An Unequal Union: The British State and Constitution in the 21st Century

Ian Howarth

Professor Richard Rose of the University of Strathclyde’s Centre for the Study of Public Policy argues that the ‘United Kingdom is best visualised as four separate identities, brought together by historical processes, which have maintained their Union through tradition and pragmatism.’ (cited in Reid Mackie, 1997) And that the nature of the state created as a result of the processes behind Britain’s state formation is a union without uniformity, a unitary, but multinational state.UK Flag

The United Kingdom is unique amongst modern states as almost all others have at their heart a written constitution that sets out the nature and the powers of their different institutions and the nature of the relationships between these institutions.  Within the United States the constitution establishes the exact powers of the executive, congress and judiciary.  It establishes a balance of power between these institutions and in doing so creates an institutionalised system of checks and balances between the branches of the federal, state and municipal government.  The United Kingdom does not have a written constitution and as such there is no clearly defined set of rules which govern the relationships of the different branches of the government, executive, parliament, the monarchy and the judiciary.  The British system of government does not contain within its self a system of institutionalised checks and balances as demonstrated in the American system and common in most modern liberal democracies.

This is not to say however that the United Kingdom does not have a constitution, it simply lacks a single document that legally binds its institutions in their relationships with one another.  Within the British system of government there are ‘…. numerous statutes concerning the composition and powers of particular institutions.  Thus, the powers of the monarchy are limited by the Bill of Rights of 1689 and the Act of Settlement of 1701; the powers of the House of Lords are defined by the Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949; and the modern electoral system is regulated by the Representation of the People Acts of 1948 and 1949’ (Birch, 1998: 21) These different acts of parliament make up what is generally referred to as the unwritten constitution of Britain.  It sets out the various rights of the people, the monarchy, and the judiciary.  However, what is lacking within this constitutional framework is any legislative control over the powers of Parliament, or an overall territorial settlement that defines the powers and competences of the varying levels of government within the British state.

A central principle within the British system of government is the sovereignty of parliament, as such within the British system Parliament ‘possesses, at least in theory, unrivalled and unchallengeable legislative authority.  Parliament can make or unmake any law it wishes; its powers are not checked by a codified or written constitution; there are no rival UK legislatures which can challenge its authority; and its laws outrank all other forms of English and Scottish law.’ (Heywood, 1997:129)  The constitution of the United Kingdom is contained within Acts of Parliament, which means that the constitutional documents of the United Kingdom unlike those of the United States are able to be revoked by a simple majority in the House of Commons.  In the United States such constitutional power would require two thirds of both chambers of congress and of the state legislatures.

The sovereign power of parliament resides within the House of Commons, the House of Lords since the passing of the Parliament Acts has lost the power to block or throw out government legislation and now has a role as a revising chamber.  Although the theory of the British system of government rests in the sovereign power of Parliament, in reality sovereign power lies with the majority party of the House of Commons, and in the person of the Prime Minister and the Secretaries of State.  The absolute power of the Commons means that the leader of the largest party within that chamber, the prime minister and their appointed government; are able to propose and implement any legislation that can gain a majority in the Commons.

The nature of the political party system in Britain is very centralized with a strong leadership commanding at most times the support of its members and elected representatives, as such a majority party in the commons is a guarantee of a majority vote for government legislation.  It is the reality then that sovereign power lies with the Executive, which is drawn from the Commons, but when in possession of a majority in that chamber can act without constraints from either its own backbenchers or the opposition parties.

This situation following the victories of Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and the three landslide electoral victories of the Labour Party in 1997, 2001 and 2005 attracted accusations of a presidential style of government within Downing Street that was dismissive of parliament.  In the early years of the Blair government ministers would routinely announce new government legislation to the press before going to the chamber, which provided validity to this accusation.  However since the 2010 election and the resulting Hung Parliament, the role and power of this institution has to a great extent be reinvigorated. The rulling Conservative-Liberal Coallition must be mindful at all times of the thoughts and concerns of its backbench members if it is to be certain of passing its legislative agenda.  Rebellions have become more common, and considering the nature of Coalition politics so has their significance.

The accusations of a presidential premiership that were levied at Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair were not new and not entirely unfounded.  However the concept that Britain at times has been ruled by an elected dictatorship is a recent idea, with its origins in the 1980s.  The British prime minister is amongst the most powerful heads of government of any liberal democracy in the world.  They hold the power through the prerogatives of the crown to declare war, propose legislation, and through their party’s majority pass legislation.

The power that resides within Parliament and the executive has throughout the history of the United Kingdom led to ‘strains within the multinational UK state [which] have led to a recurrent devolution debate…. the growing gulf in the 1980’s and 1990’s between the Conservative-dominated Westminster Parliament and an increasingly Labour-dominated Scotland and Wales revived support for devolution.’ (Heywood, 1997: 132)  The position of the United Kingdom in the period described above left the peripheries of the country being governed by an unpopular and unrepresentative system.  The Conservative Party had no majority to rule in either Wales or Scotland and as such the imposition of what was seen as an English government was deeply resented and led to greater calls by nationalists for independence which throughout the 1990’s gained increasing support.

Critics of devolution argued that it would hasten the break-up of the United Kingdom by allowing the legitimatisation of nationalist claims to political autonomy.  However, the supporters argued that ‘devolution [was] the only solution to the territorial crisis of the UK state, in that it promises to restore legitimate government and to stem the tide of rising nationalism.’ (Heywood, 1997: 132) Initially this later view was borne out within the assemblies of Scotland and Wales, with Labour governments in both extending their majorities during the second batch of elections held in 2003 to the cost of nationalist parties. However, since 2005 in Scotland the SNP has seen growing electoral support to the point that during the 2011 Scottish Elections they won an outright majority following four years of minority SNP Government.  This historic electoral victory means that Scotland is now preparing for a referendum on independence in 2014.

However, despite the potential for a Yes vote in Scotland next year it is worth saying that support for independence remains at around 30% of the population and so it is unlikely to pass (UK Polling Report June 2013). This means that the United Kingdom will continue to operate at least for a short while under the current constitutional settlement.  Devolution has not altered the powerful position of the British Parliament and the Executive, the Scottish Parliament was established through an Act of Parliament, and is in theory beholden to the House of Commons for its authority. Parliament is capable of repealing an Act at any time, and could repeal any of the Acts establishing the devolved institutions, as demonstrated by the suspensions of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

In Northern Ireland the devolved assembly has been suspended twice by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.  This is due to the fact that the Act of Parliament establishing the Assembly at Stormont also maintained within it the power for the Secretary of State to suspend the Assembly if it became politically unsustainable due to the intransigence of its members or as in the final case the threat of the Democratic Unionist Party gaining a majority within the assembly and derailing the Good Friday peace process.  The suspension of the Northern Ireland Assembly meant a complete suspension of the entire political structure including elections and the powers of the Assembly Executive.

The powers of the British Parliament to bring the regions under direct control through the person of the Secretary of State for that region lie within the enacting legislation of the devolved assemblies, and is premised on the principle that no parliament holds the authority to bind future parliaments to its will.  Therefore Roses classic view of Britain as a centralised unitary state still holds true, to some extent.  However, a significant development within Roses thesis is the nature of how much less uniform this unitary system has become.  ‘Although the UK government insists that parliamentary sovereignty is unaffected and that devolution could be suspended at any time, the fact that the three assemblies were endorsed by referendum would make it politically very difficult for Westminster to recover its powers.’ (Heywood, Jones & Rhodes 2002: 211) This means that these institutions will probably become entrenched within the British System of government, much like the Bill of Rights and the Act of Settlement, adding to the evolving un-codified nature of the British constitution.

Roses claim that Britain is a Unitary State without Uniformity has grown starker in its meaning.  The power of the Scottish Parliament is far greater than that of the Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies, Scotland’s Parliament possesses tax raising powers and control over primary legislation such as Health, Education and Transport.  This is coupled with a distinct Scottish Judiciary and legal system.  Scotland has grown more independent yet within the confines of the United Kingdom, under the overall sovereignty of the Parliament at Westminster. This Parliament still holds control over Scotland’s Security, Defence, Foreign Policy and other areas of national strategic importance.

The Welsh Assembly on the other hand does not possess any tax-raising powers or control over primary legislation, leading to the criticism of some that the Welsh Assembly is nothing more than a glorified County Council. However, this is an unfair remark.  Wales does have control over environmental policy and over aspects of health and transport policy; the difference between Scottish devolution and Welsh devolution lies in the ability to pass primary legislation.  Wales is still beholden to London in its overall Health, Transport, and Education policies, but can make adjustments to these overall plans.  The Welsh Assembly is able to do this through the strategic use of its budget, shifting money from one sector of the Health system to another. An example of this can be seen in the Welsh provision of free prescriptions to all students, and the provision of NHS Dental and Optical care is more generous than within England.

