Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Greatest Threat?

What nation is perceived as the greatest threat to the United States?
Recently the Foreign Policy Initiative took a poll of Americans. The question was, “if you had to single out one country, which country do you think presents the most danger to American national security interests today?” The main results are below, and the full results are here.

45% said Iran
8% China
6% Afghanistan

At the same time, Foreign Policy Passport points out that since the turn of the century, and since the scars from the Cold War have healed, Americans have no longer believed that governments are the true threat. Instead, it has become terrorist groups and the individuals who lead them which people believe most threaten security. FP also points out that, “Russia, which Mitt Romney once called ‘America’s number one geopolitical foe,’ mustered a mere 1 percent.” Apparently Americans are much more concerned with future dangers, believed to be coming from China and Iran, and are not as worried about their old enemies. This is certainly legitimate. But should Americans fear about other nations? In a world where the United States is still a military and economic super-power, where it has numerous allies, and where the democratic peace theory remains undisputed, it’s fair that Americans should not fear foreign governments.

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Mitt Romney on Foreign Aid

This morning at the Clinton Global Initiative, Governor Romney spoke about his foreign aid policy, as covered by the NY Times Caucus. Without much surprise, Mr. Romney stated that, “he would make foreign aid conditional on progress,” but did not go into much detail on regions or if current forms of aid would be cut. His three step process is on addressing humanitarian needs, acting on US interests abroad, and creating long-term progress through assistance. So does Governor Romney believe in the poverty trap?
The current views of Mitt Romney match the republican perspective that free market is the best thing for development. What many experts on aid belief is that to kick-start the economy properly, even with a free market system, a great flow of funds towards either government programs or entrepreneurs is necessary. “Mr. Romney said his aid proposal would focus its efforts on small and medium-size businesses abroad, using microfinance techniques.” Microfinance techniques indeed have a positive history of bringing families, (if not whole regions), out of poverty, suggesting that Mr. Romney’s plan may be a very good thing and does indeed sound like a kick-start. If he stands by this promise for aid, the US government under a republican administration will still be supportive of developing nations abroad. But by focusing on solely Microfinance techniques, would he cut different kinds of aid, such preventative medicine, family planning, and disaster relief? Most likely. Supporting microfinance gets a thumbs up. Aid conditional to progress gets a thumbs down, due to the fact that it leaves those who do not quickly show advancements, the ones in the most need, behind.

China’s presence in Africa

There have been times where China has followed the U.S. and Europe’s priorities in Africa, such as enabling UN peacekeeping and development, and providing modest disaster relief funds. But China is also selling arms to unstable and autocratic, militant nations such as Sudan, Somalia, and Zimbabwe. So why the seemingly counter-effective strategies? Because China still does what is in its best interest. China’s security policy is not focused on the developing world, it is still caught up with Russia, the United States, and the EU. Thus on the international level China often follows Western agendas, including offering aid or UN military assistance. But let’s not forget, China has an agenda too. Africa is developing quickly with many contracts opening up to foreign providers. It has lots of oil reserves, and numerous other natural intermediate resources that China is looking for. And China is willing to negotiate with any sort of government, while most of the Western world only legitimately recognizes democracies. Because China’s first priority is not on transitioning Africa’s authoritative regimes or ending civil wars in Africa, it can freely operate in ways that are harmful to citizens of African nations but benefit the Chinese economy.

At a conference in Ottawa, Canada, David H. Shinn gave the following briefing on China’s security issues in Africa. Shinn just recently finished a book on China-Africa relations entitled China and Africa: A Century of Engagement. From an international affairs perspective,iIt is interesting to see how this pairing of a strong, communist government and a largely dependent, resource-heavy continent will interact in the future, and who the relationship will ultimately benefit.

China’s Green Steps

China, after a meeting in Brussels with with European Union’s Development Coordinator, has agreed to plans that will cut its carbon emission through a three step process. As China has been rapidly modernizing, it has been simultaneous catching up the United States as the largest global polluter and emitter of greenhouse gases. The EU, which has been the most forward thinking in terms of keeping the planet sustainable, is growing worried about the rising populations and urbanization of India and China, and thus making policies that control some of these countries’ energy production. China is nowhere near the U.S. in terms of energy consumed per person, (a person in the United States still uses 30x more energy than one than India), but its main problem is energy efficiency. China still uses 5-10 galleons of oil to make the same amount of energy that the U.S. makes with 1 galleon.
Hopefully this agreement with the EU is one of many future steps China will take to turn the most populous nation more sustainable. But we have yet to see true evidence that the Chinese government is anywhere near as concerned about clean energy than they are about their economy, meaning they will still rather produce and export goods at minimal cost rather than spend money trying to reduce emissions.

