Forestry and climate change: Cancun changes the game

•December 15, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Alan Oxley, Melbourne, Australia | Wed, 12/15/2010 10:11 AM

After the failure of last year’s climate change negotiations in Copenhagen, the rhetoric about climate change threats was scaled right back at the meetings last week in Cancun, Mexico. This produced two important developments on forestry, a key issue for Indonesia.

First, independent research now shows that deforestation is not a major generator of greenhouse gas emissions.
Second, industrialized countries and WWF and Greenpeace failed to win agreement for their proposals that cessation of conversion of forest land should be a precondition for climate change aid to developing countries.
Exaggeration of the impact of forest industries and understatement of the cost of halting forest conversion has been a standard feature of the climate change debate for over a decade. This has been fostered by Greenpeace and WWF.
For example, when the 2006 report by the British Government economist Lord Stern claimed that 17 percent of global emissions were caused by deforestation, Greenpeace and WWF inflated that to 20 percent, without evidence.
Both groups have also repeatedly overstated the environmental impact of any forest conversion,
typically without scientific justification.
Continue reading ‘Forestry and climate change: Cancun changes the game’


Are Human Rights Universal?

•December 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Shashi Tharoor, “Are Human Rights Universal?” World Policy Journal, Vol. XVI, No. 4 (Winter 1999/2000)

The growing consensus in the West that human rights are universal has been fiercely opposed by critics in other parts of the world. At the very least, the idea may well pose as many questions as it answers. Beyond the more general, philosophical question of whether anything in our pluri-cultural, multipolar world is truly universal, the issue of whether human rights is an essentially Western concept—ignoring the very different cultural, economic, and political realities of the other parts of the world—cannot simply be dismissed. Can the values of the consumer society be applied to societies that have nothing to consume? Isn’t talking about universal rights rather like saying that the rich and the poor both have the same right to fly first class and to sleep under bridges? Don’t human rights as laid out in the international covenants ignore the traditions, the religions, and the socio-cultural patterns of what used to be called the Third World? And at the risk of sounding frivolous, when you stop a man in traditional dress from beating his wife, are you upholding her human rights or violating his?

This is anything but an abstract debate. To the contrary, ours is an era in which wars have been waged in the name of human rights, and in which many of the major developments in international law have presupposed the universality of the concept. By the same token, the perception that human rights as a universal discourse is increasingly serving as a flag of convenience for other, far more questionable political agendas, accounts for the degree to which the very idea of human rights is being questioned and resisted by both intellectuals and states. These objections need to be taken very seriously.

The philosophical objection asserts essentially that nothing can be universal; that all rights and values are defined and limited by cultural perceptions. If there is no universal culture, there can be no universal human rights. In fact, some philosophers have objected that the concept of human rights is founded on an anthropocentric, that is, a human-centered, view of the world, predicated upon an individualistic view of man as an autonomous being whose greatest need is to be free from interference by the state—free to enjoy what one Western writer summed up as the “right to private property, the right to freedom of contract, and the right to be left alone.” But this view would seem to clash with the communitarian one propounded by other ideologies and cultures where society is conceived of as far more than the sum of its individual members.

Who Defines Human Rights?
Implicit in this is a series of broad, culturally grounded objections. Historically, in a number of non-Western cultures, individuals are not accorded rights in the same way as they are in the West. Critics of the universal idea of human rights contend that in the Confucian or Vedic traditions, duties are considered more important than rights, while in Africa it is the community that protects and nurtures the individual. One African writer summed up the African philosophy of existence as: “I am because we are, and because we are therefore I am.” Some Africans have argued that they have a complex structure of communal entitlements and obligations grouped around what one might call four “r’s”: not “rights,” but respect, restraint, responsibility, and reciprocity. They argue that in most African societies group rights have always taken precedence over individual rights, and political decisions have been made through group consensus, not through individual assertions of rights.
Continue reading ‘Are Human Rights Universal?’

News: Insight: Debating Indonesia’s global role

•December 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

The Jakarta Post
Rizal Sukma, Jakarta | Wed, 03/10/2010 10:05 AM | Headlines

Last week, I left Wilton Park, West Sussex, England, with mixed feelings after attending an international conference on Indonesia there. The conference, well attended by prominent Indonesians and friends from all over the world, discussed recent political and economic developments in Indonesia and how the country, due to the relative domestic successes, could play a role as a global actor.

