America And The Booming Global Arms Trade

Like every other industry in the 21st century, weapons manufacturing has become increasingly globalized, especially in a world of rising powers and subsequent anxieties about security, rivalry, and terrorism. Al Jazeera reports on the latest study by the well respected Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), which found that the arms trade has never been stronger:

SIPRI researchers Pieter D. Wezeman and Siemon T. Wezeman found that the “volume of international transfers of major weapons” between 2010 and 2014 was 16 percent higher than it had been in the prior four years.

The United States was the biggest exporter during that period, ahead of Russia and China. American weaponry accounted for 31 percent of all exports between 2010 and 2014, the study states.

“It is by far the largest exporter, and its exports are definitely increasing,” Siemon Wezeman told Al Jazeera. “It’s gaining on the main competitors. There are a number of reasons for that, of course. A very important one is that a number of markets where the U.S. is normally quite strong are gaining again, especially the Middle East.”

Perhaps it is unsurprising that the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nation would play a major role in the global weapons trade. Having far and above the largest and most technologically advanced military has helped cultivate and sustain a well-developed domestic sector for researching and producing all sorts of weapons of war, which can then seek more markets and profits abroad (especially as the U.S. has an interest in propping up particular states for geopolitical reasons).

Courtesy of SIPRI

Sure enough, the world’s former superpower — and some would say re-emerging global power — is not that far behind in supplying the world with weapons. Most of the remaining exporters are also major powers, although a few (namely Italy, Spain, and Ukraine) reflect the presence of one or two companies, rather than any international power projection.

As for the main drivers of this industry:

Middle Eastern states such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Israel accounted for about one-third of American exports. But American weapons manufacturers also shipped a significant chunk of their output to Asia and Oceania, in particular Korea and Australia. Wezeman also cited India as a “new market for the U.S.,” and a source of growth.

India, in fact, has dramatically increased importation of foreign arms, bringing in 140 percent more weaponry between 2010 and 2014 than it had between 2005 and 2009. The country now leads in arms imports, followed by Saudi Arabia, China, and the United Arab Emirates.

And if you think Americans’ declining interest in propping up an ever-more expensive and bloated military will help things, on the contrary: private sector manufacturers are only more likely to make up the difference for fewer domestic purchases abroad:

“The USA has long seen arms exports as a major foreign policy and security tool, but in recent years exports are increasingly needed to help the U.S. arms industry maintain production levels at a time of decreasing U.S. military expenditure,” said Fleurant in a statement accompanying the SIPRI report.

According to Wezeman, the United States government has an interest in maintaining those production levels because some of the revenue from exports goes into research and development.

“Without exports, the U.S. arms industry would survive,” he said. “It’s just that for the U.S. government, R&D would become more expensive because nobody’s sharing the burden with them.”

The export market for American arms manufacturers will likely grow “from 5 to 10 percent of their total output to 25 or 30 percent, maybe more,” he said.

Below is a graph showing the 65-year trend in major weapons transfers internationally.

SIPRI

The Confederates of Brazil

Nostalgia for the “Old South” is alive and well not just in the southern United States but, in of all place, Brazil (and to a lesser degree other parts of Latin America). That is because thousands of Confederates opted to leave the country to continue keeping their culture and practices alive in places where slave-based agriculture persisted.

As an interesting piece at Vice reports, the legacy of these southern transplants persists to this day:

For miles around the graveyard, unfiltered sun beat down on sugarcane fields planted by the thousands of Confederates who had rejected Reconstruction and fled the United States in the wake of the Civil War—a voluntary exile that American history has more or less erased. Their scattered diaspora has gathered annually for the past 25 years. The party they throw, which receives funding from the local government, is the family reunion of the Confederados, one of the last remaining enclaves of the children of the unreconstructed South.

