Who is responsible for Istanbul attack?


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On June 28th, a group of suicide bombers conducted an attack on Turkey’s Istanbul Ataturk Airport, killing 41 people and injuring 239. As the world mourns the tragedy, investigators seek to bring justice to the perpetrators. But who is responsible? And Why?

Is it Daesh (ISIS)?

Is it PKK?

These are both valid suggestions, based on the history of violence among both groups.

Based on the PKK’s terrorism tactic, the attack in Istanbul does not necessarily fit their profile. According to news sources, though unconfirmed, the PKK usually target Turkish nationals. The conflict between the PKK and the Turkish government surrounds the Kurdish question of identity and statehood in the Middle East. The Kurds have been without an autonomous country and do not enjoy equal rights in Turkey. Iraqi Kurdistan is the only region where Kurds enjoy a degree of nationalism but it is far from being a nation-state.

Why would Daesh or ISIS commit the attacks?

Turkey has been supporting the armed insurgency against Syrian president Bashar al-Assad since its inception. The majority of Daesh or ISIS fighters are not Syrian but foreign nationals, from Turkey, the Arabian peninsula, North Africa and Central Asia, which raises the question as to whether this a so-called civil war between state and opposition or an international conflict between states. Is Syria a proxy conflict waged between global powers? Is this the continuation of the so-called “Great Game”?

If Turkey has stood against the Syrian government, thereby granting ISIS leverage directly or indirectly, then why would such an attack take place?

Since the emergence of ISIS, and the corresponding terrorist attacks globally which have victimized France, America and Turkey to name just a few, the political dynamic of the Syrian conflict has shifted. The ouster of Assad, like that of Mubarak, Morsi, Ben Ali, Abdullah Saleh, Saddam Hussein and Gaddafi, was originally argued as the procurement of stability and justice in the Middle East. The outcomes have proven otherwise. The tyrannical leadership of these autocrats is undoubtable, but is there another force enabling this instability to begin with?

As a result of ISIS’ apparent indiscriminate violence, fundamentalism and fickleness, Turkey has, like the US, altered its position internationally. Just last week, Turkey announced reconciliation efforts with its historical arch-rivals, Israel and Russia. Russia has arguably maintained the Syrian government since its intervention.

Could this rapprochement have provoked backlash from ISIS against Turkey? Were these two gestures of international rapprochements with ISIS’ nemeses, Israel & Russia viewed as a form of betrayal by the terror group?

As investigations continue, emerging facts will likely give this blurry picture some lucidity.

But a shifting world order is evidentially not as far off as one might have expected, particularly after England’s vote to leave the EU.

As the migrant crisis continues, and Middle Eastern instability intensifies, one might ask why foreign powers have prioritized their ambitions over practical politics.

One cannot speak of justice in the Middle East while neglecting the bedrock of human security – sovereignty.

Until this is realized, fanaticism and instability will continue to overshadow justice in the Middle East.

 

 

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How Should America Respond to Terror?


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The invasion of Iraq by the US-led coalition in 2003 produced a new dilemma for Iraq – a vacuum of power. For almost 4 decades, the brutal reign of Saddam Hussein centralized power, and despite its brutality, stabilized the country politically. But many critics of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East blamed the vacuum of power on the brutality of the dictator himself. The rise of ISIS, and other terrorist organizations, are the products of the stubborn grasp on power held by dictators like Saddam. In Syria, the situation proved to be more difficult. What was initially a similar plan as Iraq broke down into an international competition for spheres of influence, particularly between Russia and America. The crises in the Arab world, spread like a domino effect. It seems that, since the 2003 invasion, toppling leaders was the agenda, but instead of resulting in progressive governance, it has produced a security disaster with an unprecedented rise in terrorism. Libya looks a lot like Iraq, but perhaps worse. It is in shambles – which is a hotbed for terrorists. Since Islamic radicalism appears to be the global menace to security, figuring out how to address these crises are crucial to America’s interests. How should the US respond? Well, the US has already chosen a trajectory of intervention. Based on the literature, I will argue that a reversal of US tradition of interventionism will reduce terror and the threat of insecurity caused by it (Kleveman 2006).

