Germany’s Uniquely Moral Army

The German military, the Bundeswehr  (“Federal Defence”) is officially forbidden to do anything other than defend the country (although there is some limited participation in humanitarian and NATO coalition missions, wherein they usually operate under incredibly strict rules of engagement).

But beyond this constraint — which in theory are is shared by many counterparts across the world that otherwise circumvent them — Germany’s armed forces are exceptional in one incredible way: it prohibits “unconditional obedience” and requires soldiers of any rank to disobey an order if it violates human rights or “denies human dignity”. German troops are trained in the practice of Innere Führung (roughly translatable to “inner guidance” or “inner leadership”) in which the final decision-making process should be the “conscience of each individual” as informed by historical, political, and ethical education provided by the military. Continue reading

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How Global Inequality Undermines Global Democracy

Yet another massive leak of offshore banking documents has revealed the remarkable extent of the world’s “parallel economy”, in which a large and growing proportion of global wealth is secretly stashed away in a complex and opaque network of tax havens.

In addition to the obvious diversion of literally trillions of dollars of capital that could be better spent alleviating the needless suffering of billions (with plenty left over to spare), this development is arguably a threat to democratic governance the world over, as Matt Phillips at Vice argues. Continue reading

The War that Never Happened

Let’s take a moment to appreciate the relatively under-reported fact that over the summer, China and India — nuclear-armed states with nearly 3 billion people and 4 million troops between them — mutually disengaged from a military standoff along their contested border that was quickly escalating towards war (as happened once before, in 1967). Although the underlying border dispute remains unresolved, it is encouraging to see a cooler-headed precedent prevail (a similar incident in the 1980s was also descalated by both countries).

For all the awful conflicts that have transpired just in our lifetimes, let alone throughout history, it is worth acknowledging and celebrating the conflicts that never happened. Fortunately, this is becoming a trend:

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China, Russia, and the U.S. Compete for the World’s Hearts and Minds

Nations, not unlike individuals, have much to gain from being in good standing with their peers. A country with a positive image, compelling ideology, or attractive culture is likelier to enjoy more influence on the global stage, whether its visa-free travel for its citizens, trade deals, or international support for its goals.

Thus, it is not surprising that the world’s leading powers — namely China, Russia, and the U.S. — care very much about how favorably they are viewed by the international community. (Indeed, even smaller and less globally ambitious nations like Denmark, Sweden, and Singapore benefit considerably from their image and status as a role model for things like political governance and economic development.)

According to the most recent global polling data from Pew, the United States — technically the world’s sole superpower (or hyperpower) — has maintained is long-standing lead in the international popularity contest.

Nevertheless, China in recent years has risen not only economically but in terms of global standing, even managing to unseat the U.S. in some traditionally pro-American places.

Meanwhile, Russia, a rising force in the globe once more, is also making gains in soft power, although it still lags far behind its larger peers. Continue reading

America’s Novice Approach to World Affairs

Although the United States remains the world’s sole superpower, this preeminent status is beginning to count for a lot less than it used to, as other nations — rivals and allies alike — begin to quickly catch up.

Our recent (though far from unprecedented) embrace of nationalism and populism is only hastening this relative decline, as Mark R. Kennedy argues in Foreign Policy. In a globalized world, even the greatest powers still need friends and allies, and our increasingly blustering attitude towards the rest of the world risks weakening the foreign ties on which we depend for economic and national security. Continue reading

If Only We Listened to De Gaulle

In 1934, Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French Forces and the French Resistance during the Second World War, wrote Vers l’Armée de Métier (Toward a Professional Army), which formulated how France should organize its military. It was ahead of its time in advocating for a professional army based on mobile armored divisions, namely mechanized infantry and tanks. Not only did he propose this as a way to keep Germany in check, but he saw it as a means of enforcing international law.

Unfortunately for France and its allies, the book did extremely poorly in its home country: only 700 copies were sold. However, it sold ten times as many copies in neighboring Germany, where even Adolf Hitler himself reportedly studied it. Sure enough, Germany employed a very similar approach to du Galle’s, with its panzer units and mobile infantry sweeping through the country in the invasion of France in 1940.

At the time, de Gaulle, who had served with distinction in the First World War, remained a colonel, due to his bold views antagonizing France’s conservative military leaders. He nonetheless implemented many of his theories and tactics as commander of a tank regiment, and during an offensive against German armor at Montcornet on May 17th, he managed to temporarily turn back enemy forces without the benefit of air support. While this ultimately proved inconsequential in slowing the invasion, it was one of the few victories France enjoyed prior to its rapid capitulation just one month later.

Whereas French collaborators and traitors would blame French society for the fall of the country, de Gaulle – who refused to surrender and extolled his countrymen to continue fighting – took the reverse stance, blaming French military and civilian leaders while believing the French people had the courage and moral stamina to keep resisting. Given the sheer size and strategic value of the French Resistance, as recognized by Allied leaders like Eisenhower, his point was validated. If only his prescient book and ideas had been heeded, or at the very least he be placed in the higher ranking he earned. World War Two may have gone very differently, if at all.

