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Western Institutions: Should They Be Exported?

Claudiu Sonda

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Democracy, liberalism, free markets: all concepts that we regard highly in the West. They are products of our historical and political tradition and they are surely seen as fundamental instruments in the toolkit for future problems and uncertainties. But sometimes we tend to forget exactly this, that they are instruments, not ends in themselves. And this leads me to question whether other parts of the world agree on their uniqueness.

In this article, I would like to explore whether or not the upper mentioned concepts hold some ground in non-Western regions of the world or they are simply seen as empty buzzwords. Before beginning, I would say that I expect to find out how these ‘other’ societies respect our political and economic systems but most probably would choose their own paths toward the same level of human development achieved here in the liberal-democratic hemisphere.

Liberty Close-Up

Source: Brian [email protected]

First, it is wise to make an essential distinction between values/principles and instruments used to pursue the former. Democracy, liberalism and free market are ways of organizing societies for the purpose to bring about desired outcomes. These outcomes offer to us the satisfaction of certain needs in terms of values and principles: equality, a multitude of freedoms and liberties, toleration, justice and fairness, well-being in general. We do not seek fair and free elections for the sake of electing but because we want to choose those leaders that would support us in getting what we need.The same with constitutionalism, which is in a sense a sum of ideas and patterns of behaviour that have the aim of guaranteeing the rights of the individual which are sometimes under threat from democratically elected power centres.

These paths to ‘a good life’ are our own and are the result of a turbulent, violent, and tyrannical past. There has of course always existed a lot of debate between more conservative and more progressive views on the efficiency and legitimacy of these ways forward in terms of stability and peaceful development. But even the most skeptical ones would agree that following a different radical route for preserving and going forward with our Western achievements would be too risky, having learned some lessons from the deadly ideological experiments of the 20th century.

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Source: Mark [email protected]

With regard to ‘the others’, it would be critical to understand the effects of the imposition of ‘our model’ on non-Western communities. There is a lot of literature on the failures of doing precisely this, therefore I will leave this discussion for another time. What I want to see is if people from other places are curious or not about ‘our way’ of doing things.

One first revealing case is the Russian Revolution of 1917 which ended not in the installment of liberal capitalism and a pluralistic democracy but in Marxist-Leninism and in the ultimate rule of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. This state of affairs did indeed come to replace the old Czarist autocracy and truly embodied the hopes and aspirations of the Russian people for a fair, equal and progressive society. Nevertheless, the means to achieve these goals were not embodied by European-style political and economic institutions. Furthermore, this system lasted for almost 70 years and even today there are quite a few ‘nostalgics’ out there both in Russia and in the post-soviet space. This to say that the consensus on the legitimacy of the ‘soviet path’ was close to our consensus on the liberal-democratic path.

Another curious example is Cuba. If during the Cold War it was understandable why the Castro regime prevailed over the US liberalisation agenda, now that the Soviet Union is gone, what could explain the continuation of a socialist and illiberal type of economic, social and political environment? More than this, Fidel Castro has been replaced as top figure , therefore the leader’s charisma can no longer be the answer. The relevancy of the Cuban exiles in American elections still cannot bring about the integration of Cuba into the US sphere of influence. The power of globalization, EU aid and trade and its political conditionality, the spread of Western ideals all over the globe- they do still not produce a Cuban Spring. Why is this? The mainstream response places the blame on the oppressive political regime. But what about the idea that maybe despite the shortcomings of their situation, Cuban citizens would actually prefer to gradually find their own way to a better life? I think it is a thought worthy of consideration.

Since we touched on the concept of Spring, the Arab revolutions of the recent years are also exemplifying cases of the principles vs instruments misunderstanding. What all protests had in common was a deep desire for ethical and moral principles such as justice, freedom, dignity and respect. Western leaders embarked on a liberal-democratic wave of support and mistook the genuine demands of the Arab people for the success of the Western model. Unfortunately, this turned (in an extreme case) into a regime change in Libya whose truly ‘democratic’ future is still far from reality . Also, it lead to the spread of instability in the region due to the free movement of weapons that fueled the Tuareg rebellion and the increasing role of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in Northern Mali.

