On Taiwan: An Option between Total War and Withdrawal for the U.S.

For more than a half century, the United States has been able to help deter the use of force by China and Taiwan.  Yet the new dynamic in the area surrounding Taiwan has increased the likelihood of use of force. How the United States responds will have enormous implications for both the Chinese, and the allies of the U.S. in the South and East China sea. To avoid the catastrophic impact of total war and the implications of abandoning an ally, the author examines one option between the two that the U.S. can adopt.

By Noriya Nakazawa,7th November, 2015

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The First World-Problem(s)

Rehyphenating the priorities of the developed and developing worlds.

By Arvind Iyer, 8th January 2014

Background : The Three Worlds theories of the early postcolonial era that might have served to usefully map the sharply polar geopolitics of the time, continue to circumscribe policy imagination as well as commentary in a manner that limits the genuine planet-wide globalizing of best-practices discovered in any of the erstwhile ‘worlds’. The narratives of newly liberated nations making their unique trysts with destiny or the ‘nationalizing’ of ideology as in socialism with Chinese characteristics are far from timeless or timely at this juncture when wars for self-determination are receding into history, thus precluding preoccupations with self-definition, or assertion of identity, or characterization of doctrines. This article treats an increasingly dominant strain of middle-class political attitudes and aspirations in emerging India as a case study of sorts to illustrate how policy pragmatism and catholicity rather than policy puritanism and conservatism maybe both enabled and necessitated in a world where the problems India shares with America are as pressing as the problems endemic to ‘Chindia’ or the BRIC bloc.

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NSA: the Deceptive Scandal

The latest round of leaks on the NSA could end the spying culture through major policy-shifts promised by President Obama though one should remain sceptical.

By Gulshan Roy, 5th November 2013

The average unemployment rate set to hit a record 12% in the EU; the growth rate stagnating at a dire 0.3%; the much fanfared recovery that never turned up; an ever-so-fragile eurozone:  these are the major themes Angela Merkel would have nervously expected to debate as she appeared in Brussels last Friday for this year’s crucial EU summit. Instead, the meeting was (rather conveniently for her) foreshadowed then dominated by America’s intriguing secret curiosity for the contents her cell phone. In yet another round of blows for US National Security Agency (NSA), The Guardian revealed last week that the agency had been monitoring calls of 35 world leaders without their knowledge, let alone their consent. Edward Snowden has his president biting his nails once again for traditional allies of Washington are understandably outraged.

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Fanning the Flames – The Rise of AQAP

An assessment of what has contributed to the swelling of the Al Qaeda ranks in Yemen. Among other factors, this has included the cutting of the remittances from their richer neighbors after the first Gulf War and the security concerns (drone strikes).

By Richard Wallace, 23rd October 2013

Just a couple of months back, news channels were filled with coverage of the impending threat Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP – the Gulf branch of Al-Qaeda) poses to domestic security in Yemen and international security more broadly. Yemen is rarely in the limelight, with much media attention focusing further north on the Middle East states of the Levant and Iran. When it does catch international attention, the media discourse on Yemen is typically highly securitized, to the extent that the country is increasingly cast as the next Afghanistan, the cradle of chaos, and the new haven and hotbed of international terrorism. Whether or not this is really the case, it is clear that Yemen does face serious challenges from AQAP’s local franchise and the danger is real. So just how did it come to this?

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Pyongyang’s Quandary

The provocative rhetoric coming from North Korea could hide a faint sense of desperation.

By Gulshan Roy, 3rd April, 2013

On Saturday 30th March, a statement released by the highest North Korean command warned that it was entering “a state of war” with its feuding southern neighbour. As Koreans on both sides watched the unfolding drama being broadcast on every major international television news channel, Mr Kim Jong-un managed to conjure an even more spectacular artifice by releasing photographs of him discussing with his senior commanders under the backdrop of a ‘Plan to Hit the U.S Mainland’ written in bold. News channels are not often presented with opportunities for such great TV. Yet, Mr Kim’s moment of teeth-showing turned into bathos once it reached its intended audience: instead of injecting any sense of panic on the other side of the Pacific, the images received in Washington were swiftly turned into material fit for some banter over bourbon.

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Lifting the Curtain

This week marks the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the landmark decision by the US Supreme Court on the issue of abortion. Claire Beckenstein, a political consultant in Washington DC, looks at the political culture surrounding the issue to discuss how far American women have come and how far they still have to go.

By Claire Beckenstein, 22nd January, 2013

Abortion is an issue that evokes visceral responses from people at both ends of the spectrum.  This issue has the ability to divide a nation and separate a family.  It is so powerful that people will even kill in the name of the cause.  On the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, one could exhaust themselves for days thinking of the questions and assumptions around what America would be like without legalised abortion.  If we continue to fight the issues from our past we cannot move forward.  Therefore, it is best to focus on the present and note how monumental this decision has been for women and their health, especially to those women who view abortion as a choice, a freedom and as a right to take control of their future.

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The Impact of Sanctions on Iranian Society and Artists

Economic sanctions are not only shattering the lives of the Iranian people but also strangling Iran’s social and cultural development. Iran is headed for a humanitarian catastrophe unless steps are taken to avert it.

[This article is based on a talk presented by independent researcher Mehrnaz Shahabi on November 17 at the Nour Festival of Arts in London, which seeks to celebrate, explore and promote culture and arts in the Middle East and North Africa.]

By Mehrnaz Shahabi, 17th December, 2012

For 33 years now, since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, Iran has been the target of US economic sanctions, which have increased in scope and severity over time. The impact of sanctions on populations is not always quantifiable and can be contradictory. Despite their negative impact in isolating and hindering Iran’s economic progress, and the tragic loss of life due to the boycott of spare parts for the aging Iranian airline, in so far as necessity is the mother of invention, sanctions in many instances have acted as an impetus for technological progress; and the experience of success and survival through adversity has infused a collective sense of empowerment and self-confidence.

When I was asked in July to talk about the impact of sanctions on Iranian society, the idea was to place some emphasis on the arts and artists. Since then, the reality of the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding as a result of the economic warfare on Iran has shifted the emphasis, by necessity, from the artists to their audience, since it is inconceivable to think of arts separately from the audience at which it is directed. Continue reading

InPEC Exclusive: Latest US Presidential Debate Polling Data

InPEC has obtained the first polling data from the host of the first US Presidential debate, the University of Denver.  This is the first website outside of the US to break this polling data.



Strong Debate Performance Improves Voters’ Impressions of GOP Nominee

DENVER – The University of Denver, host of the first Presidential debate on Oct. 3, today released poll results that found President Barack Obama leading Governor Mitt Romney among likely voters in Colorado, 47-43. Four percent said that they would vote for someone else, and five percent noted that they remain undecided. The poll also found that President Obama is currently leading among independent voters, 48-31.

Despite President Obama’s current lead in Colorado, respondents have improving impressions of Gov. Romney. Those who said that they watched or heard about the debate believe that Gov. Romney won by a huge margin, 68-19. That includes almost half of Obama supporters (47 percent), with just 37 percent of the President’s supporters saying he did the better job. In addition, 38 percent of likely Colorado voters said their impression of Gov. Romney is improving, while 18 percent of respondents felt the same way about President Obama.

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Iran Should Not Allow the Talks to Be a “Success” If …

In this post, Shirin Shafaie offers a policy recommendation paper for Iran ahead of the Moscow talks between the P5+1 and Iran.

By Shirin Shafaie

Iran should not allow the Moscow talks (18 June, 2012) to be announced, declared or referred to as “successful”, “positive”, “constructive” or even “promising” by the other party or the Western media in the absence of absolutely concrete and tangible concessions from the West in terms of sanctions relief and normalisation of Iran’s nuclear file in the IAEA. I explain why.

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Addressing the Asymmetry in Negotiations between Iran and P5+1: a critical review of Oxford Research Group’s briefing

In this article, the author presents a critical review of the briefing, “Iran´s Nuclear Impasse: Breaking the Deadlock”, published by the Oxford Research Group on 1 May 2012. As negotiations over Iran´s nuclear programme stall, the author criticises the lack of neutrality of the briefing by the Oxford-based think tank, and calls for a review of the same in order to avoid some of the mistakes of the past, when pro-war think tanks played a key role in manufacturing consent for the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

By Mehrnaz Shahabi, 10 July 2012

The Oxford Research Group’s briefing, Iran’s Nuclear Impasse: Breaking the Deadlock (1 May 2012) [1], published before the second round of negotiations between Iran and P5+1 (permanent Security Council and Germany) in Baghdad on 23 May, whilst proposing some positive principles for a successful outcome of the negotiations – such as Iran’s right to enrichment, “reciprocity”, “defining endgame”, and “taking regime change off the table” – suffers serious drawbacks, which have become even more glaringly clear with the result of the recent Moscow negotiations.

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Non-Proliferation: Are we heading in the right direction?

In this article, the author reports from the first session of the Non-Proliferation Treaty Preparatory Committee conference being held in Vienna, Austria. The international community, including Iran and the US, have gathered at the IAEA headquarters to discuss next steps while non-participants Israel, India and Pakistan follow the progress of the conference from the comforts of distance.

By David J. Franco, 2nd May, 2012

Ignored by the mainstream media, the world’s nuclear weapons and energy problems are being tackled by the international community gathered in Vienna. Attended by a gallant but tiny band of NGOs the meeting witnesses states from Iran to the US engaged in the debate, while the non-participants Israel, Pakistan and India cast a shadow over the proceedings.

On Monday, Ambassador Libran Cabactulan, of the Philippines, declared open the first session of the Preparatory Committee of the 2015 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. Ambassador Cabactulan led a successful process that culminated in the 2010 NPT Action Plan agreed with the consensus of all states parties to the NPT. After his opening statement, in which he emphasized the need to build upon pass success, Ambassador Cabactulan declared elected Ambassador Peter Woolcott, of Australia, as the Chair-designate for the first session of the 2015 NPT review conference cycle.

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Will Iran be accorded its rightful place in the world?

In an inspiring analysis, Peter Jenkins analyses the current state of affairs over Iran’s nuclear file in advance of the April 14 meeting in Istanbul between members of the international community (the P-5 + Germany and the EU) and Iran. Jenkins warns that the scope for any process on nuclear talks with Iran to founder on distrust, misunderstanding and political in-fighting in both Tehran and Washington remains formidable. Furthermore, he sees the wider political realities surrounding the Iranian case as ‘disturbing’ and calls for a more active role from the BRICS, especially India, in helping resolve the conflict. Iran’s nuclear programme is a symbol of a geostrategic shift, he argues, and the global family has an interest in Iran’s neighbours according Iran a say in the affairs of South West Asia.

