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Why the US Shouldn’t Execute the Boston Bomber

By Joe Young

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of Rolling Stone. Via wikimedia.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of Rolling Stone. Via wikimedia.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev by his own admission is guilty of the Boston Bombings that took the lives of three people and injured hundreds more. These facts are not in doubt.

On May 15th, a jury concurred and sentenced him to death by lethal injection.

Tsarnaev is a murderer and should never be allowed back into society. Whether he is executed or not, this will be true. But Tsarnaev is a criminal not a martyr. If USG executes him, they (we?) run the risk of making him the latter. The benefit of calling him a criminal is to demean his actions as selfish and worthless. No one holds vigils for or makes martyr posters of Al Capone or any lesser thug.

Is life in prison getting off easy? The Supermax facility in Florence, Colorado has a cell waiting for Tsarnaev. Residents include the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, the Shoe Bomber, Richard Reid, and the first World Trade Center Bomber, Ramzi Yousef to name a few. None will leave the facility alive. The inmates spend all but one hour a day in a concrete cell by themselves. The former warden, Robert Hood, claims a sentence in the supermax is “much worse than death.”

This discussion highlights how America is exceptional in a lot of ways, including our use of the death penalty. My claim here is not about this. I wouldn’t be writing a similar piece if this were Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy or other psycho killers. To be clear, I am not suggesting a general opposition to this form of punishment. Aside from one’s support or opposition to capital punishment, it is the wrong policy in this case.

After 9/11, Americans rightly or wrongly saw terrorism as an existential threat. Research suggests that the threat of terrorism might be overblown, as it might be ineffective especially to developed democracies like ours. Terrorism, like crime, has been a part of humanity since we created complex societies (probably before), and it will continue. Let’s not treat the people who perpetrate these acts as more than they are—criminals.

Weekly Links

By Danny Hirschel-Burns

London's Trafalgar Square in 1929. Via Leonard Bentley.

London’s Trafalgar Square in 1929. Via Leonard Bentley.

Will South Sudan’s collapsing economy force rent-seeking rivals to an agreement? Peter Dorrie doesn’t think so, arguing it’s more about the relative share of resources than the absolute share. North of the border, the Sudanese government struggles to use Islam as a state religion and simultaneously prevent extremism.

Gayle Smith will succeed Raj Shah as USAID’s administrator, but Howard French thinks she’s the wrong person for the job because of her record of supporting autocratic stability in Africa.

Why Australia’s plan to tackle human trafficking ignores the drivers that allow it to happen in the first place.

Is violent conflict in decline? It’s a tricky question. In an attempt to find middle ground, Jay Ulfelder evaluates a recent paper by Pasquale Cirillo and Nassim Nicholas Taleb that argues violence is not in fact declining.

Does ISIS act much like an ordinary insurgency (excluding its pioneering use of social media)? And as violence across Iraq plateaus, life in Baghdad begins to return to normal after so many years of war.

Mark Kersten looks at a plan for hybrid tribunal to try combatants in CAR, which seeks to find the balance between international and local justice.

In the second quarter of the 19th century, the existence and practices of the Freemasons were at the center of mass politics and conspiracy theories in the United States.

Burundi’s in political crisis mode, but how did the country get here? And in light of the recent failed coup attempt in Burundi, how should we understand the relationship between coups and democratization?

Burundi and the Challenges of Evaluating Peace-building Success

Guest post by David E. Cunningham

Munitions surrendered by CNDD-FDD forces in 2005. By the United Nations.

Munitions surrendered by CNDD-FDD forces in 2005. By the United Nations.

Recent events in Burundi, where President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term led to large protests and an unsuccessful coup attempt, bring up important questions about peace-building in post-conflict settings. Burundi is an interesting case because the international community devoted significant effort to resolving the 1991-2008 civil war there and to peace-building in its aftermath. International recognition of the costs of failure to respond to the 1994 Rwandan genocide and the continued growth of a large conflict resolution industry meant that for the last several years Burundi has received an impressive amount of attention from international organizations, prominent national leaders, non-governmental organizations, and academics.

Taking into account the recent turmoil, is Burundi a success story? This is a complicated question. A large body of academic literature has demonstrated that international action can promote peace-building in a variety of ways. Peacekeeping prolongs ceasefires and leads to a decrease in both battlefield casualties and civilian targeting. Mediation shortens wars and makes negotiated settlement more likely. While there is some debate, academic evaluations of international peace-building efforts are quite positive.

These important studies, however, tend to evaluate the success of some international action on one specific metric—whether that be the duration of ceasefires, the implementation of a negotiated settlement, a decline in civilian targeting, a decrease in ethnic tensions, democratization, or economic growth. However, post-conflict scenarios are complicated and may see movement in different directions on these different dimensions.

The 1991-2008 civil war in Burundi resulted from major ethnic divisions. Since independence in 1960, Burundian politics had been dominated by the minority Tutsi, with political, economic, and military power centralized in Tutsi hands. Ethnic tension led to large-scale massacres and the long civil war resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

Since the end of the civil war in 2008, however, ethnic tensions have declined dramatically. Burundi’s political and military leadership now include both Hutu and Tutsi in high positions of power. Indeed, given Burundi’s history, one of the surprising elements of the unsuccessful coup was the lack of an ethnic dimension to it.

This decrease in ethnic tensions is likely a large reason that peace has proven quite stable in Burundi, despite the turmoil there now. We know that the years following the end of civil wars are fragile and prone to the re-emergence of large-scale violence. This has not, as of yet, happened in Burundi.

