Archive for the ‘Topics’ Category

18
Oct

By Luke Mogelson

The Afghan National Police, near the Iran-Afghanistan border.

On the southern outskirts of the city Zaranj, where the last derelict shanties meet an endless, vacant country — beige desert and beige sky, whipped together into a single coalescing haze by the accurately named Wind of 120 Days — there is a place called Ganj: a kind of way station for Afghan migrants trying to reach Iran. Every day except Friday, a little before 2 in the afternoon, hundreds of them gather. Squatting along a metal fence, Hazaras, Tajiks, Pashtuns, Uzbeks and Baluchis from all corners of the country watch the local drivers move through a fleet of dilapidated pickups — raising hoods, inspecting dipsticks. A few hope to continue on to Turkey, Greece and ultimately Western Europe. Most harbor humbler dreams: of living illegally in Iran, of becoming bricklayers, construction laborers, factory workers or farmhands. When one of the drivers announces he is ready to go, as many as 20 migrants pile into the back. The leaf springs flex; the bumper nearly kisses the ground. Arms and legs spill over the sides. Finally, apprehension gives way to expectation, and a few men laugh and wave goodbye.

Two days before I first visited Ganj, early this September, one such pickup, speeding south through the desert toward the lawless border region of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, struck a freshly planted land mine that killed the two smugglers in its cab and sent airborne its human cargo like firewood or fruit. My interpreter and I happened to be walking by the provincial hospital, in downtown Zaranj, shortly after the victims were admitted. At the front gate, a young orderly viciously punched a man trying to enter the premises on his motorcycle. With his feet firmly planted on the ground, the man on the motorcycle revved his engine, spinning the back tire in place and churning up a thick cloud of dust even as the orderly continued to assail his head and face. The man on the motorcycle, it turned out, was a relative of one of the dead smugglers, and in his grief, he appeared almost to welcome the blows.

Zaranj is the capital of Nimruz — by many measures the most isolated province in Afghanistan, at the remotest southwest corner of the country — and the hospital’s resources were predictably limited. Most of the survivors had been advised to get themselves to Herat, some 300 miles north, where doctors would be better equipped to help them. For all the billions of dollars that have been invested over the past decade, parts of Afghanistan remain beyond the reach of Western influence. While neighboring Helmand Province has represented the epicenter of counterinsurgency efforts, Nimruz feels like a different country altogether. There are no coalition troops or Afghan soldiers or foreign NGO workers. Instead, the Afghans have been left to find their own way — and fight their own wars. We hailed a rickshaw and headed to a bus stop outside town. There we found a man in his early 20s slouched against the wall of a small store. His shirt and pants were darkly soaked with blood. A bandage was wrapped around his head. A kinked tube ran from his arm to an IV bag tied to a door handle with a loose piece of gauze. His name was Gulbadeen. He told us there had been 10 other men in the truck from his village in Faryab Province, each of whom was determined to try again. Gulbadeen himself sneaked into Iran three years earlier, working as a laborer, sending money home, until he was deported last winter. “I’m done,” he said. “I can’t do this another time.” Read more…

Luke Mogelson is a contributing writer to The New York Times Sunday magazine. He last wrote about Emergency Hospital in Kabul.

As published in www.nytimes.com on October 18, 2012 (a version of this article appeared in print on October 21, 2012, on page MM32 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: The White- Hot Middle of Nowhere).

16
Oct

Cristina de Kirchner has brought her country to the brink of the abyss.

By Daniel Altman

Step into a discount department store in New York or Miami these days, and you’re likely to hear Spanish in the aisles. Not just any Spanish, though — Argentine Spanish. The distinctive accent, where “y” becomes “zh” and the final “s” sometimes disappears entirely, has lately become the sound of a massive transfer of wealth. Ringing through American checkout lines, it is also the sound of another economic crisis on the way.

Argentina has become much more important to the global economy in the decade following its last crisis, which began in 2001. Back then, its exports were only worth about $31 billion, or 11 percent of its gross domestic product. Today, Argentina’s exports have almost doubled, even after accounting for inflation, and it is a central player in commodity markets ranging from lithium to soy. Yet its trading regime is notoriously fickle, and another crisis — economic, political, or more likely both — could cause severe disruption.

