Iran’s Moderate Government Not as Moderate for Iranians
The past few days have brought some worrying signs that the more conciliatory foreign policy of Hassan Rouhani’s administration does not mean the Iranian government is becoming more tolerant of dissent at home. Iran’s morality police have arrested the popular singer Amir Tataloo, whose work had not been approved by the culture ministry. In the southern city of Kerman, 16 people were arrested on charges of cooperating with Western and anti-Iranian news networks, along with seven staff from an IT-focused website in the same city who were picked up for unknown reasons.
The arrests follow reports of a dramatic rise in executions, as noted recently by human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi. According to a United Nations report in late October, at least 82 people were executed in the weeks immediately following Rouhani's inauguration. Washington-based NGO Freedom House describes some other recent cases:
On November 3, 2012, Sattar Beheshti, an Iranian blogger detained by the FATA (Iranian Cyber-Police) for posting criticism of the Iranian government on Facebook, was found dead in his jail cell with bruises on his body. On December 3, 2013, a Tehran court ruled government officials were not guilty of his murder. Ghiti Pourfazel, the Beheshti family lawyer, said the family had been pressed by the judiciary to accept the indictment they had issued classifying his death as “quasi-intentional,” or “involuntary homicide.
Rouhani has promised rights reforms and just last week issued a draft “citizens’ rights charter,” but opposition groups have attacked it as vague and in any case, he may have little control over groups like the Revolutionary Guard.
Rouhani’s pitch to Iranians has been that a loosening of restrictions will coincide with improving relations with the West and an easing of international sanctions. Even assuming that his intentions are entirely genuine, that may prove a bit too optimistic.
Haiti's U.N.-Imported Cholera Has Infected Thousands of People in at Least Four Countries
The South Asian strain of cholera most likely introduced to Haiti by U.N. peacekeepers in 2010 has infected more than 700,000 people and spread to three other countries. An epidemiological update issued by the Pan American Health Organization and World Health Organization last week reported that in Haiti alone, there have been 692,098 infections with 8,470 deaths. More than 30,000 people were infected by the disease in the neighboring Dominican Republic. Cuba, which hadn’t seen a cholera outbreak in more than century, has reported nearly 700 cases.
The latest country impacted is Mexico, which began noticing cholera cases in September. There have been a total of 184 cases since then, with one death. The last time Latin America faced a major cholera outbreak was 22 years ago, when more than 10,000 people were killed. The good news for Mexico is that sanitation conditions have vastly improved since then, and the most recent update actually notes a decreases in the number of infected. Haiti has not been so lucky, with an increase in infections noticed over the last four weeks, coinciding with the country’s rainy season. According to NPR, there are also concerns among health workers that Cuba is underreporting the extent of its epidemic. Returning vacationers have also spread the disease from to Chile, Venezuela, Italy, Germany, and Holland, though none of these have turned into outbreaks.
What is clear is that the disease has constituted a humanitarian catastrophe for Haiti as well as a significant cause for concern throughout the region. The outbreak is believed to have began when Nepalese peacekeeping troops contaminated a river next to their base through a faulty filtration system. The U.N. has not yet fully acknowledged responsibility for the outbreak, though a panel of independent investigators the body convened found “irrefutable molecular evidence” that the cholera came from Nepal.
U.N. to Deploy Peacekeeping Drones to Congo
The aircraft will be used to look out for threats from a host of local and foreign armed groups in the mineral rich east where Congo and U.N. experts have accused Rwanda and Uganda of sending arms and troops to back the recently-defeated M23 rebels, something both countries deny.
"The drones ... will allow us to have reliable information about the movement of populations in the areas where there are armed groups," U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous said at the launch of the drones in Goma, the largest city in eastern Congo.
Interesting, the aircraft will be piloted not by peacekeepers but by staff from a division of Italian defense group Finmeccanica, which made the drones.
We’re likely to see more of this in the future. The Ivory Coast government, for instance, has requested that drones be deployed to replace U.N. peacekeepers, who are reducing their numbers in the country. Drones delivering humanitarian aid have also been test-piloted in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
As far as U.N. missions go, drones would seem to have advantages in reaching remote conflict areas, though as a recent article in the journal Stability noted, the intimidating image unmanned aircraft have gained through their use in controversial counterterrorism operations may provoke mistrust in the country’s where they are deployed. The Congo mission could serve as something of a trial run for drone peacekeeping.
