Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Environment Versus the Poor, Part 2

In an anarchic international system in which international law is at best weak and at worst toothless and ignored, questions of duties beyond borders are difficult ones. Do states have obligations, be they legal or moral, to actors outside of their own political control? Many issues of international politics touch on this question, such as promulgation of human rights, but in no case is the problem raised more clearly than in the issue of biofuels. As I blogged about last week, there is strong evidence that the push by developed states to develop biofuels is directly contributing to recent food shortages by artificially encouraging under-production of food crops (not to mention that fact that biofuels may be worse for the environment than the fuels they replace). This has led to a call from many leading food scientists to cease producing food-based biofuels, an action which they claim could reduce the price of corn by 20% and wheat prices by 10%. So, if the actions of the developed states are causing food shortages in the developing world, does the developed world have any obligation to change its policies?

Not according to President Bush. In a recent press conference, the president called for the US to increase the use of ethanol (the leading biofuel) to reduce rising fuel prices and to reduce American energy dependence. According to Bush, "it's in our national interest that our farmers grow energy, as opposed to us purchasing energy from parts of the world that are unstable or may not like us."

While other states are moving away from the production of biofuels, the US is by far the largest global producer, so unless the US does so as well, there is likely to be little impact on prices (not to mention that collective action problems will dissuade others from stopping production if the US won't). The impact of biofuel production on food prices is disputed: President Bush asserted that 15% of the recent rise is due to biofuels, while the US Department of Agriculture put the number at 20%. Furthermore, "a soon to be released International Food Policy Research Institute analysis blames 30 percent of the overall food price rise from 2000-2007 on biofuels, while a [biofuel] industry-funded study put the food cost rise at 4 percent."

This is an excellent illustration of many of the problems that make international relations so fascinating and so frustrating. Today's globalized and interdependent world has certainly changed the contours of the notion of obligation -- even if one doesn't believe in moral or legal obligations, the notion of economic and political interdependence connects obligation to national interest in a powerful way. States that ignore the needs of others in one issue area can be made to pay a high price in a different issue area. For example, the west's inability to lift domestic agricultural subsidies gave the developing world the leverage to refuse to agree to new market openings at the recent Doha round of WTO negotiations. Simply being wealthier and more powerful isn't enough to get one's way in a globalized world.

Additionally, policy imperatives compete, and often conflict, with one another. Leaving aside the likely irony that biofuels are worse for the environment than fossil fuels, how do states decide between competing obligations? Do we save the environment if doing so means condemning people to starvation or depriving the developing world with the means to develop? Needless to say, answering these questions is a unenviable task.

In this case, the US needs to end incentives for biofuel production immediately. It's one thing to make a hard choice to pursue one agenda at the expense of another; it's another thing entirely when pursuing one agenda is entirely counterproductive. Given the evidence that biofuels are worse for the environment, it seems like that the US program to encourage their production is more a sneaky way to protect the US agricultural market than a genuine effort to save the planet. And given the impact that this protection is having on the global food market, that choice isn't just bad politics, it's just plain bad.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Environment Versus the Poor

In the wake of Earth Day, and in the run-up to the conference on energy dependence and aviation this Friday here at UPS, is the need to confront the stark truth that goods in the world are scarce and that attending to one concern often produces unintended consequences. Case in point: the mounting evidence that the production of biofuels is greatly contributing to rising food prices, food shortages, and even widening hunger and starvation in the developing world. According to the New York Times:

The food crisis is not only being felt among the poor but is also eroding the gains of the working and middle classes, sowing volatile levels of discontent and putting new pressures on fragile governments.

In Cairo, the military is being put to work baking bread as rising food prices threaten to become the spark that ignites wider anger at a repressive government. In Burkina Faso and other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, food riots are breaking out as never before. In reasonably prosperous Malaysia, the ruling coalition was nearly ousted by voters who cited food and fuel price increases as their main concerns.

“It’s the worst crisis of its kind in more than 30 years,” said Jeffrey D. Sachs, the economist and special adviser to the United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon. “It’s a big deal and it’s obviously threatening a lot of governments. There are a number of governments on the ropes, and I think there’s more political fallout to come.”

