Center for Peace, Democracy and Development

What Drives Conflict?

Posted in Conflict Minerals, Ethnic Conflict, Fragile States with tags on March 26, 2013 by michaelkeating



That’s the question being asked by USAID and Humanity United who are jointly sponsoring a contest to see who can come up with the most innovative solutions to identify the drivers of conflict and to help communities prevent or at least prepare for it.  The The Tech Challenge Contest is offering prizes of up to $10,000 for the most innovate project proposals.

So Who’s A Terrorist?

Posted in Somalia, Terrorism with tags , on March 24, 2013 by michaelkeating


John Michael Denney

Recently, the Bulgarian government concluded its six-month inquiry into the July 2012 bus bombing of a Black Sea resort in Burgas. Bulgaria’s official stance is that the agents who carried out the bombing received financing and other support from Lebanon’s troublesome Hezbollah political party (or terrorist group, depending on who you talk to). The official report comes as no surprise to the state of Israel, representatives of which have long asserted that Hezbollah is to blame. As a result of these actions, Israel is putting pressure on individual European countries and the European Union to declare Hezbollah a terrorist group. However, this is where the situation becomes a quagmire of competing worldviews, objectives, and politics.

How does one define a terrorist? And, getting at the heart of the issue, why does it even matter how we define actions as terrorism or actors are terrorists? There is a simple answer to the first question: a terrorist is someone who uses public acts of violence or mayhem to achieve political, religious, or otherwise society-altering goals. But this definition is too broad and adds very little to the conversation. Under this definition, Al-Qaeda and the Revolutionary War-era guerilla fighters, the Green Mountain Boys, are both terrorist organizations. But we in the United States do not look back in time and label anti-British militias as terrorists.

The question has become nebulous once again. It is not so much what a terrorist is, as who we call a terrorist that matters. This issue is of great importance off of the East coast of Africa, where, for the better part of a decade, Somali pirates have been hijacking foreign ships and holding their hostages for ransom. The response from the international community thus far has been condemnation, labeling the hijackers as pirates, and an on-going (and costly) military campaign against the Somalis. A little digging into the issue, and you might ask yourself why the Somalis started engaging in maritime piracy in the first place.

In an excellent and comprehensive article for the William and Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review, Ranee Kooshie Lal Panjabi points out that Somali piracy didn’t just appear out of nowhere; it is the result of illegal fishing and toxic chemical dumping in Somali coastal waters that have been going on since Somalia’s descent into lawlessness after the fall of the Barre regime in 1991. Indeed, Somalia’s coastal ecosystem has been compromised by international fishermen, mostly hailing from Asia and Europe, running roughshod over coral reefs and practicing otherwise illegal fishing techniques, taking advantage of the fact that Somalia no longer has a naval to protect its territorial waters. Perhaps more insidiously, chemical companies from the developed world have been illegally dumping toxic waste close to the shores, further harming the coastal fisheries and severely impacting the health of coastal Somalis. The Somali pirates, as it turns out, started out as disenfranchised fishermen, put out of work because no one was there to protect their fisheries from high capacity foreign fishermen. Many of the pirates were, at the outset, part of militia-style navies trying to fend off chemical companies poisoning their waters and their loved ones – though now the Somali pirates are indeed running a lucrative criminal organization, it is important to remember where this issue started. If we are to label the Somalis as pirates, Panjabi argues, then the foreign fishermen and chemical companies who take advantage of Somalia’s political situation must also be labeled as pirates.

But we do not label those chemical companies and those fishermen as pirates. And the Green Mountain Boys certainly are not remembered as terrorists (at least by those in the United States!). We do not label these groups as pirates or terrorists because of what that label brings with it. We see foreign fishermen working the Somali coast as engaging in normal economic activity, albeit activity that would be illegal in any other jurisdiction. What would we gain from labeling them terrorists or pirates? Labeling a group or a person as terrorist or as a pirate brings with it an enormous set of normative and practical implications. Once it is a pirate organization and no longer a fishing fleet, are we obligated to seize that fleet and imprison its crew when they try to dock? Conversely, if we think of the  Somalis as a patriotic naval militia protection their coasts from foreign invasions, can we justify bringing in the Navy to halt their activities? Similarly, if Bulgaria labels Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, what does that mean for the EU’s policy toward the organization? Can it still treat Hezbollah as a political group, as it has historically? Or does it have to cease engaging Hezbollah as legitimate representation of the Lebanese people and start treating it like the EU does al-Qaeda?

If he were alive today, Michel Foucault would remind us of the power of classifying groups and activities under one label or another. For the labels themselves have power, and they lead us to think about groups and individuals in a certain way. This is not to argue for or against Hezbollah’s classification as a terrorist organization. This is to remind us all that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. One man’s pirate is another woman’s breadwinner. Labelling a group as terrorists is a big decision with serious ramifications, and it is hardly reversible.

John Michael Denney is a graduate student in the International Relations Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Downward Spiral of India-Pakistan Relations?

