Diplomacy

Ministers of Men

Five lesser-known government agencies

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Five lesser-known government agencies that explain our world.

That the US Department of War was renamed the Department of Defense just as Washington was drawing up contingency plans to bomb the Soviet Union “back into the stone age” with Operation Dropshot is but a case in point.

But what of the countless ministries and millions of civil servants laboring tirelessly behind closed doors whose efforts go unnoticed, unrewarded, and too often unrequited?

Rich country government spending as a percentage of GDP may have crescendoed in the 1970s, but the role of government in modernizing the economy across a vast swath of intersecting public services hasn’t; and just because Rick Perry isn’t familiar with the US Energy Department’s raison d’íªtre doesn’t mean we should too.

This week we take a look at five little-known government agencies whose critical but unseen efforts explain the world as we currently (don’t) know it.

Ministry of State for Measures for Declining Birthrate, Japan

A pregnant woman poses during a nude photo shoot at maternity photo studio “Ixchel” in Tokyo July 31, 2009. An increasing number of women who have just one child later in life are flocking to photo studios to have their pregnant bellies photographed to celebrate their bodies during a once-in-a-lifetime experience

There’s a relatively new catchphrase being encouraged in the corridors of power in Japan, though one wonders if the original’s quite as snappy as its english translation: “date and mate.”

The fact is, Japan’s birthrate has been plummeting for nearly three generations: not since 1973 has it reached the replacement level of children-per-women (2.07) needed to sustain a given country’s population.
In 2005, it bottomed out at 1.26 and only barely crept up to 1.46 by 2015, the lowest in the world apart from Andorra and Monaco.

If the trends of the past few decades prevail, Japan’s population will fall by a third by 2060, and collapse from 127 million today to barely 42 million within a century.

As a result, Tokyo has launched a series of initiatives which fall under the remit of the Minister of State for Measures for Declining Birthrate.

These include subsidized food and drink tickets for state-sponsored singles gatherings, boosting the percentage of men who take paternal leave from a paltry 2% in 2013 to 13% by 2020, and increasing the employment retention rate of women after preganancy from 38% in 2010 to 55% by 2020.

Yet shy of flooding the market with defective condoms, there aren’t many immediate measures the state can take. In the most feudally postmodern society par excellence, the impediments to reproduction are, you guessed it, first and foremost social and economic.

For starters, declining job security and increasing working hours prevent both men and women from tying the knot, much less summoning the cranes, as the cost of living—and the detriment of child-rearing to one’s quality of life—seemingly rise by the day.

On the other hand are equally prolific gender disparities in household responsibilities; women who are already deeply discriminated against in the workplace are less likely to throw their lot into a domestic basket that will only used to smother them.

For this the government has outlined a policy to increase the collective time men spend with their children, and on household chores, from 67 minutes at present to 2.5 hours by an unspecified date.

However, even if Tokyo were to meet all its targets—a fertility rate of 1.8 by 2030 and 2.07 by 2040—this would only level the country’s demographic level at 100 million people by 2060 and 90 million by 2090.

Many, including PM Shinzo Abe, have argued that future gains in AI can more than make up for lost productivity and rising social security costs. Even in that best-case scenario, that will bring scarce relief to the legions of other rich and medium-income countries whose demographies are also imploding as we speak.

Japan is the embodiment of that particularly modern paradox: a combination of rising living standards, longer working hours, reduced job security, a stubbornly regressive gender-based division of labor, and greater individual freedom that have all conspired to push fertilty rates in Europe and East Asia off a cliff.

If this ministry can help buck the trend, the cranes of other nations will be flying—and dying—to follow their lead.

Ministry of State Security, China

A behemoth of global eavesdropping, China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) has nearly twice as many employees (100,000) as the FBI (35,000), CIA (21,500), MI6 (2,500), and Mossad (1,200) combined.

