The internet is freest in US hands

Internationalising internet governance will abridge liberty and restrict free speech

Edward Snowden’s revelations have strengthened demands for “extricating the internet from US control.” This is not a new phenomenon. Ever since Jon Postel died in 1998, governments and non-government organisations have been engaged in a long, complex and meandering process of somehow taking control over the internet. However, while outfits like ICANN and assorted United Nations forums have gotten into the act of “internet governance”, much of the internet remains in US hands. China might well be the country that has more internet users, but it has locked its citizens behind the Great Firewall and effectively created its own national intranet.

Mr Snowden’s revelations are grave, but shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with national security issues or the communications infrastructure business. So while a lot of international reaction is properly in the Captain Renault (“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”) category, there are some attempts by governments to secure greater control over internet. China, Russia and Brazil are expected to raise the pitch in the coming months.

It would be terrible thing if they succeed. Whatever the imperfections, whatever the US government’s transgressions, we are better off with as much of the internet coming under the US Constitution than the UN Charter.

Why so? Because there is no better political system—the constitution, separation of powers, civil society and citizens—than the United States today that can protect liberty and free speech. Start with Mr Snowden. Where is Russia’s Snowden? Where is China’s Snowden? Where is Brazil’s Snowden? The United States has strong and vocal free speech and privacy advocates who can hold their government accountable without fear of harm. It has a judicial system that is sufficiently independent as to overrule the executive if found violating the US constitution. Despite what cynics in the United States and detractors around the world say, the US system works. To the extent that it does, it protects everyone’s liberties (albeit to a lesser degree than it protects the liberties of US citizens).

For those who contend that this isn’t good enough, consider the alternative. The vast United Nations system that is accountable to exactly no one. The General Assembly has almost two hundred nation-states as members with varying degrees of commitment to upholding liberty. The Security Council reflects the balance of interests its permanent members, where such paragons of free speech as Russia and China have a veto. Let’s say that the UN creates a brand new UN Internet Governance Council to sit at the helm of internet governance. What is to prevent it from going the way of the UN Human Rights Council, where you don’t need any commitment to human rights to be a member, and where you can rule that free speech shouldn’t defame religion.

Now, those who argue that national governments must control the internet because they must exercise their sovereignty over their ‘territory’ of cyberspace have a logical argument when they call for the internationalisation of internet governance. However, it is unfathomable why proponents of free speech and liberty would want the world’s authoritarian regimes to have a say on how the internet is governed.

Calls for “extricating the internet from US control” are effectively facades for authoritarian states to further abridge the liberties of the world’s citizens. That is why they must be resisted. Indians are much better off putting their faith in their freedom-loving American counterparts than participating in grandiose international internet governance schemes.

The Syrian question

Obama’s appetite for a fight

David Ignatius has a good article in the Washington Post arguing that US credibility is at stake in Syria, and the consequences of a tattered credibility will hurt US interests in the region and beyond. In articulating what the Obama administration should do, he reflects what many commentators in Washington are saying: carry out a military strike to punish the Bashar Assad regime and deter it from carrying out further atrocities.

The main rationale for military action by the United States and its allies should be restoring deterrence against the use of chemical weapons. The strike should be limited and focused, rather than a roundhouse swing aimed at ending the Syrian civil war. But it should be potent enough to degrade Assad’s command-and-control structure so he can’t conduct similar actions in the future. Officials hope the strike will make a diplomatic settlement more possible; they don’t want a decapitation of the regime that would leave no counter-party for negotiation.[WP]

This prescription should sound reasonable to Barack Obama, a man too liberal to ignore the atrocities in Syria but too prudent to launch into a muscular military interventions abroad. The problem, though, is that while Mr Obama’s stakes are limited to shoring up US credibility, Mr Assad is battling for survival. So there is a good chance that Mr Assad will not be deterred or punished at any level short of being overthrown. Should this happen, Mr Obama will have a choice between a dented credibility (should Mr Assad brazen it out) or a much bigger military operation, that could trigger other conflicts.

