Anti-government protesters attend a rally outside Government House on December 9, 2013 in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo credit: Sira Anamwong.
Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 1, No. 8, December 2013.
By Anders Corr, Ph.D.
Thailand’s opposition Democrat Party, as well as the supporting People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protest movement, will weaken due to strategic missteps of boycotting elections and attempting to block other parties from registering with Thailand’s electoral commission. It should be obvious that elections and elected position are a potent source of influence for both political parties and social movements. Boycotting elections invariably backfires as a strategy because it increases distance between the challenger who wields the strategy, and the electoral source of influence. Election boycotts led to landslide victories for incumbents in Trinidad and Tobago (1971), Jamaica (1983), Burkina Faso (1991), Ghana (1992), Togo (1993), Ethiopia (1994), Mali (1997), Algeria (1999), Gambia (2002), Guinea (2003), Azerbaijan (2003), Iraq (2005) and Venezuela (2005). The incumbent also won the boycotted 3 April 2006 elections in Thailand. These were later invalidated and followed by a coup, resulting in the instability that continues in Thailand today. As in prior boycotts, expect the incumbent political party, in this case Prime Minister Shinawatra’s Pheu Thai, to take advantage of the challenger’s absence to consolidate the Pheu Thai’s parliamentary majority and public image. Expect increased dissatisfaction among the opposition and military, and resulting political instability.[1. Horowitz, Donald. Ethnic Groups in Conflict. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1985, p. 327; New York Times, “Jamaica election boycott,” 11/29/1983.; Frankel, Matthew. “Threaten but participate: why election boycotts are a bad idea.” Brookings Policy Paper #19, March 2010. Washington, DC: Brookings Institute.] Continue reading →
The Obama administration is currently under pressure by certain US lawmakers, as well as Britain, France, and Israel, to take limited military action in Syria. These actions could include securing a humanitarian corridor into the country, providing military equipment to the non-Al Qaeda affiliated Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Syrian Opposition Coalition (SOC), and destroying the Syrian Air Force (WSJ).
Such measures might remove a bit of pressure from rebels and provide a public opinion boost to current participating governments in the US, France, and Britain, in that voting publics in those countries would feel that their governments were doing something positive to end the Syrian crisis. However, due to the limited nature of the proposed military measures, they would not alter the balance of forces on any side of the complex conflict and could lead to notable negative consequences. Continue reading →
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius recently indicated that development would be a priority in Mali as a counterinsurgency strategy. The theory is that after winning the war, an infusion of development funding will solidify gains among the population and strengthen their resolve against Islamist rebels. French and Malian officials are currently in Lyon, France, discussing details of 300 projects that will focus on water, health, education, and job training (BBC, EuroNews).
While providing development to impoverished Malians is intuitively good, the likely small scale of the overall project, combined with its implementation in a conflict zone, pose complications and could even lead to confounding effects. Mali has an overall population of 15.5 million sharing a GDP of $9.6 billion ($619 per capita) (CIA Factbook). While the amount of development funding planned by France has not been revealed, development funding in Afghanistan can be used as a point of comparison: $62 billion over ten years from 2002-2011 (National Defense University), or about $200 per person per year. An equivalent development level for Mali would require $3.1 billion for 2014 alone, which is unlikely given the state of France’s economy.
The impact of $200 of funding per person per year in Mali could actually be negative. Twenty-five percent is probably lost to legitimate administration. Through corruption, government officials could absorb 5-15% of the remaining funding. Through extortion, Islamist rebels could “tax” the development contractors doing the actual construction or service delivery in Northern Mali. This could provide them with access to scarce cash necessary to take their rebellion to a more lethal level. Finally, populations with heightened expectations from advance hearsay of the development projects could have those expectations dashed by the inadequacy of those projects once they reach the villages. While a nice gesture, whatever development funding remains after administration, corruption, and extortion costs (about $120 per capita by my calculation) may seem stingy to a Malian villager who is now intimate with the French rolling around in million-dollar armored vehicles, and streaking across the sky in jets.
Thomas Hegghammer of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment recently found that most terrorists originating in the West (Europe, Australia, or the US) conduct their terrorism in conflict zones such as Iraq or Afghanistan. These terrorists are defined as “foreign fighters”. When these foreign fighter veterans return to the West, they are more likely to complete attacks, which are more likely to be lethal (American Political Science Review, volume 107, no. 1, Feb 2013, “Should I stay or should I go? Explaining variation in Western Jihadists’ choice between domestic and foreign fighting.”)
As the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down, we can expect countervailing effects on terrorism in the West. On the one hand, there presumably will be less reason to conduct terrorism, as terrorists use these wars as justification for their actions. On the other hand, foreign fighter veterans will be returning to the West, increasing the quantity, militancy, and experience of the pool of potential domestic terrorists. New justifications for terrorism — for example Western intervention in Mali and Syria — can always be found by those so inclined.