The CSS Blog Network

Winds of Change Reaching Mexico’s Drug Policy?

Image: courtesy of Bulls Press

The ISN’s Editorial Plan coverage of increased global interdependence provides an opportunity to take a look at the Mexican drug cartels and their security threat beyond the country’s borders. Only last month, Mexican marines arrested five suspected members of Los Zetas, one of the two most powerful and dangerous cartels that dominate the Mexican drug war. However, enthusiasm about this remains dampened since success in capturing or killing high-ranked drug traffickers hasn’t had any effect on the level of violence in the country.

When President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006, he announced an aggressive military–led strategy against the drug cartels, totally in line with the American declared “war on drugs”. The extensive use of military forces to support the weak police system has however caused a rise in the number of reported human rights violations committed by the army and led to an increasingly violent war, which has resulted in an estimated 45,000 of deaths since 2006.

Many Mexicans have come to believe that Calderon has lost the fight against the cartels. The consequences of this are tremendous for the Mexican society and state. But as we now, transnational organized crime has also broader effects across countries. The United State particularly suffers from the increased power of the drug cartels in Mexico. A weakened Mexican state facilitates not only the flow of drugs, but also of weapons, money and illegal immigrants, which makes it more difficult for the US to control the border. » More

An Impediment to Global Governance – Strategic Culture

Image: shutterstock

In today’s discussion of global interdependence, we highlight a common weakness of those who advocate increased global governance – e.g., the belief that the cluster of values and beliefs that support the concept are universal and not culturally bound. This is of course not true – any attempts at formal global governance must reflect the principle of socio-political subsidiarity if it is to succeed. But in embracing the principle of maximum local control, the seed of collective governance’s destruction, or at least its diminished strength, is at hand. One reason is that the localism represented by subsidiarity is not necessarily compatible with global governance, and the reason for that might be a nation-state’s strategic culture.

According to the political scientist Jack Snyder, strategic culture “refers to a nation’s traditions, values, attitudes, patterns of behavior, habits, symbols, achievements and particular ways of adapting to the environment and solving problems with respect to the threat or use of force.” Alastair Johnston, in turn, defines strategic culture as a “system of symbols…which acts to establish pervasive and long-lasting strategic preferences by formulating concepts of the role and efficacy of military force in interstate political affairs, and by clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the strategic preferences seem uniquely realistic and efficacious.” These definitions are a big improvement over their less “scientific” forefathers – i.e., the 19th century, Social Darwinist notion of “national character.” Ardant du Picq, for example, noted in his infamous “Battle Studies” (one of the founding texts of the 19th century European military Cult of the Offensive) that the French military historically had no choice but to be offensively-minded. After all, the typical Frenchman was too skittish, nervous, glory hungry, and “Latin” to ever prefer defensive over offensive warfare. (Never mind the Maginot Line.) This type of stereotyping was quite common in the late-19th and early 20th century, but its crudity and caricaturing of nations and peoples soon caused it to lapse into disfavor. The typical Japanese soldier, if we recall, was often portrayed as a robot, an ape or as lice in virulent WWII propaganda, which was nothing if not the ungainly child of earlier “national character” parents. So, it’s interesting to see how the concept of strategic culture has dubious roots, got sanitized over time and yet gained explanatory power in the process. National obsessions and myths do remain an impediment to transnational governance. » More

Global Interdependence – An Introduction

Image: iStockphoto

As expressed over the first four weeks of our Editorial Plan, we at the ISN believe that increased global interconnectivity – on the social, economic, political and technological levels – has resulted in fundamental structural changes to the international system. In turn, the problems that arise from this interdependence now often transcend the geopolitical and strategic capabilities of nation-states and demand from us new forms of cooperation and governance. But with no one ultimately and officially in charge, how do we regulate the global commons or manage our financial flows to maximum effect? How should we combat transnational crime and international terrorism, or even ‘fight’ pandemics and climate change? “Leaving things primarily to state sovereignty, anarchy and chance is not a wise response to our new global reality,” Knight et al rightfully observe. But while everyone agrees that we can only address these kinds of problems through cooperation and collective management at a global level, there is a significant debate over just how we should politically organize ourselves to deal with the structural changes we are collectively experiencing.

