Ahead of the International Civil Aviation Organization’s trinary general assembly in late September, China, along with Russia, issued a position paper denouncing the UN body’s aviation emissions plan. Better known as the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), the plan is a medium-term scheme that aims to set caps emissions for international flights from 2020. Global aviation industry accounts for about 2% of all human-induced carbon emissions, but the share is expected to increase in the coming years as air travel becomes accessible to more people. To China, however, CORSIA “lacks moral fairness” since it fails “to ensure a level playing field to all countries.”
Instead, China calls for “promoting the establishment of a fair and equitable CORSIA implementation pathway featuring fairness and equity… through dialogue, consultation and negotiation”, rather than the one-size-fits-all orchestrated by the developed countries. China’s hardened public stance toward CORSIA runs against its earlier position as a critical proponent of the UN plan in 2016. It is, therefore, important to understand China’s position and its potential implications more broadly.
China & CORSIA: Why a Step Back?
In denouncing CORSIA for lacking moral fairness, China effectively presents itself as the spokesperson of the developing countries and emerging economies. But it might be fair to argue that China was, first and foremost, defending it “right for development.” According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), for instance, China will overtake the US to become the world’s largest aviation market by 2024. This also means that, with the proposed CORSIA plan, China’s aviation industry would share more burden on reducing carbon emissions in the near future than is historically warranted, especially given that developed countries shoulder more historical responsibilities when it comes to carbon emissions.
For China and the developing world more broadly, however, increasing burden in carbon emissions reduction is not the only issues with CORSIA. It also threatens to quash the development and future potential of one of the key sectors in these countries’ national economies—the aviation industry. Therefore, China wants to ensure that CORSIA does not derail its growth potential with the proposed plan. As such, China’s criticism is unsurprising, especially given that Beijing has been pushing to ensure that its growing aviation industry is driven by indigenous players, ranging from services related to air travel to aircraft manufacturing.
China’s Expanding Aviation Industry
Although the global duopoly of plane makers Boeing Co. and Airbus SE., have been dominating the Chinese market for years, Beijing has increasingly been calling for its homegrown plane manufacturers with the aim of eventually breaking Boeing-Airbus strongholds. To the call, the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China (COMAC) seems to have been answering. COMAC aims to firmly establish itself as an important player not just in the Chinese market but also in Asia and potentially globally.
Despite COMAC’s ambitions, however, the aircraft still relies on American and European imports for critical components, such as the engine, avionics, and landing gear. For instance, more than 50% of the materials for COMAC’s C1919 is produced outside China. Yet the aircraft was set to break Boeing-Airbus’ dominance in global aviation industry. Likewise, in developing its engine–the LEAP-1C–the Chinese aircraft manufacturer had to jointly work with the US and France. Surely, the lack of critical technology will continue to significantly hinder China’s aircraft manufacturing capabilities and substantially hinder Beijing’s push for greater “Made in China” in its aviation market. Worth noting is that, although it is unclear how (if at all) this connects to China’s shared position with Russia on CORSIA, China began a joint venture with Russia to develop the CR929 aircraft since May 2017. But even this joint venture does not entirely break the mentioned China’s dependence on imports of critical components from advanced and more experienced manufacturers.
Beijing’s seeming reversed take on CORSIA might be a huge blow to ICAO’s global efforts to curb carbon emissions. But it would be a mistake to view that as China’s move to loosen its commitments to fighting climate change and protecting the environment. As the position paper demonstrates, “China has been a consistent advocate for the establishment of a full consultation-based CORSIA.” Privately, moreover, China is taking steps to implement CORSIA’s guidelines, while pushing for the eligibility of its environmental projects that airlines could purchase under the scheme.
But the Nobel Committee’s announcement is also a call for attention: Abiy has finally taken the lid off Ethiopia, initiating one of the world’s most important political transitions, but also its most fragile.
Well aware of the challenges Abiy and his 110 million constituents face, and the problems already manifest, the committee’s announcement cited concern about growing “ethnic strife” and the social unrest that in recent years has displaced some three million people — more than anywhere else in the world. “No doubt some people will think this year’s prize is being awarded too early” they noted in pre-emptory fashion. But the committee believes “it is now” that the prime minister’s efforts “deserve recognition” and “need encouragement.” They’re right on both counts.
Among Ethiopians (and many foreign observers), opinions of the 43-year old prime minister are as diverse as they are passionate. Supporters refer to him, not infrequently, as a “gift from god,” hailing his divinely inspired agenda and his rhetoric of unity and reconciliation. Critics balk at what’s become known as “Abiy-mania,” however, variously concerned that the Pentecostal preacher-in-chief is naïve, self-aggrandizing, or an unconvincing product of the old guard. (Abiy is a member of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, or EPRDF, which has ruled the country since 1991 and is known for its abuses of democracy and the security and intelligence establishment from whence he came.)
Whatever one thinks of Abiy, he deserves genuine credit for ending a senseless stalemate with Eritrea, and for the gusto with which he has pledged to usher in an era of openness, modernity, and economic liberalization at home. Even prominent skeptics agree. After unprecedented protests gripped the nation in 2018, and in turn paved Abiy’s unlikely path to the top, one former regime figure told me that while he did not believe Abiy was the “right doctor for Ethiopia’s long-term care,” he may be the “emergency room medic we need” right now.
The prestigious recognition, while deserved, must be accompanied by a sober appreciation of what came before Abiy, and of the bumpy road ahead. The ruling EPRDF is a marriage of convenience, a four-tentacled coalition that allowed each ethno-regional arm a degree of autonomy and a share of the national cake. While famously disciplined and undeniably heavy-handed, proponents of the liberation movement-turned ruling party argued their formula is what has held one of Africa’s largest and most diverse countries together for three decades.
At the center of the coalition was the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) — a minority from the country’s northern highlands that dominated the regime’s political and security structures until the passing of its intellectual strongman, Meles Zenawi, in 2012. Abiy isn’t one of them, and his ascension in 2018 was a watershed moment. The outgoing TPLF — unaccustomed to anything but total control — was thus believed to be the greatest threat to Abiy’s rule and his plan to overhaul the state they fashioned.
The new leader’s declaration of peace with Eritrea was an historic and courageous act. More than 80,000 died on the battlefield between 1998-2000, and the two countries had been locked in a tense standoff ever since. When Abiy and his Eritrean counterpart personally opened the border crossings last fall, his office announced the “radical transformation” of the border into a “frontier of peace and friendship.” Citizens from both countries flooded across the boundary for the first time in 20 years. When the first flight between the two nations touched down in Eritrea’s capital city, families long divided by war embraced on the tarmac, tears streaming down their faces. Abiy’s opening to Eritrea was right on its merits. But it was also motivated by domestic politics.
Much of the war was fought in Tigrayan territory, near the border with Eritrea, and the hostility between the TPLF and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki is hard to over-state. Abiy and Isaias thus shared an interest, as one seasoned observer noted, of “choking the life out of the TPLF.” Since Abiy’s arrival, TPLF bosses have left their privileged posts and returned home to Tigray — first to lick their wounds, and then to organize. And they aren’t alone — the powerful Amhara and Oromo constituencies have likewise reinvigorated their political cadres, their regional security forces, and their nationalist rhetoric. Some argue the EPRDF coalition will persist in one form or another, its inherent compromise too valuable to each constituent part. Others believe it is already dead.
National elections are slated for 2020. Some worry Abiy won’t be able to hold it together, much less to advance his sweeping domestic and regional agendas. (The border crossings to Eritrea have been closed again, and full implementation of the peace pact remains an aspiration.) Others fear that when the going gets tough, Abiy may resort to an all-too familiar playbook of repression. As such, the Nobel Committee is also hoping this year’s prize can both encourage its recipient to stay the course and act as a guardrail as his government enters a period of profound political uncertainty.
This is not the first time Alfred Nobel’s trustees have sought to maximize the award’s political potential, or the first time its recipient has proven controversial. Aung San Suu Kyi, then a Burmese opposition figure, received the prize in 1991 for championing human rights and a “democratic society in which [her] country’s ethnic groups could cooperate in harmony.” She was later elected to the country’s top political post, and like Abiy, won great international acclaim. But when her government was accused of killings, human rights violations, and ethnic cleansing last year, many called for the Nobel committee to take back her prize.
Abiy Ahmed was right; the time for change in Ethiopia had come. Now he must balance tradition and modernity, democratization and stability, ethnic loyalties and national identity. The success or failure of Abiy’s high wire act will shape not only his country, but the entire region, for a generation to come.
When I asked another of the prime minister’s skeptics what he thought of last week’s Nobel announcement, he opted not for the usual cynicism, but for the spirit of unity Abiy has championed. “I am celebrating,” he said, “after all, this is the first Ethiopian ever to win the prize.” Here’s to hoping that all Ethiopians can celebrate Abiy’s prize for a generation to come, and that no one ever has to ask for it back.
Read the original commentary on Brookings, posted on 15 October 2019
As the Communist Party of China (CPC) prepares to celebrate the 70 anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), this piece aims to offer a short analysis of the oft-forgotten struggles with extreme poverty in rural China. Few people would deny the fact that it was extreme poverty that paved the way for the Communist Party to gain popularity in China. And still fewer would deny the significant role the mass rural poor (peasants) played in helping it take the helm. In fact, the ‘great struggle’ brought the CPC to power was the struggle to end a century of humiliation by improving the economic and social lot of the Chinese people. Now in power, the Communist party had the task of fulfilling this historical mission. But then came the fateful idea of “Great Leap Forward”, which instead of changing China from a predominantly agrarian to a more modern and industrial society, greatly leaped the world’s largest country into unprecedented mass starvation and famine and social calamities. Yet, as if these disastrous consequences were not consequential enough, the Communist party engineered a decade-long revolution that needed not be: the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).
If the Great Leap Forward resulted in millions of deaths due to mass starvation, the Cultural Revolution helped wipe out what little there was remaining. It, therefore, seemed clear that the Communist party of China was failing to realize its raison d'être. If the disastrous consequences of these policies were truly an existential crisis for the people, they were even more so for the party if it were to retain power. Until the late 1970s, about 81% of China’s population lived in rural areas and 84% lived in abject poverty, which--if China’s long history teaches us anything--is a ripened Pandora's box for social and economic upheavals. Nonetheless, the reform and opening up that began in 1978 offered a way out as the slow and incremental process of reforms in rural areas started soon to pay dividends.
That is, when the Chinese leadership embarked on the path of transforming the economy through reform and opening up, the central aim, the driving objective was to change the appalling domestic miseries. According to Garnaut & co-, “At the beginning of China’s reform and opening-up, the most pronounced developmental challenge the country faced was the elimination of poverty”. Combating poverty has, therefore, been at the forefront and the overarching agenda of the economic transformation from the fateful central planning, collectivization, and import-substitution industrialization to wider reforms and liberalization. Interestingly, the process of restructuring and reforming the economy in China, though still incomplete and largely imbalanced, seems to have left rural China, where it started, far behind. In just 40 years, for instance, more than 700 million Chinese people have been lifted out of poverty and China is home of over 600 billionaires, a number higher than anywhere else in the world.
