Archive for the ‘Culture & Society’ Category

30
Jan

Mali’s 2.5 Percent Problem: The real reason the Sahel is awash with terrorists? Rapid population growth.

By Roger Howard

As they debate how to tackle the threat of insurgency and unrest in Africa, Western leaders could do worse than to consider one of the most important, yet curiously underplayed, aspects of that troubled region — the dangers of rapid, unchecked population growth.

It is no coincidence that in recent decades Mali’s population has been growing at an unsustainable annual rate of around 3 percent. In other words, the average Malian woman has six children, while the country’s population has tripled over the past 50 years and, according to the latest U.N. estimates, is set to triple again over the next half century.

Such a drastic rate of population growth rate has profound implications. In particular it means that, in an undeveloped and largely barren land, too many people are competing for too few local resources and opportunities. Young men have limited hopes of finding employment or even sustenance and are therefore deeply susceptible to the temptation of armed criminality and insurgency, and to the lure of radical preachers who seem to offer them both a sense of purpose and scapegoats who they can blame for their woes.

It is of course an oversimplification to blame terrorism and insurgency on any single factor, but look around: The practitioners of these violent ways are also thriving in several other countries that are experiencing comparably high rates of population growth.

Pakistan, for example, is on course to become the world’s third most populous country by mid-century. It is a country in which poverty-stricken parents have been willing to surrender their children’s education to radical, Saudi-financed madrasas where they are inculcated with a radical anti-Western message. Likewise in Yemen, a major frontline in Washington’s ongoing war with al Qaeda, continues to experience one of the highest birth rates in the world, marginally higher than Mali’s. Read more…

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on January 28, 2013.

25
Jan

By Javier Solana and Ian Bremmer

In today’s world, identifying and managing hotspots is not simply a matter of pulling out a map, spotting the wildfires, and empowering diplomats to douse the flames. To understand today’s major conflicts and confrontations, we must recognize important ways in which global political conditions enable them.

Conflicts are much more likely to arise or persist when those with the means to prevent or end them cannot or will not do so. Unfortunately, this will be borne out in 2013.In the United States, barring a foreign-policy crisis that directly threatens national security, President Barack Obama’s administration will focus most of its time, energy, and political capital on debt reduction and other domestic priorities. In Europe, officials will continue their struggle to restore confidence in the eurozone. And, in China, though the demands of economic growth and job creation will force the country’s new leaders to develop new ties to other regions, they are far too preoccupied with the complexities of economic reform to assume unnecessary costs and risks outside Asia. That is why the world’s fires will burn longer and hotter this year.

This does not mean that the world’s powers will not inflict damage of their own. Today, these governments are more likely to use drones and special forces to strike at their perceived enemies. The world has grown used to US drone strikes in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Yemen, but recent news reports suggest that China and Japan are also investing in unmanned aircraft – in part to enhance their leverage in disputes over islands in the East China Sea. By lowering the costs and risks of attack, these technological innovations make military action more likely. Read more…

Javier Solana was Foreign Minister of Spain, Secretary-General of NATO, and EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy. He is currently President of the ESADE Center for Global Economy and Geopolitics and Distinguished Fellow at the Brookings Institution. Ian Bremmer is President of Eurasia Group and the author of Every Nation for Itself: Winners and Losers in a G-Zero World.

As published in www.project-syndicate.org on January 22, 2013.

22
Jan

By Roger Cohen

DIPLOMACY is dead.

Effective diplomacy — the kind that produced Nixon’s breakthrough with China, an end to the Cold War on American terms, or the Dayton peace accord in Bosnia — requires patience, persistence, empathy, discretion, boldness and a willingness to talk to the enemy.

This is an age of impatience, changeableness, palaver, small-mindedness and an unwillingness to talk to bad guys. Human rights are in fashion, a good thing of course, but the space for realist statesmanship of the kind that produced the Bosnian peace in 1995 has diminished. The late Richard Holbrooke’s realpolitik was not for the squeamish.

There are other reasons for diplomacy’s demise. The United States has lost its dominant position without any other nation rising to take its place. The result is nobody’s world. It is a place where America acts as a cautious boss, alternately encouraging others to take the lead and worrying about loss of authority. Syria has been an unedifying lesson in the course of crisis when diplomacy is dead. Algeria shows how the dead pile up when talking is dismissed as a waste of time.

Violence, of the kind diplomacy once resolved, has shifted. As William Luers, a former ambassador to Venezuela and the director of The Iran Project, said in an e-mail, it occurs “less between states and more dealing with terrorists.” One result is that “the military and the C.I.A. have been in the driver’s seat in dealing with governments throughout the Middle East and in state to state (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq) relations.” The role of professional diplomats is squeezed.

Indeed the very word “diplomacy” has become unfashionable on Capitol Hill, where its wimpy associations — trade-offs, compromise, pliancy, concessions and the like — are shunned by representatives who these days prefer beating the post-9/11 drums of confrontation, toughness and inflexibility: All of which may sound good but often get you nowhere (or into long, intractable wars) at great cost.

