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30 August, 2009

Change of the Guard

Japan has a new ruling party.

In a landmark election the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) gained a majority in both houses of the Diet for the first time in its history. Yet the significance of this election has much less to do with the DPJ and much more to do those whom they knocked out of power - the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). The LDP has been the ruling party in Japan for more than 50 years. Since the age of Shigeru Yoshida and Ichiro Hatoyoma it has held the commanding heights, making Japan a de facto one-party state.



The election of the DPJ overthrew the LDP's regime. Yet the funniest thing about this revolution in Japanese politics is that I do not imagine it will be much of a revolution at all. The DPJ steadily backed away from controversial and extremist positions as they approached election day. The corruption and inertia of the LDP will be swept away, yes. But there are very few actual policies slated for major reform. Outsiders looking in should not expect Japan under the DPJ to look a wit different than Japan under the LDP.

Of course only time will tell if this prediction holds true. Until then, here are a few peices concerning the changing of Nippon's guard.


Index to the English version of DPJ party planks.


Japan's Political World Turned Upside Down
Tobias Harris. Observing Japan. 30 August 2009.

The Party's Over.
"Curzon." Coming Anarchy. 29 August 2009.

Don't Fear Japan's Changing of the Guard.
Dov Zakhiem. Shadow Government. 28 August 2009.

Braced for Change.
The Economist. 28 August 2009.


Photo: Yukio Hatoyama, the Democratic Party leader, placed a flower next to the name of a winning candidate. Credit: Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times

Video of the Day 30/08/2009 --What Stops Population Growth?

What stops population growth?
Lecture by Hans Rosling. Gapminder Foundation 1 January 2009.







An intelligent lecture that uses dynamic graphics to disprove a few population-related myths. Well worth the ten minutes it takes to watch.

H/T to Dot Earth.

29 August, 2009

The Mystery That is India

I am continually fascinated by the greatest anomaly of our times, the Republic of India. In an age dominated by ethnonationalist states, India's existence is a modern mystery. It is a hundred nations contained in one, a crucible of religions, cultures, and peoples whose history is as old as recorded history itself. That such a disparate state exists is nothing short of miraculous.
Oft times those of us not living in South Asia have trouble comprehending the level of diversity or the sheer number of people found on the Indian subcontinent. In such situations, I call often on a clever phrase to help me along:


If the entirety of Europe was one country, it would almost be as impressive as India.


The analogy of a united Europe and the Republic of India is apt. Consider a few statistics:

The population of Europe is approximately 830,000,000 people. The population of India is approximately 1,170,000,000 people.

Europe's populace can be divided among more 80 ethnic groups. India's populace can be divided among more than 1,000.

83 different languages are spoken in Europe, 30 of which have at least one million speakers. 415 languages are spoken in India, 29 of which have at least one million native speakers.

Europe's religious diversity is sourced in the schisms of the Christian tradition. The most practiced religion in India - Hinduism - is likewise fractured and divided. More telling are those outside of the Hindu tradition; India has the third largest number of adherents to Islam in the world, and the largest population of Sikhs, Jains, and Bahá'i.


This comparison prompts a question: with all of these similarities, why is it that Europe and India are treated so differently in the American mind?

That Europe is composed of 50 states and India one* plays a factor, I am sure. But this is insufficient to explain the vastly different perceptions we have of the region.

An easy example is the Western grouping of continents. Any school child can tell you there are seven continents: Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, the two Americas, and Europe. Unlike the other six continents, Europe does not gain its special status because it is a landmass set asunder. Europe is simply a peninsula of the larger Eurasian landmass. Europe's continental character is defined not by geography, but by culture. Because the people of Europe are believed to be culturally and politically distinct from the rest of Eurasia, everything between the Iberian penisula and the Ural mountains is labeled a separate continent.