Yet, its responsibilities are arguably more numerous than those of the above. Tasked with domestic surveillance and foreign espionage for a nation of 1.3 billion people, it must counter restive minorities, hostile neighbors, and tens of millions of deeply dissatisfied citizens. The MSS has had its work cut out for it since 1949.

With 50,000 employees in China and more than 40,000 abroad, the MSS must not only keep an eye and ear on Chinese citizens at home and overseas, it must also stay abreast of foreign nationals’ comings and goings.

More than just a security platform, it also has the distinct challenge of remaining an ideologically oriented political entity.

To carry out its monitoring of anti-communist sentiment among Chinese students studying abroad, in theory it must keep tabs on the 500,000 students who set off each autumn to slurp from the world’s bowl of knowledge.

With the power to gather intelligence and make arrests both at home and abroad, the MSS is an—if not the—essential maintenance engineer of Communist Party rule in China.

And this extends to much more than merely controlling people’s internet activity.

As security chief Zhou Yongkang wrote in a leading party journal, the state is trying to implement a comprehensive “social management system” that will combine Ministry of Public Security (a domestic sister organization of MSS) intelligence with propaganda and public opinion monitoring to craft a perfect cocktail of the Peking panopticon.

Ministry of Agriculture Jihad (Iran)

Though even Luxembourg has a Ministry of Agriculture and Consumer Protection—as if this nation of bankers couldn’t trust its farmers—only Iran has a Ministry of Agriculture Jihad.

While the nation’s output in cotton, wheat, dates, saffron, and sugar has never been stronger, this ministry faces a series of unique challenges that will do much to define the future of the Middle East’s largest country.

As the rising tide of ending sanctions lifts all expectations, Iranian agribusinesses are particularly keen to cash in on newfound export markets.

Already accounting for 12-13% of total GDP, the sector has seen huge interest from the French, in particular since the JCPOA went into effect.

Ironically, years of sanctions gave a wide swath of domestic agro-industries no choice but become self-sufficient; the robust market for domestic jams, tomato paste, pasta, and dairy are a testament to this.

Yet for a thirsty country already wracked by huge water shortages, it is unclear how much more intensive farming its parched soil can withstand.

This will be the Islamic Republic’s real ‘jihad’ (‘struggle’): making it rain. Or at least smartly irrigating the bits that do.

And if anyone is up to the task, it’s the Ministry of Agriculture Jihad.

Established in 1941, the Ministry of Agriculture merged with the Ministry of Natural Resources in 1972. Its signature transformation, however, came with its 2001 merger with the Ministry of Construction Jihad.

The latter has played a huge role in Iran’s recent history, not only in rallying battalions of volunteers to help with the critical 1979 harvest, but also in organizing the combat engineers of the Iran-Iraq War who constructed the strategic and floating bridges, submarines, and vehicles made to withstand the marshy fields of key battlegrounds during the cataclysmic eight-year conflict.

To this day the ministry is Tehran’s equivalent of the US Army Corps of Engineers and has research centers in Isfahan, Shiraz, Tabriz, and Mashhad with over 4,000 researchers specializing in everything from rural development—the reason for which the first ‘construction jihad’ was called by Khomeini in 1983—to advances in livestock farming, fisheries, and biological weapons development.

If this is truly an age of “biopower,” which one shall it be? The kind that gives life or the kind that takes it?

Bureau of Indian Affairs, US

Though once an agent of disenfranchisement and forced assimilation of the continent’s native inhabitants, the US Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) has evolved nearly as much as the US since its inception in 1824.

Now a shimmering light promoting Native American self-determination, the BIA’s evolution is a parable about the power of empire by lost-invitation-in-the-mail.

For example, as millions of (‘undesirable’) southern and eastern Europeans were pouring into the US in the late 19th century, the BIA facilitated the General Allotment Act of 1887. This opened tribal lands west of the Mississippi to non-Native American settlement—thus killing two birds with one stone.

