Freedom in the World: 2016 -Freedom House


Freedom House has released its 2016 global summary. As usual, the results were not good. However Tunisia has made the list of “Free” states. A rare bit of good news from the region.

“These developments contributed to the 10th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.

  • The number of countries showing a decline in freedom for the year—72—was the largest since the 10-year slide began. Just 43 countries made gains.
  • Over the past 10 years, 105 countries have seen a net decline, and only 61 have experienced a net improvement.
  • Ratings for the Middle East and North Africa region were the worst in the world in 2015, followed closely by Eurasia.
  • Over the last decade, the most significant global reversals have been in freedom of expression and the rule of law.”

The methodology for a study like this is of course extremely important. How you ask the questions and what questions you ask will have a big impact on your findings. This is particularly important when you are trying to measure ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’. A partial description of Freedom House’s methodology is below. There is a link to the full description below that:

“Freedom in the World uses a three-tiered rating system, consisting of scores, ratings, and status. The complete list of the questions used in the scoring process, and the tables for converting scores to ratings and ratings to status, appear at the end of this essay.

Scores – A country or territory is awarded 0 to 4 points for each of 10 political rights indicators and 15 civil liberties indicators, which take the form of questions; a score of 0 represents the smallest degree of freedom and 4 the greatest degree of freedom. The political rights questions are grouped into three subcategories: Electoral Process (3 questions), Political Pluralism and Participation (4), and Functioning of Government (3). The civil liberties questions are grouped into four subcategories: Freedom of Expression and Belief (4 questions), Associational and Organizational Rights (3), Rule of Law (4), and Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights (4). The political rights section also contains two additional discretionary questions……

Political Rights and Civil Liberties Ratings – A country or territory is assigned two ratings (7 to 1)—one for political rights and one for civil liberties—based on its total scores for the political rights and civil liberties questions…..

Free, Partly Free, Not Free Status – The average of a country’s or territory’s political rights and civil liberties ratings is called the Freedom Rating, and it is this figure that determines the status of Free (1.0 to 2.5), Partly Free (3.0 to 5.0), or Not Free (5.5 to 7.0) (see table 3).

Trend Arrows – A country or territory may be assigned an upward or downward trend arrow to highlight developments of major significance or concern….

Electoral Democracy Freedom in the World assigns the designation “electoral democracy” to countries that have met certain minimum standards for political rights; territories are not included in the list of electoral democracies. According to the methodology, an electoral democracy designation requires a score of 7 or better in the Electoral Process subcategory and an overall political rights score of 20 or better. Freedom House’s term “electoral democracy” differs from “liberal democracy” in that the latter also implies the presence of a substantial array of civil liberties. In Freedom in the World, all Free countries can be considered both electoral and liberal democracies, while some Partly Free countries qualify as electoral, but not liberal, democracies.”


Pre-Westphalian IR


Here are two blog entries focusing on international politics in pre-Westphalian Europe. The first provides a realist balance-of-power analysis of of the city states and principalities of Europe in 1423, with military power based on the number of horseman each region could muster, and annual income measured in ducats, a currency worth slightly more than the Canadian dollar:)

The Power of Medieval States – A Report from the Year 1423

Map of Europe in 1430, created by Lynn H. Nelson

The second article is more in depth, and offers a more constructivist analysis by the author of Theorizing Medieval Geopolitics: War and World Order in the Age of the Crusades, Andrew Latham. While the first article suggests the continuing logic of realism across the ages, this article suggests parallels between the “identity-interest complex” of the Crusades and that of Islamic extremism.

Medieval Geopolitics: An interview with Andrew Latham

“My analysis of the crusades demonstrates how a distinctively religious “identity-interest complex” made possible the religious wars of the late medieval era.  This is a very specific historical case, to be sure, and I have endeavored to present it as such.  But there is no reason to suppose that the argument that religious identities (along with all of their entailments) cannot and do not motivate individual and collective actors on the international stage just as powerfully today as they did a millennium ago.  Indeed, as the works of scholars such as Olivier Roy and David Cook convincingly demonstrate, historical and contemporary Islamist political violence – to take one particularly salient example – is both made possible and motivated by a particular religious identity and its associated political project. Like the crusades, this violence cannot be convincingly explained by recourse to the “hidden logic” of the mode of production, the transhistorical logic of self-help under anarchy, or “second image” dynamics that explain violence in terms of the war-prone pathologies of certain actors on the international stage.”

