Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Role of Cuban Intelligence Gathering in Regime Sustainment

Due to the long stemming political and economic ramifications of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, Cuba’s Ministry of the Interior continues to collect information on U.S. interests through a variety of methods for economic and regime sustainment reasons.  Paranoia and fear of U.S. regime removal may be involved in the overall cause and effect driving Cuba’s intelligence gathering against the U.S., but the main emphasis is economical regime sustainment as it generates hundreds of millions of dollars annually and is viewed as one of the primary revenue streams for sustaining the state (House of Representatives, p. 16).

U.S. sanctions against Cuba “issued by the U.S. Government on July 8, 1963, under the Trading With the Enemy Act” (U.S. Department of Treasury, p. 4) has left Cuba almost isolated under modern capitalist globalization, and as a result Cuba has learned the value of “providing America’s adversaries with an endless stream of U.S. secrets collected by its Signals Intelligence sites, complemented with reporting from traditional human spies” (House of Representatives, p. 16).  When the term ‘U.S. interests’ is mentioned in transcripts by the U.S. Congress and the U.S. government, it is not exclusive to political and military interests.  Quite frequently it means heavy private sector interests, and that elevates Cuba to more of an economic hindrance to U.S. private sector interests rather than an actual military or political intelligence threat.

Much of the success that Cuba’s Directorate of Military Intelligence has achieved in intelligence gathering on the U.S. has rippled down through the decades from the Cuban state’s Cold War experience with the Soviet Union in the form of KGB training and the “use of former Russian signals intelligence-gathering equipment” (Lefebvre , p. 460) that can be utilized due to Cuba’s close proximity of the United States.  Cuba’s Directorate of Military Intelligence is reported to have one of the most successful SIGINT programs on the international stage, most likely due to its success in targeting “White House communications, key military communications nodes, NASA and U.S. Air Force communications associated with rocket telemetry and commercial services dealing with financial and commodity communications” (House of Representatives, p. 16).  The private sector is mentioned in the citation as commercial services, financial communications and commodity communications, and to understand the scope of private sector espionage a reference can be made to the state of Pennsylvania affidavit concerning the Chinese intelligence gathering, or espionage, against Westinghouse concerning nuclear reactor contract bidding with the state of China (therefore private sector negotiating with state entities).  With this in mind, it is easy to see how Cuba can help sustain itself through an international “market place of U.S. secrets” (House of Representatives, p. 9) led by foreign and international private sector buyers.

In addition to Cuban SIGINT efforts against the United States, HUMINT and OSINT intelligence gathering methods are also successfully employed by Cuba due to large Cuban exile and immigration populations within the United States, especially in the state of Florida.  Not only can Cuban intelligence infiltrators gather political, military, and economic information which “can find its way to other major U.S. opponents and be used by them against U.S. interests” (Lefebvre, p. 453), but can also be used for or against competing private sector entities under international globalization.

Cuba takes advantage of its proximity to the United States through intelligence gathering and intelligence marketing in order to somewhat counter U.S. economic sanctions, and while it may not be able to avoid U.S. influenced regime change for the long term future, it has succeeded in regime sustainment since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Department of the Treasury.  2012.  Cuba: What You Need to Know About U.S. Sanctions.  Office of Foreign Assets Control, January 24, 2012.  Accessed December 4, 2014.

Hearing Before the Subcommitte on the Western Hemisphere of the Committee on Foreign Affairs House of Representatives.  2012.  “Cuba’s Global Network of Terrorism, Intelligence, and Warfare” House of Representatives, May 17, 2012.  Accessed on December 4, 2014.

Lefebvre, St├ęphane.  2009.  “Cuban Intelligence Activities Directed at the United States, 1959–2007”.  International Journal of Intelligence and CounterIntelligence 22, no. 3 (June 2009): 452-469.  Accessed on December 4, 2014.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Threatening U.S. Interests Through Intelligence Requires Capital: China, Russia and Iran

            When Americans consider foreign states with intelligence capabilities that could possibly pose a long term threat to the United States, American interests and American children, the states of China, Russia and Iran frequently emerge for consideration although the threesome are not equal in capabilities.  The intelligence capabilities of China clearly present the greatest threat to United States interests, both internationally and domestically, and this is largely due to the global economic superiority that China possesses over Russia and Iran.  All faucets of intelligence capabilities, especially those that can challenge U.S. counter intelligence and overall U.S. interests, would require large-scale commitments of state resources and evolving technologies which can only be obtained, especially on a large scale, by accumulated capital equal to, or more dominant, than that of the United States.  In order to support the economic argument of Chinese intelligence dominance over Russia and Iran, each of the intelligence disciplines will be gaged to illustrate how economic conditions of the state either accelerate or debilitate intelligence capabilities.

