BLOGGING FOREIGN POLICY
Once again, Egyptians have gone to the polls to vote on a constitution. Only it’s not just a constitution they were being asked to consider. What this is really about is legitimizing a military coup.
The Egyptian military has always maintained that it was acting according to the will of the people when it overthrew democratically elected President Mohamed Morsi last summer. Indeed, the military went to great lengths to show the international community that it had the support of the 30 million people who poured into the streets to celebrate the end of Morsi’s government. Exactly how many Egyptians actually support the coup, however remains unknown. More …
In many ways, the referendum on the constitution is about getting the electorate to show its disdain for the Muslim Brotherhood’s tenure in office. The referendum has little to do with the substance of the constitution. After all, the majority of Egyptians have not even read the latest draft. Let’s not ignore the sad fact that 40 percent of the population is illiterate.
But then, the military don’t really care if people have actually read the constitution. The new draft is not really that different from the 2012 version rushed through by the Morsi-appointed constitutional committee. Yes, it does improve some of the language in reference to women and minorities, but it still discriminates against those who practice non-Abrahamic religions and says that Egypt must follow Islamic law.
The main difference is that it cements the autonomy and authority of the military and police. It makes the military budget and expenditures constitutionally off limits for inquiry or criticism. Furthermore, the new draft allows for heavy prison sentences for anyone who insults or undermines the military, its personnel, or its installations.
The military already controls an estimated 20 to 40 percent of the Egyptian economy, producing everything from washing machines to macaroni to arms. What is to prevent the military from arresting a competing manufacturer for questioning the pricing policies of a military-owned company? Sadly, the military regime has already proven itself capable and willing to cast a wide net on who it deems an enemy of the state.
Political prisoners in Egypt do not just include members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Journalists, civil society actors, and others who have questioned the military regime and its policies are also being held. Many of the youth leaders who helped organize the movement to overthrow Hosni Mubarak are also now imprisoned for ‘undermining the state’ by questioning the coup and its gag order on civil society. Egypt is now one of the deadliest places for journalists to operate, worse than Somalia, according to journalist freedom watch groups. The Egypt Front Party, which campaigned against the new constitution, found some of its staff arrested as well. Liberal activists and former members of parliament, not aligned with the Brotherhood but critical of the coup have been barred from travel outside of Egypt and are under gag orders as well. This is the climate of censure prevailing in Egypt. Unfortunately, many Egyptians support the military for restoring order and ending the embarrassing rule of Morsi.
Early results indicate that the new constitution will pass. Indeed, few who would have voted ‘no’ would have gone to the polls. More worrying for the democratization process in Egypt, however, is that there will now be electoral support for the coup. In the long run, this will be to the detriment of Egypt’s political development. This referendum was done to hide the real threat facing Egypt: political repression and the censure of liberal thought.
To say that the situation in the Central African Republic (CAR) is a tragedy is probably an understatement. It is difficult to wrap one’s mind around what is taking place there with evolving reports of massacres, humanitarian crises, displaced people, political instability, ethnic/religious conflict, etc… One thing is for certain: this is a conflict that is evolving quickly and apparently faster than the international community’s ability to address.
To recap, the current situation is directly a result of the overthrow of the Bozize government back in July 2013 by the Seleka rebel group let by Michel Djotodia. Civil conflict of this nature has seemingly been commonplace in this former French colony since it achieved independence in 1960. Upon seizing power Djotodia promised to stabilize CAR and return to free and fair elections in the near future. More …
Despite concerns over the power grab, the international community, including the African Union (AU), was quick to accept this. Few wanted to dedicate the time, resources, and person-power to get involved. Indeed, the former colonial power and traditional intervener in the region – France – committed only a small contingent to secure the airport.
Since that time, things have only descended into further chaos as Djotodia has been incapable of controlling the violence primarily led by his former rebel colleagues. What initially started off a movement against a government with little known extremist or ethnic elements has turned into an all out ethnic conflict that has caught many by surprise.
The response to the crisis in CAR has been slow, particularly in comparison to the quick response and mobilization to the crises in Libya and more recently in South Sudan. At last count the following actors are still pondering what to do in CAR after months of instability and atrocities: France, the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the AU, the EU, and the UN. None have been able to take any discernable action to date that will stabilize this conflict-ridden country and prevent the ongoing human rights abuses that are taking place.