So, looking at levels of ethnic tension and the stability of post-conflict peace, Burundi is a success story. Yet, on other dimensions things look much less positive. Burundi remains astoundingly poor and the population is little better off economically than they were during the war. Political opponents of the regime are assassinated, corruption is rampant, and human rights abuses are common. Paramilitaries backed by the ruling party train in neighboring DRC and patrol the country. From this perspective, Burundi’s “success” in post-conflict peace-building is less clear.

Burundi is by no means unique in this regard in post-conflict settings. Its northern neighbor, Rwanda, emerged from genocide in 1994 and is remarkably stable. The last two decades have seen very impressive economic growth, corruption is relatively managed, and security is enforced throughout the borders. At the same time, the government of Paul Kagame is strongly autocratic, its human rights record is terrible, and the Rwandan military has repeatedly stoked violence in eastern DRC, leading to tens of thousands of deaths and threatening regional stability.

Uganda, likewise, emerged from terrible civil war in the 1970s and 1980s to impressive economic growth and has defeated or pushed the remaining rebel groups out of its territory. However, the country is far from democratic—its leader, Yoweri Museveni, has ruled for nearly three decades and will almost certainly be re-elected president in 2016 in elections likely to be rampant with fraud.

So, are these post-conflict cases “successes?” On average, I think the answer is yes. If, with the aid of a time machine, we could go back and survey experts on Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi at the height of those countries’ civil wars about where they would be in 2015, few if any would predict the level of stability they now experience.

Yet, the flaws in peace-building in these cases are also very real, as the current turmoil in Burundi demonstrates. Research on the effects of international peace-building efforts would do well to focus on a broader set of outcomes to more fully judge their effect. This could lead to more nuanced understanding of whether and how various international actions “work” at building peace.

David E. Cunningham is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Government and Politics at the University of Maryland.

Extractive Industries in Violent Contexts: A Conversation with Luke Danielson

By Cullen Hendrix for Denver Dialogues

Plaintiff Eric Dooh shows the crude oil, allegedly from Shell pipeline leaks, that has affected the banks of the creek through his village of Goi. By Milieudefensie.

Plaintiff Eric Dooh shows the crude oil, allegedly from Shell pipeline leaks, that has affected the banks of the creek through his village of Goi. By Milieudefensie.

The European Union will soon vote on minerals regulation aimed at addressing the problem of “conflict minerals”—minerals like tungsten, tin, tantalum, and gold, whose exploitation line the pockets of conflict actors and prolong violence—in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This legislation follows an earlier US law, Section 1502 of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, intended to do the same. In both instances, the legislation is intended to stem the flow of these minerals, many of which wind up in the smart phones and computers on which this blog post was developed, and the associated funds.

While the DRC example may be emblematic of the troubled relationship between extractives and armed conflict, it is by no means unique. The historical record is littered with examples of extractive firms—for-profit entities engaged in the development and exploitation of natural resources—operating in conflict zones: Royal Dutch Shell’s network of oil wells and pipelines in the Niger Delta, Rio Tinto’s copper mining activities on the island of Bougainville, and French uranium mining outfit Areva’s actions in Tuareg-dominated northern Niger are just three cases in which valuable natural resources and tensions between local populations and extractive firms have been central to conflict dynamics. Because their business models rely almost entirely on immovable assets, i.e., deposits of ore or gemstones, they tend to be some of the only large businesses that are not “scared off” by the outbreak of violence. In part because of the reputational fallout resulting from cases like these—Shell and Rio Tinto were shamed by Western and local NGOs alike for neglecting (or repressing) local activists—corporate actors are increasingly aware of the need to engage productively with local communities, and under certain circumstances, can contribute to efforts at conflict resolution and building sustainable peace.

I recently had a chance to sit down with one of Colorado’s foremost minds on issues of governance and accountability in the extractive sector, Luke Danielson. Danielson, a lawyer and part-time professor with decades of field experience in mining industries, is now the president of the Sustainable Development Strategies Group, a Gunnison-based firm that provides practical policy advice to developing country governments for dealing with extractive firms. SDSG is the only North American-based accredited validator for the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, a civil society-led governance initiative to promote transparency in dealings between extractive firms and host-country governments.

In particular, our discussion highlighted the importance of mechanisms—either emanating from formal governance structures or from private sector collaboration—for preventing race-to-the-bottom dynamics among competing firms. In mining, incentives to be the first to exploit a rich resource deposit are so great that firms cut corners, both socially and environmentally, to establish a presence on the ground quickly. The result can often be poor relations with local populations and grievances that, under some conditions, become manifest in violent conflict. The following reflects a few excerpts from that conversation:

Hendrix: With some exceptions, I think it’s safe to say the extractive sector does not have the best reputation when it comes to its involvement in conflict-prone regions, and there are many who view these natural resources as contributing directly to conflict and violence. This is part of the broader phenomenon of the resource curse, or the notion that mineral wealth may undermine sustainable development and prove corrosive to domestic political institutions. Do you believe that there is a resource curse, and if so, what can be done about it?

Danielson: I do think natural resources have been problematic. I don’t think there’s anything inherent to them, however. I do think injections of lots of money into countries with weak governance and institutions is kind of like putting high-pressure water into a leaky system of pipes: it’s going to spring leaks all over the place. Part of the problem is that as you inject all these additional resources into the system, you have to strengthen the system. In fact, you probably want to strengthen the system first. We have to find ways to strengthen the institutions before the problems start.

Having a bunch of oil, coal, or diamonds just in the ground isn’t itself a source of conflict. The issues really start with the process of finding out what’s there and who finds out what’s there, i.e., who does the exploration. We’re working in Mongolia right now—I’m not an advocate for the kind of government Mongolia used to have—but they did do one thing well: they trained lots of geologists and they saw assessing the country’s mineral resources as a job of government, so that government would be informed what’s out there and which it wanted to invite foreign companies in to develop. The private sector model is that private companies do the investigation, so the private companies know more about the resources than the government does.