Also, if the international intervention is ‘limited and focused’, the risk to civilian lives does not disappear. If the Assad regime continues, we can expect more bloodbath. If the Assad regime collapses, we can expect more bloodbath. It is not as if Mr Assad’s adversaries are liberal democrats who will spare the lives of members of the Assad regime or the sectarian/ethnic communities that are aligned to it.

There is enough happening in Syria for the United Nations to invoke the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) norm. It is quite unlikely that the dynamics of the UN Security Council will allow it. Even if there is an international intervention now, the expectation that it will be limited, focused, inexpensive or quick is likely to be unfounded. Protecting lives in Syria requires the United States to have the appetite for a big fight, and the tenacity to embroil itself into a longish peace-enforcing mission. If this is not forthcoming, it may perhaps be better to let events take their course and deal with the consequences.

From India’s perspective, any steps that heighten the risk of a conflict that raises oil prices and might cause supply disruptions will be undesirable. The domestic economic situation—and the current account deficit—looms larger on the minds of India’s political leaders than events in Syria. Expect Indian diplomacy to reflect this concern.

Book chapter: On humanitarian intervention & democracy promotion

India’s middle path

shapingtheemergingworld2x3_2x3I have contributed one chapter in “Shaping the Emerging World – India and the Multilateral Order“, a book edited by WPS Sidhu, Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Bruce Jones, and published by Brookings. According to the promotional material, it is, for “…anyone interested in the future of India’s burgeoning economy, twenty-two scholars have developed one of the most comprehensive volumes to date on India…” The list of authors has such stars as Shyam Saran, C Raja Mohan, Sanjaya Baru, Devesh Kapur, David Malone, Christophe Jaffrelot, Srinath Raghavan and Kanti Bajpai.

I’m sure the editors must have had something in mind when they tapped me to write a chapter on India and international norms: Responsibility to Protect (R2P), genocide prevention, human rights and democracy, as they must surely have been aware of my scepticism towards such norms and value promotion agendas. I wrote the chapter at an interesting time, when India had been on the UN Security Council and a number of countries in North Africa and the Middle East went into a wave of political transformation. Given that I was a critic of some of India’s positions at the UNSC during that period, the result is a chapter that is almost entirely devoid of romance. (That’s a good thing, in case you were thinking otherwise).

Here are a couple of excerpts from my chapter:

INTRODUCTION
The doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P), India’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations declared in speech in October 2012, “is the most important challenge that the international community, anchored in the United Nations, is going to face.”1 Arguing that the initial suspicion of many developing countries towards the newest norm in international relations was misplaced, he supported the need for a “collective response by the international community to ensure that mass atrocities like genocide, ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity do not take place.” Explaining why India had abstained in a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolution authorising military intervention in the Libyan civil war of 2011, he judged the implementation of the doctrine “gives R2P a bad name.”

The Indian diplomat’s arguments are a good example of India’s attitude towards international norms infringing on state sovereignty in furtherance of human security, human rights or liberal democratic goals. This chapter argues that India takes a middle path, supporting the evolution of human rights and democratic norms, but exercising caution in the manner of their implementation. It delves into the foundations of India’s policy approach towards two sets of norms: those concerning human security and those pertaining to liberal democracy. It interrogates these norms as they have evolved and examines them from an Indian perspective. It concludes by exploring how Indian foreign policy in the context of these norms might change as it emerges into a more powerful player in international politics.

THE MIDDLE PATH
Constitutional values, a democratic political culture and a diverse, plural society make India generally supportive of defending the world’s people from oppression, promoting human rights and democracy. New Delhi’s foreign policy orientation is at the very least consistent with a rules-based international order and is underpinned by liberal democratic values. The Indian republic’s subscription of liberal international norms, however, has been tempered both by competing norms and by reservations on the nature of international interventions. The result is a foreign policy that treads a middle path.

