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Israel & Palestine: To Cyberwar

It was particularly – if also perversely – interesting to watch Israel wage its quasi-digital offensive against Hamas. The internet wasn’t just a tool for broadcasting their cyberwar message, it was an integral part of the conflict.

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A spate of deadly conflict breaks out, the latest collapse in the notoriously unstable Israel-Palestine quest for peace. Lives are lost – as one might expect in any armed conflict – including those of no small number of innocents. However, in November 2012 there was a difference: the conflict was carried out through a complicated blend of online-offline skirmishes.

Elsewhere, and a scant few weeks later, the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), which “was supposed to be simple and straight-forward… Insert a few platitudes about the importance of universal communications access. Celebrate internationalism, congratulate the ITU on its stewardship of the negotiations, and go home“, failed spectacularly the minute the internet became an issue.

This probably isn’t surprising, given that the lead-up to the Conference supported events like a panel asking whether the WCIT would spell “the end of the internet.” Nonetheless, internet policy advocates looking to move forward after the WCIT would do well to pay attention to the Israel-Palestine conflict, and what it suggests about the relationship between businesses, individuals, and governments online.

As a scholar of cyberlaw and international cyberconflict, I found it particularly – if, admittedly, also perversely – interesting to watch Israel wage its quasi-digital offensive against Hamas. The internet wasn’t just a tool for broadcasting their message, it seemed to be an integral part of the conflict.

Yes it was, in part, a war of images broadcast into cyberspace in an attempt to win hearts and minds for each side’s cause, and the internet undeniably has greatly leveled the playing field in this regard. It also had more immediate, on-the-ground implications; as one commentator observed when describing the internet’s role in the conflict: “This is something new.”

Israel began the conflict with a tweet, warning “We recommend that no Hamas operatives, whether low level or senior leaders, show their faces in the days ahead.” Hamas, as one might expect, responded with an assertion – also via twitter – that they would retaliate in kind. If it had stopped there, or even with the myriad tweets to come in subsequent days, it might have simply been the typical political posturing of leaders in conflict situations.

Instead, Israel took it further: they posted a YouTube video showing the strike that killed a prominent Hamas leader. This type of public display of violence and force is very much part of the act of war itself, and its introduction into the online sphere (by a government, no less) is unprecedented. It is striking to consider that a “country can declare — via Twitter — that it is at war,” and, beyond that, continue to carry out the various actions of war online.

The internet, moreover, allowed private citizens– once relegated either to enlistment or ideological battles on the sidelines– to get involved as well. Anonymous quickly responded to a purported threat against Palestinian internet access by hacking Israeli websites. More telling still, once a cease-fire was declared, cyberattacks against both Israeli and Palestinian websites increased by a huge margin.

And therein lies the rub.

Governments not only have new means by which to wage war, but sympathetic citizens and outsiders can easily inflict widespread damage to ideological opponents without any of the messy concerns that the acts might be found attributable to the state (the standard for which, the International Court of Justice tells us, is whenever the state can be said to have effective control of a third party– a high standard, but not an impossible one, particularly when cyberattacks require so much less to enable them).

Governments thus have simply too much to lose for any attempt to raise the internet as a telecommunications issue, or even as a trade issue, to succeed.

The WCIT was replete with examples of just such a discourse, with debates about the internet often being framed as “a global split between those countries that favor openness or “Internet freedom” and those that want to control their citizens’ activities online.”

(Consider, for instance, the US State Department’s assertion: “We believe [the proposed] provisions reflect an attempt by some governments to regulate the Internet and its content, potentially paving the way for abuse of power, censorship and repression.”)

The true story is more complicated, of course – the foregoing discussion should underline that all governments, in favor of “freedom” or not, have a stake in internet governance that serves to strengthen their own power. The internet is, as Babak Rahimi highlights, a space of contestation where states seek to negotiate the boundaries of their power against both their own citizens and other states.

Thus, internet policy and international law – particularly as it relates to international conflict – are deeply intertwined in ways that ideological battles about protection of certain core rights, on the one hand, and cybersecurity, on the other, fail to capture. Individuals from both fields must attempt to integrate their insights to create policies that take into account the internet’s unique role in our public and private lives.

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Photo credit: Vectorportal

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Una legge democratica e religiosa. Come quella ugandese contro gli omosessuali.

A prima vista potrebbe sembrare un discorso imperialista o neocolonialista, ma la posta in gioco rimane troppo alta: non è possibile che una nazione democratica si faccia promotrice di morte e sofferenza. Si deve agire subito.

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[dropcap]N[/dropcap]el 2009 l’Uganda ha avanzato una proposta di legge contro gli omosessuali, il cosiddetto “Kill the Gays bill”. Il testo comprende due disposizioni che, in pratica, equiparano l’omosessualità all’omicidio, punendo con l’ergastolo coppie gay e trasgressori incensurati. È invece prevista la pena di morte per criminali recidivi, ovvero sieropositivi, figure autorevoli (genitori inclusi) e pedofili, ossia tutti coloro che intrattengano rapporti con minori di 18 anni. Si configura anche il reato di omessa denuncia, punito con una multa e fino a tre anni di detenzione.

Il progetto di legge, condannato dall’opinione pubblica internazionale, si è arenato varie volte all’interno del parlamento ugandese. Le pressioni politiche occidentali furono inizialmente inefficaci, ma a fine 2009 il testo venne smussato, eliminando la pena di morte. Per due anni, a partire dal marzo 2010, la bozza non è stata più discussa, nonostante un tentativo fallimentare avvenuto quell’agosto; adesso è tornata alla ribalta.

Perché insistere su questa legge? Perché “sono gli ugandesi a chiederla”.

A questo proposito, i mass media hanno sempre usato le virgolette, come se riportassero un’affermazione fasulla, da prendere con le pinze o a cui non credere affatto: cosa che invece viene smentita dai numeri. In teoria, se democrazia significa ascoltare le maggioranze, questa legge dovrebbe essere approvata.

Infatti, il 96% degli ugandesi vorrebbe bandire l’omosessualità. Il massiccio supporto popolare a favore di tale misura rispecchia un trend comune a tutta l’area sub-sahariana (escluso il Sudafrica, relativamente liberale): in questa zona, lo stato meno sfavorevole all’omosessualità è la Costa d’Avorio, che registra una percentuale dell’89% tra i contrari. Non che la situazione cambi molto in un contesto più esteso: in Medio Oriente lo Stato più tollerante è quello di Israele, in cui però solo un terzo della popolazione si dichiara aperta nei confronti dell’omosessualità; questa percentuale cala drasticamente in Egitto, fino a scendere all’1%. Il quadro è decisamente migliore in Europa occidentale, ma peggiora gradualmente procedendo verso est: nel sud-est asiatico l’unica eccezione che prevede una maggioranza “a favore” del riconoscimento degli omosessuali è costituita dal Giappone. Nel continente americano, sebbene via sia un orientamento progressista in materia, gli Stati Uniti dimostrano un’intolleranza che non ha eguali nel mondo occidentale.

Omofobia non è la parola giusta per descrivere comportamenti dettati, più che dalla paura, dall’odio, e l’ostilità statunitense attecchisce notevolmente a livello globale. Con i loro sermoni carichi di intolleranza, certi pastori ultraconservatori americani trovano molto seguito in Africa, dove le popolazioni locali sono indotte a temere un presunto contagio omosessuale tra i bambini, che dissemini sia il virus dell’HIV, sia pericolosi pensieri omosessuali. In aggiunta, numerose organizzazioni statunitensi, supportate da predicatori religiosi e corporations internazionali, sono preposte alla diffusione di programmi anti-abortisti ed anti-omosessuali.

Tuttavia, l’intolleranza statunitense non ha bisogno di essere emulata o esportata: piuttosto, questi predicatori ne capitalizzano la versione autoctona, basandosi sulle severe prescrizioni religiose delle vecchie società coloniali, e sul persistere di superstizioni ancora più antiche – che stigmatizzano, ad esempio, l’omosessualità e l’albinismo.

La mancanza d’istruzione ha fatto il resto: i principi sacri delle popolazioni colonizzate hanno finito per diventare ancora più ferrei di quelli dei colonizzatori. Al grido di “conversione o morte”, la cristianizzazione forzata determinò spesso massacri sanguinosissimi, al confronto dei quali appaiono poca cosa le guerre religiose combattute in Europa.  Queste ultime si originavano da questioni interpretative che volevano risalire a principi, stabiliti da Cristo, che regolamentassero società sorte molti secoli dopo la sua nascita – nonostante fosse scritto nei Vangeli che il mondo non sarebbe durato più di un altro secolo (Matteo  16:28, 23:36, 24:34, 26:64, Marco  9:1, 13:30, Luca 9:27, 21:32).

Nel corso della storia, i califfati islamici arabi e gli imperi cristiani adottarono e propugnarono una serie di pratiche sessuofobiche. Inoltre, nei libri della tradizione giudaico-cristiana sono annoverate molte norme in materia di rapporti e pensieri sessuali, talmente paranoiche e restrittive da risultare bizzarre. Nelle ex colonie, tali regole hanno continuato ad avere peso anche dopo che i Paesi industrializzati le hanno dismesse. Quando le popolazioni occidentali hanno iniziato a svincolarsi dai dettami della Chiesa, declassata a mero fattore di identità culturale, anche l’odio per l’omosessualità ha iniziato a svanire. Secondo una stima Gallup, gli Stati più aperti nei confronti dell’omosessualità sono anche quelli che, rifiutando una morale dettata dalla religione, mettono istruzione e libertà di pensiero al primo posto della propria scala di valori.

Così non è per l’Uganda, dove un’applicazione letterale del principio di democrazia tutelerebbe le leggi che mettono al bando l’omosessualità, fino a punirla in qualche caso con la morte. Gli ugandesi lo vogliono, così come la loro religione: di conseguenza, questa legge dovrebbe essere approvata in quanto ritenuta democratica? La risposta è negativa.

Una tale posizione potrebbe apparire imperialista o neocolonialista, ma la posta in gioco rimane troppo alta: non è possibile che una nazione democratica si faccia promotrice di morte e sofferenza. La tutela dei valori di libertà (di espressione, identità, sicurezza) rimane prioritaria rispetto al diritto delle maggioranze all’oppressione legale: un ordinamento democratico, da solo, non basta a rendere civile una società. La difesa dei suddetti valori non riguarda esclusivamente le sinistre, come vorrebbe un’opinione diffusa in Occidente: essi sono i principi fondanti delle stesse società occidentali. Pertanto, una demagogia intollerante, fondata su principi sacri, attecchisce particolarmente laddove l’istituzione della democrazia sia recente, e la morale completamente subordinata alla religione. Ingiustizie come quella ugandese devono essere stroncate sul nascere, per tutelare chi si macchi dell’unica colpa di amare in maniera diversa. Il diritto all’oppressione democratica ha già detto abbastanza: per contrastarlo, si deve agire subito.

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Articolo tradotto da: Antonella Di Marzio

Articolo originale: Uganda’s ‘Kill The Gays’ Bill? It’s Democratic. And It’s Religious.

Photo credit: Todd Huffman

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The Financial Crisis & Canada’s Fiscal Cliff

During the financial crisis not one Canadian bank failed, the housing market didn’t collapse, and the unemployment rate topped out at levels much lower than many other countries. So, what is the problem?

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In the final days of November, Canada’s national federal debt crossed a dubious mark, for the first time ever it cross the $600 billion mark. Compared to some other nations, $600 billion of federal debt is a laugh as is the debt to GDP ratio that hovers around approximately 33%. No country made it through the 2008 financial crisis and the recession that followed unscathed, but it can definitely be argued that some countries made it through better than others. Canada was one of those countries.

