Saturday, January 31, 2015

An Indonesian Defense Revolution Under Jokowi?

Indonesia’s new president is determined to transform its defense industry.

Listen to Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, and you would think the country is on the brink of nothing less than a defense revolution.

At a meeting late last month at the Presidential Office attended by top ministers and advisers, Jokowi outlined the main priorities for the country’s defense policy. What stood out most was his determination to revolutionize the country’s defense industry, partly in order to create the self-reliance in military equipment that Indonesia has often talked about. That is not surprising, considering that the defense industry is the foundation upon which several of his foreign policy goals – including a global maritime fulcrum – are built.

In his remarks, Jokowi did lay out some specific guidelines might help Indonesia reach defense self-reliance. For instance, Indonesia will require every weapons purchase to include the transfer of technology for Indonesia’s state-owned strategic industries – including shipbuilder PT PAL, weapons and land systems maker PT PINDAD, and aircraft maker PT DI. Jokowi is already moving to prop up some of these state-owned defense entities. In early January, he announced $55 million in government funding to boost PT PINDAD following a visit to its facilities.

But others were more strategic considerations for the defense industry more generally. He said Indonesia should stop its habit of chasing after foreign weapon systems without making efforts to boost domestic production. He also added that the focus should be on building integrated defense equipment systems. Predictably, he also found a way to work in his global maritime fulcrum doctrine, emphasizing that the country’s shipbuilding industry should be able to produce non-military equipment as well like commercial ships. The whole point of this defense transformation, Jokowi stressed, is to ensure the industry is “developed for long term use, not only for one or two years.”

Of course, in many cases Jokowi is either building on previous plans or following long-sought goals. The ideal of self-reliance, for example, is reflected in the 2012 Law on Defense Industry, and is central to realizing the country’s goal of developing the Indonesian military (TNI) into a minimum essential force by 2024. Incremental progress had already been made during the Yudhoyono years on several strategic projects that involve technology transfer and enhancing local capabilities. The problem of lack of integration in defense systems has also been well-documented. To get a sense of the problem, as I have noted elsewhere, Indonesia was operating 173 different weapons systems from 17 different countries by 2006 according to one estimate.

The inherent constraints to achieving this revolution in Indonesia’s defense industry are also clear. There are a long list of them, but a couple are worth noting here. Funding is one concern. Despite recent increases, Indonesia’s military budget has never constituted more than one percent of its GDP, unlike some of its neighbors like Malaysia or Vietnam. Jokowi says he plans on raising the budget to 1.5 percent of GDP, but it is unclear whether he will achieve it, and how much of that budget will be devoted to goals like providing support for state-owned defense entities as opposed to personnel costs, which form the bulk of the budget.

Self-reliance is also an ideal that may be difficult to achieve in practice. TNI chief General Moeldoko – no stranger to controversy – insisted earlier this month that the country’s military still needs foreign-made weapons. Quite apart from Moeldoko’s own admission that he “salivated” looking at other nations’ equipment during search and rescue operations for AirAsia flight QZ8501, building a sophisticated defense industry at home takes time. Given Indonesia’s urgent need to accomplish basic tasks effectively – such as policing its own waters – Jakarta may find itself relying far more on competitive foreign weapons systems than Jokowi would like for now, even as it has its eye on developing a strong and capable defense industry in the future. The Diplomat

We No Longer Know What is Happening With the War in Afghanistan


A new report by a US government watchdog attacks the over-classification regime of the Pentagon in Afghanistan.

Today, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released its 26th Quarterly Report to Congress (I wrote about a previous SIGAR report here). The most striking revelation is that after six years of being publicly reported, Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) data is now classified.  This decision leaves the government watchdog SIGAR unable to publicly report on most of the $65 billion U.S.-taxpayer-funded efforts to build, train, equip, and sustain the ANSF.  This includes Afghan troop numbers, salaries, training, equipment (including planes and helicopters), and infrastructure projects. Henceforth, this data will be in a classified appendix only available to officials with top-secret security clearances.

The report notes that over 140 SIGAR questions received classified or otherwise restricted responses. Here are some of the sample questions:

Please provide a broad definition of the terms “unavailable” and “present for duty” of ANSF.

How has the $25 million authorized by Congress for women in the Afghan army been used?

Please provide the total amount of funding that the United States has expended on Afghan National Police salaries for the current year.

Please provide details of DOD/NATO-funded contracts to provide literacy training to the ANSF, including: the cost of the contract(s) and estimated cost(s) to complete.

Please confirm that the Combined Joint Interagency Task Force-Afghanistan (CJIATF-A) is dissolved.

Please offer an assessment of the anti-corruption initiatives of Afghan Ministry of Defense and Afghan Ministry of Interior.

The New York Times reports that the reason behind the classification is concerns over the safety of Afghan and U.S. forces in the country. In a note to the inspector general John Sopko, Gen. John Campbell, commander of American forces in Afghanistan, states, “With lives literally on the line, I am sure that you can join me in recognizing that we must be careful to avoid providing sensitive information to those that threaten our forces and Afghan forces, particularly information that can be used by such opposing forces to sharpen their attacks.”

The New York Times editorial board has an acid response to this often-heard rationale:

“The threats that Afghan and American troops face in Afghanistan remain all too real. But it strains credulity to believe that insurgents would become more proficient fighters by poring over lengthy inspector general reports about an increasingly forgotten war. Classifying that information unreasonably prevents American taxpayers from drawing informed conclusions about the returns on a $107.5 billion reconstruction investment that, adjusted for inflation, has surpassed the price tag of the Marshall Plan.”

Perhaps one of the reasons is that with U.S. ground troops withdrawing, it is simply no longer possible to verify data on the ANSF and reconstruction efforts on the ground.

The SIGAR report also notes that despite more than a decade of multilateral efforts, achieving effective coordination of assistance to Afghanistan remains an elusive goal for the United States, other donors, and the Afghan government. The Afghan government is projected to have a $500 million budget shortfall; the domestic revenues missed budget targets by 26%, while Afghan government expenditures increased by 11%. The United States gave Afghanistan $100 million to help cover the fiscal gap. The United States Congress has appropriated nearly $107.5 billion for Afghanistan reconstruction. Of this amount, $15.3 billion remains in the funding pipeline for potential disbursement. The Diplomat

Japanese Operations in South China Sea 'Make Sense' in the Future

The United States might support Japanese military operations in the South China Sea.

A senior U.S. Navy officer, Admiral Robert Thomas, commander of the Seventh Fleet and the top U.S. navy officer in Asia, has stated that the United States would welcome operations conducted by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in the South China Sea. The comments are in line with broader U.S. support for Japan’s military playing a more global role.

The prospect of Japanese air patrols (and potentially other operations) in the hotly disputed South China Sea would ostensibly serve to counter China’s attempts to administer the air in the region. China and four Southeast Asian nations currently contest a variety of islands and shoals in the South China Sea. Beijing’s territorial claim is by fair the most capacious, including almost the entirety of the South China Sea under a historical dashed-line claim.

