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Month: July 2016

Philippines’ lightning-rod president Duterte charts a surprising course

Written by Pauline Eadie.

The Philippines’ highly controversial president, Rodrigo Roa Duterte, has delivered his first State of the Nation address – and what a spectacle it turned out to be.

It was scheduled to last 38 minutes, but went on for 140. Its tone oscillated between a formal presidential address and free-spirited informality; the hashtag for it, #SONA2016, was trending worldwide for hours after it finished.

As Duterte went on, he visibly relaxed and increasingly wandered off-script with his comments. At times he stumbled over words – but this only added to the impression that he was speaking from the heart. Duterte used the speech to address many of the criticisms against him, particularly his relationship with the rule of law and human rights.

May the Force Be With You: Britain’s New Government

Written by Tim Haughton.

For once the journalistic clichés were not over the top. The 23 June referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union was a seismic event, an earthquake which brought a dose of destruction to the British political scene: the Prime Minister resigned, allies knifed each other in the Conservative party leadership election, a new Prime Minister was appointed who then undertook one of the most extensive cabinet reshuffles of modern times with some eye-catching appointments and the leader of the Opposition lost a no confidence vote of his parliamentary colleagues. Even caffeine-fuelled journalists found it difficult to keep up with the speed of events.

Like all earthquakes tensions had been building for some time. Divisions in the Conservative party had been evident since the UK first applied to join the then European Economic Community in the 1960s, but since the late 1980s the party had begun to tear itself apart over Britain’s continuing membership of the EU. Whilst a sizeable slice of the Leave vote in the referendum came from traditional Conservative voters in the heartlands of rural England, the Leave side was bolstered by disaffected Labour voters. Both groups were mobilized and emboldened by Leave’s alluring slogan to ‘Take Back Control’. A significant proportion of traditional working class Labour voters, many of whom had stayed at home in previous elections or who had cast their votes for UKIP, used their votes to express their discontent with the state of the government and to give the political class a good kicking.

Labour is turning the tragedy of 1981 into a very modern farce

Written by Matthew Cole.

As the Labour Party begins its leadership contest, it may be a faux pas to mention Karl Marx. But many party members must be thinking of his observation that everything in history happens twice – the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.

Take Labour’s current predicament: an elderly, leftist leader faces a new Conservative Prime Minister. He is burdened by divisions over his own competence, his policy on Europe, the economy and defence, and wrangling over his party’s constitution. Change Jeremy Corbyn for Michael Foot, Theresa May for Margaret Thatcher and have the nation enthralled by Brideshead Revisited instead of Downton Abbey and you’re back in 1981.

The Labour Party is in some ways better off today than in 1981; in others, worse. Either way, the resonance is not a good sign for the opposition in the near future.

Why British politicians find it so hard to vote against nuclear weapons

Written by Nick Ritchie.

In 1982, Robert Lifton and Richard Falk wrote about the condition of “nuclearism” – the idea that nuclear weapons can solve our political, strategic and social problems and that they are an essential means of ensuring peace.

This ideology is based on a series of illusions. It rests on the assumption that the use of nuclear weapons can be managed, that their effects can be controlled, and that protection and recovery in a nuclear war are meaningful ideas. Nuclearism thrives despite the absence of compelling evidence about the security benefits of nuclear weapons.

It is argued that the nuclear deterrence prevented the Cold War from turning into all out war. But as academic Benoît Pelopidas argues:

The nuclear peace is not a fact. It is a hypothesis trying to link two observable facts: the existence of nuclear weapons in the world since 1945 and the absence of war between the United States and the Soviet Union during the same period. The nuclear peace hypothesis faces the challenge of proving a negative. In these circumstances, faith in the nuclear peace becomes a bet or a matter of trust.

Why China won’t back off the South China Sea – whatever the world might say

Written by Jing Cheng.

A much-anticipated ruling on the South China Sea dispute initiated against China by the Philippines finally came down – and unsurprisingly, the Hague-based international tribunal that judged it ruled in favour of the Philippines, rejecting China’s claims of historical rights to the sea’s resources.

The Philippines welcomed the ruling, and celebrated it as a devastating legal blow to China’s claims in the contested waters. Filipinos coined a new word, “Chexit”, inspired by the term Brexit, to symbolise that China is out of the South China Sea.

The reaction from China was furious. Its Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately declaredthat “the award is null and has no binding force”, and that China “neither accepts nor recognises it”. Xinhua, the state news agency, said the tribunal was “law-abusing” and its award “ill-founded”. Meanwhile Beijing released a white paper reiterating its claims to the South China Sea and adhering to the position that the dispute should be settled through negotiations.

