Focal Points Blog

Uruguay Announces Unprecedented Plan for Legal, Regulated Marijuana Markets

In the latest challenge from Latin America to drug war orthodoxy, on June 20, 2012, the Uruguayan government unveiled a proposal that, if adopted by the country’s legislature, would create legal, government-controlled markets for marijuana, as part of a broader strategy to improve citizen security and focus greater attention on the use of harder drugs. The market would be highly regulated, with strict age limits and prohibitions on public use. The proposal would allow registered users to purchase small amounts of marijuana cigarettes through state-run or sanctioned facilities. The revenue generated would be put towards treatment programs for problematic drug users. Higher sanctions for some drug-related offenses are also included in the proposed plan.

Uruguayan Defense Minister, Eleuterio Fernandez Huidobro, told reporters that “We’re shifting toward a stricter state control of the distribution and production of this drug. It’s a fight on both fronts: against drug consumption and drug trafficking. We think that the prohibition of some drugs is creating more problems to society than the drug itself.” In addition, by creating legal, regulated markets, money would be taken out of the hands of criminals and put into state coffers. Some estimates put the value of the illegal marijuana market in Uruguay at about US$75 million per year.

Following a period of public debate, the government will formally present a bill to the Uruguayan Congress. Opposition has quickly emerged from diverse political perspectives. Draft legislation is already pending that would allow for cultivation of small amounts of marijuana for personal use. Many in the local marijuana policy reform movement prefer such an approach, including the adoption of “cannabis clubs” such as those in Spain, and reject the idea of a state monopoly on marijuana cultivation and sale. Government officials have indicated a willingness to consider such initiatives down the road, but insist that state control is needed to ensure strict control when the initiative is launched.

By far the most widely used illicit drug and the most ubiquitously produced, marijuana poses comparatively smaller risks than many other substances (including legal drugs). A prohibitionist approach to marijuana causes enormous harm to those caught up in the criminal justice system. More tolerant attitudes toward marijuana in many countries, including the United States, suggest that sooner or later, local, state, and national governments will begin the shift toward legal, regulated markets, and thereby reduce some of the proceeds that currently enrich criminal organizations. Uruguay is laudably the first country to announce officially an effort to move in that direction.

Coletta A. Youngers is an Associate with the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) and a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

Is the Threat of a “Mafia State” Real?

Earlier this spring, Moisés Naím provocatively warned against an emerging menace facing our world today—the advent of what he terms the “mafia state.” Analyzing the role of transnational organized crime in the age of globalization has been Naím’s bailiwick for some years now, and familiar readers will find little that catches them off-guard. Still, his argument that illicit actors have penetrated national governments with unprecedented success in recent years should be enough for policymakers to take notice. Naím doesn’t mince words about what’s at stake. “In a mafia state, high government officials actually become integral players in, if not the leaders of, criminal enterprises, and the defense and promotion of those enterprises’ businesses become official priorities.”

The new issue of Foreign Affairs—out this week—features a brief response to Naím’s “Mafia States” article by Peter Andreas, a political scientist at Brown University. Rejecting outright the claim that mafia states constitute a “new threat” to international relations, Andreas piles on evidence to suggest quite the contrary. From Latin America to the Balkans, and including even the prohibition-era United States, Andreas convincingly makes the case that the intersection between state power and illicit actors is as old as the modern nation-state itself. Not only that, Andreas contends, the very idea of a mafia state is itself “misleading, and applied so erratically as to become nearly meaningless,” a barb which prompted Naím to issue his own acerbic attack in response.

This exchange of intellectual artillery fire, while impressive to a point, does little to move the discussion forward, however. From a policy point of view, it doesn’t really matter if the relationship between government officials and illicit actors is new or old. Nor does it make a difference if the scope and scale of transnational organized crime has increased (which should be the logically expected outcome in an age of expanding market opportunities). Effective response to the threat of transnational crime will rely not so much on the “what” of the phenomenon, but on the “how.” And here we see the value of Naím’s back-and-forth with Andreas: namely, that it points to a crucial area of weakness in the study of international relations.

