Friday, November 27, 2009

Truth, Justice and Reconciliation

What is the right thing to do after a conflict to prevent its recurrence?

Earlier this week, on my way to UNU-Tokyo, I had been poring through some material given out by Prof. Sukehiro Hasegawa, for his session on "Truth, Justice and Reconciliation in a Post-Conflict Society". All the four papers were about the conflict in Timor-Leste, and after going through them, I had been quite convinced that the UN had been nitpiking on legal issues at the cost of long-term peace in the region.

Or was it? Prof. Hasegawa's session turned out to be quite thought-provoking. Firstly, because he was no ivory-tower academic - he had spent most of his career in UN peace-keeping operations in Somalia, Rwanda and finally at Timor-Leste. And secondly, because he did not claim to have the right solutions for ensuring sustainable peace in intra-national or international conflicts.

The moral dilemma facing peace-keepers was illustrated with a simple example.

You are standing by a bend on a road. Just behind you, 10 school-children are
crossing the road. Next to you is an old man and suddenly you see a huge truck
hurtling down the road at 100kmph towards the schoolchildren. You have the followng three choices -
  1. Do nothing - let the truck plough into the kids;
  2. Jump in font on the truck, get run-over and - hopefully - save the 10
  3. Push the old man on the highway, raise alarm and save the kids.

Now, assume that you don't have option-2...what is the right thing to do?

According to John Rawls's 'Theory of Justice', the most important consideration is the issue of 'fairness'. You can agree to an injustice to avoid a greater injustice. But fairness and justice to whom? - the old-man or the children?

Immanuel Kant and Jeremy Bentham has proposed a more utilitarian approach leading to "categorical justice" or "consequential justice", according to which the right thing to do was to favor the option that gave the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people.

In other words, option-3. Sacrifice the old man and save the then children.

And then there is the much older traditon of "retributive justice" supported by the Law of Moses and the Code of Hammurabi - 'eye for eye, tooth for tooth'. A clear predictability of rules and standards is necessary for a society to flourish. If you do not punish the guilty in a consistent manner - irrespective of his social status or 'connections' - there is no effective deterrence. (This brings to mind the pathetic record of the Indian justice system - The Sikh Massacre, 1984; the Nanda BMW hit-and-run case, the Jessica Lal murder case, Gujarat Pogrom, 2002)

In recent history, one of the most prominent opponents to the tradition of retributive justice was, of course, Nelson Mandela's 'Truth and Reconciliation Commission'. There is little doubt that this approach has been successful in dealing with the ghosts of aparthied but it is not something that is easily replicated. Unfortunately, we just don't have people with the stature of Mandela or Desmond Tutu in all the conflict zones of the world.

The UN, therefore, disagrees with Mandela's approach and is more inclined towards the idea of retributive-justice. To erase the "culture of impunity", the guilty have to be held responsible. And this is the approach that was being followed in Kosovo, Rwanda and Timor-Leste.

In the Balkans it was relatively easier to capture the "big fish" and put them on trail. In Timor, all the big-fish slipped away to Indonesia and when the Indonesian courts put them on trail, they were found to be be innocent. But of course.

One of the elements of the broader concept of a fair trial is the principle of equality of arms, which requires each party to be given a reasonable opportunity to present his or her case under conditions that do not place him or her at a substantial disadvantage vis-à-vis his opponent. The prosecution and defence has to be equally balanced.

In the Indonesian courts, the difference between defence and prosection was that of an elephant and a mouse. The prosecution didn't stand a chance. (Apparantly it was just the opposite at the Timor-Leste trails, but this point was not clarified.)

Amidst all the debates and discussions, the two main parties - Timor-Leste and Indonesia - just want to leave the past behind and move on. According to the Jose Ramos-Horta, what the country needs is schools, hospitals and roads. "We don't want internationals or foreigners to come and meddle...many Timorese are fed up with so many foreigners ordering us around".

If the two affected parties don't insist on justice and retribution, why are billions being spent on the international justice system? (Japan pays $1.5b of $7.5b; USA 22% -- the numbers need to be verified).

This is again not the first time that countries are tiring of international justice. In the context of the 14 American states seeking independence from Britain, Baron Montesquieu had said that "collective interest takes precedence over the existing justice system".

Is there a better alternative to the existing process (Truth > Justice > Reconciliation > Peace) ? After WW2, there were the Nuremberg Trails in Germany and the similar trails in Japan. About 10 Japanese officers were found to be guilty and hanged, and reparations were paid to many countries. One can say that 'justice' was administered, but did it really lead to reconciliation and peace? China and Korea continue to get rankled by perceived weak link between Truth and Justice here...

