China-Pakistan ‘silk road’ a game-changer & ‘defining moment’

china Silk_routeChina has announced a $46bn investment plan which will largely center on a new Silk Road economic corridor from Gwadar in Pakistan to Kashgar in the Chinese region of Xinjiang, the BBC reports.

During Xi Jinping’s visit this week, Pakistan’s military said it would form a special security division to protect Chinese nationals working on development projects in Pakistan, the New York Times reports:

Raza Rumi, a [Reagan-Fascell] fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, called the Chinese visit a “defining moment” for Pakistan. But, he warned, much hinges on Pakistan’s ability to manage the Baluch insurgency.



“Sooner or later, Pakistan will have to find a political solution to ensure that work planned in Gwadar and Baluchistan proceeds as planned,” he said.

Both Uighur and Pakistani Taliban militants have been targeting Chinese nationals in Pakistan, the BBC reports:

The Baloch insurgents have their roots in socialist ideology, but they too dismiss the Chinese as allies of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province which they accuse of “robbing” Balochistan’s resources.

China, which has a history of investing in unstable or authoritarian countries, appears unperturbed by the potential for insecurity to undermine their project, VICE news adds.

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How Putin disrupts Atlantic Alliance, contaminates values-based institutions

KrastevIvanUntil recently, most Europeans believed that their post–Cold War security order held universal appeal and could be a model for the rest of the world, according to Ivan Krastev (left), Chair of the Sofia-based Centre for Liberal Strategies, and Mark Leonard, Director of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

This conviction was hardly surprising, since Europe has often played a central role in global affairs. For much of the last three centuries, European order was world order—a product of the interests, ambitions, and rivalries of the continent’s empires. And even during the Cold War, when the new superpowers stood on opposite sides of the continent, the central struggle was between two European ideologies, democratic capitalism and communism, and over control of the European lands in between.

Still, it was not until 1989 that a distinctly European model of international conduct emerged, one that represented a radical departure from the assumptions and practices that still held elsewhere, they write for Foreign Affairs:

In June 1989, communist authoritarians in China crushed that country’s nascent pro-democracy movement; that same year, communist authoritarians in Europe gave way without a fight as the Berlin Wall fell. For Europe’s leading intellectuals, this moment signified more than the conclusion of the Cold War; it marked the beginning of a new kind of peace. “What came to an end in 1989,” the British diplomat Robert Cooper wrote some years later, “was not just the Cold War or even, in a formal sense, the Second World War” but “the political systems of three centuries: the balance of power and the imperial urge.”

Indeed, the Cold War ended without a peace treaty or a parade—it seemed at the time a victory for both sides—and Europe’s new system washed its hands of old notions of sovereignty. Continental leaders were not interested in creating new states, as they had been after World War I. Nor did they move people around to secure existing ones, as they had done following World War II. Instead, they sought to change the nature of borders themselves, encouraging the free flow of capital, people, goods, and ideas. Political maps fell out of fashion; economic graphs took their place. Diplomats in Brussels came to see economic interdependence, international legal institutions, and mutual interference in one another’s domestic politics as their primary source of security. And later, in the wake of U.S. failures in Afghanistan and Iraq, military force lost its luster.

europe-21-c-300x225Russia shattered European assumptions last year when it invaded Crimea, when, they note: “In the face of Moscow’s determination to preserve its influence in the post-Soviet space through the use of force, the EU’s soft power proved to be very soft indeed.”

Did the West bungle its relations with Russia after the Cold War? Was there a better way? asks Stephen Sestanovich, a professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of Maximalist: America in the World from Truman to Obama:

Those who opposed the enlargement of NATO in the 1990s treat the war in Ukraine as proof that they were right all along. It was madness, they say, to challenge a core Russian security interest. Enlargement’s supporters, of course, claim vindication just as vehemently. For them, Putin’s aggression shows the wisdom of bringing new members into the alliance. Including Ukraine, they suggest, might have avoided the current crisis altogether.

sestanovichmaximalist1The deepest aim of NATO enlargement may well have been to consolidate the victory of Western ideas, Sestanovich, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, writes for the American Interest:

Still, that’s only half the story. For the United States, the victory of its ideas has always been hard to separate from the spread of its influence and power. If post-Cold War Europe was some sort of laboratory experiment in how to secure peace by nurturing democratic values, American policymakers came to believe that the results of the experiment depended primarily on them. They did not take the emergence or the longevity of a liberal order for granted. Not even the best ideas take hold automatically.