H/T to  Jean Lacouture‘s DeGaulle: The Rebel 1890-1944 (Vol. 1)

Continue reading

An Ode to South Korea

One has to appreciate and admire the courage and perseverance of the people of South Korea, who in the span of four decades transformed one of the world’s poorest and most authoritarian nations into one of its wealthiest and most democratic (indeed, by some measures, its growth and development was record breaking in human history).

The country’s capital, Seoul, is not only one of the largest and richest cities in the world, but it is located just 35 miles away from the demilitarized zone bordering North Korea. More than half of all South Koreans live within firing range of a hostile neighbor (although there are credible doubts about the North’s military capabilities in this regard). Yet the vast majority of them go about their day-to-day lives like people in any other city.

A vibrant culture, widespread material prosperity, low crime, a lively civil society, and an effective and stable democratic system are all difficult enough to achieve in so little time, let alone in the face of an existential threat next door. South Korea is hardly a paradise of course, but given the circumstances, it had every reason to remain an oppressive dictatorship under the pretense of security. It truly is a remarkable country and worthy U.S. ally.

Iraq Breaks Humanitarian Ground in Mosul

Iraq hardly comes to mind as a pioneer in humanitarianism, especially as far as warfare is concerned. Yet in the midst of its now six-month campaign to take back the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, the Christian Science Monitor reports that Iraqi armed forces are collaborating with the U.N. and other partners to deliver an unprecedented amount of care and protection to the tens of thousands of civilians caught in the middle (bolding mine): Continue reading

How the World Will Look in 2050

According to the latest estimates by the United Nations, within the next three decades, the world’s population will increase from 7.3 billion to 9.7 billion. By the end of the century, it will rise by another 2 billion, although at a slower rate than in the previous two centuries.

The following infographic from The Economist provides a vivid depiction of how this growth is highly uneven, with Africa and Asia accounting for most of it.

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Note how the U.S. will be the only developed country among the twelve most populous by 2050, whereas today more than half of the largest countries by population are in the developed world. Africa alone accounts for more than half of this growth, with its population projected to double to 2.5 billion. Nigeria, the continent’s most populous nation and largest economy, will overtake the U.S. with over 400 million inhabitants, despite being roughly twice the size of California. Continue reading

Don’t Mess With Mexico

Following the now-official proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border — and to force Mexico to pay for it — Foreign Policy reminds us not to undervalue our relationship with our southern neighbor.

Among other considerations, Mexico’s economy is the 11th or 15th largest in the world, depending on the metric. It is our third largest trading partner, accounting for 6 million U.S. jobs and $1.5 billion worth of commerce daily, and anywhere between 2-4 percent of U.S. GDP. More American citizens live in Mexico than anywhere else in the world, and it is the most popular tourist destination.

Perhaps most importantly, Mexico contributes 80 percent of avocados consumed in the U.S. (I am being facetious of course, although the fruit’s popularity here is no joke.)

To save some time, I’ll also reiterate my own post from 2015 about Mexico’s probable was a major economic power in its own right:

Mexico is actually doing far better than most people realize, despite its many pressing social and political problems. Following the recession, the Mexican economy has grown twice as fast as America’s, and was among the fastest growing in the world in some years (albeit from a much lower base) … [It] is predicted by groups like Goldman Sachs and the World Bank to become the fifth to seventh largest economy by 2050 – around the level that France, Germany, and the U.K. are at today.

A few analysts have gone even further by suggesting that Mexico could become an influential global power in its own right. This is not as far fetched as it may initially sound: in many areas, such as infrastructure and business climate, the country is at least comparable, if superior, to Brazil, China, India, Russia, and other identified emerging powers; it has even earned coveted classification as one of several economic powerhouses to look out for — see the MINT group or the Next Eleven.

These accolades are well deserved. Since the mid-1990s, the majority of Mexicans have joined a rapidly growing middle-class, warranting the county’s official classification as a newly industrialized nation (NIC), a distinction only a handful of developing countries have achieved. Mexico’s average life expectancy and poverty rate is comparable to the U.S. (thanks in part to its universal healthcare system), while one-third of Mexican states have a violent crime rate equal to or even less than that of many U.S. states.

Mexico does of course have its problems, and its power dynamic with the U.S. makes it by far the junior partner in this bilateral relationship. But contrary to popular perception (at least among Americans) Mexico is far from a failed state. In spite of all its struggles, it has managed to become one of the world’s most robust economies, and has the potential to be a significant player in international affairs.

While the U.S. can still do a lot of damage to the country (far more than the other way around, to be sure) it is still insensible — not to mention immoral — to disrupt our relations with one of only two neighbors, a country whose interests and people are deeply intertwined with our own. As it is, the proposed 20 percent tax on Mexican imports to fund the border wall (since Mexico stands firmly opposed to funding it) will only end up transferring the costs onto American consumers — to the tune of $15 billion.