[Watch] Bashar al-Assad interview with NBC – “America enabled ISIS”


 

In reference to Donald Trump’s discrimination against Muslims in the US, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad claimed that nobody should indulge such discrimination.

With regards to contradictory rhetoric from opposing candidates of the presidential election, Assad said he is not concerned with rhetoric but action and that this rhetoric is often temporal; fleeting.

Furthermore, Assad lambasted US presidents as inexperienced.

Finally Assad claims that the US enabled the emergence of ISIS and that Russia’s interventionism made this clear.

Could it be that radical Islamists are working with global powers to delegitimize Islam and to manufacture consent for security initiatives in the Middle East? Since neither stability, democracy or development appear to be the honest objectives of world powers involved in the region, namely the US, such a corroboration isn’t unlikely. It could be that these radicals are mere products of US interventionism in the region to begin with, a sort of religious but also nationalistic retaliation. What is certain is that these forces are unstable, and their origins lies in the realm of foreign occupation.

The Political Stability of Kazakhstan: The Gift & the Curse


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The Political Stability of Kazakhstan:

The Gift & The Curse

by Danny Krikorian

Florida Political Science Association

Fall 2016

Florida Political Chronicle

Abstract

 

Kazakhstan resides in one of the most volatile regions in the world, Central Asia. Various characteristics of the region make this a reality. Some of these characteristics, which I call variables, help to explain the unconventional history of development in Kazakhstan, and perhaps explains why the country has lagged in terms of democratic reform. The purpose of this research is to dissect the political stability of the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan. In this paper, I argue that eight independent variables determine the political stability of Kazakhstan, four of which serve as the primary influences. In this case, the political stability of Kazakhstan is the dependent variable. I furthermore suggest that of these eight variables, six share a negative relationship with political stability, while the remaining two share a positive relationship with political stability, and demonstrate how this reality has largely shaped the modern state of Kazakhstan today. In other words, the majority of these variables make Kazakhstan less politically stable. To analyze these variables, I have organized the body of this paper into three sections: First I begin with a brief introduction with some background information about Kazakhstan. Secondly I discuss the literature on the subject of stability in Kazakhstan within the framework of the eight variables. Finally I demonstrate, based on the research, why it can be argued that foreign policy is in fact the most significant variable in determining the political stability of Kazakhstan. I will argue that threats to Kazakhstan’s stability can only be mitigated by proper foreign policy measures that reduce attempts at exploiting the country’s sovereignty. This foreign tug-o-war, or the New Great Game rather, whose main external players are the U.S., Russia & China, has evolved over the years, depending on the international political landscape. Today, foreign pressures come in numerous and diverse forms. Finally, I will provide a conclusion in which I discuss the future of Kazakhstan and why these findings are important and what they mean in today’s world, in theory and in policy.

 

 

  1. Introduction & Background Information

 

Most literature in the Western scholarly tradition presumes that democracy is universal. Perhaps this is why the majority of the focus is on issues such as corruption, institutional underdevelopment, resource curse and rentier-states. However more and more scholars are beginning to address other forces contributing to instability outside the realm of political reform, such as geopolitics, colonialism and cultural relativism. With regards to Kazakhstan, most scholars have echoed the former tactic, often ignoring the complexities of the country and region’s nature. This research attempts to demonstrate how an unconventional combination of variables such as different forms of leadership as well as collective cultural decisions often dictate the stability of a nation as much as the political or economic compositions of that state. It shows how, variables such as foreign relations, security conditions, socio-cultural fabric, and the resource-curse often outweigh the significance of the internal politics of a nation. This is not to suggest that political reform is futile or unnecessary, but rather, that too much focus on this element is intellectually irresponsible. The purpose of this research is to isolate the main cause of instability in Kazakhstan. While I present four primary, and four minor variables, I argue that in fact, foreign policy is the greatest challenge to the region’s security and stability, especially in Kazakhstan, and that proper manipulation of its foreign relations is in direct correlation with its ability to maintain stability.

By nature of this analysis, it challenges previous literature by suggesting that the tradition of analyzing non-western countries has been largely dominated by a culturally relative perspective that essentially misunderstands the complexity of regions like Central Asia (39). It challenges the notion that democratic reform is the only recipe for stability, that is, outside of the Western world. That western democracies have often sided with and funded the most authoritarian regimes in the region and in the rest of the world, as well as, perhaps indirectly, allowing for the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, makes the prospects for democracy in the region more dim. Perhaps one of the greatest tools in this situation has been pragmatic leadership, which has been exhibited most by Kazakhstan’s President Nazarbayev himself.

What this means for the universalism of democracy has broad implications as it could suggest that, much like the USSR’s communism, the West’s neoconservative crusade for democracy in the post-Soviet world has in fact threatened international security and has destabilized societies. Perhaps what we are witnessing in the modern world is what will become the “containment” of Western neoconservatism.Whether or not democracy is compatible with Central Asia remains questionable, but what is less vague, is that foreign powers are little concerned with the genuine interests the region.

In the coming section, the heart of this research study, I list each of the eight independent variables influencing the political stability of Kazakhstan. I explain that the majority of these variables share a negative relationship with political stability — in other words, they make Kazakhstan more unstable. The others, despite being the minority, serve as resilient forces for stability. Nonetheless, I argue that the overall nature of Kazakhstan is of instability — it has been unstable since its earliest history.

However Kazakhstan’s recent history leaves a window for opportunity, given its cunning leadership, resilient economy, its relatively healthy population and strong centralized state, and the comparatively lower threat of terrorism. I further argue that the greatest threat, even historically, has emanated from the foreign relations dimension of Kazakhstan’s politics, with special regards to the so called, New Great Game. In totality, the aim of this research is to explain why Kazakhstan is relatively unstable; it seeks to isolate the primary force of instability; and finally, it resolves to suggest prospects for its future amidst an array of chaos.

 

  1. Literature Review of Eight Variables

 

  1. Political Development

 

The political stability of Kazakhstan cannot be understood without analysis of its political structure and process. In this section I argue that the internal politics of Kazakhstan, while negatively affecting its stability, due to corruption, fraudulent elections and opposition suppression, is also a source of stability with regards to the strength of the state and its overall legislative structure. Of the eight variables, only political development and economic conditions pose a challenge in analysis. In a sense, both the endurance of the state, and the vast endowment of oil, which I discuss in the economic section, are a “gift and a curse”. While the political development of Kazakhstan shares a negative relationship with its political stability, it arguably serves as a window of hope for its future, noting its resilience in the face of radicalism and foreign pressure.

Kazakhstan is a unitary republic, with its president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, as the head of state. Legislative powers reside in a bicameral legislature, with includes the Majlis, the upper house and the senate, the lower house (16). Political parties are allowed to compete, but the authenticity of the election process is challenged by internal and external sources (42). Some parties however are deemed illegal, wholly banned and actively suppressed (16). Neither of the opposition parties possesses enough support or power to pose a significant threat in the election process. Furthermore, private media is largely suppressed, with the majority of publications being in support of the current administration (42). This is telling of the credibility and reputation of the constitution of Kazakhstan, which nominally protects private media — nominally.

Kazakhstan’s leadership. under President Nazarbayev has been remarkably effective in stabilizing the country (38). It has endured less attacks, and Nazarbayev has done well to smear his opponents as “gangsters and criminals” (36). He has displayed his effectiveness in maintaining a steady economy, while appeasing both his Russia, American, and Chinese counterparts, in what has been deemed a “multivector foreign policy” (28).

Kazakhstan has made many strides with regards to political reform, but it has also been guilty of backpedaling (23). Nonetheless, with careful consideration of the diverse forces forming the political fabric of Kazakhstan, there is reason to believe that its successes are equally worthy of attention as its shortcomings (43). Key points must be considered in order to clearly understand why the country’s progress towards democracy has lagged and been the subject of criticism. Kazakhstan has been independent for barely 30 years. To compare the status of its political institutions to those of the West, where independence and democracy have hailed for centuries, would be premature (40).

In context, compared to its neighbors, especially Uzbekistan, it has undoubtedly surpassed them in terms of stability and progress (27). Research indicates unprecedented civic activism and voter turn-out rates in Kazakhstan’s presidential elections (43). That being said, opposition parties are largely disenfranchised and discouraged from participating in the political process, often echoing accusations of fraudulent elections (7). In this regard, Kazakhstan’s leadership has been able to deploy the rentier mechanism by which political reform is substituted with public services funded by oil-wealth. The immense importance of the role played by oil in shaping the political dynamic of Kazakhstan can thus not be ignored, for they have been the pretense for tension between the various domestic and foreign political forces influencing Kazakhstan’s political stability (45). These tensions, whether they are between members of the political elite, or between the political elite and the mass, have often been the subject of exploitation by global powers, using the fragility of the region to their own advantage. This leads us directly to the next variable.

 

  1. Foreign Policy & Relations

 

In the realm of foreign politics, Kazakhstan is a key player in “The New Great Game” (24). Russia is arguably the greatest threat to Kazakhstan’s political stability. Managing the longest contiguous border in the world, Kazakhstan’s leadership is constantly having to fend itself against the threat of Russian imposition (3). However the US has also played an influential role in this regard. As global hegemonies play tug-o-war over the region, it becomes more apparent that its foreign relations share a negative relationship with Kazakhstan’s political stability.

