Saturday, 11 January 2020

Reason Why West Hates Iran So Much
By Stuart Littlewood,  Columnist, American Herald Tribune

Mossadeq’s great sin: he “broke the chains of slavery and servitude to colonial interests”. US and Britain are still smarting.



Nobody saw that coming. Trump ordering Soleimani’s execution, I mean.

Nobody thought even he was quite so stupid.

It follows his last year’s caper when the "cocked and loaded" drama-queen ordered military strikes against Iran's radar and missile batteries in retaliation for their shootdown of a US spy drone. He changed his mind with only minutes to spare on account of a reminder that such lunacy might actually cost human lives.

Plus the fact that the drone was eight miles from the coast, well inside the 12 nautical miles considered to be Iran’s territorial waters under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, and it clearly represented a military threat and provocation. So he had no lawful claim of self-defense that would justify a military attack.  The United Nations Charter only allows the use of military force in self-defense after an armed attack or with Security Council approval. So his proposed action would have been illegal as well as unwise, but none of that seemed to enter into his calculations then, or now.

Before that we had Trump’s executive order in August 2018 reimposing a wide range of sanctions against Iran after pulling the US out of the seven-party nuclear deal for no good reason, a spiteful move that annoyed the EU and caused  all sorts of problems for other nations. And he was going to impose extra sanctions aimed mainly at Iran’s oil industry and foreign financial institutions.

“If the ayatollahs want to get out from under the squeeze,” warned US national security adviser John Bolton, “they should come and sit down. The pressure will not relent while the negotiations go on.” To which Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani responded: “If you stab someone with a knife and then you say you want talks, then the first thing you have to do is remove the knife.”

United Nations Special Rapporteur Idriss Jazairy described the sanctions as "unjust and harmful.... The reimposition of sanctions against Iran after the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the Iran nuclear deal, which had been unanimously adopted by the Security Council with the support of the US itself, lays bare the illegitimacy of this action."

The other countries party to the nuclear deal - Russia, China, Germany, France, the UK and the EU – vowed to stick with it and continue trading with Iran, some EU foreign ministers saying Iran was abiding by the agreement and delivering on its goal when Trump withdrew and they deeply regretted the new sanctions. Trump in turn called Iran “a murderous dictatorship that has continued to spread bloodshed, violence and chaos.”  The irony of such a remark was, of course, completely lost on him.

I read today that the EU “will spare no efforts” to keep the nuclear deal with Iran alive though I doubt if Boris Johnson, passionate Zionist that he is, will be among them.

When it comes to aggression and dishonesty the US has form, and lots of it. Who can forget during the Iran-Iraq war the cruiser USS Vincennes, well inside Iran’s territorial waters, blowing Iran Air Flight 655 to smithereens and killing all 290 passengers and crew on board? The excuse, which didn’t bear examination afterwards, was that they mistook the Airbus A300 for an Iranian F-14 Tomcat manoeuvring to attack.

George H. W. Bush commented on a separate occasion: "I will never apologize for the United States – I don't care what the facts are... I'm not an apologize-for-America kind of guy." Trump seems to have caught the same disease. And, from the outside, the White House itself seems home to the the sort of “murderous dictatorship” he describes.

The Need To Continually Demonize Iran


When I say the West’s hatred of Iran, I mean primarily the US-UK-Israel Axis.  Ben Wallace, UK Defence Secretary filling in for Boris Johnson who had absented himself, has told Parliament: “In recent times, Iran has felt its intentions are best served through… the use of subversion as a foreign policy tool. It has also shown a total disregard for human rights.” This is amusing coming from the British government and especially a Conservative one which adores Israel, the world’s foremost disregarder of human rights and international law.

Britain and America would like everyone to believe that hostilities with Iran began with the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But you have to go back to the early 1950s for the root cause in America’s case, while Iranians have had to endure a whole century of British exploitation and bad behaviour. And the Axis want to keep this important slice of history from becoming part of public discourse. Here’s why.

In 1901 William Knox D'Arcy obtained from the Mozaffar al-Din Shah Qajar a 60-year oil concession to three-quarters of the country. The Persian government would receive 16% of the oil company's annual profits, a rotten deal as the Persians would soon realise.

D’Arcy, with financial support from Glasgow-based Burmah Oil, formed a company and sent an exploration team. Drilling failed to find oil in commercial quantities and by 1908 D'Arcy was almost bankrupt and on the point of giving up when they finally struck it big.  The Anglo-Persian Oil Company was up and running and in 1911 completed a pipeline from the oilfield to its new refinery at Abadan.

Just before the outbreak of World War 1 Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, wished to convert the British fleet from coal. To secure a reliable oil source the British Government took a major shareholding in Anglo-Persian.

In the 1920s and 1930s the company profited hugely from paying the Persians a miserly 16% and refusing to renegotiate terms. An angry Persia eventually cancelled the D'Arcy agreement and the matter ended up at the Court of International Justice in The Hague. A new agreement in 1933 provided Anglo-Persian with a fresh 60-year concession but on a smaller area. The terms were an improvement but still didn’t amount to a square deal for the Persians.

In 1935 Persia became known internationally by its other name, Iran, and Anglo-Persian changed to Anglo-Iranian Oil. By 1950 Abadan was the biggest oil refinery in the world and the British government, with its 51% holding, had affectively colonised part of southern Iran.

Iran's tiny share of the profits had long soured relations and so did the company’s treatment of its oil workers. 6,000 went on strike in 1946 and the dispute was violently put down with 200 dead or injured. In 1951 while Aramco was sharing profits with the Saudis on a 50/50 basis Anglo-Iranian declared £40 million profit after tax and handed Iran only £7 million.

Iran by now wanted economic and political independence and an end to poverty. Calls for nationalisation could not be ignored. In March 1951 the Majlis and Senate voted to nationalise Anglo-Iranian, which had controlled Iran's oil industry since 1913 under terms frankly unfavourable to the host country. Social reformer Dr Mohammad Mossadeq was named prime minister by a 79 to 12 majority and promptly carried out his government's wishes, cancelling Anglo-Iranian’s oil concession and expropriating its assets.

His explanation was perfectly reasonable...

“Our long years of negotiations with foreign countries… have yielded no results this far. With the oil revenues we could meet our entire budget and combat poverty, disease, and backwardness among our people. Another important consideration is that by the elimination of the power of the British company, we would also eliminate corruption and intrigue, by means of which the internal affairs of our country have been influenced. Once this tutelage has ceased, Iran will have achieved its economic and political independence.” (M. Fateh, Panjah Sal-e Naft-e Iran, p. 525)

For this he would be removed in a coup by MI5 and the CIA, imprisoned for 3 years then put under house arrest until his death.

Britain was determined to bring about regime change so orchestrated a world-wide boycott of Iranian oil, froze Iran’s sterling assets and threatened legal action against anyone purchasing oil produced in the formerly British-controlled refineries. The Iranian economy was soon in ruins.... Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

America was reluctant at first to join Britain’s destructive game but Churchill (prime minister at this time) let it be known that Mossadeq was turning communist and pushing Iran into Russia's arms at a time when Cold War anxiety was high. That was enough to bring America's new president, Eisenhower, on board and plotting with Britain to bring Mossadeq down.