This article was first published by Gateway House: Indian Council on Global Relations on 10 April under the title ‘Iran: An opportunity for BRICS‘.

By Peter Jenkins*, 12 April, 2012

The winter months saw the controversy over Iran’s nuclear programme become dangerously heated. Western media were encouraged to interpret recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) findings as proof that Iran is bent on making nuclear weapons, despite the assessment of the U.S. intelligence community remaining that a weapons decision has not been taken and is in no sense inevitable.

The U.S., UK, and European Union (EU) used the concern aroused by media reporting to justify a further sharpening of their attack on the Iranian economy, while Israel pressed for a different sort of attack, to wipe out Iranian nuclear facilities before the programme enters a so-called “zone of immunity”. Iran reminded its adversaries that it could retaliate by closing the Straits of Hormuz to oil and gas shipments.

As spring has come, passions have cooled. U.S. President Barack Obama seems to have felt able to tell Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu that a military attack is unnecessary at this juncture, even though the U.S. President is vulnerable to Israeli influence on U.S. public opinion in an electoral year. The five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council, the EU and Germany have agreed to talk to Iran’s nuclear negotiator despite the latter’s failure to commit Iran to full implementation of the resolutions passed by the UN Security Council since 2006 (Notably these require Iran to suspend all production of the enriched uranium that can be converted into reactor fuel, but which Iran could divert to military use if it decided to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT], or to ignore its NPT obligations).

There are signs that the U.S., UK and Germany, if not France under President Sarkozy, are moving towards the Russian and Chinese position of accepting Iranian enrichment as long as Iran offers the best possible guarantees that all its nuclear material will remain in non-military use.  Public diplomacy has moderated rude aggression yielding to civility and reason.

The risk of disruption to oil and gas shipments has receded – for the time being at least – although recent U.S. and EU measures are causing problems for some of Iran’s traditional customers, and are hurting consumers everywhere through their effect on prices.

So it is not irrational to hope that when the eight parties – Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S., the permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, the EU and Iran – meet on 14 April in Istanbul, they may find some way of launching a process that can, over time, lead to agreement. At long last, perhaps there can be concurrence on handling Iran’s nuclear ambitions in accordance with the treaty to which Iran is a founder-party, the NPT.

An NPT deal would recognise Iran’s right to enrich uranium and would accept its taking advantage of that right, in return for Iran placing all nuclear material in its possession under IAEA safeguards and renewing its commitment to refrain from manufacturing or otherwise acquiring nuclear weapons.

In one sense, the West approaches these talks from a position of weakness. The Iranians have shown no sign of buckling under the pressure of ever-tighter sanctions. They know that the West’s military option is deeply unattractive to any of sane mind.

In another sense, the West has many good cards in its hand.  Sanctions are hurting Iran and it has an interest in having them lifted provided the price is not intolerable.  Abandoning its enrichment plans would be intolerable; volunteering full access to IAEA inspectors, and other measures that can allay the concerns aroused by the clandestinity of some of its past nuclear activities, need not be.

To say that hope is permissible is not to say that the odds on yet another disappointment are long.  In 2007 a promising opening vanished when Iran’s chief negotiator clashed with President Ahmedinejad.  In 2009 it was President Ahmedinejad’s turn to be thwarted by domestic rivals; and President Obama, under pressure from hawks, withdrew his negotiators rather than wait for the Iranians to sort out their differences. In 2010, the timing of Iranian assent to a confidence-building proposal brokered by Turkey and Brazil cast doubt in Western minds on Iran’s sincerity.

In other words, the scope for any process to founder on distrust, misunderstanding and political in-fighting in both Tehran and Washington remains formidable. Equally disturbing are the wider political realities.

Since 1992 both leading Israeli parties, Likud and Labour, have sought to convince Washington that Iran is a mortal threat to U.S. interests in South West Asia. This they have done in order to maintain Israel’s value to the U.S. as an ally in a post-Cold War Middle East and to avert a thaw in U.S.-Iranian relations that they fear might entail a cooling in U.S.-Israeli relations.  For these Israelis, Iran’s nuclear programme, and especially its undeclared activities prior to 2003, has been a gift from heaven.

Iran’s transgressions are a matter for persuading Americans that Iran is bent on acquiring nuclear weapons, that these weapons will be used to destroy Israel, they say. Iran’s programme, if left unchecked, will precipitate nuclear proliferation in an unstable region, leading Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey to acquire similar capabilities. U.S. conservatives, in thrall to dreams of re-shaping the Middle East and regime-change in Iran, have been eager echoers of these (highly questionable) arguments.

These constituencies, Israeli and American, have no interest in the normalisation of the Iranian nuclear case through an NPT deal.  On the contrary, they have every interest in making it as politically difficult as possible for any U.S. administration to arrive at such a deal.

Saudi Arabia has been even less transparent than Israel.  It is not obvious that the Saudis have been poisoning the wells of American opinion to thwart a deal with Iran.  But Saudi-Iranian rivalry, multifaceted and acute since the advent of an Islamic Republic that challenges the legitimacy of Saudi occupation of the Holy Places, seized from the Hashemites in 1924, and which shows up the undemocratic nature of the Saudi monarchy, is well-documented.  There have been veiled threats that Saudi Arabia will ignore its NPT obligations if Iran is left in peace to exploit nuclear technology that the Saudis themselves are decades away from mastering without outside help.  Saudi Arabia too has an interest in thwarting any deal that leaves Iran in possession of enrichment plants.

There are additional factors.  Ever since the NPT opened for signature in 1968, U.S. officials have found it hard to accept that the treaty allows non-nuclear-weapon states (NNWS) access to technologies that can serve both civil and military purposes. There’s been a 44-year itch to close what Americans see as a loop-hole, despite all the evidence that many NNWS are unready to concede a back-door renegotiation of a carefully-balanced instrument.

There is also in the U.S. a tendency to blind self-righteousness that can lead Americans to treat non-Americans as miscreants when the latter err. Iran’s failure to respect its NPT safeguards commitments prior to 2003, ill-disposes American officials to accord Iranian representatives the respect the latter crave.  There’s a risk Iran’s negotiators will be made to feel like criminal suspects invited to engage in plea-bargaining.

For their part, the Iranians have a tendency to give way to the temptation to retaliate when instead keeping a stiff upper lip would be wiser. For instance, they retaliated for the 2006 reporting of their IAEA non-compliance to the Security Council by ceasing to allow the IAEA the access it needed to arrive at the conclusion that there are no undeclared nuclear activities or material in Iran.  They retaliated for recent UK sanctions on financial dealings by trashing the British embassy in Tehran, an act of vandalism ill-calculated to make it easier for the British government to accept their enrichment activities. Will they be able to resist the urge to retaliate if some indignity is inflicted on them while negotiations are underway?

These wider factors suggest that India, Brazil and South Africa could play a part in resolving this controversy if they chose.  They could act as auxiliaries of their BRICS partners, Russia and China, whose role in a negotiating process will be to help narrow differences.  India could use its influence in Washington and European capitals to urge patience and the turning of deaf ears to special pleading from Israel and Saudi Arabia. It could draw attention to the way in which Western slowness to accept evidence that the Iranian nuclear threat had been exaggerated, has damaged Indian economic interests.

India could also stress the unacceptability of any attack on Iran that has not been authorised by the Security Council, both on legal grounds and on account of its probable consequences for Indian living standards. It could draw on 2,500 years of cultural affinity with Iran to offer advice on Iranian sensibilities: the dos and don’ts that matter in any negotiation.

The underlying need is for the BRICS to make their voice heard on this issue, to counter-point the tunes composed by the West’s Middle East allies. The BRICS are qualified to argue against seeing Iran’s nuclear programme in isolation. They can point out that the programme is a symbol of a geostrategic shift: Iran is slowly returning to the ranks of Asia’s greater powers.

This shift is unwelcome to some of Iran’s neighbours, it seems.  They have sought to prevent it by distorting Western perceptions, by encouraging Western governments to assume the worst of a state whose intentions the West finds it hard to fathom, and by playing on the negative prejudices that are the legacy of past clashes with Iran.

But this kind of shift cannot be prevented without a conflict that would entail hardship or suffering for most of mankind. So the global family has an interest in Iran’s neighbours accommodating what can hardly be prevented, and according Iran a say in the affairs of South West Asia – what the Iranians see as their rightful place in the world.


*Peter Jenkins is a former British diplomat who worked on the Iranian nuclear issue when ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna (2001-06).


Can the American and Pakistani Positions on Islamic Militancy be Reconciled?

In this article, the author delves into the relationship between the United States and Pakistan in context of the Islamic Militancy in the extended region of Afghanistan-Pakistan. 

By Camille Maubert, 10th April, 2012

In 2001, Pakistan allied itself with the US on the grounds that it would assist in the War on Terror’s effort to tackle terrorism. At the time, the two countries’ interests seemed to coincide, as they had a common target – Al Qaeda and foreign fighters. Yet, from 2003 onwards, the expansion of the American war against the Taliban and its increased pressure on Pakistan to act against the Islamic militants who use the Afghan-Pakistani border to provide the Taliban with safe havens put the Pakistani leadership in a difficult situation. The unpreparedness of Pakistan to answer the US’s demands to repress these groups led to the current diplomatic standoff whereby there seems to be no alignment of strategic interests, let alone coordination between the US and Pakistan, and their respective policies remain fundamentally adversarial.

The premise of this study is to challenge the current understanding of the situation, which is overwhelmingly based on perceptions and representations rather than real insight into Islamic militancy.

Islamic Jihad or Pakistani Nationalism?

Despite the consensus on the decisive role played by militant organizations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and the Haqqani network in providing safe havens, logistical support and training to Taliban fighters, important questions like “who are the militants, who is supporting them and why?” are overlooked.

There is a strong argument that the reason why Islamic militants have such an overwhelming presence in the Afghan-Pakistani border region is because of the radicalisation of the population by madrassas and its sympathy for the jihadi ideology. Such an approach is flawed as it conveys a stereotypical understanding of the militant reality, and overlooks the deeper psychological and political fault lines underpinning it. Indeed, Islamic militants are fighting a revolutionary jihad for ideological purposes, to reform the state and impose a radical version of Islam. Conversely, most Pakistanis practice a more moderate version of Islam and thus do not support radical groups out of sympathy for their ideological agenda. Rather, those who join militant groups put forward reasons that stem from collusion, misinformation, support for the Afghan jihad and, mostly, Pakistani nationalism. Indeed, invasive American actions (drone strikes) have propped up support for militant groups out of patriotic sentiment. In other words, militant organisations have hijacked the nationalist concept of jihad as used during partition, and widely supported by Pakistanis, to justify violent action (against American infringements on Pakistani sovereignty and denounce the subordination of Pakistani leaders to American will (A 2009 Gallup Survey reveals that 59% of Pakistanis consider the US as the biggest threat, while only 11% chose the Taliban). As a result, support for Islamic militants spreads more easily through the various layers of Pakistani society, as they claim to act in the defence of the Muslim nation from external domination.