CONCLUSION
Even as Indian foreign policy made the transition from Nehru’s utopianism to the pragmatic realism of the post-Cold War governments, it never abandoned commitment to values. Normatively, New Delhi strikes a middle path. India is committed to genocide prevention, R2P, human rights and liberal democracy in principle, but has serious reservations regarding their practical implementation. The commitment is born out of its own national values. The reservations are borne out by its experience too.

India has been supporting multilateral efforts – or has acted unilaterally, on occasion – in response to international emergencies. It has been less enthusiastic in enterprises promoting liberal democratic norms, for it is a state primarily concerned with maintaining its own national unity, social transformation and economic development.

To what extent will India deviate from the middle path if it comes a bigger power in the international system? This chapter contends that the answer depends on whether the UN reforms itself to better reflect contemporary global balance of power, on the nature of India’s geopolitical footprint and on the extent of internationalism in Indian civil society. Broad trends indicate that it is likely that the Indian nation will become increasingly global-minded and internationalist, even if at a pace that is sometimes frustrating and other other times exhilarating. So the chances of the Indian republic becoming a rule-taker in the international system will improve to the extent that it is better accommodating into the rule-making circles of a reformed UN. A richer, more powerful India may yet be a stronger defender of human security around the world, if not simultaneously a champion of liberal democracy. [Shaping the Emerging World]

Dissolve the rogue UN human rights council

Kill it before it does more damage

We’ve said it before. The UN Human Rights Council is more than a farce. It is a rogue outfit that is poisoning the whole pond and has gone beyond the ability of liberal democracies of the world to control.

Freedom House’s Paula Schriefer reminds us that it is still stalking our freedoms, but she doesn’t go far enough:

This week, member states of the United Nations will vote on what has become an annual resolution, “On Combating Defamation of Religions,” put forward by the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a group of 57 states with large Islamic populations. The resolution condemns what it calls “defamation of religions”—a vague notion that can perhaps best be described as a form of expression that offends another’s religious sensibilities—and urges countries to enact laws that prohibit such forms of expression. The resolutions are part of a larger and dangerous campaign to create a global blasphemy law to combat what Muslim leaders refer to as “Islamophobia.”

Yet hypocrisy in Europe and the United States does not justify attempts to bring governmental oversight into what constitutes offensive expression. Even with the best intentions, which are often lacking, governments should never be in the business of policing speech. The tools of defeating intolerance, including religious intolerance, start with a legislative environment that protects people’s fundamental political rights and civil liberties, including freedom of expression. Blasphemy laws don’t work in any context and U.N. member states should reject them unconditionally. [NYT]

You can’t allow the hard won freedom that we have in India or in the United States to be snatched away by majority vote by a supra-national institution. The correct response is not so much to try and defeat the motion whenever it comes up—and it will come up again and again—but rather shut the whole thing down. No one will miss the demise of the UN Human Rights Council, except those who need it for purposes opposite to the reason it was was brought into existence.

Why have one Afghanistan

…when you can have two?

The call for the partitioning of Afghanistan is not new. In December 2003, for instance, Randall Parker of the ParaPundit blog argued that “(it) would be less trouble in the long run if Afghanistan was just split up with the Pashtuns getting their own country while the other groups either form a single country for a few separate countries. The other groups could even take pieces of Afghanistan and merge them with their ethnic brothers who speak the same languages and have much the same cultures in bordering northern countries.”

Yet, despite ethnic heterogeneity, foreign invasions, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the contemporary weakness of the Afghan state, the people of Afghanistan have a strong sense of nationhood. So while partitioning the country might have its attractions for geopolitical strategists, it is unlikely that the Afghan people will countenance such a project.

So what should we make of the recent debate that started after Robert Blackwill, one of the most astute American strategists, called for a de facto partition of Afghanistan?