Chief of the CIA's Near East and Africa division, Kermit Roosevelt Jr, played the lead in a nasty game of provocation, mayhem and deception. Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi signed two decrees, one dismissing Mossadeq and the other nominating the CIA's choice, General Fazlollah Zahedi, as prime minister. These decrees were written as dictated by the CIA.

In August 1953, when it was judged safe for him to do so, the Shah returned to take over. Mossadeq was arrested, tried, and convicted of treason by the Shah's military court. He remarked: “My greatest sin is that I nationalised Iran’s oil industry and discarded the system of political and economic exploitation by the world’s greatest empire… I am well aware that my fate must serve as an example in the future throughout the Middle East in breaking the chains of slavery and servitude to colonial interests.”

His supporters were rounded up, imprisoned, tortured or executed. Zahedi's new government reached an agreement with foreign oil companies to form a consortium to restore the flow of Iranian oil, awarding the US and Great Britain the lion's share - 40% going to Anglo-Iranian. The consortium agreed to split profits on a 50-50 basis with Iran but refused to open its books to Iranian auditors or allow Iranians to sit on the board.

The US massively funded the Shah's government, including his army and his hated secret police force, SAVAK. Anglo-Iranian changed its name to British Petroleum in 1954. Mossadeq died on 5 March 1967.

The CIA-engineered coup that toppled Mossadeq, reinstated the Shah and let the American oil companies in, was the final straw for the Iranians. The British-American conspiracy backfired spectacularly 25 years later with the Islamic Revolution of 1978-9, the humiliating 444-day hostage crisis in the American embassy and a tragically botched rescue mission.

Smoldering Resentment For At Least 70 Years

And all this happened before the Iran-Iraq war when the West, especially the US, helped Iraq develop its armed forces and chemical weapons arsenal which were used against Iran.  The US, and eventually Britain, leaned strongly towards Saddam in that conflict and the alliance enabled Saddam to more easily acquire or develop forbidden chemical and biological weapons. At least 100,000 Iranians fell victim to them.

This is how John King writing in 2003 summed it up…

“The United States used methods both legal and illegal to help build Saddam's army into the most powerful army in the Mideast outside of Israel. The US supplied chemical and biological agents and technology to Iraq when it knew Iraq was using chemical weapons against the Iranians. The US supplied the materials and technology for these weapons of mass destruction to Iraq at a time when it was know that Saddam was using this technology to kill his Kurdish citizens. The United States supplied intelligence and battle planning information to Iraq when those battle plans included the use of cyanide, mustard gas and nerve agents. The United States blocked UN censure of Iraq's use of chemical weapons. The United States did not act alone in this effort. The Soviet Union was the largest weapons supplier, but England, France and Germany were also involved in the shipment of arms and technology.”

And while Iranian casualties were at their highest as a result of US chemical and biological war crimes what was Mr Trump doing? He was busy acquiring the Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Trump Castle, his Taj-Mahal casino, the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan.... oh, and he was refitting his super-yacht Trump Princess. What does he know, understand or care about Iran and the Iranian people today?

On the British side our prime minister, Boris Johnson, was at Oxford carousing with fellow Etonians at the Bullingdon Club. What does he know or care?

The present Iranian regime, like many others, may not be entirely to the West’s liking but neither was Dr Mossadeq’s fledgeling democracy nearly 70 years ago. If Britain and America had played fair and allowed the Iranians to determine their own future instead of using economic terrorism to bring the country to its knees Iran might have been “the only democracy in the Middle East” today.

So hush! Don’t even mention the M-word: MOSSADEQ.

Stuart Littlewood worked on jet fighters in the RAF. After working on jet fighters in the RAF Stuart became an industrial marketing specialist with manufacturing companies and consultancy firms. He also "indulged himself" as a newspaper columnist. In politics he served as a Cambridgeshire county councillor and member of the Police Authority. He also held various sales and marketing management positions in manufacturing, oil and electronics. He is a senior associate with several industrial marketing consultancies. Graduate Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing (MInstM). BA Hons Psychology, University of Exeter.

This article was originaly published on American Herald Tribune under CC 4

Friday, 10 January 2020

US Military Contractor CEOs Making a Killing Out of Iran Crisis
By Sarah Anderson, Global Economy Project, Institute for Policy Studies

As long as the top executives of our privatized war economy can reap unlimited rewards, the profit motive for war in Iran — or anywhere — will persist.

Image by dayamay from Pixabay
CEOs of major U.S. military contractors stand to reap huge windfalls from the escalation of conflict with Iran. This was evident in the immediate aftermath of the U.S. assassination of a top Iranian military official last week. As soon as the news reached financial markets, these companies’ share prices spiked, inflating the value of their executives’ stock-based pay.

I took a look at how the CEOs at the top five Pentagon contractors were affected by this surge, using the most recent SEC information on their stock holdings.

Northrop Grumman executives saw the biggest increase in the value of their stocks after the U.S. airstrike that killed Qasem Suleimani on January 2. Shares in the B-2 bomber maker rose 5.43 percent by the end of trading the following day.

Wesley Bush, who turned Northrop Grumman’s reins over to Kathy Warden last year, held 251,947 shares of company stock in various trusts as of his final SEC Form 4 filing in May 2019. (Companies must submit these reports when top executives and directors buy and sell company stock.) Assuming Bush is still sitting on that stockpile, he saw the value grow by $4.9 million to a total of $94.5 million last Friday.

New Northrop Grumman CEO Warden saw the 92,894 shares she’d accumulated as the firm’s COO expand in value by more than $2.7 million in just one day of post-assassination trading.

Lockheed Martin, whose Hellfire missiles were reportedly used in the attack at the Baghdad airport, saw a 3.6 percent increase in price per share on January 3. Marillyn Hewson, CEO of the world’s largest weapon maker, may be kicking herself for selling off a considerable chunk of stock last year when it was trading at around $307. Nevertheless, by the time Lockheed shares reached $413 at the closing bell, her remaining stash had increased in value by about $646,000.

What about the manufacturer of the MQ-9 Reaper that carried the Hellfire missiles? That would be General Atomics. Despite raking in $2.8 billion in taxpayer-funded contracts in 2018, the drone maker is not required to disclose executive compensation information because it is a privately held corporation.

We do know General Atomics CEO Neal Blue is worth an estimated $4.1 billion — and he’s a major investor in oil production, a sector that also stands to profit from conflict with a major oil-producing country like Iran.

Stock options not included. *Resigned 12/22/19. **Resigned 1/1/19 while staying on as chairman until 7/19. New CEO Kathy Warden accumulated 92,894 shares in her previous position as Northrop Grumman COO.
Suleimani’s killing also inflated the value of General Dynamics CEO Phebe Novakovic’s fortune. As the weapon maker’s share price rose about 1 percentage point on January 3, the former CIA official saw her stock holdings increase by more than $1.2 million.

