• North Korea to the rest of the World: "No change from us"

    Above North Korea's "Supreme Leader" Kim Jong-un: photo: AP

    "We declare solemnly and confidently that the foolish politicians around the world, including the puppet group in South Korea, should not expect any change from us," said North Korea state run media Friday, December 30, 2011.

    Today, as well as historically, Korea is at the center of East Asian politics and culture. While Korea has its own distinct culture, norms, and traditions, it has also served as a cultural bridge between China and Japan and today between divergent political and economic points-of-view in the region and on the Korean peninsula.

    World War II and then the Korean War (1950-53) shattered the Korean nation - splitting families and the peninsula into the North (occupied by the Soviet Union) and the South (occupied by the United States). While the South has moved-on, both socially and economically, the North remains one of the few communist states left in the world, still relies heavily on China, and is all but closed to the outside world.

    North Korean politics have been tightly and harshly authoritarian, closed, and ruled by two leaders - Kim Il Sung (ruled 1948-1994) and his son, Kim Jung Il (ruled 1994-2011) - and now Kim Jong-un (ruled December 2011 - (click here for more).

    Today, hopes of reunifying the peninsula were again dashed - for the foreseeable future - in the country's first official pronouncement to the outside world since the regime upheld Kim Jong-un as its new "supreme leader." The National Defense Commission, North Korea's highest decision-making body, announced on Friday that there would be no change in its policy under its new leader.

    At face value, the North's statements do not seem to indicate any interest in engaging with South Korea and or the wider international community.  Amid regional unrest, the United States is to send diplomats to East Asia to discuss the situation in North Korea. Kurt Campbell will hold talks in Beijing, Seoul, and Tokyo in early January, the US State Department reported.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What (if any) impact might these statements have for the prospects of multiparty talks on North Korea's nuclear weapons program?

    2.     Is it too early to say the North is dashing all hope of reform and engagement?


  • The Rape of Somali Girls & Woman - a Weapon of War

    Large-scale civil conflict is often the result of a state's inability to govern within their territorial borders.  Failed states are countries (like Somalia) whose governments have so mismanaged policy or have been thrown into unparalleled crisis that their citizens are put in grave danger.

    The famine spreading in Somalia has left women vulnerable to rape. Above photo by Sipa Press/Rex Features.

    In Somalia today a militant group called al-Shabab is seizing women and girls as spoils of war, gang-raping and abusing them as part of its reign of terror. Al-Shabab is claiming to be the legitimate Somalia ruling authority in a state that has been hit the hardest hit by the drought in the Horn of Africa (click here for more).

    In the past few months, the United Nations and aid workers say armed men are preying upon women and girls displaced by Somalia's famine. Trekking hundreds of miles searching for food many women end up in crowded, lawless refugee camps where Islamist militants, rogue militiamen, and even government soldiers rape, rob and kill them (click here for the complete New York Times report).

    The causes of state failure are many, but failed states share some key characteristics that make them vulnerable to disintegration. In Somalia we see examples of a few of these characteristics: poverty, extreme income and gender inequality, internally displaced people, food scarcity, and no human rights protection. A state with such characteristics is likely to fail and its citizens suffer.

    Civilian targets of overt repression and violence obviously cause grave concern and moral outrage in the global community. Atrocities in failed states like Somalia force millions of refugees from their homes to seek safety. Often, the Somalia women are left wounded or pregnant seeking help. NGOs like Sister Somalia provide some - but really far too little - assistance for the rape victims (click here for more on Sister Somalia).  The global community is being put to the test of its true ideals and principles.

    1.     Will humanitarian concern for the people of Somalia - the victims of rape - crystallize into a response?

    2.     The principles of the UDHR are one thing; the reality of the suffering in Somalia is yet another. Will the global north back the UDHR and help free the Somalia women from rape, oppression, and murder?

  • India says no to Wal-Mart

    Currently, 2.1 million people work in Wal-Mart big-box stores around the world.  

    This month, the Indian government said "no" to opening up its retail market to Wal-Mart and other foreign big-box stores.  Wal-Mart's expansion was met with such vehement protest from the people all across India that the plans have been shelved.

    Classical economic development theorists argue that the major barriers to development in countries (like India) are often internal characteristics. Managerial inefficiency, lack of modern technology, inadequate transportation, and communication infrastructures are very often inefficient and ineffective and slow economic growth.

    Many argue that foreign direct investment from wealthy countries would promote economic growth in places like India and such growth would then eventually trickle down to broad segments of society.  Allowing Wal-Mart and other retailers to operate in India would promote growth that would eventually allow it catch up to the Global North.

