gun of Chinese responsibility for a range of African ills from unemployment here in Cape Town where I write, to the Darfur genocide.

The intense interest by the west in China-Africa relations - arguably a natural development of the globalization process - betrays a deep seated unease on the part of the west as Chinese companies, government and Chinese models of development are shown to be more adaptable, better liked and more suitable in Africa compared to the western counterparts.

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Emerging Powers expand ties with Africa

September 17, 2012 by

Chinese and Chadian workers at an oil site in southern Chad, part of China’s growing economic presence in Africa. Ruth Fremson/The New York Times via The 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.

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.

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China’s Rare Earth Export Restrictions

August 15, 2012 by

The World Trade Organization convened a panel last month at the request of the United States, the European Union, and Japan to rule on China’s export policies for rare earth metals. These countries had earlier held formal consultations which failed to reach agreement. China said rare earth exports are impacted by new environmental and sustainability policies, and there is no intention of market distortion.

Rare earths are seventeen metals increasingly used as alloys to significantly change properties of primary metals. For example, neodymium increases the strength of magnetic fields; scandium alloys are stronger and lighter; praseodymium makes lasers more effective.

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Figuring out Ecuador’s Foreign Policy: From Lukashenko to Assange

August 2, 2012 by

Ecuador’s Rafael Correa with Bolivia’s Evo Morales. Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS

A July 31st guest post in Latin America’s Moment, a blog of the Council on Foreign Relations handled by Shannon O’Neil (a Senior Fellow for Latin American Studies at CFR), discusses the differences between Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa and his eccentric Venezuelan counterpart, Hugo Chavez.

To summarize, the blog post compares and differentiates the two leaders, arguing that the “left-leaning presidents share a common rhetoric (frequently labeling opponents as oligarchs or imperialists), charismatic personalities, a disdain for (and often exaggeration of) U.S. influence in the region, and a taste for forging relationships with some of the world’s most notorious pariah states (Iran and Belarus).”

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Oil and Hegemon

July 15, 2012 by

Recent wars from Libya to Afghanistan and Pakistan in a region of vast natural wealth and strategic importance highlight a phenomenon as old as humanity.  Iraq and Libya had oil, but their leaders were longtime foes of the United States, now the world’s lone hegemon. Saddam Hussein allied with the Soviet Union before its demise, so did Muammar Gaddafi. They both displayed stubbornness. They were ready to drop the American dollar as the oil currency before bigger players like China and India dared.  Saddam and Gaddafi ruled with an iron hand state systems that were brittle. They were too independent for their own good.

Saudi Arabia and tiny Arab emirates such as Bahrain and Qatar, on the other hand, are punching above their weight. Wealthy and dictatorial, their rulers accommodate the hegemon’s interests. These rulers sell their oil and amass petrodollars which they spend in vast quantities on weapons and consumer goods from the industrialized world led by the hegemon. It is a far more agreeable relationship.

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Nigeria: Killing of Oyerinde Signals Further Instability

June 17, 2012 by

Bottom Line Up Front

Faced with an oil-export based economy, intra factional clashes coupled together by a feeble and corrupt centralized government, Nigeria has struggled to become more than a transitional democracy. Armed groups and violence, fueled by disputes over oil revenue sharing efforts have exacerbated internal security problems and continue to undermine domestic stability as well as thwart progress to establish democratic norms.

In May, Olaitan Oyerinde, the Principal Private Secretary (PPS) to the Governor of the State of Edo was killed in an apparent assassination. The attack on the PPS occurred at his private residence, little more than 3 months before the July 14 Gubernatorial elections in the state of Edo. The successful assassination follows two unsuccessful suspected attempts on the Governor of Edo and on the Governor’s Commissioner for Information. It does not appear that this is the work of the Islamist terrorist organization, Boko Haram, instead it is probable that internal constituencies and political machinations are likely to be blamed. This raises the probable specter of further near-term turmoil in Nigeria.

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2012 IMF Economic Outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa

May 21, 2012 by

Nigerians in Lagos using a diesel powered generator. Photo by P Jotter

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) economic outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa published in 2012 is now available. It offered the following conclusions:

Despite difficult external conditions, output in Sub-Saharan Africa grew by 5 percent in 2011. Most countries shared in this expansion. Exceptions included South Africa, slowed by weakness in major European trading partners, and countries in West Africa affected by drought in the Sahel and civil conflict in Cote d’Ivoire.

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