The Canadian Prime Minister has hyped the Canadian economy as a bastion of stability. This news of recent poaching of the Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney by the Bank of England has been touted as another example of Canadians showing the world how to get their finances in order. During the crisis not one Canadian bank failed, the housing market didn’t collapse, and the unemployment rate topped out at levels much lower than many other countries. So, what is the problem?

First, some history. In the early 1990s Canada’s economy was in trouble. Efforts in the late 1980s to control inflation resulted in a deep recession in 1990-91, while a looming debt crisis from over two decades of deficit spending resulted in debt levels that were comparable to some of the modern European examples. Meanwhile the Canadian business community had been slow to respond to the liberalizing and freeing world economy that resulted in them being internationally uncompetitive. All added up, this left them with an economically struggling nation.

The answer to these issues was austerity with deep federal government budget cuts along with a liberalizing of Canadian markets as well as the addition of financial regulations. It was the legacy of this action that resulted in a decade of federal surplus leading up to 2008 and a financial system that could weather the financial storm that wracked the world economy. It was the legacy of these measures that laid the foundation for a potential crisis.

Today, Canada faces a pair of challenges, the first of which comes from its provinces. Although Canada’s federal debt is only about $600 billion, the provinces together hold approximately $500 billion in debt themselves giving the nation as a whole a total national debt of approximately $1.1 trillion.

As Andrew Coyne, a national political commentator pointed out this past fall, Canada has a monetary union without a fiscal one. Canadian provinces unlike US states or members of the EU have no mandatory constraints on their debt levels (note the three territories do have budgetary debt limits due to the fact that they are funded directly by the Federal government).

Currently, every province but two (Saskatchewan and Newfoundland & Labrador) are running deficits; surprisingly this list does include oil rich Alberta. Canada’s two largest provinces (Ontario and Quebec) both have per capita debt levels exceeding those of the federal government. Each of these indebted provinces can use federal transfers as a form of annual bailout to help maintain credit ratings and spending priorities while putting off tough austerity measures that are needed in some cases. Most projections for when most of the provinces will reach balanced budgets are not until 2016 assuming current estimates are accurate.

The second challenge comes from the people of Canada whose personal debt to income ratios, reached 163% in the second quarter of 2012. What this means is that the average Canadian is carrying $1.63 of debt for every dollar of disposable income they have. This debt has been part of the reason why Canada didn’t suffer as badly during the recession; Canadians just kept buying. At the peak of the housing crisis in the US, their consumer debt was approximately 170% and as a result you can see the concern.

Although the federal government has already taken action by tightening mortgage rules by requiring larger down payments and higher minimum monthly payments on government insured mortgages, the fear is that when interest rates begin to climb (and the Bank of Canada has warned they could as soon as late 2013) many financially burdened Canadians will struggle to make ends meet in the face of higher monthly payments.

Of course this debt burden and the threat of higher interest rates may have a ripple effect across the economy. As consumers spend less, the risk of bankruptcies and foreclosures increases and the danger of a US-style housing crash coming to Canada truly becomes real. This all feeds back into government tax revenue and spending policy and the question of when they will get their books in order.

Canada isn’t about to go bankrupt, nor do we face the debt challenges of the United States or some of the nations of the EU. What Canada and Canadians do face is a fork in the road which can lead us to a return to the legacy of the 1990s, where fiscal responsibility became ingrained in society, or we can continue down our current path towards a fiscal cliff of our own.

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Photo credit: Cindy Andrie

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Iran Sanctions: Effective But Unsuccessful In 2012

Sanctions were effective in 2012 if we measure losses in revenue and exports. However there remains little reason to believe Iran will change its nuclear course soon.

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[dropcap]I[/dropcap]ran has endured sanctions for decades but 2012 was different. Patience in Washington and Europe was largely spent by the end of 2011, with Israel threatening war, Russia and China resisting new sanctions, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) publishing an alarming report in November. Meanwhile, Iran’s controversial nuclear program steadily advanced. Under these circumstances and in spite of a tight oil market, the U.S. and European Union took aim at Iran’s 2.2 million barrels a day (b/d) of crude oil exports. At least 50 percent of the Iranian government’s revenues thus became vulnerable.

On the last day of 2011, President Obama signed new sanctions into law blacklisting any company that purchased Iranian crude without a waiver after June 28; in effect, exiling them and the banks they relied on from the American financial system. In order to qualify for a waiver, Iran’s customers had to reduce imports every 180 days or be granted an exception directly from the White House.

Unlike the U.S., which stopped importing crude from Iran after the Shah fell, the EU purchased about 450,000 b/d from Iran in 2011. But in January 2012, the EU announced that it would boycott Iranian oil completely as of July 1—thus displacing about 20 percent of Iran’s exports. EU members also agreed to cut off insurance for all tankers that carried Iranian crude or petrochemicals. In doing so, the EU denied insurance to 95 percent of the world’s commercial fleet, severely limiting Iran’s options.

Sanctions locked in this summer. Together, these measures crippled Iranian oil exports in July, driving down volumes to lows not seen since the Iran-Iraq War. Exports fell to 930,000 b/d before customers smoothed out new but less than optimal shipping and insurance schemes. Volumes have since settled above one million b/d, still well short of 2011 levels.

It would be a mistake to assume Iran’s most vital industry should have been sanctioned sooner. Any such argument would overlook the incredible risk assumed by the U.S. and EU when pressuring what was—before 2012—the number two producer in OPEC. (Iran now ranks fourth, behind Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Kuwait.)

It was the EU’s economic ministries that pushed back against calls for an oil boycott leading up to this year. Many felt that crises in the Middle East and supply disruptions elsewhere had already upset oil markets. And given Europe’s dependence on Iranian crude, politicizing the market could backfire—sending prices skyward and European economies into the abyss. Other critics believed sanctions would simply fail: according to this logic, oil once destined for Europe would be sold to Asia instead.

Few realized that American and European sanctions were designed to complement each another and avoid this outcome. New measures were also calculated to gradually reduce Iran’s exports so that world markets could adjust without driving up prices. The EU’s oil boycott displaced nearly a half million barrels every day. The devastating insurance measure, however, prevented other customers from buying up additional cargoes, unless they assumed the risk of coverage offered by unproven Iranian insurers (China and South Korea did so) or sovereign guarantees were offered by importing governments (like Japan). Strengthening this effort, American sanctions made it almost impossible for Asian customers to buy more oil from Iran. Doing so would sever companies and banks from the U.S.

All the while, Europe held out hope that recovering producers like Iraq and Libya, as well as increased output from Saudi Arabia, would keep oil markets well-supplied. To the surprise of many, Libyan oil (1.6 million b/d) returned quickly one year after a revolution halted exports. Iraqi production also increased by 650,000 b/d in 2012. Saudi Arabia, the world’s only market-moving “swing producer,” pumped nearly 10 million b/d for most of 2012—1.5 million b/d more than it averaged in 2011. Oil prices this year only rose when the threat of an Israeli attack introduced a premium to the market. But even that didn’t last long.

Iran’s response was and remains mixed. Oil ministry officials dismiss sanctions, claiming, despite all evidence, that Iran pumps and sells with no problem. Others, however, have been more candid. On December 17, Iran’s Economic Minister, Shamseddin Hosseini, was quoted saying that oil income had been cut in half by sanctions. Speaking to reporters on December 19, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the government was “moving to decrease the share of oil revenues to the minimum as much as possible,” while lawmakers suggested this month that Iran’s budget should assume the country will export only one million b/d in 2013-14.

Sanctions were effective in 2012 if we measure losses in revenue ($3-5 billion every month) and exports (down roughly one million b/d). That much is beyond dispute. Perhaps most surprisingly, the assumptions built into this year’s sanctions proved durable: the market remained well-supplied and prices stabilized just above $100 for most of this year, despite the absence of Iranian crude. Some of Iran’s top customers—like China—may reject sanctions but every one of them reduced crude imports in 2012 and received a waiver from the U.S.

And yet there remains little reason to believe Iran will change its nuclear course soon. More officials might admit that sanctions are hurting Iran’s economy but meetings with the IAEA and negotiations with the P5+1 produced nothing this year. 2013 could still be worse. Iran’s customers in India and Japan are already signaling their willingness to cut imports. U.S. sanctions are set to tighten again in February, exacerbating Iran’s trade deficit by forcing banks to withhold revenues. And most market forecasts hold that rising oil production beyond OPEC will keep pace with the global economy’s modest recovery. Iranian oil will be less essential as a result. Other sectors as well as the country’s currency will suffer accordingly.

Will 2013 be the year of reckoning for the U.S. and Iran? No one knows for sure. But it will certainly be another brutal year for Iran’s economy unless a diplomatic breakthrough is reached.

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Photo Credit: David Holt London

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Up Patriots To Turkey

NATO, Siria e Turchia: prove tecniche di guerra contemporanea.

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[dropcap]S[/dropcap]taranno arrivando in queste ore, via posta o in kit di montaggio, i quattrocento soldati che la Turchia ha chiesto alla NATO, di cui è membro dal 1952, per difendersi dal nervosissimo Assad. Con i militi giungerà anche una batteria di missili chiamati solennemente “patriot”, anche se non si capisce bene quale sia questa Patria evocata, tanto disparato e multiforme è l’universo-NATO.

Una delegazione è andata in gita –tutto spesato, ça va sans dire- fino alla base militare che ha il poco simpatico nome di Malatya, nel sud del Paese, verso il confine con la Siria, proprio quello che la Turchia vuol proteggere con questi missili nuovi di zecca (ma saranno davvero nuovi, questi missili, o c’è il rischio che siano invece fondi di magazzino della guerra fredda?).

Rasmussen, il segretario generale dell’allegra combriccola (il prossimo, tenetevi forte, sarà l’ineffabile, immarcescibile Franco Frattini) lo aveva annunciato a fine novembre: la NATO autorizzerà la spedizione e i patriottici missili, forniti da Stati Uniti, Olanda e Germania –che ci mette anche i suoi efficientissimi quattrocento prussiani- giungeranno in Turchia e saranno installati nelle province di Gaziantep e Sanliurfa.

Gli States, galvanizzati non si sa perché ad ogni tiro di schioppo, ad ogni colpo di mortaretti, hanno allarmato le portaerei e i velivoli della loro base di Incirlik.

Qualche riflessione emerge sua sponte, sollevata da certe congiunte leggi della fisica e della teoria delle relazioni internazionali. Anzitutto, la Turchia, che esce fuori da due faticosi decenni di tira e molla con una confusa Unione Europea, si è definitivamente rassegnata e anzi trova oggi vantaggioso lasciar perdere la questione dell’adesione ad un continente impoverito e in grave difficoltà.

Ma Erdogan, che i suoi detrattori tacciano di sultanismo, nonostante lui stesso richiami costantemente la grande tradizione ottomana, s’interroga oggi sempre di più su quale sia e debba essere in futuro il ruolo della Turchia nel contesto geopolitico euro-asiatico. E’, questa Turchia, al netto d’ogni considerazione, una potenza insoddisfatta e ambiziosa, nostalgica d’antichi fasti e bramosa di nuovi trionfi.

La sua solidità economica e sociale (se si escludono periodiche scaramouches col PKK), il suo prestigio internazionale, la considerazione di cui gode a cavallo tra Oriente e Occidente – gli uni ne apprezzano la parvenza di democrazia e laicismo, gli altri il suo essere irriducibilmente baluardo della tradizione levantina e musulmana- le concedono poteri speciali.

Compreso quello di fare la guerra, o almeno di assestare colpi decisivi a potenze deboli e discusse come la confinante Siria – la fine della guerra civile, dopo il vasto riconoscimento internazionale alla sua opposizione, tarda ad arrivare- o il temibile Iran – che conferma oggi di dover continuare “per forza” il processo d’arricchimento dell’uranio, per scopi pacifici, of course.

Ma quali saranno le ripercussioni sugli equilibri mondiali dopo che, in barba ad ogni rassicurazione, la Turchia farà esplodere i missili che le sono stati patriotticamente ceduti dalla NATO?