Indeed, as it roils developing nations, the spike in commodity prices — the biggest since the Nixon administration — has pitted the globe’s poorer south against the relatively wealthy north, adding to demands for reform of rich nations’ farm and environmental policies. But experts say there are few quick fixes to a crisis tied to so many factors, from strong demand for food from emerging economies like China’s to rising oil prices to the diversion of food resources to make biofuels.

It's the last that is of particular concern as governments are encouraging and subsidizing the production of biofuels as a means of reducing emissions responsible for global warming. The problem is that government involvement is distorting the market, as subsidies for biofuels artificially change the market incentives to convert farm crops into biofuels and to replant cropland to produce grains for biofuel production. These decisions then raise the global price of food staples that, particularly in the developing world, contribute to food shortages, riots, and starvation. According to the International Food Policy Research Institute:

biofuel production accounts for a quarter to a third of the recent increase in global commodity prices. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations predicted late last year that biofuel production, assuming that current mandates continue, would increase food costs by 10 to 15 percent.

Of course, there are other factors contributing to the rising cost of food. Escalating oil prices raise the price of transport, burgeoning populations and improving economic conditionks have increased demand, and droughts and other disasters have destroyed production. But costs accruing from biofuel production are entirely within the ability of the developed world to control. Furthermore, there is little evidence that biofuels do, in fact, contribute positively to the regulation of global warming. According to a New York Times article from February 8, 2008, biolfuels may be more harmful to the environment that the fuels they replace.

Almost all biofuels used today cause more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional fuels if the full emissions costs of producing these ''green'' fuels are taken into account, two studies published Thursday have concluded.

The benefits of biofuels have come under increasing attack in recent months, as scientists took a closer look at the global environmental cost of their production. These latest studies, published only by the journal Science, are likely to add to the controversy. These studies for the first time take a detailed, comprehensive look at the emissions effects of the huge amount of natural land that is being converted to cropland globally to support biofuel development.

The destruction of natural ecosystems -- whether rain forests in the tropics or grasslands in South America -- not only releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere when they are burned and plowed, but also deprives the planet of natural sponges to absorb carbon emissions. Cropland also absorbs far less carbon than the rain forests or even scrubland that it replaces.

Together the two studies offer sweeping conclusions: It does not matter if it is rain forest or scrubland that is cleared, the greenhouse gas contribution is significant. More important, they discovered that, globally, the production of almost all biofuels resulted, directly or indirectly, intentionally or not, in new land's being cleared for food or fuel.

''When you take this into account, most of the biofuel that people are using or planning to use would probably increase greenhouse gases substantially,'' said Timothy Searchinger, lead author of one of the studies and a researcher in environment and economics at Princeton.

So, if biofuels are actually harmful to the environment and contribute to hunger and starvation in the developing world, why would governments encourage their production? Because biofuels subsidies are politically popular. As pressure increases on the governments of the US, Europe, and Japan to lift the agricultural subsidies that undermine development, biofuels have emerged as a way to protect the politically important farm constituency without appearing to do so. But a market distortion is a market distortion. Even discounting the non-beneficial nature of biofuels, clearly if their production was left to the market, farmers would be producing food instead. That is reason enough for the governments of the developed world to stop subsidization and incentive programs.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Trading Darfur For Tibet

With the uproar over the Chinese crackdown on Tibetan pro-independence/autonomy protests, the hubbub over the Olympic torch relay, and the to-do over the Dalai Lama's visit to the US, it's no wonder that the 2008 Beijing Olympics are being referred to as the "Tibet Olympics." As world leaders debate whether to boycott, or just skip, the Opening Ceremonies or the Games themselves, more and more attention gets turned to the cause of Tibet.

To the detriment of Darfur.

Before the protests in Tibet broke out, the Beijing Olympics were supposed to be the "Darfur Olympics." Much attention was paid to China's role as Sudan's patron and protector in the UN Security Council; Mia Farrow and Steven Spielberg criticized the Chinese government; I even spoke at a rally sponsored by SaveDarfur here in Tacoma about China's role in Sudan and what might be done. And the campaign seemed to be paying off. As I blogged last April:

after two years of shielding Sudan from international sanctions over the situation in Darfur, China has recently begun applying more pressure to Sudan.

