Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Inzko is going for broke in Bosnia

Bosnia's international overlord (OHR) Inzko has thrown down the gauntlet: he has stated that Dodik has violated Dayton and announced that he will go to the Security Council. It is the culmination of a long policy of confrontation from both sides, but mostly from Inzko.

In the Dayton Agreement Inzko's function is described as a mediator. But Inzko hasn't shown any of the neutrality that is expected from a mediator. Instead he has extensively tried to use his "Bonn powers". These powers were after Dayton given to the OHR to enable him to counter obstruction like the blocking of refugee returns. Inzko abused them by instead trying to use them to "improve" Dayton. What he failed to perceive was the element of authoritiveness. Using the Bonn powers to fight obstruction was in the spirit of Dayton and as such Bosnia's Serbs could accept it. However, using these same powers to "reform" the Dayton Agreement in a way that makes it more acceptable for the Bosniaks and less acceptable for the Serbs definitely is not acceptable for them. By acting so Inzko has undermined the credibility of his function.

Dodik has reacted to this with his own challenge: he wants a referendum on the extension of the appointment of some international judges. He claims that these judges are prejudiced but he doesn't seem very serious about that: I haven't heard a list of complaints or seen a website that attacks the functioning of those judges. They definitely would be there if Dodik wanted to convince the international community of his viewpoint. Instead it looks like Dodik just is trying to pick a fight on a point where he thinks he can get the support of his population.

This confrontationist attitude may cost Dodik dearly. By shaping the confrontation as a challenge to the OHR and the international community he is doing exactly what his enemies wish: challenging the world's big powers openly more or less forces them to react. It looks like Dodik has become overconfident after his previous confrontations with Inzko and now wants to definitively dispower Inzko.

In my opinion both sides are foolish. Their behavior may seriously harm Bosnia.

Puzzled about Cyprus

The international community keeps pushing for a reunification of Cyprus. I have never really understood their eagerness. Their last proposal - that was rejected by the Greeks in a referendum - astonished me for its lenience towards the Turks. In my opinion you don't have a country when foreign (Turkish) troops are stationed there forever. The guarantees for the Turks against Greeks buying land also astonished me: the Greek did not get any guarantees against the Turks taking over more and more due to higher population growth and immigration from Turkey. This would become a hot issue when Turkey would become an EU member and as a consequence Turks from Turkey would get the freedom to settle on Cyprus.

In my opinion there is only one solution: partition. This is what the Turks advocate. The Greeks object because they think the Turks have taken more than their share of the island (1/3 of the island for 1/5 of the population). So I expect that a solution can only be reached when the Turks give up some of this territory.

Internationals may protest to such a solution as rewarding or acceptance of ethnic cleansing. And some of both communities who want to return to their old homes will object too. But unlike Bosnia where everyone speaks the same language Cyprus has two very different languages and cultures. I am pessimistic on the possibility to rebuild the delicate trust that was broken several decades ago.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Why we are heading for the next economic crisis

With a total lack of economic reforms it seems clear that we are going towards the next bubble. The next crisis may make us look back to the present as a picknick.

For reason of its central position in the economy banks have government protection. This is supposed to result in a steady supply of credit to the business sector and private people. This protection and the access to cheap money from the central bank also constitute a hidden subsidy from the government for the banking sector. For this reason this protection has traditionally been reserved for commercial banks while business banks lack this protection.

Many people think that the Glass-Steagall act that regulated this separation was primarily for the protection of the commercial banks of the greater risks of the business banks. I don't agree. Glass-Steagall was introduced at about the same time that the US government introduced guarantees for the commercial banks. Its goal was to make sure the business banks didn't enjoy the same protection. This not only safed the government money. It also prevented ensuing distortions. Risk is a less important factor as it can be huge at commercial banks too: in periods of falling house prices commercial banks tend to suffer heavily.

Of course a separation between business banks and commercial banks has a price. A company need to keep contacts with two banks to get full service and both banks need to do extensive investigations to determine that it is safe to put money into a company. For this reason there is always the pressure from commercial banks to get more leeway to provide business services to companies. From ths 1970s this pressure succeeded and finally in 1999 Glass-Steagall was repealed.

This resulted in an extended financial sector that was de facto subsidized by the government. Of course this subsidy was hidden in guarantees and Central Bank loans but that didn't make it less real. Being subsidized this channel started to attract more and more money - at the expense of other channels. It was one of the factors that contributed to an increasingly endebted business sector.

In reaction to the credit crisis the banking sector was expanding and companies like Goldman Sachs got a status as bank. This certainly helped stabilize the crisis. But for the long term it was exactly the wrong development. Instead of expanding the guaranteed sector it should have been shrinked by forbidding banks to engage in activities outside their core or at least by making such activities unattractive by demanding large reserves. In addition banks should also be equired to have large reserves against any loans they make towards other financial institutions.

