8
May

gonzalo

 

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.

7
May

Democracy’s Deepening Recession

Written on May 7, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Op Ed

 

While the world’s attention has been riveted on Ukraine and what move an emboldened Vladimir Putin will make next, diverse threats to democracy have intensified on other fronts as well. The story is not new. According to Freedom House, 2013 was the eighth consecutive year in which more countries experienced declines in political rights or civil liberties than improvements. Since 2005, democracy has ceased its decades-long expansion, leveling off at about 60 percent of all independent states. And since the military coup in Pakistan in 1999, the rate of democratic breakdowns has accelerated, with about one in every five democracies failing.

The downfall of several Arab autocracies in 2011 seemed to augur a new burst of democratic progress, but that progress has not materialized. While Tunisia has emerged as the first Arab democracy in 40 years, Egypt is more repressive now than at any time in the last decade of Hosni Mubarak’s rule. Since the end of 2010, more Arab countries have regressed in freedom and political pluralism than have advanced.

In January, democracy in Bangladesh suffered a major setback when the principal opposition party boycotted parliamentary elections after the ruling party abandoned neutral arrangements for electoral administration, and trust between the two parties collapsed. While Freedom House judges that democracy has returned to Pakistan, Kenya, and Thailand, these governments are so illiberal and corrupt that it is difficult to say what exactly they are. Read more…

By Larry Diamond, Published on 2 May in the Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com

6
May

 

Four years ago yesterday, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 men and spilling thousands of barrels of oil into the Gulf. This Thursday is the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza collapse in Bangladesh, which killed more than 1,100 garment workers.

What has happened in the time since these disasters? BP was barred from drilling in U.S. deepwater—until last month. Western clothing brands are upgrading Bangladeshi factories, but the fundamentals of their business haven’t changed: Brands outsource production to factories serving multiple clients in low-wage, low-regulation countries (not just Bangladesh).

The lack of fundamental change in these industries—and others, such as financial services after the 2008 crisis—suggests disasters like these are bound to happen again.

Indeed, every corporate crisis evokes a sense of déjà vu. The Rana Plaza catastrophe bore echoes of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. The unfolding story of General Motors’ faulty ignition switches brings back 1970smemories of the Ford Pinto, whose infamously fire-prone fuel tanks went unfixed because upgrading them would have cost more than the $200,000 Ford set for a human life.

Why does the corporate world fail to learn from its tragic past?  From 1999 to 2008, I worked for BP in Indonesia, China, and at the company’s London headquarters. It was my job to assess and mitigate the social and human rights risks to communities living near major BP projects, a role that existed because the executives I worked with understood that what was good for those communities was good for our business. I did innovative, progressive work bringing in experts and setting up partnerships and programs to benefit contract workers and neighbors of big BP projects in the developing world. But, obviously, I did not manage to prevent the Deepwater Horizon disaster, or the 2005 explosion of a BP refinery in Texas City that killed 15 people and injured many more.

I wanted an answer to that question, and I decided to write a book, reflecting on both my own experience and, also, documenting the experiences of my peers in other companies who similarly thought they were making progress mitigating risks to stakeholders, but then were faced with evidence to the contrary: supply chain managers in apparel companies who were sourcing at Rana Plaza; tech executives working to protect privacy but still seeing users persecuted with the data their companies collect.

Why, with this global invisible army of people working to prevent them do these disasters still happen? Why do they still happen when there are an unprecedented number of CEOs talking about corporate social responsibility (CSR)? More importantly, what does this “invisible army” need to succeed?

Here are some of the themes that emerged from my interviews and reflections:

1. People lie. More than one person I interviewed told me a story of touring a factory, doubling back on the pretense of forgetting something, and catching workers turning in their goggles or other protective gear. Factory owners will hide bad news if failing an audit means losing business. A few companies like H&M are said to have committed to multi-year contracts with suppliers, which are hoped to strengthen relationships between firms and suppliers, enabling them to address problems together, and remove incentives for suppliers to lie about conditions for fear of losing business. But in the meantime, as Jeremy Prepscius of BSR (Business for Social Responsibility), where I’m a human rights advisor, told me, “There’s always one good factory, and there’s always one that lies better than everybody else. So guess which one would have the cheaper price?”

2. People don’t talk to each other. Big organizations often operate in distinct, siloed divisions, and multi-disciplinary issues like human rights and sustainability often fall through the cracks. As director of corporate citizenship at Microsoft, Dan Bross oversees assessments that cut across multiple functions like legal and product development to identify potential risks to users. He told me, “I have a horizontal job in a vertical world.” Read more…

By Christine Bader; Published on April 21, 2014 in the Atlantic:  http://www.theatlantic.com

30
Apr

Iraq election campaign

Iraq holds national elections on Wednesday, its first since the US left in December 2011. Relations between its Sunni and Shia communities have deteriorated and the country is on the brink of civil war as well as territorial disintegration.

The elections are likely to sustain and exacerbate these problems. The country has struggled to contain domestic instability and regional volatility since the US withdrawal, to the extent that many believe it is no longer a question of if, but when, the 2006 sectarian civil war is repeated. That conflict, also between Sunni and Shia communities, took the country to the brink, claimed thousands of lives and divided Baghdad along sectarian boundaries.

