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Shaun Rein: Give the People What They Want

With the world's elite in Davos as the backdrop, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has reiterated the government's stance that it can hit 8 percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2009—despite exports dropping 2.8 percent in December and fourth quarter GDP growth falling to 6.8 percent. An 8 percent GDP growth rate is the magic number many analysts believe China must reach in order to absorb the 6 million university graduates joining the workforce every year and maintain social stability. Premier Wen says 2009 will be a hard year but that government spending in health care, environmental protection, and other large-scale projects will make up for foreign investment shortfalls. With China's debt levels at only 17 percent of GDP (versus well over 50 percent in countries like the United Kingdom) and deflation emerging as a bigger concern than inflation, China also has the option to push banks to loan more money. However, China's planned $586 billion stimulus package is far too focused on large infrastructure and state-owned enterprise projects, leaving the country's ability to hit that growth rate in jeopardy.

James Kraska & Brian Wilson: Fighting Pirates — The Pen and the Sword, Part II

In our article, “Fighting Pirates: The Pen and the Sword,” which appeared in the winter “Dear Mr. President” issue of World Policy Journal, we asserted that greater collaboration, increased prosecutorial capacity, and the creation of a network among concerned states were the most promising approaches to address the spike in piracy off the Somali coast. In the past two months, all three have occurred, and there has been an accompanying sharp drop in the number of successful attacks. While ships are still vulnerable, the political environment has improved. In December 2008, the United Nations Security Council adopted two resolutions, numbers 1846 and 1851, to encourage prosecutions, support enhanced partnering, and authorize land-based military operations. In quick order, a “Contact Group” was established to address maritime piracy, meeting for the first time in January 2009 with representatives from 24 nations. To increase accountability and the rule of law, Kenya has signed a bilateral accord with the United Kingdom to prosecute suspected pirates, and Kenya and the United States could sign a similar deal by the end of January, 2009. Two coalition military commands, the European Union’s Operation Atalanta and U.S. Fifth Fleet’s Combined Task Force 151, were launched to expand capacity and focus anti-piracy efforts. Moreover, Japan, Spain, and South Korea are poised to deploy naval forces to the region. This collective action is having a positive effect: in January 2009, only 2 of 16 attacks by Somali pirates resulted in a successful boarding. In 2008, about a third (or 42 of the 111 attacks) were successful, with 815 mariners taken hostage. The threat of attack so concerned the shipping community that some companies altered their routes; others avoided the area completely. As a result, the Suez Canal experienced a $35 million drop in revenues for 2008 and tuna catches in the Indian Ocean, a $6 billion industry, fell by 30 percent. One other factor has played in favor of fewer attacks—it is monsoon season in the Indian Ocean. High seas are restricting the pirates to the shores, reducing the number roving throughout the Arabian Sea. Collaboration is ongoing and it is working. The European Commission hosted a piracy seminar in Brussels in January 2009 which included representatives from the maritime sector, governments, and military officials. Even more partnerships are in development: a piracy and drug trafficking conference, hosted by Yemen in collaboration with the United Kingdom, is slated for February. The legal component of repression has been turned in the right direction over the past two months. Holding pirates accountable has been a tremendous challenge in anti-piracy operations. Many states either don’t have laws on their books enabling prosecutions or don’t desire to assert jurisdiction, convene a trial, and detain pirates. Thus, even though piracy is a universal crime allowing any state to prosecute, as a practical matter, piracy trials infrequently occur. Several times in 2008, after hijackings were thwarted by warships, pirates were simply released, losing only their weapons.

Charlotte Pudlowski: Sarkozy, Pop Culture's New Icon

While Barack Obama may be the talk of the town, French President Nicolas Sarkozy is well on his way to becoming a new icon of American pop culture. Down in the polls in France, at least he entertains America. If proof is needed, consider the wildly popular American TV show Gossip Girl. In a recent episode, Nicolas Sarkozy's amorousness merits a mention. "Apparently Sarkozy would be a bad kisser," says the heroine, Serena, confiding to her boyfriend. And she knows something about it: the French president is allegedly her mother’s former lover. In fact, Sarkozy has almost become a plot line. It is the second time this love affair has been evoked. A few episodes ago, a character recalled, "Don't forget that weekend with Sarkozy, when he made us go to EuroDisney!" Bursts of laughter followed. What kind of a president would actually go to EuroDisney? Nicolas Sarkozy, in fact, who took Carla Bruni there in 2007. "Gossip Girl is the kind of series that wants to be very current and topical—characters talk about hot topics," says Sheila Marikar, an ABC News entertainment reporter. "He is one of the few international leaders who would be mentioned in such a trendy show." David Andelman, a former CBS News correspondent in Paris and current editor of World Policy Journal, underlines: "The fact that the French president is mentioned like that in Gossip Girl is a gesture that he is becoming a part of the pop culture in America. When I watched the episode with my wife, we were amazed. We replayed the scene a couple of times. Sarkozy is a rock-star president." The problem with rock and roll, of course, is that it's sometimes hard to understand the lyrics. So too of Sarkozy: a lot of people still don't know who he actually is, and his politics appear quite confusing in the United States.

