Friday, October 31, 2014

A "better" Investor for Afghanistan or..?

As the U.S. troops leaving the Afghan land (last by 2016), China, unlike a 'back sit' diplomat, but rather a 'taking turns' one, is slowly yet boldly entering the country which has been patiently carrying out the discouraging, but internationally recognized, nickname of a "failed state". While this commentary is being drafted, new Afghan President Ashraf Ghani is shaking hands with the Chinese authorities, attending the Istanbul Ministerial Process in Beijing. The international conference is an attempt to unite regional efforts (including the U.S. as an observer nation) to address the challenges Afghanistan faces today and contribute to the (re)establishment of its economy. The latter, ideally, should have a growing and stabilizing affect on Afghan, therefore, the region's security and essential social implications.

Chinese diplomats are known for being highly effective during the official meetings. By "effective", the rising economic power implies mainly the quantity, so, the number of agreements signed all at once. October 28, 2014 was not an exception. Conducting his first official visit to China, President Ghani expected to feel valuable support from his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, and shared those views, stating that China is seen as a strategic partner not simply in long-term, but in a very long-term in Afghanistan. The symbolic exchange on peacebuilding being a priority for both sides (while protests in Hong-Kong against the authoritarian policies of Beijing have been on for few months by now) followed by the statistics which the Afghan side wanted to hear more about. The Chinese Government promised to rebuild Afghan infrastructure within next few years, develop the agriculture, and hydroelectricity, pledging $327 million in grants. In addition, President Jinping offered to provide professional training and scholarships for 3,500 Afghans to study in China. One of the major projects that were discussed included the construction of a trade route through a Wakhan Corridor as part of China's grand initiative on reviving the New Silk Road. The mountainous border that China shares with Afghanistan is about 47-mile long; however, it represents a tense zone with China's far western Xinjiang province (known for anti-government sentiments among its majority Muslim Uighur residents) on one side of the line and the route of weaponry flows (between Pakistan and Afghanistan) on the other.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi called the Beijing Declaration a true success as the participants (Azerbaijan, China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emirates, and Uzbekistan) agreed on launching 64 development programs over the upcoming years, covering issues in, probably, all possible areas for cooperation with Afghanistan, including an estimated $1 trillion worth deals in mining mineral resources (i.e., copper) and securing major oil reservoirs. With such speed, China might bypass some foreign investors into Afghan economy. However, it would be hard to claim right now if Chinese diplomats are overstretching themselves handing cash in all parts of the developing world simultaneously.

Most recent news suggest that China continuously sees itself across the globe, as far as in Argentina, even, boosting its Central Bank reserves (saving the currency) $11 billion as part of the three-year old inter-bank agreement. Central African countries have been experiencing an investment boom as well. However, some that have dealt with Chinese Government before, agree upon limitations that the influx foresees: roads, plants, hospitals, and schools built would not necessarily create new jobs or let local populations benefit from professional training. Trade or inter-banking projects have not been guaranteeing a rise of economic stability, at least on the receivers' sides. Instead, many highlight almost a "labor invasion" by Chinese of African economies. From economic standpoint, probably, it is difficult to claim the highest "value" an average Chinese person brings to the investor, being able to work hard round-clock and without requiring much comfort.

While opening up to the world, or attempting to diversify its partners, the New Afghan Government could be suggested to be cautiously reliant on big investors like China; as national interests and economic goals of the businessmen often overshadow the humanitarian deeds. China's stake in the region is huge; however, rebuilding Afghan infrastructure in Wakhan Corridor should not necessarily guarantee stability on eastern Afghan border. President Ghani sounded optimistic about the pile of agreements signed during the Istanbul Ministerial Process in Beijing; but when the question comes to the estimation of natural resources the country possesses versus the financial size of investment deals, Afghan Government should re-visit previous business projects that did not bring long-term success and, possibly, arm itself with the lessons from the past.

From the examples Chinese investors have been giving the global investment arena so far, it would not be difficult to imagine Afghan workers sitting around and watching Chinese counterparts actually building the infrastructure in Afghanistan, meaning earning their livings. Could one call the experience as a "better" investment scenario for Afghanistan? Hopefully, not, even in the short run.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

ISIS' Children

The use of children in armed conflict dates back to Biblical times.  During World War I and II, it was not unusual to find children in the ranks of many armies.  It was not until 1989 that the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child was signed, proclaiming “state parties shall take all feasible measures to ensure that persons who have not attained the age of fifteen years do not take direct part in hostilities.”  Although efforts have been made to prevent the use and recruitment of children, armed groups continue to violate international law by doing so.  Today it is estimated there are between 250,000 and 300, 000 children participating in active conflicts around the world.  While most people imagine children being used in armed conflict in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, it is quickly becoming a problem within ISIS.

