THE oil price has fallen by more than 40% since June, when it was $115 a barrel. It is now below $70. This comes after nearly five years of stability. At a meeting in Vienna on November 27th the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, which controls nearly 40% of the world market, failed to reach agreement on production curbs, sending the price tumbling. Also hard hit are oil-exporting countries such as Russia (where the rouble has hit record lows), Nigeria, Iran and Venezuela. Why is the price of oil falling?
Thursday, 11 December 2014
Tuesday, 9 December 2014
This article is a joint publication of Foreign Policy In Focus and TheNation.com.
The Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti was recently sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of separatism.
The former economics professor, who resided in Beijing for most of his career, is internationally known for his countless articles promoting stronger interethnic dialogue between Uighurs and China’s majority Han population. Through writing and peaceful advocacy, Tohti tried to lessen the friction between Uighurs and the Han community while advocating for Uighur rights.
Cynically, Chinese authorities treated his dedication to broader understanding among Chinese ethnic groups as a threat to the country’s territorial integrity. Tohti’s supporters consider him a peaceful yet passionate advocate for human rights. Instead he has been treated as just another Islamic extremist from Xinjiang.
In recent years, minority groups all over China have grown progressively more restive, with peaceful demonstrations increasing alongside violent terrorism. Separatists in the western regions have launched attacks against government buildings and innocent bystanders, while others have engaged in civil disobedience — included hundreds of self-immolations.
These are not arbitrary actions. Uighurs and Tibetans, among other underrepresented ethnic groups in China, have long felt oppressed by Communist Party policies. The government’s initial response has been to crack down on these “separatist forces” with an iron fist as a means to maintain social order and a semblance of unity.
Yet this response has only led to deeper resentment, prompting the government to explore alternative measures.
Although the government has not completely abandoned the “iron fist” policy, as the story of Ilham Tohti reveals, the Communist Party has devised a number of other strategies to address ethnic unrest. Many of these fall into the category of “soft power.” Nowadays the Chinese leadership is vigorously pursuing both approaches, deploying a carrot or a stick depending on the circumstances.
Tibet is populated overwhelmingly by ethnic Tibetans, while Uighurs constitute a plurality in Xinjiang. Han Chinese have increasingly settled in both regions—especially in Xinjiang, where their numbers nearly match those of the Uighurs, which has led to clashes.
Even though China’s official language is Standard Mandarin, Tibetan and Uighur are the preferred tongues, and sometimes the only spoken ones, among many natives of the western regions. Unlike the generally nonreligious Han, Uighurs and Tibetans are highly religious—the Uighurs overwhelmingly Muslim and Tibetans overwhelmingly Buddhist. Many Uighurs and Tibetans do not consider themselves actual Chinese citizens, or their homelands part of mainland China. For example, Uighurs in Xinjiang often refer to their region as East Turkestan and refuse to use any other name.
Even though minorities are exempted from certain national laws, such as the one-child policy, the Chinese government’s rigorous political oversight of their territories has created friction among the various ethnic groups. Many Muslims in Xinjiang believe that government policies pose a threat to their cultural identity and dignity. In 2014, for example, Chinese authorities restricted the observance of Ramadan. Drastic measures were taken to prohibit the use of the Quran in educational settings, discourage attendance at madrasas, and curtail customary fasting habits.
Younger generations have been the most vulnerable to these sanctions, since they find themselves obliged by their teachers and superiors to ignore their Islamic traditions. The government in Beijing is not only targeting children and average Uighur citizens, but also the local authorities. Xinjiang officials themselves have been reprimanded for openly expressing their religious beliefs.
The people holding the highest positions of power in China tend to come from the dominant Han ethnic group. Smaller communities have been perennially marginalized and overshadowed. Lately, this underlying animosity has escalated, resulting in outbursts of violence—not only in Tibet and Xinjiang, but all over the nation.
One of the most recent tragic events took place in the province neighboring Tibet known as Yunnan. Last March, knife-wielding assailants assaulted crowds in the Kunming train station, resulting in 29 deaths and over 140 injuries in a bloodbath the Chinese government blamed on Uighur separatists. Another dramatic attack followed two months later in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, when attackers crashed cars and threw explosives at a crowded marketplace, killing 31.
An earlier incident occurred in October 2013, when a car crashed in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and burst into flames in a suspected suicide attack. Five people were killed, including three in the car, and dozens were injured. Last August, the Chinese government executed eight Uighurs it accused of fomenting terrorism, including one allegedly linked to the Tiananmen attack.
The situation in Tibet—where there have been few reports of violent resistance since the uprising of 2008—has been somewhat different.
There, protestors have relied on “passive aggressive” tactics, including more than 120 cases of self-immolations. The Communist Party has blamed the Dalai Lama for inciting these activities and incarcerated many Buddhists who have attempted the same or urged others to do so. Most of these “separatist revolutionaries” have been labeled as traitors, given death sentences, or put behind bars.
But without forsaking its “iron fist,” the government in Beijing is now experimenting with different approaches to balancing majority-minority relations without the use of force.
One such unorthodox tool has been encouraging interracial marriages. In order to promote these matches, economic and social incentives have been offered, including paid vacations, social security, and employment prospects. Even though there are still few of these interracial marriages, the numbers have more than quadrupled since 2008, going over the 4,000 mark.
Not everyone is thrilled at the strategy, however. Many minorities view inter-marriage, like the earlier efforts to relocate Han to the Western regions, as just another strategy to absorb and integrate non-Han Chinese into the dominant Han culture. The ultimate goal, they warn, is the destruction of minority cultures.
Other parties are experimenting with media outreach. A Chinese film company known as Shenzhen Qianheng, for example, is developing a 3D cartoon called “Princess Fragrant,” a love story about an 18th-century Han Chinese emperor and his Uighur consort. The cartoon’s Han creators hope it will encourage curiosity and communication between Uighurs and Hans.
Intermarriage and cartoons are certainly preferable to violent suppression. But they will not ease the tensions that have been boiling over for decades. The Chinese government needs to address the structural issues that have generated the mistrust and resentment. But Beijing is not going to allow the vast, geopolitically significant territories of Xinjiang and Tibet to secede from the country. A common ground has to be found and more freedoms have to be granted if China is indeed going to maintain its internal cohesion in a peaceful and productive way.
Tohti’s imprisonment and the higher degree of surveillance imposed in Xinjiang and Tibet shows that the Chinese government will not hesitate to keep the country unified by any means. The long-term effects of such actions, however, might potentially escalate the existing conflict. Sharon Hom, the executive director of Human Rights in China, believes that the Tohti verdict is only going to aggravate the overall domestic situation: “Rather than encouraging sensible, moderate voices like Tohti’s,” she said, “this will exacerbate the tensions in the region.”
After Tohti was incarcerated, many lost hope for the peaceful road to ethnic equality that he actively supported. It’s not too late, however, for the Chinese government to realize that a policy of carrots will be more successful in the long term than the sticks that it has recently deployed.
Monday, 8 December 2014
Over the past five years, an average of nearly 27 million people have been displaced annually by natural hazard-related disasters. It has long been recognized that the effects of climate change will displace people and that most of this displacement will be within national borders. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’ very first report from 1990 stated that the greatest single impact of climate change may be on human migration. The report estimated that by 2050, 150 million people could be displaced by desertification, water scarcity, floods, storms and other climate change-related disasters. Scholars, practitioners and researchers have generally accepted the fact that climate change will result in large-scale movements of people and that developing states will bear the greatest costs. Indeed, the socio-economic impacts of climate change may further limit access to human rights as well as the implementation of the Millennium Development goals and human security. The effects of climate change also have the potential to trigger or exacerbate tension, conflict and violence thus leading to displacement.
The UN General Assembly’s resolution 64/162 of December 2009 recognized natural disasters as a cause of internal displacement and raised concerns that climate change could exacerbate the impact of both sudden- and slow-onset disasters, such as flooding, mudslides, droughts, or violent storms. In 2010, the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change recognized that mobility – migration, displacement and planned relocations – is an important form of adaptation to climate change. In its “Cancun Adaptation Framework,” it invites all parties to go further in understanding, coordinating and cooperating on climate change-induced displacement, migration and planned relocation, where appropriate, at national, regional and international levels.
