Thursday, November 13, 2014


There is quite a bit of research on the impact (or not) of the  US Silk Road Strategy Act of 1999, out there on the Internet. For example,

assesses plans and projects of this Act, which was to advance US economic and political interests in Central Asian countries. Ultimately it had minimal impact, died in US Senate in 2006, and was a failed attempt by the US.  Here you would ask yourself, why did it fail? Looking at a map, you will see that China and Russia are the closest dominant countries to Kazakhstan. So to explore why the Silk Road Act wasn't successfully implemented, you would look for possible roadblocks, and do  a google search with terms such as  'China and Russia response to the US Silk Road Strategy Act".
This would have come up:

Here you would understand that Central Asian countries are treading a very delicate path between the major powers, China/Russia vs US/NATO. To align itself with US interests, would put Kazakhstan at odds with its dominant neighbors , traditional ally Russia and emerging power China.
This balancing act by most of the developing countries in Central and South Asia is a central theme of my INTL 5665 class. The failure of the Silk Road Strategy Act resulted in a consolidation of a policy by Central Asian states, to not ally themselves solidly with the economic strategies of the US.
There was a lot of speculation that when Russia entered Ukraine in 2014, Central Asian states would pivot towards the US for military protection. Since then, it has become clear that the government of Ukraine is composed of fascists:

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


There is a debate as to whether Hamas is considered a terrorist organization ( It's considered terrorist by a minority of nations (Hamas or its military wing is designated as a terrorist organization by Australia, Canada, Egypt, the European Union, Israel, Japan, the United States..,) . Like most militant organizations and most armies in the world, Hamas inflicts civilian casualties.  There is plenty of blame to go around.
There are other Israeli views different from the government:. "As long as we label Hamas as a terrorist organization, we cannot achieve a satisfactory cease fire in the south and won't be able to negotiate with the Gaza government on three main issues:
  1. International supervision of the removal of missiles, and the prohibition on importing them by land, sea, or air
  2. Opening the borders to Israel so that Gazans may come to Israel for work
  3. Secure passage between Gaza and the West Bank

In a highly debated topic, it's more credible to review both sides and then come up with evidence that supports your side.

To ignore the other side, undermines credibility that you are fully aware of all the points of view in a contested area.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

THE IRAQI TILT (1982-1990)

Excellent discussion in Wk 1 in my Spring 2014 UMUC class on the 1991 Gulf War. Arguments for and against the Iraqi Tilt - the US support of Saddam Hussein against Iran during the Iran-Iraq War - have been laid out well.
The mandate in this class is to understand history from the perspective of policy analysis. Would events have occurred differently had a certain policy not been followed? Would Saddam Hussein been enboldened to invade Kuwait in 1990, if he had not previously received the green light to carry on his invasion of Iran? Clearly, he mis-read the situation entirely, as Clovis Maksoud points out. He also knew that that a similar Iraqi incursion into Kuwait in 1960, had been met with disapproval from the West. The UK sent troops to the border of Kuwait and Iraq to prevent a border war. On the other hand, the West mis-read Hussein, by providing him funds that he used to build up his military, but expecting at the same time that he would 'stay in his box'.  The West' policy was that of 'the enemies (Iraq) of my enemies (Iran) are my friends."
The question before the class in terms of policy analysis is: should  potential long term consequences of supporting a dictator be evaluated? Or should short term goals (defeating Iran) remain paramount? One student pointed out the ethical dimensions of foreign policy.  As a democracy and signatory to various human rights treaties, should the US adhere to human rights norms in choosing allies...or is that simply not a realistic strategy?
In 1987, the neoconservative Daniel Pipes correctly saw how the Iraqi Tilt might backfire:
"A more serious argument against a tilt toward Iraq is the danger that a victorious Baghdad would itself turn against pro-American states in the region — mainly Israel, but also Kuwait and other weak states in the Persian Gulf region. "
Hindsight is not 20/20 always...since Daniel Pipes clearly saw the danger involved in the Iraqi Tilt while it was in effect.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


I believe that a referendum of the people of Kashmir is the only way to solve this kind of ethnic/territorial dispute.  A referendum has been the proposed solution for Kashmir since 1949:

"On 5 January 1949, UNCIP (United Nations Commission for India and Pakistan) resolution stated that the question of the accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir to India or Pakistan will be decided through a free and impartial plebiscite. As per the 1948 and 1949 UNCIP Resolutions, both countries accepted the principle, that Pakistan secures the withdrawal of Pakistani intruders followed by withdrawal of Pakistani and Indian forces, as a basis for the formulation of a Truce agreement whose details are to be arrived in future, followed by a plebiscite; However, both countries failed to arrive at a Truce agreement due to differences in interpretation of the procedure for and extent of demilitarisation one of them being whether the Azad Kashmiri army is to be disbanded during the truce stage or the plebiscite stage. "

Referendum (plural would be Referenda?) have been used more widely than is supposed. Kyrgystan held a referendum in 2010:

"Rosa Otunbayeva, the country's acting leader, said she had won overwhelming support for her plan to create a new parliamentary system. "The new constitution of the Kyrgyz republic has been approved," she said in the capital Bishkek, adding: "We are proud of our country, which made this choice at a difficult hour."
Today's ballot was designed to legitimise the current government and to replace the country's abuse-prone presidential system."

A referendum can serve to defuse a potential civil war, but as with any public vote, it has to be perceived as fair and free.

The UN sponsored a referendum 30 August 1999 in East Timor, in which the vast majority of East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia. This was followed by a violent attack against pro Independence forces, but ultimately the will of the East Timorese prevailed.

This year, Crimea was annexed to Russia following a pro-Russian referendum vote in Crimea.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014


Good question this week in my INTL 5665 Central and South Asian Studies Masters class...what are the relations between the US and Turkmenistan? Here you would start by looking first at US policy regarding this country.
During the administration of GW Bush, the focus was on Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, in order to obtain military bases re: NATO-US war against Taliban 2001-now.
Under Obama, there has been rapprochement (a French term used in diplomacy which means attempting new relations after either hostilities or neutrality). Obama wants to focus on energy cooperation (the TAPI pipeline) and so Turkmenistan became important, as well as Kazakhstan, Central Asia's largest producer and exporter of oil (Turkmenistan is the region's largest producer and exporter of natural gas.)  But Turkmenistan wants to diversify export routes of its gas - and this is its key foreign policy objective.
Obstacles in the way of the US being a prime economic ally of this country are these:
1) Hegemonic influence of the USSR - still a major holdover from the days of the USSR
2) Turkmenistan sees China as a major consumer, and this has resulted in extensive Sino-Turkmenistan energy cooperation.
3) Because the US is promoting democracy and human rights in Central Asia, the US State Department cannot take the government of Turkmenistan's abysmal human rights record, lightly.  Amnesty International noted that in 2013, in February, "President Berdimuhamedov was re-elected with 97.4% of the vote. The OSCE did not send election monitors, citing limited political freedom in Turkmenistan.
In March, the UN Human Rights Committee concluded that although Turkmenistan showed a “new willingness” to improve its human rights record, a disparity between legislation and implementation persisted."
The US must still, according to its energy objectives, attempt rapprochement. A 2013 Congressional Research Service report states that US has provided and $6.02 million in FY 2013, and has requested $6.455 million for FY 2014 - excluding amounts from Defense and Energy Department funding. 



Recent Developments and U.S. Interests

Jim Nichol

Specialist in Russian

and Eurasian Affairs

December 12, 2013


Thursday, February 27, 2014


Start with a  Literature Search which is a thorough search for all types of published literature to identify as many items as possible that are relevant to your topic. From there, you narrow down your topic even further.
This requires a structured approach. So you've selected a topic. Do it now in form of a question...what is it you want to know? Do not be broad as in "I want to know about oil in xxx countries". Rather say, "I want to know about trade barriers to oil production in xxx countries". Then, define the terms in your topic.
Set boundaries of time and space. How far back to you want to go in time? In the case of African countries, you will want to look at the legacy of colonialism of the 19th century, the Cold War, at least briefly as context, but then you want to set very clear time boundaries. So then your research question will be "I want to know what the impact of trade barriers on oil production in xxx countries have been in the last 10 years."
Now you are ready to select your sources...such as government publications, reports, legal documents and journal articles.
To be continued.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014