If international relations (IR) scholarship is to advance policymakers’ understanding of transnational organized crime and its role with respect to state power—and therefore by extension, the best ways to militate against illicit power corrupting the national interests of states—new theoretical frameworks are needed. To each of their credit, both writers implicitly acknowledge this—first in Naím’s introduction of a new conceptual category, the “mafia state,” and then in Andreas’ rejection of it as being fuzzy and unserviceable. But the trouble here is that slap-boxing bouts of this variety simply rehash fights over the nature of states that consumed IR study twenty-five years ago. They fail to innovate.

This doesn’t mean scholars need to start from scratch. If anything, students of international relations should continue building on the cutting-edge theoretical work produced over the past decade or so, and look where possible to integrate findings from other fields of political science, sociology and criminology research (something, it should be said, Andreas has done to great profit in his academic work). Happily, political scientists and others have crafted a wide variety of analytical tools with which to understand the world of international politics. It’s time to be smarter and more deliberate in applying them to the threat of transnational organized crime.

One possible route into rethinking the relationship between state actors and their illicit counterparts might be found in Anne-Marie Slaughter’s idea of the disaggregated state. In this view of the world, states comprise various strands of agencies, actors, and other constituent parts which increasingly network with other actors—state and non-state—across and within borders. Shifting perspective from Naím’s monolithic “mafia state,” Slaughter’s model allows for greater precision in homing-in on which “functionally distinct” parts of the state have been colonized by criminal elements, asking questions of how they were penetrated, and understanding their place within the larger power configuration of the government in question. From this perch, scholars and policymakers would get a much clearer sense of how illicit elements use the disaggregated nature of states to their advantage, and what remedies would be most effective in rolling it back.

At a remove from the inner-machinery of state power, but equally important, scholars should also be asking questions about the institutional arrangements that give shape to countries under consideration. All too often, we’ve allowed ourselves to chalk up pathological phenomena in world politics to the pernicious effects of state failure, itself a fuzzy conceptual silo that excuses serious analysis of social dysfunction. But the focus on failed states does possess the virtue of emphasizing the importance of state institutions in determining outcomes witnessed in the global arena. It’s long been recognized, for example, that the institutional arrangement of state power has direct consequences for where multinational corporations seek to do business and where they enjoy the greatest success. Similar studies could be meaningfully undertaken to assess the extent to which the institutional architecture of different states affects the thinking and success of transnational criminal actors, not to mention the efficacy of international efforts at proscribing illicit commerce. And to be sure, there are undoubtedly many other approaches that will offer equally important insights.

What won’t suffice is more of the same. While Naím’s efforts at raising the profile of international crime in the minds of policymakers are commendable, Andreas is right to point out that he has essentially repackaged old wine in new caskets. If practitioners are to get serious, as Naím suggests they should, about confronting the challenges illicit actors pose to human and international security, they’ll need a more richly textured appreciation of the threats they face. The only way they’ll get it is if academics continue refining the production of knowledge and exploring the new frontiers of social science.

Peru President Humala Can’t Put Drug Reform Genie Back in the Bottle

Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina

Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina

Foreign ministry and drug policy officials from around the world will gather in Lima on June 25 and 26, 2012 for a summit on the “world drug problem” convened by the Peruvian government. The initiative was announced by President Ollanta Humala when he assumed office on July 28, 2011. At the time, Peru was embarking on a significant drug policy reform in the face of escalating coca cultivation and cocaine production rates. Ricardo Soberón Garrido, who had just been named the head of the Peruvian anti-drug agency, DEVIDA, announced that forced coca eradication would be significantly scaled back and that the government would instead intensify economic development and social inclusion programs in the remote rural areas where coca production flourishes in Peru. While provoking significant opposition in the conservative media, the strategy offered more promising results than decades of failed forced eradication.

Much has changed, however, since the summit was announced. As President Humala has lurched to the right, Soberón was ousted and replaced with Carmen Macías, a competent drug policy expert – but one who could have been hand-picked by the U.S. Embassy, with whom she had and continues to have an extraordinarily good relationship. The Lima “drug” summit was changed to the “anti-drug” summit on DEVIDA’s web page. The U.S.-backed “war on drugs” was back on track.