There is real hope that the meeting of leaders from across the region taking place today in Chad and the announcement that the EU will meet tomorrow to discuss the conflict will result in some action. But much of the focus appears to be on whether or not Djotodia will resign rather than how to best stop the conflict.
While important progress has been made with the recent commitment by France and the AU to deploy approximately 7,000 troops, the UN Secretary General has already said that at least 9,000 soldiers would be necessary to make any difference. To their credit, relief organizations like Medicines Sans Frontier, Save the Children, and the World Food Programme have be faster off the mark, but their work is being hampered by attacks and threats to aid workers.
What is truly remarkable is the difficulty in coordinating an international response to stop the violence in CAR. Why does it seems like the UN, the AU, and the EU are all considering what should be done in CAR separately? Perhaps this is another example of overlapping international institutions getting caught up in the uncertainty of who has responsibility and where. Or maybe its a case of conflicting perceptions of potential solutions.
Regardless, it is hard to understand why there seems to be so much foot dragging over what to do, particularly as this type of situation has been seen before. What’s more, this has been a conflict that has been festering and growing since the end of July. Why then, has it come as such an apparent shock and surprise to those in the international community as to only warrant action now?
What this moment highlights is the importance of having coordinating mechanisms between international organizations that would permit preventive action in precarious political situations. Instead of an increased international presence in the early stages of the political transition from one government to the next in CAR, we saw a minor exodus of groups who could actually do something. South Africa’s hasty retreat after public outcry at home over its presence was shameful.
The apparent lack of political will in African institutions to send a stabilization force in the early days only reinforces a sad trend where the adage ‘African solutions to African problems’ rings hollow. The French have been there throughout, but largely confined to Bangui and the areas surrounding the airport – leaving them incapable of preventing atrocities occurring outside of the capital.
It seems a common lament to wish a more proactive action had been taken to prevent conflict and human rights abuses before they occurred. It is hard to understand why more was not done before it got to this stage. Let’s hope that in the next few days the international community can come up with a more definitive plan.
With great power comes great responsibility, as Uncle Ben told Peter Parker long ago. This doctrine became a great burden for Spider-Man, yet also helped him become the superhero we all love. But one problem that plagued Spidey also plagues the U.S. – just because one is responsible for using one’s power well, does not mean that one is responsible for everything that happens.
Why is this relevant now? Multiple events are causing us to look backwards and wonder why things have not gone so well. Violence in Iraq is increasing, with al-Qaida apparently gaining control in Fallujah. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is promoting his new book (far more effectively than I am promoting mine but I am not telling tales about my former bosses), which has people looking back at the decisions made about Afghanistan. As I have written before, failure is an orphan, as everyone who might be responsible seeks to point the finger elsewhere. More …
Did Obama lose Iraq? Is he going to lose Afghanistan? Arguing about who “lost” Fallujah is, of course, silly since it is still there on the map. We know where it is. It was never in the U.S.’s pocket. It was and is always in Iraq, which means that when the US left Iraq (which was the responsible thing to do, given what the Iraqis would not allow and what the American people would no longer support), it would not be able to lose it. There is only so much the U.S. can do. While there have been plenty of mistakes made, these assertions that Fallujah, Iraq, or Afghanistan were somehow America’s to lose ignores a basic reality: there are real limits to power.
When we look back on the surges in Iraq and Afghanistan, we forget that they were not meant to cure either country of their violence. They were meant to create some breathing space so that institutions could be built and politicians could arrive at some deals.
In Iraq, the surge helped to buttress and facilitate the Sunni Awakening where the Sunnis realized that their extremists were more dangerous than the Americans. This awakening could have worked to build a more stable Iraq if Iraq’s leaders had been willing to play along. Which they were not.
In Afghanistan, the surge was aimed at creating more space for the Afghan government to build some competence and gain some support from the Afghans. Karzai did not prove to be all that helpful, but much progress was made building an Afghan National Army. The real question now is the transition to Karzai’s successor (again, see this piece).
This is not to say that all of the blame should rest on the shoulders of Iraqi and Afghan politicians. But it does mean that when we try to figure out what happened, we must realize that the folks on the ground have agency and will do what they think is in their best interests. And that is often not in harmony with the interests of outsiders or even the interests of their own people. Elites in these places face the challenge that all politicians face – to do what is best in the short term or to do what is best in the long term – and it is far harder to finesse these tradeoffs when mistakes are so incredibly costly.
