Archive for the ‘Democracy & Human Rights’ Category

11
Dec

Gratz_RevolutiononthemBy Jonas Grätz

In the weeks leading up to the European Union’s Vilnius summit in late November, it seemed all but certain that Ukraine was pivoting West. At the meeting, the EU and Ukraine were expected to sign an Association Agreement, which would have abolished trade barriers between the two and required Ukraine to undergo some EU-mandated political and economic reforms.

But then, days before the summit, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych announced that any agreement with the EU would have to be put off due to reasons of national security. Ukraine, its occasionally authoritarian president had concluded, would not be able to withstand the intense economic pressure that Russia would apply if he signed the deal. Russia’s aim? To goad Ukraine into joining its own Customs Union with Belarus and Kazakhstan, which would preclude association with the EU.

Yanukovych’s unexpected decision has made his job more difficult. Enraged citizens, carrying Ukrainian and EU flags, took to the streets of Kiev to demand that Yanukovych and his government resign. Protestors, mostly from the capital and the country’s Western reaches, have occupied Kiev’s central Independence Square and some administrative buildings for more than a week. For them, the EU is their country’s last hope for better domestic governance and protection of civil rights. They fear that Yanukovych’s latest move toward Russia will further entrench Ukraine’s dysfunctional and ineffective political elite and diminish the country’s independent national identity.

The revolution on Euromaidan, as the protest has been called, in reference to Kiev’s main boulevard, has a hard road ahead of it. It lacks real leadership, and the opposition parties that could fill that role are untrusted by the public and at loggerheads with each other. Still, the anger of a sizable part of Ukrainian society cannot be ignored or discredited. And Yanukovych has nowhere to hide. Even his support base in Ukraine’s east is disappointed. His unreliability — he was for the deal before he was against it — alienated his supporters long ago. Should elections be called, as the protesters insist, he would have little to no chance of winning. Read more…

JONAS GRÄTZ is researcher with the Global Security Team at the Center for Security Studies (CSS) at ETH Zurich.

As published in Foreign Affairs on December 9th, 2013 http://www.foreignaffairs.com

6
Nov

By Peter Tan Keo

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Foreign aid has a long track record. The biggest upside appears to be the injection of large sums of money into developing countries otherwise gripped by poverty, war and conflict. For better or worse, that money should, in theory, improve lives and raise people out of poverty, leading to sustainable growth and development. The unfortunate truth, however, is that foreign aid has often presented more challenges than opportunities to aid recipients. In the sixty-plus years aid has been mandated by government – versus relying solely on private donations – we’ve seen small improvements across the globe, from reducing poverty to slowing population growth to curing and preventing diseases. Progress that otherwise would have been absent without an outpouring of foreign support.

However, the impact from aid has not been proportionate to the amount of money donated. Foreign aid’s biggest downside is that no clear, effective system has been put in place to hold aid recipients and their governments accountable for resources illegally taken from public sector coffers – a long-standing, and still very present, trend from Asia to Africa to Latin America/Caribbean to Europe. Unfortunately, the absence of that system reinforces social inequities and perpetuates cycles of political abuse that has led to a sophisticated new form of authoritarianism – one that empowers the elite few, while keeping a majority of people in abject poverty.

Discussions about foreign aid remind me of James Bovard’s nominal 1986 article, “The Continuing Failure of Foreign Aid.” Analyzing world events over a period of more than 40 years, Bovard argues convincingly that the success of foreign aid is often measured by intentions, not results. Using the U.S. as one example, Bovard writes, “[F]oreign aid has routinely failed to benefit the foreign poor…the U.S. Agency for International Development [USAID] has dotted the countryside with “white elephants”…the biggest…of them all – a growing phalanx of corrupt, meddling, and overpaid bureaucrats.”

This trend is apparent in countries like Cambodia.

Sophal Ear, an assistant professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, is among a handful of scholars to write persuasively about the dark underbelly of foreign aid in Cambodia. His argument, clearly presented in Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy, is this: “[E]ven though aid is meant to encourage development, aid dependence results in bad governance, stunting development.” Two pages later, he goes on to note, “I am convinced that, on balance, the long-term effects of aid dependence have made it difficult, if not impossible, for Cambodia to take ownership of its own development.” Read more…

As published by The Diplomat on November 5, 2013.

1
Oct

The Shutdown Won’t Break the U.S. Foreign Policy Machine (Right Away)

By Ty McCormick, Yochi Dreazen

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Four hundred thousand Defense Department employees, sent home. Internal watchdogs, defanged. Congressional investigations, stymied. A billion dollars a day in government contracts, stopped up.

If there’s a government shutdown on Tuesday, the United States will continue to be able to conduct its key foreign policy, national security, and intelligence missions — at least for a little while. But beyond that, well, it’s not going to be pretty.

The effects of political dysfunction in Washington are already reverberating across the globe. Markets in Europe and Asia took a hit on Monday and both the NASDAQ and Dow Jones Industrial Average fell sharply this morning when trading got underway in New York. But rattling global markets is only the first of many potential effects of the shutdown.