However, as ex-officials, officials and even sitting presidents began questioning the existing drug war paradigm, the Peruvian government has become increasingly out of step with regional calls for reform. Even the long-taboo topic of legalization was put on the agenda by Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina. At the April 2012 Cartagena summit, the region’s presidents held an unprecedented, closed-door discussion of drug policy, which culminated in an announcement by President Santos tasking the Organization of American States (OAS) with carrying out an evaluation of present policies and exploring alternative policies. Suddenly, the Lima “anti-drug” summit had taken on new meaning as the issue of drug policy reform was put front and center on the regional agenda.

At the same time that the Lima summit is underway, a debate will take place on June 26 in the UN General Assembly, entitled Drugs and Crime as a Threat to Development. Both of these debates are intended to coincide with the UN International Day Against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, on June 26. The agendas for both of these meetings reveal a concerted effort to contain the debate that was formally launched at the Cartagena summit.

Yet that debate will likely take place regardless. And as much as the United States and other countries would like such debate to take place within the boundaries determined by the existing drug control conventions – as U.S. officials constantly assert – some countries do not appear willing to abide by such dictates. Guatemala is sending its foreign minister to the UN in New York rather than Lima, noting its overall dissatisfaction with the summit. Most significantly, just days before the summit, the Uruguayan government unveiled a plan to create legal, state-controlled, regulated markets for cannabis. The plan makes sense for government officials seeking to remove the profits and criminality from drug traffickers, improve citizen security, and focus its efforts on the use of more dangerous drugs.

The June 21 issue of the Lima weekly, Caretas, reported that “legalization of cannabis will not be part of the debate.” But can Peruvian government officials be so sure of that? As stated in a previous FPIF blog, as a result of the April 2012 Cartagena Summit, the genie’s out of the bottle and will be very hard to put back in, as much as “drug war” zealots might try.

Coletta A. Youngers is an Associate with the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) and a Senior Fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).

Preempting the Need for Vetting Insurgents

In a recent post on intervention — both the subject in general and as applies to Syria — I proposed codifying guidelines for insurgent behavior that would act as incentives. They would include the obvious, such as refraining from: savage retaliation against the regime’s forces, killing civilians, and blocking monitoring by human rights groups. In return the insurgents would receive arms from other states, NATO, and the United Nations or even intervention.

On June 21, at the New York Times, Eric Schmitt reported:

A small number of C.I.A. officers are operating secretly in southern Turkey, helping allies decide which Syrian opposition fighters across the border will receive arms to fight the Syrian government, according to American officials and Arab intelligence officers. … By helping to vet rebel groups, [the C.I.A. officers] hope to learn more about a growing, changing opposition network inside of Syria and to establish new ties.

In a sense this is a method of rewarding insurgents — but after the fact. If incentives were codified, the vetting process could begin months earlier and theoretically proceed with more efficiency, thus saving many lives.

Recent Arms Purchases by Azerbaijan a Hedge Against Armenia, Not Iran

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov and Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

This year has witnessed a rapid escalation of tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan. In February, Baku agreed to buy $1.6 billion of arms from Israel. The order included drones, anti-aircraft missile defense systems, and various other weapons. Shortly thereafter, Azerbaijan reported that Iranian oil rigs had entered contested Azerbaijani waters in the Caspian Sea. A standoff over lucrative offshore petro rights seems imminent. In March, Azerbaijani police arrested 22 people they claimed were planning an Iranian-backed plot to assassinate U.S. and Israeli diplomats. Frequent closings of the Iranian-Azerbaijani border—apparently by Iran—have cut off the supply route to Nakhichevan, a truncated Azerbaijani enclave landlocked between Iran and Armenia. Two weeks ago, Baku refused entry to a senior aide to Iran’s Supreme Leader. Both countries withdrew their ambassadors in the ensuing diplomatic standoff. Most recently, an Azerbaijani court sentenced an Iranian reporter to two years in prison for drug possession, a move widely suspected as being politically motivated.

Azerbaijan prides itself on its secularism and is discomfited by what it sees as Iran’s attempts to spread Islamic influence in the region. Many Azerbaijani politicians publically refer to their nation as “North Azerbaijan,” insinuating that Azeri-speaking areas of Northern Iran are rightfully part of the Azerbaijani Republic. Azerbaijan’s “bunker mentality” is unsurprising given its history and precarious geopolitical location. A former Soviet republic sandwiched between Russia—who helped Azerbaijan’s western neighbor, Armenia, expel ethnic Azeris from Nagorno-Karabakh during the early 1990s—and Iran, Azerbaijan is a small nation inhabiting a volatile region it experiences as increasingly hostile.