I do not want to diminish the responsibility of the U.S. in the variety of Mideast messes due to past actions and inactions. Invading Iraq has created a cascade of stuff that cannot be undone. However, holding the U.S. responsible for everything means making everyone else far less responsible, and it exaggerates the ability of the U.S. to change things in the present.
With great power comes great responsibility, but not great control over anything. It’s frustrating but unavoidable. Spider-Man could not save everyone (spoiler!), and outsiders cannot create stability in another country, even if they try really hard, without lots of help and lots of luck.
As it is exactly 100 years since the start of the First World War, we are going to see a lot of stories this year saying something about how 1914 speaks to today… as if World War III may break out soon. Of course, anytime somebody says it ain’t gonna happen, folks mention the various experts who said in 1914 that war was not going happen that year. Still, if Vegas set an over/under line on world wars in 2014 at one, I would bet on the under – that there will not be a world war this year. More …
Of course, this depends on what one means by a world war. Would a conflict that involves multiple hemispheres (north and south or east and west – I am not picky) count? How about one that involves at least two great powers on either side? Or just two superpowers, like if the cold war got hot – but there is only one superpower still, right?
Of course, then we would have to figure out which countries count as great powers, and that is not always easy. My list would include the U.S., China, Russia, and maybe Japan, Germany, France, and the U.K. And if we really want to stretch the definition, perhaps Brazil, India, Indonesia, and a few other places. Great powers are countries that can project power around the world, so everyone with nukes and the ability to deliver them beyond their neighbouring countries stand up (the U.S., U.K., France, Russia, China, India – if you have a space program, you can drop nukes far away). We can come up with other lists, but the question of WW or not WW basically entails whether some combo of the U.S., China, and Russia (with European countries to be named later) will start fighting.
So, what is the likelihood that the U.S. will engage in a war with China and/or Russia? Pretty close to zero. Why? Those aforementioned nuclear weapons have a great deal to do with it – MAD and all that. The difference between 1914 and 2014 is a complete reversal in preemption temptation. In 1914, there was a sense that striking first had great advantages and most countries had war plans built on that assumption. Now, attacking first just means you make more rubble bounce, but that won’t save your own country from total annihilation. MAD ain’t perfect (there is the ye olde Stability-Instability Paradox), but I’m pretty sure the preemption temptation is not relevant 100 years after the First World War.
There is, however, one thing to be concerned about – the First World War became a world war because the need to maintain alliances and credibility caused a small war between Serbia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire to expand to the rest of Europe and beyond. A valid question in 2014 is whether alliances might cause a small dispute to escalate into something larger. Tensions between China and Japan are suggestive, as the U.S. would be pulled in on the side of Japan. The problem with this line of argument is that, again, folks might be applying 1914 analogies to the initial escalation process.
The good news, in terms of alliance politics, is that the potential adversaries of the U.S. are not nearly as tied to their allies as the various actors were in the lead up to First World War. Who is Russia committed to? Yes, Russia has supported Assad in a variety of ways, but Syria is more of a client than an ally. Russia’s security does not depend on Syria, nor has Russia made a clear alliance commitment to Syria. Who else is Russia allied with? The same goes for China. China is far less committed to supporting whatever North Korea is up to these days. Sure, North Korea would probably love to drag China into a war, but, again, China’s security does not hinge on the credibility of that alliance.
Really, only the U.S. and its allies are in danger of being dragged into a war in order to protect the credibility of an alliance. Libya might have been one such war. This is why Georgia should not be allowed into NATO, as it would be the most likely ally to see an alliance commitment as a green light to provoke a conflict with Russia.
The positive news here is that the U.S. is exhausted. Its military is tired, its economy is frayed, and its people are sick of war. Recent surveys have shown that even the “good war” is no longer popular. So the U.S. is unlikely to allow itself to get sucked into any new war anytime soon.
One last important difference between 1914 and 2014: in a nuclear world, allies are convenient but are not ultimately necessary. No nuclear power with a second strike capability has to go to war to protect an ally – it would be a choice, not a compulsion. The only existential threats such countries face are the arsenals of the other states with nuclear weapons.