Almost everyone had come to the festa dressed as an American—in jeans and boots, Johnny Cash T-shirts and camouflage. Visitors haggled at a booth stocked with Southern paraphernalia: aprons, quilts, commemorative glasses, a used copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. An amplified voice called the crowds to pull their chairs up to the main stage—an enormous concrete slab with a flag painted across it and the words XXVI FESTA CONFEDERADA emblazoned at its top. The mayor of the nearby town Santa Bárbara d’Oeste surveyed his assembled constituents and welcomed the state representatives in attendance. “It’s the first time I have the honor being here as mayor,” he beamed, leaning over the microphone as descendants in homemade hoop skirts and sewn Confederate grays standing behind him hoisted flags up long, thin wooden poles. “But I’ve been here many times as a spectator, a fan.” The banners of São Paulo, Brazil, Texas, the United States, and the Confederacy flapped languidly in the breeze. “North American immigration has helped build our region, has helped build Santa Bárbara d’Oeste, has helped build the city of Americana,” he proclaimed. “That’s what we celebrate today.”

By and large, the thousands of Texans and Alabamans and Georgians who sailed to Cuba and Mexico and Brazil failed. They folded into cities and set up doomed plantations on rain-forest plots. But not the town of Americana. Led by an Alabaman colonel, its settlers introduced cotton and turned the town into an industrial textile powerhouse. For generations their children spoke English with a drawl. Today the city of 200,000 boasts Latin America’s largest cowboy-rodeo arena. The festa brings it great pride

It is a long and intriguing read, which also touches upon Brazil’s struggle to come to terms with its own history of slavery (which was outlawed only in 1888) and its continued fight against the practice of de facto slavery, which mostly involves the invisible migrant workers from neighboring Bolivia, Peru, and Paraguay (a familiar problem in America).

Bayanihan

Bayanihan is a concept in the Philippines that refers to a spirit of communal unity and cooperation, usually centered on members coming together to help one of their own. It has its origins in rural towns, where members help a family move to a new place by volunteering to physically transport the entire house to a specific location. This is usually followed by a celebration to express gratitude to the volunteers.

Bayanihan practiced in its original form. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Bayanihan persists to this day in both rural and urban communities, especially in slums. Examples include raising money to help one member pay for medical treatment, helping new arrivals get situated, and rebuilding any homes lost to natural disaster. Even the poorest citizens manage to pool their resources and capital together to ensure one of their own is looked after.

In its most dramatic manifestation, bayanihan was utilized in the capital city of Manila to form a successful grassroots movement, which influenced the government to help establish better housing and infrastructure for poorer residents.

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In pictures: The many different shades of Holi from across India

Eupraxsophy:

More colorful photos here.

Originally posted on Quartz:

Holi is more than just a nationwide jamboree of multicoloured men, women and children, swinging wildly to music, often with a dose of bhaang, that potent cannabis-based drink. The Hindu festival of colours is actually a collection of disparate celebrations, from quaint folk dances to altogether more violent variants.

Let Quartz take you on a photographic journey throughout the country, exploring the many different shades of Holi.

LathmarHoli

In the neighbouring towns of Barsana and Nandgaon in Uttar Pradesh, Holi involves men dousing colour over women, who then retaliate by chasing them with long bamboo sticks. Lathmar (basically “to hit with a stick” in Hindi) Holi, as it is known here, draws from the legend of Hindu god Krishna teasing his beloved Radha and her friends.

India-Holi-Lathmar Hindu men from Barsana village tease women of Nandgaon during Lathmar holi festival celebrations in Nandgaon.

India-Holi A man shields himself from a woman playfully beating him with a stick during…

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Lessons On Modern Corporate Malfeasance From The British East India Company

We still talk about the British conquering India, but that phrase disguises a more sinister reality. It was not the British government that seized India at the end of the 18th century, but a dangerously unregulated private company headquartered in one small office, five windows wide, in London, and managed in India by an unstable sociopath – Clive.

In many ways the EIC was a model of corporate efficiency: 100 years into its history, it had only 35 permanent employees in its head office. Nevertheless, that skeleton staff executed a corporate coup unparalleled in history: the military conquest, subjugation and plunder of vast tracts of southern Asia. It almost certainly remains the supreme act of corporate violence in world history. For all the power wielded today by the world’s largest corporations – whether ExxonMobil, Walmart or Google – they are tame beasts compared with the ravaging territorial appetites of the militarised East India Company. Yet if history shows anything, it is that in the intimate dance between the power of the state and that of the corporation, while the latter can be regulated, it will use all the resources in its power to resist.

