Course on Fragile States in Washington, DC

I will be teaching a course this fall (780.718 Promoting Development in Fragile States) in the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University:

Hindered by weak institutions, social divisions, and difficult historical legacies, fragile states face fundamentally different challenges than other countries. This course focuses on understanding the drivers of state fragility and what steps might counteract these. It encourages participants to think deeply about the nature of development, political incentives, the role of geography in governance, social identities, the nature of public authority, and a variety of other issues relevant to state building in difficult circumstances. It will be of interest to students working on African and Middle Eastern issues, conflict management, comparative politics, and economic/political development.

The syllabus for the course provides a good reading list for anyone wanting to understand the problems facing fragile states and what policies might deal with their unique problems.

If you want more information, contact me at

Reflections from a poacher, turned gamekeeper, turned poacher

In 2005 the development charities got the keys to Number 10 – but they still don’t understand why.

Before I was an adviser in Gordon Brown’s Downing Street I sat on the board of Make Poverty History and witnessed from both sides the disagreement among the campaign’s leaders about how they had come to occupy their privileged place in public life.  Their divisions would be of only passing historical interest were the competing analyses not informing NGO planning for Britain’s next G8 in 2013 – and hampering their ability to influence the Conservative-led government they face now.

Labour was responsive to public campaigning not, as some believe, because charity mobilisations ‘forced’ its ministers into doing anything, but because organisations which favoured redistributive spending on foreign aid were always assured of at least a hearing from a social democratic government, particularly one headed by two men with such long-standing interest in Africa.  Added to that was a strong overlap in personnel, with many Make Poverty History campaigners drawing on a background in Labour politics and many government aides being poached from the sector itself.

The extent to which both the issues and the leadership of the campaign enjoyed an open door infuriated some members of the coalition who argued that proximity meant ‘co-option’ – a process which would dilute our demands and derail our strategy. In reality the risk of that happening (and the benefit to the Government even if it had) was always overstated – and is in any event much less important than whether the strength of the relationship bred a complacency which stopped organisations auditing their underlying strategic strength in preparation for a change of government.

Precisely because the Labour leadership never challenged our mandate, the campaign didn’t come to a settled view about whether its power came from being ‘right’ (in both the moral and technical senses of the word) or from being popular. The charity coalition was split on that and while neither side conclusively won the toss, both need to be honest about the vulnerabilities in their argument.

The ‘purists’ who felt Make Poverty History should get its way because of the weight of its moral claims and its technical expertise need to acknowledge that they now have some first class competition.  The increasing stature of development economics inside the academy and the creation of a separate development ministry staffed with the brightest fast-streamers means NGOs no longer have the monopoly on knowing or caring about the poor. Ministers can’t be expected to believe charity campaign officers are automatically more ethical than the DFID civil servants who toil for less pay on the same issues – nor that their policy output is inherently superior to that of Oxford or the LSE.

Meanwhile, the ‘populists’ relied on accounts of public support which were always debatable, with the banner reading ‘You are G8, we are six billion’ and tabloid headline ‘5 billion people can’t be wrong’ among the more memorable examples. There is no doubt that Make Poverty History surpassed any other campaign mobilisation this century in terms of British popular support – but getting one organised subset of the public to wear a wrist band or send an email will not always trump the views of the millions of opponents who may not mount a campaign but whose presence will be powerfully felt during the rolling polling process which characterises modern democratic politics.

None of this is to say, of course, that charity campaigns can never be morally inspiring, analytically rigorous or democratically potent – indeed, they should be aspiring to be all three – merely that they are not inherently any of these things simply by virtue of emerging from the third sector.

This Government has made its overture to service-delivery charities with the Big Society – if campaigning ones want their hearing they will need to do more than flash their civil society membership cards and relive past glories.

What about the deserving rich?

In 1988, the majority of Britons couldn’t name their MP – but a staggering 92% of the population knew the name of an ANC leader imprisoned 6000 miles away in Robben Island. Fast forward to 2005 and more people wore white Make Poverty History wrist-bands than voted for the government. There’s a deep internationalist tradition on these islands, but in 2012 the 99% have shut the door.

One reason for that is obvious; when our homes, jobs and savings are threatened instincts of self-preservation will tend to crowd out the generosity of spirit on which all solidarity actions depend. It is no accident that both the international anti-globalisation movement and the Jubilee and Global Call to Action Against Poverty movements which succeeded it all experienced their peaks during the long boom.

Across the Western world insecurity is breeding insularity – but also exposing that progressives have a different account of fairness from the public whose interests we claim to champion.

One report from Oxfam – A Safe and Just Space for Humanity – argues that we must learn to live above a social floor but below a planetary ceiling, in a state of ‘justice’ where nobody has so little their life cannot be tolerably sustained, but nobody consumes so much that we are all endangered. It is informed by earlier work by Alex Evans of New York University’s Centre for International Cooperation in which he argues that climate constraints mean we need an account of how to allocate ‘fair shares’ of the resources and wealth which currently exist instead of assuming a long-term consensus on growth.

