Tagged: conflict

Anonymous

Why is Ethiopia’s the most under-reported conflict in the world?

German chancellor Merkel in Addis Ababa (October 2016)
German Chancellor Merkel in Addis Ababa, October 2016 (Photo credit: Bundesregierung/Steins)

According to Chris Blattman, the situation in Ethiopia is the most under-reported conflict in the world right now. This is rather true. (Although some media outlets reported on the recent political turmoil in Ethiopia, such as some German press in the context of the recent visit by Chancellor Merkel to Addis Ababa.)

In November last year, the first protests against the Ethiopian Government unfolded in the Oromia region when the government wanted to expand the margins of the city of Addis. As this implied the resettlement of the local Oromo population, this was considered by the Oromo – the largest ethnic group in the country – as a further expression of their political and economic marginalization.

The situation calmed down a little over spring this year and erupted again in summer, when the Amhara people in the North started anti-government protests. The military was deployed and further unrest unfolded again in the Oromia region. For the first time, an alliance between the Oromo and the Amhara was built. Since November last year, at least 500 people have been killed by security forces and tens of thousands have been arrested according to Human Rights Watch. What started as protest against the expansion of Addis turned into an expression of general dissatisfaction with authoritarianism and lack of public participation in the past two and a half decades.

On October 9, the Ethiopian Government declared a state of emergency for the first time in 25 years. This was after more than fifty people died at an Oromo religious festival in Bishoftu (close to Addis). A week after, further details on the state of emergency were made public. Now, the government can arrest and detain for six months (the duration of the emergency state) any person contravening the emergency prohibitions, and conduct searches without a court warrant.

There are now severe restrictions to the freedom to assembly and protest, and any communication with foreign governments or foreign NGOs “that is likely to harm sovereignty, security, and constitutional order” as well as any communication with “anti-peace groups” is prohibited. Moreover, the Government can monitor and restrict “messages transmitted” through different sorts of media outlets. This is reflected in cutting off the internet access through the mobile network, which is a major internet access route in Ethiopia, as well as the disabling of social media.

On October 15, shortly after declaring the state of emergency, the Ethiopian Government also announced reforms, including a reform of the electoral system from first-past-the-post to proportional representation. A change of the cabinet has already taken place, and tackling corruption has been declared a priority.

So why are these developments in Ethiopia the most under-reported conflict in the world?

To reiterate: Ethiopia is experiencing political unrest over an extended period, and the  state of emergency has been declared for the first time in 25 years. This could be reason enough to report on the situation, but there is more: Ethiopia has the second largest population in Africa (with nearly 100 million inhabitants), only topped by Nigeria. Secondly, Ethiopia’s GDP grew rapidly over the last years, with a growth of 9.6% in 2015. Thirdly, Ethiopia is considered by many as a bulwark against Islamist movements on the Horn of Africa. Despite recently retreating some forces, Ethiopia has been very active in the fight against al-Shabab in Somalia.

The importance of Ethiopia (for the West) is a good reason to follow the current political events. At the same time, it provides at least a partial explanation for the lack of coverage. Looking at the increasing levels of development assistance (ODA) to Ethiopia, most notably the United States and the United Kingdom, it seems as if the West buys into two arguments by the Ethiopian Government: Political participation and democratic rights are less important than (1) Ethiopia’s economic development and (2) regional stability in the fight against terrorism.

For the U.S. and the United Kingdom, this is also reflected in their national focus on the “war on terror” and their own balancing of national security in relation to human rights. A similar dynamic exists with regard to the World Bank’s and other donors’ prioritizing of poverty reduction over issues of political governance when they decide on Ethiopia’s ODA levels.

Though it has to be mentioned that the U.S., among others, expressed that they were “deeply concerned” over the situation in Ethiopia, actions speak louder than words. It needs to be seen whether or not Western ODA levels continue to grow. In the same manner, we should all observe (and report on!) whether or not the Ethiopian government will really deliver on its reform promises.

Inshah Malik

The stalemate over Kashmir: How to resolve Asia’s oldest conflict?