Iran, for its part, sees the existence of a neighboring secular Shia state as a threat to the very integrity of the Islamic Republic. This fear may not be as ludicrous as it sounds. An estimated 20 percent of Iran’s population is Azeri, and they share close cultural and linguistic ties with Turkey, one of Iran’s main regional rivals. Azerbaijan and Israel are also on chummy terms. The secular Shia state is the second leading supplier of oil to Israel. Moreover, since 2001, the United States has frequently used Azerbaijani airspace to access Afghanistan. Iran suspects that the United States is using Azerbaijani intelligence to keep tabs on the region and increasingly fears that Azerbaijan could be the staging ground for an attack by Israel or the United States.

Speaking in Baku last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, addressing growing tensions between Iran and Azerbaijan, said that “there is a danger that it could escalate into a much broader conflict that would be very tragic for everyone concerned.” Conflict would likely draw other nations—such as Armenia, Russia, and/or Turkey, into the fray. Still, Azerbaijan will not likely agree to allow Israel or the United States to use its airstrips to attack Iran. Even with its newly acquired weapons, Azerbaijan is dreadfully ill-prepared to face off against its southern neighbor. One only needs to compare the military budgets of Azerbaijan and Iran: $2.8 billion to $7.5 billion, respectively, to see how perilous it would be for Azerbaijan to provoke Iran directly by military action or indirectly by allowing Israel or the U.S. to use its bases as a staging ground for an attack. Moreover, Iran’s active army is ten times larger than that of Azerbaijan. As a small country bordering Russia, a nation closely allied with the Islamic Republic, Azerbaijan has much more to lose than it does to gain should conflict ensue.

Azerbaijan’s recent weapons purchases should be seen as an attempt to aggrandize itself militarily vis-à-vis neighboring Armenia. Last fall, Armenia reportedly purchased 60 tons of used weapons from Moldova, a move that the Azerbaijani administration decried as having “destabilizing” effects in the region. But even with its most recent arms purchase, Armenia’s military pales in comparison to that of Azerbaijan. Armenia spends approximately $400 million a year on its military, or one-seventh as much as Azerbaijan. Armenia’s army is also substantially smaller.

Azerbaijan’s recent arms purchases are self-defeating. Due to the arguably solid alliance of Iran, Russia, and Armenia, conflict in the region would be dangerous at best—and perilous at worst—for Azerbaijan. Moreover, in addition to being limited geographically and militarily, Azerbaijan lacks allies among its closest neighbors. Even though Azerbaijan wants Armenia out of Nagorno-Karabakh, it is a mistake to think that this outcome—or any outcome desired by Azerbaijan—could be brought about by arms purchases that prepare the nation for a conflict from which it could not benefit.

Gabriel I. Rossman is an intern at Foreign Policy in Focus.

My Non-intervention Problem

 U.N. peacekeeping forces were neutered in Rwanda.

U.N. peacekeeping forces were neutered in Rwanda.

When it comes to foreign policy, most progressives agree that intervention in another state’s internal affairs is ill-advised. With regards to Syria, Foreign Policy in Focus columnist Stephen Zunes summed this argument up well back in March.

“Empirical studies have repeatedly demonstrated that international military interventions in cases of severe repression actually exacerbate violence in the short term and can only reduce violence in the longer term if the intervention is impartial or neutral. Other studies demonstrate that foreign military interventions actually increase the duration of civil wars, making the conflicts longer and bloodier, and the regional consequences more serious, than if there were no intervention. In addition, military intervention would likely trigger a ‘gloves off’ mentality that would dramatically escalate the violence on both sides.”