Statements made by Vladimir Putin at the Selinger Youth Camp in 2014 revealed that Kazakhstan’s vulnerability to Russian domination, especially with a significant Russian population living in mainly Northern Kazakhstan. The Georgian and Ukrainian crises, and Russia’s post-soviet neo-imperialism tradition, have done nothing to mitigate Kazakh fears of Russian influence. (22). The threat of Russian separatism emanates from the Northern Kazakhstan Province, (4). For this reason, Nazarbayev moved the capital of Kazakhstan from Almaty to Astana, which is along the Northern border, closer to Russia (24). An act of defiance against Russian hegemony, Nazarbayev further proved himself a prolific player in the great game. On the other end of the foreign political dynamic rests Kazakhstan’s intimate economic relationship with the US. Nonetheless, by associating demands for democracy with neocolonialism, Nazarbayev has legitimized his ideology. By balancing the priorities autonomy, growth and stability, he has solidified what has been coined as his “multi-vector-foreign policy” (4). That he has maintained Kazakhstan’s independence, autonomy, and economic progress, has further legitimized his position. But Russian hegemony is nothing new to the Cental Asian giant; as the stains of Imperial Russia surely remain engrained in the memories of Kazakhs (13). But the demise of the USSR has essentially opened a vacuum of power it could be argued. The world, having transitioned from a bipolar to a unipolar political dynamic, with the US essentially having grip on global power, has essentially allowed the US to reign in on the region’s vulnerability and economic appeal.

Like its eastern counterparts, the West, namely the US, has simultaneously played an inconsistent role in the region; often indirectly propping up extremists, neglecting delayed reforms, and dipping their hands in scandalous oil politics (24). Despite pro-democratic rhetoric, it seems neither hegemony, Russia, China or the US are genuinely committed to the “democratic process” in Kazakhstan (34). This factor is perhaps the most overlooked in current literature on political stability in Central Asia.

With regards to its regional and local allies, Kazakhstan has maintained a positive relationship for the most part, with perhaps Saudi Arabia being the only exception. The greatest threat to its stability comes from its relationship with the global powers of Russia, China, the US and the EU, who have engaged in double-dealings, policy inconsistency and moral negligence. Kazakhstan has maintained a positive reputation among international organizations, especially the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or SCO, of which it was a founding member (9). Nonetheless, it faces continued scrutiny over the process of its elections and accounts of corruption various international organizations, despite being an active member of the U.N (35).

This segment of the research is of particular importance as, I argue later in the paper, it is the most crucial variable in the relationship with political stability.

 

  1. Security/Military Condition

 

The threat of Islamic fundamentalism is perhaps the greatest security issue for Kazakhstan. The threat of Russian separatism, though very real, especially following the Georgian and Ukrainian crises, has been thus far contained. In this section I demonstrate how the security and military condition of Kazakhstan has made it less stable.

National security poses a very unique challenge for Kazakhstan. However Kazakhstan has been essentially able to mitigate the threat relative to its neighbors. The threat is both foreign and domestic, with large swaths of ideological fanaticism being imported from abroad, mainly from Saudi Arabia in the Middle East, in the form of Wahhabism (34). Kazakhstan has remained stable despite the rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Central Asia. Repressive retaliation by Central Asian governments have only aggravated the situation (10). Various influential terrorist and extremist networks operate in the region, such as the Hizb-ut-Tahrir, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Islamic Jihad Union, Soldiers of the Caliphate, and the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (5). There also exists a threat from Uyghur separatist groups within Kazakhstan as well as a threat from external sources of radicalization emanating primarily from the Middle East (4). These forces altogether represent obstacles to Kazakhstan’s national security, which is evidently a significant factor of consideration in the political stability of Kazakhstan. They suggest another reason why democratic reform has lagged. Furthermore, they focus attention on the authoritarian nature of the regime, and the relationship of that authoritarianism with the rise of dissenting groups of radical Islamic persuasion. On the other hand, the existence of these extremist networks is perhaps another reason why Nazarbayev has been able to maintain power—by portraying himself as a champion of the cause against terrorism, he has garnered immense support from the U.S. and has replaced Uzbekistan as Central Asia’s primary force force against Islamic fundamentalism (41). These forces also underscore the immense responsibility bestowed on the government of Kazakhstan in balancing the agendas of all power players and potential threats to Kazakh stability and autonomy. Since the inception of the post 9/11 era, and the ensuing “War on Terror” as led by the US, there has been little success in mitigating the overall threat of terrorism in the region, further underscoring the need for reconsidering policy measures (2).

It becomes uniquely difficult to isolate the security threat from the other variables. There have been instances in which groups like the IMU have engaged with global hegemonies directly and indirectly (24). If this is true, it could be argued that religious radicalism is exploited by foreign powers as means of destabilization.

In sum, the there is a negative relationship between the security conditions of Kazakhstan and its overall political stability. Despite its leader’s attempts to mitigate the threat compared to his neighbors, especially Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the threat remains. Since 2011, there has yet to be an attack (19). Furthermore, Kazakhstan’s military has been relatively dormant in terms of full-fledged combat. This is a signal of its relative stability compared to its Central Asian neighbors.

 

  1. Economic Conditions

 

It is impossible to understand the complexity of Kazakhstan’s politics without considering the implications of its enormous oil wealth. For this reason, I have reserved this section for an analysis of the negative relationship between Kazakhstan’s economy and its political stability, focusing primarily on the country’s rich oil fields in the Caspian Sea.

The economy of Kazakhstan is complex and rich. This reality has complicated its political atmosphere, often fueling tensions between various entities; elites, the general public, political activists and insurgent movements (44). In this segment of the article I will argue that Kazakhstan’s economy has negatively impacted its political stability by making it the focal point of global hegemonies competing for control. Nonetheless, the vast wealth resulting from oil has allowed Kazakhstan to continue as a so-called “rentier-state”, keeping its citizens at least minimally satisfied without actually initiating reforms that might threaten the political elite’s grip on the economy, and subsequently, power.

Kazakhstan possesses the eleventh largest oil-reserves in the world. (15). This serves as a tremendous asset in Kazakhstan’s politics, often wielded as a political weapon to gain concessions from or secure relations with foreign actors. Kazakhstan’s economy is largely dependent on its oil exports (6). While this has allowed for economic growth, it has certainly underscored the country’s political volatility, serving as somewhat of a double-edged sword; a gift and a curse rather. In political science, this phenomenon is referred to as the “resource-curse”, in which natural resource endowment serves as a substitute for tax and political reform through rents (6). But it has also allowed for a degree of self-sustainable autonomy for Kazakhstan. Still, the country remains dependent on foreign investment and technology for the maintenance and development of oil pipelines in the Tengiz & Kashagan oil fields. The existence of these oil fields had essentially deemed Kazakhstan a central focus of “the great game”. Kazakhstan’s overall economic performance has been positive and has improved significantly over the years. With a GINI index score of 39, Kazakhstan boasts a relatively low income disparity (31). These are further indicators of Kazakhstan’s potential to prosper. Only 8.5% of the population is living on less than $2 a day, compared to 27.2% in Kyrgyzstan, the second lowest, and a disturbing 77.5% in Uzbekistan. Kazakhstan also boasts an unemployment rate of 8%, compared to 18% in Kyrgyzstan and 60% in Turkmenistan (31). All of these economic indicators suggest why Kazakhstan has maintained a politically stable climate, compared to its neighbors, where Islamic repression is severe, insurgency is rampant and economies are stagnant.

In many parts of the world where oil wealth is vast, democratic reform is scarce. There could be a strong correlation, but nonetheless, it is a question of theory. Oil has impacted Kazakhstan immensely. It has increased competition between elites, spurred corruption, bribery and greed, all of which have fueled dissent, fanatical and non. Still, Nazarbayev has managed the politics and economics relatively well compared to his neighbors. Thus, Kazakhstan has enjoyed lower rates of unemployment, higher GDP per capita, less income disparity and more political freedom than all other Central Asian states (38).

The history of economic development of Central Asia is not much different from most regions endowed with natural resource wealth and geopolitical significance. These two attributes have served as a double edged sword to the region’s economy, resulting in major booms or, on the contrary, incidents of upheaval and economic uncertainty.

The “multifaceted institutional weaknesses” of regions like Central Asia symbolize the complexity of the relationship between illegality, crime, and human security. Nonetheless, the authors here echo the sentiments of many in the Western tradition. This begs the question: is the western academic tradition of analysis largely negligent of its own perhaps indirect complicity in enabling the socio-economic dynamic that is described in Central Asia, and more specifically in this case, in Kazakhstan? In these contexts, names such as Edward Said, and his philosophy of “Orientalism”, are of significance, because it helps to illuminate the biases inherent in the study of indigenous populations by non-indigenous sources.

The most recent terrorist attack in Kazakhstan in which the President blamed organized crime instead of radical militants, which could be true; could very well be a political tactic to undermine the opposition. Nonetheless, that Kazakhstan is the least vulnerable to attacks, and that it has enjoyed a relatively secure atmosphere complemented by a robust economy, altogether could perhaps challenge the legitimacy of insurgent movements.

The presence of oil, terrorist threats, radical Islam, organized crime, the drug trade – the overall illicit economy – combined with the geopolitical reality of the region, underscore the volatility of the region. This has a tremendous impact on the economy of the Central Asian region. Not only are markets often held hostage to the political dynamic, either through competitive limits or foreign exploitation; they are completely vulnerable to violent disruption, a common characteristic of countries with vast natural resource wealth. Perhaps it is this dynamic which produces overbearing political systems that run contrary to the conventional “democratic” models of the West (12).

The majority of Central Asian economies exhibit the predictable characteristics of non-democratic nations, with regards to economic performance. High income disparages between the elite and the poor; relatively low GDP per capita income; and high restrictions on competition, with national governments controlling much of the economies. The exception to this dynamic is Kazakhstan. The cunning of President Nazarbayev has secured the country politically, allowing noticeable economic mobility and competition. It is no surprise that his country enjoys the lowest income disparity between the rich and poor, with a GINI index of 28 (14). That Kazakhstan does possess the vastest oil deposits in the region, among the top 15 in the entire world, should not be overlooked (45).