Such restrictions would actually help the recovery. Now much of the easy money disappears in all kind of speculation and such restrictions would make that less attractive.

The consequence of the present policies is that the easy money is stimulating bubbles while it contributes not much to permanent recovery. Sooner or later the new bubbles will burst. That time easy money will no longer be an option - many governments are too endebted - and we may face a real crisis.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The EU is making the same mistake twice

As they say, those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Once the EU drove Yugoslavia into a civil war with a divisive policy that sets up one ethnic group against the other.

In 1991 EU nations secretly supported separationist preparations in Croatia and Slovenia. Then they prematurely recognized them under the excuse that Yugoslavia had dissolved: a distortion of the situation and dangerous exploit in international law that could be used against any multi-ethnic country. But perhaps the most dangerous was that the EU adopted the self-delusion that everyone would follow them. In fact nothing changed on the ground in Yugoslavia except that one side had gotten an ally and the other an adversary.

Rich provinces all over the world try to secede in the knowledge that they will be even richer when they no longer have to subsidize the rest of the country. In the case of Croatia and Slovenia there was the additional appeal of a speedy EU membership. Given these circumstances the secession of Slovenia and Croatia was probably unavoidable unless the EU adopted an explicit policy that took attraction of a speedy EU membership away. Instead the EU fell for Croat and Slovene propaganda that tried to paint their secession in moral colors. Milosevic was painted as an extreme nationalist. He wasn't. He was just asking what most politicians representing an underrepresented large ethnic group that felt discriminated against would have asked. His political methods weren't always nice, but he was faced with political adversaries in other republics who had extended their power far beyond what had been intended in the Yugoslav constitution. His involvement in mass urder in Bosnia was still in the future: for the moment his policies in Kosovo were very similar to Croatia's policies towards its Serb minority.

A sound policy would have taken a distance and let both sides struggle it out in the political arena. It would have stressed that without an agreement the republics were still part of Yugoslavia, but it the same time it would have discouraged violence or rigorous steps by the central government. Instead the "moral" view of the EU led to immoral behavior. It now considered the rebellious Serbs in Croatia as insurrectionists instead of one side in a conflict. And it discarded Croat discrimination as primarily Croatia's "internal affairs". The result was predictable: Croatia didn't see anymore need for caution in its treatment of its Serb minority and the Serbs didn't see any other way than armed conflict to achieve their goals. Bosnia's war started in a similar way.

One would have supposed that more than a decade later the West would do better with Kosovo. Instead we see exactly the same pattern. The EU again couldn't resist the temptation to choose sides: this time by recognizing Kosovo. It could have chosen a neutral position and appointed a neutral mediator, but instead it appointed Ahtisaari whose misguided principles ("Kosovo should never again under Serbian rule") made any other outcome than unilateral independence impossible. A real neutral negotiator would asked the Albanians to convince Serbia that the rights of the Serb and other minorities were guaranteed.

Now too the real bad things happen afterwards when the EU has no longer the capability to see the behavior of both sides in the same light. Where in Croatia the EU crossed the line with its ignoring of the maltreatment of Croatia's Serbs, it seems now poised to cross the line with the privatization of Brezovica. Anyone can see that that will inevitably result in the end of the employment of many Serbs there. Past actions, like the evacuation of the court house, concerned symbols. Here it concerns directly the survival of Kosovo's Serb minority. And just as in the past the EU hid behind declarations about Croat "sovereignty" it now hides behind Kosovo sovereignty and the Ahtisaari Plan.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The appeasement of China

When one studies the runup towards World War II the appeasement of Germany plays an important part. It was not just Munich 1938: on many prior ocassions (like the remilitarisation of the Rhineland) Germany had imposed its will with fait accompli's and military threats. In many cases Germany was just ondoing unfair provisions of the Versailles Treaty. Yet the effect was the same: Germany became used to getting its way unilaterally and became overconfident.

In China we see now a similar pattern. Everybody knows that China will have to do something about its trade surplus and its undervalued renminbi. Yet Obama (just as Bush before him) are too timid to say it openly. Instead they let themselves be lectured again and again by arrogant Chinese leaders. At the end of his last visit to China Obama even signed a common declaration that was widely seen a kowtowing to China's ambitions for regional hegomony.

The price of this indulgence is becoming higher and higher. The world economy is getting seriously out of balance and may end up in a crisis. China's leaders become more and more bold in their demands. Their recent noise about the Dalai Lama's visit to the Tamang region in India was the most striking example. And when one reads posts by Chinese on the internet it becomes clear that the problem is much wider. Many of them are extremely nationalist and quite a few threaten with war if China doesn't get its way.

One can only hope that it doesn't take too long before mr. Obama finally realizes that he can keep giving in to China forever because it will only lead to a steady increase of their demands. And this concerns not only the US: Other countries face the same problem with China.