Speaking generally, if Vietnam hadn’t soured us on intervention, Iraq sure did. In the case of Syria, U.S. intentions, as Rob Prince and Ibrahim Kazerooni explain at Focal Points, remain suspect since the United States has long sought the its destabilization. It’s sort of a twofer to the United States, since bringing down Bashar al-Assad’s regime removes a key ally of Iran. Another objection to intervention in Syria is that it would conflict with Russia’s wish to keep Bashar al-Assad’s regime intact. We already see this beginning to happen when a Russian cargo ship allegedly transporting helicopter gunships to Syria was ordered out of British waters after its insurance coverage was revoked.

This author understands those rationales, but, in his gut, he balks. It’s not just how progressives go all libertarian and label liberals who call for intervention liberal hawks. Nor how it makes progressives look soft on defense. What most troubles me is the reflexiveness with we resist intervention.

Granted, the word intervention is maddening in its neutrality. Here, for instance, is its military definition: “Action taken to divert a unit or force from its track, flight path, or mission.” But, to me, the most heroic use of the military is not to defend our soil — that’s its everyday job. It’s to save the lives of innocent people — of any nation — who are in peril. It’s true that I personally have a rescuer complex; I suppose some background is in order.

What opened up the world of foreign policy to me personally was the Rwanda massacre and the refusal of the United Nations and the United States to make more than token attempts to prevent it or halt its progress. I read books on the subject such as Philip Gourevitch’s 1998 classic We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux).

That led to read a series of books about the Holocaust, as well as Problem From Hell : America and the Age of Genocide (Basic Books, 2002), for which author Samantha Power was unjustly smeared as a liberal hawk. Much of that book was devoted to Rafael Lemkin, who coined the term genocide and whose ceaseless lobbying led the United Nations to adopt the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

The concept of genocide, though, is limited by its requirement that the existence of a group of people or an ethnicity be threatened. Mass killing isn’t always confined to one race. As Timothy Snyder made crystal clear in The Bloodlands (Basic Books, 2010), during World War II, 14 million people of different races and nationalities were killed by both Hitler and Stalin in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus, Ukraine, and western Russia. Nothing, though, obliterates the concept of genocide like nuclear weapons, the ultimate in equal-opportunity mass killing.

Needless to say, from the Holocaust to Rwanda, intervention came too late or not at all.

Walking the subject of mass killing back from millions dead spanning continents to thousands in one state, Syria could provide a test case for a new approach to intervention. Instead of thinking in terms of halting a repressive and murderous regime, which is a punitive act, focus instead on incentives — but not just to the regime. Also dangle incentives to the insurgents, as a way to identify the so-called good guys and force bad actors among them to mend their ways.

In other words, clear guidelines need to be codified — not only for Syria, but for opposing all tyrannies — which, if conformed to will result in the reward of assistance in the form of arms from other states, NATO, and the United Nations or even intervention. These guidelines would include the obvious, such as refraining from: savage retaliation against the regime’s forces, killing civilians, and blocking monitoring by human rights groups.

Of course navigating around obstacles such as, in Syria’s case, Russian and Chinese opposition to intervention, might prove impossible. Nevertheless, incentives for insurgents might help in separating the wheat from the chaff, such as extremist Islamists in Syria.

Syria, the United States, and the El Salvador Option (Part One)

Every day the news from Syria is more and more somber as the country and the region continue their journey to unknown and more dangerous realms. As Syria appears to heading for “beyond explosion,” for implosion and NATO foreign military intervention that could result in unpredictable dangerous consequences.

A curious person asking about the situation would get the following predictable reply: Syria is on the verge of civil war; it is run by a ruthless leader that violates human rights on a biblical scale and needs to be removed so that the “peace loving” Syrian people can live in harmony and tranquility and it appears the only way to achieve this goal is through yet another NATO-led military “humanitarian” intervention under the auspices of the United States.

Stepping back from the official (and Fox News’) version of Syrian analysis, and remembering a few historical facts, changes the picture considerably.

• Through repeated presidential doctrines, U.S. administrations – starting at least with Truman – have made it clear that the Middle East holds a strategic position in U.S.’ regional and global policy.

• It’s an historical fact that to protect those strategically declared interests, the United States will partner with anyone and do anything – kosher or not – from Netanyahu in Israel to Saddam in Iraq, to Bin Ali in Tunis, to Saudi Arabia’s Abdullah, to Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, to Osama Bin Laden, the list goes on (when it serves U.S. interest).