Posted in India, Kashmir, Pakistan, South Asia on March 24, 2013 by michaelkeating


Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

India-Pakistan relations, in the aftermath of the execution of a Kashmir Muslim in the last month, have reached a new low. Though Kashmir witnessed turbulence after the execution, the bilateral relations appeared to have sailed smooth despite border skirmishes in January. The initial pronouncements of Pakistan were cautious and Indian leaders also downplayed the sensitive issue as it was linked to one of the most protracted conflicts in South Asia. Despite the border skirmishes in January and the execution in February, the common assumption among the stakeholders in the conflict was that the relations would continue smoothly and none of the parties would  sacrifice the accumulated peace of the past decade and return to old methods of violence.

Developments during the past weeks, however, indicate that the relations are spiraling downward. On 14 March, Pakistan’s National Assembly passed a resolution condemning the execution of Afzal Guru by the Indian government and demanded that the body of Guru be returned to his family in Kashmir. The body of Guru was buried in Delhi’s Tihar jail as the Indian government was apprehensive that delivering the body to his family in Kashmir might fuel the separatist spirit in the region. On the next day, the Indian Parliament  passed a resolution condemning Pakistan’s resolution and accused their neighbor of interfering in India’s internal affairs. It further reiterated the old nationalist position that the whole of Kashmir is an integral part of India. The resolutions of both the houses of the Indian parliament stated that they reject “Pakistan’s interference in the internal affairs of India and calls upon the national assembly of Pakistan to desist from such acts of support for extremist and terrorist elements.”

On the same day India cancelled the bilateral hockey series that was to be played in India next month. India’s apex hockey body, Hockey India stated, “The bilateral series between India and Pakistan has been cancelled as the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) did not give us permission. The MEA had sent a fax to us yesterday, asking us not to host Pakistan or travel to the country for the series.” Pakistan’s hockey authority reacted sharply and observed that such acts only vitiate the already tense atmosphere between the two countries. Pakistan also threatened to boycott the world junior hockey championship to be held in India in December.

In the case of both countries, it appears that current political situations triumphed over genuine concerns of peace and stability in the volatile Kashmir. As Pakistan is going to elections in few months, the resolution aimed at appeasing the right wing political spectrum and hard line religious groups in order to win elections. Pakistan also shelved the idea of granting Most Favored Nation status to India, mainly keeping an eye on the forthcoming elections. In Pakistan’s elections Kashmir plays a crucial role, and the issue is so much ensconced in national psychology since the partition of the Indian subcontinent, a hard line position on the disputed region proves a vote catcher. Though Kashmir does not play a key role in Indian elections, Pakistan is often portrayed as the spoiler of the peace process. Some of the hard liners have gone to the extent of suggesting that the Indian government  declare Pakistan an enemy state. They have criticized Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh as dovish. Singh had earlier made his famous conciliatory statement that India would ‘walk the extra mile’ to buttress peace with the neighbor. As the elections season is too gearing up in India, the ruling party in New Delhi also appeared eager to display its hard-line image before the public to garner votes. Hence, the Indian parliament’s resolution on the day after  the Pakistani resolution was not a surprise.

The incidents since January (detailed here and here ) set the trend for this downward spiraling. In the past decade such events took place but they did not dampen relations for such a long time except in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai attack. Particularly after the civilian government came to power in Pakistan in 2007, the peace advocates were hopeful that the ‘irreversible’ peace process would continue till its logical end in terms of transforming conflict in Kashmir. But as the recent developments indicate, the relations have gradually taking a downward turn in a steady manner. Manmohan Singh declared few days back that ‘business can not be as usual’ with Pakistan.

Earlier this month, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Raza Pervaiz Ashraf was in the Indian city of Ajmer for a religious visit to the famous Sufi shrine of Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti. Contrast this visit to the visit of Pakistan’s President, Asif Ali Zardari last year in April. Zardari on his return had stopped in New Delhi and met Manmohan Singh. This year’s visit clearly reflected the increasing distance between the policy makers of both the countries. India’s foreign ministry spokesperson stated that “The Pakistani Prime Minister is not visiting New Delhi and no substantive discussions are scheduled to be held in Jaipur (where Indian government was hosting a lunch for him on his way to Ajmer).” The recent developments have certainly contributed to widening the gap in the already fragile relationship between the countries. Unless the leaders mend the relations and restore the trust, the downward spiral may prove dangerous.  They have fought four wars, diverted huge funds for building arms, and both possess nuclear weapons.

If there is a thread of hope in the increasing tangle of pessimism, both  countries planned to go ahead with the earlier schedule in forming the India-Pakistan Business Forum on 15 March. The forum would facilitate trade between the two countries. As per the current plan the fifteen member forum is to meet every six month, and deliberate on issues of bilateral trade and investment.  It needs emphasis that in case of India-Pakistan relations politics precede economics. Unless the tense political relations are mended, the economic initiatives may not work as the hardliners in both sides will attempt to jeopardize trade between the two countries.


Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security Program at UMass Boston. He is also an Associate Fellow at the Center for Peace, Development and Democracy.