Therefore, it is the failure of Western analysts to make the distinction between ideologically motivated militants and nationalist Pakistanis that makes cooperation difficult. In the US, the post 9/11 environment and the need to mobilise people against terrorism promoted an unsophisticated understanding of what Islamic militancy is about by having the media “fuse shots of Osama Bin Laden, veiled women, (…) and riots in Kashmir and Palestine, thereby lending the visual impression that the West is confronted with a crazy, irrational faith” (Majid 2010:101). This securitisation of Islamic militancy is intrinsically flawed because it promotes an all-encompassing understanding that merges ideological and nationalist agendas into the same threat, making its targeting indiscriminate and, ultimately, counter-productive. Conversely, the Pakistani approach to Islamic militancy recognises that some elements – the Pakistani Taliban – do represent a threat, but it also acknowledges that it cannot crack down on those organisations as most jihadi groups historically enjoyed state sanction to wage jihad against the state’s enemies in the name of Islam and the Nation. Therefore, it is necessary to explore the relationship between the Pakistani state and Islamic groups in order to understand its reluctance to implement direct military action against them.

Islamic Groups as Pakistan’s Strategic Asset

Were the Pakistani civilian government willing to cooperate with the US, such commitment would only be a shallow promise if it proves to be unable – or unwilling – to convince the military and Inter-Services Intelligence to abide by its will. Not only is Zardari’s government unable to do so – given the historical weakness of Pakistani civilian governments – but it will not, as this would undermine the Pakistani strategic doctrine as a whole. Indeed, Islamic militants have been and remain the most reliable linchpin for Pakistan to project power where it matters; Kashmir. Since Partition, Islamic radicals and the army have teamed together to construct and secure Pakistan’s sovereignty and identity through the tactical use of guerilla warfare in Pakistan’s border regions.

Therefore, the reason why Pakistan does not – and will not – act against Kashmiri-based groups is that its whole foreign policy is founded upon issues of (Muslim) national identity, meaning that it uses militancy to challenge the Indian regional domination. Since this discourse informs Pakistan’s very identity narrative and exercises a powerful hold on the national imagination, it is impossible for Pakistani leaders to renounce it, especially as its influence has been reinvigorated by the fight for (Muslim) freedom in neighboring Afghanistan.

Similarly, Afghanistan is an aspect of Pakistan’s Indian policy. Indeed, Pakistan’s actions in Afghanistan are determined by its entrenched fear of encirclement and the necessity to limit Indian influence at its Western flank. Successive governments have therefore maintained strategic links with Islamic groups in Afghanistan and supported a proxy war aimed at undermining Indian assets. Interestingly, the post 2001 security environment increased the links between Kashmiri and Afghan groups, thereby strengthening the legitimacy of local groups and undermining the ability of the state to identify and target specific individuals.

However, this apparent predicament serves Pakistani interests in the long term; Aware of the need to preserve strategic depth against India and a friendly government in Afghanistan, Pakistan has no interest in withdrawing support to Afghan Islamic militants and the Pakistani groups that prop them up.

Questions like “how much support these groups truly get from the army and the ISI, and how much of it is provided by independent individuals”, remains unanswered. Yet what is clear is that the problem to which Pakistan is confronted with regards to Islamic militancy is one of control. Pakistan is in a situation where the state created organisations on the basis of identity for (geo)political purposes but has lost control over them as they were reinforced by traditional values and developed a life of their own. In effect, not only are Islamic organisations attractive to some sections of the population, they also are ingrained in the state apparatus – they recruit retired personnel from and have relatives working for the army. Given the kinship base of the Pakistani society, this makes them extremely difficult to root out. Consequently, Pakistan understands that disarming the militants would cause more damage than turning a blind eye, as it may lead to an internal conflict of interests within the army between pro-Western and nationalist elements. Such situation, it has been argued, would provoke the collapse of the only strong institution able of holding the state together.

Furthermore, the areas in which militancy is highest are those where the state doesn’t exert authority or governance – North West Frontier Province, Balochistan, Kyber-Pukhtoonkhwa. In these areas, the pre-eminence of Islamic organisations is all the more important that they fill the power vacuum and provide the population with social services that the state is failing to supply. The most notable example is that of LeT’s charity wing Jamaat ud-Dawa (JuD). After the 2005 earthquake and 2010 floods, JuD provided immediate relief to the population and further integrated itself at the grassroots level. As a result, LeT has been increasingly able to act independently from state sponsor, another reason for Pakistan not to provoke any rupture. What is needed, therefore, is a solution that acknowledges the structural weaknesses of the Pakistani state, the strength of its society, and promotes negotiation rather than coercion.

A Path to Reconciliation?

The difficulty with both US and Pakistani positions is that they are directly reliant on the states’ narratives. In that sense, finding a solution implies that they would have to compromise on those narratives. This is unlikely to happen since, on one hand, the American demands are based on the deeply entrenched ideological principles of the War on Terror, and, on the other hand, the Pakistani reluctance to comply is rooted in the certitude that militants are necessary to its regional strategy – and to an extent its national identity.

These discursive incompatibilities are reinforced by the process of securitisation at play. By framing Islamic militancy as a security threat, the US – and some pro-Western Pakistani civilian leaders – has promoted a military solution, which limits are becoming more visible. The protests steered by drone strikes and the backlashes met by the Pakistani army in Federally Administrated Tribal Areas and North West Frontier Province demonstrate that the use of force is ultimately inefficient as it increases anti-Americanism, steers sympathy for militants, and further disturbs Pakistan’s unstable political landscape.

As observed above, the reason why cooperation has so far failed between the two allies is the mismatch of each other’s vital interests. While the US demands are informed by the short-term requirements of its Afghan strategy, the Pakistani position is determined by a long-term approach to militancy and regional security. In addition, the securitisation process has led to a situation where the US promotes an all-encompassing definition of the militant threat which pushes for the elimination of all organisations linked to Islamic militancy. But what it fails to understand is that Islamic militancy is deeply rooted in the Pakistani society and state apparatus and, as such, it cannot simply be isolated or suppressed.

Therefore, any solution to the problem posed by Islamic militancy would have to acknowledge that it is not only a security threat but rather a socio-economic and nationalist phenomenon. Additionally, it would have to recognise Pakistan’s structural weaknesses and its lack of capacity to impose its will on some sections of the population. Pakistan is a negotiated state, which means that coercive measures from the top-down are unlikely to be successful if they are not supported by local stakeholders. In finding a solution, Pakistan itself has a role to play, as it would have to acknowledge its need for a consistent strategy against its home grown militants – which it lacks so far – to ease cooperation with the US and start to positively engage the militants.

There is a growing understanding that soft power is ultimately more likely to successfully change militant behaviours and counter the growth of violent extremism as it impacts directly on the grass roots level. Indeed, long-term American engagement in issues like education and development would decrease its perception by the population as a security threat and help diffuse more positive representations. Tactical attempts have mostly proven to be successful, as shown by the American help in flood relief in 2010. However, this policy so far happens to be unsuccessful on the strategic level as its positive contribution in winning Pakistanis’ hearts and minds is outbalanced by the negative impact of drone attacks. Therefore, in order to decrease the scale of Islamic militancy, Pakistan would have to restore its sense of sovereignty, which means that the US would have to cease its activities across the border. At the time of writing, such evolution is yet to happen. This is due to the intense climate of mistrust that characterises the relationship between the US and Pakistan, whereby neither side seems to be willing to tone its rhetoric – and demands – down for fear of being thought to make concessions on its narrative.

Islamic militancy highlights the complexity of the US-Pakistan bilateral relation by confronting their intrinsically different strategic and identity narratives. One demands a rapid military solution, the other prioritises its long-terms interests, and both are informed by domestic pressure and ideological discourses. Only when those uncomfortable realities are acknowledged will dialogue be possible. Ultimately, the militant challenge puts the ability of the two allies to engage in a long-term partnership to a test as it will show whether conflicting demands can be complemented by common goals.

The UN Human Rights Council Resolution on Sri Lanka’s Alleged War Crimes

In this article, the author explores the resolution’s impact on Sri Lanka, and its probable implications with reference to Sri Lanka.

By Rithika Nair, 3rd April, 2012

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) judgment on Sri Lanka’s efforts at post-conflict reconstruction, invited an abundance of opinions and debate globally. Newspapers cried out country decisions to the US sponsored resolution with regard to their foreign policies, domestic policies and moral policies. In lending an ear to all the global justifications and rationalizations, the importance shifted away from what Sri Lanka had to say with regard to the resolution and its possible impact on the island.

In 2010, the Government of Sri Lanka created the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) suo moto, to look into the causes of the conflict, its consequences on the people, and to promote national unity and reconciliation. The LLRC, though criticized for overlooking the violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by the Sri Lankan army, stated that there were “considerable” civilian casualties. This was opposed to the government claims, which insisted on a zero-casualty rate.

The international community had already begun to push Sri Lanka to begin its post-conflict reconstruction agenda.  The LLRC report increased this demand for the Sri Lankan government to act – prosecute those who were accountable for civilian massacres, and bring relief to those displaced and devastated by the war.

This never happened.

The disappointing LLRC report largely exonerating the government, and the subsequent government inaction to suggested accountability procedures encouraged the international community to act.

In March 2012, the US submitted a resolution at the 19th session of the UNHRC, urging the Sri Lankan government “to address serious allegations of violations of international law by initiating credible and independent investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for such violations.” The resolution, after being slightly amended to word that the implementation of any external advice or investigation by the Human Rights Commissioner or Special Procedures must unfold only “in consultation with and the concurrence of ” the Sri Lankan government, was passed with 24 votes in favour, 15 against, and 8 abstentions.

The closing of Sri Lankan embassies in Europe, the threats to human rights defenders and the anti-Americanism in Sri Lanka are some of the immediate effects of the resolution. But it’s long-term implications – constructive and destructive, are nothing but analytical renderings as of now.

