Did the West provoke Putin?

RUSSIA-UKRAINE-POLITICS-CRISISIn an utterly unpredictable course of events, Ukraine’s domestic struggles between pro-European masses and their corrupt regime spiraled into a conflict that bodes a new global standoff between Russia and the West, notes analyst Mariana Budjeryn.

Indeed, those in the know assert that Ukraine is only a pawn in Kremlin’s bid to foil what it perceives as a Western plot to prevent Russia from taking its history-ordained place as a great power in the international system, she writes for World Affairs:

The West, initially dismissive and reluctant, is finally getting the idea that Putin is willing to expend blood and treasure, and violate every international norm, to achieve this goal.

Putin’s propaganda has been vigorously spinning a narrative that justifies Russia’s assertiveness as a payback for West’s various transgressions. The story goes that the West had humiliated Russia when, weak and truncated, it was brought to its knees by the Soviet collapse. Echoing Putin’s narrative, John Mearsheimer, a distinguished international relations scholar, argues that the current crisis is exclusively the West’s fault: the West glibly broke its promise not to expand NATO eastward, given in exchange for the Soviet approval of German unification. It also antagonized Russia by funding democratic civil society initiatives in Russia’s backyard, in Ukraine, Georgia, and, of course, in Russia itself.

The reality, she suggests, is otherwise:

Russia has little to show for its greatness. It is an oligarchic kleptocracy, stricken by the resource curse, a tendency of states rich in natural resources and poor in democratic institutions to succumb to poor governance and abuse of power. Outside of a handful of lavish cities, Russians live in desolate villages ravaged by corruption, poverty, bad roads, and substance abuse. With all of its vast territory, Russia is a net importer of food, having failed to make investments in agriculture and consumer goods that could as much as feed its own population. The country that builds nuclear missiles cannot even raise a chicken!

Mariana Budjeryn is a Ph.D. candidate at the Doctoral School of Political Science, Public Policy, and International Relations at the Central European University, in Budapest, Hungary. Her research investigates politics of nuclear disarmament of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan after the collapse of the Soviet Union.


Libya’s civil war: polarized politics, fractured institutions

libya-free_1835951cMore than three years after the fall of strongman Muammar Qaddafi, Libya is in the midst of a bitter civil war rooted in a balance of weakness between the country’s political factions and armed groups, says Frederic Wehrey, a senior associate in the Middle East Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

With a domestic landscape torn apart by competing claims to power and with interference from regional actors serving to entrench divides, restoring stability in Libya and building a unified security structure will be difficult if not impossible without broad-based political reconciliation, he writes in a new analysis.

Polarized Politics, Fractured Institutions

  • After Qaddafi, Libya’s security sector evolved into a hybrid arrangement marked by loose and imbalanced cooperation between locally organized, state-sponsored armed groups and national military and police.
  • The system broke down as political and security institutions became increasingly polarized along regional, communal, and ideological fault lines.
  • The country is now split between two warring camps: Operation Dignity, a coalition of eastern tribes, federalists, and disaffected military units; and Operation Dawn, an alliance of Islamist forces aligned with armed groups from Misrata. Each camp lays claim to governance and legitimacy, with its own parliament, army, and prime minister.
  • Regional backing of the two camps—with Egypt and the United Arab Emirates supporting Dignity and Qatar, Turkey, and Sudan backing Dawn—has deepened these divisions.
  • Outside efforts to train and equip Libya’s security institutions have failed because of this polarization. There is no effective command structure; trainees have reverted to regional loyalties or are on indefinite leave because there is no military structure for them to join.