Because of the fighting in Iraq and Syria, children are no longer attending their normal schools.  This means they are out on the streets where they can easily be recruited by ISIS.  Children are taken to camps where they learn about ISIS' interpretation of Sharia Law and how to handle weapons.  Military training goes so far as to teach young men how to behead another human being.  Children are sent to the front lines of fighting to be used as human shields or to provide blood transfusions for IS soldiers.  In some areas, children are manning checkpoints and arresting locals who do not conform to ISIS' rules.

Why is ISIS using children?  Children are easily manipulated.  Because they have not developed their own ideas and morals, it is much easier to convince a child that murdering those who are not like you is what God wants.  Many armies will not fire against children.  This is a tactic that has been used by terrorist organizations, militias, and rebel armies throughout Africa for years.  The goal is to prevent foreign fighters from shooting the members of your group by sending children to the front lines.  

Vice News recently published a five part video on ISIS; part two is titled Grooming Children for Jihad: The Islamic State Part 2. In this video, children as young as nine are interviewed telling the the person behind the camera that they want to become jihadists. Another boy is shown saying he plans on going to camp after Ramadan to learn how to use a Kalashnikov rifle.  ISIS is hoping that children like these will continue to fight for many generations.  By indoctrinating children with their moral code and ideals, ISIS is ensuring that there will be people willing to fight America and its allies for many years to come.  This only complicates the situation for America: the US cannot allow such a threat to go unanswered, but are US officials willing to fire at children who have been brainwashed into thinking their actions are legitimate?

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Let's Take Another Look at Cuba

     It is time to re-evaluate the relationship of the United States and Cuba.   Raul has loosened control of the Caribbean island since taking over from his brother in 2006 (officially in 2008) and polls suggest that American views on Cuba are changing.
      Where to start?  How about removing Cuba from the U.S. list of State Sponsors of Terrorism?  It was placed there in 1982, more than thirty years ago.  Communism is not a threat to the US, nor is communism associated with modern terrorism as we know it. Twenty years ago, Fidel Castro stated he was no longer funding insurgents abroad.  But Cuba is still on the list despite a recent U.S State Department report that could not produce evidence of funds moving to Central and South American terror groups. The State Department also admits to Cuba's role in mediation between the FARQ and the Colombian government.  Since Raul Castro took over from his brother, he has started small steps (more than 300 small steps to be precise) to open his economy.  Cuba is following similar steps taken by China in its development to state run capitalism.  Freedom House polls show optimism among the Cuban public about economic reforms that took place in 2011. 
     Most people, including a consistent majority of Cuban-Americans under age seventy, also favor normalizing diplomatic relations.  The recent Cuban Research Poll (FIU) shows that a slight majority of all Cuban-Americans polled in Miami-Dade county oppose continuing the American embargo.  Remarkably, ninety percent of younger Cuban-Americans nationwide support renewing diplomatic relations with Cuba.  These finding were supported in another 2014 poll completed by the Atlantic Council.
     The Cuban economy is also changing, as other global interests look to Cuban markets and ports to expand their businesses. Who is trading with Cuba now?  China, Brazil, and the EuropeanUnion- the three largest economies in the world outside of the U.S.  And since they started trading with Cuba, the millions of dollars in trade that the United States was doing with Cuba has dropped in half.  Why?  More favorable trade terms and ongoing diplomatic relations with those non-Americans.  In fact, China signed thirteen cooperative agreements regarding trade with Cuba in 2011, and continues to pursue more.  These agreements include interest free loans as well as investments in telecommunications, oil and natural gas refining, and updates to port infrastructure.  The Diplomatic Courier reported in 2013 that bilateral trade between Cuba and China was over 2 billion dollars, and that Cuba is China's largest Caribbean trading partner.  
     Brazil's economy is also engaging with Cuba.  A Brazilian company now runs one of Cuba’s largest sugar plantations in the Cienfuegos region.  Brazil has also helped create a container port with a free trade zone in Mariel, Cuba.  
     The European Union is the largest foreign investor in Cuba.  One third of Cuba’s tourists come from the E.U.
     It is time to take an honest reassessment of the U.S.-Cuban relationship.  Engaging with Cuba will help both economies and help integrate Cuba more firmly into the sphere of western influence.

photo courtesy of Enrique De La Osa/Reuters

Sunday, October 26, 2014

In My Opinion...