            In the area of open source intelligence (OSINT), China, Russia and Iran each utilize disinformation dissemination and each state is “devoting increased resources, and particular attention, to improving the denial and deception tactics, techniques, and procedures” [1].  When it comes to dedicating resources in the area of open source intelligence, China possesses a strong economy that can dedicate the required resources, whether human or technological, to challenge U.S. counter-efforts.  Corruption and organized crime continue to weaken Russia as “state officials, the intelligence services, and business blurs the distinction between state policy and private gain” [2] and “Iran’s financial outlook has worsened since the 2012 implementation of sanctions on its oil exports and Central Bank” [3].  One prime example of the China’s economic dominance over Russia and Iran is the fact that China holds a monopoly over 95 percent of the world’s rare earth elements, which are extremely valuable and essential to technologies and the global economy. [4]

              In the field of geospatial intelligence (GEOINT), China is even more dominant than Russia or Iran as “Chinese satellite-reconnaissance and cyber espionage capabilities are expanding at an unprecedented speed” [5] and the military side of the Chinese intelligence machine operates “satellites for communications, navigation, earth resources, weather, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance purposes, in addition to manned space and space exploration missions” [6].  Russia and Iran are incapable of matching China in geospatial intelligence capabilities and this is greatly due to China’s healthy economic condition.  Russia possesses a space surveillance program and maintains satellite scrambling capabilities, but has endured recent failures in the space sector. [7]  Iran continues to attempt to “to modernize its air and air defense forces under the weight of international sanctions” [8], but under globalization will only fall further behind due to an inability to compete on a capitalist level.

            Even in the area of human intelligence (HUMINT) it is rational to consider China a greater threat to U.S. interests than Russia or Iran.  Not only should capital and available resources be considered in this area of intelligence gathering, but the current overall goals of the state being analyzed should also be considered.  While “according to analysts and officials, the communist-controlled People’s Republic of China operates the single largest intelligence-gathering apparatus in the world” [9], Russia and Iran has shown trends of focusing on regional human intelligence.  Russia clearly has a focus on Eastern Europe and neighboring post-Soviet satellite states such as Georgia and the Crimea while Iran “is active throughout the region and has increased its influence during the past twelve months in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Bahrain”. [10]

            The areas of signal intelligence (SIGINT) and measurement and signature intelligence (MASINT) are heavily reliant on technological advancements, which would again greatly favor China over Russia and Iran.  Russia has continued to struggle with “reinvigorating a military industrial base that deteriorated for more than a decade after the Soviet collapse” [11] while downgraded oil and gas revenues, budget inefficiencies, an aging industrial foundation, and rampant corruption has only slowed the process. [12]  Iran, under international sanctions, is constrained by worse economic conditions than Russia and does not possess the required technology to even come close to matching the technologies of the United States.  China, on the other hand, possesses the strongest signal intelligence program in the Pacific with more than a dozen ground stations monitoring signals from Russia to Southeast Asia which includes the U.S. military presence in the South China Sea and throughout Asia [13].

            China also leads the pack in Cyber intelligence due to holding a stronger economic base than Russia or Iran as “the reported scale of China’s hacking activities suggests terabytes of data may be finding their way to Chinese intelligence organizations” [14].  Russia has been previously accused of cyber warfare during the Russian invasion of Georgia and after a United States Department of Defense network infiltration, both occurring during 2008, but there is no official evidence to support these accusations or to provide evidence that Russian capabilities could match Chinese capabilities.  Iran certainly does not possess the organized capabilities, or the capital resources, of either China or Russia, which can be seen by the paltry one billion dollars Iran has invested in their cyber program since 2011 in order to close the “capabilities ‘gap’ that currently exists in Iran’s ability to carry out sustained and significant cyber-attacks against U.S. infrastructure.” [15]

            In conclusion, a state’s intelligence capabilities are no different than a state’s ability to dominate a region as a military hegemon or to compete internationally as a top military power.  In the world of capitalist globalization, capital is essential to developing the required technologies and devoting the required resources to operate and successfully maintain a top intelligence program capable of threatening the United States.  There is little doubt in the name of ugly international politics that China, Russia and Iran would each equally desire to damage American interests because international politics is a mere power struggle, but only China possesses the capital resources and is in an economic position under the current caste of capitalist globalization to engage the United States equally in the area of intelligence.

1. Michael Flynn. 2014. “Annual Threat Assessment Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee United States Senate on 11 February 2014” (U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, 2014), p. 15.

2. James Clapper. 2013. “Statement for the Record: Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community Before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence” (U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, 2013), p. 6.

3. James Clapper. 2013. “Statement for the Record: Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community Before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence” (U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, 2013), p. 6.  

4. James Clapper. 2013. “Statement for the Record: Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community Before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence” (U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, 2013), p. 11.

5. Alex Newman. 2011. “China's Growing Spy Threat,” The Diplomat, September 19, 2011, accessed on November 22, 2014 from

6. Michael Flynn. 2014. “Annual Threat Assessment Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee United States Senate on 11 February 2014” (U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, 2014), p. 14.

7. Michael Flynn. 2014. “Annual Threat Assessment Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee United States Senate on 11 February 2014” (U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, 2014), p. 15.

8. Michael Flynn. 2014. “Annual Threat Assessment Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee United States Senate on 11 February 2014” (U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, 2014), p. 20.

9. Alex Newman. 2011. “China's Growing Spy Threat,” The Diplomat, September 19, 2011, accessed on November 22, 2014 from

10. Michael Flynn. 2014. “Annual Threat Assessment Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee United States Senate on 11 February 2014” (U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, 2014), p. 19.

11. James Clapper. 2013. “Statement for the Record: Worldwide Threat Assessment of the US Intelligence Community Before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence” (U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, 2013), p. 24.