On July 9, the Indian army killed a 23-year-old popular Kashmiri militant, Burhan Wani. Since then, the region is under strict curfew. Due to the authority’s iron-fisted response to dissent, over seventy people are dead, more than eight thousand civilians are injured and about six hundred are blinded due to the use of pellet-guns. The right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) remain unwilling to treat Kashmir as an international political issue and continue to disengage Kashmir’s demand for self-determination.

The disputed area of Kashmir (2003), from UT Austin's map collection
The disputed area of Kashmir (2003), from UT Austin’s map collection

The former state of Jammu and Kashmir, ruled by the British-installed Dogra monarchy, is now divided between India, Pakistan, and China. The monarchy, through different periods, had seen several upheavals from its subjects. These Kashmiri uprising(s) paralleled the subcontinent’s anti-colonial struggle against the British rule. The British exit from the region in 1947 led to the partition of the Indian subcontinent, birthing two new countries—India and Pakistan. This left the Dogra king of Kashmir, Hari Singh, with an option to join either of the newly formed modern nations.

Singh, presiding over a Muslim majority, remained undecided. The undecidedness of the Kashmiri monarch is attributed to the complex political nature of Kashmiri society. The uprising in Poonch region in 1947 that sought to join Kashmir with Pakistan proved that the national will of Kashmiris could not be galvanized for a merger with either one of the nations. In the Kashmir valley, the popular leader Sheikh Abdullah propounded politics of Kashmiri nationalism with strong opposition to the idea of partition. To quash the Poonch rebellion and to deter the tribesmen entering from the north in support of the rebels,  fearing that the rebellion would break the country, the monarch sought the Indian military intervention. The military help came with a condition to accede to India.

Continue reading

Kai Striebinger

Neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’ – Re-Focusing the debate on Coup Outcomes

Dadis_Camara
Dadis Camara, who led the Coup in Guinea 2008 and briefly was the country’s president (Image credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia)

Recent blog posts by Sebastian Elischer and Alexander Noyes have revived the debate whether Coups d’Etat – the accession of the military to the presidency of a country – are ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ I argue that this discussion is not very fruitful. While those who argue that Coups can be ‘good’ sometimes refer to the consequences of Coups for the overall political regime, most of those who say that they are ‘bad’ make a principled argument saying that perpetrating a Coup is, in itself, bad – regardless of the consequences.

Only the first understanding allows probing into the effects of Coups. In order to evaluate their effects on the (violated) core feature of democratic regime (the selection of a head of state or government), it is useful to understand how and why military governments stay in or withdraw from power. This opens the research agenda to include military internal, domestic, and international factors.

Principle versus consequences

The confusion in evaluating whether Coups are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ stems from two different points of measurement. In one perspective, the act is evaluated; in the other, its consequences are measured. If the core of democracy is defined as accession to the presidency via free and fair elections, then the act of a Coup itself cannot be democratic. It is a violation of a democratic principle and therefore – by definition – ‘bad for democracy’. But if the purpose of a Coup is considered, then a Coup might make a regime more ‘democratic’ after some time at least.

This latter point warrants expansion: most countries where top executive leaders are determined through elections have a constitutional provision to use violence to prevent the abuse of power. Article 20(4) of the German Basic Law, for example, reads: “All Germans shall have the right to resist any person seeking to abolish this constitutional order, if no other remedy is available.” This is an attempt to prevent the rise of another autocratic regime. Such clauses recognize that formally democratic systems (selection of head of state via elections) may erode into political systems where the rights and institutions that the democracy is supposed to protect are systematically violated. In such a situation, a Coup d’Etat can theoretically lead to a system where fewer violations take place. While the act itself violates democratic principles, the purpose aims to protect them, and therefore can be justified. If this second understanding is adopted, then it is an empirical questions what effects Coups d’Etat can have on the nature of political systems.

While it is relevant to inquire about the overall effects of military government on the liberty of the press, the respect for human rights, or economic performance, for example, the main question in order to determine whether there is a chance for establishing a democratic form of government via free and fair elections is whether the military stays in or withdraws from power. The question is thus no longer about an overall effect on ‘democracy’ (which is determined by many other factors as well such as the independence of judicial institutions or a free press), but rather centered on the military itself.

