Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Good points about the 'blessing' of oil.  But when a country is dependent on one source of income that comes from nature, it's been also called the 'resource curse'. If we take the case of Saudi Arabia, we see that its economy is completely dependent on its production and distribution of oil. SA recognizes this and has tried unsuccessfully to diversify its economy. What happens when the price of oil drops?

Have you noticed how the price of gas has decreased at the pump in the US?  Recently,  oil prices dropped to $45 a barrel, from $70 a barrel and even $100 a barrel when China's demand was at a peak. Why did prices drop? There are a few reasons for this: US oil production doubled and Canadian, Nigerian, Iraqi and Russia kept producing record amounts which oversupplied the market thus  lowering prices. There has been a drop in production investments.  Demand for oil has been stagnating with economic recessions around the world. With sanctions against Iran lifting, now Iranian oil is coming onto an   already oversupplied market.  So is Libyan oil.

The lowering of oil prices has had a profound impact on the Saudi Arabian economy, which pays for 70 percent of its government budget out of its oil revenues. The SA government heavily subsidizes basic necessities (water, food).  The oil crisis  has created a budget deficit of 15 percent.  SA will have to borrow more, also to sustain its vast military  expenditures, weapons purchased from the US and UK, and  its war on Yemen. The new government, led by Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has proposed a new economic program called Vision 2030 to reduce the importance of oil in the economy.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Students in my INTL 5625 Middle East class asked, what interest does Saudi Arabia, the richest country in the Middle East,  have in Yemen, the poorest? Why do they fear a Shia leadership? I always check out the geopolitics of the disputed area. Here is a map:
Image result for strait of bab el mandeb

See where the Strait of Bab el-Mandeb is. It's a narrow chokepoint separating Eritrea and Djibouti on the west and Yemen on the east. It's where ME oil flows out to its markets.

The US is backing Saudi Arabia in its war to eliminate the Houthis from Yemeni leadership. Why is Yemen important to the US?

"General Norman Schwarzkopf. In testimony to the U.S. Senate he said, “The Red Sea, with the Suez Canal in the north and the Bab el-Mandeb in the south, is one of the most vital sea lines of communication and a critical shipping link between our Pacific and European allies … Since a significant part of USCENTCOM’s forces would deploy by sea, ensuring these waterways remain open to free world shipping must be a key objective.”
In other words, the shipping of and access to,  oil. And, there is the fear of Shia Iran taking control of this chokepoint.  Al Quaeda is also operating in the country. From:
The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is a chokepoint between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East, and it is a strategic link between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean. The strait is located between Yemen, Djibouti, and Eritrea, and connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea. Most exports from the Persian Gulf that transit the Suez Canal and SUMED Pipeline also pass through Bab el-Mandeb.
An estimated 3.8 million bbl/d of crude oil and refined petroleum products flowed through this waterway in 2013 toward Europe, the United States, and Asia, an increase from 2.9 million bbl/d in 2009. Oil shipped through the strait decreased by almost one-third in 2009 because of the global economic downturn and the decline in northbound oil shipments to Europe. Northbound oil shipments increased through Bab el-Mandeb Strait in 2013, and more than half of the traffic, about 2.1 million bbl/d, moved northbound to the Suez Canal and SUMED Pipeline.
The Bab el-Mandeb Strait is 18 miles wide at its narrowest point, limiting tanker traffic to two 2-mile-wide channels for inbound and outbound shipments. Closure of the Bab el-Mandeb could keep tankers from the Persian Gulf from reaching the Suez Canal or SUMED Pipeline, diverting them around the southern tip of Africa, adding to transit time and cost. In addition, European and North African southbound oil flows could no longer take the most direct route to Asian markets via the Suez Canal and Bab el-Mandeb.
However, even if you agree that Western control over the access to oil is important and necessary, it is also true that  it is in doubt that the war  Saudi Arabia is waging against  Yemen is illegal under international law.  First of all,  it hasn't been approved by the UN Security Council, and constitutes an invasion.

Second, the humanitarian aspect. Thousands of Yemeni civilians have been killed and their infrastructure destroyed. Famine threatens. The European Parliament has stated in a motion went  that “air strikes by the Saudi-led military coalition in Yemen have killed civilians, in violation of international humanitarian law, which requires all possible steps to be taken to prevent or minimise civilian casualties.”(I wrote about humanitarian law, or the law of the war, previously).