12. Michael Flynn. 2014. “Annual Threat Assessment Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee United States Senate on 11 February 2014” (U.S. Senate, District of Columbia, 2014), p. 31.

13. John Pike. “Adversary Foreign Intelligence Operations,” Intelligence Threat Handbook, accessed November 22, 2014,

14. Peter Mattis, “The Analytic Challenge of Understanding Chinese Intelligence Services”, Studies in Intelligence 56, No. 3 (September 2012), 53, accessed on November 22, 2014 from

15. Llan Berman. 2013. “The Iranian Cyber Threat, Revisited Statement before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Security Technologies on March 20, 2013” (U.S. House, District of Columbia, 2013), p. 3-4. Accessed on November 23, 2014 from


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Democratic Peace Theory: Palestinian-State of Israel Problem.....and the United States as the Enabler

Democratic Peace Theory

The Democratic Peace Theory is an international relations theory based on pro-democratic ideological pillars arguing that democratic states are less likely to engage in war due to the fact that executive leaders of democratic states are held accountable for declarations of, and failed involvement in, war by public state elections polls, and that the representative or parliamentary democracies, which are built on democratic bicameral chambers, are filled with similar elected legislative representatives that face the same scrutiny and public accountability at regional public election polls.  The theory is greatly weighted on the assumption that enough democratically elected leaders within a representative or parliamentary democracy will attempt to avoid war for domestic political reasons, most importantly public reelection, and that the democratic state will seldom engage into conflict with other democratic states.  The theory goes even further by stating that democratic states generally do not view foreign states with similar democratic political infrastructures as hostile entities as they would view a state with a different economic and political structure, such as communism or authoritarian leadership, and that democratic states usually possess greater wealth than non-democratic states, which in reality is a recent phenomenon created by the post-World War II Bretton Woods system, and are more conservative in policymaking with concern to large scale conflicts due to a fear of infrastructure destruction and massive accumulating state debt, which again will place the political leader at risk either at the national or regional election polls.

Representative Democracy

                The Democratic Peace Theory has some legitimate points, which have more than likely been true on multiple occasions throughout the history of post-Bretton Woods democracy, but the theory itself remains another vague international relations theory which attempts to highlight trends favorable to the theory by picking and choosing historical compilations of numerical statistics, and does not take into consideration the predictable motives of the most economically powerful entities influencing domestic representative democracies, nor does it take into consideration that the statistical trends that support the Democratic Peace Theory may only be temporary characteristics actually associated with the modern capitalistic globalization era, which in no fashion should be considered a permanent international relations maxim.  

The post-World War II Democratic Peace Theory is not only questionable on an international level, but completely invalid when applied to the Palestinian and state of Israel problem, along with the Democracy Deficit in the modern Middle East as it attributes to that highly propagated political land conflict.  The theory itself is invalid for application to the Palestinian-Israel problem because, first and foremost, the United States of America, which is self-reputed as being one of the largest international proponents of democracy, is the largest exterior factor impacting the Palestinian-Israel problem and often engages American foreign polices based on their often-manipulated form of representative democracy under capital bipartisan lobbying influences. The United States has maintained a continuous political and economic bias towards the state of Israel since the Cold War, which Democratic Peace theorists would credit to the purported democratic similarities, but the United States has also continuously contributed to the democracy deficit in the Middle East by enabling authoritarian leaders to exist as political carrot-eaters and puppets-for-a-price.  On the one hand, the United States claims to be the global leader of freedom and democracy while at the same time enabling authoritarian leaders in the Middle East to resist the spread of democracy.

    In addition, the democratic process in the United States possesses hypocritically undemocratic characteristics as the United States  has continuously circumvented the domestic democratic process by taking “military action abroad more than 200 times during its history, but only five of these actions were wars declared by Congress, and most were authorized unilaterally by the president” (Rosato, 2003, p. 597).


                The plight of the Palestinian people, especially in the occupied territories, is greatly ignored by the international community based on several democratically-based institutionalized structures.  The Palestinian political infrastructure, Palestinian territories and the Palestinian people are not recognized as a state by the United Nations and therefore do not receive the same international protections that recognized states on the international stage receive.  In 2009, the Palestinian National Authority made a declaration stating that it accepted “the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in the territory of Palestine” (Quigley, 2009, p.1) after accusations of Israeli atrocities during the 2008-2009 military aggression into the Palestinian territory of Gaza.   The Palestine people were afforded no inquiry or protection against Israeli state military aggressions due to the legal loophole in the Rome Statute that “only states can give consent to ICC jurisdiction over acts committed in their territory” (Quigley, 2009, p. 10).  Despite vast international support from a majority of recognized states within the United Nations General Assembly, which illustrates that Palestinian statehood is democratically favored in the international community, Palestinian statehood has been consistently blocked in the United Nations Security Council, specifically by United States veto.  A prime example isolating the Palestinians from statehood, and the explicit failure of international democracy, can be seen in 1998 when the Palestine National Council declared statehood for Palestine and “one hundred and four states voted for this resolution, forty-four abstained; only the United States and Israel voted against” (Quigley, 2009, p.4).  In utilizing its permanent member of the United Nations Security Council veto against a majority United Nations vote on the international stage, the United States was able to block Palestinian statehood on behalf of Israel and leave the occupied territories as a non-state entity without international recognition or international protection against Israeli aggression and occupation.  At the same time, the United States clearly illustrated the hypocrisy and failures of domestic representative democracy and displayed how those hypocrisies, created through political and capital influences on publically elected leaders desirous of reelection and career longevity can taint the international democratic process.