Canada has had a rough week. First there was the fatal hit and run attack on two soldiers in Quebec, in which one soldier died and the other sustained injuries. The suspect, who was shot and killed by police, was considered radicalized and had previously had his passport confiscated. As Canada’s attention increasingly turned towards addressing extremism, Ottawa was shocked and caught off guard on Wednesday when a lone gunman shot and killed a solider at the National War Memorial and then entered the Parliament building a few minutes later. As Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and lawmakers scrambled for safety, the police engaged in a gunfight with the suspect, ultimately killing him. This suspect, also considered radicalized, also had his passport revoked.

The Ottawa shooting brought extremism and national security to the forefront of Canadians’ minds. Fear is a powerful force and since lawmakers were the ones directly exposed to the vulnerability of feeling unsafe during the Ottawa shooting, it is not unreasonable to expect them to pass laws strengthening Canada’s defense and national security, as well as intelligence gathering services. The day after the attack, Harper said he would “expedite security measures to toughen powers of surveillance and detention.”

Although Canada recently committed to joining U.S. led airstrikes in Iraq against ISIS for the next six months, overall, Canada has not been a particularly influential player in the fight against terrorism and extremists. However, will the Ottawa attacks inspire a change in Canadian public opinion? Will Canada become more aggressive and follow a response similar to how the U.S. reacted to terrorist attacks on its soil? Will the shooting inspire fear of a general lack of safety and cause the public to demand greater protection?

Whether or not events such as the Ottawa shooting are intentionally hyped by the media, the simple fact that the events are well covered and discussed keeps citizens alert to and aware of the perils the country is facing. Lobbyists, particularly those in the defense industry, can use such situations to more effectively convince lawmakers to devote considerable resources towards national security.

In his book, “In Time of War”, Adam Berinsky discusses public opinion and although he focuses on America and war in particular in his analysis of public opinion, the general arguments and facts are applicable to other countries and could relate to domestic defense as well as international war. Berinksy believes affiliations to groups, as well as patterns of elite discourse, are influential in determining general support for a war or conflict. This is not to say that the public blindly follows a politician, but rather, they reference group loyalties while simultaneously accounting for “patterns of political leadership and partisan conflict in order to come to reasonable decisions that accord with their predispositions.”

Berinsky warns against the ephemeral effect of events. While a tragic event certainly contributes to the public’s reaction, it is “the nature of the debate among political elites concerning the salience and meaning of wartime events [that] determines if the public will rally...” So while media, lobbyists, and events all play a role in shaping public opinion, there is more to it. To be sure, Canada certainly experienced a series of unfortunate and terrible events this past week. However, the events in and of themselves are unlikely to create sustained public support for an increase in defense spending, international involvement in wars, and more invasive intelligence gathering. Perhaps what is more important to generating public opinion that supports bolstering national security, both through domestic and international actions, is preexisting partisan inclinations and the pattern of elite discussion on this topic.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Lessons From an Anti-Terrorism Spending Spree

With the attack this past week in Canada’s capital, Canadian lawmakers are on edge about what the next step should be in shoring up security deficiencies at the nation’s capital. If a lone gunner can run into a well-guarded facility like the National War Memorial and manage to kill a soldier, it is not hard to imagine a much grimmer scenario with multiple gunmen or even a type of bomb. As we have seen from recent United States history and its domestic reaction to acts of terror, whether people agree or not, it has been effective at preventing another attack on US soil.

At least that is what we as American taxpayers hope is the case. In the article written by Micah Zenko and Michael Cohen, they challenge the notion that the defensive build-up is the reason that we are safe and that we remain safe. They argue that we should have a “99%” policy as opposed to Dick Cheney’s “1%” policy, wherein every possible scenario must be prepared for as though it will happen. The 99% policy would be one where policies of the United States reflect its states has the most safe and secure nation in the world.