historically, we see a pattern of government intervention in the birth of capitalism. Very simply put, wealth accumulation that drove the industrial/capitalist revolution in Europe, was very much due to colonization and the trade profits that ensued. Profits from the 3 addictions we have today -sugar, tobacco and coffee - (if we can call coffee an addiction!) were highly profitable based on the new maritime technology, and profits were ploughed into emerging industries. The new maritime efforts were encouraged by the British monarchy in the 17th century, particularly King Charles II, who set up all kinds of technological societies for scientists, and also, allowed merchant ships to fly under the British flag. Sailing around the world entailed devising a way of telling time uniformly. This is how Greenwich Mean Time was established, something we use all the time today to coordinate our activities globally across geographic space. Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) originally referred to the mean solar time at the Royal Observa1tory in Greenwich, London.
This comes under the theory of 'mercantilism'....the protection of trade in its early days in the 16-17th centuries.

Sunday, January 19, 2014


Q. Why doesn't Marx incorporate the costs of the capitalists into his analysis?

A. Marx incorporates to the costs of the capitalist into his analysis. Marx refers to the costs of machines etc, as THE MEANS OF PRODUCTION (MOP) which is owned by the capitalist. This is covered in Ch 15 of Das Capital "Machinery and Large Scale Industry'. He describes the shift from the means of production owned by the artisan to the development of the factory system, where the MOP are owned by the factory owner.

Q. How does Marx differentiate the skilled and unskilled laborer?

A  He addresses the differences in the section in Das Capital "The Division of Labour and Manufacture." He explains that the unskilled laborer is performing the same simple repetitive motion all this life, as an appendage to a machine. Manufacture, he said, has taken over the skill of the specialized worker  by breaking down his/her work until the finished product, into smaller and repetitive tasks. The unskilled laborer does not see the finished product, which contributes to his alienation. In this way, the guilds of the Middle Ages were no longer needed. The productivity of the laborer depends on the breakdown of the craftsman's tools into dozens of varieties of tools that can be used repetitively.

Q Where does  Marx say the capital come from re: the initial investment?

A. This is covered by Part 8 of Das Capital "So-called Primitive Accumulation". Basically, in Europe, there was an appropriation of the land cultivated by individual peasants, which was turned into a cash crop (sheep) to produce wool. This was the genesis of the 'capitalist farmer' which raised the income necessary to begin the industrial revolution. Also, European imperialism which started in the 17th century, for example, the colonization of India which helped the UK to accumulate wealth.
You asked '(is it really that simple to calculate to subsistence needs?). In fact, that is what is done in the US every year with the Minimum the state of Arizona, it's $7.50 an hour. In fact, the Minimum Wage hasn't kept up with inflation and so can hardly be said to cover subsistence costs. This is the reason why the US has about 40 million 'working poor' who cannot afford health care.
Today, capital for investment comes from hereditary wealth, bank loans and investment capitalists.

Q. Does Marx take into account labor costs of products getting to market (original conceptualization, design, subsequent  transportation and marketing costs)?

A. This is addressed by Marx, under the concept of  'ABSTRACT LABOR'. This is quite a difficult concept to grasp. Marx distinguishes CONCRETE LABOR (the worker on the job producing a gadget for so many hours a day) from ABSTRACT LABOR (the sum total of labor power that goes into designing, getting a gadget to market). This concept also takes into account the impossibility to compare the value of one type of labor with another (such as the unskilled worker with the professional, such the designer of a product).  Marx writing in the 19th century obviously doesn't address the huge taxes, marketing and advertising costs we have today, specifically. In his day, neither taxation or advertising presented enormous costs.  Interestingly, the use of psychology in advertising was developed in the early 50s by Freud's nephew. This installed false needs in consumerism (do we need 50 brands of shampoo?)
Back to ABSTRACT LABOR. This is one of the most controversial but intriguing concepts that Marx introduced. It's the idea that a product is not just the idea of a manufacturer, but incorporates the knowledge and expertise of people over the millenia. So for example, where would today's technology be without the introduction of calculus by Sir Isaac Newton in the 18th century? Or, for another example, you wouldn't be eating corn today without the expertise of unknown indigenous populations who developed it in the Americas.