After Warsaw: NATO, Russia and facing hybrid warfare

Written by Bettina Renz.

The Warsaw Summit Communiqué issued by the heads of state participating in the NATO summit in Warsaw from 8-9 July 2016 heavily focuses on the alliance’s capabilities required for dealing with ‘hybrid warfare’. This concept became prominent in the aftermath of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and has since established itself firmly in the official parlance not only of NATO, but also of various Western governments and military establishments. ‘Hybrid warfare’ describes an approach to war relying not only on conventional military means, but also on non-military means, such as information, disinformation, psychological operations and the use of proxy fighters. The idea gained traction in the aftermath of Crimea, because Russia achieved its objectives there with minimal use of force. This stood in stark contrast to the fairly traditional military campaigns Russia had conducted in Chechnya and in Georgia in 2008, which relied on heavy firepower. Russia’s approach in Crimea evoked fears in the West that Russia had found a new way of war that would be hard for NATO and the West to counter.

New Administration, New Future: Reducing Disaster and Risk in the Philippines

Written by Maria Ela L. Atienza

When Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte officially assumed office last week, disaster preparedness was the one of the issues he addressed during the first official Cabinet meeting of his administration. The President talked about his experience when he brought a rescue team from Davao to Tacloban in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda in 2013. Based on this experience, the President cited the need to pre-position equipment in disaster-prone areas to enable the government to provide aid to affected residents.

This development is a promising sign that the new administration will look closely into improving disaster risk reduction and management (DRRM) in a country that is prone to natural and human-made disasters. The new government will definitely consult experts and practitioners in the field of DRRM to improve the existing framework and to prevent high loss of lives and property and minimize vulnerabilities of people and communities in future calamities. These experts and practitioners will probably advise the administration to focus not just on relief and rehabilitation but more importantly, on disaster risk reduction. However, the Duterte administration could also spend some time listening to what young people think about DRRM and other issues facing the country. After all, the Philippines has a large young population. The overall youth literacy rate is about 97% and the country’s median age is 24.4 years.     

Chilcot’s verdict: the Iraq War was a failure of oversight and planning

Written by Louise Kettle.

It’s been a long time coming, but the Chilcot Report into the Iraq War, all 2.6m words of it, is finally out. And contrary to some expectations, it’s far from a whitewash.

Although it will take time to wade through the details of this hefty document, it’s already clear that few people have escaped the careful and critical eye of the inquiry – including former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the intelligence community, and the military.

The report’s key point is that the Iraq War happened principally because of failures to challenge key parts of the case for war and to plan for the invasion’s aftermath. From the outset, the report makes clear that the war was not one of last resort, that Iraq posed no imminent threat to the UK, that the intelligence assessments the government drew on were ill-founded, and that more peaceful options should have been exhausted before military ones were entertained.

Controlling the Media in Japan

Written by Griseldis Kirsch.

“Freedom of assembly and association as well as speech, press and all other forms of expression are guaranteed. No censorship shall be maintained, nor shall the secrecy of any means of communication be violated.” (Article 21, Constitution of Japan)

In spite of this clear embracement of Freedom of Press, Japanese politicians, most notably of the ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP for short) have long been engaged in fights to maintain control over the media. How is this even possible in a country that has a democratic constitution in which all human rights are enshrined?

Looking back at the history of the mass media in Japan, censorship was a common practice before 1945. State-controlled censors made sure that the news that were put on the air, or printed, were in line with government policy. This, naturally, worsened during the Asia-Pacific-War (1937-1945), as Japanese failures had to be disguised as successes. During the Occupation (1945-1952), a democratic Constitution was drafted, yet ‘tradition’, or customary right, continued to co-exist alongside. The press clubs, kisha kurabu in Japanese, is one such example. Founded in the late 19th century, they are informal gatherings between authorities and media, accessible only by invitation. Generally, all media outlets would have access to the important press clubs, and they have become the most important means of passing on information. As a result, newspaper headlines in Japan, at least of the big national newspapers, are fairly similar, and articles tend to be descriptive rather than analytical – as they all share the same source of information.

What to expect from the Iraq Inquiry report

Written by Louise Kettle

 Since 23rd June British politics has been focused on the fallout from Brexit, but this week another tremor will be hitting the establishment. On Wednesday the long awaited Iraq Inquiry report will be published. So what should we expect?

  1. A long read

The inquiry into the Iraq War has lasted longer than the war itself. Announced in June 2009 it began hearing evidence in November of the same year. It had the huge scope of examining the run-up to the war, the military action and its aftermath and was tasked with establishing what happened during this time and what lessons could be learned for the future.