This is all fine and good, but it causes me to wonder why India, another Eurasian peninsula, is not provided the same distinction. Those living in the subcontinent share a common history and heritage that is distinct from other Eurasians. Comparable to the cultural spheres of the Western and Chinese traditions, the common assumptions, values, and social structures of Bharata provide, as in Europe, social glue for diverse peoples. And for what it is worth, India has a better geophysical claim to continenthood than Europe could ever dream of having.

The way Americans talk of both Europe and India further betrays a simplistic view of the latter. While the adjective European is used rather sparingly in discussions of the cultures found across the pond, we are quite comfortable labeling anything of the subcontinent Indian.

Food provides a perfect example of such. We do not speak of European cuisine, but of French, Italian, or Greek dishes. In contrast, a dish may be eaten and produced in Tamil Nadu, Bengal, or Punjab, but we never think of it as anything more than Indian.

Why is this so? What is it about India that makes it near impossible for Americans to grasp the full range of diversity found in the subcontinent? Is it simple cultural ignorance, or are there broader structural forces at work?

I am particularly interested hearing from readers who have experience living in India, as I know a few of you do.




*If you include the entire subcontinent, this number can be enlarged to five.

23 August, 2009

Notes From All Over 23/08/09

TOP BILLING:

An Analysis of Mitigation as a Response to Climate Change
Richard SJ Tol. Copenhagen Consensus Center. 14 August 2009.

Climate change costs: Too much is not enough.
Katie Mackenzie. FT Energy Source. 14 August 2009.

The Copenhagen Consensus Center has published the most important report related to climate change I have seen in a year. The report stakes out some rather contentious claims that will strike the ire of partisans.

The principle purpose of the report was to project the economic effects of a rigorous worldwide carbon mitigation policy. Richard Tol, the economist who wrote the report, projects that the cost of keeping atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at 450 parts per million (the number most scientists say is necessary to maintain a stable climate past 2050) is 12.9% of the global GDP.

Proponents of mitigation often state that if we do not accept these costs now, the result will be economic havoc later on. However, if Tol's projections are correct, we must spend $50 dollars on mitigation policies to save but one dollar from climatic havoc. If the end goal of policy responses to climate change is economic development and security, Tol's projection suggests that mitigation is a wrongheaded policy response to our changing climate.

I recommend reading the report in full -- its summary of the literature and its several projections make it a required read for those following the climate debate.

I also recommend Mackenzie's piece over at FT Energy Source. It includes both a summary of the report and an outline of several places where Tol's methodology can be, and has been attacked.


Rape of the Congo.
Adam Hothschild. New York Review of Books. 13 August 2009.

Hothschild provides a rare window into the broken world of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Hothschild should be admired for performing the leg work necessary to produce this piece. Only rarely do we see reports on the Congo's invisible conflict in the mainstream press. Readers should spread this piece far and wide, that the world may start paying attention to the Congo.

China’s Migrant Workers in the Wake of the Economic Crisis: Unemployed, Undeterred.
Robert D. O'Brien. China Beat. 12 August 2009.

O'Brien destroys the myth that a Chinese recession would lead to the kind of discontent that would cause migrant workers to rebel against the CCP in this well argued essay.



USAID Challenges Reflect Greater Problems at the State Department
Matt Armstrong. Small Wars Journal. 23 August 2009.

Diplomacy Under Fire and the USAIDification of the US Foreign Service

Patricia H. Kushlis. Whirled View. 13 August 2009.

Two interesting posts on USAID and the Foreign Service. Armstrong details the multiple institutional and leadership failures of USAID, and draws the connection between these and State's other problems.

Kushlis notes that the decline of USAID has forced the Foreign Service to become our main instrument of development. In particular, Kushlis decries FSO's recent focus on "civilian development work, democratization, agronomy, anti-narcotics and counter-terrorism." For those (such as me) who have advocated for a Foreign Service focused on these very things, Kushlis' contrarian piece is a must read.



Mexico’s ‘Divine Justice’
Samuel Logan and John P Sullivan. International Relations and Security Network. 17 August 2009.

