Friday, December 2, 2011

The US, China and East Asia: 'Zero-sum' or 'win-win'?

The US announcement that it is establishing a base in northern Australia could mark the most significant adjustment of US strategic and military presence in East Asia since the 1970s, or perhaps even since the establishment of military alliances with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan in the 1950s.

The move has generally been seen, however, in narrower terms, as a response to perceptions of greater Chinese assertiveness over the last couple of years, itself perhaps partly prompted by a belief that the global economic crisis marked a turning point in the decline of global US power.

The zero-sum mentality which this thinking reflects is unfortunately prominent on both sides of the Pacific. Indeed, there are risks that this dynamic could turn into a classic 'security dilemma' scenario: two suspicious powers interpret as hostile moves which the other believes it is taking 'defensively' to try and improve its security. A vicious cycle could then lead to conflict.

Wiser counsel should prevail on both sides of the Pacific. But if we look at the wider context, there may even be some 'win-win' potential to be gleaned from the US's latest move.

For Washington, the last few years have been difficult for the US security posture in East Asia, and not just because of China. It is not just the behaviour of a few US personnel on Okinawa. Japanese political sentiment has been shifting following growing irritation at the effective outsourcing of the country's foreign and security policy to the US – one consequence of this may even be in constraining on improvements in Chinese-Japanese relations.

Nearby, in South Korea, an earlier administration reached agreement on a timetable for US troop withdrawals, though this was put on hold after Lee Myung-bak came to power in 2008. Further, it is difficult to envisage scenarios for hypothetical reunification of the Korean peninsula which involve US troops staying there, and are acceptable to all the parties in the region, particularly China.

The existing structure of the US presence in East Asia therefore seems unsustainable. But given the US's continued global interests and strength it is not realistic to expect the US to withdraw from the region.

Could we therefore see the Australian base as a possible precursor to a broader reconfiguration of US presence in East Asia? It allows the US to maintain its presence and the support for naval patrol of sea lanes (though there is more which needs to be said on naval activity another day), whilst creating space for future arrangements with South Korea and Japan which fit the evolving diplomatic and political realities more closely. This could be in the interests of all those in East Asia.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Turkey: A Country of Contradictions

Jonathan Fryer

In foreign policy terms, Turkey is the new kid on the block: assertive in its support of the Arab Awakening and determined to be acknowledged as a major regional player. The previous policy of maintaining friendly relations with all its neighbours has been replaced by a more principle-based diplomacy, in which both Israel and Syria have started to feel Ankara’s disapproval.

Domestically, Turkey has been registering economic growth rates of which most European governments can only dream. Infrastructure is being upgraded, new universities are popping up all over the country and the energetic young workforce is gaining new skills, as Turkey wins new markets abroad. So the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has much of which it can be proud.

However, there are many contradictions in its policies which are a dampener to enthusiasm among foreign observers. Though recent steps towards recognising the rights and injustices relating to minority communities are welcome, Turkey still has not gone far enough in admitting that it is a multicultural society whose long-term success can only be guaranteed by the recognition, even celebration, of that diversity. Whereas the concept of ‘one country, one people, one language’ served its purpose in the construction of the Turkish Republic, it is now out-dated, even harmful.

Mr Erdogan has made some concessions to Turkey’s Kurdish minority, including granting some linguistic and cultural rights, though much more needs to be done. Moreover, the return to armed conflict is a huge mistake – by both sides in the dispute – as there can never be a military solution to the Kurdish question. That can only come about through dialogue and compromise, in which Abdullah Ocalan must be a participant.

Until the Kurdish issue is settled it is unlikely Turkey could be admitted into full membership of the European Union, to which some European countries (notably Austria, Cyprus, France and Germany) are currently opposed. But that should not stop countries such as Britain that are firmly in favour of Turkey’s eventual membership, arguing the case, so that Turkey one day is embraced into the European family to which it belongs.