The resolution with its honorouble intentions could be a possible check on the quasi-dictatorship of Mahinda Rajapaksa. It could be the warning hand on the back, reminding Sri Lanka of what it had promised to deliver three years ago, a paternal gesture offering assistance if needed. It could imply that dialogue and soft diplomacy may harden, and the whispers of a ‘South Asian Spring’ may jump to reality with an international demand for the removal of Rajapaksa from his throne. With the Sri Lankan Tamils still dissatisfied with their government’s empty promises of reconciliation, and Sinhalese human rights activists being called traitors if they stood up for the Tamils, it would not be long before Sri Lanka could walk the line with Maldives, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia. If such a future be predicted, then the precautionary resolution – a very fair and balanced one, has been passed at a very appropriate juncture.

The resolution may have been a UN step to avoid being blamed for not taking action. Perhaps the UN was guilty of its own lack of action while the crisis unfolded over 26 years. Then, the resolution is but a ticking pendulum, softly but notably reminding Sri Lanka of its obligations and responsibility – and in doing so, delivering rehabilitation and hopeful justice to the victims of the war – the people of Sri Lanka.

On the other hand, the resolution placed the ball back in the Lankan court, and it ordered the multi-faced Lankan king to finish what he had promised to do. It asked him to submit an action plan detailing what he had done, and will do to implement the LLRC recommendations, and to address all matters that violated international law.

The king, with all ten heads, rejected the resolution.

Neither he nor his court thought that it added any value to the humanitarian and justice implementation process in Sri Lanka. They felt the resolution was ‘counterproductive’, ‘ill-timed’, and ‘an unwarranted initiative’. They perceived the supporters and sponsors of the resolution to be LTTE sympathizers – those who underestimated the violence and trauma that the LTTE had unleashed upon them. They felt that the unpunished situations in Afghanistan, Iraq and India removed the moral legitimacy of the resolution.  Lobbying against the vote in Geneva transcended into anti-America lobbying, and human rights activists and defenders of the resolution were threatened in Sri Lanka. In such circumstances, the significance of the resolution is undermined.

This resolution should not and cannot be rejected by comparing them to conflict situations where deeds committed by the sponsors and supporters go unchecked. This matter pertains to and reflects on Sri Lanka, and Sri Lanka alone. This does not mean that this case supersedes any of the other situations, but the current context is Sri Lanka, and that should be respected. If the world and its leaders were to act and re-act following the policy of every eye for an eye, and every tooth for a tooth, the vicious cycle of blame and revenge would never stop spinning.

However, as the ambassador for Bangladesh very prudently stated at the Council session, if Sri Lanka is not on board, then the resolution will have a very limited impact. Without the Sri Lankan nod to implement efficient rehabilitation and accountability measures, the resolution is but an empty bell with no sound.

Marriage Equality: What’s the Big Deal?

In this article, the author looks at how marriage equality has become one of the most popularized social issues du jour in American national politics. By examining racial attitudes and the Obama administration’s evolving stance on the matter, LGBT activists are brimming with hope that a reelection of Obama could pave the way for a repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act and the legalization of same-sex marriage on a federal level by 2016. 

By Matthias Pauwels, 31st March, 2012

‘They’re losing California. Inch by inch, sit back and watch it go.’ 

If film director Gus Van Sant ever decides to follow up on his critically acclaimed Harvey Milk biopic with a Proposition 8 film adaption, ‘Losing California’ by Canadian rock band Sloan could easily wind up on the film’s soundtrack, voicing the bitter and biggest defeat gay activists in California have faced since Milk’s unabashed activism of the 1970’s.

The United States has always liked to boast its much vaunted liberalism on social issues, but when Californians cast their ballot vote in favor of a state-wide constitutional ban on gay marriage in November 2008, it not only marked the end of same-sex unions in the Golden State, but also of the most expensive social-issue ballot in American national history. A triumph for social conservatism, Proposition 8 had crushed the LGBT community’s hopes that California would become one of the vanguards for the legalization of same-sex marriage across the nation, and turned liberal America into an emotional wasteland. To many, the actual passing of Proposition 8 defied all logic, especially in the context of  California’s rich history as a historical trailblazer in the fight for gay rights. And even though New York  fared a better deal with the passing of the Marriage Equality Act in a tight majority vote in 2011, it was a legislative tour de force fuelled only by a favorable power momentum in the New York Senate amongst Democrats and Republicans.

From a concept cradled by John Locke to the dominant political force in the Western hemisphere today, liberalism has triumphantly survived two world wars and major ideological challenges from fascism and communism. For several centuries now, a strong focus on human rights has been one of the paramount liberal tenets. But for gay men and women everywhere, the harsh reality of liberalism’s shadow side often revealed that human rights did not encompass gay rights, a perception which was publicly invalidated only last December by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at International Human Rights Day in Geneva. The gay community has come a long way since New York’s Stonewall riots in the late 1960s or Harvey Milk’s assassination in 1978 but  nonetheless the 21st century was ushered in without absolute gender equality.


‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, a controversial military policy barring openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers from military service was only recently repealed under the Obama administration, setting the official end date of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ for September 20, 2011. Furthermore, the sodomy law in Texas, classifying consensual, adult homosexuality as illegal sodomy, was only struck down in 2003 in the landmark Lawrence vs. Texas Supreme Court case.

For the past five years, the intensifying debate over same-sex marriage has become the new social issue du jour, marking a clear and distinct cleavage between religious traditionalism and progressivism.  Widening the gap between social conservatives and liberals, the issue of marriage equality echoes the growing pains of gender equality in the 21st century. Its global legislative struggle fully testifies to the fact that it is still a deeply divisive and emotional issue on both sides of the fence. From the majestic Golden Gate Bridge to the Big Apple, the United States has been a perpetual arena of conflict and contention on the issue of marriage equality. The religiousness of America’s social conservatives and their moral objections have more than once provided a filibuster on the matter, but what the Rick Santorums or Kirk Camerons of this world fail to see is that gay people’s longings to be wedded is fundamentally conservative, as New York Times columnist Frank Bruni notes. Once denounced as sexual libertines who brazenly flouted society’s norms, the fundamental message of the LGBT community is that marriage is an institution worth aspiring and fighting for. In a time where more than half of births to American women under 30 happen outside marriage and the divorce rate estimate of first marriages flirts with the 50% mark, the LGBT community is surprisingly pleading for a return to conservatism – only to be told by many, including political leaders, that that’s not O.K. either. So is the only possible takeaway for gay couples then to remain outliers forevermore, unworthy of the experiences and affirmations accorded others?

Not recognized on a federal level due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [1], same-sex marriages are state-bound with marriage rights granted in Massachussets, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Iowa, plus Washington D.C. and Oregon’s Coquille Indian tribe. Earlier this year, Maryland approved a draft bill to legalize same-sex marriage. The Maryland vote came one day after Washington became the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage, adding to national momentum for gay nuptials across the States.

But why do some states succeed in legalizing gay marriage where others, such as New Jersey, have failed? In the end, does it all depend on a favorable Democrat vs. Republican power momentum in the State Senate? There are two main elements that are instrumental in gaining state-wide support for a gay marriage bill. Firstly, any bill  – especially those which touch upon the social fibres of society – trigger a period of lobbying to build support for the respective piece of legislation, which can be a long and tedious process. On the issue of same-sex marriage, New York saw its judicial system stymied by a political cat-and-mouse game between the Assembly and the Senate that eventually dragged on for seven years. Each time, a draft bill was approved in the Assembly but shot down consecutively in the New York State Senate. As Senators came and went and a long process of shadow diplomacy unfolded, it was eventually the adding of a discrimination clause for religious institutions, allowing them the freedom to refrain from performing same-sex marriages, that provided the much-needed swing vote in favor of the Marriage Equality Act. A similar clause was paramount to the legalization of gay marriage in Maryland and has also been added to a draft marriage bill introduced in the Illinois House of Representatives in February.

Across the pond, the United Kingdom faces the exact same challenge. The UK government has launched a 12-week consultation in support of a process that would legalize same-sex marriage by 2015 for England and Wales. And while Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone said that the state should rejoice in people’s desire to marry, senior church figures, as well as a number of conservative MP’s, were getting in gear to oppose the measure. Here the inclusion of a discrimination act, regarding protection against discrimination lawsuits for ‘benevolent organisations or religious groups refusing to provide accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges related to the solemnisation or celebration of marriage’ could appease members of the Church of England, giving the Cameron administration an incentive to unequivocally approve on the measure.

Gay people have a dream too: the racial minority vote on legalizing same-sex marriage

Another interesting factor relating to the perception of gay marriage is how the racial factor will play out. In the aftermath of the narrowly approved Proposition 8 in California and in the search for answers, it did not take long before another well-publicized story made national headlines, pointing the finger at a rather surprising culprit for swinging the ballot in favor of Proposition 8: California’s racial minorities. Exit polling indicated that roughly 70% of blacks had cast their ballots in favor of Proposition 8, together with 53% of Latino Californians, 49% of Asians, and 51% from those of other racial or ethnic identity.  The American media quickly dubbed this the ‘Obama effect’, since the 2008 presidential election happened to coincide with its Californian state counterpart, causing racial minorities to cast their votes in large numbers. These figures quickly sparked the debate that Latino and black Californians had backed the proposed same-sex marriage ban at rates higher than whites, aiding to provide the margin of victory. These results were disappointing to many gay rights activists who had hoped that the election of Barack Obama to the White House would usher in a new era of advances on gay rights, but gave cheer to Proposition 8 proponents who believed that the issue of same-sex marriage had been revealed to be a potent issue dividing liberal Californians on the basis of race and ethnicity. In California, the evangelical community was well aware of the black community’s sensitive stance on gay rights, and chose to target Californian African Americans in a manner they saw fit. Just days before the general election on the 4th November 2008, the ‘ProtectMarriage.com – Yes on 8’ campaign targeted African Americans in Oakland and the San Francisco Bay area with rather misleading mailers featuring Obama and several African American pastors, suggesting that Obama heavily favored a ban on same-sex marriage. Efforts to target the black and Latino community were primarily channeled via a clerical framework, and since both ethnic communities traditionally strongly identify themselves with Christian movements, the stakes were high for Evangelicals in reeling the Latino and black communities in to join their crusade against same-sex marriage.