The issue here is that if you read further into the article, you find that the authors argue that our defense build-up and maintenance at current levels is unnecessary because the US is the safest and most secure nation in the world and the terrorists got “lucky” on 9/11. While it is certainly true that America is relatively safe, the specter of an attack lingers on in many people’s lives. The first question many people had about the attack in Ottawa was whether or not it was carried out because of radical Islam. The authors go on to say that every subsequent planned domestic attack has been “thwarted” by the US security apparatus, which seems to support the success of the post-9/11 security doctrine.

Nevertheless, article makes a good argument about how the capabilities of terrorist organizations have been severely diminished due to the effects of the Global War on Terror. However, since the article was written in 2012, the world has changed significantly. From Putin’s foray into Crimea, ISIS’s rise as a caliphate, and the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa, the US has seen constant challenges to its foreign policy that have profound implications for national security. Clearly, with entities such as ISIS, who remain well-funded and organized, terrorist capabilities have received a considerable boost.

With the continually changing global landscape, can the US and allies like Canada afford to keep the status quo or even diminish national security capabilities? Or would a decrease in funding lead to a diminished capability at all or could that funding save more lives being spent somewhere else? (Yes) In any case, the US has learned that overreaction is the wrong policy approach and can lead to the waste of trillions of dollars (see graph above) better spent on other domestic issues. Canada will surely keep its neighbor’s failures and successes in mind as it determines how to prevent another domestic attack in its capital. 

Can We Practice a Strategy of Retrenchment in the Post-Cold War Era?

               It has been nearly 23 years since the collapse of the USSR and nearly 70 years since Kenan’s “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” stirred the United States into its containment policy. Since that time, we have maintained a strong presence abroad, taking part in several wars and conflicts throughout the world. If we weren’t fighting in the wars, we were supplying some else to, whether it was the Contras in Nicaragua or the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan. This was all done in the name of democracy in order to slow down the expansion of Soviet influence. And, as some would prefer to remember it through a simplified lens, Ivan Drago gets knocked out in the 15th round by Rocky Balboa.

               Yet, what is the cost of this strategy? According to Andrew Bacevich, the American Century, as we know it, came to a halt between 2006- 2008. He also goes on to claim that strategy is a fraud that is only utilized by those who want power according to his article. In some ways, he is right. America has spent almost countless billions on the War on Terror. And the invasion of Iraq was mired from the start. According to Thomas Ricks’s article, there was no actual phase IV post-invasion plan for the complete occupation of Iraq. In a simplified manner, Bacevich’s viewpoint does seem to be true.
               However, repeating our shelled isolationist policy from pre-Pearl Harbor would be ludicrous. By letting go of the wheel, we’d risk losing our economic and political influence abroad. Already, China is attempting to gain influential ties within Africa. They’ve already donated aid to countries struck by the Ebola epidemic and have made several economic investments within the continent. In fact, they surpassed the US as Africa’s #1 trade partner.
               By being not being proactive about the situation abroad, we risk having the situation worsen with our continued absence. For instance, the only way that Ebola can properly be contained at this point would be through an international party stepping up to deal with the situation. The WHO has already warned that, on its current projector, the virus will infect 10,000 people a week by the end of the year. Its continued spread has already caused immense economic damage within the countries that have been struck by it. The virus can also be weaponized for terror purposes. While its complex weaponization as a biological weapon is unlikely, it can still be utilized in its basic form by someone who is not afraid dying from it. All it takes is for someone to purposefully get infected and start shaking the hands of everyone in Times Square for the virus to spread. By combatting the virus and studying it, we can become better equipped to deal with this strain and future epidemics.
               Our involvement abroad can also be beneficial. Don’t Go Home, America: The Case against Retrenchment reveals that there are several positives for maintaining a presence abroad. For instance, by being a security patron for Japan, South Korea, etc., we are better able to influence the regional politics within the region. Our military and political patronage also usually coincides with our ability to lead economically. It also helps protect global common interests. By having ships patrol off the coast of Somalia, we are able to help our global trade transportation infrastructure save millions of dollars from piracy.
               Ultimately, we need to be careful about our strategy in regards to securing our interests abroad and protecting them. We need to be on the constant look out for things that may threaten our investments abroad. For instance, the popular overthrow of Mubarak during the Arab Spring meant that we lost a strong ally in the Middle East. At the same time, we should be cautious not to over engage ourselves in a situation where the costs far exceed the benefits. For instance, the containment of Saddam through actions such as Desert Fox appeared to have been working. Had we maintained that course, we would have avoided getting entangled in a counter-insurgency war. That being said, it is important to realize that, regardless of all the strategic plans and knowledge that we have on a situation, we are still pawns to unexpected events. Even Machiavelli argued that we may only be in control of half our events. In chapter 25 of, The Prince, Machiavelli said, “Nevertheless, since our free will must not be denied, I estimate that even if fortune is the arbiter of half our actions, she still allows us to control the other half, or thereabouts. I compare fortune to one of those torrential rivers which, when enraged, inundates the lowlands, tears down trees and buildings, and washes out the land on one bank to deposit it on the other. Everyone flees before it; everyone yields to its assaults without being able to offer any resistance.”