The Index — January 27, 2009

There is division in the European Union ranks over 

Jonathan Power: Libya's Lesson for Iran

It is rapidly becoming a truism that the Middle East problems are so intertwined that they must be all negotiated into tolerance and disarmament at more or less the same time—not sequentially as before.

Still, it is better in an analysis such as this to single out Iran, because if Iran can be got right then a lot of the other dominoes will be easier to fit into place. It is Iran that Israel fears most. It is Iran that has so much influence on Hamas. It is Iran that can contribute significantly to peace in Iraq and Lebanon. And to discuss Iran we must talk about Libya. Libya only a few years ago had many of the same problems as Iran today. Not only was it on the cusp of producing nuclear weapons—it was a terrorist state writ large. The downing over Lockerbie, Scotland, of a U.S. airliner was only the apogee of a continuous line of terrorist activity over a 30-year period. Yet, by careful diplomacy, its teeth were gradually withdrawn and, in September of last year, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a visit to Tripoli, declared that the rapprochement with Libya was ”an historic event.” Former Vice-President Dick Cheney likes to assert that it was Iraq that did the trick; that Muammar el-Qaddafi finally got scared by American sabre-rattling. ”Five days after we captured Saddam Hussein, Qaddafi came forward and announced that he was going to surrender all his nuclear materials to the United States.” The record suggests otherwise. Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage flatly contradicted his boss. Libya's concessions ”didn't have anything to do” with Hussein's capture, he said.

Michael Deibert: Echoes of Obama on Australia Day

There we were, at a community meeting of indigenous Australians in the remote Northern Territory town of Borroloola, where dispersed communities of this frontier province come together only a scant few miles away from the Gulf of Carpentaria as it empties out into the Arafura Sea. Representatives of the region's four main linguistic groups—the Gurdanji, Yanyuwa, Garawa, and Mara—were all here, discussing with a government minister and with one another the impact of a local mine that had, without consultation with the region's traditional owners, expanded its operations from underground to open-cut. In the process, the company had destroyed sacred sites belonging to the clans and, so they feared, wreaked environmental havoc on the region's fragile ecosystem. In addition to the discussion of local issues, talk turned to the upcoming inauguration of Barack Obama as the forty-fourth president of the United States. The assemblage approved, and, as one indigenous person told me in simply, "he's one of us." Such has been the change of being an American abroad over the last few months, replacing the smirking frat boy of years past with a figure whom, as one Norwegian friend told me, "radiates dignity in a really intense way." There is a new face of the U.S. global brand abroad, as I witnessed in my reporting travels over the last year, which took me to five continents and countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Spain, Japan, and now Australia. Australia, my base for the next few months and which today commemorates the arrival of Europeans on the continent, has grappled with its own issues of racial division and violence since the first British settlers arrived in 1788, with the country's Aboriginal population bearing the brunt of massacre and mistreatment since that time. In recent years, newer arrivals to the country from places like India, Lebanon, and Vietnam have also had to confront a hard kernel of xenophobia here which can be rather shocking to visitors expecting tropical bliss as depicted in tourist brochures.