Hendrix: These problems seem to be most acute with respect to the smaller firms that tend to dominate early exploration efforts. Most of them aren’t name brandslike Shell, for instancethat can be easily identified by Western consumers and shamed for their illicit activities.

Danielson: In the world of the junior companies that tend to be the first on the ground, and that sign the first contracts and do the exploration, there’s an acknowledgement that it’s better to do things right. But there’s also this idea that you should do things quickly. I’ve heard it said many times that if you find a good enough deposit and get the rights to it, all your sins are forgiven. The big companies talk a game about having standards for what they acquire, but if you are talking about a world-class copper deposit or a gold deposit, they will find some way to hold their nose and buy it, even if the original contract was procured by corruption.

Hendrix: Your organization has done a lot of work in post-conflict countriesMozambique, Sierra Leone, etc. Can you talk about how the extractive sector can be a positive actor in promoting long-term peace in these contexts?

Danielson: You start by acknowledging that there is a fundamental alignment of interests. You’re not asking these companies to do something goofy like become church aid organizations. The most fundamental interest of mining companies is long-term political stability. You are talking about a form of investment that is not portable: you’re investing $500 million dollars in digging a giant hole in the ground. If you’re making running shoes and things go sour, you can probably throw the equipment on a ship and get a building in another country. If you put $300-$400 million into immobile plant and equipment, you’ve lost a colossal amount of money. And the time horizon for the company to recoup its investment is easily 15-20-25 years. So you are looking at an industry that has an enormous interest in political stability. There was a time in the industry when some sought that in the form of repressive, dictatorial governments: “We’ve got these wonderful allies, the Suhartos, in Indonesia.” The only problem was that when events changed, being really close pals with the Suharto family went from being a huge asset to a colossal liability. That experience was repeated all over the world. Now, most of these companies, for financial reasons if nothing else, have made the judgment that some form of democratic, open government is usually going to be more stable.

Hendrix: Are there specific things they can do to help promote democratic governance, with the understanding that external democracy promotion does not have the most sterling reputation? As major stakeholders in the economies of these countries that are coming out of violent spells, are there specific things they can do to promote the peace process?

Danielson: What you have to do is find ways of enabling and encouraging, rather than controlling. It’s particularly hard, for engineers especially, to get out of the controlling mode. One thing you can do is apply international standards to your own work, and help government agencies understand international standards. It sounds odd, and I know some might faint at this, but the environmental practices and human rights practices of these companies at their best—and the worst is still out there—have really upped the game for environmental and development ministries in developing countries. Many CEOs [of extractive firms] see it as an advantage: “We’ve operated in Canada, we’ve operated in Europe and other highly regulated markets. If we can ratchet up environmental protection in developing countries, we’ll have a business advantage over our national competitors.”

Hendrix: We talked earlier about the importance of international standards in promoting peace and good governance. Can you talk about the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and its role in post-conflict societies?

Danielson: First off, there are a bunch of these initiatives. I was fortunate enough to be in on the formative stages of a number of them. I’m not an EITI wonk, but our organization is the only accredited validator in North America. These kinds of things have certain strengths, though none of them control—there’s not world authority that can tell everyone what to do; there’s no global parliament. The private sector has considerable strengths:  lots of money and technical know-how. The government has lots of strengths, including the power to legislate and enforce laws. Civil society has terrific strengths, the biggest of which is their credibility: they are believed. Polls show that six percent of the population believe mining executives while 75% believe leaders of NGOs. If you take all those strengths and combine them into an institution like EITI, it can be far stronger and do far more than if these sectors are working individually. That’s the great strength.

When Militant Groups Attack (Each Other)

Guest post by Brian J. Phillips

A fighter with Jabhat al Nusra in northern Syria. By Times Asi.

A fighter with Jabhat al Nusra in northern Syria. By Times Asi.

The Syrian militant group affiliated with al Qaeda, al-Nusra Front, recently “declared war” on the Islamic State. This is the latest turn in a complicated web of allies, enemies, and frenemies in the Syrian civil war. The two groups have fought before, but some observers see the recently-escalated rivalry as “good news.”

However, a growing body of research suggests that competition and violence among militant groups leads to serious negative consequences.

First, when multiple groups seek to represent the same broader community, this can lead to groups trying new tactics to “outbid” their rivals. Mia Bloom argues that this explains the surge in suicide terrorism in contexts as diverse as Sri Lanka and the Palestinian territories.

There are debates about the generalizeability of the outbidding hypothesis, but a number of studies find support for it.

A just-published study finds that militant group competition is associated with more unusual or “shocking” target types and attack types. Beyond innovation in types of terrorism, there is also evidence to suggest that outbidding simply leads to more terrorism, in terms of the number of attacks in a country. Competition can also lead to the emergence of new terrorist groups.

A second reason to not necessarily celebrate competition among terrorist groups such as al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State is that the rivalrous relationship is unlikely to lead to the destruction of either group – an explicit U.S. goal in the case of the Islamic State. President Obama has said, as noted previously on this blog, that he wants to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the group.

Violent competition is unlikely to destroy militant organizations. It could even contribute to their survival.

An article I recently published in the Journal of Peace Research argues that interorganizational competition can encourage civilians to pick a side (bolstering support for groups), inspire innovation, provide new incentives to group members, and spoil peace talks that might otherwise end violence. Case studies of violence in Northern Ireland and Colombia show these mechanisms at work, and global quantitative analyses show support for the argument. In general, and controlling for many other factors, militant groups with a violent rival survive longer than those without. This goes against analysis suggesting, for example, that competition will “weaken terrorist groups in the long run.”

