16
May

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The 2014 World Cup is just one month away, but it’s not too early to start feeling intense emotions about the 2022 World Cup. Specifically, fury. That’s the feeling I left with after watching ESPN’s excellent E:60 documentary on the human rights disaster that’s unfolding eight years ahead of the Qatar World Cup.

From the opening shots of a small, red coffin carrying a young migrant worker, E:60: Trapped in Qatar is a gut punch. In addition to interviewing widows of Nepalese migrant workers, reporter Jeremy Schaap travelled to Qatar and took unauthorized cameras to see laborers’ cramped, squalid living conditions. Previous journalists had been detained by police for attempting to film in these dilapidated housing projects.

Those terrible images and individual interviews with grieving family members would be infuriating enough, but then the documentary goes into the actual numbers. Because Qatar has such a tiny population—the country has only about 280,000 citizens—and the World Cup is such a large project, most of the work to build the infrastructure and eight to 12 state-of-the-art stadiums will be carried out by the country’s 1.4 million migrant workers. In the past year alone, according to ESPN, 184 Nepali migrant workers have died, mainly from “sudden cardiac death” caused byterrible working conditions and extreme heat. The Nepalese embassy in Qatar, meanwhile, says 400 workers had died on World Cup projects since 2010. And that’s just the Nepalis.

Qatar has also imported workers from India, Pakistan, the Philippines, and elsewhere. India has reported that 500 of its citizens have died in Qatar since 2012. Sharan Burrow, the general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation, is quoted in the ESPN documentary as saying that at current rates, 4,000 people will dieto make the 2022 World Cup a reality. A March ITUC report said that 1,200 migrants have already died in the four years since the tiny, oil-rich Gulf State was awarded the World Cup in a shady and stunning decision. Watch a clip of FIFA president Sepp Blatter saying “there is not one single doubt that the World Cup will be organized in Qatar” and it’s hard not to reach anger level midnight.

All of these abuses are possible because of the nation’s kafala employment system, which has been aptly described as modern-day slavery. Through kafala, employers are allowed to confiscate a migrant’s passport and withhold exit visas, effectively preventing that person from leaving the country.

Qatar claimed as recently as this Tuesday that not a single person had died while doing work for the World Cup. The contention rests on the fact that the hundreds who have died on infrastructure and construction efforts were working on “non-World Cup projects.”

Despite these assertions, Qatar and FIFA seem to have realized that a humanitarian crisis of this scale is disastrous, at the very least from a publicity standpoint. On Wednesday, Qatar announced reforms intended to abolish the worst provision ofkafala, specifically the one tying workers’ exit visas to employers.

But the Guardian, which prior to the ESPN doc had been the leading news organization in investigating the crisis, reports that these alterations won’t be easy to push through. Changes to Qatari employment law will face pushback from businesses, would have to be ratified by an advisory council, and should not be considered a reality until they are actually enacted.

“Promises to fully review sponsorship and exit permits in the long term don’t help workers on the ground,” Amnesty International’s James Lynch told the paper. “The government has been announcing a law on domestic workers’ rights since 2008 but we still haven’t seen it.” Even after Wednesday’s announcement, no timeline had been set for implementation of the reforms.

As ITUC ‘s Burrows points out to ESPN, getting rid of kafala and the perverse Qatari exit visa system should be a minimum condition for Qatar continuing to be allowed to host the Cup. The changes announced today were praised by Sepp Blatter as a “significant step in the right direction.” But if Blatter refuses to put pressure on Qatar to follow through, the sporting and international community needs to direct pressure on Blatter himself.

Jeremy Stahl is Slate‘s social media editor. Published on 14 May in http://www.slate.com

14
May

On Monday 12 May, Dr. Casilda Güell, Professor of Political Science at the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, addressed the MIR class in a very lively debate on regional integration. Quoting various authors including Barry Buzan and Richard Haas, Dr. Güell discussed the merits of regional integration in addressing the global challenges countries face today including financial crises, epidemics, terrorism, climate change. The nation state is now receding and no country alone can tackle these global problems, not even a superpower.  According to Buzan, the world is changing and we are evolving from a unipolar world dominated by a reluctant hegemon, the US, to a multipolar world with different poles composed of regional unions such as the EU, Mercosur, ASEAN…

Unlike what many pundits affirm, China will not be the next hegemon. It is unwilling to take on that role and should it rise to that position, other poles would counterbalance it.  Dr. Güell then discussed the 5 layers of integration, free trade, customs union, common market, economic union and political union. The EU is currently between the 4th and 5th layers. NAFTA is at the first stage while Mercosur is currently a customs union. Dr. Güell asked the students if economic integration was a prerequisite to political integration: peace through commerce. Opinions were divided even though history shows that political union when it is reached first goes through the stage of economic integration.

The seminar concluded with short student presentations on the pros and cons of NAFTA, Mercosur and the EU. The class was overwhelmingly in favor of regional integration with one of two dissenting voices that made for a richer discussion.