“I think allies, partners, and friends in the region will look to the Japanese more and more as a stabilizing function,” Admiral Thomas told Reuters. ”In the South China Sea, frankly, the Chinese fishing fleet, the Chinese coastguard and the [navy] overmatch their neighbors,” he added. ”I think that JSDF operations in the South China Sea makes sense in the future.”

Currently, Japan largely focuses its aerial and maritime patrol efforts in the East China Sea where it is currently embroiled in a bitter territorial dispute over the sovereignty of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands with China. Although tensions have largely subsided since fall 2014, Japan regularly scrambles jets against Chinese aerial and maritime incursions in the area. Japanese air patrols in the South China Sea would without question increase tensions between Japan and China. The Chinese government perceives a militarily resurgent Japan under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and is skeptical of the current Japanese government’s intentions for Japan’s armed forces. Over the summer last year, Abe’s cabinet passed a resolution reinterpreting Article 9 of Japan’s post-World War II constitution to allow for its military to exercise the right to collective self-defense.

Admiral Thomas’ comments are in line with the ongoing U.S.-Japan bilateral defense guideline overhaul process. The two allies have generally had a lopsided relationship due to Japan’s constitutional restrictions regarding its military capabilities. Following last year’s resolution on collective self-defense, Japan and the United States are revising their defense guidelines to emphasize a more “global” role for the Japanese military. Japanese patrols in the South China Sea would also fit into the rubric of what Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has described as “proactive pacifism” — in essence, Abe wants to see Japanese power used for the preservation of the regional status quo. Aerial patrols in the South China Sea would be one way of doing so.

All this said, the prospect of Japanese air patrols in the South China Sea is likely unrealistic given the potential for destabilizing an already fragile region. What is more likely is that Japan will pursue closer security cooperation with Southeast Asian states with South China Sea claims including the Philippines and Vietnam. Recently, Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani met in Tokyo. The two signed a memorandum on cooperation that will see Japan move toward participating in military exchanges with the Philippines armed forces, providing training, and transferring defense technology and equipment. By for The Diplomat

India: The Austria-Hungary of the 21st Century?


If it heeds the lessons of history, the US would do well not to foster close ties with India in the next few years.

The striking similarities between the strategic position of India in the 21st century with that of the now vanished empire of Austria-Hungary in the 19th and early 20th century.

To this day, India’s foreign policy, much like Austria-Hungary’s  is – more than most other emerging titans – constrained by a quest for internal security and a deep introspection – making it a reluctant power and conducting a more or less ‘introverted foreign policy’.

The Austrian Empire, like India, was considered to be a bridging power between East and West for much of its existence. It was a multi-national empire, more concerned with its internal security and stability than with great power politics, and after humiliating defeats in 1859 and 1866, reluctant to use military power to achieve its political objectives (for most of the late 19th century-early 20th period it spent comparatively little on military defense). As with the Sino-Indian war of 1962, these defeats lead to various military and political reforms culminating in the Austro-Hungarian compromise of 1867 and the establishment of a dual monarchy. Also, like India, Austria-Hungary was held together by an omnipotent, if slightly inefficient, bureaucracy.

Austria’s “Pakistan” in the 20th century was Serbia, a small state in the Balkans trying to lure the South Slavic subjects of the empire to revolt through subversive means (as with Pakistan there was a clandestine connection between government circles and radical elements in the Serbian intelligence community). Most importantly, Austria’s stance vis-à-vis Serbia was emboldened by its dual alliance with the German Empire, which in 1914 , after the assassination, gave Austria a diplomatic carte blanche, to deal once and for all with the “Serbian problem”.

Before this dual alliance, Austria always had to play a rather careful diplomatic game between East and West. The great protector power of Serbia was Russia, Austria’s powerful eastern neighbor (cf. the Russian, Count Vronsky, who in the novel, Ana Karenina, departs for Serbia at the end of the novel to participate in the Orthodox Serbian revolt against the Turks) threatening Austria’s exposed eastern borders. As the years progressed and tensions between the great powers mounted and the dual alliance solidified, Austria took an increasingly more aggressive stance against Serbia’s agitations.

In 1914, after the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, Austria’s Chief of Staff Conrad von Hoetzendorf’s repeated request for preventive war with Serbia was finally granted.  Not before Austria, however, thought it had secured Germany’s guarantee to help defend its eastern borders, plunging all of Europe into the First World War.

India today faces many similar problems as Austria did in the early 20th century. A powerful peer competitor in the East conducting a relatively subtle anti-Indian South Asian policy and a smaller, but more real subversive threat coming from Pakistan (notwithstanding the nuclear component of this equation) and continuing internal unrest. Add the world’s strongest military power, the United States, to this mix and the results could be explosive. According to various foreign policy experts in New Delhi, India is very aware of the delicate situation it occupies.

The United States would do well not to foster too close of a relationship with India in the next few years of its ‘rebalance’ to Asia and should maintain the status quo. India has cautiously positioned herself between both parties in US-China competition. China has made it clear in numerous statements that it is not a threat to India, whereas India’s defense ministry clearly stated that India is not interested in containing China.

India’s diplomacy of peace and non-alignment is deeply felt and comes more naturally to it than war.  In the near term the much bigger danger of an emboldened India may well be an increase in crypto-nationalism and inter-communal extremism.

The United States should heed the maxim “be careful what you wish for.” For closer military and diplomatic ties between India and the United States may embolden India’s foreign policy, which could potentially destabilize the entire region of South Asia.  As history teaches us, multicultural great powers often have a need to define their national identities by overarching national ‘exertions’ such as a war. In conclusion, the Obama Administration should carefully evaluate its relationship with India in 2015 and beware of the unintentional but often hazardous consequences of Great Power politics. What do you think dear reader? By for The Diplomat

Why 2016 Could Be a Nightmare for China

Presidential elections in the U.S. and Taiwan could end China’s period of “strategic opportunity.”

In the late 1990s, former President Jiang Zemin liked to talk of China entering a two-decade era of “strategic opportunity” — a period when China could become a middle income country while continuing the Deng-ist strategy of building up its capacity and strengthening its economy during the era of American hegemony. During this period, China would be low profile, largely free of global leadership responsibilities, and able to plead its status as a poor, developing power focused on solving its own problems as a reason to sidestep heavy diplomatic duties beyond its borders.

Three-quarters of the way into this era of “strategic opportunity,” and we might argue that this period has already come to an end. Economically and geopolitically, the China of Xi Jinping increasingly talks and acts like an emerging super power. Xi, with his grand narratives of a “new model of great power relations” for the U.S. and China, and a “New Silk Road” for most of the rest of the planet, seems to have the look, and tone, of someone willing to stand more on the global stage and get attention.

It seems like the “era of strategic opportunity,” where the onus was on internal issues and keeping a low profile, has been replaced by a China where, as Xi puts it in a recently collected edition of speeches (The Governance of China), its inward and outward context are intimately linked. For China, the pressure is now on finding “holistic” solutions where it often proactively takes the lead on the global stage and wants to be listened to.

