Monday, November 26, 2007

Missile Defense or Non-Proliferation?

Russia has announced that it is ready for dialogue on the proposed missile defense shield the US wishes to construct, partly in Eastern Europe. While Russia opposed to the shield, which the US has declared to be a critical component of its national security policy, both sides seem to be open to compromises intended to reassure the Russians without undermining their deterrent capabilities.

I've blogged before about my skepticism of the utility of developing such a shield, mostly on cost-benefit grounds. That skepticism, however, reveals the potential for some interesting possibilities. For example, if Russia wants the US to move, scale down, or back away from developing a defense shield, Russia should be willing to give the US something in return. And that something would be most valuable if it helped accomplish the goals that the shield is designed to address -- the threat of the proliferation of WMD and ballistic missiles. So what could Russia offer the US that would be of use in that area...hmmm....I don't about...oh...

Increased pressure on Iran to comply with UN demands about the Iranian nuclear program? If the US intends to compromise at all on the missile shield, the price should be nothing less than Russia's complete cooperation in pressuring Iran to comply with its obligations under the NPT. That would be a worthy return on an unwise investment.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

5 Reasons To Be Thankful

Just to be clear, international politics isn't all misery, death, and suffering. From Foreign Policy magazine, here are 5 reasons we should be thankful this year:

Your Plane Isn’t Going to Crash

What’s happening: 2006 was the safest year on record for air travel.

The stats: Last year, there were just 77 major commercial plane crashes worldwide, the lowest number ever recorded, according to the International Air Transport Association. Of those, only 20 were fatal crashes, resulting in 855 people killed. That’s an amazing safety record, given that 2.1 billion passengers boarded flights last year. In North America, there was just one deadly commercial accident, out of about 10 million flights into and out of the United States alone.

The reasons why: Better safety standards. The aviation industry has taken a number of recent steps, including clearer signs on taxiways, better training for crews, improved maintenance for planes, and upgraded air-traffic control equipment, to improve safety in the skies. Planes themselves have gotten far safer. Jet engines are so fail-proof that pilots might never see one cut out in their entire flying careers, and cockpit controls keep airplanes safely away from mountains when visibility is obscured. “This is the golden age of safety, the safest period, in the safest mode, in the history of the world,” said Marion C. Blakey—who was administrator of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration until September 2007—in a recent speech. In other words, the skies have never been friendlier.

Fewer Kids Are Dying

What’s happening: Mortality rates for young children are at a record low.

The stats: The number of children younger than 5 who died worldwide in 2006 fell to 9.7 million, the first time that figure dropped below 10 million since such records have been kept. And the good news isn’t confined to one continent. Latin America is on track to reach the Millennium Development Goal of reducing its 1990 child mortality rate by two thirds by 2015; so far, its under-5 mortality rate has already plummeted by half, from 55 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1990 to 27 in 2006. In China during the same period, child deaths dropped from 45 per 1,000 births to just 24, while India registered a 34 percent drop. Even parts of sub-Saharan Africa improved, with child mortality decreasing more than 20 percent from 2000 to 2004 in Ethiopia, Malawi, Rwanda, and Tanzania.

The reasons why: Simple solutions. More kids are getting vaccinated—measles deaths having fallen 60 percent globally since 1999. More kids are avoiding malaria by sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets. Higher rates of breast-feeding and vitamin A supplements to strengthen immune systems are also keeping children alive. Safer water, better nutrition, more cash for public health, and more community health workers are also getting kids past their fifth birthdays. None of these solutions is particularly new or high-tech—just proof that implementing healthcare basics can save millions of lives.

Wars Are History

What’s happening: Iraq, Afghanistan, and terrorism may dominate the headlines, but otherwise, political violence has been headed downhill since the early 1990s. The number of wars involving states, and the deaths they directly cause, has decreased dramatically.

The stats: Between 1992 and 2003, the number of armed conflicts involving a government fell more than 40 percent, and the worst of those—conflicts with more than 1,000 deaths—decreased by 80 percent, according to the Human Security Centre in British Columbia. And fewer people are being killed in the midst of the remaining fighting. The number of deaths in conflicts dropped from nearly 700,000 in 1950 to about 25,000 in 2002, especially remarkable since the world’s population more than doubled during that time. Also worth noting is that though the number of countries in the world has more than tripled since World War II, interstate war now involves less than 5 percent of conflicts. In fact, the post-1945 period is the longest stretch in centuries that hasn’t featured a war between major world powers.