This report is adapted from the August 2011 report to the Secretary-General by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced people, Chaloka Beyani. It explores the linkages between climate change and internal displacement from a human rights perspective. Drawing on the 1998 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, the report highlights key principles, concepts, and complexities around the issue and makes recommendations for future action.
Friday, 5 December 2014
NATO celebrated its 65th birthday earlier this year, which is generally seen as a good age for retirement. With the alliance’s involvement in Afghanistan coming to an end, much of the talk in Brussels and the capitals of NATO countries was over its remaining role, and even if the organisation was still relevant.
But Russian president Vladimir Putin’s forceful seizure of Crimea from neighboring Ukraine put an end to such debates and any talk of retiring NATO. Collective defence – that essential commitment enshrined in Article 5 of the Washington treaty under which an attack against one is regarded as an attack against all – was again the order of the day. Bolstering deterrence against any attack on NATO territory, and reassuring its nervous European allies that the U.S. would come to their defence, became the main topic of discussion. NATO is very much open for business.
This sentiment of NATO’s validity permeated the alliance’s summit in Wales in early September. But it’s also only half-correct. Putin’s actions in Crimea and continuing efforts to destabilise Ukraine and other areas of Russia’s so-called near-abroad are deeply disturbing. Putin’s insistence that Moscow has the right, if not the duty, to protect Russian-speaking people, no matter where they live is a very dangerous doctrine. And as the most important instrument of collective security in Europe, NATO has a crucial role to play in countering this by making sure its members will be protected from attacks and intimidation. This is why countries join the alliance.
“Collective defence must rest on sound plans, forward deployment of real capabilities and demonstrable will. Now is the time to emphasise all three”
Yet the focus on these destabilising developments must not be the sole preoccupation of alliance leaders when defining its future role. However disturbing Russia’s actions in Ukraine, developments in the Middle East and North Africa are at least as threatening to security in Europe. The evolving situation in East Asia also poses questions for global stability.
The Atlantic alliance has progressed through a number of phases in an overall security environment that has changed. During the first phase – let’s call it NATO 1.0 – the focus was on defending western Europe against an attack from the Soviet-led forces arrayed against it. This commitment to collective defence was the fundamental reason why 12 countries came together in April 1949 to sign the North Atlantic treaty, and it remained the essence of NATO’s mission until the Cold War ended in the late 1980s. For 40 years, a large U.S. military presence in Europe not only constituted the core collective defence commitment that effectively deterred a military attack against western Europe but also laid the foundation for rebuilding Europe economically and politically. By 1989, western Europe had emerged as a vibrant, strong and increasingly integrated community of nations thanks both to the wisdom of Europe’s post-war leaders and also in large part because of America’s unquestioning commitment to Europe’s security.
These successes stood in marked contrast to the socio-economic and political conditions in central and eastern Europe, and in the Soviet Union itself. This contrast contributed to the collapse of Soviet rule in Europe, soon to be followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself, as more and more people in eastern Europe sought to secure for themselves the freedom and economic liberties that the West had long enjoyed.
The end of the Cold War marked the end of Europe’s division, and ushered in a new role for NATO. This was to help the newly liberated countries to its east transform into the kind of prosperous and democratic nations that had emerged in the West. NATO 2.0 thus focused on creating a Europe whole, free and at peace by offering membership to countries that undertook the military, economic and political reforms needed to prosper as vibrant democracies in the new Europe. Working alongside the EU, which also offered the prospect of joining the European club, NATO added 12 new members in the ten years to 2009. Other than Albania, all these countries also joined the EU.
With Europe becoming increasingly united, democratic and peaceful, NATO’s attention soon shifted to active military operations, including some that were far from home. NATO 3.0 thus constituted an operationally active alliance. During its first half century, NATO had planned, trained and exercised for war, but never fired a single shot. Only in 1995 with its involvement in Bosnia, starting with a brief air campaign and then a major peacekeeping effort, did NATO become an operational force. By 2010, the NATO countries had deployed more than 150,000 troops under NATO command in six different operations on three different continents. The NATO mission in Afghanistan was by far the largest of these, but its counter-piracy operation off the coast of Somalia, the air campaign over Libya and its crucial peacekeeping role in the Balkans all added to its newly operational character.
“There is no consensus among the NATO allies about the wisdom of further enlargement; the bitter debate five years ago that divided the allies over membership for Ukraine and Georgia still persists”
When the mission in Afghanistan began to wind down, and as NATO’s military involvement in other operations came to an end, many began to wonder what would come next for the alliance. Russia’s actions in Ukraine since March of this year effectively ended such speculation, but how NATO should evolve still remains the question. Should it return to its singular focus on collective defenCe and what are the prospects for adding new members? And is there an operational role for NATO beyond Europe? Clearly, NATO’s relevance lies not just in any one of these areas, but in combining all its previous roles into a whole.
If nothing else, Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the enunciation of a new Putin doctrine that assigns Moscow the right and responsibility to defend Russian speakers everywhere, has highlighted the continuing importance of collective defence, of NATO 1.0. With five NATO countries bordering Russia – two of which, Latvia and Estonia have significant Russian-speaking populations – ensuring the defence of all NATO countries again has to be the top priority.
NATO has demonstrated its serious concern by deploying more combat aircraft to police the Baltic airspace, by rotating air defence units to Poland, by putting early warning aircraft in the air along the border of Ukraine, and by conducting ground and naval exercises in both the Baltics and Black Sea regions. Other measures designed to reassure alliance members included the increased rotation of U.S. forces to Europe, improvements in basing and infrastructure and the possible forward positioning of equipment and enhanced training and exercises, notably on the territory of the newer allies.
This also seems the time for NATO to consider lifting its self-imposed restriction on deploying combat forces to allied territory in the east – a unilateral promise extended to Russia in 1997 when Moscow was behaving far more co-operatively. Collective defence must rest on sound plans, forward deployment of real capabilities and demonstrable will. Now is the time to emphasise all three.
“This also seems the time for NATO to consider lifting its self-imposed restriction on deploying combat forces to allied territory in the east”
What about extending stability further east, through fresh enlargements – NATO’s 2.0 mission? Engaging Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova and the Caucus regions (as well as the Balkans) to foster economic prosperity and strengthen democratic governance are important means to enhance their independence. Completing a Europe whole, free and at peace is in the interest of every nation in Europe – including Russia. Yet while NATO membership may one day be in the offing for some or all of these countries, that should not be the immediate focus.
Right now, there is no consensus among the NATO allies about the wisdom of further enlargement; the bitter debate five years ago that divided the allies over membership for Ukraine and Georgia still persists. While Russia, and for that matter any other country, should not be able to veto the decisions by NATO on enlarging the alliance, prudent diplomacy should take account of the perspectives of others, including Moscow. NATO membership implies real obligations – including an unquestioning commitment to come to an ally’s defence. Few if any NATO members are today prepared to make such a commitment to Ukraine or Georgia – and without it we should not invite countries to join the alliance.
As for the operational side, NATO 3.0, the focus should be on fielding the forces and investing in capabilities that will bolster deterrence. For the past decade-and-a-half, most European members have under-invested in defence capabilities, believing that there were no threats that warranted increasing or even just maintaining their defence spending. That illusion has been shattered by the Ukraine crisis and by developments in North Africa and throughout the Middle East, and even in east Asia, which is increasingly the lifeblood of the global economy. The need to increase defence spending should by now be clear to all.
The greatest danger facing NATO is not that its members can’t agree on what role the alliance should play in European security, but that too many of them are concentrating solely on the re-emerging dangers to their east. Russia’s actions and designs are deeply disturbing and destabilising, even threatening. But Europe’s security is being challenged by more than the plans of a few men in the Kremlin. Instability in North Africa, the explosion in the Middle East, the gathering storm in east Asia are all developments Europe cannot ignore. These challenges won’t all have military answers; but an effective, strong, and outward-looking alliance like NATO is the essential foundation if and when effective action is called for.
Ivo Daalder is President of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and former U.S. ambassador to NATO from 2009-2013
Thursday, 4 December 2014
Date: 10 October 2014
In the fog of its foreign-policy confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, the European Union seems unable to see its energy-security interests clearly or to act accordingly.