Overall, the literature suggests a prevalence of two major perspectives; externalist and internalist, in terms of trying to adequately attribute the blame for instability in the region, be it in the form of organized crime or violent insurgency. Unfortunately, this dichotomous tradition excludes the possibility of a third (or fourth, fifth, etc) perspective. While in some cases, it seems national governments are more responsible for violence and general discontent, other cases suggest otherwise, that foreign elements are playing a huge hand in destabilizing the region. That the dynamic is so complex, perhaps means that the oversimplification of the matter plays right into the hands of foreign powers seeking to exploit the region’s resources. In this explanation, concepts such as “choice” and “ideology” play a bigger role in determining the overall dynamic of each country; that is, the leader’s choices in managing the situation at hand; and the prevailing ideologies of the region, imported, such as Wahhabism on one end or “Westernization” on the other, and exported, such as the Hannafi demographic. This reality calls into the question the motives of western democracies, as much as it challenges the abuse of power of particular autocrats in the region, blaming both, but acquitting neither (42). It further underscores the complexity of the political dynamic, as emphasized by Williams.

 

  1. Historical Evolution

 

The history of Kazakhstan is rather unique. Its interactions with the outside world have historically influenced the political dynamic of the region. In this portion of the research paper, I will demonstrate why history is a crucial variable in the political stability of Kazakhstan. Firstly I will begin with Kazakhstan’s early history. This will be followed by the arrival of Islam, a period of autonomy. The final historical segment will cover the period from Tsarist Russian Imperialism, USSR integration, and the eventual collapse of the USSR leading to the modern independent Kazakh republic. The purpose of this segment is to demonstrate how these historical incidents reflect in Kazakhstan’s anomalistically diverse nature.

The history of Kazakhs as a nomadic, tribal people with clan-based hierarchies greatly reflects in its political structure. There is an immense respect for the “way of the elders” which suggests that Kazakhs are willing to making certain, though perhaps temporary compromises in the realm of political competitiveness for the sake of long term stability, and sovereignty. This tradition is symbolic of Kazakh culture. The word Kazakh itself means “free spirit; nomad”, perhaps an allusion to Kazakhs’ longing for independence, autonomy and stability; a struggle balanced and juggled pragmatically by President Nazarbayev.

Nomadism has played a huge role in the history of Kazakhstan. In modern times, this is expressed through informal social institutions such as nepotism and patronage. That Kazakh culture embraces informality arguably induces corruption. Nonetheless, since its early history, Kazakhstan never thoroughly experienced autonomy, that is, until the 15th century, when the first Turkic-Kazakh Khanate was established It endured until the 19th century, when Kazakhstan fell to the Russian Empire. The period of the Kazakh Khanate is generally accepted as the ethnogenesis of Kazakh statehood and national identity. It would be interrupted nonetheless, by a series of new empires mimicking its past of domineering hordes and conquerors.

Despite a rugged, mountain terrain that almost isolates the region, Kazakhstan was always vulnerable to domination by various conquerors and civilizations. With these empires came new cultures, religions, customs and languages that have shaped Kazakhstan’s national identity, all of which are still visible today. The country boasts of its ethnic diversity, with claims of an existing 120 different ethnic groups in the country. Traditionally, the influx of ideas, religions and cultures came along what is now called the Silk Route, connecting the east and west through trade networks and other forms of cultural interaction. Prior to the introduction of Islam by Arab warriors into the region in the 8th century, Kazakhstan exhibited a diverse religious demography, including the mystical Shamanism, Tengrianism & Buddhism (11). This legacy has impacted Kazakhstan in forming its national identity in modern times as it struggles to balance the tenets of Islam with its rich religious history. Furthermore, extremists have often used religion to ostracize or vilify unconventional religious customs. This has only further polarized conservative Islamic movements, thereby contributing to the regions instability. Simultaneously, the leadership has used its ethno-religious diversity as a mechanism for unity among the moderate social groups. For this reason, among many others, Nazarbayev has maintained control, by associating himself and his administration with Kazakh’s diverse national identity, stoking paranoias of Islamic radicalism.

Kazakhstan’s integration into the USSR only reinforced the tradition of authoritarian statism and the centralization of power. They have carried on even into the post-soviet era—Nazarbayev was former First Secretary of the Kazakh SSR. Thus, without a history of liberalism, the political condition of Kazakhstan becomes more comprehensible (40).

The disintegration of the USSR produced the exact opposite result, opening a vacuum of power. This vacuum was either to be filled by extremists or a continued legacy of authoritarianism. Kazakhstan, like the rest of the Central Asian states, chose the latter. The Politburo was replaced with Nazarbayev’s state. Similar security measures were adopted nonetheless, a continued legacy of Soviet-inspired statism which Nazarbayev carried with him after transitioning from his post as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan to its President. The only difference was that Moscow had essentially less control over the fate of the nation it once easily swallowed up.

Kazakhstan has been independent for barely 30 years (40). Perhaps this helps to explain why democracy has lagged, and the relatively unstable and vulnerable nature of the region. Still struggling to form a national identity amidst a barrage of violations of national sovereignty and autonomy, Kazakhstan has become prey to the global hegemonies at play in the great game.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Geographic Setting

 

Kazakhstan’s geography is a crucial variable to its political stability. Below is both the support for the assertion that geography plays a central role in determining the overall political stability of Kazakhstan. The section will be divided into two categories. First will be the topographic aspect of Kazakhstan’s geography. Second will be the demography.

 

  1. Topography

 

Kazakhstan is the world’s largest landlocked country by area and the ninth largest country in the world. It is larger than Western Europe. It borders Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan as well as a significantly large portion of the Caspian Sea. The terrain includes flatlands, steppe, taiga, rock, canyons, hills, deltas, snow-capped mountains as well as deserts. This suggests immense topographical variation within the country’s borders. While Kazakhstan’s topographical variation may have provided a natural form of security through isolation and rugged terrain, its proximity to Russia seems to have overshadowed this sense of security. Perhaps then Kazakhstan’s most crucial geographic feature is its border with Russia, the longest and most contiguous border in the world (44). That this border-relationship with Russia has adversely contributed to the political stability of Kazakhstan, is without question. It would then be safe to suggest that Kazakhstan’s geographic dynamic has a negative relationship with political stability. Perhaps it was this reality which inspired President Nazarbayev to relocate the capital city from Almaty to Astana, which is much further north, closer to Russia and inhabited largely by Russians.

 

 

  1. Demography

 

This brings us to the second aspect of Kazakhstan’s geographic dynamic; its demographics. The total population of Kazakhstan is approximately 17.5 million. Kazakhstan boasts an unprecedented variety of ethnic groups (about 120), often celebrated as one of its most dignifying characteristics (29). Nonetheless, the country is generally homogenous, with the majority of ethnic Kazakh background making up 74% of the population The second most significant ethnic group is made up of Russians, accounting for 13% of the population. Other ethnic groups include Uzbeks, Tatars, Uygurs, Chechens, Koreans, Turks, Azerbaijanis & Germans (30). It is important to note that the population of Russians is the second largest. Before independence, Kazakhstan’s own national ethnic group, the Kazakhs, comprised less than 40% of the total population. During this time Russian was more widely spoken. Following independence however, Kazakh was nationalized as the official language. Furthermore, quite recently, Kazakh’s became the official ethnic majority within their own national boundaries for the first time in their history (20). This reflects in Kazakhstan’s ongoing struggle for national sovereignty in the face of foreign and internal threats to power. This dynamic serves as a major political dilemma for President Nazarbayev and future leaders who struggle with balancing the pressures of major powers, namely Russia. The conflict in Ukraine – especially Moscow’s assertion of its self-proclaimed right to intervene in foreign countries on behalf of Russian speakers – has focused Astana’s attention on interethnic relations.

Kazakhstan has avoided major ethnic clashes, although occasional incidents reveal boiling tensions. Azamat, a Kazakh born in Bostandyk, is quoted saying: “We’ve always lived in peace with the Uzbeks, Tajiks, Russians,” (25). To highlight the significance of demography, the presence of Uzbeks in southern Kazakhstan provide insight into the assertion that modern Central Asia is an artificial creation traced back to the initial “cutting up” of the region by USSR leaders. It is likely that the environment and conditions created by these “partitions” created much of the imbalance and instability in the region today. Despite being Uzbek by ethnicity, Kazakh Uzbeks are loyal to the soil in which they have inhabited for centuries (24). That ethnic irredentism really highlights the role of the New Great Game in determining the overall demographic structure and dynamic of Kazakhstan, and Central Asia altogether (29).

Another key component of demography in Kazakhstan that should be of note is that more than a fourth of Kazakhstan’s population is under the age of 30. This creates a volatile situation and an unpredictable future as it is likely more youth will grow intolerant of the corrupt practices of their government. Foreign elements as well as extremist groups do nothing but exacerbate the situation by exploiting the otherwise legitimate grievances of the population — especially the youth (46). That President Nazarbayev has established a Youth Policy Program to address the growing needs of his young constituency, six million of which were born during independence, underscores the important role youth development plays in securing the stability of Kazakhstan (46). Kazakhstan enjoys a better system of education than its neighbors despite a shortage of educational facilities. It has an impressively high literacy rate of 98% and a Human Development Index score of 73 out of 177 (8). All these points are indicators of Kazakhstan’s relatively successful performance, especially when put into context as a newly emerging post-soviet, autonomous state.

In the religious dimension, almost half the Kazakh population is Sunni Muslim (47 percent), while Russian Orthodox makes up the second majority of 44 percent, which isn’t very much less. This is an important dynamic. Despite the fact that, like many other countries in Central Asia, Kazakhstan exhibits a moderate religious tradition (8).

These points are important to note as there could be a correlation between countries exhibiting bipolar religious heterogeneity and authoritarianism, as well as the rise of fundamentalist movements and separatism in the region, often incited by actors on both angles of the global spectrum, the US & Russia.

Together, the complex topographic nature of Kazakhstan, coupled with its unique demographic dynamic make it easier to comprehend the political condition of the country, as well as the government’s behavior. It further challenges universal understanding of political philosophy, through cultural relativism and geopolitical anomalies. Its positioning on the map has exposed Kazakhstan vulnerability as another victim of an age long tug-o-war match between Eastern & Western political giants, deeming this variable negatively related to its overall political stability (17).