While government employees engaged in essential national security and intelligence-gathering activities would report to work as usual — at least in the short term — many could face considerable personal hardship because of delayed paychecks. Active-duty servicemembers might be compensated; civilians, not so much.

A government shutdown would also affect U.S. foreign policy more subtly by delaying critical foreign-policy related hearings in Congress, paring back nuclear and other critical energy programs to the bare minimum, and interfering with the State Department’s ability to police itself.

“Spies will still spy. The machinery will go on,” said a retired senior CIA official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The problem is if something extra falls into the system. If guys are worried about their paychecks, they’re not concentrating on their job.”

The Department of Defense will likewise “continue to support all key military operations such as the war in Afghanistan and various other missions around the world,” Pentagon spokesman Cdr. Bill Urban told Foreign Policy. But a shutdown would “place significant hardships on a workforce already strained by recent administrative furloughs.

For the hundreds of thousands of non-essential civilian personnel employed in the U.S. foreign policy machine, it will most likely mean being furloughed. This includes roughly 400,000 employees at the Defense Department alone. Read more…

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on September 30, 2013.

24
Sep

By Faezeh Samanian

Gender discrimination is still an issue, especially in high office, but progress is being made.

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Nearly 35 years after the Islamic Revolution, gender discrimination is still a challenging issue for Iran. On the one hand, the situation for Iranian women has improved considerably in many respects under the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI). On the other, there is a clear and seemingly impregnable ceiling for women in administrative and government positions.

Iranian Women Under the Islamic Republic

In some ways, women have enjoyed significant gains under the Islamic Republic of Iran. Nowhere is this more true than in education. In 1976, on the eve of the Revolution, the female literacy rate was a mere 35 percent. Despite the turmoil of the revolution and the imposed war with Iraq, by 1986 this rate had risen to 52 percent. Today, Iranian girls between the ages of 15 and 24 enjoy near universal literacy.

These gains are also reflected in education levels, which have greatly improved as part of the IRI’s commitment to providing universal education. For example, the female enrollment rate for primary education institutions is actually higher than it is for males. Women also graduate from their primary education programs at the same rate as their male counterparts. And despite new restrictions on what they can study, Iranian women are also strong participants in secondary education, with the female general enrollment rate in secondary education about 86 percent of the male rate.

In many ways, the high female education rate also extends to employment, especially since 1992 when the High Council of the Cultural Revolution adopted a new set of employment policies for women. Although women are unemployed at a rate of roughly twice that of men, one-third of doctors, 60 percent of civil servants, and 80 percent of teachers in Iran are women, according to the British historian Michael Axworthy.

One area where Iranian women continue to face clear obstacles is in the upper reaches of the Iranian government. For example, around 30 women signed up to run for president earlier this year, but the Guardian Council – Iran’s constitutional watchdog – rejected their candidacies based solely on gender. As Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdii, a conservative cleric and member of the Guardian Council explained at the time, the “law does not approve” of women running for president. Read more…

As published by The Diplomat on September 22, 2013.

23
Sep

By Cameron Abadi

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To state the obvious: Angela Merkel, who has just won a third term as German chancellor, isn’t very macho. Her preferred free-time pursuit is recreational nature walking. (Also, baking: she admitted during the campaign season that her husband was sometimes displeased by the paucity of crumbs atop her cakes.) She hardly ever indulges in public demonstrations of authority; she speaks softly, and mostly refrains from displays of emotion, except for occasional flashes of a nervous smile. As for body language, her signature gesture is the Merkel diamond, which seems laboratory-tested to avoid appearing confrontational.

Compare that, for a moment, with the testosterone-soaked state of U.S.-Russian diplomacy, which has devolved in recent weeks into a high-profile pissing match. Vladimir Putin raided U.S.-backed NGOs, while Barack Obama chided Putin’s posture; Putin extended asylum to America’s most-wanted fugitive, as Obama canceled a bilateral Moscow summit. For a while, it seemed as if the confrontation would have to be settled with a round of one-on-one basketball or some judo sparring. Eventually, they both managed to claim credit for averting war with Syria—Putin from the op-ed page of the one newspaper that Barack Obama professes to care about.

There was something transfixing about the display of presidential one-upsmanship; even Germans seemed more drawn to the Putin-Obama show than their own election campaign. But if Putin and Obama ever do manage to stop their reciprocal bouts of preening, they’d do well to consider cribbing from Merkel’s machismo-less political methods. There’s an argument to be made that it’s Merkel who is the Machiavelli of our day—better, and certainly shrewder, at power politics than any of her peers, including her colleagues in the White House and Kremlin.

Merkel’s quiet affect shouldn’t obscure her influence. Germany has more power today than at any time since World War II. Merkel is prima inter pares in the European Union, capable of determining the shape of the bailout packages given to the continent’s ailing economies and, thus, capable of determining the shape of their national economies for years on end. Even the ostensibly independent European Central Bank seems to take its directions from the chancellory in Berlin, afraid to get too far ahead of Merkel’s plans. Read more…

Cameron Abadi is Deputy Web Editor at Foreign Affairs.

As published in www.newrepublic.com September 22, 2103.

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