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Marina Silva: Brazil’s Surprisingly Conservative Choice for President?

The Buzz

When presidential candidate Eduardo Campos’s airplane crashed amid stormy weather in the Brazilian port city of Santos in early August, it upended what was shaping up as a boring presidential race.

Campos’s tragic death propelled his running mate, former environmental minister Marina Silva, into his stead as the replacement candidate for Campos’s Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), notwithstanding Silva’s recent conversion to the party. She agreed last year to join forces with Campos only after her own efforts to form a new party, the Sustainability Network, failed. Suddenly, with seven weeks until the October 5 first-round voting, Silva’s tragedy-infused campaign scrambled everything.

As the candidate of Brazil’s Green Party, Silva won nearly 20 percent of the vote in the the 2010 election, taking support from an unlikely coalition of leftist activists, environmentalists and relatively well-off urbanites, especially in the capital city of Brasília. Although she abandoned her presidential hopes in 2014 to join Campos’s ticket, Silva routinely polled better than any other alternative to Dilma Rousseff, who is running for reelection after a tumultuous first term. When she accepted the presidential nomination in mid-August, Brazilians believed that Silva would lead a leftist alternative to Rousseff and the candidate of the center-right Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB), Brazilian senator Aécio Neves, an effective economic reformer and former two-term governor of the all-important central state of Minas Gerais.

Silva, who grew up on an Amazonian rubber plantation, and who was illiterate until age sixteen, began her career in politics defending the Amazon’s rainforests. Though many world politicians have mimicked the “change” mantra of Barack Obama, Silva—who would be the first Brazilian president of African descent—inspires much of the same feeling among Brazilians as Obama often inspired among Americans in his first, historic presidential campaign.

In contrast, Rousseff seeks to extend the twelve-year rule of the entrenched, scandal-weary Workers’ Party (PT) for a fourth consecutive term. Neves, whose grandfather Tancredo Neves was appointed the first post-dictatorship president in 1985, is the quintessential insider, and his party is still tarred with the economic upheavals of the 1990s and the now-discredited “Washington consensus” approach.

Almost as surprising as the tragic events that led to her presidential candidacy is the way in which Silva has become the most conservative of the three major candidates. That’s one of the reasons why Silva has so successfully supplanted Neves as the chief alternative to Rousseff and why polls show, even weeks after the initial shock of Campos’s death subsided, that Silva presents a very real threat to Rousseff in the October 26 runoff. Rousseff has gained back some support in the final weeks of the campaign, given her massive spending advantage and the benefits of incumbency, and that’s eroded Silva’s support significantly. The latest Datafolha poll gives Rousseff 40 percent to 25 percent for Silva and 20 percent for Neves. In the runoff, the poll gives Rousseff a 49 percent to 41 percent lead—Rousseff has only recently regained the lead in Datafolha’s runoff survey since Silva’s entry into the race. But Silva is still favored to squeak through into a direct runoff and if she does, there’s reason to believe that the race could tighten once again.

Long before Silva’s challenge, investors both inside Brazil and abroad were grumbling that the Rousseff government’s heavy-handed economic policies have been too interventionist, and that it is unable to stop Brazil’s economic slowdown—its GDP growth declined to just 2.5 percent in 2013 and is forecast to be just 0.7 percent this year—or even stabilize the collapse of the real, Brazil’s currency.

Far from running to Rousseff’s left on economic policy, Silva and her top advisors, including former senator Maurício Rands, have emphasized a platform that borrows heavily from the kind of neoliberal approach that you might expect from Neves, who comes from the same party as former president Fernando Henrique Cardoso. Cardoso’s privatization efforts won the scorn of many Brazilians, even as his administration brought macroeconomic stability to Brazil after years of inflation. Silva and her campaign have pledged not to raise taxes and not to deploy foreign reserves by artificially inflating the real’s value in currency markets. She also indicates that she will take a more disciplined measure on budget spending.

Even more astounding is the way in which Silva, who resigned as Lula da Silva’s environmental minister in 2008 because of his government’s willingness to consider development initiatives in the Amazon, has demonstrated her pragmatism on energy policy. Today, she’s embraced both large-scale hydroelectricity projects and offshore oil development, though she was hostile to both as a government minister.