Religion is a powerful tool that has been shown to structure attitudes across an array of issues, and it is particularly relevant to the discourse-framing dynamic investigated here, given the importance of gay issues to religious communities and churches. While Latino and African American communities tend to embrace traditionalism on matters of morality and are highly religious, they usually affect ballot voting in different ways, with strongly Latino districts traditionally enhancing support for gay issues, and strongly African American districts depressing support for them. However, this theory can easily be undermined. In the case of Proposition 8, registered Latino voters clearly did not support the concept of same-sex marriage as gay activists would have hoped.  Gay marriage has recently become legal in Maryland, but a draft bill on the issue died in the Maryland House of Representatives last year following strong opposition from several African-American lawmakers. In fact, race has proven to be a sharply divisive factor on the issue of same-sex marriage in Maryland. Maryland Democrats, who hold majorities in both chambers of the legislature, are sharply divided by race. A Washington Post poll published in January showed that among whites in Maryland, 71% back same-sex unions, while only 41% of blacks support it. Button, Rienzo, and Wald’s research [2] indicate that while African Americans tend to support the notion of equality opportunities for homosexuals, they tend to be less supportive of civil rights advancements or protections, which in the case of Propostion 8 could explain the alleged high number of African American proponents. Moreover, a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released in March 2012 showed support for marriage equality amongst African Americans at 50% – which may prove that there still is a great deal of division amongst the black community on the issue.

But is the ethnic community really to blame for America’s sluggish and capricious advancements on gay marriage? Not really. A number of important characteristics that shape Americans’ view on many important political issues – including party identification, ideology, and religiosity – have simultaneously played strong and pivotal roles in determining the choices of individual votes. Research has shown that a thorough analysis of the structure of black, Latino and white attitudes on same-sex marriage finds that after accounting for differences among demographics, partisanship, and core values, interracial group differences in opinion on the issue are unsubstantial.

In California, all Latino, black and Asian registered voters were still a minority compared to its Caucasian counterpart. Even if all Latino, black and Asian registered voters had voted against the ballot initiative, Proposition 8 still would have passed due to the high number of Caucasian voters eligible to vote, and their high support for the same-sex marriage ban.

Earlier this week, confidential memos were made public in a courtroom in Maine, revealing the National Organizaton for Marriage’s attempt to drive a wedge between the LGBT and ethnic communities during its winning campaign to ban same-sex marriage in the US state of Maine. The documents detail the anti-gay organization’s active interest in fanning the hostility between the LGBT and the black and Latino communities in an attempt to stymie any advancement of gay civil rights in Maine. For anti-gay lobbying groups, the stakes remain high in targeting ethnic communities to endorse the crusade against same-sex marriage. But with the tides of time turning and support for same-sex marriage reaching an all-time high, how long will a conservative approach on the issue hold out?

The Obama administration and marriage equality

So where is marriage equality to go from here in the United States? As gay activists nationwide count their wins and losses, the only certainty they seem to have is that any advancement on LGBT rights is highly dependent on who is in the White House.

During his 2008 presidential election campaign, Obama took what many on both sides of the gay marriage debate viewed as a straddle. While publicly denouncing the California ballot proposition measure, he also communicated his opposition to same-sex marriage, leaving gay activists puzzled by his unwillingness to endorse gay marriage. And although Obama criticized the divisive and discrimatory nature of Proposition 8, the abstruseness of his argument was reflected in how he squared his position for overall equality with his refusal to embrace actual equality in marriage.

Once elected, Obama has upped the ante in conveying his equality message. Although having never publicly endorsed same-sex marriage, the Obama administration has been adamant towards communicating its progressive stance on equality in a post-Proposition 8 era. By repealing ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’, endorsing initiatives such as the ‘It Gets Better’ campaign, offering hope and support for LGBT youth who are struggling with being bullied, and hosting a high-profile LGBT event at the White House in 2011, the President of the United States has made no secret of his firm belief in equality for all. And for those willing to read between the lines, Obama’s opposition to a constitutional amendment defining marriage as a union between one man and one woman, indicates that his full endorsement of civil unions with federal benefits for all is similar to his understanding of the institution of marriage, although his Christian beliefs do not allow him to communicate this. Praising New York in 2011 on the legalization of same-sex marriage while tiptoeing around a public endorsement of the issue testifies to the aforementioned.

If anyone has taken the least equivocal stance on gay marriage, it has to be First Lady Michelle Obama. In March, while campaigning for her husband’s second term in the Oval Office, Michelle Obama reminded people twice that it is the president who makes appointments to the US Supreme Court and that those appointments could impact gay marriage.

Asked about the First Lady’s comments, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney later issued the following statement: ‘the president and first lady firmly believe that gay and lesbian Americans and their families deserve legal protections and the ability to thrive just like any family does. The first lady has said she is proud of his accomplishments, including the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ ensuring hospital visitation rights and calling for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and obviously our actions attached. Our decision not to defend DOMA is well known.’

Having famously remained neutral on the same-sex marriage issue throughout his first term, Obama has communicated he is ‘evolving’ on the issue. But what does evolving really entail? Is that just a clever word politicans throw around not to take a stance? An unexptected surge in support to place same-sex marriage on the Democratic Party platform at the August 2012 convention has energized LGBT advocates and complicated an already delicate situation facing Obama’s reelection campaign. Gay activists are brimming with hope that any evolvement which will affect their civil rights further on a federal level will happen in his second term in office. Obama has done reasonably well during his first term in office on gay rights, and a reelection could give him the political green card to further push for equality and possible tackle the Defense of Marriage Act.


The issue of LGBT rights and marriage equality has already proven to be an important factor in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries, and it will be incredibly interesting to see how this social issue will play out in an Obama vs. Romney showdown.

[1] The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), enacted 21st September 1996, is a United States federal law that defines marriage as the legal union between one man and one woman. The law passed both houses of Congress by large majorities and was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton on 21st September, 1996..

[2] Button, J.; Rienzo, B.; Wald, K., 1997. Sexual Orientation and Education Politics. Gay and Lesbian Representation in American Schools. In: APSA (American Political Science Association), 1999 Annual Meeting.

China in Afghanistan: Valuable Ally or Emerging Threat?

In this article, the author explores the competing US and Chinese discourses on China’s Peaceful rise strategy, using the PRC’s economic involvement in Afghanistan as a case study. It argues that although China’s interest in Afghanistan is perceived and framed as a threat by the US, it also represents a momentous opportunity for Afghanistan and its neighbors.

By Camille Maubert, 17th March, 2012

Karzai’s attempt to build an Afghanistan with American democratic characteristics and Chinese economic dynamism highlights the delicate positioning at play, whereby Afghanistan is subjected to different and sometimes contradictory foreign influences. Indeed, while the US is the biggest player in Afghanistan, China is also preparing to assume a long-term role in the country. In fact, the successful Chinese Metallurgical Corporation’s bid on the Aynak copper mine in Lowgar province, worth US$4 billion, promoted China as the largest single foreign investor in the country’s history. This had the West shudder by reminding it how powerful – and potentially threatening – a neighbor the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is.

“We do the heavy lifting and they pick up the fruits” – the American narrative

Since 2001, China’s involvement in the country shifted from disinterest to ever-growing investments in the country’s infrastructures, mineral wealth and agriculture. However, its expanding commercial interests are deeply controversial because of their political reach. Indeed, China, who has gained control of strategic assets without shooting a single bullet, has been accused of free-riding on the stability provided by the American troops in order to secure access to natural resources. In fact, American troops not only bring general security in the Logar province, but they also trained the 1500 Afghan National Police soldiers who are directly protecting the infrastructures.

This behavior is perceived as unacceptable because of China’s refusal to share the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)’s burden. Indeed, the Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson, Mr Gang, made it clear that it is “out of the question to send Chinese troops (…) in Afghanistan” and discounted NATO’s request to use the Wakhan corridor for logistical supplies. This is interpreted as an indirect confrontation with US interests and goals in the region; and seen with suspicion by the West. Arguably, it is assumed that there is a correlation between increased economic power and amplified political weight; that is to say that because China expands its economic assets in Afghanistan, it will inevitably increase its political influence by the same token. Some indeed fear that China’s business in Afghanistan and Central Asia could alter the balance of power in areas vital to the US’s strategic interests.

By shunning away from any major security role and distancing itself from ISAF, China conveys the image of a profit-focused actor who utilizes its powerful national companies to expand influence in Afghanistan and who doesn’t balk at dealing with rogue actors. Indeed, while China benefits from the US tackling transnational Islamic terrorism, it also adopts a very cautious and balanced diplomacy with both the United States and the Taliban: Being a direct target of terrorist activities because of its policy on Xinjiang’s Muslim minority, and Aynak being located in a potentially Taliban-controlled area, China is in effect willing compromise with all regional actors to maintain stability.

However, the depiction of China’s involvement in Afghanistan and the wider region as a threat to Western interests is biased by the widespread “China Threat theory” which impregnates Western analysis. Because Western interpretations of China’s role in Afghanistan derives from the way the West sees China –as a threat – and the way it sees itself – as liberal and benevolent – it is fair to assume that an examination of the Chinese discourse is needed in order to grasp the other side of the story.

Afghanistan and the Direct Investment Model – The Chinese narrative

What distinguishes China from other actors in the Afghan reconstruction is its outstanding ability to project funds into unstable and high-risk areas. Indeed, its national companies have the capability to deal with risks associated with investing in remote and unsecure regions where Western companies cannot – yet – penetrate. The China Metallurgical Group, by accepting the risks associated with such investment and adding incentives like the building of infrastructures – power plant, hospital, mosque – outbid the West.

The comparative advantage of China over American and European investors is rooted in its Direct Investment model, which offers loans below market rates and have the attractive feature of not associating economic development with political reforms. Indeed, while Western donors and investors condition aid on democratic and human rights improvements, for developing countries like Afghanistan, China’s policy of non-intervention in internal affairs is appealing because it allows them to prioritize economic development. This strategy has been criticized in the West because it is seen as providing support for authoritarian regimes; but, so far, it seems more successful in bringing stability to war-torn countries that Western humanitarian and counter-insurgency missions. Based on successful results in Africa, this macro-level system will have a positive impact on Afghan stability in that it will promote a virtuous circle of economic development in the wider region – Central Asia, Xinjiang, Afghanistan – and will reduce Afghanistan’s dependence on international aid, therefore advancing the wider American goal of stability.

The reason for and implication of such strategy resides in China’s primary security interest in its Western province of Xinjiang. The PRC is indeed most concerned about cross-border terrorism coming from its Western and Southern neighbors. Despite the militarization of its borders and the increased security cooperation with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, China is very vulnerable to Islamic militancy spillovers from Afghanistan and the Pakistani safe havens. Hence the implementation of a cautious policy of economic development and support to Afghanistan’s reconstruction which enforces stability while at the same time remaining distant from the US initiatives to avoid being associated with the controversial War on Terror.