One caveat to this research is that when rivalries are divided between those involving groups with the same political goals (intra-field) and those with different goals (inter-field), the association with organizational endurance only holds for inter-field rivalries. However, none of the statistical tests found group rivalry associated with an increased likelihood of failure or termination for involved groups. Around the world, with very few exceptions such as Sri Lanka in the 1980s, violent competition almost never causes militant groups to “go out of business.”

The apparent negative consequences of interoganizational competition are especially relevant since a much-discussed counterinsurgency strategy involves a state supporting one militant group against another. An example of relative success is the Anbar Awakening in Iraq, but there are more examples that didn’t turn out so well. Given that many countries are encouraging various militant groups to confront the Islamic State, we should be prepared for a number of unintended consequences, such as those described above.

Overall, the likely deleterious consequences of militant group competition should give us pause about cheering on – or materially supporting – interorganizational rivalry and violence. The “good news” probably won’t last.

Brian J. Phillips is a professor at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE) in Mexico City. His research focuses on the causes and consequences of sub-national political violence.

Weekly Links

By Sarah Bakhtiari

The 25th anniversary NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of a giant cluster of stars, called Westerlund 2, April 23, 2015. By NASA.

The 25th anniversary NASA Hubble Space Telescope image of a giant cluster of stars, called Westerlund 2, April 23, 2015. By NASA.

Are the U.S. and Russia stumbling to war? Graham Allison and Dimitri Simes argue that U.S. presidents have failed to win the peace since the end of the Cold War.

In case you missed it, May 8th was Victory in Europe Day—these photos capture that day 70 years ago.

Regional experts weigh in on how ISIS reads Islamic scripture in a five-part Brookings series. Mara Revkin explains that ISIS leverages Islamic law and scripture to justify economic activities that normally resemble organized crime. In another perspective, ISIS should be conceptualized not just as an aspiring pseudo-state, but also as a transnational civil society that has problematically mobilized into a violent force. And here, it’s just another ordinary insurgency.

Data replication is getting more attention from top journals: the American Journal of Political Science announced all articles submitted for publication must pass a replication test by an external statistician.

Should there be a global market for leaders, allowing citizens of a state to ‘hire’ the best of the political elite?

Social movements and civilian-led demonstrations are a major weapon in territorial conflicts, according to Russia’s 2014 military doctrine. Maciej Bartkowski considers if nonviolent civilian defense can turn a whole nation into a fighting society.

Will Hong Kong’s umbrella movement be revived in the wake of the decision by China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to allow universal suffrage in the 2017 elections while restricting candidates to a few nominated by a pro-China committee?

Charli Carpenter opines on the future of global security studies, in preparation for the upcoming debut of ISA’s new journal, the Journal of Global Security Studies.

In light of Burundi’s coup this week, Alexander Noyes examines the extant scholarship on the potential for coups to be “good” for democratic opening—but also that the long-term effects of coups need to be considered.

The Decline of Ethnic Politics? The UK Election and the Northern Ireland Party System

Guest post by Matthew Isaacs

A mural commemorating republican hunger striker Bobby Sands, who died in British prison, in Belfast. By Dave Sandford.

A mural commemorating republican hunger striker Bobby Sands, who died in British prison, in Belfast. By Dave Sandford.

While the United Kingdom settles into another Conservative government (and exit pollsters reevaluate their methods), the most surprising turn of events in last week’s election may not be the rise of the Scottish National Party or the collapse of the Liberal Democrats. Especially for students of political violence, the most fascinating story may turn out to be the dog that didn’t bark: the surprising decline of ethnic politics in Northern Ireland.

For decades, Northern Ireland’s parties (generally filed under “other” in last week’s election coverage) have been defined by strong ethnoreligious boundaries. The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) compete for the votes of the Unionists (those in favor of the Union with Great Britain, most of whom are Protestant), while Sinn Fein and the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) compete for the votes of the Nationalists (those opposed to the Union with Great Britain, most of whom are Catholic).

The political salience of ethnic boundaries saw a meteoric rise during the communal violence that plagued Northern Ireland from the 1960s through the 1990s. Both sides saw a proliferation of paramilitary organizations founded on ethnoreligious grounds, including the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) on the Catholic side, and the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) on the Protestant side. As Peter Taylor recounts, the UVF declared itself an organization “composed of heavily armed Protestants.” The UVF’s rallying cry, shared with the DUP in the 1970s, was “For God and Ulster.” In 1983, Sinn Fein’s constitution declared its primary principle to be “the allegiance of Irishmen and Irishwomen… to the Sovereign Irish Republic.” Its primary goals included “the complete overthrow of British rule.”

Almost two decades after the Good Friday Agreement put an end to the Troubles in 1998, the ethnoreligious boundaries that have defined the Province’s party system are beginning to show cracks. Last year, DUP Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) Edwin Poots called on conservative Catholics to vote for the DUP on the grounds of social policy. In February, DUP leader Peter Robinson met with Catholic Bishop Noel Trainor to discuss how the party can better market its conservative social policies to observant Catholics.

In one sense, this is a natural alliance. The DUP’s opposition to abortion and gay rights is in line with the stance of the Catholic Church. Both Sinn Fein and the SDLP take a more liberal stance on these issues, leaving religious Catholics without strong representation.

