Thursday, November 26, 2009

Moral persuasion versus blackmail

With the discussion about sanctions against Iran it is good to remember how ineffective sanctions usually are. Yet proponents of sanctions keep asking for more - claiming effectiveness that on closer look doesn't hold. In fact moral arguments work much better than blackmail.

Stratfor recently even claimed that the Apartheid had been beaten by sanctions. In fact there were sanctions for many years against South Africa - without much effect. The advocates of sanctions knew that but it didn't bother them as their real goal was to further discussion on the moral basis of apartheid. The South African regime defended Apartheid with the argument of "separated development". In a world where many white parents would be deeply shocked when the children would marry blacks such an argument certainly had its appeal. By shifting the discussion to the way this "separate development" reserved the best jobs and best lands for the white people the apartheid adversaries succeeded in making apartheid look bad morally. That did the job.

A similar argument can be seen in the demise of communism. The Macchiavellians like to claim that the fomenting of war in Afghanistan in 1979 by Carter and Brzezinski and the the start of a new arms race that the Soviet Union couldn't keep up with did the job. But Gorbachev has said that it was the detente that had convinced him that the West wasn't as bad as communist propaganda preached. Reagan's moral appeals ("mr. Gorbachev, tear does this wall" and calling the Soviet Union "the Evil Empire") did the rest.

In Milosevic's Serbia and Saddam's Iraq sanctions enriched a clique closely connected to the ruler. They strengthened rather than weakened his control over the country. Milosevic was in the end brought down with a "color revolution" - a foreign sponsored semi-coup. And Saddam was brought down with force.

Given this background one would expect stronger support for a moral approach. Yet the Macchiavellians manage to keep monopolizing the discussion when it comes to disagreeable regimes like Iran, Zimbabwe, North Korea, Birma, etc. In my opinion a moral approach would be much more fruitful. Unfortunately Obama seems incapable to shed the shadow of the immoral Cheney.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

ICJ decision on Kosovo to be vague

In an interview with the Russian news agency Ria Novosti the president of the International Court of Justice, ICJ, Hisashi Owada said that the Court’s advisory opinion on whether Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence went against international law will not be "a clear yes or no".

I am still looking for the Russian original - as far as I can see Ria Novosti hasn't published an English translation - so that I can see the quote in context (I don't speak Russian but Google Translate might help). Please help me find it!

On itself it is not a surprise. I had heared similar rumors from people who have contacts at the ICJ here in Holland. Yet there are some strange elements in this interview. First of all it is unusual that a president of a court give an indication of the verdict while the data gathering is still going on. For the rest it looks like there will be some vague general text with the addition of more clear individual opinions of the diverse judges. The question is why the court would lend itself to such a charade.

In my opinion the best outcome would be when the court stated that they can understand why the Western countries did what they did (some face saving) but that it is not legal and there have to be real negotiations. Otherwise the most probable end will be a Kosovo without minorities (they keep being marginalized and leaving) and with a dubious international status for a long time.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Karadzic represented by KLA counsel

The ICTY has assigned a counsel to Karadzic. It is the British lawyer Richard Harvey.
Allthough a few newspapers reported it many leave out to mention that he previously served at the ICTY to defend two KLA suspects (Haradin Bala and Lahi Brahimaj: Brahimaj is still appealing his verdict). Doing this he made some remarks that were highly critical of Serbia and the way it conducted war. In addition he doesn't know a thing about Bosnia. The main way he can help Karadzic is with his knowledge of the rules of the court.

Of course a professional lawyer is supposed to be able to represent anyone. But that is the theory. Reality is that people tend to start to believe what they say. Psychologists call this effect cognitive dissonance and it can proved with psychological experiments where people are paid to defend a certain position. Add to this the effect that first impression count most and you have to conclude that Harvey will find it very difficult to talk about the Serb cause with the same sympathy that he once talked about the Albanian cause.

The ICTY defends itself by pointing out that Harvey is only a counsel and Karadzic will still be able to represent himself. But this is hard to maintain when one considers that the ICTY was not prepared to finance the lawyers that Karadzic had employed to help him. Harvey looks like an excuse lawyer whose mere presence harms his customer.

Diplomatic blunders in Butmir

Franz-Lothar Altmann, a German academic, has a clear opinion why the negotiations on the future of Bosnia at Butmir failed:

European Union foreign policy chief Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister who himself was the UN High Representative in Bosnia in the 1990s, recognized the system wasn't working and called a set of constitutional reform talks this October.Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt Bildunterschrift: Gro├čansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Bildt has not made the progress on Bosnia that he'd hoped for

It was a good sign, but according to Franz-Lothar Altmann, who studies the Wesrtern Balkans region at the Center for Applied Policy Research in Munich, Bildt made some big mistakes.