As a Report (2019) by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress makes it clear, there are daunting issues ahead. In its own words, “Despite the decisive progress in the fight against poverty, with the gradual advancement of poverty alleviation, the problem of deep poverty has become more prominent, and the difficulty of attacking has increased. There are still some practical difficulties and outstanding problems that cannot be ignored.” It also finds that, in 2018, “there were 16.6 million rural poor people in the country, about 400 poverty-stricken counties, and nearly 30,000 poverty-stricken villages.” This is definitely a significant figure even by China’s standards. In a 2015 address to the Global Poverty Reduction and Development Forum held in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared China’s resolve to eliminate extreme poverty by 2020. Since then, the government has continuously devised innovative initiatives and multiplied policies and financial support to pull over 70 million people out of extreme economic hardships: “the Chinese government will enact more support policies to pull up the country's 70 million poor people above the poverty line by 2020.” To that end, “China will engage in concerted efforts with the government and the public to fight the hard battle against poverty.” Nevertheless, misappropriations and mismanagement of poverty alleviation funds are major challenges facing China and its President, with the fast approaching deadline of 2020. As the Report quite accurately points out, rather than improving the still lagging behind rural infrastructure (roads, clean water, schools, housing, electricity, etc.), it is not uncommon that poverty alleviation funds end up in corrupt deals or even in individual pockets. It also argues that even the idea of promoting local industries to facilitate poverty alleviation in a more sustainable manner is still lagging far behind.
Furthermore, “in various places… formalism, bureaucracy, falsification, irritability and war-weariness, and negative corruption still exist to varying degrees”, thus also adding that “the implementation of central poverty alleviation deployment [in many cases] focuses only on short-term effects, and insufficient attention is paid to post-poverty work”; that is, little attention is paid to the long term sustainability of the poverty alleviation efforts, which makes little sense since one cannot declare victory on poverty only for those same people to fall back after a year or two. Finally, there are concerns that the rush to declare victory over poverty usually comes at the expense of the environment and some other equally important social issues such as urban poverty, widening regional and income inequalities, land ‘grabbing’ from farmers, etc.Nonetheless, these issues are more likely to be confined to secondary importance as the CPC looks to emphasis more on its great achievements to present itself as the only and ultimate ‘savior’ the country could ever have.
Whether Africa can become an “integrated, prosperous and peaceful [continent], driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in international arena” will fundamentally depend on its ability to achieve the twin goals of sustained peace and development. And here is why:
In 2007, a report presented some striking findings on the costs of insecurity and instability on Africa’s development efforts. In the period between 1990 and 2005, for example, half of all deaths due to armed conflicts worldwide took place in Africa, and the continent became the host of world’s largest number of refugees and internally displaced persons. Moreover, during the same period, violent conflicts cost the continent about $300 billion, almost an equivalent amount of foreign aid it received throughout the same period. Indeed, civil wars, which are hitherto recurrent, have been the most devastating to the continent. According to Paul Collier, for instance, civil wars last about seven years, during which the GDP of the concerned countries shrink by around 15%. To return to pre-war economic performance, they would need about ten years and more than twenty extra years to attain the development levels they would have reached had they not descended into chaos.
Yet Africa is intermittently mired in violent conflicts and insecurity, further frustrating its development initiatives. For example, the Peace Research Institute Oslo finds that 2015 and 2016 witnessed the most conflicts in Africa since 1946, a trend that would continue well into to 2017; and the Council on Foreign Relations reports that of the 25 ongoing conflicts worldwide, nine are in Africa. Unsurprisingly, many African countries have been dealing with various forms of instability. In fact, although some progress has been made since 2016 (when Africa recorded 21 fragile states of a total of 26 worldwide), 14 of the world’s top 20 most fragile states were African in 2018. Such state of affairs creates “increasingly ungoverned and ungovernable spaces” while similarly greatly hindering African countries’ attempts to prosper. Undoubtedly, this explains as much the fact that of the 15 UN Peacekeeping Missions worldwide, 8 are in Africa and nearly half (10) of the 21 UN Political Missions and Good Offices Engagements are deployed in the continent as it does the fact that Africa’s security issues represent more than 60% of all issues dealt with by the UN Security Council. With such a reality, the AU’s goal to “Silence the Guns by 2020” is an almost missed deadline. Yet, rather than giving ways to a sense of helplessness, these issues call for more urgent and more decisive actions, if only because this is undoubtedly the Africa we have, rather than the one we want. And to shape the Africa we want, more efforts and new thinking in tackling security and development issues are called for.
What is clear though is that as they persist, security challenges have direct bearings on African countries’ development efforts. Indeed, many would agree that violent conflicts, with their high human, social, and economic costs, have been the most obliterating obstacle for the continent: lives are lost in untold numbers, people forcibly displaced, families and communities divided, future generations lost to ruins, and what little there may have been shattered.
Nonetheless, if insecurity and instability frustrate development efforts in Africa, securitizing development has equally proven disastrous, as the nexus of security-development is much more convoluted. Perhaps, this intricacy is best captured by the former UN Secretary-General and late Kofi Annan when he once observed that “there is no long term security without development. There is no development without security”. In line with this premise, I argue that Africa needs to rethink its development strategies to ensure that both security and development are given equal priority. More specifically, I contend that
African countries’ ability to collaboratively and cooperatively achieve the twin goals of sustained peace and development will decide on the future of Agenda 2063 for the continent.
Of the seven aspirations the Agenda set, aspiration number four, building “a peaceful and secure Africa”, will likely be the gateway to their materialization, because it entails effectively balancing the security-development nexus—whereby broader security measures adequately serve to promote sustainable development and development initiatives help foster efforts to consolidate long-term peace. As such, I primarily focus on this aspiration, which in turn requires three crucial initiatives to be realized: rethinking security, engaging the African youth, and fostering broader collaborative and cooperative efforts on security and development.
Rethinking security in Africa fundamentally entails reconsidering Africa’s approach to security to ensure that security initiatives are integral parts of the broader development efforts i.e. striking a balance between hard-security issues (state security) and the broader human-security through poverty alleviation and inclusive prosperity. It also entails reinforcing and adapting the African Peace and Security Architecture as well as updating its pillars to sustainably promote and maintain peace, security, stability, and prosperity in the continent. In more practical terms, for instance, post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding efforts would be more conscious and purposeful in striving to holistically address the root causes of the conflicts and promote more inclusive development. They would also effectively adopt and adapt the DDR Programs—disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programs—to fit each specific context. This would help end Africa’s recurrent violent conflicts as they prevent future outbreaks and foster more peaceful and inclusive societies.
Moreover, rethinking security in Africa entails recognizing the fact that mismanagements and illegal exploration of Africa’s abundant natural resources (alongside deeply entrenched grievances, inequalities, and exclusions) have been playing a leading role in fueling and sustaining violent conflicts throughout the continent. For that reason, adopting, effectively enforcing, and transparently evaluating performance with natural resources management mechanisms such as the Kimberly Process Certification Scheme (KPCS), the Equator Principles (EPs), the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), NEPAD’s guidelines for resource management, the ECOWAS’s Conflict Prevention Framework (as this has brought some successes in West Africa), etc. would be a necessary step forward, a concerted effort a better future. And although it is crucially important to reinforce regional and continental initiatives on resources management, it is equally important Africa learns from and adapt to its specific contexts the “good practices” and effectiveness of the international mechanisms.
Finally, in rethinking security, Africa would do better to initiate and operationalize cross-regional interactions, dialogues, and learning. As such, the AU could reinforce its continental leadership role by aligning regional economic communities (RECs) to its agenda while allowing for more flexibility to tailor continental guidelines to meet regional and country contexts. To that end, the dual principles of subsidiarity and proportionality should be given more momentum. It would be a trust-building process across the continent and across RECs. Perhaps, the African Standby Force, which has been divided in line with the existing RECS, is a good example, as it helps ensure a quick response to security challenges in each region. But more coordination and cooperation amongst them is needed, especially in cases where the challenges do not fit into the traditional geographical delimitations (as is the case with the cross-border crises in Nigeria and Cameroon).
Engaging the African youth
There is a growing consensus that Africa’s failure to “take off” is largely due to its long practice of sidelining its vibrant and dynamic youths. That is, with its long history of marginalizing its young population, hence its future, Africa has been missing a lot. It is, therefore, time to better engage the African youths, empower young men and young women. That building an “integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa” is a fundamental task for each African cannot be overstated. As a crucial stakeholder, thorough participation of the African youths in shaping Africa’s future is as important as the aforementioned rethinking security in the continent.
Yet to better harness Africa’s demographic dividend, the quality of education and training this a dynamic segment of Africa’s population receives would certainly play a determinant role. That it is quite impossible to build “an integrated Africa” without integrating the educational systems of its youths is to state the obvious. Hence rekindling, in the African youths, the spirit of a continental togetherness in forging Africa’s destiny would help promote the idea of peace, continental unity despite diversity as much as it would revitalize the sense of common destiny. For example, initiating continental exchange programs and regional and cross-regional working groups, youthful movements of which Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma talks about so passionately, would allow young Africans to learn from their shared knowledge, experience, and aspiration through interactions, exchanges, discussions, and even (positive) confrontations. Only when the youths feel empowered and meaningfully engaged, could there be “a peaceful and secure Africa” the aspiration four Agenda 2063 has called for.
Fostering broader collaborative and cooperative efforts on security and development
In addition to empowering and engaging the African youths, building a secure and peaceful Africa also requires more collaborative and cooperative efforts at all levels of governance systems i.e. continental bodies, regional organizations, national governments, civil society, activists, etc. This would ultimately promote cross-border and regional dialogues and learning processes. In that regard, despite the fact that there is room for betterment, the newly established Continental Free Trade Area and the adoption and ongoing implementation of initiatives such as the Kampala Convention on internally displaced persons may serve as tangible results born out of combined and concerted efforts.
Likewise, collaboration and cooperation would help the continent effectively claim ownership of its destiny and its development priorities, both of which are largely lacking to these dates. They would also help the continent use efficiently its limited resources to achieve measurable goals. Governance deficiencies have been identified to be detrimental to Africa’s development efforts. Yet fostering broader collaborative and cooperative efforts on peaceful and secure development would contribute to achieving Agenda 2063. Since it is obviously counterproductive to attempt to do too much, as it would dilute the efforts and weaken the impacts, it is imperative that peace and development strategies have informed focus, clearly defined priorities, implementation guidelines, and transparent and accountable evaluation mechanisms—all of which may be best achieved through intensive and rigorous research (R&D) and well-informed policy making, especially, given that security-development challenges are as dynamic as they are intertwined.
To sum up, Africa faces daunting security and development challenges. Yet I strongly believe that the Agenda 2063 is achievable and must actually be achieved. To meet that imperative, however, I identify the aspiration number four of the Agenda as the gateway to realizing other aspirations. In finding a way forward, I argue that Africa needs to rethink its approach to security, better engage the African youths, and collaboratively and cooperatively work toward sustained peace, security, and inclusive prosperity. Certainly, the success or failure to take such bold and innovative measures, at such a critical moment of the continent’s history, will determine the future of Agenda 2063 and that of the continent more broadly, no less because “Destiny is not a matter of chance; it is a matter of choice; it is not a thing to be waited for, it is a thing to be achieved.” Thus Africa’s stakeholders must work together even more diligently in choosing and building the future of the Africa We Want.
According to hardcore Realist thinkers such as Kenneth Waltz, having more actors (states) possessed nuclear weapons may contribute better to international peace and security since no state would be willing to face mutual nuclear annihilation as a result of a direct nuclear confrontation. This idea is the backbone of what is known as “Nuclear Deterrence Stability” (or what some commentators dubbed “stability under madness”). Indeed, at prima facie, the idea seems compelling enough, especially given the fact that no nuclear war has ever been fought since the end of the WWII despite the massive proliferation of nuclear weapons the world has seen thereafter.