So what is the right thing to do?



John Rawls -

Jeremy Bentham -

Retributive Justice -

Code of Hammurabi -

Law of Moses -

Equality of Arms -

Interview with Timor-Leste President, Jose Ramos-Horta, conducted by TVTL (21 Sep)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Natto Bachao!

"Food Crisis - Save Natto!" - this was the title of a presentation given by a classmate at UNU today.

Natto is traditional Japanese food made from fermented soya beans. Ibaraki prefecture is well known for it.

I'm not too sure if the data was reliable but it was interesting to know that only 5% of Natto consumed in Japan is made from domestically grown soybeans. Most of the beans is imported from USA (71%) and Brazil (13%) and Canada (7%).

Apparantly 4.4 billion packs of Natto is consumed every year in a country of 0.1 billion people.

However, a lot of questions came up from this presentation - What is the volume / value of soyabeans imports to Japan? How is it that imported soyabean is kosher for the Japanese when they are so touchy about rice imports?

The answers, unfortunately, were not too convincing.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Covell's Music

What will happens if you enroll for a course titled "Normative Theory in Comparative Policy" delivered by a professor who loves Audrey Hepburn, cricket, Tintin comics and western classical music?

Your learn less about policy and more about music and movies! :]

Here are some of the few pearls I could gather

Half a Sixpence - musical comedy by Tommy Steele ; URL -

If the Rain's Got to Fall - URL

Mozart - Cosi fan tutte: Act II Happy is the man...sweet repo; URL -

HG Wells - "Kips" - young man, finace is fortune
Hymn - Guide me O Great Redeemer (From Ronder, Wales)

WagnerGilbert & Sullivan"All the Saints""He who would true valor seek""So long as i am singing"

"Good Fellows" - movie by Martin Scorsce
"Gone are the days" - Charles Foster

NB: What do Cliff Richards and Vivien Leigh have in common? - they were both born in India.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Timeline - Japanese History

This is just a ready reference, for the events leading Japan from a fragmented feudal entity to the modern nation-state of today.

~ 600AD – At the beginning of the seventh century, Empress Suiko sends a mission to the Sui court in China, with a memorial that began, “The offspring of heaven in the land where the sun rises offers a letter to the offspring of the heaven where the sun sets”. Perhaps the first attempt by Japan to address China on equal terms.

660 AD – Internally disunited Japan fears the specter of an expansive Tang empire in China that, in alliance with Japan’s old ememy, the Korean kingdom of Silla, destroys two other Korean kingdoms of Paekche and Koguryo.

672 AD – Silla in Korea breaks ties with Tang China and seizes control of the entire Korean peninsula…..Japan responds by borrowing Chinese central institutional models in a bid to strengthen itself.

1274 – First Mongol invasion – Kublai Khan against the Kamakura feudal government. A night after the battle of Hakata Bay (Nov. 19), a typhoon destroys the Mongol fleet (~200 ships) off the coast of Fukuoka.

1281 – Second Mongol invasion, again using hastily built Chinese ships. This time 100,000 of 140,000 men (~70%) are killed in a storm off Kyushu. The storms are christened Kamikaze (Divine Wind). The invasions forge a national identity; Militarist Rinzai Zen Buddhism of Hojo Tokimune and his Zen master Bukko, become popular.

1400's (15th Century) Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu accepts investiture by the Ming emperor and thus obtained sanction for a very profitable trade. The Shogun is criticized by the royalty.

After Yoshimitsu’s death his son – the next Shogun – discontinues relations with the Ming, almost prompting Emperor Cheng-tsu to attack Japan. The next Shogun restores diplomatic relations and official trade continues for more than a century before ending in 1547.

1467-1568: Warring States Period – complete breakdown of central authority.

1547 – Japan discontinues official trade with China

1600-1868: Tokugawa Era – Japan tries to establish its own international system by claiming a central position in East Asian sphere by asserting that the Ryukus, Korea, Siam and others were sending tributes to Japan. Peace is imposed by a coalition of feudal lords.

1641 - All Westerners are banished from Japan. For the next two centuries, Japan is free from Western influence, except for at the port of Nagasaki, which Japan allowed Dutch merchant vessels to enter on a limited basis.

1700’s – Industrial revolution begins in England

1700’s – Hideyoshi’s brief and abortive invasion of Korea in the 16th century (the first recorded instance of Japan's attempt at overseas’ conquest)

1813 – Kaiho Seiryo (Confucian scholar) comments that competition among domains had come to focus on trade in a zero-sum game akin to warfare.