The reasons why: The Soviet Union and colonialism were swept into the dustbin of history. With the end of the Cold War came the end of developing-world proxy wars between the USSR and the United States. And as the colonial era waned, so did the wars of independence from colonial rule, which accounted for more than 60 percent of international conflicts from the 1950s to early 1980s.

Poverty Is Down

What’s happening: Fewer people are living on less than $1 a day.

The stats: In 1981, 1.5 billion people were living on less than $1 a day (or, to be more exact, the World Bank’s poverty line of $1.08 in U.S. 1993 dollars, adjusted for purchasing power parity). By 1990, that figure had fallen to 1.25 billion people. By 2004, the extreme poverty rate had fallen to 18.4 percent, or just 985 million people. If current trends continue, the world will achieve the Millennium Development Goal of cutting in half—from 32 percent in 1990 to 16 percent in 2015—the portion of the population in the developing world that ekes by on less than $1 a day.

The reasons why: One word: Asia. From 1981 to 2001, the number of people living in extreme poverty in East and South Asia dropped by half a billion people. By 2004, the extreme poverty rate in East Asia was down to just 9 percent. China gets most of the credit, with an annual economic growth rate of 8.5 percent for two decades, but other Asian countries, such as India, have also translated high growth rates into less poverty. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, the number of people in extreme poverty has been leveling off, which is promising because it means that lower extreme-poverty rates aren’t being canceled out by high population growth that otherwise balloons the number of poor.

You’re Living to Retirement

What’s happening: People are living longer than ever.

The stats: A child born 50 years ago could expect to live about 49 years, meaning he or she would likely be dead by now. A child born today, however, can expect to live 18 more years, to age 67. China and India, with their billion-plus populations, account for much of those gains. In the past 50 years, life expectancy in China has boomed from 45 to 73 years, while in India it is has increased from 40 to 65 years. Of course, Japan is the longevity capital of the world, where women’s life expectancy is currently 86 years and is projected to increase to the ripe-old age of 91 by 2050.

The reasons why: Modern medicine. In the early 1950s, 50 million people contracted smallpox each year. Less than three decades later, in 1979, the disease had been eradicated. In developing countries, improved sanitation and water quality has helped people avoid coming into contact with deadly microbes in the first place. And in the developed world, medical advances are bringing down death rates of three major killers—heart disease, cancer, and strokes.

Anything else you think we should be thankful for? Feel free to let us know in the comments!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Why Pakistan Matters

One of the main objections to pressuring Pakistan and President Pervez Musharraf is that it matters little to the US what happens in Pakistani domestic politics. While it's nice for the US to support democracies, strategic interests come first and risking instability in Pakistan or pushing Musharraf into the arms of the militants is not worth the minimal benefits of democracy. How and why does it matter whether a country like Pakistan is democratic?

One reason it matters is that countries that suppress civil liberties and political rights, such as freedom of the press, freedom to assemble, and democratic principles are much more likely to produce terrorists than are countries that respect and protect those rights. Alan Krueger, the Princeton economist who has long argued that poverty and lack of education are not powerful causal mechanisms in the creation of terrorists, has a fascinating article in The American claiming that "countries with low levels of civil liberties are more likely to be the countries of origin of the perpetra­tors of terrorist attacks." Furthermore:
To investigate the role of societal factors, I assembled data on the country of origin and tar­get of hundreds of significant international terrorist attacks from 1997 to 2003, using infor­mation from the State Department. I found that many socioeconomic indicators—including illiteracy, infant mor­tality, and GDP per capita—are unrelated to whether people from one country become involved in terrorism. Indeed, if anything, measures of economic deprivation, at a country level, have the opposite effect from what the popular stereotype would predict: international terrorists are more likely to come from moderate-income countries than poor ones.

One set of factors that I examined did consis­tently raise the likelihood that people from a given country will participate in terrorism—namely, the suppression of civil liberties and political rights, including freedom of the press, the freedom to assemble, and democratic rights. Using data from the Freedom House Index, for example, I found that countries with low levels of civil liberties are more likely to be the countries of origin of the perpetra­tors of terrorist attacks. In addition, terrorists tend to attack nearby targets. Even international terror­ism tends to be motivated by local concerns.

