Monday, March 28, 2011

Why imposing democracy is bad

As I explained in an article elsewhere the chance that the NATO operation in Libya will have a happy end is small. Iraq and Afghanistan are not exceptions but the rule.

The results of interventions have been extensively studied and they produce seldom democracy.

This is not surprising. Real democracy is about mutual respect between people. Equality for the law is in that respect much more important than the right to vote. The world is full of countries where you are free to vote but you are it risk to lose your house or your company due to obscure manipulations by people with power. In some of those countries (like Russia and Iran) the voting has become meaningless as it is predestined who is going to win. But in many others the government may change but somehow everything stays the same anyway.

As I mentioned a few posts ago peaceful resistance has a much better record at increasing democracy than interventions. To understand this one has to understand the outcome. An armed conflict ends with one side winning. If the existing powers win it doesn't have to bother with opposition for the next decade. On the other hand: if the opposition wins it doesn't have to bother with the former rulers and may discriminate them at will. When the conflict had an ethnic element this means that whole groups will be excluded.

Peaceful resistance on the other hand seldom ends with a clear win. If the opposition wins - like in Tunisia and Egypt - many elements from the former regime will stay behind. On the other hand can the regime never achieve a clear victory as there was no violent resistance. Too much violence will only undermine its own legitimacy. And even when defeated massive demonstrations will make a clear moral point about how a significant part of the population thinks about their "beloved leader".

It is this balance where nobody has all the power and solutions have to be negotiated or at least been taken with the interests of others in mind that forms the basis of real democracy.

Kosovo's mafia

GlobalPost has three articles (How the US and allies ignore organized crime at the highest levels of a new democracy, Assassinations and intimidation and A hotbed of human trafficking) on organized crime in Kosovo.

In the articles are links to two external sources: one is a NATO/KFOR presentation on organized crime in Kosovo. Instead of a pdf they use their own type of presentation software that tends to stop after a couple of slides. What I have seen (the first 12) are maps of Kosovo with names of local mobsters and their gangs. In a NATO report from 2004 close associates of Thaci are extensively described.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Syria's options

Now that Syria too is facing protests it may be good to review its options.

I think that corruption is a more important issue than democratization in the Arab world. The best thing that the regime could do therefore is to sack a few corrupt officials.

But that would only temporarily stabilize the situation. The regime will have to adopt an ideology of reform and modernization as its new power base. That can only work however when it is prepared to give up on present supporters who are only in for the booty. To achieve such a transition will be a risky balancing act for the regime.

I am pessimistic about democracy in Syria at the moment. Just as in Libya the regime has an ethnic base (the Alawites) and that bodes trouble. I think that it would be much better to strive for a society based on the rule of law - and equality before the law - first. Once such principle is established a transition to rule by other ethnic groups under a democratic system would be much less problematic.

Part of more equality for the law is an open discussion. Occasional public outcries help to make sure that the judicial sense of justice doesn't stray too far from the public sense of justice. This is problematic in the Arab world where few books are read and discussion is tightly controlled. There are rumors that the Syrian government wants soon to abolish the state of emergency. This would be a move in the right direction.

As one can see in East and South East Asia authoritarian regimes can stay quite popular if they manage to keep corruption under control and the economy going. But if the Syrian regime wants to transform itself in such a type of regime it will have to overcome serious resistance from Alawites who have grown accustomed to a privileged position.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Clinton needs a psychology course

The following is a quote from the NY Times:

Characterizing Colonel Qaddafi as a menacing “creature” lacking a moral compass, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday that the international community had little choice but to act. “There is no good choice here. If you don’t get him out and if you don’t support the opposition and he stays in power, there’s no telling what he will do,” Mrs. Clinton said from Tunisia on Thursday.

She went on to say Qaddafi would do “terrible things” to Libya and its neighbors. “It’s just in his nature. There are some creatures that are like that.” Her remarks, applauded by the studio audience where she appeared, amounted to the administration's most stridently personal attacks on the Libyan leader, echoing President Ronald Reagan’s “mad dog of the Middle East.”

It reminds me of how her husband contributed to the escalation in Yugoslavia in the 1990s and how he created a lasting polarization in the US between left and right.

