Jonathan Power: The False Dawn of Ethnic Conflict

Jonathan PowerFrom what many politicians and some of the press are saying, the house of ethnic togetherness is about to fall apart and the Ossetian withdrawal from Georgia is soon going to destabilize whole continents. No wonder that Beijing is opposing Moscow in rushing to recognize the new order in South Ossetia.

Is this a valid fear? Theoretically yes, historically no. A few years ago, the political scientists James Fearon and David Laitin studied ethnic division in Africa, a continent notorious for its wars. They identified tens of thousands of pairs of ethnic groups that could have been in conflict. But they did not find thousands of actual conflicts or hundreds of new states. Indeed, for every one thousand such pairs of ethnic conflicts they found fewer than three incidents of violent conflict. With only a few exceptions, state boundaries in Africa are the same as they were in 1960 at the time of the independence movement.

It is true that Africa over the last decade and a half has been through a period of great turmoil. But, according to the just-published annual report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Africa (along with Europe) is now the most peaceful continent in the world, with only one significant tribal or interstate conflict last year.

Ian Williams: Taiwan and the Georgia Precedent

Ian WilliamsAugust was a strange month, and there were times when one felt that it could have been a Sarajevo moment (1914 style), or even a Cuban crisis. There is an almost Newtonian law of diplomacy about the resulting release of belligerent energy when two roughly equal masses of foresightlessness collide.

Neither side emerges with much credit from the Ossetia debacle, whether the issue was controlling unruly surrogates, or delivering an effective solution afterwards. In this case, however, the George W. Bush White House unusually played the role of Khrushchev, and backed down in the face of a clearly irrational opponent. But even that commendable forbearance has unintended consequences across the globe, in particular, with China and Taiwan.

In the short term, Moscow tweaked the Eagle’s feather, and got away with it because, for once, this White House appreciated its own limitations. Moscow certainly weakened U.S. military prestige even as it enhanced its battered reputation for sanity, but it was a hollow triumph, reminiscent of the Russian tank column that raced to Pristina Airport in Kosovo and cocked a snook at General Rupert Smith and NATO—but then, sheepishly, had to get fuel and food from NATO since all Russia’s former allies refused over-flight permission for reinforcement.

Clearly, that memory still rankles in Moscow, and can only hope that the little brief authority that Russia’s raid into Georgia gave its generals will overcome their chronic Kosovo syndrome. However, it was dearly bought therapy, which has compounded Russian isolation. It delivered support in Prague, Warsaw, and Kiev for NATO, missiles, and bases that a month ago looked like unjustifiable provocation but which the Russian action has now made seem eminently sensible. Indeed, apart from the effect on its neighbors, one cannot but help wonder at the long-term effect on the Russian Federation itself—Chechnya and Tartarstan being but some of many potentially fissiparous components. How long before Israel recognizes the independence of the Birobidzhan “Jewish Autonomous Region” in Russia’s far eastern provinces?

K. A. Dilday: All Quiet on the Western Front?

K. A. DildayAs always, summer in Western Europe is a quiet time. People tend to take much of the European Union mandated four weeks (at minimum) of paid work leave during August. Official discussions about managing the crisis created by the Ireland’s early June rejection of the Lisbon Treaty have been put off until October, although last week Ireland’s European Affairs Minister, Dick Roche, hinted at the next step by saying that a second vote was necessary if Ireland wants to remain an integral member of the European Union. The implication being that Ireland must continue to vote until they come up with the right answer. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s economy falters, and the Poles are going home.

According to a report released this summer by Britain’s Institute for Public Policy Research, nearly half of the Eastern European migrants who moved to Britain when EU enlargement made it possible in 2004 and 2007, have returned home as the U.K. economy continues its regression. The United Kingdom’s Office for National Statistics found that even though the population grew by 388,000 in 2007 (one of the smallest jumps in recent years), the proportion of growth attributable to immigration decreased.

The Poles and other Eastern Europeans have left the U.K., and if they’ve not gone home, they’ve gone elsewhere—to France, for example, which opened its employment ranks to the 12 newest members of the European Union in July, a year ahead of schedule. While economists likely applaud the economically driven pattern of trans-European migration, it seems it is just what social nationalists fear—migrants driven purely by financial motives rather than a desire to relocate and become part of a national community.

France, which assumed the presidency of the European Union in July, introduced a draft European pact on immigration and asylum this summer. It addressed the issues of national values and identity with these lines in the preamble:

“The European Council recognizes the interest of the integration contract for third-country nationals who are admitted for long-term residence on their territory and encourages member States to propose it at a national level. This integration contract must be compulsory. It will include the requirement of learning the national language, European national identities and values, such as respect for other people’s physical integrity, equality between men and women, tolerance, compulsory schooling and education for children.” [Emphasis mine]

As I wrote in the summer 2008 issue of World Policy Journal, even politicians have difficulty defining their country’s identity—of which “values” form the essential part—as independent from those of Europe. The European Union is expected to adopt France’s pact when it reconvenes in October.