These interventions are highly provocative, intelligent and timely, but we need to recognise that justice and fairness are not technical variables to be measured but political concepts to be struggled over. They are the most fiercely disputed terms in politics precisely because most public policy debate boils down to justice as fairness versus justice as desert – is ‘justice’ secured when everybody has an equitable share, or when people get out roughly what they put in?

This is the tension which animates public policy debates from welfare reform in Britain to immigration in South Africa  and given the political brutality with which the definition of ‘fairness’ is contested inside nations we can hardly hope to define it away when it comes to relationships between them.

That means the thinkers and activists of the global justice movement need an answer for the American car worker who believes he has ‘earned’ more carbon space than the Bangladeshi villager by virtue of making goods the rest of the world wants to buy. We won’t find an answer which will satisfy him until we accept it’s neither a philosophical abstraction nor a question capable of being settled by development ‘science’. Instead this is politics in the raw; the struggle about who has what, how they got it, whether they should keep it and with what legitimacy it can be taken away.  The fight to frame justice – not just the campaign to secure it – is the battle we need to win now.

What’s left for the UN in Syria?

The Security Council decided today to close down the UN observer mission in Syria, which I once predicted would be a “heroic failure”.  But this isn’t quite the end of the UN political presence on the ground, as the BBC reports:

Although the 101 remaining military observers will leave Damascus over the next eight days, a civilian liaison office is due to remain and a new special envoy is expected to be appointed.

What can such a political mission achieve?  Here’s a few historical analogies from a paper I wrote for USIP last year:

What happens if preventive diplomacy fails and decision makers choose to cross the Rubicon and unleash full-scale war? Counterintuitively, political missions may still have a role to play in this scenario, urging the parties to at least limit the level of violence and maintain some channels of communication during the fighting. As noted earlier in this report, UN missions currently play a role in trying to mitigate a number of ongoing conflicts, including those in Somalia and Afghanistan. The United Nations also has a long-standing presence in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which has continued to operate during crises such as Israel’s 2008–09 incursion into Gaza (“Operation Cast Lead”). During that crisis, the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) engaged in behind-the-scenes diplomacy with all sides—once Israel pulled back, UNSCO turned to facilitating the flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza. It is a conduit for communications with Hamas that other actors cannot undertake directly.

Political missions can thus play a useful functional role during active conflicts, although they are typically constrained by both security issues and a lack of political leverage.  . . .  A mission deployed during the early phase of a war can identify ways to mitigate the damage, but this ultimately depends on the combatants’ cooperation.

Syria’s combatants are unlikely to prove very cooperative.

Have you heard who will replace Annan? It’s Mr. Inaudible!

There’s mounting confusion at the UN about who will replace Kofi Annan as the envoy to Syria.  Everyone knows that it’s meant to be veteran UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.  But it’s widely rumored that Brahimi is holding up the announcement because he wants a clear vote of support from the Security Council, which is not so easy these days.

That’s all a bit sensitive.  Ban Ki-moon gave a press conference in Timor-Leste today, and some impertinent journalist brought the issue up (as well as raising concerns about Timor’s future).  Check out the subtle way that the UN transcript deals with the complex Brahimi issue:

Q: Are you confident the country will remain peaceful once the peacekeeepers [sic] leave? And the second question: Mr. [inaudible] …. is a strong candidate to replace Kofi Annan, are you going to announce officially here in East Timor?

SG: I didn’t clearly understand your first question, but for the second question: I am not in a position to inform on anything about the successor issue of Kofi Annan as Joint Special Envoy for Syria. I am in the process of actively searching for a successor and when I am ready I will certainly announce this as soon as possible.

Now we don’t know if the questioner said “Brahimi”.  But it’s not a bad guess, and it wouldn’t be too hard to check.  But maybe there’s another mediator in the frame: Mr. Inaudible, a master of quiet diplomacy?

Beware September

This from an investor briefing sent out today by Nomura, the Japanese bank:

  • Even if the eurozone manages to get through August without the crisis taking a sharp turn for the worse, we believe that September could prove to be an even more challenging month for policymakers.
  • The next Troika report on Greece, due in early September, could prove to be the crossroads moment for Athens.
  • In Germany, we expect the constitutional court to approve ratification of ESM on 12 September, but the fiscal compact could prove more difficult, with yet more, and more difficult, cases set to follow.
  • The Netherlands, too, is set to grab headlines on 12 September, when the general election is expected to result in an inconclusive outcome and protracted coalition negotiations.
  • In Italy, parliamentary debates on electoral reform (ongoing) and the 2013 budget (forthcoming) threaten the stability of the Monti government as Silvio Berlusconi looks set to make a return to frontline politics.
  • Portugal is struggling with fiscal slippage and increasing political tensions, suggesting that an attempt to renegotiate its bail-out terms may be imminent.
  • In Spain, the government is struggling to maintain credibility with electors and markets alike. We believe a country bail-out package would be another serious blow.
  • Possible bail-outs for Cyprus and Slovenia would add to policymakers’ woes and market concerns.

We therefore conclude that September – with its plethora of potentially destabilising events – promises to be a particularly testing, not to say dangerous, month, irrespective of what the ECB comes up with on 2 August.

Page 50 of 501« First...102030...495051...607080...Last »