Nevertheless, had this premises been correct, one would certainly expect almost no country to adhere to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) as it strives to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Instead, well over 180 countries are now signatories to the NPT, making it a near-universal regime on nuclear limitation that will undoubtedly have long term implications. In fact, although nuclear weapons are widely perceived as an effective deterrent against actual or potential aggressors, there are many issues associated with them, ranging from the costs of maintaining their facilities to accidental nuclear strikes. That is not all, however. Just like they could fall into the hands of non-state actors and, especially, terrorist organizations, who could utilize them indiscriminately for their malicious purposes, nuclear weapons could also be used for expansive and aggressive purposes (rather than defensive ones) by ambitious state actors. Even more challenging is the difficulty in discerning when a state uses its nuclear capabilities for defensive or offensive purposes since in many cases those capabilities can serve both ends simultaneously.
While vertical proliferation helps amplify the challenges caused by rising great powers, the cost of maintenance, the looming possibility of an accidental nuclear strike, and the possibility of using nuclear weapons to subvert other states (for expansive and aggressive purposes) add to this entangling complexity. By the same token, however, horizontal proliferation also has the inherent danger of spreading nuclear materials to “unwanted”, unstable, and even crabby actors. That is, the horizontal proliferation increases the possibility for terrorist groups to acquire nuclear materials, possibly allowing them to make nuclear weapons either independently or in collaboration with “friendly” state(s)—a state-sponsored nuclearized terrorism?
Nonetheless, if the prospects for terrorist groups to acquire nuclear weapons seem low, the possibility of a nuclear disaster at any given moment seems to loom large. Otherwise stated, since the adoption of the NPT in 1970, horizontal proliferation has dramatically slowed down (or nearly halted); yet the issues of nuclear weapons have never gone away. And to a larger extent, this is due to vertical proliferations and the fact that some states party to NPT such as North Korean and Iran have acquired or attempting to do so despite the Treaty. The danger, however, is that vertical nuclear proliferation not only amplifies great power competitions, but it also undermines the credibility of the NPT, since as Graham Thomas (2004), argues, the Treaty is based on a central bargain, whereby: “the NPT non-nuclear-weapon states agree never to acquire nuclear weapons and the NPT nuclear-weapon states in exchange agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals”. To these days, however, it is obvious that the latter close (nuclear disarmament and the elimination of nuclear arsenals) has been a dramatic failure.
In sharp contrast to Graham Thomas (2004)’s determined optimism, vertical nuclear proliferation is increasingly rendering the NPT a “nuclear apartheid” regime of some sort, as it de facto provides privileged “great-power” statuses to a small group of nuclear states while confining other states, the non-nuclear majority, to a “second-class status”. As such, there is little doubt that the success or failure to maintain both ends of the bargain will be the determinant factor for the future of nuclear armaments in general, and the NPT, as a near-universal nuclear regime, in particular.
It is actually intriguing that many international security strategists have stuck to their mantra that building and maintaining a stronghold on nuclear arsenals is still the best course of action in boosting state security, notwithstanding history and historical records showing otherwise. Consider, for example, Trachtenberg (1985), who questions the political utility of nuclear weapons in the international relations of states. In his study of the role nuclear weapons played in the Cuban missile crisis, Trachtenberg (1985) concludes that the crisis clearly demonstrated the political insignificance and even the political irrelevance of nuclear weapons. Citing a prominent figure in the Kennedy administration, Robert McNamara, the former Secretary of Defense, Trachtenberg (1985) argues that America’s nuclear superiority "was not such that it could be translated into usable military power to support political objectives” while Dean Rusk, the former Secretary of State, is even blunter on that matter. For Dean Rusk, nuclear power does not translate into usable political influence. Indeed, it is a lesson the US should have learnt long before the Cuban crisis, since the US-Soviet struggles over the defeated Germany, the struggle that helped start the Cold War, showed that the United States could not use its nuclear monopoly to impose its political will on the Soviet bloc although many American leaders at the time hoped that would be the case. Yet apparently, people do not learn or at least they forget to learn from these historical circumstances.
Perhaps the most daunting challenge with nuclear proliferation is when two or more acrimonious states acquire nuclear weapons. And there is no better example today than the case of India and Pakistan, both of which are nuclear states and none of which is a signatory to the NPT. As aforementioned, nuclear weapons have always been, in the words of Noam Chomsky (2017), “an existential challenge”. But the nuclearization of the Indo-Pakistan animosity has brought that challenge to even an indescribable level. For these two states, it is not beyond possibility that their confrontations could easily escalate to a nuclear disaster, which is facilitated by their seemingly incompatible nuclear postures and differing political regimes; for instance, although there are discussions that India might change its nuclear posture, the state is still (at least rhetorically) adhering to a no-first-use doctrine while Pakistan, due to its weak position and limited conventional capabilities vis-à-vis India, relies more on the first-use posture to deter any potential Indian conventional armed assaults. A nuclear confrontation between the two, however, would be disastrous at the utmost as it would further destabilize the already largely unstable region, generate refugees in a gigantesque proportion, and cost innumerable human lives. Such is the real challenge of nuclear weapons and their proliferation.
To sum up, terrorism, however one understands it, may be receiving more international attention; it may even be the most covered topic on international media; yet there are more pressing, more urgent, and more challenging issues to international peace and security that call for immediate attention and practically workable solutions. Here, I identify nuclear proliferation as one of such issues. First, nuclear weapons and nuclear armaments have always embodied catastrophic and disastrous consequences to the very existence of human beings. Second, it facilitates and intensifies the issues of great powers competitions, as the continued expansion of the nuclear arsenals and massive nuclear armament programs from the US and Russia illustrates. In that regard, George Lee Butler is probably right that “we have so far survived the nuclear age by some combinations of skill, luck and divine intervention—probably the latter in greatest proportion.” Third, nuclear proliferation threatens the credibility of the NPT and therefore the future global peace and security while it also makes peaceful settlements of the dispute between historically acrimonious states almost impossible.
Indeed, despite the often dramatically conflated international coverage on terrorism, and despite the attention it receives on the international stage as a major issue, there are more pressing issues to global peace and security.
Nuclear proliferation is one example. There is almost no denying that the issue of nuclear proliferation has always been an urgent and pressing challenge to world peace and security since the inception of nuclear weapons. Indeed, there are several reasons to believe that the proliferation of nuclear weapons constitutes a major (if not the major) challenge to world peace and security today, nearly three decades after the end of the Cold War.
Conceptually, nuclear proliferation is to be understood as both vertical proliferation (the increase in nuclear arsenals of a nuclear state) and horizontal proliferation (the acquisition of nuclear weapons (or their materials) by new actors). This understanding is crucially important for the development that follows. Thus, my central argument is that the proliferation of nuclear weapons inherently endangers world peace and security, regardless of whether we are talking about vertical or horizontal proliferation. Moreover, the conceptualization also helps shed light on the challenges stemming from “the rise of great power” in our age of nuclear armaments and great power competitions. For that reason, I also argue that, despite the promise that led to the entry into force of the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1970, little is actually being done beyond mere political rhetorics to bring about a world free of intermittent nuclear threats.
Few people, for instance, would deny today that nuclear weapons have always been horrendous from their inception. In that sense, one only needs to consider the bombing of the two Japanese cities—Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and the near nuclear-apocalypse brought about by the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 to understand the inherent dangers nuclear weapons embody. That is, the fact that they are of horrendous implications and that they are of immeasurable destructions with enduring consequences is well beyond doubt. Perhaps, Schelling (2008)’s marked observation sums it up in the most forceful way possible. In Arms and Influence, for instance, Schelling (2008) opens his 1966 preface with the striking remark that: “One of the lamentable principles of human productivity is that it is easier to destroy than to create… And a country can destroy more with twenty billion dollars of nuclear armament than it can create with twenty billion dollars of foreign investment. The harm that people can do, or that nations can do, is impressive. And it is often used to impress”. With such a gloomy yet compelling principle “of human productivity” in mind, it would interesting to now consider how each of the proliferation (horizontal and vertical) constantly threatens global peace and security. (Soon to come)!
The seemingly simple task of defining the term “terrorism” belies the daunting challenges in dealing with the issue, both as a concept and as a phenomenon. Indeed, beyond the fact that “terrorism” is a “bad” thing and therefore carries pejorative implications, there seems to be little common understanding of the term. As Pillar (2001) argues in The dimensions of Terrorism and Counterterrorism, although it is often broadly understood as a politically motivated act of indiscriminate violence on civilian population, the term has come to mean different things to different people; it has also become a nametag used to demonize, dehumanize, and vilify the perceived “other” (i.e. it is not uncommon for politicians and political actors to portrait their rivals and oppressors with such a nametag; also common are words like Muslim terrorists, Middle Eastern terrorists, and in a more disparaging Trumpian parlance, Mexican terrorists)—all of which help further compound the difficulty. But this tendency is equally true beyond mere political discourses, and perhaps, best epitomized by the popular motto that “one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter”.
Moreover, if it is difficult to define the term, it is even challenging to gauge the scope or the degree to which it constitutes a major challenge to international security in the post-Cold War era. Plainly stated, despite the unwavering attention the issue of terrorism attracts, it is highly reasonable to believe that the threats to international security, stemming from terrorist acts, are generally over exaggerated. A case in point, consider the United States, for instance, which has been the leading actor in countering (some people would say, ‘promoting’ by virtue of some of its foreign policies) terrorism at home and abroad. The number of annual death caused by terrorist attacks, since 9/11, are overwhelmingly low compared to losses of lives due to gun-related violence, drug usage, car crashes, unintentional drowning, etc. Therefore, judged by their human costs, one would expect them to make the headlines. Instead, these tragedies usually get far less attention than they would warrant.
In short, if considered by the attention it receives on the international stage (global media), terrorism may be seen as a major international security issue. But the truth of the matter remains that there are more pressing issues to global peace and security than the usually dramatically conflated international coverage on terrorism would have us believe.
The bombing of the two Japanese cities—Hiroshima and Nagasaki—and the near nuclear-apocalypse brought about by the Cuban missile crisis in the 1962 neatly demonstrated the horrendous consequences nuclear weapons can inflict. Indeed, although they are widely perceived as an effective deterrent against actual or potential aggressors, there are many issues associated with nuclear weapons, ranging from the costs of maintaining their facilities to accidental nuclear strikes. Moreover, just like they could fall into the hands of non-state actors and terrorist groups who could utilize them indiscriminately for their malicious purposes, nuclear weapons could also be used for expansive and aggressive purposes (rather than defensive ones) by ambitious state actors.
It comes to no surprise, therefore, that there have been concerted efforts to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons since the late 1960s, paving the way to what is now known as the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime. Plainly stated, due to their enormous destructive potential, containing nuclear weapons capability is crucially important.
Broadly speaking, there are three defining elements or mechanisms for understanding the international efforts to curtail the proliferation of nuclear weapons: the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the nuclear safeguards system of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the nuclear export control system.
Although negotiations to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons started in 1965, it was only in 1970 that the NPT was established (came into force), and in 1995 it was extended indefinitely. With a total of 188 states party to the Treaty, the NPT has become a nearly-universal regime on nuclear limitation. And according to Graham, Jr., Thomas, the NPT is based on a central bargain whereby: “the NPT non-nuclear-weapon states agree never to acquire nuclear weapons and the NPT nuclear-weapon states in exchange agree to share the benefits of peaceful nuclear technology and to pursue nuclear disarmament aimed at the ultimate elimination of their nuclear arsenals”. That is, he argues, “the NPT was not designed to establish “nuclear apartheid,” permanently authorizing great-power status and nuclear weapons to a small group of states and assigning the rest of the world to permanent second-class status”. Therefore, the success or failure to maintain both ends of the bargain will be the determinant factor for the future of the NPT.