This difference in the distribution of power within devolution has increased the lack of uniformity within the United Kingdom in the relationships of the peripheries with the centre. The aborted plans of the last Labour government to devolve power from London to the English regions would have furthered this pattern.  The system constructed by the constitutional reforms of the Blair government created a system of tiered autonomy within the unitary sovereignty of Parliament with the Executive at the centre.  The Scottish Parliament occupies the most extreme example of devolution, which is in its real world relationship with Westminster essentially federal.  The Welsh and Northern Ireland Assemblies occupy the second tier, with Northern Ireland at a slightly lower level than Wales but at least in theory occupying roughly the same scope of power in its region.  Finally the Greater London Assembly make up the lower tier of devolved government within the United Kingdom, with its powers focused largely on economic coordination and planning.

It is increasingly arguable that there is a fourth tier of government within the United Kingdom that exists above that of Parliament, the European Commission, Court and Parliament. These all have legislative and judicial powers within the United Kingdom that exist outside the remit of the British Parliament.  In the case of the European Court of Justice the decisions made by this body have jure-prudence over British law, and the European Court of Justice has on a number of occasions forced the British government to repeal or re-write legislation in order to bring it into line with the Courts rulings for example in the case of discrimination against homosexuals in the armed forces.  However the powers of European institutions within the United Kingdom like all other political or legal institutions are established within an Act of Parliament and as such in theory can be repealed by Parliament.

The argument that Richard Rose forwards that Britain is a unitary state yet without uniformity is in my view still borne out within the contemporary structure of the United Kingdom; the further statement that Britain is a multinational state is particularly strengthened by the creation of the Scottish parliament.  The de-facto independence of Scotland in most areas of legislation has created between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom a quasi-federal solution to the demands of the highly vocal Scottish National Party (SNP) for the complete severance of the relationship between Edinburgh and London.

The devolution settlements implemented by the Blair government further diversified and complicated the structure of the United Kingdom in a manner that has in my view disproportionably favoured the peripheral nations of Britain.  Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have all gained powerful local administrative structures that take account of their specific needs and provide their national identities with political legitimacy, whereas England was totally ignored by the process.

Devolution within England has been very limited, The Greater London Assembly is currently the only example, and was established as a remedy to ‘the lack of…. a planning authority for Greater London as a whole [which] made it difficult to make integrated decisions for the whole region.   New Labour set about to remedy this but in a novel way – by having an executive mayor elected directly by the whole area, overseen by a small council.  This ‘presidential’ system is completely different to the Assembly and council dominated systems that operate in Wales and Scotland…’ (Budge, Crewe, McKay & Newton, 2001: 169)  The powerful executive centred system operating in London was a far cry from the attempt at creating regional assemblies for England.

These assemblies would have prepared ‘…region-wide strategies to determine where developers can build new homes and businesses, and [would] decide how to hand out government grants for new social housing, giving them a crucial say in where it should be built.  They [would have funded] tourism programmes, museums and English Heritage sites, help determine how waste should be dealt with, advise the government and local quangos on transport, and have roles in promoting public health and tackling crime…’ (Parker; The Guardian: 2002)  The powers that were proposed for the English regions made them little more than beefed up County Councils.  Their focus reflected only the demands of business for wider economic planning, and development in the regions, and not the unique character and history of England and the English people, which Welsh and Scottish devolution provided.  It came as no surprise when the Coalition Government announced the abolition of the Regional Development agencies and an end to all plans for elected Regional Assemblies in 2010.

The attempt to devolve power to English regional assemblies could be viewed as an attempt by central government to fracture any attempts at the politicisation of English identity.  The current settlement that allows Scottish MP’s to vote on English and Welsh legislation, while Scottish legislation is beyond the remit of the rest of the Unions MP’s is a perversion of democratic representation. A more permanent solution to this situation will need to found, particularly if a reduced majority Labour government were to seek to govern England and Wales on the back of Scottish parliamentary votes on English and Welsh legislation, a reversal of the situation that prevailed in the 1980’s and 1990’s.  This was a situation that presented itself during the vote on Foundation Hospitals in the last Labour Parliament, but surprisingly it did not cause the national outcry you might expect, especially as a Scottish Prime Minister was forcing through legislation that would not affect his own constituents.

This so-called ‘West Lothian’ question put originally by Tam Dayell (MP 1962 – 2005) can only be remedied in my view by the establishment of a strong English Parliament with the same powers as its Scottish sister. This would mean the establishment of a federal system of government within the United Kingdom, which would provide a representative distribution of power within these islands.  The economic might of Britain lies in England, and yet the English are dispossessed of any political voice or institution that recognises its distinct national identity.  Governed by a unitary Parliament containing Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish MP’s who have in the past and more recently been instrumental in the passing of government legislation that lacks majority support amongst English MP’s.

In conclusion therefore Roses classic model describing the relationships between the United Kingdom’s political structures is still relevant0, and if anything the effects of devolution have strengthened the validity of his view.  In the coming years the unitary British state shall be maintained, despite the introduction of new levels of autonomy within the regions and nations of Britain.  The pragmatic solutions of parliaments past present and future shall ensure the continuation of a multitude of political systems operating within the single overall doctrine of British Parliamentary sovereignty which during periods of strong majority party rule within the House of Commons will in reality mean the power of the land residing in Downing Street, as Enoch Powell once said ‘…power devolved is power retained.’ (cited in Hague & Harrop, 2001: 210)

Bibliography:

Budge, Ian, Crewe, Ivor, McKay, David & Newton, Ken (2001) ‘The New British Politics’ (2nd Ed.) Longman, Harlow, Essex Great Britain, pp169

Birch, Anthony H. (1998) ‘The British System of Government’ Routledge, London pp21

Hague, Rod, Harrop, Martin (2001) ‘Comparative Government and Politics; An Introduction’ (5th Ed.) Palgrave, Basingstoke, Hampshire, Great Britain, pp210

Heywood, Paul, Jones, Erik & Rhodes, Martin (2002) ‘Development in West European Politics 2’ Palgrave, Basingstoke, Hampshire, Great Britain, pp211

Heywood, Andrew (1997) ‘Politics’ Palgrave, London pp132

Parker, Simon, (May 9th 2002) The Guardian ‘Government Offers Devolution for English Regions’ http://society.guardian.co.uk/regionalgovernment/story/0,8150,712827,00.html

Reid Mackie, Claire (1997) ‘Perspectives on British Territorial Politics’ University of Strathclyde pp1

UK Polling Report, Scottish Independence Referendum Voting Intention http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/scottish-independence-referendum

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Rational Choice Theory: The Common Good and Human Nature

By Ian Howarth

Rational choice theories attempt to predict the course of actions that either individuals or groups will take in specific situations.  The utility of this is apparent in international relations, and during the Cold War governments on all sides spent considerable time and money developing this field.  Each side trying to work out what State A would do if State B did X.  The policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) emerged out of this theoretical approach to human behaviour and international relations.  It could be in no-one’s interests either individually or collectively to launch a nuclear war in the knowledge of their own assured destruction.  Unless of course they were mad!rationality

The prisoner’s dilemma is the classic example from rational choice theory in its examination of the clash between individual and collective rationality.  The dilemma is as follows, two partners in crime are in police custody and in separate cells. There are three potential courses of action that could follow from police questioning. The first is that they will both say nothing, the second that one will implicate the other or thirdly that they will both implicate each other.  In the first instance if both say nothing they will receive a short sentence, in the second instance the one who implicated there partner will be acquitted, while their partner will receive a long sentence; while finally if both have implicated each other, then each will receive a medium sentence.

The individual rational choice is to implicate your partner and therefore go free.  However, when in this situation we assume that our partner will come to the same conclusion and so if we have both implicated each other then we will not go free but serve a medium sentence.  Therefore, the collectively rational choice for both criminals is to say nothing and serve a short sentence. However, in the real world each criminal will be overcome by doubt and uncertainty as to their partner’s actions and so both will probably implicate each and end up behind bars for far longer than if they had both kept their mouths shut.  The prisoner’s dilemma highlights the trouble with rational choice models that tell us that individuals acting in their own best interests will always emerge as the dominant strategy.

An example of the problems that arise out of the assumption of the dominant strategy can be illustrated by the ‘tragedy of the commons’ (Shepsle & Bonchek 1997: 292-295).  In this tragedy we see how a common pool resource such as fish stocks is used and distributed between a number of interested individuals (e.g. fishermen).   All the fishermen know that over fishing will in the long run deplete their common pool resource (fish) and drive them out of business.  However, at the same time they are equally aware that the more fish they catch the more money they can make, and most importantly of all that the other fishermen are probably thinking the same thing.  If all the fishermen follow the dominant strategy fish stocks and the price at market will collapse and they will eventually all be out of a job.