Potential Geopolitical Grudge Matches of the 2014 World Cup
“Sports is the continuation of war by other means,” Carl von Clausewitz should have said. Yes, events like the 2014 World Cup may be fun to watch in their own right, but for many of this, the most interesting part is watching countries act out international conflicts on the playing field (or the pool).
I’m not the Slate staffer you want to go to for soccer expertise, but following today’s World Cup draw, here is my preview of the tournament based solely on geopolitical rivalry and historical enmity:
• Group A
Brazil, Cameroon, Croatia, Mexico
• Group B
Australia, Chile, Netherlands, Spain
• Group C
Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, Japan
• Group D
Costa Rica, England, Italy, Uruguay
• Group E
Ecuador, France, Honduras, Switzerland
• Group F
Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria
• Group G
Germany, Portugal, United States, Ghana
• Group H
Belgium, Russia, Algeria, South Korea
Well, like last time around, it’s pretty slim pickings as far as rivalries in the group stage. Fans of 16th-century European history might be interested in the Spain-Netherlands match. Before the Iran-Nigeria meeting on June 16, you’ll want to check out the West Point Combatting Terrorism Center’s recent report on Iranian intelligence activities in West Africa, though it all seems a bit speculative at this point. U.S.-Germany could have some interesting overtones depending on how salient the NSA issue is by then.
Of course, the stakes of this sort of thing only get higher when we get into the knockout rounds. If the American side somehow survives its “group of death,” we have the possibility of U.S.-Russia in the round of 16, a Cold War rivalry that’s been heating up again lately due to disputes over Syria and Edward Snowden. The admittedly unlikely prospect of Iran-France in the Round of 16 could also be interesting given how heated things got between the two in the recent nuclear negotiations.
A U.S.-Iran showdown, perhaps less tense than it would have been a year ago, couldn’t happen before the quarterfinals. Same with the historically fraught France-Algeria.
Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) the draw won’t allow the most tense rivalries until at least the semifinals. So we’re pretty unlikely to see England and Argentina play for the Falklands, South Korea and Japan have it out over Dokdo/Takeshima, Greece and Germany settle the Eurozone crisis, Ivory Coast meet recent military intervention force France, or a Croat-Bosnian war re-enactment, unless some pretty miraculous runs happen.
Guess we’ll just have to watch the soccer.
Why Did International Sanctions Work on South Africa but Not Other Dictatorships?
My colleague Dave Weigel passed along this pretty embarrassing 1985 column by George Will opposing U.S. sanctions on South Africa in which he argues that “the current campaigning against South Africa is a fad, a moral Hula Hoop, fun for a while.”
But take away the haughty dismissiveness and the racial fear-mongering about the carnage that would surely result if the apartheid regime were to fall, and his basic argument isn’t a particularly unusual one, and one frequently applied to other regimes, from Cuba to Iran to North Korea. He argues that sanctions will merely punish ordinary South Africans while strengthening the government:
Thanks to an oil embargo against South Africa, it is nearly self-sufficient, with the world’s best process for producing oil from coal. Thanks to an arms embargo, South Africa, which was 60 per cent dependent on imported arms 20 years ago today is 90 per cent self-sufficient and a net arms exporter.
Today, the international sanctions against South Africa, along with the public divestment campaign in the United States and other countries, are remembered as the textbook examples of how international economic pressure can create the impetus for political change in repressive regimes. Of course, it would go too far, and give far too little credit to Nelson Mandela and his allies, to argue that international pressure was the main reason that apartheid fell. In the years since, some economists have even questioned just how much impact they really had.
In a 1999 paper, Phil Levy, then of Yale, argued that sanctions had far less of an impact on the situation than other factors including “the effectiveness of the political opposition of the black majority; the inefficiency and growing economic cost of the apartheid system; and the fall of the Soviet Union.”
A study by two University of California economists that same year looked at the widespread anti-apartheid divestment campaign, which movements ranging from opponents of Israel’s West Bank settlements to climate change activists have pointed to as a model, and found that “Despite the prominence and publicity of the boycott and the multitude of divesting companies, the financial markets’ valuations of targeted companies or even the South African financial markets themselves were not easily visibly affected.”
