Cornell International Affairs Observer - Vol. 2 No. 2

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An independent student publication by the Cornell International Affairs Society


Terrorism, Diplomacy, and the State Life After Death: When the Foreign Fighters of ISIS Return Home A Discourse on the Efforts to Establish a Kurdish Nation State: Part II America Should Support U.S. Shale Oil Production Against OPEC What’s the Point? Presidential Elections in Africa


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EDITORS-IN-CHIEF: Marc Masson ● Catherine Hwang WRITERS & STAFF: Ben Abeles ● TJ Ball Yuichiro Kakutani ● Lyse Mauvais Designed by Catherine Hwang Cover image courtesy of Independent Diplomat Copyright © 2016 by the Cornell International Affairs Society All rights reserved. This document or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the editors of the Cornell International Affairs Observer except when used for educational purposes. Commercial reproduction or reference to this document requires the express written consent of the editors of the Cornell International Affairs Observer. Further terms of use for commercial purposes will be determined on a case-by-case basis.



From the Editors


Terror, Diplomacy, and the State: Interview with Carne Ross

Marc Masson, Catherine Hwang

Marc Masson


Life After Death: When the Foreign Fighters of ISIS Return Home Ben Abeles


A Discourse on the Efforts to Establish a Kurdish Nation State: Part II Thomas (TJ) Ball


America Should Support U.S. Shale Oil Production Against OPEC Yuichiro Kakutani


What’s the Point? Presidential Elections in Africa Lyse Mauvais



MARC MASSON Marc is a senior in the ILR School, concentrating in International and Comparative Labor and minoring in International Relations, Law & Society, European Studies, and Public Policy. A dual French and American citizen, Marc spent his childhood attending a French international school in Chicago, IL. In addition to his involvement with CIAO, Marc is a Worker Institute Research Fellow and the Native French Speaker for the Cornell Language House. Marc is interested in learning about the challenges of international development, and especially those pertaining to decent employment and access to justice.

From the Editors Dear Reader, The Cornell International Affairs Observer has continued to grow fast in the last two months, and we are proud to present our second edition to you. This bi-monthly publication aims to bring to you the astute analysis of students passionate about the world of international affairs right here at Cornell. From a discussion of the global implications of ISIS, to a defense of democratic processes in fragile African states, our writers have produced thought-provoking commentary on some of the most important issues in the world today. We are also especially excited to include an interview with Carne Ross, Executive Director of Independent Diplomat. In our conversation with him, he takes us behind the public face of international diplomacy by sharing his insights gained from more than 25 years working for the British Foreign Service, the United Nations, and at the head of his own diplomatic advisory group. His interview is only the first of many CIAO will publish with other distinguished professionals in the world of international affairs. We hope you enjoy reading this publication. If you are interested in becoming involved in writing in the field of international affairs, CIAO is always looking for more writers from across the Cornell University undergraduate and graduate student body. Please contact either Marc ( and Catherine ( with a potential topic to get started.

CATHERINE HWANG Catherine is a junior in Arts & Sciences, double majoring in Government and Information Science, concentrating in Digital Culture and Production in the latter, and minoring in German Studies. Before coming to Cornell, she enjoyed the temperate weather of the San Francisco Bay Area. Beyond CIAO, Catherine writes for the Arts sections of the Cornell Daily Sun, works as a research assistant and as a TA. She is interested in studying revolutions and the flow and ebb of thought, ideas, and ideologies.

All the Best, Marc Masson ‘17 Catherine Hwang '18 Editors-in-Chief




Terrorism, Diplomacy, and the State Carne Ross, Executive Director of Independent Diplomat, gives his unique perspective on international diplomacy, the United Nations, and rethinking the war on terror Marc Masson,

MM: My name is Marc Masson, and I’m here with Carne Ross, Executive Director of Independent Diplomat. It’s a pleasure to have you here. CR: Thank you.


MM: Mr. Ross, you’ve had an extensive career in international affairs, serving as the Middle East expert of the British Delegation to the UN Security Council during 9/11 and the Iraq War and as Strategy Coordinator for the UN in Kosovo. What drew you to the foreign service, and what eventually caused you to leave?

Carne Ross is the Executive Director of Independent Diplomat, a non-profit organization that he founded in 2004 to provide diplomatic advisory services to governments unrecognized by the United Nations or left out of international debates on issues pertaining to them. His clients have included the governments of Kosovo, Somaliland, and the Marshall Islands, as well as the Syrian National Coalition, among others.

CR: What drew me was that I was fascinated by international relations, I loved the outside world, I loved being abroad, I found it gripping and interesting, I loved the idea of being part of that group of people who helped organize the world. Slightly arrogant I believe, but that was the truth. The reason I left was [because of] Iraq. I worked on [the subject of] weapons of mass destruction and inspections for the British Government. I testified, in secret, to the first official inquiry into the war. The government had lied about the war, and had ignored alternatives to war. So when I testified, I resigned.

Before founding Independent Diplomat, Carne Ross served as the Head of the Middle East Section at the British Mission to the United Nations, and negotiated several Security Council resolutions on Iraq after the 9/11 attacks and on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He later served as the Strategy Coordinator for the United Nations in Kosovo, before leaving the UN and the British Foreign Service in 2004 after giving then-secret evidence to the first official civilian inquiry into the Iraq war. Carne Ross is the author of two books, Independent Diplomat: Dispatches from an Unaccountable Elite (Hurst, 2007) and The Leaderless Revolution: How ordinary people will take power and change politics in the 21st century (Penguin, 2011) and has written about international and political affairs for a wide variety of publications including The Financial Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian.

MM: So that led you to found Independent Diplomat to do diplomacy differently. How has the organization evolved since its found in 2004? CR: It began in Kosovo where I was working. I started advising the democratically elected government of Kosovo on the diplomatic process on the future of Kosovo, from which Kosovo was excluded. That’s where Independent Diplomat started – it wasn’t an

For more information on Carne Ross:



NGO, in those days it was just me. But the model of offering advice and support to a country, a government, a democratically representative government, about the diplomatic processes [affecting] them is what Independent Diplomat does today.

In the end it was the Security Council who made the recommendation, and that is the way it is supposed to be in the [UN] Charter, but it is a GA decision. I think that the source of his authority has shifted, and, if he is clever, he could use that to transform the UN and kill the poison of the P-5’s influence at the UN, which is a very pernicious thing.

MM: There was a lot of excitement this year on the prospect of the United Nations potentially selecting its first woman to the post of Secretary General. What do you think of the ultimate decision to elect António Guterres of Portugal to the position?

MM: Do you expect him to reduce the power of the P-5 relative to the GA? CR: He would never put it that way because he doesn’t want to make enemies of them, but the big power that he has is the power of appointing who runs the parts of the Secretariat [and] the big UN agencies, and normally those jobs have been split amongst the P-5 in a way that hasn’t necessarily promoted the best candidates. So what would be much better is if he appoints very good, competent, independent people who could make independent recommendations to the UN Security Council. That would be a big improvement.

