Sunday, August 30, 2009

October Conference Paper

I will be presenting a paper at the ISSS/ISAC conference on "Insecurity and Durable Disorder: Challenges to the State in an Age of Anxiety." The conference is hosted by the Naval Postgraduate School and the Monterey Institute for International Studies. They have set up a very extensive schedule of panels on various issues surrounding the topic. My panel regards "Strategy, War, and the State" and my co-panelists come from Oxford and the RAND Corporation.

My paper is tentatively titled “Avoiding Heroic Illusions: Reconciling Strategy and State Power in the Coming Era.” The abstract follows:

For at least the past quarter-century, the state power of the most developed nation-states has been on the wane, ushering in a period of limited warfare. This argument is two-fold. First, state power, that portion of national power that can be mobilized and controlled by the state government to serve its ends, is generally in decline as governments’ extractive power and capacity wanes. By comparison, the relative power of non-state actors is increasing, making for a much more chaotic security environment. Second, policy-makers must realistically assess capabilities and set grand strategies appropriate to this limited power. This means a turn away from the annihilatory military strategies of the nationalist period and a return to the more circumscribed strategies of attrition that were used prior to its rise. For politicians and strategists, this portends an era of grappling in the murky darkness with an unseemly and intertwined cast of characters and threats. Conflicts will be layered, with participants ranging from criminals, opportunistic businessmen, and insurgents to state intelligence and military institutions. Each group of participants will be fighting their own war for their own ends, making singular, kinetic solutions impossible. For conventional militaries, the need to patiently deconstruct these layered wars in the face of limited means and support will prove to be a daunting task.

I've been doing a great deal of reading that has spiraled around this topic and I am still unsure exactly how I want to focus my paper. I'm struck by Philip Bobbitt's (The Shield of Achilles) idea of the next conflict among types of the market-state. I do not fully agree with him, but I do think that a major point of conflict within states is going to be over the challenge between welfare policies and the idea of the free market, especially as the most developed states age and face ever-growing bills for various programs and entitlements as their productivity declines. As these issues weaken the most developed states, developing states with much different ideas about the role of the state with regard to the society and economy will be expanding their search for markets and resources in the most unstable portions of the world, potentially precipitating conflict. The confluence of these dynamics will cause significant challenges for the states trying to hold on to the status quo. I'm still working out how to capture this and focus my argument.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Rembrandt Comes to Oman for Ramadhan

For the month of Ramadhan, Oman's al-Salmi Library, a foundation with a history of over 100 years, is sponsoring a groundbreaking exhibit of Rembrandt works in the capital, Muscat. The exhibit, which will cost over $1 million, will be free to the public and open daily at the Grand Hyatt Muscat. The impressive Hyatt is located along the shore of the Gulf of Oman and will be a fitting location for the Middle East's first exhibit of this kind. UAE and Qatar have much more glitzy projects to attract international cultural attention, but I find it fitting that an Omani family that has been dedicated to collecting cultural works in the form of rare Arabic books, letters, and manuscripts for over 100 years is responsible for this exhibition. The story can be found here at Khaleej Times.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Dubai in Mexico: Hydra Wave Mazatlan

I recently spent a day in Mazatlan, Mexico and was surprised (somewhat) to find that Dubai has made inroads there with its far-flung real estate enterprises. Hydra Properties, a company based in Dubai, one of the seven United Arab Emirates, is building the Hydra Wave project, a glittering seven-tower project, 37 stories at its highest, including commercial, residential, and hotel spaces. There will be a 5-star hotel, spas, the whole nine yards, in typical Dubai fashion. I have not done the research to find out how the schedule is holding up in the current economic environment. From an AMEInfo article on the project:

'We have chosen to launch our property in Mazatlan because, like UAE, it offers visitors diverse choices in tourism including its rich heritage and traditions, and colorful colonial-style architecture,' said Dr Sulaiman Al Fahim, Chief Executive Officer, Hydra Properties.

I find this quote interesting because as I was making the trip from the airport to the coast and back, I found the area to be strangely reminiscent of Oman and the UAE in a number of ways. The roadways and the roadside shops and sights were very much like those you'd find in the Gulf outside the cities. The coastline is ripe for Dubai-style glitz and I think that the project will do very well there if the economic environment turns around. My only question would be when Emirates is going to start service to Mazatlan. Probably not any time soon, so I don't think you'll be seeing too many Arab tourists at the project yet.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Oman's Salalah Greenery Under Assault

The southern reaches of Oman, known as the Dhofar region, are well known for the summer monsoon season, or khareef, which brings rain, relatively cool temperatures, and lush greenery to the Arabian Peninsula. This happens during the peak of summer, drawing tourists from all over the Arab world to enjoy the respite from the scorching heat elsewhere. It is also bringing teens in 4x4s that are evidently tearing up the beautiful natural areas around the city of Salalah.

Anyone who has been to Salalah has been awed by the rich history and amazing beauty of the area. Once prosperous for its role in the frankincense trade, Salalah and the surrounding area is rich in archaeological treasures. The famed Queen of Sheba had a summer palace here and frankincense from the trees of Dhofar was shipped off by camel caravan and by sea from Salalah's ports to all the great powers of the time. The natural beauty is amazing as well, as the mountains are green with vegetation and stunning waterfalls captivate all who visit. This natural beauty, especially around Wadi Darbat, is being ruined by thoughtless visitors who tear up the greenery with their cars, prompting the local authorities to erect fences and impose other controls on an area that was until recently open to be enjoyed by all, with no fences to be seen. I took the picture above two years ago, standing on a rock right next to the falls. No fences to be seen. Kids with too much time and money and too little respect for anything or anyone are to blame.

Read the story here, from eTurboNews.