Kashmir on the Brink

Posted in Disarmament, Fragile States, Kashmir, Peacebuilding, South Asia, Terrorism with tags , , , on February 17, 2013 by michaelkeating



Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

The Indian subcontinent remained tense after Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri Muslim, was executed by the Indian state on 9 February 2013. Guru was executed in New Delhi’s Tihar jail as his clemency plea had been rejected by the President of India six days earlier. He was convicted by India’s highest court as one of the main culprits behind the attack on India’s Parliament in December 2001, which resulted in the killing of 9 people, mostly the security guards at the entrance of the building. As the Parliament was in session with many law makers inside the building, a successful attack could have crippled India’s legislature.

As Guru  was a Kashmiri, the execution was perceived differently by various actors. Had he belonged to a different constituent unit of the Indian federation, the event woulkd not have received such wide attention. Though there is a constituency in India that opposes the death penalty as an antiquated method of retributive justice, the opposition appears insignificant in the context of the contentious nature of Kashmir. As the news spread of Guru’s execution, there were huge protests in Kashmir valley, with protestors clashing with the security forces, leading to death of five Kashmiris. The coming days may witness intense violence, unless India plays an active role in addressing the concerns of the people.

As Kashmir is perched between India and Pakistan, with both claiming  its territory in totality, the event has a larger fallout. They have fought four wars, and now both wield nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s foreign office spokesperson expressed caution and said he “would not want to go into details of the trial process” as the matter is “being discussed and debated by the media and the human rights organizations.” He, however, reiterated Pakistan’s support, “we reaffirm our solidarity with the people of Jammu and Kashmir and express our serious concern on the high-handed measures taken by India in the wake of Afzal Guru’s execution to suppress the aspirations of Kashmiris…” Though Pakistan’s civilian government adopted a cautious approach, the extremist organizations in Pakistan like Jamat-ud-Dawa, one of the affiliates of the extremist organization Lashkar-e-Toiba, organized protests in various Pakistani cities. The head of the Lashkar, also the mastermind behind the Mumbai terror attack of 2008 that killed about 200 people, promised revenge against India’s act.

India attempted to downplay the execution with its home minister issuing a statement to the effect that the law has taken its course. The execution, he argued, was a matter of justice and there is no politics involved in it. According to him, “this (the execution) was not a political decision. It was done as per law.” Some analysts, however, see it as the government’s attempt to buttress its image as a tough actor in countering terrorism. The rightist political parties, however, expressed jubilation at the execution, while the leftist parties termed it an attempt by the government to appease the rightist parties.  India also undertook harsh measures to control protests in the valley by declaring a curfew, banning media and communication technologies, and detaining prominent separatist leaders of Kashmir. India aimed at preventing another 1984 like situation, which had witnessed the spiraling of militancy in the valley, leading to the death of thousands of people and earning Kashmir the sobriquet ‘the most dangerous place of the world.’ In 1984, a Kashmiri Muslim named Maqbool Bhat was executed by New Delhi in the same jail. His execution fuelled pent up frustration of the Kashmiri people and acquired violent shapes with support from across the border.

In the Kashmir valley, the situation continues to remain tense. Any linkage of the execution of Guru with injustice and suppression of Kashmiris by India may generate further violence and jeopardize the peace process. The militant organizations may use the situation to destabilize the region. The separatist leaders in the valley condemned the execution and argued that Guru was not given a fair trial. One of the prominent separatist leaders, Yasin Malik of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, currently on a visit to Pakistan, criticized the execution as a ‘sinister design’ of India, and announced four-day mourning.  The argument of the separatists may have some merit as there are other convicts in Indian jails, who have not been executed yet despite being given their death sentence before Guru. The youth of Kashmir are likely to be mobilized to continue protests unless swift measures for restoring dialogue and trust is undertaken. The youth of Kashmir, born during the heydays of militancy, have witnessed death and destruction with their own eyes. It may not be very difficult on part of extremist leaders to inject in some of the disenchanted youth the spirit of violence and cause havoc in the region. This may be easier than earlier due to spread of communication technology. Some of the separatist leaders also perceive the ongoing protests as a prelude to a ‘color’ revolution in the style of the Arab spring.

The year 2013 so far has not been propitious for peace in South Asia. January witnessed border skirmishes between India and Pakistan with each accusing the other  of violating the ceasefire. The current events will further complicate the already fragile peace process. Recently the Indian prime minister argued that the peace process can not continue unless Pakistan addresses India’s concerns. In Pakistan there also prevails a sense of frustration as, despite a decade of relative peace, Kashmir remains a protracted conflict as both parties are hesitant to give up rigid positions. The radical constituency may get emboldened by the recent developments and revive the old methods of proxy war, extremism and terrorism. Such a development will not be beneficial for India and Pakistan. Perhaps India can take the lead in breaking the logjam in initiating dialogue with Pakistan, while simultaneously addressing the alienation of the people of Kashmir. As advocated by Pakistan’s US ambassador, the US, which enjoys friendly relations with India and Pakistan, can nudge both the countries to foster peace instead of cultivating animosity. Needless to add, peace between India and Pakistan is a major key to peace in Kashmir.

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security Program at UMass Boston. He is also an Associate Fellow at the Center for Peace, Development and Democracy.

Food Wars?