“Important people from parties in Bosnia had not been invited, others who were invited were amazed that they were on the list of invitees,” said Altmann.

The worst part, though, was that Bildt set up the talks without first bringing the present UN High Representative Valentin Inzko on board.

“It was certainly disgusting, I must say, because he's the one who had to bear the consequences and is on the forefront of this process,” Altmann said.

Bildt's diplomatic fauxs pas, and lack of a clear set of proposals before the meeting meant they ended in deadlock. Bosniaks and Croats are still after a stronger central government, and Serbs are still threatening to secede if anyone tries to force one on them.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Republika Srpska: After Independence

Matthew Parish, a formerly Chief Legal Adviser to the International Supervisor of Brcko who has written a book about his experience, wrote an article for Balkan Insight under the title Republika Srpska: After Independence.

It is a detailed analysis of the options that the international community had and has to influence the situation in Bosnia. His conclusion is that the international community can do very little to prevent a slow Montenegro-style independence for the Republika Srpska. He arrives also at the conclusion that the best thing that the international community can do to keep Bosnia together is to keep pushing for it. I have advocated something similar in a previous post.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How to make Russia democratic

I find it amazing that many Western publicists keep lamenting about a lack of democracy in Russia. Yet they keep praising Yeltsin as democratic. I think Yeltsin was the least democratic president of Russia in decades. Democracy means the rule of the people. The word doesn't imply anything about how the will of the people has effect. Under Yeltsin Russia's robber barons got rich while millions of people lost all they had. I think that calling Yeltsin democratic under such circumstances because there were elections is a travesty of democracy.

Unfortunately this travesty is going on. The main front in the Western struggle for democracy in Russia seems to be support for Khodorkovsky, one of Russia's robber barons. In the mean time state control over Russia's natural resources - a basic democratic desire - seems taboo in the West.

My conclusion is that the West is actively undermining real democracy in Russia - under the pretext of defending it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gerard Gallucci's Kosovo blog

I want to draw your attention to the blog of Gerard Gallucci. You may remember him as the UN Regional Representative in Mitrovica from 2005 to 2008, who came in the news because of his criticism of the way the evalucation of the court building in Northern Mitrovica on 17 march 2008 was handled.

At the moment is is living in Australia but his blog is still mainly about Kosovo. His blog is by far the most active blog that I know about Kosovo. Well informed and thoughtful.

Gallucci is critical of the international community's role in Kosovo and believes many of the policies chosen in Kosovo are partial in favor of the Albanians and potentially destabilizing.

Postscript: Here is a recent interview with Gerard Gallucci about Kosovo.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

It's the economy in Afghanistan too, stupid

Once Clinton won the presidential election with his understanding that "it's the economy, stupid". It might help when the US realizes that in Afghanistan too.

Yet the US is mostly committed to "institution building". It is vigorously expanding Afghanistan's army and police and investing in things as diverse as education, justice and agricultural education. The problem is that it looks like everything will bring down again once the US departs.

I would prefer a different development approach that builds on what our modern world has to offer:
- build roads and take care to have good connections between Afghanistan and its neighbors. Look also at Indian Ocean ports and connections to Russia.
- mobile phone is a big success in Afghanistan. Make sure it is everywhere available.
- extend the other modern media - television and radio - too. And use them also for education: alphabetization, a regular school curriculum, agricultural extension, etc.
- find industrial products in which Afghanistan might specialize for export and stimulate that people will actually produce them. One might even build model factories to get started. Make sure there are no barriers: no red tape in Afghanistan and no trade barriers in the US and other potential export markets.

This would also include a safety policy that gives priority to the cities and the roads connecting them while relying on local leaders and tribes to keep the villages safe. Unfortunately the US still equates all types of local militias with warlords (and is encouraged to do so by Karzai who likes to have a power monopoly). As a consequence the US is relying on the rather weak Afghan army and wasting its time in the province while leaving Kandahar to Karzai's mafia brother and the Taliban.