All the same, even if the economic impact of the sanctions and boycotts has been overstated, the psychological effect of them was clearly profound. As Levy acknowledges, “The sanctions signaled the extent to which South Africa was isolated in the international community.”
As one concerned high-level South African banker put it to the New York Times in 1988, ''In this day and age, there is no such thing as economic self-sufficiency, and we delude ourselves if we think we are different. … South Africa needs the world.''
This goes to support the argument that sanctions are most effective against governments that want to trade with the countries sanctioning them and are sensitive to international public opinion. A country like South Africa, which had been a close U.S. ally throughout the Cold War, was more sensitive to sanctions than a place like North Korea or Cuba.
The anti-apartheid movement was also effective because of the level of popular support it received. Former Free South Africa Movement Coordinator Cecelie Counts explained it well earlier this year to the New York Times:
The 1976 Soweto uprising was the catalyst for new energy and sustained mobilization and protest. Local coalitions, candlelight vigils, picket lines, organizational caucuses against apartheid multiplied drastically. Most campuses saw heightened activity after Soweto. College students took over buildings and walked out of class in solidarity with their South African counterparts.
The apartheid regime’s brutality reached a new level in 1984, and one response came when the Free South Africa Movement engaged people from all walks of life in daily demonstrations and in civil disobedience for more than a year. Shantytowns sprung up on college campuses that had not yet divested, an international campaign against Royal Dutch Shell was launched in 1986. The groundswell of opposition to apartheid led Congress to override President Reagan’s s veto of the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986.
Divestment began to affect South Africa as corporations let apartheid leaders know that it had become too expensive to continue operating there. Some would argue that many corporations simply shifted to indirect investments, but when banks began to refuse to renew loans it caused some real pain as the value of the rand fell.
The American public hasn’t been as enthusiastically involved in a human rights issue in another country since. In general, I wonder whether Western pressure campaigns that align with the goals of the majority of a country’s population—as they did in South Africa—may have more of a chance of success than movements such as the Free Tibet or Save Darfur campaigns, which aim to support the rights of particular regions or minority groups under pressure from larger majorities.
In any case, along with the usual litany of failures—Robert Mugabe, Omar al-Bashir, and the Castro brothers are still in power, Bashar al-Assad is looking more likely to prevail—recent years have also given powerful examples of when sanctions can be effective. They clearly played a role in pushing Iran to the nuclear negotiating table this year and played some role in Myanmar’s opening up.
In the 1980s, opponents of sanctions on South Africa including George Will and Ronald Reagan dismissed them as a feel-good tactic that would have little practical impact on South Africa’s apartheid laws. "If Congress imposes sanctions," Reagan said in 1986 speech, ''it would destroy America's flexibility, discard our diplomatic leverage, and deepen the [South African] crisis."
That clearly wasn’t the case—whatever their economic impact but given the uniqueness of the situation, it’s a bit hard to draw wide-reaching lessons from their success. It’s unfortunately also hard to imagine another international human rights issue that the U.S. public would embrace to such an extent for so long.
Nelson Mandela, 1918–2013
South African President Jacob Zuma has just announced that Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader, father of modern South Africa, and one of the towering figures of 20th-century history, has passed away at the age of 95. From Zuma's statement:
"Our thoughts are with the South African people who today mourn the loss of the one person who, more than any other, came to embody their sense of a common nationality. Our thoughts are with the millions of people across the world who embraced Madiba as their own, and who saw his cause as their cause."
Adam Roberts' obit is up on Slate now.
Above, see Mandela's famous address to a rally in Cape Town upon his release from prison on Feb. 11, 1990. He concluded the speech by quoting the statement he had made 26 years earlier during his trial:
"I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
Do Older Countries Care More About the Environment?
A recent paper for Psychological Science makes the case that older countries are more concerned about environmental sustainability, arguing that "citizens may use perceptions of their country’s age to predict its future continuation, with longer pasts predicting longer futures.” In other words, if your country has been around for a long time, you probably think it will continue to be around for a lot longer, and therefore care more about protecting its environment.
In the first of two studies, the authors, Hal E. Hershfeld of NYU, H. Min Bang of Duke, and Elke U. Weber of Columbia, compared countries’ age—the time since they became independent—with their performance on the Yale Environmental Performance Index. They “found a strong positive relationship between country age and environmental performance,” even after controlling for GDP and governance quality. (Yes, the normal caveats about “countries that do x also do y” studies should apply here.)