The Kissinger Effect on Realpolitik -War on the Rocks


Henry Kissinger is closely associated with the term realpolitik and the IR school, realism. This article suggests that Kissinger did not fit neatly inside of these categories. The discussion is enlightening not only because of its insights into Kissinger’s thinking, but also because of the way it highlights the tension between abstract principles of foreign policy, moral beliefs and pragmatism in American policy making.

Some of the more interesting points:

First: “Stanley Hoffmann, a Harvard professor and contemporary of Kissinger, claimed that Kissinger’s career was “a quest for a realpolitik devoid of moral homilies,”…but….. “One of his professors at Harvard, Sam Beer, later recalled that Kissinger “had an intuitive grasp of the importance of ideas in world affairs,” particularly religion.”

Second: “In addition to the history of ideas, Kissinger was as much interested in statesmen and statesmanship — and the role of the individual in managing and mitigating trends in international relations.  …his doctoral thesis….  set itself against a “scholarship of social determinism” that “reduced the statesman to a lever on a machine called ‘history.’”

Third, Kissinger criticized realism and its proponents, such Kennan, for having a doctrinaire mechanical understanding of politics. What he referred to as ‘absolutist tendencies’. “He saw in Kennan’s later writings an unwillingness to “manage nuance” and accept ambiguity as irreducible components of political life.” And claimed later: “The challenge of statesmanship was “to define the components of both power and morality and strike a balance between them.” This was not a one-time effort but required “constant recalibration.” It was “as much an artistic and philosophical as a political enterprise” and demanded “a willingness to manage nuance and to live with ambiguity.”

Of course, Kissinger’s many critics would be unimpressed by how he practiced this “artistic and philosophical enterprise”. Indeed, as the article points out, Kissinger’s handling of the Vietnam war and the bombing of Cambodia was criticized by fellow realists such as Hans  Morgenthau “who wrote to Kissinger directly, just as Kissinger was about to take up his position as national security advisor, to denounce him for not coming out strongly enough against the war or signaling his intention to bring it to an end.” He later said, once Kissinger was in office, “The incompetence and pathology is really shocking.” Morgenthau’s critiques were practical rather than moral, but it demonstrates that in practice, realism and realpolitik come in many different shades.

Terrorism in the Age of Twitter -The New Yorker


In his influential 2004 book, “Globalized Islam: The Search for a New Ummah,” the French political scientist Olivier Roy pointed out that what he termed Islamic “neofundamentalism,” despite its frequent references to the past and to the Koran, represents a very modern, even a postmodern, phenomenon. Emphasizing the role of the Internet in recruiting and sustaining jihadis, Roy said that this apocalyptic new ideology “valorizes the uprootedness of uprooted people” and provides them with a sense of belonging and meaning. The true believer, wherever he is, “remains in touch with the virtual community by sharing the same portable kit of norms, adaptable to any social context,” Roy wrote, adding that the Internet was “a perfect paradigm and tool of this virtual community.”


For further reading on the Paris attack, see:

The Facts About Terrorism -New Yorker

“Relative to other causes of premature death, terrorism is still a minor phenomenon. For every person killed in a terrorist attack, roughly forty people die in traffic accidents and roughly eighty die of alcoholism. Still, violent attacks on civilians have great salience, psychologically, and, according to the I.E.P. report, they are getting more common, especially in non-Western parts of the world. In 2014, five countries—Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria—accounted for almost eighty per cent of the deaths caused by terrorists. Twelve years after the U.S. invasion, Iraq remains at the top of list, with close to ten thousand lives lost. Nigeria was the second most affected country, with more than seven thousand five hundred deaths.”

This article includes a link to this piece:

The Uneven Geography of Terrorism -CityLab

“Ultimately, terrorism is a consequence of failed or fragile states. More than nine in 10 of all deadly terrorist attacks over the last 25 years have occurred in nations where state-sponsored political violence was widespread. The Global Terrorism Index is in fact correlated with the Fragile States Index I wrote about recently (with a correlation of .42). These fragile and dysfunctional states are among the least educated, least affluent, least tolerant, and least urbanized in the world, with cities badly broken by ongoing military conflict.”

It also includes a link to the Global Terror Index 2015, a comprehensive report on terrorism over the last year. It is worth the download.

