All posts by Karen Oliva

Geopolitics in the Eastern Mediterranean: A Cypriot Perspective

On Thursday, May 9, the Brookings Institution featured Ioannis Kasoulides as guest speaker. His presentation, “Geopolitics in the Eastern Mediterranean: A Cypriot Perspective,” highlighted the region’s strategic geographical position and dwelled on the issues the country faces. Mr. Kasoulides is the minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Cyprus – a position he assumed for a second term on March 1. Martin Indyk, vice president and director of the Foreign Policy program at the Brookings Institution, introduced the featured speaker.

The Republic of Cyprus, the largest island in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, serves as a crossing point between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. (For a general overview of the country, visit https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cy.html.) Its geographical position places the country amid the Middle East conflict and Israeli security issues.

It is the only member of the European Union in the region (having gained entry in 2004). Its relationship with the U.S. and EU has increased in recent years, in efforts to fight terrorism, human trafficking, and nuclear proliferation. Mr. Kasoulides emphasized his country’s shared values – democracy, rule of law, and human rights – with the U.S. He also noted a deep desire to be viewed as a trading partner of the U.S.

He proceeded to discuss the Arab Spring and its implications on Cyprus. Mr. Kasoulides appeared satisfied of the region’s desire to “democratically evolve” and consolidate democracy. He, however, did not abstain from expressing his views on the ongoing conflict in Syria. His concern with the innocent civilians who are indiscriminately killed was apparent. The use of chemical weapons has raised concerns in the diplomatic community, to which Mr. Kasoulides said, “It is not permissible for government to use chemical weapons against their own people.”

In regard to its neighboring countries, he said Cyprus is the “most predictable next door neighbor of Israel.” Upon its admittance to the EU, it brought “Europe to 35 minutes away from Tel Aviv, whereas before the distance was much bigger.” Both countries have good intentions towards one another, and he said that the energy issue was a “tangible area” that called for the cooperation from both countries. Cyprus has an adjacent border with the economic zone of Egypt, Lebanon, and Israel, whereas Israel has one common line of economic zone with Egypt; the “common denominator” in this paradigm is Cyprus. Mr. Kasoulides stated his country has a “great affinity” toward Lebanon. The Minister of Foreign Affairs shared with the audience that an upcoming visit is in session to Egypt, with whom Cyprus has a “cordial relationship.”

“Turkey acknowledges that the problem of Cyprus is an impediment to the growth of the EU,” Mr. Kasoulides said with respect to Turkey. It does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus, due to historical conflicts that are still present today. He went on to say, “What an anachronism it is nowadays to occupy 37% of the territory of Cyprus, 57% of the coastline, a European country, therefore European soil.” If there is any hope of improving the relationship between theses two countries, Turkey needs to partake in negotiation talks. Despite Cyprus’ status as a member of the EU, it is the only member state that has no connection or participates in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The country may be “ready to apply,” but its admission depends on Turkey’s willingness to allow Cyprus at the negotiation tables. The urgency of the matter was stressed by using the energy issue: since the country is strategically situated near the entrance of the Suez Canal, it can export gas to markets around the region (especially Asia, a region that is still developing). He assured the audience that the country “will exploit [their] gas resources.” Furthermore, he said, “I don’t think humanity is permitted to wait until Cyprus settles its problems with Turkey in order to proceed exploiting this very important material.”

Negotiations for Cyprus are not easy, “they never have been,” opined Mr. Kasoulides. The election of Nicos Anastasiades on February 24 created “a window of opportunity.” He expressed optimism that the current center-right government will be able to improve its relations with Turkey.

A Q & A session followed Mr. Kasoulide’s presentation, during which he addressed the country’s economic crisis. He said that a very high deposit interest rate (“the highest in Europe,” he added) incentivized both foreigners and Cypriots to store their money in banks, which decreased investment and spending in the real economy. The banking system eventually collapsed overnight, and the euro zone had to issue a bail out. The crisis may have not allowed Cypriots to undo the events that led to the collapse, but he urged that the case be seen as an experiment of “what to do about banks too big to fail.” (To read more about the bailout, visit http://www.economist.com/blogs/charlemagne/2013/03/cyprus-bail-out.)