Other condemnation has come from Medecins sans Frontieres and Amnesty International. See this
But Saudi Arabia argues that its war is legal. It says the government of Yemen was deposed and legitimate, and that it requested SA's military support to regain power. This is a scenario similar Iraq requesting US help in fighting ISIS. One government can request another government's military support under humanitarian law; it's considered legal under international law.
But Yemen’s case is far less clear-cut. In fact, the deposed President Hadi had lost control of the military , and the country was in the middle of a civil war for years.
Hadi’s legitimacy was weak. He'd won a 2012 election in which he was the only candidate following the Arab Spring protests of 2012. He extended his own mandate when it was up in 2014.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


The non aligned movement came into being during the Cold War, as a way for countries to declare their independence from the multinational defense alliances of the Western and Soviet power blocs. It's essentially the same meaning today: independence from a military alliance organized by a  power bloc. What we look at in my class South and Central Asia, INTL 5665,  are the relative strengths of the military alliances formed by the power blocs of the NATO (Western and Central Europe, US) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) (China, Russia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, Pakistan) . Each engages in military exercises.

 Turkmenistan is not a member of the SCO or NATO.  Turkmenistan in Central Asia  made a formal declaration of 'Permanent Neutrality' in the UN in 1997 refusing to be  part of multi-national defense organizations. It says PM focuses on  peace and human rights. In fact, Turkmenistan's human rights record has been heavily criticized

The latter wants cooperation with its partner countries in Central Asia — Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

 Trading with other countries doesn't indicate necessarily a lack of autonomy on the part of Turkmenistan.

This is  how 'permanent neutrality ' is described, at  a press conference given by the President of Turkmenistan in 2010:

"Originally, neutrality was conceived as non-alignment with conflicting parties during wars. However, there later appeared a concept of permanent neutrality. Switzerland was the first country to declare itself permanently neutral, and it has strictly adhered to this status until now. In XX century, Austria, Japan, Laos, Cambodia, Malta and Turkmenistan became permanently neutral states. So, we are certainly not the first to choose neutral status as a major form of interaction with the outside world. At the same time, there is probably no other country that treats neutrality as a defining set of aspirations in all spheres of human activity, as it occurs in Turkmenistan."http://www.turkmenistan.ru/en/articles/14407.html (Links to an external site.)

Saturday, June 25, 2016


A friend wrote: ''Do you think the fearful northern worker is right to be against the immigrant worker? I don't. ' She was alluding to the alleged racism of the UK population in the Northern part of England who voted BREXIT June 23, 2016.

Here are the facts:
The higher your income was the more you were likely to be a Remainer.  The main concern among Leavers was that immigrants were undercutting local labor costs and overburdening social services.  The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, wrote that the government had ignored calls to strengthen existing legislation that could stop employers undercutting British employees' wages by recruiting cheaper staff from overseas. The London School of Economics blames the 2008 recession for the lowering of wages, not immigrants. 
The Leave vote was a working class vote perceived as the only way it could voice its discontent, and of course, no one blames how the international capitalist system always drives wages to the bottom.. But should the Leave vote  be overturned l by insisting only the middle classes and MPs know what's best?  Or that rushing back into the arms of the EU is going to solve the after effects of the 2008 crisis? The EU is a corporate led behemoth which was used to undercut labor costs and strip state assets in a war by the richer countries against the poorer Eastern and Southern European countries. 

Yes, the debate got hijacked by flag waving right wingers, mainly because the Blairite Labor Party didn't adhere to its original LEXIT position, but that shouldn't obfuscate class divisions and underlying structural crisis.

The sovereignty issue has played a big part in making up people's minds as well. The  left wing of the Labor Party has been anti EU.. and about half the trade unions....even Jeremy Corbyn at one point....was that a factor in the Leave vote? Was racism really the main reason for BREXIT or did people worked out the issues for themselves despite the fear-mongering from the political elite.

What about the human rights the European Union espouses?  my friend countered.

There are two sets of human rights, political and economic.  Economic public rights are  the obligations of the state to shelter, provide health care, ...etc...none of which can happen when a country is in economic free fall as Greece is, thanks to the EU and IMF debts.  The European Central Bank bailouts to Greece were done under the condition of  higher taxes, cuts to government pensions and a liquidation of 50 plus billion pounds of  Greek  state assets (which affect social services).  So, while in the UK you have some good decisions about public housing, thanks to the European Court of Human Rights, countries like Greece have been punished heavily by the EU. The sovereignty issue is about political rights, because the EU is undemocratic. European Parliament members can't introduce or repeal laws and have very limited veto power. For example, defense policy imposed by the European Commission unelected members can't be vetoed.

