May 28, 2013

The Blog

Obama’s Myopic Myanmar Policy

May 25, 2013 by

President Barack Obama holds a bilateral meeting with President Thein Sein of Myanmar in the Oval Office, May 20, 2013. Lawrence Jackson/White House

In a recent meeting with Burma’s premier, Thein Sein, at the White House, President Barack Obama recognized his counterpart’s “genuine efforts” to assuage inter-communal tensions. Undoubtedly, Thein Sein was overjoyed to hear Obama refer to Myanmar instead of Burma. This symbolical approval of the former military state’s reforms underpins further nods for reforms that the country has undertaken.

Political and economic reforms in Burma, spearheaded by the ruling government, are aspiring vis-à-vis the country’s previous status of a pariah state. Democracy has taken root and the government has abandoned its long-standing policy of opposition suppression, in particular, silencing Aung San Suu Kyi. Suu Kyi along with 42 of her supporters from the National League for Democracy (NLD) won seats in the 2012 parliamentary elections.

Political and economic reforms have already started to pay off. One of the most significant moves by the Bank of Myanmar (the defunct Union Bank of Burma) is to float their already inflated currency, the Kyat. Under the previous exchange system where foreign currencies were devalued against the Kyat, the regime could cloak and appropriate the national revenues earned by exporting national resources like gas and wood. The government also enacted a Foreign Investment Law, which is considered investment friendly. Burma’s government is also allowing foreign institutions to lend money more freely.


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The Power of Social Business

May 23, 2013 by

Muhammad Yunus, a proponent of the social business model. Image via DUTIEE

Social business is a viable mechanism for social change. It can potentially eradicate many social ills like poverty, malnutrition, hunger and others. The poor in Bangladesh have had enough. Now is the time to reform our social, economic, and political systems to tackle our social problems. Poverty is on the rise. In piecemeal steps, the government of Bangladesh is trying to reform our systems to improve our livelihoods. But it cannot do everything alone. We need other means. So, we must harness the power of social business to tackle poverty and other social problems.

Of the main societal problems that plague Bangladesh, over-population, poverty and unemployment are the most urgent. A significant portion of our population is mired in poverty. Unable to cope with poverty, many engage in activities that are illegal and undermine our democratic values. We must rise above these conditions. There is a huge gap between the haves and the have-nots in Bangladesh. A few are getting richer while many are getting poorer.

In Bangladesh, only 10 percent of the population enjoys 90 percent of resources while 90 percent of the population scrambles to share the remaining 10 percent. This inequality exists throughout the world. If this persists, the demand food and oil will grow exponentially. As a developing country, the effect of this economic crisis will have a devastating effect in Bangladesh. The society will devolve into chaos and crime, which will spread among the cities and villages across the country. So, we must utilize the power of social business to prevent these catastrophic events. (more…)

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Japan Seeks to Mend ties with North Korea

May 22, 2013 by

Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister

The big story in Asia affairs today is a little trip that was supposed to stay a secret: the dispatch of Isao Iijima, adviser to Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to meet with senior officials in North Korea, thereby breaking the united US/South Korean/Japanese front in negotiations with Pyongyang.

It is the first instance of an overt divergence between Japanese and US diplomatic and security strategies, something that has been implicit in Japan’s sometimes-inflammatory brand of nationalism under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe - and Abe’s determination to move Japan beyond its traditional role of obedient US ally to independent regional force.

The United States has been quietly disapproving of Japan’s China strategy - witness Kurt Campbell’s statement that the US advised Japan against nationalizing the Senkaku islands - and provocative nationalist hi-jinks on issues like the Yasukuni Shrine, but excused them as politically motivated exercises in domestic base-pandering.


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Diplomacy May Still Succeed in Syria

May 17, 2013 by

Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow

The Arab Spring that prompted the ouster of authoritarian regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya also led to the rise of Islamists who are bent on creating Islamic states that adhere to Shariah law — and that fate could await Syria after dictator Bashar Assad falls.  The democratically elected governments of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are either led or beset by Islamists.

Libyan President Mohammed Magerief, leader of the General National Congress, is at risk of being overthrown by the Islamist extremists.  Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki faces a similar challenge from radical Salafists — members of a fundamentalist Islamic sect.  Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood is pressing to create an Islamic state ruled under Shariah law.


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The State Department’s Failure to Protect Diplomats

May 14, 2013 by

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrives to announce the deaths of the Americans in Benghazi

Always unarmed, ambassadors often are protected only by the goodwill of the countries in which they serve. But when hostilities arise, when governments fall, when their very lives are threatened, ambassadors and their staffs can rely only on the will and the strength of their homeland to ensure their security.

Before taking their assignments, U.S. ambassadors are given a presidential Letter of Instruction stating that the secretary of state “has responsibility for the coordination and supervision of all U.S. government activities and operations abroad” and “must protect all United States Government personnel on official duty.”  Congressional investigations into the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, have shown that the State Department failed to do just that, breaking its covenant with its diplomatic corps.

As a former U.S. ambassador who had received the Letter of Instruction, I was appalled when then-Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, testifying before Congress in January, tried to minimize the deaths of U.S. personnel in Benghazi by saying, “What difference at this point does it make?”  It makes a big difference. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens, State Department officer Sean Smith, and former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods were killed when heavily armed extremists overran the U.S. diplomatic compound and, several hours later, assaulted a nearby CIA annex.