Most people will prefer a more democratic Libya and may think that the cost of him restoring order in Libya is rather high. But Mrs Clinton takes this one step further and denies the humanity of Gaddafi. Consider the following points:
- the goal should be a democratic Libya, not a victory of the rebels.
- by denying that Gaddafi has a moral compass Clinton also robs herself of the opportunity to make an appeal to those elements of morality that Gaddafi still has left.
- Libya is no threat to Tunisia and Egypt and it has never been.
- Gaddafi also represents a tribal coalition. This makes it an ethnic conflict. And while Clinton may be capable of getting rid of Gaddafi this coalition will stay and may both cause and experience serious difficulties if it is not involved in the formulation of how the post-Gaddafi order will look like.

The article makes the comparison with Reagan. But in fact it is the contrast with Reagan that is standing out. With Reagan there was never a doubt about the humanity of the other. Reagan's best remembered words are "Mr Gorbachev, tear down this wall!". Note the politeness and how he doesn't put himself above Gorbachev. It was this attitude that opened the door to real negotiations. In contrast, if negotiations are ever started about Libya one can expect that Clinton will behave just like her husband did in Rambouillet in 1999: laying down an "nonnegotiable" agreement proposal.

Reagan wasn't shy of using violence if he thought it necessary and certainly wasn't more pacifist than the present US administration. But he didn't refrain from talking either. It looks like Clinton stops talking once violence becomes an issue. Certainly with someone like Gaddafi who is used to ignore the wishes of the international community occasional violence to make a point is necessary.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A better kind of UN resolution for Libya?

Germany's and Russia's resistance against an intervention in Libya is historically understandable. Previous Security Council resolution on Iraq and Kosovo have been extended and distorted by the US in acts that can only be described as a betrayal of the principle of international cooperation.

I would favor a system where the implementation of the resolution is overseen by a really independent organ in which skeptics dominate. In the case of Libya this might be a council with Russia and the Arab League. It certainly should not be a kind of US dominated applause machine like the Kosovo Contact Group. Such overseers should have the power to revoke any permission that was given in the UN resolution.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Libya's stupid rebels

In the semi-panic over the advance of Gaddafi's troops it may be good to remember that less than a week ago Libya's rebels rejected negotiations with Gaddafi. As one of their spokesmen said: "The position is there will be no negotiation with this man. He has committed genocide with aeroplanes and tanks.".

If this sounds reasonable to you please consider that this means that they were (and maybe still are) ready to accept hundreds of deaths just to satisfy their sense of justice. Not exactly a sign of great moral leadership. But this may not surprise anyone who knows their egoistic infighting: it took them a week to choose a leader and they still seem hopelessly divided between tribal leaders and advocates of Western style democracy. In this context it is also good to know that Bulgaria has protested France's recognition of he rebels because some in their National Transitional Council were involved with the torture of the Bulgarian nurses. With people like the former justice and interior minister - pillars of the repression - involved there are good reasons to be cautious in our support for the rebels. It may also be good to consider that the real reason for the refusal to negotiate may well have been that they hoped that a military victory would bring them more power.

Of course the same applies to the international leaders too. International outcast Chavez has been the only one to openly advocate negotiations. Among the NGOs there was a similar silence. Only the International Crisis Group asked for negotiations. Most of our "moral leaders" seem to prefer cheap soundbites about "genocide" and "justice" above finding solutions.

I am not against an intervention. But I am in favor of a minimalist approach that keeps the door open for negotiations and aims for more freedom instead of replacing a dictatorship by one tribe with a dictatorship by another.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The ethnic side of the Arab revolutions

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were rather straightforward but nearly all the remaining protests in the Arab world seem to be complicated by ethnic factors. An overview:

- Gadhaffi suddenly got his act together when his hometown Sirte was threatened. It is difficult to discern what is going on in his entourage. But it is well known that people from his own tribe are strongly overrepresented in the most powerful parts of the army. It looks like they felt threatened by this development. In that light I think we should take Gadhaffi's demand for negotiations serious and not aim for a solution where he and (more importantly) his tribe lose everything. Gadhaffi has repeatedly accused the West of wanting to split up Libya - one more sign he is acutely aware of the ethnic element. This offers hope that he might be open to some kind of compromise. As the Balkans showed creating winners and losers is a sure way to deteriorate an ethnic conflict - specially when the intended losers are well armed.