    Photo of Indian shopkeep by Bikas Das/Associated Press.

    Of course, the Wal-Mart management sees India's 1.2 billion people as a massive market of consumers ready for its made-in-China products.  But Indians today - as they have for many generations - shop in "kirana," or tiny mom and pop stores. The tens of millions of Indians who are employed in more than 15 million of these small retail shops see the coming of Wal-Mart as a threat to their jobs and way of life.  For generations, Indian economic policies have favored the small shopkeepers. Since 1997, big-box retailers have only been allowed to participate in wholesale trading in India.

    Classical development theory suggests that the more efficient big-box retail model would improve the lives of the more than a half billion Indians still tied to the land, by improving the supply system to consumers and providing them with cheaper products.

    While Indians argue over the best model for economic development more than 80 percent of Americans shop at big-box superstores.  Of course, the American car-culture readily supports the big-box shopping experience, but will driving long distances on bad Indian roads, battling for a parking spot, and choosing between hundreds of brands suit Indian consumers?

    Members of The Indian National Association of Street Vendors protest against Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail in New Delhi, on November 30, 2011. Many Indians fear the market opening up to large multinational companies. Photo: Raveendran/AFP/Getty Images)

    While millions of Indians, over recent months, have expressed their happiness with the current small-and-local retail model, their resistance has frustrated policymakers and MNCs.  Wal-Mart's almost 10,000 stores in 28 countries (under 60 different names) are both loved and hated but have not found success in every market - recently failing in both Germany and South Korea.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     MNCs, like Wal-Mart, have been praised by some and condemned by others. What are the pros and cons of MNCs in the Global South? On the whole, has their presence there produced positive or negative effects?

    2.     Why might a country promote less than efficient models of economic development?

  • Corruption: A Significant Global Problem?

    Transparency International's Corruption Index ranks North Korea's new leader Kim Jong Un's country as the most corrupt in the world. Photograph: AP.

    To better understand the comparative power of states, scholars often rank them according to a wide variety of resources and capabilities. By comparing state characteristics it is possible to rank them by their relative abilities - such as the exercise power and influence both domestically and globally. These rankings often differentiate strong states from the weak.

    States need a viable and trustworthy political framework in which to function best and effectively.  Without a trustworthy and a stable political framework governments face significant challenges in establishing legitimate political authority and internal social and economic security.

    Every year since 1995 a Berlin based NGO, Transparency International, has released a Corruption Perception Index (CPI), which measures the perception of corruption - misuse of public resources, bribery, and backdoor deals, among others - in countries worldwide. Scholars, economists, and investors view the CPI as a reliable indicator of a state's strength, level of corruption, and likelihood of success.

    The CPI is created from data (click here for the data) from 17 surveys from 13 independent institutions, covering issues such as access to information, bribery of public officials, kickbacks in public procurement, and the enforcement of anti-corruption laws (Click here for more on OECD's anti-bribery convention).

    Corruption around the world remains a significant global concern in our deeply independent global village.  In a less interdependent era, weak and corrupt states could be isolated and largely ignored - kept distant - and thus had few implications for global political and economic security.  Today these weak and corrupt states pose a real threat to not only themselves and neighboring states but also countries all around the world.  In short, corruption in Afghanistan has consequences in Japan and corruption in Russia has real consequences in the United States and so on.

    According to the CPI, Singapore, New Zealand, and Denmark have very low levels of corruption. The United States' rank slipped to 22nd this year, behind Chile, marking the first time the US has failed to rank in the top 20 cleanest states.  Russia ranked the worst among global powers, falling from146th place on 2010 to 154th place this year, tied with Cambodia. Nearly three quarters of the 178 countries in the CPI were below five on a scale of 0 (high corruption) to 10 (very clean or very low corruption).

    Of course, weak and unstable governments are the most corrupt and dominate the bottom of the CPI.  While Somalia and North Korea are last with a score of 1, Afghanistan and Myanmar share second to last place with a score of 1.5 (click here for an excellent corruption map of the world).

    These weak and unstable states are a significant challenge for the international community as it is often very difficult to help a state construct a legitimate political and economic framework as seen recently in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What threats might weak and corrupt states pose to the rest of the global community?

    2.     Do the many and widespread demonstrations around the world 2011 - from the Arab Spring to Occupy - indicate a call for a new political era in which leaders must head the demands for better and less corrupt government?