Kiev has used the international crisis triggered by Russia’s actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine to restructure the contracts with Moscow it signed in 2009. It wants a much lower price for its gas imports and the ability to swap gas with Gazprom’s clients in Western Europe. It also disagrees with Russia on the value of the gas debt that it has accumulated over the years. To obtain what it wants, Ukraine has engaged in a game of chicken that threatens European gas consumers. The EU should have responded quickly and strongly to such brinkmanship; instead, it has remained passive.
A looming gas crisis
After Russia cancelled various discounts it made in 2010 and 2013, and went back to the 2009 contractual price formula, Ukraine stopped paying for Russian gas in May 2014, before being cut off by Gazprom on 16 June. As winter looms, Ukraine finds itself in a situation that is somewhere between problematic and catastrophic. As a country with cold winters that is highly reliant on natural gas for residential heating, Ukraine receives between two-thirds and three-quarters of its gas from Russia in January and February. One-third of that is directly imported, while the rest (as much as half of total consumption at the peak of the heating season) is Russian gas that was pumped into underground storage facilities during the summer.
That Ukraine missed most of the storage-filling season in 2014 is a serious cause for concern. Not receiving Russian gas during the winter months would mean extreme shortages of energy.
Such shortages could lead to a repeat of the European gas crisis of 2009. Having failed to agree on a new gas contract with Gazprom after its earlier one expired in December 2008, Naftogaz found itself without Russian gas on 1 January 2009. At the time, Gazprom was still sending large volumes of gas through Ukraine to its clients in Central and Western Europe. From the moment it was cut off, Naftogaz began to divert gas from the transit pipelines to its domestic consumers. The escalation that followed resulted in Gazprom entirely shutting down the Ukrainian gas corridor for two weeks in the middle of a cold winter, which had serious implications for Central and Southeast European countries. A similar scenario could occur this winter, when Ukraine will face severe shortages.
Kiev was irresponsible to stop imports of Russian gas in June, as doing so put at risk both its own population and the citizens of Central and Western Europe who rely on the Ukrainian gas-transit corridor for part of their energy supply. Yet the EU failed to adequately respond.
Ukraine’s maximalist position
On 26 September, with the heating season approaching, the European Commission proposed terms for a winter gas deal at a meeting in Berlin. Under the agreement, Ukraine would pay back $3.1 billion of its gas debt to Gazprom by the end of the year (in two instalments), and would buy ‘at least’ 5 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas from Gazprom between October and March, at a price of $385 per thousand cubic meters (tcm). The meeting was presented as a success, with the parties to iron out the details within days.
Our quantitative analysis shows that 5bcm is the absolute minimum needed to avoid a catastrophe, and would certainly not provide Ukraine with a comfort zone. Depending on how much gas has actually been stored away, Ukrainian storage facilities will be empty by sometime between late February and the end of March. However, unusually cold weather between December and February would ensure that the crisis occurred sooner. If a winter gas agreement included the option to take additional volumes beyond the 5bcm, as some have suggested, the situation would be significantly improved. But if Ukraine fails to sign an interim gas deal with Gazprom, a catastrophic situation could arise in which the storage facilities are empty by the end of January. Managing severe shortages so early in the winter would be extremely difficult, and might again result in the diversion of gas transiting towards Central and Western Europe.
Shortly after the 26 September meeting, it became clear that the parties were far from an agreement. At the time of writing, they had not met again as planned. It appears that Ukraine is sticking to a maximalist position.
The Ukrainian energy ministry stated that ‘during the negotiations, which took place on September 26, the Ukrainian side has not received an acceptable offer from the Russian side on the package’. The first issue is pricing. Ukraine wants the interim deal to be a standalone contract, separate from the ten-year 2009 agreement that contains a price formula it considers to be discriminatory and illegitimate. (Ukraine is suing Gazprom under the arbitration clause of the contract, in a bid to invalidate the price formula; the arbitral tribunal is scheduled to rule in mid-January 2015.) Russia, on the other hand, is willing to offer a discount of around $100/tcm, in the form of an export-duty waiver. The final price would then be $385/tcm under the 2009 contract, which Moscow regards as fully valid and in force.
The two parties also disagree on what the $3.1bn would pay for. Russia’s position – apparently consistent with the European Commission’s press release of 26 September – is that the sum would go towards repayment of the debt, a condition for Ukraine to buy the 5bcm of gas. However, the Ukrainian government maintains that $2bn would go towards the first tranche of the debt repayment, while the second instalment of $1.1bn would count towards payment for the 5bcm.
Most worryingly, Ukraine seems to have considerably widened the scope of the negotiation by asking that the gas-transit contract with Gazprom be restructured as a condition of the interim deal, purportedly to ensure that the arrangements were ‘in compliance with EU legislation’. Our understanding is that Kiev would like to be able to enter into swap deals, virtually giving Naftogaz access to Western Europe’s liquid-natural-gas terminals. Gazprom has consistently and successfully opposed such transactions along the transit pipelines carrying its gas westward, including the Yamal–Europe pipeline across Poland. There is nothing to indicate that progress is being made towards a deal, which is now a matter of urgency.
The EU must get tough with Ukraine
The European Commission has mediated the negotiations since spring, and facilitated gas flows from Central Europe to Ukraine. These gas flows will not replace Russian gas either this winter or in longer term, but they have helped Kiev maintain its maximalist negotiating position. Brussels has never denounced Ukraine’s irresponsibility, nor does it seem to understand the impact of its own policies on Ukraine’s negotiating behaviour.
It is now very late in the day, but what can be saved should be saved. The leaders of EU member states must regain the upper hand over the European Commission and deal with the situation in a manner consistent with Europe’s energy-security interests. They should make clear to Ukraine that it has to go back to the 2009 contract to maintain its gas relationship with Moscow. It is unclear whether Kiev will be successful in its arbitration case against Gazprom, but it has no right to take Europe hostage as a means of forcing Russia to renegotiate their gas and transit contracts. Two specific messages should be conveyed to Kiev: it must agree to the terms suggested by the European Commission on 26 September and accepted by Russia for the winter interim gas deal, under the 2009 contract; and, if gas is diverted from the transit pipelines at any point during this winter, the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine will be immediately suspended, together with all programmes of economic assistance. It is the second message that will make Ukrainian ministers listen. Europe now has a lot of leverage over Ukraine, and it must use it.
The EU should fully embrace South Stream
The second pillar of Europe’s strategy should be to complete the bypassing of Ukraine, ensuring that European energy-security is never held hostage to gas-price bargaining between Ukraine and Russia, as it was in 2006, 2009 and again in 2014. The governments of Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Bulgaria, Greece and Hungary (at least) should give Moscow assurances that the South Stream pipeline will be built. They should insist that the project will not de facto become part of the EU sanctions against Russia, contrary what was suggested in a recent resolution by the European Parliament. They should work towards a compromise with Russia and Brussels, over the regulatory objections of the European Commission towards the onshore sections of South Stream.
Bypassing Ukraine as a gas-transit country does not mean siding with Russia in the battle over the future of the country or its territorial integrity. European governments can continue to work, through large utilities and other energy companies, towards building South Stream while being as generous as they choose to be in their assistance to Ukraine, including in efforts towards energy diversification. True, Ukraine will lose its transit revenues when South Stream becomes operational, but the EU cannot force Russia to continue relying on Ukraine as a transit country, and it would be against the interests of Central and Western European countries to deepen the only serious risk to their gas-supply security. Moreover, a bypassed Ukraine would lose its leverage against Russia and therefore be in a much better position to make credible reform commitments to its international backers.
The security crisis in eastern Ukraine has raised the political price of cooperating with Moscow to discontinue gas transit through Ukraine. The prospect of a new gas crisis this winter, and indeed further crises every winter, shows that this is necessary nonetheless. The EU should act accordingly, publicly embracing the construction of South Stream as essential to its energy-security interests.
A foreign-policy test for the EU
Ukraine appears to be using the political crisis between the EU, the United States and Russia to extract economic concessions from Moscow through the restructuring of its gas contract. As in 2006 and 2009, its tactics rely on the assumption that Russia will be blamed if the dispute creates a gas crisis in Europe this winter. Such energy brinkmanship presents a serious foreign-policy challenge to the EU and its member states. So far, they are failing the test.