 

 

 

13
May

IT is well that we contemplate the abyss, if only to avoid it. This year we particularly remember the ghastly disaster of 100 years ago, when an almost unfathomable complacency shared by the European elite threw a generation into the fire of the First World War, almost as an afterthought. A century on from the fields of Waterloo, statesmen then assumed a general peace to be the rule, rather than a miraculous exception.

This overly sanguine state of mind seems to be every bit as present today as it was in the fateful year of 1914. Everyone knows that tensions are brewing in the seas around China, as Beijing claims the rights to territorial waters at the expense of most of its worried neighbours. But, says conventional wisdom, “So what? A little muscle flexing is to be expected, given the meteoric rise of Beijing, and its understandable determination to safeguard the sea-based trade routes around its shores. A little sabre rattling is all this amounts to.”

For many analysts, last week’s most recent dust-up – this time between Beijing and Vietnam in the South China Sea – is simply more of the same. A flotilla of Chinese ships have been ramming into and firing water cannon at Vietnamese government vessels trying to stop Beijing from constructing an oil rig 140 miles off the Vietnamese coast. Yes, the Chinese are playing hardball and it’s not very nice, say the gormless analytical descendants of 1914. But after all, Beijing wouldn’t jeopardise the present world order, particularly as they are doing so well by it.

Much the same was said after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, that a rising Germany surely wouldn’t risk its improving global standing over an unpleasant – but seemingly peripheral – incident. But if history teaches us anything, it is that states and especially statesmen do not always act in their best interests. 1914 reminds us that sometimes mini-crises ignite powder kegs beneath them.

Perhaps most hauntingly, the outline of the present order in Asia that surrounds these events resembles nothing so much as the supposedly “unsinkable” pre-1914 world. Barack Obama’s America is Edwardian Britain incarnate. For their time, both were easily the most powerful country in the world, while both being in relative decline. Alone among the great powers, Britain and America were omnipresent – both economically and in terms of their first-class navies – while not being omnipotent. Nothing could be done without them, but they alone did not possess enough power to guarantee the global international order on their own.

China fits the bill as the Kaiser’s Germany, a rising economic and military power bristling with nationalist indignation at perceived slights – both real and imagined – and increasingly believing its rise cannot be accommodated by the present order.

If Beijing makes for a worryingly effective Germany, Prime Minister Abe’s Japan is Third Republic France to a tee. As declining regional powers – beset by economic torpor and falling relatively further behind strategically – they were both directly threatened by aggressive neighbours. Both placed their hopes in alliances with the declining hegemon, respectively the UK and the US.

Even the milieu in which the 1914 analogy operates is strikingly similar. Currently, China is exploiting incidents in the seas around it to test the willingness of the US to stand behind its treaty commitments to allies like Japan and the Philippines, just as in the decade before the Great War the Kaiser provoked a series of international crises to see if Britain would really come to the defence of France under the gun. Ironically in both cases, the rising power miscalculated, making a general war far more likely as arms races broke out, wherein Japan/East Asia and France quickly armed themselves to the teeth in response to their menacing foes.

Given the almost exact correlation between the structural worlds of 1914 and 2014, alarm bells really ought to be ringing. It is far too early to give up on the notion of accommodating China’s peaceful rise. However, at the same time as Washington tries to bind China into the present order, it must hedge against Beijing following the Kaiser’s disastrous path. Instead, America must link India, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the other East Asian states into a more cohesive system, through free trade or military ties, making the price for China bucking the present order ever higher.

By pursuing this dual strategy, the US can improve the chances that the apocalyptic 1914 analogy fails to come to pass.

Dr John C Hulsman is senior columnist at City A.M., and president and co-founder of John C Hulsman Enterprises (www.john-hulsman.com), a global political risk consultancy. He is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of Ethical Realism, The Godfather Doctrine, and most recently Lawrence of Arabia, To Begin the World Over Again.

Published on 12 May in http://www.cityam.com

12
May

Everyone wants to do something about Boko Haram.

That’s fine. Nevertheless, as I argued on Wednesday, Twitter hashtags won’t recover these girls. Even apart from that, what has happened is only the symptom of the larger Boko Haram disease. Absent a strategy that exerts significant military pressure on the group, it will simply keep doing what it’s doing.

After all, these are extremists made from three toxic ingredients: fanatical Islamist medievalism and the ramblings of two psychopaths: Mohammed Yusuf andMohammed Marwa. In practical terms, this means that Boko Haram has little interest in compromise or peace.

Unfortunately, as we’re seeing, the Nigerian government is little better. Beset by corruption and weak leadership, it has allowed Boko Haram to wreak its chaos. Additionally, the Nigerian military is variable in professionalism and limited in capability. It also lacks the popular trust of many Nigerians. So what should America do?

