Sunday, October 31, 2010

Reflections from my Model U.N. Conference

The reason I was not in class on Thursday was because I had a model u.n. conference in Washington D.C. hosted by Georgetown University this weekend. At the conference I was in a simulation of the European Council, which after being a part of it, has very very ineffective rules of procedure. All members have veto power, and when forming a conclusion (resolution) they can only be suggestions. However, it just goes to show how complex diplomacy is inside the EU. Though it may be ineffective in our view, it puts all members on an equal playing field and generates support for a resolution. This way, all member states are happy and can rally around a decision if there needs to be.

The one topic in my committee was religious pluralism in Europe. The chair of my committee brought in Merve Kavakci. Ms. Kavakci was elected to the Turkish parliament in 2002 from the Virtue Party. She refused to take off her headscarf in parliament, thus breaking Turkey's strong secularist laws, and had her party outlawed. Also in the virtue party was current PM Erdoğan and President Gul. She worked closely with them too.

This was awesome. Not only has someone so close to the current leaders gave a speech to my committee, but I got to ask a real Islamist a question which deals with my research paper. I asked the question " Now that Prime Minister Erdoğan and his AKP have been in power a few years and achieved numerous successes, how do you think the new centre-right party is affecting Turkey and relations with the EU?"

She responds that  she is very proud of the job they're doing. She also said that  it is helping Europe see the other face of Turkish society, the Islamic side. This is good for democracy because this is the first time the people have actually expressed their view in a form of truly popular government. She also said that the EU has reservations about Turkey because they are worried about its loyalty to the union.

Some things to think about, but I thought it was great coming from someone involved.

I also missed a ton of new this weekend. North Korea and South Korea fighting, bombs from Yemen, and elections right around the corner, it must have been busy for the news agencies.

Happy Halloween too

Monday, October 25, 2010

Iran took a look at Turkey's Playbook

Iran is giving cash to Afghanistan. This topic is particularly hot in the news this week, and I see others have already blogged about it. I am going to put my two-cents into this conversation too.

So Afghanistan has been accepted millions of dollars from Iran, what are the consequences of this, if any? Well, we don't know the exact agreement made between the two leaders, so the results are TBD. However, I want to talk about Iran's recent outreach to other states in the region.  Iran recently made a visit to Lebanon. He gave a few speeches, but the visit was a culmination of recent aid and other agreements between the two countries. Symbolic signs went up during his visit:

In addition, giving money to its northeast neighbor could point to a few signs of what Iran is trying to do. In the midst of tough sanctions placed on the country this past summer, Iran seems to be looking for a few friends. Instead of being the polarizing, intimidating power, Iran has recently put on its "friendly face" in the region. Though it still has traditional rivals such as Saudi Arabia, I think it is significant that Iran is doing some public diplomacy work. By giving aid and improving relations with other states in the Middle East, its trying to build some friends. Especially with Lebanon, which has recently been somewhat ignored by the United States, it is important that Iran is finally utilizing the friendly Hezbollah power.

So one may ask, from my title, how is in any way related to Turkey?

Well my research paper is on the foreign relations of Turkey in the past decade. What I am trying to connect is the the recent trend of changing relations with neighbors in the region. Turkey, which has recently been stepping out into the international scene by itself without holding Europe's hand, had engaged in a similar process. Turkey has completely changed its relations with Syria from one of imminent war to a strong friendship. Turkey has given aid money to the Caucasus states as well as renewing ties with Iran. Looks like its the beginning of a power play to me. Iran seems to like how its working for Turkey, and is doing the same thing. I hope it cites it sources.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Few Reflections from the PBS Video

Today in class we watched the second video of David Shipler's Arab & Jew: Return to the Promise Land (I hope I got the title right). The video was pretty powerful. I knew the basic history and facts about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but this video helped me understand it better.

One can read as many textbooks and analytical essays about a conflict, but using interviews with real people bring a situation so far away closer. For example, I know World War II to to be a war of great proportions, but it was way before my time. Its sort of a myth for the more recent generations. However, talking with my grandparents about their actions and service during the war makes it tangible history. I feel connected with the events that had happened, and it becomes more of a reality. Well, watching the video of very personal interviews today, it made me feel more connected with what is occurring almost a half-world away.