She’s put forward such a moderate economic platform that high-level tucanos (“toucans”), as members of Neves’s PSDB are known, have all but announced that they will join forces with Silva in the runoff against Rousseff. That could make a huge difference, given that the PT and the PSDB have much deeper bases than the Socialists or Silva’s own personal political networks. Today, Rousseff is benefitting from a television-advertising edge, but Silva will have equal funding for television in the three-week runoff campaign.

Moreover, as a Pentecostal Christian, Silva belongs to the growing evangelical movement in Brazil and might also be the most socially conservative candidate in the race. Staunchly anti-abortion, Silva backtracked on same-sex marriage earlier in the campaign, expunging support for marriage equality from the Socialist platform. Silva will appeal not only to 22 million evangelical Brazilians, but also to conservative Catholics as well, many of whom believe Rousseff is secretly pro-choice, an issue that nearly torpedoed her 2010 election.

On foreign policy, Silva and her team have signaled that they would like to enhance Brazilian trade with the United States, and they have indicated that a Silva administration would pursue a more balanced foreign policy, which will delight Washington and spook both Caracas’ increasingly desperate government and the glacial, gerontocratic government.

Though Lula da Silva transformed Brazilian governance by introducing social welfare programs, such as the Bolsa Familia, which provided direct cash transfers to the poorest Brazilian families, he also championed Brazil’s business interests, facilitating an economic boom that is only recently starting to sputter. But no one expects either Silva or Neves to roll back the lulista reforms if elected. It’s not an overstatement to say that just about all of the Latin American center-right and much of the Latin American left are all lulistas now.

Moreover, Silva, who started off as a member of the Workers’ Party, is arguably as much the heir of Lula da Silva’s legacy as Rousseff. By introducing a new perspective to Brazil’s government, a Silva presidency might reform and refresh the principles that have made Lula da Silva, even today, such a beloved figure within Brazil and Latin America, even as his party finds itself struggling to fend off corruption allegations, charges of economic mismanagement and accusations, going back to widespread protests last summer, that Rousseff has placed vanity projects, like hosting the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, over more fundamental issues like the cost of public transportation, health care and education.

When Silva entered the race, critics and fans alike worried that she would live up to her reputation as something of an undisciplined and uneven candidate. Despite a few hiccups, like her volte-face on gay marriage, she has run an impressively focused campaign and demonstrated her ability and will to build a broad-based majority.

Brazilians who remember the excitement of the 1990 election, the first to follow two decades of military dictatorship, when voters turned to the dashing forty-year-old Fernando Collor, will also remember the disappointment of his ensuing corruption scandals and impeachment two years later. Since then, voters have turned to well-known political veterans, including Cardoso, Lula da Silva and Rousseff, who served as Lula da Silva’s energy minister and chief of staff before her election in 2010. That could also give voters second thoughts about Silva.

But with days to go until the first round, Brazilians might find that Silva represents the most conservative choice of all—she offers the corrective policies that voters might expect from Neves or a change in administration, while also embodying a certain amount of continuity with the lulista left. That’s all in addition to the symbolic appeal of Silva’s election as representative of Brazil’s promise of greater racial and socioeconomic equality.

Kevin A. Lees is an attorney in Washington, D.C., and the editor and author of the foreign policy website Suffragio.org.

Image: Flickr/Jose Cruz/CC by 3.0 br

TopicsElectionsDomestic Politics RegionsBrazil

Showdown: The Trans-Pacific Partnership vs. Japan's Farm Lobby

The Buzz

Last week, ministerial negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between Japan and the United States ended abruptly after the two sides failed to reach an agreement on key sticking points, including the removal of tariffs on sensitive Japanese farm products. The failure of the talks disappointed both sides, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has long upheld TPP as a fundamental component of his structural reform agenda.

Few, however, were surprised. Japan after all, has always had trouble cracking open its farm sector thanks to opposition from its powerful farm lobby. While it is tempting to assume that this is yet another case of Japanese leaders succumbing to the demands of vested interests, it is important to note that more is going on behind the scenes than meets the eye. Japan’s farm lobby is still a potent force in Japanese politics, but its influence is decreasing, and in ways that should bode well for agricultural liberalization.

Until recently, Japanese agricultural politics were dominated by a web of interconnected institutions. At the center of that web was the partnership between the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Japan Agricultural Cooperatives (JA). The latter delivered votes and campaign workers to conservative politicians in return for a protected agricultural market. JA also nurtured a close relationship with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), functioning as the ministry’s semi-official arm in the implementation of farm-related policies, including the infamous rice acreage reduction (gentan) program. All the while, JA exercised a near monopoly over the provision of agricultural inputs to farmers and even controlled their access to financial services through its powerful banking and insurance arms. Although by no means omnipotent, this agricultural regime was notoriously unresponsive to demands for policy reform.