E’ infatti sicuro, e la Turchia l’ha dimostrato nelle scorse settimane, che non si farà scrupolo di rispondere massicciamente ai petardi gettati dall’altra parte della linea di confine.

Ci si troverebbe davanti all’incresciosa situazione di un Occidente che arma una potenza inquieta ed innesca la polveriera medio-orientale; tenendo conto del fatto che Mosca ha già iniziato a tuonare contro la decisione della NATO di rafforzare il confine meridionale turco, saremo costretti nei prossimi mesi ad interrogarci nuovamente sul ruolo e sul significato dell’Alleanza Atlantica che, per legittimare la sua utilità fuori tempo massimo, deve di tanto in tanto fomentare la rissa e costruirsi un nemico.

Battiato qualche anno fa cantava “Up patriots to arms, engengez-vous!”.

La guerra contemporanea mi butta giù.

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Photo Credit: osipovva

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The Italian Observer

La nuova rubrica mensile dell’edizione italiana di The Risky Shift.

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[dropcap]L[/dropcap]a redazione italiana di The Risky Shift è lieta di annunciare l’introduzione di una nuova rubrica, in aggiunta alle sezioni Analisi & Commenti e Il meglio di TheRiskyShift.com

The Italian Observer è stato pensato come uno spazio prettamente domenicale. Curata da Marzio Maria Cimini, la rubrica si occuperà di commentare, con pungente ironia e profonda conoscenza dei fatti, il complicato e affascinante milieu degli affari e delle relazioni internazionali.

The Risky Shift, nel continuo sforzo e nella speranza di far luce su alcuni di questi avvenimenti, non rinuncia al suo carattere culturalmente “impegnato”. The Italian Observer, pertanto, vuole rispecchiare il senso delle parole di Raymond Aron:

Decisi allora di essere un «osservatore impegnato». Volevo essere l’osservatore della storia mentre si realizzava, preoccupandomi di essere, rispetto a questa storia che si realizzava, quanto più possibile oggettivo e insieme non del tutto distaccato, ma impegnato. Volevo unire insieme l’atteggiamento dell’attore con quello dell’osservatore.

Raymond Aron, Le spectateur engagé, 1981.

 

Buona lettura a tutti.

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Se sei interessato a collaborare con l’edizione italiana di TRS, invia una e-mail a [email protected]

Maggiori informazioni per autori e collaboratori sono disponibili qui.

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Photo Credit: 517design

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Chinese Soft Power: Sources And Implications For The US

Where does China’s soft power stem from, and what are its implications for the US? 
{Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge}

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China’s rise, fuelled by more than three decades of ‘miraculous’ levels of economic growth, has equipped Beijing with an impressive and quite unique set of ‘powers’ (Lampton, 2007). Economic power is at the heart of all other aspects of Chinese power. It has enabled investment in the rapid modernization of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) (Tkacik, 2007), as well as related ‘asymmetric capabilities’ (Shirk, 2008:194) as cyberwarfare (Fritz, 2008) and advanced military space technology (Logan, 2007). Moreover, it has allowed Beijing to maximize its security through deals advancing China’s energy security and securing key raw materials. These issues, and their implications for US security interests, are extensively studied in Washington (e.g. Waldron, 2005; Ridley, 2005; Office of the SoD 2009, 2010).

Apart from economic realpolitik, as in the form of securing resources and capacity for economic warfare[1] (Segal, 2004:169-170), China’s economic growth, has also energized Beijing’s ‘soft power’. Soft power, coined by Nye in 1990, can be broadly defined as non-coercive, co-optive power- the power of attraction. The attractiveness of a state is affected by its culture, history, membership and role in international institutions, as well as its economic performance and stature (Nye, 1990:167). Other crucial sources of soft power are ‘political ideology and diplomacy’ (Gill and Huang, 2006:17). China’s economic power is the key motor behind its mounting soft power.

This paper focuses on China’s soft power, with a view to delve deeper into the latter’s impact on the US and its interests. It begins with an analysis of the sources and complex structure of China’s soft power. Subsequently, it assesses how the US may be affected by Beijing’s co-optive power, with an emphasis on both direct and indirect aspects of that influence. It looks at China’s ideational influence in its near abroad, the MENA region and Latin America to shed light how Beijing’s influence may affect American interests. It closes with an analysis of China’s augmenting soft power in multilateral settings, and how this may on occasions marginalize US influence. America remains the most powerful state in the international system. No country in the world has more ‘global’ interests than the US. China’s growing soft power affects American interests around the world therefore, a thorough assessment of this process is imperative.

II. The Sources of Chinese Soft Power: Economic Performance, an Alternative Development Model and a Unique Culture

Economic Performance

The preeminent source of China’s attractiveness is its economic performance. The ability to maintain close to 10 percent growth for over three decades (Kaplan, 2010:22), enjoy substantial stability and lift 300 million people out of poverty[2], together constitute an unprecedented achievement (Ramo, 2004:10-11). Beijing has realized these achievements following a novel, unconventional, non-western development path. Underlying driver behind the Chinese development model is innovation. The continuation of the ‘Chinese miracle’ depends greatly on incessant innovation, which ‘cuts time-to-reform’ and is ‘the only cure for the problems of change’ (ibid.:15). Innovation increases the ‘density’ in the Chinese society, which in turn decisively boosts economic growth (ibid.:13-16). Cultural values, as national ‘pride of culture’ may also increase density (ibid.:33); the CCP recognises and uses this accordingly.

Economic and Political Ideology

Beijing has embraced many of the key tenants of capitalism and is largely a market economy (McKinnon, 2010:504), with a ‘Chinese twist’, that Halper (2010:10) calls ‘state capitalism’ or ‘market-authoritarianism’. The CCP largely controls key business sectors, owns firms of strategic importance, and restricts political liberties with a view to ensuring stability (Halper, 2010:30). The ‘Chinese way’ to economic growth and development is increasingly emulated around the world. The illiberal nature of Chinese ‘market-authoritarianism’ means developed democracies are unlikely to be lured and show any keenness to emulate this model (Nye, 2006:9). Reversely, growth and development, without western democracy[3] seems a particularly luring ‘package’ to various illiberal regimes across the developing world, and especially in Africa and the Middle East (Gill and Huang, 2006:20). The ideology of self-determination and the inviolability of sovereignty which Beijing puts forth simultaneously, further attract those illiberal states which are worried in the light of a more interventionist West[4] (Halper, 2010:31).

The Beijing Consensus

‘The Beijing Consensus’ (BJC) is a concept / theory, first discussed by Ramo (2004) and further developed by Halper (2010), which draws together the different aspects of Chinese soft power, delineates the powerful links between economic and soft power, and explains China’s muscle. Ramo (2004:11-12) explains the three central theorem’s of the BJC: a) the key to development is ‘bleeding-edge innovation’ to ‘create change that moves faster than the problems change creates’; b) fundamental need to shift development’s focus to individuals, their ‘quality-of-life’ with sustainability and equality as priorities; c) a security doctrine which stresses self-determination, through the use of leverage and asymmetry. Halper (2010:32) explains that deliberately or not:

‘Beijing is inadvertently promoting a most troublesome export: the example of the China model’.

While many Americans see the BJC as a challenge, an increasing number of nations, especially those ‘tired of others interfering’ see Beijing and the BJC as a great opportunity (Vogel, 2006:16).

Power – Values, Culture, Ideas

China’s power in the realm of ideas has been rising exponentially, largely hand-in-hand with its ‘development model’- as the latter ‘goes global’. Beijing advances a set of ideas, which accommodate its rise as a great power. Key idea is the concept of a ‘peaceful rise’ put forth by Bijian in 2003 (Suettinger, 2004:2). It is instrumental for Chinese soft power, as it serves to reduce the stress induced to neighbours and other powers byChina’s ascension to great-power-status. By alleviating fear and suspicion, ‘peaceful rise’ effectively allows China’s soft power to blossom. Also, China has become the world’s largest contributor to UN peacekeeping missions (Wang, 2008:264). This, arguably helps Beijing put forth a more comprehensive profile of a ‘champion of peace’, prosperity and stability (Lampton, 2007:119-120). Importantly, China’s ‘peaceful rise’ is only part of the puzzle of the ‘peaceful rise of Asia’ (Suettinger, 2004:2-3).

Another important concept serves to frame Beijing’s vision of society. That is the idea of a ‘harmonious society’– stable, based on spiritual civilization, but simultaneously a ‘society of thrift’– one that continually innovates and addresses resourcefully the repercussions of the ‘old model of industrialization’ (Bijian, 2005:22). To realize these, the CCP advances the concept of ‘closeness to the people’ (Ramo, 2004:30). Closeness of government to the people, will create ‘an environment where bottom-up development can work’ (ibid.:31). These ideas are very important, especially with placing the individual at the heart of the national development strategy. This last concept for instance attracted the attention of Brazil and Mexico (ibid.:33-34).

Lastly, the Chinese cultural value of ‘social stability’ is the second most important social value in China. In sync, it is the single most important element for economic growth (ibid.:23). Since social stability is the key to economic growth, and economic growth and development are central to the legitimization of an authoritarian government, then, the fact that China champions both makes her and her model hyper-attractive in certain areas of the world.

The Broader Context

Important external factors for the rise of Beijing’s soft power include the failure of the Washington Consensus, the erosion of US soft power and the global economic crisis. In the years following 9/11 America went through its ‘unipolar moment’, which claimed it political capital, weakened alliances and distanced friends. Human rights violations in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib further weakened America’s attractiveness and traumatized its moral example. This paper deems that there was a power vacuum in the realm of ideas that China’s concepts in part came to fill. In parallel, the BJC comes as a bright contrast to the ominously failed Washington Consensus. Even more importantly perhaps,China has managed to maintain robust, double-digit economic growth at the most difficult perhaps time for Western economies since the Great Recession (Halper, 2010:33-37).

III. Implications of China’s Soft-Power’s for the US; Evidence of Direct influence

To begin with, an increasing number of American tourists visit China to discover its culture, history and get their own, first-hand impression of the rising power. Moreover, a systematic promotion of the Chinese language has been underway for quite some time, and now an increasing number of people are ‘flocking to China to learn the Chinese language’ (Saich, 2006:4). In parallel, an increasing number of American schools are introducing Chinese language programs (ibid.). Moreover, one fourth of US universities now have Chinese language courses (Gil, 2008:119). Gill and Huang (2006:18) stress the importance of the ‘HSK’-‘TCFL’, the ‘Chinese’ TOEFL, which has been seeing a 50% annual growth.

The number of Confucius institutes in the US has also been growing exponentially. Since 2005 when the first Confucius institute was set up in Maryland, another 86 institutes have been set up in 37 American states (CIO, 2011). Confucius institutes advance the teaching of Chinese culture and language, while they also work to improve the ‘Brand China’ (Ramo, 2007). In other words, Confucius institutes are investments in ‘public diplomacy’ (Wang, 2008:264), geared at presenting a ‘kinder and gentler image of China to the outside world’ (Gill and Huang, 2006:18-19).

On a similar note, the influence of the China Radio International (CRI) (which broadcasts in Washington), has been expanding considerably, largely thanks to consecutive CCP investments (Nye, 2006:23). The CRI promotes tourism, cultural exchanges and the spread of the Chinese language. CRI’s stated objective is ‘to introduce China to the world’ (CRIENGLISH, 2011). In parallel, China has been sponsoring Chinese cultural festivals in the US, some on an annual basis. An exemplification of these efforts was the impressive $2m month-long China festival at the Washington Kennedy Center in October 2005 (Gill and Huang, 2006:19).  The spread of the Chinese language, coupled with an interest in Chinese culture and history, is tangible evidence of Beijing’s increasing soft power influence in the US.