Domestic Representative Democracy

                To truly understand the reality of the Palestinian-Israel situation, it is important to look at the biased enabler role that the United States plays on behalf of Israel and why, through domestic representative democracy, that these actions are even possible within a so-called democratic superpower state holding so much economic weight within the Bretton Woods international economic organizations, the World Trade Organization, and the United Nations.

In the United Nations Security Council, the United States has utilized its veto power against UN resolutions condemning Israeli aggressions and human rights violations, to include illegal Israeli settlement building and territorial acquisitioning, over 42 times between the years of 1972 and 2011 (Jewish Virtual Library, 2014).  Illustrating the broken international democratic process, these United States vetoes were issued to protect Israel regardless of the overwhelming international support for the resolutions condemning the alleged Israeli aggressions.  In addition, the United States has provided Israeli with over 3 billion dollars in annual economic and military aid since the Cold War era despite the Arms Export Control Act that states that the “United States may stop aid to countries which use U.S. military assistance for purposes other than legitimate self-defense” (Sharp, 2014, p. 13).  The trend of U.S. monetary and military support for the state of Israel does not seem to be declining as is evident by the year 2007 when “the Bush Administration and the Israeli government agreed to a 10-year, $30 billion military aid package for the 10-year period from FY2009 to FY2018.” (Sharp, 2014, p. 4), and more recently “during his March 2013 visit to Israel, President Obama pledged that the United States would continue to provide Israel with multi-year commitments of military aid subject to the approval of Congress” (Sharp, 2014, p. 5).

                While the pro-Democratic Peace theorist will quickly point out the co-relation between the alleged democracy of the United States and the alleged democracy of the state of Israel, the issue of undemocratic practices to support a fellow so-called democratic state can be questioned along with the ethnic exclusivity and human rights record of Israel.    

Representative Democracy Controlled by Capital

                In support of pro-Democratic Peace theorists, representative democracies are easily manipulated by capital and political influence, regardless of human morality.  It is quite easy to avoid war, finance a foreign state coup and state build, engage a rentier state, or provide qualitative military power to a foreign ally if a majority of elected government representatives can be persuaded, or purchased, to vote a certain way on specific bills or resolutions.  This is the main reason that the U.S. government, despite the incredible growth of the current U.S. national debt and Department of Defense budget cuts, continue to financially and politically support an Israeli state that consistently violates international law and human rights on several levels.  Zionist lobbyist organizations such as the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee consistently utilize collective capital to sponsor and donate to congressional members, both democrat and republican alike, who can be relied upon to vote favorably on proposed bills that are beneficial to Israel, such as the United States–Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2013 which successfully secured heavy levels of U.S. economic assistance to Israel.  Each year, regardless of how dire domestic American issues may be, leading congressional representatives run with ‘hat in hand’ to the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference to make future political promises in exchange for economic support and political longevity, and during an executive presidential year those political stakes for any candidate that avoids an annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference are extremely costly on a political level. 

AIPAC itself is a behind-the-Congress political power constantly scouring the major American college campuses for future congressional leaders, and the Zionist organization sponsors full-paid trips to the state of Israel led by senior Democrat and Republican leaders, in recent years led by the recently dethroned Eric Cantor and Steny Hoyer, for all freshman U.S. congressional representatives.  As if U.S. representative democracy was not already vulnerable to manipulation by a powerful foreign lobby taking its instructions from a foreign government, and in all fairness we must also point out private sector influences, the major Jewish lobbyist organizations receive social, political and financial support from Christian Zionist lobbyist organizations, which possess larger numbers of adherents , who base their entire political ideology on the religious belief that God promised a plot of land to a specific ethnic group, and that Jesus will not rapturously return until that promise is fulfilled.

Middle East Democracy Deficit

                In opposition to the democratic peace theory, but still in support of the theory that representative democracy is easily manipulated , the United States has passed resolutions to provide foreign aid funding, or political carrots, to many authoritarian leaders, and even leaders described as dictators, throughout the Middle East.  For decades, stemming from the 1979 Camp David Accords, Egypt was the second highest recipient of annual U.S. military foreign aid at 2 billion dollars a year, and continues to be a recipient of U.S. foreign aid despite the Arab Spring and military coup that ousted Hosni Mubarak.  In reality, just as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee pushed U.S. Congressional members for political and economic sanctions that led to military invasion against Iraq, and are currently pushing the same agenda against Iran, AIPAC lobbied the U.S. Congress heavily for foreign aid to authoritarian Egypt in order to ensure the state on Israel’s southern border, where precious pipelines exist in the Negev, not to mention the Israeli Dimona nuclear reactor, was bought and paid for by American tax dollars.

Sustained economic and political rents from the so-called democratic states of the capitalistic west to authoritarian leaders in the Middle East, such as the U.S. assistance to bolster Egypt’s military during Mubarak’s regime, has been, and continues to be, an enabler for authoritarian leaders in the oil-rich Middle East which basically stonewalls the spread of democracy in the region and restricts the successful advance of democracy.  Therefore, the Democratic Peace Theory will never be tested in the Middle East because natural resource-hungry capitalist Democracies in the west promote authoritarian leaders that cooperate in the Middle East and secretly fund coups to overthrow those that do not cooperate.