Chi Kong Chyong is a Research Associate in the Energy Policy Research Group, University of Cambridge.
Wednesday, 3 December 2014
References to ‘global health governance’ have become increasingly popular. Many universities are following the trend. Some are pursuing the option of providing masters and other tailored training courses that reflect the growing importance of the links between globalization and health and the nexus between the two.
Many world leaders have also recognized the need to pay particular attention to common health risks. When United States President Barack Obama and African leaders met in August 2014 in Washington, DC, at the first Africa–US Leaders Summit, they recognized the challenges posed by common health threats. They all looked forward to the creation of an African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. Even leaders of the security-oriented North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), when they met in Wales in September 2014, included health risks as elements that could torpedo military planning in their operations around the world.
The UN Security Council too has been conducting meetings over the past weeks to address the current Ebola outbreak as a threat to international peace and security. It is important that such attention is placed on health at the very highest levels of government. The intensity of the cooperation between the World Health Organization (WHO) and individual African countries in the current Ebola crisis has again revealed how health threats cannot be quarantined and dealt with within national boundaries alone.
There is no question that national and global levels of governance are vital in dealing with these common health problems. However, a critical vacuum remains regarding what happens at the regional level that intermediates between national and global health responses.
The role of cross-border regional structures and initiatives in confronting health risks cannot be underestimated. The creation of robust regional health warning systems can help to alert countries of the risk of viruses and assist them in shaping and coordinating individual reactions. Common regional health initiatives including twinning/partnering of referral hospitals and laboratories can help scale the sharing of vital data needed to predict and avert epidemics and pandemics while also scaling and optimizing scarce resources.
What is more, joint and coordinated procurement of medicines, vaccines and also diagnostic/preventive kits can be more beneficial than individually negotiated deals. This is so because of the price benefits associated with scaling bulk demand.
In spite of these advantages, the importance placed on regional level health response remains limited and consistently inadequate. Beyond the European Union and, to an extent, the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), performance of regional organizations in the area of health is timid, at best.
Failure to amply address this gap will lead to aggravated uncoordinated responses in addressing critical health threats. It is arguable that various national governments and WHO itself are the needed levels of response. As such, some may regard the regional level as an unnecessary onerous bureaucratic burden in the chain of health governance. This may be so, given the linear and direct channels of communication between WHO and its various member states. Yet even WHO itself recognizes the need for complementary regional responses to its global health challenges. That is why it has specific regional offices that provide services tailored to the needs to given regions.
Global health governance will be strengthened if the various national governments and stakeholders, as well as WHO, increase partnerships with regional organizations. How can this be done? There is need for greater cooperation and exchange of information between WHO’s regional offices and respective relevant regional organizations that have a mandate in the areas of health promotion and health governance.
Related to this is the need for periodic results-oriented activities between heads of relevant regional organizations and the head of WHO. This could take the format of or be aligned to the periodic meetings held between the United Nations Secretary-General and leaders of regional arrangements and agencies whose mandates include security amongst others. Widening the participatory space within the World Health Assembly for these entities to become observers, as is the European Union (EU), would also be useful and highly salutary.
Further, it is vital that regional organizations that are mainly composed of least developed countries make full use of the flexibilities built into the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS). WTO decisions/declarations and TRIPS amendments have made this possible. Yet countries have underused it.
A case could also be made that stringent conditions in using these flexibilities need to be relaxed as they are currently replete with protracted red tape. WHO has conducted work through its special working groups exploring how TRIPS flexibilities can be maximized in accessing affordable medicines. The importance and relevance of this work needs to be felt as well at the regional level through the work of the regional offices of WHO in their engagements with relevant regional outfits. Linked to the preceding, it is vital that regional organizations establish channels that connect their activities with regional intellectual property organizations to maximize joint procurements and use of collective licenses in terms of obtaining affordable medicines and vaccines.
In addition, for regional entities to be taken more seriously, they really need to show what they can bring to the table. What are they doing to promote collective action on research and development in the biomedical field? What are they doing concretely through adoption and implementation of initiatives akin to the former Framework Programs and current Horizon 2020 plans of the EU?
This is really where the rubber hits the road. Regional outfits with health mandates can scale their limited budgets (even through partnerships with the private sector and foundations) to explore ways of supporting local/regional cooperation between researchers and research institutes that work on common health problems.
Finally, regional organizations with a mandate in health need dynamic evaluation and monitoring tools that properly link up global resources and local/national realities. Here is where the important initiative we work with, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council of the United Kingdom (UK), comes in. The initiative looks at the connections between poverty reduction and regional integration (PRARI) with a focus on pro-poor health policies that mainly confront the needs of the most vulnerable in societies, especially in the post-2015 context as countries and international institutions debate ways of securing optimal financing for development. The PRARI initiative explores ways in which regional institutions can partner with both local and global outfits to map out a canvas of indicators, which are usable by regional policymakers and practitioners to monitor key health results and trends.
International experts involved in the project are pulled from the Open University (UK), the University of Southampton, the United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies (UNU-CRIS), FLACSO Argentina and the South African Institute of International Affairs. The approach used is heavily participative with a sharpened intensity on the input from those in the regional bodies (mainly SADC and UNASUR) that would use the toolkit of indicators developed to gauge effectiveness of regional pro-poor health policies in Bolivia, Paraguay, Swaziland and Zambia.
Better integration of regional contributions to the global health institutional architecture is worthwhile. But realizing this goal will not be thorn-free. The risks are that there is a danger of inflated and unpredictable costs for expanding bureaucracies and of adding more layers to an already complex tapestry of institutional responses. However, in the unique area of health where many viruses and germs defy border controls, more communication and coordination across the national, regional and global levels of governance would strengthen global health governance.
Tuesday, 2 December 2014
Kalau anda masih ingat, coretan saya di dalam Mingguan Malaysia pada 3 Ogos 2014 ada menceritakan bagaimana Mao Tse-tung telah diperangkap oleh Liu Shao-chi semasa persidangan terbesar Parti Komunis China yang dinamakan Conference of the Seven Thousand Cadres yang berlangsung di Beijing sekitar Januari dan Februari 1962.
Hasrat Mao Tse-tung telah dicantas oleh Liu Shao-chi. Semasa memberi ucapan pembukaan persidangan pada 27 Januari, dengan Mao duduk di sebelahnya, Liu Shao-chi tidak membaca teks yang telah diluluskan oleh Mao tetapi teks yang ditulis oleh Liu sendiri dengan bantuan pemimpin yang rapat dengannya. Di hadapan 7,000 kader kanan parti dari seluruh China, Liu Shao-chi mengecam habis-habisan Dasar Great Leap. Di depan Mao Tse-tung yang kebingungan, kader-kader parti yang hadir telah bangun beberapa kali memberi tepukan tanda sokongan terhadap ucapan Liu Shao-chi. Ucapannya yang di luar dugaan itu menyebut satu persatu kesilapan-kesilapan Dasar Great Leap. Apabila di penghujung ucapannya Liu Shao-chi menyeru supaya Dasar Great Leap dihentikan segera, dewan persidangan bergemuruh dengan pekikan suara para kader parti yang menyatakan persetujuan mereka. Suara-suara yang menyimpulkan: ‘Kami setuju’. Mereka seperti baru dikejutkan bahawa Presiden negara komunis China – jawatan yang dipegang Liu Shao-chi ketika itu– berdiri di belakang mereka. Mereka sedar perangkap yang dimainkan oleh Liu Shao-chi kerana teks ucapan yang diizinkan oleh Mao telah pun diedarkan kepada mereka sehari sebelum bermulanya persidangan.