Drugs 'Taliban' declares war on Mexican state

Jo Tuckman and Ed Vulliamy. UTV News. 19 July 2009.

Many have criticized rhetoric that describes the conflict in Mexico as an "insurgency." The rise of La Familia, a major drug gang that offers social services parallel to the Mexican government, blows holes through such criticism. While many analysts fear the Zetas, it is the pattern used by La Familia to reach power that I find most frightening.


The MV Arctic Sea Conspiracy
Mike Burlson. New Wars. 16 August 2009.

Burlson provides an interesting scenario. What if the Russian-crewed cargo ship that went off the radar two weeks ago was actually an "axillary warship"? Our weakness to a merchant freighters turned missile platforms is manifest.

17 August, 2009

Af/Pak in Tatters: The Debate Is On

Six months ago I wrote a post questioning America's ability to wage a proper population-centric counterinsurgency. The post noted the structural features of modern democratic institutions that make waging a "Long War" near impossible. I ended this post with a projection for the next year:


Iraq is a dead issue; coalition deaths are at an all time low and the SOFA has forced a political consensus onto Republicans and Democrats alike. Iraq has all but disappeared from the news; the Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that not even 1% of last week's news coverage involved Iraq.
Taking its place is the counterinsurgency in Afghanistan. The Scholar's Stage has previously reported that the American consensus on Afghanistan has been destroyed. As I noted in that post, the media's change in tone between 2008 and 2009 is astounding. A media storm is brewing, and once the "surge" is underway it shall break out in full fury.
I have outlined the results of the last media storm. Is there a reason to believe this one shall be any different? Indeed, is there any feasible reason to think that at least one of the 2012, 2016, 2020, or 2024 major party platforms will not be pressing for a withdrawal from Afghanistan?

That storm is now upon us. It has been building since late 2008, and now, as the possibility of more American troops being sent to the front raises ever day, it is unavoidable. As I predicted, the public backlash against the war in Afghanistan has begun.

Unlike those of the past, this debate is not one of tactics. Rather, great swathes of the intelligentsia and the populace are doubting if we should should be in Afghanistan at all. Is waging a counterinsurgency campaign inside Afghanistan within the United States strategic interests? America is divided on the question.

There are two signs that lead to this conclusion. I have collected various resources that demonstrate each sign quite clearly.

Over the last two weeks the section of the Internet devoted to national security has seen an explosion in content related to Afghanistan. Prompted by a few well placed essays in opposition to our current course, the debate over our strategic goals in Afghanistan has been raging unabated across magazines, journals, policy memos, and blogs. While in many cases nasty and vitriolic, the debate has produced a few very good pieces which are worth your attention.

The War We Can't Win: Afghanistan and the Limits of Power
Andrew Bacevich. Commonweal. 14 August 2009.


On COIN and an Anti-COIN Counterrevolution?
Mark Sanfranski ("Zenpundit"). Zenpundit.com. 7 August 2009.

Is It Worth It? The Difficult Case for War in Afghanistan
Stephen Biddle. The American Interest. August 2009.


Afghanistan Strategy Dialogue: My Thoughts
Andrew Exum ("Abu Muqawama"). Abu Muqawama. 17 August 2009.

On Afghanistan and Strategy

Mark Safranski ("Zenpundit"). Zenpundit.com 14 August 2009.



The debate among the security thinkers reflects a larger shift in the views of the population as a whole. While it has gone relatively unreported, the American people are incredibly uneasy with the idea of a protracted COIN campaign in Afghanistan.

Public support lacking for COIN in Afghanistan

Dave Anderson. Newshoggers.6 August 2009.

Obama Faces Rising Anxiety on Afghanistan
Spencer Ackerman. Washington Independent. 12 August 2009.


America strategic vision is clouded. Whether or not we can remain committed to Afghanistan is yet to be seen.