                Another way that the democratic-capitalist west enables authoritarian leaders, and therefore promotes the democracy deficit in the Middle East, is through the rentier state process.  Rentier states “derive most or a substantial part of their revenues from the outside world and the functioning of their political system depend to a large degree on accruing external revenues that can be classified as rents” (Swarz, 2008, p. 604), and therefore are states that are not economically at the mercy of western democratic-capitalist exploitation and natural resource extraction.  Economically troubled states without abundant natural resources, such as are found in parts of South America, are often forced to accept IMF loans containing SAP conditions that require the infiltration of foreign investment, better known as natural resource extraction and capital flight, and lured into exploitative regional trade blocs such as Mexico’s involvement in the North American Free Trade Agreement.  This economic assimilation and exploitation is not always the case for rentier states because most rentier states, especially in the Middle East, enjoy vast natural resources and are not completely dependent on international capital from foreign sources.  The process of rentierism comes in multiple forms such as “bilateral or multilateral foreign-aid payments, such as foreign development assistance or military assistance, which are termed ‘strategic rents’” (Swarz, p. 14) and are not strictly limited to states that are heavily laden with oil.

Conclusion Summary

                The Democratic Peace Theory is a faulty theory at best because “the democratic peace is essentially a post-World War I phenomenon restricted to the Americas and Western Europe. Second, the United States has been the dominant power in both these regions since World War I” (Rosato, 2003, p. 599).  As we have illustrated in this paper, the United States, as well as any representative democracy under a capitalist system, is extremely vulnerable to domestic political manipulation through capital lobbying which often creates state foreign policy that is quite undemocratic on the international stage.  At the same time, the United State boasts democratic principles throughout the halls of globalization while openly supporting authoritarian regimes abroad, and utilizing presidential executive orders to circumvent domestic democratic procedures.  In closing, the Democratic Peace Theory is invalid for application to the Middle East, especially between Palestinians and the state of Israel, simply because of the undemocratic involvement of the United States.



Jewish Virtual Library.  2014.  U.N. Security Council: U.S. Vetoes of Resolutions Critical to Israeli.  Accessed June 14, 2014.

Quigley, John.  2009. “The Palestinian Declaration to the International Criminal Court: The Statehood Issue.”  The Internet Journal of Rutgers School of Law 25, no. 2 (Spring 2009): 1-10.  Accessed June 14, 2014.

Rosato, Sebastian.  2003. The Flawed Logic of Democratic Peace Theory.  The American Political Science Review, Vol. 97, No. 4. (Nov., 2003), pp. 585-602.  Accessed on June 14, 2014.

Sharp, Jeremy M.  2014.  U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel.  Congressional Research Center, April 11, 2014.  Accessed June 14, 2014.

Swarz, Rolf.  2008.  The Political Economy of State-Formation in the Arab Middle East: Rentier States, Economic Reform, and Democratization.  Review of International Political Economy 15:4 October 2008: 599–621.  Accessed June 15, 2014.

Schwarz, Rolf.  2004. "State Formation Processes in Rentier States: The Middle Eastern Case." Pan-European Conference on International Relations, ECPR Standing Group on International Relations, 2004.  Accessed June 15, 2014.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Russia: Wild Privatization vs. Centralized State

Post-Soviet Russia has had tumultuous economic path since the final decade of the 20th century. It has dealt with financial crisis, private sector scandal and corruption, and political struggle. As we discussed during the opening week of the course, during the years leading into the collapse of the Soviet Union there was a mass transition of state capital transitioned into private sector pockets, which has created over time became an oligarchy that “pushed out communist-era bureaucrats and managers” (Herspring & Wegren, p. 161). During the early Yeltin privatization years, crime and corruption increased dramatically in the name of capital accumulation and competition as “businesses started using criminal groups and not the courts to enforce contracts and secure their property rights” (Herspring & Wegren, p. 162). As is a general rule in privatization and capitalism and which also proved to be true in Russia, “more powerful competitors pushed out their weaker rivals, and economic power was concentrated in the hands of a small number of individuals” (Herspring & Wegren,p. 164). This first phase that created the oligarchy in Russia, basically the early years of Yeltin reforms, has been referenced as the ‘wild privatization’ phase (Herspring & Wegren, p. 163).

Following the historical trends of capital privatization, “the oligarchs were parasitic on the Russian state”(Herspring & Wegren p. 164) to a point of destabilization. The capitalist oligarchs managed to produce soaring budget deficits and draining the state of assets and revenues which contributed to the economic crash of 1998 after Yeltsin’s 1996 election. Upon the emergence of Putin and United Russia, the Russian state has somewhat regulated ‘wild privatization’ and balanced it with a renewed state control of key natural resources. The energy sector, which remains under price control by the state, is one of the most important of sectors and has seen an increase of “new private regional energy companies” (Herspring & Wegren, p. 168). Despite trends indicating a soft authoritarian state, Russia has managed to integrate into the international market. Russia has been a member of the European Union since 2002 and a majority of Russian economic activity “now takes place in legally independent private corporations, and price controls on most goods have been abolished” (Herspring & Wegren, p. 160). It must be noted that price control is still implemented on “natural gas, electricity, and housing utilities” (Herspring & Wegren, p. 160).