Just when it seemed safe to buy a plane ticket to Beijing for the 2008 Olympic Games, nongovernmental organizations and other groups appear to have scored a surprising success in an effort to link the Olympics, which the Chinese government holds very dear, to the killings in Darfur, which, until recently, Beijing had not seemed too concerned about.

Groups focusing on many issues, including Tibet and human rights, have called for boycotts of the Games next year. But none of those issues have packed the punch of Darfur, where at least 200,000 people — some say as many as 400,000 — mostly non-Arab men, women and children, have died and 2.5 million have been displaced, as government-backed Arab militias called the janjaweed have attacked the local population.
But now, all that attention has shifted to Tibet. The situation in Darfur continues to worsen, but the pressure is now off China to do anything to reverse things there. Political capital and the energy needed to motivate protests is, of course, limited. It may be that the media, non-governmental organizations, protesters, and the general public only have the resources to focus on one issue. If so, it seems as if Tibet has won out over Darfur for linkage with the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

But that would be a mistake. If only one cause can be aggressively championed (or even if championing both detracts from each), that cause should be Darfur. Not because the Darfuris are more worthy of protection that are the Tibetans, not because the situation is worse in Darfur (although a strong case could probably be made for that argument), not for any reason other than practicality. China is much more likely to yield to pressure over Darfur than it is over Tibet. Sudan represents important political and economic interests for China; Tibet represents sovereignty. China will, most likely, never cede Tibet. Greater autonomy is possible, but not in the short term. Using the Olympics to pressure and shame China into leaning on Sudan to moderate its behavior in Darfur seemed to be paying off. Using the Olympics to pressure and shame China into backing off Tibet is only likely to alienate and anger Beijing.

It would truly be a shame if an opportunity to help the people of Darfur went unrealized so that people can vent their anger over Tibet. The Tibetan people may very well deserve independence and our support. But not in ineffective protests that distract from and obstruct progress over Darfur.

Friday, April 11, 2008

One More Reason for NATO To Expand

Building on my post from last week that argued the US and NATO should, if the choice is between the two, choose to expand NATO with the inclusion of Ukraine and Georgia rather than develop and deploy an anti-ballistic missile defense system in Eastern Europe. One reason for NATO expansion was, I wrote, the fact that "Russia has demonstrated a disturbing willingness to involve itself in the affairs of its former partners."

Today, we have more evidence of that disturbing willingness that reinforces the need to expand NATO up to the Russian border. According to a Reuters report:
Russia will take military and other steps along its borders if ex-Soviet Ukraine and Georgia join NATO, Russian news agencies quoted the armed forces' chief of staff as saying on Friday.

"Russia will take steps aimed at ensuring its interests along its borders," the agencies quoted General Yuri Baluyevsky as saying. "These will not only be military steps, but also steps of a different nature," he said, without giving details.

Such a reaction from Russia is, at best, inappropriate and, at worst, dangerous and bellicose. Russia does have legitimate security needs and concerns. But Russia is no longer the superpower that was the USSR, and Russian legitimate security needs no longer should be understood to include a sphere of influence over other sovereign states. During the Cold War, it was Soviet military and political might that forced the US and NATO to recognize and respect Soviet authority over Eastern and Central Europe. But the Cold War is no more. Ukraine and Georgia are free to pursue their own security needs as they see fit.

Such belligerent declarations from Russia only demonstrate the need to expand the club of democratic states and bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. The more countries that are bound together by political and military ties, the less likely is the possibility of interstate war. Wounded Russian pride or faded memories of the glory days of the USSR should not be allowed to prevent the expansion of NATO.

Progress in Uganda?