To conclude, I will restate that so far the model of liberal-democracy is the best one for countries in the West. This is because it provides the organizational means to promote those values that we long for. In other situations though, these very same values and principles can be pursued through different actions and institutional frameworks. If our system proves itself to the rest of the world as being efficient and beneficial, then I think nothing can stop other communities from incorporating it. What we must not be tempted to do is to lecture people on how to organize themselves and to patronize their leaders. Nobody likes to have another’s agenda pushed on them. Advice is always better then sterile criticism.

Passionate student of IR and European politics with an interest in developing a high-level expertise in International Security and geopolitics.

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Opinion

On the issue of cyber security of critical infrastructures

Alexandra Goman

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There is a lot of talk in regards to cyberattacks nowadays. A regular user worries about its data and tries to secure by all means necessary. Yet, no one really thinks whether the power plants or nuclear facilities are well secured. Everyone assumes that they should be secured.

The reality, however, differs. According to many reports of cyber security companies, there is an increased risk of cyberattacks, targeting SCADA and ICS. Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) is used for the systems that control physical equipment – power plants, oil and gas pipelines, they can also control or monitor processes such as heating or energy consumption. Along with Industrial Control Systems (ICS) they control critical elements of industrial automation processes. Exploiting vulnerabilities of critical infrastructures can lead to the consequences of unimaginable scale. (These types of attacks are actually used in a cyberwar scenarios and hypothetical military settings).

Source: Fortinet, 2015

There are many reasons why these systems are vulnerable for attacks. First of all, the main problem is that these systems have an old design; they were built before they were connected to any networks. They were later configured to connect via Ethernet, and that’s when they became a part of a larger infrastructure. The more advanced SCADA system is becoming, the more vulnerabilities are these to exploit. The updates should be regular and on time. Secondly, there is a lack of monitoring. New devices that are connected allow remote monitoring, but not all devices have the same reporting capabilities. There are also authentication issues (weak passwords, authentication process), however, this is supposed to restrict unauthorized access (See Common SCADA Threats and Vulnerabilities at Patriot Technologies, Inc. Online).

In these scenarios, there is no certainty to know what is going to backfire because of the complexity of communications and power networks. This is also called a cascading effect of attacks. Not knowing who is connected to who may cause major disruptions. The example of the US East Coast power blackout in 2003 proves this point (a failure in one element of the grid spreads across other electrical networks). However, given this, it is also complicated for an attacker to predict consequences, if an attack executed. This kind of attack can easily escalate into more serious conflict, so it might not be the best option for states to employ such methods.

Moreover, there is a risk to damage a critical infrastructure unintentionally. That is if a virus or worm did not intend to target SCADA but happen to spread there as well. The uncontrollability of the code may seriously impair the desire to use it, especially when it comes to nation-states. For instance, in 2003 a worm penetrated a private network of the US Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station and disabled a safety monitoring system for 5 hours. In 2009, French fighter jets could not take off because they were infected with a virus.

Indeed, a scenario where an attacker gains access to a SCADA system and manipulates with the system, causing disruptions on a large-scale, might be hypothetical but it does not make it less possible in the future. However, the only known case so far, which affected an industrial control centre, is Stuxnet. It did not result in many deaths, yet it drew attention of the experts on the plausibility of future more sophisticated attacks. These potential upcoming attacks might cause the level of destruction, comparable to that of a conventional attack, therefore resulting in war.

Further reading:

Bradbury, D. (2012). SCADA: a Critical Vulnerability. Computer Fraud & Security, 4, p. 11-14.

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Briefly about the Russian Political Discourse

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As you may have noticed, the recent international discourse has been rotating around Russia and its relations to other countries for a long time. Needless to say that after the events in Georgia/Ukraine, this discourse is far from friendly. Some even say that rhetoric of the Cold War has returned. What makes people abroad wonder is why Russia chooses to respond to its foreign partners in this particular way? Why is it the way it is?

To begin with, there are several reasons that shape Russian rhetoric. First of all, they are historical and cultural values. Russia sees itself as a defender of its rights and identity and someone who is not going to follow someone else’s rules. Back to the 13th century, the grand prince (rus. knyaz) Aleksander Nevsky only accepted submission  to the Golden Horde to protect the Russian culture and belief, therefore depriving the West of the opportunity to take over its territories.  This mentality still governs the minds of people. Today, current political rhetoric is doing the same by refusing the Western pressure and external interference into its business.

After the Golden Horde, Russia has managed to maintain its unity. Back then, the East saw the country to be an heir to the great Byzantine Empire. Meanwhile, the enormous size of the country was rather intimidating; and even more, when it started acquiring new territories (remember reaction to the situation with Crimea).

