Perpetual War, Perpetual Peace

Kant's shadow looms large. image: erepublik

In another foray into the realm of theory, to complement our Editorial Plan’s discussion of international norms and laws, we turn to a giant in the history of thought, the German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Though known primarily as a moral philosopher, Kant also wrote on topics germane to international relations and international political theory, in works such as Idea for a Universal History (1784) and Perpetual Peace (1795). Today we look briefly at what Kant had to say about international law, through Amanda Perreau-Sassine’s interpretive essay in The Philosophy of International Law, edited by Samantha Besson and John Tasioulas. Kant’s view of international law, it turns out, has important implications for contemporary discussions.

Livestock’s Long Shadow

Intensive farming methods revolutionized meat production - at what price? Photo: ChrisM70/flickr

The world’s population hit seven billion at the end of last year, an increase of one billion in a mere 12 years. As the population continues to grow, food security will remain one of the most pressing problems of the 21st century. Malthusians might have a point in being concerned: The challenge of feeding seven billion-plus people is likely to become more difficult as environmental degradation and desertification carry on – and competition for crops increases. Food prices have soared in the last five years and increasing demand for alternative fuels further aggravates the situation. Food production has so far kept pace with population growth however, though the total area of land given to arable use has remained almost constant for decades. How long this can continue is not certain.

An important part of the human diet are livestock products, which account for 13% of the calories consumed worldwide and for 20% in developed countries. Meat production increased by 23.6% in the last decade, mainly driven by growing demand in China and Brazil, two countries which account for more than three-quarters of the yearly growth in meat output. In 1961, China’s per capita meat consumption was 3.8 kg; by 2002 it had increased to 52.4 kg. To meet this growing demand for animal products, factory farms and intensive farming methods are necessary. Besides the ethical concerns raised by these farming methods, such practices also cause a number of environmental and social problems.

The EU’s Democratic Deficit

2009 European Election Campaign Poster. Photo: European Parliament/flickr

The worldwide economic and financial crisis and the subsequent European sovereign debt crisis have shaken the European Union to its foundations. There has always been widespread criticism of the EU’s democratic legitimacy in the broad public and the media, but the discussion is even more salient today. To many – especially the UK tabloids – the EU is an inefficient bureaucratic monster, run by elitist eurocrats who act completely detached from European citizens. The EU takes these accusations seriously and responds with various “myths and facts” collections, where common misconceptions of the EU are corrected (see this example of the EC’s response to budget “myths”). However, it is worthwhile mentioning that some 56% percent of EU citizens are satisfied with “the way democracy works in the European Union” (see Eurobarometer chart below), which is a respectable result, even in comparison to national figures.

So what is it with democracy and the EU? There is of course no simple answer and a lively scholarly discussion is underway about democracy in the European Union, or the lack thereof.

Solutions for Kashmir?

Do Not Pass Go
Indian Army soldiers patrolling a street in Srinagar. Photo: Austin Yoder/ flickr

The Kashmir conflict is usually considered an interstate problem between Pakistan and India. In my opinion both governments should recognize that the matter is less about New Delhi and Islamabad – but about Kashmir. High-level talks are important but not enough.  The key to stability lies in dialogue between the two central governments and Kashmiris themselves.

Many problems in Indian-Administered Kashmir are homegrown and can only be tackled at the domestic level, rather than the international one. At present, the situation is bizarre: in the first place, the Valley remains heavily militarized.  The capital, Srinagar, looks as if it were under siege, and its commercial airport doubles as a military airfield.  And curfews, arbitrary arrests, and police brutality all contribute to the atmosphere of mistrust, hatred and unrest. So what can be done?

In a recent article in Strategic Analysis, John Wilson — a senior fellow with the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi — makes four suggestions for how the Indian central government could improve the overall situation in the Valley:

China: Superpower or Developing Country?

This illustration highlights the disparity between China’s per-capita income and its aggregate income in comparison with other countries.

China is not a superpower, said Major General Pan Zhenqiang, deconstructing one of the “myths” about his country. A retired officer from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and deputy chairman of the China Foundation for International Studies, Pan Zhenqiang talked at the Center for Security Studies (CSS) at ETH Zurich last week. He was also a guest of Vivian Fritschi of ISN Podcasts. In his talk Pan said that China is a poor developing country. Is he right? Or is China a superpower, after all? The answer to this question depends on whom you ask.

Chinese leaders themselves perceive their country as a developing one with a number of paramount domestic challenges. The largest share of China’s population lives in rural, underdeveloped areas and there is a large urban-rural income gap. And although China’s per capita income has been increasing at a remarkable pace – it grew more than threefold over the last decade – it is still comparatively low. To anyone familiar with rural China, it is obvious that this is in fact a developing country. But that’s only one side of the coin: even though China is a poor country in per-capita terms, it is a rich country in aggregate terms, due to its immense population.

From a Western perspective, China’s development is usually seen at the macro level: China is the second largest economy in the world today and might surpass the US within the next decade.