Archive for the ‘Culture & Society’ Category

28
Feb

The Pope as Diplomat

Written on February 28, 2013 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Culture & Society, Foreign Policy, International Law & Organizations

How the Vatican Does Foreign Policy

By Edward Pentin

Pentin_PopeAsDiplo_411

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives to lead his weekly audience in Saint Peter’s Square.

As Pope Benedict XVI abdicates the papacy, retiring to a life of prayer and study, he leaves behind an admirable, if somewhat chequered, record in international relations.

His influence in foreign affairs — like that of all popes — has been considerable. As a truly global body with over a billion members, the world’s oldest diplomatic service, and a vast network of humanitarian aid organizations, the Catholic Church is arguably able to frame foreign policy in a way no other institution can.

That was perhaps most clearly evident during Pope John Paul II’s tenure, when the Vatican sided with the West in its struggle to topple Soviet communism. But the pope and the Holy See are not foreign policymakers as such — they can only guide world powers toward a particular vision of justice and peace.

To understand Benedict XVI’s approach to foreign affairs, it’s important to note his background as a professor. More at home with books than with the diplomatic corps (many of his recent predecessors had been trained statesmen), he primarily sought to bring the teachings of the Catholic Church to the world stage, rather than dwell on practicalities. It was an approach that in many ways proved to be an advantage: Unconstrained by the protocols of diplomacy, he could more forthrightly proclaim the Christian message to a global audience — and his methods bore fruit, although not without a cost.

His pronouncements, which often went right to the core of an issue, were regularly regarded as diplomatic gaffes. The most famous example occurred during his 2006 lectio magistralis at the University of Regensburg. In his speech, Benedict XVI memorably quoted a medieval emperor who implied that Muhammad had only spread Islam through violence. Although the lecture was primarily meant to show that contemporary militant Western liberalism and contemporary militant Islam share the same erroneous approach to truth, his quotation set off a firestorm, testing the Holy See’s relations with Islam-majority nations and forcing the pope to issue an apology for the reaction it caused.

And yet his comments struck a chord with many who began to debate in their own minds the problem of violence among certain Islamic groups, even if they were unwilling to articulate the issue publicly. His comments initiated reflection on what it means to love God and love one’s neighbor, and they gave urgency to an ongoing Catholic-Muslim dialogue: No longer was it about mere niceties but more about genuine encounter. Specifically, it led Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah to make an historic visit to the Vatican in 2007 and launch his own foundation aimed at improving interreligious understanding last year. Read more…

As published in www.foreignaffairs.com on February 27, 2013.

20
Feb

By Leon Hadar

candle

Despite failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, some of the West’s most prominent intellectuals still operate under the assumption that liberal values are universal.

In his new magnum opus, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, Harvard psychology professor and Renaissance man Steven Pinker, highlights what he regards to be “the most important thing that has ever happened in human history.” Violence has declined and today “we may be living in the most peaceful era in our species’ existence.”

But Pinker’s decline-of-violence thesis reflects a more ambitious exercise: The professor aims to develop a grand theory, one that assumes that “we” or “humanity” or “our species” have all become part of “modernity,” defined as the sense that the old foundations of societies—family, tribe, tradition and religion—are being eroded by the forces of individualism, cosmopolitanism, reason and science.

In Pinker’s view, a global civilizing process is creating a new culture. This new way, which is more secular, more democratic, more commercial, more “feminized,” is becoming dominant worldwide, and explains why our civilization has become more conducive to peaceful coexistence. Forget the bloodbaths of the twentieth century, including two world wars, civil wars and genocides, Pinker argues. We are entering into the era of the New Peace, where violence against the “Other” national, ethnic, and religious groups, against women, children and even animals, will become a taboo. History has indeed ended and we’re all turning into one big, happy civilization.

If you have been residing for most of your life in the West and were educated and exposed to the dominant cultural currents, in places like the United States, Germany or Australia, the political civilization that Pinker is describing sounds familiar. Whether you are liberal or conservative, you would have to agree that our national societies have become less religious, more materialistic and effeminate—and that even (some) animals now enjoy legal protection.

To be sure, no one in his right mind would predict a war between the United States and Canada, or between Australia and New Zealand, or even between France and Germany anytime soon. Scotland may or may not secede from Britain in the near future. But the establishment of an independent Scotland (or Catalonia or Lombardy) will almost certainly not be preceded or followed by a civil war. Read more…

Leon Hadar, senior analyst at Wikistrat, a geostrategic consulting group, is the author of Sandstorm: Policy Failure in the Middle East

As published by The National Interest on February 19, 2013.

14
Feb

By Zbigniew Brzezinski

Today, many fear that the emerging American-Chinese duopoly must inevitably lead to conflict. But I do not believe that wars for global domination are a serious prospect in what is now the Post-Hegemonic Age.

Admittedly, the historical record is dismal. Since the onset of global politics 200 years ago, four long wars (including the Cold War) were fought over the domination of Europe, each of which could have resulted in global hegemony by a sole superpower.

Yet several developments over recent years have changed the equation. Nuclear weapons make hegemonic wars too destructive, and thus victory meaningless. One-sided national economic triumphs cannot be achieved in the increasingly interwoven global economy without precipitating calamitous consequences for everyone. Further, the populations of the world have awakened politically and are not so easily subdued, even by the most powerful. Last but not least, neither the United States nor China is driven by hostile ideologies.