The writer and broadcaster Jonathan Fryer lectures part-time at SOAS. This is a summary of remarks he made at a recent meeting organised by FPC and the Centre for Turkey Studies and Development in the House of Commons.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Cameron at the UN

Professor Jason Ralph

If David Cameron thinks Libya has drawn a line under the uncertainty caused by Britain’s Iraq debacle he is mistaken.

His speech to the General Assembly conveys the impression that the only thing wrong with the UN is a lack of will to act more forcefully in the face of repression. Condemnation of tyrannical regimes is taken for granted. Now we must go beyond that and act forcefully to promote democracy. Yet there has never been complete agreement on when and how best to protect human rights and the world remains divided. There is a range of opinions (and interests) and these often prevent consensus, even among established liberal democracies. Tony Blair did immense damage to liberal internationalism when he ignored this fact. Cameron and his LibDem partners shouldn’t make the same mistake.

The human rights declarations that Cameron mentioned do not give other states license to intervene in each other’s affairs. The moral imperative to ‘do something’ competes with legal and political considerations. Often rhetorical condemnation is the only thing a state is willing to do. That might seem hypocritical. But sometimes limited intervention is the most prudent course of action. More hard line policies - economic sanctions, military action - can do further harm to the victims of repression. They might also delegitimize home grown forms of resistance.

Making the judgment of when to go beyond rhetoric is difficult. If liberal interventionism is committed to the rule of law it should also be a multilateral one. This is for two reasons. The first is that public deliberation is at the heart of liberal internationalism. It can help deliver better outcomes. Anne-Marie Slaughter for instance acknowledges that ‘we [the US] would have gotten a better outcome in Iraq if we had really listened to other countries at the United Nations’. The second reason is that there are legitimacy costs to the state that unilaterally asserts it is acting in the common interest. Interventions on behalf of universal values have more claims to legitimacy if they are the result of representative forms of public deliberation.

Cameron recognises the issues. We should not impose western values. Democracy has to be developed patiently from the grass roots up. And on Libya he says the UN played a vital role in authorising international action. But potential problems can be found in the details. What exactly is ‘a vital role’? What would Cameron do in the future if his muscular form of liberalism was rejected by the Security Council? Would he seek to form his own ‘coalition of the willing’ as Bush and Blair did on Iraq? To intervene in Libya was a brave decision. But the claim that it is a model for liberal interventionism is only possible because all the pieces fell into place. None of our current political leaders have told us what they would do if they could not secure a UN mandate for moral action that they considered necessary.
The world has long abandoned the norm prohibiting intervention in the internal affairs of another state. A crucial turning point came in the early 1990s when the Security Council identified humanitarian crises inside Iraq and Somalia as threats to international peace and security. States invoked the peace enforcement principles found in Chapter VII of the UN Charter to go beyond rhetorical condemnation. Here the moral and legal imperatives were, at least for a while, aligned with the political will to act.

But then we had Bosnia and Rwanda. The moral imperative to go beyond the norm of non-intervention was not matched by the willingness to risk soldier’s lives on the ground. Tony Blair’s liberal interventionism was conceived in this period. The UN was failing not because it couldn’t agree on what to do. It condemned genocide. It was failing because states believed there was no national interest in doing right thing. Blair therefore took the realists to task. Foreign policy had to be ‘guided by a more subtle blend of mutual and self-interest and moral purpose’.

The problem for liberal internationalists is that Blair’s combination of the moral and political imperatives became too dominant. He never forgot the legal piece in the liberal internationalist’s jigsaw, but he certainly trimmed the awkward corners off it. The consequences need not be repeated at length. The Iraq war was wrong. It was illegitimate. And liberal interventionism was almost confined to the dustbin of failed foreign policy doctrines.

Of course the UN Security Council doesn’t always get it right. There’s no need to remind readers that the great power veto can be used unreasonably and this is the source of much frustration. But that does not give states license to ignore other multilateral procedures and the need for deliberation at the UN, especially when they claim to be acting on behalf of the universal values. Cameron is aware of this. But his emphasis on finding the will to act, risks losing sight of the mandate to act. Liberal internationalists need to find ways of reconciling these potentially competing imperatives. Blair tried and failed. Moving on from Iraq involves articulating how UK policymakers should act when the Security Council vetoes action they consider morally and politically right.