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The Morality of Drones

May 14, 2013 by

Israel’s Heron TP Eitan drone

The world is witnessing a chasm that will set American war technology far above the rest of the world. Whereas drones were once used for land surveillance, now they are being equipped with bombs and are being used for targeted assassinations. There are limited political restraints on the legality and morality of a drone strike. Drones are a dirtier and asymmetrical type of warfare, the inevitability of mass casualties, which begs the question of morality, as well as the prospect of vulnerable robotic systems.

Manned air warfare has been used for over a hundred years. However, with the development of Unarmed Air Vehicles (UAVs), the need for human pilots has been eliminated. During the First World War the U.S. Navy used “air torpedoes”, unmanned Curtis biplanes, with attached TNT, designed to nosedive at a target and explode. However, the planes never gained enough interest before the end of the war in 1918. After many other failed attempts to develop a useable drone, the project remained stagnant for years. Then in the 1950s the U.S. Military created a “proto-drone” known as the Cruise Missile, and with that design, engineers were able to tinker with the mechanics to create the “modern drone” in the early 1990s. During this time drones have been used specifically for surveillance and it wasn’t until the late 1990s that the U.S. Air Force started attaching missiles to their unarmed aircrafts. America started flying drones over the Middle East in 2000 and the first non-military supported drone strike was on February 4th, 2002.


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Militarization as a way of life in Kilinochchi

May 10, 2013 by

Kilinochchi, Sri Lanka

Even though the protracted internal armed conflict has ended, community members have been unable to return to their day-to-day lives. Under the administration of Mahinda Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s militarization has continued unabated. The Sri Lanka Army (SLA) has established numerous checkpoints and camps near peoples’ homes. Military personnel frequently patrol these areas – day and night. Sadly, the military’s intrusion into practically all aspects of civilian affairs remains a way of life in the conflict-affected North and East.

At the entrance to Kanthi Kiramam (Kilinochchi), there is a small army camp. Members of the 7th Battalion of the Sri Lanka National Guard (7SLNG) reside there.  A checkpoint is located on the other side of the camp, adjacent to a bus stop. At least three members of the military are actually living at that checkpoint. A brief history of this checkpoint may be of interest to both domestic and international observers.

Checkpoint Installation: Sequence of Events and Dubious Reasoning

Community members opposed the establishment of this checkpoint. Many community members said that such a checkpoint would frighten people while waiting for the bus.


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Update on Somali Famine 2010-2012

May 8, 2013 by

Somali child from a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) near the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) base in Mogadishu. Tobin Jones/UN

A new study estimates that famine and severe food insecurity in Somalia claimed the lives of about 258,000 people between October 2010 and April 2012, including 133,000 children under five. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia and the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) commissioned the study.

A two page summary of the study said a combination of events triggered the famine. First, the eastern Horn of Africa experienced the driest period in 60 years. Second, donors delivered a low amount of humanitarian aid in southern Somalia in 2010 and much of 2011. In many areas, conflict and insecurity impeded humanitarian aid and access. You can access the complete 87 page report titled “Mortality among populations of southern and central Somalia affected by severe food insecurity and famine during 2010-2012″ by following the link in the summary.

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Bangladesh’s Identity Crisis

May 7, 2013 by

Hefazat-e Islam supporters. Image via BBC

This past Sunday’s clash between Islamist groups and security forces has turned the capital city of Bangladesh, Dhaka into a ghost town. Does it blacken Bangladesh’s image as a moderate Muslim country?  On Sunday this week, approximately half a million supporters of a new movement-Hefazat-e Islam (protector of Islam) staged a sit-in at each entrance point to Dhaka in order to isolate Dhaka from the rest of the country.

This later turned into a violent battle with police that cost at least fifteen lives with scores of injured. Hefazat, however, claims that the actual death toll is higher than that. As the live telecast has been suspended and some areas blacked out while the civil defence agencies go into action to disperse the staunch activists of Hefazat, it has become difficult to ascertain the number of people killed by police. The situation still looks dire in Dhaka.

The virtual battlefield of Dhaka streets may send an obscure message to the world. Is Bangladesh en route to becoming an Islamic state?


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Somalia’s Tribalism spells Trouble for the Future

May 7, 2013 by

A man sits next to his herd of goats at the Bakara Animal Market in Mogadishu, Somalia. Tobin Jones/UN

Somalis do not need to focus on topics that are fundamentally weakening their society. Somalis are at a crossroads of putting together a society that has been in disarray for more than two decades; mired by a long civil war and social fragmentation prompted by tribalism.

Tribalism is ugly and was rejected by the ancient Greeks and developed societies. The failure to recognize the adverse consequences of tribalism in Somalia especially in the areas of social and economic development was hindered by political opportunists who pushed for political and economic spoils by appealing to false nationalism.


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Challenges Facing New Somali Government

April 29, 2013 by

Somali’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud

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?

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Attempt on Life of American Jihadi in Somalia

April 27, 2013 by

Image via 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.”

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UN and African Union Peace Operations

April 26, 2013 by

Image via 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.

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Heavy Death toll in Syrian Suburbs

April 25, 2013 by

In Karm al Jabal neighborhood in Aleppo, Syria on March 4, 2014. Credit: 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.


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Terrorist Threat Growing with New Breed of Jihadists

April 24, 2013 by

Tamerlan Tsarnaev (left) and his brother, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

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.


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