Independence Referendum in Southern Sudan

The most important international political event occurring this week is arguably the independence referendum in southern Sudan. Despite clashes a couple of days ago along the border separating the north and south, which left dozens dead, the New York Times reports that voting is peaceful. As The Globe and Mail’s Geoffrey York notes, while the referendum may ultimately lead to a new state being created in the south, the cost “has been horrific.”

Southern Sudan has been consumed by devastating wars for most of the past half-century. An estimated 2.5 million people have perished in those wars, with atrocities on all sides that were shocking in their cruelty.

After decades of indifference by most of the world, the irony is that Southern Sudan suddenly became a fashionable cause over the past decade. Its oil exports became lucrative, forcing the north and south to try to settle their conflict in order to protect their revenue flows. Simultaneously, there was a rapid escalation of U.S. diplomatic pressure on both sides, including the threat of sanctions – partly because evangelical Christian lobbyists had persuaded Congress that it needed to protect the south’s Christians from Muslim persecution.

Here’s a fascinating set of maps creating by the BBC to show that the north and south of Sudan differ in more than simply ethnicity and oil wealth.

Here’s a report from Al Jazeera about some of the important issues related to the referendum:

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An Alternative to GDP as a Measure of Welfare

Over the course of the semester, we’ll address the issue of economic growth and economic well-being. We’ll ask–and attempt to answer–question such as “why are most African countries still so poor?”, “why has there been an economic miracle in many parts of east Asia?”, etc. As we’ll see, the most widely used measure of economic welfare (or well-being) is gross domestic product (GDP), which is a measure of the total goods and services produced in a country in a given year.

Evidence suggests that the higher a country’s GDP, the better that country’s residents live; that is, they are better off. Recently, there has been increasing criticism of the focus on GDP as a measure of societal welfare. Think of the recent oil spill of the US coast in the Gulf of Mexico. The money spent to (attempt to) clean the waters and beaches served to increase the GDP in this area during the clean-up. It doesn’t take too much imagination to understand that this increase in GDP was probably not a boost in the general welfare of the individuals living in the region.

Robert Kennedy, at the start of his ill-fated run for the US presidency in 1968, remarked about GDP:

“The GDP* measures everything except that which makes life worthwhile.”

In a recent TED talk, statistician Nic Marks tackles some of the issues of using the GDP as a measure of a society’s “success.” From the abstract:

Statistician Nic Marks asks why we measure a nation’s success by its productivity — instead of by the happiness and well-being of its people. He introduces the Happy Planet Index, which tracks national well-being against resource use (because a happy life doesn’t have to cost the earth). Which countries rank highest in the HPI? You might be surprised.

Excellent blog on Chinese Politics/Political Economy

Victor Shih, currently an assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University, keeps a blog at which he addresses issues related to Chinese politics. The blog deals mainly with topics related to Chinese political economy (an increasingly important topic as the rate for your car/home/student loan is intimately connected to the amount of US Treasury bonds purchased by the Chinese Central Bank) and elite politics in China.

External Threat and State Capacity

We addressed the history of state-formation in continental Europe and learned that, as Charles Tilly has noted, war and state-making were interconnected.  The stronger the nascent state, the better it was able to wage war and vice versa.  War-making, of course, required strong coercive and extractive (in the form of taxes and other renumerations) of the state vis-a-vis its domicile population.  Mix in a little bit of nationalism and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a strong state.

A recent article in the Journal of Peace Research [subscription only] by David Lektzian and Brandon Pine, demonstrates the empirical validity of the state-making/war-making nexus.  The argue that the larger the perception of “external threat” the more latitiude do leaders have in increasing the capacity of the state.  Here is the abstract to the paper:

Taming the Leviathan: Examining the Impact of External Threat on State Capacity

This article argues that the systemic security environment influences the structure of domestic political and economic institutions. If states have been primarily created to protect one group from predation by another, then the state may visibly change as external threats rise and fall. The authors argue that political elites respond to threatening environments by enhancing the ability of the state to extract resources from society in order to protect itself. Using data from the Armed Conflict Dataset, Banks’s Cross National Data Archive, and COW data from 1975 to 1995, the authors find evidence that supports the conjectured relationship between threat and state strength. As a response to a more threatening environment, the authors find that states significantly increase their capacity in terms of revenue, government spending, and military spending, but they do not easily relinquish these gains. The authors also observe that nation-state security is heavily influenced by regional regime-type patterns. State capacity increases as the regional neighborhood becomes increasingly autocratic. This suggests political elites not only regard violent conflict in the region as a serious concern to national security, but also appear to consider political change a threat as well.