We discussed many themes that came out of the video, and it drives home just how complex this situation actually is. During the peace talks, one can just ask themselves 'Why can't they fix this already?' Well I was one of those people, more or less. I knew the situation and history, so I like to think I wasn't ignorant of exactly what was going on. However, after seeing exactly how Israelis and Palestinians think about each other and the past, it adds another dimension. Though, after watching the interviews, I would like to know how Shipler chose who to interview. Not accusing him of anything, it would just be interesting to see why he chose the people he did.

A quote I jotted down stood out for me. Rita Huri, the Israeli-Arab social worker, said that Israelis and Arabs may "live in some place, but not together". I thought that was pretty powerful. Not to directly compare the situation in Israel, but it reminded me of the Jim Crow laws in the South. White and Black American citizens lived in the same place, but they didn't actually live together. Everything was separate. There was a mental barrier that persisted in the south from fully integrating and accepting blacks in society. I think the mindset, at least a bit, can be used to describe some interactions between many Israelis and Arab-Israeli citizens. I think it is important for Israeli citizens and Arab-Israeli citizens to have a dialogue for further understanding. Once this first mental barrier can be removed, other barriers between Israelis and Palestinians can be too.

At the end of the video, the lawyer (sorry, I didn't catch his name), said "its all over but the body count." Well I hope there can be peace, eventually, without a body count.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wikileaks a Revolution in Journalism? I'd Call it Vigilantism.

Wikileaks, a website founded by Julian Assange, is an "international organization that publishes anonymous submissions and leaks of otherwise unavailable documents while preserving the anonymity of sources" (Here's where i got that definition). Making world headlines with the posting of a graphic video of a helicopter gunman shooting down innocent Iraqi civilians, but at the time thought to be terrorists. Over the summer, Assange's website again made headlines with the posting of more than 77,000 U.S. war documents from Afghanistan. Now, Wikileaks announced it will be releasing around 400,000 Iraqi War documents. 400,000! Where does Mr. Assange get the mandate that allows him to do this?

In Jonathan Stray's Foreign Policy article, Is this the Future of Journalism?, he ends with saying that "no journalist I've spoken to will speak ill of Wikileaks in private: Every reporter understands that Wikileaks is the thin end of the wedge. If they can't run a dangerous story, no one can." Stray makes a good point here. Wikileaks is the embodiment of the freedom of the press. Freedom of the press is important for society and does indeed hold government accountable.

 However, posting classified war documents endangering the safety of U.S. forces and damaging U.S. foreign policy is, I believe, over the line of journalism to vigilantism.

Though Wikileaks has held the release of some important documents and blotched out names, that doesnt change the fact they obtained the documents without permission of their owner; the U.S. government. If one were to publish something you wrote without your permission, would that be fair and legal? I think not.

What gives Mr. Assange the legal right to publish documents that aren't his? Not only is he violating the concept of sovereignty, he is also putting lives in danger. No longer is this journalism, it is vigilantism. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a vigilante is: a member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law are viewed as inadequate); broadly : a self-appointed doer of justice. When does Mr. Assange have the international power and legitimacy to declare U.S. sovereignty of documents illegal? To answer the question, he does not.

Wikileaks brings up an important trend in international politics: the rise of non-state actors due to the internet and technology. In one of my past blog posts, I asserted that terrorist organizations are aided by technology in recruiting, communicating, and funded operatives around the world. Just as the internet has aided non-state terrorist organizations, it is also aiding the development of websites which some states cannot hold their owner accountable. The prime example is Wikileaks. There is no state which published this material. It was the website of one man, Mr. Assange, who committed the crime (yes, I do view this as a crime). The U.S. has no jurisdiction to arrest him in another country, and has no means to shut down the website. Thus, the rise of internet related non-state actor/individuals are new to the international security scene.