When does the military stay in power after a Coup d’Etat, and when does it withdraw?

When re-centering the attention on this question, three explanatory factors come to the fore. The first concerns the role the other soldiers play. Whether a military is united and features values of civilian supremacy is likely to impact on whether it will reduce its involvement in government after a Coup d’Etat. In the thirteen Coups d’Etat in West Africa from 1990-2014 (without the Coups in Guinea-Bissau), this explanation does, however, only have limited leverage. In about half the cases, the setup of the military does not explain its continued rule. A clientelist military in Guinea in 2008 withdrew from power, while a similarly constituted military in Togo in 2005 held on to power and the Coup President is still ruling today, for example.

Other domestic actors, especially the extent to which they can exert pressure on the military in government shapes the governments’ decision to withdraw from or stay in power. The examples of Guinea and Togo show, however, that extended pressure by civil society actors is necessary but not sufficient to enable a military withdrawal. This is only possible in conjunction with the involvement of external actors who are jointly voicing their preference for military withdrawal.

External actors do play an important role. They can, for example, use coercive power in order to remove the military leadership from government – as has been done after Coups in Sierra Leone in 1997 and Guinea in 2008. But they can also adopt a variety of negative material incentives (such as an arms embargo or travel and financial restrictions) but also positive material incentives (such as an increase in Official Development Assistance or unconditional loans) as well as positive and negative immaterial incentives. They also engage the military leadership in processes of persuasion appealing to their considerations of appropriate behavior.

Domestic and external actors need to be united in their responses

The effect of such instruments depends, however, on the unity among external actors. When China provides a 100 million dollar grant to the military government in Guinea, then the suspension of official development aid by the US, the EU, and EU member states to the fraction of this amount is unlikely to have any (material) effect on the leadership. But it is true that China does not always support military governments (in Mali, for example, it contributed troops to the UN peacekeeping mission). Neither is it the case that ‘Western’ powers and organizations always support military withdrawal (France’s involvement in Niger 1996 is a case in point).

Next to individual countries, international organizations have to be considered as well. African organizations like the African Union or the Economic Community of West African States have far-reaching mandates to react to Coups d’Etat and have used these extensively to contribute to a decrease in the degree of military involvement. They act on par with the traditional external actors on the continent.

Whether Coups ‘are good or bad’ is thus not the most interesting question. It is more fruitful to ask under what conditions and how the military leadership withdraws or stays in power after a Coup d’Etat. Especially the unity of a domestic opposition and external actors are shaping this decision – almost regardless of military internal factors. Under what situations military withdrawal contributes to free and fair elections or broader results such as economic development, good governance, or more equality would need to be subject of another research agenda.

Kai Striebinger wrote his PhD dissertation on the question how and under which conditions international actors contribute to the decision by military governments to either withdraw from or stay in power after Coups d’Etat in West Africa (1990-2014). He is currently a researcher at the German Development Institute.

Mathis Lohaus

Notes on MPSA 2014

mpsa2014

At the beginning of April, I had the pleasure of attending the 2014 Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association  in Chicago. Some reflections:

  • MPSA makes an effort to address grad students. Multiple poster sessions take place in the exhibition hall (so you actually run into them), and there’s a reception for first time attendees as well as a mentoring session.
  • While I did not sign up for mentoring, I attended the reception. It’s a great idea and free food is always nice. However, there are no real guidelines for the hosts, who are supposed to give advice to a bunch of grad students at their table, and at least my table did not fill up as planned. Maybe it would make more sense to have some sort of intro speech and then form groups?
  • Can we get better WiFi in the hotel?
  • Compared to #ISA2014 – which Felix Haas has thoroughly analyzed – the #MPSA2014 Twitter activity was underwhelming. @EvilMPSA and @DrunkMPSA were great, though.
  • The smartphone/tablet app was a good idea poorly executed. The search function did not work consistently, the dates and times were messed up (leading me to miss stuff), and sometimes it wouldn’t display the room. I think the best idea would be to have a good mobile website, on which you could display room numbers after people log in with their MPSA account.