Posted in Education, Fragile States, Globalization, Income Equality with tags , , , on January 16, 2013 by michaelkeating

by  John Michael Denney


As winter recess comes to an end for American college undergraduates, international relations majors are likely to be choosing between classes with powerful names like War, Peacebuilding, Ethnic Conflict, and Democracy. Imagine the surprise and laughter if one of those classes was named Food or the Stomach and Rebellion. But this might not be too far off, as a growing body of evidence shows that war, regime change, and political upheaval might not be as complicated as we first imagined. Indeed, it could all come down to having enough to eat.

In a paper out of the New England Complex Systems Institute, a group of interested scholars put together a very convincing graphical overlay suggesting that massive global food price spikes caused the uprisings of the Arab Spring and the global political unrest in 2007/2008. They draw their food price data from the FAO’s Food Price Index, which averages five separate commodity price indices.


If this graph is to be believed, then there appears to be a very strong case for food prices being at the very least strongly correlated with political instability. But that’s not all; a quick look at the historical record shows that food shortages and price hikes preceded some of the world’s most famous political revolutions, such as the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution, and the revolutions of 1848. The idea that food affects politics is actually quite simple when compared to complex analyses involving ideological shifts, economic growth, historical factors, and leadership personalities.

So what then does this mean for policy?  If food is such a strong driver of instability and political upheaval, what does this mean for security studies in the 21st century? At the very least it means that policymakers need to start taking climate change as a legitimate security threat. Policies like massive agricultural subsidies in the United States and Western Europe have worked to enrich Western farmers at the expense of developing world farmers and massive waste. These must, at the very least, be reconsidered given the way the saturate the market with cheap food, outcompeting indigenous competition in the developing world.

It would be easy to dismiss developing world rebellions and revolutions as low on the U.S. security agenda, but conflict in the developing world does affect the West. At the very least, it costs the West money. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates that the United Nations system, paid for mostly by the West, has spent over 40 billion dollars in the past century on controlling developing world conflict. Much of this conflict, a UNEP report notes, is motivated by environmental factors. Indeed, as the environment continues to deteriorate, especially in some of the world’s most vulnerable countries, these conflicts are likely to increase as groups compete for control over vanishing water, arable land, and other natural resources.

Policymakers should also view this information as a better way of understanding how to promote development. Food prices are only going to rise as global climate conditions worsen, and the case of the Arab Spring shows that relying on food imports is an ultimately self-defeating strategy. More attention needs to be paid to fostering sustainable agricultural systems in the developing world, particularly in the areas targeted by international agricultural investors, a topic covered in an earlier post in this blog.  Policymakers have long focused on issues like balance of military power, trade routes, and energy control, but food is an existential part of society. It will come as no surprise to biologists that a group of animals goes into disarray when food resources are depleted, so why should it surprise policymakers that societies need food to function?


John Michael Denney is a graduate student in the International Relations Program at UMass Boston.

A Turning Point in Kashmir?

Posted in Ethnic Conflict, Kashmir, South Asia with tags , , on January 16, 2013 by michaelkeating










by    Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

While the New Year celebrations are still on high gear, Kashmir mourns the death of soldiers on both sides of the border. India and Pakistan have traded charges against each other, and from the maze of these allegations and counter allegations the truth emerges that relations in the first month of 2013 have soured. Though the death of three soldiers, one from Pakistan and two from India, during cross border firings does not indicate a decisive reversal of the peace process, it certainly adds suspicion as to whether both the countries will go along this year in fostering peace or will indulge in endless saber rattling.

Pakistan alleges that the Indian army killed one of its soldiers on 6 January 2013 in a cross border firing incident. India alleges that Pakistani soldiers crossed the line of the control (the official term for the border in Kashmir) and killed two Indian soldiers on 8 January 2013. The tense relations afterwards spiraled up with both the countries summoning each other’s High Commissioner (Ambassador) to their foreign offices and issuing démarche. Pakistan closed one border crossing point at Poonch, operational since 2006 for travel and trade. Its foreign ministry called for the United Nations intervention for an investigation into the charges of both the countries. The Indian defense minister accused Pakistan of violation of bilateral agreements and the Indian air force chief threatened exploring ‘other options’ to address the issue.

For the first time the ceasefire at the line of control, declared by India and Pakistan in 2003, has been violated. Though there were violations earlier, none of them had received wide national and international attention and led to death of soldiers. The last decade remained largely peaceful, raising hopes for a resolution of the conflict through means of bilateral dialogue and deliberation. Leaders of both the countries termed the peace process historic and irreversible. Despite various set backs such as the attack on Indian Parliament in 2001, or on Mumbai 2008, the tense atmosphere did not jeopardize the peace process. The peace process had gathered momentum since 1999 when then Indian prime minister boarded a bus from New Delhi to Lahore. The later years witnessed cooperation between the two countries, and as a result the impregnable line of control was made flexible, people were allowed to meet, and intra-Kashmir trade commenced.

The question now arises: will the new year skirmishes soon be the past and both countries will positively reshape relations? Or will they further escalate, thus dampening the hopes accumulated over the past decade? At present, in the charged atmosphere, it is difficult to predict the course the relations will take. But the premonitions are not that good. First, as Pakistan is going to hold general elections this year, and India the next year, Kashmir which is a vote catcher may get renewed attention not as a crucible of peace but as an issue in national prestige to be fought over. Jingoism may trump over sobriety during these election years. Second, as the countries pass through raging problems – in Pakistan the menace of extremism and terrorism and economic stagnation and in India the cases of massive corruption and law and order problems accompanied by public anxiety and protests – Kashmir may become a diversion from crucial national issues.