The least worst option for the United States, Mr Blackwill contends, is to give the south to the Taliban, and concentrate on holding and building the north and the east of Afghanistan. This will not only turn the Pakistani military establishment’s dream of “strategic depth” into the nightmare of Pashtun nationalism, but also upset the tenuous ethnic balance in Pakistan by weakening Punjabi dominance. At a time when the conventional wisdom in Washington is to prevent the collapse of Pakistan, this is heretical. However, since this is also a time when the Obama administration is looking for ways out of the mess it is in—not least in terms of domestic politics—heresies might stand the best chance of gaining acceptance.

Mr Blackwill has already succeeded in exposing the weaknesses in the arguments of his critics. Ahmed Rashid points out that partition won’t be popular with Afghans (as if a Taliban takeover will be) and otherwise points to the bloodiness that accompanies a redrawing of borders (as if the status quo is bloodless). The “only solution” according to him, “is dialogue between the genuine Taliban leadership, Kabul and Washington for a power-sharing deal at both the centre and in the provinces.” This, from the man who wrote the book about the genuine Taliban leadership!

Chimaya Gharekhan and Karl Inderfurth reject the partition proposal and propose, instead, that “the solution lies in less or zero interference, not more, and certainly not military intervention, in Afghanistan’s affairs.” That is a very good idea. The question is how? The authors propose “that someone, preferably the Secretary-General of the United Nations, should engage in a diplomatic exercise to hold talks with all the parties and states concerned to establish a consensus, however defined, on arriving at a compact of mutual non-intervention and non-interference among all of Afghanistan’s neighbours.”

Now this might sound convincing if you are an optimist with faith in the United Nations, but the authors are silent about just why the Pakistani military establishment will play along? Pakistan might even sign such a treaty if the price is right, but if the force of US arms didn’t prevent the Pakistani army from interfering in Afghanistan, a piece of paper and the UN Secretary General’s platitudes are, to put it mildly, less likely to.

Perhaps the best critique of Mr Blackwill’s proposal comes from Pratap Bhanu Mehta. He charges the strategic establishments with hubris where “the relations between intention and action, ends and means, instruments and goals, costs and benefits seem to all be obscured by the self-satisfaction that we are at least making a next move.” His case for caution is well-made: that India “should not be tempted into actions whose consequences it cannot control.”

However, this injunction must be balanced against the concern that India should not be lulled into inactions whose consequences, likewise, it cannot control. What ultimately is likely decide the issue is the nature of the strategic cultures. Washington, with its action bias, ends up suffering the consequences of its action. New Delhi, with its (in)action bias, ends up suffering not only the consequences of its own inaction, but also the consequences of the actions of others.

For now, the call for the partition of Afghanistan, as both K Subrahmanyam and Mr Mehta note, is likely a shot across the bow, a warning for General Ashfaq Kayani. Even so, New Delhi would do well to prepare for such an outcome too.

Pax Indica: The G-20 opportunity

If you can’t fix the institutions that are supposed to fix the world’s problems, use new ones

In today’s Pax Indica column, I argue that “India must use the G-20 to present the UN, the World Bank and the IMF with a simple choice: reform or face irrelevance.”

Like Groucho Marx who didn’t want to belong to any club that would accept him as a member, there is something aspirational about getting into the coolest clubs, universities or corporations, and in India’s case, the UN Security Council. But why waste time and energy trying to get into something that would rather go belly-up than accept you as a member, when you already belong to a club that, with some effort on your part, can be the most powerful club in town? [Yahoo! India]

Who killed Benazir Bhutto?

Quite likely, the same people who perverted the investigation

The UN investigative commission enquiring into the Benazir Bhutto assassination has—given the context—shown some cojones. Not only did it put into writing what the United States likes to hide under a rug of diplomatese, it also refused the allow the Pakistani government to bury the report under one pretext or the other. Note how the UN commission organised a press conference and made the report public after it appeared that the Pakistani government might not.