Argentines have been talking about the imminence of their next crisis for about two years now, and their economy is showing plenty of worrying signs. Private economists estimate that inflation is running between 20 and 30 percent, while the government has doctored economic statistics to such an extent that the International Monetary Fund may censure it. The peso trades at more than six to the dollar in the street, though the official exchange rate is 4.7. The central bank maintains the artificially high value of the currency by buying pesos with its reserves, while the government limits the purchase of dollars by ordinary Argentines.

The combination of high inflation in wages — as well as prices — and an artificially strong peso has been a boon to Argentine consumers, especially the upper-middle class. Foreign goods are cheaper than ever, as is tourism. Visitors to Argentina, on the other hand, will find prices for clothing, electronics, and other manufactures in Buenos Aires on a par with New York, London, or Tokyo. The question for many well-to-do Argentines is not whether they will go abroad to shop, but how they will sneak their purchases through customs on the way back. Read more…

Daniel Altman teaches economics at New York University’s Stern School of Business and is chief economist of Big Think.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on October 15, 2012.

15
Oct

By Joseph S. Nye

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis – those 13 days in October 1962 that were probably the closest the world has come to a major nuclear war. President John F. Kennedy had publicly warned the Soviet Union not to introduce offensive missiles into Cuba. But Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev decided to cross Kennedy’s red line surreptitiously and confront the Americans with a fait accompli. When an American surveillance plane discovered the missiles, the crisis erupted.

Some of Kennedy’s advisers urged an air strike and invasion to destroy the missiles. Kennedy mobilized troops, but also bought time by announcing a naval blockade of Cuba. The crisis subsided when Soviet ships carrying additional missiles turned back, and Khrushchev agreed to remove the existing missiles from the island. As then US Secretary of State Dean Rusk put it: “We were eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other fellow just blinked.”

At first glance, this was a rational and predictable outcome. The United States had a 17-to-1 advantage in nuclear weaponry. The Soviets were simply outgunned.

And yet the US did not preemptively attack Soviet missile sites, which were relatively vulnerable, because the risk that even one or two of the Soviet missiles would be fired at an American city was enough to deter a first strike. In addition, both Kennedy and Khrushchev feared that rational strategies and careful calculation might spin out of control. Khrushchev offered a vivid metaphor in one of his letters to Kennedy: “We and you ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war.”

In 1987, I was part of a group of scholars that met at Harvard University with Kennedy’s surviving advisers to study the crisis. Robert McNamara, Kennedy’s secretary of defense, said he became more cautious as the crisis unfolded. At the time, he thought that the probability of nuclear war resulting from the crisis might have been one in 50 (though he rated the risk much higher after he learned in the 1990’s that the Soviets had already delivered nuclear weapons to Cuba).

Douglas Dillon, Kennedy’s treasury secretary, said he thought that the risk of nuclear war had been about zero. He did not see how the situation could possibly have escalated to nuclear war, and thus had been willing to push the Soviets harder and to take more risks than McNamara was. General Maxwell Taylor, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also believed that the risk of nuclear war was low, and he complained that the US let the Soviet Union off too easily. He felt that the Americans should have removed the Castro regime. Read more…

Joseph S. Nye, a former US assistant secretary of defense and chairman of the US National Intelligence Council, is University Professor at Harvard University.

As published by Project Syndicate on October 8, 2012.

10
Oct

Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, Founder of BRAC, analyzes key issues in poverty alleviation.

Madrid, Spain – On October 5, 2012 Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder of BRAC –Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee–, one of the largest development NGOs, gave a lecture at IE School of Arts & Humanities, in which he analyzed the key issues in poverty alleviation. BRAC currently operates in 10 countries in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean, and its work touches the lives of an estimated 126 million people.  Sir Fazle Hasan Abed was joined by Arantza de Areilza, Dean of IE School of Arts & Humanities, and Javier Gila, President of the Asociación AIDA – Ayuda, Intercambio y Desarrollo.