By providing training to the Afghan police and anti-drug factions, investing in local resources and promoting cooperation between Central Asian governments on the “three evils” – fundamentalism, terrorism and separatism – China aims to maintain dialogue and cooperation and consolidate its long-term presence. This calculation is based on the assumption that by developing a Central Asian economic sphere – in which the opening of the Wakhan corridor would play a crucial role in reviving the Silk Road – China will securely reinforce its economic rise while avoiding becoming the target of Islamic militantism.

One could safely assume from its involvement in Afghanistan that China is pursuing a narrow interpretation of its interests. Although the PRC officially adheres to the shared principles of the War on Terror such as anti-terrorism – from which it profits to legitimize its Xinjiang policy – or anti-narcotics, it also rejects the all-encompassing US strategy and rather prioritizes domestic security and development. Indeed, China claims that far from seeking regional hegemony, it wishes to preserve the international order and pursue its national interest within it.

Afghanistan at the cross-roads of the US-China agendas

What stems from those two conflicting narratives is that the stereotypical distinction between a disinterested West and a voracious China is not relevant in the sense that it stems from ideological perceptions rather than rational observation. Consequently, the idea of China as a threat doesn’t stem from the reality of it as an expanding power but rather from “perceptions, especially those regarding the potential that Beijing will become an example, source or model that contradicts Western liberalism as the reigning paradigm” (Stephen Chan 1999). Indeed, because China, by making profits in Afghanistan, doesn’t fit in the normative expectations of the US on how it should act, it is displayed as a threat to global peace. This means that the idea of China as a threat to the regional status quo is more a self-fulfilling prophecy than an actual reality in the sense that, by framing China as a menace, the US may not only push it towards brinkmanship but also lose its attractiveness to the Afghan government and people, and therefore further get bogged down.

Afghanistan is the place where two narratives and strategic cultures met – the Western fear of losing its hegemony and the Chinese confidence in expanding its economy. Because China’s domestic and economic concerns shape its approach to foreign policy, it is engaging with Afghanistan in its own terms, which is understood as a threat by the West but also as an unmatched opportunity by Afghanistan.

Three Myths about China and its Relationship with the US

In this article, the author busts three myths about China and its relationship with the United States. 

By Mikael Santelli-Bensouda, 5th March, 2012

Many things have been written regarding the relationship between China and America, most of which is founded upon a sense of speculation that emerges from a state of fear. The general assumption is as follows: China is acting unilaterally and belligerently to undermine and overtake the US, initially through economic means and later through traditional military means. This is not the case. The China threat perception has been, in recent times, blown out of proportion. This can be verified by examining what’s really going on between these two behemoths.

Myth 1

What we are told: China manipulates its currency at a low rate to provide it’s exported goods with an unfair advantage in the international arena. This leads to the assumption that the Chinese are callously stealing American jobs as part of a long-term strategy to control the entire US economy through debt absorption. Akin to a puppet master, China is positioning itself to both dominate and manipulate the American economy.

What’s really going on: Contrary to popular sentiment, $1.175 trillion of America debt in Chinese hands, does not necessarily leave America in a weak position. By holding such an absurd amount of debt, China too is exposed to an enormous risk. The much-sighted scenario’s regarding this toxic wealth largely unfolds like this: The Chinese recall their investment and the US economy crumbles. This will cause a chain reaction that severly impacts the global economy from which China’s export based economy will be hit hard. However, there is also an alternate, and more likely scenario; The US either refuse to pay the debt or default on the amount, leaving Beijing with a financial whole over $1 trillion dollar. Regardless of how cash rich China is, losing $1.175 trillion is a moral blow to any powerful nation. The most reassuring thing is that neither scenario is likely. Largely, this is because both nations understand the necessity of current state of affairs and there is a pragmatic acceptance that they are equally reliant on the other economically.

Talk of a currency war, especially during the republican candidate election is one of the foremost contentious issues in the relationship. The argument put forward is that the Chinese have pegged the Yuan to the Dollar to keep its value low and consequently manage Chinese exported goods uncompetitively low. Without question, this is true. It is also not illegal nor against ‘the rules’ of the international markets. In fact, the reason there has been so much furore regarding the matter is that this policy facilitates continuous Chinese economic growth in a time of American stagnation, much to Washington’s frustration. A simplistic reading of capitalism suggests that production will move to where is cheapest to maximise gains. This naturally will incur casualties and in America there have been plenty. Intriguingly, however, there is a strong argument to be shared that would question why should China readjust its currency at present? Especially given the historical precedent of Japan who did exactly that, allowed the Yen to float against the Dollar after a period of exceptional growth only to be outclassed by the Dollar and end up in perpetual economic stagnation. Beijing is aware that allowing the Yuan to rise will reduce the competitiveness of their exports and ultimately slow economic growth. This not only has a detrimental affect for China but also the US, who, as already explored, is dependent on Chinese cash to sustain it’s debt-laden hypercapitalist system. It borders on farcical to suggest that the argument boils down to expectations for China to ‘play fair’, after all, nobody really believes that capitalism equates to fairness.

So, given the necessity of economic cooperation, it is no stretch of the imagination to suggest that the two nations are economically symbiotic. They both share (in differing capacities) benefits and risks. Accordingly, greater cooperation and integration has been mooted as a viable option. An increased exchange of foreign direct investment (FDI) and bilateral trade that can form a foundation to increase bilateral economic productivity has been occasionally undermined by incidents that suggest, in fact, China is not the unfair, protectionist player it is so widely claimed to be. The much under publicised case of the UNOCAL incident, wherein a Chinese firm was agonisingly close to acquiring a large US energy company only to be federally overruled at the eleventh hour. The rationale for the move was for the preservation of state interests.

Essentially, this is the same rationale adopted by China and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CCP’s raison d’etre is to ensure continued economic growth in order to sustain the ‘legitimacy’ it fractionally holds in China. This equates to pacification of large sections of the Chinese population (namely the burgeoning middle-classes) through participation in a, politically numbing, consumerist culture. Should the economy falter, it is not only the Chinese bank balance that takes a knock as the very political system is likely to come under intense pressure to reform and largely expected to democratise. The crux of the relationship between China and the US is based on this very fact: the CCP needs continued growth to sustain its fragile monopoly over authority whilst the US needs China to continue to fund its ever extravagant life-style.

Myth 2

What we are told: China is a revisionist player. Beijing has a deep-rooted interest in destabilising the current international system with the desire to supersede American hegemony and establish a new world order with Beijing assuming the helm. This is to be achieved through the establishment of alliance blocs comprising of both ‘rogue nations’ and the developing world.

What’s really going on: It seems illogical to suggest that China would benefit from the demise of the current international system. China, like many other emerging powers, benefits immensely from the systems relative stability. The US is heavily invested in ensuring the prosperity of global markets and undertakes security operations, which includes providing physical protection for energy shipments from the Persian Gulf and combating piracy in the Gulf of Aden. These actions leave Beijing free to pursue its own agenda without the burden of sacrifice and disruption. Restructuring the system would expose Beijing to a number of security and political headaches that, frankly, it is ill equipped to deal with. Additionally, an overhaul would require the CCP to renege on their key guiding principles of international relations. As already examined, China’s political preoccupation is to ensure sustained economic growth and this is evidently achieved under the current paradigm.

Additionally, to consider China as politically expansionist in the international arena (Taiwan and issues pertaining to ‘sovereignty’ should be considered a separate issue) is misguided, as this overlooks the CCP’s preoccupation with consolidating their domestic authority. Questions pertaining to Tibet and Xingjian provide a deep threat to the legitimacy enjoyed by the Chinese political party and cases of social discontent have proven, time and again, that they require immense policy consideration. Thus, this dictates that China is largely unable to divert attention away from its domestic concerns for fear of losing control in the fractious territories and by extension also have the potential inspire nationwide uprisings. In the perspective of Sino-US relations, no political issue is more controversial than Tibet. Constant claims of brutality, censorship and human rights abuses emanating from Washington are perceived from Beijing’s perspective as an attack on the legitimacy of the CCP by externally undermining its authority. This sentiment is exacerbated when American leaders meet with the Dalai Lama, who is considered an existential threat to the Chinese establishment. In America this is seen as a noble defence of human rights but to the Chinese it embodies a rather sinister undertone as it is considered both antagonising and undermining.

By and large, China has attempted to keep a low profile on the international stage. This is in accordance with its key principles, which pedestal mutual issues such as non-interference and respect for sovereignty, for it is these principles, accompanied with the active pursuit of securing state interests, that have directed its international interaction. Recently, China has been much scrutinised for its veto on the Syrian resolution in the UN Security Council (UNSC). As with any political action, it must be analysed within the wider framework of Chinese foreign policy and equally important, not judged alone. If the Chinese choose to exercise their right to veto a resolution based on protecting self-interest or in disagreement with the direction of the plan, it remains their choice. Understanding the motivational factors are a prerequisite for analysis and selective criticism should be avoided at all costs as it serves only to fan the flames of international friction between China, America and the West. Beijing could quite rightly point to the numerous examples of American acts of self-interest in the UNSC in defiance of humanitarian issues (as in the case of the recent veto for the Palestinian state).

Additionally, condemning China for conducting business with nations such as Iran and Venezuela is hypocritical, especially as it hardly encourages international instability. For Washington, the Saudi regime, both wholly repressive and undemocratic, is an acceptable business partner but democratic Venezuela is a rogue nation. China, as previously mentioned, is driven by the need to secure business opportunities and resources to sustain its hyperbolic growth. Accordingly, Beijing will court any suitable partner to secure their needs regardless of political persuasion. Whether it’s the United States, the European Union, Venezuela or Iran the central issue for the Chinese is based on national gains. China is simply pursuing a pragmatic business engagement that differs little from American policies.

Myth 3

What we are told: China is belligerent. The Chinese army is big, scary and will one day attempt Asian, then later world domination.

What’s really going on: Explicitly, China stands to gain little from starting or partaking in any act of conflict. Although the People’s Liberation Army is the largest standing army in the world, its technological capability remains years behind that of the United States. Again, the much sighted increased military budget, a substantial 12%, still pails in significance to the monumental US military budget. As a direct consequence, the parameters of the China threat are not manifest physically but oscillate around challenges to US strategic interests in the Pacific and Central Asia. What is largely missing in the security debate is Beijing’s perspective and the view from the Middle Kingdom is markedly different.

Beijing sees that permanent American military bases surround the Middle Kingdom, whether by sea or land and allies of Washington, dubbed the ‘democratic axis’, further acts to consolidate the feeling of encirclement; Huge military presences in Korea and Japan, bases throughout bordering Central Asian Republics, Vietnam and Australia’s emergence as vocal allies of Washington and a very powerful nuclear alliance across the Himalayas. It is clear that, with the exception of China’s northern border a tangible American presence can be felt in all directions.