Recommendations for Libya’s Leaders and Outside Supporters

  • Implement a ceasefire between Operations Dignity and Dawn and secure the withdrawal of forces taking part in those campaigns. The military units of these coalitions should move out of the major cities, and those that attacked civilians or civilian facilities should be disbanded.
  • Push for a transitional government that is inclusive of all factions. A face-saving power-sharing formula should encompass all politicians and include supporters of both Dignity and Dawn—if they renounce support for terrorist groups and attacks on civilian facilities.
  • Implement a regional pact against military interference in Libya’s affairs. Outside powers should stop equipping and funding armed groups and push their allies in Libya toward reconciliation. A September 2014 noninterference pact—including Egypt, the UAE, Qatar, and Turkey—is a promising start.
  • Support the development of a new Libyan security architecture, national army, and police force by harnessing local security initiatives. After a broad political pact is forged, the United States and its allies should focus on supporting a civilian-controlled defense architecture, municipality-based forces, and local disarmament and demobilization efforts.


Triumph of liberal democracy ‘far from assured’

fukuyama pol order decayLiberal democracies are not immune to the pattern of stagnation and decay that afflict all other political societies. They too might need to be replaced by something better, notes David Runciman, professor of politics at Cambridge university and author ofThe Confidence Trap: A History of Democracy in Crisis from World War I to the Present’.

So are our current political arrangements part of the solution, or part of the problem? he asks.

Frances Fukuyama’s Political Order and Political Decay squares the circle by insisting that democratic institutions are only ever one component of political stability, he writes for the Financial Times:

In the wrong circumstances they can be a destabilising force as well. His core argument is that three building blocks are required for a well-ordered society: you need a strong state, the rule of law and democratic accountability. And you need them all together. The arrival of democracy at the end of the 18th century opened up that possibility but by no means guaranteed it. The mere fact of modernity does not solve anything in the domain of politics (which is why Fukuyama is disdainful of the easy mantra that failing states just need to “modernise”).

What matters most of all is getting the sequence right. Democracy doesn’t come first. A strong state does. States that democratise before they acquire the capacity to rule effectively will invariably fail. This is what has gone wrong in many parts of Africa. Democracy has exacerbated existing failings rather than correcting for them because it eats away at the capacity of government to exert its authority, by subjecting it to too many conflicting demands. By contrast, in east Asia – in places such as Japan and South Korea – a tradition of strong central government preceded democracy, which meant the state could survive the empowerment of the people.

What happened to the end of history?

At the heart of this book is a tension that Fukuyama never quite resolves between democracy as a positive value and democracy as a negative one, Runciman suggests:

The positive value is dignity: people who rule themselves have a greater sense of self-worth. The negative value is constraint: people who rule themselves have far greater opportunities to complain about governments they don’t like. True political stability comes when the positive and negative sides of democracy cohere: when people who control the power of their governments also come to value them. That is not true at present. Where democracy has come to mean dignity – in Egypt, for example – constraint is chaotic and counter-productive. Where constraint is fully functional – as in the US – dignity is in short supply. In its place is a politics of resentment and complaint, manifested as deep-seated partisan intolerance.

But the West’s real enemy lies in its own anti-Western instincts, triggered by a self-inflicted lack of confidence and trust, argues Carnegie Europe analyst Jan Techau:

Russian President Vladimir Putin keeps reminding his fellow countrymen (and some eager listeners in Europe) how rotten and degraded Western culture is. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen recently wrote a pathos-laden swan song to Western civilization, in which he bemoans, in essence, the suicidal nature of Western culture.

Somehow, such doomsaying feels more like a perceived weakness than a real one. All facts indicate that the West is very strong indeed, stronger by a long stretch than all other parts of the planet. Practically all relevant categories-standard of living, life expectancy, health, education, employment, access to information, innovation, rule of law, corruption, crime, gender equality, and, of course, military strength (even in underperforming Europe)-show a West that is way ahead of the rest. (HT: Real Clear Politics. Originally published on Carnegie Europe.)

When challenged as to his pronouncement that history has ended, Fukuyama [a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy] tends to protest that he never suggested that large-scale conflict had ceased: what he meant was that henceforth only one system of government would be accepted as legitimate, political theorist John Gray notes:

But political legitimacy is a slippery business; people want many things apart from prosperity, accountability and low levels of corruption. They also demand expression of their national myths, identities and enmities – and quite often attach more importance to this aspect of government than they do to democracy. Somewhere above the fog that surrounds Francis Fukuyama’s convoluted treatise hangs a clear and simple question: what if large sections of humanity don’t much care about getting to Denmark?