Yet merely four years after women were granted the vote (1920), and three after the Emergency Quota Act (1921) cut off immigration from these same unsavory nations, Native Americans were offered US citizenship for the first time through the Indian Citizenship Act (1924).

As it were, BIA policies were both the mirror and morally restorative guilty conscience of broader US actions.

After the war, the activism of the 1960s led to the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act of 1975, which vastly reconfigured how the federal government interacts with the first inhabitants of the land.

Since the war, the BIA’s explicit aim has been Indian self-determination. What’s more, since 1977, it has been headed solely by Native Americans with law degrees and last names like Fredericks, McCaleb, and Anderson.

Now more than half the bureau’s employees are of Native American or Alaskan Native descent—the highest percentage in its history.

The bureau now implements general assistance, disaster relief, tribal government, child welfare, self-determination, and maintenance and construction of reservation roads for the country’s 567 federally recognized tribes.

Though myriad and trenchant socio-economic problems still afflict these communities—and bureaucracies of many flavors still oversalt the American dream—the BIA is one example of competent, progressive cooperation between federal authorities and widely dispersed civilians that advances the interests of both.

As such, it remains a model for capitals that lie thousands of miles from their hinterlands and ruling classes with a little ethnic assimilation to spare.

Ministry of Yoga, India

A woman strikes a yoga pose at the Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York City

When historians pen their account of the ‘Great Wars of Cultural Appropriation,’ India’s Ministry of Ayush, previously known as the the Department of Ayurveda, Yoga, and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homoeopathy, may figure prominently.

After all, for every yogi shedding prosecco protuberance in Brooklyn, there’s a civil servant in PM Narendra Modi’s government itching to reclaim an ancient Indian custom. And not without reason.

As India eclipses China to have the world’s largest population by 2022, and bypasses the US as the second-largest economy by 2040, New Delhi’s social, moral, economic, and ecological responsibilities are growing by the minute.

For one, governing a healthy and prosperous population of 1.9 billion, its expected total by 2050, is a wrenching affair; make them hungry, unhealthy, and meat consuming on an ever-hotter planet, and Beelzebub will surely reign.

Hence the introduction in 2014 of the Ministry of Ayush shortly after the election of Narendra Modi, the country’s firebrand reformist, neo-liberal, and Hindu-nationalist prime minister.

Ayush, after all, shall kill more than two (million) birds with one stone: as a promoter of traditional Indian medicines (ayurveda, naturopathy, homeopathy, and unani, though the latter was brought from Greece via Arabo-Persians), healthy lifestyles (yoga), and indigenous religious practices (siddha, a state of enlightenment), it will further domestic medicinal research and industry, healthy living, and the Indian global brand all at once.

Yet Modi’s move is more than a clever sop to the Huffington Post’s ‘healthy Asian lifestyles’ columnist: if successful, it may serve as a sophisticated response to a globalized modernity the vast majority of Indians neither need nor can afford.

In place of carbon-fueled, hamburger-scented suburban dreams, Ayush is promoting things like International Yoga Day, the first holiday to emerge from India with any chance of going global in 2,500 years.

Inaugurated in 2015 and celebrated on June 21 each year—conveniently the pagan-friendly summer solstice—this year alone it was officially celebrated by 35,000 state functionaries, students, and civilians. For what it’s worth, it has also been recognized by the UN.

Like any good 1990s sitcom, Ayush does not come without a healthy dose of patriarchal pieties.

In a brochure released in 2014, the ministry advised pregnant women to “have spiritual thoughts, read the life history of great personalities [and] detach themselves from desire, anger, attachment, hatred, and lust.”

Most importantly, they were advised to “hang some good and beautiful pictures in the bed room” to inspire the unborn.

Overall, the success of initiatives such as Ayush will do much to determine whether India’s Hindocracy, institutions, and way of life can survive—and thrive—amidst the greatest demographic, and thus political, challenge mankind has ever known.

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