Raytheon CEO Thomas Kennedy saw a single-day increase in his stock of more than half a million dollars, as the missile and bomb manufacturer’s share price increased nearly 1.5 percent. Boeing stock remained flat on Friday. But Dennis Muilenberg, recently ousted as CEO over the 737 aircraft scandal, appears to be well-positioned to benefit from any continued upward drift of the defense sector.

As of his final Form 4 report, Muilenburg was sitting on stock worth about $47.7 million. In his yet to be finalized exit package, the disgraced former executive could also pocket huge sums of currently unvested stock grants.

Hopefully sanity will soon prevail and the terrifyingly high tensions between the Trump administration and Iran will de-escalate. But even if the military stock surge of this past Friday turns out to be a market blip, it’s a sobering reminder of who stands to gain the most from a war that could put millions of lives at risk.

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We can put an end to dangerous war profiteering by denying federal contracts to corporations that pay their top executives excessively. In 2008, John McCain, then a Republican presidential candidate, proposed capping CEO pay at companies receiving taxpayer bailouts at no more than $400,000 (the salary of the U.S. president). That notion should be extended to companies that receive massive taxpayer-funded contracts.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, for instance, has a plan to deny federal contracts to companies that pay CEOs more than 150 times what their typical worker makes.

As long as we allow the top executives of our privatized war economy to reap unlimited rewards, the profit motive for war in Iran — or anywhere — will persist.

Sarah Anderson directs the Global Economy Project at the Institute for Policy Studies and co-edits the IPS publication Inequality.org. This artical was originally published on Inequality.org under CC 3

Thursday, 9 January 2020

Are We Looking at Another Gulf War?
By Abbas Farasoo, Dekin University

Eliminating Qassem Soleimani significantly raises the risk of a direct confrontation between the US and Iran.

USS Wisconsin (Pic: Alan Wilson - Flickr, CC 2)

The assassination of the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, Major General Qassem Soleimani, by the United States on January 3, along with his right-hand man in Iraq, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was a surprising move for many. Soleimani’s assassination increased pressure on President Donald Trump in Washington and has already intensified concerns about a new war between the US and Iran, which would be a disaster for the region.

On January 8, Iran carried out a ballistic missile attack on air bases hosting US forces in Iraq in retaliation for Soleimani’s death. So far there are no reports of American casualties, but Iran claims it killed at least 84 US soldiers. This has not been independently confirmed.

Iran’s retaliation seems more symbolic. Tehran wanted to respond to its domestic impulse for revenge. According to Adel Abdul Mahdi, the Iraqi prime minister, Iran informed him about the attack. According to Iraqi diplomatic sources, the attack has been “coordinated” with Washington in advance in order to avoid fatalities.

If this is true, Iran’s retaliation happened just to save face, on the one hand, and avoided a full-blown war with the US, on the other. Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, quickly tweeted after the attack on the US bases in Iraq that Iran took “concluded proportionate measures” and, similarly, Donald Trump tweeted that “so far, so good.” It sounds like a process of de-escalation now.

Proxy War


In Soleimani, Iran lost a well-known strategist. Soleimani was the mastermind of Iran’s asymmetric warfare in the region, comparable perhaps to someone like General Akhtar Abdur Rahman, director-general of Pakistan‘s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) between 1979 and 1987. Rahman was the architect of the jihad movement against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s when Pakistan supported, organized and trained the Afghan mujahedeen.

This strategy is known as “death by a thousand cuts.” As head of Quds Force — the external branch of the Iran Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — for more than 20 years, Soleimani made it his mission to force the United States from the region.

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Inside Iran, Soleimani was considered a “pillar of the Iranian Revolution itself” and has been portrayed as Iran’s most powerful man after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Outside Iran, he became a charismatic leader for many of Tehran’s allies like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Kataib Hezbollah in Iraq and other Iran-backed militant groups in Syria and Yamen. He was also considered as a mastermind of Iran’s strategy in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria. After the defeat of IS, Iran continued putting pressure on the US through proxies.

The Middle East has been squished into the spectrum of radical securitization and open hostility between aligned actors for a long time. Four decades of confrontation with the US and the Iran–Iraq War in the 1980s pushed Tehran to adopt an asymmetric strategy to fight threats beyond its borders. US presence in the region has been perceived as the primary threat by Tehran since 2002, when President George W. Bush included Iran as part of the “axis of evil.”

Iran’s concerns intensified after the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Since then, one option for Iran was to increase the cost of the US presence in the region. Maintaining its regional influence and fighting real or perceived threats beyond its borders has been a key goal for Tehran, especially following the breakout of the civil war in Syria.

Potential for Escalation


Based on what has happened between the US and Iran in the few last days, we can draw some conclusions. First, proxy warfare has the potential to transform into a full-blown war. On December 27, a US contractor was killed and four other Americans wounded when more than 30 rockets were fired on the Iraqi military base near Kirkuk. Washington accused Kataib Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militia, for the attack. Two days later, the US launched airstrikes and killed at least 25 militia fighters, wounding 55.

The attack sparked violent protests by supporters of the Iran-backed militia groups, targeted at the US Embassy in Baghdad. The protests brought back unwelcome memories of the 2012 attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, that took the lives of four Americans, including Ambassador John Christopher Stevens. The embassy attack also brought up the specter of Iran’s hostage crisis of 1979. All these events have pushed the US and Iran a step closer to a full escalation.

Second, responses to proxy warfare are not the same. For example, Soleimani’s assassination raises the question about US reluctance to take similar action against Pakistan’s generals who are supporting the proxy war in Afghanistan. On May 2, 2011, the Haqqani Network — a military branch of the Taliban based in Miramshah, Pakistan — launched an attack against the US Embassy in Kabul.

The US accused Pakistan’s ISI of supporting the attack. Admiral Mike Mullen, then chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the US Senate that “the Haqqani network, for one, acts as a veritable arm of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency,” and that “with ISI support, Haqqani operatives planned and conducted that truck bomb attack, as well as the assault on our embassy.”

Since 2001, more than 2,400 Americans troops have died in combat with the Pakistan-backed Taliban in Afghanistan. Pakistan has been denying its support for the Taliban and keeps insisting on its position as a “key ally” of the US in the war on terror. Pakistan’s strategy is a “double game” that enables it to have both a relationship with the US while pursuing its regional strategy by providing sanctuaries for the Taliban.

However, the US treats Pakistan differently because their relationship is based on a combination of diplomatic interaction and tactical engagement. Also, Pakistan pursues its regional strategy without insisting on political and ideological differences to fuel confrontation with Washington.

Washington justified the attack on Soleimani as “preemptive action” to avoid further attacks against the US in the region. In April last year, the US designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization. According to Reuters, IRGC provided more sophisticated weapons to the pro-Iran Shia militia in recent months. These weapons included Katyusha rockets and shoulder-fired missiles that could bring down helicopters. Despite these concerns, many were surprised by the unilateral decision to assassinate high-profile officials, with experts questioning US evidence suggesting an imminent attack on American targets as “razor thin.”