Russia is also trying to slowly strip away U.S. allies in Eastern Europe by playing up fears that Washington will not come to their aid, as promised nearly a decade ago, because of a lack of foreign strategy and commitment to the region, analysts say (HT: FPI).

West misread Russia

Europe finds itself in this predicament for a simple reason: in the years leading up to the Ukraine crisis, Western governments fundamentally misread Russia, argue Leonard and Krastev, a council member of the National Endowment for Democracy’s International Forum:

They mistook Moscow’s failure to block the post–Cold War order as support for it, assumed that Russia’s integration into the world economy would invest the country in the status quo, and failed to see that although few Russians longed for a return to Soviet communism, most were nostalgic for superpower status.

They also missed the importance of Ukraine’s so-called Orange Revolution in 2004, which saw mass street protests help bring a pro-Western leader to power. Russian President Vladimir Putin, convinced that Western governments incited the demonstrations in order to carry out regime change, has since come to see street protests as a significant threat to his rule. In this context, resistance to Western liberalism and to Washington’s democracy promotion now defines his understanding of sovereignty.

The policymaker’s predicament, Henry Kissinger observed long ago, is that decisions have to be made before we know enough to fully justify them, notes Sestanovich:

This is the problem American Presidents and their advisers faced after the Cold War. To build the European order they envisioned, they had to risk alienating the largest state in Europe. …. Was this wise? On balance, yes. We have now seen the weakness of Russia’s democratic institutions, the ease with which a Russian leader can stoke nationalist hysteria, the enormous difficulty of helping Ukraine to defend itself in the absence of pre-existing security ties. Western policy may have made these problems somewhat worse; it hardly created them.

Decontaminate values-based institutions

russia kremlinMoving forward, Europe must find a policy that doesn’t attempt to turn Russia into a Western-style democracy but that forces the country into a position the West can live with. Cold War–style containment, however, is insufficient. Russia poses a threat to not only the territorial integrity of the EU member states but also the union’s very existence, Krastev and Leonard suggest:

Guarding against this threat will require Europeans to make a clear distinction between two different kinds of institutions. The first are those, such as the Council of Europe and the EU, that embody European values and therefore have no place for authoritarian regimes such as Putin’s. The second are those, such as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations, that can bridge Europe’s divide with illiberal governments. European leaders need to make the former more disciplined and rigid and the latter more flexible and accommodating….

Decontaminating values-based institutions by removing Russian influence is all the more urgent given the growing popularity of Putin’s governing model in some eastern European EU member states and the Kremlin’s efforts to support Euroskeptical parties—including both those on the left, such as Syriza in Greece, and those on the right, such the National Front in France. 


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Russian workers unite in protests

Russian CosmodromeAfter months of frustration with an economy sagging under the weight of international sanctions and falling energy prices, workers across Russia are starting to protest unpaid wages and go on strike, in the first nationwide backlash against President Vladimir V. Putin’s economic policies, Andrew E. Kramer writes for the New York Times:

The protests have been wildcat actions for the most part, as organized labor never emerged as a strong political or economic force in modern Russia. Under the Soviets, labor unions had been essentially incorporated into management.

Discontent over unpaid wages was tamped down for a while by a surge in national pride after the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine a year ago, and by repeated messages on state television that the hardship was an unavoidable price to pay for standing up for Russia’s interests. The strikes, in any case, have not been widely publicized in the state news media.

russia labor unionsRussian investigators have opened a new corruption case against subcontractors building a space center where workers have gone unpaid for months and have appealed directly to Putin for help, AP adds:

The Vostochny Cosmodrome is a priority project that will give Russia its own facility for manned space launches and ease its reliance on the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Workers of the Pacific Bridge-Building Company, one of the enterprises working on the cosmodrome (above), painted the words “Save Workers,” “We Want to Work” and ”Four Months Without a Salary” on their roofs, addressing them to ”Dear Putin,” the Moscow Times reports.