Fukuyama provides an explanation of how we have got to where we are but it is not a recipe for making the world a better place, Runciman argues:

Telling people who want democracy to hold off in order to strengthen their state won’t wash, because having to live under a strong state in the absence of democracy is often a miserable experience: that’s why the Arab spring erupted in the first place. It is the basic tension in Fukuyama’s oeuvre: if we live in an age where democracy is the best idea but discover that democracy will only work if we defer it, then politics is going to be a horribly messy business.



Indonesia: third-largest democracy votes to become less democratic


Credit: NDI

Credit: NDI

Lawmakers in the world’s third-largest democracy voted Friday to make their country less democratic, the Wall Street Journal’s Ben Otto reports:

Indonesia’s legislature passed a bill ending direct elections for regional leaders, dealing an early setback for incoming President Joko Widodo, who opposed the measure.

Lawmakers squared off for hours Thursday night and into Friday morning, finally voting 226-135 to end the direct election of hundreds of regional leaders such as governors and mayors in the Southeast Asian nation. The measure would empower elected regional councils to appoint them instead. Indonesia’s presidency would still be chosen in direct elections by voters every five years.

The bill will become law within 30 days, unless current President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono moved to bring it into effect more quickly.

The move by the House of Representatives at nearly 2 a.m. Friday, in the waning hours of its five-year term, was viewed by analysts as political payback after the recent presidential election victory of Joko Widodo, the popular governor of Jakarta and a two-time provincial mayor, the New York Times adds:

Lessons learned from Maliki’s Iraq

Mideast Syria Militants Rise AnalysisThe formation of an inclusive, multi-sectarian government in Iraq was a key element of the Obama administration’s response to the fall of Mosul this past June and the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) as a strategic threat, notes Marc Sievers, the Diplomat-in-Residence at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy and former political minister-counselor at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

Iraqi prime minister Haider al-Abadi’s new government appears to embody this policy goal, he writes for the Fikra Forum:

In 2010, the United States was deeply involved in the negotiations to form a similarly representative Iraqi government, which finally emerged in December 2010. The effort was serious and the outcome appeared at the time to represent a significant success. However, understanding Maliki’s subsequent failure to stabilize Iraq and especially the collapse of efforts to include Iraq’s Sunni and Kurdish communities in the government, should yield critically relevant lessons.

Observers and local actors were taken aback by ISIS’s  emergence, said the National Endowment for Democracy’s Laith Kubba.

“All the signs were there. Nobody wanted to read them,” he told PBS. “They moved from being an offshoot, a terrorist group — and there, people might think we can live with terrorist groups and the skirmishes they create, but this has become an army of 10,000 to 15,000, very well-equipped with rocket launchers, some air missile — missiles, and they are so coordinated.’

“I’m not really sure if they can hold territory for long, but certainly they have achieved their objective in saying, we’re a force, and I think hundreds will join them, and this is going to become a regional problem,” he said.

Now, thanks in part to ISIS’s brutality and active U.S. and regional diplomacy, Iraq has a rare second chance at success, and there are critical lessons that policymakers should learn from the experience of the second Maliki government, Sievers contends:

The first is that filling the key security ministries with competent, broadly accepted ministers and deputy ministers must be a top priority. Nothing undermined the cohesion of Iraq’s first inclusive government more than the prolonged failure to reach agreement regarding the defense and interior ministries. Second, the Kurds’ mediating role is critical, and addressing the oil revenue issue along the lines of agreements already worked out in the past, but never implemented, should help preserve a sense of mutual interest and common cause between Baghdad and Erbil. Third, Iraq’s political class of all backgrounds shows positive signs of recognizing that they must hang together or they will surely hang separately.