In the historical context, however, this is a tectonic shift in party alignment. During the Troubles, the DUP’s conservative values meant a consistent emphasis on protecting the Union with Great Britain and a strong revulsion to the Republicanism of Sinn Fein and the SDLP. Although Republicans tended to askew religious politics in favor of secular nationalism, political alignments (and evangelical leadership) made the DUP naturally averse to all things Catholic.

On the other side of the ethnic boundary, Sinn Fein has also exhibited a willingness to underplay ethnic affiliations for a larger slice of the electoral pie. At the Ard Fheis (annual party conference) in March 2015, Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams stressed the economic burdens of the UK. “Austerity is the price of the union,” Adams explained. “It makes no sense to have two economies, two education systems, two health systems, two tax codes, two currencies on one small island.” This reliance on the economic argument against the Union is in stark contrast to the unambiguously ethnic Irish Republican narrative that has driven the party for decades.

In last week’s election, Sinn Fein lost the seat of Fermanagh and South Tyrone to the UUP. Although the UUP held the seat from 1981 to 2001, the upset is devastating given the seat’s symbolic role in the Troubles (the same seat was won by Republican Hunger Striker Bobby Sands in the April 1981 by-election, just weeks before his death). However, the loss of the seat to Unionists has been attributed not to demographic shifts in the district, but to a concerted effort by local pro-life campaigners to turn conservative Catholics away from the pro-choice Sinn Fein. Again, we see a move away from staunchly ethnic voting to voting on the basis of social values.

To be sure, these trends are neither fast paced nor completely unprecedented. Both the UUP and the SDLP have had the occasional cross-ethnic elected official. In the 1960s, UUP leader Terence O’Neil also sought to gain votes by appealing to an economic argument (though in his case it was for the benefits of the Union). However, these are the exceptions that prove the rule: cross-ethnic party members have consistently maintained a low profile, and the spectacular failure of O’Neil’s anti-communalism ushered in the rise of the more radical and staunchly ethnic DUP. The increasing willingness of top-level politicians from both sides to stress social and economic policies over ethnic allegiance remains unprecedented.

What accounts for these trends?

Considerable scholarly research has focused on when ethnic identity gains salience, particularly under specific political institutions, in certain demographic contexts, and under conditions of intergroup violence. However, surprisingly little research has examined the decline of ethnicity in post-conflict party systems.

One reason for this lacuna may be that the decline of ethnicity is relatively uncommon. Ethnicity remains a central component of many post-conflict party systems and the world is replete with high profile instances of ethnicity gaining, not losing, salience. However, a small number of other post-conflict democracies have seen shifts away from ethnic party systems. Just this week, South Africa’s Democratic Alliance, a majority-white party frequently seen as representing those who benefited from apartheid, welcomed its first black leader, Mmusi Maimane.

More importantly, the power-sharing paradigm favored by the peacebuilding community often involves structuring political institutions around explicit ethnic affiliations, as in the Dayton Accord in Bosnia and the Taif Agreement in Lebanon. These political systems cement the importance of ethnicity by mandating the distribution of political power on the basis of ethnic divisions. Findings remain mixed as to whether these systems effectively temper ethnic tensions or merely encourage further mobilization along ethnic lines.

Two important factors distinguish these systems from that established in Northern Ireland by the Good Friday Agreement: flexibility and federalism.

First, the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly based in Stormont operate on the basis of power sharing between parties, and require explicit communal affiliations (Unionist, Nationalist, or Other) for each elected member. These restrictions do not mandate a specific distribution of political power between ethnic groups and make no mention of divergence between the Unionist/Nationalist and Protestant/Catholic societal cleavages. Instead, political power is distributed in proportion to representation, and it is perfectly acceptable for candidates to work to convince Catholics to vote Unionist, or Protestants to vote Nationalist.

Second, these restrictions apply only to Stormont elections. For elections to the House of Commons in Westminster, politicians are free to appeal to voters on an entirely non-ethnic basis. In this sense, Westminster elections serve as a litmus test for changing dynamics on the ground in Northern Ireland. As social and economic issues take precedence, we may see voting in Northern Ireland begin to follow a cyclical pattern in which ethnicity remains salient at Stormont while declining over time in successive Westminster elections.

These trends point to a middle ground between the total institutionalization of ethnicity and the complete absence of ethnic representation in post-conflict agreements. Greater leeway in the representation of ethnic identity and multi-level electoral dynamics may have the effect of encouraging cross-ethnic politics without overlooking important questions of representation. With the proper structuring, post-conflict party systems may be able to encourage ethnic representation in one electoral venue while allowing experimentation in another.

Matthew Isaacs is a PhD candidate in Politics at Brandeis University. His dissertation examines the role of religious institutions in the political representation of ethnic identity in conflict.

A Symposium on the Crisis in Ukraine

By Rachel Epstein for Denver Dialogues

It’s been well over a year since Russia annexed Crimea, and the cease-fire agreed at Minsk for the fate of war-torn Eastern Ukraine from February 2015 is in tatters. With the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe Day having just passed and Western-Russian relations at a post-Cold War nadir, this symposium examines the politics behind the crisis in Ukraine and the implications for international security.

Our contributors include: Valerie Bunce, the Aaron Binenkorb Professor of International Studies and Professor of Government at Cornell University; Donald Abenheim, Associate Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School and a long-standing advisor on democratic civil-military relations to central European nations seeking to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; and Steven Pifer, who was the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine from 1998-2000 and who is currently a Senior Fellow in the Bookings Institution.

[Contributors’ insights on the Ukraine crisis were more extensive than I have space to present here. For a fuller treatment of the issues, and responses to some additional questions, see the complete transcripts at the Sié Chéou-Kang Center for International Security and Diplomacy.]