  • Christian Bale, Human Rights, and China Going Global with Flowers of War

    This morning, Wednesday, December 21, 2011, Chinese officials are seeking to spin the conversation about a human rights story saying that Christian Bale should be embarrassed not China.

    Bale was trying to visit Chen Guangcheng, who has been living in isolation under house arrest since his release from jail last year. Like many other human rights activists, Bale had journeyed to Chen's village in Shandong province and was blocked and manhandled by Chinese officials. Other human rights activists seeking to visit with Chen have had belongings taken and in some cases been detained for days.

    Since the ratification of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 (click here for more on the UDHR) the belief that human rights should be accessible to all people has become a globally accepted reality. Numerous IGOs and NGOs, as well as individuals, like Christian Bale, work tirelessly to free people from oppression, expose government wrongdoing, and secure human rights for those who are without a voice.

    Ironically, Beijing is seeking to promote a new state-backed movie, The Flowers of War, which is - in part - designed to soften China's image in the world (click here for more on the movie). While in China to promote the movie the film's star, Christian Bale, embarrassed Chinese authorities by attempting to visit the blind human rights lawyer.

    It is interesting to note that while Chinese officials seek support for a film in the global market they also allowed Christian Bale to highlight Chen's human rights abuse. It is hard to be both open and closed.

    China has questioned the appropriateness of Western definitions of human rights in non-Western context, where the primary concern is to improve standards of living.

    As we view Mr. Bale's clash with Chinese government officials, Mr. Chen's house arrest, and the new film (The Flowers of War) it is important to realize that our view of China is still limited, thus it is important that scholars are neither too harsh nor too romantic about China. We must leave room for in depth understanding of the wide middle truths of Chinese politics and policies. It is important to remain sensitive about the way we gain information, assess, and evaluate China.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do activist like Christian Bale and transnational nongovernmental organizations such as Human Rights Watch change conceptions about China and or the moral and legal human rights norms?

    2.     Should China - a developing non-Western state - be held responsible to the same human rights standards as the Western developed world? Why or why not?

  • Instability in a Nuclear Asia?

    North Korean nuclear weapons have been a serious concern for quite some time. From President Clinton and Bush to the current Obama administration, the United States has repeatedly negotiated to persuade North Korea to terminate its nuclear weapons program. In 2006, North Korea tested a small nuclear device, and in 2009, it claimed to have enough plutonium for several nuclear weapons.  Today the country is believed to have a plutonium stockpile big enough for six to eight nuclear weapons.

    Today, December 19, 2011, North Korean officials announced that Kim Jong-il, the nation's president, had died aged 69 of a heart attack. Kim Jong-il's death raises many questions about the nuclear-armed, very poor, and deeply isolated nation. Will Kim Jong-il's son, Kim Jong Eun (who is very young and unprepared) be able to hold onto power or will the region as a whole spin into diplomatic uncertainty, instability, or possibly even war with South Korea? 

    Also today, North Korea (which also has an arsenal of chemical and conventional weapons including thousands of short - and medium-range missiles) test-fired a short-range missile off its east coast. North Korean government officials say it was unrelated to the announcement of Kim's death.

    Kim Jong il took over after his father, Kim Il-sung died in 1994, coming to power with a reputation as an unstable playboy who too much enjoyed the high life. Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright later had a different assessment of his character (click here for her assessment).

    Mr. Kim and Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright in 2000 photo by David Guttenfelder. 

    By the late 1990s, Kim had presided over a famine that had killed hundreds of thousands of North Koreans. While severe food shortages continue in North Korea (the United Nations estimates one-third of children are stunted by malnutrition) the nation's resources are continually used to build nuclear and a large conventional weapons stockpile. The greatest concern for South Korea, the United States, China, and others around the world is whether Mr. Kim’s death will lead to instability in the country and a rise in tensions on the Korean peninsula.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     The South Korean military went on full alert at the news of the death of Kim Jong Il.  How might instability in North Korea during the transition of power to his son, Kim Jong Eun, lead to fresh attacks on the South after a period of relative peace between the countries?

    2.     Some argue that nuclear proliferation constitutes one of the most serious problems facing the world. What efforts, if any, should the nations of the world employ to prevent rogue states or unstable leaders from holding nuclear power?



  • China Imposes New Tariffs on American Vehicles

    China plans to impose duties as high as 22% on large cars and SUVs from the U.S. for the next two years. Above, a General Motors dealership in Shanghai. (PETER PARKS, AFP/Getty Images / December 15, 2011)

    Although average tariff levels have greatly decreased due to the work of the World Trade Organization (WTO), they are still often employed. Tariffs are a tax assessed on goods as they are imported into a country.  For example, a Jeep Grand Cherokee that cost $27,490 at US dealerships now cost $85,000 or more in China with new tariffs added Tuesday.