The energy and oil sectors of the Russian state are blended between state and private ownership, and both sectors show signs of growth and problems. While the potential for solid economic growth for Russia exists, it is interesting that the Russian state has utilized the same measures that are typically used by private sector entities, such as “using shell companies, offshore banking, and other nefarious maneuverings to conceal its economic activity from outside observers” (Herspring & Wegren, p. 175). I am not completely sure that having the state as a competing entity with the domestic, and even international, free market is a bad thing. History and current events clearly show how damaging private sector ownership, especially foreign investment (capital exploitation), can be on a state. At the end of the day, Russians must ask themselves what would be better for the future: 7 individual billionaires who can move to another state and leave behind a ruined state that is depleted of natural resources or a strong centralized state capable providing a long term societal infrastructure and of developing new technologies for future economic development within the state?

Herspring, D, & Wegren, S. 2010. After Putin's Russia : Past Imperfect, Future Uncertain. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers: p. 160-177.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Israeli-Palestinian Not a Conflict, Nor is it Based on Religion

Question:  "Has the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians become a purely religious one? Does the rise of Hamas mean that a peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has become impossible?"

It is difficult for me to consider the Israeli-Palestinian issue as one based on Religion for several reasons.  The first reason is that the issue is based on land, and has been emblazoned by the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people, the brutal Israeli oppression of the Palestinian civilian sectors, and the ethnic cleansing and illegal settlement building (considered illegal by a majority of states on the international stage) on confiscated Palestinian lands (over demolished Palestinian homes).  What started as a land conflict between the newly established (after WWII) state of Israel and the displaced Palestinian population (and refugees) has, with the assistance of decades of western and U.S. monetary, political and military support to Israel (secured by Zionist and Christian Zionist lobbyist organizations on Congressional decision making), has transformed the situation into one of a brutal aggressor/oppressor state (internationally recognized) and an oppressed population (internationally ignored and media vilified as sponsors of terror).  The Israeli-Palestinian issue is not a conflict; it is the longest military occupation in the modern era. 

The second reason that the issue is not a religious conflict is that Judaism is a religion based on ethnicity, meaning one needs to be ethnically Jewish or a fool to claim Judaism because the entire concept of the so-called religion is based on an exclusive ethnic bloodline.  In addition to this socio-religious phenomenon of ethnicity guised in religion, it must be noted that there are both Christian and Muslim Palestinians.  A Palestinian is a Palestinian, not an automatic member of an ethnic religious group.

If the problem between the state of Israel and the Palestinian people has become impossible to repair peacefully, I do not view the rise of Hamas as the reason that a peaceful resolution is unachievable.  Hamas is a “political and social organization” (Klein, 2007, p. 444) that views the “voice of the masses, in its view, is the expression of God’s will (Klein, 2007, p. 444).  Sounds like Islamic democracy, does it not?  Klein spends quite a bit of time comparing the Islamic Charter of 1988 and the 2006 Hamas-sponsored political platform of Change and Reform, but in my opinion this is a reflection of change over nearly two decades.  Keep in mind that in the United States during the year 1855, slavery was still an economic system of exploitation.  In 1872, it was not.  In the United States in 1860, racial segregation was law.  In 1978, society had changed (somewhat). 

If a peaceful solution to the problem is no longer possible, the main reason is due to the fact that the U.S. (along with western allies and private sector organizations) has provided Israel with over 3 billion dollars a year in foreign aid for over five decades now, and Israel has utilized this monetary and military aid in their military occupation and oppression, ethnic cleansing and brutalization (and humiliation) of the Palestinian people.  Each time the Palestinian leadership attempts to utilize the proper international channels, the world turns a deaf ear to their request for justice or recognized statehood.  The U.S. vetoes every UN resolution condemning Israeli aggressions against the Palestinian people (while continuing to criticize Iran for human rights violations while funding the human-rights violating Israel).    

Again, I do not view the Israeli-Palestinian issue as a conflict, no more than I ever viewed the U.S. occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan as “wars” after the existing regimes were overthrown during the initial invasions.  The Issue is an injustice to humanity and quite frankly displays the hypocrisy of civilized states in the west. 

Klein, Menachem.  2007.  Hamas in Power.  The Middle East Journal 61 no.3 (Summer 2007): 442-459


Divided Islam: Political Balancing Shift on the Modern Middle East

The Shi’a and Sunni opposition is viewed as sectarian in nature which is defined as a conflict defined by an “institutional set of arrangements determining familial, local, regional, and even broader kinds of loyalty and affiliation” (Abdo, p.5, 2013).  In this particular ideological conflict, and thus political conflict, “a struggle for political and economic power and over which interpretation of Islam will influence societies” (Abdo, p.5, 2013) has existed since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of modern states within the modern Middle East.  While the teachings of Muhammad were generally positive reform which did not promote secularism within those who have submitted to God, it did not take long for a secularist division to occur after the completion of his life as “Shiites wanted the prophet to be succeeded by Ali ibn Abi Talib, his son-in-law and cousin, and then by his descendants thereafter” (Cole, p.20, 2006) while “the Sunni branch was content to have caliphs-the respected elders of the prophet's tribe-succeed him” (Cole, p. 20, 2006).  In general, the division originated over the religious and political leadership succession after Muhammad between “Mohammad’s closest companions, or only from his direct bloodline” (Abdo, p. 5, 2013).  There are over 1.3 billion Muslims in the world, either Shiite or Sunni, and until recently the majority of Arab states in the Middle East have been dominated by Sunni regimes (Cole, p.20, 2006).