Now let me shout out a non-exhaustive list of people whose presentations I found interesting (dropping the non-IR stuff I attended):

  • I liked what Swati Srivastava had to say about varieties of constructivism in IR. She argues that “thin” vs. “thick” is not very helpful, and we should instead look two dimensions: how does the author assume that social construction work, and at what level of analysis?
  • Jonathan Ring presented two papers on the diffusion of gender quotas. One used agent-based modeling, the other dyadic event history analysis. I hope we’ll learn more about mechanisms of diffusion from Jon’s work.
  • Ari Weiss presented research on which states are more likely to be involved in international conflict after regime change.  While some explanatory factors were not addressed yet, I found the approach extremely interesting and am looking forward to further results.
  • Finally, my co-panelists tackled the politics of global anti-corruption from different perspectives: Ellen Gutterman works on the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, how it is enforced, and what that means for IR theory. Hongying Wang presented an overview of how the rise of China affects anti-corruption. And Holger Moroff spoke about how global anti-corruption is based on a very narrow consensus between powerful actors.
Tobias Bunde

Putin, the Atlanticist

Putin wins a prize
Image credit: “Siggiko”

Since 1997, the American Academy in Berlin has awarded the annual Henry A. Kissinger Prize “in recognition of outstanding services to the transatlantic relationship.” Taken literally, this means that the next recipient can only be one person: Vladimir Putin.

Just a few weeks ago, even the most committed Atlanticists would not have predicted a spectacular comeback for NATO in 2014. At this year’s Munich Security Conference, often dubbed the transatlantic partnership’s “family meeting”, the mood was quite pessimistic. [My detailed conference report, in German, will appear in the next issue of the Zeitschrift für Außen- und Sicherheitspolitik.] The Europeans, and especially the Germans, were upset about the fact that Senator Kerry gave a speech about the “transatlantic renaissance” without mentioning the NSA affair at all. As some observers noted, the Americans “just don’t listen to us anymore, they only listen in.”

On the other hand, the U.S. representatives were frustrated that the Europeans were not eager to discuss other topics they deemed more relevant. Again, the old burden-sharing debate resurfaced – but with more urgency. In contrast to earlier debates, the U.S. administration has actually followed through and significantly reduced their troops in Europe while ramping up their forces in the Asia-Pacific (the “rebalancing” FKA “the pivot to Asia”). Quite symbolically, after 69 years, the last Abrams tanks left European soil in 2013, which many saw as a “historic moment”. [It should be noted, however, that a number of refurbished Abrams tanks have returned to Germany in 2014.]

Under Obama, the United States has made clear that it does not expect to lead every military mission the transatlantic partners undertake. In Libya, the Europeans had to realize that they lacked the capabilities to run an intense air campaign alone. In early 2013, when the Europeans discussed the crisis in Mali, NATO’s Deputy Secretary General, Alexander Vershbow, bluntly stated: “The US and NATO cannot be everywhere.”

In earlier years, U.S. politicians would have been furious if the Europeans had planned for an operation without the United States. But the new message was: Europe, it’s your job, get used to it. Yet, given that these debates were about “wars of choice” in a “post-interventionist era”, few Europeans pushed for a major overhaul of Europe’s defense planning – much to the dismay of Washington.

Waiting for the “transatlantic renaissance”

It didn’t help that a conversation between Victoria Nuland and a U.S. ambassador was leaked, in which the Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs used the F-word in respect to the EU. Ironically, Nuland is one of the few remaining committed transatlanticists in Washington and had coined the notion of a “transatlantic renaissance”. Now, that whole concept seemed to be a non-starter.

Enter Vladimir Putin. Thanks to the Russian annexation of Crimea and the ongoing threats from Moscow, the transatlantic partnership, and with it NATO, is back again.