Iraq is also facing the resurgence of al-Qaida and other Islamist groups, who have been emboldened by the civil war in Syria and who last December took control of a province in the Sunni-dominated north.

Various Sunni Arab actors from both Iraq and Syria developed cross-border ties as part of the post-2003 Iraqi insurgency, particularly in the Sunni north-west areas that separate Iraq and Syria. Sunni Arab militants from Syria fought alongside Iraqis during the insurgency; Iraq’s Sunnis have returned the favour during the course of the Syrian civil war.

The overlap between sectarian conflict within Iraq and the regionalised sectarian war unfolding in Syria has, therefore, given militants in Iraq a fresh momentum.

Fearing that Bashar al-Assad’s downfall would allow Syria’s Islamist-dominated opposition to intensify its support for Iraq’s militants, Iraq’s Shia-dominated government has in turn allowed Syria-bound Iranian cargo flights to use Iraqi airspace. It has also turned a blind eye to Iraqi Shia militias entering Syria to support the Syrian regime. These militias have ensured the survival of the Assad regime alongside other Shia actors such as Hezbollah.

As a result, sectarian conflict is unlikely to abate. As usual it will be Iraq’s Shia parties who will continue to define and dominate the Iraqi state. As usual, few of Iraq’s Sunnis will be convinced the Shias are willing to share power and treat them as equals. At the same time, Iraq’s Shia community fears a return to the past when it suffered heavily under Saddam Hussein and a Sunni-dominated state.

As with previous elections it will be Iran that emerges as the ultimate winner and decision-maker – the country exercises considerable influence over Iraq’s Shia parties.

In little over two years since the US withdrawal Iraq has lost full control of its biggest province, Anbar, and is facing growing demands for a Sunni autonomous region similar to Kurdistan in the north. The ultimate victim of the growing sectarian polarisation could soon be the Iraqi state itself.

By Ranj Alaaldin; Published on 29 April in http://www.theguardian.com

28
Apr

At last, a ray of hope for Afghanistan

Written on April 28, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Democracy & Human Rights, News

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, front-runner to succeed Hamid Karzai.

Provisional results from the first round of Afghanistan’s presidential election look as if they will stand the test of tortuous fraud checks and complaint processes. Decisive margins make them robust. AlthoughAbdullah Abdullah, who emerged in the lead, has raised serious concerns about fraud, the first round should leave him facing Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister, in a run-off.

Both Abdullah, a veteran of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, and Ghani say they are ready for the second round, as electoral law requires. But a winner-takes-all contest is not the only way this contest could end. Abdullah set a precedent in 2009 by pulling out of the second round. That allowed Hamid Karzai to be declared elected unopposed. This time, many Afghans expect a deal between the two leading candidates to form a unity government and avoid a second round. This would entail Abdullah and his running mates taking the presidential and vice presidential slots but drawing on the other campaign teams to form the new administration.

There are powerful reasons why a hybrid administration might be best for Afghanistan. It would be a case of collectively quitting while you are ahead. The Taliban, after failing to disrupt the first round are delighted to get a replay in which they can inflict more damage. Countless election workers and security personnel will pay with their lives if Abdullah and Ghani fail to reach a deal.

The purpose of the election was to allow Afghans to choose a legitimate successor to Karzai. If Ghani endorses Abdullah, together they can claim the support of 75% of voters, far more than any sole candidate will ever obtain. There is a pluralism argument also. Afghanistan has four main ethnic groups, the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks. Both candidates deserve credit for campaigning in all regions, seeking cross-community support and articulating reform programmes. But on polling day, broadly speaking, Tajiks and Hazaras backed Abdullah and Pashtuns and Uzbeks backed Ghani. A run-off would become more divisively ethnicised, with Ghani obliged to rally the Pashtuns, undermining the idea of an inclusive administration with which all Afghans can identify.

Either candidate has the right to insist on the run-off – Ghani because he believes he can win or Abdullah to avoid coalition politics. Abdullah would start favourite. On a similar turnout he would need under 400,000 extra votes, attainable by attracting the supporters of either the number three or number four candidates. Ghani would need one million extra votes, equivalent to the total of both numbers three and four. For either of them and for the country as a whole, round two is a gamble.

Whether the election ends with a deal or after a run off, the six million votes cast this month constitute a powerful mandate. The voters’ message contrasts with the bigotry underpinning recent violence. All major comunities of the country want to be represented in the Kabul-based political system but want it cleaned up and reformed. They rejected the insurgents’ authoritarian alternative and showed little interest in those hardline Islamists who stood. They want to keep Afghanistan’s link to the west and an end to baiting its allies.

This calls for significant changes in how the country is run. But there will be tough bargaining within the Afghan elite before we see who gets to exercise the mandate. And the five British soldiers’ deaths in Kandahar over the weekend are a reminder of the high cost of the security umbrella which that elite has required to get this far.

Published on 27 April in the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/27/afghanistan-voters-presidential-election-islamists

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