Browsing articles from "November, 2009"
Nov 11, 2009
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Getting it exactly backwards on Afghanistan

MA student Josh Loh discusses why our strategy in Afghanistan that focuses on government at the national-level is wrong-headed at the democratic piece. According to Loh, counter-insurgency theory suggests building capacity from the bottom-up, not the top-down.

Nov 11, 2009
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Did State just eat USAID?

President Obama has named Rajiv Shah, an Undersecretary at the Department of Agriculture, to head the US Agency for International Development (USAID).  Although there has not been a lot of news about the appointment, articles in Politico and the Washington Examiner suggest that Shah does not have an independent power base, but rather owes the appointment to heavy lobbying from the State Department.  In addition, the State Department lists the USAID Administrator as a senior State Department official.  While the administration has not said anything public, I think it is clear that State just ate USAID.  One upside is that since the State Department has always been far more powerful than USAID, foreign aid budgets are likely to rise.

Nov 8, 2009
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Tom Friedman gets it right on Israel/Palestine

Shorter Tom Friedman: until they get serious, there is little the US can do so it might as well do nothing.

Nov 7, 2009
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Twenty years after the fall

Monday, November 9 will mark the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall.  I think this is a worthwhile moment to consider the positive and negative consequences of the end of the Cold War from the vantage point of 2009.

Positive Consequences:

  • Spread of Democracy. While the third wave of democracy began in the mid-1970s, the trend gained substantial momentum after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  According to Freedom House, since the end of the Cold War, the percent of not free countries in the world has dropped from 41% to 22%.  The European Union deserves particular praise for its efforts to ensure democratic transitions in Central and Eastern Europe.  More important than the change in the number of democracies is the general perception that democracy is the most legitimate form of government.

  • Decline in War. Starting in the early 1960s, the number of armed conflicts began to rise from about twenty active per year, steadily rising to about 55 in 1993.  Since then, the number has dropped to about 35, according to the Uppsala Conflict Data Program.  Even more remarkable is the decline in the number of war deaths.  According to the Peace Research Institute of Oslo (PRIO), between 1950 and 1990, about 200,000 people per year died fighting wars.  Since the end of the Cold War, the number has plummeted to about 80,000.

  • Reduction in Threat of Global Nuclear War. The Cold War was not a friendly rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union.  As hard as it is for us to remember, the greatest fear during the Cold War was global nuclear war.  When the Soviet Union put nuclear missiles in Cuba in 1962, this possibility became all too real.  When the Cold War ended, the fear of global nuclear war did as well.       

Negative Consequences:

  • Nuclear Proliferation. Since the end of the Cold War, efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons have faltered.  Today, two unstable regimes, North Korea and Pakistan, both have nuclear weapons, and Iran is attempting to develop them.  As the number of countries who have nuclear weapons rises, the possibility that one country will use them increases as does the possibility that non-state actors, primarily terrorist groups, will acquire them.

  • Failed States. Failed states did not exist during the Cold War because the Soviet Union and the United States were prepared to prop up weak regimes in return for political alliances.  Since the end of the war, this exigency has subsided.  The result has been state collapse in a number of places, primarily Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and Somalia.  Failed states are not pleasant places.  Close to six million people have died in the DRC’s civil war, making it the deadliest conflict since World War II.  When Afghanistan fell into civil war after the Soviet Union left, the Taliban and its brutal form of justice emerged as the only force capable of providing security. While the cost of keeping these countries together during the Cold War may have been high, the cost of letting them fail seems far higher.

  • 9/11. It would not be accurate to argue that terrorism was a consequence of the end of the Cold War (ask the British about the IRA).  It would also not be accurate to argue that fundamentalist Islamic movements were a consequence of the end of the Cold War either.  Rather, because the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979 and because the Mujahideen were the main force fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, fundamentalist Islamic movements were more a product of the Cold War than a consequence of it.  One can plausibly make the claim, however, that 9/11 was an unintended consequence of the end of the Cold War.  After the Soviet Union left Afghanistan and the US pulled its support as well, Afghanistan collapsed into civil war.  The Taliban emerged as the only force that was able to provide security and by the mid-1990s was governing large parts of the country.  It also allowed Al-Qaeda to use its territory for terrorist training camps.  Although we can never know for certain if 9/11 would have happened without Al-Qaeda using Afghanistan as a base of operations, that it was able to do so should give pause to those who think the country poses no threat to the US today.  I am not saying that if the US leaves Afghanistan Al-Qaeda will return.  In fact I do not believe this would happen.  Rather, my point is that we need to have some imagination when thinking about unintended consequences.

On balance, my belief is that things could have turned out much worse.  In the mid-1990s, many thought they would.  Wars in the Balkans, the Caucuses, and Central Asia led many to believe that the collapse of the Soviet Union unleashed frozen conflicts that would engulf the region in an endless series of bloody wars.  That has not happened.  Instead, democracy has spread (thanks in part to the EU’s admirable efforts in Central, Eastern, and Southern Europe), wars have become less frequent, and the threat of nuclear annihilation does not exist.  True, terrorism, failed states, and nuclear proliferation are big problems, and Afghanistan in particular looks increasingly hopeless.  However, in my estimation things could have turned out far, far worse.  Perhaps there is hope for humanity after all.

Nov 7, 2009
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Overdoing diplomacy

Yeah, what he said.

Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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