Wise counsels will likely prevail on the leaders of both the countries despite extremists on both sides of the border vying for blood. One of the Indian leaders called the peace process a sham and argued for stern measures against the rival . Extremist groups in Pakistan, including the one behind the Mumbai attack, called for more violence as a means to resolve the conflict in Kashmir. The top leaders of both  countries did not speak the language of violence, though the cloud of suspicion and frustration is visible in their press statements. India called an emergency meeting of Cabinet Committee on Security to deliberate the ongoing situation. Its defense minister, while accusing Pakistan for the stalemate, termed the recent developments ‘tragic’ and ‘provocative.’ (For details see here.)  Pakistan’s foreign ministry protested against the ‘unacceptable and unprovoked’ attacks by the Indian army. (For details see here.)

India appears cagey at the suggestion of the Pakistani foreign ministry about the involvement of the United Nations for an investigation of the issue. Pakistan has evinced interest in an investigation led by the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan, a UN mandated body established in 1949 following the first Indo-Pak war. India opposes any third party mediation in Kashmir and refers to the Shimla Agreement, signed by the two countries in 1972 following the second war that mandates the two countries for a peaceful and bilateral settlement of the conflict. Pakistan’s insistence and India’s reluctance for UN mediation may further dampen the relations. While the pressure from the US and the United Nations may help defuse the tension, it requires firm resolve on part of the leaders of both the countries to work for peace and tide over the current turbulence.

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security Program at UMass Boston. He is also an Associate Fellow at the Center for Peace, Development and Democracy.

NAM 16: Still Non-Aligned Together

Posted in Africa, Foreign Aid, Fragile States, Human Rights, Non-Aligned Nations with tags , , , on January 12, 2013 by michaelkeating






by Joshua Pritchard


The sixteenth meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which concluded in late August 2012 in Tehran, earned mention in the Western media for procuring RSVPs from UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi. Yet the involvement of the UN and Egypt in the NAM summit is nothing new. In 2009, Ban addressed the organization’s fifteenth summit, which took place in Egypt. Ban’s predecessor, Kofi Annan, spoke at the 2006 NAM summit in Cuba. As Sri Lankan ambassador and journalist Ernest Corea states in a report on the Tehran meeting, Ban’s attendance followed tradition, and served to reaffirm “the interlinked relationship between the UN and NAM.” The location of the August summit should not have surprised anyone, either. Tehran’s turn as host city, which rotates between NAM members, was known at the conclusion of the 2009 meeting.

Nevertheless, much about the sixteenth meeting of the NAM was different. Changes made to NAM’s standard guest list, engendered by the Arab Awakening, affected the atmosphere and purpose of the 2012 meeting. (Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi were not in attendance.) In addition, the ongoing dispute between Iran and the West over its development of nuclear technology informed the event proceedings and the media coverage surrounding it. Although it is undoubtedly a talk shop and a stage for political theater, the modern day NAM has attempted to evolve its purpose and mission. The West’s dismissal of the NAM as a Cold War relic speaks to how geopolitics continues to inform macro-level policy related to global development.

NAM: Organizational History

The first NAM meeting took place in 1955 in Bandung, Indonesia. Guests included Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah, Egyptian President Gamal Nasser, Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito, Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh, Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere, Indonesian President Sukarno (Kusno Sosrodihardjo), and China’s Prime Minister Zhou Enlai. As Phillip McMichael notes in Development and Social Change: A Global Perspective (2011), the aim of the NAM was to serve as something of a bunker from the geopolitical rivalry between the US and Russia. In order to counter the spread of communism and expand their access to natural resources and commodities, Western leaders were enlisting countries of the Third World into the development project. Meanwhile, Russia and China were working to spread their own political ideals and influence, and foment pre-existing skepticism regarding the aims and intentions of the West. “Cold War rivalry,” writes McMichael, “governed much of the political geography of the development project. So long as the Third World was under threat from a political alternative, First World security was at stake.” According to McMichael, the NAM was established to counter “the model of development embedded in the multi-institutional world order.”
  Post-Cold War

Since the end of the Cold War, the purpose and mission of the NAM has been widely debated, both by observers and its member states. In addition, globalization in its modern form, augmented by technological advancements in communication, production, and transportation, have caused the conversation about global politics to move beyond Cold War-era constructs such as territorial sovereignty and economic nationalism.

The US and Europe leveraged the resources and human capital of developing countries in their creation of the global market system, and both readily welcome the consumer dollars of Asian countries that have successfully ascended the development ladder. Nevertheless, regional political relationships, even if formed in congruence with the development initiatives delineated by, for example, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), are ignored if they are not otherwise in sync with the West’s larger geopolitical agenda. As Sally Morphet writes in the journal Global Governance, “neither the Western media nor Western scholars pay much attention to the multilateral policies and practices of the states variously described as the South, the third world, or developing countries. In particular, patterns of cooperation among these states in pursuit of common interests at the UN are often ignored or dismissed as of little consequence.”

