The CSS Blog Network

What is that A-Bout?

An alleged international weapons trafficker, searched for by Interpol and placed under an international travel ban by the UN, will soon be running free?

What is that about?

Kalashnikov: Photo: melomelo/flickr

Kalashnikov/Photo: melomelo/flickr

On 11 August, a Thai court ruled against extraditing Viktor Bout to the US. The US is accusing Bout of trying to sell weapons to the Colombian rebel group FARC, a group that is deliberately targeting Americans assisting the Colombian government in the drug war. (A year ago, ISN Security Watch featured an in-depth analysis on Victor Bout’s unsavory career: see part I and part II).

Yet unlike the US and the EU, Thailand does not consider the FARC a terrorist group – hence, in the eyes of the Thai judge, Bout cannot be extradited for ‘political’ reasons. This is a big slap in the face for US counterterrorism efforts. To capture international terrorists and those supplying them with weapons, the US relies on a strong network of allies – and Thailand has historically been a strong ally of the US.
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Democracy Through the Looking Glass

Looking for direction / Photo: World Economic Forum, flickr

Looking for direction / Photo: World Economic Forum, flickr

This week marks the 10th anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s ascension to power. The collapse of the Soviet block in the late 1980s and the Soviet Union itself in the early 1990s can be seen as an inflection point, a moment at which the arc of Russian history changed; it opened up an old wound in the Russian psyche, namely, that of identity. With the loss of its satellites and formerly appropriated republics, a political, institutional, economic and moral decay took hold.  Russia’s need for reinvention became an existential threat and opportunity at the same time.

With Russian foreign policy practically non-existent in the early 1990s, the climactic evidence of which was NATO’s utter disregard for Russia’s position on the 1999 NATO intervention in Kosovo, the soil was moist for a mushrooming ‘man of action,’ who would later use precisely this justification to advance his ambitions of restoring great power status to Russia.
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Climate Change – No Concern to the Poor?

Amanda Graham / flickr

Photo: Amanda Graham / flickr

It is said that – besides polar bears – the negative effects of global warming will hit the poor the most. But two recent articles I read suggest that climate change is of little concern to the poor; rather, it is a concern of the well-off who can afford to worry about melting ice caps (and their furry white residents).

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Dear Santa: A Letter to Obama

Letter packed with lists to pass along to Santa, photo: Scott / flickr

Letter packed with lists to pass along to Santa, photo: Scott / flickr

If you could write an open letter to US President Barack Obama, what would you write? The question almost makes you think of something like a wish list to a Santa, who will do his best to fulfill your desires.

The open letter written by 22 Central and Eastern European intellectuals and former leaders made me think about this Christmas tradition. A letter intended for the US president, in which Eastern European children make a wish list and, in order to be convincing, explain how good they have been in the past.

During the last months the media has seen innumerable open letters to Obama. And this is yet another one. It is a doleful and angst-ridden letter, one whose main argument is that the Obama administration is not taking the necessary measures for rebuking “revisionist Russia.”

I first had a reflective look at the senders’ list. Václav Havel and Lech Wałęsa are there, symbols of the people who led the revolutions of 1989. However, beyond all emotions, I realized the word ‘former’ is too prominent on the senders’ list. Valdas Adamkus, former president of the Republic of Lithuania; Martin Butora, former ambassador of the Slovak Republic to the US. The list goes on.

‘Former’ refers to something or someone belonging to a prior time. Even the letter reads ‘former’ to me, with arguments that in the current international context have acquired their dustiness.

The letter’s nostalgia-conjured past does not truly reflect historical realities. “Our nations are deeply indebted to the United States,” the letter argues. “Many of us know firsthand how important your support for our freedom and independence was during the dark Cold War years.”

These words make me think of my Romanian grandfather and how he told me that years after the end of World War II he was looking at the sky, asking himself when would the Americans come. And the Americans never came. So what is Central and Eastern Europe so indebted for? Apart from listening to Voice of America and Radio Free Europe, there was not much of an important support to be felt in the region during the Cold War.
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One Government’s Jackpot is Another Government’s Vice

Rolling the dice to roll in the dough / photo: Maximaximax, wikipedia

Rolling the dice to roll in the dough / photo: Maximaximax, wikipedia

Casinos count as one of the most recession-proof industries. They are also a convenient source of tax revenue for governments. That’s why many legislators tend to relax their moral reservations towards the “vice of gambling” and allow the re-opening of casinos to generate new government income.

Grappling with a gaping hole in its state budget, the Massachussetts legislature is seriously considering legalizing casino gambling in the state. The casino industry in the United States is even expected to keep struggling architects afloat, who are among the hardest hit by the recession. In fact, only the construction of churches seems to keep up with that of casinos.

Against all odds, the Russian government, which has been dealt a hard hand by the global economic downturn, is doing the exact opposite: As of today, casinos in Russia are outlawed.  It is the result of a law that seeks to “go all-in” with eradicating a vice that allegedly is widespread among the Russian people. The law is also designed to rein in an industry seen as a breeding ground for corruption and organized crime. From the new law, Russia expects a payoff in virtue rather than cash. Meanwhile, the Russian casino industry expects at least 350,000 job losses as a result of the shutdowns – in addition to the loss in revenue for the cash-strapped Russian state.

Alas, for hundreds of thousands of Russian casino industry employees, the game is over. Yet the ban’s effectiveness might be less certain than your survival in Russian roulette. The gambling industry is expected to go underground and thus more difficult to regulate and control. So will the ban ultimately help eradicate the vice of gambling? I wouldn’t bet on it.

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