The CSS Blog Network

Unholy Alliance: Kleptocratic Authoritarians and their Western Enablers

Blood money

Courtesy ccmerino/flickr

This article was originally published by World Affairs in July 2016.

It is widely understood that corruption is a pervasive problem in many societies and undermines public confidence in the political system and government institutions. The scourge of corruption is generally viewed as a symptom of a larger problem of the failure of judicial, media, and other institutions of accountability in new or developing democracies. In kleptocracies, which is the term used to designate “government by thieves,” corruption is the lifeblood of the system and therefore the heart of the problem.

Karen Dawisha, the author of Putin’s Kleptocracy and one of the foremost experts on this issue, makes the observation that “in kleptocracies risk is nationalized and rewards are privatized.” Participation in the spoils of kleptocracy is organized and controlled by top political elites, who raid state resources with immunity and impunity. Whistleblowers, investigative journalists, and others who seek to expose corrupt practices become targets of law enforcement and are treated as enemies of the state.

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Four Trends That Could Put the Democratic Peace at Risk

US Flag

Courtesy AK Rockefeller/Flickr

This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 14 October 2016.

Political scientists generally agree that democracies have a foreign policy advantage, particularly when it comes to conflict. Democracies – at least when compared to autocracies – make more credible threats, fight less, and win more.

There’s a lot more debate about why this might be the case, but in research with Matt Baum I argue that it comes down to institutional constraints. Free and fair elections are fine and well, but unless political opposition and an informed public are up to the task of forcing leaders to be responsive, the democratic advantage fades away. Driving the point home, some autocracies are so institutionalized that they effectively constrain leaders and, when they do, those countries look more like democracies in their conflict behavior and outcomes.

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Is Unbridled Globalization Creating Mafia States?

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Courtesy Moyan Brenn/Flickr

This article was originally published by IPI Global Observatory on 11 October 2016.

Around the world, political and criminal actors appear to be working more closely together than ever before. In 2011, the White House warned that criminal networks were forging alliances with political actors to undermine the interests of the United States. Spanish prosecutors have alleged that in many former Soviet states organized crime groups work “as a complement to state structures,” doing “whatever the government…cannot.” Concerns about political and public sector corruption in eastern Europe have grown. A recent report suggests that organized crime groups are taking control of local democracy in countries as varied as Afghanistan, Colombia, and Niger. In the Middle East, organizations such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Islamic State combine local social service provision, militant activity, and transnational organized crime to develop governmental power. And in North Korea, the ruling regime is accused of counterfeiting, drug-running, and even human trafficking. “Mafia states,” as this convergence of political and criminal power has been described, appear to be on the rise worldwide.

Why Now?

Political and criminal actors have long collaborated—not least in the US. As I show in my new book, Hidden Power: The Strategic Logic of Organized Crime, the US government worked closely with the American mafia during World War II and the Cold War to extend its power overseas. In the process, the Mob became an active player in international affairs, mounting armed insurgences, engaging in transnational terrorism, and even engineering regime change in some countries. But the move towards criminalized politics appears to have accelerated in the last two decades. Why?

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Dictatorship 101

Masks And Death

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This article was originally published by the Carnegie Moscow Center on 14 September 2016.

Some degree of isolationism—“sovereignty,” in official political parlance—is necessary for every authoritarian regime to survive. But elites and societies as a whole don’t want full-blown isolationism. In Russia and elsewhere, “authoritarian internationalism”—an alliance of quasi-democracies—has come to the rescue.

Much of the world currently lives under “intermediary” political regimes. Pure dictatorships are a dying breed, but “shining city upon a hill” democracies are also hard to find. Most countries are “neither here nor there”—they don’t have firing squads to quash dissent, their borders aren’t closed, and they haven’t banned political parties that might compete with the dominant, ruling party.

As political scientists Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way have shown, hybrid political regimes tend toward democratization based on three factors: “linkage,” “leverage,” and “organizational power.”

Linkage is the economic and political connection between the regime and the outside world, its involvement in international alliances, agreements, and trade. The higher the level of involvement, the higher the chances of democratization, and vice versa.

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Internet Shutdowns During Political Unrest Are Becoming Normal – And It Should Worry Us

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Courtesy Michael Coghlan / Flickr

This article was originally published by the Political Violence at a Glance on 16 September 2016.

Last night, for the eleventh night in a row, Internet access was shut down in Gabon. Starting again at 7pm, network accessibility almost came to a halt. These “Internet curfews” come in the aftermath of highly contested and controversial national elections. Just over a week ago, Gabon’s incumbent president, Ali Bongo, declared himself winner of the elections by a narrow margin with 49.8 percent of all votes. His opponent, Jean Ping, who allegedly lost with 48.2 percent of votes has demanded a recount, and the international community has backed him up. Amidst the uncertainty surrounding the election results, protesters took to the streets and set fire to a parliamentary house, while the opposition reported attacks against their premises by incumbent forces. Throughout the post-election tensions, the government has resorted to extreme digital censorship. Prior to the nightly Internet curfews, connections were cut for more than five days across the country while protesters took to the streets across Libreville, and according to Reuters, thousands were arrested under the charges of rioting.

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