There are those who believe that normative or rights-based global interdependence and citizenship is a superior organizing principle to political collectivization, which can lead to anti-democratic forms of “outsourced responsibility.” They argue that instead of building transnational political structures and practices, which can potentially be opaque and self-interested, it is better to create a more flexible ‘world society’ of common values. Not surprisingly, opponents of this approach argue that respecting, protecting and building cosmopolitan diversity is all well and good but it is not enough to overcome structural inequality. Only developing and implementing more formal global governance architectures will do that, which means pressing ahead with the “transnationalization” of the world – of its political behaviors and practices, of its economic practices, and of its norms and laws. Their suggestions range from the modest (sovereignty-yielding neoliberal cooperation) to a more comprehensive post-Great Sheriff global system. This week we will mull over the debate between these two types of global interdependence advocates, starting with those who believe global governance is both unavoidable and good. Those who disagree will be our focus later in the week, as will an anticipatory look at global multilateralism, which will be our focus next week.

Justice in Bangladesh: What to Expect

Photo: Vashkar Abedin/flickr

Bangladesh appears to be powering ahead with its war crimes tribunal, established to try those who collaborated with the Pakistan army in committing war crimes during the 1971 independence war. On Nov. 20th, its first suspect, Delwar Hossain Sayedee wascharged. I wrote here about the historical context in which the tribunal was established. The Bengali government has also now upped its ante by demanding a formal apology from Pakistan, although it is not clear whether this is forthcoming.

The tribunal has been welcomed by many as a late but useful tool to “set the record straight”, so to speak. Nevertheless, though many were killed or suffered in other ways that year, the fact still remains that the tribunal is thought to be a kangaroo court.

A major criticism relates to case selection. Although the tribunal claims comprehensive jurisdiction to “try and punish any individual or group of individuals, or any member of any armed, defence or auxiliary forces, irrespective of his nationality, it is not prosecuting Pakistani soldiers or members of the Bangladesh military. It is chasing only easy targets, members of the opposition parties comprising the Bangladesh Nationalist Party and the Jamaat-e-Islami – indeed all seven defendants who are currently under investigation are elderly members of the opposition, some of whom were clearly against the creation of Bangladesh, but membership in itself does not, of course, make one necessarily guilty. » More

Turkish Delight

Fying high? Photo: Sergey Melkonov/flickr

Earlier this week, the ISN looked at the ‘Arab Spring’ from a geopolitical perspective – or more precisely, at how regional powers benefited from the recent political changes to further their own influence in the Middle East. Let’s now take a closer look at Turkey to see how the recent events impact upon Ankara’s geopolitical ambitions.

Unlike most advanced economies, Turkey survived the global financial crisis relatively unscathed. Indeed, Turkey’s steady economic growth partially explains why the country is of renewed importance to the West’s foreign policy agenda. Its close proximity to the Balkans, the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia means that it is critical to US, European and NATO policy objectives. Turkey has the second biggest army in NATO and is home to a US air-force base at Incirlik. Add to that a relatively moderate, secular democracy with a Muslim population of more than 75 million, and it becomes clear why Western powers simply cannot afford to ignore the geopolitical importance of Turkey.

Yet for Turkey, the balance between an east- and westward orientation in its foreign policy is a delicate one. Internally, there is a deep split within Turkish society between the mainly secular, Europe-oriented faction of the Sea of Marmara region and the religious faction of Anatolia. When Prime Minister Erdogan came to power in 2002, he seemed to restate the country’s long-standing allegiance to the West by making Turkey’s eventual accession to the EU a top priority. Yet accession talks have long stalled. This is mainly the EU’s decision, but Turkey’s desire to be a more integral part of Europe seems to be fading too. » More

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