The Right Temperature


Third, countries have different proxy war strategies. In comparison, Pakistan conducts its proxy warfare differently to Iran. In the 1980s, in the context of the Cold War, General Mohammad Zia-ul-Haq, the Pakistani president at the time, instructed the ISI that “the water in Afghanistan must boil at the right temperature.” He was worried about a full Soviet escalation against Pakistan.

However, it is hard to know what is the right temperature for avoiding direct confrontation. Perhaps Iran raised the heat too high by its bold involvement in Iraq and Syria. Soleimani played a vital role in helping the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad, mobilized tens of thousands of Shia militia from Iraq to Lebanon, and provided them with arms and military advisers. This level of involvement intensified the concerns in Washington about its future in the region. Leaked archives of Iranian intelligence cables show that Iranian agents privately expressed concern about Soleimani’s brutal tactics in Iraq and their consequences.

Fourth, the US does not have a good record of fighting proxy wars in the region, but this should not create a false sense of confidence. After 2001, the US fought insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, which had required a different military doctrine known as counter-insurgency strategy (COIN). However, the COIN doctrine resulted in no substantial achievement in either theaters.

In Afghanistan, the US ultimately started negotiations with the Taliban to withdraw its forces. This happened after 18 years of war that cost an estimated $2 trillion and tens of thousands of Afghan lives. 

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Pakistan appears to have won the proxy war in Afghanistan against the US to bring back the Taliban and undermine the Afghan government. The US failure in the region gave more confidence for Soleimani to play the game with confidence. For example, he kept promoting himself by taking photos on battlefields across Iraq and Syria, not unlike a rock star.

Fifth, Iran’s real revenge will come through the continued proxy warfare to force the US from the region. After Soleimani’s death, Iran will pursue cautious methods without changing its main strategy in the region. Iran has vowed to take “severe revenge” for Soleimani’s death, but its conventional forces are no match for the US military machine in a direct confrontation. Therefore, Iran will not fight a conventional war with the US.

After a ballistic missile attack on the US bases in Iraq, President Hassan Rouhani said: “Our final answer to his [Soleimani’s] assassination will be to kick all US forces out of the region.” Iran already pulled out of the nuclear deal, and Iraq’s parliament has passed legislation calling for the US forces to leave the country. If it happens, the US will likely end its presence in Syria as well because the US bases in Iraq are critical for the support of US forces in Syria.

After Soleimani’s death, the situation is extremely unpredictable. Proxy warfare can provoke an all-out war whether with the US or regional actors. From Tehran’s point of view, the US is not the only threat in the region, with enemies such as Saudi Arabia, Israel and anti-Iran Sunni groups such as IS and al-Qaeda to be considered.

Even if the US leaves the Middle East, the existing pattern of the amity/enmity between state and non-state actors in the region will remain stubborn for the foreseeable future. Therefore, it seems that Iran will not gamble its whole capability on a full escalation with the US. However, any miscalculation can push the US and Iran toward further escalation. If retaliation happens as tit for tat on a spiraling trajectory, a full-blown war could not be far away. This is how wars begin.


Abbas Farasoo is a PhD candidate at Deakin University in Australia. His research focus is on proxy wars, regional security, ethnic conflict and social movements. Previously, he has worked as chargé d'affaires and deputy ambassador at the Afghan Embassy in Australia. 


This article was originally published on Fair Observer

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

NRC - A Mass Weaponization of Paper in India to Reduce Muslim Voters in the Country
By Haimanti Roy, University of Dayton 

The Indian government will soon ask its 870 million voting-age citizens for documentation that they are legal citizens with ancestral ties to India.


All voting-age Indians may soon be asked to submit government-issued ID to prove citizenship. That may be a challenge for women, religious minorities and members of oppressed castes. AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh

On Nov. 20, Indian Home Minister Amit Shah announced a plan to expand the National Registry of Citizens, a four-year documentation effort that recently concluded in India’s northeastern state of Assam, to the entire country. Shah claims that the effort will help identify illegal immigrants in a “nondiscriminatory” fashion.

The news was met with some dismay. After Assam finished tallying its 30.5 million people in August, about 1.9 million were declared “foreign.” Some were Bangladeshi immigrants living in Assam illegally. Others were refugees who migrated to India after Bangladesh’s independence war in 1971. Most were women, members of oppressed castes, religious minorities or poor. 

Even some people with paper ID were rejected from the register because of misspelled names or incorrect formats.

As a historian who studies identity and exclusion in India, I know that when governments try to determine who belongs and who does not, the most marginal are inevitably left out.

India’s Many IDs


India, which was under British rule from the 18th century until 1947, has seen many different governments try to define citizenship.

The British Indian Passport, implemented in the early 20th century, was the first large-scale attempt. The British used their passport to give “respectable” Indians the right to travel across British colonies and prevent travel by groups deemed “undesirable” by the colonial government – indentured and migrant workers, anti-colonial and communist dissidents, among others.

After the arbitrarily drawn partition of the British-ruled subcontinent into the sovereign nations of India and Pakistan in 1947, new systems of documentary control were invented to control the ensuing refugee flows between two new countries.

Some of these would later come to serve as evidence of nationality in India. The India-Pakistan Passport, which enabled people to cross freely between the two countries, did double duty as a certificate of citizenship. India’s ration cards, which entitled Indians to welfare distribution in the post-colonial era, also served to verify residency and allowing inclusion into electoral rolls.

In 2009, India launched the ambitious Aadhar project. The goal of this project was to provide a biometric identity and unique identification number to all of India’s 1.3 billion people.

Though critics have raised concerns regarding privacy and surveillance, most Indians now have an Aadhar card.

Yet, in Assam, this card was not considered valid for the state’s citizenship registry. Anyone who has been in India for six months can apply, so the state considered the Aadhar card insufficient proof of residency.

‘Weaponization Of Paper’


Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party have released few details about the planned national extension of the citizen registration process. It is unclear when it would begin, how long it would take and which government agency would lead the process.

But the Indian Ministry of External Affairs stated that it will follow the Assam method of determining citizenship. A spokesman says the state used a “fair,” “nondiscriminatory” and “scientific” way to identify illegal immigrants.

To register officially as an Indian citizen, people across the country will have to submit a combination of documents that confirm residence and establish links to India. These include birth certificates, land deeds, prior inclusion within electoral rolls or evidence of government service.

But documentary proof of identity requires access to state services and financial privilege. In India, as in other emerging economies, many people lack government-issued birth certificates and land deeds.
Traditionally, long-time residence, kinship, language and religion have been sufficient proof of belonging in India.

Critics call Assam’s citizen registry initiative a “weaponization of paper” that targets religious minorities and marginalized communities.



