13 April 2020   Leave a comment

The Center for Starategic and International Studies has released a new report entitled “The Age of Mass Protests: Understanding an Escalating Global Trend”. The report is important because it gives substance to my intuitive sense that dissent is rising in the world. Its global scope also links disparate protests such as the Arab Spring to the protests in Hong Kong. All protests are based in local issues, and it would be a mistake to think that all protests are somehow linked. But my personal understanding of world politics has taken notice of how widespread dissatisfaction with the political status quo has become. The Executive Summary makes these points:

  • Mass protests increased annually by an average of 11.5 percent from 2009 to 2019 across all regions of the world, with the largest concentration of activity in the Middle East and North Africa and the fastest rate of growth in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Analysis of the underlying drivers of this growth suggests the trend will continue, meaning the number and intensity of global protests is likely to increase.
  • Protests have resulted in a broad range of outcomes, ranging from regime change and political accommodation to protracted political violence with many casualties.
  • Factors that could increase the rate of protest include slowing global economic growth, worsening effects of climate change, and foreign meddling in internal politics via disinformation and other tactics.
  • Russia, China, and Iran are notably active in suppressing protest movements within their own borders. They also advise and assist other country governments in suppressing protest movements, and in some cases meddle uninvited in other countries’ protest movements by exploiting existing political cleavages.
  • Three potential catalyzing factors, which could intensify the trend or make it more manageable, warrant particular attention: (1) the use of technology by protestors and governments alike, (2) the tension between shifting democratic and authoritarian government types, and (3) the need for improved understanding and responsiveness between governments and their citizens.
  • To date, the U.S. government has failed to develop a systematic response to the rising tide of global protests. The Unites States has thus far treated each as an anomaly rather than a greater trend, failing to scale up U.S. capacity to achieve strategic ends, including by shoring up global democracy and pushing back against the spread of authoritarian tactics.
  • The outbreak of the novel coronavirus in early 2020 appears to have temporarily interrupted the surge of protests from 2019 in Hong Kong and Iran, though protest movements from Canada to India continue.

The report highlights significant factors contributing to this rise in protests: 1) the rise of social media which makes organizing protests easier; 2) youth unemployment, which has risen from 9.3% to 12.8% since 2991; 3) perceptions of rising governmental corruption and economic inequality; and 4) growing concerns over climate change.

Graph from The Economist on the Report

The Pew Research Center has published a report on how American citizens view various global threats. Not surprisingly, infectious diseases rank among the top threats (I wish there was a long-term poll of the threats to assess how infectious diseases ranked in the past). But what is most striking about the poll is that Americans apparently think that all threats are increasing–perhaps the poll is an index of paranoia.

But there was also another interesting aspect to the poll. Pew points out that Americans are favorably disposed toward international cooperation as a way of addressing these problems:

“Overwhelming majorities of Americans say cooperation with other countries is important when dealing with each of the international issues tested, and this is especially true of the spread of infectious diseases. On this issue, 86% say it is very important to cooperate with other countries, and 97% say it is at least somewhat important to cooperate.”

The results are clearly at odds with the “America First” policies of the current US administration. It would be good if policy-makers listened more carefully to US citizens.

Posted April 13, 2020 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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