But Japan’s agricultural regime is now well past its prime. JA’s economic dominance is slipping amid mounting competition from private-sector providers of farm inputs and credit. Its capacity to gather the vote has shrunk in the wake of electoral reform and a declining farm population. Rural politicians, for their own part, are facing strong electoral incentives to diversify their base of support beyond agricultural interests and to champion market-oriented reform. Meanwhile, the MAFF’s jurisdiction has shrunk as a result of the post-Uruguay Round dismantling of the postwar rice pricing system, and its ties to JA are weakening now that it no longer fields its retired bureaucrats to run as the association’s official candidates in upper house elections. Even ordinary consumers are contributing to the regime’s decline; whereas a concern for food safety and security once incentivized consumers to support market protectionism and high prices, consumers in today’s sluggish economy have grown critical of the gross inefficiencies of Japanese farming and of the policies and cozy political relationships that perpetuate them.

Perhaps most importantly, Japanese farming itself is changing. As we observed for ourselves during recent fieldwork in the Japanese countryside, more and more full-time farmers are developing new forms of farm ownership and management. Despite lingering barriers to innovation, the rates of farm corporatization and farmland consolidation are slowly increasing. Some farmers are pursuing these changes outside of JA networks, while others are partnering with innovative local coops; in both instances, these farmers are responding more directly to market signals and in ways that benefit consumers.

Clearly mindful of the agricultural regime’s waning power, the Abe government is taking steps to accelerate market-oriented trends among local farmers and coops. It has loosened regulations governing the establishment of new coops, farmland consolidation, the corporatization of family farms, and the entry of private-sector firms into farming, and has devoted two of the country’s “national strategic special zones” to agriculture. More dramatically, in late 2013 it announced that gentan would be phased out within five years.

This is not to suggest that the tug-of-war between Abe and the agricultural regime is over. Far from it, as the fate of a recent reform initiative illustrates. In May 2014, the government’s Council on Regulatory Reform (CRR) issued a report that among other things recommended the withdrawal of coop status for Zennō, the JA organization that oversees the provision of non-financial services to farmers, and the virtual abolition of Zenchū, JA’s  “control tower.”  Anti-reformist LDP politicians led by Hiroshi Moriyama pushed back, however, and the government softened its stance, postponing JA reform to this fall.  The LDP later appointed Moriyama—a vocal critic of TPP, as chairman of its working group on TPP.

Chalk one up for the forces of resistance?

Not so fast. The Abe government may have lost ground in the battle over JA reform, but it has made significant progress in its war against the agricultural regime. As agricultural economist Kazuhito Yamashita has observed, for example, the subject of JA reform is no longer taboo. Moriyama, moreover, is not the die-hard anti-reformer that some observers think he is. As the Asahi Shimbun reported on August 13, Moriyama has been deeply mindful of Abe’s popularity among voters and loath to take a position on reform that might alienate his party at the polls.  Moreover, he has some experience with overdoing opposition to a sitting prime minister since he was banned from the LDP in 2005 after opposing then Prime Minister Koizumi’s postal reform initiative. Perhaps unwilling to risk another stint in the political wilderness, Moriyama helped craft a response to the CRR report that while critical,acknowledged the need for JA reform. Moriyama may very well strike a similar chord as head of the TPP working group.

Finally, it is important to note that for every LDP politician who opposes agricultural reform, there is at least one who supports it, including such prominent members of the Abe cabinet as Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Minister of Agriculture Koya Nishikawa, and Shigeru Ishiba, the minister in charge of those national strategic special zones.

Japanese agricultural politics has turned a corner; today, the focus of debate is no longer whether to reform agriculture but rather when and how to do it. What then, is Abe likely to do in the months ahead? Do expect him to keep pushing his TPP agenda; as he stated so unequivocally on numerous occasions during his recent visit to the United States, Abe firmly believes that the pact is key to the long-term health and prosperity of the Japanese economy.

But do not expect him to take a page from Koizumi’s playbook and stake his government’s future on the success of agricultural reform and/or TPP. He has far more on his reform plate than Koizumi ever did and is not about to risk it all for these two issues, important though they may be to his personal legacy.

Instead, Abe will continue his careful tug-of-war with those “forces of resistance,” pulling a little here, conceding a little there, so that more and more farmers and local coops can free themselves from JA’s stifling embrace and are eased, not thrown, into freer markets.

U.S. trade officials may be tempted to throw in the towel after the collapse of talks last week, but it is important to remember that the potential for change in Japanese agricultural politics is now greater than ever. The U.S. can help strengthen Abe’s hand as domestic battles play out by stepping up pressure on Japan to reach an agreement on TPP—an agreement that grants Abe the time and flexibility he will need to open domestic agricultural markets without inciting a debilitating backlash from his opponents.

Patricia L. Maclachlan is an associate professor of government and Asian studies and the Mitsubishi Heavy Industry Professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Texas at Austin.

Kay Shimizu is an assistant professor in the department of political science at Columbia University.

This piece first appeared in CFR's blog Asia Unbound here

Image: Creative Commons 3.0. 

TopicsEconomics RegionsJapan

The Ebola Crisis: "Possibly Killing Five Million People..."

The Buzz

The diagnosis of the first case of “imported” Ebola in the US has heightened public awareness and anxiety over the current outbreak in west Africa. The development sits atop a wave of recent depressing assessments. Last week, the Center for Disease Control issued a projection that tried to allow for the infection rate beyond the official count, and that factored in the rate at which infections are doubling in the different West African countries. That report makes for sobering reading: it’s the source of the latest projection of a possible 1.4 million cases by January 2015. Moreover, CDC has revised upward its estimate of the virus’s morbidity rate, from roughly 50% to a more precise 71%. That’s a high figure.

The World Health Organization has added to those concerns by noting that we might be witnessing a long-term shift of the virus out of the animal kingdom to become endemic in the human population. And the International Crisis Group has pointed to the social and political dynamics associated with the outbreak, suggesting we might see the “collapse” of West African nations under the burden that Ebola is imposing.

The Ebola crisis is still swelling in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, cutting a swathe through first-line medical responders (often small in number to begin with), weakening the capacity to cope with normal medical tasks, and biting into economic productivity and tourist rates. In recent weeks, we’ve seen a New York Times article canvassing the possibility that the virus might “go airborne”; an observation from a doctor in Germany that the virus might have to “burn itself out” in the current areas of major infection, possibly killing five million people; and Kent Brantly’s testimony that Ebola is “a fire straight from the pit of hell.”

Let’s put some of that into perspective. First, the outbreak in Africa derives part of its vigor from the weak national health infrastructures deployed against it (patients are routinely turned away from over-crowded hospitals), and the culture of fear and denial that surrounds the virus (seen in the attacks upon—and sometimes the killing of—aid workers sent into remote communities to help raise awareness of the disease). Infrastructures can be boosted and cultures can be changed, but it’s not quite as easy to do either as some claim. Countries that already have strong health systems and greater public awareness about the disease are better placed to respond to it.

Second, and less well noticed amongst the slew of bad news over the last week or so, has been an item of good news: there’s evidence that the outbreak is coming under control in Nigeria and Senegal, with no new cases of infection being reported in the past 21 days.

Third, experts dispute the notion that the virus can easily “go airborne.” For it to do so, it would have to mutate to target respiratory cells as a preferred infection route; and it would have to become more resilient at surviving outside its host’s body. Some say that’s possible: that influenza made that jump in the past. Others say the possibility of Ebola making the jump is remote.

Fourth, the CDC points to the continuing efficacy of isolation as a primary treatment. The fact that hospitals and treatment centers can contain the disease has much to do with their ability to isolate patients and thereby decrease the transmission rate to others. If early cases are treated properly, the disease has little chance to spread.

Because of globalization, we’re always worried these days by the prospect of “diseases without borders.” That’s a legitimate concern. Disease experts have for some years written about the growing viral superhighway that globalization provides. But not all viruses are equally adept at travelling along the highway. Monkeypox proved capable of reaching out from west Africa to Wisconsin in 2003, infecting five-year-old Schyan Kautzer: an imported Gambian giant rat in a US pet store passed the disease to a prairie dog which passed the disease to humans, one ocean and half a continent away from its usual habitat. It was observed at the time that it was easier for a Gambian rat to enter the US than it was for a Gambian: the rat needed neither passport, nor visa, nor funds to pay for its own airfare.