Nonetheless, security tensions between China and the US remain relatively low. Only a couple of key areas, including the external influence in Pakistani-Indian affairs and the North Korean question, threaten to raise tensions. But nothing has the potential to boil the blood of the Chinese more than the issue of Taiwan. The generally accepted discourse on the matter is that Taiwan is an independent nation that needs protection from an aggressive behemoth who constantly espouses bellicose statements and threatens on regular occasion to illegally re-conquer the island. Characteristic of the Sino-American relationship, there is more to the story than just the American angle. For Beijing, Taiwan is an essential part of its territory stolen during its ‘century of humiliation’ and forms the final piece of the One Nation Policy. The completion of this policy, whether justified or not, has become almost insurmountable due to one simple fact: Taiwan has a military capability that is on par with European powers, which originates from the US. Arms sales between Washington and Taipei have increased in recent years culminating in the $6.4 billion deal by the Obama administration, which signals that the US are no longer adhering to the arms sales reduction agreements they agreed to in the 1982 Shanghai Communiqué. Make no mistake, in Beijing this is perceived as an act of both aggression and defiance. Nonetheless, due to rising levels of confidence in China, the CCP have begun exerting pressure on matters of integral importance, such as Taiwan, by leaning on the mutually dependent ties between Beijing and Washington.

The current state of affairs between China and the US is far from troublesome. Granted, they disagree on a number of issues from how to engage Syria to the most effect methods to combat climate change, but that does not mean they are on a course for destruction. After all, no relationship is perfect. It is also the case that China is less belligerent than conventionally assumed and that the US bares responsibility for some of the inconsistencies that are present in the relationship. To this end, both China and America are, at present, partners as much rivals and the general impression of the relationship between the two behemoths is highly misconstrued.

Deck the Halls with Boughs of Homophobia: the 2012 Republican Presidential Primaries and the Evangelical Connection

GOP Candidates

In this article, the author looks at the evangelical presence in the 2012 Republican presidential primaries and how the issue of gender equality has resurfaced in the civil rights debate.


By Matthias Pauwels, 9 Jan, 2012

With the United States Republican Party presidential primaries in full swing, the issue of marriage equality has regained considerable momentum over the past weeks in American national politics. In early December, it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas – until Rick Perry decided to deck the halls with rabid homophobia rather than holly. In a bizarre ad, Perry equated the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell[1]” to a blatant attack on people of faith. Michele Bachman, perhaps one of the most extreme and contested anti-gay candidates in the GOP presidential contest, has an impressive anti-gay track record, including likening being gay to being a “part of Satan”.  However, Bachman has suspended her campaign following a poor result in the Iowa caucus of January 3rd, 2012.

When the Iowa votes were in on that first Tuesday of 2012, Mitt Romney won the caucuses after publicly promising to support an amendment to the United States constitution barring same-sex couples from marriage. But perhaps the one to watch on the marriage equality front is Rick Santorum, who came in a close second to Romney and continues to court the support of extremist organizations and has strong ties to many anti-gay groups. Santorum has a long track record of trying to score political points by bashing the LGBT community. In Iowa, his anti-gay stance almost led him to victory. In New Hampshire however, Santorum’s anti-gay rhetoric got an icy reception as he got booed off stage after comparing marriage equality to polygamy.

Rick Santorum

Rick Santorum

Santorum and the Anti-Gay Lobbyist Force

Religious Right activists are positively giddy over the new momentum behind Rick Santorum’s candidacy for presidency, praising his appeal to women and evangelical centers on a desire for authenticity. In many ways, the conflict over marriage equality and gay rights represents what is arguably one of the dominant cultural cleavages of the post-material era in the United States. The specific battle over gay marriage represents a cultural cleavage between religious traditionalism on the one hand and progressivism on the other. In a similar fashion to the highly contested Proposition 8[2] vote in California and the legislative battle of the Marriage Equality Act[3] in New York, the evangelical movement was quick to jump on the anti-gay bandwagon in the presidential primaries. But Rick Santorum isn’t just close to traditional Religious Right organizations and activists: the former Pennsylvania senator even has ties to the most fringe parts of the movement. Santorum, for example, is a heavy supporter of Ron Luce’s cult-like group “Teen Mania”, which focuses on challenging a youth-culture that, in Luce’s words, promotes homosexuality. Luce’s organization Teen Mania, which hosts teen-oriented prayer rallies, was recently featured in the MSNBC documentary Mind Over Mania, where former interns described Teen Mania’s cult-like practices, such as faith healings and enduring verbal abuse and extreme sleep deprivation.

Last month Santorum attended the Presidential Pro-Life Forum hosted by Personhood USA, accompanied by fellow Republican presidential candidates Michelle Bachman and Newt Gingrich. As a radical anti-choice activist group, Personhood USA’s ultimate goal is to ban abortion and even common forms of birth control without exception. Earlier the group launched unsuccessful referenda in Colorado and Mississippi on the matter, characterizing President Obama as “the Angel of Death” and likening opponents of the proposed abortion ban to Nazis.

But perhaps there are three other organizations whose connection to Santorum is more worrisome, especially on the LGBT-front. For the Presidential Pro-Life Forum, Santorum was in close contact with Lou Engle’s The Call, also a host of the forum. In 2009, Engle used his The Call prayer rally to bolster Ugandan legislation that would criminalize and in some cases give the death penalty for homosexuals. The other organization is the highly evangelical Oak Initiative, a project of South Carolina pastor Rick Joyner. Joyner has previously argued that hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment for the advancement of gay rights. And last but certainly not least, there is Focus on the Family, a non-profit group that, despite its warm and fuzzy name, is in tenor and in practice an anti-gay hate group. Focus on the Family is a recurrent factor in the evangelical ability to create powerful networks and was instrumental in gearing up to endorse Proposition 8 in California. Santorum has been a regular guest on Focus on the Family radio broadcasts, engaging in topics such as gay marriage and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, stating that injecting social policies into the military weakens its morale and that there is no place for “any type of sexual activity in the military”. Additionally, Santorum has found support in the Family Research Council, Focus on the Family’s political lobbying arm.

Santorum’s sentiments on homosexuality have often contradicted his own statements. He has spoken ardently in favor of personal freedoms, opposing the McCain-Feingold campaign finance bill[4] in 2002 on the grounds that it was an “affront to personal freedom and liberty.” But at the same time, Santorum argues that states do have a right to “limit individuals’ wants and passions” – striking an eerie resemblance to his comparison of marriage equality to polygamy and the need to curtail “any type of sexual activity” in the military and reinstate “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Evangelicals and Politics: Hit or Miss?

Santorum’s views didn’t affect him negatively in Iowa, where evangelical Christians make up a large part of the Republican electorate. The religious groups voted heavily in his favor and helped propel him to top status just days before the Iowa caucus. But the story is different in New Hampshire, a state where gay marriage is legal and which boasts a much more moderate set of Republicans. So while Santorum’s views on traditional marriage and the sanctity of life might serve him well with certain constituencies, he is also alienating and bashing an entire community of his fellow Americans. Santorum’s views could be problematic for him in less conservative states – hence the icy reception he got in New Hampshire, which is next on the list in the 2012 Republican Party presidential primaries.

Santorum is likely to receive a more friendly welcome in South Carolina, but nationally, his views could come back to haunt him. But Santorum is no fool – enter the PR machine. One of his former aides who is openly gay recently jumped to Santorum’s defense, saying the former senator is not homophobic but simply opposes gay marriage.

It remains to be seen, however, whether or not an intricate set of evangelical lobbying networks can create a favorable power momentum for either Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney when focusing on social issues such as marriage equality. In Lobbying Against Progressivism: The Evangelical Power of Mobilization Against LBGT Rights in the United States I have previously argued that it is highly debatable whether the approval of Proposition 8 in California was exclusively enmeshed in evangelical lobbyist efforts. The legislative struggle for gender-neutral marriage in both California and New York testifies to the fact that it is still a deeply divisive and emotional issue on both sides of the fence. California’s highly contested approval of a ban on gender-neutral marriage and New York’s legislation of marriage equality – taken into account its long legislative struggle – still echo the growing pains of equality. For many Christian Right groups, opposition to gay rights has been a major agenda item for the past 30 years and in many ways, it has been their rallying cry.

But does having the support of American Evangelicals as a grassroots movement create any real political power, or is any outspoken religious affiliation more of an obstacle rather than an asset in the Republican presidential primaries? Many political observers in the Republican camp have been adamant on de-emphasizing Mitt Romney’s Mormon conviction as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. For many Republicans, Romney is an appealing candidate with compassionate conservative allure. Moreover, we would all like to believe that a politician’s religious affiliation is not an obstacle to higher office. Americans have indeed become more religiously tolerant, but Romney – as the first Mormon to run for President – will clearly have to change some minds. In the late 1960s, the percentage of Americans who said they would not vote for a Jewish or Catholic presidential candidate was in the double digits; by 1999, those numbers had fallen to 6 and 4 percent, respectively. Compare that to the 17 percent of Americans who currently say they would have qualms electing a Mormon to the White House. That number has not changed one bit since 1967, the year that Romney’s father considered a presidential run.

Mitt Romney

Mitt Romney

In the end, it remains to be seen how both Romney and Santorum will wield their newly gained status as the Republican answer to Obama, and whether or not Santorum is looking to further intensify his relationship with evangelical movements.

[1] “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was a controversial military policy barring openly gay, lesbian, and bisexual soldiers from military service. It was only recently, under the Obama administration, that a congressional bill to repeal the aformentioned military policy was enacted, setting the official end date of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” for September 20, 2011.

[2] Proposition 8, also known under its ballot title “Eliminates Rights of Same Sex Couples to Marry: Initiative Constitutional Amendment” was a 2008 ballot proposition and constitutional amendment which added a new provision to the California Constitution. This initiative measure, additionally cited as the California Marriage Protection Act, aimed to add section 7.5 to the California Constitution, stating that “only marriage between a man and women is valid or recognized in California.” The ballot proposition passed in the California state elections on November 4, 2008 but was later overturned by a federal judge on grounds of unconstitutionality.

[3] The Marriage Equality Act was a senatorial bill in the state of New York legalizing same-sex marriage. The law took effect on July 24, 2011.

[4] The McCain-Feingold Bill was a bill which was introduced to the United States Senate in 2002 in an attempt to reform campaign financing in the United States.