With his actions in the past few weeks, Putin has actually provoked what he had successfully avoided for a long time: the rapid rapprochement of NATO members’ policies towards Russia. He might not have provided a “solution” to one of the core challenges in the internal debate about the Atlantic Alliance in the twenty-first century: How do we define our relations with Russia? But at the very least, he has made a new consensus among NATO member states much more likely. Continue reading

Anonymous

“Ukrainian Games”

It’s hard to keep track of events in Ukraine, and we feel that commenting on them should be left to those with more expertise on the region and international security.

Having said that, we interrupt the usual programming for a cartoon by our guest contributor (or should we say: resident cartoonist?), Siggiko.

Ukraine _text_small(Click to enlarge.)

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Updates from Bahrain, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela

With most of the attention understandably focused on Ukraine right now, I thought I’d do a very short summary of recent events elsewhere. (Image credit: someone silly on reddit.)

In Bahrain, three policeman were killed by a remotely detonated bomb during a protest in a village west of the capital. The demonstrations in Bahrain are connected to last week’s  death of a protester in custody as well as the third anniversary of the 2011 Arab Spring protests. It looks like there will be heightened security (read: a crackdown, but also potential for an escalation?) in the coming days:

The Royal Court declared Tuesday a day of mourning and King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa “directed the security agencies to take all the necessary measures for the strict application of the law against all those who are implicated in the disgraceful terrorist bombing aimed to cause the loss of lives.”

Police have arrested twenty-five people for allegedly being involved.

North Korea launched two Scud missiles (into the sea) on Monday. This was the first launch since 2009.

The OPCW just announced that a third of Syria‘s chemical weapons stockpile has now been shipped out of the country. Another batch is on the way to a U.S. vessel right now, which will then bring the chemicals to Germany and the United Kingdom for destruction. So far, the process is slower than initially planned, and a deadline of giving up the whole stock by mid-2014 looks likely to be missed.

And what about the civil war? Well, after the failure of the last round of talks, it looks like nothing is going to change for the better anytime soon.

In Venezuela, the protests keep going “despite carnival season”. After more than three weeks of demonstrations, at least twelve people have died. If you want to learn more about the background, Political Violence @ a Glance published a helpful collection of links last Monday, including this resource guide by AS/COA.

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Learning Econometrics; Conflict Data; BITs and Corruption

A quick couple of links to start the week:

Ani Katchova offers free web-based materials to learn econometrics.  A lot of it looks to be relevant for political science applications. The Econometrics Academy also provides a good intro to different statistical software packages. If you’re interested in stats but have some gaps to fill, check it out! (via Phil Arena)

Speaking of large-n data analysis, I just saw this piece by Alex Hanna et al. in which they compare codings of conflict events from the GDELT project to another, hand-coded database:

After the recent controversy about GDELT, this seems to be another reason to avoid working with that source until we know more.

A great example of unintended consequences and the fascinating situations that can result from overlapping and conflicting bits of international law: “Do Investment Arbitration Treaty Rules Encourage Corruption?”

[S]tates in investment treaty arbitration can escape liability by proving that the aggrieved investor engaged in corrupt activities in connection to the investment under dispute–even if senior state officials were full participants in the corrupt transaction. That being the case, states that receive inbound foreign investment have a perverse incentive to tolerate corruption in the officials who deal with foreign investors, because that corruption may help shield states from legal liability should the state subsequently renege on its agreement with the investor.

Fluffy bonus link if you made it this far: I have a feeling that many grad students will recognize “The 5 Top Traits of the Worst Advisors” … (and make sure to scroll down, because there is a #6).

Mathis Lohaus

Links: ISA and Blogging, Munich Security Conference, and much more

isa-vs-wp

Last week, Steve Saideman kicked off a debate after the International Studies Association’s Executive Committee proposed to adopt a policy that would ban editors of the ISA’s official journals from blogging. Several people involved in blogging and/or official ISA business have commented at Steve’s blog. (Nobody called it “lex Nexon”, though.)

Here is another post on why banning blogs is a bad idea. Burcu Bayram has a post on how blogging is useful for young scholars in particular. As immediate reaction to the “ignorance about social media and its role in 21st century IR scholarship and teaching” expressed in the proposal, Steve and others are now planning to create the ISA Online Media Caucus.

