Political science professor attends Asian studies conference

SUNY Brockport hosted the annual New York Conference on Asian Studies this past weekend to discuss current political issues affecting the Asiatic region.

There were 31 panel discussions spread throughout Friday and Saturday. Friday's "Peace and Economic Development in South Asia" roundtable featured professor Victoria Farmer of Geneseo's political science department and professors Vikash Yadav and Feisal Khan of Hobart & William Smith Colleges.

Farmer spoke broadly about various conflicts affecting the Middle East and the complexity of their causes.

"We're not looking at just a 'guns and butter' dilemma," Farmer said. "The issue is more complicated than that."

The idea that development should be based simply around either militarization or social services is far too simplistic, she said.

Farmer said she is also trying to debunk the myth that the United States is spending a large proportion of its money on foreign aid and development.

"If you poll the U.S. public about how much of U.S. economy, [gross domestic product] say, is spent on international development and aid … you get responses on that of about a quarter to a third of the economy," she said.

In reality, the U.S. is obliged to spend 0.7 percent of its GDP on development aid in accordance with United Nations Millennium Development Goals, an obligation that the U.S. has failed to meet since the MDGs were first established in 1970, Farmer said. In contrast, according to the World Bank military expenditures made up 4.2 percent of U.S. GDP in 2008.

"Democracy certainly might be the only locus for hope [for development], but there are many problems with it," Farmer said. Such problems include the fact that democracies are inherently focused on short-term rather than long-term goals, and that electorates "can very easily be whipped up into a nationalist and militarist frenzy … people cannot be bombed into a democracy," she said.

"While we had many points of disagreement, I think we all agreed that the U.S. foreign policy focus in South Asia is too heavily tilted toward the military side of the equation," Yadav wrote in an e-mail interview. "We also agreed that democracy promotion in Pakistan and Afghanistan without the firm establishment of law and order is an unviable strategy."