July 19, 2007

In Africa, an island of democracy asks: Where is US help?: Somaliland, a breakaway republic of Somalia, considers itself a model for the region. (Ginny Hill, 7/19/07, The Christian Science Monitor)

During the last 16 years, as Somalia has torn itself apart, Somaliland’s leaders have disbanded a guerrilla movement, drafted a constitution, and held multiparty elections.

Development consultant Mark Bradbury, who monitored parliamentary elections in 2005, says the republic performs as well as, if not better than, other countries in the region, such as Ethiopia and Eritrea, on public participation in the democratic process and freedom of speech. Said Noor, the foreign minister, goes one step further: “We have created a modern, African parliamentary system. It’s a model for the region.”

Civil war is our friend.



July 19, 2007

The Old World Order (ADAM KIRSCH, July 18, 2007, NY Sun)

Like the peace-makers at the end of every great war, the powers who assembled at Vienna promised the world that its sacrifices would not go for nothing. Napoleon had redrawn the map of Europe according to his own wishes, erasing a country here and creating one there, turning monarchs into paupers and his relatives and henchmen into kings. But the Allies, led by the moralistic and self-mythologizing Tsar Alexander, had vowed that they were fighting to return the principles of justice to international affairs. Mr. Zamoyski, who finds Alexander a repellent but irresistible subject, writes that the tsar “had come to view his struggle with the French Emperor not only as a personal contest, or as a clash between two empires, but as a veritable Armageddon between good and evil.”

The problem was that good did not defeat Napoleon; the armies of three monarchs did, and each of those monarchs had his own vision for postwar Europe. Combining impressive scholarship — “Rites of Peace” cites sources in English, French, Russian and German — and a gift for clear narrative, Mr. Zamoyski unravels the tangle of motives and propaganda to show just what was at stake for each participant in the Congress. France, ironically, had the least to gain or lose. Her borders had been decided on months earlier, when the allied armies entered Paris. Instead, the major problems had to do with Poland and Germany, whose political arrangements had been thrown into complete chaos by the war.

Geographically, the problem at Vienna was roughly the same as the one facing the Allies at Potsdam in 1945. Russia, which bore the brunt of the war against Napoleon, had marched its armies across Europe and was now effectively in control of Poland and much of Prussia. Alexander, who had a messianic dream of restoring Poland to the map as a kingdom under his control, refused to give back the parts of Poland that had formerly belonged to Prussia. As a result, Prussia sought compensation to the west, demanding to annex the independent kingdom of Saxony. Austria, meanwhile, under the wily conservative Metternich, hoped to maintain a balance of power, to rein in Alexander’s ambitions, and to keep Prussia from dominating the smaller German states. It was a thoroughly unedifying spectacle, in which the great powers swapped cities and provinces like horse-traders, while the claims of small nations were ruthlessly ignored.

By the time the Congress produced its Final Act, in June 1815 — after a hiatus for Napoleon’s Hundred Days, a romantic episode to which Mr. Zamoyski devotes little attention — no one could still believe that a fairer world was in the offing. “We are completing the sad business of the Congress,” wrote one diplomat, “which, by its results, is the most mean-spirited piece of work ever seen.” As in 1945, power trumped justice, especially in Eastern Europe. Mr. Zamoyski has little patience for the argument, made by Henry Kissinger in his 1957 study “A World Restored,” that at least the Congress established a workable international system that could guarantee peace.

In fact, he insists, the settlement of Vienna — which frustrated national aspirations in Germany and Italy, and installed “legitimate” autocrats in Spain and elsewhere — guaranteed an endless cycle of repression and revolution, which finally issued in the cataclysmic wars of the 20th century. “The peacemakers of Vienna,” Mr. Zamoyski concludes, “had attempted to reconstruct a European community in total disregard of the direction in which the Continent was moving,” and rulers and peoples alike paid the price.

The lesson of the English/American Revolution is so simple and yet we’ve had so much trouble learning it: governments have to be consensual to be legitimate.


May 4, 2007


March 15, 2007

Autonomy hopes for southern Philippines (Noel Tarrazona, 3/16/07, Asia Times)

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo recently extended an autonomy and self-determination offer in behind-the-scenes talks with the insurgent Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a fig-leaf gesture that some hope could bring an Aceh-like solution to a nearly three-decade-old conflict that has consumed as many as 140,000 lives.


March 12, 2007

EU set to enact supervised statehood for Kosovo (The Associated Press, March 12, 2007)

The European Union is set to enforce a UN plan that gives supervised statehood to Kosovo, even though Serbia has rejected giving so much autonomy to the breakaway province and its largely ethnic Albanian population.


March 1, 2007

The Spanish centrifuge: Madrid is losing its grip, even if Spain is not yet a federation (The Economist, 3/01/07)

NOT since the last Moorish ruler, Boabdil, quit Granada in 1492, after 781 years of Muslim rule in al-Andalus, has anything like an Andalusian nation existed. But a new charter of autonomy gives Andalusia a “nationality”, and even a “millennium-long” history. It has provoked surprisingly little passion in the home of flamenco, Don Juan and Carmen. Barely a third of Andalusians bothered to vote in the referendum that said yes to the charter. Both the ruling Socialists and the opposition People’s Party were in favour.