1815 – The beginning of Pax Brittanica after the Napoleanic Wars. Napolean is defeated at Waterloo and now Britain emerged as the uncontested world superpower.

1836 - Henry Wheaton’s classic, “Elements of International Law” (1836 – first ed.). Reflecting values and interests of Western civilization, it leads theorists to set a “Standard of civilization” - a sort of benchmark for non-European states to be called 'civilized'. This includes (1) guaranteed rights of private property, (2) freedom of trade, travel and religion, (3) Effective system of law, courts and political organization.

1840-1842 - Opium Wars in China

1853Commodore Matthew Perry arrives with his flotilla of black-ships demanding trade – undermines the fragmented and inefficient Tokugawa regime, ultimately leading to its overthrow by warlords from Choshu and Satsuma domains.

1856-1858 - Arrow War in China – expanded the number of treaty ports in the north and the interior for Britain – after securing these, the imperialists sought to shore up the Ching government in order to maintain a stable environment for trade and investment.
- treaties signed on terms of diplomatic equality, thus ending the Chinese tration of superiority

1856 – Townsend Harris, first American diplomatic representative to Japan, arrives. Two years later, the 'Treaty of Amity & Commerce' (an unequal treaty) is signed giving the westerners' extra-territorial rights at five ports opened for trade – Hakodate, Nagasaki, Hyogo (Kobe) and Kanagawa (Yokohama).

1858-59: The Ansei Purge - 'loyalist' followers of the Mito Critique are arrested or executed under the orders of the shogunate chief councilor, Ii Naosuke.

1859: Ii Naosuke is assasinated by samurai (17 from Mito, 1 from Satsuma)

1863-64: Battle for Shimonoseki - Joint naval action by Britain, France, Netherlands and USA against the Choshu domain, in response to the imperial/loyalist 'order to expel barbarians'

1868-69: Boshin War - Civil war between the Tokugawa shogunate and the loyalist dissidents (those seeking return of political power to the imperial court)

1868: Meiji Restoration; the Meiji emperor reign - 1868-1912

1869 – 17th Nov. – Opening of the Suez canal – transition from sailing ship to steamship – London-based Intl monetary system

1871 – Newly established Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs draft the first, typical unequal treaty with China to obtain MFN concessions made to western powers. But could only obtain a Treaty of Amity – but this was the first treaty establishing Japan’s titular equality with China.

1871-1873 - Iwakura mission to Europe & America.

1876 – Japanese forces impose the Treaty of Kanghwa on the Koreans (the first such treaty)– accords Japan the privileges of open ports, extraterritoriality and tariff controls.

1880-mid: USA overtakes Britain as the world’s largest manufacturing production.

1881- Political crisis in Japan over the choice of the type of government – liberal, English-type or the more authoritarian, Prussian-style.

1891 – Russia decides to build the Trans-Siberian Railway.

1894 – Western powers recognize effectiveness of reforms and agree to sign treaties ending extra-territorial privileges in Japan.

1894 – Two weeks after revision of unequal treaties was achieved, Japan declares war on China.

1894-95: First Sino-Japanese war.

1895-1910 – Japanese penetration of Korea;

1895 - Treaty of Shimonoseki – China cedes Taiwan and recognizes Korean independence; leases Liaotung Peninsula in southern Manchuria (+ indemnity + impressive commercial concessions), to Japna. Japan becomes a full participant in the framework of imperialism;

1895, April 23 – Triple Intervention: Russia, France and Germany force Japan to retro-cede Liaotung P to China – demonstrates to Japan the need for alliances;

1902 – Anglo-Japanese Alliance – part of Britian’s effort of ‘perclusive’ imperialism to shore up its diplomatic and strategic position in East Asia through treaties with USA and Japan;

1904, Feb 8: Russo-Japanese war begins with a surprise Japanese submarine attack on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur;

1906-1910: Germany surpasses Britain’s manufacturing production. Britain loses lead in “second industrial revolution” in electricity, chemicals and steel;

1910 – Japan annexes Korea after brutally suppressing nascent Korean nationalism;



* Japan Rising (Kenneth Pyle, PublicAffairs in Paper)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

UN & the Gen-Next of Ethnic Cleansers

"JBT Marg" is a prominent road in New Delhi, named after one of the founders of the Non Aligned Movement (NAM), and the chief architect of 'Second Yugoslavia', Josip Bronz Tito. By some strange coincidence, both the road and the leader have come to represent lost causes.