    On 14 December 2011, the Chinese government unexpectedly imposed tariffs on imports of sport utility vehicles and midsize and large cars from the United States. These tariffs will affect vehicles produced by several companies, including General Motors, Honda, Chrysler and BMW's U.S. manufacturer.

    China's new tariffs will be mostly symbolic as sales of SUV and large vehicles in China are minimal and American carmakers generally manufacture most of their cars for the Chinese market inside the country.  Other tariffs already in place have already limited sales of American imports by helping raise their retail prices by about three times what the same cars sell for in the United States.

    China's move drew immediate criticism from the Obama administration, "We are very disappointed in this action by China," said Carol Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the Office of the United States Trade Representative. "We will be discussing this latest action with both our stakeholders and Congress to determine the best course going forward."

    Photograph: Philippe Lopez/AFP/Getty Images

    One challenge for China, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary as a member of the WTO, is whether these new tariffs will be allowed under WTO rules. The WTO places many limits on a member nation's ability to impose tariff measures, particularly on goods from countries that the WTO has declared as having market economies, like the United States. Click here for a more on the WTO agreements on anti-dumping and subsidies.

    President Obama imposed steep tariffs on imports of Chinese tires in September 2009. After an inquiry, the WTO ruled this fall that the American tariffs on tire imports had complied with international trade rules.

    US Commerce secretary John Bryson said: "The United States has reached a point where we cannot quietly accept China ignoring many of the trade rules. China still substantially subsidizes its own companies, discriminates against foreign companies and has poor intellectual property protections."

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Explain how China might simultaneously be pursing liberal and mercantilist policies?

    2.     Do tariffs, like those placed on US cars, threaten global prosperity at a time when countries' are increasingly dependent on export and import markets?

  • Jobs, Oil, Emissions, and the Global Environment

    In the early hours of this past Sunday (December 11, 2011) more than 190 countries managed to finally agree a new climate change deal in Durban, South Africa.

    Called the "Durban Platform," the agreement commits all countries to a global deal on cutting carbon emissions by 2015 - although it will not come into force until 2020.  The UN marked it as an "historic breakthrough to save the planet." Click here for details of the Durban Platform.

    Today (Wednesday, December 14, 2011) Canada announced that it is pulling out of the group of 192 countries that adopted the Kyoto protocol.  Canada pulled out of the Kyoto protocol on climate change, just hours after the Durban Platform update was agreed on, saying the accord simply will not work.

    The 'Big 3', the United States, India, and China make up almost half of the world's carbon emissions. China emits more carbon than the United States and Canada put together - up by 171% since the year 2000.

    China, the United States and India have many reasons for not wanting to be part of a new global deal.

    What is at stake?

    On one hand, scientists say that if levels of greenhouse gases continue to rise, eventually the world's climate will reach an irreversible melting of ice sheets and sea levels rising by several meters (for a full report click here).

    On the other hand, Canada's Environment minister, Peter Kent says, "withdrawing [from Kyoto] allows us to continue to create jobs and growth in Canada." Canada is reluctant to hurt its booming oil industry.

    China argues that it is not to blame for previous generations of industrial pollution and cannot allow its developing economy to be shackled by the drive to cut carbon emissions. So it appears to be jobs now over environment later.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Are the emissions targets and paying the penalties of the Durban Platform and Kyoto simply too costly to business and the economy to allow for domestic political support?

    2.     Although enforcement is not easy in a global agreement, does this mean that the world's leaders should not establish an agreed-on set of rules, incentives, and penalties to facilitate carbon emission reductions?

  • China’s Panda Diplomacy – Soft (and cute) Power

    Above airport workers watch as the FedEx Panda Express aircraft carrying two giant pandas taxis along the runway at Edinburgh airport in Scotland on Dec. 4. Photo: David Moir/Reuters

    Regular readers of this blog will recognize the focus on hard, soft, and smart power. Of course, soft power is a state's capacity to influence through intangible factors - such as popularity of a state's values, institutions, or culture (as opposed to "hard power" - military might).

    Former Secretary of State Condeollezza Rice observed, "Power is nothing unless you can turn it into influence." States are increasingly using soft power to promote standing and reputations in the world. In a social media and Facebook connected age, the relative importance of soft power is ever growing.