Note by the author: If you are pressed for time and can only read a few of these articles, I reccomend the Bacevich, Ackerman, and Safranski ("Afghanistan and Strategy") peices.

12 August, 2009

Why Selena Shilad Has it Exactly Wrong on Climate Change and National Security

Three days ago I added the American Security Project’s blog, The Flash Point, to my blog roll. I had come across the blog when Mark Sanfranski (“Zenpundit”) highlighted the work of Dr. Bernard Finel, one of the blog’s primary authors, in a recent post on his site. I was intrigued by his work, and found Dr. Finel (and the other commentators at Flash Point) to be articulate and thought-provoking skeptics of our current course in Afghanistan.

The relatively high quality of their work earned them a spot on my morning feed. So far they have succeeded in meeting my expectations- with one notable exception. Selena Shilad has written a post for Flash Point that attempts to deconstruct James Carafano’s memo for the Heritage Foundation, “National Security Not a Good Argument for Global Warming Legislation.”
 
While it is usually not advisable to step between two warring think tanks, there are a few gaping holes in Shilad’s argument that can not be left unaddressed. Thus, I have dissected her post section by and provided a response to her major claims below.

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“James Carafano of the Heritage Foundation recently railed against members of the Senate Foreign Relation Committee for highlighting the national security implications of climate change. But don’t just take it from us or the Committee, some of the nation’s top military leaders have highlighted the implications of these changes, many of which have already started to impact our populations. For example, according to the National Intelligence Council – the U.S. intelligence community’s think-tank, “global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the next 20 years,” and General Anthony Zinni, USMC, (Ret.), recently stated that “even a small change of 2 to 3 degrees in one direction could be the difference between a management problem [and] a catastrophe.”
The opening paragraph of Ms. Shilad’s piece is a text book example of a major logical fallacy – the case she makes is an Argument from Authority, informing us that smart men holding rank agree with her, but never providing a reason as to why this matters. If I were to comment on one of the blog’s posts skeptical of current Af/Pak policy with quotes from a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) stating that the war in Afghanistan is essential to protecting the United States from terrorism, I would be an object of ridicule. If there is a reason this rigorous standard should not be applied to security issues related to climate change, Shilad did not provide it.

Moving down through Shilad’s piece:
“Consider the following facts:

Carafano Myth: “A better approach is to simply allow nations to adapt to the national security challenges implied by long-term global climate changes…any changes in climate will occur gradually over decades”
The Facts: While Carafano would rather wait and see what catastrophic repercussions transpire from climate change, the truth is that these harmful changes are not far off and have already started to take place According to NOAA, temperatures have already increased nearly two degrees on average—3 degrees is enough to significantly reduce crop yields. In addition, the scarcity of resources resulting from these changes has already begun to spurn conflict and will continue to destabilize governments, force our country to respond more frequently as first responder to natural disasters, compel us to have to deal with increased migration around the world and over our borders, and put US military facilities at risk. Not to mention that the global population is also larger than at any time in history, and most significant measures to address climate change will take decades to implement.”
Shalid quotes Carafano, but never truly responds to the overarching point he makes. Even if we assume that all of the projections Shalid is referencing are correct, and that it is United State’s responsibility to “respond” to these repercussions, it does not follow that the proper course of action is to pass the Waxman-Markley bill. Shalid is working with a false dichotomy – either we pass this bill, or we do nothing.

There is no reason for Shalid’s false dilemma; in the very quote she tries to deconstruct, Carafano provides a compelling third way to face climate change! Carafano is not asking us to sit back and “wait and see what catastrophic repercussions might transpire”, he is suggesting that we begin a process of adaptation to our changing climate.
 
The crux of Carafano’s argument follows neatly once his initial statement is understood. Carafono is quick to point out that the Waxman-Markley bill comes at a cost of $9 Trillion. However, the end benefit of the bill is very small – not enough to significantly change future temperature levels by any significant amount. Thus, the bill will do nothing to change the security situation on the ground.