• At least since WW II, the United States has repeatedly engaged in the destabilization of regimes it called undesirable, through various means (economic boycotts, bribes, CIA clandestine operations, infiltrating foreign militaries).

All this is done to change regimes that oppose U.S. interests in one way or the other! Why think that the basic paradigm has changed in the case of Syria? The goal remains the same; only the methodology – we would argue – is slightly different. Old wine, new bottle.

Let’s look at just a few pertinent facts:

1. The destabilization of Syria and Lebanon as sovereign countries has been on the drawing board of the US-NATO-Israel military alliance for at least ten years. Action against Syria is part of a “military road-map,” a sequencing of military operations that is being put into operation. According to former NATO Commander General Wesley Clark – the Pentagon had clearly identified a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan ” (Pentagon official quoted by General Wesley Clark in “ Winning Modern Wars ” [page 130]).

2. The overthrow of Syria’s government is a premeditated US plot which was instituted long before the outset of the Arab Spring. A concerted campaign to isolate, destabilize and overthrow the Syrian government began as early as 2002, a year after Clark was informed of the Pentagon’s plan to blitzkrieg through the Middle East. It was then that Secretary of State John Bolton added Syria to the growing “Axis of Evil.” It would later be revealed that Bolton’s threats against Syria included covert funding and support for “opposition’ groups inside of Syria spanning both the Bush and Obama administrations. In 2011, State Department spokesperson Mark Toner remarked that the US has been funding Syrian opposition groups since at least 2005 and the funding continues until today. In an April 2011 AFP report, Michael Posner, the assistant US Secretary of State for Human Rights and Labor, stated that the “US government has budgeted $50 million in the last two years to develop new technologies to help activists protect themselves from arrest and prosecution by authoritarian governments.”

3. A Washington Post report went on to explain that the US “organized training sessions for 5,000 activists in different parts of the world. A session held in the Middle East then gathered activists from Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon who returned to their countries with the aim of training their colleagues there.” The same Michael Posner would add, “They went back and there’s a ripple effect.” That ripple effect of course is the “Arab Spring,” and in Syria’s case, the impetus for the current unrest threatening to unhinge the nation and invite in foreign intervention. (Emphasis added).

What we have here then is not a humanitarian gesture to democratize Syria – to the contrary, a pro-active policy of regime change similar to what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan that was planned many years ago. The only thing needed was the proper context to implement the plan.

As every effort by the U.S. administration so far has not brought down the Syrian regime, this leads us to posit that the next step in the sequence of events – as it happened in Iraq and Afghanistan – is the implementation of the Salvador Option. This operation under U.S. supervision and support was perfected in El Salvador at the cost of 75,000 lives and in Guatemala with several hundred thousand deaths in the 1980s.

In Part Two, we will discuss this further.

Ibrahim Kazerooni is finishing a joint Ph.D. program at the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies in Denver. More of his work can be found at the Imam Ibrahim Kazerooni Blog. Rob Prince is a Lecturer of International Studies at the University of Denver’s Korbel School of International Studies and publisher of the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

Blogging the Rio+20 Earth Summit for the Rest of Us: The Eurozone Crisis

It’s my fifth day at the Rio+20 summit and my mind is elsewhere.

Just enough Greek voters gritted their teeth and switched their votes to give the center-right New Democracy party another shot at government in their June 17 elections. Amid this victory for fear over hope it’s bear in mind the meteoric rise of the radical anti-austerity Syriza coalition, which polled a close second. Syriza’s support rose from 5 percent in 2009 to 27 percent on Sunday, narrowly avoided the fate of presiding over the next p

The metoric rise of the radical anti-austerity Syriza coalition was not enough to win the Greek elections. (Photo: Adolfo Cuartero/Flickr)

The metoric rise of the radical anti-austerity Syriza coalition was not enough to win the Greek elections. (Photo: Adolfo Cuartero/Flickr)

hase of the country’s economic collapse.

Greek voters gave European politicians a small window of opportunity to devise a credible plan to halt the downward spiral of bank insolvency and sovereign debt that’s afflicting much of Southern Europe. More likely, however, it has bought them a little more time to display even greater hubris. Thankfully, there’s plenty of insightful commentary that puts this in perspective.