In 1972, Bangladesh was the second poorest country in the world. Back then, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed created BRAC with the aim of improving people’s living standards and education. In order to do this, BRAC focused its work on marginalized groups, especially women, who, in the words of Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, “tend to have fairly realistic outlook on situations”. As an example of best practices, BRAC promoted the intervention of experts by interviewing mothers in order to understand the reasons behind such a high mortality rate in Bangladesh. The findings concluded that most children died due to dehydration caused by diarrhea. BRAC also implemented a plan to promote ways to reduce the country’s high birth rates.  To do so, it was crucial to know and understand the “beliefs, wishes, and thoughts” of the population, Sir Fazle Hasan Abed recalled.

In addition to reducing infant mortality and fostering ways to lower Bangladesh’s high birth rates, over the past decades, BRAC has also played an active role in the field of education, key factor in a country’s socioeconomic development. Moreover, BRAC runs one of the largest private school systems in the world, with over a million students. During his lecture at IE School of Arts & Humanities, Sir Hazle Hasan Abed pointed out that, “at BRAC schools, students learn to think”. BRAC has also established a joint program in Education and Leadership with Columbia University geared toward Bangladeshi government officials. Sir Abed likewise insisted in the importance of promoting community development, “empowering those in need so that they can find solutions to their own problems”.

Finally, BRAC has also established a financial institution focused on financing small and medium enterprises. BRAC Bank has grown to become the fifth largest bank in Bangladesh. Sir Fazle Hasan Abed closed his lecture by saying that, “to me business opportunities exist only if they entail improving, developing, or helping someone or something”.

Watch our one-on-one interview with Sir Fazle Hasan Abed:

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8
Oct

By Francis Fukuyama

It is a curious fact that in contemporary American political science, very few people want to study the state, that is, the functioning of executive branches and their bureaucracies. Since the onset of the Third Wave of democratizations now more than a generation ago, the overwhelming emphasis in comparative politics has been on democracy, transitions to democracy, human rights, ethnic conflict, violence, transitional justice, and the like. There is of course interest in stability, but primarily as the absence of violence and conflict. Studies of non-democratic countries focus on issues like authoritarian persistence, meaning that the focus still remains the question of democracy in the long run or democratic transition. In other words, most people are interested in studying political institutions that limit or check power—democratic accountability and rule of law—but very few people pay attention to the institution that accumulates and uses power, the state.

The relative emphasis on checking institutions rather than power-deploying institutions is evident in the governance measures that have been developed in recent years. There are numerous measures of the quality of democracy like the Freedom House Freedom in the World and Polity IV measures, as well as newer  ones like the Varieties of Democracy project led by Michael Coppedge, John Gerring et al. What we do not have is a good measure of Weberian bureaucracy—that is, the degree to which bureaucratic recruitment and promotion is merit-based, functionally organized, based on technical qualifications, etc. One of the only studies to attempt to do this was by Peter Evans and James Rauch back in 2000, but their sample was limited to 30-odd countries and produced no time series data. There is also a proprietary cross-country measure, the Political Risk Service’s Group (PRSG) International Country Risk Guide, but because it is proprietary we don’t really know what goes into it. Several of the World Bank Institute’s Worldwide Governance Indicators purport to measure state aspects of state capacity (government effectiveness, regulatory quality, and stability and absence of violence, control of corruption), but these are aggregates of other existing measures and it is not clear how they map onto the Weberian categories. For example, does a good absence of violence score mean that there is effective policing? I suspect that there isn’t much street crime in North Korea. (There are similar problems with the Bank’s internal CPIA scores.)

One important measure that would be great to have but which no one has ever attempted to create, to my knowledge, is a measure of bureaucratic autonomy, that is, the degree to which bureaucrats are under day-to-day control by their nominal political masters, both with regard to policy and with regard to control over cadres. This is utterly critical in understanding bureaucratic quality, and yet is totally unavailable for any kind of quantitative analysis. Read more…

Francis Fukuyama is Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies (FSI) at Stanford University. Dr. Fukuyama is chairman of the editorial board of The American Interest, which he helped to found in 2005.   He is a senior fellow at the Johns Hopkins SAIS Foreign Policy Institute, and a non-resident fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Center for Global Development. 

As published by The American Interest on October 2, 2012.

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