The new charter demonstrates the growing power of the 17 autonomous regions into which Spain divided itself after Franco. Although the country is not a federation, it increasingly looks like one. Spain is one of Europe’s most decentralised states—more than some overtly federal ones, says Francisco Balaguer, at Granada University. The regions control some 36% of public spending. Ministries in Madrid are seeing their budgets dwindle fast.

If it were Iraq they’d be calling it a failed state.


January 13, 2007

Intellectuals and International Relations (Harry Gelber, December 2006, Quadrant)

The first chair of an independent discipline of international politics was created in 1919 at Aberystwyth, and its first holder was Professor Sir Alfred Zimmern who, a number of years later, left Aberystwyth to take up another foundation chair in the subject, the first Montagu Burton Professorship of International Relations at Oxford.

Working in the immediate aftermath of the First World War, Zimmern was very much an idealist in the mould of his contemporary, the US President, Woodrow Wilson. He believed deeply in the mission-oriented Wilsonian approach that has suffused so much of international relations studies ever since: the search, on the basis of the self-determination of peoples1, for peace and conflict resolution. Ever since Zimmern, a central concern of international relations scholars has been the resolution of differences on the basis of these two principles, with international order resting not only on the traditional tools of diplomacy and inter-state treaties but also, and strongly, on the creation of powerful international laws and institutions.

But that effort, from its beginnings, has been based on a profound and probably insoluble contradiction that has caused increasing philosophical and practical difficulties for its devotees. It has been like a house built on a geological fault-line. Wilson’s approach to ensuring peace might mean the invention of a League of Nations to keep the peace and avoid another world war. But the units of the Wilsonian construct were national: nation-states, separate and sovereign. Neither the League nor its successor, the United Nations, has had any authority over individual states and neither has been able to do more than use moral and political persuasion against recalcitrant sovereigns, unless its officers could persuade major state members to act on its behalf. Indeed, the United States itself famously (or, depending on one’s point of view, notoriously) refused to have its decisions fettered even by joining the very League for which Wilson had worked2.

That contradiction remains unresolved. The process by which new states were brought into independent and sovereign being by the dissolution of the old empires between 1918 and the 1960s, especially in Asia and Africa, was quite often encouraged by the former imperial powers themselves. They had become tired of the economic, let alone the political, costs of looking after the colonial peoples. At the same time, one need hardly point out that the movements of “national liberation” in regions like East and South-East Asia, or the Middle East, movements with which very many people in the West deeply sympathised, rested critically on Wilsonian ideas of national self-determination and the proposition that identifiable ethnic and linguistic groups were entitled, as a matter of course, to run their affairs in a state of their own, governed by their “own” people. That reflected a universalist approach inherent in American thought and policy from the Declaration of Independence onwards.

Once established, moreover, the new states have insisted on nothing more strenuously than their sovereign status and rights. They have almost invariably been highly suspicious of any idea that those rights should be subordinated to the votes or decisions of any outside party, let alone any international entity. Indeed, well before the end of the twentieth century it had become a matter of debate whether even the trade and aid policies of the major and advanced powers might not amount to damaging new forms of “colonialism”.

In Europe itself, the territorial policies of National Socialist Germany were, for many years, based on Wilson’s own notions of national self-determination. As late as 1938 many good people believed that it was entirely reasonable of Hitler to want to unite all Germans in a single German state. It was only in 1939, with the German occupation of the plainly non-German regions of rump-Czechoslovakia, that opinion turned. Even later, the postwar settlement of Europe in 1945-47 relied strongly on Wilsonian principles–only this time not by moving borders but, instead, by moving people: in other words, “ethnic cleansing”. By 1950 one person in five in the brand-new West German state was a refugee or “expellee”, having been expelled from the new Poland or Czechoslovakia or elsewhere.

Nor have these beliefs weakened since. By the 1990s, for example, NATO intervened militarily in the Balkans, largely in order to avoid letting Christian Serbs clear Muslim Albanians out of Kosovo. The net result has been that, under the government of a NATO military protectorate, the Albanians have almost totally cleared Serbs out of Kosovo, which some people regard as “progress”. Similar things have happened elsewhere. The recent travails of the Sudan have very largely to do with the desire of the Christian and black south to free itself from the Islamic and Arab north.

It has, then, been very rare for any of the old or new sovereign states to be willing to subject their rights of decision to others, let alone to treaty regimes they regard as undesirable. That point has become clear even in the case of the European Union, arguably the group in which existing states have gone furthest in pooling sovereignty, or subordinating their own freedom of decision to a commonality of policy and even law. It was two of the Community’s oldest members, the Netherlands and France, who in 2005 rejected the proposal for a new European Constitution. A much larger majority rejected proposals, in 2006, for subordinating domestic criminal law to majority voting within the EU. Further cases in point are the recent behaviour of North Korea and Iran over nuclear developments.