JBT Marg was a recent witness to an ill conceived and poorly executed urban transportation project (BRT Corridor) and the NAM has now become defunct. But both these are mundane, irrelevant events compared to the tragedy that has unfolded after Tito's Yugoslavia splintered into half-a-dozen small republics :

  1. Socialist Republic of Bosnia & Herzegovina (Pop.- 3.8m)
  2. Socialist Republic of Croatia (4.7m)
  3. Socialist Republic of Madeconia (2.m)
  4. Socialist Republic of Montenegro (0.6m)
  5. Socialist Republic of Serbia (9.5m) [Also Socialist Autonomous Province of Kosovo (1.5m) and Socialsit Autonomous Province of Vojvodina (1.9m)]
  6. Socialist Repoublic of Slovenia (1.9m)

This piece is about the rather unusual role of the United Nations in Bosnia & Herzegovina (BiH).

In 2007, a UNDP/Oxford study found in BiH, the lowest levels of social trust ever measured. It was "virtually non-existent" - even lower than in Iraq.

BiH gained independence in 1992, and following the Dayton Peace Agreement of 1995, established one of the most compex political and administrative systems in Europe. The country has 3 presidents, 13 governance units, 13 parliaments, 150 ministries and 137 municipalities...all this in a country which has a third of Delhi's population!

In an attempt to keep the three main ethnic groups - Bosniaks, Serbs and Slovaks - in good humor, the country has three different education systems. The constitution states that "the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teachng in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions" (Article 2 of Protocol 1 to the ECHR).

Since there are not enough schools for three different systems, there are around 50 'two schools under one roof', where two different curricula are taught and children are segregated. Sometimes the children use segregated entrances, follow separate time schedules and with little or no interaction.

A study conducted by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), states that, "The current fractured having the effect of creating three separate sets of citizens, each ignorant and distrustful of the "other".

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that such a system has been supported by the UN since 1992. In 2004 alone, $24million had been spent on 500 development projects in the country*.

Why is the UN investing millions of dollars to create the next generation of ethnic-cleansers' in the Balkans?

What are the lessons here for education reform in India?


Saturday, November 07, 2009

Rise & Fall of Technology Champions

Once upon a time, Japan dominated the microprocessor's market. And then, between 2002 and 2007, as Taiwanese and South Korean appeared in the market, Japan's marketshare crashed from 75% to 34%.

So, instead of fading into the sunset, the Japanese moved to higher-value products, focusing on substrates for microprocessor units (MPUs). The 3% of substrates for MPU applications shipped in 2007 accounted for 30% of the market’s value. And this is just one example of how a slew of medium sized companies have quickly changed tack and adapted to the winds of change.

According to the Minstry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), the chuken kigyo (strong, medium-sized firms) serve more than 70% of the worldwide market in at least 30 technology sectors worth more than $1 billion apiece. Their niche areas are mostly at the high-end of electronics, engineering and materials-science.

The common characteristics of Japan's technology champions were:
  • They invest handsomely in research and development (R&D).
  • Many have factories abroad for basic products but keep the high-end stuff at home—in a “black box”.
  • They often own their supply chains: chip companies that might use crystal components generally grow their own.
  • Some firms even make the very machines they use, in order to control costs, remain independent of suppliers and maintain a deep understanding of their technology.
  • Work closely with clients and solve common, thorny problems together.
  • Firms try to maintain lifetime-employment because knowledge of technology is tacit, not formal.

Just when everybody thought that it was dificult to replicate the strengths of the Japanese companies, a small Dutch company called ASML came up with a little shocker. Until 1990, Nikon and Canon dominated the the market for 'steppers' - the tools used to make computer chips. They had 65% and ASML, less than 10%. Today it is the other way around...Also along the way Japan's marketshare for solar panels dropped from 50% to 20% during the past four years.

What went wrong? Now the experts say that some the strengths were also fatal weaknesses:

  • Too many competitors, so margins are thin and there is not enough being spent for R&D. So Taiwanese,Chinese and Korean companies are catching up.
  • Tax laws actually discourage partnerships from forming.
  • The lack of shareholder pressure that lets companies focus on long-term projects removes the market discipline to boost performance and cull weak projects.
  • Vertical integration ensures supply and quality, but leads companies into non-core areas better done by others.
  • Lifetime employment keeps knowledge in-house, but firms lose flexibility, employees lose labour mobility and fresh ideas can be stifled.
  • The best technology is less prized in the fastest-growing markets—poor countries like China and India that want basic products. (Japanese makers of mobile phones have the world’s most sophisticated devices but their market share abroad is virtually nil)

Now it'll be interesting to find out how much these medium-sized companies contribute to Japan's GDP...