A protest organized by West Bengal activists in Kolkata, India, against Assam state’s citizen registry, Sept. 12, 2019. AP Photo/Bikas Das

Religious Discrimination


Modi’s commitment to Hindu nationalism – a political stance that promotes India as a Hindu nation – has raised concern that any national citizen ID effort will target Muslims, India’s largest majority.
Since entering office in 2014, Modi has revoked the special status of Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in India. He has overseen legislation that economically and socially excludes Muslims and watched silently as hate crimes against Muslims surge.



An Indian woman displays her inclusion in Assam state’s final register of citizens, in Pabhokati village, Morigaon district, Assam, Aug. 31, 2019. AP Photo/Anupam Nath

A particular reason for concern about religious discrimination in the citizen identification process is a separate citizenship bill likely to be approved by the Indian Parliament.

It promises to grant Indian citizenship to all Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs and Christians who have fled religious persecution in Pakistan, Bangladesh or Afghanistan. Their citizenship would be automatic after a short residency in India and would require no documentary proof.

If that bill passes, the results of any future national citizen documentation process would in effect apply solely to Muslims who cannot prove residency.

Trauma of Exclusion


Many countries have stumbled during efforts to identify all their citizens.

Periodic U.S. efforts to identify and expel undocumented migrants in the 20th century at times led the government to mistakenly detain and even deport American citizens who lacked the proper ID.

The 1.9 million Assam residents unable to prove their Indian citizenship may now appeal to the Foreigners’ Tribunals, quasi-judicial bodies created by the Assam government for this purpose.

Those confirmed as “foreign” face potentially lengthy confinement in detention centers now under construction to hold newly stateless people.

Deportation is not an option for the majority of people excluded from Assam’s citizenship rolls. They do not have residency elsewhere. Neighboring Bangladesh says it will not accept Assam residents declared to be Bangladeshi immigrants without proof of Bangladeshi citizenship.

For many, the pain of not qualifying as Indian has started taking its toll. At least 30 people excluded from the Assam registry have killed themselves this year.

Haimanti Roy, Associate Professor of History, University of Dayton, specializes in the political and social history of colonial India and modern South Asia. Her first book entitled Partitioned Lives: Refugees, Migrants, Citizens in India and Pakistan, 1947-65 (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2012) examines issues of territoriality, identity, migration and citizenship, and the subsequent re-ordering of national identities of ordinary men and women in post-Partition India and East Pakistan (present day Bangladesh). She is currently working on a social history of certificates and documents in twentieth century India.

Roy has previously taught at the University of Cincinnati, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and at Georgia Institute of Technology. At the University of Dayton, she teaches courses on Gandhi, The British Empire, Indian Cinema, Gender and Sexuality in South Asia. 

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Kashmir, The Great Indian Blunder. What Exactly Happened?
By Ayesha Ray, Department of Political Science, King's College

In a stunningly dangerous, undemocratic and secretive move, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government repealed Articles 370 and 35a of the Indian Constitution using a presidential order. The government failed to involve all stakeholders in the restive state of Jammu and Kashmir before making its move.

Indian paramilitary soldiers stand guard on a deserted street during curfew in Srinagar, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Aug. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Dar Yasin)

What’s known as President’s Rule in India — the suspension of state government and imposition of direct central government rule in a state — was imposed in Jammu and Kashmir in December 2018. It was used as the rationale to stealthily push through this latest policy in parliament.

Since there’s no legislative assembly in Jammu and Kashmir, the Modi government and Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah cleverly used Article 367 to make the argument that any changes to the status of the state could be considered legitmate under presidential decree.

Article 370 was created to bind the state of Jammu and Kashmir to India in 1947, after Maharaja Hari Singh signed what was known as the Instrument of Accession. The article gave the region significant autonomy.

The state could have its own constitution, flag and make laws. New Delhi had control over matters of foreign affairs, defence and communications. Article 370 states that Article 1 of the Indian Constitution applies to Kashmir.

However, under the Indian constitution Article 370 cannot be amended without the approval of the constitutent assembly. Article 370(3) states that “ … the President may, by public notification, declare that this Article shall cease to be operative or shall be operative only with such exceptions and modifications and from such date as he may specify, provided that the recommendation of the Constituent Assembly of the State … shall be necessary before the President issues such a notification.”

Without any warning, India’s parliament in New Delhi increased troop levels, arrested elected representatives and effectively imprisoned approximately eight million Kashmiris. Indian parliament divided the state into two separate Union Territories — Ladakh, without a legislature, and Jammu and Kashmir, with a legislature.

In the days since this draconian measure was passed, Kashmir remains under lockdown, effectively under siege, with a heavy military presence and no sign of normalcy. This development will likely have disastrous consequences for India and the region.


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Unilateral Action


This recent move was made without deliberating with Kashmir’s representatives. The Modi government’s decision to turn a state into a union territory in a single unilateral stroke, without seeking the approval of all Kashmiris, carries serious legal ramifications and constitutional questions.

Does revoking Article 370 make Jammu and Kashmir an independent state? And in that case, does it make India an occupier? Because as long as Article 370 was tied to the Indian Constitution, India could still maintain its legitimate claims to Kashmir.

Absent this article, there’s now a question mark on India’s legal claim to Kashmir. Another legal snag the government is likely facing is that Article 370 was considered a temporary provision only to be changed or amended by the Jammu and Kashmir Constituent Assembly. However, this assembly was dissolved in 1957, effectively making Article 370 permanent.

In 2018, the Indian Supreme Court further stated that Article 370 had acquired permanent status, making its abolition almost impossible.

Security


Second, this terribly ill-conceived step emboldens Pakistan’s claims to Kashmir. It plays right into the hands of terrorist groups like Hizbul Mujahideen, Lashkar-e-Taiba and al Qaida’s local unit, Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, providing them with the ideal cause to radicalize Kashmiri youth.

By holding its own citizens hostage, the Modi government has turned previously pro-India Kashmiris against India. From a national security perspective, this is a stunningly ill-advised and appalling step.

Further, the Modi government has repealed Article 370 on grounds that “integration” of Jammu and Kashmir is the goal to bring peace, stability and economic prosperity in the region. Contrary to the stated objective, the evidence proves otherwise.

Now that Kashmir is a union territory of India, will it still be treated separately from the rest of India with a continued massive military presence remaining in the state? The case for integration, peace and prosperity cannot be made through brute force.

But that’s exactly what the Modi government has accomplished. As far as development is concerned, who will invest in a heavily militarized region?

Hindu Nationalism


Fourth, revoking Article 370 has always been part of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) manifesto. Essentially, the party’s intent to revoke Article 370 is to redress the wrongs done to Kashmiri Pandits, the Hindu minority that was ethnically cleansed at the start of the Kashmir insurgency against the Indian government that began in the late 1980s. While Pandits are well within their rights to ask for resettlement, this latest order aims to accomplish the insidious goal of creating a predominantly Hindu majoritarian state.

Revoking Articles 370 and 35a will now allow any Indian to reside in the state. This will potentially change the demographics heavily in favour of India’s Hindu majority.