CR: It is fairly interesting because the selection was very different this year from how it has normally been done. Normally it is just the P-5 deciding things together in secret. There was an element of that this year, but also at the same time members of the GA successfully pushed for a much more open process, and for candidates to be questioned by GA members, by any member state of the UN, plus some civil society at some points, to test the candidates on their skills and qualifications. Initially I was very skeptical of this, thinking that is was just a pale imitation of American confirmation hearings. But actually what it produced was a very thorough questioning of the candidates. What this revealed was that one candidate in particular was much stronger than the others. Everybody who attended these hearings said the same thing, which was interesting. Nobody expected this before the process began. The UN expected a woman to be selected, a woman from eastern Europe. The fact that we got a man from western Europe was a surprise, but the reason that happened was because he was so much better than everybody else. And whilst I would have preferred a woman, which I believe was the consensus view at the UN, I think, to be honest, that is it more important to have somebody who is very good, because the UN desperately needs strong and competent leadership. Hopefully António Guterres can provide that.

MM: As of late July, the U.N. Peacekeeping Mission to Western Sahara is still not “fully functional” after UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon angered Morocco by referring to its annexation of the region as an occupation in April. Can you tell us more about the politics that may be going in the shadows which are resulting in the current situation? CR: It’s a good question. Basically what’s happening here is that Morocco is testing the limits of the UN’s willingness to accept its transgressions. So it’s done a couple of things. It has repudiated the personal envoy Christopher Ross a year or so ago, it has tried to get rid of MINURSO (United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara), and at the moment it is building in the liberated zone, the piece of the territory that is not occupied by Morocco, and this too is a flagrant and direct violation of the military agreements that comprise the status quo. Unfortunately, the UN Security Council, influenced above all by France, has refused to stand up firmly against Morocco’s behavior. So Morocco is continuing to push, and that is the sort of meta-strategic explanation of what’s going on. But it reveals a deeper truth – that the UN Security Council has been for a long time unwilling to force Morocco to accept its obligation to hold a referendum for the self-determination of the territory, which Morocco accepted in the agreement that ended the war in 1991. What we’re seeing here is a pattern of Morocco’s repudiation of its own obligations under Securi-

MM: So do you think that this is a positive sign of the UN reforming itself? CR: It’s not a revolution, but it’s progress. You know it will be another 8 years until they do it again, which is a long time. It is hardly established procedure yet. But the fact that he was appointed in this way will hopefully give him a greater sense of his own independence and authority, rather than being so politically dependent on the P-5. There is more of a sense this time around that he was picked by the GA as well.



ty Council resolutions, but at the same time that the Security Council has proven itself unwilling to stand up for its resolutions firmly enough to ensure that Morocco respects its obligations.

ality. That has not proven a very successful approach. Of course, I believe that the international community should support local efforts at peacemaking, but the trouble is that those do not often fit in the agendas of outside powers. The international community, whether it is Russia, China, the US, France, Britain… they’re not disinterested, they are not purely interested in peace. They claim to be, but they are not. They are interested parties with their own geopolitical interests in these conflicts. I’m not saying that they wish to sustain all of them, but there are certainly some cases where they are part of the problem, not the solution.

MM: In light of the many violent conflicts occurring today within sovereign states, some rooted in international terrorism like ISIS and Boko Haram, what can the international community do to better respond to these conflicts and the resulting humanitarian crises? CR: I don’t think it’s easy. You have to first of all take a case specific approach. I think that each of these problems has local origins – Al-Shabaab has its origins in the history of Somalia, which most people don’t have a clue about. Boko Haram in Nigeria has its origins in the neglect of the north by a southern based government. ISIS itself flows directly from circumstances inside Iraq during the Allied occupation, and you have to attend to these circumstances if you are going to have any hope of resolving these conflicts. I don’t think that global universalist measures are particularly helpful, [and] they haven’t proven themselves effective. I am very much a believer in bottom-up action rather than top-down. I think that the top-down approach of the global war on terror, a state-based, authoritarian approach based on the use of force and surveillance, has been a total failure and has led to the spread of terrorist violence, not its reduction.

MM: You’ve been very critical of the current governmental and international institutions controlling our societies and meddling in conflicts – which is part of the reason you left the foreign service. Meanwhile, at Cornell, there are many students interested in pursuing careers in international affairs. What can these students do now or in the future to fulfill their aspirations but at the same time change the current systems of international governance for the better? CR: I think it is very difficult today, but I think it is a great subject to be interested in. There are thousands of different opportunities and things you could be doing. I don’t necessarily recommend working for a government institution, and that is certainly not the only option. If you do pursue that option, keep an eye on your conscience and your moral compass, because it can sometimes be easy to lose sight of that. Look to others, your friends and your family, to keep you on track. I was involved in many things that turned out to be deeply immoral, which I regret, and I’m afraid that in government you are surrounded by people who go along with that and will reaffirm that view of the world. And that is very unhealthy. What I say to people who ask me about careers in international relations […] is go to international relations, be a part of it, go to the outside world, don’t talk about the rest of the world sitting in Washington. Go to Jordan, South Africa – you will find the experience extraordinary and transformative almost wherever it is, and you will understand those places far better than anyone sitting back here doing regional studies, and that is a very instructive experience. I would also say “stay flexible,” and don’t do anything you don’t love. Life is too short, you shouldn’t compromise. It is difficult finding the right work, and getting paid and paying off your

MM: So where are the people leading this bottom-up approach? Are they from the regions affected by these conflicts? CR: I would submit that the people who best know how to deal with Boko Haram would be found in northern Nigeria. The people who would best know how to deal with ISIS would be in Iraq. Why don’t we ask them what they think for once? We never do ask them, and that’s one the problems. MM: And then the international community can back their proposals? CR: [Laughs] Well we are now truly in the realms of fantasy, because that’s not how the “international community” works. Instead diplomats and officials sit in capitals and make up pictures of what they think is happening, and then try to impose their views on re-



student loans, I know that, but at the same time you should always feel that what you’re doing is in line with your values, and if it is not, you simply will not be happy and there is no point doing it. A special thanks to Carne Ross for his time and insights and the Einaudi Center for their help in arranging this interview. This interview was conducted on 28 October 2016.



Life After Death When the Foreign Fighters of ISIS Return Home Ben Abeles,

“All of us with a memory of the ‘80s and ‘90s saw the line drawn from Afghanistan in the ‘80s and ‘90s to Sept. 11…We see Syria as that, but an order of magnitude worse in a couple of respects. Far more people going there.

to maintain power; in the north, Kurds are fighting to establish independence; and to the east ISIS remains the common enemy of all. Beyond Syria’s borders, however, major powers hold major stakes. Iran and Russia back the Assad regime while Iran and Turkey seek its ousting. Turkey— for whom the conflict in Syria, its neighbor, is perhaps the most salient—has been unsettled by the influx of two million Syrian refugees and the potential creation of a Kurdish state2. Russia holds its only Middle Eastern naval base in Syria while ideological and regional concerns motivate Iran’s involvement. Saudi Arabia seeks only to heighten the costs of Iranian efforts. Meanwhile, the primary objectives of the United States— weary from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—have been the destruction of ISIS, and the overall de-escalation of the conflict in order to dampen both migrant flow and radicalization. That so many powerful states have so many different and competing interests indicates that risks of escalation must not be understated.

