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The World

Archive | The World

Burma’s Reform: An Opportunity or a Threat?

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Aung San Suu Kyi in Oslo. Photo: Sjur Stølen

Luminaries smelled blood. Hillary Clinton, Kevin Rudd, and David Cameron came and went, openly advocating for continued democratic reform. All met with Ms. Aung Sun Suu Kyi.

Aung San Suu Kyi in Oslo. Photo: Sjur Stølen

In the aftermath of grandiose state visits from such luminaries to Burma (officially known as Myanmar), Aung Sun Suu Kyi and military leaders face a long and difficult task to bring about political, social, and economic reforms in a country that has remained under a brutal military junta and isolated from most of the world since 1960.

In politics, relationships matter less. Interest matters most. U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, a high-ranking Republican, recently expressed his glowing enthusiasm and hopes for the reform in Burma. He thought Burma is on the path to achieve something that once seemed impossible. Ironically, Sen. McConnell is also the “architect” of the economic sanctions against Burma. The U.S. and Western interest in Burma is palpable in light of Burma’s strategic geographic location, its ties with China, and its natural resources. The integrity of this interest must be tested against what is really at skate for Burma.

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Politics and Islam in Central Asia and MENA

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Muslims praying

Following the democratization of predominantly Muslim countries in Central Asia and MENA there are many challenges still yet to be met.

Muslims praying

For the overall development of the region to progress and to assure alternatives to the autocratic governments that dominate these two regions, more will need to be done by the West and international institutions. Following the Six-Day War in 1967 there was a movement towards radical Islam. Since that time, radical politicized Islam has become an alarming trend that adversely affects the development of MENA and Central Asia, and also adversely affects its people and their economies. Anti-Western ideologies do not promote democracy and they adversely affect opportunities to provide economic growth.

A major component of radical Islamist groups are the traditionalists, who have their own interpretation of Islamic traditions, which has led to conflicts with non-Islamic governments. Jeffrey Haynes writes, “Some propose (and/or practise) armed struggle to wrest power from governments that are seen to be ruling in an un‐Islamic way…However, despite differences in strategy and tactics, such entities have two beliefs in common: (1) politics and religion are inseparable; and (2) Sharia law should ideally be applied to all Muslims.”

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Latin America’s Shift on Drug Policy

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Defense Secretary Leon Panetta meets with Chilean Defense Minister Andrés Allamand in Santiago, Chile, April 26, 2012

I recently read an interesting and smart piece on one of Foreign Policy’s blogs which charted some notable policy shifts among current Latin American heads of state as it relates to drugs.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta meets with Chilean Defense Minister Andrés Allamand in Santiago, Chile, April 26, 2012

It is true that, more than two years ago, the former leaders of Brazil, Colombia and Mexico all (rightly) claimed that the “war on drugs” had been unsuccessful. It is also true that the current presidents of Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Guatemala (among others) have also called for a rethink on the current prohibition regime. In addition, Adam Siegel, of Eurasia Group, rightly points out that leaders like Guatemala’s Ottó Pérez are not deriding current drug policies because they are champions of individual liberty. Rather, Pérez and company want to suffocate the cartels and staunch the violence that continues plague the region, especially Central America.

President Barack Obama has been encouraged to offer up some “policy alternatives” at the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. However, merely offering alternatives does not measure sincerity or political will. Yes, criticism of US drug policy will rise in the coming years. On the other hand, the idea that a sitting US President would be deeply moved by a few Central American nations or even Mexico when it comes to this issue, is hard to believe. Besides, one hugely important actor still has not been accounted for: the American public. The most effectual pressure that Obama (or any future US president) would feel when it comes to reexamining drug policy will be domestic.

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The Logic of Unintended Consequences: The ‘Mess in Mali’

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The intentional misreading of UN security council resolution 1973 resulted in NATO’s predictably violent intervention in Libya last year.

Amadou Toumani Touré. Photo: Kris Krüg

Not only did the action cost many thousands of lives and untold destruction, it also paved the way for perpetual conflict - not only in Libya but throughout North Africa. Mali was the first major victim of NATO’s Libyan intervention. It is now a staple in world news and headlines such as “The mess in Mali” serve as a mere reminder of a bigger “African mess.” On March 17 last year resolution 1973 resolved to establish a no-fly zone over Libya.

On March 19, NATO’s bombers began scorching Libyan land, supposedly to prevent a massacre of civilians. The next day, an ad-hoc high-level African Union panel on Libya met in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, and made one last desperate call to bring Nato’s war to an immediate halt. It stated: “Our desire is that Libya’s unity and territorial integrity be respected as well as the rejection of any kind of foreign military intervention.” The African Union (AU) is seldom considered a viable political player by the UN, NATO or any interventionist Western power. But AU members were fully aware that NATO was unconcerned with human rights or the well-being of African nations. They also knew that instability in one African country can lead to major instabilities throughout the region.

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The Promise of Colombia

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Álvaro Colom, the former president of Guatemala greets Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia.  Photo: Luis Echeverría

While much of the globe has been mired in an economic malaise, the simultaneous growth of Latin America has been well chronicled.

Álvaro Colom, the former president of Guatemala greets Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia. Photo: Luis Echeverría

Most of the attention given to Latin America’s rise has focused on Brazil, which recently surpassed Great Britain to become the world’s sixth largest economy. The attention has been justified given Brazil’s remarkable turnaround, its economic growth, potential growth, and forthcoming global spotlight by way of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics. Overlooked by many when examining the opportunities for growth that exist in Latin America is the promise of Colombia.

In January, Colombia’s Minister of Trade, Industry, and Tourism, Sergio Diaz Granados, said that his nation seeks to be the third largest Latin American economy by 2015. The goal of becoming the “largest economy in Latin America after Brazil and Mexico” is spurred on by their estimates, which show that the Colombian economy grew by 7.7 percent in the third quarter of 2011. The economic forecast is equally encouraging with IMF estimates that the Colombian economy will continue to grow by 4.5 percent between 2012 and 2015.

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Conference Report: “Humanity and Humanitarianism in Crisis”

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Source: Asia Association for Global Studies

After many months of following and writing about the triple disasters in Fukushima, Japan- the earthquake, the tsunami, and the meltdown of the nuclear power plants—I was pleased to discover a conference that seemed as though it might touch on precisely these issues.

Source: Asia Association for Global Studies

I signed up to attend the annual meeting held in Tokyo in Mid-March, of the Asia Association for Global Studies (AAGS), a forum for international educators focusing on global events across many disciplines, to be held in Tokyo. The theme for the annual conference was “Humanity and Humanitarianism in Crisis”. Hosted by International Christian University in Tokyo, Japan between March 17 and 18, 2012, the conference setting was very comfortable, even opulent- International Christian University, a huge university campus on the outskirts of Tokyo, replete with topiary gardens and what will soon, with a little rain, be a plush carpet of moss, felt like a 1970‘s American island in a Japanese sea. And about as far away from the disasters we were recounting, as it could be.

Some of us conference presenters even attempted to take a side trip up north to Fukushima, to better understand the scenario we had been writing about, only to be kindly but firmly told to observe the exclusion zone around Ground Zero. And that if we were so foolhardy as to try the trip, we would need special papers and steel toed boots to enter the zone. Our safety could not be guaranteed and we gave up. The conference presentations were interesting, thoughtful, often inspired, some genuinely moving. My goal here is to portray a very brief sampling (five papers out of 40) of the talks. All conference papers are posted on the AAGS website and many will later be published as conference proceedings.

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China, The Frog and the Scorpion

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Ousted Communist Party leader Bo Xilai. Bo Xilai's wife, Gu Kailai, is a suspect in Neil Heywood's murder. Nelson Ching/Bloomberg

“Bo Xilai’s actions have seriously violated the party’s discipline, caused damage to the party and to the country, and harmed the image of the party and the country.” – China’s People’s Daily

Ousted Communist Party leader Bo Xilai. Bo Xilai’s wife, Gu Kailai, is a suspect in Neil Heywood’s murder. Nelson Ching/Bloomberg

Behind the political crisis that saw the recent fall of powerful Communist Party leader Bo Xilai is an internal battle over how to handle China’s slowing economy and growing income disparity, while shifting from a cheap labor export driven model to one built around internal consumption. Since China is the second largest economy on the planet—and likely to become the first in the next 20 to 30 years—getting it wrong could have serious consequences, from Beijing to Brasilia, and from Washington to Mumbai.

China’s current major economic challenges include a dangerous housing bubble, indebted local governments, and a widening wealth gap, problems replicated in most of the major economies in the world. Worldwide capitalism—despite China’s self-description as “socialism with Chinese characteristics”—is in the most severe crisis since the great crash of the 1930s. The question is: can any country make a system with serious built in flaws function for all its people? While capitalism was the first economic system to effectively harness the productive capacity of humanity, it is also characterized by periodic crises, vast inequities, and a self-destructive profit motive that lays waste to everything from culture to the environment.