But with the current Ebola outbreak, we’re primarily talking about the movement of infected humans across national boundaries. That’s what happened in the US case—travel occurred before the individual showed any symptoms—and it’s certainly possible that similar cases might spring up elsewhere. Still, most Ebola victims aren’t travelling anywhere fast; and key infection points don’t have strong connections to the globalized world. Of course if the virus were to entrench itself in a city like Lagos—unlikely if the Nigerians really do have the outbreak under control—that’d be more concerning.

But if Ebola probably isn’t going to be a major problem for most of us, it’s already one for a small number of countries in West Africa. Nations should do what it can to help tamp down the latest outbreak—both in the name of humanitarian assistance and to minimize the prospect of Ebola exploring its own mutational possibilities.

Rod Lyon is a fellow at ASPI and executive editor of The Strategist where this piece first appeared

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsEbola RegionsAfrica

One Way To Combat The Ebola Virus: Use Counterinsurgency Tactics

The Buzz

As the United States sends military forces forward to support the effort to stop Ebola in West Africa, it is striking to see how similar this struggle is to counterinsurgency operations. While American soldiers will not be conducting any combat or law enforcement operations, counterinsurgency concepts are applicable to the deteriorating situation, and these have major implications for the broad coalition joining the fight against Ebola.

(A good reference on counterinsurgency operations is Army Field Manual 3-24. This article is based on concepts presented in the field manual).

The Struggle is For the Population

It is not about battles or weapons…it is about the people. An insurgency finds shelter and support in the population. The Ebola virus spreads within the population. The true “center of gravity”—the most important thing on which to focus—is the population.

Legitimacy is the Main Objective

At its essence, counterinsurgency is a struggle for legitimacy within the population. The existing authority competes with the insurgency for the population’s support. Some call this a struggle for the “hearts and minds” of the people, but this is not entirely correct. People do not have to like or respect an insurgency in order to support and protect it. Fear of reprisal can be a critical factor in the population’s choice to accept an insurgent movement.

In West Africa, fear has gripped the population. In an area decimated by civil war, governments have been unable to build the capacity to provide suitable health care during this epidemic. Public officials have lost trust, as the inadequate response has delegitimized the government in the eyes of many. Additionally, many Africans do not understand what Ebola is. They see people in rubber suits coming to their homes and taking their loved ones away. Rumors and conspiracy theories run rampant. The people are scared, and they react by keeping their sick relatives hidden in their homes. This is exactly the wrong thing to do, because it gives safe haven to the virus.

Isolation is the Mechanism for Victory

The way to win against an insurgency is to convince the people to separate themselves from the insurgents. The people must choose to remove the insurgents from their midst or tell the local authorities who the insurgents are. An isolated insurgency inevitably dies.

The same is true for Ebola. There is no cure for the virus. The only way to stop it is to halt its spread from person to person. This means that the population must be willing to identify who is sick and allow them to leave to prevent further infections.

Unity of Command is (Probably) Impossible, but Unity of Effort is Essential

It almost always takes a coalition of people and institutions to fight an insurgency, and implementing a strict chain of command is usually impossible. Nevertheless, unity of effort—getting everyone working toward the same goal—is critical to success. This is also true in the fight against Ebola, as local governments, the United Nations, the U.S. military, the World Health Organization, non-governmental organizations such as Médecins Sans Frontières, and volunteer medical workers from around the globe will join together to act. They will not answer to the same chain of command, but they must act in concert with one another.

A Long-Term Commitment is Required to Consolidate Victory

Counterinsurgencies are long-term struggles. Systemic problems usually drive the creation of the insurgency in the first place, and until these underlying issues are addressed, the insurgency will simmer, sometimes mutating and reappearing later. The best counterinsurgency efforts address the root causes of the insurgency over time.

This fight against Ebola must also be a long-term effort, especially among the health care institutions within the affected countries. These have been decimated, and they must be rebuilt with the expertise and capacity to provide an acceptable level of care for the population. If this does not happen, the disease will return. There is a real fear among health experts that the disease will become endemic, existing in perpetuity among humans, mutating and spreading within the vulnerable population. If this tragic development is to be prevented, a long-term commitment to building health care infrastructure and institutions will be needed.