Far easier to travel to and back from. So, there’s going to be a diaspora out of Syria at some point and we are determined not to let lines be drawn from Syria today to a future 9/11.” - FBI Director James B. Comey, May 2014

Conventional wisdom is enough to understand the precariousness of the conflict in Syria. Commentators, notably RAND Corporation authors James Dobbins, Philip Gordon and Jeffrey Martini, are correct in arguing that a bargain for ceasefire is at this point the optimal solution. While such analyses are by no means myopic, they fail to accurately depict the risk of the foreign fighter to all countries involved. ISIS will not, as these articles assume, plainly cease to exist. Incorporating the costs of the foreign fighter into bargaining calculations could serve to expedite the very bargaining process.3 Terrorism is a threat to all countries involved, as demonstrated by even a brief survey of attacks in the past two years. Reiterating the danger


o conflict in recent memory has been so complex, so internationally engaging, and so globally threatening as the ongoing war in Syria. Sparked by protests against President Bashar Al Assad in 2011, the war has in just five years evolved into a conflagration setting ethnic, religious, and political sects against one another, all backed by the unending support of major powers. The war is civil, breaking down in simplest terms accordingly: opposition groups seek overthrow Assad; Assad is determined

Horowitz, Sari and Adam Goldman. “FBI Director: Number of Americans Traveling to Fight in Syria Increasing,” Washington Post, May 2, 2014 2 Dobbins, James, Jeffrey Martini and Philip Gordon. “A Peace Plan for Syria.” Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2015. 7. 3 Lake, David A. “Two Cheers for Bargaining Theory: Assessing Rationalist Explanations of the Iraq War.” International Security, 35, no. 3, 2010. 50. 1


CORNELL INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS OBSERVER | OCTOBER 2016 of not only ISIS, but its ability to engrain and spread radical ideology, is indeed a fact that must not be overlooked in any negotiating process or recommendation. For this reason, I aim to shed light on the real threats posed by foreign fighters.

al Qaeda. Among the Afghan Arabs were Osama bin Laden and Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, eventual founders of al Qaeda. After Afghanistan (and Azzam’s death in 1989), bin Laden and his cohorts found refuge in Sudan, where the group’s focus shifted towards jihad against the United States. Eventually expelled from Sudan, bin Laden returned to Afghanistan, tapping into the network he formed during Soviet invasion. While the skills that Afghan Arabs obtained may during the Soviet invasion are difficult to quantify, it is the tightly-knit and expansive network of jihadists that remains of interest.

As millions of Syrians have fled death and destruction, thousands of have rushed with zeal to the Levant to join the ranks of ISIS. For at least the last two years of the conflict, consensus among international security leaders is that the cultivation of these fighters pose a long-term threat. The danger of the conflict in Syria is therefore twofold: on the broadest and shortest term level, it seems that war between major states is becoming more and more likely; long term projections are geared towards future waves of terrorism invoked by the return of the 20,000 foreign fighters of ISIS4. In this paper, I examine if, how and to what degree these foreign fighters will pose danger of further and future terrorism and radicalization. Considering both the current state of affairs and a brief historical analysis, I conclude that these foreign fighters should be at the least a cause of concern and policy action. First, the flow of people from Turkey into Europe must be controlled and mitigated. Likewise, ISIS’s use of Twitter and online propaganda must be controlled and studied. Finally, the current surge of returned foreign fighters entering European prisons allows for the fast spread of radicalization. While I am not the first writer to raise an argument of this sort, it seems that it is evermore and increasingly pertinent to factor such considerations into short-term policy for the destruction of ISIS and long-term policy on anti-radicalization.

Given the fact that in just five years over 20,000 foreign fighters have flocked to Syria, it stands to reason that the reverse flow of these jihadists will give birth to further radicalization and violence. How much and to what degree remain the question; as the war has evolved, so have commentators’ analyses. QUANTIFYING RISK AND ADJUSTING EXPECTATIONS In a 2014 paper, two Brookings Institution writers explored parallels between Syrian foreign fighters and their predecessors of Afghanistan. As the title, “Be Afraid. A Little Afraid,” of the paper suggests Byman and Shapiro reach the conclusion that although the quantity of foreign fighters is high, a number of mitigating factors inherent to the Syrian conflict— combined with Western government’s security capabilities—lessen the threat these foreign fighters will pose. Thinking of attacks Paris and Brussels (which occurred after the writing of their paper), some may now view this claim as naïve. However, Byman and Shapiro’s model is incredibly useful for understanding the phenomena of the foreign fighter: a person becomes motivated to fight; he then travels to the country of interest; in country he develops skills, gains access to the greater jihadi network, and adopts more radical views; he then returns to his home country and avoids law enforcement; finally, he plots and carries out and attack, recruiting new fighters in so doing6. The cycle is illustrated nicely in Byman and Shapiro’s schematic (next page):

LESSONS LEARNED: AFGHANISTAN During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, around 20,000 foreign fighters traveled to the country to support local mujahedeen. No more than a few thousand were ever in Afghanistan simultaneously; moreover, these foreign fighters lacked experience and were often of little utility5. What these foreign fighters would go on to do, however, may indicate the possible actions of those who will eventually return from the battlefields of Syria. The most notable example is the well-known story of

Atteridge, Amber. “Foreign Fighters Post Conflict: Assessing the Impact of Arab Afghans and Syrian-Iraqi Foreign Fighters on Global Security,” International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, 2016. 3. 5 Hegghammer, Thomas. "The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters: Islam and the Globalization of Jihad." International Security 35, no. 3 (Winter 2010/11): 63. 6 Byman, Daniel and Jeremy Shapiro. Be Afraid. Be a Little Afraid: The Threat of Terrorism from Western Foreign Fighters in Syria and Iraq. 7. 4


CORNELL INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS OBSERVER | OCTOBER 2016 security services have also disrupted five plots with possible links to Syrian foreign fighters to date, in locales ranging from Kosovo to the United Kingdom.”8 Byman and Shapiro downplay the threat (rationally so) according to the climate in which they wrote. BRUSSELS AND PARIS AND BRUSSELS Our worst fears, however, seem to be coming to fruition. After the Nemmouche attack, there were few (publicly known) attempts at attacks by returned foreign fighters. In November of last year, however, this trend reversed with the attacks in Paris; the March attacks in Brussels have further raised concern about foreign fighters. Four of the 11 Paris assailants had at one point fought in Syria before returning to France and orchestrating their attack. Linked to these attackers was Najim Laachraoui, one of the two eventual suicide bombers in the Brussels airport. Days after the Brussels attack, the links between Syria and France, Belgium were clear: “Mr. Laachraoui, like Mr. Abdeslam and the suspected architect of the Paris attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, is a veteran of the conflict in Syria. He traveled there in February 2013, helping to blaze a jihadist trail that has since been taken by hundreds of other young Muslims from Belgium, Europe’s biggest source of jihadist fighters relative to population size.”9 While the fact that Laachraoui and the Paris attackers were connected—ISIS claims Laachraoui made the bombs used in Paris and Laachraoui did rent a house that was inhabited by the Paris attackers— may weaken the argument that all foreign fighters pose a great threat (one could argue they all acted as part of the same cell, even if not simultaneously), the attack in Paris and the second in Brussels demonstrate that foreign fighters may have a much higher capacity for large-scale terror acts than did Nemmouche, who returned during an earlier part of the conflict.

Figure 1: Byman’s and Shapiro’s Schematic Model of Foreign Fighter Radicalization Byman and Shapiro do recognize the dangerous nature of such a cycle: “Western security services fear that the foreign fighter threat in Syria and Iraq is different in important ways than past foreign fighter problems. Young European and American Muslims will go on to fight in Syria and Iraq as Sunni idealists but will return as anti-Western terrorists.”7 However, in retrospect, we are able to see that Byman and Shapiro fail to fully grasp the practical implications of this truth. At the time of Byman and Shapiro’s writing, the sole terror attack on European soil carried out by a returned foreign fighter was that of Mehdi Nemmouche on the Jewish Museum of Belgium in May 2014. The attack was minor, killing only four; Nemmouche’s poor planning and ostensible lack of training rendered his capture quick and the relative damage minimal. For Byman and Shapiro, the story of Nemmouche served as a convenient case-in-point: there will be attacks, the two argue, but the attacks will be limited in scope and damage due to a number of alleviating factors: “The danger posed by returning foreign fighters is real, but American and European security services have tools that they have successfully deployed in the past to mitigate the threat. These tools will have to be adapted to the new context in Syria and Iraq, but they will remain useful and effective. Experience thus far validates both perspectives on the nature of the threat. The Nemmouche attack demonstrates the danger, but European

Furthermore, one step absent from Byman and Shapiro’s model is post-return imprisonment, which could serve as an appropriate addendum, or even replacement to the current 4th step of avoiding law enforcement. Despite the fact that only two years have passed since the publishing of their article, we now know that a foreign fighter does not simply return home. As se-

Ibid. 2. Ibid. 1. Emphasis mine. 9 De Freytas-Tamura, Kimiko and Andrew Higgins. “In Brussels Bombing Plot, a Trail of Dots Not Connected,” The New York Times, March 26, 2016.10 Hegghammer, Thomas. "The Rise of Muslim Foreign Fighters: Islam and the Globalization of Jihad." International Security 35, no. 3 (Winter 2010/11): 63. 7



CORNELL INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS OBSERVER | OCTOBER 2016 curity communities have become more cognizant and adept at tracking these individuals, European prisons have seen an influx of former foreign fighters who were either caught re-entering Europe or in other more benign criminal activity.10 Within European prisons whose populations are largely Muslim, these returning fighters seek to gain prestige through radicalizing fellow inmates. This fold is further developed in the following section, but it is useful to note that we need adjust the model articulated by Byman and Shapiro.

tion for ISIS across the Arabic Twittersphere. The results of the study were useful in indicating which macro-communities within the greater Muslim world support ISIS, and which do not. Geotagging of Tweets allowed for the production of maps demonstrating from where support stems12. Such data can perhaps be used as a predictive tool, if not as an outright policing device. The study found that Twitter bans drastically slowed dissemination of ISIS propaganda— a key tool in recruiting and inspiring both foreign fighters and domestic lone-wolves. Twitter therefore provides the tools for security institutions to crack down on likely terrorist operatives; dilemma arises, however, when considering not only freedom of speech but conspiracy to commit terrorism laws in democratic countries. As Byman and Shapiro note, taking action against returnees on evidence such as a Tweet can be legally difficult—if not impossible—in a number of European countries13. However, induction following the form of this study can help identify those who are at risk of becoming foreign fighters while the banning of radical accounts can serve as a preemptive measure to defeat further recruitment.

POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS: TURKEY, TWITTER, AND PRISONS Beyond recognizing the danger posed by foreign fighters, my recommendations are three: Turkey’s border must be secured; security agencies must not only monitor but act on the social media usage of ISIS and its affiliates; finally, some sort of prison reform is necessary to dampen the spread of radicalization behind among the highest-risk demographics. These solutions are admittedly not simple, and each requires extensive discussion within the countries where each would take place. All considered, if security is valued—and after Paris and Brussels it is—some freedoms need be sacrificed.

Lastly, one must note that European prisons present another dilemma. A July Wall Street Journal Article illustrates how returning foreign fighters are already changing the landscape of radicalization in Europe: “…the return over the past year of an unprecedented number of jihadists from Islamic State territory is placing European prisons in an even bigger bind. To keep militants of the streets, authorities are throwing many of them in jail, but that is injecting battle-hardened radicals into overcrowded prisons.”14 Prior to the conflict in Syria, the article makes clear, such radicalization was already an issue; however, the influx of already radicalized individuals is exacerbating the problem. Possible solutions raise ethical dilemmas for Western democracies. Solitary confinement for radicals may prove too extreme a form of punishment; separating radicals from the rest of the prison population creates the risk, according to a spokeswoman for the Belgian Justice Ministry of “[creating] a Guanta-

The most obvious policy objective is perhaps to assist Turkey in the sealing of its border. As Turkey continues to recover from July’s failed coup attempt, government resources are stretched. Recent waves of bombings demonstrate lack of Turkish control; attacks from both the P.K.K. (Kurdish Workers Party) and ISIS have rocked the country in past months, most recently the day prior to this writing, October 10th11. The border shared by Turkey and Syria is hundreds of miles long, but with support of UN Peacekeepers the risks of foreign fighters’ returning to Europe could be mitigated. Monitoring and censuring publicly available social media can both help identify terrorists and reduce the spread of ISIS propaganda. A 2016 study by the RAND Corporation analyzed support and opposi-

Bisserbe, Noemie. “European Prisons Fueling Spread of Islamic Radicalism,” The Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2016. 11 The Associated Press. “Car Bomb Kills 18 at a Military Checkpoint in Turkey,” The New York Times, October 10, 2016. 12 Bodine-Baron, Elizabeth, Todd C. Helmus, Madeline Magnuson and Zev Winkelman. Examining ISIS Support and Opposition Networks on Twitter. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016. 13 Bisserbe, Noemie. “European Prisons Fueling Spread of Islamic Radicalism,” The Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2016. 14 Bisserbe, Noemie. “European Prisons Fueling Spread of Islamic Radicalism,” The Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2016. 10


CORNELL INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS OBSERVER | OCTOBER 2016 namo.”15 A detailed discussion on prison reform is beyond the scope of this paper, however, this case does serve to demonstrate how returning foreign fighters are already a pressing issue. CONCLUSION I conclude by anticipating the critique that recent attacks in Paris and Brussels are outliers, mistakes never to be again repeated, and that a more status-quo approach to policy forming (such as that of Byman and Shapiro) is sufficient to guard the West from future attacks and waves of radicalization. Recent data points, however, indicate this is not the case. Taking into consideration current European prison populations, we must add— rather than subtract—to the total of potentially radicalized individuals seeking to wage jihad on Western societies. As ISIS weakens, we must remember that its threat stills exists: 20,000 men and women from over 80 countries have been swayed by its influence in the last five years, and how fast this network may expand we can only guess. At the least we can anticipate and prepare for a new wave of terrorism.





A Discourse on the Efforts to Establish a Kurdish Nation State PART 2

Thomas (TJ) Ball,

The following is the second part of a two part analysis of the Kurdish national movement, part one of which can be found in the August/September issue of the Cornell International Affairs Observer (CIAO).

those countries . As political parties proved ineffective many Kurds descended into more forceful and violent methods of activism for statehood, which ultimately hindered their movement. At the outset of Kurdish nationalism, Iranian Kurds enjoyed the greatest successes, at least in a political sense. In fact, in 1946 the Democratic Party of Kurdistan in Iran (PDKI) established the Republic of Mahabad as an autonomous region in northern Iran . After an intensive Iranian assault later in the same year led to the fall of the Kurdish republic the Kurds of Iran were forced into an extremely disadvantageous position in Iranian politics. After political participation failed, the Kurds attempted armed struggle against the Iranian government which also yielded limited success. By 2006 dissatisfaction with the effectiveness of the PDKI and its leadership led to the emergence of a splinter party, the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP)1. Shortly after its founding the KDP relocated to Iraq and is now at the forefront of Kurdish political organizations. The KDP is loosely affiliated with the PDKI, Kurdish National Council (KNC) in Syria, the Kurdish Democratic Party in Syria (KDPS), and the Kurdistan Democratic Party North (KDPB) in Turkey2. The Kurdish political alliance headed by the KDP is the primary source of Kurdish political unification, though other alliances like the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), which brings together Kurdish political parties in Iran and Syria, are attempting to do the same with a slightly different agenda. Over time the continued repression of Kurdish political parties


hile the institutional and structural constraints placed on the Kurdish nationalist movement by the drawing of post-conflict, post-colonial borders—in addition to the fact that the creation of a Kurdish state directly challenges the interests of neighboring powers—may provide an adequate explanation of why the Kurds have yet to establish their own nation-state, I’d like to introduce another obstacle the Kurds have had to confront that partially spurs from the first two. In any power struggle, there are a limited number of means through which minority groups can accomplish their goals or at the very least receive adequate representation in their given power arena. Unfortunately, it’s often hard to unify these different methods of advocating for minority interests such that the progress of one doesn’t come as a detriment to another. When the Kurds first started pursuing a nationalist movement in the early 20th century they started political parties in the various countries which housed their divided population. In Iran and Iraq these political parties emerged as early as 1945 and 1946, immediately following the end of the second World War and just before the creation of the Israeli Zionist state. Kurdish nationalist parties emerged somewhat later in Syria and Turkey, in part due to the severe political repression of the Kurds in

Rodi Hevian, “The Main Kurdish Political Parties,” Rubin Center (2013). Wadie Jwaideh, The Kurdish National Movement: Its Orgins and Development (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2006), 252.

1 2


CORNELL INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS OBSERVER | OCTOBER 2016 I focused on Iranian Kurds in the prior section because their political and extremist activism approximately parallels that of Kurdish nationalism as a whole. What I mean is that certain occurrences in the Iranian Kurdish nationalist movement were part of broader trends or occurrences common to the Kurdish nationalist movements in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey as well. That being said, I feel that it is important to make note of several major events in the other Kurdish regions to get a clearer understanding of the entirety of the Kurds’ situation at present. For instance, while all four of the Kurdish states saw—at least to some extent— the gradual shift from the establishment of political parties to armed struggle to seclusion and eventually onto more extreme militant action, in Turkey the more violent components of Kurdish nationalism emerged much sooner than in the other countries7. The Kurds of Turkey may defend themselves by pointing out that they had to turn to more violent means of activism because Turkish repression was so severe, but regardless of whether the Kurds were justified in actively performing what the Turkish government might consider “acts of terrorism” against the government and Turkish peoples, this approach to promoting the creation of a Kurdish nation-state aversely affected the progress of Kurdish nationalism throughout the region. As for why the Turkish government was—and is—so harsh in their repression of the Kurds and their culture, its likely because the Turks themselves had to work extremely hard to secure a state of their own and don’t want a Kurdish nation-state to threaten the Turkish influence they fought so hard to secure8.

by governmental forces, along with the overall inability to garner widespread support for their attempts at autonomy, forced these parties into seclusion. With the failure of traditional political avenues, some Kurds decided it was necessary to return to and intensify their earlier methods of armed struggle. 2004 brought the rise of the Free Life Party of Kurdistan (PJAK) in Iran, which described itself as “a political, social, and cultural movement with an armed wing,”3. PJAK is active in the Kurdish political sphere, however it is best known for its militant activism and its extremist measures. PJAK emerged as an outshoot of the Turkey-based Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which was first established in 1978 “‘as a reaction to Turkish oppression of Kurds in Turkey and the continuous military interference in the Kurdish regions in the southeast part of modern Turkey,’”4. Both PJAK and the PKK have been labeled as terrorist groups by the United States as a result of their involvement in human and drug trafficking, extortion, numerous urban and roadside bombings, and the use of guerrilla tactics5. These extremist methods of securing a Kurdish nation-state have done little to advance the Kurds’ national interest, but rather have resulted in violent backlash by regional governments and a decrease in Western support for some Kurdish nationalist movements. Oppressed minority groups like the Kurds often have their predicament made even more complicated because major world powers typically favor the state in internal power struggles when violence is reciprocated by both sides, though “many oppositional groups and armed political movements [merely] apply such tactics of violence and terror very like those of the state to achieve their goals,”6. Despite Kurdish extremist groups simply matching the offensive actions of state institutions, the Kurds receive far more vocal backlash in return. It could easily be argued that the Kurds lack of political unity and violent extremism in the name of Kurdish nationalism in the past two decades has only further burdened the structural and institutional constraints imposed on the Kurds.

On the other end of the spectrum, Iraqi Kurds made relatively early headway in the movement for an autonomous Kurdish nation, despite having their own party divisions and a plethora of armed conflicts with government officials later on. By the early 1970s Kurds in Southern Kurdistan—Northern Iraq—had already signed a tentative agreement with Iraqi officials to establish an autonomous Kurdish region9. Unfortunately for the Kurds this agreement was never actualized and the disheveled Kurds descended into conflict amongst themselves and with the Iraqi government. This continued for years until an extremely deadly use of chemical weapons by Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein

Though any in-depth historical analysis of Kurdish nationalism in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey would reveal how different the progression of each movement was,

Rodi Hevian, “The Main Kurdish Political Parties,” Rubin Center (2013). Ibid. 5 “Turkey: The PKK and a Kurdish Settlement,” International Crisis Group, accessed May 9, 2016. 6 Ramazan Aras, The Formation of Kurdishness in Turkey (New York: Taylor & Francis, Inc., 2014), 24. 7 Ibid 49. 8 Ibid 45. 9 Mohammed Ahmed and Michael Gunter, The Kurdish Spring (Costa Mesa: Mazda Publishers, Inc., 2013), 94. 3 4


CORNELL INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS OBSERVER | OCTOBER 2016 led to mounting international pressure for a sovereign Kurdish region in Iraq. In 1992 the Kurdistan Regional Government was established in Northern Iraq and after Iraq’s political power structure crumbled in 2003 amidst the second Gulf War, Kurdish military forces, known as the peshmerga, were able to secure this portion of the Kurdish nation by forcing out Iraqi government forces10. It is important to observe the stark contrast between Kurdish nationalism in Turkey and Iraq, not only to fully understand why the Kurds have had such difficulty to date in securing a nation-state, but also to see how greatly government sentiment and action in the four countries with major Kurdish populations has impacted the nationalist movement.

factor one considers the greatest consideration for why the Kurds have yet to create their own nation-state, only time will tell as to whether the Kurds can overcome the numerous, multi-faceted constraints placed upon their nation to create a sovereign, autonomous Kurdistan.

As this two-part paper has clearly outlined, to suggest that there is a single reason why the Kurds of Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey have been able to secure the establishment of a Kurdish nation-state would be a gross misrepresentation of the Kurdish national movement and the various circumstances which have led to the Kurds’ current situation. Some will surely argue that the arbitrary borders imposed by world powers following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire are responsible for the Kurds inability to mobilize widespread support for the creation of Kurdistan. Alternatively, other individuals may posit that because many of the major polarized groups in the Middle East have some state which they govern or exercise great control over, it is easy to see why there are strong disincentives for allowing the emergence of a Kurdish state that may challenge the current power structure. Upon greater consideration it’s clear that both of these stances are valid and join a host of other explanations for why the Kurds have had such difficulty with their nationalist movement. A full analysis of the Kurdish question of statehood must also take account of the lack of unity among Kurds as a result of divided populations and the dispersion of Kurds across mountainous territories, as well as the lack of support for self-determination from Western powers because the Kurdish diaspora hasn’t been as pervasive as that of other nations who were also promised nation-states in the Middle East. Finally, it is important to also consider whether the shift in Kurdish nationalism from utilizing political parties to utilizing extremist militant groups in some areas has helped or hindered the Kurds’ efforts, for these methods of activism often antagonized the issues of Western support and Kurdish unity. Regardless of which


Ibid 95.



America Should Support U.S. Shale Oil Production against OPEC A model through which to consider the confrontation Yuichiro Kakutani,


ince 2012, OPEC has been increasing oil production despite falling prices created by a global oil surplus. With these moves, OPEC has initiated a de facto trade war against America over control of the global oil market. By initiating this trade war, OPEC plans to bleed temporary losses to choke off the U.S. shale oil industry, the new challenger to its oil monopoly, in order to restore OPEC’s dominant position in the global oil market. This struggle between the U.S. and OPEC can be easily simplified using Fearon’s bargaining model, which defines competition as a “disagreement between actors over the division of a finite quantity (Q = 1) of resource” -- in this case, the US and OPEC are competing over the division of the large, but ultimately finite, international oil market1. As the actors are competing over a finite resource where one side gains market share at the expense of the other, this is a zero sum game. The actors may a) resort to confrontation, or b) negotiate a division of the resource. A confrontation between the two actors, in this case a trade war between America and OPEC, will only result in either a) total victory or b) total defeat. Since stalemates are not modeled, there are only two outcomes for actors: either they win and capture all quantity of the resource (Qvictory = 1), or they lose and surrender all of it (Qdefeat = 0). There are only two possible results in this model since we assume that actors, once committed to confrontation, will fight to the

bitter end until victory or defeat. In a competitive situation, actors will first assess the expected gains from a confrontation, defined in this model as the Expected Value (EV)2 of a confrontation. One key assumption is that if the actors have a high EV, then they will resort to confrontation since they expect large gains from confrontation. The EV is the sum of the probability of victory outcome (Pvictory < 1) multiplied with Qvictory and probability of defeat outcome (Pdefeat= 1−Pvictory : Stalemate is impossible, so defeat is defined as lack of victory) multiplied with Qdefeat. Therefore, EV is: EV=Pvictory*Qvictory− (1−Pvictory)*Qdefeat =Pvictory*(1) − (1−Pvictory)*(0) EV=Pvictory Thus, the expected gains from confrontation equals the probability of victory. Therefore, rational actors are more likely to resort to confrontation if they have a good chance of winning the confrontation. OPEC behavior is consistent with this conclusion. Funded primarily by speculators who will abandon the project at the first sight of weakness, the budding U.S. shale oil industry is no match in a direct confrontation with the state-sponsored oil industry of OPEC. In addition, U.S. Shale production has a much higher cost per production of one gallon of oil.3 At the same time and cost Ameri-

James D. Fearon, "Rationalist Explanation for War", International Organization 49, no.3. (1995): pg. 379-414 For the sake of space, the author assumes the reader is already familiar with the statistical concept of Expected Value. The precise definition of EV is the average of all outcomes of an event repeated an infinite amount of time. For an intuitive example, if you roll a six sided dice, the EV of the event is 3.5. The EV is obtained by multiplying the probability of obtaining a particular outcome by the outcome itself: The EV of the dice event is (⅙)(1)+(⅙)(2)+(⅙) (3)+(⅙)(4)+(⅙)(5)+(⅙)(6)=3.5 3 "Barrel Breakdown. The cost of producing oil and gas", Wall Street Journal, Published 2016. Retrieved on 10/25/16. 1 2


CORNELL INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS OBSERVER | OCTOBER 2016 cans extract one gallon of oil, OPEC nations can extract three. These advantages for OPEC nations meant that Pvictory for OPEC is a large number -- therefore, EV was large enough for OPEC to confidently begin a confrontational trade war with the U.S.

The economic upset from loss of oil revenue and depletion of domestic capital will also impose high political costs to confrontation. OPEC states, many of them illiberal dictatorships, suppress popular discontent with placatory social programs funded by the oil production. An exhausted economy will force the government to cut back on these social programs, which may reawaken dormant public discontent. Thus, an oil trade war has the ultimate cost for OPEC nations: the continued survival of the regime. On the other hand, the US regime, an entrenched liberal democracy, may experience some domestic discontent from loss in oil revenue, but can overall withstand even the worst effects of adverse economic conditions. The sum economic and political cost of a trade war, prohibitively high for OPEC nations, should convince even hardline OPEC jingoists to negotiate.

However, we must remember that a confrontational trade war will impose costs on both actors, regardless of which actor wins or loses. OPEC, blinded by the optimistic outlooks of victory, is not aware that, no matter how likely an actor is to win a confrontation, sometimes, the prohibitive cost of engaging in confrontation may far exceed any benefits of victory. Fearon models the toll of resorting to confrontation by subtracting the Confrontation cost (C) from EV -- the net gain from a confrontation is actually: EV = Pvictory*Qvictory−C = Pvictory−C Since different actors incur different costs from the same confrontation, the value of C varies between actors. Compared to the U.S, C is so large for OPEC that despite high Pvictory, OPEC EV is actually very low -- therefore, rather than win a costly victory with more harm than good, OPEC will soon prefer to negotiate with the U.S. This assertion is supported by comparing the economic and political cost of a confrontational trade war for U.S. and OPEC, respectively.

Figure 1: Comparison of Cost of Confrontation for U.S. and OPEC

Even if US shale oil industries were strained by a confrontational trade war, it’s economic cost will be marginal to limited because the US has a diverse economy -- the abundance of other profitable domestic businesses minimizes the cost of an oil trade war to the health of the US economy as a whole. Similarly, a trade war would have marginal effect on U.S. access to capital, given its huge domestic capital pool and practically unlimited access to international capital. On the other hand, most OPEC nations have little diversity of domestic production, and small domestic capital pool and none to limited access to international capital. The oil-dependent OPEC economy would be severely compromised by even minor fluctuations in oil prices caused by a trade war. The economic cost is further exacerbated by OPEC’s low domestic capital reserve. While US domestic capital reserves are pooled in one huge domestic market, the capital of OPEC, spread thinly across its numerous member states, will be quickly cannibalized in a trade war. In addition, the OPEC economies will not be able to find ready lenders like the U.S. to cover public and private lenders either, as their low diversity, flammable economy is highly distrusted by creditors.