So, again, there would be far less pressure to enter a war one does not want to protect a commitment one does not really need. As the co-author of a new book on alliance behaviour, I don’t want to say that alliances are irrelevant, but as a scholar of international relations, I have to say that alliances in 2014 are not the same as alliances in 1914.
Sure, anniversaries are swell. And we should be thinking about how the past still matters today, because it does. Just don’t buy into what the fear mongers are mongering.
The assassination of Mohamad Chatah, a prominent critic of Assad, in Beirut last week is a testament to the fact that Syria is not just imploding, it is also exploding. Its first victims are Lebanese, but I doubt they will be its last. The entire region could slide into further chaos while the international community watches with distaste, yet seems impotent to help militarily.
Few doubt that Hezbollah or its proxies are responsible for the bombing that killed the former Lebanese finance minister. Mr. Chatah was a vehement critic of the Assad regime and Hezbollah’s military and logistical support for it. He paid the ultimate price for that criticism. More …
I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Chatah in the late 1990s when he was Lebanon’s Ambassador to the United States. His take on the political situation in the Middle East was a revealing account of how politics, personal egos, and economic factors are often intertwined. This ‘speaking truth to power’ clearly didn’t end when he returned to Lebanon from Washington. In the past year, he became a vocal critic of the Assad regime’s murderous role in the Syrian conflict and, more importantly, the way Hezbollah has jeopardized the already tenuous political and sectarian fault lines in Lebanon by supporting Assad.
Bombings like this are sadly all too familiar in Lebanon. The country’s 1975 to 1990 civil war left over a hundred thousand dead and a deeply fractured community that made peace through an ugly sectarian system called consociationalism. Simply put, power is divided in somewhat equal parts among the three main religious communities: Sunnis, Shiite, and Christians. The situation is so odd that I hear Lebanese say it takes three people to do one person’s job.
To say that consociationalism is under strain today is an understatement. Lebanon is tearing apart from within, and the Syrian conflict is feeding this fissure.
More than a third of Lebanon’s population today are Syrian refugees. This influx of people has undercut local labour wages and spurred inflation as the increased demand for all goods pushes up prices. This social upheaval has exposed the old political fault lines, pitting one sectarian community against another.
For Hezbollah, the fall of Assad is an existential threat. The Syrian regime gives the organization access to the only direct land route to replenishing Iranian armaments.
Make no mistake, there’s no religious affinity between Syria’s Allawite-dominated secular regime and the militant-cum-religious Shiite political party of Hezbollah. This is a fallacy that is perpetuated by a simplified and binary view of the conflict.
The Assad-Hezbollah alliance is a military and strategic one with a common enemy: the perceived anti-Iranian, pro-Western rebels who want to bring down the Assad regime. The influx of militant Islamists coming to support the Syrian rebels just gives the Syrian regime and Hezbollah a new declared enemy: al-Qaeda or, as Hezbollah’s commander Nisrallah likes to call them, ‘Takfiris’ or non-believers.
Civil wars are all too often filled with competing narratives where new cycles of violence are justified as retribution for previous murders. Innocent people too often pay the price for these surges in violence and I’m afraid that Mohamed Chatah will be just one of many more to Lebanese to come.
Lebanon’s fractured political system makes it susceptible to such violence. And with a similarly fragile system in Iraq and large groups of Syrian refugees in Southern Turkey and Jordan, the region is primed to explode while the West scratches its head.
‘Tis the season when we wonder what Santa will give us this year. I thought I would try to guess what is on Canada’s wish list. To be fair, while Santa is magical, there are only so many miracles that St. Nick can pull off, so don’t expect to get everything on this list: More …
1. Just one major defence procurement project that comes in on time and on budget. It could be the next fighter plane, the next ships, whatever. We don’t want to be greedy. Just one, please!
2. The North Pole. Oh sure, this seems greedy but perhaps the scientists can make a credible case that persuades the UN, the Russians, and those pesky Danes. And then Santa would be a Canadian citizen so he wouldn’t have to lie when he puts a Canadian flag on his mighty backpack while travelling abroad.
3. A seat at the UN Security Council. It does not have to be fancy. Just a small space where the Canadian ambassador can occasionally bang his/her shoe.
4. The illusion of complete message control. This would make the prime minister happy while letting the rest of those in (and near!) government speak their mind from time to time.
5. Three units of relevance in Iran’s foreign policy. This would, of course, increase Canada’s total relevance to Iran to … three and a quarter.
6. A budget increase for DFATD so that the over-worked folks there do not start pronouncing their acronym “defeated”, and to give the students from my school more job opportunities.
7. A Stanley Cup for a Canadian team (does this count as a miracle?). Perhaps the relocation of a few teams from very warm places to very cold places?
8. More trade deals that cut away at supply management. Anything to make my homemade pizza less expensive.
9. Better understanding of the Crown and Parliament and other Canadian institutions so that several of my friends (@pmlagasse, @markdjarvis, @EmmMacfarlane) can rest and talk about other stuff on Twitter.
10. Heaps of gold medals at the Winter Games in Sochi.
11. A ® for “punching above our weight” so that Canada is the only NATO country that can use that phrase. Or, perhaps even better, some of the under-punchers could give more resources and more effort so that the over-punches can rest a bit.
12. A strategy for Canada’s place in the world that confronts the tradeoffs directly. And this just might give another group their most desired present – policy relevance.
13. A terrific online site dedicated to Canadian international affairs. Oh wait, we already have one of those.
I would include a bridge or two for Montreal, but Quebec wanted to write its own list.
The good news is that Canada does not have to ask for more basic stuff, such as security, stability, and prosperity. Instead, the country can ask for stuff that might be handy (a procurement program that works, strategy) or fun (more and better hockey, Olympic success). Oh, and a shiny red bike would be pretty cool.
May the readers of CIC get all that they hope for this holiday and may 2014 be a year of continued peace (as it would allow me to win a long-standing bet), prosperity, and perhaps just a bit less Rob Ford.
One of the great consistencies in the dialogue among scholars and between scholars and the rest of the world is the concern that scholars are not policy relevant. Some argue that academics do not try or care about policy relevance as they face incentives to publish highly theoretical work. Others argue that academics are simply incapable of it due to years of training that cause them to lose their ability to communicate with non-academics. The jargon, the math, the focus on methods all get in the way of conveying their conclusions to the public sphere.
While there might be some kernels of truth in all of that, the real challenge for academics who want to be policy relevant is figuring out how to make the solutions they advocate appear to be in the interests of the politicians they are trying to reach. That is, they need to convince the politician that which is best for the city, province, country, or world also happens to be in the interest of the politician. Of course, this sounds very cynical, but the basic reality is that most politicians will not sacrifice their careers pursuing policies that are good for country, especially when the positive effects are in the long run. The famous line from Keynes that in the long run we are all dead is particularly true for politicians who must focus on the next election and not much further than that. More …
The trick, then, is to figure out the aspects of one’s preferred policy recommendation that would benefit the politician or fit with the politician’s stance. The example that comes to mind today is one far out of my expertise – the Arctic and the submission of claims to international organizations. To summarize the state of play, each country is supposed to submit its science-based bids on how much of the territory in the arctic “belongs” to it. The legitimacy of the claims will be based in large part on geography – is the land claimed part of the extended continental shelf. Apparently, the science-based claims that Canada was going to put forth were insufficient for Prime Minister Stephen Harper, so Canada has submitted a claim that essentially says that the science behind it will be forthcoming:
Mr. Harper asked Canadian bureaucrats to go back to the drawing board and craft a more expansive claim for ocean-floor resources in the polar region after the proposed submission they showed him failed to include the geographic North Pole.
The experts did not give Harper what he wanted to hear. So, they face two choices. They could re-jig the maps to allow Canada to make a very expansive claim, which would undercut the legitimacy of all of Canada’s claims since they will be seen as driven not by science, not by the geography, but by the demands of the prime minister. Or the experts could develop arguments that show that overly expansive claims might just undermine Canadian interests in very specific ways.
This is where the fundamental problem in policy relevance kicks in. How can those studying Arctic geography articulate recommendations that keep true to the science while being acceptable to the politicians of the day? Perhaps some social science would be handy here to show whether making expansive claims actually has any positive or negative effects. Alas, that is not my area of expertise, but I am sure that the people trying to draw good maps for Canada’s claims could use such information. Would it make a difference? Would it break through the confirmation bias that affects most politicians and certainly this current set in Ottawa? Probably not.
But the challenge is still an important one: how to take one’s research-based findings and find ways to make them politically appealing. Being right is not good enough, especially when the policies that are advocated involve short-term costs and long-term benefits. Being right and being appealing is the winning combination. Figuring out how to do that is tricky. If anyone unlocks that mystery, let me know.
Canada’s “principled” foreign policy keeps running into problems in Bahrain, the Gulf monarchy that violently suppressed pro-democracy protests in 2011.
When Foreign Minister John Baird visited the country in April, he made no public comment about Bahrain’s repressive practices, including the regime’s continued incarceration of democracy activists. His silence was troubling, not least because the Conservative government has repeatedly portrayed itself as an uncompromising defender of human rights, democracy, freedom and the rule of law. More …
As it happens, Mr. Baird was back in Bahrain’s capital last weekend to address the Manama Dialogue, a regional security conference. In his speech, Mr. Baird rightly rebuked Iran for its human rights abuses. Once again, however, he refrained from publicly criticizing – or even directly acknowledging – Bahrain’s own lamentable human rights practices.
If Mr. Baird wished to signal Canada’s discomfort with these practices, he could have easily added a line to his speech encouraging the Bahraini government to deliver on the reform promises it made two years ago, including its commitment to release political prisoners. Alternatively, or in addition, he could have arranged to meet with local human rights organizations or dissidents – a gesture that, if properly publicized, would have spoken volumes.
But Mr. Baird did neither of these things. Instead, he held a meeting with Crown Prince of Bahrain, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa. A published photo of the two men smiling is the dominant image of Mr. Baird’s visit to Bahrain.
Juxtapose that image with what happened next. On Sunday, the final day of the Manama Dialogue, the Crown Prince met with members of Bahrain’s cabinet. Rather than loosening restrictions or releasing political prisoners, the cabinet indicated that it would “tighten penalties on those who offend His Majesty the King.” That’s right – tighten.
Also on Sunday, the Canadian Press reported that the value of Canada’s military equipment exports to Bahrain rose from zero in 2011 to $250,000 in 2012. A quarter-million dollars is small potatoes in the global arms trade, but the fact that Canada has increased its military exports to Bahrain at this delicate moment sends a terrible message: If you violently crack down on democracy activists and toss them into jail, Canada will provide you with military equipment.
Together, these developments make Ottawa’s talk about human rights and democracy seem hollow. Although considerations of human rights must sometimes be balanced with other foreign policy imperatives, in this case Canada’s actions could be interpreted as condoning the continuation of political repression in Bahrain – and perhaps even abetting it, depending on what kinds of military equipment have been supplied.
At the very least, Canadians deserve an explanation from Mr. Baird.
The corruption that accompanies natural disasters is a delicate issue to raise in the wake of the typhoon that smote the Philippines in early November, killing at least 5,700 and displacing millions. No one wants to think that people are anything but good-hearted in the face of so much human suffering. Yet past experience tells us that whenever large sums of money start flowing, some people will find a way to tap into them, regardless of whether they were affected by the storm, tsunami, earthquake or flood that destroyed their neighbours lives and livelihoods. And as today (December 9th) is International Anti-Corruption Day, it’s worth observing that unless the issue is addressed head on, at least some of the estimated US$5.8 billion to be spent on relief and reconstruction in the Philippines will not reach the people who really need it. This holds true for the untold millions that are spent responding to disasters around the world every year. More …
The Philippines, ranked 94th out of 175 countries on Transparency International’s latest corruption perception index, was already at risk before the typhoon struck because preexisting corruption meant that some homes and infrastructure were substandard owing to the lackluster enforcement of building codes, and powerful politicians had already created channels to siphon off money meant for poverty alleviation.
Yet it would be wrong to think of post-disaster corruption as something that just happens in developing countries, where government accountability is often weak. The Government Accountability Office in the United States estimated in 2006 that of the US$6 billion in government relief payments dispensed following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, an astonishing US$1 billion was lost to fraud. In Canada, in the wake of the 2013 floods in southern Alberta, the Better Business Bureau issued a warning about fake charities that were soliciting donations, taking advantage of people’s emotional need to do something to help.