The New York Times is reporting that Uganda is very close to signing a peace agreement between the government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army. However, an agreement has seemed to be at hand before, only to collapse or be delayed. The problem this time?
[I]nternational war crimes indictments against [Joseph] Kony and three top commanders. Mr. Kony’s aides have indicated that he will sign the treaty to show he is serious about peace, but the Lord’s Resistance Army will not fully disband until the indictments, issued in 2005 by the International Criminal Court in The Hague, are dropped.
Despite the fact that "many Ugandans have said that they are more eager for lasting peace than international tribunals, and they have been urging the court to cancel the indictments against Mr. Kony," the ICC has, so far, not relented. According to Maria Mabinty Kamara, a public relations officer of the ICC, “The I.C.C.’s position has been over and over again that the indictments stand and they are valid.”

However, there are indications that the ICC may be willing to back away from its position. The Times reports that "judges in The Hague are reviewing the case and recently sent a letter to the Ugandan government asking for more information about the country’s court systems and its capacity to try Mr. Kony." As I discussed when I last wrote about this, the ICC relies on the principle of complementarity, meaning that if the ICC believes, or can convince itself, that Uganda is willing and able to dispense justice, the ICC will step back.

The question is whether the ICC will consider a plan to minimally punish Kony in order to move towards reconciliation to be "adequate justice." Ugandan officials have demonstrated a willingness to come with some kind of arrangement that will allow Kony to escape criminal punishment. According to the Times:
Ruhakana Rugunda, Uganda’s internal affairs minister, said the key to ending the conflict was balancing accountability with reconciliation.

“Our legal system and the traditional system will provide an adequate framework for dealing with impunity and justice and reconciliation,” he said.

While the Times reports that "many Ugandans have said that they are more eager for lasting peace than international tribunals," no numbers or national polling data are presented. Nevertheless, if the Ugandan government can demonstrate that an agreement will lead to a real and lasting peace, the ICC's insistence on criminal punishment should not be an obstacle to ending one of the longest and most brutal wars in the world.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Flying In a Carbon-Constrained World

On Friday, April 25th, the University of Puget Sound will be hosting a conference on aviation and energy security. Entitled "Flying in a Carbon-Constrained World: Aviation's Role in Oil Dependence and Climate Change -- National Security, Economic, and Environmental Implications of Oil Dependence and Climate Change on Military and Civil Aviation." The conference is co-sponsored by the Department of Politics and Government at the University of Puget Sound, 2020 Vision, the Sound Policy Institute, and the United States Air Force. The conference is free and open to the public, but pre-registration is requested. The agenda for the conference is here. If you're in the Seattle/Tacoma area, or anywhere nearby, come on down!!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A Little-Recognized Danger of Iraq

There is much, if not constant, talk about the dangers the US faces in Iraq. The constant stream of body bags home, the damage done to US soft power and reputation, the creation of a breeding ground for terrorists, the likelihood of ethnic cleansing and genocide if the US withdraws, the prospect of US troops staying in Iraq for 5 years or more. The list goes on. But there's another danger, one that rarely gets mentioned or discussed. That danger is that, as a result of Iraq, the US adopts a more realist foreign policy that calculates US foreign policy on narrowly-based grounds of power and ignores the proud and noble liberal mission that has always guided America in the world.

Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune nicely summarized this danger in an op-ed column he wrote on Sunday, in which he wrote:'s worth remembering what helped to get us into Iraq: a bipartisan consensus on foreign policy that favors U.S. military intervention abroad whenever we may be able to accomplish something that looks appealing.


Attitudes like that got us involved in the Balkans, where we had no national interest at stake; in Somalia, where we found ourselves fighting a war we didn't anticipate; and in Haiti, where our good intentions accomplished very little. Iraq, where conservatives turned idealistic liberal ideas to their own ends, was the ruinous culmination of that approach.

If there has been a flaw in U.S. foreign policy in recent years, it has not been an excess of disengagement, but the opposite: an irrepressible urge to use force for purposes that do not enhance our security but expose us to needless risk. The result has been that we find ourselves with more enemies, weakened influence, higher costs, greater strains on our military and less safety.

After the Iraq debacle, you would think our leaders would be willing to undertake a fundamental examination of the long-established and broad-based folly that made it possible. Not a chance.

And if you think that this problem is solely one of the neo-conservatives who get so much of the blame for the invasion of Iraq, think again. As Chapman points out, all three presidential candidates have expressed sentiments and foreign policy suggestions guided more by morals, values, and ideals than by realpolitik considerations.

