A Pariah State

Today Vladimir Putin signed a treaty with the self-styled independent government of Crimea, annexing Crimea to Russia. I did not see this coming. It is an unprecedented deviation from the post-World War 2 international norm that force and the threat of force shall not be used for conquest. Article 2 of the United Nations Charter states: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” When Saddam Hussein invaded and annexed Kuwait to Iraq, the UN Security Council swiftly and unanimously approved sanctions, and when Hussein did not withdraw, authorized the use of force to expel his forces. Other de facto annexations have happened — Russia has occupied Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Transnistria, and Armenia has occupied Nagorno-Karabakh — but in none of these cases has annexation been formalized. There have been other conflicts over disputed territory — China-India, Somalia-Ethiopia, and Britain-Argentina, for instance — but in all these cases there was a legitimate dispute over proper ownership of the territories involved. By contrast, Russia had previously guaranteed to respect the territorial integrity of Ukraine, in exchange for obtaining the latter’s nuclear weapons. Finally, all secessions between 1945 and 2007 were widely recognized only with the consent (however begrudging) of the rump state. Kosovo’s independence was an important — some would say “dangerous” — deviation from this pattern in 2008.

Russia’s annexation of Crimea therefore sets a dangerous new precedent. It threatens to return the world to an environment in which the “strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must,” with adverse repercussions not just for Russia and Ukraine, but for the whole world. Russia under Putin bids fair to become a pariah state.

From Meet the Press (March 16):

GREGORY: You know, when we deal with Vladimir Putin, this issue of hypocrisy comes up. And the United Nations spoke of this this week. The United Nations pointedly criticized the U.S.’ human rights record over drone strikes, NSA surveillance, the death penalty. Does it make it hard to deal with the likes of Putin and Lavrov when you’ve got the U.N. criticizing the U.S. that way?

SEN. DURBIN: Listen, there are plenty imperfections in every government of every nation. But look at what we have here. Putin– this is the– I think the single most serious act of aggression since the Cold War.


Quick Question: are there any post-Cold War acts of aggression that might be ranked ahead of  the Russians in Crimea?  Apparently David Gregory and Senator Durbin can’t think of any…or perhaps I misinterpret Mr. Gregory’s “Mm-Hm.”

Many scholars (for instance) have noted a trend around the world of greater decentralization, at least on certain dimensions. Many non-federal, unitary states have tried to devolve some spending and decision-making authority on local or regional governments. Virtually every democratic government nowadays at least feigns some interest in decentralization.

Yet what strikes me is how little decentralization there has been, especially in the developing world. Some developing democracies that are sometimes described (or describe themselves) as “federal” or “semi-federal” include Mexico, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela (before it went authoritarian some time in the 2000s), South Africa, Malaysia, Pakistan, Iraq, Nepal, and Nigeria. Yet none of these countries, other than Mexico, affords its constituent state or regional governments autonomy commensurate with that found in federal and semi-federal “Western liberal democracies” like Spain, Canada, the U.S., Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Australia, and Italy. For instance, in Brazil, states do not have exclusive powers, and the federal government may overrule any state law with its own legislation. In India, the federal government may suspend state governments from operating at all and impose “President’s Rule.” Of all developing democracies, only India, Mexico, and Brazil routinely allow subcentral governments to raise significant revenue through autonomous taxation policies. (I count 9 Western democracies with such fiscal autonomy.)

Some of these developing countries are both huge and ethnically and regionally diverse, India and Indonesia most notably. One might think that these governments would have even more reason to decentralize than would the governments of comparatively homogeneous Western democracies. Therefore, the relative lack of decentralization in developing countries remains a puzzle.

One explanation might be the smaller talent pool in developing countries. Decentralization might not be feasible because uneducated or politically unsophisticated local officials require close supervision from a small cadre of Western-educated central administrators. While this explanation might have some weight in very poor democracies like Mali (before the recent coup), it likely does not apply to the majority of the cases just mentioned. If the talent pool in developing democracies were desperately shallow, then small developing democracies should have little state capacity plus all the adverse sequelae political scientists typically attribute to state weakness. Yet many small democracies in the developing world have performed fairly well: Costa Rica, Jamaica, Trinidad, Botswana, Mauritius, and Namibia, not to mention Slovenia and the Baltic republics in central and eastern Europe. There is no obvious positive relationship between country size and economic or political performance in the developing world.

Furthermore, many of the cases just mentioned do boast significant decentralization along some dimensions. For instance, India and Indonesia lack a unified internal market, allowing local and state or provincial governments to impose trade barriers on products from other regions. This is an economically perverse form of decentralization and one that has been nearly stamped out in the West, apart from certain discriminatory government procurement regulations. In addition, many developing democracies feature significant decentralization of expenditures: local and regional governments control significant budgets, but those budgets are funded by central grants, and most policy authority lies with the center. This set of policy choices is also likely economically perverse, as “vertical fiscal imbalance,” whereby subcentral governments depend heavily on grants or mandatory revenues from the center, tends to encourage fiscal irresponsibility. In Argentina in the 1980s and 1990s, provincial governments established their own banks, which were forced to lend money to those governments, leading to repeated fiscal crisis.

Another explanation might be that there is something about the Western liberal tradition of political philosophy that encourages decentralization. Many developing democracies fit within the category of “illiberal democracies,” where majorities use their political power to trample the rights of minorities. Sri Lanka might be just such a country, where the Sinhalese majority has repeatedly refused to countenance significant autonomy for the Tamil minority, and the central government fought a brutal civil war against Tamil rebels, complete with vast numbers of civilian killings and other human rights violations.

There may well be something to this explanation, but there are also hazards. As Vito Tanzi noted (PDF), demand for decentralization rises with size of government. A nightwatchman state can afford to be centralized because no one really cares about who controls it. Developing countries have bigger governments than Western democracies, not in the government spending as a share of GDP sense, but in the sense that the distribution of resources in such societies is more elastic with respect to the distribution of political power. So demand for decentralization should be higher there. True, the constraint might instead be supply: the views of political leadership in such societies. But then why the “perverse” decentralization in some countries?

To examine the extent and form of decentralization in developing democracies, I have, with the help of University at Buffalo Ph.D. student Govinda Bhattarai, developed a new dataset of regional self-rule in consolidated democracies worldwide. The coding scheme extends that introduced by Liesbet Hooghe, Gary Marks, and Arjan Schakel for Western democracies and various postsocialist European countries. Without going into details here, I will simply note that we coded the scope of policy powers of subcentral governments, the scope of taxation powers of subcentral governments, the local electoral accountability of subcentral officials, and the ability of the central government to veto subcentral laws.

Using those indicators, I then construct two higher-level, multiplicative indices of economic self-rule and political self-rule. Economic self-rule takes into account political self-rule as well as the tax autonomy of subcentral governments. Economic self-rule ranges from 0 (none) to 48 (maximum). Political self-rule ranges from 0 (none) to 16 (maximum).

The scatter plot below shows regional self-rule on the economic (Y axis) and political (X axis) dimensions in 2006, the latest year for which data on regional self-rule in the Hooghe, Marks, and Schakel dataset are available (our data go to 2010, however). Each observation in this plot is a type of region: either a particular region with its own autonomy statute (like Aaland in Finland or Scotland in the UK), or a type of regional government with the same autonomy arrangement (like states in the U.S. or in India).

economic & political self-rule(You can click the image to get a better view.)

Look at how few Continue Reading »

Keep and Fix

Jonathan Chait has an interesting piece on the “keep and fix” solution for Obamacare (New York Magazine).  One of the more interesting points: the parts of the Affordable Care Act that people like the most are also the parts that are least widely recognized as being part of Obamacare. Example: 81 percent have a favorable view of closing the Medicare “doughnut hole” (part of the prescription drug program in Medicare Part D). Yet only 46 percent know that it is part of the Affordable Care Act.

In contrast, the parts of the ACA that are the least popular are the most widely recognized features of the Act. Thus, 40 percent support the individual mandate and 74 percent recognize that it is part of Obamacare.


Given the low level of awareness of what is in the ACA, when polls reveal that a large percentage of Americans want to  “fix” Obamacare, it can be interpreted as a desire to jettison the individual mandate. The problem, is clear:

A “keep and fix” solution that polls well, then, would probably involve eliminating the individual mandate and keeping everything else. But the reason the mandate is there is because it’s hard to make the other parts work without it.”

Chait concludes:

The public likes keeping the parts of Obamacare where they get money, and opposes the parts where they pay money. In other words, Obamacare, politically, is becoming like just about every other government program.

Any surprises here?

The special election in the FL-13 U.S. House district has apparently been won by Republican David Jolly.  Here is what Sean Trende of Real Clear Politics had to say about this race before voting ended:

My sense is that the Democratic candidate, former state chief financial officer and 2010 gubernatorial nominee Alex Sink, will probably win.