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The failure to include Kashmiri Muslims in deliberations and discussions on the matter will prove costly, and there will likely be catastrophic consequences for India. There is no reason for Kashmiri Muslims to trust India ever again. Violence, rebellion, dark days and a war with Pakistan are, in all likelihood, on the near horizon as a result of India’s latest move against Kashmiris.

Ayesha Ray is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at King’s College, Pennsylvania. She received her Ph.D in Political Science from the University of Texas at Austin, and her M.Phil and M.A. in International Relations from the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. Her research interests focus on civil-military relations, conflict, and security issues in South Asia. She is the author of The Soldier and the State in India: Nuclear Weapons, Counterinsurgency, and the Transformation of Indian Civil-Military Relations, published by SAGE, in 2013; and a monograph, Culture, Context, and Capability: Comparing the American and Indian Counterinsurgency Experience, published by the Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses, New Delhi, in 2016. This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

Decoding the Sri Lanka Massacre, Why it Happened - What it Means for Future?
By Greg Barton, Deakin University

In the wake of any tragedy, it should be enough to grieve and stand in solidarity with those who mourn. With a massive toll – about 250 dead, according to revised government figures – it feels disrespectful to the people of Sri Lanka to be dissecting what went wrong even as the dead are being buried.

Image by Dhamma Medicine from Pixabay

But the reality is that most, if not all, of these lives need not have been taken. We owe it to them and their loved ones to make sense of what happened and work towards doing all that can be done to ensure it does not happen again.

The Easter attacks represent one of the most lethal and serious terrorist operations since the September 11 attacks in the US, outside of attacks within active conflict zones. And this in a now peaceful country, which for all its history of civil war and ethno-nationalist terrorism in decades past has never had a problem with jihadi radical Islamist terrorism.

A Return To Deadlier, More Coordinated Strikes


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The long-anticipated claim of responsibility for the attacks was made by the Islamic State (IS) on Tuesday night. This could help explain how one local cell based around a single extended family circle of hateful extremists not previously known for terrorism could execute such a massive attack. It was larger even than IS’s previous truck-bomb attacks in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan.

The attacks follow a familiar, if now rarely seen, IS operandi of coordinated suicide bombings. The targeting of Catholic churches, which made little sense initially in the context of the domestic social issues at the heart of the country’s recent civil war, fit an all-too-familiar pattern of IS attacks on Christians, along with fellow Muslims.

The fact that 40 or more Sri Lankans travelled to Syria to fight with IS could help explain how the terror network was able to build vital personal links in the very small community of Sri Lankan Islamist extremists so it could subcontract its attack plans to them. At this point, the precise involvement of returnees from Syria and foreign IS supporters in the bombings remains under investigation.

The Easter weekend attacks more resemble the al-Qaeda attacks of the 2000s than they do recent attacks of IS. Like the 2000 attack of the USS Cole in Yemen, the September attacks in New York and Washington, the 2002 bombings in Bali, the 2003 truck bombs in Istanbul, the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, the 2005 tube and bus bombings in London, the Sri Lanka bombings involved multiple attackers acting in concert. With the exception of September 11, all of these also involved improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The Sri Lanka bombings exceeded all but the September 11 attacks in sophistication and deadliness, despite the fact the perpetrators were previously known only for acts of hateful vandalism.

Over the past decade, al-Qaeda has been unable to carry out significant attacks outside of conflict zones. It has also become increasingly focused on “reputation management” and has tended to avoid indiscriminate mass killings, all the whilst growing its global network of affiliates.

The emergence of IS saw the tempo and scale of terrorist attacks transformed. Most attacks took place in conflict zones (Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, southern Philippines).

A number of significant attacks were conducted well beyond the battlefield. There were at least four such attacks in 2014, 16 in 2015, 22 in 2016, 18 in 2017, and 10 in 2018. The vast majority of these attacks were conducted by lone actors.

Why was it that, outside of conflict zones, not just al-Qaeda but even IS at the height of its powers focused largely on lone-actor attacks?

It is probably not for want of trying. The reason is that most larger, more ambitious plots were tripped-up by intelligence intercepts. This is especially the case in stable democracies, including our neighbours Indonesia and Malaysia.

Why Sri Lanka?


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The other big question is how one of the deadliest terrorist attacks ever was able to be executed in Sri Lanka?

Sri Lanka was a soft target. Having successfully defeated the Tamil Tiger rebel group a decade ago through military might, Sri Lanka has become complacent. It has not seen a pressing need to develop police and non-military intelligence capacity to counter terrorism.

At the same time, it has struggled with good governance and political stability. Just six months ago, it faced a major constitutional crisis when President Maithripala Sirisena sacked his deputy, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, and attempted to replace him with the former prime minister and president Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The attempt failed, but in the stand-off that ensued, Wickremesinghe, and ministers loyal to him, were excluded from intelligence briefings. In particular, they say that they were left unaware of the multiple warnings issued by the Indian intelligence service, RAW, to the authorities in Colombo about the extremist figures who played a key role in the Easter attacks.

Thus, despite several discoveries earlier this year of large amounts of explosives stored in remote rural locations on the island, and multiple warnings from the Indians, including final alerts just hours before Sunday’s attacks, the government and security community were left distracted and caught off-guard.

Between “fighting the last war” and fighting each other, they deluded themselves that there was no imminent terrorist threat.


What Other Countries Are Vulnerable?


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If the massive attacks in Sri Lanka over Easter serve to remind us that IS is very far from being a spent force, the question is where this energetic and well-resourced network will strike next.

For all that it achieved in Sri Lanka, IS is unlikely to be able to build an enduring presence there. So long as the Sri Lankan government and people emerge from this trauma with renewed commitment to unity – and with elections at the end of the year, this is far from certain – the “perfect storm” conditions exploited by IS are unlikely to be repeated.

So where else is IS likely to find opportunity? India and Bangladesh continue to present opportunities, as does much of Central Asia. In our region, it is Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines that we should be most worried about.

Malaysia has emerged stronger and more stable from its swing-back to democracy but continues to be worryingly in denial about the extent to which it is vulnerable to terrorist attacks, downplaying the very good work done over many years by the Special Branch of the Royal National Malaysian Police.  

Thailand and the Philippines remain less politically stable, and rather more brittle than they care too acknowledge. And both tend to delude themselves into thinking that the problems of their southern extremes will never manifest in a terror attack in Bangkok or Manila, respectively.

The people of Sri Lanka have paid far too high price for the lessons of the Easter weekend attacks to be ignored or forgotten.

Greg Barton, Chair in Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Deakin University.  This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Monday, 25 March 2019

How Brands Influence Our Consumption Patterns

Imagine yourself in your local supermarket, doing your usual grocery run. In aisle after aisle, countless brands vie for your dollars and attention. Colgate, Crest and Aquafresh toothpaste. Smucker’s, Welch’s and Dickinson’s strawberry jam. Coke, Pepsi and RC Cola soft drinks.