Also important to the International Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime is the nuclear safeguards system of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which ensures that states comply with their international obligations on nuclear non-proliferation. Finally, the nuclear export control system, comprised of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), monitors and controls exported nuclear materials to ensure that those materials are in compliance with the international norms (e.g. peaceful nuclear technology or for civil nuclear energy). Perhaps, it is noteworthy to mention that the aforementioned mechanisms are enhanced by additional agreements such as the International Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials During Their Use, Storage, and Transportation as well as several other agreements creating regional nuclear weapon-free zones.
According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the term migration is understood as “the movement of a person or a group of persons, either across an international border, or within a State”; as such, this definition encompasses the internal, regional, and international dimension of migration. Strikingly, however, while internal and regional migrations are the largest by far and the fastest growing trend, international migration, which, according to IOM, remained constant in the past decades at about 3%, has disproportionately gained more political salience.
Undoubtedly, the causes for migration are diverse and constantly vary from one individual migrant to another. Yet to better understand the phenomenon, two factors are generally analyzed in migration studies: push and pull factors. While the former refers to negative developments in a given place such as economic hardships, wars, political persecutions, arbitrary arrests, natural catastrophes, etc. inducing people to move away from, the latter refers to positive and attractive developments in a particular place that motivate people to move to. Moreover, it is worth noting that the causes for migration, although they are, more often than not, overlapping and inextricably interwoven, help characterize and categorize migrants—for instance—into asylum seekers, migration of refugees, displaced persons, economic migrants, and so on.
Nonetheless, notwithstanding the fact that it is as old as human existence, migration has become ever more politically salient in recent decades. More specifically, international migration of individuals has a triad-effect on the relations between and amongst sending, transit-, and receiving states; even more remarkable is that cross borders movements of people often dramatically affect the internal political dynamics of the states concerned (James F. Hollifield 1992). This is particularly true for Western liberal democracies, which saw a remarkable surge of populist leaders in the political scenes. Indeed, since the outbreak of refugee crises in Europe in 2015 and the ongoing migration crisis in the Mediterranean, the European Union has been confronted with an existential crisis that constantly and intermittently threatens to break it up. Also, migration is widely believed to have played a major role in the Brexit referendum, and politicians like Donald Trump have succeeded in playing the migration card to get elected. Beyond the internal political dynamics of states, however, scholars such as Peter Katzenstein (2018) have emphasized the increasingly leading role migration is set to play in the contemporary international affairs. It is, therefore, unsurprising that the concept of migration is worryingly increasingly perceived as an existential threat, prompting radically unprecedented measures to slash human flow across borders.
Although often overdramatized, it is fair to acknowledge that migration poses many daunting challenges to countries, namely brain drain, social problems, cultural ‘degradation’, economic pressures, and security challenges (due to terrorists’ infiltration, cross border crimes, and drugs and human trafficking, etc.).
In a nutshell, though alarmist it may sound, it is fair to assert that we are witnessing an era where migration is a ‘threatening’ concept in this overwhelmingly turbulent world.
The continent has an infamously long history of being a battlefield for foreign powers, vying for regional and global supremacy. And despite the strenuous efforts to steer its development policies towards fulfilling its potential, the African continent is still a theater of thinly veiled great power competitions. However, where historically brutal and naked military force had served as the means for dominance, trade and investment engagements have now superseded.
Very recently, Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Europe’s economic powerhouse, was on a three-day trip to Africa. Unsurprisingly, migration—a core issue that might decide the fate of the European Union in the years to come—was her driving agenda. Indeed, she must have learnt that the issue of migration does not only threaten to split up the EU, but more pressingly tear apart her own government, and potentially abruptly end her illustrious political career. Therefore, the Chancellor understands well, like anyone honest enough would understand, that the most effective way to adequately deal with the migration crisis in Europe is to focus less on short-term political solutions, and more on extirpating the root causes, the driving forces that make young men and women to risk their lives traversing the Mediterranean: poverty, unemployment, lack of opportunities to thrive in their homelands, etc. Thus, investment and jobs creation were Merkel’s other priorities in Africa.
Theresa May, too, was on the continent. And her exhaustion from the unfulfilled Brexit promises did little to prevent her from an innovative ‘dance-diplomacy’, though she would do better to learn the right moves and work on her rigidity if she is ever to succeed an African dance next time! As the UK is set to force a divorce with the EU with no clear deal on the table, May is desperate to find new partners. Her trip and the “forcible” dance epitomize that state of soul-searching only those faced with an existential crisis understand best.
Jean-Claude Juncker, in his last address on the State of the Union to the European Parliament, calls for more European investments, both public and private, in the continent. Europe, Juncker argues, needs to become an investment partner to Africa, thus end traditional role as donor and patronizer, which has helped promote and maintain the development of underdevelopment in many African countries for many decades.
More remarkable, however, is China’s prominent presence as a major player in the continent. Western powers have enjoyed years of monopoly in dealing with the continent. But recent decades have seen China rise not merely as a serious contender for preeminence, but also as an alternative. It offers a radically different model of cooperative engagement for development. And regardless of one’s stand on the debate—on whether the Chinese model is sustainable, or whether it allows accountability and transparency—one thing is quite undeniable: as Africa’s biggest single investor and trading partner since 2008, China’s growing influence in the African continent is remarkable. Even more remarkable is that it also exemplifies the growing importance of South-South cooperation.
Nevertheless, to be seen is whether the African countries and their respective governments will be able to make the most out of these unstated competitions by attracting viable investment in the direly needed infrastructures, creating real economies, striving for fair and sustainable trade deals, and boosting inclusive economic development. And few with doubt that, with the shifting tides in the international trade and the global order as a whole, the way Africa manages this renewed battle will certainly determine its success or failure to develop in the years to come.
In any case, the continent had better remember that time and tide wait for no man!
“To be, or not to be: that is the question”
William Shakespeare (1564–1616)
Security: a Problematic Concept?
If there is a unanimity in the literature of security studies, it is that ‘security’, as a concept, is deeply contested. For Walter Lippmann, for instance, "a nation is secure to the extent to which it is not in danger of having to sacrifice core values if it wishes to avoid war, and is able, if challenged, to maintain them by victory in such a war." Lippmann’s understanding of security, therefore, focuses on the external military threat to a state’s national security; it is the traditional, narrower definition of security with both military and political dimensions in the sense that it views security through the dichotomous tensions between war and peace. It is, therefore, unsurprising that this perception was most widespread throughout WWII and the Cold War. Indeed, it was the dominant definition of security for both commentators and scholars of security studies—especially led by proponents of Realism in International Relations. In fact, for scholars like Stephen Walt, for example:
The main focus of security studies is easy to identify: it is the phenomenon of war. Security studies assumes that conflict between states is always a possibility and that the use of military force has far-reaching effects on states and societies. Accordingly, security studies may be defined as the study of the threat, use, and control of military force... It explores the conditions that make the use of force more likely, the ways that the use of force affects individuals, states, and societies, and the specific policies that states adopt in order to prepare for, prevent, or engage in war.
This is hardly surprising since the traditional realist representations of world politics is that of a constant power struggle amongst states. It is the unsettling struggle for supremacy and counter-supremacy, dominance and counter-dominance. Conventionally understood, realist understanding of security refers to a condition of being protected and free from danger thanks to each state’s military power and dominance. No wonder, the Shakespearean "Security is Mortals cheefest Enemie".
Nonetheless, many problems arise from this military-centered understanding of security, especially when perceived as alter idem with ‘national security’. First, how are we to understand what “national security” means? According to Arnold Wolfers, for instance, the concept of “national security” is an ambiguous symbol:
National security”, like “national interest” may not mean the same thing to different people. They may not have any precise meaning at all. Thus, while appearing to offer guidance and a basis for broad consensus, they may be permitting everyone to label whatever policy he favors with an attractive and possibly deceptive name. The term of security covers a range of goals so wide that highly divergent policies can be interpreted as policies of security.
In that regard, “national security” could be used (and is actually regularly used) as an excuse for authoritarian governments and dictatorship to suppress political opponents, silence dissents, suppress fundamental freedoms, and flagrantly abuse human rights. Echoing Montesquieu, one can affirm that there is no greater tyranny than that which is perpetrated under the shield of the law and in the name of national security. And a simple reflection on history corroborates this fact.
Another important problem with Lippmann’s definition of security is that it certainly tends to prioritize “gun” over “butter”. In other words, since military might is the focus, Lippmann suggests that states had better strive to increase their military capabilities; and since the resources states have at their disposal are undeniably scarce, it follows that other sector i.e. social security, education, etc. would be underfunded--if funded at all.
Equally, one may rightly ask: is it only external military threats that can upset “national security” or could, say, environmental hazards also be indubitable threats for a state’s security? Clearly, a military-centered definition of security is doomed to fail to provide a satisfactory answer to this query. Though the military side of security is crucially important for any state’s survival, a discussion on security that solely focuses on military dimension would not give us a full picture, a broad understanding of this deeply complex concept. If anything, it is clear that, just like military might has never been the sole source of security, military threats are not the only concerns for states’ security. That is, nonmilitary issues should earn analysts’ and scholars of security studies’ interests, if only because these problems deserve sustained attention from scholars and policymakers since military power does not guarantee well-being, and, certainly, cannot provide satisfactory security to a state.
To address this shortcoming, there is a need to broaden our understanding of the concept of security by analyzing nonmilitary phenomena and dangers i.e. mass starvation, poverty, AIDS, climate change, and environmental problems—all of which threaten states, societies, and individuals.
In that vein, Arnold Wolfers argues for the distinction between “objective” and “subjective” understanding of security, since “Security, in an objective sense, measures the absence of threats to acquired values, in a subjective sense, the absence of fear that such values will be attacked”. Though this is a salutary demarcation, Wolfers’s definition of security is still engulfed in the military-centered depiction of security, as explained above, and therefore fails to provide us with a comprehensive picture of security. In the end, we may do better to dive into the constructivists’ mantra that ‘security’, like anarchy, “is what state make of it”!
The Changing Nature of Security
The intractable problem of objectively defining security is not just that it is too sensitive a concept, but that it is also too fluid and intermittently. Historically, and in line with realists’ understanding, the security of a state is usually viewed as the absence of (real or putative) military threats from other states. It offers an absolutist view of security, as promoted by realist thinkers.
(Un)fortunately, to achieve such a proportion of absoluteness, one state must be absolutely powerful while its rivals, enemies are kept absolutely weak; only then could security be said to have been attained. Yet, this is an unattainable objective given the fact that other states would have to build up. The ultimate results? Security dilemma and arms race. Notwithstanding the maddening madness behind arms race, it has been the traditionally defining characteristic of states’ in global affairs up till the end of the Cold War. With the change in security understanding came the changing nature of threat perception.
“New” Security Challenges
Despite their inherently fundamental differences, and despite their disagreements, states throughout the world have increased their cooperation in dealing with the new challenges they face; but the move is not a mere charity. It is mainly due to the fact that there have emerged new security challenges that transcend individual state’s power to deal with. International terrorism is one example; global warming is another. Environmental hazards are yet another example; the list is endless. Little wonder that the focus of security has shifted from a state-military-centric perception to a more englobing human-nonmilitary understanding. A case in point, the UN Development Program (UNDP), for instance, identifies seven dimensions of a human-centered security understanding: economic security, food security, health security, environmental security, personal security, community security, and political security. These are some of the leading “new” security challenges that will haunt states in the foreseeable future.