When it suited, the EIC made much of its legal separation from the government. It argued forcefully, and successfully, that the document signed by Shah Alam – known as the Diwani – was the legal property of the company, not the Crown, even though the government had spent a massive sum on naval and military operations protecting the EIC’s Indian acquisitions. But the MPs who voted to uphold this legal distinction were not exactly neutral: nearly a quarter of them held company stock, which would have plummeted in value had the Crown taken over. For the same reason, the need to protect the company from foreign competition became a major aim of British foreign policy.

– , “The East India Company: The original corporate raiders“, The Guardian

A lot of relevant lessons to this day. While modern big companies are not as brazen or blatant in their exercise of power, they most certainly prey open societies where rule of law is weak or easy to co-opt. Even in the most developed democracies, such private entities hold tremendous sway, with their policies and personnel often interchangeable with those of the public sector.

…The corporation – a revolutionary European invention contemporaneous with the beginnings of European colonialism, and which helped give Europe its competitive edge – has continued to thrive long after the collapse of European imperialism. When historians discuss the legacy of British colonialism in India, they usually mention democracy, the rule of law, railways, tea and cricket. Yet the idea of the joint-stock company is arguably one of Britain’s most important exports to India, and the one that has for better or worse changed South Asia as much any other European idea. Its influence certainly outweighs that of communism and Protestant Christianity, and possibly even that of democracy.

Companies and corporations now occupy the time and energy of more Indians than any institution other than the family. This should come as no surprise: as Ira Jackson, the former director of Harvard’s Centre for Business and Government, recently noted, corporations and their leaders have today “displaced politics and politicians as … the new high priests and oligarchs of our system”. Covertly, companies still govern the lives of a significant proportion of the human race.

The 300-year-old question of how to cope with the power and perils of large multinational corporations remains today without a clear answer: it is not clear how a nation state can adequately protect itself and its citizens from corporate excess. As the international subprime bubble and bank collapses of 2007-2009 have so recently demonstrated, just as corporations can shape the destiny of nations, they can also drag down their economies. In all, US and European banks lost more than $1tn on toxic assets from January 2007 to September 2009. What Burke feared the East India Company would do to England in 1772 actually happened to Iceland in 2008-11, when the systemic collapse of all three of the country’s major privately owned commercial banks brought the country to the brink of complete bankruptcy. A powerful corporation can still overwhelm or subvert a state every bit as effectively as the East India Company did in Bengal in 1765.

Corporate influence, with its fatal mix of power, money and unaccountability, is particularly potent and dangerous in frail states where corporations are insufficiently or ineffectually regulated, and where the purchasing power of a large company can outbid or overwhelm an underfunded government. This would seem to have been the case under the Congress government that ruled India until last year. Yet as we have seen in London, media organisations can still bend under the influence of corporations such as HSBC – while Sir Malcolm Rifkind’s boast about opening British embassies for the benefit of Chinese firms shows that the nexus between business and politics is as tight as it has ever been.

The East India Company no longer exists, and it has, thankfully, no exact modern equivalent. Walmart, which is the world’s largest corporation in revenue terms, does not number among its assets a fleet of nuclear submarines; neither Facebook nor Shell possesses regiments of infantry. Yet the East India Company – the first great multinational corporation, and the first to run amok – was the ultimate model for many of today’s joint-stock corporations. The most powerful among them do not need their own armies: they can rely on governments to protect their interests and bail them out. The East India Company remains history’s most terrifying warning about the potential for the abuse of corporate power – and the insidious means by which the interests of shareholders become those of the state. Three hundred and fifteen years after its founding, its story has never been more current.

The Heroic White Helmets of Syria

Amid one of the most brutal conflicts and humanitarian crises of the 21st century, a small but powerful force for good has emerged against all odds to do what it can to help. These are the White Helmets of Syria, a volunteer group that offers well-needed emergency services to the millions across the nation who are continually slaughtered and maimed in the nearly four-year conflict.

More from Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times:

There are more than 2,200 volunteers in the White Helmets, mostly men but a growing number of women as well. The White Helmets are unpaid and unarmed, and they risk their lives to save others. More than 80 have been killed in the line of duty, the group says, largely because Syrian military aircraft often return for a “double-tap” — dropping bombs on the rescuers.