Like most consumers, you probably prefer one over another in dozens of categories that are collectively called consumer packaged goods. This class of goods includes things with a relatively short life cycle such as food, drinks, cosmetics and cleaning products. These items are used and replaced quickly, compared with durable goods like appliances and cars. True product innovations in this realm are rare, and actual distinctions between brands are typically slim. Yet reaching for your go-tos is almost automatic, and economists have long tried to determine why.

It’s especially curious because, as research has repeatedly shown, consumers in blind taste tests routinely fail to pick out their preferred brands. And they will happily purchase name-brand products such as Advil even when identical generic products sit right next to them on the shelf for a fraction of the cost.

People’s brand preferences are deep-seated and long-lasting. It’s not as simple as one brand being most popular across the board, though. Different brands dominate market shares in different geographic regions. In some cases, these market shares have generally been considered to remain stable over remarkably long periods of time, including those of Coca-Cola, Wrigley chewing gum and Gillette razors. Among food and beverage brands, nearly 50 percent of those that were dominant in the US in 1923 were still among the top five in 1997.

Precisely why people form lasting brand attachments to more or less  indistinguishable products is a challenging question, says Stanford marketing professor Bart Bronnenberg. Psychology, geography, childhood experiences and advertising all exert some influences, concluded a 2017 paper in the Annual Review of Economics by Bronnenberg and Jean-Pierre Dubé, a marketing professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. But, they note, finding definitive answers is made harder by the fact that long-term, multi-decade purchasing data for individuals and households are difficult or impossible to obtain.

“We’re just scratching the surface here,” Bronnenberg says. “I think the exact mechanism through which this stickiness comes about is still unknown, but people are researching it, and we have several good answers.”

And while researchers have gained insight into how brand loyalties are formed and persist in the brick-and-mortar marketplace, the shopping landscape is changing rapidly. How consumer buying habits may change — and brand loyalties along with them — in the age of online shopping may pose even trickier questions.

Here are some of the best explanations researchers have for why you reach again and again for Crest, Smucker’s or Tide. And how those habits may change as shopping gets smarter and more connected.


“Consuming” The Brand


Brands were originally used as symbols of quality. They communicated to consumers that this cow was raised by a reputable farmer, that this beer was brewed with untainted water, or that this loaf of bread was free from sawdust and other fillers.

“A century ago, as branding was really emerging, pundits tended to think of the brand as a means to identify the supplier of a commodity,” Dubé says. “But we have subsequently learned that consumers derive other benefits from the brand.”

In a classic study conducted in 1964, hundreds of participants were asked to rate different kinds of beer. With labels on the beers, the participants rated their go-to brand higher than the others. But when the brews were unlabeled, participants showed no preference. In other words, the brand alone made the beer seem to taste better. “It’s as if the brand is a complement to the product itself,” Bronnenberg says. “It adds value, or adds to the enjoyment.”

This added value can extend from psychological effects to physiological ones, too. For instance, in a 2013 study, the antihistamine Claritin proved more effective at relieving symptoms in participants who took the drug and were then shown a Claritin advertisement, versus those who took Claritin and were shown a Zyrtec commercial. Here, Dubé says, is evidence that “buying the brand makes me ‘feel better.’ I literally consume the brand itself.”



The “Cognitive Miser”


In other cases, brand selection may merely be a matter of convenience. When you’re in the grocery store searching for all of the items on your shopping list, the kids are begging for lollipops and you’re trying to plan dinner ideas for the upcoming week, how much mental bandwidth do you have to spare?

People are, as psychologists say, “cognitive misers.” We tend to think and solve problems in the simplest possible ways. To help make choices, we form heuristics, or mental shortcuts.

“In the grocery store, you're making choices for sometimes 40 or 50 categories, each of which have like 40 or 50 alternatives,” Bronnenberg says. “It’s impossible to do this in a timely fashion unless you have these shortcuts like brands.” When it comes to choosing toilet paper or bottled water, the quickest way to make a decision might simply be to buy the brand you recognize, or the one you purchased last time. Here, Dubé says, the brand acts as a beacon, steering you toward things you’ve bought before. 

And one snap decision may well turn into a behavioral pattern. As long as the product doesn’t let you down, that’s probably enough to earn your loyalty. Or, more accurately, you can’t be bothered to not be loyal. “You tried a brand and it worked,” Dubé says. “Why waste time finding something else?”

Home Is Where The Brand Is


Another possibility, raised in a 2009 study by Bronnenberg, Dubé and Sanjay Dhar, is that brand preference can stem from where you live. The team studied which brands dominate market shares in different regions, tracing each brand’s city of origin and the timing of its entry into other markets.

Bronnenberg and colleagues found that the dominant brand in a given region often reflects which brand hit the shelves there first, even if that occurred more than a century ago. In fact, a brand’s market share in its city of origin is approximately 20 percent higher than in a city 2,500 miles away.

And while this advantage erodes with distance from the city of origin, it does so only gradually. For example, Portlanders prefer Folgers coffee, first sold just down the coast in San Francisco in 1872, while Clevelanders prefer Maxwell House, which launched in nearby Nashville in 1892. This pattern held true across dozens of different categories of consumer packaged goods, from ketchup and mustard to bagels and breakfast sausages.

But what about someone who moves from a Maxwell House town to a Folgers town? A follow-up study in 2012, by Bronnenberg, Dubé and Matthew Gentzkow, revealed how brand preferences evolve when people migrate. That work also explored the “stickiness” of these preferences throughout a consumer’s lifetime.

“Moving from LA to New York, for instance, creates a shock on your shopping environment, on your media environment, on what gets a lot of shelf space and what gets a little shelf space,” Bronnenberg says. “And so you quickly change some of your preferences.” About 60 percent of participants’ preferences quickly shifted toward items more popular in their new home. But the other 40 percent of preferences remained consistent with participants’ cities or states of origin, even for people who had moved decades ago. And while that 40 percent erodes over time, Bronnenberg says, it does so “very, very slowly.”

The particular preferences people stand by tend to be very idiosyncratic, Bronnenberg notes. “It’s not that all consumers stick with their coffee preferences but migrate their preferences for sugar or pasta sauce,” he says. “I think it’s that you have some favorite things that you yourself find important, and you stick with those preferences, and others you don’t.” A certain kind of pancake mix may be nearer and dearer to your heart than, say, the kind of syrup you squirt on top of it.


All In The Family


That people can hold onto their original brand preferences for decades illustrates the importance of branding, Bronnenberg says. “If these effects are so sticky, if you could get people to buy your brand early on in their life, that turns out to be quite valuable.”

There is evidence that some brand preferences may develop in early childhood and last into adulthood.

“If you get consumers who haven't consumed yet, their preference is like a blank canvas,” Bronnenberg says. “As a child, the first thing you got exposed to when you didn’t know any of the brands was this brand, and that occupies your mind space about this category.” Did you grow up in a house where Tide was always next to the washing machine, and not Gain? Were your PB&Js made with Welch’s jam and never Smucker’s? If so, you might simply come to associate the whole category — laundry detergent or jam — with the brand you encountered first.