To start with, the concept of insurance can be broadly understood as an agreement, a contract between two parties: a policyholder and an insurer. The contract or agreement, if respected by all involved parties, guarantees that the latter (insurer) will be obliged to cover some or all portions of the former’s (policyholder’s) losses, as it had been defined and agreed upon in the contract. As part of respecting the agreement, however, the policyholder is required to pay a regular some of money—aka premium—to the insurer, again as it had been defined and agreed on in the agreement. With the regularly paid premium, the policyholder is entitled to claim insurance coverage from the insurer should the covered or that unwanted risks occur (illness, injuries, car accidents, house fires, death, etc.). Therefore, it is not an overstatement to say that insurance is a means for risk management; in a world full of contingencies and uncertainties, insurance is a wherewithal principally used to hedge, guard against potential personal, material, or financial damage or losses. Fundamentally, an insurance agreement can be viewed as a contract through which trust is traded, whereby the insurer sells it to the policyholder. As for the language in entering into the agreement, it can be literarily translated in the following terms: “as a policyholder, I entrust you (insurer) my financial resources (paid in premium) so that you will be there for me on my ‘rainy days’, when I’m faced with difficult situations”. Moreover, it is worth noting with great emphasis that, depending on the type of insurance, the coverage extends to damage, losses, or injuries caused to a third party—aka third party liabilities—i.e. an insurer—say, car insurance company, for instance—would be liable if its policyholder (a car driver) has a car accident in which a third party is injured, damaged, or killed.
Having dwelled on the concept of insurance, I may now proceed to evaluate whether it is important to have insurance. To properly be able to evaluate such a concern, however, I must ask what is to be insured. Otherwise said, in deciding on whether a particular type of insurance is important at all for us, we must consider first if it is worthwhile to cover or protect such or such particular “items”. That is, we must have something to insure in the very first place, as it is, for instance, inconceivable to buy a car insurance while there is no car to insure. Hence, the above-asked question can be properly formulated thus: what do we have, and how important is what we have? In short, if one owns something that is very important to him/her, then it would be wise to insure that particular thing. Nonetheless, this statement certainly warrants qualifying.
Undoubtedly, regardless of our social class (rich or poor), our social status and gender or age, we all value our health, our well-being. As such, it leads us to the logically unanimous conclusion that health insurance is fundamentally important to all. Indeed, I venture that health insurance should be provided to all whether rich or poor, young or old, male or female, etc. for the undeniable fact that regardless of these social stratifications we all get sick from this or that cause. Thus we have health insurance no less because if we get a costly illness, insurance is the only way we would be able to pay to cover the expenses of the needed treatments. That each government should provide health insurance to all its citizens is as unequivocal as is the struggle for a basic income to all. It is, I believe, an undeniable duty for each government, and a fundamentally inviolable right of all to have access to healthcare, necessary treatments. In a nutshell, beyond any shadow of doubts, health insurance is crucially important for all.
As for all other types of insurance, it is fair to say that their significance solely depends on wealth and preferences of each individual. For example, it makes no sense to purchase a car insurance if one has no car—for whatever reasons—any more than it would be conceivable for the poor individual to purchase life insurance. Likewise, it would only make sense to insure items whose loss or damage would bring about significant financial burden to recover. Having said this, let’s consider, in more detail, some prominent types of insurance, namely car, and life insurance.
The leading type of insurance in the insurance business is car insurance. Yet, it is only important to those individuals whose wealth can afford them a car one. Once these two conditions are met, however, purchasing car insurance is as significantly important as it is an obligation for each car driver to have a driving license. For car owners, car insurance is undoubtedly important for at least three reasons: first, it protects the owner in the sense that the insurance would cover some or all of the financial losses or damage incurred should an accident occur. The second reason, which is the continuity of the first, is that when or if an accident occurs with an insured car, the owner would be financially relieved for having hedged the costs well-beforehand. The third and final reason is perhaps the most important of all. In an event of a major car accident that involved a third party and where the driver is at fault, it would be financially devastating to pay tens of thousands of dollars in order to cover the damaged car(s) and the medical bills of the involved third party. Hence, having car insurance should be an obligation for anyone who can afford to purchase a car in the same way that it ought to be an obligation for drivers to have a driving license before getting on the wheel.
As for life insurance, I believe that the most crucial question to be asked is whether it is needed at all. For instance, an individual whose entire earnings suffice just to cover the necessary desiderata had better not consider purchasing life insurance. The same goes for an individual with no one to benefit from such an insurance after his/her death. In fact, the primary purpose of life insurance is to ensure that one’s death does not bring about dramatic financial problems to one’s dependent(s). That is to say, a breadwinner with direct dependents and whose “bread” is significant enough ought to consider purchasing life insurance in order not to put those who entirely depended on him/her into irrecoverable financial distresses after his/her unexpected death. On the contrary, if one has no potential beneficiaries, no dependents, or if there are many breadwinners to provide the potential beneficiaries with the necessary financial support, or if one’s “bread” is not significant enough, life insurance may practically not be a necessity or even an option. In a nutshell, a wealthy individual with a lavish lifestyle may be well advised to consider life insurance if s/he has potential beneficiaries for whom the one cares and wishes them not to descend into dismay as a result of that individual’s unexpected death. Otherwise, one should think twice, if not thrice, before purchasing life insurance.
In closing this discussion on insurance and its importance, several general observations deserve to be made. First, except perhaps for health insurance, one ought to think of the necessity of buying an insurance in the first place. That is, the costs of holding an insurance policy should be weighed against the benefits. For instance, an insurance with an intolerably high cost of coverage (high premium) may not be worthwhile holding; nor should one insure an item with a little more than insignificant worth. Second, before purchasing an insurance, it is momentously important to make informed decisions on insurance policies. That many people have little to no understanding of insurance policies before getting a contract or agreement cannot be over-stated; nor does it need any further demonstration. This limited knowledge about and understanding of insurance policies have far reaching consequences as many people end up with poor decisions regarding their choices on insurance coverage to purchase. That is not all, however. Many people usually buy insurance contracts without carefully reading or without really understanding the terms, requirements, and ultimate benefits of the entered agreements. Third, with the prominence of these issues, it is no wonder that many insurers (insurance companies) engage in the insidious practices of shrouding, whereby they display incomplete, misleading, or inaccurate information on the services they provide through their insurance policies. While moral hazard from policyholders is another prominent issue in the insurance business with equally devastating consequences. There is no doubt, these problems could be avoided if all the involved parties in insurance business could make informed judgments about the insurance policies.
Not a long time ago I was unexpectedly assigned to write a page or so discussing the concept of “Cultural Diplomacy” and its impacts on international relations of states. Bewildered was my frame of mind when, after jotting down a sentence or two, I find myself unable to organize my ideas in any meaningful way, make sense of what I was to pen down, and hope to persuade myself that I was indeed writing non-nonsensical, however meagerly. That the lecturer should waste his time and energy reading my sheer nonsensical tautologies, that I should waste my—valuable?—time and energy writing baloney, that I fail to convince myself about the meaningfulness of what I was jotting—was just as unacceptable and objectionable as it was repugnant. It might have been worth it, for the sake of mere esthetic, had my handwriting been anything exquisite. But it is not, and it has never been anything close to esthetic—(un)fortunately?
Yet, I confess that that may have been exactly what I did. Bluntly put, I wrote—if it is allowed to be called writing at all—sheer absurdity, if not entirely rubbish. Willingly? No. Knowingly? Yes. But what is the difference? The difference between the two is the difference between the meagerness of a desirable will and the power of an uncontrollable desire. In other words, my Kafkaesque mind intolerably failed my will for logic, the thirst for wittiness. Misery.
Notwithstanding the oft-postulated argument that ‘opportunity once lost cannot be regained’, I now aim to rectify, though belatedly, what I might have done improperly: to discuss the concept of “Cultural Diplomacy” (CD) and its role in international relations in general.
What is Cultural Diplomacy (CD)?
I think the question may be better approached in negative; that is, by identifying what cultural diplomacy is not, one would better caricature this oft-cited diplomatic concept.
To commence with, CD is not a hard-power diplomacy nor is it a military conquest. Colonialism—internal as well as external colonialism—by definition cannot pertain to CD. The former is an unconscionable policy of domination, subjugation, and servitude while the later appertains to a friendly interaction, mutual understandings, and sympathies. As such, CD may equally not be equated with imperialism, although the dividing line may be thin or even a blurred one, and the demarcation well-nigh impossible, for they both may be perceived as a form of unilateral domination, whereby the stronger country has an upper hand that could generate nationalistic feelings of resistance, opposition, and resentments. Yet CD, perceived as the "exchange of ideas, information, art, language and other aspects of culture among nations and their peoples in order to foster mutual understanding", needs not engender mistrust, much less unfounded resentment, acrimony or rancor.
More broadly, "Cultural Diplomacy may best be described as a course of actions, which are based on and utilize the exchange of ideas, values, traditions and other aspects of culture or identity, whether to strengthen relationships, enhance socio-cultural cooperation, promote national interests and beyond; Cultural diplomacy can be practiced by either the public sector, private sector or civil society." It is thus a diplomatic tool, an art of persuasion, as opposed to conquest and other forms of coercion; the ability of a country to ‘sell’ what it has as distinct: culture, norms, values, ideas… A few examples may suffice to clarify my point.
Granting scholarships to foreign students opens up not only the receiving country to diversity and multiculturalism, but it is a worthy investment for future influence; hence the usual requirement of either knowing or willing to learn the national language of the receiving state i.e. a foreign student studying in Turkey, under the government scholarship, will be required to learn Turkish, regardless of whether the medium of instruction is in Turkish or not (and, to some measures, irrespective of personal interest); in so doing, it is hoped to form ‘turkophiles’ of future leadership. It is also not surprising that various scholarships for studies are increasingly emphasizing on concepts such as “intercultural exchange”, “positive cultural reception”—or in diplomatic a more parlance “international or cross-cultural experience”—and the like. The blatant truth is that a person (in this case, a student) must be culturally receptive and open-minded to constitute a fertile ground, a yielding terrain for today’s cultural assimilation and potentially favorably amenable to future influence. Not less important, however, is their (scholarships providers) equal emphasis on prioritizing applicants from regions or countries with fewer representatives in the receiving state to widen, broaden its future influence.
In a nutshell, many countries have come to realize the importance of increasing their global influence—to boost their ability to get what they want or, at least, a lion share of what they want from other states—through education, youth exchange, and cultural promotions abroad—all of which are various form of cultural diplomacy in context. Needless, therefore, to say that it is also the way “cultural diplomacy” has been impacting the international relations of states in world affairs.
The widespread usage of the concept of “globalization” makes it no less difficult to define. For some, it is the ‘McDonaldization’ of the world—the process through which cultural boundaries become permeably porous; other people perceive globalization as the overwhelmingly growing economic and political interdependence amongst nations that ensures that no national economy can any longer remain an impenetrable ‘island’. Along with the surging economic ties amongst countries, their politics are equally interwoven. In other words, due to the process of globalization, it is nearly impossible for countries to isolate their domestic politics and policies from external influences; conversely, countries are finding it extremely difficult to ‘prevent’ their domestic politics and policies from impacting others’. To illustrate, consider the recent corporate tax cuts in the US; though it is a de facto domestic policy, the reforms will definitely influence the ways international companies behave in doing business and greatly impact their future investment plans. As a result, other countries will ultimately need to respond accordingly in order to keep (or improved) the position they held before the reforms in the US. To be sure, then, one could identify three types of globalization: cultural, economic and political. In a nutshell, globalization is thus the irresistible "annihilation of time and space", as Karl Max sees it.
When is globalization? One may legitimately ask. As far as I’m concerned, the process of globalization is a historical phenomenon—historical in the broader sense that it has always been there; I even dare say: it is as old as human history. Yet the pace, the degree, the extent of its development has greatly varied in the course of time and, therefore, one may identify different waves of globalization throughout history.