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: Großansicht 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?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Ethnic traps in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan

I have recently reading a lot about Afghanistan and Iraq and what strikes me is the similarity between America’s problems there and in the Balkans. Americans keep making the same mistakes based on their misunderstanding of ethnic dynamics.

What strikes one in the Balkans first is that the Americans have no idea how compromises are made. As long as the US is supporting one faction one can be sure it won’t compromise, but somehow that doesn’t register in the US and they keep playing favorites. Even more amazing is that those favorites are largely historically determined and have little to do with present US interests. Yet they keep being promoted because somehow it is supposed to be humiliating for the US if a former ally suffered a defeat. Another US addiction is to borders. Partitioning of both Bosnia and Kosovo is taboo. Why? Because somewhere in the past the US committed itself to those borders. In the mean time it keep deceiving itself that within those borders the conditioned for a peaceful multi-ethnic society are present.

What brings me to Iraq. One of the hottest items it Kirkuk. Should it be controlled by the Arabs or the Kurds. Here too the taboos abound. Kirkuk is a province that should not be partitioned. Let alone that one should look for a comprehensive solution that concerns all the borders of Kurdistan. To make the discussion even more abstract the subject of ethnic cleansing by the Kurds is taboo. Just as in the Balkans the pretense must be maintained that no ethnic cleansing happens under US control. And so we see that the discussions about Kirkuk are about abstract voting rights instead of the real issues.

In Afghanistan the absurdity of US ethnic thinking becomes even more visible. Afghanistan is divided between the Pashtus who constitute some 43% of the population and have traditionally ruled Afghanistan and the other tribes who nearly all speak Dari, a Persian dialect. Afghanistan is relatively recent creation that comes from conquests by the Pashtu rulers. The other tribes have rather mixed feelings about Pashtu rule that has included ethnic cleansing and the Taliban.

The US conquered Afghanistan with the help of those other tribes, but then turned its back to them and offered the Pashtus the governance of Afghanistan. To add injury to insult they imposed a hugely centralized government system. This system was imposed by the American diplomat Khalilzad – himself of Pashtu descent. In its defense we are told that otherwise the Pasthus would become angry and not support us. But don’t expect the Pashtus to be grateful. Many of them sympathize with the Taliban and even president Karzai is pushing for negotiations with the Taliban. They know that Taliban rule means Pashtu rule.

A very basic strategy in Afghanistan would be to give the non-Pashtu provinces the tools to get rid of the Taliban. Many would jump at the chance. It would leave us with only the Pashtu provinces in the need of counterinsurgency. But it doesn’t fit in the US imposed system where only national institutions are reinforced. It looks like the US is incapable to discern its friends from its enemies. This reminds one of the dubious US friendships with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Capital issue

In my opinion it was a major mistake by Tito wto keep the capital in Belgrade. The city is in the center of Serbia but was far from the other Yugoslav republics. As a consequence the city stayed Serb instead of becoming a reflection of the diversity of Yugoslavia. This made it much easier for the other republics to secede as they saw Yugoslavia as the state of the Serbs. Just imagine how different it would have been if the capital had been moved to (for example) Tuzla. Would the Croats have thought just as easily about seceding when the capital had contained as much Croats as Serbs (for example 300,000)?

This is how the Swiss do it: the capital Bern is in the German speaking part (two thirds of the population speaks German). But it is very close to the French-speaking part. Together these two groups are more than 90% of the population.

I mention this because Bosnia and Kosovo are in a similar position. Both follow policies that have resulted in ethnically clean capitals - although Sarajevo still has some Serbs - and with that given up the idea that they are multi-ethnic states.

Yet the "international community" keeps up the appearance they are multi-ethnic. I think they should pay more attention to the attributes of multi-ethnicity. Either they should work on them or they should give up on their illusion.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The similarity of Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan

On the face of it Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan are completely different. In Bosnia the international community interfered in a conflict while in the other two contries it drove out a repressive regime and restored democracy. But in every country the internationals end up supporting one group, faction or party and they find their hands bound by loyalty to this group. In Bosnia the internationals can't get beyond supporting the Muslims while they can't find a way to handle the Serbs. In Iraq the Kurds are still the favorites while the Sunnites are problematic. In Afghanistan the internationals have chosen for the Pashtu and Karzai. Despite having been the allies of the internationals the Tadzhiks are considered more problematic.

It reminds me of the colonial era where the colonizers often had their favorites too. Then the bad consequences only became visible after independence. Now we see them almost immediately.

Is there a solution? Maybe. It is very seducive to choose an ally during or immediately after the easy part: the conquest. It is also seducive to give this ally a lot of power by imposing a centralized system of government. And then you are stuck. But a decentralized approach might help.

For those who like to be informed on Afghanistan: the report by McChrystal is available on internet. The available report has some sections deleted to protect sensitive information.