In 1983 ‘war scare,’ Soviet leadership feared nuclear surprise attack by U.S. -Washington Post


“In 1983, we may have inadvertently placed our relations with the Soviet Union on a hair trigger,” the review concluded.
That autumn has long been regarded as one of the most tense moments of the Cold War, coming after the Soviet Union shot down a South Korean civilian airliner in September and as the West was preparing to deploy Pershing II intermediate-range and ground-launched cruise missiles in Europe in November. But there has been a long-running debate about whether the period known as the “war scare” was a moment of genuine danger or a period of bluster for propaganda purposes.”

There are a number of interesting points in this article concerning perceptions and miss-perceptions.

1. Balance of power politics, even in a “relatively simple” two power system are complex and ambiguous, especially when tensions are high.

2. One side never really knows what the other side is thinking or how it sees a situation. While the US was arguing that the USSR was one offensive, the Soviets were concerned that a “deterioration of Soviet power might tempt a US first strike,”.

3. One’s adversaries probably do not see them in the same way they see themselves: Ronald Reagan was surprised that the USSR feared an American attack. Not because of the balance of power, but because “he felt that “it must be clear to anyone” that Americans were a moral people who, since the founding of the nation, “had always used our power only as a force for good in the world.”

Updated: Iran Nuclear Deal -Various


Here are 6 articles providing an overview of the deal. Before moving on to the articles, there are a few things that should be kept in mind. First, the deal will likely get by congress in the US and the Majlis in Iran. However, over time both sides will accuse the other of cheating and bad-faith, and both sides will try to twist and interpret the deal to their maximum advantage. This will put a lot of pressure on the deal and it could break down later on. Second, the deal is long and complex (120 pages). Even if we think the deal looks good now, it is impossible to tell how the details will play out in practice, especially with both sides jockeying for position and given the turbulence of the region. Third, as with any deal like this, there is an element of risk involved for both sides. If it breaks down both sides will be in a vulnerable position. The only way to judge if the risk is worth taking is to ask ourselves what the alternative would be. The answer to that question is: not very pretty. Fourth, this deal does not deal with the other issues that divide the US and Iran. All it does is buy a 10-15 year window of opportunity to deal with them. If no steps are taken to improve relations in that time, we will be right back where we started when it is over. The articles below speak to these points and others.

1.  “Who got What They Wanted in the Iran Nuclear Deal” (NY Times) explains what each side was asking for and what the eventual compromises were.

2. USAToday has a time line for the steps involved in the deal “Iran deal: Timeline of what happens next”

3. A very detailed pro-deal editorial from foreign policy, “It’s a Damn Good Deal”.

4. A critique of the deal also from Foreign Policy “How to Get the Most Out of an Iran Nuke Deal” .

“This deal does send an effective sanctions regime up in smoke. It will provide a windfall of as much as $150 billion in frozen Iranian assets, allow this Iranian government to sell oil and conduct dollar transactions again. The early beneficiaries of lifting sanctions will unquestionably be the Iranian political elites and Iranian Revolutionary Guard Forces, because they have preferential economic opportunities. This Iranian government will almost certainly spend a lot more money engaging in terrorism around the world and destabilizing governments in the Middle East. As a result, the deal will deepen allies’ distrust of the United States.”

5. “If you Really Want to Bomb Iran, Take the Deal (Washington Post) which explains how the deal puts Iran in a vulnerable position as well.

“There are three main ways the deal improves the benefits of potential military action. First, one of the main objections to using force is that after Iran is bombed it can reconstitute its program, primarily by building new centrifuges for enrichment. Critics of force often argue Iran could reconstitute quickly because the United States lacks detailed knowledge of the supply chain that would allow Iran to build new centrifuges.”

6. “Why the Iran Deal Makes Obama’s Critics So Angry” (The Atlantic) makes a number of points, among which it argues that this deal is better than no deal:

“The actual alternatives to a deal, in other words, are grim. Which is why critics discuss them as little as possible….”

And, one more…

I am not sure this adds anything really different to the discussion, but the background/impressionistic take on Iran and the deal is worth the read. If anything, the illustration is worth it alone. For those who have seen the wall outside the old US embassy in Tehran, its a very striking image.

Tehran’s Promise

A tech entrepreneur: “Don’t judge Iran just by what the clerics say at Friday prayers.”




The last 2 pictures I took in 2001. The Skull Statue of Liberty on the first is one of the most striking murals on the old embassy wall. The New Yorker illustration depicts the change that seems to be taking place. The skull has been replaced by a face and they are now shaking hands. The quote on the last picture is from Khomeini. In 2010 that mural was no longer on the wall (some of them have been changed over time), but it should give you an idea of the ideological barriers to making a deal with the US.