On the one hand, Moscow tries to present itself strong when it communicates with the Europe; on the other hand, the Western neighbours seem to use the same old-fashioned strategy to isolate the big neighbour. Since the time of Ivan the Terrible, no one really has wanted strong and stable Russia and there were steps before to prevent the unity of Eurasia.

The long history of Russia plays a big role in forming the modern mind of the citizen and current political rhetoric. Russian people and the government would not admit defeat and would do anything possible to prevail, even if it means to live in humble circumstances for some time (think of the continuous sanctions).

The tough policy of Peter the Great, the emperor of Russia, has brought the country to a new level in comparison to others. At that time already, all the international questions were only resolved with the help of Russia. In the following years, the power of the country kept growing only to solidify during the rule of Catherine the Great. The famous grand chancellor of Russia and the chief of foreign policy Bezborodko used to say, “I don’t know how it will be at your time, but at this time not a single gun is allowed to fire without our permission”[1]. Now, Russia tries to achieve similar influence.

The period after the World War II proved to be fruitful for the development of the European countries. While the US and USSR were competing, Europe was free from deciding on serious issues, so it could absorb and enjoy the time of quiet development.

Nonetheless, there has been a clear confrontation between the two ideologies, Nazism and Communism. Even though the USSR did not try to exterminate the nations, the scary ghost of the USSR keeps frightening the rest of the world. The impression of “evil USSR” flying over the international relations is still there and penetrates the minds of the people.

After the collapse of the USSR, there was a chance to promote peace and peaceful coexistence.  Russia has repeatedly expressed its interest in it, yet the Western partners have chosen another way:  NATO enlargement to the East (which is believed to be a broken promise).  Interestingly enough, George Kennan, the so-called creator of containment policy of Soviet expansion, considered the NATO expansion a tragic mistake.

All in all, abovementioned factors play a significant role in shaping the Russian political discourse. Cultural and historical values, national pride (and therefore negative feeling towards the Western sanctions) as well as the use of state symbols to unite the country are the most important rhetoric tools in the Russian language arsenal. Its constant and regular transmission through the media and other communication channels make this rhetoric influential and persuasive.

[1] [URL: http://www.istmira.com/istoriya-rossii-s-drevnejshix-vremen-do-nashix/290-kakovy-itogi-i-posledstviya-vneshnej-politiki.html] [дата обращения: 20.05.2016]

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Yes, You Should Start Caring About Politics!

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One of the most common things that you hear from people a lot of the time is something along the lines of “I just don’t really care about politics.” In fact, you might have even said something along those lines yourself. And it can be tempting to fall into this line of thinking. After all, politics are hardly the most exciting or exotic things in the world. However, the truth is that they impact your life in different ways every single day and if you choose to ignore politics, then that just meant that you’re going to end up falling victim to policies that harm you and the people around you. With that in mind, here are some ways that you can start being more politically minded right now.

Know the issues

Do you know where you stand on many of the most important issues of the modern day? Do you know what most of those issues are? The truth is that many people would rather ignore a lot of the problems that society and the world at large face simply because it can feel as though they’re too big to deal with. Things like the economy, climate change, and social justice aren’t just abstract concepts; they’re things that impact the lives of real people every single day. Being more informed about the issues will allow you to have a much better understanding of your own political views.

Know who to speak to

Do you know who your senator is? Your representative? Most people tend to only know major politicians who have held office at one point or another. Sure, you probably know the president or a senator like John Mccain. But what about all of the other senators like Doug Jones or Mike Crapo? These are the people you can actually contact if you want to start making some changes in the world. Getting to know who you can contact can help you feel much more involved in the modern political process.

Forget about personalities and focus on policies

Modern politics has become as much of a game of personalities as anything else. But the truth is that the personalities of individual politicians are far less important than the policies that they and their party want to enact. After all, the policies are the things that will actually make a difference in people’s lives. You should never vote just because you like or dislike the way that a particular politician talks or what their personality seems to be like. Always vote on policies, not personalities.

Now, this doesn’t mean that you should suddenly let politics take over every conversation that you have or that you need to be constantly thinking about it. But trying to bury your head in the sand and ignore the things that are going on around you isn’t going to do you any good. The only way that you can start to make some genuine changes in the world is if you face up to the realities of the modern world and try to do something about it.

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