Wearing simple white construction helmets as feeble protection from those “double-tap” bombings, the White Helmets are strictly humanitarian. They even have rescued some of the officers of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad who are bombing them.

Since the White Helmets began in 2013, its members have saved more than 12,500 lives by its count.

A reputation for nonpolitical humanitarianism has allowed the White Helmets to work across lines of rival militias, including the Islamic State. In a land short of heroes and long on violence, many rally round the White Helmets. Syria may be notorious today for cruelty and suffering, but these men and women are a reminder of the human capacity for courage, strength and resilience.

I had the supreme honor of donating to this group last winter, but I wish I could do more. They are always in need of funding, so give what you can or spread the word. Their website is here.

The Countries Most Threatened By Climate Change

It goes without saying that climate change will have a severe impact on humanity. But some areas will be harder hit than others, and the countries most likely to be heavily impacted are also the least equipped to handle the subsequent social, economic, and political consequences.

Indeed, as the following infographics show, nearly all the world’s wealthiest nations will get by relatively unscathed (at least initially), while the greatest burden will fall on those states that are already strained by poverty, underdevelopment, environmental degradation, and political instability — factors that will exacerbate, and be exacerbated by, the effects of climate change.

Bussiness Insider notes some important details to keep in mind:

While the maps provide a great zoomed-out perspective of what’s going to happen globally as the earth warms, there are a few caveats to keep in mind when checking it out:

First, these maps are based on country rankings, not comprehensive evaluations of each country. In other words, the best-ranked countries are only as great as they seem compared to the countries that are performing less well.

Additionally, the ranking looks only at the level of entire countries. All of the state-specific, region-specific, or city-specific data gets somewhat lost in this zoomed out perspective.

While many in the developed world, particularly the United States, remain unresponsive or slow to act (if not in open denial to the problem), humanity’s most vulnerable people — already suffering enough as it is — will bear the brunt of the consequence of inaction. It is worth pointing out that a large proportion of the world’s population lives in the “global south” where climate change will be worst, meaning the human toll will be of an appalling scale.

Of course, in our heavily globalized world, even the initially best-off countries will be negatively impacted eventually. World food supplies will be disrupted, tens of millions of refugees will flee starvation and social breakdown to wherever they can, and the possibility of international conflict over strained resources (or disfavored migration) will be more likely. So while some places may be relatively better off than others, all of us will be affected in some way or another: there is currently no way to escape our planet and its increasingly erratic climate.

While the precise sociopolitical effects are speculative (to varying degrees of likelihood), climate change itself is not. The evidence is mounting and the impact is already being felt and documented in both ecosystems and the world’s poorest countries (and even in the U.S., which recently endured record drought throughout most of the country). Ultimately, we will all suffer together, and the only way to do anything about it is to develop an appropriately global response. This is both an existential and moral issue.

Three Big Historical Anniversaries Today

In 1943, the Soviet Red Army won the Battle of Stalingrad, turning the tide of the Second World War. One of history’s bloodiest and most decisive battles, the five-month siege involved over 1 million troops on each side. The Axis suffered a total 850,000 casualties (wounded, killed, captured) and the Soviets over 1.1 million, of which over 478,000 were killed.

To understand the scale of the battle, the U.S. and U.K. suffered a total of 405,399 and 383,800 combat deaths respectively in the entire war. (Ultimately, by the end of the war, Soviet Russia lost 20-28 million people, of whom 7-12 million were civilians; nearly a quarter of its population had been killed, wounded, or directly affected by the conflict in some way).

Soviet soldier waving the Red Banner over the central plaza of Stalingrad in 1943. 

You can read a quick rundown of the battle here.

In 1848, the Mexican–American War ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, in which Mexico was forced to give up 530,000 square miles of territory to the United States for $15 million. Along with the prior cession of Texas, this amounted to 55 percent of Mexico’s pre-war territory and today comprises about 15 percent of U.S. territory.

Cession includes all of California, Nevada, and Utah, most of Arizona, large chunks of Colorado and New Mexico, and some of Wyoming.