This human instinct to follow the dominant strategy and the often different needs of collective decision-making represent a clash of interests.  The nature of this clash is two-fold.  Firstly the collective rational decision may not be in our own individual best interests.  In this case it is in our interests to subvert any attempted collective decision making despite its overall positive outcomes for the majority.  Secondly our lack of knowledge as to what the other individuals in the group are thinking means in situations where communication between members in the group is limited we are forced to rely on instinct and trust in order to judge what the other members of the group will do.  We would all like to believe that our friends colleagues, or even our governments are acting in our collective interests.  That if, as in the prisoners dilemma we are pushed into a situation where in order to achieve the optimal outcome for ourselves we rely on the cooperation of another individual, that the individual will think along the same lines and opt for the collective rational choice.   However this is the underlying problem with collective rational choice, we as individuals rationally assume that everyone is out for themselves.  That we will all in the end take the individualistic approach to situations, and often ignore the rationality of collective approaches.  This means that in short we don’t trust one another, and it is this lack of trust, in itself a deeply irrational thing that produces the problems of the ‘prisoners dilemma’ and to a certain extent the ‘tragedy of the commons’.

The key to overcoming both the tragedy of the commons is communication.  If prisoner one knows what prisoner two is going to say and do in a given situation then the dilemma is neutralised.  This is similarly the case in problems arising from the distribution of common pool resources, such as oil, fish, coal etc.

The EU’s common fisheries policy (CFP) is the perfect example of how communication, compromise and collective enforcement have overcome the clashes between the fishing fleets of Europe over a dwindling common resource.  Through the continuing meetings of ministers, and civil servants from various government departments from all over the EU the various nations are kept up to speed on what each other is thinking and doing. This ensures that the dominant strategy is not pursued and that collective rationality in the use of this common pool resource is maintained.

Other examples of this include the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and the harmonization of legal systems across the EU to tackle international terrorism, and their financial networks.  On a more global scale the Uruguay Round and the consequent World Trade Organisation frameworks are designed to bring a level of communication and reassurance into the international economy. It ensures that nations that pursue free trade policies don’t end up being penalised or restricted by tariffs and long running trade wars.

The clash between the rationality of the individual’s interests and the overriding interests of collective rationality can on the most part be accommodated through the construction of national and international institutions and regulations on the freedoms of the individual and the responsibilities of the collective.  It may be for example in a homeless man’s individual rational interests to steal another man’s wallet in order to buy food.  However this is not in the collective rational interests of society, as this would create anarchy.  It is for this reason that we have legal systems, legislators and police forces.

However there are cases such as the ‘prisoners dilemma’ that are not so easy to overcome in this way, or where the will of one individual is in stark contrast to the rationality of the collective.  One such example can be seen in the British system of Cabinet Government, where the will of the prime minister will always prevail against the collective opinion of the cabinet as a whole.  It is simply the case that we do not always make rational decisions either as individuals or groups.

Therefore in conclusion the underlying paradox that lies in the clash between individual rationality and collective rationality is human nature.  The application of purely rational scientific criteria to human nature will always prove problematic.  Trust, emotion, gut instinct and pure chance are things that cannot be measured and are beyond the explanation of rational choice theory.

Bibliography:

Birch, Anthony H, (1998) ‘The British System of Government’ Tenth Edition, Routledge, London, p157-159

Evans, Graham, & Newnham, Jeffrey (1998) ‘The Penguin Dictionary of International Relations’ Penguin, London, p189-191

Heywood, Andrew, (1997) ‘Politics’ First Edition, Palgrave, Basingstoke, Hampshire, Great Britain, p16-17

Shepsle, Kenneth A, & Boncheck, Mark S, (1997) ‘Analysing Politics Rationality, Behaviour and Institutions’ Norton, New York, p292-296

Is Globalisation a Stabilising Force in the International System?

free tradeBy Ian Howarth

Globalisation can be defined in many ways, Martin Albrow (1990) defines it as follows; ‘Globalisation refers to all those processes by which the peoples of the world are incorporated into a single world society, global society.’ (Bayliss & Smith, 2001 p15) or alternatively Martin Khor (1995) states that, ‘Globalisation is what we in the Third World have for several centuries called colonization.’ (Bayliss & Smith, 2001 p15)  Within these two disparate views of Globalisation can be found the tensions in perspective which depend upon from where in the international system you are viewing the effects and outcomes of Globalisation. The western capitalist perspective sees Globalisation as a positive development that has opened up new markets and brought the world together.  Robert Cox argues that Globalisation has made ‘the world… [Into]… a global shopping mall in which ideas and products are available everywhere at the same time’ (Bayliss & Smith, p15).  However, for a vast majority of people in the Third World globalisation is seen as a new form of western economic imperialism. The great example of this is where underdeveloped agricultural economies or sectors are opened up to exploitation by western multi-nationals, as can be seen in the collapse in Mexican agricultural production following its admittance into the North America Free Trade Area (NAFTA).  If attempting a more neutral view of Globalisation we can probably at best say that it is an attempt at a single world economy. A global economic system where business is assured that its investments are protected by an international framework of treaties and regulations. It ties the economies of many nations together forming a dependent network e.g. the European Union (EU) or the NAFTA.

The EU and NAFTA are zones of economic dependence where conflict and trade barriers have been removed.  In doing this it has allowed for the unrestricted expansion of business and trade and led to greater economic growth.  This has had massive benefits for the peoples of the respective nations within these trade zones, raising employment and increasing individual wealth.  In creating this complicated network of economic dependence between nations it has created a more stable international political environment.  The ties that bind the nations of the European Union together run so deep and are so complex that it is inconceivable that a general war could ever break out again between any of the members of this zone.

Within the EU and NAFTA economics have become central driving forces within the respective nation’s foreign policies. It is this force that can help to explain the moves particularly within the European Union in creating a single market and a single currency.  In short the economic devastation the last war caused was so great that even the victors were left in ruins. It was bad for business and so the victors led primarily by the USA drew up an international system of finance and investment at the Bretton Woods Conference that created a dependent world economy.

The removal of trade barriers and in Europe even border crossings has created vast multi-nationals that employ thousands and span continents.  The nation state has seeded economic control within their territorial boundaries partly by choice and partly by consequence of choice to the ups and downs of global economic forces.  This has created an international economic system where borders are an irrelevance which in part can explain the loss of control over stock markets, and the value of a nation’s currency.  Even the world largest economy the USA cannot control the destiny of its own economy, due to the fact that US economic growth depends just as much on domestic sales and confidence as it does on European or Asian economic growth and confidence. The multi-national giants of the United State like Boeings, Microsoft and Google gain the majority of their profits from their international not domestic markets.

It is possible to argue that Globalisation has brought about stability/unity within the international system if you only focus on the industrialised nations. These are nations that following 1945 largely shared a common ideology and started with roughly the same kind of technological and industrial base.  However, in the developing world massive problems have arisen out of the push for wider and deeper globalisation of the world economy. The process of colonization right up to the middle of the last century led to the establishment of many national economies based on the sale of a small range of products largely agricultural e.g. Jamaica Bananas and Tobacco.  These cash crop economic systems represent the backbone of many developing nation’s economies.  They are the main source of employment and investment.

The effect of decolonisation and subsequently globalisation has brought to bear on these small and poor nations international competition which has driven down prices and demand.  Nations such as those in the Caribbean have been forced by large supermarkets and demand within developed economies to lower prices or global food retail giants like Wal-Mart of Tesco’s will go and find someone else to buy from.  The devastating effects of these forces on small and poor countries dependent on the incomes raised by these crops have not been unifying.  It is arguable that in these parts of the global economy the primary effect of globalisation has been to entrench inequality and poverty.  Corporations with larger balance sheets than the nations they operate in use this substantial power to prevent wage inflation and unionisation.  This maintains the supply of cheap labour which allows for low prices for consumers in developed economies.

The unequal balance in world trade is clear 1.2 billion people live on less than a dollar a day, and the gap per capita incomes between the richest and poorest countries has gone from 30:1 in 1960 to 74:1in 2000 (www.unctad.org 2001).  The effect of the stringent demands of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on countries to conform to economic models designed for developed economies has led to unemployment, poverty and instability.  This is further exasperated by the unfair practices of the EU and NAFTA within the one sector where the economies of the developing world could compete, agriculture.  The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) prevents cheap imports of agricultural goods, while at the same time subsidising agriculture in the EU to the tune of billions of dollars a year.  These policy positions can in part be attributed to the ground swell of opposition to globalisation which was seen during the Seattle WTO conference in 1999 and in Nice in 2001. Instead of addressing some of these inequalities the response of government leaders was to move their meetings out of town and away from the people.