Indeed, far from being a principle of cooperation, development aid has routinely been used by the West as an implement of statecraft and a tool to achieve the best possible outcome from otherwise treacherous or complicated political conundrums. Writing about development in his native Burma in his book Where China Meets India, Thant Myint-U writes, “As part of an official sanctions regime [against the ruling junta], all development aid was denied, making any moves toward greater economic reform much more difficult.”

Prioritizing Development?

“Heads of government expressed particular concern over the economic situation in LDCs, the majority of which were still located in Africa. They noted further that economic underdevelopment, poverty, and social injustice constituted a source of frustration and a cause of new conflicts, and that stability, security, democracy and peace could not be consolidate without rectifying growing international inequalities.”

The above statement is not a description of the 2000 Millennium Summit that established the MDGs, it is an excerpt from official documents published after the NAM Summit in Durban, South Africa in September 1998.

The West is right to endorse improvements in human rights in China, and right to stand against absurd comments made by Iranian officials questioning the historical legitimacy of the Holocaust. Moreover, Western officials should be judicious in their offering of military and development assistance to places like the Democratic Republic of Congo (an NAM member), which is enduring a civil conflict involving unabashedly brutal warlords.

Questions posed by the traditions and agendas of geopolitics are at play when considering the range of challenges facing global development, which include poverty, hunger, and disease. Nonetheless, the mission of UN development organizations and Western aid groups would be better served through increased cooperation with the NAM’s working groups and committees. NAM criticisms regarding the implementation of the MDGs should be considered, not least because every country in Africa (with the exception of South Sudan) is an NAM member states. Commonalities of purpose regarding human development are as good a reason as any to move beyond the dictates of an outmoded world order, and a good pretext to foster cooperation where none exists.

Joshua Pritchard is a graduate student in the International Relations Program at UMass Boston.








The Fight To Take Conflict Out of Minerals

Posted in Africa, Conflict Minerals, Education, Globalization with tags , , , on December 16, 2012 by michaelkeating


by Kylie Millbern

As a fellow blogger recently highlighted, the demand for new electronics, such as cell phones and computers, is insatiable and has numerous, serious side-effects.  Congress took notice and passed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in 2010 urging the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to adopt a rule pertaining to transparency in the supply chain of electronics.  The SEC made the rule final concerning conflict materials on August 22, 2012.  The ruling calls for any company (who reports to SEC) requiring the use of gold, tin, tungsten, or tantalum to create a public report identifying the minerals’ countries of origin.  On May 31, 2014, companies using these minerals in any product are required to issue the first annual report.  The specific requirements of the ruling can be found on the SEC website here

Let’s focus on the cell phone, the iPhone in particular, as we discuss the minerals identified in the ruling.  Dave Gilson of Mother Jones magazine compiled a list of components making up a 16GB iPhone 3GS.  This is what he came up with: The phone uses 12 parts that are gold-plated.  Circuit boards within the phone are fused with tin. Tungsten is used in the vibrate functions.  Last, but certainly not least, inside the phone is a tantalum capacitor, which stores electricity.  (Once broken down, the mineral coltan, as discussed in the previous blog, creates two elements: niobium and tantalum.)  Many consumers are unaware of the presence of these materials in their goods, and even if they are cognizant, electronics companies aren’t required to provide that information.  Furthermore, it’s unlikely that the companies could guarantee the origin of the minerals used to create their products.

Sasha Lezhnev and John Prendergast wrote an article in 2009 on behalf of the Enough Project examining the supply chain of these minerals.  The chain is broken down into six steps starting at the mine, ending with the electronics companies, but gets more obscure along the way.  The mineral is extracted at the mine, and taken to the trading house, which may or may not be registered.  At this point it is apparently still easy to tell mineral origins according to striations and color.  Next come the exporters and the murky water.  The transaction between the exporter and the trading house do not include official documentation of mineral origins.  At best there may be verbal confirmation.  During the fourth step the minerals are moved to transit or neighboring countries where the starting point is further forgotten.  On to the refiners, usually in Asia, to create metals from minerals sourced from a variety of locations.  Lastly, the electronics company received their product and hand them out to unsuspecting customers.  It sounds like globalization and the world supply chain fast at work; however, the countries with the mines and others along the route are suffering.

These minerals come from a variety of places, such as East Asia and Africa.  With the popularity of smartphones and other electronics, these minerals are in extreme demand.  One would think that with such a highly sought after natural resources the countries would be rich and thriving, yet they are in conflict.  This unfortunate paradox has coined the term conflict minerals.  The Democratic Republic of Congo is an un-lucky example.  Violence, poverty, and human rights violations are the past and present of the DRC, and can be largely attributed to these resources.  The minerals finance the war, as armed groups use violence to control the mines as a way to support their troops, pay for supplies, and gain economic and political power. The 2012 Enough Project Report  states that recent effects of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act have decreased the ability of armed groups to acquire finances from conflict minerals by 65 percent in the past two years.  However, with the renewal of the M23 rebellion in the Congo, there may be an increase in the smuggling of conflict minerals to neighboring transit countries and beyond.