While the overall geographic characteristics of Kazakhstan offer mechanisms for stability, especially in the realm of its demographics, its proximity to Russia takes precedence as the greatest influence, and therein renders the relationship to be negative.

 

  1. Quality of Life

 

One of the more difficult to measure, the quality of life in Kazakhstan helps paint a vivid picture of the reality at hand, going beyond the mundaneness of statistical and empirical analysis. Overall, it appears the quality of life in Kazakhstan has served a force of stability, showing a sense of loyalty and unity among the citizenry (39).

Compared to the rest of Central Asia, the quality of life in Kazakhstan is rather positive. The literacy rate in Kazakhstan is quite high. With the majority of its population educated, it gives hope for a more stable future. The average Kazakh has managed to enjoy a relatively high income compared to his neighbors (30). This is likely due to the country’s vast oil wealth, as well as Nazarbayev’s multi-vector policies. In terms of freedom, Kazakhstan’s rather liberal social fabric allows for relative freedom of expression. However this freedom becomes more limited when intertwined with political expression, as many opposition groups and parties are either banned, suppressed or discouraged.

Generally, the quality of life has improved in Kazakhstan, allowing for levels of modernization that surpass its neighbors. Increased urbanization in Kazakhstan is also evident, implying its ability to integrate into today’s international political economy (25). This suggests that the quality of life is among the few variables that provide stability in Kazakhstan.

 

  1. Socio-Cultural Setting

 

Kazakhstan’s social fabric is intricately woven. As mentioned in the history section, Kazakhstan’s location along the Silk Route made it vulnerable to various conquerors, who often brought with them their religions and cultures (26). This includes but is not limited to Shamanism, Tengrianism, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, Communism & Islam (1). Sufism is claimed to have its origins in this region, which underscores the rather liberal tradition of religion in Kazakhstan. The socio-cultural setting is one of the two variables bringing stability to Kazakhstan.

Most of Kazakhstan adheres to the Hanafi branch of Islam, which is of the Sunni sect, and is known to be the more liberal of the bunch (11). This strange amalgam of ideas, cultures and religions has likely contributed to the unconventional development of Kazakhstan over the ages. The country’s roots in tribalism, nomadism and mystical religion perhaps helps to explain its resistance to full-fledged westernization, modernization and democratic reform (11). In a sense, this rich cultural history, which enables Kazakhstan to boast some 120 ethnic groups within its borders, makes Kazakhstan’s interactions with various political actors, both internally and externally, rather complex. Perhaps this also explains why Kazakhstan and the Central Asian region at large finds more solace in its neighbors in the East, like China & Russia, who have been most significant in countering western expansionism. The less the outside world is willing to acknowledge the significance of Kazakhstan’s cultural distinctiveness, the more likely that tensions will rise between Western nation’s seeking to secure economic interests and Kazakhstan’s leadership. Furthermore, Kazakhstan’s cultural dynamic shows how ostracized, disenfranchised and “foreign” Islamic fundamentalism, as an ideology, really is to the Kazakh people (19). It is not surprising that most fundamentalist movements receive their support from outside of the region, namely from Saudi Arabia, where fundamentalism is rampant.

The status of women in Kazakhstan is generally regarded positively, considering the liberal Islamic tradition which permeates the country (32). Unlike some other Islamic countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, Kazakhstan exhibits no constraints on women’s rights. This could be said generally of the Central Asian region broadly. The greatest threat perhaps to women’s rights as well as children’s safety is Islamic fundamentalism, which, perhaps arbitrarily, refutes women’s rights (37). Nonetheless, it could be said that Kazakhstan secures the rights of women. An example of this is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women which essentially forbids all forms of institutional discrimination on the basis of gender (18).

Kazakhstan boasts 120 ethnic nationalities within its borders. This is symbolic of its rich history of interaction with external societies, whose cultures and religions they often imported.

One of the most important notions in Kazakhstan is the struggle for national autonomy. Culturally, this struggle is deeply rooted, as Kazakhs have scarcely endured autonomy. Perhaps this is why in their modern setting, Kazakhs are willing to compromise their urge for democratic reform for the sake of preserving national autonomy, given the presence of endless threats to Kazakhstan’s stability, internal and external.

 

  1. Implications and Conclusion

 

The overall analysis, including previous literature and the data gathered on my own, suggests many implications for Kazakhstan. Since the beginning of its history, much before it even existed in the form of state, Kazakhstan has faced the challenge of balancing the variables that seem to directly affect its political stability. Kazakhstan, like the rest of Central Asia, is an anomaly, in a sense. Like many regions of the world where indigenous populations struggle to sustain their national identity while simultaneously trying to embrace modernization, tensions are prevalent, and often produce political systems foreign to the traditional mode of governance in the West. A tradition of tribalism, a history of colonialism, and its complex geography, including the vast amount of oil it possesses, make it the target of aggressive political actors, both domestic, in the form of opposition, dissent and extremism, and foreign, in the form of competing interests between global powers, namely the US, Russia & China, as mentioned earlier in the paper. That Kazakhstan has outdone most of its neighbors politically and economically could be attributed to both its immense oil wealth as well as the cunning leadership of President Nazarbayev, compared to his peer from Uzbekistan for example, Islam Karimov, who has been “less pragmatic” to put it mildly. Kazakhstan has managed to acquiesce any mass-dissent more than any of its neighbors, a reality often overlooked in the literature. The low levels of democracy is often the reason for this oversight. While it cannot be argued that authoritarianism has fueled violence and instability in Kazakhstan, so to has pressure from foreign powers and their ideologies, be they democratic, communist or colonial in nature. The insistence for democracy has often produced disastrous results in regions like Central Asia, for example, in the Middle East. Whether or not democracy is universal, due to variables such as the four mentioned here, comes into question here. This could be described as cultural relativism, the idea that there may be no universal standard for societies globally. It could also suggest something less extreme, that democracy could unfold, but with perhaps less intervention from foreign powers seeking their own interests. Western actions in Central Asia and abroad have been contrary to democratic principles. It is furthermore without question that the West, namely the US, has turned a blind eye to authoritarianism in the region.

For Kazakhstan, the road ahead is paved with uncertainty. Balancing its internal politics, the threat of militants, foreign hegemonies, as well as its intricate geography, will not be easy for future leaders by any means. Perhaps that is why Nazarbayev has stayed in power for so long – there is a succession crisis. With various candidates offered as potential incumbents, his daughter being one of them, the question of how future leaders will play the “great game” will surely determine the country’s fate. Based on the research, I believe the future of Kazakhstan’s political stability rests mainly on the leaderships ability to balance the threats of Russia & the US, and the internal forces of opposition, from political elites, parties and the average constituent, to insurgent groups. A steady transition to political reform could help mitigate the threats posed by these variables to instability, but whether that means full fledged democracy, a hybrid-democracy, or neither, is of question – but is mainly up to Kazakhs to decide for themselves. The idea that western democracies promote this sort of reform or solution in Kazakhstan is premature, based on the US & Europe’s history of negligence and double-dealings. Furthermore, Russia’s more recent expansiveness poses a threat to the possibility of reform in Kazakhstan. That is why it becomes difficult to associate reform with democracy, because the “bad neighborhood” theory – in a landscape of competing hegemonies and security threats, could a fragile democracy survive – would it better serve the people of Kazakhstan? For now, Kazakhstan enjoys the most stable political atmosphere in Central Asia. Aside from its geography, history, and economy, this research suggests the greatest threats to stability in Kazakhstan to be “political” in nature. The more power the indigenous populations of Kazakhstan and elsewhere in the world are able to wield using the natural resources and geopolitical positioning as leverage, the better chance the country has at mitigating foreign exploitation. This would in turn provide greater political stability to Kazakhstan, and could essentially induce a more prosperous future. It could possibly usher more accountability in governance that could more appropriately address all aspects of Kazakh livelihood; whatever “form” that mechanism for accountability may take. But besides all the analysis which seems to often blind us from the more tangible realities that reflect the cultural sensitivities of Kazakh society, it is important to note that among the greatest grievances of the population is the immense frustration towards Western hypocrisy in simultaneously promoting democracy while destabilizing the region. This has given credence to extremist movements and has further blurred the lines between nationalists and foreign forces. The stubbornness of the West has furthermore strengthened the resolve of authoritarian governments, and has furthermore increased public support for the incumbents, deeming western initiatives of promoting peace or democracy suspicious. All these realities have certainly been considered and managed by the current leadership. Critics would certainly dismiss the possibility that Kazakhstan has maintained its stability by the machiavellian pragmatism of the leadership. But this possibility cannot be overlooked, especially when trying to predict the future of Kazakhstan. That the current model of politics in Kazakhstan has performed relatively well compared to its neighbors gives analysts reasons to believe that the future leadership will be not much different from the incumbent, that is, if the stability of Kazakhstan is to be maintained.

The common thread in the literature is rather imbalanced, and often ignores the double-standards of the West. Seeing that the Western world is dominant in the world today, it is unsurprising that the scholarly conversation is biased in its favor (from bipolar to unipolar), usually promoting democracy and ignoring the differences in culture and politics between nations. Also, many democracies exhibit the same injustices as authoritarian regimes. Furthermore, democracies have often engaged with authoritarian regimes, making them complicit in crimes against humanity, a reality that is often shoved beneath the roundtable. We criticize non-democratic countries as though we are infallible, despite out own democratic shortcomings. The political hubris of foreign powers is manifesting in nationalist movements as well as radical insurgent movements. But historically, empires that have grown too proud have collapsed. Internationally security is also at stake. Stability and prosperity are only possible if foreign hegemonies contain their own exploitations and expansive-hunger. But if the trend continues as is, it is unlikely that the US, Europe, China, Russia or the regional powers of Iran & Turkey, will stay out of the sovereign affairs of Kazakhstan and Central Asia, prompting more authoritarianism, heightened security threats, and greater instability for the region, and the international community at large. Whether democracy can unfold or whether or not it is even in the best interests of the Kazakh people is a matter of theory. It is also up to the Kazakh people to decide. Foreign hegemonies are quick to speak for the Kazakhs. Nonetheless, what is likely, is that the light of justice will become more dim if foreign powers continue meddling in the affairs of Kazakhstan, making both prosperity or reform very unlikely.

The quality of life in Kazakhstan as well as the socio-cultural setting, the two perhaps most difficult variables to measure, are the only variables that share a positive relationship with Kazakhstan. This is an interesting dynamic because these two variables are non-empirical in nature — what I mean is that, such variables are determined by collective choices, which are not necessarily based on cost-benefit analysis, like the other variables of political development and economic conditions. In the West, democracy is presumed as the rational form of government — the product of a series of failures of non-populist government forms which led to the enlightenment, and the french revolution. While democracy has prevailed in the West — it hasn’t in other regions, like Central Asia. Kazakhstan is great example of it, where democratic reform continues to lag. It could be too early to dim the lights on democracy for Kazakhstan entirely, but as the research indicates, the country’s historical development is significantly distinct from those countries which are in today’s world described as “western democracies”. The greatest hope for Kazakhstan, and the region at large, is that foreign hegemonies will learn to contain their ambitions for the sake of international security and genuine political reform, whatever direction it takes. Meanwhile, if Central Asian states could learn to settle their differences, this could serve as the greatest threat to exploitative global hegemonies. Perhaps what it feared is a united, sovereign and self-reliant Central Asia. Perhaps it is this possibility which has driven global powers like the US and Russia to be negligent of the threat of radical forces in the region, while simultaneously working actively against the more moderate forces of Central Asian society. If the United States continues to follow the trend of the current administration, there is reason to believe that the ineffectiveness of the “war on terror” as well as previous traditions of meddling in the sovereign affairs of Central Asian states will be further realized. Given the contentious tone of ongoing political conversation in the US, the most influential power in the world, as well as Russia’s interventions in Georgia and the Ukraine, a future of further instability is equally possible (4). It is a question of whether or not Central Asian states like Kazakhstan will manage to fend themselves, or surrender to a relationship of dependency.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Causes of Political Instability in the Middle East: A Constructivist Approach


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If we are to analyze properly regions of the world which are historically religious anomalies, it would seem precarious to apply normative principles across various societies. The Middle East possesses a unique characteristic which makes it vulnerable to instability. That is the underlying logic of this research article. The common trend of analyzing the Middle East has focused largely on variables that neglect this consideration. As a result, most research connects Middle Eastern instability with variables such as regime type, natural resource abundance, (sectarianism, religiosity) or ideological conflict. The aim of this research is to fill the gap in the literature by focusing on foreign interventionism in the Middle East as the most significant variable influencing stability. In the post-9/11 era, the US has become more entangled in the region than ever before (Said 1997). US foreign interventionism has largely taken the shape of coercive democratization efforts in the Middle East, as in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. In Syria, protests for democratic reforms resulted in full fledged war and unprecedented terrorism. In other countries, like Lebanon, Israel, and Turkey, where a tradition of democratic pluralism ran deeper, an increasing trend of terrorism is exhibited, particularly after 2003 (START 2015). Drawing from two particular databases, evidence suggests a trend between democratization efforts in the Middle East and increased instability in the form of violent terrorism. I conclude by offering the implications of the findings, in theory and in policy.

Introduction

The tradition of western scholarship has in the realm of international relations been dominated by the schools of rationalism and realism. Where the individual and cost-benefit is the motive of human behavior, the trend of international relations has always been explained through the scope individual self-interest and the pursuits of power and security. But emerging schools of thought have challenged this assumption, such as constructivism, by offering a new outlook on relations betweens states (Wendt).

Theoretical Argument: Hypothesis & Historical Support

This research focuses on a particular region of the world, the Middle East, considered one of the most violent, volatile and unstable. Its goal is to explain the causes of instability through the international relations approach of constructivism, challenging the conventional paradigms of realism and liberalism by emphasizing the importance of “social constructs” to explain variance in cultural values and political institutions across states, by analyzing data on levels of democracy and terrorism in the region.

While some state’s exhibit individualistic cultures, others practice collectivized traditions that preserve age-old customs and traditions embedded within society (Said 1997). The emergence of globalized democracy in the twentieth century limited conventional imperialism, which relied heavily on military capability. In today’s world, where technology and freedom have made information more readily accessible, democratic states are more pressured to conform to order. But instead, the US, leader of the democratic world, has embarked on foreign military adventures under the premise of both preserving and spreading democracy. Because of its successes in the West, it was expected that reluctance to such institutional changes would be absent relative to resistance towards non-democratic interventionism throughout the twentieth century. But despite democracy’s triumph in the 21st century there still remains a specter of arbitrary interventionism which violates the sovereignty of vulnerable nation-states by global hegemonies. I argue that the modern form of this interventionism is the insistence of the US-led West on spreading democracy abroad, in this case, the Middle East.

The purpose is not however to pinpoint democracy as the cause of violence, nor to dismiss authoritarianism as a viable source of instability, but rather to analyze the increase of Western interventionism in the post-Cold War era, despite the demise of the USSR and the so-called communist threat. This tradition of exporting democracy, or neoconservatism, I argue, ignores the constructive distinctions between states (their political culture) and thus leads to conflict. Whether or not democracy is a comparable nemesis to communism in the sense of its imperial capacity isn’t the focus or assertion here then. The Middle East, particularly the Arab World, has been under foreign dominion for ages. Its struggle for sovereignty has resulted in immense grievances, expressed violently, domestically and internationally. I argue that in today’s world, foreign presence in the Middle East has taken the form of democracy.

The main premise of the research rather is to associate destabilization in the Middle East with violations of sovereignty and negligence of the distinctions in political culture between East and West, usually perpetrated by global hegemonies, which in today’s case, would be the United States. Historically, the UK and Russia were much more interventionist, but the twentieth century replaced these two world powers with a unipolar global dynamic led by the US. Since the end of WWII, the Middle East has endured unstable periods of regime change, terrorism and war. The literature on this subject has focused primarily on domestic causes of this instability, pointing often to variables such as the oil-curse, Islamism or authoritarianism, however little to none of the literature focuses on non-domestic actors. This research seeks to fill this gap.

Historically, the Middle East has fallen prey to foreign ideologies like communism. The conflict in Afghanistan in this perspective can thus be seen as a struggle between Arab sovereignty and the imperial nature of communism. Today, there is no USSR and communism has been essentially made irrelevant. Instead, foreign presence in the Middle East is now in the form of democracy, led by the US. The emergence of the neoconservative doctrine, or coercive democracy, has prompted the US to intervene in the internal affairs of nations for the sake of its interests, whether they are to contain ideologies, remove unfriendly leaders or to preserve economic assets. For this reason, many Islamists who regarded the US as an ally in the struggle against communism turned against the US for exhibiting the same behavior as the USSR in Afghanistan, but under a new guise. It was not until the second half the twentieth century, during which the Middle East was divided by european colonialists, Israel was established, and the ensuing wars on terrorism manifested. It was also during this period that the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism emerged and would eventually become a norm (Moghadam 2006). As a result, this research has focused on the linkage between foreign interventionism via democratization in the Middle East and political instability measured by the frequency of terrorist incidents. Through a hybrid method of qualitative anecdotal evidence as well as quantitate data analysis, this research argues that violence in the Middle East, both domestic and exported, is caused mainly by foreign occupation (Pape 2003). The goal is to challenge the idea that democracy is universally applicable, and universally stabilizing, and perhaps more importantly, to establish a link between violations of sovereignty in the Middle East and the heightened level of political instability, in the form of terrorism, in the region altogether. By controlling for the variables of oil, islamism and authoritarians, it aims to dispel the myth that the Middle East is a so-called backwards society with tyrannical leadership across the board – and to suggest the notion that the Middle East is in fact culturally unique, especially due to its history, and that violating its sovereignty on a political and cultural level have destabilized the region.

In this research design, I argue that, though many variables are offered in the literature as potential causes of instability, I focus on the variable of foreign intervention, which has relatively little focus in the literature. In today’s world, international relations can be characterized by the global dominance of liberalism and democracy. In many parts of the world, these institutions are absent, for a variety of reasons. The objective is to demonstrate how modern foreign interventionism as largely taken the form of pressured democratization via regime change, particularly in non-western societies, and how this has coincided with a simultaneous increase in the trend of terrorist incidents in the Middle East.

Research Method

The US has not always been thoroughly involved in Middle Eastern affairs. After WWII this changed (Said 1997). In the post-9/11 world, US foreign policy has focused on the Middle East, particularly challenging authoritarianism. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq can be seen as the beginning of this endeavor. This would be followed by regime change in Libya, Egypt, and Yemen; the ongoing war in Syria. My argument is that the significant rise in terrorism is due to these campaigns. More specifically, pressures for regime change through forced-democratization have resulted in instability and the increase of terrorism. Instead of explaining this through power-struggles as per the prevailing schools of thought in international relations, I focus on democratization as a form of neocolonialism, violating both the political sovereignty of Middle Eastern states as well as challenging their norms and institutions which have been historically reluctant to democratization, and foreign interventionism altogether.

The purpose of this research paper is to demonstrate how terrorism has increased rapidly in tandem with the US-led democratization efforts in the Middle East. It seeks to show how modern foreign interventionism as largely taken the form of pressured democratization via regime change, and how this has coincided with a simultaneous increase in the trend of terrorist incidents in the Middle East.

To demonstrate this, I employ the quantitative method of cross-country analysis, gaging both incidents of terrorism as well as instances of democratic evolution, or democratization, over time in the Middle East, drawing from two databases, the Global Terrorism Database, which measures terrorist trends in each country in the world over time between the periods of 1970 and 2013, and Our World In Data, which covers global democratization trends ranging from 1800 to 2012.

Data Findings

Terrorist incidents in the Middle East were at a steady and constant low from 1970 until 2003, the year of the US invasion of Iraq, the country with the highest terror threat in the Middle East (START 2015). Terrorism increased from about an average of 1000 incidents per year from 1970 until 2002 to 4000 incidents in 2003, and 8000 in 2013 (START 2015). The trend is increasing. Is there a positive relationship between democratization and terrorism in the Middle East, contrary to the conventional arguments in the literature? Democracy in the Middle East is relatively scarce, and where it does exist, it is new. Only Iraq, Turkey, Tunisia, Israel, Lebanon and Yemen are even partially considered democratic. Prior to 1985, this was not the case (Roser 2016). Since its inception, as evidenced by the data, terrorism has reached unprecedented heights in the Middle East (START 2015).

The more democratic countries in the Middle East, Israel, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq exhibit the highest rates of terrorism in the region (IEP 2013). Tunisia is an outlier in this case, because its global terrorism index is measures lower than the previously mentioned countries, however other sources suggest that despite its low occurrence, the trend of terrorist threats continuous to increase even in Tunisia, particularly after 2010 (START 2015).

On the contrary, the most autocratic countries of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Iran & the UAE have drastically lower levels of terrorist attacks (IEP 2013). As mentioned previously, the main focus of the research is to reveal how foreign interventionism results in instability in the form of terrorism, and that in today’s world, foreign interventionism largely takes the form of forced democratization and regime change. The data indicates that at the height of democracy in the Middle East, terrorism is most rampant.

Literature Review – Filling the Gap

To explain instability and the rise in terrorism in the Middle East, the literature generally focuses on either natural resource abundance or regime type. There are few regions in the world like the Middle East, imbued with some what a gift and a curse: a unique religious history and the presence of oil (Ross 2001). This has been coined the resource curse. The presence of oil in the Middle East has made it the focal point of global hegemonies competing for power and assets. However oil is not present in some of the most terror-inflicted countries in the Middle East and in the world, such as Israel, Lebanon and Turkey in the Middle East, and Uzbekistan and Pakistan in the broader scope. Equally, terrorist incidents in the Gulf region are significantly lower than North Africa and the Levant (START 2015).

The majority of fighters in Syria are currently Iraqi (Roser 2016). This implies that without US intervention in Iraq, there would be no vacuum of power to form the terrorist-network of ISIS. Furthermore this suggests that sudden overthrowing an authoritarian regime in the Middle East produces dire consequences instead of increasing hopes for democratization.

Another aspect of the literature points to civilizational conflict as the driving source of instability in the Middle East. The premise here is that Islam is at war with competing ideologies and institutional norms. To counter this claim, I argue that, in some of the most homogeneously Islamic societies, there are significantly less cases of instability and terrorism, such as in Malaysia and Indonesia, compared to the frequency of terrorism in the Middle East. In a sense, terrorism is viewed as a response to occupation (Pape 2003). In this case, occupation is viewed as coercive democratization.

The final case in the literature review focuses on authoritarianism as the primary cause of anti-americanism (Bush et al.). But even in countries like Lebanon, where authoritarianism is relatively low, anti-americanism persists, and the terrorist threat is at its highest in the region.

The common denominator missing from the literature is the variable of foreign intervention in its influence on stability in the Middle East. Furthermore, empirical approaches have neglected the relationship between democratization and instability in the Middle East, primarily because of the domination of international relations theory by neorealist schools of thought. This theory presumes that self-interest and materialism rule the world universally. I argue that this presumption has justified modern “imperial overreach” by the US, particularly in the twenty-first century, in the form of coercive democratization. This had led to increased instability in the Middle East, and the rise in terrorism both regionally and globally.

Setbacks in My Approach

As with most research designs, there are setbacks suffered in this approach. Firstly, the lack of empirical data on Middle East politics makes it difficult to test claims. Secondly, the volatility of the region makes it even more challenging to innovate new methods and gather original data. Finally, the Middle East’s unique religious history challenges both the methods and approaches of the prevailing schools within political science, as well as the foreign policy traditions of major power players in global politics, in this case, the United States. The social constructs which distinguish the political cultures of the Middle East, a more collectivized society, from the West, the beacon of liberalism, make it difficult to understand and analyze the causes of violence.

Conclusion

The data gathered demonstrates that even where democracy endures in the Middle East, in the slightest form, it often exhibits extreme cases of political instability in the form of terrorism. Since 2003, terrorist attacks spiked in the Middle East (START 2016). The rise of ISIS has further intensified the terrorist threat in the region and abroad. It is mind boggling then that such an important variable as foreign interventionism, be it in the form of democratization or not, is largely unconsidered in international relations theory, considering the data which reveals a significant increase in terrorism immediately following the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 (START 2016). But the neoliberal and neorealist traditions which dominate international relations theory leave little room for discussion of culture and religion, what constructivism calls “social constructs” in explaining the international political dynamic, because it emphasizes self-interest and profit-incentives as universally applicable principles. This assumption is the source of tension between the US and the various political forces in the Middle East. A continued negligence of these differences will likely perpetuate the increasing trend of terrorism in the Middle East, while a recognition of them would result in the opposite – a sort of stability that characterized the Middle East prior to the 2003 War in Iraq.

Bibliography

Bush, S. S., & Jamal, A. A. 2015. Anti‐Americanism, Authoritarian Politics, and Attitudes about Women’s Representation: Evidence from a Survey Experiment in Jordan. International Studies Quarterly: 59(1), 34-45.

Global Terrorism Index. 2015. Institute for Economics and Peace: Visions for Humanity.

Huntington, S. P. 1993. The Clash of Civilizations? Foreign Affairs: 22-49.

Max Roser 2016. Democratisation. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/democratisation/ [Online Resource]

Moghadam, A. 2006. Suicide terrorism, occupation, and the globalization of martyrdom: A critique of Dying to Win. Studies in Conflict & Terrorism: 29(8), 707-729.

National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). 2015. Global Terrorism Database: http://www.start.umd.edu/gtd

Pape, Robert 2003. The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism. American Political Science Review. 343-361.

Ross, M. L. 2001. Does Oil Hinder Democracy? World Politics: 53(03), 325-361.

Said, E. 1979. Orientalism. 1978. New York: Vintage.

Wendt, A. 1999. Social Theory of International Politics. Cambridge University Press.

A Humble Conversation With A Palestinian Doctor


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I had a very interesting discussion today with a gentleman of high esteem. For the sake of privacy I won’t mention names, but the individual is a professional doctor and US citizen of Palestinian descent.

Our conversation surrounded my career trajectory as a student of Political Science and immigrant from the Middle East.

Perhaps if I were a US citizen, I would have considered running for office in America, but due to my limitations, I have chosen the routes of international diplomacy and academia.

My hopes are that I can further the interests of the US on an international scale as well as those of the Arab World, thereby improving relations between the two regions.

The doctor with whom I spoke, allowed me to explain the contents of my thesis, which is a constructivist analysis of the causes of instability in the Middle East, emphasizing the variable of foreign interventionism as the most significant in influencing stability in the Middle East, as well as on a global scale. This thesis, as I explained, is a hybrid research including qualitative and quantitative research, which will include theoretical arguments, implications, setbacks/weaknesses, anecdotal/historical evidence as well a quantitative segment. The latter section includes a linear regression comparing trends of democratization, treated as foreign intervention via neoconservatism, and terrorism, treated as the primary expression of instability in the region today. Finally, this will be followed a conclusion.

After explaining this, I also expressed to the doctor that my main objective is to reconcile the interests and relationship between the US and the Arab World. I wish to convince the US that it is in both her interests and within her moral ideal to stand with the Arab World in its struggle against arbitrary violations of sovereignty. The doctor proceeded to advise me – we must bring our nations close to one another. His emphasis was on the fact that the US is my home as much as the Arab World, and that by bringing the two closer together, we are not only improving the conditions of our original home, but also, of our new home – our nation, America.

I am more than honored to have such experiences. It is very rare that I can discuss such an emotional topic with someone who has had direct experience in it. To speak of Palestine is one thing – to be from it is another – to have lived through it, especially. That being said, my dream is to further the search for peace and justice in that part of the world, and I believe, I have been brought here to the states for a reason, to humanize what has been reduced to a conflict of savages, into a more accurate picture depicting a humble struggle for humanity.

To a free Palestine!

JIHAD: A Double-Edged Sword?


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Introduction

What causes Islamist terrorism?

Is it fabricated? Right-wing terrorism is more prevalent in the US than jihadism. In the ME, Islamic jihadism is the main motive. But is it fueled by money, or genuine grievance?

Large civilian populations in the Middle East and Central Asia flirt with the conspiracy theories that suggest US financing for Islamic militants to destabilize the region; and furthermore, Israeli Mossad complicity. They can’t be blamed – much of the conspiracies proved historically true, such as the 1952 coup against democratically elected PM Mossadegh of Iran (Kinzer 52).

Is there a difference between violent Jihad and military resistance? Can we really lump al Qaeda, ISIS and Hezbollah into the same category? Are their motives the same?

Or is genuinely result of occupation?

There are arbitrary cases (lone-wolves), but without US presence, and the lost of Palestinian territory, would Islamic terrorism exist? Those who think it is religiously or ideologically motivated, might argue yes. I don’t think so, given that terrorism increased sharply, and unprecedentedly during US invasions in 2003 and so forth (Moghadam 40).

Below is a further analysis of Islamic jihad and political violence in the Islamic and Arab worlds.

Research & Review 

Islamic terrorism is a relatively new phenomenon. It was not until the early start of the millennium in which large swaths of Islamic terrorist attacks occurred (Moghadam 70). Furthermore, religion has often been a force against violence within the most fundamentalist strains of Islam: Salafism. For this reason, it a seeming relationship between the events surrounding the early second millennium, that is, the 9/11 attacks and ensuing invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the surge of violent jihad (Moghadam 71).

One of the first themes offered in the literature is the important divide between Islamic jihadi groups, primarily in the Salafi mold. The literature presents a Salafi explanation for indiscriminate attacks that result in civilian deaths. Faulting the enemy for “mixing among them”, which is taken from hadiths. This echoes the justification of modern warfare, particularly the state of Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2014, which is argued to have been executed in disproportionate force. Israeli leaders claim civilian casualties are the fault of violent terrorists who also, “mix among them” – them being civilian Palestinians. This raises further doubt regarding the legitimacy and reasoning of hadiths, particularly in their application to contemporary times. That these authorities are not drawn of the Qur’an, raises skepticism about the legitimacy of rejecting flexibility within interpretations of Islam. It underscores the need for openness for the sake of preserving Islam in the modern world. Furthermore, the literature offers numerous examples of forgeries and discrepancies in the hadith collections (Wiktorowicz 218). Not to mention, it would almost seem contradictory that members of the Muslim community would openly identify with practices of the state of Israel, which often uses the same justification against Palestinians, most of whom, are Muslim.

Furthermore, the literature suggests that Salafi movement advocates for offensive, militaristic means of spreading Islam, based on the Salafi interpretation of hadiths, the Sunnah, and the Qur’an, but contradictory accounts from these sources offer a challenge to this perspective by portraying Islam as practiced by the Prophet himself as peaceful, rhetorical, and defensive (Wiktorowicz 216)..

With regards to the differences between Salafis, the literature does well to cover the spectrum of opinions and interpretations. It carefully dissects the differences as well as the similarities within the Salafi camp. An example is the hadith commonly invoked to justify indiscriminate offensives. The literature furthermore emphasizes two “dangerous” characteristics of Salafism that are made evident, which is firstly, its inherent self-righteous “certitude”, or dogma rather; and secondly, its lack of legitimacy and cohesion within its sources of authority, particularly in the validity of hadiths (often forged), accounts of the Prophet, and interpretations of the Qur’an. The emphasis on objectivity within Salafism underlines the almost intrinsic tensions within Islam, and perhaps all religions, between preservation (tradition), tolerance (moderation) and modernization (development). 

Some of the research methods within the literature are historical case studies of Salafism, with sources being more anecdotal. An empirical study, perhaps through survey data, could help gauge modern Salafi movements and trends, one that is comprehensive and does not focus solely on suicide attacks. This could provide a more insightful analysis of place of Salafism today, and whether or not the movement has grown more or less unified. Furthermore, surveys from non-Salafi movements could help gauge opinions within the larger ummah towards Salafism, and whether its legitimacy has gained or suffered. Also, gathering information from databases like the Global Terrorism Index or the Political Stability Index, provided by the Institute for Economics and Peace, might help gauge the trend of violence in Salafism, and whether or not the purists are gaining or losing ground in the resistance towards violence.

The differences between Salafis is mainly its application to the temporal world, and not in religious beliefs. The lack of empirics to support this claim make it difficult to assess. It is however difficult to collect these forms of data from regions where Salafism is prevalent, for reasons of security and instability. But the Salafis are split on their interpretation of apostasy, which highlights the religious division. Differences within the Islamic community in interpretation of scripture and tradition run deep. That religious purism is often a mechanism for suppressing violent incursions, is perhaps another reason for growing tensions between the Islamic community, and the political leaders therein. The inconsistencies in practice, as well as the contradictory understandings of Islamic duty, whether the source if Qur’anic or from hadiths, is perhaps evidence of emerging contentions in interpreting Islam, not only in its applicability, but in its definition of submission.

If indeed the primary differences among Salafis is in the application of their creed to modern times, then perhaps it is wiser for US foreign policy to focus less on the religious creeds since they often challenge violent jihad, and more on applicability, thereby reducing the security threats. Since much of the literature was conducted before the rise of the Islamic State, it would appear that the claim of distinctions between violent and non-violent Salafis has less legitimacy, considering the large influx of Salafi fighters in both Iraq and Syria since 2011.

Salafism is the primary ideological motive for Islamic terrorism. The fact that suicide attacks have been at a low constant until the early 2000s, where they rose beyond dramatically even to unprecedented levels, suggests a connection between growing anti-Americanism in the Muslim world, especially in the Middle East, and terrorism (Moghadam 48).

The motivations of Islamic jidahist movements are complex. That jihadists prefer foreign fighting, and are seemingly more effective as a result, underscores this notion. Who are the jihadists targeting and why?

The data gathered to measure the differences in brutality and effectiveness between domestic terrorists and foreign fighters is rather vague, and the method is questionable, which reflects the difficulty in retrieving data on this particular issue (Hegghammer 13). A variety of variables can influence a terrorist’s propensity towards domestic or international terrorism. The motives can range from fearing less reprisals abroad due to less political development; but it can also be because the targets of foreign fighters are often authoritarian governments, which exist outside the West.

Conclusion

The literature on terrorism is vast by no means. Increased terrorism over the past two decades however has raised interest in the field. While research has been offered, increased interest suggests a glimmer of hope in the thickening of the literature, and the improvement of research methods, however deteriorating circumstances in areas where terrorists are most active have only narrowed these hopes. The primary goal of most research in this field is to analyze the motives of Islamic jihadism, how they are expressed, and their consequence. While the literature often suggests little theological divergence, increased violence and radicalization signifies the potential rise more contention in the Islamic community over both the applicability of Islam but also of its core tenants and traditions, often invoked as justifications for violence or decadence.

Because the Middle East and other regions of the world where Islam is prominent are insecure, it limits the scope of research in this area. Furthermore, the cultural and historical intricacies of these regions highlight the need for more qualitative research that more recognizes the complexity of Islamic civilization. Survey research would help gauge public opinion on a more intimate level. From a quantitative angle, perhaps a study measuring the differences in motives for violent jihadism, or rather, a study of the frequency of violent jihadism across different states with different customs, might help paint a more vivid picture of the Islamic jihadism as it exists today, and its unprecedented rise.

That violent jihadism has increased dramatically following the post 9/11 US interventions in the Middle East is reminiscent of the guerilla tactics employed by communist forces resisting US interventionism in the Cold War, particular during the Vietnam War (Atran et. al). To restate a common theme in the literature, realizing the relentlessness of the jihadist cause might shift US focus from containing Islamism to reducing interventionism. But how could US interventionism be measured in relation to the rise of violent jihadism? Perhaps a measure between the level of foreign direct investment by the US in various predominantly Islamic countries and the frequency of terrorist attacks might be one method of gauging the relationship. Various perspectives have been offered on the causes of violent jihadism in the world. Some emphasize the violent nature of Islamic scripture, which is contested by the literature on purist Salafis as well as the relatively stable societies of Indonesia and Malaysia. Others point to the prevalence of natural resource wealth, or the oil curse as it is called. And finally, certain research has focused on the relationship between authoritarianism and violence. But there are many cases where non-oil rich states exhibit high rates of violent jihad, such as Uzbekistan (Kleveman). Furthermore, countries with lower rates of authoritarianism like Tunisia and Lebanon exhibit the highest rates of terrorism in the entire Middle East. Little research has been done on the relationship between foreign interventionism and violent jihad. Judging by the data offered in the literature, such research might prove critical in assessing the place of Islamist jihad in today’s world.

References

Assaf Moghadam, “Motives for Martyrdom: Al-Qaida, Salafi Jihad, and the Spread of Suicide Attacks,” International Security 33 (2009): 46-78.

Scott Atran, Hammad Sheikh, and Angel Gomez, “Devoted actors sacrifice for close comrades and sacred cause,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111 (2014): 17702- 17703.

Kinzer S. “All the Shah’s men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror”. John Wiley & Sons; 2003.

Kleveman, Lutz. “The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia”. Grove Press (2004).

Thomas Hegghammer, “Should I Stay or Should I Go? Explaining Variation in Western Jihadists’ Choice between Domestic and Foreign Fighting,” American Political Science Review 107 (2013): 1-15.

Quintan Wiktorowicz, “Anatomy of the Salafi movement,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 29 (2006): 207-239.

Book Review – Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics & The Great Games by Eric Walberg


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Walberg, Eric. Postmodern imperialism: geopolitics and the great games. SCB Distributors, 2011.

Recent history has introduced a period of heightened military conflicts, uprisings and contentions. This has resulted in many shifts in global patterns. Competitiveness between empires has intensified and further complicated the quest for understanding the global political dynamic. In his book, Postmodern Imperialism: Geopolitics & the Great Games, author Eric Wahlberg seeks to clear the air. The author’s main premise is to illustrate the shift from a bi-polar global dynamic, once dominated by the US on one end and the Soviet Union on the other, to a unipolar world, where the US is largely uncontested in its position as the global hegemony. Proxy wars, insurgent movements and radical militants have filled this void, which, as the author argues, has pinned the US and its main ally against anti colonial movements, Israel, against a loosely defined cooperative of movements and states, as well as a ambiguous enemy – the terrorist.

The author presents a historical backdrop from which he draws his assertions. This stretches from the earliest expression of the Great Games to their modern manifestations, as the Wars on Terror, and the neoconservative crusade for democracy. The consequence is increased exploitation of resources and the rise of untraceable insurgent networks that target their national governments as much as western societies. The double-dealings and inconsistencies of the West are evident here, which taints the reputation of western civilization. This is underscored by the author’s sympathies with the anti-capitalistic Soviet philosophical foundation.

The book is divided into five segments, organized chronologically, in which the author elaborates on the historical backdrop of the Great Game dynamic which has led to the current landscape. Wahlberg begins with the 19th century onset of the great games as played out between the British and Russian empires, followed by the communist revolution, WWII, the Cold War and the post 9/11 era. The author focuses on the British tactic of pinning forces against each other, a strategy which has been arguably adopted by the US in modern times, evidenced by its double-dealings with authoritarians and the radical insurgent movements threatening to depose them.

The three major sections in the book are categorized as GG I, II and III. GG stands for Great Games, and each numeric represents a period in time, in respective chronological order, beginning with the games as they panned out in the early 19th century, onto the WWII period, and finally, to GGIII, the post-cold war era. GGI refers to imperialism that took place during the nineteenth century until WWII. GGII covers the Cold War in which the two global superpowers, the USA and the USSR, competed for global influence.  GGIII is focused on the post-Cold War era beginning in 1989 to the present. Imperialism cannot be discussed without dissecting the role of the British Empire, a main focus of the author throughout the book. The British assumed hegemonic power by constructing a global economic network which would serve the interests of the core to the misfortune of the periphery, and where diplomacy failed, the use of military power was utilized.  The key focus of the book is the Middle East and Central Asia, “the heart of Eurasia”. It has been argued that the Eurasian heartland is a key geographic location; in other words, he who that controls the heartland controls the world.

The author suggests that in modern times, Islamic movements have replaced communism as the new anti-imperial force. The two primary agents of imperialism, argues Wahlberg, is an alliance between the US and Israel. The war on Iraq, and subsequent interventions in Libya and Egypt, are expressions of this new imperialism, and perhaps fall right into the hands of the main players in the global Great Games. The author suggests increasing tensions and growing insurgencies as a direct result of a stubborn imperial alliance between the US & Israel. Rising tensions in the Middle East and the growth of radical Islam in Central Asia are indicators of this reality. The US’ inconsistent foreign policy will only further retaliatory measures. The players of the great game must decide once and for all what is of greater priority; playing a fair game, or winning.

Does Foreign Aid Perpetuate Terrorism?


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The purpose of this article is to analyze the strengths, weaknesses as well as the overall implications of five separate research studies on the subject of foreign aid and its relationship to politics development. The general tendency based on the research suggests that foreign aid has a negative relationship with development, that is, the more foreign aid a country receives, the less likely they are to enact the reforms conducive to development. While there are some exceptions. It is argued that countries with effective financial management that receive large sums foreign aid are likely to exhibit stability and at least some levels of development and redistribution.

The body of this paper will be separated into five sections in which I summarize the main points of each article as well as the potential weaknesses of the research. After this segment, I follow up with a section about the theoretical and policy implications of these findings, and what this could mean for the world today, as well as in the future.

In Moss, Peterson and Walle’s article, the hypothesis is that large sustained aid flows fundamentally alter the relationship between citizenry and the government. The financial flow alters the incentive of the recipient government, and may undercut the very principles the aid seeks to promote: ownership, accountability and participation. States that raise a substantial amount of revenue from the international community are less inclined to usher reform or to cultivate public institutions, having a harmful effect on institutional development. The focus of this research is specifically on Sub-Saharan Africa. As the author’s cross-sectional time series indicates, countries that receive higher levels of foreign aid exhibit lower tax shares as percent of their GDP, meaning there is less incentive to invest in and cultivate public institutions when a significant percentage of the GNI is received in foreign aid. In sum, the literature and research suggest a negative relationship between foreign aid and political development. Perhaps the greatest weakness of this research is that it covers only a period of 17 years, making it more difficult to make far-reaching conclusions regarding the data. Furthermore, the authors could control for natural resource endowment as well as cultural relativity by considering the same measurements for non-African states with lower incomes. It would also be interesting to measure the the effect of foreign aid on countries with high levels of income per capita, which could help further contextualize the data on lower income countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Svenssons’s research in “Foreign Aid and Rent-Seeking” is rather interesting as it makes strong claims. Among other findings, Svensson argues that donors countries do not discriminate based on corruption levels, which means that foreign aid is given despite how corrupt the recipient may be. Svensson also finds that only in cases where a binding policy commitment is enacted can there be expected to be an increase in public spending. However, the data indicates that in most cases foreign aid perpetuates rent-seeking and reduces public spending. Furthermore, the data suggests that countries with competing social groups are likely to exhibit fluctuations in foreign aid. The research method was rather reliable, in that intervening variables such as infant mortality rate and arms imports so as to isolate the effects of foreign aid from the health and military dynamics of the subject states. Svens son’s control for ethnicity exposed the relative weakness of the coefficients of other variables, such as trade restrictions and protection from the international community. Of the four assumptions listed by the author, two particularly stood out. First, the assumption that that the larger the budget, the more likely a government is going to be corrupt. Perhaps stretching the boundaries of this study outside of Africa might provide a clearer indication of this assumption. What about countries with vast natural resource endowments? Are they less more or less likely to exhibit corruption? The second assumption that stood out was that donors at least partly care about the recipient’s welfare. The author suggests that much of the literature on this subject confirms the statement, however, I find it hard to believe that global hegemonies are more concerned with well-being of their recipients of foreign aid than perhaps the preservation of their own economic assets. Is it not surprising that countries which receive high levels of aid invest less in public institutions? Would this not be at the detriment of the recipient? That countries with tensions between social groups are likely to receive large swaths of foreign aid confirms this notion, in that global hegemonies are likely to provide aid if it secures their interests and prevents the threat of competing forces. How could this be regarded as “caring about the recipient’s welfare?” This leads directly into the next article.

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In their article “Aid, Policies & Growth”, the Burns & Dollar suggest foreign aid is often wielded as a tool for global hegemonies pursuing their own strategic interests. In other words, governments may receive aid — but not necessarily their people. Since the vast majority of countries that receive aid are underdeveloped or engulfed in conflict between competing social groups, the authors’ findings and assertions come as no surprise. How could it be assumed that donors care about their recipient’s well-being if the recipient state constantly receiving foreign aid is essentially in the hands of a small, political elite?  The research method is rather reliable as it includes a large sample size of 56 developing countries as well as wide-ranging time series covering two decades between 1970-1993. In terms of policy, the authors find that foreign aid has no effect in ensuring policy change, usually due to the donor’s lack of interest in policy-change. Rather, the donor is focused on its strategic interests. The positive outcome of foreign aid has been in the realm of income growth. How is it possible that state policy remains unaffected while incomes rise? Perhaps a common thread among the recipient states is a lack of natural resource endowment, making them more dependent on foreign aid. What could be said about the universality of democratic political development given that incomes rise despite a lack of institutional reform? That the budget for foreign aid is shrinking while policies tend to improve in poor countries, there is reason to believe there is a negative correlation between foreign aid and institutional development.

In their article, Easterly, Revise and Roodman seek to debunk some of the claims made by the previous article. The authors argue that the idea that foreign aid results in positive growth in countries with good financial management presumes that foreign aid causes growth and that countries with good policies should be the target of foreign aid donors. Their belief is that such conclusions were reached due to limited data availability.

The most crucial element of the data is in the time-series. By extending the period of analysis to from 1993 to 1997, the authors reduced confidence in the assertion that foreign aid causes growth. This is a significant finding as it parallels my concerns regarding the contexts of the research method. Furthermore, this study illuminates the dangers of presumptuous research methods in that minor alterations to the study produced completely different results, challenging previous literature.

In his article on the influence of non-tax revenue on political development and regime security, author Kevin Morrison illustrates that revenue accrued by governments from non-taxable revenues like from oil or foreign aid essentially secure regimes and their grasp on power. This in turn reduces the incentive for reform and public investment. The reliability of the data is quite strong, given that the time series stretches from 1973-1999. I wonder still, given that in the previous study where only three years were added therein altering the findings, if perhaps adding a few more years to this study would have the same effect. That 80 countries were tested, a relatively large sample size, is another indication of the strength of this research method. While the authors generally tend to control for the more common variable of ethnicity and natural resource endowment, perhaps controlling for other variables might affect the outcome of the study, variables such as religious homogeneity, security threats, cultural relativity and historical evolution. How do we know that the religious dynamic, or the threat of religious militants, or perhaps the mere cultural differences of a region are not responsible for the level of redistribution and political development within a respective country?

The common thread among these articles is that there is a negative relationship between foreign aid and political development. That is, the more foreign aid a government receives, the less likely it is to implement the changes that foreign aid was intended to induce. For the most part the research methods were rather reliable, however contextualizing the data by measuring it against non-African states, as well as broadening the time-series spectrum, could provided more accurate indications of the relationship between foreign aid and development. While there are some cases of incomes rising as a result of foreign aid, generally, as indicated in “Aid, Policies and Growth”, as the global budget for foreign aid shrinks, better policies continue to blossom in poor countries where foreign aid may have once paralyzed institutional development and public investment. Further studies indicate that rises in growth via income are poor indicators of the positive impact of foreign aid on political development, especially when the research covers a more broad time-series. Perhaps future studies could focus on trying to gather data that covers a wider time range. Furthermore, researchers could create ways to control for the aforementioned variables of religious homogeneity, stability (via the stability index), terrorist threats and cultural relativity.

The implications of these findings are far-reaching. They suggest that the motives of foreign aid donors have been rather inconsistent with their principles, and that they have in fact perpetuated corruption. It is not surprising that global hegemonies seek their own strategic interests. What is more surprising is the threats to international security this dynamic could cause. As donors funnel foreign aid to authoritarian regimes, especially those that govern countries with tensions between social groups, it forces analysts to wonder whether there is a correlation between these provisions, which prop up and support oppressive and divisive regimes, and the rise of insurgent military movements in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries.

Perhaps looking at countries on a case by case could show other country specific qualities such as resource endowment, geography, economics, culture, and history. These are more qualitative in nature, underscoring my emphasis on the presence of prejudgments in the scholarly tradition.

A 3:2 ratio that long prevailed in the overall levels of U.S. aid to Israel and Egypt was applied to the reduction in economic aid ($60 million reduction for Israel and $40 million reduction for Egypt), but Egypt did not receive an increase in military assistance. Thus, Congress reduced ESF aid to Egypt from $815 million in FY1998 to $411 million in FY2008 (Sharp 2015).