Stephen Heintz, president of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, wrote in an e-mail that, “When domestic politics devolve into polarization and paralysis the impact on diplomatic possibility becomes inordinately constraining.” He cited Cuba and Iran as examples of this; I would add Israel-Palestine. These critical foreign policy issues are viewed less as diplomatic challenges than potential sources of domestic political capital. Read more…

As published in www.nytimes.com on January 21, 2013 (a version of this op-ed appeared in print on January 22, 2013, in The International Herald Tribune).

17
Jan

By Mohammed Ayoob

Because of its strategic location between the two twentieth-century centers of Arab power, Egypt and Iraq, Syria has been for many decades a bellwether of Arab politics, viewed widely in the region as the heartland of Arab nationalism. The fact that the first major pan-Arab nationalist party, the Baath, was established in Syria and the leading roleplayed by Syrian (including Lebanese) intellectuals and activists in making pan-Arab ideology popular contributed greatly to this perception.

Moreover, whichever ideological or political trend emerged victorious in Syria came to dominate, more often than not, the Arab political scene. This was true in the 1950s and 1960s during the time of a “cold war” between “revolutionary” military regimes espousing the cause of Arab nationalism and conservative monarchies determined to hold on to their power and privilege. According to one analyst, today’s regional politics are showing signs of a new cold war, “and, once again, that broader conflict is manifesting itself in a struggle for Syria.”

But this new cold war extends beyond the Arab world. Saudi Arabia is being challenged by non-Arab Iran. Also, the ideological lines of conflict are blurry. Arch-conservative Gulf monarchies, steadfastly opposed to democracy in their own countries, support democracy in Syria, along with non-Arab democratic Turkey. Meanwhile, the authoritarian Assad has the support of Iran, whose hybrid political system encompasses both clerical and representative institutions.

Some argue that Iran’s role in the current regional cold war has introduced sectarian (Shia versus Sunni) as well ethnic (Persian versus Arab) divisions into the region. But Tehran supports Assad largely for strategic rather than sectarian (leave alone ethnic) reasons. Syria has been Iran’s only loyal Arab ally, even during the devastating Iran-Iraq War imposed on Iran by Iraq. All other Arab regimes, principally the Gulf monarchs newly flush with petrodollars, not only supported Iraq but largely financed Saddam’s war machine. Equally important, if not more so, is the fact that since the 1980s Syria has been the principal conduit for Iranian military and financial assistance to the Lebanese Hezbollah and, until recently, to Hamas.

The relationship’s economic dimension also is important. Syria has become a crucial economic lifeline for Iran. As one analyst puts it, “As both countries become increasingly isolated from the international community their economic ties have become exceedingly more important.” These ties have included a $10 billion agreement signed just before the Syrian uprising began for the construction of a gas pipeline running though Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and reaching Europe via the Mediterranean. Read more…

Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor of International Relations at Michigan State University, and Adjunct Scholar at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

As published by The National Interest on January 16, 2013.

16
Jan

By Jeongwen Chiang

Apple staff welcoming customers in the new Apple store at WangFujin business district in Beijing on October 20, 2012

Apple CEO Tim Cook expects China, the world’s most populous country, to become the No. 1 market for the company.

Equally heavyweight tech companies Google or Facebook can only watch with envy. It is not because of lack of effort that they are nowhere near the success of Apple in China. Their businesses are just too different.

The Chinese government’s tight control on freedom of information flow applies especially to the Internet. Web access is filtered on a regular basis. Social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked because the government deems them as potential hot spots for facilitating politically sensitive or socially inappropriate content.

Meanwhile, Google is operational in China but has to route all searches to its Hong Kong site, and the access is often interrupted. So, it is fair to say that the Chinese government is the reason why companies such as Google and Facebook are not doing well in China.

In contrast, Apple mainly sells hardware, so it has not run into any censorship problems.

Chinese consumers love electronic gadgets. Mobile phones are ubiquitous. Apple is doing incredibly well because its products are so much more attractive and pricy. The iPhone quickly become a status symbol product in Chinese social circles since its debut. Likewise, the iPad also joined the must-have list as soon as it was launched.

If someone wants to lubricate his “guanxi” — relationship — with an important person, these two products are often the gift of choice. Before the iPad reached China, a businessman in Shanghai told me that in the back of his car trunk, he had stocked at least 20 iPads, all bought in Hong Kong. “It is the most-loved present for government officials,” he claimed.

The social pressure of having an Apple product is strong, especially as the wealthy elites set the trend. If a middle class Chinese consumer cannot afford an expensive car or watch, sporting an iPhone may be just as good. Even the bad press surrounding Foxconn, the main manufacturer of Apple products, did not make too much of a dent on the company’s sales. Read more…

Jeongwen Chiang is professor of marketing and chair of the department of marketing at China Europe International Business School.

As published in www.cnn.com on January 15, 2013.

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