Walaupun Liu Shao-chi telah mematahkan hasratnya, Mao tidak serta-merta membalas tindakan Liu Shao-chi. Dia merancang langkah balas secara tidak terburu-buru. Mao merasakan dia telah ditempelak dan dihina dengan hebatnya oleh Liu Shao-chi di persidangan Conference of The Seven Thousand Cadres itu. Mao Tse-tung kemudian ada memberitahu isterinya, Jiang Qing, yang dia juga mungkin telah disingkirkan daripada jawatan Pengerusi Parti Komunis China semasa persidangan itu kalaulah tidak kerana kedatangan Lin Biau pada 29 Januari iaitu hari pertama selepas persidangan dilanjutkan beberapa hari kemudian. Lin Biau pada asalnya tidak dikehendaki menghadiri persidangan itu. Lin Biau telah bergegas datang atas arahan Mao Tse-tung.
Ucapan Lin Biau pada hari itu telah memberi kesan face saving kepada Mao Tse-tung. Lin Biau digeruni kerana, sebagai Menteri Pertahanan, tiga juta anggota tentera China berdiri di belakangnya. Mao mengambil masa empat tahun mempersiapkan strategi melenyapkan penentang-penentangnya seperti Liu Shao-chi. Maka terhasillah Revolusi Kebudayaan, kononnya untuk ‘membersihkan’ masyarakat China daripada amalan-amalan ‘kuno’ orang Cina yang dibilang Mao Tse-tung sebagai “Four Olds – old thoughts, old culture, old customs and old habits (halaman 236),” buku Harrison Salisbury.
Revolusi Kebudayaan yang kononnya bertujuan menghancurkan Four Olds itu sebetulnya tipu-helah dan putar-belit politik Mao Tse-tung. Tujuan sebenar Mao adalah untuk membersihkan parti komunis dari pemimpin-pemimpin yang tidak sehaluan dengan Mao Tse-tung. Malangnya, walaupun ia bersifat peribadi di antara Mao dengan penentangnya, Revolusi Kebudayaan telah mengheret bersama rakyat China yang tidak berdosa. Penubuhan Red Guards telah menyebabkan semua sekolah, maktab dan universiti di seluruh China ditutup, guru dikasari oleh murid mereka sendiri, polis tidak lagi berkuasa sehingga menjadi seperti golok kayu, pembunuhan dan penyeksaan manusia tak berdosa berlaku di sana sini di China.
Jika diperhalusi peristiwa keganasan dan tunjuk perasaan yang melonjak-lonjak di jalan-jalan raya di China oleh Red Guards pada pertengahan tahun 1960-an dan awal tahun 1970-an itu, kita dapat menyimpulkan, semacam ada persamaan antara apa yang berlaku di China itu dengan yang berlaku di tempat lain dalam dunia apabila pemimpin politik suka mengheret rakyat khususnya muda-mudi ke dalam sesuatu perkara yang bersifat peribadi dan menyentuh diri pemimpin politik itu sendiri.
Perlu saya katakan juga, setelah menjadi pemimpin utama Parti Komunis China sejak awal tahun 1930-an dan mengetuai negara komunis China sejak 1949, Mao bukan saja digeruni, ditakuti dan menjadi sumber segala macam ‘penawar’ untuk mengubati ‘penyakit’ masyarakat Cina bersandarkan ajaran komunis, dia juga dianggap memiliki sifat-sifat separuh Tuhan oleh rata-rata rakyat China yang buta huruf, dan sangat ketinggalan dari segi ilmu pengetahuan.
Cengkaman mendalam Mao Tse-tung terhadap jentera Parti Komunis China – di peringkat pusat, provinsi, daerah, bahkan di mana-mana pertubuhan pun yang ada menubuhkan bahagian atau ranting parti – semua ini telah membantu memperkukuh pemujaan dan ketaksuban terhadap Mao.
Penulis Salisbury, untuk bukunya The New Emperors: Mao and Deng, pada 1987 telah menemu bual Chen Han-sheng, seorang pejuang seangkatan dengan Mao dan telah mengabdikan hampir seluruh hidupnya untuk revolusi komunis China. Chen mendapat pendidikan di Pomona College, California, kemudian meneruskan pelajaran dalam bidang ekonomi di Universiti Chicago, Amerika Syarikat pada tahun 1920-an. Dia memasuki Parti Komunis China pada awal tahun 1930-an. Dia merupakan kenalan rapat Mao Tse-tung.
Chen Han-sheng menjadi salah seorang mangsa Red Guards semasa Revolusi Kebudayaan. Chen percaya ini angkara Mao kerana dia telah turut hadir dan menyokong ‘sepenuh jiwa’ ucapan Liu Shao-chi yang 'membaham' Mao semasa persidangan 7,000 kader pada awal 1962 itu. Dia berumur 91 tahun semasa ditemui Salisbury, matanya sudah hampir buta gara-gara perbuatan Mao memerintahkan doktor supaya tidak mengubati penyakit mata glaukoma yang dihidapi Chen semasa dia dalam tahanan Red Guards.
Sebelum saya menghuraikan secara luas kisah bagaimana Mao Tse-tung menghukum Liu Shao-chi, elok saya petik halaman 222 buku Salisbury yang menceritakan: “…Chen Bo-da, Mao’s personal secretary and alter ego (sahabat karib) for nearly thirty years, the man who personified Mao’s most evil impulses. Chen Bo-da (with Mao’s blessing) personally gave the orders that led to the death of President Liu Shao-chi and to the brutal treatment of Liu’s wife, Wang Guang-mei, and the rest of the family…” Chen Bo-da, ialah salah seorang anggota Kumpulan Kecil di pejabat Mao Tse-tung yang diberi tugas oleh Mao melaksanakan Revolusi Kebudayaan – anggota lain ialah Chao En-lai, Jiang Qing, Kang Sheng, Lin Biau dan tiga orang lagi daripada kumpulan Gang of Four pimpinan Jiang Qing. Kata Salisbury lagi : “That Mao was a true ‘person of hatred’, in the words of the nonagenarian Chen Han-Sheng, would now be demonstrated on a scale that would eclipse even the savagery of his (Mao’s) role model, Emperor Qin (halaman 222).”
Tuesday 28 October 2014
Médecins Sans Frontières, one of the key charities on the frontline of tackling the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa, has in recent weeks been calling for a global military intervention to contain the disease. Joanne Liu, the International President of MSF, told the UN in early September that the further spread of the disease "will not be prevented without a massive deployment". Liu repeated this call in an interview published in the British Medical Journal in which she said that “The military are the only body that can be deployed in the numbers needed now and that can organise things fast.” She went on to give another reason for a military-based response: “I think with the massive investment and knowing how much they are afraid of bioterrorism, they have some knowledge about highly contagious diseases.”
After being heavily criticised for many months of inaction on Ebola, Western governments are now beginning to deploy troops across the countries most affected by the outbreak. At the time of writing the US has sent approximately 4,000 troops to Liberia, where they have been involved in building treatment units and training medical workers. Further deployments are promised. The UK is sending a ship (RFA Argus), along with 750 soldiers and medics to Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has bemoaned the fact that a $1 billion trust fund launched by the UN has only received $100,000 in donations. Some of the major Western powers, it seems, see sending troops as preferable to channelling financial donations via the UN.
In some ways it is easy to see why. The lack of human resources on the ground in West Africa is a major obstacle facing the containment effort. This is not a new problem: Sierra Leone and Liberia jointly rank 194th in the world (out of 200) when it comes to the number of physicians per 1,000 people, with Guinea only slightly ahead at 173rd. It is no wonder that Ebola has stretched these meagre resources far beyond their limits. As Joanne Liu argues, Western militaries appear to have the capacity to deploy teams quickly and in large numbers – not only military medics, but also troops who can contribute to building the necessary physical infrastructure.
Deploying the military to pursue undoubtedly worthy humanitarian ends, however, needs to be handled with great care. Whilst the logistical capacity and human resources that militaries have may seem to make them the ideal people to send to West Africa (a choice which seems even more natural given that Western governments, including those in the US and the UK have interpreted Ebola as a threat to their own national security and have ‘declared war’ on the disease) there are significant political (and, potentially, health) risks in doing so.
First, it is far from clear that these militaries actually do have the necessary expertise and experience. Nancy Lindborg from USAID told the Washington Post that there was a lack of military medical personnel with the relevant expertise, hampering the US’s ability to effectively provide assistance. The preparedness for bioterrorism that Joanne Liu identified makes extensive use of civilian public health personnel as well as the military, while the military medics deployed in theatre are trained and equipped for short term immediate care (often battle related) rather than the demands of a highly pathogenic virus. Even the RFA Argus, a ship specifically designed to receive casualties, has such limited facilities for highly contagious patients that it will not be receiving any local patients on board. What militaries do have extensive experience of over the past two decades of humanitarian deployments is in infrastructure projects – but this is perhaps best seen as a long term preventive strategy rather than a short term response to an urgent need.