Iranian-American Relations: Explaining the Recent Allegations against Iran

US agents state that a "significant terrorist act" linked to Iran which would have included the assassination of the Saudi US ambassador Adel al-Jubeir (seen here seated with former US First Lady Laura Bush and King Abdullah) has been foiled recently.In this article, the author argues that the recent allegations against Iran have been largely shaped by America’s perceptions of, and prejudices against Iran, which were shaped by the changes in their relations post-1979.

By Aryaman Bhatnagar, 19 Oct, 2011

The most recent American allegations against Iran accusing it of plotting the assassination of the Saudi Ambassador in Washington and the Iranian dismissal of such allegations as being baseless have once again revealed the endless cycle of blame that characterises Iranian-American relations. This latest round of allegations and subsequent denials originates from the perception that America has of Iran.

The Quds Force (QF), a special branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps has been accused by the United States of America and Saudi Arabia to have been part of the plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to Washington. However, Iran’s alleged complicity in this plot has met with strong scepticism within the diplomatic community and from foreign analysts specialising in Iran. Moreover, the lack of evidence to indict the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khameini or the Revolutionary Corps in this plot does not help America’s claims. Despite this, the Americans are adamant that the plot had been sanctioned by the QF or directly by Khameini himself. The Americans are calling upon the international community to strengthen sanctions against Iran and have not completely ruled out the military option as retaliation for Iran’s “flagrant violation of international law”.

This has not been the first time that Iran has been accused by the Americans without any concrete evidence. Iran had been accused of bombing the American embassy in Beirut in 1983 and the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996, which was home to American troops at that point. Years of investigation failed to prove Iranian involvement but even this has failed to dispel American suspicions, who continue to believe otherwise. Similarly, Iran has been accused of providing aid to al-Qaeda and the Taliban in order to destabilise American operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Although, there has been evidence to suggest that Iranian weapons have been used by insurgents in both Iraq and Afghanistan, there is nothing to prove that this is part of a deliberate policy. However, such allegations have been used by America to exclude Iran from all the major projects concerning the region.

The reasons for the continuous demonization of Iran in America can be traced back to the Iranian Revolution of 1979, a watershed for American-Iranian relations. The revolution changed the image of Iran from a modern ‘westernised’ ally of America to one of America’s most formidable foes in the Middle East, which was ruled by ‘Mad Mullahs’. The Islamic Republic’s use of ideology in its foreign policy and an alternate vision for the world social and political order were seen as a threat to the American-led world order. It was the hostage crisis of 1979, which shaped the image of Iran as an irrational actor and left a lasting impact on the American impression of the Islamic Republic. From this date onwards, Iran became synonymous with worldwide terrorism and the source of all evil. Thus, irrespective of where terrorism was committed, the finger was automatically pointed at Iran. Even if there was lack of evidence, it was assumed to be something that Iran was capable of doing and were, thus, condemned for it.

Such a negative perception of Iran has become institutionalised in the political culture of America. As a result, the US policymakers have found it extremely difficult to shed their prejudices against. This is most evident in case of America’s response to Iran’s nuclear programme. Although, there is strong evidence that Iran’s nuclear programme is meant for peaceful purposes, America is convinced that it is meant to cause harm to them. A nuclear weapon in the hands of religious fanatics is believed to be dangerous for the entire world. It is interesting to note that America had been instrumental in starting the nuclear programme in Iran prior to the occurrence of the revolution. Their paranoia then clearly is an outcome of their perception of the nature of the Iranian regime than the actual dangers posed by the nuclear weapons.

The US’ differences with Iran are also motivated by their different strategic interests as both want to establish their primacy over the Persian Gulf region. Moreover, USA’s alliance with Israel and the bitter Iran-Israel relations also act as an obstacle for normalising the Iranian-American relations. But USA has managed to work around such issues and resolve its differences in the past with other countries. It is the perpetuation of the perception of Iran as an inherently anti-American nation, which is always looking for an opportunity to subvert them that has not only prevented USA from reconciling with Iran but also encourages speculations about its intentions.

Does It Get Better?

By Matthias Pauwels, 18 Oct, 2011

The year 1998 was not only dominated by the saga of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, but also saw the horrific hate crime murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shephard on grounds of his sexual orientation. On the night of October 6-7, Shephard got offered a ride home by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson. In sharp contrast to their good Samaritan offer, McKinney and Henderson subsequently drove the car to a remote, rural area in Laramie, Wyoming. Shephard was allegedly tortured for several hours and was finally tied to a fence, leaving him to die. Still alive but in a coma, Matthew Shephard was discovered 18 hours later by a cyclist. Having experienced severe brain-stem damage, Shephard never regained consciousness and passed away on October 12, 1998.

At trail, McKinney offered various rationales to justify his actions, ranging from the gay panic defense embedded in alleged sexual advances made by Shephard to involuntary manslaughter. The prosecution alleged that both men had pretended to be gay to gain Shephard’s trust. The testimony of Chastity Pasley and Kristen Price, girlfriends of McKinney and Henderson, came as a judicial drive-by-shooting for the two, claiming that both perpetrators had plotted beforehand to rob a gay man. In 1999 McKinney and Henderson received two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole.

The Legislative Struggle of the Hate Crimes Protection Act

The United States 1969 federal hate-crime law encompassed crimes motivated by actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin, and only applicable when the victim is engaging in a federally-protected activity. In 1990, United States Congress passed the Hate Crimes Statistics Act, allowing the government to count the incidence of hate crimes based on religion, race, national origin, and sexual orientation. However, a clause was added to the end of the bill stating that federal funds should not be used to “promote or encourage homosexuality”.

However, the murders of Matthew Shephard and 15-year-old Lawrence King – who was shot and killed in February 2008 by 14-year-old Brandon McInerney who he’d asked to be his Valentine – , and the endless string of gay teenagers committing suicide was living proof that gay and lesbian youth are particularly prone to physical and mental victimization. There was a dire need of expanding the 1969 federal hate-crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.

The passing of the Matthew Shephard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act proved to be an epic legislative battle in the American Congress. The bill, first introduced in the 107 Congress’s House of Representatives in 2001, drew specific criticism from American Evangelicals, with the evangelical off-shoot lobbying group Focus on the Family as a prominent force against strengthening federal hate-crimes legislation, stating that “it would muzzle people of faith who dared to express their moral and biblical concerns about homosexuality”.

After having died in Congress three consecutive times, the bill was reintroduced in 2007, this time with a clause adding gender identity to the list of suspect classes for prosecution of hate crimes. When the bill finally passed in Congress and proceeded to the United States Senate, many Republicans got in gear to make sure the Matthew Shephard Act never saw the legislative light of day. After having met its match a first time in the Senate, the bill was reintroduced as an amendment to the Senate Defense Reauthorization Bill (H.R.1585). Although the vote had been put briefly on hold after Republicans staged a filibuster on a possible troop-withdrawal amendment to the Defense Bill, the Matthew Shephard Act did finally pass in the Senate in September 2007 after a six-year-long legislative tour de force. However, as a dispiriting deus ex machina President Bush indicated that he would veto the Defense Bill if it reached the Oval Office with the hate-crimes legislation attached. Ultimately the amendment was dropped, nullifying six years of legislative struggle to expand the federal hate-crimes law incorporating gender identity and sexual orientation.

The Obama administration brought new hopes to those on the barricades for expanding the existing federal hate-crimes law. In a post-Bush era, President Obama communicated that one of the goals of his new administration was to see the Matthew Shephard Act pass. After it was reintroduced in Congress in April 2009, it sparked a feisty debate amongst Representatives, with Rep. Virginia Foxx stating that Matthew Shephard’s death was merely a hoax to further the gay agenda. Despite Republican claims that federal law was already sufficient to prevent hate crimes, the bill reached the Senate in the same month. The Matthew Shephard Act was adopted as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act and passed in the Senate in July 2009. Eleven years after the brutal murder of Matthew Shephard, the bill was signed into law on October 28, 2009 by President Obama.

Efficacy of the Matthew Shephard Act

In May 2011, a man in Arkansas pled guilty under the Act for running a car containing five Hispanic men off the road. As a result, he became the first person ever convicted under the new Act. In August 2011, one man pled guilty to branding a swastika into the arm of a developmentally disabled man of Navajo descent. The aforementioned crimes were framed under the Matthew Shephard Act on grounds of hate crimes based on race.

The expansion of the 1969 United States federal hate-crimes law was framed under the empirical observation that hate crimes are worse than regular crimes without a prejudiced motivation from a psychological perspective. The time it takes to mentally recover from a hate crime is almost twice as long than it is for a regular crime. Especially gay and lesbian people often feel as if they are being punished for their sexuality, which leads to higher incidence of depression, anxiety, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the aftermath of the Matthew Shephard murder, many gay youth reported going “back into the closet”, fearing for their safety and experiencing a strong sense of self-loathing embedded in their sexual orientation. 

Earlier aformentioned examples of the Act’s implementation refer to hate crimes based on race. The legislation’s efficacy regarding hate crimes based on sexual orientation has a much lower public exposure rate, and this is exactly where part of the problem still lies. For many gay youth, there is still is huge threshold in reporting victimization based on sexual orientation, embedded in fear of being labeled with a social stigma. Secondly, mental victimization is often suffered alone in silence, and its lack of visibility or understanding can be attributed to the recent suicide death of Buffalo, N.Y., 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer, who was bullied online with gay slurs for over a year. Marking a somber beginning to LGBT History Month this October, Rodemeyer’s death is a tragic reminder of the existing vulnerability and marginalization of gay teens. And while a legislative framework such as the Matthew Shephard Act incorporates the corporality of hate crimes, the mental aspect of these crimes based on ethnicity, gender identity, or sexual orientation have proven to be a silent killer which no piece of legislation can easily remedy. The ultimate responsibility here lies with educational systems by installing a protective framework for bullied LGBT students to prevent ostracization.

When the message that is out there claims that being gay equals being a second-class citizen, that message needs to be changed. Matthew Shephard was not a second-class citizen. Lawrence King and Jamey Rodemeyer were not second-class citizens. The Matthew Shephard Act may have given a new dimension to federal hate-crimes law, but doing the same to a social message stating that being gay is threatening, is not something that is easily remedied by any senatorial bill.

In May 2011, after coming out to friends, Jamey Rodemeyer posted a YouTube video on the new online site, It Gets Better Project, which provides testimony from adults and celebrities to reassure victimized and potentially suicidal LGBT youth that life improves as they get older. Jamey wrote: “Love yourself and you’re set… I promise you, it will get better.”