Even so, it still makes sense to think along the lines of smaller strategic opportunities. One date in particular stands out – that of only a year hence, when there are perfectly good reasons to predict that the global and regional atmosphere for China will grow a little frostier and less benign. China needs to grab its chances now before they disappear.

The first reason 2016 will be a trial for China is the U.S. presidential election. For all his talk of “pivots” and rebalancing, President Obama has been a good president for China. He has been read as weak and overstretched and was treated with staggering disdain during his first visit to Beijing in 2009. Under Obama’s watch, we witnessed the rise of an assertive, pushy China that has been increasingly able to call the shots, at least in its neighborhood. Now, this might be a very unfair reading. Historically, Obama’s achievements in terms of doing a climate change deal late last year with the Chinese might go down as a far-sighted move, bringing benefits years from now. But the perception amongst many in Beijing and Washington is that he has been weak (and in diplomacy, perception is usually 99 percent of what matters).

In 2016, we might well see Hilary Clinton move to the White House. Her image, in China, is not that of someone who is weak. The Chinese media reception for her various visits to the People’s Republic, from the time  she attended the U.N. conference on women in 1995 up to her period as secretary of state, has been half-admiring, half-apprehensive. She is seen as someone who is tough and frighteningly ambitious. Chinese analysts and policy makers may well already be starting to fear what the complexion of a Clinton White House focused from day one on reaffirming the United States’ prime role in the world might mean for them.

The same year will all bring a presidential elections in Taiwan. Like Obama, but for very different reasons, incumbent Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang (KMT) has been a good ally for Beijing. He promoted economic closeness and political carefulness, significantly reducing the cross-strait tensions that existed in the eight years under Chen Shui-bian before Ma’s election in 2008. But this has brought him some of the worst approval ratings a Taiwanese leader has ever seen. 2016 might not be a walkover for the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), but it is theirs to lose. And the DPP policy toward the mainland would be far less accommodating than that of the KMT.

In the space of a few months in 2016, therefore, Beijing will see the leadership of two of its key partners change, with the real possibility that this will bring about a more confrontational environment. Xi Jinping has proved adept at coining new phrases to capture significant interest for China. But 2016, far from being a furthering of the China Dream, could turn out to be the start of a nightmare. There is a little over 18 months of a small strategic opportunity For Xi to achieve as much as possible with Presidents Obama and Ma before they disappear. In 2015 and 2016 we may well see some unexpected and surprising moves as the Chinese side tries to capitalize on this. The question is whether Obama and Ma are in the mood to respond to these overtures, or whether their reserves of imagination and patience on Chinese matters are long since used up.  By for The Diplomat

Democracy-loving media’s misleading coverage of Hong Kong protest

For the West, democracy is not only a core value but also represents the best possible form of government for all nations.  This notion determined how the Western media perceived, interpreted and covered events in the 2014 Hong Kong protest.

When thousands of students called for a weeklong boycott of classes to demand open candidate nomination for Hong Kong’s upcoming Chief Executive election, the narrative of Hong Kong residents’ quest for ‘genuine’ universal suffrage struck a sympathetic chord with the Western media. The latter not only parroted the protestors’ claims, but reported the ensuing protest within the frame of a Hong Kong seeking democracy from an authoritarian China.

Thus Western media rejected other plausible explanations for the massive unrest, such as the youthful demonstrators’ sense of dislocation, scarcity of desirable jobs and affordable housing, other economic factors and antipathy toward China and Chinese mainlanders.  This last factor of antipathy which some called an identity crisis proved to be especially difficult to fit into the media’s democracy frame because it led young people to demand a return of Hong Kong to the UK.  But Hong Kong was a colony, never a democracy, under the British.  Prior to and during Occupy Central, as the protest was collectively termed, Hong Kong youth demonstrated this desire in various marches by prominently displaying the UK colonial flag with the message: ‘I am a Hong Konger, not a Chinese’.

Early in the protest, the media often downplayed the context for the Hong Kong police’s use of force. They discounted the fact that the first confrontation between the police and students was actually precipitated by one of the student leaders. In coverage in which it was reported that protestors were urged by the student leader to break into the off-limits forecourt of a government complex, the subtext was clear: protestor actions were understandable given that Beijing rejected demands for ‘free elections’, while police use of tear gas in the ensuing chaos was inexcusable.

The media framing brought out many more Hong Kong residents to occupy the central district, bringing the central city to a standstill. Police attempting to disperse the crowd on 28 September were shown in a video titled ‘Who initiated the attack’. Vastly outnumbered, police stood tensely behind low barricades against a surging crowd of angry protestors. They raised a red banner warning the crowd to ‘stop charging or we will use force’. Suddenly, protestors at the front charged the police with their pointy umbrellas.

But media coverage of this incident generally started with the police crackdown which followed the umbrella charge. The non-contextualised image of police tossing tear gas into the crowd helped mobilise those who thought the police action was unwarranted and excessive.  Participants of the 2013 protest, which was also called Occupy Central, joined the students at this point and assembled en masse to swell the protest after 28 September. Although the original leaders who started the 2013 Occupy Central had hoped for a turnout of a few thousand supporters at their 2014 demonstration, the media had delivered massive mobilisation beyond their wildest dreams.

The Western media clung to the myth that the protestors were ‘peaceful’, but as early as 3 October, they were blocking an ambulance from reaching a collapsed policeman. Being incongruent with the narrative of a peaceful demand for democracy, incidents of protestor violence went unreported: off-duty police officers were attacked, fire extinguishers were turned on, and weapons such as bricks or boards spiked with nails were used against the police. Also unreported was a nine-day petition drive in late October (garnering 1.83 million signatures) supporting police action to return the roads to the citizens.

Responsible media would have explored what the protestors truly had in mind when labelling the protest as ‘pro-democracy’.  Did Beijing, as protestors claimed, contravene the principles set forth in the 1984 Sino–British Joint Declaration and betray its promise of universal suffrage?  Despite it being a central rallying point, do protestors have a clear notion and an agreed-upon definition of ‘democracy’? What is ‘genuine’ universal suffrage and ‘open nomination’? What, if any, are the rules and procedures of an ‘open nomination’? Is open nomination — a form of direct democracy — the only acceptable model? Or would the representational democracy of the West suffice?  The media failed to address these central questions.

With their ingrained prejudice against China and idealised assumptions about the protestors’ motives and demands, Western media outlets were not only biased, but failed to appreciate the complexity of the situation.  Instead, they streamlined the coverage to fit into their preconceived notions about democracy.  Thus the saying ‘if you don’t read the news, you are uninformed; if you do read the news, you are misinformed’ is a fitting description of the Western media’s coverage of the protest in Hong Kong.

Ivy Lee is Emeritus Professor at California State University, Sacramento.


Friday, January 30, 2015

Human rights in Thailand in 'free fall'

HUMAN rights in Thailand are in "free fall" with the government of General Prayut Chan-o-cha severely repressing fundamental rights and freedoms since the coup last May, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in its annual World Report 2015.