The preferences of parents, too, often have an outsize impact on the preferences of their children, even later in life. One study found a strong correlation between the brand of cars purchased by parents and those purchased by their adult children. While cars are very different than breakfast cereals, this evidence suggests that brand preferences can be inherited, or at least trickle down the family tree.

Hard Learning And Expertise


In some cases, our own brains can get in the way of understanding that there’s no difference in the objective quality between brands.

In 2008, Stijn van Osselaer, a consumer psychologist at Cornell University, documented a phenomenon he calls “blocking.” If you first learn about a brand like Tylenol before learning about its active ingredient, acetaminophen, van Osselaer says, your knowledge of the brand effectively blocks your understanding of the active ingredient. What happens, in short, is that you associate the outcome (no more headache) with the brand (Tylenol), which makes it harder to learn that it’s actually the acetaminophen doing the work.

This difficulty of learning is exacerbated by the fact that consumers rarely perform side-by-side tests of name-brand and generic products, van Osselaer says. Also, many products’ effects are long-term and therefore hard to ascertain, such as the cavity protection touted by toothpaste. As a result, we may have unjustifiably strong feelings in favor of a brand-name item based on emotions or experience, rather than information. And even if you suspect there’s little difference in quality between a name brand and a generic, just a sliver of uncertainty can be enough to convince you to pay the premium.

“Let’s say you think generic acetaminophen is just as good as Tylenol, but you’re not quite 100 percent sure,” van Osselaer says. “You have a throbbing headache, or your baby is crying and feverish. Do you run the risk of trying the generic?”

Probably not. In fact, consumer behavior research has shown that people rarely even go so far as to conduct in-store price comparisons. In a study from 1984, consumer psychologist Wayne Hoyer found that only 8 percent of consumers in a supermarket detergent aisle even looked at a price tag. A mere 3 percent of shoppers looked at more than one. And they pay the price for that. In a 2015 study, Bronnenberg and Dubé analyzed nearly 38,000 stores across more than 100 chains and found that American consumers would save $44 billion per year if they chose the store brand whenever possible.

That same study found that people in health-related occupations are substantially more likely to purchase a generic health-related product than the average consumer. They know it’s no less effective. Likewise, people with food-related jobs are more likely to buy unbranded pantry staples like sugar, salt and flour. Their own experience has shown them that these ingredients work just as well.

“Being an expert allows you to distinguish between true product characteristics and the brand signal,” Bronnenberg says. That expertise, however, doesn’t necessarily cross domains: The pharmacist isn’t any more likely to buy supermarket house-brand flour, and the chef isn’t more likely to buy CVS painkillers.

Advertising Effect


The thrill of advertising is trying to change all that. Through ads, brands can try to persuade consumers to form or change a product preference. Sometimes the target is practical: Ads simply inform potential buyers about the existence, price or location of a product. But some ads go for something more, seeking to layer the product with additional value such as social prestige.

For big purchases like cars or smartphones, where innovation is rapid and status reigns supreme, it’s easy to see the value of advertising to persuade consumers to be loyalists, inform them of new features and tap into their egos. But what about toilet paper or breakfast cereal? Most advertising for these types of consumer packaged goods centers on basic features — it’s soft, for example, or it’s part of a balanced breakfast — that all competitors share. And it’s hard to see Charmin or Special K ever becoming status symbols.

Here, advertising can help resolve consumer uncertainty about product quality, even when objective differences in quality don’t exist. Advertising, Bronnenberg says, can be a way for brands to publicly spend money, which becomes a sort of proxy for product reliability. Consumers, he says, may assume that only “good” brands would have the incentive to incur the costs of advertising. The shortcomings of an inferior brand, in contrast, would be easily discovered, causing consumers to quickly switch to another brand of toilet paper.

“Money-spending through advertising becomes a signal that consumers can use to replace or complement the fact that they really can't in advance tell quality,” Bronnenberg says. “As long as consumers understand that only the good products have an incentive to advertise their brand, then branding works.”


Hello, New World


While much of scholarly research on brand loyalty naturally looks back at the trends that have shaped the first century of consumer interactions with brands, it’s fair to wonder how much of what we know will remain intact over the next 100 years.

Despite their familiarity and deep roots, consumer packaged-goods brands are not immune to the digital reckoning that is upending so many other sectors of the economy. Just look at the millions in venture capital flooding the razor blade industry. And while packaged-goods brands are likely facing the greatest disruption since they started appearing a century ago, online shopping may finally provide the purchasing data that researchers have been looking for.

One of the central problems that researchers have faced is determining why people get attached to such inherently disposable and interchangeable goods. Tracking individual consumers’ buying behaviors for long enough to learn how their attachments are formed or discarded has always been impractical.

In the past, for example, it might have been possible to find household-level data for a couple of years, or at most a decade, Bronnenberg says. But that’s largely a limitation of tracking brick-and-mortar shopping. It’s not hard to imagine the Amazons of the future armed with precise histories of individual buying behaviors over decades — or a lifetime — in an increasingly e-commercialized world.

Will the mechanisms that historically led to brand attachment — whether they’re a product of heuristics, rooted in geography or passed down through families — survive as consumers do more and more of their restocking online rather than in-store? Or when people start deferring painkiller decisions to an AI-enabled health app and outsourcing bottled water replenishment entirely to a smart refrigerator?

A report by Cognizant states that while online sales represent only 5 percent of consumer packaged-goods business today, that could swell to 40 percent by 2025. It’s a shift that could spell doom for national and international brand names, says consumer branding expert Martin Lindstrom.

The next generation of consumers, he predicts, will have a very different relationship with brands.

“If you were among those kids who had Kellogg’s corn flakes on the breakfast table, drank a Coke from time to time, enjoyed your favorite Kit Kat, and, after you got a little older, have always used Tide, don’t expect the next generation to follow you,” Lindstrom wrote in a 2016 post titled “The End of Global Brands.”

He believes that supermarkets will de-emphasize national or international brands in favor of private-label products and regional brands that can’t be found more cheaply on Amazon. “They can’t compete on price and volume — they need to compete on something more emotional,” he says, such as engaging with local communities or connecting with a consumer’s sense of purpose. For instance, with the increased transparency afforded by the Internet, an item’s production methods, carbon footprint and ingredients can all be scrutinized by increasingly environmentally conscious consumers.

“This doesn’t mean that the Coca-Colas of the world will vanish overnight, but we should expect to notice fewer new global brands appearing on store shelves in the future,” Lindstrom predicts. “We’ll notice thousands of highly local, previously unknown, seasonal, topical, customized brands appearing.”

What this all adds up to as the next generation of consumers form their brand preferences in an online world is unclear, for now. But it’s something that should keep another generation of researchers as busy as ever.

Ian Chipman is a writer who explores academic research on topics ranging from political economics and consumer behavior to space exploration and clean-energy policy. This article was originally published on Knowable Magazine

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