The collapse of the financial system revealed the extent and complexity of the connections between geographically distant economies.  The freeze in world finance and the need to massive taxpayer funded state interventions to stabilise the system revealed a new kind of potential for instability that had grown up with the spread of globalisation.  The selling of cheap home loans to people with poor credit ratings in the United States led through a complicated web of global financial transactions to the collapse of the Royal Bank of Scotland.  This has of course brought massive instabilities within many nations.  Political and civic unrest in Spain, Portugal and Greece which could lead to all kinds of unwelcomed political outcomes for the international system

Globalisation can bring unity to the international system.  In the developed world it has been a successful policy and contributed to an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity. The financial crash and crisis since 2008 is not in itself evidence of a failure in globalisation, but in the managing and regulation of financial systems.  In the developing world globalisation has been a far less successful policy approach with the results promised to the wider societies of these nations failing to materialise.  It is too often the case in developing economies that tiny wealthy global elites reap the rewards while the mass of the people upon which this wealth is generated receive none of the benefits.  In the developed world increased profits and economic growth led to higher living standards and development.  In the developing world the development and higher living standards enjoyed in the developed world are not being delivered, and this is a cause of tension and potential instability.

Bibliography:

Bayliss, John. Smith, Steven. (2001) ‘The Globalisation of World Politics’ 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford. p15, 16,17

White, Brian. Little, Richard. Smith, Michael. Editors (2001) ‘Issues in World Politics’ 2nd Edition, Palgrave, Basingstoke, Chap. 3, p36-40

http://www.unctad.org or alternatively access http://www.un.org & then click on economic and social development.

NGO’s – Can they do more harm than good?

By Ian Howarth

If we are to understand whether or not Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) can ‘do no harm’ we need to examine the structural system in which they operate.  This involves looking at the growth in the role of NGO’s in major humanitarian crises, and the structural changes that have driven this growth, giving an increasingly significant role to NGO’s.  We also need to look at the growing trend amongst donor states towards contracting out humanitarian aid programmes to NGO’s, and the division in responsibilities that this practice has created between NGO’s and Governmental Bodies.  The operational position of NGO’s in conflict zones will also be examined; demonstrating that although they play a positive role in providing humanitarian relief; there involvement can lead to the exacerbation of conflict by institutionalising the status quo.Aid

The role of NGO’s since the end of the cold war has expanded significantly; the removal of the ideological and political restrictions that dominated the cold war not only led to an expansion in the tasks of NGO’s, but also in their numbers.  The expansion of NGO involvement into areas that had traditionally been considered the preserve of nation states can be traced back to the Biafran war in Nigeria during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The impact of television images showing drought, starvation and war, on an increasingly affluent western society led to civilian driven programmes providing aid to the afflicted of Nigeria/Biafra.  The massive spread in NGO’s during the 1990’s was connected to globalisation.  Social and economic interdependence, combined with global communication has given us access to, and an awareness of remote and previously unreported regions of the world.  This means that an earthquake in India or flooding in Mozambique can be broadcast into living rooms across the world within hours, or even live from the scene.

The effects of the media on public perceptions of humanitarian crises, and on governments in the developed west have been substantial.  The 1984 Live Aid appeal followed ‘….  Western television coverage..[which]…brought sickening scenes of malnutrition and death from starvation to the homes of tens of millions of well-fed people.’  (Gilbert 1999: 619)  The public response to these images was a call for a stop to the unnecessary deaths they were witnessing in the comfort of their living rooms every evening on the nightly news.  This response led to a massive media driven aid campaign, which was hugely successful despite the aid arriving too late; with an estimated ‘three-quarters of a million people’ (Gilbert 1999: 619) dying from starvation.  However, the aid that did arrive benefited ‘…at least ten million more…’  (Gilbert 1999: 619)

Live Aid instructed a generation that through their own actions they could potentially ‘feed the world’ independent of their governments through donating money to NGO’s or volunteering time and effort.  They could impact on the lives of others who were not as fortunate as themselves, and change the world for the better.  This led to a ‘…growth in informal non-governmental transnational networks.  These include NGO’s – both those which undertake functions formally undertaken by governments, e.g. humanitarian assistance, and those which campaign on global issues, e.g. human rights, ecology, peace, etc.  These NGO’s are most active at local and transnational levels, partly because these are the sites of the problems with which they are concerned…’  (Kaldor 2001: 73)  Thousands of people have become involved in these campaigns either indirectly through donating money, and signing petitions or directly by cutting fishing nets, or protesting.

Ethiopia was undoubtedly a success for humanitarian NGO’s, the campaign mounted through television, popular music and politics brought about massive international assistance from governments across the world, and led to real results on the ground; with the British government sending RAF Hercules transport planes to deliver food to remote regions through airdrops.  Live Aid can be seen as the beginning of the modern NGO movement, although organisations such as Oxfam and Christian Aid had been around for many years prior to this crisis, assisting in disaster zones across the globe, their role, and profile was far diminished from what we see today.  The role of NGO’s in conflict zones significantly changed from that of auxiliaries to state based programmes, to representing a response in them-selves.  Today the arrival of NGO’s with their global aid campaigns and government subsidies in a disaster zone can alone bring about sufficient support to negate the need for a wider international military or state based humanitarian response.

The position of NGO’s as neutral, independent entities operating outside the foreign policies of nations has given them a unique status in international politics.  This has meant that when operating in conflict zones they can act as neutral intermediaries, providing humanitarian assistance, while remaining outside the politics of the situation.  Equally in natural disasters they can enter an afflicted region quickly at the request of a government; avoiding the complicated issues surrounding state sovereignty that arise from sending multinational state sponsored relief missions.  The reluctance of states to surrender control over a situation no matter how dire could prevent calls for assistance, and block the arrival of aid to people in desperate need.  NGO’s in their capacity as non-state actors work in a way that prevents this.

The combination of globalisation and the emergence of new post-cold war crises have meant that the list of NGO’s operating around the world today is ever growing.  The largest and more established organisations like OXFAM, Christian Aid, Medecins Sans Frontieres, Human Rights Watch, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, increasingly work like multinational corporations; with hundreds of aid programmes, development initiatives and exchange programmes operating across the globe.

The rise of NGO’s during the 1990’s occurred in parallel with a wider change in the approach of states to the allocation of their aid budgets for humanitarian assistance.  This saw the United Nations (UN) expand its role within humanitarian issues, with the same changes in circumstances as NGO’s leading to the creation of new commissions and agencies such as UNICEF and UNHCR.  These developments increased the influence and role of the UN in the provision of humanitarian assistance.  ‘The last decade of the twentieth century saw an unprecedented increase in the number and scale of military interventions by the United Nations forces: this has been called new interventionism.  Between 1988 and 1993 alone, 20 new peacekeeping missions were established.  At the same time, the size and budget of the annual UN peacekeeping budget shot up from US$230 million in 1988, to between US$800 million and US$1.6 billion throughout the 1990’s.’  (Baylis, Wirtz, Cohen & Gray 2002: 287)

The expansion of new interventionism in international relations boosted the growth of NGO’s, providing substantial new sources of income, and increasing their size and power.  ‘A major reason for the proliferation of NGOs has been the recent inclination of both international and bilateral aid agencies to contract out much of their fieldwork…’(BBC News 2004) This along with the ‘…big increase in humanitarian assistance; nowadays it amounts to over 10 per cent of official development assistance…[and]… the establishment of the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs in 1991 and of the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO) in 1992 reflects the growing importance of humanitarian assistance.’  (Kaldor 2001: 132)

NGO’s often work closely with government development and humanitarian assistance agencies, providing the infrastructure through which aid and financing is funnelled.  This has meant that NGO’s are increasingly becoming the enabling agencies of government aid programmes, often gaining funding from several sources, even governments for each programme.  This has meant that NGO’s have in many ways become the only show in town when it comes to humanitarian assistance, the UN does not provide doctors, or run international media campaigns, it does provide administrators, finance and political legitimacy.

The UN organises the political and administrative structure of missions with local authorities, establishing their legitimacy, and providing an umbrella under which the NGO’s can work.  This operational structure creates a division of responsibility; political negotiations, economic development and conflict resolution are dealt with by the UN, while food, medicine, basic infrastructure and other practical humanitarian requirements are provided by NGO’s.  NGO’s in providing the infrastructure for relief missions can increasingly act without UN supervision, having their own administrative capabilities through which to operate.  This also means that the enabling capacity of the NGO’s can be used to influence UN policies.  If NGO’s refuse to operate under the conditions established by the UN or the host state then there is no mission; this has made NGO’s powerful players in the planning and implementation of humanitarian missions.

