BBC 2012 Third Reith Lecture: The Rule of Law

John Curran

Prof Fergusson

The Aspen Institute Photostream

In Naill Ferguson`s third Reith Lecture the Professor focuses on the evolving nature of Anglo-American common law a comparative exercise allowing him to refer to alternative legal jurisdictions, most notably China where no separation of power or independent judiciary exists. In the West argues Ferguson the rule of law has degenerated into the rule of lawyer`s, especially in the USA, which was once the gold standard other legal jurisdictions measured themselves by the “United States was the rule of law” according to Professor Ferguson.The halcyon days Ferguson identifies are difficult to reconcile with America`s constitutional arrangement built on the premise that African-Americans were three-fifths human, the so called compromise of 1787. Jefferson author of the `Declaration of Independence` was also a slave owner and as Malcolm X quipped “we didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us”.  Indeed, women were also denied the vote prompting the Seneca Falls Convention 1848 to campaign for democratic rights a goal not achieved until 1920 a measure excluding African-American women living in the Deep South.   Read more of this post

Why we should mix Politics with Sport

Georgia Lewis 

Image © Morning Calm News

This week, mass laughter has been the overwhelming reaction to the South Korean flag appearing on screen just as the North Korean women’s football team was about to take to the pitch. Cock-ups like this are funny, and are as inevitable at events on the scale of the Olympics as the overreactions from the aggrieved parties. But should North Korea even be allowed to participate in the Games at all?

It is a challenging question because, on one hand, it is a great opportunity for North Korean athletes to see a bit more of the wider world and it can help bridge gaps between the rest of the world and one of the planet’s most secretive nations. Then again, with their constant threats to world peace and internal human rights abuses, should they be banned to send a strong message to the government that it should not treat its own people so appallingly and expect to be part of the global community? But if we exclude North Korea from the Games, do we also exclude China? Bahrain? Saudi Arabia? The US, even? Hell, should my own country, Australia, be excluded as a protest against the mandatory detention of asylum seekers, including children? Pretty soon, we’d end up with a very small Olympics indeed. The modern Olympic movement has grown since 1896, when just 14 countries competed, to become a global event – regardless of what you might think of the billions of taxpayer pounds spent on the games, the principle of bringing the countries of the world together is not all bad.

But to try and separate politics from any sport, let alone the Olympics is naive in the extreme. And again, this isn’t always a bad thing. Jesse Owens’ magnificent achievement at the 1936 Berlin Games made a mockery of Hitler’s ludicrous and lethal Aryan master race ideology. The image from the 1968 Games in Mexico City of Men’s 200m gold medallist Tommie Smith and bronze medallist John Carlos with their heads down and fists raised in the black power salute is one of the most powerful protest images of all time. In 1980, the Moscow Games was marred by a 61-nation boycott led by the US over the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan – a boycott that looks rather bizarre in light of the polarising US presence in the Middle East to this day.  Read more of this post

The Falkland Islands: How much has the game changed?

Daniel Crump 

Image © Tiger 2000

It was announced this week that the residents of the Falkland Islands will hold a referendum on their political status in 2013. The main focus of which will be their links with the United Kingdom, with 1,600 registered voters on the Islands deciding whether to remain under British rule or back Christina Fernandez’s view that ‘Las Malvinas’ should be a part of Argentina.

Views are mixed as to the seriousness of the escalated tension between the British and Argentine governments over the last few months. Some see the situation as harmless sabre rattling which should have been anticipated given that 2012 is the 30th anniversary of the 1982 War. Others are choosing to read more into the rhetorical exchanges between David Cameron and Mrs. Fernandez. Governments are rarely prepared to answer too many questions on their willingness to enter into global conflict through fear of provoking unnecessary alarm, but what can we divulge from the rhetoric so far, and what are the main areas of concern?

A different kind of Cold War?

Whilst categorically denying that their own country is willing to enter into a new conflict, both governments are doing their best to show that the other one might be. Britain is accusing Christina Fernandez of pandering to the staunch nationalists in Argentina and using bullish language, on the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War, to increase her approval ratings. For its part, Argentina has accused Britain of stepping up its military presence on the Islands and viewed Prince William’s recent visit as an obvious sign of disrespect.

Underlying all of this, the Falklands dispute has always involved, to a certain extent, concerns over natural resources, particularly oil. According to Argentine observers, the Falklands are an important strategic asset for the UK and give them an important route into Antarctica, which is seen as a potentially crucial area for future oil extraction. Many Argentines also recognise the cost of allowing the British to seize important natural resources so close to their own shores. Indeed, a significant part of the Military Junta’s reasoning 30 years ago was the possibility of improving their economic situation at home, and turning public opinion in their favour as a result.

The Dangerous Mrs. Fernandez?

Christina Fernandez is not leading a military junta. As a democratically elected figure, she is accountable to the people of Argentina and has historically shown her support for international law. There is also an unwritten rule in International Relations theory that democracies have much more to lose from war, and are therefore less likely to instigate a conflict than dictatorships, say.  Read more of this post

Pakistan, India and the Bi-Polar World Order

Daniel Crump

Image © Omer Wazir


Fukuyama’s ‘The End of History’ essay may not have correctly predicted everything it was supposed to, but one realisation certainly holds true to this day: Realist manoeuvrings and proxy inter-state wars have always been an inevitable feature of a Bi-Polar world. With the fall of the USSR, and the US’s securing of uncontested, top dog status, inter-state warfare has fallen to its lowest level since World War II, making this the most peaceful period of modern history.  The explanation being that in a world with two competing super powers, fragile alliances are held together by mutual enemies.