EPSTEIN: Russia has never acknowledged that it has a military role in eastern Ukraine. At the same time, it has accused the U.S. of deploying military trainers to eastern Ukraine. Who is winning this information war, and how do people in the region—that is, in Ukraine, Russia and neighboring countries—interpret the conflicting claims?

Abenheim points out that Russia has successfully mobilized what are, in fact, old techniques to modern effect, including various kinds of overt and covert subversion:

ABENHEIM: The Russians have very effectively waged a propaganda campaign in Ukraine that began with the hacking of the Victoria Nuland telephone call—a psychological operations coup de main of the first order. This propaganda offensive has since unfolded with a special operations campaign that has or has not used fifth column fighters on the classical pattern one knows from irregular conflict in the 20th century. While it is politically incorrect for some in the year 2015 to say so, I am especially reminded of German irregular warfare/covert operations to undermine the Dollfuss/Schuschnigg regime in Austria in 1934-1938, as well as the campaign against the Czechs at the same time. From there, the Russian side along with its sympathizers elsewhere in the world have put the Ukrainians, the west European EU powers, and NATO on their back foot with a remorseless propaganda offensive, complete with the reincarnation of the Ukrainian Waffen SS…

Pifer agrees that Russian efforts have been fairly effective, including in Western Europe, even if the objective evidence is not on Russia’s side:

PIFER: Russian denial of its military role is simply not credible. Even if one discounts NATO and Ukrainian reports about the presence of Russian military personnel in the Donbas and the influx of Russian military equipment, there are ample other reports. In February, for example, a pro-Russian journalist reported on the fighting around Debaltseve with several ‘separatist’ tanks in the background. Those tanks could only have come from the Russian military, as they had reactive armor and other equipment that is only known to be in the Russian army’s inventory.

Russia nevertheless is doing well in the information war… State-sponsored outlets such as RT and Sputnik receive considerable funding from the government… [They] seek to create smoke and confusion rather than offer a coherent story. Witness the effort that Russian media put into theories regarding the MH-17 shoot-down: it was downed by a Ukrainian fighter; it was shot down by Ukrainians believing they were shooting down President Putin’s plane; it was a CIA special mission to damage Russia’s image, using a plane full of dead bodies. All of these aimed to discredit the most likely explanation: Russian-backed separatists used a Russian-provided surface-to-air missile to down the plane… The Russian public largely buys the Kremlin’s line, and it appears to have made in-roads in Europe, where some accept the argument that Russian action in Ukraine is defensive, triggered by NATO and EU enlargement.

Bunce is more skeptical about how successful the Russians have been, except in Russia itself:

BUNCE: Russia has lost its information war with neighboring countries, including not just those neighbors that are members of the EU and NATO, but also neighboring countries that are part of the European neighborhood, such as Georgia and Moldova. In addition, Russian allies, such as Belarus and Kazakhstan, are resisting adhering to Russia’s line on this conflict, because of their fear that Russia could do similar covert interventions in their countries.

The one exception to this generalization is Russians themselves who live in Russia. Here, it is important to recognize that Putin controls the media; his annexation of Crimea in March, 2014 has been extremely popular at home and boosted his popular support; but a majority of Russians, however, do not and would not support military intervention in Ukraine. In this sense, the domestic benefits of this war for Putin depend upon his ability to engage in covert, not overt aggression in Ukraine.

EPSTEIN: Further on the same theme, with Russia as a party to the Minsk 2 cease-fire agreement from February, which called for the evacuation of ‘foreign forces,’ how can Putin then convince his public that Russian forces are not involved?

BUNCE: The Russian media has portrayed political change in Ukraine as not just the work of Ukrainian fascists (a trope that plays especially well in Russia), but also the work of the West in general and the United States in particular. Thus, to refer to the evacuation of ‘foreign forces’ in that agreement is merely to reinforce not just the official characterization of the conflict in Russia, but also Putin’s recent claims to rule—for example, his appeals to Russian nationalism, his recognition of Russian exceptionalism, his commitment to expanding Russian influence in the international system, and his criticisms of the West as a decadent culture and a major force for instability in the international system…

Referring specifically to Russian annexation of Crimea, Abenheim notes:

ABENHEIM: Surely there remain critical and informed Russians at home who are skeptical of this neo-imperialist undertaking, and its ill effects on life and treasure, but I am also sure that, with the recent murder of Nemtsov, opposition is much more problematic.

Pifer’s assessment of the information environment in Russia:

PIFER: More Russians seem to understand what’s going on, but it is not clear that a majority do… In Soviet times, the general public was hugely skeptical about what they saw on television or read in the newspapers. The Russian public today appears to be far more accepting and far less questioning of what they see, particularly on television. By some accounts, the propaganda on Russian domestic media is worse than it was during the Soviet period.

EPSTEIN: Weak state capacity and corruption in Ukraine arguably contributed to the country’s vulnerability to Russian intervention and destabilization. However, the Ukrainian government is now 1) challenging the oligarchs and 2) pushing for anti-corruption reform. Are these steps likely to help stabilize the country and ward off Russian aggression? Or will these measures exact costs on the government by undermining critical support for the regime?

BUNCE: No doubt, there will be broad popular support for challenging the oligarchs and pushing for anti-corruption reform. Most Ukrainians agree that these are serious problems, and they help explain the abysmal performance of the Ukrainian economy since Ukraine became an independent state on January 1, 1992.

Because Poroshenko is himself an oligarch, he is signaling with such actions that he is breaking with his past and is committed to changing the way politics and economics have been conducted in Ukraine. While these actions will help stabilize Ukraine, they are likely viewed by some citizens, especially in pockets in the eastern half of the country, as threatening their economic livelihood.