Second, there are real causes for concern over how the arrival of international troops sent to ‘battle Ebola’ will be received within the region. Trust in the authorities is a vital part of any disease containment effort, and all-too-often it has been lacking during this Ebola outbreak where people in all three of the most-affected countries have feared not only the disease itself, but also the attempts of the authorities to implement containment measures. A team of eight health workers was killed in Guinea, and there have also been attacks on teams of aid workers burying dead bodies. Liberia has seen violent clashes between the public and the police and military as they attempted to enforce emergency quarantine arrangements. In Sierra Leone, police used tear gas against protesters complaining about the inadequacy of the response to the outbreak and a treatment center was attacked. These are just a small number of examples of a widespread and pervasive lack of trust which continues to hamper containment efforts. It is quite possible that the presence of foreign troops will exacerbate rather than ameliorate this problem.
Rumours in some areas that the West is responsible for creating Ebola in the first place increase this danger. Significant attention was garnered by a piece in the Liberian Daily Observer written by Dr. Cyril Broderick, a Professor of Plant Pathology at the University of Liberia, who argued that Ebola (as well as AIDS) had been manufactured as a bioweapon and that “Reports narrate stories of the US Department of Defense (DoD) funding Ebola trials on humans, trials which started just weeks before the Ebola outbreak in Guinea and Sierra Leone.” Whilst we should be careful not to overstate the extent to which such claims are believed by people in the region, there is a constituency for them – one which is unlikely to be dissuaded from its belief by the arrival of Western uniformed troops.
Third, these deployments are in danger of furthering the zeitgeist of the militarisation of aid. In Iraq and Afghanistan in particular, but in emergencies elsewhere on the planet, the US military has been at the forefront of both the ‘war on terror’ and the delivery of humanitarian aid, often in the same country and even at the same time. Indeed the US has been explicit about the benefits of aid in the war on terror, as a form of ‘soft power’. The result is a blurring of the distinction of the military being used instrumentally for political gains, and the delivery of aid for humanitarian purposes. The result is not simply a scepticism over Western intentions when they deploy their militaries for humanitarian purposes, but the targeting of aid workers because the distinction between aid and politics has been undermined.
Fourth, and above all, if we see the deployment of the military as our response to ‘combat emergencies’, this misses the point that what we need are upstream prevention and early control measures not downstream band aids. Ebola is only the latest in a series of disease outbreaks which have required emergency responses, but which might have been prevented from becoming epidemics if better public health systems (including improved disease surveillance capacities) were in place. The system for identifying and reporting disease outbreaks has improved dramatically in some parts of the world from the time when local officials in Guandong could hide the emergence of SARS both from Beijing and the outside world. But the system is patchy and the ability to react quickly with appropriately trained medical and public health professionals is still sadly lacking.
Monday, 1 December 2014
The latest round of propaganda videos released by the Islamic State suggest the terrorist group is altering its media approach to directly counter what the mainstream Western media is saying about it.
The two most recently released videos both feature British hostage John Cantlie, a captive journalist who has been used by ISIS as a spokesperson of sorts during the last month of his captivity. The first was the latest release of a propaganda video series called "Lend Me Your Ears."
In the most recent installment of this series, Cantlie reads a script that directly addresses a number of details reported by The New York Times in its Sunday cover story, "The Horror Before the Beheadings," as well as older news stories.
Award-winning reporter Rukmini Callimachi researched the piece for several months, interviewing former ISIS hostages and their families to paint a picture of what life is like for those who have been captured and released or killed by the group. It revealed many new details about the captivity and deaths of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff, and British aid worker Alan Henning, who were all beheading victims of ISIS.
Callimachi reported that Foley, the first of the hostages to be publicly beheaded, was treated extremely harshly: He suffered waterboarding, beating, starvation, interrogation, and unspeakable torture, primarily due to his connection to the American military through relatives, as well as his work as a journalist.
In the video, ISIS admits to torture, but blames the hostages and their governments for the abuse. "Now, unless we tried something stupid like escaping or doing something we shouldn't, we were treated well by the Islamic State," says Cantlie in the ISIS directed video. "Some of us who tried to escape were waterboarded by our captors, as Muslim prisoners are waterboarded by their American captors."
Cantlie also comments on the very few comforts the captives had, as reported by the Times, such as playing chess using pieces drawn on scrap paper and reenacting movies. "Our strange little community of prisoners had its share of problems, but apart from the odd fight, we lived together in relative harmony through uncertain times. We read books, played recreational games, and gave lectures on our specialist subjects. It wasn't a bad life." The fights, lectures, and games were all explicitly mentioned in the Times article as methods the prisoners developed to cope with their long captivity.
Callimachi connected her interviews and various other media reports to determine that, at this time, ISIS has only three hostages remaining: two Americans, Peter Kassig, and an unidentified woman, as well as John Cantlie.
The video also address another major news report, dating back to early September. In an interview with ABC News, the Foley family said they felt threatened by members of the United States government to not cooperate with any of the ISIS demands, particularly the ransom payment. In Cantlie's message, he reads from two particular email exchanges, both from relatives of the American hostages. (It is unspecified if they are from the Sotloff or Foley family, who were both in contact with the group.) The messages, which have not been independently confirmed, were as follows:
17th of July 2014:
Our government is not being helpful. We have begged them so many times already. Everyone has buried their heads in the sand. We feel we are caught in the middle between you and the U.S. government, and we are being punished. We have reached out to our government, but they have been non-responsive for some time now.
24th of July 2014:
We are contacting people everyday. You've given us a huge mountain to climb, and we feel like a pawn in this political battle that we've been forced into. I'm taking everything you have said seriously, and I'm working as fast as I can. I need more time.
Cantlie then confirms reports dating back to late August that ISIS had wanted to trade Foley for the release of Dr. Aafia Siddique, "Lady al-Qaeda," and that the United States government had rejected this request. Siddique was accused of plotting numerous attacks against the U.S. and conspiring with high-ranking al-Qaeda members. She is currently serving a 86-year sentence in a U.S. prison for attempting to kill a U.S. Army captain.
In a second video, released on Monday, Cantlie appears in the city of Kobani, wearing regular street clothes. In past videos, ISIS dressed their hostages in orange robes and plastic slippers (which The Times discovered are tragically shared by hostages, dead and alive). However, in this video, Cantlie is seen in street attire, with a manicured beard and hands unbound. In this propaganda video, he denies claims that ISIS is being pushed out of Kobani by Kurdish or American forces. (In reality, ISIS has been unsuccessful in attempts to take Kobani.)
This video also indicates another change for ISIS. It has been 24 days since Alan Henning's execution video became public, and Peter Kassig was threatened to be the next victim. However, these new videos give no information on Kassig's status. The other beheading videos were all released about two weeks apart. A number of calls have been made to spare Kassig's life—he is an aid worker and devout Muslim. Even Abu Omar Aqidi, a high ranking official in the al-Qaeda sect Jabhat al-Nusra, has called for his release. ISIS is known for its well-organized social media activity, yet it seems to be slowly changing patterns.
Friday, 28 November 2014
(London) – Women and girls abducted by the Islamist group Boko Haram are forced to marry, convert, and endure physical and psychological abuse, forced labor, and rape in captivity, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The group has abducted more than 500 women and girls since 2009, and intensified abductions since May 2013, when Nigeria imposed a state of emergency in areas where Boko Haram is most active.
The 63-page report, “‘Those Terrible Weeks in Their Camp’: Boko Haram Violence against Women and Girls in Northeast Nigeria,” is based on interviews with more than 46 witnesses and victims of Boko Haram abductions in Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa states, including with girls who escaped the April 2014 abduction of 276 girls from Chibok secondary school. Their statements suggest that the Nigerian government has failed to adequately protect women and girls from a myriad of abuses, provide them with effective support and mental health and medical care after captivity, ensure access to safe schools, or investigate and prosecute those responsible for the abuses.