Nonetheless, one may claim, with dauntless confidence, that the phenomenon started to hit unprecedented heights with the Europeans’ adventurous voyages and explorations. The ultimate results were the dominations, subjugation, and colonization of the discovered (for European colonizers and the imperial powers) territories. To guarantee their unrestrained access to natural resources and larger markets for trade, these powers had to fight disastrous wars, conquer territories, and further intensify human interactions—globalization in the making.
Yet the speediest wave of globalization may rightly be associated with, say, the end of the (hotly) Cold War and the assumed victory of capitalism, the advent of the Internet, the technological revolution in telecommunication and transportation, the McDonaldization and Coca-colonization of the world. When Francis Fukuyama declared the end of history and the (birth) of the last man, for instance, he was referring the unabashed victory of capitalism and, by extension, globalization.With the globalization of terrorism, the securitization of migration, the resurgence of nationalism/populism/chauvinism, etc., however, Fukuyama’s last man is still yet unborn—and may never see the daylight—as he so unrestrainedly and gallantly proclaimed!
I’m penning you this note to express a reserved joy that the oldest sitting president has finally fallen. I’m happy yet doubtful, joyful yet skeptical, excited yet reluctant, and delighted yet equally reserved.
You have been, for years, waiting for this very moment to be liberated from your own leader. A moment akin to a struggle for a second ‘independence’. The first, during which Zimbabwe had shaken the yokes of colonial dominations and the nationwide economic-cultural subjugation of the ‘aliens’, was a battle for human dignity, honor, respect, sovereignty, and self-determination; the second, which seems (and I dearly hope so) to have ended yesterday, was a fight against a within colonialism, an internal exploitations of the many by the few. It was a long struggle against brutality, corruption, nepotism, and propaganda by a man who heroically fought the first independence battle to liberate Zimbabwe only to enslave it in the course of 37 years.
Like a thunder, the “I, Robert Mugabe, formally resign as President of the Republic of Zimbabwe”, read in your parliament, resonated all over the country. The old lion has finally fallen. The “Comrade Bob” has vanished from the political scenes. Mugabe thought, like any other dictator, that only the unavoidable death would terminate his reign; only when “God says come” would he step down. In fact, the common feature with all dictators of all times is a paradox that has always hunted them: the (un)conscious belief of their ever-lasting rule and their simultaneous fear of an expected end of it. To satisfy the one and mitigate the other, they must be unpardonably brutal, ruthless, and merciless; they must increase their police force, raise a standing army against their own people. The longer they live, however, the more monstrous they become; each passing minute constantly reminds them of their immediate end. They grow distrustful to all—children, wife, brothers, and sisters; and become as powerful as solitary.
The second and present efforts to free the country was even more strenuous since Mugabe had the army and the police at his service. For too long, he has been their protégé. The reasons for them to turn against him today are all too well-known to you for me repeat or explain to you what you already know even far better than I do myself. The struggle was even more strenuous since Mugabe and his acolytes have spectacularly and dramatically failed to induce economic development, prosperity, and social well-being for nearly four decades in power. 37 lost years; you may justifiably conclude. His lack of clear as well as sound policies was compounded by various economic sanctions, which further isolated his geo-strategically not-so-meaningful country. The long wait and the unexpectedness with which it has finally happened could be imagined, felt, seen, and experienced. No wonder that the streets of Harare were filled with crowds chanting with delight. Their illuminating faces, like the sunny summer-days, were accompanied by “we’re very happy”, “we could not believe it at first”, “it seems like in a dream”. And so on and so forth. Their former despairs have vanished with Mugabe, and their hope for a new dawn regained.
Mugabe is not the first, nor will he be the last, dictator, authoritarian, despot (you name it!) to fall. Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, Mohammad Kaddafi, Blaise Compaoré, Yahiya Jammer—and the list is limitless—were first thought unshakable before their unexpected falls in different times of history and under various historical circumstances.
I said, from the outset, I’m reservedly happy for you, for your nation, and for the whole Africa that at least one political dinosaur has been eliminated from the African political scene. Yet, I’m equally reserved for the very reason that this ‘spring’ of hope can easily turn into a long ‘winter’ of despair.
With Mugabe gone, you Zimbabweans people are at a crossroads with only two choices on the table. Your first choice: You could do nothing by just contenting yourselves with the present situation and by chanting and dancing on the streets without pushing for a real change for your own good. With this choice, one of these two things will certainly happen: 1)—the military, now having turned their back on Mugabe after so many years, will unanimously choose a puppet president to serve them and not you the people—should this happen, you will soon find yourselves anew deep into the ocean of despair, hopelessness and helplessness; or 2)—the military, having unanimously thrown Mugabe out, will fail to agree on what to make of the post-Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, whereby the different fractions (of which you are better knowledgeable) within the military in line with their respective politicians will strive to eliminate one another. That seemingly internal struggle, however, will not spare you any more than a sinking boat would spare its paraphernalia.
Your second choice—and I need hardly demonstrate that it is the wisest, the best for you the people and for the country: as joyfully as you express your understandable delight for the fall of your political dinosaur, you may also choose to seize this opportunity to push for a real change with a free, fair, and transparent election; only then could you ensure that the government will-be is accountable, responsible, transparent, respectable to your rights and basic needs and dignity. You must never forget that the military and police forces you seem to felicitate were the same forces Mugabe used to brutalize, torture, and even kill you, your compatriots or relatives, and that nothing would prevent them from doing so again should they succeed in choosing a president for you at their mercy. You must never forget that the fall of Mugabe was a somewhat political coup de grâce. At the age of 93, what could be a better gift than to be offered a retirement? Nor should you forget the military’s claim that their intervention is to restore ‘legacy’ with brutality and disregard of basics human rights.
“It is my feeling” says Rabelais, “that Time ripens all things; with Time all things are revealed; Time is the father of truth.” Only time would be the best judge of any human action. And in the course of time the world will judge and condemn you or felicitate you for what you are to make of the present situation in your country. Do know, and always keep in mind, that the world is watching!
It is a snowy morning. I get ready for my 8 o’clock-class. It is the first in a series to follow. I know too well that it is going to be a very long day. (Oh, poor boy!). If not a miserable creature, how can a soul endure lecture after lecture from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm with only a few wretched minutes for break? As if to plunder one of one’s meager hope, the daylight lasts only for few hours. And one is rubbed off the delight of seeing the sunshine. The shortness of winter-days is far exacerbated by the nakedness of the trees, flogged by the bitterly cold wind under the unstoppable and unstopping Polish rain. Despite the desire and various temptations to not attend the lecture, and to defy my own misery, I manage to get on the campus in time.
I’m waiting for nearly 15 minutes and the lecturer is yet to come. Though the lecture is supposed to start at 8, he is nowhere to found after some considerable minutes past 8. Should I give in now? Should I go back home? After all, I were to lose nothing but my pitiful contempt. I get pitifully soaked on my way to the campus. Should I go back home and get doubly wet? That is out of question. So I decide to stay. “What will happen will happen”, I console myself.
Luckily, the lecturer comes shortly afterward; that’s, following that inner-deliberation. It is a finance course; more precisely, public finance. As he settles himself, the first line to appear on the slides is “what should be the size of a state?” As if it was a shock, an electronic shock, my sleeping mood suddenly fades. The question was intriguing for two reasons. Taken as it is presented, it implies that a state’s statehood depends on, perhaps amongst others features, its “size”. Yet, my mind could not fail to recall that, in international law, the size of a state is never a determinant factor of its statehood as long as it has a define territory, permanently inhabited by people regardless of their number or “size”, and an “effective” government. The second thing that intrigues me about the question is that we were in finance class, and not in an international law one. Besides, a state, as an abstract “idea”, cannot possibly be evaluated on financial terms; it cannot be monetarized nor can we attribute a monetary value to its “size”.
Only when he starts dwelling on the question could I figure out that he means to ask: what should the size of a government be? Or how big should a government be? Whether it should be as big as the state itself or as minimal as a night watchman. Whether a government ought to be a necessary evil, reduced to enforcing laws and ensuring that businesses are run without any hindrance, or ought it to be as big as to determine what is produced, how it is produced, and at what quantity.
This question, however interesting it may sound, would never be satisfactorily answered, was my answer to myself, of course. Great minds have scrutinized it for years. Yet, it has always remained in its perpetual commencement. Any position (I mean “any” in its broadest possible meaning) on the matter has its supporters, its opponents, and those who couldn’t care less.
After a minute’s talk, I understand that my dear lecturer has a position to which I do not subscribe. It is not that his arguments are incoherent, but that I find them unconvincing. I could not agree more with him when he says “what makes the field of public finance so difficult and so challenging to deal with is that it is not free of politics nor could politics free itself of public finance”. Apart from this, however, anything he says afterwards is diametrically opposed to what I think on the subject; it is on the other side of the spectrum.
For instance, he takes himself to be a liberal (or a “conservative”, as he says), a free market economist. He believes that left-wing governments are almost always irresponsible. They opt for big governments and spend the public money carelessly, crowd out private investment, distort the market mechanism, and bring about market failures and inefficiencies. To support his argument, he cites Greece, communist Russia, etc.
By then, I could barely restrict myself from intervening. As soon as he says “what do you guys think”, I jump in.
My first remark is a general observation about life; the basic principle that governs life. That any exaggeration, any extreme, and any excess is deleterious. The issue concerning the side of the government, says I, ought not to be viewed as the “right” always being right, and the “left” always being wrong. If so, what about the “center”? Are such governments neither right nor wrong, or both? That is not all, I continue. There are many modern countries that have heavily relied on big governments to achieve economic prosperity and progress. Denmark, Japan, Sweden, and many other wealthy countries, have had (and still have) large governments and considerable bureaucracy. Yet, they are amongst the wealthiest nations on earth.
To make the long discussion short, I conclude that a very big and corrupt government is as detrimental as a small and ineffective one. It is not so much the size that matters as the effectiveness, the transparency in the governing body, and its accountability.
By now it is 2:30 and I must feed my rioting stomach. And I’m sure everyone in the classroom has a rioting stomach for we are allow to have a break; a coffee break, the lecturer calls it. After that break, he promises to talk about the never cooling debates surrounding concepts like efficiency vs. equity, private vs. public enterprise, and so on. But I wait not for such a discussion. I would rather watch premiere league matches of the day. As it were, the day ends sooner than expected. So much the better!
Companies are doing business. Yes; so what? So the concept of CSR is of great import no less because the ways in which companies run their businesses have direct and indirect impacts on the stakeholders, the society, and, not least consequential, the environment. Hence, the imperative need to explore, fathom, and get acquainted with the concept of CSR.
To be sure, the concept of (CSR) has dramatically evolved with time in the business world. First considered as a mere ‘philanthropic’ gesture, CSR is now integral to business models for a numberless successful companies, operating domestically as well as internationally. In fact, it has overwhelmingly become a defining characteristic, a determinant factor of the success or failure in doing business.
Partly, this drastic change is an effort to abide by the legal frameworks under which companies and industries operate. For the most parts, however, it is to keep up with the changing business environments: the advent of the Internet, technological innovations, information revolutions, environmental issues, labor shortage, global competitions, growing demands for accountability in doing business, etc. Therefore, faced with these realities, and to increase their competitiveness and global market shares, a constantly growing number of international companies have come to consider CSR their focal center of interest.
Reputation Institute (RI), a Boston-based reputation-management consulting firm, is the world’s leading firm in tracking, compiling, and publishing international companies’ social responsibility and reputations based upon consumers’ perceptions of their governance, positive influence on the society at large, and the treatments they allot their respective employees.
According to its 2017 annual report, Lego ranks as the leading international company in CSR worldwide. As a company mainly manufacturing toys with mostly plastics as its raw materials, how Lego has achieved such a performance is particularly intriguing. I, therefore, aim to investigate its methods of doing business, and its approaches to CSR in order to shed light on the intrigue.