Paul Krugman’s column in The New York Times is essential reading. Without shirking the fact that “there are big failings in Greece’s economy, its politics and no doubt its society,” he points out that all of these are “beside the point” because:

[T]he origins of this disaster lie farther north, in Brussels, Frankfurt and Berlin, where officials created a deeply — perhaps fatally — flawed monetary system, then compounded the problems of that system by substituting moralizing for analysis. And the solution to the crisis, if there is one, will have to come from the same places….The only way the euro might — might — be saved is if the Germans and the European Central Bank realize that they’re the ones who need to change their behavior, spending more and, yes, accepting higher inflation.

Larry Elliot, writing in The Guardian, also stresses the need for European and global policymakers to tackle “structural issues,” given that the Eurozone has fatally locked in “differences in productivity and competitiveness.”

A more detailed version of this analysis has been provided over the past few years by the Research on Money and Finance group, under the guidance of Costas Lapavitsas. He’s also featured in Monday’s Guardian, reminding readers that the Pyrrhic victory for pro-austerity parties in the Greek election prolongs the Eurozone’s structural failings, that are hitting southern Europe hard: “As long as Germany continues to keep its own wages stagnant, no country in the Eurozone can significantly gain competitiveness by reducing wages,” he writes, while reminding readers that delays in tackling structural issues have served mainly to shift responsibility for the crisis from private investors to the Greek people:

When the crisis burst out in 2010, Greece had €300bn of debt, held overwhelmingly by private creditors and governed by Greek law… by early 2012 Greek debt had risen to €370bn. Of that, however, only about €200bn remained in private hands. In less than two years, the EU had saddled Greece with a massive official debt, much of which had been used to retire old debt, allowing large private creditors to exit without losses.

His conclusion that the next “more complex and dangerous phase” will play out in Greece may not be correct, however. Spanish government bonds are taking a hammering, pushing the costs of servicing government debt (which, in turn, was mostly incurred by bailing out failed private investments) to unsustainable levels. The unwinding of the country’s recent bailout (which, as I live in Barcelona, I take no particular pleasure in having predicted) continues apace.

As the BBC’s Paul Mason points out,

“Spain can now go bust on its own timetable, instead of one dictated by a Greek exit from the euro. And then the problems begin….The over-arching problem is the severe social pain and disintegration austerity has brought to Greece: 22% unemployment; 1,000-euro one-off tax demands to pensioners; falling incomes, closing shops and bars; quiet motorways. Despair.”

A similar list could be reeled off for Spain.

All of this may seem far removed from the Rio+20 talks, but there’s actually not such a great distance between this and the “green economy” agenda that the EU is pushing here. “The EU is badly affected by a crisis of capital accumulation” explains Antonio Tricarico of Re:Common, an Italian-based organization challenging the financialization of nature. “There is a massive amount of private wealth, and few sufficiently profitable assets to invest in… so they’re creating new asset classes from which to extract more value.”

Or, at least, that’s what the EU wants to do. As I write, most of the meat has been stripped from its proposals to push new ecosystem services markets through the Rio+20 summit, and the EU is fuming.

Taliban Vaccination Ban: Paranoia or Based in Fact?

Reports Declan Walsh for the New York Times on June 18:

A Pakistani Taliban commander has banned polio vaccinations in North Waziristan in the tribal belt, days before 161,000 children were due to be vaccinated. He linked the ban to American drone strikes and fears that the C.I.A. could use the polio campaign as cover for espionage, much as it did with Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who helped track Osama bin Laden.

The commander, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, said that polio vaccinations would be banned until the C.I.A. stopped its drone campaign, which has been largely focused on North Waziristan.

One’s initial instinct is to chalk it off to Taliban dogmatism and savgery. But, their suspicions may be warranted. Walsh refreshes our memories about Dr. Afridi.

In March and April 2011, Dr. Afridi ran a vaccination campaign in Abbottabad that was designed to covertly determine whether Osama bin Laden lived in a house in the city. Dr. Afridi failed to obtain a DNA sample, a senior American official said, but did help establish that Bin Laden’s local protector, known as “the courier,” was inside the Bin Laden compound in Abbottabad.