. I was surprised how many of my Remain friends seem to think I was some kind of Nazi. I even got trolled on Facebook.  There was a principled socialist principle advocating Lexit which got overwhelmed by the right wing Leave campaign.  This was mainly because the Blairite Labor Party gave up its principled Lexit position.

There has been an uptick of racist incidents in the UK, but Farage and Boris, Leave campaigners, have left positions of power. Fears promulgated by Remain elites have caused a downswing on the pound. Time will tell about how all this will play out.

Thursday, October 29, 2015


The mainstream study of international relations focuses on behaviors of states as a unit of analysis,  often called the realist view.   How should we study states' motivations and goals? I suggest four methods:
1) Research and quote from, official policies. Define US 'geostrategic' objectives in the regions we are examining.  China, Russia and the US make official pronouncements, either as official policies posted on the internet, or at press conferences and in international meetings. Identify key official strategies.
2) Bear in mind there is a gap between what is said, and what is actually done. There is also a potential  gap between what you believe and what you find out. The lens of cognitive dissonance is helpful in understanding both gaps.
3) Do what CIA analysts do. Don't assume you know what 'the other side' is thinking.  View relations from the other side. View for example, how Putin sees the situation in C and S Asia from his perspective, i.e. US planned bases near Russia's borders, in Poland;  Central Asia as Russia's 'backyard', similar to the way the US views Latin America.. China is concerned with a planned build up of US naval power in the Pacific, but its military power hardly rivals that of the US. Instead, it's taking an economic expansionist route through its creation of another "World Bank", the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
 4) Is a state acting under international law. Many believe that the US had United Nations Security Council approval to enter into a war with Afghanistan - but that was not the case. Many believe that Russia's intervention in Syria is illegal but if a state is in a military pact to defend another state, as is Russia with Syria, it is legal under international law.

These methods will allow you to have a more  "360 degree' of the states' relations that you are examining.

Thursday, June 25, 2015


What is the relationship between economic trade and military power'?  Here one could explore the topic of SEA LANES OF COMMUNICATION (SLOC) which are the primary maritime routes between ports, used for trade AND naval military forces. SLOCs  are strategically significant, and may come under dispute, such as the case of the  current stand off between China and Japan over the East China Sea Islands (known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan, Diaoyu Islands in China).
What are the world's most important SLOCS?  This map shows us visually why  countries want control over sea lanes. Source: https://nebraskaenergyobserver.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/sea-lines-of-communication/
Regarding SLOCS, military control over choke points (narrow sea passage way)  is crucial for trade flow. So for example, the Straits of Hormuz is vital for oil supplies, but may in the future be contested by Iran and the US. This is where military power is a factor in controlling trade flow, or blocking access to it.
There are eight major oil choke points in the world. Here they are visually:
oil chokepoints

Tuesday, May 5, 2015


The US bank bailouts following the 2008 economic crisis, have been called 'corporate welfare'. The irony is, that the very people who suffered because of lack of regulations and casino type investment gambling, are the ones who paid the bill of the bailouts. Simplistically, this amounts to victims being made to pay  perpetrators for their crimes..
The idea behind this tortuous logic, is that the banks were 'too big to fail.' In the case of Greece, the public was also required to cut back on their social services (which had already been paid for by the taxpayers).
What is puzzling to me is why the private banking system wasn't given a radical overhaul. There have been some mild attempts at reform, such as the Volcker Rule.This was part of the  landmark Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2013. This required  five federal financial regulatory agencies – the Federal Reserve Board, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Commodity Futures Trading Act to stop risky short term  trading activities, and terminate private equity funds and hedge funds.

Bear in mind the Volcker Rule is just a rule.  The trick about policies is not that they are legislated, but whether they are being implemented. As one New York Times reporter wrote 'The main issue now is whether the regulators force enough additional transparency so that it is possible to see the new ways that proprietary bets are hidden.....Will data be available on trading activities, allowing independent researchers to look for patterns that might otherwise elude officials?" 
http://economix.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/10/making-the-volcker-rule-work/?_r=0 (Links to an external site.)