During the early 1990s, McCain was wary of the use of American military power. But he supported sending American peacekeeping forces to Bosnia in 1995. When a civil war erupted in Kosovo in 1999, he became a fervent voice for using American bombers and even ground troops against Yugoslavia -- this when House Republicans were voting against giving President Clinton authority to go to war.

Soon after, McCain was urging a "rogue state rollback" policy. "We must be prepared," he said, to apply "military force when the continued existence of such rogue states threatens America's interests and values." Hmm. Whatever happened to that idea?

McCain's positions bear an eerie resemblance to those of Hillary Clinton, who vigorously favored her husband's decision to act in the Balkans. "I urged him to bomb," she said later. "You cannot let this go on at the end of a century that has seen the major holocaust of our time."

Her impulse to improve the world at the point of a gun was also on display in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. Besides supporting the war resolution, Clinton often sounded like a crusading neoconservative, envisioning that Iraq would be a "model for other Middle Eastern countries" that would "shake the foundations of autocracy."

If Barack Obama is averse to fighting wars to spread democracy or to advance other noble purposes, he hasn't let on. He claims the United States has a "moral obligation" to act against "genocide" in Darfur, and he supports sending NATO forces to stop the bloodshed. One of his chief foreign policy advisers -- until she resigned over calling Clinton a "monster" -- was Samantha Power, a self-described "humanitarian hawk," who excoriated Bill Clinton for ruling out U.S. military action in Rwanda in 1994.

In a recent speech, Obama rejected the idea of cutting back our expansive role in the world. "We can choose the path of disengagment," he scoffed, "and cede our leadership."

Chapman's vision, and that of realists more broadly, is one where US foreign policy determinations are made along narrow lines of power, rather than any sense of "moral obligation," liberalism, or any other value.

To be sure, moralistic foreign policies have led the US into dangerous situations which have backfired. Somalia is the prime example of this, where the US intervened in a humanitarian disaster which escalated into a nation-building operation. But because the US didn't have the will to match its goals, the mission ended disastrously. But the common wisdom about Somalia isn't quite right. As Duke University professor Peter Feaver (full disclosure: Feaver was on my dissertation committee at Duke and I worked closely with him as a TA as well) writes:
The White House, having lost its stomach for the mission [in Somalia], cultivated a myth that it was the public, enraged by the death of U.S. troops, that demanded an exit from that country. The public was really only defeat-phobic -- not casualty-phobic -- but President Bill Clinton allowed defeat to be measured chiefly in terms of U.S. losses.
Chapman fears that a foreign policy based on ideals and values will get the US embroiled into conflicts where "national interest" is not at stake. But as Feaver demonstrates, national interest is largely defined by political leadership. When the leaders do a good job of defining a foreign policy endeavor as commensurate with national interest, the public will support it. And Somalia is an excellent example of what happens when the public is not convinced.

It may be more difficult to make the case that a humanitarian intervention or the prevention of genocide is truly in the American national interest. And that is as it should be. The president should have to demonstrate to the American people that the use of US military power is in the national interest. But national interest cannot and should not be drawn solely along narrow, power-based lines. National interest is not, as realists argue, an objective phenomenon determined by external calculations like the balance of relative power. Power matters, but so does the national will, ideals, and values. As Robert Kagan points out in his excellent book Dangerous Nation, US foreign policy has always been guided by a moral compass.

As I wrote when I blogged about this problem 18 months ago:
If we learn anything from Iraq, it's that the US must be exceedingly careful if it ever thinks about attempting large-scale coercive nation-building. But that lesson must not force the US to retreat from its liberal mission. The US does not always act in accordance with its principles nor should it. But it is unthinkable that the US would NEVER do so. It was the US that rebuilt the shattered European and Japanese states after World War II, it is the US that presses Zimbabwe and Burma to improve their human rights records, it is the US that is standing firm in its refusal to negotiate with North Korea, it is the US that is keeping attention focused on Darfur. And without the security umbrella provided by US military hegemony, issues of human security such as the ICC would be nowhere near the international agenda.

Let's hope things stay that way.