On the depression epidemy

In my psychology study depression is an important subject. Depression is worldwide increasing. The linked article sees job and relationship insecurity as causes.

My guess is that psychology itself may be one of the causes. Psychology teaches people to follow their heart and choose what they want. The problem is that this causes them to spend less time on other people. And as one of the human needs is attention this leaves us all berieved.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

mr. Ahmadinejad, please wash your mouth!

The discussion about Iran's nuclear program seems stucked. It seems improbable that Russia will put much pressure on Iran, the US isn't really in a hurry to get yet another battle field and Ahmadinejad seems shortly after the contested elections not in a position to make major concessions. The only country really upset about all this is Israel - that remembers some radical pronunciations by Ahmadinejad.

That makes me conclude that the most elegant temporarily solution would be if Ahmadinejad took some of his radical statements about Israel back. Can please someone convince him that radioactivity is dangerous stuff and that the world expects from leaders who play with it signs of maturity and responsibility?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Saving Bosnia by making dissolution possible?

I am wondering whether the only way to save Bosnia is to make its dissolution possible.

My solution would be to give the Bosniaks what they want regarding provinces: split both the Federation and the RS is provinces. However, to keep the Serbs and the Croats happy two conditions should be satisfied: the borders of the RS should be maintained as provincial borders and one or more Croat provinces should be created. And after 5 years those provinces should have the right to secede (and join other countries).

Cutting up the Federation and the RS should diminsh the antagonism. The five years delay should give the Bosniak politicians time to decide whether they really want to live together with the Serbs and Croats. The right to secede would be a permanent stimulus against extremism. At the moment there is a strong current in the Bosniak community to make Bosnia into a Bosniak state with Croats and Serbs as second rate citizens. Bosnia needs some counterweight against that in order to prevent yet another case of "silent cleansing". As long as the Bosniaks refuse a census as that might reveal to which extent they have silently cleansed their part of Bosnia I think this is a risk. If there is insufficient enthousiasm after 5 years it would be over and the world would be relieved of its task to keep something together that doesn't want to be together.

I wouldn't mind to make the threshold for separation higher than 50%. I think separating a country is even more controversial than changing a constitution. So a similar procedure as for changing a constitution might be used. I have never understood why the West considers 50% enough for separatism. I can understand that if 55% is persistently in favor of separation you want to give it to them. But even then you could build in extra safeguards like demanding two referenda with a 4 year interval.

I talk deliberately about provinces instead of cantons as they would be quite different. First of all they would follow the ethnic borders - meaning for example a split of Mostar. They would also be much bigger so that they can take up more tasks - including control over the police. The total of Bosnia might be split in about 10 provinces.

Allthough the Federation and the RS would disappear as seperate administrative units with their own parliaments and ministers some remnants would remain in the form of cooperations of provinces. For example the energy operations of the RS might continue as a company "banja Luka power" owned by the Serb provinces. Pensions for war veterans is another subject that might probably better be handled separately by each group. It is still too much true that one side's heroes are another side's war criminals.

Here is an interesting piece about progress in Bosnia..

Monday, August 31, 2009

Money or guns

One of the luxuries of being an empire is that you seldom have to fight a war. Instead you buy proxies to do the fighting for you. Being an empire is mostly about skillfully spending money. The imperial way of fighting for the US in Afghanistan would be to buy most Taliban commanders and to buy some treachery to undermine the rest. That instead the US finds itself in a war that looks hard to win means that something is seriously wrong.

One problem the US has is a lack of knowledge. There are hardly any people who speak Pashtu or Persian in the state department, the CIA or the Pentagon. The result is inferior intelligence that has led the US to attack groups of people who had been falsely accused of being Taliban or Al Qaeda. It has also led to a flawed policy of investing money in Afghanistan. The logical policy would be to invest a lot in good roads. That is what the American military needs, but it will also improve the economy and provide the Afghans with money for other improvements. Instead the investment in roads is seriously flawed, with US firms getting the orders and then subcontracting it to Turkish firms who subcontract it to Afghan firms. A lot of money is wasted this way. But the most serious problem is that this lack of knowledge makes it difficult to discern enemies from friends and to get an accurate view of those somewhere in between.

Another problem arises when someone else is spending money to undermine your imperial plans. If you can't stop him you have a problem. That happened to the US in Vietnam, to Russia in Afghanistan and is now happening to the US in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan the money is coming from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states. All those countries are officially America's friends. But with friends like that, who needs enemies?

If you have a close look at America's friends they are all dependent on the US. The US doesn't like too independent friends, specially not outside Europe. And so it prefers the Saudi royal family above a more democratic regime that puts the interests of the people first. Given their precarious power position in their countries these "friends" get considerable freedom from the US for US hostile policies.

