So much for the exaggerated hopes of those that believed Kim Jong-un would turn out to be a different kind of dictator. Following a long-range rocket test in December, North Korea has now apparently tested a nuclear weapon bigger than any it has tested before. This, despite warnings not only from South Korea, Japan, and the United States, but also from China, not to test. Far from being the reformer as many naively imagined, Kim is showing himself a chip off the old dynastic bloc, once again using North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction to posture before the world and no doubt to shake concessions out of the U.S., South Korea, and other states.
What makes this test truly disturbing is the close cooperation that is known to exist between Iran and North Korea in the development of ever-more destructive weaponry. The two countries have worked closely together on missiles and may well be working together on nuclear weapons. If so, the North Korean test is an indication of growing danger not only in Northeast Asia but also in the Middle East.
…[T]ough responses are undermined to a large extent by the symbolism of Obama proposing steep cuts in the American nuclear arsenal—from 1,700 to 1,000 warheads—in the State of the Union address on the very day when North Korea is testing a nuke and Iran is drawing closer to acquiring its own nukes. It is hard to know why the president imagines unilateral American cuts will encourage more responsible behavior from the likes of Iran and North Korea. The more likely consequence is to call into question America’s deterrent capacity….
It is hard to think of a more threatening prospect than unilateral American military reductions at a time when our enemies our growing stronger. Weakness, it is often said, is provocative. By that measure we are provoking two of the most dangerous rogue states in the world.
The first Australians thus arrived about 45,000 years ago. After that, it took until 1788, when Captain Arthur Phillip, RN, turned up in Sydney Cove with a cargo of ne’er-do-wells to found the colony of New South Wales, for gene flow between Australia and the rest of the world to be resumed.
This storyline was called into question a few years ago by the discovery, in some aboriginal Australian men, of Y chromosomes that looked as though they had come from India. But the details were unclear. Now a study by Irina Pugach of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, and her colleagues, which has just been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has sorted the matter out. About 4,000 years before Captain Phillip and his merry men arrived to turn the aboriginals’ world upside down, it seems that a group of Indian adventurers chose to call the place home. Unlike their European successors, these earlier settlers were assimilated by the locals. And they brought with them both technological improvements and one of Australia’s most iconic animals.
Monarchs still exist in the modern world, but they are not modern. They’re relics from feudal times. They probably won’t exist anywhere a century from now except as honorary figures like the king of Belgium—whose name (Albert II) I had to look up.
But real kings with real power still govern in 2013, and one of them is in Morocco. And since the region’s biggest problems right now are terrorism, tyranny, and war, there are a few questions aside from the obvious that we ought to be asking. First, is a monarchical autocracy better or worse than an autocracy run by a military dictatorship, a theocracy, or a police state? Second, is the monarch in question contributing to his country’s political modernization and liberalization—which of course greases the skids to his eventual marginalization—or not? If the answer to that second question is yes, here’s a third: Is a slow transition to political liberalism better or worse than the kind of destabilizing transformation that follows revolutions?
Here’s a more general question: if you can’t have both, would you rather have liberalism without democracy, or democracy without liberalism? (I’m using the word liberalism here in the broad and general sense, not in the parochial American sense that describes only the center-left wing of the Democratic Party. Both American parties are more or less liberal.)
That dilemma is now a bit softer in Morocco than it was, though, because since 2011 it has been—at least on paper—a constitutional monarchy, a system of government that’s partly democratic and partly autocratic. Wikipedia puts Australia and Great Britain alongside Morocco on its list of constitutional monarchies, but this is misleading. Britain’s political system is far more like that of the United States than it is like Morocco’s. King Mohammad VI is extraordinarily powerful compared with the Queen of England. But it’s equally clear that Mohammad VI is a very different man from his father Hassan II. The political system the son currently presides over is one that his father might scarcely recognize.
Launched in 1995, the Index evaluates countries in four broad areas of economic freedom: rule of law; regulatory efficiency; limited government; and open markets. Based on an aggregate score, each of 177 countries graded in the 2013 Index was classified as “free” (i.e. combined scores of 80 or higher); “mostly free” (70-79.9); “moderately free” (60-69.9); “mostly unfree” (50-59.9); or “repressed” (under 50).
There are 10 specific categories: property rights, freedom from corruption, fiscal freedom, government spending, business freedom, labor freedom, monetary freedom, trade freedom, investment freedom, and financial freedom. Scores in these categories are averaged to create an overall score.
The world’s most-improved country is Georgia, which saw its score rise 2.8 points, giving it an overall score of 72.2 and a place among the world’s “mostly free” economies. Although Zimbabwe continues to rank among the least free of the 177 countries rated, it once again showed one of the biggest gains in economic freedom. Belize’s Index score declined the most, plunging nearly five points to 57.3….