Meanwhile, it seems that the ISA’s Governing Council will not implement a ban:

If a vote was held today on the initial proposal, I am pretty sure that we would win.  Of course, if I felt that there would be such a vote, I would do some more work to be sure of it.

The 50th Munich Security Conference is over now, but you can watch many videos of the panel discussions on the conference website (just scroll down past the “highlight” clips).

I agree with Tobias Bunde and Wolfgang Ischinger that U.S. and European members of parliament should cooperate to curtail NSA surveillance and other violations of civil liberties.

Our colleagues at Bretterblog have collected some links [in German] with critical comments on the MSC as well as new developments in German foreign policy.

In other news, I recommend the following items from the (IR) blogosphere:

Mathis Lohaus

Links: Data Drama, Coups, France, Cyber Security, Wealth Distribution

Last week, GDELT was suspended and three researchers left the project. This huge data set on media reports (not only) about conflicts got a lot of buzz (here and elsewhere). Now it seems that several parties are arguing about whether or not the underlying data was properly licensed. You can find some of the speculations in this thread on “Political Science Rumors”, page 3 and following.

Kalev Leetaru, the designer of the data set, now seems to have set up a new website and promises that everything will be fine:

While this whole situation would have been easily avoided with just a little communication and avoided a lot of unnecessary angst, the silver lining is that it has demonstrated just how widely-used and important GDELT has really become over the past year and we are tremendously excited to work with all of you in 2014 to really explore the future of “big data” study of human society.

Speaking of big data projects: Jay Ulfelder’s 2014 coup forecasts are up:

Coup forecast 2014 by Jay Ulfelder
Coup forecasts 2014 by Jay Ulfelder. Each shade represents a fifth of the distribution. Historically, you can expect 80% of coups to occur in the dark red countries…

Please read the full post for Jay’s caveat regarding interpretation and information on how the probabilities are calculated.

Somehow I had missed Jeffrey Stacey’s post on France’s “re-emergence as a major power”:

Few noticed several years ago that France conducted the EU operation in Chad almost entirely on its own, and the same for the UN operation in the Ivory Coast (both were largely ignored in Washington). There was an unsuccessful raid of al-Shabbab conducted in Somalia in early 2013, but France intervened in the highly unstable Central African Republic at the end of 2013. In-between France demonstrated particular skill in conducting its Mali intervention, which has been heralded as a successful demonstration of an alternative way to intervene compared to the experience of U.S.-led allies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The French operation was impressive at the outset in that it took only three months to go from a decision in Paris to achieve operational boots on the ground. French military sustainability was amply demonstrated, with its contingency force growing to 5000 deployed troops midway through the intervention (only 7 troop fatalities occurred). The French with Chadian support accomplished their military objectives with relative ease in harsh field conditions, beyond the gaze of any reporters and therefore less likely that France would suffer diplomatically from any images of its troops killing Islamic fighters (a brigade has remained in Mali after the successful election of a new president). All of this was accomplished with broad and deep support across elite and public opinion.

At the Monkey Cage, Henry Farrell has announced a series of posts on cyber security. The first posts discusses “why people fight so hard over cybersecurity”.

Oxfam: "Working for the Few"
Oxfam: “Working for the Few”

Finally, you will probably have noticed Oxfam’s campaign about how 85 people are as rich as the bottom half of the world’s wealth distribution. This is from a report called “Working for the Few”.

Long-term followers of the IR Blog might remember my skepticism regarding cleverly phrased claims about wealth distribution: As long as you don’t oppose all kinds of capital accumulation, there will always be some small group owning much more than some bigger group.

Still, I think Tim Hartford and Alex Tabarrok miss a couple of important points in the casual way they deal with inequality. (See the comment section at Marginal Revolution for a discussion on how phrasing matters.)

Again, from a moderate perspective, the point here is not ‘expropriate them all‘. But we need to ensure that everyone has a decent income and improve taxation in order to mitigate capitalism’s tendencies to reward capital more than labor. The Economist has a short discussion of Thomas Piketty’s new book on the issue. More here. I have a feeling there will be many heated discussions over the year.