Nina L. Khrushcheva: The Best Enemy There Is

The fact that Russia is supposedly bad doesn't make America better, or better off now at the end of George W. Bush's presidency-mistrusted by the world, with two wars on its hands and an economy in ruin. In this environment is Russia a threat to the United States? Unlikely, but branding it as dictatorial revives the old fears and diverts attention from the immense problems America faces today. Barack Obama's presidency promises to usher his country into a new era of post-unilateral decisions, international diplomacy, and coherent foreign policymaking. This new era should also, perhaps, end the senseless public animosity towards Russia that has continued since 1991 when the Soviet Union lost the Cold War and, for all intents and purposes, disappeared. Becoming the world's only superpower proved very damaging to the United States. Over-confidence, to no one's surprise, bred hubris. Bill Clinton's administration tirelessly reminded the former Soviets that they, the losers, should unwaveringly follow the lead of all-powerful America. Boris Yeltsin's privatization and marketization programs were not speedy enough, at least as judged in a Washington anxious to spend as little as possible helping Russia. Any thoughts of a Marshall Plan to ease Russia's path were dismissed in Gingrich/Clinton Washington as welfare for communists. In 2000, as a by-product of the all-or-nothing capitalization demanded of Russia by its American advisors, the country returned full circle—the KGB with President (now Prime Minister) Vladimir Putin at the helm gained the ruling hand. Putin's promise to restore Russian self-respect did indeed involve policies familiar from the communist era: jailing "dishonest" oligarchs, clamping down on an "irresponsible" press, and "deceptive" non-governmental organizations, pressuring neighboring countries by increasing prices or limiting Russian oil and gas, as well as flexing a bit of military muscle in Georgia (although Georgia's own irresponsible leader, Mikhail Saakashvili, deserves equal blame for the August 2008 war), or sending training ships to Cuba and Venezuela to show the world that Russian military power was back.

Jodi Liss: The Woes of Timothy Geithner

This may sound peculiar coming from someone in a job with no security and that pays about a fifth of what he earns, but I feel sorry for future Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and his tax problems over his past employment with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Actually, I would more surprised if he hadn’t had problems. I, too, have worked for international organizations (in my case, the UN, UNDP, and UNICEF) and I too know what it is like to try to deal with the arcane rules that seem to be tailor-made for each individual short–term hire at these places. At the UN, and apparently at similar places, what you pay in taxes depends on not only your nationality but on the kind of contract you have and its terms for the individual position. It is so convoluted that one of the first decisions you make at the start is to find a good accountant. No matter how clever you think you are, you immediately discover that you are but a babe in the woods.

Jocelyn McCalla: Obama & Haiti's Window of Opportunity

Barack Obama delivered a sober yet forceful speech at his inaugural as the forty-fourth president of the United States of America. The speech covered a lot of ground in a relatively short period of time. He balanced a reality check on the state of the union with an appeal to the American people that, with their help and support, the country would be better off in the years ahead, and that the obstacles that stand in their path to a better future today would be but history when their grandchildren looked back on the historical record.

Obama spoke mainly to the American people, but he had a few choice words for allies and foes abroad. What should Haitian leaders take away from his words? Two things: a warning and a promise. The warning: “To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West—know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.” Since these words were preceded by others meant to convey to the Muslim world that the United States was not its enemy, some may very well say that such warnings were directed at terrorists and their international supporters rather than poor Haiti. Au contraire.

Live-blogging on Obama Inaugural

For Inauguration Day, RealClearWorld hosted a Live Blog from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. (ET). David A.

THE INDEX — January 20, 2009

While journalists worldwide welcome a new president into the White House, in the Bangkok Post, Alan Dawson 

Azubuike Ishiekwene: In Africa, Obama's Tasks Are Huge

President Barack Obama is stepping up to a full plate. With nearly three million Americans out of job in 2008 alone, his priority must be to put the United States back to work again. Yet, there’s so much else in the world crying out desperately for attention. It is a striking irony that Africa, which has given the United States its forty-fourth president, is the same continent that produced the two ranking Al-Qaeda members killed by U.S. drones in a New Year strike in Pakistan. Usama al Kini and Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, the two Kenyans killed in the strike, could have been just like the men next door, raised on the basic African mores of communal harmony, respect for life, and the love of one’s neighbor. But these fellows were not; they were a different breed—masterminds of deadly terror attacks (from the East African bombings in 1998, which left 212 dead, to the Islamabad Marriott hotel bombing last September, which left 55 people dead). The increasingly active role played by sub-Saharan Africans in the operations of Islamic fundamentalist networks is one of the challenges that the Obama administration will have to grapple with in the coming years. These challenges raise important questions: How many more al Kinis are being nurtured in terror cells in a continent festering with wars, narco-trade, corruption, and failed governments? What factors are responsible for the ascendancy of sub-Saharan Africans in a terror network once dominated by Middle Easterners? The conditions that produced al Kini and Swedan abound in many parts of Africa today, even though the continent was only a footnote during the U.S. presidential election. Obama and John McCain made a few stray comments about Darfur, but neither spoke with clarity about what the continent should expect on their watch. Africa was a curiosity. The global press followed Obama to his Luo roots in Kenya. But it had a hard time explaining how it was that while one Luo, Raila Odinga, could never hope to make it to his country’s top job, another Luo, 8,000 miles away, was about to make history as the first black president of the United States. If the Obama odyssey demonstrates what is possible when grit and preparation meet in a land of opportunity, the misadventure of al Kini and Swedan speak to the dangers that the increasing number of failing and failed states pose to the world.

Jonathan Power: Lead the World by Following?

Hillary Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state, was harping on an old theme at her Senate confirmation hearing last week. She said her top international principle was to ”strengthen America's position of global leadership.” This reminds one of her Clinton administration predecessor, Madeleine Albright, who famously said that ”America is the indispensable nation” and that we "stand tall and hence see further than any other nation.”

This swagger suggests that other nations are somehow dispensable, and that American indispensability is the source of all wisdom. ( So what about Iraq, global warming, Palestine/Israel, the International Criminal Court, and financial probity?) In the United States, ”one reads about the world's desire for American leadership," a high British diplomat once told me. ”Everywhere else, one reads about American arrogance and unilateralism.” (And this was said before George W. Bush came to power!) Today, even the instinctively pro-Washington British Conservative Party has sought to step back from American hubris, which is clearly not a vote winner on this side of the pond.

Peter Wilson: Dark Days in Caracas

Peter WilsonVenezuelan President Hugo Chávez is pulling out all the stops to persuade voters next month to approve his plan to rewrite the constitution to allow for his unlimited re-election in 2012 when his current term expires. In doing so, Chávez is almost certainly setting up a confrontation with new U.S. President Barack Obama, and souring any possibility of bettering ties between Washington and its fourth-largest oil supplier. Chávez, who took office in 1999 after winning by a landslide, is seeking voter approval just 13 months after voters rejected a similar measure in December 2007. Chávez claims the measure is needed to guarantee the success of the country´s socialist revolution, which he is leading. Opponents portray the amendment as a naked power grab, especially as irregularities mount. After being rebuffed in 2007, Chávez isn’t taking any chances this time, and has been saturating the airwaves with almost daily national cadenas or addresses, which must be carried live by all stations.

Shaun Randol: Censor See, Censor Do

The sophistication of China’s Great Firewall, the catchy name for the complex, internet censorship apparatus, is well known. Bloggers, journalists, regular Chinese citizens, and visitors passing through the country have all experienced frustration at not being able to read, view, or post so-called “sensitive” information on the web. By many measures, the Great Firewall has been a frustrating success. It appears now that by example and by proposal, China is exporting its internet censorship practices. The latest move came on January 5, when China’s Ministry of Public Security announced a new initiative to crack down on websites with pornography. Google, Baidu,, and other popular Chinese websites are targets of this new drive. There are fears, however, that this enterprise is a Trojan horse—that the real aim is to punish websites that, on occasion, publish material antithetical to the state’s political and economic agendas. For example,, a very popular internet forum famous for exposing hoaxes and scandals (sometimes with political implications), is named as a target of this new program. It is no surprise, then, that other countries have taken notice of the Great Firewall’s achievements and are instituting some of their own internet censorship protocols. Just across the Sea of Japan, Tokyo is also considering a plan to crackdown on websites featuring pornographic images of underage participants. Not that a restriction on underage sexual exploitation is bad news, mind you, but it opens the door for further online limitations.

Belinda Cooper: Revealing secrets

Belinda Cooper[This article was cross-posted on the Huffington Post.] Nineteen years ago, nearly three months after the fall of the Berlin Wall, East German dissidents called for a peaceful demonstration against the continued existence of the Stasi, the feared East German secret police. On January 15, 1990, I found myself in front of Stasi headquarters in East Berlin translating the demonstrators' slogans for an American photographer. Suddenly, without warning, the looming metal gates of the forbidding edifice swung open and stunned protesters poured into the building. Some opened bottles of imported orange juice in the Stasi kitchens, while others spray-painted the walls and vented their anger on furniture and equipment. This unplanned and now legendary "storming of the Stasi" came to mark the symbolic end of an institution whose fate had already been sealed politically. In the ensuing months, East Germans would dismantle the secret police apparatus once and for all, laying bare the full scope of repression exercised by an intelligence service subject to no external control. As a new administration takes over now in the United States, we might take to heart the lessons learned, in this process of dealing with the Stasi's legacy, about the crucial role of openness and oversight in democratic societies. East German activists soon discovered that the Stasi had kept literally miles of reports on ordinary people. I was one of them. As an American living in West Berlin, I had befriended dissident environmentalists in the eastern half of the city and helped them publicize the sorry state of their country's air and water—an activity prohibited under the communist dictatorship. This made me an object of interest.