What This Means…

Over the coming weeks and months, much of the attention will be on building the capacity to fight the virus—including building treatment centers, training health care workers, creating logistical networks, and delivering critical supplies. While this capacity is necessary to fight Ebola effectively, it is not sufficient. The main effort has to be gaining legitimacy within the population. In the short term, this means finding the most respected voices in the communities and using them to deliver the critical message about Ebola: those who are infected must be separated so they will not get others sick. This message must be communicated using any means, including nontraditional ones (in Liberia, rap musicians are using their art to warn people about Ebola). A successful outcome depends on the population’s reception of this message.

Colonel Clint Hinote  is the 2014-2015 U.S. Air Force Military Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. The opinions expressed here are his own. This piece first appeared on CFR’s Africa in Transition blog here.

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAfrica

An "App" For Peace?: Technology's Role in Asia’s Balance of Power

The Buzz

Asian geopolitics needs tech solutions to help manage the shifting regional balance of power and prevent war. 

For the past generation, Asia has known greater peace for a longer period than many expected.  Sure, policy wonks worry about a North Korea collapse, a regional nuclear arms race, or conflict in the South China Sea, but that’s their jobs.  At any rate, none of these nightmare scenarios have occurred, so what’s to worry about?  Admittedly, Asian security’s had a pretty good run to date.  But as every investor knows, past performance is not necessarily indicative of future performance. 

The “Asian peace” has been possible because of region-wide attentiveness to geopolitics.  Traditional sources of conflict among nations, such as arms races or conflict spirals, have been avoided through a combination of regional diplomacy, deterrence, and U.S. security commitments…not to mention a general desire to avoid war on the part of Asian civil societies.      

The absence of war and largely stable security climate over the intervening 30 years or so have allowed Asian economies to prosper.  Now, Asia is rich with innovative technologies, globally competitive startups, and, increasingly, venture capital.  Preqin, an information brokerage, estimates venture capital investments in Asia to have reached $10.5 billion for 2014.  Tech promises to be the future of Asian growth, and its success so far can be seen as a kind of peace dividend from the previous generation. 

Today, however, geopolitical trends are less stable than at any time in recent history.  Some Asian leaders question the staying power of the United States, and are wary of what a China-dominated region might look like.  Mistrust among Asian governments is also generally high, leading to military modernization and hedging strategies, even by U.S. allies.  On top of these geopolitical trends, power is diffusing, citizens are more empowered than they’ve ever been, and nationalism is ever present.  All of this throws into question the ability of diplomats and politicians to manage Asia’s next 30 years as deftly as they’ve managed the past 30 years. 

Regional Stability? There’s an App for That

Geopolitics is traditionally thought of as Henry Kissinger stuff—that is, the purview of foreign policy elites and national governments; great men (or women) making great decisions.  But as power shifts, regional alignments change, and militaries grow alongside citizen activism, tech can play an important role in keeping Asia peaceful. 

This idea—that tech can affect matters of war and peace—has already breached proof of concept phase. Tech startups are helping to reduce the cost and increase the global coverage of satellites through scale, which purports to improve the ability to provide persistent and accurate tracking of not just shipping, but potentially also illicit trafficking.   Big data analytics from social media platforms have been used to identify key areas of need during humanitarian disasters, from Haiti to Japan.  And in August of this year, a group of engineers and Silicon Valley investors gathered with North Korean defectors for a “Hackathon” with one basic question: How can we get more information into and out of North Korea? 

These examples only scratch the surface of tech’s potential to favorably influence geopolitics.  The major sources of potential instability in Asia today involve resolving collective action problems (How to cooperate?), improving transparency of military buildups (How to have accurate threat perceptions?), and managing regional flashpoints, from the Korean Peninsula to the East and South China Seas (How to reliably monitor contested territories and borders?).  From the large-scale protests we’ve seen in Hong Kong and Taipei the past year, a burgeoning challenge may well be navigating the interactions between large scale social movements and foreign policy (How to respect political rights while avoiding regional instability?). 

These are big challenges with big stakes, and while tech can’t be a solution to politics by itself, it can strengthen the hands of those who prefer peace over war, and a rules-based order over anarchy.  Geopolitics should not only be left to the diplomats and politicians in an era where so many different factors could disrupt the “Asian peace.”  For once, maybe tech can aim to prevent disruption—the geopolitical kind. 

Van Jackson is a Visiting Fellow at the Center for a New American Security and a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellow.  He specializes in the nexus of Asian international relations with technology and strategy. Follow him on Twitter @WonkVJ

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia-Pacific

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