"Military rule has sent human rights in Thailand into a free fall, with no sign that the promised democratic transition will happen any time soon," Brad Adams, HRW's Asia director, said. "The junta is using draconian martial law powers to prosecute dissenters, ban political activity, and censor the media."

Unlike previous years, the report for the first time was not released at a press conference in Bangkok.

Sunai Phasuk, a senior Thai researcher at HRW, told The Nation the decision not to hold a press conference detailing the human rights situation in Thailand was due to the current environment under martial law.

"If we want to hold a press conference we must ask for permission from the National Council for Peace and Order [NCPO] first. We don't want to set a precedent," Sunai said.

"In the end they wouldn't give a permit, anyhow, and it would be tantamount to recognising their authority."

Sunai said the report was available on the Internet, with a Thai-language version available late yesterday.

He said the fact that a media report organised by the Thai Journalists Association in conjunction with the Friedrich Ebert Foundation had had its scheduled release yesterday cancelled indefinitely by the NCPO was further proof of the restrictions now in place.

The HRW report criticised Prayut and the NCPO for functioning without accountability and enjoying impunity for "abusive acts".

"The junta has largely banned political activity, has carried out hundreds of arbitrary arrests and detentions, and has disregarded serious allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees," it said.

It also cited the NCPO's order to the media, social media and general public not criticise the junta as another example of rights being repressed.

"The NCPO ordered the print media not to publicise commentaries critical of the military. TV and radio programmes were instructed not to invite guests who might comment negatively on the situation in Thailand," the report stated.

"The junta has blocked more than 200 websites - including the Thailand page on the Human Rights Watch website - as threats to national security."

The report said there had been 14 new cases of lese majeste under the NCPO, adding that many of those charged were routinely denied bail and often jailed for many months while awaiting trial in the military court.

It also said the military and police had operated with impunity in the deep South.

"To date, not a single member of the security forces has been criminally prosecuted for serious rights abuses in Pattani, Narathiwat and Yala provinces. Separatists insurgents point to government abuses to recruit new members and justify their campaign of terror targeting officials and civilians, which has claimed more than 6,000 lives over the past 10 years."

The Thai authorities had also imposed tighter restrictions on all refugee camps near the Myanmar border and intensified scrutiny of unregistered camp residents. These unregistered residents make up about 40 per cent of camp populations which "successive Thai governments have effectively blocked from being considered for refugee status, sparking fears in the camp of possible mass expulsions".


Politics in Malaysia: Misfortunes Surround Malaysia’s Prime Minister

WORLD leaders rarely regret a chance to pose with Barack Obama. But in December Malaysian voters responded angrily to footage of Najib Razak, their prime minister, playing golf with America’s president—just as severe floods were inundating the country’s coastal provinces. A hasty tour of the flood zones, from which more than 200,000 people were evacuated, went some way to repairing the prime minister’s image. So too did the news this month that the filthy floodwaters had handed him a bout of E. coli.

That a stomach bug might be a positive development for Mr Najib says much about his difficulties
. Since leading his coalition to a slim victory in elections in 2013, with less than half the popular vote, his approval rating has dropped about ten points to less than 50%,
according to the Merdeka Centre, a pollster. That would be an encouraging figure for many Western politicians but looks perilous to a leader of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), which has ruled Malaysia for almost six decades. Factions loyal to Mahathir Mohamad, a former prime minister who won’t go away, accuse Mr Najib of not looking out for UMNO’s ethnic-Malay Muslim majority. Rumours persist that rebels are rallying around Mr Najib’s deputy, Muhyiddin Yassin.

This kind of rough and tumble is not rare in Malaysia’s ruthless politics. It looks rather like the brawling which eventually toppled Mr Najib’s predecessor, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in 2009. But lately two singular developments have added to the prime minister’s problems. The first is the terrible performance of 1MDB, a loss-making state investment fund that is struggling to service around $12 billion of debt and whose board of advisers Mr Najib chairs. At the end of December it failed to repay a $563m loan; some people fear that a costly bail-out is on the cards.

The second distraction is an unexpected verdict handed down by the federal court in a long-running murder case. On January 13th the court overturned the acquittal of two policemen who were convicted in 2009 of murdering a Mongolian woman. Her killers were members of a police unit assigned to protect Mr Najib, then Malaysia’s defence minister, and one of them has fled to Australia, which may decline to extradite him. Mr Najib has always denied any involvement in the crime, and there is no evidence to the contrary. But the case is a magnet for conspiracists. Some wonder whether Mr Najib’s political opponents encouraged the court to deliver a verdict that would return the case to the headlines.

Mr Najib’s position is probably safe for the moment. None of his rivals yet commands quite enough support within UMNO or among voters. He is throwing bones to his detractors: in November he backed down on a promise to do away with the Sedition Act—a noxious colonial-era law on censorship that is currently being used to harry opposition figures—and pledged instead to bolster it with new clauses that would criminalise some speech against Islam and other religions. Challenging Mr Najib this year would risk doing harm to Malaysia’s image, says Ooi Kee Beng of ISEAS, a think-tank, given that the country is the current chair of ASEAN, the club of South-East Asian countries.

Much will depend on the economy, for which Mr Najib, who is both prime minister and finance minister, is seen as having full responsibility. Though the country has gradually grown less dependent on revenues from oil and gas, these still make up around 30% of government income. The collapse of oil prices has left a hole. The government has taken the chance to slash fuel subsidies, and on January 20th it pledged to keep the deficit fairly close to its earlier target of 3%. But spending cuts may unsettle the public, which is already swallowing a new tax for goods and services.

Hardly anyone thinks Mr Najib still has the power or the will to push through the big-ticket reforms he once considered, such as a plan to tone down positive discrimination laws, which throttle growth by favouring the Malay majority at the expense of ethnic Chinese and Indians. But his defenestration could well mean UMNO veering even harder to the right on divisive issues such as Islam’s place in society. Few voters really want Malaysia’s polarised racial politics to get any more toxic. The Economist

China's Navy to Send More Ships to the Indian Ocean

Recent reports of PLAN naval movements have many analysts worried.

During a press conference on January 29, a spokesperson of the Chinese Ministry of National Defense (MND), announced that China will step up its deployment of a range of warships in the Indian Ocean. IHS Jane’s reports that Senior Colonel Yang Yujun, after being asked a question on PLAN submarine movements in the Indian Ocean, tried to downplay Chinese naval activities in the region, characterizing them as “normal” and emphasizing that “there is no need to read too much into them.”

“[T]he Chinese military has sent various kinds of naval ships to the Gulf of Aden and the waters off the Somali coast to conduct escort missions since 2008. And in the process, we have notified relevant countries of the escort missions of the PLA naval ships, including the PLA naval submarines,” Yang said in his remarks. “In the future, the Chinese military will send different kinds of naval ships to take part in the naval escort missions in accordance with the situation and the requirement to fulfill the task.”

The presence of Chinese submarine forces in the ocean has the other great regional power, India, worried. Indian military officers have stated that the deployment of nuclear subs would cross a redline and trigger a naval arms race.

As my colleague Shannon Tiezzi pointed out this morning, many Indian and Western analysts believe that China is pursuing a clear-cut long-term naval strategy to dominate the Indian Ocean. In 2005, the U.S. consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton came up with the “string of pearls” hypothesis, which posits that China will try to expand its naval presence by building civilian maritime infrastructure along the Indian Ocean periphery. Those ports in turn could be put to dual use eventually and serve as naval ports for ships of the PLAN.

Chinese investment in the port of Gwadar is often cited as the prime example, as are recent investments in port facilities in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Myanmar.  China tried to alleviate Indian and Western fears by re-branding its initiative, calling  it a “Maritime Silk Road.” However, according to experts,  the strategy remains essentially the same and  includes infrastructure projects, special economic zones, and a system of linked ports.

In an analysis of the situation, Prem Mahadevan notes that “in the medium-term, it is unlikely that many IOR [Indian Ocean Region] states would acquiesce to a creeping militarization of their territorial waters by permitting a permanent Chinese naval presence.” In the long-term, however, he notes that many governments in the region may ultimately consent to an increased Chinese naval presence in their waters in order not to jeopardize trade deals with Beijing.

Looking at the situation from a purely military perspective, it is evident that China, ever since 2008, has begun expanding its South Sea Fleet. Mahadevan elaborates that China may already be in the process of creating a fourth fleet, based at Hainan Island and consisting of two carrier battle groups, which could be operational by 2020. Since these carrier battle groups would be extremely vulnerable to U.S. naval superiority in the Western Pacific, their logical field of operation would be the Indian Ocean, where they would exercise more of a psychological impact. Yet even in peacetime,  the presence of these groups in region will increase the change of incidences at sea.

Mahadevan concludes, “The IOR plays an integral part in China’s narrative of a ‘peaceful rise.’” However, the recent PLAN incursions may trigger India (and other Indian Ocean nations) to question this narrative more thoroughly. The Diplomat

South Korea's Foreign Bride Problem

The government tries to tackle the thorny issue of migrant brides and domestic violence.

When she agreed to marry a foreign man 20 years her senior introduced to her through a local marriage broker, Do Thi My Tien was optimistic she could create a comfortable life for herself abroad.

Tien married Lee Geun-sik, a South Korean, and traveled a world away from her small village in Tay Ninh, a province 100 kilometers from Ho Chi Minh City. In 2005, the newlyweds settled down in South Jeolla Province in the southwestern corner of the country.

But what began 10 years ago with so much hope and promise, ended last year on July 24 in a sordid murder. Police pulled Tien’s body from a deep gorge. She was 27 years of age.

A Vietnamese neighbor told police the couple was fighting days before Tien disappeared, according to local reporting. Lee admitted to killing Tien, and to tossing her body and scooter over the side of a mountain road in a half-baked attempt to conceal his crime. Lee apparently believed he could make it appear like a traffic accident, but the police immediately suspected foul play.

Tien’s death is an extreme and tragic example of the domestic violence that afflicts many families. In South Korea, a total of 123 women were killed by their husbands or partners in 2013, according to the Korea Women’s Hotline, a nationwide women’s group that works to stop domestic violence.

Foreigners account for just 2.5 percent of the population in South Korea, but with a comparatively high number of deaths involving foreign women since 2012, experts from government and nongovernment organizations agree that migrant women here are particularly at risk to domestic violence.

They disagree on much else. According to a senior official at the Gender Equality and Family Ministry, language and cultural barriers are largely to blame for the domestic violence that caused the slew of disturbing killings.

“Think about it. Several decades ago, Korean women emigrated to Japan or America. They were poor. They didn’t even know who their husbands were. They didn’t speak English, so they couldn’t really often get out of the house. Their husbands started to ignore them. The wives didn’t work, they couldn’t cook American food,” said Choi Sung-ji, director of multicultural family policy at the Ministry of Gender Equality & Family, in explaining the domestic violence faced by migrant women in South Korea.

“The situation is similar in Korea now. Women from Southeast Asian countries come here for a better living without really knowing who they are getting married to. They didn’t get married out of love.”

“Rather, they met them but through marriage brokers,” she said, adding “If they don’t speak the Korean language and do not understand Korean culture, then they are at a disadvantage. There cannot be an equal relationship. “

Love and Marriage

The number of international marriages in South Korea have skyrocketed. Between 1990 and 2005, for instance, just 250,000 international marriages were registered in South Korea. But nearly as many – some 238,000 –  were registered in just six years, from 2006-2012.

The increase in international marriages started from 1990 for a specific reason: The Cold War ended. South Korea established diplomatic relations with Cold War foes China and Vietnam in 1992, opening up travel and communications for ordinary Koreans, Chinese and Vietnamese.

Although international marriage accounted for only 1.2 percent of marriages in 1990, they represented 13.6 percent in 2006, a ten-fold increase.

As of September 2013 the single largest group of marriage migrants was Vietnamese women, nearly 40,000. Non-Korean Chinese and ethnic-Korean Chinese women formed the second and third largest groups, with women from Japan, the Philippines and Cambodia following them.

In 2007, South Korea’s Multicultural Families Support Act came into force and ushered the opening of multicultural centers around the country. The centers aim to provide various classes and services for migrant women and their families.

Though the act has seen a number of revisions over the years, a reliable constant is the steadily growing number of these government-run multicultural centers. The country has seen 50 such centers set up on an annual basis since 2007. In the past eight years, 217 centers have opened under the Gender Equality Ministry and the budget for multicultural families ballooned to $120 million, a 20-fold increase.


The proper role of these multicultural centers is a point of contention between the Gender Ministry and women and migrant rights groups.

While the centers provide practical classes, such as Korean language instruction, they do so only marginally. For example, only 400 hours a year of language education is guaranteed at any particular center, about an hour a day.

The centers appear more focused on delivering esoteric sounding services for migrant women, such as the so-called “multicultural perception improvement project;” the “family integrated education service,” which is described as providing “culture understanding education;” and the “bi-lingual environment promotion project.”

Choi, a director responsible for overseeing policy on multicultural families, said the programs are designed to foster respect for the mother’s culture in the home and in society.

Critics of that effort and the centers say the government is too focused on “cultural assimilation” and believe the government should instead emphasize legal protections for migrant women, preventing domestic violence and raising the awareness of the human rights of immigrants.

“Why are we having these classes? It’s a culture show of these women. These [217] multicultural centers are spending their money putting on culture shows. These classes should be fundamentally about raising awareness and teaching migrant women what their rights are,” said Heo Young-sook, secretary general of Women Migrant Human Rights Center of Korea. “Even though we are spending a lot of money on these centers, discrimination against migrant women is getting worse.”