But Bunce also points to the perverse incentives that Ukrainian reform provides to Russia:

BUNCE: [I]t is important to recognize that Russian aggression grows out of Russian interests in destabilizing Ukraine and thereby undermining its transition to authentic democracy and closer relations with the West. Thus, Russia wants Poroshenko’s government to fail. In this sense, the more successful Ukraine is in dealing with its domestic problems, the more incentives Russia has to continue its aggressive policies.

Pifer on the same question:

PIFER: Over the past 25 years, oligarchs have played an out-sized role in the political and economic life of Ukraine… Reducing their political influence is an important part of building a modern European democracy and will also aid the anti-corruption effort… The political risk for Poroshenko is that oligarchs may well push back against efforts to curb their influence, adding another headache for a Ukrainian government that already faces a long list of reform and political challenges, on top of dealing with Russian aggression in the east.

Our contributors are in fairly strong agreement that the Ukraine crisis is testing the will and capacity of those very organizations that were intended to cement the security and prosperity of European and Transatlantic communities following World War II.

EPSTEIN: Recently in the Financial Times, Wolfgang Münchau wrote that “a failed Ukrainian state or further annexation of its territory by Russia…would signal to the world that the EU is chronically incapable of defending its common interests.” Münchau was arguing, therefore, that the crisis in Ukraine represents a much more dangerous threat to Europe, and one imagines also to NATO (even though Ukraine is not a member of the EU or NATO), than the ongoing economic crisis in Greece. Is he correct?

BUNCE: The economic and political difficulties of Greece are not equal to the existential threats posed to Europe by Russian actions in Ukraine; that is, its invasion and then annexation of Crimea, followed by its aiding and abetting popular rebellion in eastern Ukraine.

Bunce goes onto to point out the bind in which the West now finds itself:

BUNCE: Just as Ukraine’s economic and political problems are much deeper than those of Greece, so Russia has a strong domestic and international interest in continuing its policies of de-stabilizing the country…it is unclear how the Europeans can deter Russian aggression without encouraging more aggression, boosting Putin’s domestic support and undermining both the political and economic reforms in Ukraine and the Poroshenko government.

If anything, Abenheim is even more concerned about what the knotted crises of Ukraine and Greece mean for global security:

ABENHEIM: The problems of economy and European institutions can easily become issues of war and peace. The union of French and German coal and steel in 1950, whence came the EU, did arise from this insight, which is no less valid now, even if populist terrible simplifiers in their number in the AFD, UKIP and the Le Pen party want to junk it. If both Greece and Ukraine become failed states within Europe, they can well emulate the experience of ex-Yugoslavia in the 1990s or something worse from the epoch 1919-1939.

On the possibility that Europe’s terrible history can suddenly reappear, Abenheim says:

ABENHEIM: When I reflect on the fate of Greece in Europe, I recall its unhappy history in the inter war period, to say nothing of its martyrdom in the second war itself, and the aftermath of civil war and strife until 1974. In the same way, the fate of Ukraine as a nation that must overcome its past poses a challenge for the EU, which is indeed as grave as the author in the Financial Times article suggests, if not more so. And both crises must be mastered by policy makers at the same time, while the Middle East goes up in flames, and instability in Africa threatens peace and security in Europe, as well.

Perhaps most provocatively, Pifer notes the following:

PIFER: Vladimir Putin has shown a readiness to challenge the post-Cold War European security order, violating the cardinal rule of no use of force to change borders or take territory. Do his ambitions go beyond Ukraine? Europe and the West have to assume that they might, and they need to be prepared to fend off a possible Russian security challenge.  If Russia makes that challenge—say, a little green men incident in Estonia—and Europe does not respond adequately, that will be a greater disaster than a Greek exit from the euro or even a failed Ukrainian state.

Security Aid and the Counterterrorism Racket

Guest post by Andrew Boutton

American soldiers speak with a Afghan National Army Commander in Naka, Afghanistan.

American soldiers speak with a Afghan National Army Commander in Naka, Afghanistan. Via Resolute Support Media.

In the aftermath of terrorist attacks against Western targets, countries in which these attacks occur typically find themselves in the US foreign policy spotlight. The US responded to the 2002 Bali bombing by boosting military cooperation with Indonesia and creating an elite counterterrorism force to combat Jemaah Islamiya, the Al-Qaeda-linked group behind the attack. Similarly, US aid to Yemen surged following the 2000 USS Cole bombing, and a paramilitary force was created with US funds and training. However, while the efforts of the democratic Indonesian government have virtually eliminated the threat of transnational terrorism from that country, nearly the entire southern half of Yemen is currently under AQAP control.

Some recent research examines the nature of the foreign aid-terrorism relationship, and discusses some factors that help explain why aid can have such divergent effects on terrorism. In one paper, David Carter and I investigate the use of US foreign aid as a “carrot” to persuade and equip host states to confront terrorism with greater gusto. Because diverting resources to counterterrorism campaigns at the behest of a foreign power is costly for these governments, aid is meant as compensation for those costs.

Examining aid allocation patterns, we find that the US has always defined its security interests narrowly, and even more so after 2001. The frequency and severity of anti-US terrorism are strong predictors of US foreign aid levels throughout the sample. However, more surprising was our finding that countries suffering terrorist campaigns that do not directly target US interests—even ostensible allies—are often left out to dry. For instance, long-running insurgencies in Colombia, Peru, and the Philippines attracted little US policy attention until American interests were threatened.