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Post-Geneva Delusions: The Next Steps in Sri Lanka

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Laura Dupuy Lasserre, president of the Human Rights Council opens session on Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

Sri Lanka’s Minister of External Affairs, G.L. Peiris, has recently given one additional reason for the passage of a resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN’s Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva: “collective commitments.”

Laura Dupuy Lasserre, president of the Human Rights Council opens session on Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

Evidently, Mr. Peiris had been informed by one of his European counterparts that certain members of the European Union (EU) were unsupportive of the resolution, but were compelled to vote in favor of it, since a group decision had been taken by the EU. Mr. Peiris went on to say that even some US Congressman did not view the HRC in a positive light, due to the fact that the body is “politicized.” (It is unclear to this writer how a United Nations forum where nation states meet to discuss human rights could be apolitical, but I will not belabor that point).

In addition, Mr. Peiris also announced in Parliament that the government would not tolerate foreign intervention of any kind. If this is post-Geneva government policy, what does all of this mean? The Sri Lankan government mismanaged its time and resources in Geneva. Besides, it was never really clear who was leading the delegation anyway. Was it G.L Peiris or was it Plantation Minister and Special Human Rights Envoy Mahinda Samarasinghe?

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The Effects of the U.S. Resolution Against Sri Lanka

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Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, U.S. Representative to the Human Rights Council, addressing the HRC on March 15, 2010

Europe and most of Latin America supported the US resolution against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council’s (HRC) 19th session in Geneva.

Ambassador Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, U.S. Representative to the Human Rights Council, addressing the HRC on March 15, 2010

China, Russia, and several countries in Africa and Asia voted against it. Unsurprisingly, Cuba and Ecuador also opposed the resolution. Having never before voted for a “country-specific resolution,” India’s vote was significant, both symbolically and materially. It is unclear what Delhi’s decision will mean when it comes to US-Indian relations in the coming years or what effect it will have on Indo-Sri Lankan ties.

The Sri Lankan government has already stated said that the “intimate relations” between India and Sri Lanka will not be affected, but that is just simplistic government braggadocio. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh recently said that India does “not want to infringe on the sovereignty of Sri Lanka,” which appears to be incompatible with the vote his country cast on Thursday in Geneva. India was in an extremely difficult position, but it is still hard to believe that they did not abstain.

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A Need for Pan-Asian Institutions in Asia

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President Barack Obama prior to the APEC summit in Yokohama, Japan, Nov. 13, 2010. Pete Souza/White House

For over a decade, many relevant academic journals have prophesized the 21st century as the Asian century.

President Barack Obama prior to the APEC summit in Yokohama, Japan, Nov. 13, 2010. Pete Souza/White House

The argument is usually based on impressive economic growth, increased production, trade and booming foreign currency reserves. Undoubtedly, the fact that Asia holds nearly 1/3 of the total world population doesn’t hurt its chances from overtaking the United States and Europe in many areas. However, history serves as a powerful reminder by warning us that economically and/or demographically mighty geographic centers run into problems, especially when the periphery is weakened by several factors.

This means that any (absolute or relative) shift in economic or demographic strength will inevitably put additional stress on the existing power equilibriums that support this balance in the particular theater (implicit or explicit structure). Thus, what is the state of Asia’s security structures? What are the existing capacities of Asian countries of preventive diplomacy and what instruments are at their disposal when it comes to conflict prevention and resolution, exchange mechanisms, reconciliation, capacity and confidence in the Asian theater?

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Salt on Old Wounds: Post-War Sri Lanka

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Panoramic view of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

‘Salt on Old Wounds: The Systematic Sinhalization of Sri Lanka’s North, East and Hill Country’ the first study published by The Social Architects (TSA), seeks to set out the systematic, increasing and widespread process of Sinhalization that is taking place in historically Tamil areas in the North, East and Hill Country in post-war Sri Lanka.

Panoramic view of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. Jean-Marc Ferré/UN

While focusing on the process of Sinhalization that is currently being implemented, this monograph seeks to situate it within the broader historical process of Sinhalization that has been carried out by different governments spanning a number of decades. The report argues that even though Sinhalization is not a new phenomenon, the sweeping changes which continue to occur in historically Tamil areas inhibit the country’s ability to heal after nearly three decades of civil war. Although the current government’s rhetoric gives importance to building bridges between communities by ensuring those affected are able to fully and freely exercise their rights, in reality, its actions are evidence of the Sri Lankan State’s lack of respect for the rights of all its citizens, particularly the Tamil people.