January 11, 2007

<a href=http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/opinion/la-op-kaplan7jan07,1,4915562.story
Arab nationalism's last gasp: Saddam Hussein’s execution likely means the end of the foolish secular Arab nationalism movement (Robert D. Kaplan, January 7, 2007, LA Times)

[J]ust as communism exit[ing] the European stage exposed for what it always truly was — fascism without fascism’s ability to make the trains run on time — secular Arab nationalism will exit the stage revealed for what it always was: a despotic perversion of the western nation-state that lasted as long as it did mainly because of secret-police techniques imported from the former Soviet Union.

Arab nationalism’s roots go back to the revolt against European colonialism in the early decades of the 20th century. But as it developed, it faced a serious problem: Because it was organized around the artificial national borders that these same colonialists had drawn — which generally ignored ethnic and sectarian lines — the result, in too many cases, was multiethnic rivalry and the subjugation of one part of the population by another.

In Iraq, for instance, the national borders created a state in which the majority Shiites were subjugated by the minority Sunnis (as we all now know). In Syria, the majority Sunnis came to be subjugated by the minority Alawites, who constitute a branch of Shiism (and who had been favored in the armed forces by the French). In Lebanon, it was the Shiites who ended up subjugated by both Christians and Sunnis.

No sooner were these independent new states created than the ties of faith and tribe were undermining them. A fragile unity of sorts could only be achieved by recourse to secular nationalism, which, on paper at least, aimed to transcend those bitter rivalries.

Indeed, the more artificial the state, the more extreme the secular ideology had to be to hold it together. To secure unwieldy tribal assemblages, for instance, an austere state socialism was required in Algeria, and a form of “Dear Leader Absolutism” in Libya. Because Syria and Iraq were also artificial constructs, these two states resorted to Baathism — another bastardized form of state socialism.

Contrast all this with places such as Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, which were age-old civilization clusters whose identities, rather than artificial, harked back to antiquity. It should be no surprise that these places produced more benign forms of secular government.

The two extremes in the Arab world became Tunisia and Iraq. Tunisia, a small country of Sunni Arabs with no internal divisions, which traced its borders back to ancient Carthage, produced Habib Bourguiba, the Arab version of the enlightened Turkish modernizer Kemal Ataturk. Iraq, a Frankenstein monster of a country assembled from warring ethnic and sectarian groups by the British, produced Saddam Hussein, the Arab Stalin. […]

Those who proclaim today that the only real solution to the Arab dilemma is political freedom are correct. The problem is that they are describing a process that could encompass several bloody decades. After all, it took centuries for stable democracy as we know it to evolve in Europe. In this Darwinian shaking-out process, the new forms of political legitimacy may more closely resemble militarized social welfare organizations such as Hezbollah and the Al Mahdi army than the ramshackle contrivances of the European model that we saw in the post-colonial era.

…he even gets the Darwinism analogy right.


December 25, 2006

Bolivia’s Morales faces biggest test: Political leaders in wealthy regions, long alienated from his Andes power base, are pushing for more autonomy (Patrick J. McDonnell, December 25, 2006, LA Times)

A political insurrection has enveloped four provinces in Bolivia’s east, north and south, a swath of the country known as the half-moon that contains much of the nation’s wealth, including most of its gas reserves. Political leaders there, long alienated from Morales’ power base in the Andes heartland and the coca-growing tropics, are pushing for more autonomy.

Their supporters launched mass demonstrations, civic strikes and legislative action, culminating in huge protests Dec. 15.

“The road to autonomy is something that our society has been working toward for a long time, with mobilizations, protests and votes,” said Germán Antelo, president of the Civic Committee of Santa Cruz, the thriving eastern lowland city that is the heart of the autonomy movement. “We’re not looking to break away from Bolivia. We just want respect for popular will that seeks autonomy.”

What autonomy would mean in practice is unclear, although it probably would include local governments receiving a larger share of taxes and royalties from their natural gas. This is not a small thing at a time when gas revenue is expected to increase by billions of dollars thanks to new contracts negotiated with foreign energy companies under Morales’ nationalization scheme.

The president has signaled that he regards talk of autonomy as the first step toward breaking up the country, South America’s poorest. He derides the autonomy movement as the elite’s response to his leftist reforms.

Base your politics on racial identity and you’ve already ceded the self-determination argument.


November 1, 2006

A TNR Online Debate: Should Iraq Be Partitioned? (Peter W. Galbraith & Reuel Marc Gerecht, 11.01.06, New Republic)

Wednesday, November 1

Dear Reuel,

Thanks for doing this debate with me. I’ll get right to it: The case for the partition of Iraq is straightforward. Iraq has already broken up, and partition simply reflects that reality. The Iraqis themselves endorsed this outcome when they voted overwhelmingly for a constitution that creates virtually independent regions and a powerless central government. Opponents of partition need to explain how they would get Iraq’s Kurds to accept a state they hate and how they would end the civil war between Shia and Sunni Arabs. And, while critics observe that partition does not solve the problem of Baghdad and other mixed areas, they need to explain how an alternative approach might end the horrific sectarian killing that is taking place in these areas.

Heck, we’d like to hear them explain why troops shouldn’t be deployed to Scotland to prevent the devolution of Britain along ethnic lines.