Back in mid-January, I was corresponding with a left-of-center analyst about a St. Petersburg Times poll, and I commented that “53-47 Sink is about what I’d predict.” That’s about where I am right now, though I think a narrower Sink win is likely, maybe in the three-to-four point range.

We’ll discuss this more in bullet point No. 3, but this is a district that has gradually trended Democratic over the past few decades, where Democrats have an unusually strong (though still somewhat flawed) candidate, and where Republicans have a candidate who is average at best. In a swing district, that seems to be a recipe for a Democratic win.


…this seat is politically marginal, voting near the national margin in two straight elections.  Democrats fielded a reasonably strong candidate in Sink, who had won statewide office, had very nearly won the governorship in a terrible Democratic year (albeit against a damaged opponent), and who carried this district twice in her statewide bids.  This is a profile more commonly found among Senate candidates than House candidates.

Republicans fielded a first-time candidate, David Jolly, who had served as a lobbyist and who faced a competitive primary — indeed a primary that split Young’s family. While Politico’s “airing of grievances” piece should be taken with a grain of salt — jilted/nervous consultants turn on campaigns with regularity — it does serve as a nice compendium for the public mistakes by Team Jolly.

If we must say something, it is this:  If Sink wins, we will know that a strong Democrat without a voting record, who is running in an open swing district, can defeat a middling Republican candidate.  To be honest, that’s actually a somewhat important data point for Democrats…

So, given the logic of Trende’s analysis, is the actual result a significant canary in the coal mine message for Dems?  Maybe.  One thing to note is that the full results in FL-13 look worse for Dems than what might be observed from the two party result alone since the Libertarian candidate received nearly 5% of the vote according to RCP – and Sink wasn’t exactly an obvious second choice for those LP voters:

“With almost 100 percent of the vote counted, Jolly had 48.5 percent of the vote to Sink’s 46.7 percent. Libertarian Lucas Overby had 4.8 percent.”

The Senate spent last night—all night—focusing attention on climate change and the need for new legislation. As The Hill reports, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid used the opportunity to attack the Koch brothers:

“It’s time to stop acting like those who ignore this crisis — the oil baron Koch brothers and their allies in Congress — have a valid point of view,” Reid said Monday evening. “But despite overwhelming scientific evidence and overwhelming public opinion, climate change deniers still exist. They exist in this country and in this Congress.”

The implication, of course, is that the “un-American” Koch brothers (and those who Senator Reid has described as “addicted to Koch”) are responsible for the failure to move forward on climate change (and all other things pure and good).

Of course, the House did pass a climate change bill (Waxman-Markey) in 2010, only to have the bill declared DOA by…Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. As the New York Times reported (July 22, 2010):

Bowing to political reality, Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and majority leader, said the Senate would not take up legislation intended to reduce carbon emissions blamed as a cause of climate change, but would instead pursue a more limited measure focused on responding to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and tightening energy efficiency standards.

“We know where we are,” Mr. Reid told reporters after reviewing the state of energy legislation with Senate Democrats and administration officials. “We know that we don’t have the votes.”

Continue Reading »

Russia’s annexation of Crimea, de facto or de jure, is likely to spur violence in the peninsula. “Crimean Tatar representative” in Lviv, Ukraine Alim Aliyev is quoted as saying, “Tatars will launch a guerrilla war against the Russian forces if they do not pack up and leave the region.” While he could be communicating a mere bluff, I wouldn’t count on it, and I doubt Putin will either. Crimean Tatars currently have a low risk of secessionist insurgency, because they are just 12% of the region’s population, but they also see themselves as the indigenous population of the region and deny any other ethnic group’s claims to a homeland in the region. For those reasons, and because of a history of repression at the hands of Stalin, Crimean Tatars support Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea and reject the small ethnic Russian majority’s claims. If Russia effectively annexes Crimea, Tatar violence is likely to flare up. While the massive Russian military will be able to crush organized resistance, I doubt Putin wants to create another Chechnya, with the attendant risks of future terrorist attacks on Russian civilians.

Steve Saideman and Bill Ayres’ research suggests that irredentism is rarely consummated because it requires an infrequent coincidence of interests: a minority that wants to be rescued and a powerful state willing to pay costs to rescue it. Rescuing Crimea is likely to have significant long-term costs for Russia, and if Putin acts rationally, he will prefer a negotiated settlement permitting a military withdrawal from the peninsula over any kind of annexation.

In other news: the Crimean referendum will have two options: annexation by Russia and independence. Rejecting both and remaining within Ukraine is not an option for voters.


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