“The Chibok tragedy and #BringBackOurGirls campaign focused much-needed global attention to the horrific vulnerability of girls in northeastern Nigeria,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Now the Nigerian government and its allies need to step up their efforts to put an end to these brutal abductions and provide for the medical, psychological, and social needs of the women and girls who have managed to escape.”
In addition to speaking to women and girls who had been abducted, Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed social workers, members of Nigerian and international nongovernmental organizations, diplomats, journalists, religious leaders, and state and federal government officials.
The April 14 abduction of 276 schoolgirls from Chibok, a rural town in Borno State, was the biggest single incident of abductions by Boko Haram. However, Boko Haram has abducted numerous other people, both before and since Chibok. The relative ease with which Boko Haram carried out the Chibok abductions seems to have emboldened it to step up abductions elsewhere.
Nigerian Chief of Defense Staff Alex Badeh announced on October 17 a ceasefire agreement between Nigeria and Boko Haram. Hassan Tukur, an aide to Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, reported that there was also an agreement for the release of the girls who had been taken from Chibok. Coordinator of the National Information Center, Mike Omeri, however, later said that the schoolgirls' release was still under negotiation.
While Boko Haram has taken some victims arbitrarily, it seems to target students and Christians, in particular. The group threatens victims with whipping, beating, or death unless they convert to Islam, stop attending school, and wear the veil or hijab. Boko Haram translates roughly from the Hausa language as “Western education is forbidden” religiously.
Thursday, 27 November 2014
Authorities in Morocco are increasingly concerned about the impact of Moroccan jihadis returning from Syria. This unease was reflected in a series of precautionary measures, including amending anti-terrorism laws and tightening controls at airports and along the Algerian border. So far this year, security forces indicated they have dismantled a number of cells working to recruit young Moroccans for armed groups in Syria. However, the Moroccan authorities are also exaggerating the terrorism threat to ensure the Ministry of Interior consolidates its independence from the elected government and regains the impunity with which it used to act.
Since Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced the establishment of the caliphate, Moroccan members of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) have worked intensely to attract and recruit peers via social networking sites. Propaganda tapes were published in turn that called for migration to Syria, extolling the earthly and eschatological gains that lie therein. A Moroccan ISIS member shared this sentiment on one of the tapes, saying: “Whoever wants [to attain] the worldly life, then he has [to go] to Syria. And whoever wants [to attain] the afterlife, then he has [to go] to Syria.”1
Some of the Moroccans fighting in Syria have furthermore threatened to launch attacks inside the kingdom. These types of pronouncements have raised fears among the security forces that jihadis currently in Syria or Libya could cross into the country via the eastern borders with Algeria to carry out violent attacks. This fear was bolstered by the dual announcements that splinter factions from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) joined ISIS, and that the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) plans to assassinate political figures, including Mustapha Ramid, the Minister of Justice and Liberties and member of the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD). The specific threat to Ramid came in response to his efforts to dry up sources for attracting jihadis, particularly his success in convincing some Salafi-jihadi figures to disavow the group. As a result of these efforts, Sheikh Omar al-Heddouchi, the most prominent such figure, issued fatwas declaring his disavowal of ISIS and criticizing Moroccan youth who join the Syrian conflict. This led the radical stream of jihadis to sideline him, some of whom excommunicated him altogether. The degree to which the assassination threats are serious, however, is difficult to gauge considering that the defected branches from AQIM lack sufficient human and logistical resources. In addition, they and MUJAO are largely operating outside Morocco’s borders—between Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, and Mali.
In response to these threats, the Moroccan government issued a modified version of the anti-terrorism law on September 11, 2014. The amended law includes new provisions pertaining to Moroccan fighters in foreign trouble spots, such as instating heavy penalties ranging from five to fifteen years in prison and fines of up to 500,000 dirhams ($60,000) for anyone who joins or tries to join armed organizations inside or outside Morocco. Ramid justified these amendments on grounds that it would prevent youth from joining “these groups where death, murder, slaughter, bloodshed, and loss of life are meaningless and without any goal.” Beyond the amendments, the Moroccan army—for the first time—deployed rocket launchers, anti-aircraft guns, and heavy weapons near sensitive areas along the Algerian border and airports in order to thwart any possible terrorist attack.
But security forces’ tactics seem disproportional to the reality of the threats. To date, ISIS’s calls have not garnered much ideological support that could down the line translate into sufficient logistical support to carry out operations in the country. The most prominent Salafi sheikhs (those detained under the terrorism law and others outside of prison) disavowed the extremist group. Although these sheikhs are far from moderate, they object to ISIS’s tactics and exclusionary tendencies. Additionally, some Salafis believe that the majority of fighters in Syria are uninterested in returning instead they largely wish to spend the rest of their lives under the protection of the “Islamic State” or die there in combat.2 As for the few who do seek to return, they would do so out of disillusionment with the groups they are fighting for like Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS than a genuine desire to execute violent attacks in Morocco.3
Although the seriousness of these threats cannot be denied, the Ministry of Interior is exaggerating them to tighten its grip on internal affairs as it once did. The ministry stands to gain most from the new set of security protocols. First and foremost, the Ministry of Interior wants to send a message to the prime minister—and consequently the PJD—that due to the terrorism threat, the security forces should be free from their oversight. The amendments to the terrorism law and the overall atmosphere of concern for national security, allow it to assert its independence from the elected government and to reestablish a free hand over internal affairs, unhampered by oversight from the government or civil society.
The Ministry of Interior can now use the new measures to quiet NGOs critical of police abuses and alleged torture. In a speech Mohammed Hassad, the Minister of Interior, gave before parliament this summer about ISIS and Moroccan jihadis, he linked the terrorism threats to the work of some human rights associations that—according to him—are tied to foreign agencies. He claimed that they undermined the state’s efforts to combat terrorism. Since that period, the security authorities have confronted the secular Moroccan Association of Human Rights (French acronym, AMDH). The Interior Ministry banned 25 of the group’s activities in less than six months, and state media has ridiculed the association to tarnish its image. It also banned an annual youth camp organized by Amnesty International’s Moroccan branch in Rabat.
Additional measures seek to restrict the country’s religious sphere and discourse. The Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs issued laws banning imams and preachers from “taking any position of a political or union-based nature, or doing anything that would halt or impede the performance of religious rites.” Ever since, the number of ministry-approved Friday sermons has increased.
The security approach, which favors a strong hand for the Ministry of Interior—even if one overlooks all the danger it poses for political and civil freedoms—is not likely to be effective to fight terrorism. However, it seems the ministry’s concern about terrorism is only secondary to its attempts to consolidate its grip once again. This, however, is not likely to enhance stability or security in the long term, and may indeed undermine it.
Mohammed Masbah is a fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin and a regular contributor to Sada.
This article was translated from Arabic.
Wednesday, 26 November 2014
In Turkey, IS supporters and parts of the Kurdish population have clashed in fierce and sometimes even violent confrontations. This is happening at the same moment that Kurdish groups in Brussels, Germany and the Netherlands request more support for their struggle against IS in Iraq and Syria. In some cases protesters have entered or occupied Parliament buildings. The Middle East conflict is effectively exported into Turkey and into Western Europe. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The next step may very well be crucial and a crossroad that could lead Europe into long term involvement in a complex conflict. A conflict that does not respect borders. This very fact raises questions about empowerment, strategic choices and tactics. There are many ingredients to the present day situation that matter. But some are of great importance:
Whether we like it or not there are groups of people in many countries, including Western Europe and Turkey, that feel at home with the IS agenda. We have referred to them as foreign fighters and have defined these groups and individuals as a risk to society. Our prime response has mainly been repressive and hostile, thereby alienating them from the rest of society. Rather than deterring them, this approach has actually raised their profile and attractiveness for those who already feel outsiders in society.
IS supporters have announced that if European governments intervene in the Middle East they will revenge inside the European space. This has had an impact on threat levels and security measures in some European countries. Apparently these threats are taken seriously in at least some states. To what extend the IS supporters are capable or effectively ready to execute such threats is yet to be seen. But even if unrealistic the impact is already tangible.
