The Return Of The King

Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi... photo: Firdaus Omar/flickr

On 24 September, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin announced his decision to return to the presidency, a post he may now possibly occupy for a further two successive terms until 2024. Unfortunately, his election to the post seems to be a foregone conclusion. In previous polls, opposition candidates, anti-Kremlin parties, and other critics failed to even make it onto the ballot paper. And with Russian state TV having developed into a veritable Putin lovefest, he can expect blanket positive coverage ahead of a lofty coronation.

I am surely not the only one to feel reminded of the dark days of the Soviet period, when the General Secretary’s seat was passed from one frail, tottering character to the next, and political prognostication revolved solely around signs of imminent death – since death was the only thing that could open the door to real reform.

However, on closer examination, it hardly seems fair to compare Putin’s reign with the gerontocracy of the Soviet period, as the Soviets at least had a Politburo. Russia’s current transformation into what political scientists are calling a sultanistic or neo-patrimonial regime is a break from Russian history and the global trend toward democratization. The czars at least drew their legitimacy from their blood and their faith, and the General Secretaries owed their power to their party and their ideology, Putin’s rule, however, is based solely on the man himself.

International Law and the Use of Drones

Drone Predator; photo: RG1033/flickr

First being used for surveillance, unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) were initially conceived in the early 1990s for reconnaissance and forward observation roles. However, by 2001, the United States started arming drones with missiles and using them in combat operations. Since then, more than 40 other states and entities are estimated to have acquired the drone technology, including Russia, China, Iran, and Israel.

The first known use of a drone to kill a particular individual occurred against Al- Qaeda’s Mohammed Atef in Afghanistan in November 2001. Later in November 2002, a suspected ‘lieutenant’ in Al-Qaeda was killed along with five other persons in a drone attack in Yemen, carried out by CIA personnel. In 2003, the UN special rapporteur concluded that the Yemen strike constituted a “clear case of extrajudicial killing”.

Within states, international human rights law prohibits governments from using excessive force against individual groups; governments may only resort to military force if an armed opposition involves significant force. The normal standards can be found in the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. Despite this clear law, US officials argue that because the 9/11 attacks involved significant force, the US can target and kill Al-Qaeda members and other suspected terrorists and militants without warning, wherever they are found.

Ghana Moves to Arrest Homosexuals

Dangerous Signs of Affection. Photo: ebel/flickr

In a new burst of African homophobia, Mr. Paul Evans Aidoo, a government minister in Ghana, has drawn much national support and international condemnation after calling on the country’s intelligence services to round up Ghana’s gay population. The move by the minister follows months of campaigning by the Christian Council of Ghana calling on Ghanaians not to vote for any politician who believes in the rights of homosexuals in the upcoming elections. The comments from the National Democratic Congress (NDC) politician come in the feverish run-up to the 2012 elections and have drawn wide support from political, religious and social leaders throughout the country, such as representatives of both the Christian as well as the Muslim clergy.

Currently, Ghana’s constitution does not extend human rights or legal protection based on sexual orientation. In fact, its criminal code contains a clause prohibiting “unnatural carnal knowledge”. This ambiguous phrase reflects a pervasive homophobia cultivated across the whole society. Even Ghana’s usually fairly vocal human rights activist community seems complacent. Amnesty International Ghana Director Laurence Amesu is refusing to take a position on the law, just like Richard Quason, the deputy commissioner of the Ghana Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice.

The lifestyles of gay, lesbian, bisexuals and transgender people are currently listed as criminal in 38 African countries. The call from Mr Aidoo thus marks only the latest in a series of expressions of officially condoned homophobia across the continent.


New ISN Partner: FRIDE

FRIDE (the Fundación para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Diálogo Exterior) is a European think tank for global action, which provides innovative thinking and rigorous analysis of key debates in international relations. Its mission is to inform policy and practice in order to ensure that the EU plays a more effective role in supporting multilateralism, democratic values, security and sustainable development.

FRIDE benefits from political independence and the diversity of views and intellectual background of its international team. Based in the vibrant city of Madrid, FRIDE seeks to enhance the southern European perspective within EU debates and the European perspective within Spain.

Its main contribution to international debates stems from its empirical research on:

• The development and promotion of democracy
• The increasing role of emerging powers
• The role of international development cooperation in advancing universal values
• Global governance and multilateralism
• The complexity of threats to peace and security
• Fragile states and energy security

Great IR Thinkers: Robert O. Keohane

In 1965, Robert Keohane completed his PhD dissertation at Harvard University on the politics of the UN General Assembly. The question he tried to answer was whether institutions matter in explaining state behavior, or whether the latter could be deduced solely from the distribution of power. Over 30 years later, Keohane is still examining this question, and the ways in which he dealt with the question over the years have put him on the list of the most important political thinkers of our time.

Keohane was born in 1941 at the University of Chicago Hospitals. When he was 10, the family moved to Mount Carroll, Illinois, where he attended public school; after the 10th grade, at the age of only 16, Keohane was an early entrant to Shimer College, a small offshoot of the College of the University of Chicago, where his parents were professors.

In 1965, he took up a teaching position at Swarthmore College. In 1969, after joining the board of editors for the journal International Organization, which has since become one of the leading journals in the field, Keohane began his remarkable research collaboration with Joseph S. Nye. He moved to California in 1973 to teach at Stanford University. In 1985, Keohane returned to Harvard, where he stayed for the next decade. In 1996, he was appointed James Duke Professor of International Relations at Duke University.