Well, first, we need to admit what we’re unwilling to do. A major U.S. ground deployment is clearly out of the question. American public support would disappear in the face of more than a few American casualties. After Afghanistan and Iraq, the country is sick of war. Moreover, in an election year, the already hyperpolitical Obama White House will be paranoid about the appearance of another Somalia.

How about the much-vaunted Special Operations Forces (SOF) option?

Again, easier on Twitter than in reality. Not only does Boko Haram operate over a vast area, its stronghold in northeastern Nigeria shares borders with three other nations. Correspondingly, any SOF task force would need three things. First, it would require significant troop strength. The U.S. could send elements from the Special Forces Groups (“Green Berets”), but with the direct-action, hostage-rescue capabilities needed here, Special Mission Units (SMUs) would also be needed. More specifically, I believe the U.S. would have to send at least two squadrons (about two hundred men) from either Delta Force or the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU, better known — at least since 2011 — as SEAL Team Six. To enable their effectiveness, those forces would have to be accompanied by aviation, intelligence, logistics, and command-support personnel. The White House would also have to procure military operating authorization from Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon (perhaps also Chad and the Central African Republic). AFRICOM is a smaller combatant command of the U.S. military, and even with credible SOF support from other nations (the UK seems interested), it would take major resources to make this work..

A focused SOF mission also presents two other obstacles. First, whatever Zero Dark Thirty might suggest, special forces are not omnipotent. Many SMU operators have been wounded or killed since 9/11; their adversaries are highly dangerous, and Boko Haram is no exception. Second, a major SOF deployment to Nigeria would require some tough choices over priorities. For a start, the Special Forces Groups are stretched by their heavy commitment to the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Similarly, while emergency standby squadrons from Delta Force and DEVGRU could be deployed to Nigeria, doing so would limit U.S. contingency options. Of course, American SOF already operate out of East Africa against the groups al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (which recently released a video) and Al-Shabab (the Nairobi mall massacre). As such, a scout team was probably sent to Nigeria a couple of weeks back. Still, that would have been a small team.

big Special Forces option would be doable, but very messy. And that conclusion brings me back to the hashtag I floated on Wednesday: #HellfireBokoHaram (that is, strike them with drones).

As I see it, drones offer three unique benefits as a prospective tool against Boko Haram. Most obviously, drones are drones. They don’t put U.S. military personnel at risk. Second, the drones offer a symbiosis of intelligence collection and military lethality. In short, they would enable the U.S. to covertly monitor Boko Haram formations over long periods of time and then incinerate some of them with Hellfire missiles. Third, the drones double as a psychological weapon. The experience of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Co. in the Pakistan FATA (federally administered tribal areas) proves that the drones don’t simply wreak havoc upon the enemy’s command-and-control apparatus; they deny freedom of movement and induce paranoia. Helpfully, the U.S. already has a drone base in nearby Niger. This is the foundation from which we could slowly bring Boko Haram to its knees.

Put another way, it’s time to #HellfireBokoHaram.

— Tom Rogan is a blogger and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph. He is based in Washington, D.C. Published on 8 May in http://www.nationalreview.com/article/377605/hellfirebokoharam-tom-rogan

8
May

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On Tuesday 6  May, Dr. Gonzalo Escribano , Director of the Energy Programme at the El Cano Royal Institute for International Relations, gave a highly engaging talk on the geopolitics of energy. The first part of his seminar addressed oil and hydrocarbons. MIR students were informed that Saudi Arabia was not only the largest oil producer but also had the largest export surplus in the world. More importantly, they are the only country with a spare capacity of 1,5 mbd to 5 mbd (million barrels a day) which in effect turns them into the “lender of last resort” for oil. If for X reason, Libya or Venezuela decided to cut off their production, Saudi Arabia is the only country that could effectively step in and fill the gap in oil production. This gives them a lot of power and leverage in energy politics as they are the only nation that can provide this public good and essentially stabilize the oil market. The gas market is mostly dominated by Russia and the US with their new shale gas extractions.  In all still 82% of the world’s energy consumption is based on hydrocarbons and renewable energy is but a small part of the mix. This is because renewable energies are still not price competitive and also because most countries do not have coherent energy policies. As long as this is the case, hydrocarbons are here to stay.  In the coming years most of the energy demand will come Asia, mainly from China and India. Dr. Es cribano also discussed energy poverty ( 20% of the world lacks access to electricity) and the fact that there is a tradeoff between protecting the environment and fighting climate change and providing access to energy in developing countries. The UN is trying to reconcile both aspects of sustainable development and growth and have created an initiative called Sustainable Energy for all. To conclude, Dr. Escribano mentioned  a few energy hot spots in the world and focused on Ukraine. Russia is now hesitating between providing energy to Europe or Asia. If it decides to cut off gas from Europe because of the conflict in Ukraine, China will decide that it is not a reliable energy supplier and this could cause tension with Russia’s Asian partners. Putin will have to be very careful and tactical in his energy politics.

Students had many questions for Dr. Escribano and their interest highlighted the importance of energy in geopolitics today.

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