This paper will show that the concept of Sinhalization extends well beyond the subjects of strategic state-planned settlements, land, military intrusion, boundary changes and the renaming of villages. Sinhalization has made its way into Tamil cultural events, religious life, economic activity, public sector recruitment and even the Sri Lankan education system. Since the Tamil community is attempting to recover from the devastating impact of the civil war and rebuild social networks and community structures, attempts to control and demolish socio-cultural aspects of their lives, such as the take over and destruction of temples, inhibit their attempts to engage in emotional healing and community regeneration even minimally.

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Who Will Win at the Human Rights Council?

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Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN Human Rights Council, addresses the Human Rights Council.  Pierre Albouy/UN

The US recently tabled a draft resolution against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council’s 19th session in Geneva.

Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN Human Rights Council, addresses the Human Rights Council. Pierre Albouy/UN

No one should be too surprised by this; everyone knew it was coming. However, the draft resolution is so incredibly weak that President Mahinda Rajapaksa must be breathing a sigh of relief. It is no wonder that the US feels confident that it has the votes in needs. Besides, it is likely that the resolution will be watered down even more in the coming days—making this exercise seem that much more formulaic and pointless.

The resolution requests that the government of Sri Lanka implement the recommendations from the Final Report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). In order to achieve this objective, it asks the government to present an outline or roadmap as “expeditiously as possible” so that everyone will know how much progress Sri Lanka is making towards genuine national reconciliation and to addressing purported violations of international law.

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China: Tehran’s Reprieve?

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Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates talks with Hu Jintao in Beijing

The latest chapter in the Iranian nuclear saga contains some signs that coordinated unilateral sanctions from the United States and the European Union are actually working. But, will China’s reluctance to jump on board provide the Iranian regime with the trapdoor that it needs to escape the noose and hang onto power?

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates talks with Hu Jintao in Beijing

While the latest round of sanctions has still fallen short of its intended goal of forcing Iran to renounce its uranium enrichment activities, it has succeeded in applying tangible economic pressure on the beleaguered regime in Tehran. The Iranian rial has lost 60 percent of its value against the dollar since the US and EU implemented their extraordinary sanctions against Iran’s financial industry. Iran’s oil output has also fallen by around 500,000 barrels in the past few months. Yet, Iran can still find buyers for its unrefined petroleum products, and it will continue to do so thanks in large part to the actions of the Chinese government.

Beijing doesn’t support the turning of the economic screw on Iran, and this lack of support is the very reason why sanctions are of the creative unilateral sort and not those that are imposed by the UN Security Council; a body that carries the legitimizing weight of international consensus. Beijing’s rejection of Western-led international pressure on Iran stems from the simple fact that it needs Iranian energy exports. Indeed, China is Iran’s biggest customer.

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Losing Bolivia: Evo Morales’ Failing Presidency

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Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia.  Source: CNN

“[The Bolivian government] will seize more oil companies if they fail to meet investment commitments.” – President Evo Morales

Evo Morales, the president of Bolivia. Source: CNN

For the sixth time in as many years, Bolivia is poised to nationalize more of its natural resource-based industries; a primary focus of the Morales administration since coming to power in 2006. For five years, the government – to the citizenry’s fanfare – has taken control of much of the country’s oil, gas, and mining industries; a transition justified by the government in that these sectors are integral for the nation’s survival.

Behind the most recent push for nationalization is the government’s perception that foreign corporations are “sabotaging investment”, which is stymieing the country’s ability to “increase production”. The rationale, however, has fallen on deaf ears. With plummeting poll numbers, the Morales administration has struggled to save face with the population. Growing disquiet throughout the country threatens to undermine the government’s ability to implement policies and programs and will possibly leave President Morales vulnerable in his attempt at a third-term.

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Amy Greeson: A Pharmacist and Healer

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In Western cultures, people go to a pharmacy for medicine. But in far flung places around the world—the Amazon, Belize, Ecuador, Peru, Mexico, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea—natives depend upon village healers and shamans for medicinal substances.

Locals tending rice fields in Madagascar. Photo: Amy Greeson

Amy Greeson, a pharmacist and educator, is working to bring the two together. “My team and I have begun to realize, that through our global expeditions, we were acquiring invaluable knowledge about indigenous cultures and people,” Greeson said. “We were determined to tell their stories. And to work to preserve them. And, finally, to inspire a new generation.”

Amy and her non profit organization, Healing Seekers, have joined forces with filmmaker and environmentalist Celine Cousteau, granddaughter of Jacques Cousteau, to protect and preserve the environment and indigenous cultures. “Local healers working with various plants [create] a true testament about how people use what naturally exists in their surroundings,” said Celine. “This learning and testament must be preserved].” We met with Amy to talk about her many experiences traveling to all parts of the globe.

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