Although not yet a Bi-Polar world by most people’s evaluations, the rising influence of China will undoubtedly lead to nations asking serious questions of themselves and who they choose to associate with. This week, while the US ambassador to Pakistan stepped down for what Washington insisted was for personal reasons alone, The Chinese ambassador to Pakistan met with President Zardari to discuss matters of mutual cooperation and bilateral trade.

In recent years, Ambassador Munter may well have held the least coveted role in international relations. Following the arrest of a CIA contractor in Lahore and the US led mission to capture and kill Osama Bin Laden, Munter has had to deal with the killing of 24 Pakistani soldiers in November 2011 when the US strayed across the border from Afghanistan. His resignation may appear, after all this, to be the icing on a rather stale and crumbling diplomatic cake.

A Difficult Friendship

The most worrying aspect of these recent events is the fact that they do not come as much of a surprise to anyone. The US and Pakistan have quite a history of sharing mutual enemies and their relationship has, therefore, always been one of convenience and insincerity. Whether it was Nixon and Kissinger using Pakistan’s friendship with China to make Sino-US inroads, or Pakistani support of anti Soviet groups in Afghanistan, the US has always been able to find some beneficial reason to keep Pakistan within arm’s length.

The most recent chapter of this tale has certainly been the trickiest yet. Shortly after 9/11, President Musharraf ended his alliance with the Afghan Taliban while officially entering the Bush Administration’s War on Terror. Since 2001, Pakistan has handed over 5000 members of Al Qaeda to American authorities and received nearly $10 Billion in aid for its troubles. Despite this closeness, Pakistan has constantly been accused of ‘looking both ways’ when it comes to terrorism. Pakistan’s Inter-Services-Intelligence Agency (ISI) has been accused of training and sponsoring groups that the Americans claim to be fighting across the border in Afghanistan. Indeed, it was Pakistan’s Intelligence Agency that was instrumental in bringing the Taliban to power in Afghanistan in the mid 90’s with a view to setting up a favourable regime in a neighbouring country. With the US planning to withdraw a substantial number of troops from Afghanistan in 2014, all bets are off as to what condition Pakistani – US relations will be in if the Taliban were ever to re emerge in Afghan political life. Read more of this post

Should We Celebrate a Decline in Global Poverty?

Adam Parsons – Originally published by Share The World’s Resources

The World Bank’s latest data suggests a decline in global poverty throughout every region of the developing world, as well as the fulfillment of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) on halving poverty well ahead of schedule. But is this really the ‘good news’ that we are led to believe?

You may be forgiven for missing the good news recently reported by the World Bank: that the number of people living in extreme poverty has declined in almost every region of the developing world. According to the latest global poverty estimates, both the percentage of people living on less than $1.25 a day and the number of poor declined between 2005 and 2008, the first time that an across-the-board reduction has been reported since the World Bank began monitoring poverty. Not only that, but preliminary estimates indicate that the share of people living in extreme poverty declined between 2008 and 2010, even despite the global financial crises and surging food prices. By 2010, it appears that the $1.25 a day poverty rate fell to less than half the 1990 rate, which means that the United Nation’s first Millennium Development Goal (MDG) for cutting extreme poverty in half has already been achieved, five years ahead of schedule. This is surely a cause for celebration – or is it?

To answer this question, we first have to understand why the World Bank’s poverty statistics are so important, which is not only for what they tell us about the number of poor people in the world. The World Bank is the monopoly provider of global poverty figures, and it is no secret that they are often used to support the view that liberalisation and globalisation have helped to reduce poverty worldwide. In other words, a reduction in global poverty can usefully defend the Bank’s neoliberal policies that favour economic growth and free markets as the overruling means to combating poverty. Since around 2000 when the Millennium Development Goals were first conceived, the World Bank has consistently painted an upbeat picture of the global poverty situation. This is not a conspiracy, as some people might suggest, but simply an ideological justification for the current arrangements of the global economy and the status quo. So long as the MDGs remain in sight and global poverty is on a downward trend, then the Bank’s continued defence of neoliberal policies can be vindicated.

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Guest Blog: The problem with Syria, And how not to solve it

Image

Image © FreedomHouse

Tom Vine

Syria is in crisis, and there is much debate about how the global community should deal with the violence Syrian demonstrators are faced with from Assad’s forces. Recent developments, though, have at least offered a glimmer of hope. This week, both the UN Humanitarian Chief Valerie Amos, and the Syrian Red Crescent, an aid organisation, have been allowed into the cities of Damascus and Homs respectively. But this seems to be only the beginning of a long journey towards peace in Syria.

Public demonstrations have been ongoing since March 2011; an outburst at the Assad family who have ruled over Syria since Hafez al-Assad, Bashar al-Assad’s father, became president in 1970. The Telegraph today reports that the death toll now stands at around 8,458. This is far too high a figure for us to ignore.

The solution, however, is not at all simple; and neither is the background to this brutal conflict. Syria’s current troubles began when the Ba’ath Party took over in 1963 after a military-led coup. By 1970, Hafez al-Assad had seized power, beginning the 42-year tyrannical rule of the Assad family. The government ruled with an iron fist, and democracy was unheard of. Without fail, Hafez al-Assad was re-elected keeping him in power until 2000, the year of his death, whilst multi-party elections for the legislature were outlawed.  For a population that was, and still is majority Sunni, such overtly corrupt rule by an Alawite Shia government made an uprising inevitable.

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