Low to marginal impact on diverse economy Little effect on US access to capital Negligible political instability

Huge impact to oil-dependent economy Detrimental effects on OPEC access to capital Severe political instability

Unfortunately, OPEC, blinded by the prospects of easy victory, was not aware of the immense cost when they first initiated a trade war with the U.S in 2012. However, as the trade war drags on, OPEC nations across the world are realizing that while they will most likely prevail, the economic and political costs are too large to justify a confrontation. The Venezuelans are on the verge of paying the ultimate price of waging a trade war: total social and political collapse. Although not as bad as Venezuela's, the Nigerian economy walks on tight ropes as oil price fluctuations creates enormous political and economic instability. Even Saudi Arabia, the powerhouse of OPEC, given the immense cost of waging a trade war and numerous proxy wars simultaneously, is estimated to deplete its foreign currency reserves by 2019, which will force them to reduce deficit by cutting down social handouts. The Saudis sweat that decreasing these handouts would be seen as a violation the semi-feudal contract between the people and monarchy of loyalty for prosperity, and hence may legitimate anti-regime Wahabism. OPEC will soon retract their confrontational policies in favor of a negotiated bargain. Diplomacy is a suc-


CORNELL INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS OBSERVER | OCTOBER 2016 cessive stream of simultaneous decisions-- unlike in Fearon’s model where a confrontation continues until one side prevails, in reality, actors can change policy from confrontation to negotiation when they see the writing on the wall, long before they suffer total defeat. And when the bargaining starts, the U.S. will negotiate from a position of strength. Usually, the strict internal discipline of OPEC allows them to negotiate on par with great powers. However, the dire state of member states has largely eroded this internal cohesion. Some members of OPEC experiencing particularly hard political-economic hardships will be satisfied with a smaller share as long as the oil trade war ends. Indeed, there is a growing internal faction within OPEC lead by Venezuela and Nigeria, the two OPEC states most hurt by the trade war, demanding an immediate end to trade war at whatever the cost for OPEC. The U.S. is in a rare position of being able to use the ‘divide and conquer’ strategy on an organization usually renowned for its internal cohesion, and should exploit its unique position to extract maximum concessions from OPEC. Time is on our side; confrontation costs for OPEC rise every day. All we must do, is to outlast the siege until OPEC realizes the futility of confrontation and surrenders. The range of policy tools available to survive the siege will depend on the post-presidential election political climate, but since the two electable candidates are either mildly protectionist or vehemently mercantilist, both candidates once in office can a) enforce varying degrees of tariffs or b) distribute subsidies to domestic oil industry citing “fair trade” to “protect domestic oil production from an international oil oligarchy.” The potential benefits of protectionism are immense: low energy cost will stimulate the national economy, and resource autarky will reduce our need to intervene in unstable regions of the world that have marginal U.S. interest aside from their resources. An energy independent America is the future we must aim for.




What's the Point? Presidential Elections in Africa Lyse Mauvais,

This article is a response by the author to an article "Faut-il continuer d’organiser des élections présidentielles en Afrique?" published in Le Monde, a French publication.

region of the world. With this context in mind, Professor Bado’s article immediately caught my attention, especially because it had found a spot in such a prominent newspaper as Le Monde. Reading such a clearly voiced opinion article on the topic prompted me to examine more seriously Bado’s claim.


hould we keep organizing presidential elections in Africa?” – perhaps not, argues Professor Alfred Babo, an Ivorian sociologist and university professor. In an article published on September 9th article in France’s leading international affairs newspaper, Le Monde, Professor Bado questions the necessity and utility of presidential elections in certain African countries (Le 2016).

In Professor Bado’s words, “democracy is a luxury” for many African states. The prohibitive cost of organizing elections in Africa is a burden on public budgets, draining a significant proportion of international funding and foreign aid away from concrete development issues and channeling them instead towards disputed electoral institutions. At best, this divestment of funds serves to feed local elites and legitimize pseudo-democratic regimes. Yet in the worst case scenario, organizing elections sparks further economic loss through the political turmoil, riots and destructions ensuing the contestation of results by competing parties. Bado turns to the situation of the Ivory Coast in 2010, the 2007 Kenyan electoral crisis, or the current tensions surrounding the outcomes of the presidential election in Gabon to demonstrate that presidential elections are factors of uncertainty and instability likely to draw investors away, tarnish a country’s international image in the long run, and weaken existing industries. Why then would we risk upsetting a country’s balance in the name of elections that serve no other purpose than to consolidate ageless leaders through the creation of a democratic façade?

The argument presented in the article reflects, unfortunately, a provocative vision that has its supporters on the African continent. During the 2010 presidential election in Burkina Faso, I remember being told by various friends or acquaintances that there was no point in holding presidential elections in their country, seeing as the elections would not result in change and that they were more likely to crystallize tensions than to serve any purpose. When I returned to France in 2014 to begin studying political science, I expected geopolitical discussions with friends to be filled with a more optimistic outlook that reflected greater faith in the ultimate importance of democracy. Yet whenever the discussion ventured to discuss the politics of the African continent, someone in the crowd would invariably bring up the idea that most African societies were still unfit for democracy, that the weight of traditions and kinship was an obstacle impossible to overcome in the short time African nations have had to build themselves after decolonization. No one was daring enough to suggest suppressing elections altogether, but there was a general sense of hopelessness, a shared belief that the importation of democracy was doomed to fail in this

One could object, however, that the “cost” of presidential elections is a necessity. Even when they are cosmetic, elections provide the government with a legitimacy that is crucial in negotiating and distributing economic aid. The oldest dinosaurs of West African politics, who have been in power “democratically” for over twenty


CORNELL INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS OBSERVER | OCTOBER 2016 ed presidential elections, which resulted in clashes and violence widely reported in international media, constitutionalists and politicians redesigned the Kenyan political order in order to redistribute executive power, give less weight to the president and more to local governors or legislators, and write electoral rules that would include both geographic spread and population size in the election (in order to avoid electoral divisions based on one single ethnic group). Should African countries struggling with tribalism and ethnic politics move away from the presidential model and try to spread executive power in the hands of several actors?This is at least one of the solutions advocated for by Professor Bado.

years, understand that organizing elections factors into their longevity, as it makes them more acceptable in the eyes of the international community and of their own people. On a less cynical note, actually transparent and efficient elections are the only instruments through which the interests of citizens can be consulted nationwide. The development of a country should not, in theory, be conducted by a small elite without popular input. So while democracy is certainly not a luxury, Bado’s point should inspire us to think of ways in which the cost of democracy should be lowered. The presidential or semi-presidential system found in many African countries requires that both legislative and presidential elections be frequently organized. If these countries were to turn towards a parliamentary model, or a different electoral system that would distribute power through local elections rather than concentrate it in the hands of one president, we could avoid the costs of one set of elections while reducing the risks associated with concentrating executive power in a single entity (we will return to this point later).