Jodi Liss: Farewell to the Year of Oil Power

As we stagger into 2009, the financial and economic world of the past 30 years is crumbling and in chaos. Where is the bottom of this mess? How much more pain? No one knows and all dread the answer. It is not just the United States; it is a global shift. Whatever the world comes to think about the United States and its debunked Washington Consensus, last year was, if anything, the Year of Oil Power. The radical plunge in prices we’re witnessing now may change the global balance of power even more in the other direction this year. Whether due to speculation or wishful thinking, in 2008, geopolitics seemed to hinge on commodities in a positively unnatural way, especially among those who knew better. Anyone familiar with the boom-and-bust cycle of oil (and gas) so memorably captured in Daniel Yergin’s The Prize knows that for every delirious rise, the oil busts, such as those of the 1930s and the 1980-90s, have been long, painful, and hard for the producers to end.

THE INDEX - January 15, 2009

In the on-going war in the Middle East, Israel might be using Gaza as a laboratory for future conflict.

Jonathan Power: Obama's Inheritance and the Gitmo Problem

The courtrooms of America sometimes take us by surprise. Last week, Charles “Chuckie” Taylor, the son of the former Liberian president and notorious warlord, Charles Taylor, was sentenced in a Miami court to 97 years in prison for torture. It was the first time that an American court had applied a law passed in 1994 allowing the prosecution of citizens who commit torture overseas. (Taylor was born in the United States, but then moved to Liberia to join his father.)

Is there now one law in America for those who commit torture overseas and those who commit it at home with the authority of government? Perhaps not for much longer. In a recent television interview, President-elect Barack Obama said that his designate for attorney general, Eric Holder, would investigate whether some senior members of the Bush administration should be prosecuted for their part in torture, although he said that his belief was that “what we have to focus on is getting things right in the future.” Also, last week, Obama said that he had given his new appointees to top intelligence positions a clear charge to restore the nation’s stance on human rights. “Under my administration the United States does not torture.” Obama should also have reminded his audience that it was during the presidency of Ronald Reagan that the U.S. helped push for the United Nations to agree to a legally binding treaty against torture, and then propelled Congress to rapidly ratify it. (It is this treaty, mind you, that provides the legal underpinning for the prosecution of Taylor.)

THE INDEX - January 13, 2009

What looked like a done deal to restart Russian gas exports to Europe has hit a

Ian Williams: Pinochet's Echoes Today

Ian WilliamsSeptember 11 is a day that will live in infamy: a terrorist attack on a landmark building whose aftermath left more than 3,000 dead. Yes, Chileans will always remember the coup of September 11, 1973, when their military commanders—with tacit, and indeed active, support from Washington—bombed their own presidential palace, setting up a repressive regime that imprisoned, tortured, and executed supporters of the deposed government while driving untold more into exile. But while Osama bin Laden is being hounded around the North West Frontier, one of the architects of the Chilean coup, Henry Kissinger, is a revered advisor to governments; the other, Augusto Pinochet, died without facing trial for his involvement. “He had taken full advantage of the rights guaranteed to him by due process—rights that his victims were denied—and postponed his day of reckoning indefinitely.” On the day he died, “My feelings of hate toward Pinochet and what he represented had waned through the years; instead I felt a serene contempt for the man,” concludes Heraldo Muñoz in The Dictator's Shadow, a highly readable, fascinating, and revelatory account of the General’s career. Muñoz, now Chile's ambassador to the United Nations and one of those who had to flee his country in 1973, has written a remarkably restrained memoir assessing just how big a shadow Pinochet cast, both globally and historically.
Texas A&M University



Nauru: A Cautionary Tale 


Vlad Sokhin documents life in Nauru, a tiny, once-wealthy Pacific island where land has been stripped bare and the hulking shells of the phosphate mining industry have been left to rust.

Those the Jasmine Revolution Forgot 


Photographer Nicholas Linn and writer Sam Kimball capture the struggles of the Tunisian underclass following the 2011 Revolution. 

Tough Love: Las Amorasas Más Bravas 


Bénédicte Desrus and Celia Gómez Ramos explore Casa Xochiquetzal, a shelter in Mexico City that allows sex workers to age with dignity.

Iran's House of Strength 


Jeremy Suyker penetrates the tight-knit community of zurkhanehs, traditional rooms for training warriors dating back to the Persian Empire, and the modern efforts to preserve this Iranian cultural heritage. 


Bolshoi Babylon 


Director Nick Read examines the dysfunction that led to an attack on Sergei Filin, artistic director of Moscow’s Bolshoi Theater, before Russian President Putin stepped in to restructure the Bolshoi’s leadership.



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