It could be otherwise. The US could build relations with Iran, by far the strongest country in the region. Sure, they would occasionally have to do some arm twisting and they will have to accept some policies that are not very US friendly. But together with Iran the US would have a much better chance of stabilizing the region. Not because Iran is now so harmful to US interests now (it isn't), but because Iran's knowledge of the local setting could be combined with US money.

Iran has now a bad name as "sponsoring terrorism". But when one considers how they have improved the life of the Shiites in Lebanon they certainly had a point. And their support of Hamas has finally forced the PLO to do something about its corrupt inefficiency. Compare this to China's policies towards North Korea, Pakistan, Burma, Iran and several countries in Africa that create much more fundamental trouble. And Iran may support some Shiite minorities. But should we really complain given that we ignore the "ring of fire" of Saudi sponsored insurrections by Muslim minorities around the world? So our problems with Iran are not larger than what we find acceptable with other countries. And if we build better relations with Iran we may get them to give up or ameliorate at least some of the policies that we don't like.

What is stopping the US from this? Basically, hubris and Israel. Hubris tells the US that it doesn't need anyone and that relying on really independent allies would be a sign of weakness. Israel believes that beating up any Muslim who resists is the only plausible option towards a culture that despises signs of weakness.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Lessons from failed states

I encountered this article from BBC reporter Humphrey Hawksley. He seems to share my doubts about "democracy" as the solution for everything and to share my belief that "good government" is more important. With Khalilzad he doubts whether the elections in Afghanistan were a good idea: it leads to rising ethnic tensions and harmful populist policies. His latest book “Democracy Kills: What’s So Good About Having the Vote?” will be released in September.

What may be interested for Balkanians is his opinion about international rule. He compares Liberia - where the internationals took over - with Sierra Leone:

For examples of missions still in progress, one can look at West Africa where interventions in Sierra Leone in 2000 and neighbouring Liberia in 2003 have stopped wars, but have yet to secure enough confidence for a lasting peace. Given the ethnic and religious mixes, the poverty, corruption, collapse of institutions and infrastructure and a tendency toward warlordism and violence, these two countries present us with important tests in dealing with the failed state — and all it implies for the security and welfare of their citizens and that of the wider world.

Most Liberians and Sierra Leoneans bought into the interventions and stopped fighting. As in Bosnia and Kosovo, Liberians accepted infringement of their sovereignty — albeit to a lesser extent. The Governance and Economic Management Assistance Programme (GEMAP), initiated by Liberia and international institutions, gave foreign technocrats budgetary control of government ministries. The aim was to ensure that corruption did not hamper rebuilding.

GEMAP was not implemented in Sierra Leone which, arguably, is facing more problems in its transition from emergency conflict-prevention to long-term nation-building. Corruption continues to strip main hospitals of essential medicines. Roads to the eastern area where the civil war began are virtually impassable. Young men, who used to be child soldiers, have no jobs.

In Liberia, most hospital pharmacies are well stocked. Lawyers and administrators in remote places have trained at some of the best Western universities. Officials have canvassed at the grass roots to determine exactly what the people want.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

New ICTY website

I hadn't visited the ICTY website for some time and was surprised by the new look. You have now access to the court documents and can search in them. For this section you need to register. Their is also a section "Voice of the Victims" where you will find quotes from testimonies and a section "Statements of Guilt". The quotes of the victims link to full testimonies that seem to have been edited for readability - they miss all the interrupting questions that can make live court testimonies so boring.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Honduras coup

I finally encountered an article that sheds a different light on the coup against president Zelaya in Honduras. It claims that the reproaches against the exiled president are bogus: the referendum he wanted would be too late for him to get a second term. At best he might participate again in the elections four and a half year from now. His real "crime" should have been that he wasn't "friendly" enough to some business interests - specially in telecom. According to the article Zelaya is a moderate reformer, quite different from Chavez.

The article also points out a range of shady characters involved in the coup, including a former Honduran death squad leader, a Venezuelan lawyer who played a central role in the failed coup against Chavez a few years ago and some Americans with an Iran-Contra background.

Postscript 22-10-2012: Honduras Gone Wrong tells about America's duplicity about the coup and its continuing military support for the regime. It tells also about how Republican left-overs at the State Department have the upper hand in America's Latin America policies - as could also be seen in ist support for the coup in Paraguay.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Our economists are blowing bubbles again

The economic world news seems rather optimistic nowadays. In the US the Fed thinks the recession is ending.

The Fed is "more worried about unemployment than a resurgence of inflation". I think they are wrong. There are different kinds of inflation and the one we are seeing now is asset inflation. Look at the hause on the stock exchanges and the fact that house prices are starting to rise again in regions where they hadn't bottomed out to historic prices.

That is exactly how the economy was propped up during the last decade. Then too there was too much money that couldn't be invested productively and it ended up in speculation.

In the 1929 economic crisis many believe the problem was too much inequality. Rich people tend to spend a smaller percentage of their income on consumption than poorer people and so you get underconsumption. Throughout the 1930s the economy stumbled along. There seemed to be some recovery after 1933, but when government started to address its deficits in 1937 the economy dived again. In the meantime the inequality stayed essentially the same. World War II lowered the inequality very fast and after that it stayed low for decades - while the economy kept humming.

But addressing inequality is hard. The rich people have most of the power and it looks like only a real war gives them enough sense of community that they see the benefit of sacrificing some of their possessions for the community.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Kissinger on North Korea

Henry Kissinger is a very busy and influential man. His company - Kissinger Associates - has employed many of America's security top. And he himself occassionally writes about hot international issues. For example on North Korea (NK) he has written recently this and this.

The older piece (from 8 june) looks hopelessly outdated as it claims that the NK doesn't want to negotiate as it wants to look strong at a time of succession. Outdated because NK nowadays is prepared to negotiate. It makes one wonder why Kissinger made such a mistake. I think it was because he hadn't looked at the US side of the deal. NK didn't want to negotiate because the US had nothing to offer. The opening came after the US and South Korea had declared that they were working on a financial support package for NK.

Kissinger is more to the point when he states that the US needs to coordinate better with NK's neighbours, specially China. I like it that he writes that the US needs to agree with China on what should be done when the NK regime might fall. The Chinese are worried about that so there is a need for a good plan.

The newer piece (from 9 august) had blackmail in the title and as such it nicely connects the release of the journalists with the nuclear question - both of which are seen as NK blackmail. Kissinger describes the risk of Bill Clinton's trip as that it "will enable Kim Jong-il to convey to North Korea, and perhaps to other countries, that his country is being accepted into the international community — the precise opposite of what the U.S. secretary of state has defined as the goal of U.S. policy until Pyongyang abandons its nuclear weapons program."

Here I disagree with Kissinger. There is nothing wrong with showing NK and the world that the existence of the NK regime is accepted. It looks as if Kissinger has been stuck in the 1970s and has missed the recent "regime change" mania in the US. Telling NK that it is not accepted no longer means that they will be put in a similar position as South Africa before 1990. It means that they are ripe for a "regime change". Given this context it is not good to tell NK that it is not accepted as it will drive them towards nuclear armament.

Kissinger continues on the issue of the two (the US and NK) or six party (with China, Russia, South Korea and Japan) negotiations. NK wants two party negotiations. The US insists on six party negotiations. Kissinger finds that the only right position. I can only partially agree. I agree that the final agreement should involve all six parties. But negotiating with six parties is very cumbersome. And the US is likely to dictate the desired outcome on the nuclear and missile issues anyway. So I can't see anything wrong with two-party negotiations. But the US will need to put a lot of effort in coordinating with the other four countries.

That brings me to the last point. Kissinger is very negative on finding real solutions with NK. He writes: "North Korea may return to its well-established tactic of diverting us with the prospect of imminent breakthroughs. This is exactly what happened after the last Korean nuclear weapons test in 2006. Pyongyang undoubtedly will continue to seek to achieve de facto acceptance as a nuclear weapons state by endlessly protracted diplomacy.". Deep distrust.

What I am missing here is a long term view. It might run something like this: South Korea and the US will invest in NK and help to make the country prosporous. After 15 or 20 years the Kim clan will open the country to democracy. As a rich business clan they will stay influential, but they will no longer rule the country. It may be awkward at first to discuss such a scenario, but one of the reasons that the negotiations always go wrong is that the parties have different hopes for the long term: the NK regime hopes to rule forever and the US hopes that the regime will soon be toppled. This leads to distrust.

Also one has to take in account that relations may temporarily sour in the future. I think it was a mistake in 1994 to offer North Korea light water reactors. Such reactors would always be a source of suspicion. It is better to build dams and wind farms.

Iraq's future civil war

A former mayor of the Iraqi town Afar who now works in the US for the National Defense University has written a report in which he warns that Iraq may be drifting towards civil war. In each region the military and the policy are staffed by the party that is there in power. In his opinion Iraq should do much more to mix those people and to develop a trulely national army and police.

I don't know enough about Iraq to evaluate if he is right. But he is certainly a man to be taken seriously.

The report can be found here.

Between Russia and Germany

The New York Review of Books has an article Holocaust: the ignored reality. It asks for attention for the area between Germany and Russia that suffered most in the war. For example:
- Two thirds of the Jews who would be killed during the war were already dead by the end of 1942. The main victims, the Polish and Soviet Jews, had been killed by bullets fired over death pits or by carbon monoxide from internal combustion engines pumped into gas chambers at Treblinka, Belzec, and Sobibor in occupied Poland.
- Most of the victims in the Soviet Union were not Russians but people from those people in between, like the Belarussians and the Ukrainians. The Germans never occupied more than a very small part of Russia.

These areas were so contested because both Germany and Russia saw them as sources of minerals and food. It was their way of having colonies.