While the spirit and ideas for electoral reforms may be present on the continent, one of the main issues faced by African democrats in tackling organized destabilization (on ethnic bases, by power elites) is the short (and especially narrow) attention span of international media on African politics. Often international focus is drawn only to “crisis” situations in sub-Saharan Africa, and not to their political origins. Far too many times has the media placed an African country under its lights only to report situations of “ethnic” or “tribal” conflict, reducing the situation to a schematic interreligious or intercommunity divide without documenting how this resentment had been crafted by particular political agents. The coverage of the Central African Republic crisis, or the current crisis in Burundi, or 2007 electoral turmoil in Kenya, focused on the ethnic or religious affiliation of protagonists without wondering what had sparked the shift from peaceful cohabitation to armed violence. This permanent reduction of crisis situations to mysterious identity roots builds the image of a continent immature for democratic dialogue, and reinforces the discourse that strong and stable authoritarian leadership is preferable to unstable democracy. In short, it detracts our attention from the institutional factors that help dictators stay in power, or that create a favorable climate for ethnic conflict.

Bado views presidential elections as a window of opportunity for competing political figures seeking to enter a closed and controlled political system. The elections provide an occasion to mobilize support from minorities and dissatisfied groups in the hope of a better redistribution, access to power, and a chance at leadership. Funneling community frustrations and organizing acts of violence is a great tactic for politicians running on an ethnic platform. Some political players rely on violence as a way to make themselves indispensable and forcefully enter the power game. This is because presidential elections in presidential/ semi-presidential systems provide the only access to executive political power, and they often mobilize much more passionate involvement than legislative ones. Bado’s point is certainly very relevant, and presidential elections are indeed likely to crystallize resentments and tensions. In 1990s Kenya, Moi attempted to organize ethnic clashes in rural areas once national pressure groups started pushing for democratization. The situation we witness today in Burundi largely stems from the Pierre Nkurunziza’s consciously and coldly planned attempt to stay in power against the constitution. The message is: remove the old order that I represent, and the system will collapse. The system, however, does not collapse because democratic elections are organized – rather, the lack of democracy within the state allows for some to organize the system’s collapse. Kenya provides us with an interesting case study on how to improve a system that is conflict-conducive: after the 2007 contest-

Contrary to what Professor Bado argues, doing away with elections would only temporarily reduce opportunities for organized violence – until the next rebellion, secessionist movement or ethnic repression which would ensue in any state where basic rights are violated and fair representation of interests not achieved. Democracy is supposed to create a space for communities and individuals to dialogue, to figure out the best way to govern themselves. Oppression and state coercion may very well be able to quell dissent and “stabilize” a country for forty, fifty, or a


CORNELL INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS OBSERVER | OCTOBER 2016 hundred years. But the history of the Biafran independence war, or the current situation in Iraq and Syria, should warn us that no regime is able to keep an iron lid on dissatisfied populations forever.

the new rising political generations and incoming high civil servants, raised in a globalizing world, better attuned to the substantive content of democratic rule, to replace the old elites.

Professor Bado rightly remarks that today, the elections that do take place almost never lead to change. Political turnovers only occur through coups and violence, and the elections that run smoothly are usually rigged confirmations of a dictator’s political supremacy (as has been observed in Burkina Faso during 25 years of Blaise Compaoré’s leadership). The few exceptions that do exist (Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria), are so fragile that every election attempt immediately attracts international scrutiny while donor countries hold their breath and cross fingers of a peaceful outcome. The issue, for Bado, is that political elites in many African countries have no democratic culture. Finding elaborate ways to circumvent constitutional provisions is a common exercise: DR Congo, Burkina Faso, and Burundi are only a few recent examples of attempts made by aging political dinosaurs to hold on further to their political privileges, and extend their number of mandates to a new maximum. But even the “democratic” opposition is not free from blame: for them, contesting results has become an automatism. Elections are never legitimate, and are contested in a systematic manner sometimes even before the voting booths have closed.

Against Bado’s cynical outlook, which dangerously fuels the arguments of the anti-democrats on the continent, I would argue for a more generous vision of the role played by presidential elections today on the African continent. Regardless of their outcome, elections are an opportunity for groups to attract international media attention (more or less successfully) to particular pleas or concerns they have regarding what takes place in their country. In the past year, President Kabila in Congo made attempt after attempt to push back the elections and find a legal way to run again for office. Though this situation is disappointing, it has also given the civil society an opportunity to organize and make itself visible in international media, with historical opposition leaders resurfacing and coverage being given to past and current human rights violations. Congo’s war in the Katanga province is at last receiving a (small) portion of the international attention it has deserved for so long. If electoral tensions can prompt regional and international leaders to invest themselves in resolving this issue, then they will have served at least one of their purposes: to spark dialogue on national issues and allow new actors and solutions to be heard on the political scene.

This issue is largely linked to the very limited turnover within certain countries political elites. Of course, the older generations have known nothing but decades of a rotten post-colonial system where meddling by former colonizing powers was systematic and where access to power was almost totally locked. Whichever side they may stand on in the political divide between rulers and official opponents, they often belonged to the same circles, shared the same mentors, learnt to govern together in the wake of the first generation of post-independence leaders. Gabon today is a striking example, with a single family (the Bongos) and their allies competing for the spoils of the patriarch. There is evidence that Ali Bongo, the current president, is actually attempting to dismantle the corrupt network installed by his father and predecessor, but his opponents (also former allies and relatives of his father) are intent on maintaining the old system in place – in reality, the fate of the country is being fought over by the single same network Omar Bongo Ondimba established himself decades ago. Similarly, Senegal is today headed by a man who reached power by turning against president Abdoulaye Wade, his old mentor and spiritual father – hardly a real renewal of ideas and interests. Against this situation, not much can be done except waiting for

Sometimes, elections do bring change. The failure of the 2007 Kenyan presidential elections sparked a massive constitutional reform and the crafting of new institutions that aimed to distribute power across agencies, strengthen the parliament and the judiciary, and lessen the role of the president. The prospect of presidential elections in Burkina Faso in 2015, and the belief that President Compaoré would twist the constitution in order to forcefully run again was enough to spark a relatively peaceful and transforming revolution in this nation which had known over twenty years of Compaoré leadership. Elections are not the cause for civil strife, but the stage on which its tensions are revealed. Attacking the concept of the elections is pointing to the symptom, but not the cause: the kind of pessimistic, provocative argument made by proponents of “democracy is not for all African states” theory does more to fuel the antidemocrats cause, than to help unveil the institutional, social and economic issues driving politics on the continent.



Questions or Comments? Let us know! Contact either of the Editors-in-Chief with your thoughts; we're more than happy to hear them. Marc Masson, Catherine Hwang,

The Cornell International Affairs Society (CIAS), an independent student organization located at Cornell Universty, produced and is responsible for the content of this publication. This publication was not reviewed or approved by, nor does it necessarily express or reflect the policies or opinions of, Cornell University or its designated representatives. Organization Faculty Advisor: Thomas Pepinsky,