Engels in Anti-Durhing, explains this difficulty of measuring all the labor value that goes into one commodity and offers a solution ("equal wages for equal labour-time! ").

"But let us look a little more closely at the doctrine of equality in values. All labour-time is entirely equal in value, the porter’s and the architect’s. So labour-time, and therefore labour itself, has a value. But labour is the creator of all values. It alone gives the products found in nature value in the economic sense. Value itself is nothing else than the expression of the socially necessary human labour materialised in an object. Labour can therefore have no value. One might as well speak of the value of value, or try to determine the weight, not of a heavy body, but of heaviness itself, as speak of the value of labour, and try to determine it...

How then are we to solve the whole important question of the higher wages paid for compound labour? In a society of private producers, private individuals or their families pay the costs of training the qualified worker; hence the higher price paid for qualified labour-power accrues first of all to private individuals: the skilful slave is sold for a higher price, and the skilful wage-earner is paid higher wages. In a socialistically organised society, these costs are borne by society, and to it therefore belong the fruits, the greater values produced by compound labour. The worker himself has no claim to extra pay. And from this, incidentally, follows the moral that at times there is a drawback to the popular demand of the workers for “the full proceeds of labour”."Anti-Dühring by Frederick Engels 1877
Part II: Political Economy, Section 6.

Q. Does Marx take into account what the consumer is willing to pay for a commodity?
A. This is covered by Marx' view of the falling rate of profit. He basically says that if a consumer cannot afford a product (which is exactly what is happening today due to the failing economy) then there can be no profit. He distinguishes profit from exchange value and surplus value (which carry the potential for profit, but doesn't guarantee it). He predicted that capitalism would fail for just this reason...too many products, not enough consumption due to the continual cutting back of labor costs due to machines and other factors. To me this marks the agility of his theory, to be able to predict this:
The falling rate of profit is covered in Chapter 13, Das Kapital Vol 3.
This is the relevant para:
"The progressive tendency of the general rate of profit to fall is, therefore, just an expression peculiar to the capitalist mode of production of the progressive development of the social productivity of labour. This does not mean to say that the rate of profit may not fall temporarily for other reasons. But proceeding from the nature of the capitalist mode of production, it is thereby proved a logical necessity that in its development the general average rate of surplus-value must express itself in a falling general rate of profit. Since the mass of the employed living labour is continually on the decline as compared to the mass of materialised labour set in motion by it, i.e., to the productively consumed means of production, it follows that the portion of living labour, unpaid and congealed in surplus value, must also be continually on the decrease compared to the amount of value represented by the invested total capital. Since the ratio of the mass of surplus-value to the value of the invested total capital forms the rate of profit, this rate must constantly fall. (Karl Marx, Capital, vol. 3, chapter 13, p 4)

Marx says the incentive for developing new technology, such as the sewing machine, replaces the artisan, and comes from the capitalist But the way it happens under the pursuit of profit is to 'convert the worker into a crippled monstrosity...through the suppression of a whole world of productive drives and inclinations' (Das Capital, Vol 1  p 481, Penguin Edition). I wonder what Marx would say about labor saving devices under a system not driven by profit.

Q. Why didn't expert economists predict the 2008 global economic crisis? Did Marx predict such crises?

A. One reason is that expert economists tend to focus on units of analysis like consumers, business and government. What they didn't look at was the fragility of the finance markets and the risks they were taking. Experts also don't look at the history of economies, where one can see boom and bust cycles. They didn't acknowledge or track the constant changes and fluctuations of a capitalist economy, dating back to the 18th century.
This is what Marx predicted in the 19th century. See which has come true in the 20th and 21st century:

• Stepped up technological progress
• Accelerated increase in the productivity and intensity of labor
• Spread of capitalism through every part of the world
• Growing concentration and centralization of capital
• Transformation of the great majority of economically active people into sellers of labor power
• Declining rate of profit
• Increased rate of surplus value
• Periodically recurrent recessions
• Inevitable class struggle between Capital and Labor
• Increasingly revolutionary attempts to overthrow capitalism