Friday, April 04, 2008

What to Do About Russia?

NATO has been quite busy this week, with much of the interesting activity at the on-going NATO summit revolving around Russia. The main question is: How much should NATO respect or defer to Russian concerns? All states have legitimate security concerns, and with a state as large as Russia, NATO would be wise to pay some heed to those concerns. But, is Russia still a world power that demands that NATO back away from its own security concerns? How much leverage does Russia still have? How much does it still deserve?

The questions are all present in the two main issues under discussion: NATO's possible expansion into Ukraine and Georgia -- former Soviet republics -- and the proposed missile defense system that the US wishes to build in Eastern Europe. In spite of Russian objections, NATO decided to endorse the European missile shield. Russian officials have repeatedly expressed their concerns over the system: Russian President Putin has warned that deploying such a system could fuel a new arms race, while Konstantin Kosachev, chairman of the international affairs committee of the Russian Parliament has said "said Russia doubted Washington’s motives. “We still do not have a proper explanation of this project,” he said. “It is not about the number of interceptors. It’s about undermining mutual confidence and trust.”"

On the other hand, NATO has been unable to agree on offering Ukraine and Georgia membership in Membership Action Plans, a program that prepare states to join NATO. Both Germany and France are opposed to the move, arguing that "since neither Ukraine nor Georgia is stable enough to enter the program now, a membership plan would be an unnecessary offense to Russia, which firmly opposes the move."

The first problem is that NATO got its priorities exactly backwards. Both programs are likely to antagonize Russia, but if NATO was only to get one of the two (missile defense or NATO expansion) it should have gone with NATO expansion. I've written several times about the folly of deploying missile defense systems (quick summary of my view: it's technically possible, but the threat of ballistic missile attack by a rogue state does not justify the massive amounts of money). But NATO expansion is one of the most powerful pacific forces of the post-Cold War era. The transformation of NATO from a security organization to a democratization organization has resulted in democracy becoming entrenched in most of Central and Eastern Europe. Spreading NATO up to Russia's borders will all but ensure that war in Europe is a thing of the past. Both Ukraine and Georgia have shown themselves to be willing and able allies of the US and the West, and Russia has demonstrated a disturbing willingness to involve itself in the affairs of its former partners. Contrary to the predictions of realists, the persistence and expansion of NATO are essential to cementing the spread of democracy and preserving the current moment of European peace. If NATO is to upset Russia about one thing, it should have been NATO expansion, not missile defense.

But the other, and more fundamental, question is: Should NATO be paying attention to Russian concerns at all? Today's Russia is certainly not the Soviet Union of the Cold War. It is a second-, if not third-, rate military power now, it is moving away from democracy and the rule of law, its economy is a mess. Does Russia deserve the kind of respect and deference due a great power? Answering that question requires a look at what a cooperative Russia has to offer, and what an upset Russia could do to interfere with the West's interests.

There are few issues on which the West would certainly prefer to have a cooperative Russia. Russia does seem to have more influence than anyone else over Iran and Iran's nuclear program. Russia provides large amounts of oil and natural gas to Europe. On the other hand, Russia's membership in the G-8 is more of a sop to Russian pride than it is due to Russian economic power. The much-fretted-over rapprochement between Russia and China in 2005 that some analysts took as a sign of impending balancing against the US and the West has produced little tangible shifts in power, capabilities, or even intentions.

NATO certainly neither needs nor wants to provoke Russia unnecessarily. But it does seem as if too much deference is being given the once-Great Bear. Russia probably cares more about NATO expansion up to its borders than it does about the ABM system, which perhaps explains why NATO rejected the former and approved the latter. But maybe that concern should have been reason enough to do the opposite. Russian security concerns should be taken into account. But to allow those concerns to move NATO away from its pacific mission is the wrong choice.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Bad Signs in Zimbabwe

In the wake of reports today that the opposition party in Zimbabwe had defeated the majority party of Robert Mugabe, now, breaking reports out of Zimbabwe indicate that Mugabe may be trying to hang on to power. The Associated Press is reporting that:

Security agents and paramilitary police in riot gear are surrounding a Harare hotel housing foreign journalists.