An important policy advice CCP gives to major businesses and also practices with state-sponsored firms is investing in the US as part of ‘an effective and long-term solution to China’s image problem in the US’ (Lampton, 2007:122). The calculation is that setting-up firms and factories in the US means hiring American employees – hence, buying influence over their congressmen (Lampton, 2007:123). For instance ‘Chinese companies invested $280m and created more than 1,200 jobs in South Carolina alone’ (Prasso, 2010)[5].

In spite of multilevel, strategic direct engagement of Chinese soft power and its extensions with the US public, Lampton   (2007:124) suggests that:

China’s reputation in the United States still suffers. International public opinion polls uniformly reveal that Americans have more negative views of China than do most other people, predisposing Washington to be tougher with China than are other governments.’

This does not mean that the increasing presence of Chinese soft power institutions, cultural exchanges and influences are unimportant. However, it does suggest that in spite of systematic efforts, a clear image problem in the US persists, impeding Chinese ideational power from profoundly influencing the American public. Hence, though discernible and tangible, its implications are not decisive enough to influence considerably Washington’s China policy.

IV. ‘Weiji’ in the Near Abroad and Significance for the US

Weiji, the Chinese word which describes the combination of threat and opportunity, best describes the way China is perceived in its near abroad. Take Taiwan for instance. Taiwan has the greatest justification to feel ‘threatened’ by China’s rise; and it does. Nonetheless, concurrently, the rise of China has presented Taiwan with immense opportunities. China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner and Taiwan one of China’s biggest investors. Economic ties have flourished over the last years (Halper, 2010:18). Now over a million Taiwanese live and work in the mainland, while more and more Taiwanese set up businesses and invest in China (ibid.).

Chinese soft power and the concepts that underlie / frame it, have been central for improving relations with Taiwan. The Chinese guarantee of non-forceful (re-)unification with Taiwan is enhanced strongly by the ‘peaceful rise’ policy and associated rhetoric, as well as the ‘good neighbourliness’ concept, epitomized by the saying: ‘A far away relative is less helpful than one living nearby’ (Ramo, 2004:52). Improvement of Taipei’s relations with the mainland is good news for the US, the main protector of Taiwan. It reduces the risk of crisis and escalation, while continuous multi-level bonding in the social and economic sphere coupled with confidence-building exercises has produced solid outcomes as the election of the Kuomintang Party (2008) (Halper, 2010:19).

Japan, can understandably be worried seeing China modernising the PLA, especially given the fact that Japan has no nuclear deterrent or overwhelming conventional forces. Beijing’s lack of transparency re its military budget is not helping either (Carpenter, 2007). Also, Japan saw China overtaking it as the world’s second largest economy in mid-2010 (Barboza, 2010). Nonetheless, trade and cooperation between Japan and China have seen a great surge. Cooperation through the ‘ASEAN Plus Three’ – (APT) framework has been important in this respect (Foot, 2006:85). Moreover, the ‘peaceful rise’ – ’good neighbourliness’ policies and China’s overall emphasis on peaceful, diplomatic resolution of Sino-Japanese disputes (with the exception of some rather short bursts of Chinese realpolitik assertiveness) has been crucial for preventing so far an Asian ‘arms race’. Chinese assurances, and tangible evidence of backing them, have helped prevent a major security dilemma; hence, Japan feels less pressured to emphasize re-armament and perhaps move rapidly to acquire nuclear weapons. This also means one less worry for the US, who labours to prevent a proliferation race in the region. Moreover, Yoshihara and Holmes (2008:136) also point to the important role of the sizable Chinese ethnic minorities in the region and in Japan, which ‘naturally’ encourages diplomatic solutions over confrontation.

North and South Korea are perhaps an even more complex case. South Korea is arguably attracted by the economic opportunities posed by having Beijing as its partner under the latter’s benevolent neighbourhood policy. Reversely, North Korea is attracted to Beijing as it provides it with a way around the tough sanctions and other US-led counter-measures geared at pressuring Pyongyang to put an end to its nuclear programme. Moreover, Pyongyang is arguably magnetized by the Chinese miracle as it is in great need of rapid economic growth and development – not least in order to legitimize its rule at a time when the majority of its citizens are going through profound economic poverty and hardship. Though this stance is undermining South Korea’s security interests, economic opportunity and anticipation of a more ‘responsible’ stance by China on the North Korean issue (Zoellick, 2006:96), have allowed closer Chinese-South Korean cooperation. The situation for the US would be much more complicated if Beijing-Seoul relations were only confrontational and antagonistic in nature. This, rather more balanced picture allows space for engagement, cooperation, and at times, through deliberation allows for more constructive US – Chinese – South Korean diplomacy re Seoul.

In sum, Beijing’s ‘charm offensive’ (Kurlantzick, 2007) in the near abroad, has helped isolate Taiwan internationally, but engage it further on all levels nationally. It has tried to ease the worries of Japan and South Korea with evidence of occasional success. Lastly, it has charmed North Korea, over which it has, in theory, considerable diplomatic influence, but has not yet coordinated action with the international community adequately. Beijing’s ‘charm offensive’ largely advances American interests. Beijing’s foreign policy doctrine and approach works to reduce confrontation and tensions – and hence the risk of conflict. Therefore, it follows that it also reduces the risk of America having to intervene to uphold its guarantee to Taiwan, or extend its nuclear shield to Japan.

V. Chinese Soft Power in Africa, Middle East and Latin America and the Importance for the US                                                 

The influence of Chinese soft power in the MENA region and Latin America is profound, complex and needs ample space to be evaluated in depth. This section epigrammatically and selectively refers to some key points and assesses their importance for the US.

China and MENA

The absence of conditions apart from conforming with the ‘one-China-policy’ to trade with, or receive aid from China is crucial for Sino-African relations. Many African states increasingly rely on Beijing, fascinated by China’s growth and development, hoping they can learn and gain from the ‘Chinese example’ (Brookes and Shin, 2006:1-2). The security dimension of the ‘Beijing Consensus’ – and particularly the ‘self-determination’ clause – is very attractive for isolated ruthless regime’s, in pariah / nearly-failed states, like Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and Al-Bashir’s Sudan (Halper, 2010:83-87). This renders the conduct of strategic diplomacy by the US ineffectual. Isolation fails, sanctions miss, and the option / threat of humanitarian intervention seems less threatening given the improbability of mandating action through the UNSC.

In Africa, China’s image has been thriving, not least because of its tangible contribution to economic development, mainly through the building of infrastructure projects and advancing the technological capabilities of many developing nations (Foster, et. al., 2008). This advantageous image, of the benevolent actor who delivers results, combined with the ‘spirit’ and values enshrined in the BJC explains why now most of Africa looks to China rather than the US for a reliable partner[6]. A key implication of this new reality for the US is that it is losing out in the ‘race’ of securing energy resources, as Chinese energy firms increasingly ‘lock’ resources through long-term semi-barter deals in resource-rich African states (Brookes and Shin, 2006:2).

Similar difficulties have been posed in dealing with proliferation in the Middle East, and the question of Iran. China’s enthusiasm to fill the vacuum left from Western – largely American firms – leaving Iran in conjunction with US (and EU) sanctions, have held back the negotiations and undermined the ability of the US and the international community to effectively pressure the Iranian government. China’s ‘diplomatic cover’ / umbrella has on occasions, proven a major obstacle (Halper, 2010:91-92).

In Latin America, the role of China has been expanding rapidly. Chinese cultural and educational programs have been expanding with positive impact for the reception of China in the region (Pan, 2006). Moreover, Bush era’s American hegemony alienated friends and distanced allies in Latin America, who increasingly find in Beijing a robust and increasingly crucial partner. Both Halper (2010) and Ramo (2004) discuss in considerable depth the strengthening of Venezuelan – Chinese relations. America is the largest consumer of Venezuelan oil. In pursuit of more independence, Chavez increasingly opts to maximize oil sales to China (Halper, 2010:90). Expanding Chinese soft power in Latin America may be disturbing for the US for geopolitical reasons, as Beijing’s friendships and alliances in America’s near abroad may generate concern. Also, America cedes ground in the ‘great game’ of resource acquisition.

VI. Chinese Soft Power and Multilateral Fora. A New Role? The Significance for the US

China’s attractiveness is particularly evident in multilateral settings. As always, interest in China relates to the economic opportunities that arise from increased cooperation. Nonetheless, multilateral organizations are crucial marketplaces of ideas in conjunction with everything else. Chinese ideational power is increasingly apparent in a series of fora/IOs. For instance, the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) started out with the focused agenda of mediating border disputes, but Chinese ideational leadership quickly broadened SCO’s mandate to include politico-economic cooperation in other spheres as well as broader issues of security. To cite an example, in 2005, after denying US observer status in the SCO (Cohen, 2006:8), a Chinese-led SCO declaration pressed Washington to withdraw its forces from Uzbekistan (Halper, 2010:79). Chinese soft power has effectively created a multilateral milieu which deliberately excludes the US, and can at times pressure it.

Similarly, the US is excluded from both the ‘ASEAN Plus One’ and the ‘APT’ arrangement. China has a leading role in these arrangements, effectively creating separate economic spheres with considerable geopolitical gains for China and non-negligible implications for America (Halper, 2010:28). In 2009, the first ‘BRIC Summit’ took place, serving as a platform for exchange of ideas on trade and aid, with an emphasis on how to exclude the US. When Obama asked to send a delegation with the status of observers, his request was turned down (Halper, 2010:29). Through these multilateral settings, China advances simultaneously its ‘good neighbourliness’ and the ‘China Opportunity’ concepts, which command considerable gravitas in the above-discussed regional IOs (Ramo, 2004: 51-53).

Overall, the exclusion of the US from increasingly important fora and IOs is a demonstration that Chinese soft power and effective multilateral strategy can be in direct competition with American soft power. Moreover, it shows that whenever Beijing ‘marks a victory’, it opts to exclude the US from the new setting, to carve out alternative spaces for ideational exchanges, often with the deliberate collective aim of operating outside the US-set / dominated framework.

VII. Conclusion or A clear Assessment of the Nature and Composition of Chinese Soft Power as well as its Impact on America and its Global Interests

Chinese soft power is uniquely complex. It is so conflated with economic influence that they seem, at times, almost inseparable. This paper found that Chinese soft power stems greatly from the example of its development model. It impresses nations around the world that may not necessarily want to emulate the model, but are attracted to China, and draw closer to Beijing. A set of ideas, many endeavouring to frame China’s intentions vis-à-vis its neighbours, partners and friends, are also a key component of China’s ideational influence. The ‘Beijing Consensus’ has considerable analytical value and is a handy summation of Beijing’s ‘power of example’, cultural and political influence. China’s soft power has been also empowered by the erosion of US soft power America suffered during the G.W.Bush era.

After identifying the sources of Chinese soft power, this thesis examined its impact on American interests. It started with an analysis of the direct impact of Chinese soft power on the US to show that although on-the-rise, Chinese soft power has a limited direct impact on the US. Subsequently, this paper analysed the impact of Chinese soft power in its near abroad, and found that though China presents a threat and opportunity at the same time, its power of public diplomacy and attraction rather advances America’s aim of peace and stability in this sensitive area. This paper’s succinct analysis of China’s ideational influence in MENA and Latin America demonstrated that Chinese ideas often attract dodgy regimes, with which China engages, and hence carries high responsibility. When China uses its soft power in a responsible way, then, America and the international community benefit greatly; when not, it undermines efforts aimed at making this world a safer place (Zoellick, 2006, Shirk, 2008). Lastly, China’s soft power in multilateral settings is impressive. Apart from the UN, China has empowered the ASEAN Plus One and APT fora, has developed the SCO and has given a new dynamic to the ‘BRIC Summit’. In all these, it has laboured to carve a leading role for itself, while marginalizing America’s role.

*Information cut off point: May, 2012 (albeit minor updates)

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Citations

1] (e.g. dollar reserves or trade policy)

[2] Other sources, as Wan (2008: 416) suggest that Beijing lifted 422 million people out of poverty.

[3] (or economic freedom without political freedom)

[4] Alluding to concepts as humanitarian intervention and responsibility to protect; as well as pre-emptive and preventive military action.

[5] Multiply 1,200 by at least say 3 (family), and Chinese firms may influence the lives (and hence votes) of over 3,500 people – a serious political capital indeed.

[6] China’s charm offensive in Africa has equipped China with considerable sway over an impressive voting bloc in IOs and the one third of the UN General Assembly in particular (Halper, 2010: 112-113). Crucially, this helped China be awarded the 2008 Olympics, a significant soft-power boost. Most of these relations are cultivated through the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (ibid.).

Bibliography

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Bijian, Z., 2005. China’s “Peaceful Rise” to Great-Power Status. Foreign Affairs, 84 (5),pp. 18-24.

Brautigam, D., 2003. Close encounters: Chinese business networks as industrial catalysts in sub-Saharan Africa. African Affairs, 102, pp.447-467.

Brookes, P and Shin, J, H., 2006. China’s Influence in Africa: Implications for the United States. Washington DC: The World Heritage Foundation.

Callahan, W.A., 2007. Tianxia, Empire and the World: Soft Power and China’s Foreign Policy Discourse in the 21st Century. British Inter-University China Centre, May 2007 Manchester. Manchester: University of Manchester, pp.1-24.

Callahan, W.A., 2005. The Rise of China: How to understand China: the dangers and opportunities of being a rising power. Review of International Studies, 31, pp.701-714.

Carpenter, T.G., 2007. China’s Defense Budget Fiction [online]. Available from: http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=8122 [Accessed 20 November 2010].

CHIU, M., 2010. Map of Confucius Institutes in the U.S. US-China Today [online]. Available from: http://www.uschina.usc.edu/w_usct/showarticle.aspx?articleID=14774&AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1 [Accessed 12 March 2011].

CIO, 2011. Confucius Institute Online [online]. Available from: http://www.chinese.cn/college/en/node_3777.htm [Accessed 15 March 2011].

Cohen, A., 2006. The Dragon Looks West: China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Washington DC: The Heritage Foundation. Pp.1-8.

CRIENGLISH, 2011. Who we are [online]. Available from: http://english.cri.cn/about_us/who-we-are.htm [Accessed 15 March 2011].

Foot, R., 2006. Chinese strategies in a US-hegemonic global order: accommodating and hedging. International Affairs, 82 (1), pp.77-94.

Foster, V., Butterfield, W., Chen, C and Pushak, N., 2008. Building Bridges: China’s Growing Role as Infrastructure Financier for Africa. Washington DC: World Bank.

Fritz, J., 2008.  How china will use cyber warfare to leapfrog in military competitiveness. Culture Mandala, 8 (1), pp.28-80.

Gill, B. and Huang, Y., 2006. Sources and limits of Chinese ‘soft power”. Survival, 48 (2), pp.17-36.

Gil, J., 2008. The Promotion of Chinese Language: Learning and China’s Soft Power. Asian Social Science, 10 (4), pp. 116-122.

Halper, S.A., 2010. The Beijing Consensus. How China’s Authoritarian Model Will Dominate the Twenty-First Century.New York: Basic Books.

Kurlantzick, J., 2007. China’s charm offensive in Southeast Asia. Current History 105 (692), pp. 270-76.

Lampton, D.M., 2007.  The Faces of Chinese Power. Foreign affairs, 86 (1), pp.115-127.

Logan, J., 2007. China’s Space Program: Options for U.S.-China Cooperation. Congressional Research Service: Report for Congress, (RS22777).

McKinnon, R.I., 2010. China in Africa: The Washington Consensus versus the Beijing Consensus. International Finance, 13 (3), pp.495-506.

Nye, J.S., Vogel, E., Lan, X. and Saich, A., 2006. The Rise of China’s Soft Power. 19 April 2006 Harvard University: Institute of Politics, Cambridge.

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Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2010. Annual Report to Congress: Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2010.

Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2009. Annual Report to Congress: Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2009.

Pan, E., 2006. China’s Soft Power Initiative. Council on Foreign Relations[online].  Available from: http://www.cfr.org/china/chinas-soft-power-initiative/p10715 [Accessed 16 March, 2011].

Prasso, S.,2010. American made … Chinese owned: Full version. Fortune [online], 7 May. Available from: http://money.cnn.com/2010/05/06/news/international/china_america_full.fortune/index.htm [Accessed 12 March 2011].

Ramo, J.C., 2007. Beijing China. Washington D.C.: The Foreign Policy Centre.

Ramo, J.C., 2004. The Beijing Consensus. Washington D.C.: The Foreign Policy Centre.

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International Security, 29 (3), pp. 64–99.

Shirk, S.L., 2008. China, Fragile Superpower. How China’s Internal Politics Could Derail its Peaceful Rise.Oxford:OxfordUniversity Press.

Segal, A., 2004. Practical Engagement: Drawing a Fine Line for U.S.-China Trade. The Washington Quarterly, 27 (3), pp. 157–173.

Suettinger, R.L., 2004. The Rise and Descent of “Peaceful Rise”. China Leadership Monitor, 12, pp.1-10.

Tkacik, J.J., 2007. A Chinese Military Superpower? Washington DC: The Heritage Foundation.

Waldron, A., 2005. The rise of China: military and political implications. Review of International Studies, 31, pp.715-733.

Wang, Y., 2008. Public Diplomacy and the Rise of Chinese Soft Power. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, (616), pp.257-273.

Yoshihara, T and Holmes, R, J., 2008. China’s Energy-Driven ‘Soft Power’. Orbis – The Foreign Policy Research Institute, pp. 123-137.

Zoellick, R, B., 2006. Whither China: From Membership to Responsibility? The DISAM Journal, pp. 94-98.

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Photo Credit: Stuck In Customs

john boehner speech

What’s Best For The Country!?

With the Fiscal Cliff looming, and with a deal so close, this is precisely the time when petty politics should be anathema.

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john boehner speech

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In Wednesday’s (December 19, 2012) press conference, President Barack Obama accused GOP lawmakers of putting their unwillingness to work with him ahead of what’s best for the country.

“…if they’re not worried about who’s winning and who’s losing, you know, that they score a point on the president, that they extract that last little concession, that they — that they — you know — you know, force him to do something he really doesn’t want to do just for the heck of it, and they focus on actually what’s good for the country, I actually think we can get this done.”

The President himself, over the past week and indeed earlier in that same address, acknowledged that House Speaker John Boehner, the top Republican, who has met personally with the President several times over the last several weeks, are close to a deal, with the main sticking point being $200-300 billion of increased revenue. The President’s above statement, however, was what viewers left the news conference with. CNN’s text alert following the President’s news conference read as follows:

“CNN Breaking News – Obama says GOP is too focused on getting better of him in fiscal cliff talks than doing what’s best for the country.”

Speaker Boehner, in response, offered a brief statement later that evening, stating that the President should support his Plan B, which is very far away from the proposals that the President and the Speaker have offered privately. It should be noted that it is likely that Plan B likely lacks even the Republican support to make it out of the House.

President Obama’s statement that impasse on Fiscal Cliff negotiations are a result of a GOP vendetta against his person rather than smart policy is probably correct, but that doesn’t make it good politics. A 30 minute news conference yesterday, where the President addressed gun control in response to the Newtown massacres, immigration reform, and energy reform in addition to a progress report on the Fiscal Cliff was summarized by a trusted national news outlet as “this conversation persists because of Republican bad behavior.” There was no possible response besides outrage from leading GOP lawmakers, and American taxpayers will likely suffer because of the President’s frustrated slip of the tongue.

Democrats and Republicans are closer to striking a deficit deal than they have been since Barack Obama’s inauguration. With the Fiscal Cliff looming, and with a deal so close, this is precisely the time when petty politics should be anathema. As Chief Executive of the United States, the President made a dire mistake by letting people see him sweat. Assuming that at least a majority of United States elected officials can see the forest in spite of the trees, a deal may still be reached by Christmas. But that may all come down to the perception of who’s scoring the most points, which indicates a genuine lack of respect for one’s friends across the aisle, so to speak.

Here’s hoping somebody can step up and be the bigger man, and that we can find an acceptable income level somewhere between $400,000 and $1,000,000 to get some more good old-fashioned revenue. I and everyone else down here in five figures don’t make anywhere close to enough to deserve a tax hike if personality conflicts prevent compromise.

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Photo Credit: Medill DC

Omar Hammami YouTube al Shabaab propaganda

A Somali Soap Opera: Al-Shabaab’s Split With Omar Hammami

An analysis of activity on the forum Islamic Awakening as well as on Twitter highlights that strategic support for Omar Hammami from Western audiences is fading.

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Omar Hammami YouTube al Shabaab propaganda[dhr]

Last month, ICSR released the report ‘Lights, Camera, Jihad: Al-Shabaab’s Western Media Strategy’ part of which outlined the ideological development and perspective of Shabaab’s most well known English language spokesperson, Omar Hammami AKA Abu Mansur Al-Amriki. On Monday a press release was distributed through the al-Shabaab Twitter account which said:

Harakat Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahideen hereby declares that Abu Mansur Al-Amriki does not, in any way, shape or form, represent the views of the Muhajireen in Somalia. 

and additionally that Hammami’s statements and actions stem from a

…narcissistic pursuit of fame and are far removed from the reality on the ground.

This release has garnered significant attention within the online Islamist community, particularly on the popular Islamist forum “Islamic Awakening’ (IA). Below we will outline some of the responses to this announcement from supporters and discuss why this development is significant for researchers and practitioners seeking to understand the  influence of both Hammami and al-Shabaab in the West(1).

Islamic Awakening Forums

Islamic Awakening is a popular English-language forum for Muslims, with certain sections holding jihadist sympathies.  IA has over 3000 registered users, and an unknown number of unregistered viewers who can access threads.  On Monday, shortly after al-Shabaab tweeted, a thread was opened to discuss the issue.  As of Thursday afternoon the thread contained more than 125 posts, as well as over 6,500 views. The response from users on the IA forum can be broken down into three positions.

One position taken was that al-Shabaab’s statement highlights their uncertainty in the future of the movement.  To them, the statement was nothing more than the politicization of internal events, which they find unnecessary, polarizing, and harmful to the group’s long-term success:

“One day I’m reading he is one of the leaders of HSM. A great leader, fighter and role model. Next day I’m hearing he is hungry for fame, power and has no authority with HSM….Politics. ”

This user’s frustration is mirrored by a peer:

“This issue is not as big as it is made out to be. If it was a Somali commader of HSM, I doubt we would even be discussing it right now. I think the western obsession with celebrity status has affected us too…personally, I don’t see any reason for me to even hold an opinion on this event. It is an internal issue”

There appears to be mistrust and discontent amongst certain users, who see the statement as an attempt to find a scapegoat for recent internal issues within the organization, or as an attempt to remain in headlines.

A minority of users have come to the defense of Hammami, citing that Al Shabaab led Hammami to speak out against them by isolating him from the Somalians he was fighting amongst:

“I feel sorry for the brother. Once upon a time, he was just one of the members of the online Muslim community…later he found the Jihadis appealing…actually made Hijra for the sake of Allah to a strange place to live amongst strange people, leaving behind his wife and kids, knowing there is no coming back for him for a very long time. His trip to Somalia was a one way trip – a very big sacrifice to make.He gives his heart and soul to the cause, to the Muslims in Somalia, and takes an active role not only in promoting their cause online, but also becoming their Sharia guide.”

He is obviously highly respected for his efforts and service to the cause:

“Abou Mansoor is newsworthy. Documentaries have been aired about him. The internet is replete with videos and articles about him.Then there is the small problem of him being wanted by the FBI. He is most definitely on Obama’s kill list. And you call him a laughing stock. How utterly absurd. What a foolish statement!  My heart bleeds for him. I may disagree with his behavior and with some of his beliefs but he is my brother in Islam and I pray to Allah to protect Abou Mansour and to remove the thorns that lie in his path.”

To some, Omar Hammami was seen as the poster boy the capabilities that the broader movement has to recruit talented leaders from the West.  They find it disrespectful and against their religion to speak out against a brother in Islam.

The final position from IA users is in support of al-Shabaab’s announcement, stating that the organization’s decision-making process should be trusted by all, especially individuals who have yet to commit themselves to the cause:

“Carry on behind your keyboard enjoying such issues. The caravan of Allah does not wait for anyone, nor is it disturbed by your creepy happiness at disagreements amongst the mujahideen. We will see who has the last laugh.”

“I’m not saying HSM were wrong in releasing this, I’m saying we are wrong in continuing to question something that we have no real clue about. Read what you will into the statement, but please don’t jump to assumptions, or conclusions based on YOUR interpretation of the statement. Basically, stop the apostate talk, when its not even in the statement, nor is anything related to it.”

It should be noted that the announcement has also been posted on the al-Shabaab supporter forum al-Qimmah.net. However there has been no discussion that has taken place on the open section of the forum. This is important to mention because it is common for messages in jihadist circles to be posted on a variety of mediums to reach a maximum audience. It is highly probable that discussions are occurring on al-Qimmah along with other popular English language Islamist forums such as 7Cgen and Ummah.com, however they may be taking place on closed sections of the forum inaccessible to users who are not registered and have been given the proper permissions. Admittedly this is a limitation of this piece. However the authors feel that the analysis of IA postings provides an account through which one can understand the immediate reactions from supporters to organizational announcements.

Twitter

Despite the al-Shabaab press release being initially communicated over Twitter, the conversation has been muted. The phrase ‘Omar Hammami’ saw a stark increase in exposure from before the announcement to afterwards, from roughly 5000 gross impressions to over 500,000 at the time of this article(2). Similar trends are reflected for the terms “al-Amriki” and “Abu Mansour”. While the message has reached a significant audience, the point must be made that the much of this has been the product of Western researchers and journalist ‘retweeting’ the message or simply sharing the link to the initial press release. This illustrates one of the problems with using quantitative methods to assess impact of jihadist messaging over Twitter. There are more people interested in the message from a professional or scientific point of view than those who are supporters or sympathizers of the organization. A quick browse through al-Shabaab’s 17,000+ Twitter followers reveals a broad array of individuals from East African development workers, to Western journalists, to true supporters.

The exposure of the message with a lack of conversation could, however, be indicative of a general acceptance of al-Shabaab’s message among supporters. Twitter is a medium of immediate reactions, not one on which users deliberate for several days before posting. If there was an active base of support for Hammami it seems plausible that it would have made itself known fairly rapidly.

The limited tweets criticizing Hammami or praising al-Shabaab take the following form:

“i ask ALLAH to remove this satan among the mujahideen” Tweet – 6:32 am, 17 Dec 2012

“may Allah protect HSM” Tweet 5:14 am, 18 Dec 2012

There is a Twitter account which some have speculated is at least associated with Hammami, if it is not actually him. The comments since the al-Shabaab announcement have been critical of the decision and of al-Shabaab more broadly:

“Shabab media seeks to discredit amriki – former poster boy – with heavy language. Maybe twitter got to them?” Tweet – 10:59 pm, 17 Dec 2012

“candid? Advice? Ok. Why are muhajirs dying, going to jail, running away, being forced out? Call me a liar and discredit urself” – Tweet- 11:42 pm, 17 Dec 2012

“I guess this means no flashy martyrdom vid after “americans” kill amriki. Somalia used to accom muhajirs b4 shabab intel. Tweet- 11:44 pm, 17 Dec 2012

These tweets showcase the limited conversation, however there is not enough discussion occurring on the medium to make an assessment of where opinions may be. However a conclusion that one can infer from the relative silence is that supporters are not in Hammami’s corner.

Why does this matter?

While splits and rifts in al-Shabaab have been well documented, including Hammami’s video from earlier this year where he said his life was in danger because of differences of opinion with al-Shabaab, this is the first time that the organization has publicly distanced itself from Hammami.

This public announcement signifies that the profile that Hammami gave the conflict in the West was not worth his continued association with the group. It became impossible for al-Shabaab, in their weakened state, to counter the image of a fractured organization . As the report Lights, Camera, Jihad pointed out, maintaing the appearance of organizational cohesion is an important part of al-Shabaab’s influence strategy.

The overwhelming sentiment from supporters and sympathizers on IA seems to suggest that they are comfortable, if not enthusiastic, with the decision to rebuke Hammami. This is a significant development, as Hammami was tailoring his message largely for a Western audience that extended to all Muslims and not just those in the diaspora.Where there is support for Hammami it takes the form of sympathy for his commitment to Muslims and personal sacrifice rather than an endorsement or appreciation of his strategic vision. This is significant as well since the vision articulated by Hammami has been a refocus on the broader goal of reestablishing the caliphate rather than concentrating on the local insurgency. While more and broader research is needed, the conversations on IA seem to suggest that the caliphate-centric strategic vision articulated by Hammami has not manifested into a large base of support. The silence from (or lack of) supporters on Twitter suggests the same, the attraction to his strategic vision is simply not there. While it was probably safe to say before the al-Shabaab announcement, it can be said with certainty now, that Hammami is not the next Anwar al-Awlaki.

It is too early to say what this means, if anything, for the future of the al-Shabaab insurgency in Somalia. The organization has taken a severe, some might say crippling, blow over the past year and the past few months in particular. It would be an understatement to say this is the least of their worries. It will be interesting to see how they articulate their message to a Western audience without their most well known English-language spokesperson. In a way, both al-Shabaab and Hammami lose, they’ve managed to turn their jihad into a soap opera.

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This article was co-authored by James Sheehan, an editor for The Risky Shift and a co-author of the recent ICSR report “Lights, Camera, Jihad: Al-Shabaab’s Western Media Strategy”.  You can follow him on Twitter here.

Notes:

(1) All usernames have been removed however the authors can provide the origins of specific quotes upon request.

(2) From Topsy.com, the software used for this analysis: “Gross number of times tweets containing each enabled term appeared in a twitter user s timeline within the result set.”

 

privacy

UK Data Bill: A Direction For Future Debate

In the present climate of uncertainty over privacy, creating proportional laws that strike the right balance between national security and liberty has become increasingly difficult.

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Communication Data has always played a major role in police investigations in democracies across the globe. Knowledge of who spoke to whom, when, and how has played an important role in preventing, detecting, and averting crime. In the ever-changing technology landscape of today, online surveillance has become a major part of police investigations. However, in the present climate of uncertainty over privacy, creating proportional laws that strike the right balance between national security and liberty has become increasingly difficult.

Over the past few years, numerous efforts have been made by the government to enable easier and effective web snooping. Every now and then, the government attempts to increase the powers of law enforcement agencies in acquiring such data, however it is often put on hold in the face of heavy protest. The government’s efforts emerged again in April this year as the Draft Communication Data Bill, with renewed plans to order telecommunication companies to store online communication data (defined as subscriber, use and traffic data). It has yet again faced a severe blow from two Parliamentary Committees that undertook a brief pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill, UK telecom players, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and a whole range of foreign technology and media companies – most of whom have been consulted by the Committees. However, the Intelligence & Security Committee (ISC) also questions if the legislation will solve the problem of the present capability gap.

The Joint Committee report – which hit upon the three P’s: privacy, price and proportionality – has made several useful suggestions to the government on how and why the government should consider redrafting the bill. The report has been extremely critical in a) pinpointing the misleading price tag of £1.8 billion presented by the Home Office, b) clearly stating the lack of proportionality within the bill that would threaten privacy and free expression, and c) predominantly insisting that the language of the Bill needed an urgent update, reflecting upon the written evidence submitted by The Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos. However, the damning verdict provided by the Joint Committee provides sufficient direction for future debate.

Following severe criticism from some MPs and peers, Prime Minister David Cameron has agreed to redraft the bill. If the government adopts a revision of definitions of communication data and if fewer agencies were authorized to access and use of such data, it is highly likely to help the government strike a balance between security and liberty. Further, putting the public at the heart of the Bill, the Committee realized the necessity to develop a new hierarchy of communication data, upgrade existing definitions and divide them into categories that suggest the level of intrusion of each type of communication data.

As the Home Office looks at ways to redraft, here are my suggestions for future debate:

The need to analyze implications of the bill for the general public

According to a recent Google Transparency Report, government surveillance across the world is on the rise, but the UK government has only made 1,425 requests for users’ data as opposed to US which has made 7,969 requests. However, the general public is unaware of what online surveillance there already is, and how such intelligence is used by law enforcement and security agencies. However, according to a recent survey by YouGov commissioned by Big Brother Watch, nearly 50% of Britons consider the bill to be bad value for money. It is essential therefore to engage in a data dialogue with the public in order to educate them and address their major concerns.

The need to understand public attitudes towards privacy and surveillance

While there are numerous studies on public attitudes towards data sharing, there is barely any full-fledged study evaluating public attitudes towards privacy and online surveillance in UK. While the above mentioned survey reveals that 71% of Britons are concerned over data-security, we are still unaware of public awareness of the surveillance, data protection and related confidence in the UK government.

The lack of clarity around Deep Packet Inspection (DPI)

Several governments and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) including United States, China, Iran, Russia and Kazakhstan are using DPI for a variety of reasons. ISPs in Ethiopia and Denmark have recently joined the list. While governments predominantly use DPI for censorship, ISPs use the technology to make Skype calls and YouTube videos play smoothly, stop viruses, dividing signal strengths and a variety of other reasons. In 2009, the US government in fact tried to introduce a privacy legislation to prohibit the use of DPI for behavioral advertising. Leaks from the UN International Telecommunications Union reveal Orwellian proposals towards implementing a DPI standard that will allow governments to snoop at a worldwide scale. As the argument about UK being the only democracy to be using such draconian measures fails, further investigation into the use and applicability of DPI becomes vital.

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Photo credit: striatic

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La futuribile convergenza tra sistemi sanitari: equità o innovazione?

Dall’analisi comparata tra sistema sanitario americano ed europeo, emerge il dilemma della sostenibilità: da un lato, l’esigenza di garantire servizi universali controllando la spesa sanitaria; dall’altro la volontà di sostenere l’innovazione tecnologica e l’eccellenza nella ricerca.

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[dropcap]M[/dropcap]entre negli Stati Uniti la riforma Obama del 2010 ha cercato di dare risposte ai problemi di equità determinati dal sistema sanitario delle assicurazioni private, in Europa è crescente l’allarmismo riguardante la sostenibilità dei sistemi sanitari nazionali. Se ne ha un chiaro esempio nella recente dichiarazione dell’attuale  Presidente del Consiglio, Mario Monti, circa la necessità di individuare nuove forme di finanziamento per il SSN. Ritengo, pertanto, che la convergenza dei due trend non sia casuale: i distinti e originali percorsi del sistema delle assicurazioni private statunitense, e di quelli universalistici europei, sono destinati a influenzarsi reciprocamente.

Come anticipato circa un decennio fa da Giovanni Fattore, direttore del Dipartimento di Analisi Istituzionale e Management Pubblico dell’Università Bocconi, il tentativo dei sistemi sanitari europei di raggiungere gli standard tecnologici americani pone un problema di sostenibilità per almeno due ordini di motivi: la minore incidenza della spesa sanitaria sul PIL, e l’assenza di rilevanti fonti private di finanziamento in Europa.

A questo quadro, è necessario aggiungere un ulteriore elemento: la curva demografica. In base a quest’ultima, si può concludere che il costo della sanità non potrà che aumentare nei prossimi anni. La curva della spesa sanitaria media per età presenta, infatti, un andamento a “J”, dovuto al fatto che, dopo una riduzione negli anni successivi all’infanzia, i consumi medi pro-capite cominciano a crescere lievemente dopo l’adolescenza, si intensificano a partire dai cinquant’anni circa, per impennarsi infine verso i sessanta-sessantacinque anni. Si stima che in Italia, nel 2050, il 33% della popolazione sarà ultrasessantenne. Il trend accumana USA ed Europa ed appare difficilmente contrastabile.

Diversamente dalla tradizione storica europea, il modello statunitense delle assicurazioni private ha sempre considerato la sanità come un prodotto individuale afferente alle logiche di mercato. Tale modello è sostenuto dai contributi volontari dei lavoratori o dei datori di lavoro, sotto forma di premi assicurativi o pagamenti diretti. Il sistema è incentrato sulla rimborsabilità delle prestazioni – per coloro che possiedono un’assicurazione sanitaria, e sulla “gratuità” delle stesse – principalmente per coloro che beneficiano dei programmi Medicare e Medicaid. Al contrario, i modelli universalistici europei considerano la sanità come un diritto che lo Stato deve garantire ai cittadini. La forma di finanziamento principale del modello Beveridgiano (UK) è stata la fiscalità generale, mentre quella del modello Bismarckiano (Germania) consisteva nei contributi obbligatori pagati dai lavoratori, o dai datori di lavoro, alle assicurazioni sociali.

Le marcate differenze tra i due sistemi sanitari trovano origine in una diversa concezione dei diritti e dei privilegi relativi all’individuo. Riecheggiando il pensiero di una larga fascia di cittadini statunitensi, non necessariamente di fede politica repubblicana, si potrebbe arrivare a dire che: “Ogni cittadino ha l’assicurazione sanitaria che si merita”. Al contrario, in Europa, il fenomeno delle caring externalities è nettamente dominante: il singolo individuo è disposto a cedere parte del proprio reddito in cambio di servizi, anche se non ne usufruirà personalmente.

A oltre sessant’anni dall’introduzione, nel 1948, del primo modello universalista, il britannico National Health Service, è oggi possibile osservare e comparare i risultati ottenuti dai suddetti sistemi sanitari.

Il sistema statunitense delle assicurazioni private è quello che determina la spesa sanitaria pro-capite più alta tra i Paesi OECD, e allo stesso tempo non garantisce al 15% della sua popolazione, cioè a 45 milioni di persone, alcuna assicurazione sanitaria. I welfaristi potrebbero affermare, a ragione, che l’applicazione delle politiche liberiste in sanità abbia generato un sistema iniquo e inefficiente allo stesso tempo. La riforma Obama 2010 e la seconda ondata di correttivi, prevista per il 2014, costituiscono un tentativo di risposta alle evidenti lacune di tale impianto. Un tentativo, questo, concepito nella direzione dell’universalismo, ed evidentemente influenzato dai sistemi sanitari europei.

Secondo Robert Evans, specialista in Health Economics all’Università della British Columbia, le ambizioni riformiste di Obama, sono state frenate dall’alleanza implicita tra i soggetti dell’offerta (imprese fornitrici, medici, ospedali) e i cittadini con reddito  medio-alto. La prima componente, infatti,  garantisce servizi d’eccellenza ai cittadini con reddito medio-alto e trova nella loro domanda la condizione sufficiente per continuare a dominare il sistema sanitario. Di conseguenza, la qualità della ricerca biomedica statunitense e l’eccellenza dei suoi centri di studio, è di fatto indiscutibile, e non sorprende, quindi, che siano proprio gli USA a dettare i ritmi di sviluppo tecnologico ai sistemi sanitari europei.

Nel vecchio continente, un modello di matrice universalistica offre, al contrario, assistenza sanitaria alla totalità della popolazione, ed è caratterizzato da una spesa pro-capite decisamente inferiore. A riguardo, si segnala che il tanto vituperato SSN abbia una spesa sanitaria pro-capite inferiore alla media OECD. In un costesto recessivo, con trend demografici sfavorevoli e PIL inferiori, i sistemi sanitari europei non riescono però ad assorbire l’innovazione tecnologica promossa dal sistema sanitario americano. La capacità di porre un filtro costruttivo all’innovazione potrebbe essere un elemento fondamentale per garantire la sostenibilità dei sistemi sanitari europei, preservando il loro carattere universalistico.

In conclusione, questa breve analisi comparata consente di mettere in luce il critico trade-off tra la necessità di garantire servizi sanitari universali, controllando la spesa sanitaria, e la capacità di sostenere l’innovazione tecnologica e l’eccellenza nella ricerca. Si è già detto di come Stati Uniti e Europa abbiano privilegiato, rispettivamente, la prima e la seconda dimensione. Nell’era globale è possibile, ma non nesessariamente augurabile, una progressiva convergenza tra due modelli storicamente distinti, che costringerà l’Europa a rinunciare progressivamente al carattere sociale dei propri sistemi sanitari.

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Editing: Maria Teresa De Palma

Photo Credit: Creative Commons

 

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Controlling The Gun Control Message War

The Second Amendment is vague. An argument can be made for being allowed to own a firearm, but it is absurd to believe that the hazy nature of the Second Amendment does not allow for a debate on what sort of weapons are available, and to whom they are made available.

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Following the unconscionable sunset of the ten-year Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 2004, gun policy assumed a political status of third rail proportions for control advocates. Despite the critical need for a safer, smarter policy direction, the American gun lobby and gun rights activists rendered meaningful legislation all but impossible, and the issue simmered quietly on the lowest lit back burner of the policy stove. Not anymore.

In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, gun policy narratives are exploding in every direction, illuminating the complex, ideology-heavy web that engulfs United States firearm laws and mental health care  as they relate to one another. Unlike previous mass-shootings in Aurora, Blacksburg, Oak Creek, and Tucson, it seems the American public has finally come online, thrusting gun policy back into the political frying pan.

The ensuing political debate is not falling along the typical, post-massacre lines. Gun rights advocates and their friends in Congress are on the defensive. The ever-outspoken National Rifle Association seems to be abiding by a self-imposed gag-order. The group’s Twitter page has gone silent, and the group’s Facebook page seems to have been deactivated. NBC’s David Gregory and CBS’s Bob Schieffer extended invitations to GOP Senators and NRA officials to speak on their respective Sunday morning shows to discuss the incident at Sandy Hook as it relates to the American gun culture. Not a single GOP Senator or NRA representative accepted the invitations. Pro-gun Democrats like Harry Reid, Joe Manchin, and Mark Warner are coming out of their NRA appeasement caves to signal their willingness to march with control advocates toward a smarter, more restrictive gun policy. No word from NRA about these Democratic about-faces.

Rather, it is in the media sphere where the debate is roaring along its usual fault lines. There is the natural split between the pro-gun hardliners and the control advocates. The hardliners are convinced their weapons are not the real issue, and either dodge sideways to discuss only mental health screening or hold the second amendment aloft like a trump card in the face of anyone who suggests that loopholes on background checks should be closed or high capacity magazines and assault weapons should be illegal. The control advocates are coalescing behind a call for stronger restrictions on the types of firearms to be issued and more effective mental health screening procedures for those seeking to obtain them. Many who found themselves on the fence about the language of the second amendment and the human cost of a lax gun culture have made the move leftward, shaken to their senses by the carnage visited upon twenty elementary school kids and their teachers. This progressive shift is being felt across all media forms and markets, as control advocates are finally stepping forward to eviscerate the inevitable gun lobby talking points.

In his response to Anthony Machinski’s pro-gun rights piece “Gun Control: You Can’t Test Irresponsibility”, Tom Hashemi of the The Risky Shift takes dead aim at common pro-gun rights assertions (But gun control won’t stop these tragedies! But I am a responsible gun owner! But what about cars? Cars are dangerous too!). After making mince-meat of Machinski’s anti-deterrence arguments, Hashemi briefly dismisses the Second Amendment argument, and goes on to state that “No matter how much the facts stack up on one side, votes will be matched along these lines of identity, not of rationality. What needs to change is what “freedom” really means: that we should be looking upon it as freedom from death and suffering, not freedom to wield a weapon of your choice to cause it.”

Franklin Delano Roosevelt would be proud. This is a strong and convincing appeal. It treats our Constitution, our language, and our citizens like adults, capable of serious change that stays true to the spirit in which our founding document was written. However, for the purposes of capitalizing on the nation’s new-found sense of focus on progressive gun policy reform, the conversation about the meaning of “freedom” might be best saved for a different day. In the immediate aftermath of the incident at Sandy Hook, action must be swift and decisive, or the momentum will recede the way it always does. We will hear the same old arguments against any concerted move to alter American gun culture and law as it stands today. As Hashemi noted, this is tied directly, if misguidedly, to a warped concept of “freedom” and the Second Amendment.  But why waste time arguing over the definition of “freedom” when you don’t have to? The Second Amendment is vague. An argument can be made for being allowed to own a firearm, but it is absurd to believe that the hazy nature of the Second Amendment does not allow  for a debate on what sort of weapons are available, and to whom they are made available. If that were the case, ex-convicts could mount cannons on their roofs, and who could protest?

Recognize this, and the arguments for smarter, more effective gun restrictions become monumentally simple. From now on, if the Second Amendment argument is going to be made by people who are looking backward two hundred years to a law fitted to the extraordinary nature of the time and place in which it was implemented, the response should not trample on that. Why waste your breath? Instead, the response should be simple, clear and cross none of the gun-rights activists’ “freedom” defenses: You have a right to own certain guns, pending the results of your mental health screening and background check. No tyrant will come for those guns. They are yours, and you are free to have them. We are not talking about control or government overreach. We are talking about precaution and prevention.

Update, 4:40 PM: The NRA has released its first statement since Friday’s incident in Newtown. The NRA states that it “is prepared to help make sure this never happens again.” How comforting. I look forward to hearing how they plan to help.

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Photo Credit: taberandrew

gay marriage

Marriage Equality & The Government’s ‘Legislative Boot’

By proposing to implement this restriction on the Church of England and Wales, the government risks alienating those religious people in favour of equal marriage and provides further ammunition for its opponents, many of whom now claim that legislative developments on the issue have appeared muddled and erratic.

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Responding to government proposals on the implementation of marriage equality earlier this week, Conservative MP Richard Drax stated in the House of Commons, ‘I would like to ask the Secretary of State and the government what right have they got, other than arrogance and intolerance, to stamp their legislative boot on religious faith?’ It is in an attempt to safeguard religious institutions from legislative intolerance that the government made its announcement this week that the Church of England will be prohibited from performing same-sex marriages should they be introduced.

Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, explained the policy in Parliament, stating, ‘European law already puts religious freedoms beyond doubt, and we will go even further by bringing in an additional “quadruple legal lock”. But it is also a key aspect of religious freedom that those bodies who want to opt in should be able to do so.’ Despite this mention of the opt-in, one of the four parts of the ‘quadruple legal lock’ includes legislation explicitly preventing the Church of England from carrying out same-sex marriages. This threatens to inhibit rather than ensure religious freedom for religious institutions wishing to marry same-sex couples and risks alienating religious individuals in favour of equal marriage.

It would seem that the government has failed to distinguish the many shades of difference of opinion within the Church of England and in Wales on the issue of equal marriage. The assumption that same-sex marriage is necessarily oppressive to religious groups as though they are a monolithic whole can be dispelled by looking at both the Church of England and the Church in Wales, prominent members of which have expressed disappointment in the last week over the government’s announcement.

The Bishop of Leicester, Tim Stevens, as well as a spokesperson for the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, have both criticised the apparent lack of consultation regarding the ‘quadruple legal lock’. But in her address to Parliament, Maria Miller said, ‘Because the Church of England and Wales have explicitly stated that they do not wish to conduct same-sex marriages, the legislation will explicitly state that it would be illegal for the Churches of England and Wales to marry same-sex couples.’

Even if prominent figures within either Church had indeed articulated this ‘explicit’ opposition to equal marriage during the consultation period, Miller’s reasoning for the plans seems too simplistic, not only in light of the variety of views on equal marriage among religious individuals but also given its many proponents within the Conservative Party itself. Just last week, the Telegraph reported on a group organised by key Conservatives including London Mayor Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Michael Gove in support of same-sex marriage within religious institutions. Prime Minister David Cameron has also announced that he favoured equal marriage within the Church.

These complications are making it easier for outright opponents of marriage equality, such as those within the Catholic Church, to more easily undermine the government’s progress on the issue. In response to Miller’s announcement, a statement released by the the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said that the government’s approach ‘can only be described as shambolic’ and went on to complain that, ‘There was no electoral mandate in any manifesto; no mention in the Queen’s speech; no serious or thorough consultation through a Green or White paper, and a constant shifting of policy before even the government response to the consultation was published today.’ Arguably, the response among outright opponents of equal marriage was always going to be negative, but confusion over the legal impact on religious institutions widens the scope for further criticism and doubt over the government’s competence over the issue.

By proposing to implement this restriction on the Church of England and Wales, the government risks alienating those religious people in favour of equal marriage and provides further ammunition for its opponents, many of whom now claim that legislative developments on the issue have appeared muddled and erratic. In an attempt to prevent equal marriage from being forced upon religious institutions, the government now suggests that the Church should be forced to turn same-sex couples away. Religious believers who support equal marriage may now be inclined to ask of their government, ‘What right have they got to stamp their legislative boot on religious faith?’

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Photo credit: renaissancechambara

guns

The Second Amendment: An Outdated, Ideological Fallacy

This is not about rationality: arguments against gun control are almost entirely constructed and founded on their ideological underpinnings. And as with any devout ideologue, the wider picture and the resultant implications are willfully and purposefully ignored.

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This piece was co-authored by Peter Kelly.

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Anthony Machinski’s recent piece on TRS – “Gun Control: You Can’t Test Irresponsibility” – is, at best, the work of an individual firmly fixated on trying to make reality look like a world in which the Second Amendment is still relevant. At worst, it is one so dedicated to this fantasy as to have dangerous illusions as to the continued relevance of an armed militia concerned with resisting a tyrannous federal government. For that was the purpose and reasoning leading to the Second Amendment.

Machinski’s arguments are based on statistics, but these are either incorrect, invalid, or irrelevant to the matter at hand. Like Machinski we wish to take a moment to remember the lives devastated by this tragedy, however to do so without seeking ways to stop this trend towards such tragedies is a fatal mistake.

If we do not look at the underlying and facilitating factors to Columbine-esque shootings such events will continue to feature: is the post-revolutionary right to bear arms really worth the continuous killings of so many children?

Firstly however, we would like to address some incorrect claims made in the Machinski piece.

1) People will always be able to “get their hands on whatever item they want if they so choose”

Machinski chooses to exemplify this with reference to prohibition and the failure of legislation to tackle drug abuse. These are wholly illegitimate comparisons.

Firstly, there is a huge difference in intent.

The intent of someone who drank alcohol during prohibition was not to be able to maim or kill. Similarly, for one who is recreationally taking illegal drugs the intent is to enjoy themselves.

Irrespective of our respective views on the use of recreational drugs, it is readily apparent that for the vast majority of users the intent is not to commit any violence. With guns, the sourcing of a weapon is for the sole purpose of being able to maim at some point in the future, even if this is under the guise of defence.

Secondly, and more applicably, most killers lack the connections or experience to get hold of illegal weapons (as opposed to gang members).

Reductio ad absurdum: why don’t we just give all mentally unfit persons a firearm? According to Machinksi they are going to get them anyway.

2) The UK “has problems with school shootings”

The factual inaccuracy here is startling. A simple Wikipedia search would have displayed to the author that the only school shooting in the UK in living memory was the Dunblane massacre of 1996.

The Cumbria shootings of 2010 had nothing whatsoever to do with schools or children – as proven by virtue of the fact that all victims were over the age of twenty three. We can further consider that the only other major gun massacre in the UK (again, in living memory) was that which occurred in Hungerford in 1987. Again, nothing to do with a school.

Thus, of the three mass shootings in the last three decades in the UK, only one has taken place in a school.

3) In “no way, shape, or form would gun control laws have helped prevent this tragedy”

Firstly, should the type of guns permitted to be licensed be lower down the “ease-of-use” scale it is highly unlikely that this tragedy would have been as extreme as it is; had the shooter’s only weapon been a handgun it is doubtful that the casualty count would be so high.

The weapon he used was akin to the M16 (as employed by the U.S. Army). Its efficacy in lethality is demonstrated by the short time-frame of the killing spree (the killer shot himself less than ten minutes after the first shot was fired, just as the first police officer entered the school). Less efficient legal weapons would likely result in less deaths per mass killing.

Secondly, legal weapons have been used in approximately seventy five per cent of the sixty two mass killings in America since 1982, thus demonstrating the complete failure of the American licensed weapons system.

A more holistic attempt at ensuring that active weapons do not get into the wrong hands – a greater degree of federal specificity over how guns are stored; the enforced separation of gun from ammunition in storage; the ineligibility of those living with person(s) with mental health issues to possess a weapon, etc. – would indubitably result in less legal weapons being used for illegal purposes.

Such restrictions – gun control laws – would likely have limited (if not put a stop to) this mass murder.

We must also consider arguments which frame the fight against the Second Amendment; this is a debate which cannot be won solely on the defensive.

Outdated

The Second Amendment is archaic and belongs to the time of slavery and the looming threat of the British Empire. In short, a time well before the U.S. could truly have been called a democracy. Now, when federal government depends on votes to remain in power, votes are the weapons every household needs.

There is no need for every man to wield a weapon to warn off a federal army which has its hands tied controlling Afghanistan, let alone the three hundred and ten million citizens of the United States – even were they completely unarmed. Besides which, where is the organised militia such armed citizenry are supposed to belong to?

The Second Amendment is a disastrous carry-on from a past era. The eighteenth century solution (to eighteenth century issues which no longer exist) has created a twenty-first century problem.

The Statistics

The homicide by firearm rate in the U.S. is completely disproportionate to its position as a Western nation. It is only bested by developing countries and the nearest developed countries to it are Liechtenstein and Switzerland (also low gun-restriction countries).

The disproportion is by a rather telling factor of four.

One can point to all kinds of different mitigating statistics to this, but the inescapable line is that lax gun laws equal more gun murders in developed states. In the United States, unless you were to insult the entire populace with the assumption that they are more homicidal than average, a factor of four is simply too large of a difference to be challenged.

Bringing the United Kingdom in hardly helps the case – it has a gun-related homicide rate of approximately forty times smaller. The rate of gun crime has halved in the years since stricter gun laws were enforced and cannot be attributed to a culture of less crime, as the United Kingdom has a slightly higher crime rate.

It also rubbishes the claim that those without guns will find other means, as despite the higher crime rate the UK’s homicide rate is significantly smaller than that of the US, 1.2 per 100,000 against 4.2 respectively.

Conclusion

The fact of the matter is that the strength of the argument for gun control is all but irrelevant. As Sam Leith, writing in today’s Evening Standard, argues, “the issue in the US is a dialogue of the deaf because it’s about identity politics, not harm reduction”. The Second Amendment equates the gun to freedom, and as we are aware, freedom is a big word.

This is not about rationality: arguments against gun control are almost entirely constructed and founded on their ideological underpinnings. And as with any devout ideologue, the wider picture and the resultant implications are willfully and purposefully ignored.

Resultantly debate on this matter is nothing but a formality. No matter how much the facts stack up on one side, votes will be matched along these lines of identity, not of rationality. What needs to change is what “freedom” really means: that we should be looking upon it as freedom from death and suffering, not freedom to wield a weapon of your choice to cause it.

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This piece was co-authored by Peter Kelly.

Peter holds an MSc in International Security from the University of Bristol and a BA in Philosophy and Politics from Durham University. His focus is on security and conflict issues in the western world, Middle East and Africa. He runs the site A Third Opinion.

Photo credit:  Jenn Durfey

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Deadly Media Manipulation

An innocent joke may have preceded a fatal incident, but ultimately the only cruel trick being played here, is by the media.

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Earlier this week one life was taken, whilst two more have subsequently been sentenced to endless abuse and the pressure to endure guilty charges.

On Tuesday 4th December, an innocent prank call was made by Australian 2Day FM radio hosts, Michael Christian and Mel Greig to the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge had been staying. The fact that a hoax call had been made reached the news very quickly; the hospital had allowed confidential information about the Duchess’s medical conditions to be shared with the radio hosts, and was consequently under scrutiny. Three days later, the nurse who had answered the hoax call, Jacintha Saldanha, was discovered dead, by suicide.

A media storm erupted, as the headlines screamed Hoax nurse ‘died of shame’ and the incident became infamously knows as the ‘deadly prank call’. The media instantaneously spun the story in a way that directly linked the hoax call with the reason the nurse had committed suicide. The reporter on Australian current affairs program Today Tonightperfectly exemplifies the media’s manipulation of the event in her statement, “how much the prank had to do with that death is open to conjecture”, straight after describing it as the “prank call that had such tragic consequences”.

In what is seemingly an attempt to cover their own backs, the hospital responsible for accepting the call has certainly not been shy in enhancing this absurd link, stating that Saldanha was a ‘victim of a cruel trick’. Royal College of Nursing chief executive Dr Peter Carter said it was “deeply saddening that a simple human error due to a cruel hoax could lead to the death of a dedicated and caring member of the nursing profession“.

Firstly, this so called ‘cruel trick’ had no malicious motivations, and was designed to be an obvious, harmless joke. Secondly, Saldanha ‘is understood to be the nurse who answered the call, then, believing she was talking to members of the royal family, transferred it to a duty nurse on the duchess’s ward’ – the nurse had thus merely put through the call; she had not actually been directly subject t the main content of the hoax. Finally, the only reason this incident, both the prank call and the suicide, made the news is because it revolved around the nation’s precious Duchess of Cambridge. The purpose of this piece is not in any way whatsoever to undervalue the death of an individual – it is to highlight the cruel manipulation of the media, as they sensationalised a woman’s suicide purely because it was in relevance to royalty.

The Australian radio hosts were merely doing their job, and whilst they had absolutely no intention of committing what is now being called ‘manslaughter’, they should in no way be forced to live with ‘unbelievable regret’ for this woman’s death, quite simply because they did not cause it. What we have witnessed over these past weeks and continue to, is how irrelevant correlations can be easily over exaggerated and exploited by the media. BBC news involvement in this over exaggerated sensation is ironic, considering less than a month earlier they published an article highlighting how ridiculousl correlations can be constructed.

The media may be the culprits who stirred the trouble, but it is the general public who are happily being spoon fed it, swallowing it and regurgitating it with hateful means. The craze and obsession with the royals has gone too far, as it absolutely unacceptable for the Kate and Wills fan base to antagonise the radio hosts in defense of their beloved Duchess of Cambridge. It is shocking to hear about the surge of death threats and allegations that Greig and Christian have received, including being accused of having ‘blood on their hands’. Whilst their careers are now irreparably tainted, more detrimentally is the expectation for them to accept the blame for this woman’s suicide and thus suffer from tremendous guilt.

The media are accountable for starting this unjust witch-hunt, and many impressionable, naive members of the population are guilty of fueling it. The saddest thing about this whole episode, is it is very likely that the anger derives not from the death of Jacintha Saldanha, but from those who are outraged that the royals were the subject of a hoax.

An innocent joke may have preceded a fatal incident, but ultimately the only cruel trick being played here, is by the media.

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Photo Credit: Todd Huffman