The United States, with an economic freedom score of 76, has lost ground again in the 2013 Index. Its score is 0.3 point lower than last year, with declines in monetary freedom, business freedom, labor freedom, and fiscal freedom. The U.S. is ranked 2nd out of three countries in the North America region, and its score remains well above the world and regional averages.
Registering a loss of economic freedom for the fifth consecutive year, the U.S. has recorded its lowest Index score since 2000. Dynamic entrepreneurial growth is stifled by ever-more-bloated government and a trend toward cronyism that erodes the rule of law. More than three years after the end of recession in June 2009, the U.S. continues to suffer from policy choices that have led to the slowest recovery in 70 years. Businesses remain in a holding pattern, and unemployment is close to 8 percent. Prospects for greater fiscal freedom are uncertain due to the scheduled expiration of previous cuts in income and payroll taxes and the imposition of new taxes associated with the 2010 health care law.
Advertising poster for Gorky Gorod ski resort, outside of Sochi.
All I could think is that communist art lives (by Denis Sinyakov; via In Focus)
On the surface, it’s all about protecting Russian kids from internet pedophiles. In reality, the Kremlin’s new “Single Register” of banned websites, which goes into effect today, will wind up blocking all kinds of online political speech. And, thanks to the spread of new internet-monitoring technologies, the Register could well become a tool for spying on millions of Russians.
Signed into law by Vladimir Putin on July 28, the internet-filtering measure contains a single, innocuous-sounding paragraph that allows those compiling the Register to draw on court decisions relating to the banning of websites. The problem is, the courts have ruled to block more than child pornographers’ sites. The judges have also agreed to online bans on political extremists and opponents of the Putin regime….
The new system is modeled on the one that is used to block extremist and terrorist bank accounts. The Roskomnadzor (the Agency for the Supervision of Information Technology, Communications and Mass Media) gathers not only court decisions to outlaw sites or pages, but also data submitted by three government agencies: the Interior Ministry, the Federal Antidrug Agency and the Federal Service for the Supervision of Consumer Rights and Public Welfare. The Agency is in charge of compiling and updating the Register, and also of instructing the host providers to remove the URLs. If no action by the provider follows, the internet service providers (ISPs) should block access to the site in 24 hours…. Most importantly, however, the new Roskomnadzor system introduces DPI (deep packet inspection) on a nationwide scale.
Free speech is dying in the Western world. While most people still enjoy considerable freedom of expression, this right, once a near-absolute, has become less defined and less dependable for those espousing controversial social, political or religious views. The decline of free speech has come not from any single blow but rather from thousands of paper cuts of well-intentioned exceptions designed to maintain social harmony.
In the face of the violence that frequently results from anti-religious expression, some world leaders seem to be losing their patience with free speech. After a video called “Innocence of Muslims” appeared on YouTube and sparked violent protests in several Muslim nations last month, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned that “when some people use this freedom of expression to provoke or humiliate some others’ values and beliefs, then this cannot be protected.”
It appears that the one thing modern society can no longer tolerate is intolerance. As Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard put it in her recent speech before the United Nations, “Our tolerance must never extend to tolerating religious hatred.”
A willingness to confine free speech in the name of social pluralism can be seen at various levels of authority and government…. Of course, free speech is often precisely about pissing off other people — challenging social taboos or political values….
Such efforts focus not on the right to speak but on the possible reaction to speech — a fundamental change in the treatment of free speech in the West. The much-misconstrued statement of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes that free speech does not give you the right to shout fire in a crowded theater is now being used to curtail speech that might provoke a violence-prone minority. Our entire society is being treated as a crowded theater, and talking about whole subjects is now akin to shouting “fire!”
The new restrictions are forcing people to meet the demands of the lowest common denominator of accepted speech, usually using one of four rationales[: blasphemy, hateful, discriminatory, deceitful].
The very right that laid the foundation for Western civilization is increasingly viewed as a nuisance, if not a threat. Whether speech is deemed imflammatory or hateful or discriminatory or simply false, society is denying speech rights in the name of tolerance, enforcing mutual respect through categorical censorship.
As in a troubled marriage, the West seems to be falling out of love with free speech. Unable to divorce ourselves from this defining right, we take refuge instead in an awkward and forced silence.
For all the obvious reasons, China’s ruling elites will do their best in the next few months to project an image of unity and self-confidence, and to convince the rest of the world that the next generation of leaders is capable of maintaining the party’s political monopoly.