Russia expels USAID

It is not surprising that the United States government still has posts in the former Soviet Union, the nation it was at war with for some odd 44 years. The United States is very cautious when it comes to relations with former enemies, and is reputable for taking precautions and keeping tabs on hostile governments. But is it surprising to know that the United States gave $379 million in assistance to Russia in 2010, and $2.7 billion since the fall of the Soviet Union?
Russia, however, does not seem to be grateful for this American generosity. FP Passport announced in today’s blog that Russia is now demanding that USAID leave. Russia is apparently “suspicious of foreign attempts to undermine the government,” and has been limiting the actions of many NGO’s doing mainly Human Rights watches in the country. USAID was swept up with them. One important question is whether this forceful withdrawal is a good thing or a bad thing for those in need of aid.
World on Safari believes that ultimately this expulsion is for the best. Americans knowledgeable of the deficit are not too keen on hearing how much the United States financially supports other nations, especially ones we were once at war with. And now there are two scenarios for the United States aid. Either the surplus is subtracted from the USAID budget, and is then likely extended to another federal program in the United States. Or the aid that had gone to Russia will now be transferred to another USAID location one that needs it more. While the U.S. has had a long history of monitoring Human Rights issues abroad, there are arguably many places where the aid would be better served. The CIA World Factbook puts Russia at the 7th largest economy in the world. While much of Russia’s infrastructure is indeed failing, the country as a whole is developed with a stable system of government in place. Meanwhile, several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing severe famines, diseases, and violence. Haiti is still slowly recovering from the earthquake. Southeast Asian countries are experiencing natural disasters. The U.S. is known worldwide for its aid to foreign nations and peoples in need. Perhaps this is an opportunity to use that aid most efficiently.

The Dispute over Islands

Senkaku or Diaoyu?
Japan and China have for the past few hundred years attempted to establish themselves as the foremost super power in Asia. Debates over Manchuria, serious trade disagreements, and two full-scale wars in the 19th and 20th centuries have left the two nations sore and bitter. The history of major conflicts between the Chinese and Japanese governments is what is truly causing this controversy. The limited natural resources of the small islands are not the driving factor here. Instead, this controversy should be seen as symbolic, a argument over the nation’s sovereignty on the small scale, and their global reputation on the large scale. At the same time, it is naive to think that Japan and China will go to war over this. Full-scale war over land disputes is no longer internationally justified, and so there arises a more subtle debacle between the two East Asian titans. Now, the nations are caught in a media battle over a few pieces of rock northeast of Taiwan. Island Grabbing in Asia by Michael T. Klare broadly covers, “why the south china seas are so tense,” and provides the reasons behind making such a public spectacle over seemingly insignificant land masses. While it is hard to see a compromise in sight, it is extremely hard to imagine China and Japan going to war.

As a result of the disputes, as explained in a NY Times article posted yesterday, a series of so-called “orderly” protests are arising in China. Outside Japan’s embassy in Beijing, Chinese protesters throw eggs and paint at the windows and walls. There are talks of many Chinese citizens rallying to boycott Japanese products, and many Japanese immigrants in China are growing anxious, worried about their businesses and safety. What is unique about this, however, is that these are not the same riots as we currently are seeing in the Middle East. These are small-scale protests that are essentially sanctioned by the Chinese government though the media, encouraging citizens to show their patriotism.
The United States, through Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, has stated it will not take sides but will “advocate diplomacy to peacefully resolve [the debate].” The U.S. has had questionable past relations with both China and Japan, going to war with Japan after the Pearl Harbor attacks during World War 2 and supporting the Nationalist party (who lost to the Communists) in China during China’s transitional period. On top of this, the U.S. has had difficulty adjusting to the rise of China as the competitor to the U.S. as the greatest world economy, and relations currently are too delicate for the U.S. to confront China. But what Foreign Policy Passport points out is that the United States signed a treaty with Japan in 1971 recognizing it as Japanese territory, and may even be obligated to assist Japan if proven China invaded Japan’s sovereignty.
GoogleMaps has labeled the territory ‘Senkaku/Diaoyu’ on the popular satellite imagery, proving smart enough to stay neutral as well.

Updated September 25th: The NY Times Article this morning on Japan confronting Taiwanese ships near the islands reveals rising confrontations between China and Japan. Both Japanese and Taiwanese ships were caught on film spraying water at the opposition vessels, in a dispute that Japan started when trying to ward Taiwanese fishing boats out of the waters.

Relief Web

If you haven’t yet encountered Relief Web, World on Safari highly recommends it. Created and maintained by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the webpage is designed to, “help you make sense of humanitarian crises worldwide.” Through interactive maps and concise, informative articles it is a great way to quickly survey what is currently happening in the world. Most recently (Sep 16), Western and Central Africa are experiencing the most widespread crises, including a Ebola epidemic in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, flooding resulting in food insecurity and contaminated water in Niger, and similar flooding in Cameroon categorized as the “worst floods in 30 years.”
There are also tell-tale ‘red dots’ signifying healthcare, weather, famine, or other serious issues in South Asia, the Middle East, and the Caribbean. Relief Web is often lit up with the flares of humanitarian emergencies due to the mass number of crises worldwide that demand attention. While at times overwhelming, it is vital to pay attention to these disasters as they occur. If you are kindling any sort of passion for helping others, World on Safari encourages you to take a global perspective, and to consider where best you could assist our population as a whole.