Yet the strikes and protests in the hinterlands, like the huge graffiti addressed to the president, are posing a new challenge to Mr. Putin’s government, which presided over an energy-driven economic expansion for most of the past 15 years, Kramer writes for the Times:

During that time, most high-profile antigovernment protests, including the so-called White Ribbon movement in Moscow in 2011, promulgated political causes rather than economic ones. Those were met with corresponding political measures by the Kremlin, such as arrests and stricter laws on staging rallies. A further chill fell over the liberal political opposition this winter after the assassination of a prominent leader, Boris Y. Nemtsov.

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U.S. sends ‘double message’ to Egypt: nationalists dominate politics-free zone

The Obama administration sent a double message last month when it resumed military aid to Egypt, writes Bloomberg’s Ahmed Feteha:

The most populous Arab nation will now receive F-16 jets, Harpoon anti-ship missiles and Abrams tank upgrade kits withheld following the military ouster of its elected president in July 2013. Starting in 2018, however, its army will no longer be allowed to buy weapons on credit, a privilege enjoyed since the 1979 peace accord with Israel.

“It is back to business, but not back to business as usual,” said Michele Dunne (above), senior associate in the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

“There was a lot of unhappiness in the U.S. administration with the way the U.S.-Egyptian military relationship was operating for years,” Dunne said. “There was frustration with how the Egyptian government was choosing to spend the funds.”

The move reflects the decision to support Egypt against Islamists militants while recognizing that the country is not as central to U.S. interests as it was when President Jimmy Carter brokered an accord to end a 30-year conflict with Israel, Bloomberg adds.

egypt sisi“Previously it was thought that Egypt could lead the region to peace,” said Samuel Tadros, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington. “No one has this illusion any more. The concern today is: we want to support Egypt because we don’t want it to fail.”

Egypt’s political scene has changed radically from the vigorous pluralism that followed the 2011 uprising; in 2015 the Islamist and secular groups that won those elections are excluded or marginalized, Carnegie analyst Dunnea board member of the National Endowment for Democracywrites in a new analysis:

Nationalists associated with the military or former regime of Hosni Mubarak have retaken center stage, and rivalries within that camp have reemerged. Any parliament elected under such conditions is likely to be fractious—despite the lack of real pluralism—and might have difficulty fulfilling its constitutionally mandated role.  

Echoes of the Past

Egypt has been without a full parliament since June 2012, when the previous assembly was dissolved.

  • The 2013 removal of then president Mohamed Morsi from power brought a notable revival of a specific brand of nationalism—militaristic, populist, anti-foreign—that evoked the Nasserism of the 1950s and 1960s, in contrast to the more inclusive strains of nationalism articulated during the 2011 uprising against Mubarak.
  • Islamist and secular opposition forces have been mostly silenced or marginalized due to the banning of several groups including the Muslim Brotherhood, a harsh law against street protests, an electoral law that disadvantages political parties, and other measures that have undercut media and civil society.
  • Nationalists have fallen into squabbling among themselves because their political rivals from other ideological trends have been mostly eliminated. Parliamentary elections have been postponed repeatedly, apparently due at least in part to President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s failure to settle these rivalries.
  • Sisi’s lack of interest in civilian politics is one of several reasons why there has not been a new nationalist political party formed to replace Mubarak’s National Democratic Party, a major target during the 2011 uprising.
  • Differences between the military and business leaders, and between the military and other security services, are on display in ways similar to those of the late Mubarak era.

Implications for the Future

  • There are many parallels between the current political scene and the one that prevailed in late 2010, when elections that excluded most opposition—and yet were still corrupt and violent—contributed to growing public disgust with the Mubarak regime.
  • Elections held without real pluralism are likely to produce a parliament made up of individuals only seeking personal economic advantage. Such a body might be difficult to manage and unable to provide the check on the executive branch that is laid out in the constitution, a somewhat more robust role than during the Mubarak era.
  • If the parliament is fractious, or indeed if the three-year hiatus in parliamentary life continues, Egyptians’ sense of ongoing political dysfunction will only increase.