The theme reminded me of the debate within Indonesia on the same subject a few years ago. There are those who maintained that Indonesia should not play a global role. Indonesia, according to this view, was still fraught with domestic problems. Therefore, it should concentrate on addressing those problems and put its house in order first before embarking on any global role in international affairs.

The debate at the Wilton Park conference, however, was different. Whether Indonesia should or should not play a global role is no longer a matter of choice for Indonesia. Given its membership of the G20, and its recent involvement in addressing issues of global concern, such as climate change and energy security, Indonesia is already there. What Indonesia should think about is how it could play its global role in a meaningful and effective way, for the benefit of both Indonesia and others.

Indeed, while most participants agreed that Indonesia should play a global role, it was not immediately clear how that role could be carried out, in what ways and through
what means. In other words, participants differed with regard to the nature of the global role that Indonesia should take.

One common suggestion, especially from the international community, is for Indonesia to play a role as a global Islamic voice. It is often argued that Indonesia, as the largest Muslim-majority country in the world, should demonstrate to the world that Islam can be a “positive” force in world affairs.

Indonesia, according to this view, should demonstrate that Islam can go hand in hand with democracy.
This suggestion, however, is unattainable for two fundamental reasons.

First, Indonesia, like many other countries, could not base its foreign policy on religious considerations. Despite the fact that Islam constitutes the religion of the majority
of Indonesia’s population, its national identity is not exclusively defined in terms of Islam. More importantly, Indonesia itself is not a theocratic state.

Second, Indonesia has no intention to perpetuate the view that there is indeed “good Islam” and “bad Islam”. For example, Indonesia cannot argue that it became a democracy because its Islam is “good”. Nor could it argue that if other Muslim countries want to be a democracy, then they should copy “the Indonesian model”. For Indonesia, its democracy is unique in the sense that it is a democracy within which Islam is forced to play an important role, both in initiating the democratization process and in ensuring that Indonesia’s democracy remains “the only game in town”.

Indonesia cannot play a global role in the conventional sense; as a power that contributes to the global public good in a comprehensive manner. Indonesians are clearly aware that the world expects a lot from it. At the same time, Indonesians are aware of the limits within which such expectations could
be fulfilled.

One important factor that limits Indonesia’s sense of global entitlement is its domestic capacity.

Domestically, Indonesia is still confronting a host of national challenges, especially on the economic front. Its economic recovery and growth remain precarious, and its military power is one of the weakest in the region. Soft power alone, if any, is not sufficient for Indonesia to play a global role in a conventional sense.

Despite the limits, however, Indonesia should not miss the opportunity. In the words of Indonesian Ambassador to the United Kingdom Yuri Thamrin, “Indonesia should seize the opportunity to make itself useful to the world”. Therefore, the key challenge for Indonesia now is how it can make itself useful to the world. For that, Indonesians should start a national conversation on what kind of global role is feasible and desirable for Indonesia.

Indonesia should listen to what the world expects from it. Ultimately, however, it is the Indonesians themselves that should decide how they could best respond to the expectations.

Chapter Review: Peace (The War Puzzle)

•December 13, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Chapter: Peace (The War Puzzle)
Author: John A. Vasquez
Review by: Zulkhan Indra Putra

The War Puzzle, by John A. Vasquez, is an informative and encompassing book. Vasquez has delivered an extraordinary scholarly work that presents analytical tools, theoretical understandings, and historical evidences concerning war and peace in the global world order. This book focuses on the issues of attaining and maintaining peace in the international relations. In the second part of the book, in the chapter of “Peace”, he divides it into three sections, first is the nature of peace, second is characteristics of peaceful periods, and lastly the relationship between peace and war. In this chapter, he analyzes as to how to achieve peace in the global world order, where the state of anarchy provides structure that makes war permissible. He provides the reader following questions regarding peace and war in international relations: what is the nature of globalized peace and war? and should the future of peace and war look like the past?
Questioning the reason as to why military actors have found war so attractive that made them prone to it, Vasquez argues that, at the domestic level, government and war have some of the same functions. Thus, if war is viewed as a social invention then government itself is also as a social invention, in exception to party politics or diplomacy. The reason is that government not only establishes interdependences, but also able to break stalemates. Here, war also has the same function through which stalemates could be broken. As Aristotle wrote that, we may have to make war that we may live in peace (Richmond: 2008). And the only difference between government and war is that the latter provides a unilateral solution for the resolution of issues.

Further, Vasquez analyzes that, at the domestic level, not all governments are able to prevent war, rather it is only an effective government that avoids war. So does only an effective global political system that is able to prevent war. A successful global political system would establish interdependent decision making, while war would provide a set of rules that permit political actors to break stalemates by neglecting that interdependence. In addition, peace is the outcome of effective governance and something that is consciously made by human beings. Peace is also not simply the absence of war, but also, as stated by Spinoza, a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, and justice (Richmond: 2008).
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News: Korean Crisis on the Agenda in Bali

•December 9, 2010 • Leave a Comment
Nusa Dua. The third Bali Democracy Forum could serve as a venue to discuss possible solutions to the conflict on the Korean peninsula, Foreign Affairs Minister Marty Natalegawa said on Tuesday.

He said the theme of this year’s forum, “Democracy and the Promotion of Peace and Stability,” was relevant to the situation on the peninsula and would allow participants to contribute possible solutions to the crisis between South and North Korea.

Marty underlined, however, that the two-day event, which opens on Thursday, would be more of a communication forum, without any pretense to mediate between North and South Korea.

The dialogue, he said, will be informal in nature and will not take away from the main agenda of the annual meeting, which is to promote and strengthen democratic institutions in the region.

Indonesia will touch on the issue in a bilateral meeting between President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and his South Korean counterpart, Lee Myung-bak, before the opening session.

Marty said Yudhoyono would receive firsthand information from the South Korean president on the recent tensions between the two Koreas.

“Indonesia will also offer our help in any capacity that might be needed,” he said. Continuous communications, he added, are ongoing between him and his South Korean and Chinese counterparts, as well as North Korea’s ambassador to Indonesia.

Indonesia, Marty said, remains committed to supporting six-party talks involving China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the United States in finding a solution to the conflict on the Korean peninsula.

“But we should not ignore the fact that there have been civilian victims,” he said, referring to recent incidents along the western maritime border between the two countries.

Four South Koreans died when the North launched an artillery barrage on Yeonpyeong Island, home to both fishing communities and military bases. It was the first time the North had targeted a civilian area since the 1950-53 Korean War.

South Korean news agency Yonhap quoted President Lee’s office as saying the president was expected to arrive in Indonesia around midnight tonight.

It said his meeting with Yudhoyono would “review the implementation of the development of the South Korea-Indonesia strategic partnership and discuss bilateral issues including cooperation in the defense industry and South Korean firms’ foray into the Indonesian market.”

Also on the agenda are security conditions on the Korean peninsula and ways for cooperation on the global stage, such as through Asean and the G-20, it added.

Yudhoyono and Lee will co-chair the democracy forum on Thursday before Lee departs for Malaysia for a two-day state visit to mark the 50th anniversary of diplomatic ties.

According to Marty, South Korea was chosen to co-chair the Bali forum with Indonesia because both countries had gone through a similar transformation from authoritarian rule to democracy.

On the ministerial level, the forum will be attended by foreign ministers from eight countries.

Nine heads of state have also confirmed their attendance.

Marty expressed hope the forum would continue to grow and become one of the premier forums in the region for the discussion of issues related to democracy.

“We would like to maintain the synergy on democracy implementation in the region,” he said.

Book Review: Politics of Multiculturalism: Pluralism and Citizenship in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia

•November 30, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Book Title :The Politics of Multiculturalism: Pluralism and Citizenship in Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia
Author : Robert W. Hefner
Publication : University of Hawai Press

A Review by Zulkhan Indra Putra

The book under review is a collection of papers by a group of fourteen scholars, with the support of the Ford Foundation from 1998 to 2000, who have analyzed the question on how to achieve civility and inclusive citizenship in deeply plural societies like Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. These edited volumes constitute additions to a growing difficulties that democratic institutions encountered on some of the deeply plural countries about the prospect of democratic governance. The collection edited by Robert W. Hafner is, however, more specific in scope than the one by Will Kymlicka and Baogang He, Multiculturalism in Asia, which focuses on multiculturalism in several countries of Asia. All the contributions in the book provide much detail for the academic with all interviews that were recorded, transcribed, and subjected to content analysis.

Questions of why policy makers and theorists had to come to the problem of pluralism and democracy are basically based on three reasons; firstly, the difficulties that democratic institutions encountered in some of the independent countries of Asia and Africa in 1960s, particularly the problem of ethno-religious rivalries in former communist countries. Secondly, a vast increase in immigration to western countries, since the growing minority immigrants resist the settler project, Anglo-American contract, that welcoming foreign immigrants as long as the newcomers were willing and able to assimilate to mainstream linguistic, cultural, and racial prototypes. Thereof, in turn, the Anglo-American contract was changing in 1980s and 1990s (pg. 16)

Lastly, if I may add, is heated debates over multiculturalism in the West, particularly in Germany, with the emergence of the right-wing extremism in East Germany, comprising xenophobia and nationalism, anti-Semitism and ideological commitments to authoritarianism, racial and political inequality. (Wolfgang: 43). However, pluralism has been a source of tension and conflict in plural societies. Therefore, Hefner collects the project as growing pessimism on whether or not democracy is possible in plural societies.
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Book Review: Eden in the East (An Atlantis in the Indian Ocean)

•November 27, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Book Title: Eden in the East
Author: Stephen Oppenheimer

A Review by: Koenraad Elst

One of the many insulting epithets thrown at AIT disbelievers is that they are no better than “Atlantis freaks”. Actually, this is not entirely untrue. Some AIT skeptics who have applied their minds to reconstructing ancient history, have indeed thought of centres of human habitation in locations now well below sea-level. When Proto-Indo-European was spoken, the sea level was still recovering from the low point it had reached during the Ice Age, about 100 metres lower than the present level. It was in the period of roughly twelve to seven thousand years ago that the icecaps melted and replenished the seas, so that numerous low-lying villages had to be abandoned.

After all, it is a safe bet that more than half of mankind lived in the zone of less than 100 m above sea level. In the context of the present debate on global warming, it is said that a rise in sea level of just one metre would be an immense catastrophe for countries like Bangla Desh or the Netherlands. The Maledives would completely disappear with a rise of only a few metres. But more importantly, most big population centres today are located just above sea level: Tokyo, Shanghai, Kolkata, Mumbai, London, New York, Los Angeles etc. If the sea level would rise 100 m, most population centres including entire countries would become a sunken continent, a very real Atlantis. Consequently, there is nothing far-fetched in assuming the existence of population centres and cultures, 10 or 15 thousand years ago, in what are now submarine locations on the continental shelf outside our coastlines.

In a recent book, Eden in the East: the Drowned Continent of Southeast Asia (Phoenix paperback, London 1999 (1998)), Stephen Oppenheimer has focused on one such part of the continental shelf: the region between Malaysia, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Taiwan, which was largely inhabitable during the Ice Age. Thinking that this was then the most advanced centre of civilization, he calls it Eden, the Biblical name of Paradise (from Sumerian edin, “alluvial plain”), because West-Asian sources including the Bible do locate the origin of mankind or at least of civilization in the East. In some cases, as in Sumerian references, this “East” is clearly the pre-Harappan and Harappan culture, but even more easterly countries seem to be involved.

Oppenheimer is a medical doctor who has lived in Southeast Asia for decades. He is clearly influenced by Marxism, e.g. where he dismisses religion as a means to “control other people’s labour”, with explicit reference to Karl Marx’s Das Kapital (p.483). His book is based on solid scientific research (genetic, anthropological, linguistic and archaeological), and is in that respect very different from the numerous Atlantis books which draw on “revelations” and “channeling”.

The most airy type of evidence, in its massiveness nonetheless quite compelling, is comparative mythology: numerous cultures, and especialy those in the Asia-Pacific zone, have highly parallel myths of one or more floods. These are not opaque allusions to Freudian events in the subconscious but plainly historical references to the catastrophic moments in the otherwise long-drawn-out rise of the sea level after the Ice Age. For, indeed, this rise was not a continuous process but took place with occasional spurts, wiping out entire tribes living near the coast. The last such sudden rise took place ca. 5500 BC, after which the sea level fell back a few metres to the present level.
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