There same countries are now again "in-between". When there are elections in Germany and France we read about Social-Democrats and Conservatives. When it comes to Ukraine or Moldova it is at one about pro-EU and anti-EU parties. It is a pitty that our politicians find it so hard to see those countries are really independent and not as something we need to control.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

The Taliban's Winning Strategy in Afghanistan

Gilles Dorronsoro of the Carnegie endowment has published a report "The Taliban's Winning Strategy in Afghanistan". I think it is the best report on Afghanistan so far. Key points are:

  • The Taliban have built a parallel government in areas they control to fulfill two basic needs: justice and security. An almost nonexistent local government and the population’s distrust of the international coalition allowed the Taliban to expand their influence.

  • Focusing resources in the South and East, where the insurgency is strongest, is risky, especially since the Afghan army is not ready to replace U.S. forces there.

  • The Taliban have opened a front in the northern provinces, having consolidated their grip on the South and East. If the International Coalition does not counter this thrust, the insurgency will spread throughout Afghanistan within two to three years and the coalition will not be able to bear the financial and human costs of fighting.

  • The insurgency cannot be defeated while the Taliban retain a safe haven in Pakistan. The Taliban can conduct hit-and-run attacks from their refuge in Pakistan, and the North remains open to infiltration.

  • The United States must pressure Pakistan to take action against the Taliban’s central command in Quetta. The current offensive in Pakistan is aimed at Pakistani Taliban and does not indicate a major shift in Pakistani policy toward Afghanistan.

Here is a a direct link to the report. US admiral Mullen seems to agree with much of the report.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Some progress in Afghanistan

There is some progress in Afghanistan. The US and Britain have finally attacked Helmand. Helmand is the most important source of Afghan heroin and as such a major source of Taliban finance. It find it amazing that the US left it so long alone. The other news is that the US has finally decided to use UAVs (unmanned planes) against the Taliban. Until now they used them only against Al Qaeda. Problem is that they don't have enough of them at the moment. But as they are cheap that won't take long. Read here how UAVs helped the US to conquer Sadr city in Iraq.

But the biggest problem stays: Afghanistan's government. I wonder whether this sudden attention to Karzai's incompetence covers a push to have a new president after the coming elections. It is my hunch that the decision to create a strong central government in Afghanistan was wrong. Afghanistan never had a strong central government. The country is nearly evenly divided between two big groups (Pashtuns and Tadjziks) and a couple of small ones. It might be better to have locally elected provincial governors responsible for a local police force.

Peacekeeping and blackmail

B92 reported from Strpce, Kosovo about the struggle to get electricity restored there: Mihajlović blames foreign KEK managers from the U.S. embassy for the situation, claiming that they are putting new conditions to the Serb side every time a general agreement is reached. The struggle is specially about a building from the Serb electricity company that the Kosovo electricity company KEK wants to get transfered into its possession.

Peacekeeping is about restoring trust between ethnic groups. Unfortunately blackmail - such as by not providing electricity has exactly the opposite effect. It creates distrust and resentment at the losing side while it gives the winning side the feeling that they are above the law. Of course American KEK managers are not peacekeepers but they should be aware that they are undermining the peacekeeping done by other Americans.

It is a bit like the torture discussion. The law is clear but somehow people with the power to do it have a tendency to think that their case is different.

We have seen this from the beginning of the Yugoslav conflict. International and Yugoslav law was clear that a negotiated solution was needed. Lord Carrington worked on it but Germany thought they had a "special case" and started the road to war by recognizing Slovenia and Croatia.

In Bosnia we see the same process: Brussel keeps making new demands: police reform, central passport emission, etc. Everything is presented as necessary for Bosnia becoming an EU member while in fact many are not necessary at all and for the others there work-arounds could easily been found. Kosovo's independence was also presented as needed for Kosovo's welfare. It is no coincidence that it is always the Serbs who have to give in. In their core these "reasons" are just excuses for a partial policy. Similar demands on the other side would never be made. A good example is the discussion about "reforming" the Dayton Agreement that claimed that the RS should be abolishhed because it made Bosnia inefficient. When the discussion shifted to the inefficiency and impossible structure of the Federation (that were worse than the RS) the call for reform fell silent.

I can understand these people. They have been raised on newspaper articles claiming that the Serbs are the bad guys and the others the good guys. So what's the problem with helping the others a bit?

Problem is that you can't be two things at the same time. You cannot be both an ally of one side and a neutral peacekeeper. If you want to be a neutral peacekeeper you have at some point to take a distance and tell both parties that you are done. If neither party wants to give in that will result in a frozen conflict. If that happens: so be it. As a neutral peacekeeper you will guard that neither party resorts to forcefull methods but you won't interfere.