Terrorism rose sharply after 2003. This is supported by the global terrorism database. I argue this directly correlates with the highest period of foreign interventionism in the Middle East, from which terrorism is exported. Central Asia too is equally important as it exports much of the Islamic radicalism we see today (Rashid 2006). In Central Asia, terrorism rose sharply after 2004 – around the same time that the US administration began coordinating cooperative efforts with Central Asia’s most authoritarian dictator, Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov, in efforts to suppress Islamic movements, radical and non (Olcott 2007).

Complete disengagement from the internal political affairs of sovereign states both in the Middle East and Central Asia will allow the natural course of events to unfold – whether that means conflict or not is uncertain. Citizens may choose to overthrow or support their leaders. But involvement by the US has complicated and enflamed tensions. It has blindsided progression in many of these underdeveloped parts of the world, resulting in higher terror recruitment, which ultimately affects the US.

Contrarily, it could be argued that the US ought to engage with rebel groups fighting against both extremists and authoritarians who together, are thwarting any progress and thus further inciting terrorism. In the case of Syria, it appears to be more complex, with the government cooperating against terrorism, unlike for example, the Mubarak, Gaddafi or Hussein regimes. Perhaps, a transitional process in phases could emerge here in which disenfranchised Sunnis can be reintegrated into the political process. But the intransigence of the leadership could prove to be detrimental to this cause. Perhaps this is precisely why the US has been unresolved in its Syrian-policy.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

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What Is Terrorism?


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It has been difficult to form a concise definition of terrorism due to the emotions and political weight carried by the term. But since September 11th, 2001, the term has been used more frequently than before, both inside and outside political science, though sometimes perhaps incorrectly. Lumping tactics, attackers and fear together to define terrorism has been a disservice to the field of political science (Tilly 2004).

It is precisely this which causes bias in the literature and in society when assessing terrorism. Defining terrorism as a tactic reveals that it can and often is practiced by states and insurgents equally.

The more descriptive features, its psychological effect, organizational structure and ideological motive are not as distinct because other military tactics are arguably similar in this regard. The most distinct feature appears to be thetarget of terrorism. That civilian, or non-military (often political figures) populations are targeted, and not military units, is what makes this distinct in nature (Kydd & Walter 2006). This challenges the common perception of terrorism as a new phenomenon as well as one that is practiced only by random and scattered networks with unachievable objectives (Chaliand & Blin 2007). Furthermore, it allows analysts to place terror incidents within the contexts of international politics, instead of isolating them. More recently, the literature has focused heavily on the connection between Islamic radicalism and terrorism, but this ignores the vast instances of terrorism conducted by non-state actors as well as attacks motivated by irreligious purposes, in history and today.

States themselves against their own people or foreign civilians. Focusing on Islamic radicalism ignores the white supremacist network of terrorism, the nationalist spectrum of terrorism, and so forth. It also ignores the countless times in history that the Islamic World has suffered from the specter of terrorism. It could be argued that the US bomb on Japan in 1945 was a form of state terrorism, or that Israel’s disproportionate attack on Gaza in 2014 was a form of state terrorism. Furthermore, early attacks on Palestinians by Jewish militias were forms of terror, such as the Deir Yassin Massacre. This bias normalizes the perspective that Islam is inherently barbaric; and furthermore distracts from the more significant variables that cause violence in the Islamic world; foreign interventionism – which often manifests as state terror.

References:

Andrew Kydd and Barbara F. Walter, “The Strategies of Terrorism,” International Security, Summer 2006.

Charles Tilly. Terror, Terrorism, Terrorists. Sociological Theory, 2004. 22(1), 5-13.

Gerrard Chaliand & Arnaud Blin. The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to al Qaeda. University of California Press. 2007.

Is the U.S. in Decline?


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The U.S. is arguably in a position it hasn’t been in before. This all happened after WWII. While American isolationism officially ended during the Spanish-American War, WWII marked a new era in American foreign policy – interventionism. After the Civil War, the US faced little domestic threats, and foreign threats were all but inexistent prior to the twentieth century. Somehow strangely, as the US became more entangled in foreign affairs, contrary to the warnings of its founders, so too, did America’s national security come more into question. The end of the Cold War, and the demise of the Soviet bloc, produced a new world order marked by US hegemony – a unipolar world. Up until this point, the US was largely focused on containing the USSR – this was largely an external threat. But the emergence of Islamic terrorism transformed an international issue into a national security dilemma for the US. But the US never went directly to war with the USSR, whereas it has embarked on military campaigns against Islamic radicals. On the contrary, the US hoped for the USSR to collapse from within, without direct confrontation. Perhaps this is why it dissolved. But the new security threat of Islamic terrorism has been approached directly, as with the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen and now Syria. The US’ national security is more than ever threatened today. Do America’s post-WWII policy of interventionism and the emerging threat to its national security, evidenced by the rise of Islamic terror groups, coincide?

The rise of Islamic fundamentalism, the emergence of BRICS, Russia’s assertiveness in the Ukraine and Georgia, the economic crisis and the US’ increased military campaigns are arguably signs of a change in the “world order” (Schweller et al 2011). Perhaps it is too early to suggest that the US is in decline, considering its immense military might and wealth, but there is reason to believe that, since WWII, it has grown increasingly insecure. The military and economic growth of countries like Japan and China as well as the EU are further signs of relative decline (Huntington 1988). It isn’t absolute because the US remains the world’s super power by a long margin – but the growth rate of its competitors has surpassed its own. Based on its history, could it be argued that the US was militarily and economically most secure when its foreign policy was less characterized by interventionism?

 

Huntington, S. P. 1988. The US—Decline or Renewal?. Foreign affairs, 67(2): 76-96.

Schweller, Randall L., and Xiaoyu Pu. “After Unipolarity: China’s Visions of International Order in an Era of US Decline.” International Security 36(1): 41-72.

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.

The Seeds Were Sewn: Democracy & Terror in the Middle East


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Democracy & Terror in The Middle East

Danny Krikorian

Abstract

The aim of this research analysis is to determine whether or not levels of democratic process influence political violence in the form of Islamic extremism within the context of Middle Eastern countries. The overall findings suggest that the relationship between reduced violence, that is, stability, and political freedom is weak. Even countries with higher levels of political freedom, like Lebanon, Tunisia, Israel and Iraq exhibit high levels of terrorism. The notion that democracy is universal, that it brings stability, comes into question here. The presumption that authoritarianism breeds fundamentalism, alone, ignores the data provided, which is contradictory to the general belief that democracy induces stability and discourages violence. Furthermore, it implies that US foreign policy initiatives aimed at “democratizing” the West are more elusive than perhaps believed.

Introduction

Since the end of World War I, the break-up of the Ottoman empire, and the subsequent partitioning of the Middle Eastern territories among world powers, the Arab World has yet to see peace. In fact, an unprecedented century of instability has almost become a de facto part of the Middle Eastern social fabric. The rise of Islamic fundamentalism in the 21st century thus cannot be understood without looking into these types of historical contexts as well as the political realities of today which have led up the current dynamic in the Middle East. It appears, with further research, that the relationship between the forces of colonialism, poverty, autocracy and political violence is rather intimate (Dalacoura 2005).

The aim of this research analysis is to determine whether or not levels of democratic process influences political violence in the form of Islamic extremism within the context of Middle Eastern countries. Since there is no universally accepted definition of democracy, I will use one particular indicator, political freedom. Generally, indexes use variables such as press freedom, political competitiveness and economic liberalization as indicators of political freedom. In this case, the independent variable is political freedom, measured by the Economic Intelligence Unit, based in the UK. The dependent variable is terrorism, as measured by the Global Terrorism Index, gathered by Visions of Humanity which is part of the Institute for Economics and Peace, based in Sydney, Australia.

Conventional wisdom within western scholarly circles would offer the general hypothesis that nations with lower levels of political freedom are likely to experience higher rates of terrorism (Dalacoura 2005). The logic behind this hypothesis is that citizens are likely to resort to violent means of insurrection as a reaction to the government’s repressiveness. The research shows however that because terrorism is actually higher in countries with greater political freedoms, such as Lebanon and Tunisia, other variables might play a role, such as culture, religion, economics and geopolitics. When put to the test, this hypothesis appears weak, as indicated in the following section.

The research is divided into five segments starting with the introduction, which includes background information about the region and its relationship with terrorism and democracy; second is the literature review in which I will analyze the current conversation; followed by a data and methods section which will explain the quantitative measurements used to test the hypothesis; fourth, I will discuss the shortcomings and potential weaknesses of this research design; finally, I will leave readers with a conclusion regarding the future of the region and the overall theoretical and policy implications of this research.

Literature Review – Democracy & Terrorism in the Middle East

The scholarly literature surrounding this particular topic of Middle Eastern stability and the region’s political relationship with the outside world (namely global hegemonies like the United States, European Union, Russia and China) offers two overall explanations for rising tensions in the region as well as conflicts between political actors from the region with the rest of the world.

The first emanates from Samuel Huntington’s (1996) book “Clash of Civilizations” in which the pervading theory explaining the cause of conflict between the West and the Middle East is rooted in a “clash of civilizations”; a certain cultural rift, driven mainly by religious conviction.

The second is more empirically oriented, and attributes underdevelopment in the Middle East to environmental or biological predispositions, rendering the region less viable for growth, stability and peace, therein warranting the need for foreign intervention and “occupational development” (Diamond).

Since the democratic experiments of Iraq and Libya have produced contradictory results, it has encouraged me to contribute a third opinion. This opinion considers factors overlooked by the aforementioned theories, such as colonialism (exploitation by foreign powers), the presence of immense natural resources in the region, and possibly most important, cultural relativism. These factors have perhaps largely contributed to the region’s volatility and vulnerability to greed, corruption and instability.

This research aims to fill a particular void in the scholarly debate surrounding the US-Middle East relationship. Its aim is to answer the question of whether or not the undemocratic structure of political institutions in the Middle East are a primary source of instability, poverty and political violence in the region. It forces analysts to consider external political actors that exploit resources, conflicts and cultural sensitivities in the region to their advantage. This “colonial” tactic often manifests in the autocratic tradition itself, silencing critics, banning opposition, bribing officials and major income disparities between rich and poor (Dalacoura). But global powers are complicit too, in this regard, often double-dealing with the non-democratic tyrants they so adamantly oppose (Kleveman 2003).

Much of the political violence conducted by Islamic fundamentalist groups against Western countries is actually aimed at exposing the complicity of Western governments in propping up dictators to the constituencies of Western countries, where democratic process makes injustice more difficult to cover-up. This practice is known as “propaganda by the deed” (Chaliand and Blin 2007). Further scholarly research suggests that the major grievances of national populations are not religious, they are socio-economic (Rashid 2002). The rise of social media in the 21st century has made it difficult for Western governments to hide their double-dealings (Chaliand and Blin 2007). Fundamentalism is fomenting at a more rapid race than ever in the Middle East, and poverty is worsening (Wilson 1995). Leaders are growing more weary that the effects of the “Arab Spring” might spill-over into their countries. Desperate attempts to alleviate their populations have been pursued. But these seem to only buy time. In this paper, I argue that in order for Western countries to genuinely reduce the threat of political violence, they must end their inconsistency in foreign policy, which has them picking and choosing between autocrats. This could threaten some the West’s most valuable allies, who have a lot of leverage on US politics: Israel & Saudi Arabia (Kleveman 2003).

While the Middle East remains largely impoverished, elites in these two countries, to name a few, enjoy the spoils of a cult-of-personality-owned economy (Yom). The issue of colonialism and autocracy plague the region, but before the West ends its double-standard, instability, poverty and violence will continue to rise, narrowing the window of opportunity for democratic reform and peaceful transition (Dalacoura 2005). This means that autocrats will have to suspend their franchise over the political and economic process; allowing for national competitiveness. I argue that this will increase government authenticity, popular trust and will therein reduce both the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, as well as its appeal to those once impoverished and disenfranchised populations of the Middle East. Only then will the so-called threat of “Islamic-Jihad” be distinguished from the genuine popular struggle against injustice and autocracy in the Middle East (Rashid 2006). Only then will political violence cease to be more commonplace than the peace enjoyed in the West.

The literature varies on the intimate relationship between the forces of autocracy, poverty, colonialism, and political violence in the Middle East. That colonialism is responsible for income disparity in the region, is a point made by British journalist Patrick Seale in his infamous book on the Assad family’s leadership in Syria. The fomenting of Islamism, largely through the organization of the Muslim Brotherhood, is largely blamed on the constant influx of foreign financing to extremism forces in the region. Seale highlights that the Saudi Arabian autocratic monarchy is largely responsible for growth of extremism and political violence in the region (Seale 1990). In his research, Seal also suggests the possibility that a tight-grip on the political and economic fabrics of Syrian society by the Syrian government did nothing to help reduce national mistrust therein encouraging movements of insurgency. Such movements would prove to have dire consequences, with the regime’s bombing of a Muslim Brotherhood anti-government uprising in the city of Hama resulting in the deaths of nearly 20,000 men, women and children (Seale 1990). The majority of extremism in Central Asia, also a predominantly Muslim region, has been tied to the socio-political fabric of Saudi society, which is largely propped up by an extreme brand of Islam: Wahhabism (Kleveman 2003) Considering the closeness with which Saudi Arabia maintains its relationship with the West, it deems Western demands for democratic reform in the region almost hypocritical (Dalacoura 2005).

Samuel Huntington isn’t the only scholar offering the “Clash of Civilizations” perspective. Military-history scholar Caleb Carr also suggests this perspective, that Islam, as a political ideology, is incompatible with components necessary for Western-style democracy. He goes further to justify military campaigns against the Muslim world in order to prevent threats against the democratic order of the world (Carr 2002). In All the Shah’s Men, Steven Kinzer contradicts this view by explaining how constant efforts by western democracies, namely the US and the UK, to infiltrate the national sovereignties of predominantly Islamic nations, usually for the sake of securing economic interests, results in reactionary movements against the West, fueled more often that not by Islamic sensationalism, and eventually “sowing the seeds of Middle Eastern terror”, so to speak. (Kinzer 2008).

Research provided by The Heritage Foundation in their 2015 Index on Economic Freedom indicates high levels of corruption, and low levels of mobility in the economies of Middle Eastern countries. Since research indicates that a vast majority of Islamic fundamentalism is exported from the Gulf region, it leads to ask whether or not the these income disparities between fuel the culture of radicalization, relative to the variable of democracy. “Scores in the Middle East for business freedom — the lack of which, the editors note, helped ignite the “Arab Spring” protests — declined for 11 of the 18 countries in the region (three of which are not graded in the 2015 Index due to ongoing violence and unrest)” (Miller, Terry & Kim 2015). This could suggest that economic inequality plays an equal if not more important role than political institutions in influencing the threat of terrorism.

Data & Methods

To indicate the relationship between terrorism and political freedom, two tables were retrieved from two western Non-governmental Organizations dedicated to analyzing levels of democracy and terrorism. Each table measures the respective variable according to its own scale. Conveniently in this case, both indexes used a scale of 1-10. The Global Terrorism Index provided by the Institute for Economics and Peace, ranks countries in their vulnerability to terrorism from 1-10. The Political Freedom Index also measures the independent variable, political freedom, on a  scale from 1-10. Based on the assumption and hypothesis that more political freedom results in less terrorism, the trend should follow a negative linear regression, with a downward slope.  The research indicates that the hypothesis is in fact weak; that democracy is a stabilizing force in the Middle East may be presumptuous. Libya’s GTI score rose from zero to six since the overthrow of Gaddafi. The hypothesis originally suggested that the relationship between democracy and terrorism is negative, that the more democratic a nation, the less terrorism it will exhibit. The data retrieved from the indexes suggests what could be the exact opposite; that democracy enables terrorism in the Middle East, or that it simply does not ensure stability. This blurs the prospects for democracy in the region. It furthermore forces us to consider other variables that might challenge the universalist tendency of democratic theory which is so prevalent in the political conversation today. Variables such as geography, cultural relativism, and religion must be taken into account when determine the forces of conflict and instability within a region. In the appendix I have included an aggregation of the data gathered from the two aforementioned indexes regarding political freedom & terrorism in Middle Eastern countries.

The idea that natural resource endowment is responsible for low levels of democracy is not uncommon (Mehlin, Morne & Torvik 2002). This is known as the resource curse. While Saudi Arabia possesses the world’s largest oil reserves as well as high levels of authoritarianism, relative to its neighbors, the kingdom exhibits low levels of terrorism (Institute for Economics and Peace). Furthermore, countries like Syria, Jordan & Egypt possess an insignificant amount of oil relative to Saudi Arabia and the global market at large, yet these three countries exhibit some of the lowest levels of democracy and the highest levels of terrorism in the entire region (Institute for Economics and Peace).

A particular finding that stood out in the research is that, while Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Qatar and Morocco all exhibit a relatively equal level of political freedom, there is a huge discrepancy in the level of terrorist attacks in each country.

To control for cultural relativity, Indonesia and Turkey, both predominantly Islamic countries with democratic political structures were included in the table. Indonesia perhaps poses the greatest support for the hypothesis, because it exhibits the one of the lowest levels of terrorism among the countries as well as one of the highest levels of political freedom. On the other hand, Turkey, which is enjoys a relatively heathy level of political freedom and democracy, exhibits terrorist attacks at the same rate as Egypt. This challenges the hypothesis.

Weaknesses

The complexity of this research’s subject matter, the Middle East, is perhaps the most noticeable detriment to the strengths of this research. In other words, the influence of a variety of other potential variables, such as cultural relativism and colonialism are difficult to account for, whereas variables such as natural resource endowment may easier to control for. Another weakness of this article is that it focuses only on Middle Eastern countries, despite the fact that a lot of religious terrorism comes from other regions of the world, regions that exhibit similar conditions of authoritarianism and natural resource endowment, like Central & Southeast Asia.

All of the Middle Eastern nations are young, having only gained independence within the last century. This makes it difficult to pass long-lasting judgments regarding the prospects of democracy in the region.

Despite the empirical limitations intrinsic in this type of analysis, as well as the absence of empirical research on the subject especially in the Middle East, it furthermore implies the ambiguities of the findings.

Another major weakness of the research is that only 12 of the 22 countries in the Middle East were assessed due to difficulties that arise in retrieving reliable information from a region as contentious as it is.

Conclusion

The original hypothesis, that political freedom reduces violence and stability, is perhaps not absolute. The literature as well as the data provided have together displayed how in some cases, terrorism has in fact increased where democracy has been most prevalent in the Middle East. Furthermore, the inconsistency in the foreign policy of western democracies has made democracy less appealing, and credible to the Middle Eastern community (Dalacoura 2005). There are many questions that can be raised about democracy itself. Why is the United States, the beacon of western democracy, increasingly entangled in the affairs of authoritarian regimes? And how complicit is western negligencee towards the realities of the region in the rise of terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda and Da’esh. Since the tragedy of 9/11, the US has embarked on a dual mission of spreading democracy and containing the threat of Islamic radicalism, but these two initiatives often run counter to one another (Dalacoura 2005). The U.S. invasion of Iraq, as well as the NATO-led overthrow of Gaddafi, have had dire consequences on the region’s stability. That Libya has transitioned from a GTI score of zero to six since 2006 is telling of the future of the Middle East as it grapples with democracy. The overall research suggest that the relationship between reduced violence, that is, stability, and political freedom is weak. Even countries with higher levels of political freedom, like Lebanon, Israel & Iraq exhibit the highest levels of terrorism. The notion that democracy is universal, that it brings stability, is being challenged by these findings. There are many other factors that can be attributed to the volatility of the region and the rise in terrorist activity, such as oil politics, geopolitics, and cultural relativism. Nonetheless, the presumption that authoritarianism breeds fundamentalism, alone, is premature.