These financially competent transnational organisations independent of any single government, who work to provide emergency relief to desperate people; are viewed by many as a third way to dealing with the humanitarian implications of state disintegration, natural disasters and civil wars.  However, the political atmosphere that the symbiotic relationship between state financing and NGO field work produces has had a negative effect on the approach to humanitarian crises taken by the international community.

The fact that NGO’s work on a consensual basis within disaster zones under UN political auspices or at the bequest of a host state means that they are dependent on the acquiescence of third parties.  This situation is partly due to the politics of NGO’s ‘Cosmopolitan politicisation can be located both within the new transnational NGOs or social movements and within international institutions, as well as amongst individuals, around a commitment to human values (universal social and political rights, ecological responsibility, peace and democracy etc.) and to the idea that self-organised groups, operating across borders, can solve problems, and lobby political institutions.’  (Kaldor 2001: 76)  The belief in their ability to solve problems independent of states or without the use of coercion or force leads to the pursuit of consensus and agreement as an end in itself rather than dealing with the wider issues of the conduct of war or corruption within host governments for example in the siphoning of funds from aid budgets.  This is a particular problem for NGO’s in conflict zones, situations that bring about NGO dependency on the political agreement, and support of combatants in order to operate on the battlefield.  This reliance brought about by a need to work within the prevailing circumstances; represents a systemic failure in the way NGO’s and the UN approach the dilemma of providing aid to civilians caught up in war.

This problem was seen at its starkest in Bosnia during the early 1990’s.  The civil and ethnic conflict that erupted in Bosnia following its independence from the Yugoslav Federation represented a massive humanitarian crisis in the heart of Europe.  The response of NGO’s to the crisis was punctual entering the conflict zone long before the creation of a UN mission and the arrival of peacekeepers; establishing food convoys, refugee camps, and setting up medical facilities while the war raged around them.  The initial response of the NGO’s was timely and became increasingly important as the war continued and the siege of Sarajevo commenced.  The lifeline of medical and food supplies provided by NGO truck convoys and airlifts into the city, and to the safe areas like Bihac and Srebrenica were vital; without them, the cost in lives of the war would have been considerably higher, with starvation and the cold adding to the death toll.

However, the structures that supported these efforts were questionable, the truck convoys had to pass through Serb or Croat controlled territory in order to reach the safe areas and the airlifts had to fly over Serbian anti-aircraft batteries to enter Sarajevo.  The cost of keeping these lifelines open was in the NGO’s and the UN having to deal with the combatants.  This occasionally involved turning a blind eye, or in supplying medical or food aid to combatants.  The need to maintain these agreements and the position of neutrality within conflicts have led the UN, often with NGO support, to stand back and not intervene to prevent human rights abuses and genocide.

The tenuous position held by the UN and NGOs in Bosnia, were taken advantage of by the combatants; in his testimony to the UN War Crimes Tribunal at the Hague, Momir Nikolic stated that, Serb commanders issued a directive for dealing with UN safe areas “…the life of the enemy has to be made unbearable and his temporary stay in the enclave made impossible so that they leave en masse as soon as possible, realizing they cannot survive there…the policy was carried out said Nikolic…Civilians were fired at, aid was blocked, and fuel, food and other supplies for the UN were halted…” (Simons 2003: 2)

The result of this policy was seen in Srebrenica where a UN safe area had been established for Bosnia Muslim refugees in April 1993.  Bosnian Serb forces under the command of General Ratko Mladic demanded the surrender of the ‘safe area’ in July 1995.  NATO attempted air strikes on the Serb forces; however, the Dutch peacekeepers were taken hostage and NATO stopped the strikes  ‘…following negotiations between the UN and the Bosnian Serbs, the Dutch were at last permitted to leave Srebrenica, leaving behind weapons, food and medical supplies.  In the five days after Bosnian Serb forces overran Srebrenica, more than 7,000 Muslim men are thought to have been killed.’  (BBC News 2003)  This failure by the UN was a result of the policy of neutrality towards the combatants, and the failure to take action against clear acts of aggression.  It is an attitude promoted by NGO’s, and although the UN takes the main measure of the blame for Srebrenica, the Red Cross and other NGO’s resident in the safe area, withdrew along with the UN.

The balancing act demanded by NGO neutrality, and the weakness of this approach when dealing with dishonest and unscrupulous regimes, or groups is apparent.  The international communities reliance on NGO responses to conflicts such as Bosnia, Rwanda and initially Kosovo has meant that thousands of people have died.  The consensus driven approach to humanitarian intervention is not the third way it is presented to be, it is in fact a means of passing the buck.  NGO’s for all their promise do not posses the appropriate tools to deal with a situation that demands military intervention, as they lack the capabilities of states.

In Bosnia the arguments against taking military action against Bosnian Serb forces, despite clear evidence of organised genocide being committed by these forces, revolved around the issue of the neutrality of the UN mission.  The UN couldn’t take sides, if it did it argued the peacekeepers and NGO’s would become targets.  This argument meant that it was five years before NATO under American pressure finally bombed the Bosnian Serbs besieging Sarajevo into submission and to a peace settlement at Dayton Ohio.

The existence of NGO’s on the ground in Bosnia in the long run became a liability. Their vulnerability on the battlefield presented an argument for not taking action against forces committing genocide, and flagrantly abusing UN safe zones.  The reliance on consensus and agreement with combatants, and their role as the enabling agencies of the UN relief programme; led the UN and its forces, designed so as not to provoke hostility towards themselves, and protect the NGO’s, to become an obstacle towards ending the conflict quickly.  It is arguable that the Bosnian war could have been brought to as swift a conclusion as the later Kosovo campaign if the international community had opted for an immediate military solution to Serb aggression against the Bosnian state, rather than the humanitarian led response that left itself exposed and unable to act.

It is clear then that NGO’s can do harm, the way in which they operate and the system of responses they promote from the international community to crises; particularly to conflict, are in themselves harmful to the people they aim to protect.  Humanitarian assistance in these circumstances should take a secondary role to the issue of preventing and ending human rights abuses and bringing about political stability.  The examples of Bosnia and Rwanda in the 1990’s represent circumstances where aid, and the operating practices of NGO’s defined the nature of the UN missions sent, and the tone of the international response.  Both of these cases led to genocide, and inaction, with the later only finally brought to an end through military intervention.

NGO’s offer a huge reserve of expertise, and resources, they have and will continue to save the lives of millions of people.  However, they should be the rearguard of international responses to humanitarian crises, particularly in war zones.  Where a robust response is possible from the international community, they should work around it, and accept that neutrality isn’t always a noble, or suitable position to take.  NGO’s should help rebuild shattered countries after the fighting has stopped, deliver food, and heal the sick.  However, the rules of engagement of international missions should not be determined on the basis of making it easier for NGO’s to operate. Their involvement in a crisis zone, and the politics they encourage should not be allowed to present an argument for inaction in the face of genocide.

Bibliography:

Baylis, John, Wirtz, James, Cohen, Eliot, Gray, Colin S. (2002) Strategy in the Contemporary World: An Introduction to Strategic Studies Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp.289

BBC News Online (20th February 2003) Srebrenica Timeline http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/675945.stm

BBC News Online (25th February 2004) Ghana to Blacklist NGO’s http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/3517827.stm

Gilbert, Martin (1999) A History of the Twentieth Century; Volume Three: 1952 – 1999 HarperCollins, London, pp.619

Kaldor, Mary (2001) New & Old Wars; Organized Violence in a Global Era Polity Press, Cambridge, pp.73, pp.76, pp.132

Simons, Marlise (13th October 2003) Behind the Srebrenica Massacre The International Herald Tribune, pp.2

Peace and Stability in the Middle East and North Africa and the Internal Challenges Facing the Region

By Ian Howarth

The region that makes up the Middle East and North African is one of the most politically and strategically sensitive in the world.  The reasons for this geopolitical sensitivity are broad and many.  Firstly the regions vast oil reserves and the vital trade route through the Suez Canal gives it a distinct importance in foreign policy calculations.  The recent and continuing effects of the ‘War on Terror’ and the ‘Arab Spring’ have brought massive political changes to Libya, Iraq, Tunisia and Egypt, countries that had until recently had reliable dictators,  are no longer so open to Washington’s charms.  The brutal civil war in Syria and the tensions this has revealed between Russia and the western powers as well as the continuing confrontation between the Security Council and Iran over the development of nuclear weapons possibly lay the seeds for future conflicts.  Finally, there are the explosive issues that surround the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and the impact that this has on the wider Arab world.Arab dictators

The three key issues that I have identified and believe face all the nations of the region are managing access to water, terrorism and democratisation or liberalisation.  Access to sufficient water is a basic need for any nation and in one of the driest regions on earth, the control of, and ability to access this resource is vital to national security.  Democratisation is potentially destabilising due to the dangers of popular uprisings and violent counter democratic reactions from the military or the fragmentation of states into religious, ethnic, or tribal loyalties that could lead to bloody civil wars. All of these terrible outcomes have been seen in some form and continue to be in some cases since 2003.