Heo led a street demonstration in Seoul on Dec. 30 that eulogized the seven migrant women killed last year, during which she decried the failure by the government to protect migrant women from domestic violence. She outlined a number of needed changes, including a crackdown on exploitative marriage brokers and a better social system for preventing domestic violence in the country.

“One thing that has to change is the rules preventing new brides from obtaining South Korean citizenship,” she added.

Marriage Visas

If an F6 marriage visa is extended to a migrant newlywed, then he or she can stay in the country for two years. The biannual renewal of his or her visa status depends on the sponsorship of the South Korean spouse, as well as eligibility for permanent residency and naturalization.

The visa system makes marriage migrants vulnerable to domestic violence, insists Heo.

The system makes many marriage migrants dependent on their husbands for their visa status, which can lead abuse both physically and also emotionally, through isolation and seclusion.

To illustrate her point, Heo cited one of the seven women killed last year, a 22-year-old Vietnamese woman identified by the surname Nguyen. The migrant rights activist said she was undocumented because she was estranged from her husband. Nguyen was murdered by a 37-year-old male friend in a motel in Jeju City on Nov. 30.

The Gender Ministry’s Choi acknowledged that multicultural centers need to do a better job educating migrant women about their legal rights. She said a new class focusing on migrant rights will be introduced at centers starting from this year.

The Ministry of Justice also responded to high number of women killed and other reports of domestic violence by tightening requirements for obtaining marriage visas.

Those tougher requirements were welcomed by both inside and outside the government. Both Heo and Choi agreed with the stricter immigration measures.

Since April 2014, Korean spouses have had to meet income and other wealth minimums – an annual income of 14.8 million won ($14,000) – and stiffer language requirements for marriage migrants.

The new rules could have an effect on curbing the increasing rate of new international marriages. A study on marriage migration in South Korea found that over half of 945 multicultural families surveyed in 2006 earned less than the minimum wage (about $8,000 per year).

Whether making international marriages more difficult will decrease domestic violence and, indeed, decrease the number of migrant women killed through 2015 remains to be seen.

The Diplomat

The Argument for and against Capital punishment

 Has a proven “deterrent” effect on other (would-be) drug traffickers, demonstrated by Singapore as testament to this claim?

According to Astari Anjani and Dimas Muhamad, a duo representing the Indonesian Foreign Affairs Ministry, capital punishment is a “vital” tool for “saving Indonesia from [its] drug scourge.”

Last week, Anjani and Muhamad penned a dubious column for the Jakarta Globe, in which they celebrated President Jokowi’s continued use of the death penalty as “an important part of our comprehensive strategy to win the war on drugs.”

Surprisingly, Anjani and Muhamad did not limit their argument to the classic fallacy of “appealing to emotion,” as do many supporters of the death penalty, including President Jokowi. Instead, the authors attempted to put forward a legal and empirical case for capital punishment, suggesting that “despite many claims to the contrary, several studies have affirmed the deterrent effect of the death penalty.”

I will deal with Anjani and Muhamad’s tenuous legal and empirical claims in a later article, but in this response, I would like draw attention to some of Anjani and Muhamad’s basic misconceptions of illegal drug markets, and their failure to grasp why illegal drug use is, at least at present, much more dangerous than need be.

Fallacy No.1: Drug traffickers kill drug users

Having to argue this point over and over really is a chore. But for those readers, like Anjani and Muhamad, who still fail to see the difference between a “murder” and a drug-related “accident,” allow me to spell it out once again.

Anjani and Muhamad began their article with a very unhelpful epithet: “Bloodless murderers,” they announced, “is the term that Kamaluddin Lubis, a prominent activist, once used to describe drug dealers — arguing that they ought to be executed for their crimes. To some such a label might be over the top, but it succinctly portrays this man’s misery: drug abuse claimed the life of one of his sons. And he is not alone.”

Granted, drug abuse does the claim the lives of a tiny minority of illegal drug users. But let’s be clear about why this is allowed to happen, and why it looks set to continue.

The problem lies not with the traffickers; they, just like beer and cigarette companies, are merely supplying dangerous substances to a consenting and desiring market. Of course, you may not condone that drug traffickers break the law, and you may despise the substances they deal in, but you have no grounds on which to accuse them of “murder.”

In a court of law, the charge of “murder” is not taken lightly. Before a defendant can be convicted of murder, the court must establish, beyond reasonable doubt, premeditated lethal intent as the motive of the crime.

In the case of drug trafficking, however, lethal intent is clearly not the motive. The courier who attempts to smuggle a parcel of heroin or methamphetamine through Soekarno-Hatta airport, for example, is not motivated by depraved thoughts of dead heroin users, or suicidal meth addicts. The courier is simply looking to make a quick buck.

As I argued previously in the Jakarta Globe, drug traffickers do not intend to kill their patrons, just as tobacco barons do not intend to kill smokers. And if you accept the latter half of this claim, Anjani and Muhamad, then you simply must admit the former. A drug trafficker is no more a “bloodless murderer” than the CEO of a large tobacco company — and to claim otherwise is to uphold an obvious double standard.

The main problem that we face today is not drug traffickers, but drug prohibition itself. Prohibition has gifted us a perfect, flawless framework for a totally unregulated illegal drug market, in which a small number of accidental drug deaths are sure to occur, purely for lack of oversight.

Let’s be honest about it: our drug laws are the real menace here. They ensure that recreational drug markets are kept in a permanent state of anarchy, and they ensure that drug users never really know exactly what’s in their product. This is precisely what puts innocent lives needlessly in danger, and this is precisely what leads some drug users to overdose accidentally.

The UK’s recent “Superman” pill tragedy offers a fine example of our illogical drug laws in practice, and a clear proof that prohibition is part of the problem, not the solution. (I take this example from the UK mainly because it is current and well-reported, though we can be sure that similar tragedies have taken place in Indonesia. The case of Jicky Vay Gumerung immediately springs to mind.)

Three men each bought a pill, bearing the “Superman” logo, sold to them as ecstasy (MDMA). All three men had taken ecstasy before, were familiar with its effects, and felt comfortable taking the drug again. What the three men didn’t know, however, was that their pills contained a dangerous adulterant known as PMA (para-Methoxyamphetamine).

Like MDMA, PMA also has stimulant properties. But unlike MDMA, PMA is significantly more toxic and up to 10 times more potent. Thus, after ingesting an unknown, lethal dose of PMA, all three men died as a result of overheating. Needless to say, if the three men had actually taken MDMA — a much safer drug with proven psychotherapeutic uses — their deaths could have easily been prevented.

Anjani and Muhamad, surely you can see reason here: Imagine if each of those three men had purchased a pure ecstasy tablet from a legitimate chemist, complete with a contents label, dosage information, and a directions booklet — just like the painkillers we all take for a cold or flu — do you think the men would have misused the pills so haphazardly as to result in an accidental overdose? Probably not.

Consider the inverse, also: Imagine if each of the three men had been aware that their pill contained a lethal quantity of PMA. Do you think they would have swallowed the pills anyway? Well, obviously not; not unless they sincerely wanted to kill themselves, (which is not the experience that most ecstasy users are looking for).

Indonesia’s leaders must accept that drug users are sensible and rational people just like the rest of us. Most drug users would like to enjoy taking drugs as safely as possible, in a safe environment, and they most certainly don’t want to overdose. But for such tragic accidents to be avoided, drug users need to know exactly what’s in the pill or powder before them. Sadly, however, thanks to prohibition, this is an unlikely possibility.

Regulation and harm reduction

I’m sure you have noticed, Anjani and Muhamad, that everything we produce for human consumption — whether it’s poultry, fruit juice, chickpeas or paracetemol — is legalized and regulated, precisely because of the potential harm that such items can cause to consumers.

I trust you have also noticed that we tend to subject the most dangerous legal substances — such as alcohol and tobacco — to the most stringent restrictions and regulations. Why is this so?

Well, in the case of alcohol and tobacco, we certainly don’t want minors to have uninhibited access to, say, cigarettes or vodka; and we don’t want fellow adults to die of methanol poisoning after chancing it with homemade moonshine such as oplosan.

So we have in place some rules and regulations that help keep these substances inaccessible (at least in theory) to the most vulnerable members of society, and we ensure that there is a controlled market for professionally produced alcohol or tobacco, so that our fellow citizens are not tempted to experiment with oplosan or a bizarre form of homemade kretek. This is all perfectly good practice, of course, and there is no reason why such regulations should not also extend to soft drugs such as cannabis and ecstasy.

Just think: who in their right mind would support a system in which wine or beer has to be produced at a secret location, sold on to shady, unaccountable middlemen, and finally served to the consumer in an unmarked bottle that could have come from literally anywhere? Very few people, I expect. And very few policy makers, likewise.

So why, then, when we have all of these commonsense precautions for legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco, must our leaders insist that our entire market for all other drugs remains totally unregulated?

At the end of their article, Anjani and Muhamad “commended” President Jokowi’s administration for “not turning its back on Kamaluddin Lubis and millions of others [drug users and families] who have gone through unspeakable misery.” The sad irony is, however, that by continuing to enforce prohibition, the government is doing exactly that — turning its back on the most vulnerable people that use drugs, and pushing them further into the hands of dealers and traffickers.

By continuing to enforce drug prohibition, the government is gifting the entire market to criminal gangs, and allowing them to cut corners with cheap adulterants, sometimes with fatal consequences. But rest assured, Anjani and Muhamad, that if every single drug user knew exactly the substance, dosage and purity of the drug before him, we would have very few drug deaths on our hands, and very few of those “bloodless murderers” among us.

There are many ways to “save the drug user,” as the National Narcotics Agency (BNN) once put it, but capital punishment is certainly not one of them.

Patrick Tibke is a Jakarta-based writer and a recent graduate of the Southeast Asian Studies program at SOAS, University of London. His interests include human rights, labor rights and drug policy.

This is the first of a two-part series. The second part is here.


A Rebuttal to Two Death Penalty Advocates

Ignorance or Deception? An op-ed by two Foreign Ministry staffers defending the use of the death penalty for drug crimes falls flat in both its appeal to empirical data and its appeal to international law, which does not consider trafficking a capital offense, the author argues

An official from the Attorney General’s Office announcing there will be no clemency for Australian drug traffickers Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan. (AFP Photo/Bay Ismoyo)

Astari Anjani and Dimas Muhamad, a duo representing the Indonesian Foreign Affairs Ministry, believe that the death penalty is the right punishment for convicted drug traffickers.

Last week, in an opinion piece for the Jakarta Globe, Anjani and Muhamad described the death penalty as a “vital” tool for “saving Indonesia from [its] drug scourge,” and an “important part of our comprehensive strategy to win the war on drugs.”

At the beginning of their article, Anjani and Muhamad argued that drug use “claims lives,” and that drug traffickers should therefore be put to death as recompense. “Bloodless murderers,” the authors explained, do not deserve to live; not after all of the drug-related deaths that they have caused.

Having dealt with this fallacy in a previous article, I now propose that we turn to consider some of the authors’ less emotive arguments for the efficacy and fairness of the death penalty. Bear in mind, however, that Anjani and Muhamad’s entire case for capital punishment does seem to hinge on precisely the above claim — that all convicted drug traffickers are somehow culpable for thousands of deaths, and must therefore be punished in kind.

It seems to me, therefore, that if we refuse to grant Anjani and Muhamad the above claim — which we most certainly should — then the rest of their argument is rendered null and void. However, knowing that Anjani and Muhamad are bound to disagree with such an early victory proclamation, I think it is only fair that we hear out the rest of their case, in the interests of leaving no stone unturned.


Legal and empirical claims

Following their opening reference to “bloodless murderers,” Anjani and Muhamad went on to argue for the death penalty on the basis of: One, an appeal to empirical data, and two, an appeal to international legal norms.

Both of these arguments fail to present a compelling case for the death penalty, albeit for different reasons. First, Anjani and Muhamad’s appeal to empiricism — i.e. the claim that the death penalty has a proven “deterrent” effect — is both impossible to establish and quite obviously superseded by greater evidence to the contrary. Second, Anjani and Muhamad’s appeal to international legal norms was — to put it mildly — entirely composed of some convenient fantasies.

The authors argued points one and two in that order, but in the interests of saving the best for last, I shall begin with point two, the appeal to international law.

“One can argue that capital punishment is not effective enough or inhumane,” Anjani and Muhamad rightly conceded, “but when all is said and done every country has the sovereign right to prosecute criminals in accordance with its national laws and international law norms that it agreed to.”

All perfectly true. But then in comes the fiction:

“Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Indonesia has ratified, allows the death penalty under certain conditions, which Indonesia has met …

“The death sentence can only be imposed for the most serious crimes, and Indonesia deems drug trafficking to fall into this category. Despite the debate on what is meant by ‘the most serious crimes,’ the ICCPR’s preparatory works show that the omission in defining the term was intended by the negotiating parties to leave room for state-specific interpretation [emphasis added].”

The notion that there is still an ongoing debate as to the meaning of the ICCPR’s term “most serious crimes” is a total falsehood. In fact, all United Nations legal entities have confirmed that drug trafficking is an economic crime, committed for financial gain, and does not result in a direct loss of life. Drug offenses, therefore, do not meet the criteria of a “most serious crime.”

In 1984, in a document titled “Safeguards Guaranteeing Protection of the Rights of Those Facing the Death Penalty,” the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations proposed a clear definition of the term “most serious crimes.” That definition, which was later endorsed by the UN General Assembly, established that a “most serious crime” must result in an “intentional” and direct loss of life, thereby excluding economic crimes such as drug trafficking.

Later, in 1997, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions clarified that the term “intentional” should be “equated to premeditation and should be understood as [a] deliberate intention to kill.”