Demographics on the religion of Islam state that Muslims globally are “10-13% are Shia Muslims and 87-90% are Sunni Muslims” (Pew, 2014) and that “most Shias (between 68% and 80%) live in just four countries: Iran, Pakistan, India and Iraq” (Pew, 2014).  The Shiite-Sunni divide impacts regional stability, and therefore regional security, on several levels.  In many cases, individual states with majority Shiite populations have been repressing by a Sunni ruling regime such as Iraq or Bahrain, or a large minority of Shiites ruled by a Sunni regimes in Lebanon or Saudi Arabia (Cole, p. 20, 2006).

In states such as Bahrain and Lebanon, where the Shi‘ite comprise approximately 70 and 40 percent of the population, respectively, the prospects of democratic governance alarm the Sunni” (Abdo, p.5, 2013).  When domestic events, especially when they are influenced by foreign powers, shift the Shiite-Sunni power structure in Middle East state regimes, it changes the regional power structure which in turn causes internationals shifts.  One example of domestic state realignments that impacts the region was how “the US ouster of the Sunni dictatorship politically unleashed Iraq's Shiite majority” (Cole, p. 20, 2006).  The U.S. invasion and nation-building in Iraq allowed “fundamentalist Shiite parties to come to power through the ballot box” (Cole, p.22, 2006) and instantly changed the way Iraq dealt with its regional neighbors and their allies as “Iran already had a clerically run Shiite government” (Cole, p.22, 2006).  The U.S. invasion clearly changed the power structure, and stability, in the region because “before the Iraq War, the region had been characterized by a Sunni-dominated, secular Iraq; a Sunni Jordan; a Sunni-majority Syria with a secular Baath government; a Sunni Palestine; a Lebanon dominated jointly by Maronite Christians and Sunni Muslims; and a Sunni Saudi Arabia and Gulf” (Cole, p.22, 2006).

Political parties have also begun to form with the Shiite ranks, some of which have endorsed violence, within the nation-state structures left behind by the imperialist west.  In Iraq during the 2005 elections, Shiite parties “formed a single party list, the United Iraqi Alliance” (Cole, p. 21, 2006).  As authoritarian leader are removed by foreign governments or forced out by Arab protests, such as in Egypt and Libya, the sectarianism within domestic political parties that appear in the regime void “are now emerging as powerful mobilizing forces in the region and as potent sources of regional instability and conflict” (Abdo, p. 59, 2013). 

                The shifting of power balance resulting from Shiite-Sunni regime changes within the natural resource-rich Middle Eastern region causes the capitalist west to play political chess when it comes to carrots and sticks.  This is not a new concept as the U.S. actually backed Iraq during the 1980s Iran-Iraq War in hopes for “Hussein to bottle up fundamentalist Shiism and to keep it from having a major impact in Iraq and the Gulf” (Cole, p.25, 2006).   After the removal of Hussein and the establishment of a Shiite Iraq government, “once-isolated Iran has emerged as a major regional player” (Cole, p.25, 2006) and is “developing warm and positive links with newly Shiite-dominated Baghdad, and exercising new influence in the Persian Gulf” (Cole, p.25, 2006).  This causes the capitalist West to seek alliances in strange places, or wherever they can stabilize the region through a balance of power aimed to keep two political entities competing against each other and looking for support from Western capital and arms.  When the power of Shiite Iran was balanced by pre-U.S. invaded Sunni Iraq, the capital west had stronger negotiating power by negotiating with both sides, but “since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and in the absence of a strong Iraq, which had traditionally served as a counterbalance to Iran’s regional aspirations” (Abdo, p. 52, 2013).  The rise of more Shiite regimes in the Middle East allows Iran to extend political relations with those states in order to “give Iran leverage in its relations with the United States, the European Union, and other large powers” (Abdo, p. 51, 2013) as a collective negotiator.   

Abdo, Geneive. 2013. The New Sectarianism: The Arab Uprisings and the Rebirth of the Shi’a-Sunni Divide, Washington DC: The Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

Cole, Juan. 2006. “A Shi’ite Crescent?  The regional impact of the Iraq War.”  Current History.

Pew Forum Religion and Public Life Project.  2014.  Mapping the Global Muslim Population.  Accessed on May 24, 2014.



Middle East Democracy Deficit and the Coercive Apparatus

The democracy deficit is a conceptual term that describes the lack of existing or thriving democratic governments in the Middle East since the aftermath of World War II when the basis for the modern Middle East nation-state model was established with “the formation of new states and the building of new nations” (Anderson, p. 3) in the region formerly centralized by the Ottoman Empire.  When looking at the democracy deficit in the Middle East, statistics show that “only two out of twenty-one countries qualify as electoral democracies, down from three observed in 1972” (Bellin, p. 139).  While the international stage has witnessed an overall increase in representative or parliamentary democracies since 1972, the Middle Eastern states have remained predominantly monarchial or authoritarian in government structure (Bellin, p. 139).  Since “no single variable will ever prove to be universally necessary” (Bellin, p. 141) for establishing successful and sustainable democracy within a state, it is important to look at specific trends on what strengthens the grasp of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East region and how the coercive apparatus, or ruling power, is able to exploit those conditions in order to maintain power.