- Bahrain is divided between a majority Shiite population and a Sunnite ruler and elite. The US refuses to support the population out of fear of enabling Iranian influence and Saudi has made threatening sounds too and may invade if a Shiite takeover happens. Given these circumstances a kind of Finlandization would seem the logical solution. The Shiites would get an end to their discrimination (at least most of it) and would gain some political influence while the Sunnite rulers stay on with some decreased power.

- Yemen too is divided amongst many tribes who haven't formed a united front yet. It looks like the outsiders that matter (the US and Saudi Arabia) are happy to let this situation linger for a long time.

To summarize: it looks like the easy revolutions are over and we now are facing complicated ethnic puzzles.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Give peaceful resistence a chance

The NY Times has an article "Give peaceful resistence a chance". It claims that peaceful resistance has a much better chance of succeeding than armed resistance.

Consider the Philippines. Although insurgencies attempted to overthrow Ferdinand Marcos during the 1970s and 1980s, they failed to attract broad support. When the regime did fall in 1986, it was at the hands of the People Power movement, a nonviolent pro-democracy campaign that boasted more than two million followers, including laborers, youth activists and Catholic clergy.

Indeed, a study ("Why civil resistance works") I recently conducted with Maria J. Stephan, now a strategic planner at the State Department, compared the outcomes of hundreds of violent insurgencies with those of major nonviolent resistance campaigns from 1900 to 2006; we found that over 50 percent of the nonviolent movements succeeded, compared with about 25 percent of the violent insurgencies.

According to the article peaceful resistance attracts more people and as a consequence police and army men are more likely to have relatives among them. Also when the police or army is faced with armed resistance that creates solidarity amongst them against the protesters. This is also the reason Mubarak sent thugs to provoke the population to violence that he could crush. But where Mubarak failed Gadhaffi's opponents soon resorted to armed resistance - decreasing their chance of success.

There is one weak point in this reasoning: It leaves the question whether peaceful resistance is possible against ruthless totalitarians like the regime in North Korea that never have been shy about using violence.

In the article Social science and the Libyan adventure Foreign Policy listed social research that shows that foreign interventions seldom lead to more democracy.

On 24 august 2011 FP had an article "Think Again: Nonviolent Resistance" by Erica Chenoweth that explains the same logic.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

A repeat of the Ahtisaari debacle?

As new negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo are planned to start this week, it is good to remember why the Ahtisaari negotiations failed. It had to do with the "principles" of the Contact Group (that included that the borders of Kosovo should not be changed) and of Ahtisaari himself (who demanded that Kosovo should never again be under Serbian rule). Those "principles" meant that Kosovo's Albanians already had their de facto independence and didn't see a need for concessions while the Serbs who saw all their demands thwarted had no other option than saying "no".

Now we see again that Western diplomats are hurrying to invalidate any Serb demand as a violation of Kosovo's sovereignty while they simultaneously support Albanian demands that Serbia sees as a violation of its sovereignty. If these diplomats get their way the coming negotiations are just as doomed as Ahtisaari's.

You can't negotiate about Kosovo's access to the international phone network without also discussing the right of Kosovo's Serbs to phone to their relatives in Belgrade without paying some expensive international tariff. You cannot talk about Serbia accepting Kosovo's institutions without also talking about Kosovo accepting the autonomy of its North tip. And you cannot talk about Serbia accepting Kosovo's privatizations without also talking about exceptions like Brezovica.

As the attempt to forbid minibuses between the Serb enclaves and Serbia showed most clearly Kosovo has shown itself very creative in harassing its minorities. It will be very hard to overcome the resulting lack of trust that Kosovo is serious about minority rights. It might help when our Western diplomats became less worried about Kosovo's status and more interested in real-life issues.