As it was Europe Day, I found it fitting to attend an event that focused on a member state’s geopolitics and issues. A country’s geographic position can be advantageous in several ways, but it can also prove to have several disadvantages (case in point, Cyprus).

China-India Border Issues and Northeast India: A View from India

Territorial boundaries have been the cause of conflicts and tensions between neighboring countries for thousands of years. On Wednesday, May 8, I decided to go to George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs to listen to Dr. Namrata Goswami’s presentation, entitled “China-India Border Issues and Northeast India: A View from India.” Dr. Goswami is a notable scholar in her field and has done extensive work analyzing the conflict. The event was sponsored by the Rising Powers Initiative and the India Initiative.

A few of the areas contested are Monpa, Tani, Mishmi, Naga, and Mette. It is difficult to categorize all of them in one specific category, as they are diverse and not homogenous. The border issues date back to the 1950s. Dr. Goswami’s presentation touched upon five factors: disputed border and territorial claims, Tibet as the core issue, balance of military forces, military exercises, and the relationship between the U.S. and India.

The McMahon line, located near the Brahmaputra River, is the borderline delineated by the British to separate China and India. Prior to this, another line had been proposed to solve the conflict. While the Indian government favors the former, the Chinese government favors the latter. The Indian government argues that if they abide the previous line, they will be vulnerable to foreign attacks and lose the defense the mountainous region provides.

In 1959, Mao Zedong published an essay in which he proclaimed Jawaharlal Nehru (the prime minister at the time) as an expansionist, with the desire to expand into Tibet. Nehru’s forward policy called for the establishment of various posts near the McMahon line. On October 1962 China attacked – an attack that was completely unforeseen by the Indian government. The Sino-Indian War produced significant losses for the Indian military.

Throughout the speech, the speaker often stated that Tibet was the “core issue” and highlighted the “importance of Tibet.” In 1954, both parties signed a treaty, whereby the Indian government recognized Tibet as a territory of the People’s Republic of China. (The following link will direct you to a copy of the original document: http://www.tpprc.org/documents/agreements/1954.pdf.) As Nehru was facing pressure from the parliament and the media at the time, the government printed out maps that unilaterally defined the border – heightening tensions even more.

Currently, the Tibetan government (the Central Tibetan Administration) is in exile in India. The Dalai Lama is the spearhead of the non-violent movement that seeks to regain Tibetan autonomy. (More information can be found here: http://tibet.net/important-issues/worldwide-tibet-movement/.) The Free Tibet movement, however, is one of the hundreds of Tibet Support Groups (TSGs) that is independent of the CTA.

Today, the area near the McMahon line is highly militarized. There is a great fear on behalf of the Indian government that a second attack will be launched (like in 1962). Dr. Goswami showed us satellite pictures of the missile deployment the Chinese government set up in Tibet. The Government of India plans to invest $100 million dollars in its military, with the hopes of containing China and maintaining its militarized border. Both countries – which are nuclear weapon states – have also revved up military exercises.

In recent years, the Indian government has successfully strengthened its diplomatic relations with the U.S. government. One of the questions Dr. Goswami explored during her presentation was, “Why is India getting so close to the United States?” There are various theories to account for the increased cooperation between these two countries; perhaps the most prevalent is that a bilateral relationship is crucial to deter China’s rise as a global power. On July 18 the country celebrated a great achievement: it was officially recognized as a nuclear weapon state. Consequently, the idea of the state as a great power was conceptually enforced. In 2006, negotiations suffered a setback. Chinese E-passports were circulating that apparently claimed the contested region as Chinese territory. As negotiations were (and are still) ongoing, it escalated anxiety.

India insists on settling the border disputes based on the McMahon line, and China adamantly opposes it. One of Dr. Goswami’s closing remarks was, “Why has China not resolved the border issue with India?” It has successfully resolved border issues with Burma, Nepal and Mongolia, after all. Her answer was that China wants to make India insecure and assert its power. The realist argument, she said, would be that “China has done this deliberately to question India’s resolve.” The recent standoff in Ladakh has stalled negotiations, increased fear, and intensified pressure from the media and local population.