Fake charities represent only the first of three phases of post-disaster corruption but they are the most difficult to combat because they can spring up half a world away from where the disaster has struck. Thirty charity websites were created within 48 hours of a devastating tornado in Oklahoma last May; of those, only three appeared to be legitimate according to TheDomains.com, a U.S. group which monitors domain name activity. A year after Hurricane Katrina hit, the FBI estimated 4,000 fake websites had been set up. Canada has government agencies and private bodies, such as the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and the aforementioned Better Business Bureau, which try to stay on top of scams of all types (the BBB is currently running a 12 Scams of Christmas warning). Yet fraudsters setting up fake websites, sending out phishing e-mails, or knocking at your door have speed and emotion on their side.
Aid delivery is the second phase where efforts to help are vulnerable to corruption. Fake beneficiaries take advantage of the chaos to make claims, while real beneficiaries can exaggerate losses. Peter Dent, a Deloitte partner who has worked in 30 countries helping governments prevent post-disaster fraud, says Desima James of the U.S. is the poster child for the former type of corruption. In a period of a few months in 2005, Mr. James claimed to be a victim of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana, Hurricane Rita in Louisiana and Texas, Hurricane Wilma in Florida, severe storms and flooding in New Hampshire, and a tornado and severe storms in Indiana. He received more than US$30,000 in disaster assistance from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The third and final phase is reconstruction, when money pours in to rebuild ruined houses, buildings and infrastructure. Here the opportunities range from inflating contracts and using substandard materials to officials accepting bribes to award contracts to certain firms or directing work to friends and relatives. Given the amounts at stake, such corruption can be quite lucrative.
Now, before you decide never to donate to disaster relief again, consider that governments and humanitarian agencies are increasingly aware of and actively trying to combat post-disaster corruption. And they have had some success.
Under the aegis of Transparency International, humanitarian groups have put together a handbook on how to recognize and address corruption. (The 2010 version is currently being updated based on lessons learned in more recent disasters.) They are working far more closely together in delivering aid than they have done in the past, both with each other and through the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. John Uniak Davis of CARE, who worked on the handbook, says two disasters – the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean and the conflict which began in 2003 in Darfur – sparked a lot of thinking about how aid groups and agencies could reduce the risk of corruption and improve co-ordination.
Governments too are more alive to the risk of disaster relief funds going astray. According to Mr. Dent, the U.S. has developed a sophisticated system for registering claimants and ensuring they are genuine. It makes this system available to other countries that have experienced a disaster, although not all governments are willing to use it. Technology, which helps fraudsters prey on well-meaning donors by setting up fake websites, can also help governments and humanitarian groups combat corruption when they use it to co-ordinate their efforts and compile and share information. The government in the Philippines, well aware of its poor reputation on corruption, has set up the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub, a website to show where relief funds are coming from and where they are going.
Technology also allows the public at large to lend a hand in these efforts. Following the typhoon, maps were generated using public input on where the storm hit hardest – so those areas where relief efforts should be concentrated – and also where various relief agencies are located.
The final line of of attack is tracking down fraudsters after the disaster and bringing them to justice. The FBI is still prosecuting people for corruption committed during Hurricane Katrina more than eight years ago. The long list of charges and convictions on its website makes for sobering reading. Mr James, the multi-disaster relief claimant is there. He was ordered in 2010 to repay US $33,734 and sentenced to almost three years in prison.
Over the weekend, the Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders issued a call for caution in light of recent events in the East China Sea and in Iran: that militaries may push civilians into unwanted and lengthy conflicts. Using lessons gleaned from the experiences of the First World War, Saunders rightly notes that militaries lacking oversight can provide civilians with so few options that war seems like the only choice.
The problem is that he then extends his analysis to Afghanistan, a war where the timetables were so very clearly driven by politics in Kabul, in Brussels, in Washington, and in Ottawa. Since the First World War, so much has changed in civil-military relations that it is now very difficult for the militaries of advanced democracies to push their countries into war, despite the myths about the Kandahar decision that continue to resonate in Canada. More …
The one common force across NATO was not hungry militaries looking for a new mission to prove themselves, to advance their agendas, for glory, for power, or for increased budgets, even if they did get some more money for a while. No, the common force was NATO itself. In the aftermath of 9/11, every member of the alliance and other allies of the United States felt compelled by treaty obligations and by national interests to support the one ally they all depend upon for their own security.