I am all for free speech, but Mr. Assange and Wikileaks crosses a fine line. This is not heroic journalism, it is one man taking the law into his own hands; a vigilante. If Mr. Assange thinks he is a real-life Batman, well, he is far from it.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Iran = Soviet Union?

I found this article on earlier today. Its very interesting how the author compares Iran's structure and actions to that of the Soviet Union. After reading the article, I did agree with some points on how the two states are related, but overall I think the comparison is mis-characterized. The ideologies are different, capabilities different, and situation international politics are vastly different. Some points made, however, could be helpful for policy makers in that they have the same potential to work; as making long-term policy commitments rather than just short-term pressure.

Page 2 is where the comparison points are listed.

Here's the article

Monday, October 11, 2010

Nuclear Proliferation in the Middle East and abroad: I can't think of a worse idea.

As we were going over the chart of the different views on nuclear proliferation, I couldn't help but wonder why anyone would encourage the spread of nuclear weapons. Though their reasoning is that if states had equal access to nuclear weapons, this would stem violence because states would each have MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) power. This reasoning is ideal.

Those who follow this view fail to incorporate is the human element.

States act unreasonably because humans are sometimes unreasonable. One may do something knowingly adverse to themselves because they want to. Now is there any logic in this? Nope. So giving states access to the most powerful weapons known to man is logical? Not even. Middle Eastern states have shown that they are prone to make illogical decisions. Also, there is much conflict in the region, so how would it be a good things to have each state blast the other up at any moment? There is already too much tension in the region.

In addition, states with low stability or experience internal conflicts pose the threat of having non-state actors use these weapons for their own goals. Since non-state actors do not have defined borders, it would be impossible to retaliate without destroying another country. Internal conflicts in states could turn global if one side possess a nuclear weapon.

Moreover, many nuclear bombs going off would be an environmental disater. If one thinks the bombs dropped on Japan caused radiation damage, nuclear warheads toady are much, much, much stronger. Many people would die, environments would be destroyed, and Earth as we know it may become uninhabitable. To those that think proliferation is a good thing (not that I think anyone in class does), is that the type of future you would want?

Though the spread of nuclear weapons may be somewhat inevitable (unless states completely destroy the ways and technologies to build them) it is imperative that nuclear weapons must be safeguarded. For the Middle East, the lack of nuclear weapons preserves regional power, and also serves as a balance of power between the different states. I really don't want a future with this in it:

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Do Rentier states impede democracy and economic liberalization?

This is the last question on today's sliderocket. We briefly answered it in class, but I would like to talk about the question more.

A rentier state, as we discussed, is a state which derives most its income from collecting rent rather than taxes. The Pathology of Oil by Ross also does a great job in explaining this too. An example, the one we used in class, is Egypt collecting rent from ships using the Suez canal. The government usually spends this high income on the state and programs for its citizens. However, since the government doesn't (or minimally) tax the people, it does not need to provide adequate representation. "No representation without taxation", as Professor Webb wrote on the board. Thus, subscribing to this idea, states do not need to listen to its populace for governance. I am not endorsing this style of leadership, its just a fact. Look a Kuwait or Saudi Arabia for other examples.

Since leaders do not have to listen to their people, as they are only being minimally to not taxed while using the states' services, it continues autocratic rule. Why would a state need democracy, if they are getting income and providing its citizens? The rentier concept presents a direct hurdle to democracy, and accelerates the stability of autocratic control in the Middle East. Therefore, there are no real reasons or incentives to reform government or liberalize the economy. If  one liberalizes, they have a chance of the rentier state backfiring and democracy growing.

People often wonder why democracy hasn't 'spread' to the Middle East. We discussed whether the region was "exceptional". Is it? The only way the region is "exceptional" is that it is comprised of many rentier states because of its resources. The need for oil by nations, the use of the Suez canal for shipping, and other reasons have made the rentier state possible in the region. The rentier concept, combined with history, and religion produced the region we see today.