The evidence suggests that terrorists care about influencing political outcomes. They are often motivated by geopolitical grievances. To under­stand who joins terrorist organizations, instead of asking who has a low salary and few opportunities, we should ask: Who holds strong political views and is confident enough to try to impose an extrem­ist vision by violent means? Most terrorists are not so desperately poor that they have nothing to live for. Instead, they are people who care so fervently about a cause that they are willing to die for it.
As I've noted earlier, tolerating the authoritarianism of Pakistan and Musharraf isn't paying huge dividends. Al Qaeda is still operating relatively freely and Islamic militants are growing stronger. But, the negative consequences of relative indifference to Pakistan's domestic political situation are huge. At best, Pakistan's liberal parties might seek accommodation with the more militant Islamic groups in an effort to increase their power and challenge Musharraf. At worst, the suspension of democracy, the imprisoning of anyone deemed a threat to the government, and the maintenance of the state of emergency may very well create more terrorists.

Friday, November 16, 2007

More On Pakistan

I wrote earlier this week of the need for the US and the international community to apply greater pressure on Pakistan to lift the state of emergency and move towards fair and democratic elections. The main argument against this is that Pakistan is a major and important ally in the fight against international terror, and that not supporting Musharraf could destabilize the regime and undermine the War on Terror.

In order for that argument to hold water, business as usual with Pakistan would have to paying dividends, which do not seem to be apparent. Al Qaeda is rebuilding its operational capabilities, and the New York Times is reporting that, despite the state of emergency which was ostensibly implemented in order to address the rising threat of Islamic militants, "in the last several days, the militants have extended their reach, capturing more territory in Pakistan’s settled areas." According to the Times:
local officials and Western diplomats said, there is little evidence that the 12-day-old emergency decree has increased the government’s leverage in fighting the militants, or that General Musharraf has used the decree to take any extraordinary steps to combat them.


The success of the militants in Swat has caused new concern in Washington about the ability and the will of Pakistani forces to fight the militants who are now training their sights directly on Pakistan’s government, not only on the NATO and American forces across the border in Afghanistan, Western officials said.

After several weeks of heavy clashes, the militants largely control Swat, the mountainous region that is the scenic jewel of Pakistan, and are pushing into Shangla, to the east. All of the sites lie deeper inside Pakistan than the tribal areas, on the Afghan border, where Al Qaeda, the Taliban and assorted foreign and local militants have expanded a stronghold in recent years. In Alpuri, the administrative headquarters of Shangla, a crowd of militants easily took over the police station, despite the emergency decree, Mayor Ibad Khan said.


Several events in the 12 days of martial law illustrate how little impact General Musharraf’s greater powers have had on the expanding insurgency.

On Nov. 4, the day after the declaration, General Musharraf approved the release of 213 soldiers who had been held captive by Baitullah Mehsud, one of the most powerful militant commanders in the tribal areas, in exchange for 25 militants captured in August.

General Musharraf acknowledged in an interview this week that some of the militants handed back to Mr. Mehsud were trained suicide bombers, and that one of the militants had been charged with involvement in a suicide attack.

The general said that he was not happy with the deal, but that Pakistan needed the soldiers back.

A suicide bomb attack on a government official in Peshawar last week showed how the militants were aiming at officials allied with General Musharraf.

As for the fear that pressuring Musharraf might ultimately benefit the militants, Shikha Dalmia of the Reason Foundation makes an opposite argument in The Wall Street Journal. According to Dalmia:

the longer Mr. Musharraf is allowed to suspend democracy, the more politically powerful Pakistan's religious extremists are likely to become. Those who doubt this thesis should peer across Pakistan's southern border and examine what happened during India's two-year flirtation with emergency rule in 1975.


A similar political mainstreaming of radical Islamist groups might occur in Pakistan if Mr. Musharraf is allowed to prolong his power grab. In fact, the situation could be worse, given that, unlike India, Pakistan has never been a secular country and Islamists have always exerted considerable behind-the-scenes influence on government. They have infiltrated the Pakistani intelligence services and are well represented in the ranks of the civil bureaucracy. And there has always been close cooperation between Pakistan's generals and mullahs because of their common interest in cultivating Pakistan's Islamic identity and playing up the threat that Hindu India poses to it. The one government institution where Islamists have only a minority presence is the Pakistani Parliament.

But that might change if Mr. Musharraf continues to postpone elections and crush political opponents. Under such circumstances, Jammat-e-Islami (JI), Pakistan's oldest religious party with ties to the Taliban -- and an organization that harbors a long-standing desire to impose Shariah, or Islamic law, on the country -- and its sister organizations might well become useful to secular parties such as former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party. JI and its cohorts command even bigger powers of mobilization than Jan Sangh did during India's emergency. They run madrassas, or religious schools, publish newspapers and have sizeable cadres that can be quickly deployed for street protests. These resources might prove vitally important in resisting Mr. Musharraf.

"Instead of the secular and religious parties working against each other, they will start working together," fears Prof. Hasan-Askari Rizvi of Punjab University in Lahore. Indeed, the Associated Press has already reported that Ms. Bhutto is inviting the Islamist parties, many of whose members too have been thrown in jail, to "join hands" with her. All of this will allow the Islamists to mask their real agenda and piggyback on a popular cause to win more representation in parliament when elections are held. Even if secularists like Ms. Bhutto prevail in these elections eventually, it will be much harder for them to resist Islamist demands if they are beholden to them for beating back the emergency. In effect, the Islamist reach will not only gain in depth -- but legitimacy as well.

* * *

If Mr. Musharraf were prodded to call off the emergency and honor his commitment to hold genuinely free and transparent elections in early January, would that lead to an Islamist victory, or at least significant gains, as the Bush administration fears? Not at all.

Islamist parties had their best showing in the 2002 general elections, when they secured 11.1% of the vote and 53 out of 272 parliamentary seats -- a major gain over the pathetic three seats they won a decade before. But this gain was less serious than it seems. Most of the additional seats came not from Pakistan proper, but a few border provinces in the West that were experiencing a resurgence of anti-Americanism given their deep cross-border ties with the Taliban in Afghanistan. More crucially, however, Mr. Musharraf banned Ms. Bhutto and leaders of other secular parties from running, making it hard for these parties to secure a decent voter turnout. If free and fair elections were to be held today, Prof. Rizvi estimates secular parties would win handily, with the Islamists commanding no more than 5% of the national vote.

Islamist victory at the polls is not a real threat in Pakistan right now. The Bush administration should not allow that fear to deter it from applying maximum pressure on Mr. Musharraf to hold elections posthaste. The U.S. can, for instance, threaten to cut off Pakistan's supply of F-16 fighter jets and other nonterrorism-related aid.

India's example shows that even one vacation from democracy can be a huge setback for secularism. Yet another prolonged suspension of democracy will leave Pakistan few resources to beat back its Islamists. This is one instance where the Bush administration's avowed commitment to democracy is not just the more principled -- but also the more practical -- way of countering the threat of Islamic extremists.

Given that democracy-promotion is explicitly part of the Bush Doctrine, it is wholly unacceptable for Musharraf to suspend and interfere with Pakistani democracy. But it is even worse for the US to tolerate it, especially when the US seems to be gaining so little from Pakistan.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The 2007 Manama Dialogue

Once again, Security Dilemmas has been invited to live-blog the Regional Security Summit sponsored by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. Taking place December 7-9 in Manama, Bahrain, "The Manama Dialogue is intended to provide a forum for the national security establishments of the participating states to exchange views on regional security challenges."

Security Dilemmas will be given priority access to speeches and presentations, which will be posted along with analysis throughout the duration of the Summit.

The tentative skeletal agenda is as follows:






Group I:
Group II:
Group III:
Group IV:




Monday, November 12, 2007

What To Do In Pakistan?

The mess in Pakistan just keeps getting worse. In the aftermath of the declaration of a state of emergency by President Pervez Musharraf and the subsequent removal of a supreme court justice and the suspension of the Pakistani constitution, opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has been placed under house arrest again to prevent her from leading a protest. Meanwhile, Musharraf has apparently complied to heavy pressure from the US by stating that parliamentary elections would be held in January, but undermined that commitment by also asserting that the state of emergency would last until the elections, essentially robbing the elections of any democratic legitimacy.

So, what should the United States do about this situation? On one hand, US foreign policy and the Bush Doctrine in particular places a heavy emphasis on domestic regime type. As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrote:

Our experience of this new world leads us to conclude that the fundamental character of regimes matters more today than the international distribution of power. Insisting otherwise is imprudent and impractical. The goal of our statecraft is to help create a world of democratic, well-governed states that can meet the needs of their citizens and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system. Attempting to draw neat, clean lines between our security interests and our democratic ideals does not reflect the reality of today's world. Supporting the growth of democratic institutions in all nations is not some moralistic flight of fancy; it is the only realistic response to our present challenges.
On the other hand, Pakistan is very important to US strategic interests, as a secular Muslim society (one possessing nuclear weapons), as a strategic outpost in a volatile region, and in so many other ways. Pushing too hard for democratization could destabilize the country, either forcing Musharraf to seek support from radical Islamists or even, perhaps, bringing the radicals to power as moderates seek to work with the Islamists against the Pakistani government.