Kurds have long felt isolated and ignored by the international community. Their long term ambition is clear: a sovereign, independent Kurdish state in former Kurdistan. This ambition is opposed by almost all governments, in the region and beyond. Whilst the short term agenda of the Peshmerga and the Turkish Kurds may coincide with the international agenda, the long term agendas differ fundamentally.
Kurdish groups in Turkey, Iraq and Syria have suffered from many political developments and incidents in the last decades. One of them is the listing of PKK as a terrorist organisation, under strong international political pressure from Ankara. Others include the unresolved Kirkuk debate and the massacre committed by Sadam Hussein. These incidents account for the deep frustration and anger that transcends the present day concerns in Iraq and/or Syria.
Alongside the individuals and groups in the Western world that feel sympathy for and find recognition in the IS agenda, there are also many who feel represented by the Kurdish agenda in those same Western countries. Diaspora, spontaneous and induced, has spread over the entire western world. The interconnectivity of this diaspora may be bigger than some may would wish to acknowledge. This means that mobilising support and support-structures for both sides is, not just potentially, a possibility.
Put together, these ingredients have created a situation where, interestingly enough, the reasons given by those who support either IS or the Kurdish people are strikingly similar. `We are confronted with violence’, `we need to stand up for our rights’, `we are humiliated and neglected’, `the only alternative is to act`, `I cannot be silent or absent when my people need my support`. There seem to be very strong and mobilising identity issues among both parties, who feel that there is a reason to live and die for in Iraq, Syria and potentially in Turkey and Europe.
How to deal with these issues? The Western dilemma is obvious and boils down to the question of empowerment and indirect involvement. And with that comes the eternal question of short term empowerment and long term impact. Given that the long term agenda on both sides is unacceptable to Western governments, that the long term implications of empowering one of the parties in a conflict over the other is often disastrous, that both sides are using the same language to mobilize forces, and most of all, that identity is a major driver, should we not consider all these issues? All the more so, because Europe, because of its own internal social fabric, cannot isolate itself from the consequences of its actions.
IS has committed the most gruesome acts. It has publicly provoked Western governments´ reactions through the most outrageous inhumane acts. It has shown to its followers that it dares to openly revenge Guantanamo Bay, the drones, the killing of Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian Territories and all those other humiliations that individuals, that identify with the cause and the victims of those occasions, strongly internalise. For its followers IS stands for actor vs victim; identity vs humiliation.
I would not be surprised if the Kurdish cause stands for similar, if not exactly the same, values. Kurds are mobilising around long-nourished values of identity and long term ambition, that had always been denied and frustrated. They are asking for arms to finally stand up for their right to determine their own future and to define their own social, cultural and economic society.
The dilemma is huge. IS is committing acts that cannot be left unanswered. The Western world also needs to act. That also is an identity issue. When `our’ journalists and ´our´ aid workers are publicly dehumanised `we’ need to respond. But the ´how-question´ is relevant. Instead of looking into the real issue of identity, perceptions of humiliation and victimisation, we choose to empower one side in the equation, to ignore the potential side-effects and to ignore the basic differences of opinion regarding the long term agendas. This choice may very well backlash in the future. More importantly, it may trigger an involvement of our urban youth into the conflict. Importing the conflict from the Middle East, with all its complexities, may very well become a fact of life in the European society.
Handling these issues wisely requires an eye for long-term impact. The West needs the courage to look at its own as well as the others´ motivations, the underlying identity issues, the frustrations, the long term implications and the implicit promises. History teaches us as much.
Tuesday, 25 November 2014
European Security and Defence Economics Project Analyst at the Polish Institute of International Affairs
Thursday 2 October 2014
As the next atrocities committed by the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) are revealed in both Iraq and Syria, an international coalition to battle this organisation has launched its activities, with bombings of jihadist targets in Syria capturing most of the attention. While watching these events, a casual observer could assume that the coalition is made up of a representative combination of NATO/EU allies and a string of Middle Eastern states. However, this is not exactly true. Central European countries, i.e. some post-communist NATO and EU member states, are less than enthusiastic about this coalition. More fundamentally, they struggle with the understanding and assessment of the threat posed to the international order by ISIS. Below are five false contextualised assumptions which dominate the Central European narrative on the world’s most popular jihadist organisation.
ISIS will not come to our neighbourhood because it is ‘calm’. Counter-terrorism officials and practitioners from the region always stress that their part of Europe is not directly threatened by terrorism. Theoretically, they could not be more right – just one look at the Europol data on terrorism provides backing for their statements on the ‘safety’ of their countries, as there are hardly any reports on terrorist activity within their borders. The trouble, however, is that this is mostly seen as a result of the low numbers of Muslims in Central Europe, i.e. an insignificant potential recruitment base for Islamist terrorists. This fact only strengthens the region’s conviction about its peripheral nature and, in contrast to Western Europe, alleged diminished attractiveness to terrorism. However, one need only look at the example of Finland, another ‘calm’ country and a seemingly off-beaten track location, which provided one of the largest European contingents of foreign fighters travelling to Syria (proportionally to its population size), to question this narrative.
ISIS is not plotting against us so it is not the priority. ISIS is unlikely to put into motion an elaborate terrorist plot against Central Europe. Still, the U.S. and the UK treat this organisation’s potential with growing concern not only because of their strategic interests in the Middle East, but also because of the fate of the American and British hostages held or executed by this organisation, which made front page news all over the world. Central European states (e.g. Poland, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary) also had their citizens kidnapped in Syria and in other global hot spots (Pakistan, Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq). If ISIS captures hostages from Central Europe, the ‘ISIS is not our priority’ attitude could overnight evolve into a crisis fuelled by the need to secure the release of the captives.
ISIS is full of foreign fighters but they are not ours. True, hardly any of the ISIS foreign recruits so far come from Central Europe – even though there are rumours of individual Polish, Romanian and Slovak fighters. Again, the low number of the potential recruitment base is the most likely reason for this state of affairs. However, it would be foolhardy to end consideration of the matter there. The region has extensive historical experience with the phenomenon of foreign fighters. Poland’s motto ‘for our freedom and yours’ and the fact that its national anthem is basically a song by 18th century foreign fighters (Poles in Italy) is a testament to this. Hence, it is not that Central Europeans are generally less likely to fight in foreign conflicts. They might do so in the future (again) and it would be prudent for the countries of the region to prepare for such an eventuality and study the recent experiences of their Western peers in preventing and fighting radicalization.
ISIS is far away. ISIS runs a statelet-like entity on NATO’s South-Eastern borders, i.e. relatively far from Central Europe. It might, however, be poised to directly challenge Turkey. Most of the Central Europeans support NATO as an organisation focusing on territorial defence, but how would they respond if it is not Russia, but ISIS which threatens the territories of NATO, using similar tactics of hybrid warfare? These questions are hardly asked in Central Europe but may need to be mulled over in the coming months, as the Central Europeans could be confronted more directly with the security implications of challenges faced by their Southern and Western allies.
We have no capabilities to offer in the fight against ISIS. George W. Bush once remarked that anyone can offer something to the coalition on the global war on terror. Surprisingly, this statement still stands as the anti-ISIS coalition goes into action. No one is asking the Central European air forces to assist in the bombings of ISIS and al-Nusra targets in Syria. But they could still consider going beyond their purely political support for U.S. actions in the region. Simply showing more concern and interest, e.g. by sending a delegation to the recent Paris conference on Iraq (the Czech Republic was the only country in the region to do so), would constitute a meaningful beginning. This could also dispel the widely held notion in Western Europe that the countries of the region are almost solely looking at the east while assessing threats to their security. More engagement in the south would also strengthen the case for expecting their Western allies to reassure them in the face of threats emanating from their immediate Eastern neighbourhood.
Central Europe is definitely not threatened directly by ISIS. Nonetheless, the security assessment must go beyond this, especially if our partners are concerned about some of their compatriots fighting in ISIS ranks in Syria or Iraq. Central Europeans could learn from their Western peers and prepare for the emergence of their own terrorist problems or the return of the foreign fighter phenomenon to their region. Simultaneously, showing more interest and involvement in combating threats on NATO’s South-Eastern flank might prove beneficial in calling for more understanding of their own regional woes.