Moreover, despite our very different political systems, both our societies are, in different ways, open. That, too, offsets pressure from within each respective society toward animus and hostility. More than 100,000 Chinese are students at American universities, and thousands of young Americans study and work in China or participate in special study or travel programs. Unlike in the former Soviet Union, millions of Chinese regularly travel abroad. And millions of young Chinese are in daily touch with the world through the Internet.

All this contrasts greatly with the societal self-isolation of the 19th- and 20th-century contestants for global power, which intensified grievances, escalated hostility and made it easier to demonize the one another.

Nonetheless, we cannot entirely ignore the fact that the hopeful expectation in recent years of an amicable American-Chinese relationship has lately been tested by ever more antagonistic polemics, especially in the mass media of both sides. This has been fueled in part by speculation about America’s allegedly inevitable decline and about China’s relentless, rapid rise. Read more…

Zbigniew Brzezinski was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter. His most recent book is “Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power.

As published in www.nytimes.com on February 13, 2013.

1
Feb

China’s campaign of cyber attacks has reached epidemic proportions. Can anything be done to stop it?

By Adam Segal

In an extraordinary story that has become depressingly ordinary, the New York Times reports that Chinese hackers “persistently” attacked the newspaper, “infiltrating its computer systems and getting passwords for its reporters and other employees.” The attacks began around the time journalists were preparing a story on the massive wealth the family of China’s Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has allegedly accumulated, but the methods, identification, and apparent objectives of the hackers have been seen before in previous attacks on defense contractors, technology companies, journalists, academics, think tanks, and NGOs. Bloomberg, which published a story on the wealth of the family of Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, has also been reportedly attacked.  While just one case in a sweeping cyber espionage campaign that appears endemic, the attack on the Times does highlight both the willingness of Beijing lean out and shape the narrative about China as well as the vulnerability the top leadership feels about how they are portrayed.

As with many cases of cyber espionage, the break-in is assumed to have started with a spear-phishing email, a socially engineered message containing malware attachments or links to hostile websites. In the case of the attack on the security firm RSA in 2011, for example, an email with the subject line “2011 Recruitment Plan” was sent with an attached Excel file. Opening the file downloaded software that allowed attackers to gain control of the user’s computers. They then gradually expanded their access and moved into different computers and networks.

Once in, the hackers are pervasive and fairly intractable. The hackers involved in the attacks on the British defense contractor BAE Systems, for example, were reportedly on its networks for 18 months before they were discovered; during that time they monitored online meetings and technical discussions through the use of web cameras and computer microphones. According to Jill Abramson, executive editor of the Times, there was no evidence that sensitive information related to the reporting on Wen’s family was stolen, but in previous cases hackers encrypted data so that investigators had a difficult time seeing what was actually taken.

Evidence that the hackers are China-based in all of these cases is suggestive, but not conclusive. Some of the code used in the attacks was developed by Chinese hacker groups and the command and control nodes have been traced back to Chinese IP addresses. Hackers are said to clock in in the morning Beijing time, clock out in the afternoon, and often take vacation on Chinese New Year and other national holidays. But attacks can be routed through many computers, malware is bought and sold on the black market, groups share techniques, and one of the cherished clichés of hackers is that they work weird hours. Read more…

Adam Segal is the Maurice R. Greenberg senior fellow in China Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As published in www.foreignpolicy.com on January 31, 2013.

31
Jan

By Fareed Zakaria

Egyptian protesters use camera phones on Monday to capture a burning state security armored vehicle that demonstrators commandeered during clashes with security forces nearby and brought to Tahrir Square and set it alight, in Cairo, Egypt. (Mostafa El Shemy/AP)

The chaos at the second anniversary of the Tahrir Square uprising is only the latest and most vivid illustration that Egypt’s revolution is going off the rails. It has revived talk about the failure of the Arab Spring and even some nostalgia for the old order. But Arab dictators such as Hosni Mubarak could not have held onto power without even greater troubles; look at Syria. Events in the Middle East the past two years underscore that constitutions are as vital as elections and that good leadership is crucial in these transitions.

Compare the differences between Egypt and Jordan. At the start of the Arab Spring, it appeared that Egypt had responded to the will of its people, had made a clean break with its tyrannical past and was ushering in a new birth of freedom. Jordan, by contrast, responded with a few personnel changes, some promises to study the situation and talk of reform.

But then Egypt started going down the wrong path, and Jordan made a set of wise choices.

Put simply, Egypt chose democratization before liberalization. Elections became the most important element of the new order, used in legitimizing the new government, electing a president and ratifying the new constitution. As a result, the best organized force in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, swept into power, even though, on the first ballot, only 25 percent of voters chose its presidential nominee, Mohamed Morsi. The Brotherhood was also able to dominate the drafting of the constitution. The document had many defects, including its failure to explicitly protect women’s rights — only four of the constitutional assembly’s 85 members were women — and language that seems to enshrine the traditional “character” of the Egyptian family. It also weakens protections for religious minorities such as the Bahais, who already face persecution. Read more…

Fareed Zakaria writes a foreign affairs column for The Post. He is also the host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and editor at large of Time magazine.

As published in www.washingtonpost.com on January 31, 2013.

1 7 8 9 10 11 36

We use both our own and third-party cookies to enhance our services and to offer you the content that most suits your preferences by analysing your browsing habits. Your continued use of the site means that you accept these cookies. You may change your settings and obtain more information here. Accept