The first overall state trend that allows authoritarianism to thrive in the Middle East is a weak civil society, without strong nongovernment organizations, and civil freedoms, that do not allow “opportunities for citizens to participate in collective deliberation” (Bellin, p. 139).  In order to create and push successful reform measures, the people must be able to organize and establish a platform in which to organize.  When the coercive apparatus oppresses, directly or indirectly, the civil society and prevents nongovernment organizations from flourishing, it is extremely difficult for the people to collectively demand change through organized channels.

The economy is the second trend as the majority of Middle Eastern states have economies greatly regulated by the state, or coercive apparatus, and this fiscal centralization “undermines the capacity to build autonomous, countervailing power to the state in society” (Bellin, p. 139).  If the state controls the technology, the military arms, the natural resources, the food sources, and the overall power base, it becomes extremely difficult for the population to demand reform as the people have nothing to bargain with except violence against a well-armed coercive security apparatus.

The third trend can be observed with the inequalities of the domestic wealth distribution within the state and low literacy rates of the working masses (Bellin, p. 139).  There will never be an emphasis on democratic reform, or any reforms, if the masses are not educated enough to prioritize and organize reform, and the ruling elite will always cling to the status quo for the obvious reasons of their acquired power and wealth (Bellin, p. 140).

The fourth observable trend is that the majority of Middle Eastern states do not “border directly on successful models of democratic rule” (Bellin, p. 140), and are therefore not influenced by any positive examples of electoral democracy.  The only problem with this theory is that the Middle East has seen a decline in democratic states, albeit those states were pre-western puppet governments established by withdrawing western states, and those temporary democracies didn’t influence neighboring states and eventually relapsed to different structures of government.  In addition, the state of Israel consistently proclaims itself a beacon of democracy in the Middle East while committing consistent human rights violations against the Palestinian people and committing ethnic cleansing through illegal settlement building despite the remonstrations of the international community.

The final trend is blamed on Islam and the presumption that Islam is anti-Democratic in nature (Bellin, p. 140).  This presumption is incorrect as Iran is an Islamic theocracy with many democratic elements to its government structure, and while the Iranian government structure is certainly not the same model of free-for-all electoral democracy as western capitalist representative democracies are, Iran still possesses democratic elements under an Islamic constitution which proves that Islam is not anti-democracy.

Some of the state trends that have been noted by Bellin create social and political environments that allow authoritarian governments in the Middle East to remain unchallenged in their grasp of power because “coercive apparatus in many states has been exceptionally able and willing to crush reform initiatives from below (Bellin, p. 144).  Considering that the military is the first line of defense for state coercive apparatus power, whether authoritarian or democratic, the fiscal health of a state is extremely relevant in holding power for the coercive apparatus, or controlling power.  If the state is unable to pay or feed, or provide subsistence to, its military members and families, the state coercive apparatus will become insecure and will eventually become unstable (Bellin, p. 144) which would result in a severe vulnerability for the state coercive apparatus.  When considering the fact that most modern Middle Eastern states “enjoy sufficient revenue to sustain exceedingly robust expenditure on their security apparatuses” (Bellin, p. 147) and are “among the biggest spenders in terms of arms purchased” (Bellin, p. 147), the strength of the average Middle Eastern state coercive apparatus becomes evident.  The wealth that allows this type of security building for Middle Eastern authoritarian regimes is generally derived from capitalist rentier states associated with “petroleum resources, gas resources, geostrategic utility, and control of critical transit facilities” (Bellin, p. 148).  In addition, authoritarian states also receive conditional International Monetary Fund loans and western foreign aid, such as the annual two billion dollars a year in United States foreign aid to Egypt during and after the Mubarak era, and the ongoing annual three billion dollars a year to Israel that is provided by the United States (Bellin, p. 148).  Many authoritarian leaders would lose the “capacity to hold on to power” (Bellin, p. 144) without the economic contributions of the capitalist west, but due to western-capitalist concerns for oil this is not the case and authoritarian states continue to maintain strong coercive apparatus security which results in continued longevity (Bellin, p. 148).

In addition to a strong coercive apparatus, the presence of a patrimonial coercive apparatus strengthens the dedication to hold power and block reform for authoritarian regimes.  Under patrimonial conditions, the possibility of democratic, social, political or economic reform could indicate ruin for the elite of the monarchy or authoritarian state (Bellin, p. 149).  There are ample historical examples such with “Bourguiba's son, Qaddafi's cousins, Asad's brother, Saddam's in-laws” (Anderson, p. 11).

Anderson, Lisa. 1991. “Absolutism and the Resilience of Monarchy in the Middle East.” Political Science Quarterly 106, no. 1 (1991): 1-15.

Bellin, Eva. 2004. The Robustness of Authoritarianism in the Middle East: Exceptionalism in Comparative Perspective. Comparative Politics, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Jan., 2004), pp. 139-157

Ross, Michael. 2001. Does Oil Hinder Democracy? World Politics, Vol. 53, No. 3 (Apr., 2001), pp. 325-361