Dr. Afridi was arrested three weeks after American Navy SEALs raided the house on May 2, 2011, killing the Al Qaeda leader. But the Abbottabad operation was not his only vaccination campaign.

American officials say Dr. Afridi had been working with the C.I.A. for several years, at a time when he was leading polio vaccination efforts in Khyber Agency, a corner of the tribal belt that harbors a rare strain of the disease.

Western aid workers have sharply criticized the C.I.A. for recruiting a medical personnel and have complained of harsh restrictions on their work imposed by suspicious Pakistani authorities.

For their part

American officials say Dr. Afridi was targeting a mutual enemy of Pakistan and the United States.

And polio isn’t?

U.S. in No Position to Condemn Alleged Russian Transfer of Helicopter Gunships to Syrian Regime

AH-64A Apache gunship firing rockets during exercise.

AH-64A Apache gunship firing rockets during exercise.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has claimed that “there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria,” though the Russian government denies the accusation. If true, it would be highly disturbing, given the Syrian regime’s widespread use of such weapons against unarmed civilians. Amnesty International and other human rights groups have called for an immediate end of arms transfers to the Syrian regime, particularly of weapons that have been used to target civilians.

However, the United States is hardly in a position to criticize arms transfers to governments which use them to attack innocent civilians, particularly helicopter gunships.

Thousands of Salvadoran civilians are believed to have been killed by U.S.-supplied helicopter gunships during the 1980s. Obama named Robert Gates, one the key architects of the Reagan administration’s Central American policy during that period, as Secretary of Defense.

The administration of Clinton’s husband provided helicopter gunships to the Turkish government despite their widespread use again civilians in Kurdish areas of the country. U.S. arms were responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in that country during the 1990s and over 3000 villages were burned.

Similarly, both the Clinton and Bush administration provided helicopter gunships to the Colombian military, despite their use against civilian targets.

Amnesty International called on the United States to cease such arms transfers to both Turkey and Colombia, but both the Clinton and Bush administrations rejected the plea.

In early October of 2000, immediately following the killing of a dozen Palestinian civilians by U.S.-supplied helicopter gunships killed a dozen Palestinians—including attacks on apartment complexes in Netzarim—the Clinton administration announced a new shipment of advanced Apache attack helicopters. The Pentagon acknowledged that, “U.S. weapons sales do not carry a stipulation that the weapons can’t be used against civilians. We cannot second-guess an Israeli commander who calls in helicopter gunships.” Amnesty International called for a cessation of all attack helicopter transfers to Israel, but Clinton administration rejected this call as well.

Similarly, the widespread use of helicopter gunships by Israeli forces against civilian targets in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009 led Amnesty to again call for an end to the U.S. providing such materiel to the Israeli government, but the incoming Obama administration—like the Bush, Clinton and Reagan administrations before it—rejected the call to consider human rights in the transfers of such deadly technologies.

The Obama administration, like its predecessors, has tried to justify such transfers on the grounds that these governments were faced with armed insurgencies, including groups which had engaged in acts of terrorism. This is the exact same rationalization currently being used by the Syrian regime and its apologists. Yes, there is indeed an armed insurgency underway, and some elements are indeed terrorists, but that still does not give a government the right to target civilians. This is true regardless of the offending governments’ relations with the United States.

The very idea that the Obama administration even cares the slightest about civilians killed by helicopter gunships is debunked by the incident involving the release of audio and video footage of U.S. helicopter pilots in Iraq killing two unarmed Reuters journalists and several would-be rescuers. Not only did the Obama administration refuse to indict the pilots responsible, they chose to prosecute the private who exposed the illegal killings for “aiding the enemy.”

It appears, then, that the Obama administration’s opposition to the alleged Russian arms sale is not out of any concern for civilians, but out of a desire to weaken the Syrian government’s ability to combat rebel fighters armed by such U.S. allies as Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Hypocrisy aside, it is still imperative for anyone concerned about human rights to categorically oppose Russian military assistance to Syria, such as helicopter gunships, which could be used against civilians, as it is imperative to oppose arms shipments by any country to governments which would likely target innocent civilians.

Unfortunately, the United States is in no position to preach to the Russians about the sanctity of arms.

Page 80 of 190« First...102030...7879808182...90100110...Last »