Now is the time to enforce transparency in the global supply chain of electronics, starting with raw materials.   The recent rulings have made an impact, but during the rise of armed conflict in the area, pressure needs to continue from consumers, SEC, companies, and governments.  Although I doubt that we can curtail the demand for such electronics in our technology-focused world, there needs to be focus on the demand end of the supply chain.  This means that consumers need to be conscious and companies held responsible.  Engaging the public will help the SEC to enforce it’s ruling, and forces the electronics businesses to comply.  The Dodd-Frank Act is a first step in encouraging certifications and regulation levels.  It is hopeful that movement in this direction will spur other countries and policy makers to adopt miner safety and empowerment guidelines.  With the current situation in the DRC specifically, there is a need to maintain current advances in conflict materials.

There are plenty of limitations to the current ruling beyond armed rebels groups such as M23 in the DRC.  Some skeptics claim the electronics companies are not ready for these changes, and won’t be able to produce a product with traceable resources. Others say that the electronic product is too complex and made of too many parts to be traced back to individual locations.  There is worry that production could stop with a lack of available and appropriate resources .  On the other hand, there is also a fear that legitimate mines may suffer as the crackdown takes place .  What do you think?  As a consumer, do you think you would be more apt to buy a conflict-free electronic?  Are electronics companies ready and capable to implement this change?


Kylie Millbern is a graduate student in the Conflict Resolution program at UMass Boston.

Kashmir on the Brink….of Peace?

Posted in Disarmament, Fragile States, Human Rights, South Asia with tags , on December 16, 2012 by michaelkeating


Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra

As the season’s first snow falls in Kashmir, the leaders of India and Pakistan deliberate in New Delhi to further build confidence towards transforming conflict in one of most violent regions of South Asia. On December 14 India and Pakistan  signed agreements to liberalize the visa regime to facilitate people- to- people contact and the flow of goods between the two countries. The past decade in Kashmir has witnessed an ‘irreversible’ peace process which has impacted the conflict discourse and reduced the constituency for radicalism in the subcontinent. Though violence remains a challenge — as the  fighting in the Kashmir valley led to death of three militants just before the latest discussions — it has not deterred the parties to the conflict from continuing the peace process.

Since its inception in late 1940s, the Kashmir conflict has caused the loss of at least 50,000  lives, displacement of hundreds of thousands of people, and the crippling of the economy. The two major players, India and Pakistan,  pursued their rigid policies, fought four wars, and built up arms including nuclear arms, while millions of people lived below the poverty line. The costs of the conflicts, coupled with humanitarian costs in terms of the division of families due to drawing and redrawing of borders, loss of livelihood particularly tourism, militancy, and an all pervasive atmosphere of anxiety has made  the lives of the people living on the borders quite miserable. Both India and Pakistan have claimed the entire territory of Kashmir, currently divided between these two countries and China, and have fought wars while the civilians suffered.

In the context of the Kashmir conflict, two interlinked dimensions can be identified: external and internal. In its external dimension it is the conflict waged between two independent states, India and Pakistan, which emerged after the British rule ended in the subcontinent in 1947. In its internal dimension, an armed rebellion started in Indian controlled Kashmir in late 1980s with the rebels fighting for independence from the Indian control. For about a decade from the early 1990′s to the early 2000′s Kashmir witnessed the daily dance of death and destruction, prompting then US President, Bill Clinton to term it ‘the most violent place on the earth.’  During the cold war Kashmir was entangled in the superpower rivalry as reflected in United Nations Security Council debates and voting on Kashmir issues, but most of the violence and destruction has taken place in the decade since the late 1980′s.

The advent of globalization, increasing emphasis on peaceful resolution of conflicts, emphasis on economic diplomacy in place of political diplomacy, and the softening of borders in different parts of the world have reshaped the conflict discourse in Kashmir. The civil society organizations in India, Pakistan and Kashmir  have also played a crucial role in pressuring governments to think beyond state-centric policies. They organized ‘heart-to-heart talks,’ peace movements and sensitized policy makers about peaceful methods of conflict resolution. In 1999, the Indian prime minister boarded a bus from the Indian capital New Delhi to Pakistan’s cultural capital Lahore. In 2003 both countries announced a series of confidence building measures. In 2005 and 2006, two border routes were opened to facilitate people-to- people interaction, and for the reunion of divided families. Since 2008, these two routes were opened for intra-Kashmir trade. Pakistan’s granting of most favored nation status to India in 2011 further enhanced prospects for economic cooperation. The visa agreement signed in New Delhi on 14 December 2012 has many new provisions, such as visa-on-arrival, increase in the number of places-of-visit, extended period of stay, etc. (for details of the agreement see here.)

There have been temporary setbacks to the peace process such as the brief period after the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai. However, both  countries resumed dialogue within a span of 18 months. There are detractors of the peace process, particularly extremist organizations who seek a violent and religion-based resolution of the conflict. However, their constituency has shrunk with the passage of years. The recent years have also witnessed peace in various important regions, particularly in the troubled Kashmir valley, famous for its tourist attractions. Tourism is the main source of revenue for Kashmir. It is estimated that the valley lost 27 million tourists from 1989-2002 leading to tourism revenue loss of $3.6 billion. However, the recent years have witnessed the rise in number of tourists. The Economist has pointed out the the number of tourists in the valley has recently passed 1.3 million.