A man answering the phone at the hotel says they are taking away some reporters.

The man refused to give his name but said about 30 police entered the hotel Thursday and were preparing to take away four or five journalists.

Furthermore, the New York Times is reporting that:

Despite losing control of Parliament, President Robert G. Mugabe of Zimbabwe and his party were increasingly explicit on Thursday about their willingness to continue fighting for the presidency.

After days of public reticence about the party’s intentions in the wake of Saturday’s elections, Bright Matonga, a deputy information minister for Mr. Mugabe, indicated that the president was not prepared to step aside and would compete in a second round of voting if results showed that neither candidate had won a majority in the first round.

While the Times article focuses on the likelihood that Mugabe and his party would try to force a run-off or even a second vote, the AP report gives a more ominous spin to events there. The US and the international community need to move quickly to put pressure on Mugabe and his African allies alike to ensure that Mugabe knows that a seizure of power will not be tolerated in Zimbabwe, in Africa, and in the greater international community.

UPDATE: The Associated Press is now reporting that:

Police raided offices of the main opposition party and detained foreign journalists Thursday in an ominous sign that President Robert Mugabe might turn to intimidation and violence in trying to stave off an electoral threat to his 28-year rule.


MDC [the opposition party] secretary-general Tendai Biti said hotel rooms used as offices by the opposition at one of Harare's main hotels were ransacked by police during the raids.

"Mugabe has started a crackdown," Biti told The Associated Press. "It is quite clear he has unleashed a war."

This doesn't look good.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Zimbabwe On the Precipice

It appears as if the long, nightmarish rule of Robert Mugabe over Zimbabwe is finally at an end. Since assuming power 28 years ago, Mugabe has ruined a country once held up as a model of what post-colonial Africa might be. A country that once was referred to as the "breadbasket of Africa" is now a food importer. The economy has contracted by 40-50% since 2000. Inflation is at an incomprehensible 2,000%, if not higher. Over 3 million people are "missing". An "urban reclamation" program has made thousands of urban poor homeless, removing them from the cities and evicting them into the countryside. Entire towns have been destroyed. The list of misery goes on and on.

But, if the results from the election are as anticipated, Mugabe's reign of destruction may be over. But now is an all-important moment. Will he step down? Will Mugabe and his party accept the results and accept exile into the political minority? If he refuses, or tries to sabotage the election results or the process, violence could easily erupt. Already, there are ominous rumblings from Mugabe's party:

[Mugabe's] government immediately rejected the MDC victory claim as "mischievous."

Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga told Sky television: "President Mugabe is going nowhere. We are not going to be pressurized into anything."

The government has warned that victory claims before an official result would be regarded as a coup d'etat.

Matonga said in a telephone interview with Sky: "No-one is panicking around President Mugabe. The army is very solidly behind our president, the police force as well."

He added: "We are not going to be rushed by anybody. They can make statements left right and centre, but they are merely wasting their time."

Certainly, the international community needs to move quickly to inform Mugabe that it will not tolerate any subversion of the democratic process. But Zimbabwe and Mugabe have proven remarkably immune to international pressure in the past.

More importantly, the West, and in particular the UK and the rest of the British Commonwealth, needs to put pressure on those actors that do seem to have some influence over Zimbabwe: other African states. In the past, African states have been reluctant to sanction, condemn, censure, or even criticize Mugabe, largely due to his Mandela-like stature as a leading figure in the decolonization and independent movement. Now, however, the stakes are different. Allowing Mugabe to subvert and destroy the democratic process can simply not be allowed if Africa is to have any hope. The West must immediately tell Zimbabwe's African allies, especially South Africa and the African Union, that if there is any hint of interference or obstruction from Mugabe or his party they will be expected to intervene to ensure the peaceful transition of power. The AU should know that the funding and supplies it receives from Western states will be stopped, and South Africa should be told that its economic and political ties will be severely damaged unless they are willing to take a meaningful stand and action.

If the results are as predicted, Robert Mugabe must not be permitted to remain in power one second longer than is necessary. And while the West may not be able to ensure that he steps down, other states in Africa can. And they must.