I see the Afghan conflict primarily as an ethic conflict. The Taliban was an Pashtun organisation. The US conquered Afghanistan with the help of the other tribes but as afterwards turned on them and chose for a Pashtun president with extensive powers. In the mean time it accused the leaders of the other tribes of war crimes and doing so disqualified them for a position of power. I don't agree. Those war crimes were clearly acts of inter-ethnic revenge. Dostum let some Taliban die locked up in containers that were left in the sun. But the Taliban had done the same with its adversaries. And while the Hazaras killed dozens of Pashtun the Taliban had killed thousands of Hazara. I don't approve such revenge, but given that there hasn't been any action to make the Taliban accountable for its deeds I don't think we should use it to disqualify those other ethnic groups.

Having disqualified the leadership of the other tribes Karzai is now handing them over to his fellow Pashtun - the Taliban - by forbidding those tribes to defend themselves. In the mean time the US is buying his nonsense about institution building and that all local militias should be strictly subordinate to the army.

Where the play of Karzai leads is clear. His brother in Kandahar has no trouble at all to collaborate with the Taliban and one can expect that Karzai will find a similar way to collaborate with his fellow Pashtun. But he has a delicate hand to play: he is from a minor tribe and his main card is that he is the president. It is for that reason that Karzai has reacted vehemently towards any sign of direct negotiations between the Taliban and the US. That would rob him of his pivotal position.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Why negotiating with the Taliban won't work

An article on Reuters sums up why negotiating with the Taliban is impossible. According the article Muslim extremism has changed: a few years ago it was about specific causes: the Indian "occupation" of Kashmir, the ignored elections in Algeria, etc. But now it is just about creating chaos all over the world in the hope that that will prepare the road for the Islamic Caliphate.

It reminds me of the anarchistic movement at the start of the 20th century in Europe.

I don't agree with the whole of the article. Having foreign fighters has several advantages that the article fails to name. It gives the organisation access to foreign political and financial support. And it gives the local fighters a sense of belonging: they are no longer fighters for a lost cause in a forgotten corner of the earth but people elsewhere care about them. But this does not mean that each such organization actually will take part in that global struggle.

How the US set Afghanistan on the road to election fraud

The Afghan elections were a pr disaster - but more so for the US than for the Afghan government. But it doesn't look like the US is very unhappy with the outcome. Sure, some in the US administration - like Holbrooke - were in favor of Abdullah. But there were also many who favored a continuation of the Karzai administration. They couldn't say it openly - that would have been interpreted as supporting election fraud - but warnings about the risks if someone from another tribe as the Pashtuns became president were clear enough.

Here we come at the curious US relation with the Pashtuns. They have a long history together that started in 1978 or so when the US started to support the Mujaheddin - a mainly Pashtun guerrilla against the leftist government at that time. The Taliban is the successor of the Mujaheddin and the the US was involved in its creation and until shortly before 9/11 tried to work with them to build a pipeline from Central Asia to the Indian Ocean.

When the US beat the Taliban in 2001 it did so with the Northern tribes. Yet when it came to ruling Afghanistan it immediately turned around and appointed a Pashtun - Karzai. On the surface this looked like a smart move to reconcile the Pashtun with the expulsion of "their" Taliban. It also was said to appeal to the pride of the Pashtun who have traditionally ruled Afghanistan and who have sometimes rebelled against government by other tribes. But the Pashtun are only 40% of the population and after their military victory the "others" certainly had the right to dominate the government for some time. By appointing Karzai the US gave the Pashtun a kind of guarantee that they will always rule Afghanistan. Karzai just cashed this promise with his election fraud.

This same partial approach also hinders the fight against the Taliban. The best way to keep the Taliban out from the non-Pashtun north would be to empower the tribes there. Similarly many Pashtun tribes would be happy to fight to keep the Taliban away with a little help. Yet the core of the US policy is to build the Afghan police and army - whose inefficiency and lack of motivation is proverbial - and it looks very critical to any effort to arm the population to defend their own region.

In the mean time we are told of the need for "institution building". On paper it sounds logical. If some foreign organisation builds something and leaves nobody will care about it. But if instead that money had been handed to an Afghan government official that will help build a ministry (for example of education) that wil stay around. The big question is whether the people in the Afghan government are really concerned about building the country or that they just want to have their part of the money flow. I get the impression that this policy is fuelling the corruption in the Afghan government and that it will be much better to go through local leaders.

The Pashtun

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Barbarian China

The way China is suppressing Tibet and its culture is well known. Just as the way it is trying to assimilate its population by the way of promoting massive immigration from China. Unfortunately there are many other countries trying to assimilate minorities.

What makes China unique is that it is pressing for the annexation of Tawang under the pretext that it is Tibetan and Tibet is part of China. It means that China is pressing for the acquisition of more territory with the intent of erasing its culture and marginalizing its population. How barbarian can you get?