The commissioners don’t explicitly say who ordered the assassination—which is fair, given the lack of evidence—but leave the reader with the unmistakable impression that the military establishment is culpable. You don’t need to be an Erast Fandorin to conclude this, but precisely because the Pakistani government (of President Asif Zardari and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani) can’t even complete an investigation into the killing of one of Pakistan’s most popular leaders, it is pointless to expect it to deliver anything in terms of arresting the perpetrators of the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai.

That silly game of dossiers-and-lawsuits is pointless and ought to stop. Other than making the Indian government look stupid, powerless and incompetent in front of its own people, this absurd routine achieves nothing.

Back to the UN commissions report: you should read it for its decent attempt to describe what the Pakistani ‘Establishment’ is, for its bald assessment that the ISI covered up its tracks and for a good account of the methods it used. The UN commission squarely puts the military establishment in the dock. But because General Kayani has masterfully turned public opinion around in favour of the army, it’s unlikely that the report will amount to anything.

Riyadh passes the buck, and wins a round

Understanding the Saudi Arabian position on sanctions on Iran

Just what did the Saudi foreign minister mean when he refused to back international sanctions on Iran “because we are closer to the threat (and therefore an ) need immediate resolution rather than gradual resolution”? Riyadh’s position is surprising not least because, as it transpired at a recent conference in Abu Dhabi, organised by NYU’s Centre for International Co-operation and Brookings, the Gulf states stridently called upon China to recognise which side of the Persian Gulf it had more at stake and stop shielding Iran from UN sanctions. [Richard Gowan has more about the conference over at Global Dashboard]

And more importantly, just what does is the “immediate resolution” that Prince Saud al-Faisal called for? As Dan Drezner suggests (linkthanks Pragmatic Euphony) these could only mean a deniable nod for preventive air strikes by Israel or a signal that Riyadh will activate its contingency plan for its own nuclear deterrent.

So what could this be about? The answer, in all likelihood, is that Saudi Arabia just passed the buck.

In the event this is about encouraging the United States and Israel to exercise the military option against Iran’s nuclear facilities, Saudi Arabia benefits to the extent its regional rival suffers while it is the United States and Israel that will attract Muslim anger across the world.

If, on the other hand, the United States & Israel—wisely—do not use force against Iran, Riyadh can blame Washington for being unable to prevent Iran’s nuclearisation and exercise its options to procure its own deterrent. Iran is unlikely to attack Saudi Arabia with nuclear weapons anyway, leaving Israel as the net loser. Like India, Israel will have to contend with “jihad under the protection of a nuclear umbrella”.

Either way, Saudi Arabia wins.

In contrast, if it indeed had backed sanctions against Iran, it would have to do its share of the dirty work of having to persuade China to stop protecting Iran. Beijing would extract a price for its acquiescence equal to, if not exceeding the loss to its commercial interests in Iran, which Riyadh would have to substantially bear. In the end, all these costs would come to nought, because sanctions are unlikely to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. In the unlikely event that sanctions do work, the outcome would effectively be one where Saudi Arabia would have paid for Israel’s security. It’s not hard to see why the Saudis didn’t back sanctions.

What happens next? It’s unlikely that Riyadh will be satisfied with a US nuclear umbrella even if it were offered by Washington. If Iran proceeds with its plans to build a nuclear weapon, we will discover who Pakistan was making all that fissile material for.

Pragati February 2010: The Mumbai Project

Almost three years ago, the Percy Mistry Committee report recommended that India develop Mumbai into an international financial centre. Like other plans to modernise the city’s infrastructure and public services, the Mistry Committee’s recommendations were substantially unimplemented.

This month, we argue that it is time for the Indian government to revisit the Mumbai project. It is also time for India to embrace an entirely new urbanisation paradigm.

Another highlight of this issue: Shashi Tharoor defends India’s continued engagement with the United Nations. On that topic, don’t miss the infographic on India’s participation in UN peacekeeping operations elsewhere in the issue.

We also cover topics in naval strategy; the importance of defence economics in planning and budgeting; intelligence relations between the CIA & ISI and the conflict in Balochistan. There’s a lot more.

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