Category Archives: International Policy

Bruce Jentleson on the UAE: Up on Renewable Energy, Down on Political Islam

by BRUCE JENTLESON for ISLAMiCommentary on JANUARY 8, 2013: 

Our Center for American Progress delegation just finished three plus days in the United Arab Emirates; a visit designed to gain a better understanding of key issues in the region that affect and are affected by US policy.

While I’d been to both Abu Dhabi and Dubai before for conferences, those were more self-contained. This trip involved much more direct engagement with political leaders.

The agenda included meetings with cabinet members (the UAE’s Foreign Minister, Minister of Energy, and Minister of State), tours and briefings at the Masdar City renewable energy project and Dubai Ports, a visit to the joint US-UAE Al Dhafra Air Base, dinner discussions with business leaders, and a meeting with the US Ambassador.

Renewable Energy and Economic Growth 

There is much that is impressive about the UAE, and I don’t mean just the glitz of Dubai (I’m not much for indoor skiing in the desert.)

Noteably, Masdar, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Government’s Mubadala Development Company, is building from scratch a planned free-economic-zone “green city.”

And Masdar and MIT, in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi government, have come together on a project that established a leading graduate research university —  Masdar Institute — focusing on alternative energy, sustainability, and advanced technology. These and other projects make the UAE a world leader in renewable energy.

While it may seem paradoxical for a leading OPEC oil producer to be investing in renewables, it has both a near-term economic rationale (free up more oil from domestic consumption for export) and is indicative of longer-term strategic planning. Our meeting with the Minister of Energy provided a fuller sense of the UAE energy policy, including nuclear energy.

The Dubai Ports operation — the Jebel Ali port is the 3rd busiest in the world — is quite sophisticated; getting to actually see it operating was amazing.  Also, Dubai just won the international competition for Expo 2020 , and is planning economic growth around that. (The six-month-long World Expo, held every five years, has never been held in the Middle East, Africa and South East Asia in the history of the event until now.)

Gender Parity and Human Rights 

Particularly impressive was a meeting with Minister of State Reem Al Hashimi. She is one of four women ministers in the UAE Cabinet. Her portfolio is a broad one, including having been the point person for winning the UAE’s Expo 2020 bid. This too was a frank discussion.  For example, the UAE is #1 in the Arab world in gender parity but #123 in the world rankings for the same, so, as she explained, much has been accomplished but there’s much to be done.

Not so impressive — the UAE’s overall record on human rights. Our delegation did not get to meet with civil society groups and didn’t get very far in trying to raise issues such as the ban on some US NGOs from operating in the UAE, or the nine-month detention in Dubai of Shezanne Cassime, an American  charged with defaming the country’s image abroad with his satirical YouTube video on Arab youth culture. (That said there were reports out today that he will soon be released)

Political Islam: Just Say No? 

In terms of foreign policy, the UAE has been a close ally of the United States. Its troops were part of the coalitions in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and also the Libya 2011 intervention against Qaddafi.

While one does get a sense of many shared interests, on two issues our group had some particularly robust discussions with UAE officials.

One was the emergence and strength of political Islam in many parts of the region and particularly in Egypt with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The UAE has been a staunch supporter of Egypt’s military regime that took over from the Brotherhood this summer – and the UAE together with Saudi Arabia has given $16 billion in aid. The UAE government view of the MB and political Islam generally is essentialist; convinced that it is an unabashed adversary and must be squashed in all forms and all traces.

My own view, as I’ve written here and here, is that such an approach is likely to feed into radicalization, and make the very outcome to be avoided more, not less, likely. Political Islam is here to stay. It will be in the political mix more often than not. No question there are always terrorism risks amid instability and uncertainty about the shape successor regimes take. But while transnational links to Al Qaeda or other similar actors certainly need to be taken into account in shaping our relations, and their significance weighed hard-headedly, this must not automatically trump other factors.  Making further assessments of the goals, strategies, visions and leadership of different Islamist parties and movements in different countries is necessary. Policies need to be tailored to oppose those inimical to our values and threatening our interests, while remaining open to those with which coexistence and cooperation may be possible even though we have differences.