Obviously, there are some issues here. First, “start dates” are a bit of a fluid concept for many countries. The People’s Republic of China, for instance, dates back to 1949—the date given in the study—but even in contemporary political disputes such as the feud with Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, Chinese leaders frequently refer to much older events. “China,” as opposed to its current political system, is a whole lot more than 64 years old. But in terms of its industrial and environmental policies, which had their starting point around the late ‘70s, it’s probably more useful to think of China an even younger country.
I can also think of some nonpsychological reasons why this would be the case. Even controlling for GDP, newly independent countries tend to be in a position of wanting to catch up with their more established peers, making them more likely to put economic development ahead of environmental concerns.
The second experiment addresses this somewhat by looking at peoples’ perceptions of the age of their country. “When the United States was framed as an old country ... participants were willing to donate more money to an environmental organization.”
I’m not sure how much we can really adduce this to explain countries’ environmental policies, but it may have implications for environmental messaging. If you want people to look far into the future, making them think far into the past.
You Can Learn a Lot From How a Million People Died
The Million Death Study (MDS) involves biannual in-person surveys of more than 1 million households across India. The study covers the period from 1997 to the end of 2013, and will document roughly 1 million deaths. Jha and his colleagues have coded about 450,000 so far, and have deciphered several compelling trends that are starting to lead to policy changes, such as stronger warning labels on tobacco.
The impetus for the study, led by Prabhat Jha of the Center for Global Health Research in Toronto, is that of the 9.5 million deaths that occur in India each year, about 75 percent occur in homes rather than hospitals, and the data collected on them—particularly in rural areas—is often unreliable. This isn’t a problem unique to India; it’s true of most low- or middle-income countries, where 75 percent of deaths each year occur.
The study has already caused some controvery, finding for instance that the number of malaria deaths in India may hugely exceed estimates by the World Health Organization and other groups.
Other notable findings include the fact that for unclear reasons, Assam and other northeastern Indian states have unusually high death rates from cancer. The study also found that “the suicide rate in Indian women of 15 years and older is more than 2.5 times that for women of the same age in high-income countries.” Poisoning is the most common method for both men and women.
The most common causes of death for Indians aged 30–69 are vascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, tuberculosis, and cancer. This fits with trends in other developing countries, which increasingly make up the majority of deaths from noncommunicable diseases despite the Western donor community’s focus on diseases like malaria and AIDS.
Twitter Cracks Down on Terrorists
Terrorism analyst J.M. Berger notices that Twitter appears to have altered some of its policies in ways that could impact its use by militant groups:
[T]he current rules defend Twitter's practice of allowing a wide range of extremist content, but they appear to include some slight flexibility that allows the service to more aggressively police content, if it chooses to do so. While these changes look minor and subject to interpretation, Twitter's actual practice regarding the suspension of accounts has changed dramatically in the jihadist ecosystem, particularly as it regards Al Shabab.
The Somali jihadist group’s best-known account, the English-language @HSM_Press, was suspended in the wake of the Westgate mall attack in September, along with a number of copycat accounts. Berger notes that the suspension of a number of other accounts linked to the group got less attention in the United States because they were not in English.
Twitter was once on the free-speech absolutist end of the major U.S.-based social networks, but appears—like YouTube before it—to now be a bit more wary about content posted by extremists advocating violence. In 2012, for instance, it complied with a German government request to block a neo-Nazi group’s feed.
In the case of smaller, less publicized accounts linked to groups like al-Shabaab, there’s some argument to be made that their value as open-source intelligence to authorities outweighs their value as propaganda or recruitment tools, but after Westgate, the calculation clearly shifted.
Republicans Love Israel and Japan. Democrats Love France and Mexico.
Pew’s new America’s Place in the World survey, in addition to showing an overall decline in support for U.S. global engagement and pessimism about the future of American power, also shows that Americans are somewhat divided over their favorite allies:
Overall, Anglophone Canada and Britain are the most popular allies, while Saudi Arabia followed by Russia are the least.
Interestingly, the French have shown a particular knack for staying on the bad side of American Republicans. France was the most vocal opponent of American militarism during the Bush years, but has now pivoted to become the leading proponent of humanitarian intervention at the same time the party is turning increasingly isolationist and critical of democracy promotion.
“Mind your own damn business fries” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, though.