That is, unfortunately, a tough sell. Confidence in the party’s internal cohesion and leadership has already been shaken by the Bo affair, endemic corruption, stagnation of reform in the last decade, a slowing economy, deteriorating relations with neighbors and the United States, and growing social unrest. The questions on many people’s minds these days are how long the party can hold on to its power and whether the party can manage a democratic transition to save itself.
These questions are by no means the products of idle minds. By many measures, the party’s rule is about to enter a decade of systemic crisis. Having governed China for 63 years, the party is approaching, within a decade, the recorded longevity of the world’s most durable one-party regimes — the former Communist Party of the Soviet Union (74 years), the Kuomintang (73), and the Revolutionary Institutional Party of Mexico (71). Like a human being, an organization such as the CCP also ages.
In addition, China’s rapid economic development has thrust the country past what is commonly known as the “democratic transition zone” — a range of per capita income between $1000 and $6000 (in purchasing power parity, PPP). Political scientists have observed that autocratic regimes face increasing odds of regime change as income rises. Chances of maintaining autocracy decrease further once a country’s per capita income exceeds $6000 (PPP). China’s has already reached $8500 (PPP). And nearly all the autocracies in the world with a higher per capita income are petro-states. So China is in an socioeconomic environment in which autocratic governance becomes increasingly illegitimate and untenable. Anyone who is unconvinced of this point should take a look at Chinese Weibo (or microblogs) to get a sense of what ordinary Chinese think of their government.
Thus, the answer to the question of the durability of one-party rule in China is clear: its prospects are doomed.
The answer to the question of how a one-party regime can manage its own political transformation to save itself is more interesting and complicated.
Iceland volcano and water, by Andre Ermolaev (via Colossal)
As the media continue to scrutinize Mitt Romney’s alleged gaffes, might we spend a moment looking at the world as it actually exists, right now, independent of the presidential campaign? Let’s take a tour.
[…to Russia, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan…]
The Mideast. The Iranian theocracy continues its march to nuclear status. President Obama, though, seems far more interested in preventing Israel from attacking Iran than in ending Iran’s nuclear program. Obama’s combination of diplomacy, sanctions, and espionage has not deterred the Iranians nor really slowed them down. Israel, however, is increasingly isolated from its neighbors and from the rest of the world. This is the fruit of Obama’s “diplomacy” in the region.
Americans have little presence in and hardly any influence over Iraq, where they spent eight years. Iraq’s neighbor Syria is in its death throes: The rebellion that began in the spring of 2011 has devolved into a proxy war between Turkey and the Gulf monarchies on one side and Iran on the other. The number of Syrian dead is estimated at 25,000. A refugee crisis is underway as millions of Syrians try to escape their war-torn country. The United States, which led (from behind) an international coalition to prevent Muammar Qaddafi from assaulting Benghazi in Libya, has done little if anything as Assad assaults every city opposed to his rule. The president has not explained fully or sufficiently why he acted in one place but not in the other.
Our response to anti-authoritarian movements has been confused. It varies from place to place. When the Iranians marched to protest a fraudulent election in 2009, Obama did nothing. When the Egyptians marched against Hosni Mubarak, an American ally, in 2011, the White House hemmed and hawed and finally threw its weight behind people power. Mubarak fell. What we neglected to notice was that the revolution in Egypt had not actually occurred. Other generals simply took over from Mubarak and tried to slow down the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood.
But they could not delay the revolution forever. Indeed, it is just gathering force. The Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Morsi is now the president, and the country is in such tumult that our president is not even sure whether Egypt is an ally. However, we can be sure that the fall of Mubarak energized not only the Brotherhood but also the more radical and more dangerous Salafists, who are conducting pogroms against Coptic Christians, launching terrorist attacks in the Sinai, and (as of Tuesday) storming the U.S. Embassy in Cairo.
Egyptian politics have assumed a new and terrifying dynamic, with the Brotherhood attempting to triangulate between the Salafists who own the street and the Americans who provide economic and military assistance and debt relief. The casualties of this triangulation may include the peace treaty with Israel and the potential of Egyptian democracy. If the president has a plan to deal with this mess, we have yet to hear it.
The Mideast power vacuum has created multiple opportunities for a new generation of al Qaeda terrorists. The unconscionable attack on the American embassy in Benghazi and the murder of the American ambassador to Libya, certainly timed to occur on the eleventh anniversary of the September 11 attacks, is the latest example. Note that on the very day al Qaeda and its allies launched a coordinated assault against relatively unprotected American interests, the New York Times op-ed page was still debating whether George W. Bush could have prevented 9/11. Good to see we have our priorities straight.