While I recognise the dangers of stereotyping the connections between Islam and terrorism, it is undeniable that the radicalisation of Islam by extremist groups who see violence as a legitimate form of political expression is a serious threat to peace in this region.  Terrorist incidents are on the rise with significant occurrences in Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Iraq, with many foiled attempts in Jordan.  The importance of access to fresh water in this region is hard to exaggerate.  In the Sudan there have been frequent droughts that have led to the deaths of many thousands of people, and in Turkey, Iraq, Israel, Jordan and Syria the damming of major rivers is becoming an increasingly heated issue.   The problem of water supplies in the middle east and the potential that it holds for conflict can be seen by simply considering Garret Hardin’s model on the effects of over-exploitation of a shared environmental resource, the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’. (Baylis & Smith, 2001: 395)

This hypothetical model demonstrates how independently rational actions taken by a multitude of individuals, in this case states, can lead to a collectively irrational result which is catastrophic for all involved.  In the case of water within the Middle East in particular this hypothesis could be said to be already occurring, the deserts of the region are amongst the driest places on earth and therefore the water that is present in this environment is finite. However, the nations of the region are failing to cooperate and are seeking national solutions to a regional problem ultimately at the expense of all.

President Anwar Sadat said after signing the 1979 peace treaty with Israel ‘that his country would never go war again, except to protect its water resources.  King Hussein of Jordan identified water as the only reason that might lead him to war with the Jewish State’ (BBC News Website 2003).  All across the Middle East and North Africa the issue’s surrounding water are growing in importance, between ‘1955 and 1990 the list of ‘water scarce’ countries in this region grew from three to eight with a further seven expected to be added within the next 20 years’.

The growth in demand for water in the region is in part due to one of the highest birth rates in the world, population growth that is entirely dependent on water either from the three great river systems, the Nile, Euphrates and the Tigris, or from vast underground aquifers that are rapidly becoming depleted.  Nine nations alone rely on the water of the Nile, and the arguments over access to the water of the Euphrates between Syria and Turkey are growing more heated as the Turkish government embarks on an extensive programme of damming up stream, to support urban and agricultural growth in its dry south eastern region.

This issue of water and the right of nations up stream to damn rivers at the detriment of those states that lie down stream is causing increasing disputes.  This is a situation that will only get worse over the coming decades as populations continue to grow.  The support structures of these societies, food production, sanitation, and access to drinking water, will face collapse if the issue is left to the internal decisions of the separate states, each seeking the maximisation of the resource.  This could potentially lead to the rivers down-stream drying up with all the terrible consequences this would result in for the stability of the nations affected.  The solution probably lies in some form of water based OPEC, monitoring supply and demand and responding on a regional level, but whether the states of the region respond to this problem in sufficient time is doubtful.

The distribution of water in the region is currently a second or even third order concern amongst most external observers.   However, without water there’s no life, and as the availability of water to those living downstream becomes increasingly scarce the prospect of armed conflict over access to water resources will increase.  The ‘former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali warned bluntly that the next general war in the area will be over water.’ (BBC News Website 2003)  Many other commentators have also stated that the wars of the 21st century won’t be fought over oil, but water.  This is a problem that faces the whole world but will be at its most critical in the driest places on earth, in the Middle East and North Africa.

The nations of the Middle East and North Africa share one distinct yet dubious quality in common, not one of them is a liberal democracy, and before the cry goes up for Israel, not all citizens of Israel are as equal as each other.  By that I mean that Arab Israelis face restrictions that their Jewish or even Christian compatriots don’t, and the people of Palestine lack any true voice whatsoever in the policies of their occupier or the Palestinian Authority.  The failure of democratic government to take root in this region is the result of a myriad of causes, foreign intervention, the politics of oil, colonial mismanagement, and the traditions of tribal society to name a few.  Since the withdrawal of the colonial powers there have been many false dawns in the region, Nasser’s Egypt, the Shah’s Iran, and Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority.

Why you might justly ask would you consider liberalisation and democratisation as a threat to the stability of the region?  Well the answer is really quite simple until recently most of the nations of the Middle East and North Africa are either one of two things, an absolute monarchy or an authoritarian dictatorship following the Arab Spring we also have transitional and unstable democracies.  Both the previous types are represented in the region at their worst and their most benign.  In order to bring about democracy in any one of these states would require some form of political, economic, or popular movement of fairly dramatic proportions.  We have begun to see this in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya and can only hope for Syria.  However the vast majority of the nations in the region continue to exist under largely absolute monarchies or as in the case of Iran a theocracy.

Liberal and Democracy are terms often bounded about as being synonymous with each other, although true western democracy is dependent on liberalisation, liberalisation isn’t dependent on democracy.  The liberalisation of a state, its institutions, and economy can proceed without establishing democratic structures.  This is best witnessed in the success of Communist China in adopting western consumer trends, and economics’ while maintaining the control of the state by the party, a process that failed in the USSR, and is having mixed success in the Middle East and North Africa e.g. Dubai & Qatar.

The level of oppression and desperation present amongst the demographically young populations of the states of this region is difficult to overstate, and the desire within Arab and North African societies for democratic representation is equally as strong.   Within Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union the outcome of this process of first disillusionment, then betrayal and finally a sense of the bankruptcy of communist rule was revolution and the emergence of democratic governance.  However, in the Middle East and North Africa the governments began responding to the incompatibility of their rule and the desires of their citizens for more representative government long before ‘glasnost’ in the Communist bloc.  ‘Glasnost Arab style was manifest in the infitah (open door) policies of Egypt and Tunisia in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s’. (Milton-Edward, 2001: 150)

The adoption of these policies was a result of the increasing illegitimacy that nationalist and monarchical rule was being viewed by the people of the region.  They were seen as a solution to the demands for greater freedoms, without the necessity of real political change at the core.  Jordan, Morocco, Turkey, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have all adopted liberalising projects, following the failure of Arab nationalism during the 1970’s.  Introducing private industry and free market economics, and encouraging the development of the McDonald’s, GAP and MTV culture in their societies has provided an outlet for the ambitious, and young while at the same time maintaining the elites grip on power.  Actual democratisation has been resisted by making token concessions such as the establishment of people’s assemblies in Kuwait, Qatar & Oman. They are half appointed, with powers that are so restrictive as to make them irrelevant.  These concessions serve the purpose of providing the theatre of democracy yet none of the substance.

Despite this theatre the process of liberalisation in these countries has been very successful civil unrest has been rare, and most of the people who live in these societies are content, failing to see that liberal economics and the ability to buy a Big Mac is not what liberal democracy means.  The rulers of these countries benefit from broad public support and are seen as father like figures despite their continuing quiet actions of despotism continuing behind the scenes. The suppression of more radical opposition and overly vocal critics of their governance continues unabated.  Jordan has a free press it is said, free to praise the King, the government, and the military, in that order.

In Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Algeria however liberalisation has either been non-existent or unsuccessful, largely due to the half -hearted approach of the leaders.  Low economic growth or because of unstable factional rule were the ascendant liberal faction can be replaced overnight by a more conservative one resulting in crack downs and the reversal of liberal policies. This may in part explain why three out of these six nations were swept away so quickly in the storm of the ‘Arab Spring’.

The adoption of the liberalising economics of the west has meant that the associated problems with crime and corruption have also emerged.  However, in these societies there is no voice through which society can express its anger with these developments. This has led to nervous societies unsure of their boundaries, and security, it is this environment that breeds the levels of contempt, fear and utter hopelessness, often externalised by their own leaders to detract from their failures.  In turn it helps fuel the support for organisations like Al’ Qaeda, Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The policy of placing the blame elsewhere by leaders in the region is a major cause of diplomatic tension.  The Saudi Arabian royal family are both staunch allies of the United States, personal friends of the Bush family, and supporters and protectors of ‘Wahhabi Islam’.  This extreme Islamic interpretation’s teachings formed the bedrock of Osama bin Laden’s philosophy.   It is this connection between the failure of Arab nationalism, and a lack of democracy in the region that fuels the growth of Islamic extremism and terrorism.