India–an “exceptional” Country with Democratic Deficit

In comparative politics, there are two countries that are truly exceptional–the USA and India.  By “exceptional”, I mean just that; they are both exceptions to general rules that have solid support, empirically and theoretically.  For example, when looking cross-nationally there is a strong negative relationship between religiosity and economic development.  That is, the richer a country, the less religious (ceteris paribus) are its residents.  Except for the United States.  The USA is exceptional in many regards; i.e., it doesn’t behave like all other advanced industrial democracies.

India is also exceptional, but in different ways from the US.  For example, there is strong support for hypotheses about democracy and social (ethnic/religious) heteroeneity, which suggest that there is no way that India should still be (after more than 60 years) a fairly well functioning democracy.  Many observers keep waiting for the other shoe to drop as India’s democracy has lurched from crisis-to-crisis, and has to contend with endemic levels of corruption, particularly in its judiciary (as we see in this excerpted report–written by the Asian Human Rights Commission and which I found at the Human Security Gateway, a great source for information about security issues in world politics).  Somehow, though, India’s democracy hangs on.

By recommending the impeachment of a High Court judge, the Chief Justice of India has revived a dead debate concerning the Indian judiciary. On August 2, 2008 in a letter addressed to the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice recommended the impeachment of judge Soumitra Sen of Calcutta High Court. Judge Sen is accused of having been involved in financial misappropriation before he was appointed as a judge. It is reported that in 1984 while judge Sen was practising as a lawyer he was appointed as the receiver in a dispute concerning the Steel Authority of India. It is alleged that in the capacity of the receiver he misappropriated a sum of INR 2,500,000 [USD 59523], which judge Sen reportedly paid back on orders from the court. Later, he was appointed a judge at the Calcutta High Court in 2003. A judge accused of corruption facing impeachment, a process by which a sitting judge could be removed from service in India, is nothing special. A corrupt public servant is not worthy of continuing in service and is least desirable to serve as a judge in a court of law, a public office that demands scrupulous impartiality and untainted personality. Anyone accused of a crime must be prosecuted and the crime investigated into. The fact that the accused is a judge must not provide the person with any immunity. Judge Sen being the first person recommended for impeachment by a Chief Justice of India does not mean that the judiciary is immune from corruption and other vicious practices. There are similar allegations against some judges in India. But not a single judicial officer was impeached so far. The only exception was the case of judge V. Ramaswami who faced impeachment in 1991, an attempt that failed due to the absence of a political consensus. It is expected that history will not be repeated. If it is repeated it would be a shame upon the Indian judiciary and its accountability. The accountability of judges, particularly in the context of increasing allegations of malpractices resorted to by judges is a grave concern in India. As of now there is no open process for the selection, promotion and if required the dismissal of High Court or Supreme Court judges in the country. The entire process is retained within the whims of the Supreme Court. All attempts so far to enforce accountability on the judiciary were vetoed by the judiciary itself. There is also the absence of a political consensus over this issue.

Ganguly on Structural Sources of Authoritarianism in Pakistan

In Intro to Comparative Politics, we devote a considerable amount of time to understanding regime types–what factors contribute to differences amongst authoritarian regimes, why democracies find it difficult to build deep roots in some places, what are the sources of authoritarianism and democracy.

Sumit Ganguly, an expert on nationalism, and south Asian nationalism in particular, recently gave a talk at a round table organized by the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (which is based in New Delhi) on the sources of authoritarianism in Pakistan.  The recent decision by embattled Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf to step down draws further attention to the nature of the political regime in Pakistan.

