The four-lane highway leading out of the Sri Lankan town of Hambantota gets so little traffic that it sometimes attracts more wild elephants than automobiles. The pachyderms are intelligent — they seem to use the road as a jungle shortcut — but not intelligent enough, alas, to appreciate the pun their course embodies: It links together a series of white elephants, i.e. boondoggles, built and financed by the Chinese. Beyond the lonely highway itself, there is a 35,000-seat cricket stadium, an almost vacant $1.5 billion deepwater port and, 16 miles inland, a $209 million jewel known as “the world’s emptiest international airport.”
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WASHINGTON — Capital flight from Russia is now likely equal to the collective wealth of all Russian households, according to a new report by a respected U.S. research firm, a trend that has helped to drive the country’s income inequality to extreme levels.
The National Bureau of Economic Research says in a paper being published this month that the top 1 percent of Russians now hold up to 25 percent of the country’s wealth, a function of capital flight that has accelerated in recent years.
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Ecellent reporting in the NYT on the growing incompetence of the 7th fleet.
Here is one bit.
Dr. Thayer, the Asia-Pacific security expert, said: “The U.S. Navy is still very powerful, but its aura of invincibility has taken a huge hit. American credibility in the region has taken a big hit.”
The rest can be found here
The legality of the war against Iraq remains the focus of intense debate – as is the challenge it poses to the post-second-world-war order, based on the inviolability of sovereign states. That challenge, however, is not a new one. The precursor is without doubt Nato’s 1999 attack on Yugoslavia, also carried out without UN support. Look again at how the US and its allies behaved then, and the pattern is unmistakable.
Yugoslavia was a sovereign state with internationally recognised borders; an unsolicited intervention in its internal affairs was excluded by international law. The US-led onslaught was therefore justified as a humanitarian war – a concept that most international lawyers regarded as having no legal standing (the Commons foreign affairs select committee described it as of “dubious legality”). The attack was also outside Nato’s own remit as a defensive organisation – its mission statement was later rewritten to allow for such actions.
This article is old (it was first published in 2003) but is relevant for understanding current Chinese suspicions of American hegemony.
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The fatal conceit is the assumption that the world can be shaped according to human desires. This paper argues that the logic of the fatal conceit can be applied to foreign interventions which go beyond the limits of what can be rationally constructed by reason alone. In suffering from the fatal conceit, these interventions are characterized by: (1) the realization that intentions do not equal results, (2) a reliance on top-down planning, (3) the view of development as a technological issue, (4) a reliance on bureaucracy over markets, and (5) the primacy of collectivism over individualism. These characteristics explain why interventions extending beyond the limits of what can be rationally constructed tend to fail.
The authors are Christopher J. Coyne and Rachel L. Mathers and you can read the rest for free here.
This article assesses Iran’s strategy in dealing with the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It examines the implications of the rise of ISIS in Iran’s immediate neighbourhood for Tehran’s policies in Syria and Iraq and investigates how each of these countries affects Iranian national interests. It provides an overview of the major events marking Iran and Iraq’s relations in the past few decades and discusses the strategic importance of Iraq for Iran, by looking at the two countries’ energy, economic and religious ties. It also considers Iran’s involvement in Syria since the beginning of the Syrian conflict. The article sheds light on the unilateral action taken by Tehran to counter ISIS, the adjustments it may have to make to its involvement in Syria, and the potential areas for tactical cooperation between Iran and the United States, as well as other key regional states such as Saudi Arabia. The article investigates three likely scenarios affecting the developments in Iraq and Iran’s possible response to them as the events in the Middle East unfold.
That is the abstract and the rest can be found here.
People contact Edward Luttwak with unusual requests. The prime minister of Kazakhstan wants to find a way to remove ethnic Russians from a city on his northern border; a major Asian government wants a plan to train its new intelligence services; an Italian chemical company wants help settling an asbestos lawsuit with a local commune; a citizens’ group in Tonga wants to scare away Japanese dolphin poachers from its shores; the London Review of Books wants a piece on the Armenian genocide; a woman is having a custody battle over her children in Washington DC – can Luttwak “reason” with her husband? And that is just in the last 12 months.
Luttwak is a self-proclaimed “grand strategist”, who makes a healthy living dispensing his insights around the globe. He believes that the guiding principles of the market are antithetical to what he calls “the logic of strategy”, which usually involves doing the least efficient thing possible in order to gain the upper hand over your enemy by confusing them. If your tank battalion has the choice of a good highway or a bad road, take the bad road, says Luttwak. If you can divide your fighter squadrons onto two aircraft carriers instead of one, then waste the fuel and do it. And if two of your enemies are squaring off in Syria, sit back and toast your good fortune.
Long article but highly readable. You can read the rest here.
Sanctions are usually the first option in coercive diplomacy considering that the use of force is so morally tainted. But how effective they are is highly contested. There are costs and benefits to their use and one of the most notable cost is the “rally around the flag effect.”
Timothy Frye looks at this very aspect of Russian sanctions and writes,
I studied this issue in a recent working paper and found little evidence that economic sanctions influenced levels of support for the Russian leadership.6 To reach this conclusion, I conducted a nationally representative survey of 2,000 respondents in Russia in November 2016 just following the US presidential election, in which I randomly assigned respondents to receive questions with different prompts.7 In the baseline condition, respondents were asked, “To what extent do you support the Russian leadership (rukovodstvo) on a 5-point scale where 1 equals very negative and 5 equals very positive?” In the baseline condition where respondents received no additional information, the average level of support for the Russian government was 3.52.
Prior to receiving this question, one group of respondents was reminded that “since 2014 the United States has levied sanctions against Russia,” and another group of respondents were told that “since 2014 the European Union has levied economic sanctions against Russia.” If the “rally around the flag” argument was correct, we would expect support for the Russian government in these two groups to be higher on average than in the baseline group. Instead, in these groups the level of support for the Russian government was 3.40 and 3.46, respectively—lower than the support in the control group. Reminding respondents that the United States and the European Union had levied economic sanctions against Russia produced no discernible effect on the respondents’ support for the Russian government.
Short read and you can access the rest here.