Postscript: East-of-Center lists the five EU guidelines for the talks:
1 - The dialogue is aimed at bringing both sides closer to integration into the European Union; acquis communautaire will be used whenever possible
2 - The dialogue will take place without prejudice to the status of Kosovo by any party
3 - Serious and concrete steps will be taken on the basis of “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”
4 - The EU will be responsible for the entire process and will define the agenda
5 - There will be a coordinated and common approach to the media by all the parties

Friday, March 04, 2011

Dealing with Gadhaffi

Imagine you are a dictator and you are facing an insurrection. Obviously your first impulse will be to crush it. You have gotten power by crushing your opponents and you have kept by occasionally crushing them. Your thinking is not that different from a traditional parent: a good spanking and they will fall in line.

But this time it is different. This don't fall in line and they keep making trouble. Obviously a bit more repression is needed. And before you know it you are in a spiral of escalating violence. It doesn't help that you feel threatened and are worried about what might happen to you and your family if you might loose power.

It is probable that at some point you will give in. Your opponents are simply too strong and despite all the violence you are using you still have some love for your people too and you don't want to make victims when it isn't necessary. But it will take time for you to make the switch: you dreamed of growing old in your job and having your son to succeed you and now you have to give that up for an unclear future where you might even end up in prison or killed.

An ICC investigation won't deter you: 10, 100 or 1000 victims won't make much of a difference for an ICC verdict. You are an old man and if they get you you will very likely spend the rest of your life in prison anyway. But it will make the step of giving up power bigger. Now you not only have to give up your power but also your freedom. And you find it unfair. Dealing with life and death is part of the job of a head of state. Just look how many people are dying in Afghanistan because of some orders of Obama. And if there were riots in the US or some other Western country the police might very well use deadly violence.

Thing were easier for your predecessors who simply retired to a villa on the French Riviera. Nowadays an ex-dictator never is totally safe. Even Pinochet who had made a a deal for himself in his homeland Chili ended up under English house arrest for 16 months.

So how might a dictator like Gadhaffi be seduced to give up power?.
In my opinion there is only one way: appeal to his humanity. Tell him that it is over and that making more victims will only harm his image with future generations. Send someone who Gadhaffi respects and let him talk to him endlessly. Make also appeals to his family members and associates. And keep a door open so that he can leave with at least some dignity.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Putin and Barroso

Putin and Barroso are not exactly friends. This FT article ("Putin set to resume battle with Barroso") sums it nicely up with many quotes from Wikileaks:
At a press conference to wrap up the 2009 summit in Moscow, José Manuel Barroso criticised Russia’s human rights record, only to receive a stinging rebuke from Vladimir Putin, who charged Europe with its own abuses, including mistreating migrant workers.

Brussels blog: The WikiLeaks cable - Feb-24EU out to break energy dependence on Russia - Feb-02Putin’s ally delivers connects with the west - Jan-16Opinion: Europe has its mojo back - Feb-09In depth: WikiLeaks - Dec-09Lunch with the FT: José Manuel Barroso - Nov-19According to confidential US diplomatic cables obtained by the website WikiLeaks and seen by the Financial Times, the public spat was the tip of a very large iceberg. Two weeks after the summit, a senior European Union official told the US embassy in Moscow that it was evidence of “the widely known personality disconnect between Putin and Barroso”.

The Russian prime minister “views the EU commissioner as the ‘Trojan horse’ of the new EU states”, the cable states, citing the EU official. “The gas war with Ukraine only served to inflame the personal grievance Putin held against the commissioner.”

A few days ago the two had a new meeting. This time Barroso named some victims of Russian repression, like Litvinenko and Politkovskaya.

In my opinion this is a typical Cold War reflex. Every system has its victims. The US has its huge number of prisoners death sentences for innocents and Guantanamo. Western Europe has its Gypsies and its problems integrating Muslim immigrants. It doesn't harm to name those problems but if you want change you have to change a wider system. Barroso could have asked Putin what he sees as his goal. Does he see Western style freedom as the long term goal? If so: how does he want to reach it? If not, why not and what is his alternative. He could also have asked how Putin sees his own future. Does he want to retire at a certain age or will he run the risk to end up like Mubarak?