Ganguly evaluates, then dismisses, three standard arguments about the structural sources of authoritarianism, then proceeds to offer an alternative, which he believes more successfully accounts for the persistence of authoritarianism in Pakistan.  Ganguly argues that the most compelling structural explanation can be found in an analysis of three main components of the national movement in Pakistan–its structure, ideology and organization,

“The Pakistan movement stood in sharp contrast to its Indian counterpart which, under the towering influence of Gandhi and Nehru, had been democratized and came to represent a cross section of the populace. The Congress had also cultivated ideas of democracy through debate and compromise which were not alien to its leadership at the time of independence. On the other hand, the Pakistan movement under the tutelage of the Muslim League suffered from an extremely limited base confined geographically to what broadly constitutes the modern day state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). The socio-economic profile of its leadership was confined to the ranks of UP notables who largely hailed from feudal backgrounds. Against such a setting, M.A Jinnah successfully built up the Muslim League centered on his personality and the idea that the Congress would not guarantee the rights of Muslims.”

Is there a causal link between Natural Resources and Conflict?

The “resource curse” is the name given to the alleged causal links between a country’s abundance of natural resourcee and the existence of all sorts of “bad things”, such as authoritarianism, economic stagnation and/or outright economic decline, increased probability of attempted coups d’etat, etc.  In our session on political economy we read Jensen and Wantchekon’s article on the link between natural resource wealth and authoritarianism, specifically, and we also looked at Richard Snyder’s article on the putative link between the existence of what he calls “lootable wealth” and political (in)stability in a state.  Their conclusions were at times complementary but at times divergent.  What matters (at least for political stability), according to Snyder, is the ability of the rulers (i.e., the government) to partake of the rents/riches accrued by the exploitation of the particular “lootable” resource.

Snyder’s is, of course, not the final word on the topic and there is an avalanche of published research on this very topic.  A new resource that can be used to find data on the link between natural resources and conflict–political, civil, etc.–is the Resource Conflcit Monitor, maintained by the Bonn International Center for Conversion.  From their web site:

Many developing countries rich in natural resources, such as diamonds and oil, have been plagued by poverty, environmental degradation and violent conflicts. In many of these countries, the natural wealth has not led to sustainable development. On the contrary, in some instances resource wealth has provided the funding and reasons for sustaining civil wars. This so-called ‘resource curse’ brought a lot of attention to the link between resources and conflict over the past decade. ’Governance’ has been identified as key factor for understanding the resource-conflict dynamic and for mitigating its negative impact in developing countries. ‘Resource governance’ in the present context describes the way in which governments regulate and manage the use of natural resources as well as the redistribution of costs and revenues deriving from those resources

The Resource Conflict Monitor (RCM) monitors how resource-rich countries manage, administer and govern their natural resources and illustrates the impact of the quality of resource governance on the onset, intensity and duration of violent conflict. The RCM serves as a tool for identifying and supporting viable resource governance and contributes to conflict prevention, post-conflict reconstruction and sustainable development….

There is an informative, and user-friendly, application that provides historical annual information on conflict and resources in individual countries.  Here is the result for Sierra Leone, the specifics of which should be familiar to those of you who watched Cry Freetown.  For an explanation of “resource governance” and “resource regime compliance, go here and scroll down.

There’s an additional methodological point that is crying out to be made here.  Notice that the level of conflict intensity first decreases rather significantly between 1996 and 1997, then increases dramatically between 1997-1999, to then fall just as dramatically between 2000 and 2002, while at the same time “resource governance” and “resource regime compliance” do not change much at all.  This means that we have to be very careful about attributing the level of conflict to the two afore-mentioned phenomena.  Maybe the causal link between these two and conflict intensity is not monotonic, maybe there is a threshold effect at work, or maybe the existence of an abundance of natural resources is a sufficient (under certain conditions) cause of conflict intensity.  On the whole, though, there certainlly doesn’t seem to be a clear linear, and/or monotonic relationship between resources and conflict (at least in Sierra Leone,  between 1996-2006)