Jason Ralph is Professor of International Relations at the University of Leeds and a British Academy Mid-Career Fellow. His latest publication is ‘After Chilcot. The doctrine of international community and the UK’s decision to invade Iraq’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations Vol.13 No.3 August 2011.

Monday, April 11, 2011

They or Us?

by Dr Titi Banjoko

The events of the last 6 months have recorded a number of firsts and a shift of power from the minority imposing their views and power on the people. But my late father used to say “Vox populi vox Dei" meaning the voice of the people is the voice of God. It refers to the idea that the king or the government ought to pay attention to the voice of the people. Nations have witnessed the power of the people to bring about and effect change in what was once seen as intractable structures. The status quo of having a sense of entitlement and patronage is no longer a fact.

Just over six months ago, there was a sense of apathy and of nonchalance which ruled the air and people watched as things were “seen to be done” but nothing changed. It was a case of watching “them” and seeing what “they” were doing with a sense of detachment.

The increasing awareness and knowledge that has occurred as a result of the events in the political arena has elevated the conscious awareness of people and their expectations. The old disease of ignorance has been cured by the social media. The constant flow of live information, pictures, thoughts, ideas and opinions via the social networks used by the people, against the propaganda sent via national networks used by the oligarchy, has resulted in the shift of power. This has the effect of increasing transparency which means that there has to be accountability and responsibility for all. People now believe that they can make a difference and have raised expectations of what they would like to see in their day to day life.

It’s not about “they” but “us”, it’s about collective social responsibility and we all need to be active participants in the democratic process. Politics will never be the same again, working for the votes either through campaigning as an incumbent and/or when in post is becoming an increasing reality.

Clarity of what parties and individuals stand for and how they expect to be judged is now a standard by which citizens can determine the democratic rule of their country.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The relevance of the ‘bread riots’ thesis for the Arab 1989

The first months of 2011 witnessed a remarkable emergence of ‘people power’ on the streets of Tunis, Cairo, Benghazi and Sana’a and many other capitals. People in North Africa and the Middle East have voted with their feet and hands to confirm their complete and utter rejection of the authoritarian rules of their regimes’ game. Spurred on with the aid of new and emerging transnational media like the Qatar-based news network Al-Jazeera and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, Tunisia’s Jasmine revolution has showered other countries in the region with the sparks of civil revolt. As this is being written, these sparks are visible in Yemen, Algeria, Bahrain, and Morocco and of course Libya. Amazingly enough, these popular revolutions were not forecast on the political radar screen of any government, intelligence agency or think-tank around the world before they began erupting first in Tunisia and then elsewhere. Their trajectories and eventual outcome outcomes are as of yet unknown and unforeseeable, although what is quite clear is that they are the harbingers of a bottom-up reconfiguration of politics across the Arab Middle East that will empower civil society to challenge the political conditions of its existence more directly than ever before.

These extraordinary upheavals have done much to sink the coffin nails into the staid and antiquated orientalist arguments that Middle Eastern societies are content with and unwilling to challenge repressive, authoritarian governance and corrupt, unaccountable political and economic elites. It is in the context of these developments that the work of distinguished Tunisian scholar Larbi Sadiki should be analyzed more carefully, for in its argumentation and rationale it actually presage not just the collapse of these regimes on the basis of social revolts but also formulate a thesis of democratization based on the transformational power of these uprisings. Against the wind of much scholarship, which holds the effects of bottom-up uprisings and so-called ‘bread riots’ in a negative light with the likely outcomes being a slide into uncontrollable anarchy, further authoritarianism or the emergence of religious fundamentalists, Sadiki insists that these outcries of public anger are spaces of socio-political transformation which can rock the political foundations of repressive regimes to such an extent as to give vital oxygen to processes of political liberalization and ,in fact, democratization.