Yet while Western Europe has been fairly quiescent on their long summer holidays, the Balkan region, which includes several states that are next in line to be considered for EU membership, has been roiling.

Jonathan Power: How Not to Deal with Russia

Jonathan PowerLet’s be frank: NATO is no longer needed. Indeed, this has been true for some time: once the Warsaw Pact closed up shop there was no good or honest reason for keeping NATO going. The threat that NATO was created to deter disappeared when the Soviet Union collapsed.

It is now time to let the European Union take the strain—whether by trade, investment, diplomacy, or political intimacy (indeed, the hallmarks of a successful union that has mastered the art of expansion and influence by clever use of the carrot)—while America deals with its own problems, brought about by its quest for global influence and application of the Bush doctrine of “preventive war.”

As Mark Leonard, the director of foreign policy at the Center for European Reform wrote in his clever little book of three years ago, “The contrast between the two doctrines is stark. The Bush doctrine attempts to justify action to remove a ‘threat’ before it has a chance of being employed against the United States. It is consequently focused very closely on physical assets and capabilities, necessarily swift in execution and therefore short term in conception, and unavoidably entirely military in kind. The European doctrine of pre-emption, in contrast, is predicated on long-term involvement, with the military just one strand of activity, along with pre-emptive economic and legal intervention, and is aimed at building the political and institutional basis of stability, rather than simply removing the immediate source of threat.”

Passive aggression—the outward expansion of the Eurosphere—is just what the continent needs. For countries such as Turkey, Serbia, or Bosnia, the only thing worse than having the Brussels bureaucracy (with its multitude of new rules) descend on their political systems is to have its doors closed to them.

Peter Morici: Playing Nice with Russia Has Failed

Peter MoriciRussia’s invasion of Georgia should compel the United States and Europe to alter their policies of using economic engagement to promote democracy.

After the Cold War, the United States and Europe sought to integrate Russia, China, and their satellites into the Western market economy. Policymakers believed this would encourage democracy, human rights and a peaceful demeanor toward their neighbors.

Policymakers believed robust foreign commerce and free markets—privatization, private property, and business law—would expose these societies to Western culture and instigate expectations for personal freedoms and free elections. Market economies function best when individual initiative and property rights are protected by elected governments. Democratic capitalism has decidedly outperformed autocratic communist and fascist regimes. And prosperous nations, invested in global commerce, are less inclined toward aggression.

Russia instigated wide-ranging privatization and other market reforms, opened to foreign investment, and had a rocky experiment with democracy. From 1990 to 1995, gross domestic product (GDP) dropped 50 percent, thanks to falling prices for oil and metal exports, inadequate commercial law, cronyism, and corruption. Output stabilized for a few years, but then sank further after the 1997 Asian financial crisis. Boris Yeltsin, largely discredited, turned over the presidency to Vladimir Putin in 1999.

Mr. Putin may be a capitalist, but he is no democrat. He maintained essential elements of a market economy but compromised elections, asserted control over regional governments and the judiciary, squelched personal freedoms, and sought to reestablish Russian influence, whenever possible, in former Soviet republics.


Shaun Randol: China Cracks the Door


On August 8, China will fling open its doors to the world’s finest athletes and welcome, for the first time, a global Olympic audience. Yet, while the world’s attention is distracted by the glint of gold medals in Beijing, Chinese officials are doing whatever it takes to ensure that only the high polish of the Olympic spectacle makes it out through tightly controlled (i.e. censored) television, print, and online media.

In light of the recent protests in Tibet, a catastrophic earthquake in Sichuan Province, bus bombings in Kunming and Shanghai, and terrorist attacks in Xinjiang Province, Chinese officials are determined to build a façade of control—and cohesive national pride—lest unsightly and embarrassing political demonstrations be broadcast around the world. From banning select foreign entertainers to jailing Beijing dissidents, liberties are systematically being curtailed in what was once hoped to be China’s great coming out party.

To their credit, in expectation of public protests of one kind or another, officials have set aside three city parks in Beijing where demonstrators can air their grievances—a highly unusual gesture from the authoritarian government. There is a catch, of course. “The police will safeguard the right to demonstrate as long as protesters have obtained prior approval and are in accordance with the law,” said Liu Shaowu, director of Olympics security, during a news conference.

According to the law, citizens (it is unclear how internationals figure into this mix) must apply for a permit, in person, five days in advance of the scheduled protest. The application requires detailed information, including the topic of dissent, slogans to be used, and the expected number of demonstrators. Moreover, protests that are disruptive of “national unity,” “social stability,” security, or that advocate for ethnic minority separatism (read: Tibet, Xinjiang) will not be approved.

