Monday, August 08, 2011

Why Cooper is an improbable negotiator

I spent some time looking up who Robert Cooper, who mediates the negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia. He certainly is a heavyweight: He was the top advisor of Tony Blair (remember the "poodle politics") and now he is director general for External and Politico-Military Affairs at the Council of the European Union.

Cooper is best known as an intellectual who wrote several books and the article "The new liberal imperialism". In his vision we are living in a postmodern world where states cede more and more legislative power to international institutions. One quote: What is the origin of this basic change in the state system? The fundamental point is that "the world's grown honest". A large number of the most powerful states no longer want to fight or conquer. It is this that gives rise to both the pre-modern and postmodern worlds. Imperialism in the traditional sense is dead, at least among the Western powers.

His vision on failed states has been very influential. He calls these the "pre-modern world". In the past greedy colonial powers or contestants in the Cold War would have taken over power in such areas for their own benefits and created order in the process but that is no longer the case. According to Cooper: What is needed then is a new kind of imperialism, one acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan values. We can already discern its outline: an imperialism which, like all imperialism, aims to bring order and organisation but which rests today on the voluntary principle..

One type of this imperialism is that by the institutions like the IMF and the World Bank that increasingly emphasize good governance. The other is "imperialism of the neighbors". This is what we see in former Yugoslavia: Instability in your neighbourhood poses threats which no state can ignore. Misgovernment, ethnic violence and crime in the Balkans poses a threat to Europe. The response has been to create something like a voluntary UN protectorate in Bosnia and Kosovo. It is no surprise that in both cases the High Representative is European. Europe provides most of the aid that keeps Bosnia and Kosovo running and most of the soldiers (though the US presence is an indispensable stabilising factor). In a further unprecedented move, the EU has offered unilateral free-market access to all the countries of the former Yugoslavia for all products including most agricultural produce. It is not just soldiers that come from the international community; it is police, judges, prison officers, central bankers and others. Elections are organised and monitored by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Local police are financed and trained by the UN. As auxiliaries to this effort - in many areas indispensable to it - are over a hundred NGOs.

On Kosovo his vision became clear in one of the Wikileaks Cables: Cooper stated that we have had some small successes in Kosovo and some failures. The Battle of Kosovo Polje anniversary passed without incident, with the Serbian royal family making some usefully anodyne speeches. But decentralization in Kosovo will not succeed. Serbian President Tadic has said that Serbia cannot call on Kosovo Serbs to vote in Kosovo,s elections. EUSR for Kosovo Pieter Feith thought we should think of 2011 as a deadline for bringing the ICO process to an end: according to Feith, once a state is up and running, the international community should step back. The "six point" agenda is largely dead. If one thing fails it means that you will have to try something else of course.

So what is my take on Cooper:

First of all he is a cosmopolitan, the kind of guy who has lived in so many countries and met people from so many countries that he no longer feels connected to one. He has become the kind of person that thinks that nation states are something primitive. The problem with this vision is that democracy becomes meaningless as there is no longer a feeling of common interests. And indeed Cooper is happy about the steady erosion of the powers of our national governments. Instead there are his "cosmopolitan values" like the ICC and the international treaties.

Cooper is wrong when he thinks that this is something new. The world's upper class has been international for many centuries. Even in the Middle Ages there numerous international marriages between members of the nobility. And where we face the power of the multinational cooperations people in the Middle Ages faced another powerful multinational: the Church. The international elite may now be a bit larger than in the past and have better means to stay in contact with its other, but they are still a very small percentage of the population. And that is unlikely to change.

Cooper is also wrong about the importance of the internationalization for peace. There are many other factors like the atom bomb and the fact that most wars are likely to cost more than they will ever deliver in booty and favorable treaties. And when one sees Western diplomats pummeling nations with threats of sanctions one gets the impression that the means have changed but the goals have stayed the same.

The cosmopolitan world view has been specially harmful in the Balkans. In the cosmopolitan world view nationalism is something for people like Le Pen and Wilders who thrive on fueling resentment against other groups. Any ethnic or nation identity is above their comprehension. So when they are confronted with a situation where these are very alive they try to reason them away. The favorite tactic is to assign one politician to the Wilders category and to assume that others are simply reacting.

This disability to see that ethnic groups have conflicting interests that have to be reconciled and this tendency to attribute demands of ethnic groups to racist attitudes is visible in the attitude of Cooper in the recent trouble in Norhern Kosovo too. That is why I think he should be replaced as negotiator.

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