In his thesis of the democratizing potential of bread riots or riots in which the economic compact between rulers and ruled is violated, Sadiki contends that these are not just ‘rebellions of the belly’ or outbursts of spontaneous and apolitical anger. Rather, he reframes them as consciously political struggles for social justice and civil rights which have their grounding within the moral economy of Islam. Numerous koranic inscriptions prescribe a principled and conscientious relationship between the individual and his material world taking into full consideration the material inequities in society, especially befalling its weakest members (Sadiki 2010: 202). In reference to bottom-up uprisings of socio-economically motivated anger, Sadiki focuses on two specific interest groups. Firstly the khubz-istes, from the Arabic word for bread, whose deferent apathy erupts into anger when their daily livelihood comes under threat, and then secondly the hit-istes, literally, those leaning against the wall – in other words, the despondent and youthful unemployed.

The first group may be repeatedly co-opted by authoritarian regimes that maintain their place within the socio-economic system on a short-term basis. However, the hit-istes represent a much more volatile and impoverished social stratum which is most likely to sustain a social revolt with its pent-up frustrations at their inability to attain any type of meaningful and dignified future. Sadiki theorizes that these social groups come into conflict with the powers of authority at a critical juncture when the compact that maintains their grudging subservience to the state collapses. He terms this consensus as the ‘dimuqratiyyat al-khubz’ (democracy of bread). Thus, economically-motivated uprisings should not just be seen as short-term cries of frustration but rather politically-conscious expressions of anger and protest against ‘social inequality, corruption, nepotism, authoritarianism, and regime incompetence’ (Sadiki 2010: 215). As the cost of living for the majority of the population mushrooms against a backdrop of economic stagnation and malaise with the steady and progressive reduction of state subsidies for subsistence commodities, the contract between the state and these various groups is worn thin and its legitimating function for oppressive authority is eroded.

"It is against the backdrop of economic malaise that khubz-istes and dissident forces take to the streets en masse. In these protests the people’s taste for participatory politics is nurtured, and their dissidence is unleashed by directly challenging political authority. The rebellious street binds together political dissidents, marginals, the unemployed, and the disillusioned youth. They acquire a spontaneous solidarity and, in their common consciousness of being actual or potential victims of the regime, they direct their anger at high status and regime symbols." (Sadiki 2010: 214)

Although Sadiki is wary of assigning a definitive causal relation between these economically-motivated but politically-conscious social unrests and ensuing dynamics of political democratization, he points to the collapse of Sudan’s al-Numayri regime in 1985 and the political reforms that were introduced in Algeria and Jordan in the late 1980s as a result of bread riots, although the reforms were rolled back eventually. The recent collapse of the Egyptian and Tunisian regimes can be added to this list now too with a strong possibility of others joining them soon enough. It is this rare but extremely relevant focus on the dynamics of bottom-up, civil societal democratization contained within social unrest that provides a unique lens through which to interpret and contextualize the current developments in the Middle East. It distinguishes Sadiki and his work from the brunt of contemporary academia, although his scholarly interests and publications are diverse and focus centrally on the politics of resistance against social injustice and political hegemony. As an avid contributor to Al-Jazeera English, his articles are full of wit and disdain at the way in which authoritarian regimes and their Western hegemonical backers have denied and continue to deny their people the means to create for a dignified future. Simultaneously, he champions the role of social activists, civil society movements and the ordinary people on the street in their aspirations to have a genuine voice in how to shape this future.

Larbi Sadiki (2010) Rethinking Arab Democratization: Elections Without Democracy, Oxford University Press -

Larbi Sadiki (2011) ‘The 'bin Laden' of marginalisation’, Al Jazeera, Jan. 14 -

Larbi Sadiki (2011) ‘Tunisia: A democratic roadmap’, Al Jazeera, Jan. 18 -

Larbi Sadiki (2000) ‘Popular uprisings and Arab Democratization’, International Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 23(1), pp.71-95

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A politics of inclusion: An Interview with Saad Eddin Ibrahim

Given the recent upheaval's in Egypt the interview with Egyptian human rights activist Dr Saad Eddin Ibrahim in FPC Senior Research Associate Alan Johnson's 2008 book 'Global Politics After 9/11: The Democratiya Interviews' is worth revisiting (found on page 176).