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ebola: A Case for US Retrenchment?

The case for the United States’ declining hegemony is hard to overlook. The costs for maintaining such international dominance and the emergence of balancing powers in China, Europe and China grow more and more apparent. The United States, not unlike other great nations, has a choice to make: to be or not to be. A global hegemon, that is. No American wants to see the U.S. decline in prominence and strength, but historically every great power does. To prevent such a catastrophic collapse in power and prestige as Germany and France experienced in previous centuries, the U.S. needs to start thinking strategically about how best to preserve its interests abroad while not overextending itself to the point of collapse. The case of Ebola interestingly exemplifies how limited retrenchment would be beneficial to preserving its sense of primacy and national interests.
The authors of “Don’t Come Home, America push for continued U.S. hegemony, claiming U.S. national interests dictate international policies and ultimately serves our best interest. While the U.S. may have its footprint on every continent, its focus and military might is not felt everywhere. The lackluster response to the Ebola epidemic in Western Africa that has infected more than 9,000 people and killed more than 4,000 is case in point. The U.S. only began ramping up the much needed medical support and aid when it became clear Ebola would be a plague leading to a “lost generation” as Liberian president Johnson Sirleaf pleaded for more international assistance. And is still well below what is requested or needed.

Based on the assessment by Stephen Brooks et al., the response to Ebola was in line with U.S. hegemony. Africa is generally further down on the U.S. radar except as it pertains to terrorism and regional proximity to the Middle East. Clearly the U.S. was more intent on coalition building against ISIL directing attention away from this pandemic. By not prioritizing Ebola the attention from European countries, whose historical relations with Africa are better attuned to evaluating and addressing these issues, was also diverted elsewhere. U.S. national interests won't always align with global interests; the U.S. will not always have proper intelligence to understand potential threats allowing issues like Ebola to slip through the cracks. If U.S. hegemony persists in the current form the ordering of U.S. interests would in turn determine the level of importance and response to global issues and epidemics like Ebola. The U.S. capability and propensity to direct and prioritize international support towards their national goals and initiatives largely prevents other nations from stepping up and leading the fight against periphery threats like Ebola. If the U.S. didn’t consider it an urgent threat to be addressed, who else would?

Should the U.S. hegemonic role continue to decline and turn towards aspects of retrenchment then it needs to start empowering the international organizations it helped create like the UN, WHO, and NATO to better address international dilemmas. As the current hegemon, the U.S. can use its strength to promote the use of these organizations in response to global dilemmas. Doing so bolsters the prominence and respect of these organizations to oversee issues that aren’t seen as priorities for the U.S. before they rise to a threatening level. Doing so allows the U.S. to continue its defense spending and maintain it military commitments to its allies. The rich and powerful neglectfully overlook regions and third world problems, but that won’t prevent the Red Death from knocking on their door to join their ranks. 

The problem with U.S. hegemony in an ever-growing and interconnected global society is everything tends to matter. The U.S. cannot afford to monitor, manage and oversee operations all over the globe to make sure that they are handled with U.S. interests in mind. This will inevitably lead to failure. Instead, the U.S should recognize its limitations where they exist and call upon the international institutions to step up and manage crises like Ebola as they come up with sincere and resolute actions. Whether or not the U.S. chooses forms of retrenchment or further hegemony, it has the power and responsibility to direct international policy. U.S. retrenchment by relying on international organizations would free up resources and energy to maintain its hegemonic role while making sure another Ebola is not overlooked until it crosses the pond.