The dispute is clearly a complex issue that will not be easily resolved. Now that I have heard Dr. Goswami’s discourse presenting “A View from India,” it would be interesting to hear a presentation on “A View from China.”

Transparency and the Struggle for Accountability in Mexico

On Thursday, May 9, I went to the National Endowment for Democracy to listen to a presentation entitled “Transparency and the Struggle for Accountability in Mexico,” featuring Irma Sandoval-Ballesteros, with comments by Eric Hershberg. Dr. Sandoval-Ballesteros is an international expert on the issues of transparency, accountability, and political economy, having published numerous works on these topics. She is also an associate professor at the Institute for Social Research and director of the Laboratory for the Documentation and Analysis of Corruption and Transparency at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). Dr. Hershberg is the director of the Center for Latin American and Latino Studies at American University.

“Mexico is a country of much potential,” Dr. Sandoval-Ballesteros stated. She proceeded to show data that corroborated her statement. In 2012, Mexico’s GDP (in billions of US$) was 1,177.116 – making it the second best economy in Latin America. In terms of the world economy, it is positioned in 14th place. Despite the country’s promising economic performance, there is an obstacle lurking in broad daylight: corruption. The speaker proposed a new “structural” approach to effectively combat this issue.

The speaker supplemented her discussion of the rampant corruption in the country with statistics from Transparency International. Mexico’s ranking in the Corruption Perceptions Index (2012) was 105 out of 176, giving it an overall score of 34 out of 100. (For more information, visit http://www.transparency.org/country#MEX.) I was surprised to hear it was ranked as the 2nd most corrupt country in the region in 2012, coming in after Haiti. I would have expected other countries in the region to occupy at least the top five positions.

The premises of her “structural” approach were the following: 1) The solution to combat corruption is democracy, not “modernization,” 2) Corruption is rooted in the dynamics of state-society relations (i.e., corruption is about institutions, not culture), and 3) The privatization of public functions creates new accountability challenges (the state must promote ethics for private actors/companies). The traditional approach to combat corruption has been based on the KLITGAARD formula:

C = M + D – A

Corruption equals monopoly plus discretion minus accountability.

 In lie of this formula, the speaker proposed a new equation based on the structural approach:

C = AP + I – CP

Corruption equals abuse of power plus impunity minus citizen participation.

The adverse effect of economic and political “liberalization” has been an increase in corruption, according to Dr. Sandoval-Ballesteros. Wealth is concentrated in fewer hands (thus leading to more inequality), and vote buying has led to more electoral fraud.

Last year’s presidential elections declared Enrique Peña Nieto as the victor. The youth has been highly critical of the president, claiming the election was rife with fraud, and lambasting him as part of the “system.” While the speaker was not as critical as the youth, she did not have any positive comments regarding his presidency thus far. She claimed that the president has proposed to dissolve several of the New Democratic Institutions, such as the positions of the Secretary of Public Function and the Secretariat of Public Security. If such proposals and institutional reforms are successful, the country’s progress towards improving its transparency in governmental affairs and accountability will be diminished. Independent agencies, citizen participation and investigative journalism are pivotal to further the country’s path toward transparency.

Privatization may have been the solution employed to combat corruption in the ‘90s, but it has proven to be ineffective, Dr. Sandoval-Ballesteros contended. The transfer of control from the state to other powerful actors has not benefitted the state and society as a whole; rather, certain beneficiaries (for example, Carlos Slim – the wealthiest person on the planet) have reaped the rewards.

Dr. Hershberg concurred with Dr. Sandoval-Ballesteros in that Mexico has much potential. However, he disagreed with her for the reasons it has yet to achieve its capacity. He discussed the four stages for enacting public policies, and said the government has been unable to follow through the steps. Also, society’s capacity to hold institutions accountable is feeble – something that must be improved upon to increase transparency in the country.

The presentation was highly relevant to the overall region, as corruption is not only rampant in Mexico. Personally, I think representatives from the governments of all Latin American countries should make it a priority to attend events that propose solutions. Increased dialogue and cooperation is necessary if the region is to prosper (both economically and socially) in the future.