Another issue in our discussions with officials was Iran. While they do stress the threat posed by Iran, and some of their own particular issues such as the disputes over the Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunbs Islands, they are not as staunch as Saudi Arabia and its Sunni-Shia cold (and not so cold) war.

Still we had some robust (good diplomatic word, so I’ll say it again) discussions around these questions: Is the Rouhani regime just a charm offensive, a gambit to feign change and get the world to let its guard down? Or is this a real opportunity, both on the nuclear proliferation issue and for further possible improvements in US and other countries’ relations with Iran — that could have broader constructive effects for Middle East security?

Duke Blue

And yes I even found some Duke blue presence on the trip. The US Ambassador’s mother was a librarian at Lilly Library. And I was wearing my Duke hat when visiting the US air force base, which prompted one of the officers to say “you guys played great the other night, tough loss” – and he meant the football team!

On to Jordan next …


Bruce W. Jentleson is Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at the Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University, and affiliated faculty with the Duke Islamic Studies Center. He is also a Distinguished Scholar with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (Jan.-June 2014), and Co-Principal Investigator with the Duke-American University-UC Berkeley “Bridging the Gap” initiative. Jentleson’s areas of expertise include Middle East peace and security, international conflict prevention, global governance, international security, and U.S. foreign policy. In 2009-11 he served as a Senior Advisor at the State Department. His publications include “American Foreign Policy: The Dynamics of Choice in the 21st Century” (W.W. Norton, 5th edition 2013). Current projects include U.S. policy in the new Middle East, genocide and mass atrocities prevention, and a study of leading statesmen/women of the last century. In Fall 2013 he taught the Coursera MOOC (Massive Open Online Course): “21st Century American Foreign Policy.”

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Global Financial Reform in the Wake of the Financial Crisis of 2008

by: Anthony Elson 

            In the five-year period since the outbreak of the global financial crisis, much attention has been given to the financial reforms that are needed at the national and global levels to minimize the risks of such crises in the future.  The discussions on global financial reform have been coordinated mainly by the G20 major advanced and emerging market economies, and have focused on improvements in what is known as the international financial architecture (IFA).  The IFA represents the institutional and cooperative arrangements that governments have put in place, such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Financial Stability Board (FSB), to monitor and regulate global financial flows and to provide emergency financing for countries in times of financial crises.  A key aspect of this reform effort has been focused on the governance arrangements for the IFA.  Notwithstanding the extensive discussions that have taken place, the pace of reform has been very slow and much remains to be accomplished.

At the institutional level, the shift of discussions on global financial reform from the G7 to the G20 has been an important improvement, along with the establishment of regular semi-annual meetings of the G20 at the level of both national leaders and finance ministers/central bank governors. This change, however, still leaves open the question of what criteria determine membership in the G20, as distinct from the International Monetary and Financial Committee and the Development Committee that oversee the operations of the IMF and World Bank, respectively, which are grounded in the clearly specified membership criteria of these institutions. There is also a large amount of redundancy among these three committees at the ministerial level, which has not been addressed, and should be simplified. In addition, with the passage of time, the agenda of the G20 has become extremely diffuse, embracing a wide range of topics beyond global financial reform. As a result, the initiative adopted by the G20 at the London Summit of 2009 to establish specific targets for coordinating and monitoring macroeconomic policy adjustments subject to a strict peer review process among its members has been abandoned.  This failure means that there is lacking within both the G20 process of deliberation and the IMF surveillance exercises an effective enforcement mechanism, which would help to avoid problems such as the build-up of global payments imbalances that were a major contributing factor in the global financial crisis.

Another important governance reform promoted by the G20 that is yet to be implemented relates to an increase in the financial resources of the IMF and the distribution of quota shares in the institution. A proposal to double the financial resources of the IMF along with a significant shift of quota shares in favor of the major emerging market economies was adopted by the Fund’s Executive Board, but these changes have yet to be approved at the national level. Significantly, legislative approval by the United States, whose vote is required for any major change in IMF operations, is highly uncertain in the present political climate. In addition, no discussions have taken place on the process of leadership selection of the Bretton Woods institutions, which by an informal agreement has always called for a European to take the top position in the IMF and an American to lead the World Bank.  Another reform that should be taken up within the IMF is the means by which its resources could be temporarily augmented during a major financial crisis, including through an issue of SDRs that were intended to be a major form of international reserve currency, and coordinated within a network of central bank swap arrangements.

The governance arrangements of the IFA also need to be improved in regard to its regulatory focus, which is coordinated through the FSB. The role of the FSB is to coordinate international discussions on the regulatory and other infrastructural aspects of the global financial system as a twin pillar within the IFA along side the IMF with its financial and policy surveillance responsibilities. However, even though the FSB has been formally established as an international institution unlike its predecessor body (the Financial Stability Forum), it still only has a very limited secretariat (of around 25 people, some of whom are seconded from member countries), and a part-time chairman. Clearly, to be effective, the resources of the FSB need to be significantly expanded.

The FSB has coordinated some reforms of the Basel capital accord, involving a limited increase in capital requirements for banks and the introduction of a new, maximum (leverage) ratio for total assets to capital and minimum liquidity requirements. However, in the opinion of most experts, the new capital and leverage requirements are very weak, in part because of intense lobbying pressure by banks on the national regulators that participate in FSB discussions, and need to be strengthened.

Anthony Elson is a Visiting Lecturer at the Sanford School, and will be teaching a mini-seminar in the Spring 2014 term on the Global Financial Crisis and Reform of the International Architecture.

Rage Against The (Chinese) Machine

By: Michael Chiulli


As captured in Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled album cover, self-immolation has long been a terrifying means of protest in Tibet, particularly among Buddhist monks.  A recent wave of fiery deaths has brought this issue back into the international spotlight.  Since 2009, 81  Tibetans have set themselves alight.  A drastic spike has seen 19 self-immolations in the month of November.  What would push a people to protest so vehemently that they would attempt such a painful suicide?  The Chinese government insists that its rule is not oppressive and that Tibetans enjoy a great degree of freedom.  However, Tibetans wouldn’t self-immolate merely for sport.  Self-immolation represents Tibetans’ desperation and frustration with the authoritarian regime.  So far, that proclamation of their condition has fallen on deaf ears in the international community.

The Chinese stranglehold on media and its censorship of the internet has made reliable information difficult to obtain.  Often, Chinese reports vary greatly from those of Tibetans or other sources.  One ex-monk was quoted, “Tibetan religion and culture is under such unthinkable repression that it has reached a point of desperation where people would choose to die rather than go on living.”  Tibetans’ exiled government, based in Dharamsala, India, is unrecognized by the United Nations and is powerless against the Chinese.  The Dalai Lama, formerly Tibet’s political leader and now merely an influential spiritual figure, commands no military.

The Dalai Lama, usually silent on this issue, has recently called for China to address the issues causing these self-immolations.  The Dalai Lama does not condone self-immolation, but admires the courage of those who practice it; nonetheless, the Chinese claim he encourages it.

As China expands as a world power and other parts of the world sway the spotlight from Indonesia, outside involvement seems unlikely.  However, the Western world must bravely confront the Chinese and somehow relieve the Tibetans of their plight.  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, condemned the Chinese occupation and called for an end to Chinese excessively harsh rule.  However, intervention on behalf of the Tibetans for an independent state seems unnecessary.  A middle ground somewhere should be attainable.  The Chinese should be able to rule fairly, allowing the Tibetans basic freedoms.  The Tibetans have more than done their job of shedding light on the situation.  Until China acts and rules responsibly, the influential nations of the world must find a solution.