Shalid’s response to this argument is unconvincing. Again quoting from her post:
Carafano Myth: “U.S. action alone would not impact world CO2 levels”
The Facts: If we don’t take the lead in reducing CO2 levels, other countries will, and we will lose out on the resulting jobs and economic growth. Once, the United States led the world in the production of solar panels. Now China leads and the U.S. is only fourth and we are buying clean energy technology we used to export. Not to mention that the majority of Americans believe the United States should take action on global warming even if other major industrial countries such as China and India do less. (ABC News/Washington Post Poll, June 18-21, 2009)”.
Shalid’s response ignores Carafano’s contention entirely, opting to shoot out a set of talking points in place of taking Carafano’s case head on. While it is surely interesting that the U.S. is the fourth largest producer of solar panels, or that most Americans think we should take action on global warming, it is also completely irrelevant to the question at hand.

It is my belief that this contention is the strongest point in Carafano’s entire memo, and Shalid makes a mistake by not responding to his point. In order to fully understand how strong Carafano’s case is, I think it is necessary to read a larger excerpt of his contention:



“There are significant doubts that the cap-and-trade system described in the 1,500-plus-page bill will even have a significant and positive impact on global climate trends. According to climatologist Chip Knappenberger, Waxman-Markey would moderate temperatures by only hundredths of a degree after being in effect for the next 40 years and no more than two-tenths of a degree at the end of the century.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson concurred, recently saying, "U.S. action alone will not impact world CO2 levels.”
As Carafano makes clear, the debate comes down to one question: Will the Waxman-Markley bill reduce future climate change by an amount large enough to improve the security of the United States? Carafano says no. Shalid declines to answer. Far from disproving the “myth”, Shalid strengthens Carafano’s claim by failing to respond to it.

Shalid’s last salvo is equally curious.
Carafano Myth: “The environment does not cause wars—it is how humans respond to their environment that causes conflict”

The Facts: Yes, guns don’t kill people, people kill people… with guns. This is simply a silly argument – no one is arguing that conflict will occur without human intervention. Countries have been going to war over land and resources for centuries, and there is every empirically proven reason to believe that as climate change effects food, water and other resources, it will force migration, destabilize governments, and cause nations to increasingly go to war. Again, we can already see this happening in parts of Africa.

The challenge then is to act now to prevent the circumstances from developing that will make conflict more likely in the future thereby minimizing future impacts and direct costs to the United States.

No one is arguing that war will happen without human intervention. But then again, who is willing to argue that the environmental change is the main determinate of any major war in the last century? Her words remind me of those who argue that climate change is the reason hundreds of thousands of people die every year. My response to her point is of the same vein as my response to theirs – climate change may very well be a variable that leads to terrorism and conflict across the world. Yet it is but one of many variables, and the link between climate change and conflict is both more tenuous and more difficult to alter than every single socioeconomic variable that may be fueling the conflict.
 
This leaves the question: if the challenge is to act now to prevent circumstances that will fuel conflict, why would we spend money mitigating climate change when we can mitigate the socioeconomic variables that directly cause such conflicts at a fraction of the price?

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For those interested in the intersection of climate change and security issues, I have provided a few related resources below.

Written for the Stage-

"T. Greer”. Scholar's Stage. 28 June 2008

A short piece on the NIE Shilad referenced in her post. It argues that all who use the National Intelligence Council’s language to argue for mitigation are misreading what is actually contained within the estimate.
 
"T. Greer". Scholar's Stage. 12 June 2009.

A deconstruction of a report published by the Global Humanitarian Forum claiming that 300,000 people die a year because of climate change.

Written for other outlets-

Andrew Revkin. Dot Earth. 28 May 2009.

Andy Revkin and other commentators examine the tenuous relationship between death tolls and climate change. Also prompted by the GHF report.

Readers are welcome to submit other useful articles or blog posts on the subject.