The concept of CSR reviewed
Before dwelling on Lego’s history and its engagement with CSR, however, it would be more convenient to briefly review the concept. With the caveat that there is no universally accepted definition of corporate social responsibility, the concept is best understood as what Wood, D. J. (1991) calls the “business-society[-environment] relationships”. Indeed, according to the Business Dictionary, the “concept includes the social and environmental awareness that organizations [and businesses] are expected to demonstrate with ethical day-to-day business practices, but also involves how companies give back to society and communities through special projects”. As such, the corporate social responsibility goes beyond companies’ ethical responsibility and encompasses their engagement with the society as well as the natural ecology. Traditionally, such engagements merely aimed to meet the minimum safety regulations, legal compliance, and ethical standards. No wonder, therefore, that their enforcement and monitoring were usually undertaken by an outside entity, an independent agency, a third party. Today, however, as companies realize the business importance of CSR, they have moved their engagements far beyond the aforementioned minimum requirements and standards, and have made CSR their focal center of interest, an integral model of their various business strategies.
Their CSR policies, therefore, follows a self-regulatory mechanism—based upon the concept known as triple bottom line that encompasses three parts: social, environmental, and financial responsibilities—for companies to ensure that they do business responsibly, gain and maintain shareholders’ trust, manage to reduce their waste and pollution throughout the production process, boost their social image through social programs, and increase their long-term profits.
Lego: A brief history
According to its official website, Lego (The Lego Group), a Danish family-owned company based in Billund, Denmark, was founded in 1932 by Ole Kirk Kristiansen. The company has a very sluggish start, however; until 1939, for instance, Lego employed only 10 people. To be sure, the slow start is quite understandable considering the historical circumstances of the late 1930s with the Great Depression and the subsequent outbreak of the devastating WWII. To make things even worse for Lego and the whole nation, Denmark was occupied by the German forces in 1940. Two years later (1942), LEGO factory was burnt down. Nonetheless, it was quick to recover for by 1948 Lego has increased the number of its employees to 50. Yet its products were exclusively sold in Denmark.
Nevertheless, by 1959, according to its official website, Lego has increased and widened its grasp beyond Denmark by establishing its branches in France, Britain, Germany, and Sweden. And by 1969, it has established itself as an international company by expanding well beyond Europe with its presence in Latin America (Peru and Curacao), North America, Africa, Australia and Asia. Indeed, by 2016, Lego employed more than 18,000 people (with no less than 70 nationalities) while its products are sold across more than 140 borders.
As aforementioned, the company is widely known for its manufactured Lego-brand toys mainly with plastics. They are constituted with various pieces that can be assembled (and easily dissembled) and connected in many ways to construct a particular object such as vehicles, buildings, or working robots. By dissembling it, one could easily construct another object at will. It is also prided for its widely built amusement parks known as “Legoland”. Its international presence is not merely illustrated by the worldwide existence of its amusement parks—aka Legoland. It is also owing to the global presence of its products in retail stores and the widespread of its operating offices in multiple countries around the world.
According to Fortune (2015), a multinational business magazine, Lego became the world’s leading company, by revenue, in manufacturing toys in 2015. More specifically, with its sales amounting to US$2.1 billion, it surpassed the erstwhile world’s largest toy company—Martel, which collected US$1.9 billion in sales the same year.
In addition to Martel, however, Lego has other global competitors. Particularly, since 1989, when its patent expired, many international toy-manufacturing companies, including (but not limited to) Mega Brands (formerly known as Mega Bloks), Best-Lock, Tyco Toys, Tianjin Coko Toy, etc. have variously engaged in producing toys with interlocking bricks similar to those of Lego, which they often sell at a lower price. With these competitors, Lego has steadily kept innovating while equally ensuring that the quality of the toys meets the expectations of its customers.
Given the nature of its products (plays for kids) and the materials utilized in producing them, Lego acknowledges its responsibility to the society as a whole. Of paramount importance, however, is Lego’s recognition of the impacts its products—from their beginning to their wastes—have on the environment. In a nutshell, it is aware that:
Support is driven by who you are as a company; how fair you are when doing business, how you support the community, how sustainable your operation is and how compelling your vision for the future is. What Lego does so well in these years is to engage with its customers, consumers, suppliers, partners and opinion leaders on issues that matter to them; workplace, governance, citizenship while producing amazing products (Forbes, 2014).
As it will be seen shortly, Lego has shifted to integrate social responsibility into its business strategies.
Lego and CSR
The RI undertakes the tasks of annually tracking international companies’ social responsibility reputations. It tracks, measures, compiles, and publishes their social responsibility in doing business by homing in on their reputations based upon consumers’ perceptions of their governance, positive influence on the society at large, and the treatments they allot their employees; these three components are also known as companies’ citizenship, workplace and governance. The measures are done with RI’s RepTrak Pulse scheme.
To measure their reputations in CSR, RI surveys consumers’ perceptions of the international companies’ performance on citizenship, workplace and governance in 15 world’s largest economies. Thus:
The results describe which companies are best regarded by consumers for having a positive societal influence, being environmentally friendly, operating with openness and transparency, behaving ethically, rewarding employees fairly and promoting employee well-being, among other factors. For a company, it is essential to be perceived as responsible in order to be able to build and defend its reputation (Global CSR RepTrak, 2016).
Accordingly, the Danish giant, Lego, ranks first in 2017 from its 6th position in the preceding year. How Lego has achieved this remarkable run is understandably intriguing. Until 2014, for instance, Lego was partnering Shell, one of the world’s leading oil companies, which supplied Lego with raw materials. This partnership, however, was environmentally harmful, ecologically deleterious, and undoubtedly unsustainable. As pressures mounted to ruin its reputation, with the most vocal being Greenpeace (The Guardian, 2014; and GreenpeaceVideo, 2014), Lego ended that 50 years long partnership in October 2014. As a result, Lego has shifted to more renewable energy sources and adopted more environmentally-friendly approaches to business.
Particularly, to regain its long-held favorable reputation in doing business, Lego adopted ambitious sustainable goals, developed socially responsible strategies, and partnered with key environmental agencies like the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Nonetheless, the most important initiative to CSR Lego has adopted is the Sustainable Materials Center. The Center, already operational, is expected to employ more than 100 experts to find and implement, by 2030, sustainable alternatives to its existing raw materials.
Likewise, Lego has ensured that all of its manufacturing sites are certified in line with the environmental standards of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). According to its official website, Lego recycles about 90% of its wastes and ensures that its operations are gradually more energy efficient. Also, in the efforts to attain its goal of utilizing 100% renewable energy sources by 2020, the Borkum Riffgrund wind turbines are providing Lego with sources of electricity since 2015.
These initiatives and its strategic partnership with WWF have culminated in Lego’s engagement with CSR and sustainability. By topping the rank, it is perceived as behaving ethically, operating transparently, conducting business fairly responsibly, initiating social programs, and, most important, protecting the environment. Therefore, as the RI Chief Research Officer, Stephen Hahn-Griffiths, observes, the Danish giant “has [fairly] embraced corporate social responsibility from top to bottom" (Forbes, 2017).
Shouldn’t all companies embrace CSR?
No doubt; the concept of corporate social responsibility has gained an increasing interest in business strategies. As Lego has shown this year, it is crucially important that CSR becomes a focal point for any company for mainly two reasons. First, CSR allows companies to increase their long-term profits, guarantee a sustainable business environment, and protect the ecological milieu for generations yet unborn. Second, by engaging with CSR, companies demonstrate their readiness to participate in tackling social issues, such as inequality, poverty, pollutions, hunger, etc. By thus getting involved in social programs, they boost their social image and perceptions, show that they strive to defend worthy causes, and, as a result, gain consumers’ trust. Therefore, other companies ought to learn from Lego’s experience and adapt it to their needs.
Unequivocally, any company wishing to increase its competitiveness must integrate CSR into its business strategies and strive to attain them, as Lego and other internationally leading companies have shown. It is one thing to devise strategies, and quite another to realize them. Usually, the problem with companies is not that they lack realistic and realizable business strategies, but that they lack the willingness, the courage to implement them.
Nonetheless, as Gitte Seeberg, the CEO of WWF (Denmark), observed once, companies must always keep in mind that there is no doubt:
We witness constant constraints on the natural resources globally. Continuing with business, as usual, is not an option, not for the planet or for companies. The problems can best be solved by working together… [to] amplify and accelerate the positive impact we need. Taking the lead and driving sustainable change in the value chain is showing genuine responsibility.
Therefore, other companies could also learn from Lego to partner with strategic international organizations for global sustainability. Their CSR policies, for instance, could be based on the concept of triple bottom line encompassing social, environmental, and financial responsibilities. Once they have clearly defined their goals on CSR, these companies could establish and finance research centers (like Lego’s Sustainable Materials Center) for innovations in renewable resources. As Lego’s experience has shown, such endeavors would ensure that they do business responsibly, boost their social image, and ultimately increase their long-term profits.
After all, in business, like in life, reputation is an invaluable commodity that must be earned!
Business Dictionary. "Definition of CSR". Available at: https://www.smartrecruiters.com/resources/glossary/corporate-social-responsibility/.
Forbes (2014). How LEGO Makes Safe, Quality, Diverse and Irresistible Toys Everyone Wants: Part Two". Available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelvenables/2013/04/20/how-lego-makes-the-safe-quality-diverse-and-irresistible-toys-we-all-want-part-two/2/#47461d166cfd .
Forbes (2017). “The 10 Companies With The Best CSR Reputations In 2017”.
Fortune (2015). Here's why Mattel ousted its CEO Bryan Stockton".
GreenpeaceVideo (2014). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qhbliUq0_r4.
Lego’s official website. Available at: https://www.lego.com/en-us/aboutus/lego- group/the_lego-history
Reputation Institute (2016). The 2016 Global CSR RepTrak. Available at: https://cdn2.hubspot.net/hubfs/2963875/Reputation_Institute_Jun2017/pdf/2016_global_csr_press_release_60915.pdf?.
The Guardian (2014). “Greenpeace urges Lego to end Shell partnership”.
Wood, D. J. (1991). Corporate social performance revisited. Academy of management review, 16(4), 691-718.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—Charles Dickens.
Dickens was writing about the far-reaching social and political upheavals and the profound bloody struggles in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Nonetheless, this memorable passage, from his Tale of Two Cities, indubitably captures the general state of the mind, the spirit, and the anxiety that governs a radical social and political upheaval.
The Arab Spring was thought to have brought about the end of another history and the birth of the LAST WOMAN; a history where the long-lived authoritarianism, corrupted rules, and despotism, in the Arab world, would be confined to the long-forgotten pages of past. The LAST WOMAN, the new dawn, it was thought, would be the age of wisdom, the rebirth of an Arab world whereby Islam, as a State religion, would give way to (or compromise and accommodate with) democracy, respect of Human Rights, rule of law, accountability, transparency, and other equally attractive concepts.
Not surprisingly, when the boiling Spring blew over Libya, the leaders of the Western World—under NATO, led by Nicolas Sarkozy and Barack Obama—were quick to pursue their political vendettas against their declared arch-enemy. How that intervention ended, and the ultimate consequences are too well-known to warrant any further discussion here. In fact, exploring them is not my aim nor, for that matter, the driving objectives of this post. Above all, however, I do not believe in opting for a simplified complexity to explain the tearing forces on that land any more than I could believe that the depressingly ruinous state of monumental proportion into which Libya has since fallen is insignificant to the regional and global security and stability.