Since September 11th the developed world has been concerned with international terrorism.  However, terrorism in the Middle East and North Africa is an ever present and far from new threat.  In recent years bombs have been going off in Saudi Arabia, set by Islamic extremist opponents of the House of Saud, opposed to its relationship with the west and the United States in particular.  Israel frequently experiences suicide bombings by Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, and Iraq since the 2003 invasion has seen unprecedented numbers of attacks by suicide bombers.  Morocco and Tunisia have also faced similar problems.

The issue of terrorism is not a clear cut distinction between states versus the terrorist, in most of these cases the terrorist groups themselves either has their roots in state security services, or is funded by other rival states.  Two good examples of this can be demonstrated through the Syrian regimes support of Hezbollah’s attacks on Israel, and the suspected involvement of Iranian forces in Iraq.

Foreign policy in the Middle East is dominated by the importance of military strength, with inter-state cooperation a rarity. The desires of various leaders to re-unite the whole Islamic world mean that issues of personality also play a significant role. ‘Democratic peace theory suggests that Middle East wars are, in part, a function of the regions democratic deficits which prevent publics from holding leaders accountable or constraining their foreign adventures’ (Hinnebusch 2003: 141).  There are no attempts by the nations of this region to include liberalisation or democratisation agendas in their foreign policies, with issues of state governance and security on this level being restricted to the power of their militaries.  The most concerted form of inter-state interference in the nature and structure of another states governance can be found in the use of security services, which play a key role in not only maintaining domestic security, but in inciting instability in competing jurisdictions.

The use of terrorism by security services to further political goals, and discreetly continue conflicts is best illustrated by Syria and Iran.  Syria has for decades funded and supported Hezbollah and Hamas in its continuing fight with Israel, a policy that reached its height in the Lebanon during the 1980’s with Syrian military units in rebel or Lebanese guise engaging Israeli forces.  Libya’s use of terrorism in its foreign policy is infamously known through the Pan Am airline bombing over Lockerbie in 1989.

The most influential foreign policy decisions regarding liberalisation and democratisation in the region are coming from outside.  The ambition of Turkey to join the European Union is having a significant effect on its political and economic structures with nothing short of true democracy being acceptable for European Union (EU) entry it is likely that Turkey will effect such change within the current decade.  Already Turkey is a far different nation than ten years ago, although events unfolding in the streets of Istanbul as I write seem to be setting the nation back, and the reactions of the government and police have been far from democratic.

Within North Africa the influence of the EU is also bringing about significant changes, Morocco harbours desires to be more closely integrated with the EU and is therefore making reforms of its own, although these have been far less dramatic than those of Turkey.  In the Middle East the EU is less of a force although financially vital to the Palestinian Authority it could push more vocally for change.

It is the United States that is having the biggest effect on the liberalising agenda in the Middle East.  It has been actively pursuing as part of its foreign policy the promotion of free market economics and democracy although the latter is probably more gloss than reality.  Its stated intentions in the region have become more complex since September 11th, and the invasion of Iraq.  It is the demands of the United States that have probably proven as much an influence on the liberalisation of Middle Eastern economies, as domestic pressure.  It is for this reason that countries like Jordan and Morocco have at least played at the theatre of democracy, recognising that only the language of democracy is truly legitimate in the post-cold war world.

Despite the shared language, religion and culture of these nations the borders that divide them are real and peace and stability in the region is as fragile as ever. With civil war in Syria there is an ever present danger of a regional war breaking out dragging Lebanon, Turkey, Iran and Israel into conflict.  It may well be the case that in order to gain a more lasting peace in this region a period of instability will first be required.

Bibliography:

Baylis, John. Smith, Steve. (2001) ‘The Globalization of World Politics’ 2nd Edition Oxford University Press, Oxford p395

BBC News Website: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/2949768.stm ‘Middle East Water Wars’ & http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/2789233.stm ‘Saudis Jailed for Al-Qaeda Plot’

Gilbert, Martin (1999) ‘A History of the Twentieth Century, Volume Three: 1952 – 1999’ Harper Collins, London

Hinnebusch, Raymond (2003) ‘The International Politics of the Middle East’ Manchester University Press, Manchester p141

Milton-Edwards, Beverley (2001) ‘Contemporary Politics in the Middle East’ Polity, Oxford p150-151

Weaver, Mary Anne. (2003), ‘Revolution from the Top Down’ National Geographic Magazine, March, p84 – 105

The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development Website:  http://www.johannesburgsummit.org/html/basic_info/unced.html

The Power of the Presidency in the United States and its Limits

By Ian Howarth

The Constitution of the United States of America under Article two invests in the Presidency, ‘Executive Power’ (US constitution Article 2, Section 1), article two also award’s the office of the presidency with the following positions ‘Head of State, Head of Government, Chief Executive, Leader of the National Party, Chief Diplomat, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy’. (US Constitution Article 2, Section 2)obama

The President is therefore the head of the federal government and responsible for the proposal and exclusive execution of federal laws, the appointment of ministers to his cabinet, and of civil servants, and the operation and appointment of hundreds of federal bodies from the FBI to the CIA.   Through these various federal agency’s the President can carry out and enforce federal law with little or no intervention from either Congress or the Supreme Court.  All this power has been invested in the presidency despite the fact that the American constitution was written to ensure that no one single body of government would hold absolute power over the American people, in short to stop the ‘perceived excesses of the British monarchy’. (Heywood, Andrew (1997) Politics, p321, Palgrave: Basingstoke)

The method by which the constitution attempted to achieve this dilution of power is through a separation of powers between the central bodies of the federal government, Congress, the Supreme Court and the Presidency.   As well as these three central bodies of the Federal government there are also the powers held by the state governments, within the offices of the state governors and legislatures.   This separation of powers succeeded in keeping the presidency in check throughout the 19th century with Congress developing and implementing policy when it was needed and leaving the presidency as something of a secondary institution.  ‘However the 20th century saw the development of two key factors that have led to the ascendance of the powers of the presidency, namely the development of a national economy, and the emergence of America as a superpower after the Second World War.  These two developments had the following effects; a national economy meant that the traditional laissez-faire approach had to be abandoned for much more interventionist policies.  The best example of this being President Franklin Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ in the 1930’s which not only saw an all-encompassing national economic plan but also the creation of a myriad of new federal agencies under Presidential authority, this had the effect of giving the Presidency the role of Chief Legislator, taking the power from Congress.’ (Heywood, Andrew (1997) Politics, p320-322, Palgrave: Basingstoke)

The emergence of America the superpower and leader of the free world post 1945 also had a dramatic effect on the powers of the presidency, as one of the few areas the constitution had given the presidency freedom of movement was as the Chief Diplomat.  During the 19th century this was of little use while the president led a minor power.   However, the emergence of the USA as the predominant military and economic power after 1945, gave the office of the presidency enormous powers.  This combined with the president’s position as Commander in Chief of the armed forces, and the presidential power to veto all congressional legislation, has meant a substantial growth in the powers of the presidency.  This ultimately led to President’s Johnson and Nixon being able to wage war in Vietnam without congressional approval.

Since Vietnam however there has been some regaining of powers by Congress primarily through the ‘War Powers Act which has sharply impaired the presidents capacity to commit American troops overseas’ (Kennedy, Paul (1988) The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, p528, Fontana Press: London). At the same time the Supreme Court has grown in importance, becoming a much more political body, and a defender of liberal values against the American right.  This is achieved through the authority given to the Supreme Court by Judicial Review, that is the ability for citizens to challenge all presidential acts in the Supreme Court.   The chief example of the American judiciary exercising power against the will of Congress and to some degree the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson is the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.  In this case the Supreme Court established the rights of black Americans and upheld the spirit of equality enshrined in the constitution.  Other such cases of broadly ‘liberal’ definitions of the constitution include abortion and IVF treatment, all pushed through by the Supreme Court in the face of an indignant right and in many cases an aggressive presidency.

It is this role that the Supreme Court holds as defender of the constitution and judge over Congressional and Presidential legislation that has been a major inhibitor of presidential power.  Despite the powers of the presidency to appoint the justices, their life long tenure has largely meant that presidents have rarely got their way in the face of opposition from the Supreme Court.

The role of Congress in restraining the powers of the presidency are two-fold, firstly as an institution.  The Senate and the House of Representatives each hold the power to propose and implement legislation and impeach a president. Alongside this is the requirement that all presidential acts be ratified by both houses of Congress. This is combined with the Congressional role of approving or rejecting all presidential federal appointments, and appointments to the Supreme Court.  These powers give the institution of Congress immense strength with which to restrain the presidency.