Even the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) has long recognized that drug trafficking is not a lethal offense, and that this distinction is clear under international law. In 2010, for example, the executive director of the UNODC confirmed: “UNODC advocates the abolition of the death penalty and calls upon member states to follow international standards concerning prohibition of the death penalty for offenses of a drug-related or purely economic nature.”

In addition to the three examples cited above, three other United Nations legal entities have confirmed that executing citizens for drug offenses is in direct contravention of Article 6 (1) and Article 6 (2) of the ICCPR.

This position has been echoed, over the years, by the United Nations Human Rights Committee (2005 and 2008); the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (2009); and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right of Everyone to the Enjoyment of the Highest Attainable Standard of Physical and Mental Health (2010).

The ICCPR, as I am sure Anjani and Muhamad are aware, was adopted almost half a century ago, in 1966, and brought into effect in 1976. Needless to say, during the intervening half-century up until now, the United Nations has indeed rigorously studied and debated the terms of the ICCPR. But that debate is well and truly over — as far as capital punishment for drug offenses  is concerned — and for Anjani and Muhamad to claim otherwise is either plain ignorance or calculated deception.

Either way, both the letter and the spirit of the law are now abundantly clear: Under no circumstance may a signee to the ICCPR take the life of a citizen following conviction on a drug offense.


Moving swiftly on to Anjani and Muhamad’s second line of argument — the appeal to empirical data — here we confront a whole new set of fallacies.

Anjani and Muhamad believe that executing drug traffickers really does “work.” They believe that capital punishment has a proven “deterrent” effect on other (would-be) drug traffickers, and they point to the proud example of Singapore as testament to this claim.

“Despite many claims to the contrary,” the authors explained, “several studies have affirmed the deterrent effect of the death penalty. A Wall Street Journal article mentions that every execution of a murder convict prevents 74 murders in the following year. And in Singapore, which applies the death penalty, the number of drug offenders has declined by two-thirds since the 1990s.”

Anjani and Muhamad’s initial claim is entirely false. In the United States, capital punishment for convicted murderers appears to have no correlation whatsoever with homicide rates. In fact, if there is any correlation at all between execution and homicide in the United States, it most certainly cuts in the opposite direction. In the year 2000, for instance, the New York Times reported that “10 of the 12 states without capital punishment have homicide rates below the national average [...] while half the states with the death penalty have homicide rates above the national average.”

This is all quite besides the point, anyhow, for sentencing murderers to death is not the same as sentencing drug traffickers to death. Conveniently, those who support the death penalty for convicted murderers need only look to one statistic to try and “prove” that capital punishment works: i.e. the homicide rate. Does it go up, down, or stay the same?

In many ways, however, the much-vaunted “deterrent” effect of executing drug traffickers is not just more difficult to establish; it is impossible to establish.

How exactly are we supposed to know when the execution of one drug trafficker has successfully “deterred” another from committing the same crime?

Defenders of capital punishment for drug trafficking are thus confronted with a vast array of possible “success indicators,” all based on statistics, but none of which can really prove that the death penalty actually works.

Consider it this way: What would be the tell-tale sign that capital punishment deters drug traffickers?

Could it be a decrease in the total number of drug users? A decrease in drug arrests and drug seizures? A combination of these two things? Or is it safer to just assume that the more drug traffickers we kill, the more drug traffickers we deter?

There really is no reliable success indicator for the policy of executing drug traffickers. Even if we caught a hundred traffickers tomorrow, and promptly executed every single one of them, at what point could we honestly say to ourselves: “Aha! Now we know for sure that those executions did the job! Now we know for sure that hundreds of others have been deterred!”

Strictly speaking, it is impossible to tell whether capital punishment deters drug traffickers, because it is impossible to establish a causative link between — think of it this way — the execution of drug trafficker A, and the deterring of would-be drug trafficker B.

Just imagine: how would a research paper aim to demonstrate the existence of such a link? Where would the researchers look to assemble a sample group of safely “deterred” drug traffickers? And how would they question the samples: “On a scale of one to 10, how much did the death of drug trafficker A convince you that drug trafficking is not your dream job?” Clearly, the supposed “deterrent effect” that capital punishment has on other drug traffickers is not a testable hypothesis.

So the debate as to whether the death penalty “deters” others should really end here, at an obvious impasse. But, once again, in the interests of leaving no stone unturned, I will try to consider the issue through the same lens as Anjani and Muhamad, and take their success indicators to be as instructive as they make out.

Suffice it to say, then, that Anjani and Muhamad’s empirical case falls down on at least two counts: One, as mentioned above, Anjani and Muhamad commit the fallacy of presuming correlation implies causation. And two, they can only point to a mere handful of societies that bear out their hypothesis.

For Anjani and Muhamad to win the empirical case, they would need demonstrate that most of the countries that uphold the death penalty for drug offenses also have very low rates of drug use and/or drug seizures, just like Singapore. But clearly this is not the case.

The vast majority of the world’s statistics on drug use and drug seizures suggest that there is no correlation between capital punishment and prevalence of drug use or drug trafficking.

Consider Iran, for example, a country with some of toughest and most brutally applied anti-drug laws in the world. In 2010 and 2011, Iran executed more than 500 people each year for drug trafficking. And yet, in 2014 a UNODC report claimed that 6 percent of Iranians — some 4.6 million people — are addicted to an illegal drug. This is probably the highest addiction rate out of any society on Earth, and yet Iran is second only to China in the amount of drug offenders it executes each year. (China considers all statistics on capital punishment to be a state secret, though there is anecdotal evidence to suggest that China does indeed execute more drug offenders than Iran.)

Many other examples that do not meet the requirements of Anjani and Muhamad’s hypothesis are much closer to home; right under our noses, in fact, on the Southeast Asian mainland.

Myanmar, for example, keeps a mandatory death sentence for drug traffickers, but in 2013 still managed to produce 89 percent of Southeast Asia’s opium crop, from 60,000 hectares of poppy fields.

Thailand, likewise, also retains legal provisions for executing drug traffickers, and yet still has huge problems with drug smugglers entering from Myanmar, and soaring rates of methamphetamine addiction. Just last year, Thailand’s Office of the Narcotics Control Board (ONCB) estimated that 1.3 million Thais — or 2 percent of the country’s total population — are addicted to an illegal drug. Additionally, Thailand is known to have around 150,000 so-called “drug addicts” detained at controversial, compulsory treatment centers, undergoing military drills in the name of “rehabilitation.”

Similar non-correlations between capital punishment and rates of drug use and drug trafficking can be found in Laos, Vietnam, China and Malaysia. Each of these states still upholds the death penalty for convicted drug traffickers, and yet each of these states still has a thriving market for illegal drugs, particularly meth.

Clearly, then, capital punishment has no observable effect on rates of drug use, and does not appear to “deter” drug traffickers from targeting these most dangerous markets. So why should Indonesia buck the trend?

Anjani and Muhamad — and President Jokowi — please take note.

Patrick Tibke is a Jakarta-based writer and a recent graduate of the Southeast Asian Studies program at SOAS, University of London. His interests include human rights, labor rights and drug policy.