Despite the obstacles, could we see some action in the parks? Quoted in the New York Times, human rights lawyer and advocate Xu Zhiyong said, “As a first step toward opening up space for dissent, it is appropriate…. There should be many people who are willing to use this space, petitioners and people who have experienced injustice.” It will take a clever protest application, however, or outright subversive action, to hold a demonstration that does not violate the government’s tightly scripted rules. Protesting on issues such as pollution, political prisoners, religious freedom (Falun Gong), Tibet, Xingjian, shoddy construction of schools in Sichuan’s earthquake zone, democracy, freedom of speech in general, corruption, land rights, and other issues will, in all likelihood, be denied their moment in Beijing.

Shankhar Singham

Shanker Singham: Busting a Free Trade Myth

Shankhar SinghamCritics of free trade generally complain that income disparity in the world has vastly increased—that globalization has led to vast and growing inequalities. The larger question is whether inequality is the right measure of progress. It is not.

Inequality, either within a country or between countries, is the wrong yardstick with which to measure progress. The proper benchmark is whether the lot of the poor is improving. And here the data is unequivocal. By all measures of mortality rates and health standards, billions of the world’s poor have been lifted out of poverty by rising global growth.

Belinda Cooper

Belinda Cooper: Letter from Berlin

Belinda CooperBarack Obama will speak to an anticipated crowd of 100,000 people in Berlin tonight, and the city is brimming with anticipation. Pretty much every newspaper and magazine has featured him on its cover or front page. A few weeks ago, the story was where he would speak. At the Brandenburg Gate? Angela Merkel (Christian Democrat) opposed a foreign politician making a campaign speech at such a historic site; her foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier (Social Democrat) didn’t see the problem; and Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit (Social Democrat), seemed to be looking forward from the start to a photo op with Obama anywhere in the city. But the Obama campaign, loath to create friction, decided on a different location: the Siegessäule or Victory Column. Not that the Siegessäule doesn’t have its own issues: as many have pointed out, it’s a monument to Prussian victories over Denmark, Austria and France, and the Nazis liked it too; they even made it taller. Berlin’s like that, though—there’s hardly a spot in the city without some problematic history, be it Prussian, Nazi or Communist. It’s sometimes hard to remember, with surveys showing a majority of Germans opposing Bundeswehr participation in Afghanistan, but Germans weren’t always pacifists…

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir

Alon Ben-Meir: Mediating the Nuclear Impasse

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir

Iran’s insistence on enriching uranium in defiance of three UN Security Council resolutions, combined with a bevy of antagonistic threats aimed at Israel’s existence has created an explosive recipe that may well precipitate a horrifying regional conflagration. For Iran’s own best interests, its contentious leaders would be well advised to tone down their anti-Israeli threats, which have not been taken lightly thus far, and find a diplomatic solution to Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons program. The recent Israeli air force exercises and American naval maneuvers in the Persian Gulf, which were countered by Iran’s test-firing of a variety of missiles, have only heightened an already tense atmosphere.

It is now critical to look at who might be in a position to defuse the tension and restore some stability to a volatile region already battered by a devastating war in Iraq. At this point, Turkey has made itself well positioned geopolitically to play such a significant role. The fact that the Bush administration has shifted policy after nearly three decades and agreed to participate in the international talks with Iran’s nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Geneva may well open the door for future direct talks to be facilitated by the Turks.

Belinda Cooper

Belinda Cooper: Crucial Questions About Torture

Belinda CooperLast week, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in Strasbourg announced a decision in a German case, Gäfgen v. Germany, that is relevant to the “war on terror,” even though the case itself had nothing to do with terrorism.

In 2002, a German law student, Magnus Gäfgen, kidnapped and killed an 11-year-old child. In the course of subsequent ransom demands, he was caught by the police, who, at the time, believed the child was still alive. Under orders from a superior, a police officer threatened Gäfgen with great pain if he didn’t tell them where the boy was (they were prepared to follow through on the threat, though this never happened). Gäfgen thereupon confessed, and the boy’s body was found. Later, after being informed that the coerced confession could not be used against him, he repeated it.

The German courts found him guilty, based on the later confession; Gäfgen then appealed to Strasbourg, claiming his rights to freedom from torture and fair trial had been violated. The police officer and his superior, meanwhile, were found guilty of coercion and instruction to coerce. Because their motive was saving the child’s life, however, and the situation was one of great pressure, the German court found mitigating circumstances and suspended their sentences—in effect finding them guilty but refraining from punishing them.

The case set off a countrywide debate in Germany about the legitimacy of torture, obviously playing into broader concerns with the use of torture in the “war on terror” and the revelations from Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib, and Guantanamo Bay.