    What is panda diplomacy?

    Panda diplomacy is China's use of beautiful and fascinating panda bears as diplomatic gifts to other countries.

    A pair of giant pandas, Yang Guang (Sunshine) and Tian Tian, (Sweetie) arrived in Scotland to a reception of cheering and flag-waving crowds. The pandas are on loan from China in a move lauded by Chinese and British officials as strengthening ties between the two countries.  Britain's last giant panda, Ming Ming, lived in the London Zoo until 1994, when she was returned to China.

    Yesterday, Yang Guang strolled around his new digs sniffing and marking his new territory, and occasionally gazing at Tian Tian through the gate separating their enclosures. Tian Tian has been more elusive since arriving in Edinburgh; after climbing her tree, and roaming around her new home, she has been spending more time in her quarters. The Zoo plans to set up webcams in the panda enclosures to enable the bears to be viewed online in real time.

    Yang Guang and Tian Tian are in their first week of their ten-year stay in Britain Edinburgh Zoo. Four zoos in Europe currently have Chinese giant pandas - Berlin, Madrid, and Vienna.  Panda diplomacy has long been part of China's global relations with accounts of these beautiful gifts dating back to the Tang Dynasty and more recently again in the early 1970s.

    Above Yang Guang at the Edinburgh Zoo, Monday, Dec. 12, 2011. Photo: Scott Heppell / AP

    United States President Richard Nixon in his famous step to formally open relations between the US and China was gifted with a pair of giant pandas (Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing) in 1972.  Americans were so enthusiastic about Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing, that First Lady Pat Nixon called it "pandemonium!"

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Do the Pandas in Britain, Germany, Spain, and Austria enhance China's reputation? Does an enhanced reputation contribute to China's soft power?

    2.     Is a state's ability to coerce militarily more significant or important than the ability to influence with soft power?

  • Human Rights Day 2011

    Eleanor Roosevelt wrote, "Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."

    Today those rights are being discussed via the transforming power of social media - many many ordinary people have become human rights activists. In fact, as I write this (Friday, 9 December at 9:30 a.m. New York time) the High Commissioner for Human Rights is hosting a global conversation on human rights on Facebook (click here for the discussion - go ahead and join the discussion - but please come back).

    When the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted on 10 December 1948, the framers laid out the rights necessary for a life of dignity, free from fear and want. They laid out the full range of human rights - from health care, to education, and housing, to political participation to the fair administration of justice. These rights belong to all people, everywhere, and without discrimination.  These rights and norms are anchored in the ethical requirement that every person should be treated with equal concern and respect.

    Tomorrow (10 December) the world will celebrate Human Rights Day.  On Human Rights Day, we all pay tribute to all the human rights defenders and move to get even more people involved in understanding, protecting, and demanding human rights for all people.

    2011 has been a year like no other for human rights. In the Arab world, millions of people took to the streets in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere to assert their rights and demand change. Taking their cue from social-media organized uprisings in places like Egypt and Iran, activists and ordinary citizens did the same in Chile, Greece and cities such as Madrid, Jerusalem and New York, calling for more freedom and social equality.

    Millions and millions of people do not yet enjoy the human rights recognized in the UDHR and by international law.  Three groups in specific have yet to realize these rights: indigenous peoples (about 350 million people who are without a homeland or self-rule), women (vast disparities persist between men and women - for example in literacy rates, school and college enrollments), and children (children face horrific neglect and abuse - hunger and illness, slavery for labor and sexual exploitation, and conscription as child soldiers). Click here for a full report.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Desmund Tutu wrote, "If you are neutral in a situation of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." How can we reconcile this responsibility with the claimed sovereign national interests of states?

    2.     What role might social media continue to play in the promotion of human rights around the world?

  • The Syrian Civil War and the Tehran-Damascus axis

    Above Arab foreign ministers gather at the Arab League emergency session on Syria at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo on Nov. 12, 2011. Photo: Amr Nabil/AP/File

    Scholars of international relations are interested in civil wars, in part, because they are rarely isolated: foreign actors frequently aid one side or the other or directly intervene in the war. Thus internal unrest and civil wars very often have international consequences. This is certainly the case with the current civil war in Syria.

    The United Nations' top human rights officials say that Syria is now in a state of civil war.  More than 4,000 people have been killed (many of them children) in the revolt (which began eight months ago) against President Bashar Assad and an increasing number of soldiers are defecting from the army to fight President Assad's regime.

    Assad's crackdown on protesters and dissent is raising fears of a regional conflagration as his regime has a web of allegiances that extends to Lebanon's powerful Hezbollah movement and Iran's Shiite theocracy.

    Click here for a full guide to the sanctions on Syria.

    US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met on Tuesday with exiled Syrian opposition leaders. Clinton focused the discussion on the political transition the United States envisions for Syria, but, of course, in the background is the US desire to alter the balance of power in the Middle East, and to change Syria's orientation away from Iran. Breaking the ties that bind Syria and Iran would be a highly significant change in political power in the Middle East.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What might democracy in Syria mean for Iran?

    2.     What human rights concerns might the UN have in Syria?

  • The Gini Coefficient, OECD’s Inequality Report, and Relative Deprivation

    The Gini Coefficient is a number between zero and one that measures the degree of inequality of income in a given society.   The coefficient would be zero in a society in which each member received exactly the same income. On the other hand, a coefficient of 1 would indicate a society in which one member received all of the income and the rest nothing.

    The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says that the gap between rich and poor in OECD countries has reached its highest level in over 30 years, and governments must act quickly to tackle inequality.

    The report, "Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising" finds that the average income of the richest 10% is now about nine times that of the poorest 10% across the OECD countries.

     The income gap has risen even in traditionally egalitarian countries, such as Germany, Denmark and Sweden, from 5 to 1 in the 1980s to 6 to 1 today.

    However, the gap is 10 to 1 in Italy, Japan, Korea and the United Kingdom, and higher still, at 14 to 1 in Israel, Turkey, and the United States.

    There is a clear correlation between income inequality and a host of other societal variables. Of course, we must remember that correlation is not causation - even when statistically significant. That being said, some causality from income inequality makes good sense.

    There is a growing body of research that higher income inequality within countries correlates with: higher unemployment, higher crime rates, lower average health, weaker property rights, limited access to public services, lower social mobility, more social unrest, and less trust within and across the society leading to more fragile democracies.

    Research indicates that a country's level of economic development affects the probability of its involvement in war and armed revolution. Discontent with globalization and or economic liberalization can result in protest, violent protest and even civil war.

    Aggression can be the result of what political scientists call "relative deprivation." Relative deprivation is the perception that a group is unfairly deprived of the wealth and status that they deserve in comparison with advantaged others - either within their own society or around the world.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     What tax policy implications might be drawn from the OECD's report on inequality?

    2.     Could the Gini Coefficient be an indicator of relative deprivation?

  • NATO Airstrikes Kill 24 in Brown Area

    Pakistani soldiers in Peshawar honored colleagues who were killed in Saturday’s NATO air attack on border posts in Pakistan.

    Border areas - sometimes known as "brown areas" - are often difficult or impossible for states to control. Brown areas are remote regions where the power of the state does not penetrate.

    Watch this brief video showing what the aftermath of the NATO airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on November 26, 2011. The video shows what appear to be several damaged buildings in a mountainous area of a remote 'brown area' along the Afghan and Pakistan border.

    Our understanding of the variations in the strength of the states across or within regions helps us better understand a range of political outcomes in those regions.  The focus on brown areas calls our attention to the importance of the state at the local level, as these weakly controlled areas often become attractive locations for terrorist groups.

    It appears that NATO forces (including American commandos) were hunting Taliban militants in a "brown area" when they came under fire from an encampment along the Afghan-Pakistani border in the Mohmand tribal region.

    The Wall Street Journal quoted U.S. officials as saying Pakistani authorities gave their approval for the November 26 NATO airstrike, unaware that Pakistani forces were in the area. 

    Pakistan denies the report. The Pakistanis see it as an unprovoked attack that yet again calls into question the viability of their alliance with the United States. Click here for a Pakistani version of the story.

    U.S. officials said the commandos thought militants were firing them upon, but the assailants turned out to be Pakistani military personnel who had established a temporary campsite. The Pakistani officials deny these reports. A formal report is due to be completed by U.S. military investigators by December 23.

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    Many argue that terrorism is an international problem that states cannot deal with unilaterally. The coalition, however shaky, formed against the Taliban and al Qaeda of a fairly new way to deal with terrorism in remote areas like along the Afghan-Pakistani border.

    Discussion starters:

    1.     Is it likely that this incident will push the U.S. and Pakistan to break off ties, or is it more likely that their cooperation will now be reduced to the bare minimum? How might limited cooperation from Pakistan impact NATO and US efforts in the region?

    2.     How might world leaders better handle brown areas, like the Afghan-Pakistani border?