Whether or not democracy is universal is a matter of theory. But what is fact, is that western democracies have preferred cooperation with authoritarianism over democracy where it is deemed convenient (Yom 2011). The opposite is true, that western democracies, namely the United States, will promote extreme pressures for democratic reform where it is convenient. The irony is that in the cases where democracy is encouraged, the United States has managed to maintain a permanent military presence. Furthermore, these regions, like Iraq for example, exhibit the highest rates of terrorism in the region — in the world for that matter (Institute for Economics and Peace). Perhaps this explains why Middle Eastern attitudes towards democracy have remained negative (Tessler 2002).

Terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism are on the rise in the Middle East (Rashid 2006). Democracy perhaps isn’t the best force against radicalization. This is evidenced by the current instability in Iraq, Syria & Libya. Even Russia has responded to the threat of radicalism by propping up its anti-democratic authoritarian allies in the region, such as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Perhaps this suggests that democracy is culturally relative — that is, not all societies are compatible with democratic institutions. What this means for the future is increased instability and heightened tensions between various forces in the Middle East, in what appears to be the formation of a dichotomy between pro-western and anti-western political factions. It could also increase the overall threats to international security emanating from radical Islamic movements. This could threaten America’s economic interests, and affect the global economy.

If the West wishes to avert this, perhaps it would be best to reserve democracy for itself, instead of trying to desperately spread it abroad. It is as if the West cannot decide for itself what is of greater value; oil or principle. The longer it waits to decide, the greater the threat terrorism may become, to democracy, stability and global peace.

References

Blin, Arnuad & Chaliand, Gerrard. 2007. The History of Terrorism: From Antiquity to Al Qaeda.    University of California Press.

Carr, Caleb. 2002. The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare against Civilians : Why It Has Always Failed and Why It Will Fail Again. New York: Random House.

Dalacoura, Katerina. 2005. U.S. democracy promotion in the Arab Middle East since 11 September 2001: a critique. International Affairs. Vol. 81. 963-979.

Huntington, Samuel P. 1996. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Kinzer, Stephen. 2008. All the Shah’s Men: An American-Coup & the Roots of Middle Eastern Terror. John, Wiley & Sons, Inc. New Jersey.

Kleveman, Lutz. The New Great Game: Blood and Oil in Central Asia. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003.

Martin, Gus. 2003. Understanding Terrorism: Challenges, Perspectives, and Issues. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Mehlum, Moene & Torvik. 2002. Institutions & the Resource Curse. The Economic Journal. 1-20.

Miller, Terry & Kim, Anthony. 2015 Index: Economic Freedom Rises Slightly in Middle East/North Africa. http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2015/01/middle-east-north-africa. (2015).

Rashid, Ahmed. Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.

Seale, Patrick. 1990. Assad: The Struggle for the Middle East. University of California Press.

Tessler, Mark. 2002. Islam and Democracy in the Middle East. Comparative Politics, Vol. 34. No. 3. 377-354.

Wilson, Rodney. 1995. Economic Development in the Middle East. Routledge.

Yom, Sean. 2011. Authoritarian State Building in the Middle East. Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law. Stanford University. 121.

Index References

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

Political Freedom Index. 2015. Economic Intelligence Unit. The Economist. London.

 

 

Salih, K.O. “Underlying Causes Of Violence In The Middle East.” Digest Of Middle East Studies 1 (2007): 58. Academic OneFile. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.

Vick, Karl, and Rami Nazzal. “Violence Beats Politics As A Third Intifadeh Looms In Israel.” Time 186.17 (2015): 9-10. Academic Search Premier. Web. 2 Dec. 2015.

Hirst, David. The gun and the olive branch: the roots of violence in the Middle East. Nation Books, 2003.