The data also suggest temporal shifts. Following the Cold War, the pool of aid recipients widened, but aid increases were channeled toward countries in which direct US interests were under attack from terrorism. This contrast only grew more stark after 2001, reflecting the increasingly security-driven, unilateral flavor of US foreign policy over the past two decades that some scholars have noted. In effect, our findings suggest that the post-WWII, US-led alliance network was steadily surpassed in relevance by a new network: countries in which direct US interests are endangered by terrorism. Significantly, this pool of countries is constantly in flux. When anti-American terrorism in a country declines, so does that country’s centrality to US foreign policy.

Naturally, one might ask what some implications of this highly security-oriented method of aid allocation might be, and whether it has been effective in reducing threats to US interests.

Given the difficulty of monitoring compliance or enforcing aid conditions, aid effectiveness depends on recipient state priorities. In two follow-up papers, I argue that a major determinant of the (in)effectiveness of counterterrorism aid is the existence of a security threat which takes precedence over terrorism in the eyes of the recipient regime. Specifically, a recipient engaged in a rivalry with another state will tend to prioritize pursuit of the rivalry over all else. Similarly, personalist dictators rule under constant threat of coups or assassination. Without a continuous revenue source with which to sustain their patronage networks and pay-off rival factions, they risk overthrow or death.

In both papers, US security aid is associated with significant increases in anti-US terrorist activity when allocated to states with external rivals, or to personalist dictatorships.

In these contexts, aid is not just an ineffective carrot; it can also encourage the recipient regime to become a terrorism “racketeer,” using the threat thereof to extort aid resources from donors. These are then channeled not toward counterterrorism, but instead toward protecting the regime against what it fears most.

These findings offer insight into several recent, puzzling cases. For example, it may be Pakistan’s fear of facing India without American support—not some ideological affinity with jihadist groups—motivating its apparent desire to continue having a terrorism problem. The Haqqani Network and other groups along the border function as insurance against a US withdrawal from the region.

Likewise, the lesson Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh likely learned after 2005 US aid reductions was that without a threat from Al-Qaeda, Yemen was seen as just another poor country. “In retrospect, the planned attacks were a blessing for us,” a Yemeni official said of the attempted AQAP bombings of US airliners in 2009 and 2010. “They have alarmed the West.” Thus, the series of mysterious prison “escapes” and Saleh’s amnesty deals with AQAP leaders—which led to the group’s rebirth—are partially understood as tactics to procure security assistance with which to protect his regime from political and tribal enemies who wanted him out or dead.

Paradoxically, as the US made counterterrorism the centerpiece of its foreign policy, it left itself vulnerable to manipulation. Political incentives for US policymakers necessitate quick, often militarized, action against foreign threats that avoid boots on the ground. Unfortunately, this often means uncritically throwing good money after bad in these and other places, leading to the opposite of the intended outcome.

But there are reasons for optimism about ongoing counterterrorism efforts elsewhere. Former Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan learned (albeit too late) that letting a terrorist problem fester is bad politics, and the army continues to reclaim territory from Boko Haram. In Kenya, president Uhuru Kenyatta also has incentive to maintain stability: terrorism scares away tourists, which hurts the economy and thus his popularity. While the campaign against al-Shabaab has been marred by police corruption and human rights abuses, these are areas in which assistance can help, perhaps with higher salaries and better training.

Although international attempts to cajole these governments into action have met with halting success, neither currently faces serious external threats, and both regimes are democratic, surviving in office by providing public goods and winning votes, rather than by distributing patronage. Both have skin in the game, in other words. In these circumstances, thoughtful allocation of security assistance—conditional on levels of ex post effort, rather than ex ante terrorism—has the potential to be productive. As in bioethics, the first rule when arming foreign governments should be “first, do no harm.” This is possible with careful allocation methods, and better appreciation of the security priorities of the recipient government.

Andrew Boutton is a Security Studies fellow at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas and an Assistant Professor at the University of Central Florida.

Weekly Links

By Danny Hirschel-Burns


Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps, “The Night Patrol at Smyrna,” 1831. Via Thomas Hawk.

For Somali refugees in Kenya’s Dabaab camp, ‘winning the lottery’ and resettling in a Western country is everyone’s dream. But countries like Sweden are hesitant about allowing whole families to move, leaving lottery-winners with a stark choice: is the risk of never seeing your family again worth an inflated income? Writing in the Guardian, Ben Rawlence’s story of Somali refugee Amin is exceptionally poignant. Speaking of Dabaab, John Campbell writes that closing the camp in the wake of the Garissa attacks would be a disaster.

The Intercept has a long-form article looking at what the Mexican government actually knows about the 43 students that disappeared in Ayotzinapa.

Saddam Hussein’s birthplace Tikrit managed to escape much of the worst of Iraq’s violence since 2003. However, the Islamic State slowly destroyed the community, beginning long before thirty of its fighters managed to run off all of its governmental defenders.

Burundi is in crisis mode right now after President Nkurunziza declared his intention to stand for a probably-unconstitutional third term. Protests are about to enter their third week and show no signs of abating. Yolande Bouka reminds us that the roots of this crisis go back many years. On the same topic, Jesper Bjarnesen writes on the identity of those protesting in Bujumbura.

Does ideology affect how insurgents respond to coercive counterinsurgent violence? In the case of Islamists, Monica Duffy Toft and Yuri Zhukov think so.

There are always ways to improve forecasting, but as Jay Ulfelder argues, the problem isn’t with the forecasters, it’s with the data. Until there’s better constantly updated micro-level data, forecasting certain rare political events will remain extremely difficult.

Though Muhammadu Buhari’s government seems better equipped to deal with Boko Haram than Goodluck Jonathan’s, the solution still lies beyond military means.


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