Japanese Companies that Dominate Hitech Niche Areas -

  • Japan Steel Works, Hokkaido: Produces huge, solid-steel vessel to contain the radioactivity in nuclear reactors. JSW produces this from a single 600T steel ingot and sells it for $150million apiece. There are 40 nuclear plants unders construction around the world, designed bya dozen companies from USA, China, France, japan and Russia. All depend on this one company.
  • Shimano: Earns around $1.5 billion a year by supplying 60-70% of the world’s bicycle gears and brakes.
  • YKK: Zip fastners - 50% of world market
    MURATA: 40% of world capacitor market.They cost somewhere between a quarter of a cent and 20 cents each, but a mobile phone may need 100 of them and a PC 1,000.
  • Nitto Denko claims to have more than 20 market-leading products, mostly for making LCD displays.
  • Mitsubishi Chemicals (the odd one here - not an SME!) commands a near monopoly in red phosphorescent materials used to make natural-white LED light bulbs.
  • Shin-Etsu enjoys the top spot for certain silicon wafers for semiconductors. Also 50% of the market for the photomask substrate, used to place patterns on semiconductors. The remaining 50% is dominated by — Covalent, NSG, AGC and Tosoh—all from Japan.
  • Kyocera leads in several integrated-circuit components.
  • NIDEC: 75% of motors for hard-disk drives in computers
  • MABUCHI: 90% of micro-motors used to adjust the rear-view mirrors in cars.
  • TEL: 80% of the etchers used in making an LCD panel.
  • COVALENT: 60% of containers that hold silicon wafers as they are turned into computer-chips. 70% of the market for carbon brushes in electric motors

Japanese companies have a similar grip on, for example, bonding material for integrated circuit packages and the lithography machines (called steppers) to make LCD panels. The semiconductor business if practically owned by Japanese companies. The process of making computer chips illustrates Japan’s dominance. Among the many steps are four in which the Japanese are indispensable:

  1. Wafer processing: SHIN-ETSU (35% of world market)
  2. Thin-film formation: NIPPON MINING & METALS manufacturs (30%) 'sputtering target material' used in Thermal Imaging Equipment;
  3. Coating, lithography and developing: TOPPAN PRINTING (40%) of 'mask/rectile' and JSR (40%) of 'photoresist' used for making electron beam lithography system and coating machine/ developer respectively.
  4. Contact and packaging: SUMITOMO BAKELITE (35%) of 'encapsulates' used for making dicing machines.

Japan's technology champions - Invisible but indispensable - The Economist, Nov. 5th 2009

Friday, November 06, 2009

Honor Vs. Gunpowder

A decisive battle took place on 23 August 1514, at Chaldiran (Eastern Anatolia) between the Turks and the Persians. The Turks were led by Selim-the-Grim and the Saffavid Persians, by Shah Ismail.

Perhaps the most significant aspect of this battle was that, at that time gunpowder technology was available to both the warring parties, but the Persians refused to use firearms because they considered this kind of warfare cowardly and honorless.

The Persians were, of course, routed - the swords were no match for the guns. Shah Ismail may have won the moral ground but he lost his kingdom and died a heartbroken alcoholic after his wives were given as war-booty to the Ottoman commander's.

In the long-term, the battle ruined the Shia notions of an infallible Murshid (the king as a religious head) and the Caliphate shifted to Istanbul; the Sunni's then dominated Middle-East for the next hundred years. The present-day border between Turkey and Iran was defined by this battle, as well as the reason why the capital of Persia shifted from Tabriz to Tehran.

One of the tribes that switched loyalties was the Kurds and their identity crisis continues to haunt Iraq, Iran and Turkey even today.

Seen in this perspective, it is hardly surprising that the Iranians today prefer to have the perceived safety of nuclear weapons rather than the dubious high moral ground offered by the West...

Battle of Chaldiran - Wiki

Sultan Selim the Excellent / Selim I / 'Selim the Grim' - Wiki

Islamic World to 1600 - UCalgary

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Autumn in Kanto

Mt. Fuji from Tsukuba

Tokyo Imperial Palace Moat (National Diet in the background)

Chrysanthemum Flowers at Yasukuni Shrine, Tokyo

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Contradictions of the Mallu Male

This was brilliant! :)

Nisha Susan's article in Tehelka (7 Nov.2009) -

The Malayali - The Double Life Of Bobby, Baby, Blossom, Biju And Shaji

Lost causes, alcoholism, eve-teasing, world politics, parochialism...the endless contradictions in the Malayali male.


Reference Link: