The International Spectator

Volume XLI, No. 4 (October - December 2006)

IAI Library Notes

Poverty and debt

Three books brought out by Fondad and based on two conferences that it organised continue a debate that started in the eighties and is still open.

HIPC debt relief : myths and reality / edited by Jan Joost Teunissen and Age Akkerman. - The Hague : FONDAD, c2004. - xiv, 131 p. - ISBN 90-74208-231

This book, as the title states, looks at the successes and failures of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative launched in September 1996 by the IMF and the World Bank. It is based on an international workshop organised by Fondad in August 2002 which, continuing with a series inaugurated in 1984, brought together the actors - national and institutional - involved. This critical assessment of the Initiative examines the causes for the creditors' unwillingness to grant "substantial and prompt debt relief" and their success in imposing conditions that ensure the enduring influence of the IMF and the World Bank on the economic policy of the poor nations. Consequently, the book presents a broad set of recommendations for solving the problem, including above all the need to reduce or eliminate the IMF's macroeconomic conditionality in order to obtain "additional debt relief", to have a long-term perspective of debt sustainability and to concede grants rather than loans.

Helping the poor? The IMF and low-income countries / edited by Jan Joost Teunissen and Age Akkerman. - The Hague : FONDAD, c2005. - xviii, 235 p. - ISBN 90-7-4208-25-8

The second book is based on a conference held in November 2004. It is the author's conviction that poverty is a social not an individual matter and that, therefore, the fight against poverty - that is, establishing the circumstances that can bring it to an end in the long term - is everyone's responsibility. From this perspective, the book looks into the role of economists and what they have to say. Various speakers take turns in analysing the IMF's (disappointing) strategy, the potential for improving its credibility, the role of the creditor state, the failure of the international institutional structure.

Protecting the poor : global financial institutions and the vulnerability of low-income countries / edited by Jan Joost Teunissen and Age Akkerman. - The Hague : FONDAD, c2005. - xiv, 155 p. - ISBN 90-74208-26-6

Based on the same conference, this second volume is focused more closely on the exposure of low income countries to exogenous shocks. It therefore examines the role of national and international actors in addressing the problem, the need to improve the governance of the global financial system, and the future role of the IMF in poor countries. In particular, the last chapters (6-9) assess the effectiveness and the legitimacy of financial governance and analyse the challenges to the IMF posed by low income countries. All authors agree that the problems caused by the vulnerability of these countries must be addressed, but there is less agreement on the ways and the means that the rich countries and the financial institutions should adopt. Some advocate working out appropriate exit strategies, others claim that the IMF should "relinquish power, adopt a genuinely multilateral attitude and recast itself in the role of partner rather than macroeconomic master". The debate goes on.


From traditional to group hegemony : the G7, the liberal economic order and the core-periphery gap / Alison Bailin. - Aldershot ; Burlington : Ashgate, c2005. - xii, 182 p. - (The G8 and global governance series). - ISBN 0-7546-1979-6

Original and provocatory, this essay sets forth the theory of "group hegemony", which is meant to explain how "a few wealthy countries, namely the G7, maintain the liberal economic order, and how the rules governing this order help perpetuate the disparity between rich and poor countries". In maintaining this thesis, the author combines and develops different points of view - neorealism, institutionalism and constructivism - starting out from three basic factors: small group size, mutual interests and a shadow of the future.

The thesis is developed in five chapters (2-6): chapter 2 verifies the existence of a hegemonic structure - in this case the G-7 - and defines its institutional mechanism; the third chapter presents some case studies to which those institutional and hegemonic mechanisms would apply; chapter 4 retraces the historic maintenance of the status quo, that is the liberal economic order and shows that the G-7 continues to promote relatively free trade and deregulaton of financial markets; the fifth chapter analyses the correlation between integration in the liberal economic order and the economic disparity between the core and the periphery; chapter 6 summarised the theory of group hegemony, highlighting its weak points and the conditions for survival of the hegemonic group.

Staying together : the G8 summit confronts the 21st Century / Nicholas Bayne. - Aldershot ; Burlington : Ashgate, c2005. - x, 251 p. - (The G8 and global governance series). - ISBN 0-7546-4267-4

This is the third of an ideal trilogy which began with Hanging together (1984) and continued with Hanging in there (cfr The International Spectator 4/2000) by the same author. While the preceding books referred to the G-7 summit series, this one deals with the birth the G-8 and the first summits, from 1998 to 2004. In particular, it focuses on the changes - and their effectiveness - that have taken place since the end of the Cold War and above all since the turn of the century in response to changing circumstances and above globalisation. The author draws on his personal experience as first, diplomat, and later, journalist.

The book is composed of 14 chapters: the first two are introductions to the book and the historic sequence of summits in the twentieth century (Rambouillet 1975 - Denver 1997). Of the next ten chapters, seven are narrative - each dedicated to a different summit - and three contain assessments: thus chapters 3 and 4 deal with the summits in Birmingham (1998) and Cologne (1999), and 6 and 7 with those in Okinawa (2000) and Genova (2001), while chapters 9 to 11 refer to the summits in Kananaskis (2002), Evian (2003) and Sea Island (2004).

The three chapters of assessment (5, 8 and 12) consider, respectively, the results achieved in the field of international finance (especially the new international financial architecture and debt reduction in low income countries ), the progress made in international trade and a number of questions related to development, steps taken in Africa and in the fight against terrorism the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. These assessments are based on six parameters: leadership in terms of political authority; effectiveness, that is the ability to reconcile domestic and international aspects; solidarity or successful collective management within the group; durability of the solutions; acceptability of the decisions on the part of the entire international community, including non state actors, civil society, public opinion and the business world; consistency of the policies adopted in the various fields.

The grades from A to E for the summits considered are based on these assessment criteria and refer to the degree of real cooperation reached at each summit (even though the average is high, no summit receives all As).

The two concluding chapters (13 and 14) analyse developments in the decision-making process and the summits achievements: although the overall assessment is positive, the author believes that effectiveness has diminished and offers his view of the prospects for the future.

The Middle East

Saudi Arabia in the balance : political economy, society, foreign affairs / Paul Aarts, Gerd Nonneman, editors. - London : C. Hurst & Co., 2005. - xvi, 462 p. - ISBN 1-85065-802-1; 1-85065-803-X (pbk)

In the last few years Saudi Arabia has been at the centre of international politics. Combining the role of "swing" oil producer, leading country in the Islamic world and key Western ally, the Kingdom has inevitably caught the world's attention, even more so in the aftermath of 9/11 when the Saudi nationality of most of the planes' hijackers contributed to changing the international image of Saudi Arabia from a victim of Islamic terrorism to one of its main causes.

In spite of this, the country's internal and external dynamics are in many important ways obscure to external observers. This book is a much needed and successful effort to address the country's internal affairs and the way in which the Kingdom's regional and global role in a changing international system intertwines with the dilemmas being faced at the domestic level.

The book is the outcome of an international project, which brought together a wide range of expertise on Saudi Arabia from the United States, Europe and the Middle East, including the Kingdom itself. Divided into four interrelated sections, it explores the ideological sphere, the changing political economy, the dynamics between regime and opposition and, finally, the external relations of the country.

Yet, the book is not only an empirically informed and well constructed country-specialist work, but also refers to and illuminates a number of wider questions in political science, international relations, international political economy and "Third World" politics such as: the limits of the "rentier state" model; the dynamics of transformation of autocratic systems; the way in which the less-developed states of the "periphery" relate to the "core" of the international system and the extent of their room for manoeuvre.

Saudi Arabia : power, legitimacy and survival / Tim Niblock. - London ; New York : Routledge, 2006. - xvi, 206 p. (The contemporary Middle East) - ISBN 0-415-27419-2; 0-415-30310-9 (pbk); 0-203-57235-1 (ebk)

The book - written by a major international expert on Arab Gulf states - is part of a larger series on the contemporary Middle East edited by Anoushiravan Ehteshami and presents an in-depth analysis of the dynamics shaping political developments in Saudi Arabia. One of the major concerns of the book is to explain what has enabled the monarchical system to remain in power since the formation of the contemporary state and the likelihood that this system of government will survive in the future. Recent international events, the death of King Fahd and the ascension to the throne of King Abdallah, give particular salience to these issues.

The book is divided into six chapters. The first chapter illustrates the analytical model used by the author to exemplify the dynamics of Saudi Arabia politics and to identify the critical processes on which the future of the country depends. Chapters 2 to 4 are chronologically based and focus on three different "critical" periods in the history of the kingdom: the process of "state formation" up to 1962; the period between 1962-79; and from 1979 to present. Chapters 5 and 6 concentrate respectively on the challenges posed by economic reform and foreign policy.

The book includes a very useful bibliographical survey of existing literature on Saudi Arabia.

Israeli democracy at the crossroads / edited by Raphael Cohen-Almagor. - London ; New York : Routledge, 2005. - vi, 288 p. - ISBN 0-415-35023-9

Israeli institutions at the crossroads / edited by Raphael Cohen-Almagor. - London ; New York : Routledge, 2005. - vi, 204 p. - ISBN 0-415-36360-8

The intention of the essays contained in the first of these two books (which gather together articles published in the first two issues in 2005 of Israel Affairs) is to discuss the premises, the development and the current state of democracy in Israel and the profound divisions that characterise it. The second volume is meant to complete the first, setting forth an analysis of Israel's institutions and domestic policies.

In the first, one essay is devoted to the development of the system of mass media, its concentration in the hands of three groups and the concession mechanism by which the political system manages to keep a pervasive control (Caspi). The legal context of human rights in Israel and the Occupied Territories is illustrated in the next chapter (Kretzmer). Another analysis is dedicated to the characteristics of the last, strong wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union and its integration into Israeli society (Horowitz). Finally, the only Arab among the authors analyses the dynamics of relations between Palestinian residents on both sides of the 1967 Green Line and the changes in the political orientation and the condition of Palestinians in Israel as a consequence of the "external" Israeli-Palestinian war (Al-Haj).

One of the studies of the second book, which is dedicated to analysis of the institutions, looks at the current crisis of governability in Israel. It traces the reasons back to the instability of the governments and the inefficiency of the public administration (Nachmias and Arbel-Ganz). A second study presents a precise and exhaustive description of the decadence of the Knesset - both its composition and its role as a parliamentary institution. Another essay analyses the important role that the Israeli army plays in the political sphere, in what the author describes as "... a symbiotic model, in which the heads of the military cooperate closely with top political leaders in several areas, including the 'policy sphere', i.e., the decision making level". The deepening of this "political-military partnership" characterising Israel is described throughout the nineties - years in which the Israeli Defence Forces, according to the author, directly managed the peace process and decided its outcome (Peri). Several contributions to the second volume are written by authors who played important roles in the institutions being analysed (presidency, government, etc). Their essays based on personal experience therefore translate at times into didactic essays of those institutions, political exhortations or personal narrations.