This is what deeply concerns me: the human sufferings in the Libyan Detention Centers; the hopelessness, the despair, and the helplessness of the civilian population; the egregious slavery market, whereby refugees as well as migrants are irrespectively sold at auctions; the glaring impotence of the African leaderships to meet the hopes and aspirations of its youths so as to enable them to realize their dreams of betterments without risking their lives in variously perilous endeavors; the corrupted African leaders who would prefer to destroy their countries and impoverish their people rather than face destruction themselves; the impotency of the continental bloc (the AU) only good for legitimizing the illegitimate African despots; etc.
The winter ahead will be a winter of profound despair!
P.S. Accuse me of cynicism and pessimism, if you wish. Neither of these two words are included in my dictionary of life. I do not subscribe to wistful thinking any more than I sympathize with willful blindness. My only crime, however, is to describe things as they are to whomever wishes to know…
Like many other countries in the region, Singapore had a fairly tumultuous history. The island was first under the direct control of Britain. During WWII, however, it was occupied by the military forces of the Empire of Japan until 1945. After a dramatically failed attempt to merge with Malaysia in 1963, Singapore gained full and complete independence in 1965. The subsequent years saw Singapore’s government undertake aggressive economic policies, including opting for a market economy, massive investment in education, manufacturing industry, and public housing. The government also adopted a sound and disciplined public financial management (PFM) to meet its challenges of highly rampant unemployment, housing crisis, and the absent natural resources.
Ultimately, these measures paid off, for Singapore has well established itself as an industrialized and high-income country, an advanced economy (World Bank, 2016; and Asher. et. al., 2015). It is, therefore, unequivocal that the government has been playing a prominent role in Singapore’s economic success. As such, I venture to review Singapore’s PFMs in order to fathom Singapore’s fiscal mechanisms that have ensued in its economic prosperity. The review is organized as follows: the next section reviews Singapore’s fiscal rules, which more or less define the boundaries and regulate its PFMs. The penultimate section reviews the government’s PFMs under the framework of the fiscal rules and its contribution to Singapore’s success story. The final section analyzes the limitations of the present PFM mechanisms and the challenges ahead—especially with the rapidly ageing population and the constantly changing global economic environments—and, therefore, suggests that Singapore should keep pace with these changes so as to sustain its economic development and guarantee a harmoniously sustainable and inclusive economic prosperity.
Behind Singapore’s economic success in the last decades lie well-defined fiscal rules which ensure that the country’s PFMs are undertaken responsibly and sustainably. More precisely, the constitution guarantees a fiscal prudence for accountability and a long-term fiscal sustainability for a resilient economic growth. Broadly, there are four legal frameworks that regulate Singapore’s PFMs (Asher, M. G. et al., 2015; and Blöndal, 2006). These rules are summarized in the following table (Table 1).
Table 1: Summary review of Singapore’s Fiscal Rules
|A balanced budget over each term of government.||Each government is elected for a maximum of five years throughout which it has the obligation to balance the budget within the period of its tenure. That is, the government is not allowed to utilize previously accumulated surpluses to finance spending of its current tenure.|
|The government can use up to half of the annual net investment income from the accumulated reserves.||As it will be explained later, the accumulated budget surpluses do not stay idly in the reserves; rather, they are invested by government agencies. Hence, the government can use up to half of the net investment returns or investment income to finance its budget.|
|The “two-key” safety mechanism.||It is an “escape clause” to the first rule in the sense that it allows the government, under emergency or drastic situations, to run over the previously accumulated surpluses. As its name suggests, however, there are two “keys” to the reserves: the government must request (with convincing justifications) its needs to draw on the reserves, and both the Parliament and the President of the Republic must consent. Therefore, the Presidency principally acts as the fiscal guardian in Singapore.|
|Only the government can initiate motions to reallocate or change the composition of its spending.||Each fiscal year, the government has to submit a budget proposal for the expenditures of the subsequent year. The Parliament is empowered to accept, amend, or reject the proposal. The assent of the President of the Republic is also required. Nonetheless, after it is approved and enacted into a law (known as the Supply Act), the government maintains a tight control over the budget.|
Data source: Author’s adaptation from Asher. et al., (2015); Lledó. et al., (2017); and Blöndal, (2006).
The Government and PFM
Singapore’s public financial management (PFM) undoubtedly focuses on the supply-side of the economy. As explained above, the fiscal rules insist on balancing the budget and categorically avoiding persistent deficits; hence, the PFMs or fiscal policies are issued to guarantee macroeconomic stability, increase investors’ confidence, and support a resilient economic growth.
Nevertheless, before reviewing in detail Singapore’s PFMs, it would be more convenient to briefly summarize its structure and composition. Therefore, the following table (Table 2) presents the four “pillars” constituting Singapore’s PFMs.
Table 2: Summary structure of Singapore’s PFMs
|The budget sector.||The government’s budget is solely comprised of tax revenues, user fees, and a part of the net investment income from the previously accumulated reserves (as expounded above).|
|The Central Provident Fund (CPF  ).||Unlike the policies on social security systems in many other developed countries, the budget sector in Singapore does not cover social services such as social transfers, Medicare, retirement funds, family protection, etc. Instead, it is based on “personal responsibility” system, whereby the CPF is a mandatory monthly saving scheme to self-provide the necessary social services. The CPF is therefore financed by payroll contributions from both the employers and employees throughout the latter’s working-life. This is one of the particular PFMs that is unique to Singapore, for the CPF is a fully-funded social security system independent of the budget sector.|
|The government investment agencies.||Another uniqueness of Singapore’s PFMs is the government investment agencies, which take the charge of investing and managing the extensively accumulated positive fiscal budget and the funds generated by the CPF over the years. Thus, these agencies momentously generate important yearly investment income.|
|Other funds.||These funds are not consolidated into the government’s overall budget position. Nor are they included in the fiscal budget submitted to the parliament for approval.|
Data source: Author’s representation.
As this summary reveals, the structure and composition of Singapore’s PFM reduce the burden of the public expenditures. In fact, it is a driving principle to keep a lean public sector (a minimalist public sector, that is) while ensuring its efficiency in promoting medium- and long-term economic objectives. Not surprisingly, all ministries have “block budgets”—a ceiling expenditure for each ministry—while the overall government spending has been well-below 20% of the GDP.
This adequately contributes to Singapore’s supply-side economy no less because little to nothing is spent on social security provisions while the corporate tax rate is amongst the lowest, if not the lowest, globally. According to Asher. et al., (2015), for instance, there is currently no income tax on interest income, dividends, most capital gains, and foreign-earned income while the taxes on capital income have been substantially low for many years. Singapore has been, therefore, successful in gaining and maintaining investors’ trust and confidence. These policies entrust private sector to create jobs and encourage households to spend and save. In fact, according to the official websites  of Monetary Authority of Singapore (MOS) [central bank] and that of the Ministry of Finance (MOF), “Singapore’s fiscal policy is directed primarily at promoting long-term economic growth, rather than cyclical adjustment or distributing income”. As such, “the private sector is the engine of growth, and the government's role is to provide a stable and conducive environment for the private sector to thrive; tax and expenditure policies should be justified on microeconomic grounds and focus on supply-side issues”. In short, Singapore’s PFM is built on increasing its trustworthiness vis-à-vis investors by adopting and maintaining prudent fiscal policy, which is translated into consistent budget surpluses for many years.
It is noteworthy remarking that, despite its low rate, corporate income tax, followed by goods and services tax (GST), takes the largest share in government operating revenue. On public spending, however, “Social Development” combined with “Security & External Relations” take more than half of the expenditures. While the former (Social Development) broadly encompasses education, training, life-long learning, etc., the latter is comprised of defense, home affairs, borders control, and so forth.
Drawbacks & Challenges Ahead
Singapore’s PFMs have significantly contributed to its resilient economic prosperity. Yet there are unequivocally numerous drawbacks to its fiscal approach and many challenges (i.e. income inequalities  , an ageing population, changing business environments, etc.) ahead that must be innovatively addressed for a more sustainably inclusive economic prosperity.
Moreover, with the constantly changing global economic environments, Singapore needs innovative approaches to keep pace due to the small size of its economy, and particularly owing to the fact that its economy is highly linked to international trade and multinational corporations (MNCs). One such example of a dramatic change that will momentously impact how MNCs behave is the massive corporate tax cuts in the US. Therefore, only constant innovations will ensure that Singapore durably maintains its economic performance.
Beyond the international economic environments, however, Singapore will direly need to review its PFMs in order to meet the growing pressures on public expenditures, namely in healthcare, retirement fund, and other social securities. Like many other advanced economies, Singapore’s population is rapidly ageing while income inequalities continue to widen due to its nearly regressive tax system—especially with the increase in goods and services tax (GST) to 7 percent in 2007—and the non-existent social transfers. As the economy continues to grow, however, so will the expectations of higher quality public services, better housing, healthcare provisions, and family protection. In a world of intermittently declining corporate tax (a determinant factor in its public revenues), Singapore will need to rethink its PFMs to balance its engagement to deal with the aforementioned challenges and its medium- and long-term economic growth and resilience by maintaining its attractive environment for investment and talented labor force.
If there is a crucially important lesson to be learnt from Singapore’s experience of economic prosperity, it is this: a disciplined and discretionary PFM can unleash a resiliently sustainable economic prosperity.
As this review plainly demonstrates, the legal constraints to guarantee a responsible and sustainable fiscal budget, the ensued accumulation of budget surpluses over years, the contribution of the government investment agencies—which extensively invest these reserves and those of CPF—in generating more investment income, Singapore’s ability to constantly create attractive, confident, and credible environments for investment and human talents, the transparency in its PFMs, and its ultimate trustworthiness are all contributing factors in its story of economic development.
Nonetheless, Singapore should keep in mind that there is no room for complacency, for there are significant shortcomings to its PFMs and many challenges (i.e. income inequalities, an ageing population, changing business environments, etc.) ahead that must be innovatively addressed for a more sustainably inclusive economic prosperity. In a nutshell, in a world of intermittently declining corporate tax, Singapore will need to rethink its PFMs to balance its engagement to deal with challenges ahead while guaranteeing its medium- and long-term economic growth by maintaining its attractive environment for investment and talented labor force.
 According to Asher. et al., (2015), only in 2009, following the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the subsequent 2008 economic crises, was this mechanism ever used.
 In Singapore, the Central Provident Fund (CPF) is a compulsory comprehensive savings plan for working Singaporeans and permanent residents primarily to fund their retirement, healthcare, and housing needs.
 See MOS’s website at: http://www.sgs.gov.sg/The-SGS-Market/Fiscal-Policy.aspx; and at of MOF at: http://www.mof.gov.sg/.
 See Department of Statistics, Singapore, (2014) for further details.
Asher, M. G., Bali, A. S., & Kwan, C. Y. (2015). Public financial management in Singapore: key characteristics and prospects. The Singapore Economic Review, 60(03), 1550032.
Bai, Y., Shi, C., Li, X., & Liu, F. (2012). Healthcare system in Singapore. Columbia University, 1-15.
Blöndal, J. R. (2006). Budgeting in Singapore. OECD Journal on Budgeting, 6(1), 45.
Department of Statistics, Singapore, (2014). Key Household Income Trends.
Lledó, V., Yoon, S., Fang, X., Mbaye, S., & Kim, Y. (2017). Fiscal Rules at a Glance.
Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). http://www.sgs.gov.sg/The-SGS-Market/Fiscal-Policy.aspx
Singapore’s ANALYSIS OF REVENUE AND EXPENDITURE Financial Year 2016. http://www.singaporebudget.gov.sg/budget_2017/.
The Global Economy.com. http://www.theglobaleconomy.com/Singapore/Government_size/.
World Bank, (2016). http://www.worldbank.org/
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