Despite the somewhat uncomfortable circumstances of his election, Sisi has so far preferred to remain above the fray, perhaps believing he has little to gain and something to lose if he tries to organize the nationalist political sphere, which would involve sorting out many disparate interests, notes Dunne:

When Sisi met with political parties in mid-January, he reportedly warned them that if the Egyptian people did not feel well represented, then they might revolt against the new parliament. In the end, spreading out the blame for what will most likely be ongoing and perhaps intensifying security as well as economic difficulties might be the purpose that political bodies will serve in Egypt for the present. RTWT 

Egypt “has been very frustrated with the Obama administration since 2011,” said David Schenker, director of the Program on Arab Politics at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Starting with the seeming U.S. acceptance and backing of the Muslim Brotherhood, and then the freezing of the aid,” he told Bloomberg:

In a sign of that frustration, in late 2011, the Egyptian authorities raided offices of U.S. pro-democracy groups, including the International Republican Institute, and put at least 16 U.S. workers on trial (above, right). Less than a year later, Obama said he did not consider Egypt either an “ally” or an “enemy.”

“It will be understood in Egypt that we can go on doing whatever we like with human rights issues and with democracy issues,” Tadros said. “Because at the end of the day no one is going to destroy the relationship with Egypt over these issues.”

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Two years after Rana Plaza, Bangladesh workers denied rights

bangladesh human rights watch

Human Rights Watch

Garment workers in Bangladesh face poor working conditions and anti-union tactics by employers including assaults on union organizers, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today:

In the two years since more than 1,100 workers died in the catastrophic collapse of the Rana Plaza factory on April 24, 2013, efforts are underway to make Bangladesh factories safer, but the government and Western retailers can and should do more to enforce international labor standards to protect workers’ rights, including their right to form unions and advocate for better conditions….

The 78-page report, ‘“Whoever Raises Their Head, Suffers the Most’: Workers’ Rights in Bangladesh’s Garment Factories,” is based on interviews with more than 160 workers from 44 factories, most of them making garments for retail companies in North America, Europe, and Australia. Workers report violations including physical assault, verbal abuse – sometimes of a sexual nature – forced overtime, denial of paid maternity leave, and failure to pay wages and bonuses on time or in full. ….

At the Tazreen factory, where a fire killed at least 112 workers on November 24, 2012, managers refused to let workers escape even after the fire alarms went off. None of the factories involved had a union to represent workers to help them to push back against the managers’ deadly demands.


Solidarity Center Balmi-Chisim

Solidarity Center Balmi-Chisim

“If Bangladesh wants to avoid another Rana Plaza disaster, it needs to effectively enforce its labor law and ensure that garment workers enjoy the right to voice their concerns about safety and working conditions without fear of retaliation or dismissal,” said Phil Robertson, Asia deputy director at Human Rights Watch. “If Bangladesh does not hold factory managers accountable who attack workers and deny the right to form unions, the government will perpetuate practices that have cost the lives of thousands of workers.”

As the global community commemorates the April 24 Rana Plaza tragedy, thousands of garment workers who survived the disaster, mostly young women, remain too injured or ill to work, and the families of those killed struggle emotionally and financially to piece together the lives shattered that day, the Solidarity Center’s Tula Connell writes:

Solidarity Center* staff in Dhaka recently spoke with survivors and the families of those who lost loved ones in the collapse, and all say they are struggling to make ends meet, unable to pay rent, send their children to school or provide for other basic needs.

International labor organizations and prominent retailers created a $30 million compensation fund in 2013 to aid families of workers killed and injured at Rana Plaza. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), 75 percent of those who sought compensation have received something, but to date, 5,000 people have received only 40 percent of the money due them. Further payments have been delayed because clothing brands have failed to pay the $9 million needed to cover claims.


Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch

Factory owners and the companies buying their products have responsibilities to prevent human rights violations from occurring in the garment factories, Human Rights Watch said:

They should take effective steps to identify and mitigate human rights risks, and should take remedial action should abuses occur. As the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights states, businesses should “seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services by their business relationships, even if they have not contributed to those impacts.” Bangladesh has also ratified International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions 87 and 98 on freedom of association and collective bargaining, and is required to protect the rights contained in them. Yet to date, Bangladesh’s labor laws do not fully comply with these standards.

‘“Whoever Raises Their Head, Suffers the Most’: Workers’ Rights in Bangladesh’s Garment Factories” is available here.

*The Solidarity Center is a core institute of the National Endowment for Democracy, the Washington-based democracy assistance group.

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