The separatist  All Party Hurriyat Conference (Mirwaiz faction) is commencing its week-long visit to Pakistan on  December 15. This is a positive step — unimaginable during militancy in 1990s –  towards building peace in the region. Its leader emphasized that the main purpose of the visit is to make a ‘process-oriented effort’ towards resolution of the conflict (for details see here.)

Since the civilian government came to power in Islamabad in 2008, the peace process has gathered momentum. The current focus of the two countries is to strengthen the peace constituency by boosting economic cooperation, and promoting people-to-people interaction. The idea of converting the border in Kashmir from a rigid line of control to a flexible line of contact, communication and cooperation has gathered momentum, and India and Pakistan appear to have geared their policy mechanisms to realize this idea.

Debidatta Aurobinda Mahapatra is a PhD student in the Global Governance and Human Security Program at UMass Boston. He is also an Associate Fellow at the Center for Peace, Development and Democracy.



Globalization and Social Equality

Posted in Democratic Development, Globalization, Income Equality with tags , on December 10, 2012 by michaelkeating


Rebecca Schiel

The Economist published a special report on inequality and the new progressivism and it highlighted some very interesting and counterintuitive trends in inequity in the global environment.

The report claims that while the largest inequality gaps have occurred in emerging states, the sharpest declines in inequality have also taken place there. This reversed pattern of growth in the past few decades (from richer countries to poorer ones) has narrowed global inequality while at the same time increasing inequality within individual states.  Aside from the market forces at work in emerging economies, governments have taken notice of growing social unrest and attention paid to gross inequality.

From the Arab Spring to the banking bailouts in the US the evidence of popular unrest over inequality is mounting. Governments are forced to take notice not only because inequality can cause wastefulness, but also because the poor masses will not stay dispossessed for long. And while different parts of the world view and measure inequality differently, the primary objective is to raise all boats. The report provides case studies of states/regions and their specific efforts within education and government sponsored programs aimed at eliminating inequality. Asia (China and India) and Latin America (Brazil) and their varying degrees of success and the areas of their failures are reported on below.

China experienced growth at break-neck speeds over the last 30 years and with that came unprecedented levels of inequality. Part of this trend toward unparalleled inequality has had to do with the urbanization of the workforce and the ensuing prosperity that has come to those leaving agriculture. China has taken notice that the focus of globalization on technology and innovation will primarily benefit the skilled and educated workforce and as such they have chosen to educate their urban populations. However, China is still experiencing inequality at higher levels than most other places. One of the main reasons for this inequity is the rampant cronyism in the Chinese government.  The other problem adding to inequality in China is the outdated Hokou system. Those registered as rural rather than urban are at a huge disadvantage in education, housing, and employment opportunities.

In the case of India, one is able to see not just the rampant inequality but also the great strides made in bridging the gap. The juxtaposition of these descriptions makes clear the relative quality of iniquity; sometimes the difference between a mud house and a brick house makes all the difference. The Indian government has taken up a program of rural employment whereby a wage floor is guaranteed and unemployment is being tackled. While incomes for average Indians have doubled in the last two decades, inequality has also grown. Additionally, India has experienced increased social mobility that has come from government sponsored education and infrastructure, two areas that are notoriously lacking in the slums of India. Not only has absolute mobility increased in India but so has relative mobility. In other words, parents’ economic standing has a lesser effect on the opportunities of their children. However, there are still stumbling blocks for India; among them are a lack of infrastructure, lack of basic education and attendance, and government programs that are effectively working against the poor (such as resource subsidies).

Brazil paints a much more positive picture. As the report points out Latin America traditionally had the most unequal societies but recently that trend has changed. Over the last 10 years, incomes in Latin America have exploded which has helped the poor to catch up with the rich thus bridging the inequality gap somewhat. And even though Latin America did not experience the same rapid growth of Asia (Latin America experienced growth at about ½ the rate of Asia) its poverty rate fell by almost 1/3 in the same time span. The success is largely due to government programs aimed at lessening the wage gaps for the poorest and a focus on education has created more literate and mid-skilled workers. Furthermore, an emphasis on rule of law in formerly lawless slums has created growth and prosperity where some never thought possible.

Looking at these case studies in a more general way one can discern very obvious patterns leading to both the successes and failures in facilitating growth and either widening or narrowing the inequality gaps. China and India have both focused on education thus creating a skilled workforce capable of meeting the demands of global workplace. Government programs in China, India, and Brazil have focused on the inequality problem at hand and created programs designed to spread the wealth through social spending. Brazil targeted crime in the slums and created an environment where both employment and education were possible. However, government intervention can often create negative effects. Energy subsidies in both India and China benefit only the most well-connected and effectively further impoverishes the already vulnerable. Furthermore, government wealth redistribution may be having the adverse effects on competition and the entrepreneurial spirit. While the effects of globalization may be working to undermine some of the social gains of the 20th century it may also be working to bridge the gap between the richest and poorest by way of education, increased social spending due, and an interconnected global workforce.

 Rebecca Schiel is a graduate student in the International Relations Program at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

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