I made a point in class that the rentier state has flaws. First, the resource or whatever the state was getting rent on could run out or become obsolete. If this happens, the state is going to need to tax and thus (eventually at least) provide representation to the people. It will also encourage the state to diversify its economy to have the people earn an income so they can continue to pay taxes. It  forces the state to find other means of production such as industrializing. Industrializing leads to modernization of society; roads, electricity, technology, organizations and special interst groups. The other way the rentier state model fails is since the government is providing for its people, this often provides education. In class Milstein pointed out that education can often be conservative. This is completely true. But other times, as Professor Webb pointed out, people send there children to western or American universities. At these institutions, the children are often educated and exposed to democracy and liberty and bring it home with them. Over time, groups form and push for reform. Its a longer process.

After being exposed to this concept, I truely believe that the rentier state is a significant factor in the authoritarian presence in the Middle East. Without the rentier concept, the region would be a totally different place. Maybe once the rentier state eventually falls, we will have democracy in the region.

Speaking on democracy, and on a much lighter note, I can't resist posting this. It has absolutely no connection to this blog post, but maybe we need Robert Burck (aka The Naked Cowboy of NYC) to fix these problems as president. Maybe if he takes a picture with Arab leaders, they may decide to democratize after all. Too bad he won't be in Times Square anymore, it was a better job for him.

Monday, October 4, 2010

How much of MENA politics and economics are still determined by outside (western) powers, and what ways?

So I decided to write on this question from the previous sliderocket. The presentation from today needed a password for me to access, so I could'nt get the questions from the end of today's class.

To answer this question, I think almost all of MENA's economy and a majority of MENA's politics are influenced by western powers.

Lets start with ecomonics.

In my opinion much of the MENA is influenced by western actors. 8 of the 12 OPEC nations are located in the region. The reason why states like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran and others are so important is because of oil. Some may say this is not true, its because of their government or their history with Israel. So what about the central Asian countries with repressive regimes? Uzbekistan ring any bells? Or what about African dictatorships? Yes they are important, but not nearly focused on as much because they don't have (or much, except for a few African states) oil. Developed states in the west and the east need oil to continue growing. Thus, the producers are extremely important. Other MENA states that do not have oil are equally influenced by the west. For North African states, such as Morocco, trade with Europe and the west are the economy. Turkey's economy, which doesn't have oil, is anchored in the prosperity of the EU economy (from some of my research). With the oil states, the west drives the demand. Without the west, and oil, I believe the Middle Eastern region wouldn't be nearly as important as it is now.

For politics, the west has a lesser role than in economics, but is a sizable actor. Though MENA states have their own enemies and allies in the region, Europe (the EU) largely overshadows them. A stronger political and economic bloc than MENA states, the EU has much influence in soft power and acts as a strong pressure. In addition, the Israeli-Palestinian issue has been a symbol of west vs. east politics. Recently, some European states such as France have not always been staunchly pro-Israel (Jacques Chirac in 1996), but the issue continues to be a main problem in the Middle East. The overbearing cultural and economic power directly translates into political power in the MENA states. Subtly or not, Europe/American have influence within the region.

Friday, October 1, 2010

EuroMed Incentive: The Real Leverage

In class the other day, we ended with talk about the EU's relationship with MENA states. In particular, we ta;ked about the EuroMed program; how the EU would offer economic and other incentives to MENA states in order for them to reform their economy and government to be more compatible (not the best word) with the EU. At first, I made a point how MENA states could just take the incentives and not change anything about their country. I didn't clarify in class that I was mainly talking about the oil rich Gulf states.  I thought this way because Europe needs oil coming from the region so the Gulf states, not Europe, really has the leverage. However, this situation does not apply to countries such as Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, and others who do not have oil resources. I started to think, who really has the leverage in this relationship? My conclusion was that Europe does after all.

Europe has the very important aspect of soft power with the MENA states. EU states have given aid and other support to MENA states in multiple forms. Such forms of aid have been culturally, like providing leadership training, helping women, and providing education. In addition, a majority of the youth in MENA states are culturally in sync with Europe. Fashion, music, food are just to name a few things MENA youth and Europe's youth have in common. There is no doubt this relationship will be important in the future. Though some MENA states may have oil, Europe has popular culture, and certainly the money to back it up.