Secondly is the party political role of Congress, for example the Democratic President Clinton had to contend with a Republican Congress after the 1994 congressional elections. (Heywood, Andrew (1997) Politics, p321, Palgrave: Basingstoke) This meant that for all the dazzling performances of Clinton on the international stage after 1994 he was almost impotent as far as domestic policy was concerned.  A prime example of this can be seen in the Medicare bill, the centre of President Clinton’s attempt to provide a free and uniform access to healthcare for poor Americans, which in the end it was overwhelmingly defeated by the Republican Party in Congress.  However control of ‘the hill’ by a US president is not guaranteed even if their party is in the majority, as President Carter found out in the 1970’s when despite Congress being controlled by the Democrats he faced his legislation repeatedly being thrown out.

Even President’s like Clinton or Carter who retreat into international politics still have to contend with a bipartisan Senate which must ratify all treaties signed by the President before they become law.   We have all seen since George Bush’s presidential victory countless treaties signed by President Clinton being dropped by the new Republican White House.  The Kyoto accord being the best known example of this.  This is largely due to the fact that the Senate never ratified the treaties, because Clinton knew he couldn’t get them through a republican congress.

Therefore despite the massive growth in the powers of the presidency it is important not to overstate them.  The political colour of Congress, and the makeup of the Supreme Court (liberal/conservative) all play a major role in limiting the powers of the US presidency.  We must also not forget to allow for the constitution itself which clearly defines the powers of the presidency.  It does however remain the fact that the powers of the presidency have grown beyond what was initially intended.

The most important ability of the presidency is the power to persuade Congress or the American People that the course of action proposed is the correct one.  This has been facilitated by the growth of the media, giving the president the means by which to put his point straight to the nation on his terms.  This give presidents the ability to go over the heads of Congress and the Supreme Court and appeal directly to public opinion.  This power to influence the national debate has had the effect of making congressmen/women think twice before taking on the president, (they stand for re-election every two years), and Senators desperate to maintain support for the same reason’s despite their longer mandate.  A Congress that appears isolated from the public will face electoral defeat.

The use of the media by Presidents such as Regan, Clinton and Obama can work in the opposite direction.  With continuous twenty four hour scrutiny of the actions and policies of the presidency by not only the national but also the international media, one slip up can lead to a public relations disaster and even the fall of a president.  The Iran-Contra affair, Watergate and Monicagate, are all examples of presidents falling victim to what has been termed the ‘fourth pillar of government’ (Heywood, Andrew (1997) Politics, p321-322, Palgrave: Basingstoke) the media.

Another institutional and constitutional limitation on the presidency is the existence of limited government, which means that the powers of the presidency are limited to those granted to the federal government under the constitution.  This means that the president cannot act on matters which are the sole responsibility of the States.  Therefore only a State Governor can propose legislation to a state congress, and only the state congress can ratify or otherwise that legislation.  Finally there are the constraints of Popular Sovereignty, simply meaning that the presidential term is limited to four years, and a presidential candidate can only stand for election to that office twice.  Which is why President Clinton despite his popularity could not run for nomination in the 2000 presidential race.

The powers of the presidency within the federal government and as the Commander in Chief are considerable.  However, the effects of a strong Congress combined with a weak party political system, loyalty to one’s party is not guaranteed, and the separation of powers guaranteed by the constitution leave the president with little or no power in internal state politics.  This means that the office of the President of the United States is a fairly constrained institution, and with the rare exceptions of a national crisis such as war or economic collapse, it must barter and horse trade with the various other strands of government to achieve legislative success.  While at the same time rigidly observing the constitution or facing the Supreme Court for not doing so.  As President Truman said of his successor President Eisenhower ‘He’ll sit here and he’ll say ‘Do this! Do that!’ and nothing will happen.  Poor Ike – it won’t be a bit like the army.’ (Heywood, Andrew (1997) Politics, p322, Palgrave: Basingstoke)

Bibliography:

Heywood, Andrew (1997) Politics, p320, 321,322, Palgrave: Basingstoke

The Constitution of the United States of America Article 2, Section’s 1 & 2: http://www.infoplease.com

Kennedy, Paul (1988) The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, p528, Fontana Press: London

Private Profit and Public Debt; The Continuing Hypocrisy of the ‘Free Market’

By Ian Howarth

Since the autumn of 2008 there has been one issue in politics on which if the surface is scratched a great sense of anger, almost rage can be found.  I am of course talking about the financial crisis and the crushing five year recession that has followed.  In particular I am angered by what I see as a great injustice being committed by our politicians on behalf of the richest people in the country and the world.   fat cat

Why has the British and America taxpayer continued to tolerate billions of pounds of their money being used to support the people and institutions that drove the economy onto the rocks, with out so much as an ounce of real reform to the mad and immoral practices of the institutions responsible.  In Britain today we are told by our leaders that we are living in an ‘Age of Austerity’. An austere age in which banks and market traders reap mighty profits while nurses, builders, and postal workers face redundancy!  An austerity that provides us with the spectacle of multimillion pound bonuses after the timely injection of billions of pounds worth of taxpayer’s money saved the financial system from collapse.   This is a strange and discriminating type of austerity, one that picks its way through society, sparing the hedge fund manager while leaving thousands of young people without work.

In truth most of us have yet to fully awaken to the scale of the crime against public decency that is being perpetrated in the halls of power and high finance today. Most of us are still reeling from the shock of finding that the promises of endless prosperity and an end to ‘boom and bust’ were in truth propped on so shaky a foundation that they were in reality as worthless as Lehman Brothers shares.

I simply find it impossible to fathom the sheer scope of the hypocrisy that our leaders on all sides of the political divide are trying to feed us.  There is an old maxim that cometh the hour, cometh the man.  This is the hour, but I do not see anyone of worth claiming the mandate of the people and providing the answers, or leadership I believe millions of us seek.     Where is our FDR?  We need someone to offer us a New Deal and put an end to the deceitful self-interests of the small and powerful elite who have raided the public purse in the interest of private enterprise.  Are we to simply watch as the financiers and corporate executives run away with our money leaving ordinary people to face cuts to their schools and hospitals in the name of efficiency and living within ‘our’ means?  Must we return to the old dying on trolleys in hospital corridors for a lack of funding and compassion?  We face growing poverty and a widening gap between those that have, and those that have not, all so that the corrupt system that delivered us to this place may survive.

The Banks are in reality broken, and so the state must take its just stake and make clear to those CEO’s and executives that a bank that is too big to fail, is too big to exist.  The retail and casino operations need to be separated and the state must regulate with a ruthless zeal those practices that have led us to this place.  To continue on our current trajectory is only to ensure that we face such crisis again, and to ignore the human suffering that it must inevitably contain.  The disconnect between profit and the real world must be ended and tethered to the wealth of the nation through the guarantee that the practices of these mighty financial institutions will be regulated to ensure that they are not simply printing money for their own executives, but engaged in economic activity that benefits the whole of society.

It is the role of the state to ensure that all sectors of the economy are operating not only to the benefit of shareholders but the nation at large.  However outrageous these suggestions may seem to the apostles of Friedman let us not forget the single biggest lesson of the last five years.  If this crisis had been left to the free market the financial system would have collapsed and many millions of us would have faced losing our pensions, savings and even our current accounts.  It was in the end the guarantee of the state, of the taxpayer, that all debts would be met, and all deposits honoured that allowed these banks to continue.  As long as it is true to say that the largest of our banks cannot be allowed to fail then the shareholders and speculators of these institutions are in fact taking no risks at all with their investments.  This is not a free market.  These banks can in reality do as they will because they now know that the state is their acting as a back stop should they hit choppy waters.  This is why the state has the right, and obligation to crack the whip and end the free ride.  We cannot continue to abide a system that allows for state welfare for banks, and financial institutions while they continue to preach a failed doctrine of free markets and light regulation.   The Banks  have been given an implicit guarantee of state support without any conditions set upon their practices.  This is both immoral and undemocratic. The leaders we rely on have placed their connections and friendships with the high flyers of the City of London over their responsibility to represent and protect the interests of the people and their money.

What we need is a system that rewards and punishes fairly, and recognises the right of democratic forces to exert control over the dangerous excesses that are inherent to capitalism.  It is clear to me that the last 30 years has witnessed a mighty experiment in free market economics, a de-regulation of everything with a simple and accepted mantra; leave it to the market to decide.  This experiment led us to this place and a world in which a few got very rich, but ultimately the taxpayer, not the free market had to carry the can.   This is not a choice between the inefficiencies of a command economy or the disastrous effects of deregulated free markets.  It is an argument for common sense, and the recognition that in a democracy the people have a rightful interest in economic policy, and the right to place certain demands and expectations on the corporations that seem to believe that as private enterprises they need only answer to the Board. The outcome of this crisis and the role of the state in averting an even greater disaster must mean an end to this hypocrisy within the free market.