Archive for the ‘Africa’ Category

Sudan Seeks Debt Relief

December 22, 2009

In an article published yesterday on, Sean Brooks, a policy analyst for the Save Darfur Coalition, argues that the international community should take advantage of Sudan’s need for debt relief to pressure the regime in Khartoum to improve its human rights record.  Sudan has amassed a debt of $23 billion, some of which has been used to purchase advanced military equipment, and Finance Minister Awad al-Jaz is scheduled to travel to Washington next month to discuss a debt relief package.  Mr. Brooks says that the US should rally an international coalition to condition the bailout on peace efforts in Darfur; the full implementation of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan; fair elections in April 2010; and political reform that would make the government less oppressive.

Countries are right to criticize Sudan for its appalling human rights violations.  However, it will be difficult to compel Omar al-Bashir and his National Congress Party to change its behavior because Sudan has large oil reserves that many powers want access to, including China, Japan and European states.  The US is the only nation to impose meaningful economic sanctions on the brutal regime, and it is unlikely that others will join America and risk alienating Khartoum.

Furthermore, although al-Bashir seeks economic assistance from his creditors he will not do anything, such as expanding civil liberties or making peace with opposition groups, that could jeopardize his hold on power or undermine what he considers his government’s interests.  Although the price of oil is low right now, it will certainly increase significantly as developing countries continue to consume more and more resources and supply is unable to keep up with demand; so Khartoum is not under as much pressure to gain favors from the rest of the world as some might think.

It would be great for the cause of human rights if the international community were able to force Sudan to make peace and be less authoritarian, but unfortunately the prospects of success are low because of a lack of will in Khartoum and among oil-seeking nations that have the power to exert influence there.  The US should try to use carrots and sticks to affect change, but policymakers analysts and activists should not be overly optimistic that their efforts will bear fruit.


Factions in the Climate Debate

December 15, 2009

Government representatives from around the world are currently meeting in Copenhagen to discuss climate change. In an op-ed piece published today in the New York Times, Steward Brand says that the view that there are two sides in the climate change debate is overly simplistic. He argues that there are actually four sides:

1. Denialists who believe that global warming is not man-made.

2. Skeptics who are uncertain if global warming is man-made.

3. Warners who believe that practical steps need to be taken soon to combat global warming.

4. Calamatists who say that drastic measures must be implimented immediately to avoid apocalyptic climate change.

Mr. Brand is correct in asserting that the climate debate is more complicated than some people think. However, the differences in opinion are more nuanced than the way he frames them.

Among “warners” there are those who are willing to impose heavy regulations and taxes to curb emissions, but others are unwilling, for political and economic reasons, to commit to binding agreements that could slow economic growth by forcing businesses to make their production processes and products more environmentally friendly. This divide is best represented by the positions of European countries, which favor binding agreements and much greater government intervention, and the US, which is only willing to take more modests steps for the time being.

There is also a rift between developing countries, which argue that the burden of combating climate change should fall on wealthier countries that are mostly responsible for creating the problem, and developed countries, which object to letting nations like China and India off the hook simply because their economies are less advanced.

Mr. Brand observes that prominent denialists and calamatists tend to be political figures or ideologues, whereas scientists are more likely to be skeptics or warners. But he fails to mention that there is a consensus in the scientific community that global warming is man-made, and skeptics constitute a very small minority in that field.

Obama’s Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech

December 11, 2009

Yesterday, President Obama visited Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize.  Many people reasonably believe that the president does not deserve the award after serving less than a year in office and not having achieved many tangible goals when it comes to foreign policy.  But regardless of whether or not he earned the prestigious prize, his acceptance speech was excellent.  It was very Niebuhrian, and it revealed that the president holds a view of the world and human nature that can be described as “Christian realism,” although he did not identify it in sectarian terms  He believes that man is flawed and frequenty behaves in unethical ways, but he also maintains that the human condition can be improved through acts of goodwill motivated by moral principles.  Having just escalated the war in Afghanistan, he argued that war is sometimes justified and necessary, but he balanced his adherence to just war theory by stressing the need to achieve a just peace that serves humanitarian aims.

In addition to promoting humanitarian realism, he advocated what international relations scholars refer to as “institutionalism” and “constructivism.”  Institutionalists believe that peace and progress can best be achieved by nations acting in concert through international institutions like the United Nations and World Trade Organization, and constructivists believe that changes in norms such as notions of sovereignty and human rights can improve global society.  In his speech, President Obama said that international alliances like NATO are needed to keep the peace, and he argued that the US and other countries should embrace humanitarian concepts out of enlightened self interest.

For information about Rienhold Niebuhr, who President Obama has cited as a major influence on his thinking, and Christian realism click on this link.  For another perspective on the international relations theory aspects of the president’s speech, read Daniel Drezner’s recent blog post on

Combating Somali Pirates

November 30, 2009

Yesterday, an oil tanker headed to the US from Saudi Arabia was hijacked by Somali pirates.  The attack was another addition to the long list of such incidents in the past decade (10 ships have been hijacked in just the last two month). 

The pirates have increased their capability and range over time.  They now mount attacks from mother ships stationed in the middle of the ocean, from which they launch smaller vessels against their targets.  The tanker captured Sunday was seized 600 miles off the coast of Somalia where the pirate bases are located.

Piracy has flourished in the Indian Ocean between the Gulf of Aden and the Seychelles islands despite increased naval patrols.  This trend may be the result of a flawed strategy pursued by concerned powers.  Navy vessels from the US and other countries cruise off Somalia’s coast and other parts of the ocean looking for pirates, but the area that the US Fifth Fleet and foreign navies have to patrol is 2.5 million square miles, which makes their task daunting to say the least.

A better method of combating the pirates would be to set up a convoy system like the Allies did in World War Two to reduce the effectiveness of German submarines.  A convoy strategy would force hijackers to take on warships rather than evade them as they have been doing.  The odds that pirates could successfully capture oil tankers or other vessels that were guarded by destroyers are very low, so using convoys would almost certainly limit the ability of the hijackers to kidnap people and disrupt trade.

Qaddafi Wants to Abolish Switzerland

September 8, 2009

Later this month, Libya will introduce a proposal at the UN calling for the abolition of Switzerland as a nation-state.  Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi wants the Central European country to be divided between France, Italy and Germany, with the French-speaking region going to France, the Italian speaking region going to Italy and the German-speaking region going to Germany.  Qaddafi’s proposal is believed to be an angry response to the actions of Swiss authorities, who arrested his son, Hannibal, last year and charged him with assault (Hannibal was later released on bail).

This is not the first time that Mr. Qaddafi has tried to redraw the political map.  At various times he has called for the political unification of all Arab nations and all African nations, and the creation of a confederacy of Islamic states.  In this vein, he has referred to himself as “dean of the Arab rulers”, “king of kings of Africa”, and the “imam of Muslims”.  He is now the chairman of the African Union, a position held by African leaders on a rotating basis, and in this capacity he reiterated his desire to create the “United States of Africa”.  Naturally, other countries have resisted Mr. Qaddafi’s attempts to subsume them under his leadership.