In 1990, South African President F. W. de Klerk declared the official end of apartheid, a system of intense segregation and racial oppression, following mounting domestic and international opposition, which culminated in negotiations between the government and resistance groups (namely the African National Congress, from which Nelson Mandela emerged as the nation’s first freely-elected leader).

De Klerk and Mandela at the World Economic Forum in Davos, 1992; the latter would be elected president two years later.

All photos courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Suffering Refugees Who Can’t Go Home

What do you say to a mother with tears streaming down her face who says her daughter is in the hands of the Islamic State, or ISIS, and that she wishes she were there, too? Even if she had to be raped and tortured, she says, it would be better than not being with her daughter.

What do you say to the 13-year-old girl who describes the warehouses where she and the others lived and would be pulled out, three at a time, to be raped by the men? When her brother found out, he killed himself.

How can you speak when a woman your own age looks you in the eye and tells you that her whole family was killed in front of her, and that she now lives alone in a tent and has minimal food rations?

– Angelina Jolie, A New Level of Refugee SufferingNew York Times

That is just a taste of the awful conditions and circumstances faced by the millions of Syrians and Iraqis fleeing some of the most savage and chaotic conflict in generations — not including the millions more displaced within their respective countries, and the hundred of thousands killed, maimed, or missing.

There can be no doubt that the Syrian Civil War, and the subsequent emergence of IS from the chaos, is one of the greatest humanitarian and moral calamities in decades. It is hard to imagine that this horror is being played out in such a large scale in other crises across the world, from Central African Republic to Burma.

I have no idea how to even conceive of this suffering, let alone face it in person.

Jolie, who has a notable track record as a humanitarian, strikes me as sincere in her observations and humanism. One particular point that was salient to me as an International Relations major:

At stake are not only the lives of millions of people and the future of the Middle East, but also the credibility of the international system. What does it say about our commitment to human rights and accountability that we seem to tolerate crimes against humanity happening in Syria and Iraq on a daily basis?

When the United Nations refugee agency was created after World War II, it was intended to help people return to their homes after conflict. It wasn’t created to feed, year after year, people who may never go home, whose children will be born stateless, and whose countries may never see peace. But that is the situation today, with 51 million refugees, asylum-seekers or displaced people worldwide, more than at any time in the organization’s history.

There is little more to add: after seventy years, it appears little has changed with respect to the plight of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. While conflicts on the scale of the Second World War have thankfully been absent — and still unlikely, if not ruled out entirely — large international wars have given way to chronic civil strife in certain countries that extend suffering and crisis across generations. It is awful how familiar and intractable this problem remains. I hope that changes in my lifetime.

Global Spotlight: Socotra, Yemen

Socotra (also spelled Soqotra) is an archipelago of four islands in the Indian Ocean that is part of Yemen. Evidence of human settlement go back to antiquity, where the island served as a stopover for various trade routes that passed by. However, there are signs of a pre-human presence going back over a million years. Ancient inscriptions have been found written in everything from Aramaic and Greek, to pro-Arabic and ancient Indian scripts.

Today, only around 50,000 people live on Socotra, most of them eking out a living as subsistence farmers and fishers. A product of the area’s isolation, they continue to speak a nearly extinct language alongside their own distinct Arabic dialect.

Socotra’s long geographic isolation, combined with its unforgiving heat and dryness, have created a distinct and spectacular ecosystem comprised of flora and fauna found nowhere else in the world; nearly 700 species are unique to the area (only Hawaii, New Caledonia, and the Galapagos Islands surpass it in terms of sheer biodiversity). For this it has been recognized as a world heritage site and nicknamed the Jewel of the Arabian Sea. 

Among the most famous occupant is the dragon blood tree, so named for its crimson red sap, which was highly valued for centuries as a dye, medicine, glue, lipstick, and even breath-freshener. Because it was believed to be dragon’s blood — a fact that could not be unverified in ancient times given the island’s seclusion — the sap was also valued in alchemy, and even today many inhabitants of the island and nearby areas allegedly regard it as a miracle cure for all sorts of ailments.

Socotra, Yemen IV

Socotra continues to retain its centuries-long mystique and character, offering an often alien landscape that is found nowhere else in the world.