How can the US pressure Pakistan to move away from military/authoritarian rule and towards democracy, but in a way that does not jeopardize the stability of the state? Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), last week, released a very interesting policy statement calling for a fundamental change in US-Pakistani relations. Biden's recommendations?
1. The U.S. must triple non-security aid, to $1.5 billion annually for at least a decade. This aid would be unconditioned. It would be the U.S.’s pledge to the Pakistani people. Instead of funding military hardware, it would build schools, clinics, and roads.
2. The U.S. must condition security aid on performance. We should base our security aid on clear results. The U.S. is now spending well over $1 billion annually, and it’s not clear we’re getting our money’s worth.
3. The U.S. must help Pakistan enjoy a “democracy dividend.” The first year of democratic rule should bring an additional $1 billion – above the $1.5 billion non-security aid baseline. Sen. Biden supports tying future non-security aid – again, above the guaranteed baseline – to Pakistan’s progress in developing democratic institutions and meeting good-governance norms.
4. The U.S. must engage the Pakistani people, not just their rulers. This will involve everything from improved public diplomacy and educational exchanges to high impact projects that actually change people’s lives.
There's a lot to like here. First, the separation of security aid from non-security. Pakistan is far too important to allow the state to collapse or fall to radical Islamists; maintaining unconditional support for development aid would be a vital step in ensuring the stability of the regime. Security aid, however, should be tied to benchmarks, both political and strategic. If Musharraf does not allow free parliamentary elections in January, along with the lifting of the state of emergency in sufficient time to ensure viable competition, security aid should be curtailed. Additionally, security aid should be tied to Pakistani efforts at rooting out al Qaeda and other radical groups operating in the Pakistani hinterlands.

A policy like the one Biden recommends is eminently realistic. It balances a real commitment to democracy and democratic values with strategic concerns, and it pressures Pakistan in the right ways by separating development aid from security aid. A stable, democratic Pakistan is more than just a strategic asset in a troubled region; it is a beacon to others and, along with Turkey and Indonesia, a signal that Islamic societies can be vibrant democracies.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Bold Moves Towards Peace?

Slowly, but hopefully surely, momentum in the Israel-Palestine crisis seems to be tipping towards peace. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has apparently made a peace deal the raison d'etre of her tenure, stating that she's hopeful a deal can be struck by the end of Bush's administration -- a timetable to which both Israeli and Palestinian officials have committed themselves -- and asking Israel to make "bold moves" towards peace. Just today, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has committed his security forces to the stabilization of Nablus, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert expressed his strongest support yet for the impending peace conference.

So, what's the way forward from here? What are the "bold moves" that the actors can take to advance the peace process? Some suggestions:

For the Israelis:
  1. Cease all settlement activity immediately and indefinitely.
  2. Lift all internal roadblocks or impediments to movement.
  3. Re-open access points to Gaza and the West Bank.
  4. Release to the West Bank-based government all tax revenues being held.
  5. Pledge that , barring Palestinian escalation, incursions and collective punishments will not be used in response to rocket attacks from Gaza.

For the Palestinians:
  1. Pledge, in secret if need be, that the "right to return" is negotiable and can be symbolically fulfilled by economic restitution.
  2. Reaffirm willingness to negotiate the final borders of a Palestinian state to include pre-1967 Israeli territory in exchange for land along the Green Line.
  3. Pledge to crack down on all militias and to formally consolidate power in the hands of the government.
For the US:
  1. Create a peacekeeping force from NATO countries to patrol the Gaza-Israel border. The force must possess sufficient capability and political will to track and intercept infiltrators, rocket launches, and other threats.
  2. Pledge to provide the funding to symbolically fulfill the Palestinian right to return.
  3. Arrange prepared funding packages for both sides upon acceptance and performance of agreements. Attach negative incentives for failure to reach deals.
These steps would certainly constitute "bold moves." Many have been tabled until "final status" talks, but doing so all but ensures that that time will never come. It is incumbent on all parties to make bold moves, even ones that can be interpreted as concession, in order to advance the peace process. The time has come for Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinians, for the Palestinians to end their campaign of terror against Israel. The time has come for Israel to re-affirm its democratic traditions and for the Palestinians to realize their national aspirations. The time has come.