The Kandahar decision was hardly unique, as NATO’s political leaders decided to expand its coverage to the whole of Afghanistan, forcing each member to make commitments beyond peacekeepers in Kabul. Sure, countries varied in how many troops they sent, in how dangerous the areas of responsibility they were willing to assume, and in how much flexibility they gave their commanders to make decisions on the ground (the last is the subject of my book that comes out next month). But every NATO leader had to face difficult choices, thrust upon them not by militaries and their pernicious schedules, but by the alliance, whose decisions the politicians shaped.
To say that Martin or Harper, Bush or Obama, and all the rest were pushed by calendars is certainly true. But these timetables were not drawn up by military officers but by those who scheduled votes and elections in Kabul, Ottawa, Washington, Paris, and elsewhere. The controversial Canadian decision to go to Kandahar was impacted certainly by the political flux in this country, where Martin may not have had much time between assuming office and deciding to deploy the Canadian Forces to Kandahar. And as he made that decision, he was facing a new election.
After that decision, the rest of the Canadian mission was shaped far more by the schedule set in Ottawa than elsewhere – the decisions in 2006 to extend the mission to 2009 set the stage for the Manley Panel and the Parliamentary vote in 2008. The Manley Panel greatly influenced how the mission would be conducted, although the time limit on the mission was imposed by the politicians against the panel’s recommendations (there was no rationale for a specific time to end the mission according to the panel). Harper’s decision to put trainers in a “Kabul-centric” mission was made almost entirely without advice from the military, and, indeed, surprised many in and out of uniform in Ottawa and in Brussels.
President Obama’s decision to surge was one pushed by the military, but he resisted sending the number of troops that General McChrystal had requested and then set a time limit for the surge. So, the calendar was one of his choosing and not the American military’s. 2014 became the year marking the end of the mission in part because it is the end of President Karzai’s second term. It may become the end of American and NATO deployments in Afghanistan if Karzai continues to dither on a security agreement.
Throughout the missions in Afghanistan, military leaders asked for more troops and more time. They sometimes got the former. They did not get the latter. Much has changed since the First World War, where military leaders could present no options and then launch fruitless attack after fruitless attack, bleeding their countries of hundreds of thousands of their youth. That is hard to imagine today. Why? Partly because that war caused civilians to become forever skeptical about the claims of military’s experts about what is necessary and what is feasible, and partly because the military has lost its monopoly over expertise over the past century.
After “the Great War” and much more so after the Second World War, governments and other actors invested in research centres, in developing bureaucracies, and in supporting the education and research of non-military folks, such as academics and defence analysts (alas Canada has dramatically cut such support over the past few years with the end of the Security and Defence Forum). Now, when a military in an advanced democracy asks for something, there are other voices in the room and in the public sphere to ask the tough questions, raise some skepticism about the policy options and advise the politicians of alternative options.
There was a book about Vietnam entitled The Irony of Vietnam: The System Worked. A similar title could be applied to the Kandahar decision. Prime Minister Martin was not enthusiastic about the mission. He sought counsel from both the military and civilians about it, and realized that there were larger interests at stake – Canada’s commitment to NATO and his own interest in having Canada make a difference. This was not a rash decision, nor was it one pursued only by the Canadian Forces. Sure, Rick Hillier has a strong personality and had a strong opinion on this, but key actors elsewhere in the Canadian foreign policy bureaucracy, such as Chris Alexander, were equally as enthusiastic. Bill Graham, who had far more experience in foreign policy than the average Defence Minister, supported the mission as it fit into the wider pattern of Canadian defence and foreign policy. Despite the best efforts by the Liberal Party to run away from this decision, it was a decision that Paul Martin made after serious consideration with civilians and military officers in the room.
Saunders is correct that we need to be wary when developing events provide opportunities for confrontations that might lead to escalations. The China-Japan-South Korea-United States tensions in the East China Sea are reminiscent not so much of 1914 but of 1950-1989. There were many opportunities for war to spiral out of the intermingling of ships and planes in contested areas during the Cold War. We were lucky before. I hope we remain lucky now. One factor shifting the odds, making conflict less likely, is that our decision-making processes are far more mature than they were a hundred years ago. I just wish we were more mature in taking ownership of recent decisions.