The Friedrich Ebert Stiftung wrote in its recent report "Der Kosovo nach der Unabhängigkeit" that (my translation from German) "The deep contrasts between the Albanian majority and the Serb minority harden increasingly into an institutionalized "frozen conflict"". This reflects a deep fear of "frozen conflicts". Unfortunately that same fear perpetuates the conflict as it tells one side that they don't have to do concessions as you will always be there to support them if the other side doesn't give in. That is how the international community has operated in former Yugoslavia from the beginning of the conflict in 1991. The result is that there hasn't been for a second a really frozen conflict in which the parties had time to negotiate while there were lots of "hot" conflicts.

A similar fear to let go can be seen in a recent ICG report: "Worse, a party that values a particular EU reward less can use a veto threat to extract unrelated concessions from the others.". At best this sounds hopelessly naive to me. Trading unrelated subjects is an essential part of reaching solutions.

The international community should give up its fear of a frozen conflicts and recognize that the local players will only solve their conflicts when the internationals stop taking sides. In Bosnia this recognition seems slowly to take root with vague plans to close the OHR office, but in Kosovo it may take considerably more time. Dayton offers the balance of power that makes negotiation possible. Ahtisaari's independence puts the internationals in an uneasy position between being neutral and supporting this independence.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Trading insults with North Korea

Hillary Clinton has been trading insults with North Korea:
- first Clinton on ABC news "What we've seen is this constant demand for attention, And maybe it's the mother in me or the experience that I've had with small children and unruly teenagers and people who are demanding attention: Don't give it to them, they don't deserve it; they are acting out."
- then a spokesman for the foreign ministry in Pyongyang: Clinton "is by no means intelligent, We cannot but regard Mrs. Clinton as a funny lady, as she likes to utter such rhetoric, unaware of the elementary etiquette in the international community. Sometimes she looks like a primary schoolgirl and sometimes a pensioner going shopping."
- Clinton's answer contained the claim that North Korea "has no friends left".

For more about the long history of North Korean insults see here.

A little analysis:
- comparing NK's leaders with children undermines their self-important attitude. The big question is: what does Clinton want to achieve with it? This looks more aimed at "regime change" than at solving problems.
- NK repays in kind. It sketches a caricature of Clinton that is close enough that some of it may stick.
- Clinton's conclusion that NK has no friends left looks rather silly. If it is really so they will find out for themselves.
- as so often: trading insults hurts both sides.

"Regime change" is a violation of international law - for good reasons - and I don't understand why the US keeps trying. What makes these half-hearted efforts at "regime change" even more ridiculous is that South Korea and the US are actually afraid of the fall of the North Korean regime as a unification could cost a lot.

I would prefer a different policy: give up on "regime change" and set out a path along which North Korea could grow towards a modern society. Give North Korea the option to join. But make at the same time all preparations for a sudden re-unification for the case that the North Korean leadership might implode. Prepare the South Korean population that it may become their "patriotic duty" to support such a re-unification. Let the US promise financial assistance. Get also full Chinese and Russian support - including the guarantee that refugees from the north from now on will no longer be sent back and can migrate to South Korea. These actions should not be misunderstood: they are not supporting actions for a US driven regime change. They should get minimal attention in the media and should not be used as a basis to threaten North Korea. It should also be added that such unification might both happen through an agreement with the NK regime and through a collapse of the regime. The implicit message to the NK leaders should be that its citizens have alternatives: both individually and collectively.

Recently both South Korea and the US have announced huge aid programs for North Korea - provided that they cooperate. For the moment North Korea has rejected the offers and said that the 6-party negotiations are over. But it was predictable that it would take time to convince them that the offers are real and that North Korea won't see the usual backpedaling once the West has to deliver.

The other side of the equation is less well developed. China has cooperated with sanctions in the Security Council but their actual behavior at the border may be different. Preparation for unification is nowhere.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Some thoughts on Bosnia

In a recent opinion piece William Montgomery criticizes Western Balkan policy:

This is because we continue to insist that it is possible, with enough pressure and encouragement, to establish fully functioning multiethnic societies in Bosnia and Kosovo with no change in borders. And we have consistently ignored all evidence to the contrary and branded as obstructionist anyone who speaks openly about alternative approaches.

The reality is that no amount of threats or inducements, including fast membership in the European Union or NATO, will persuade the Bosnian Serbs to cede a significant portion of the rights and privileges given them under the Dayton Agreement to the central government, as the Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) and the international community are determined to bring about. The Bosnian Serbs are determined to have full control over their own destiny, and fear that if they continue to transfer authority to a central government, the more numerous Bosniaks will end up in control.

The end result is continued tension between the two Bosnian entities, a dysfunctional country, and the prospect of many more years of efforts by Western politicians — like Vice President Joe Biden on his recent visit — to pound a square peg into a round hole.

Regarding a solution he writes: a solution probably involves shaping a different relationship within Bosnia and permitting the Republika Srpska, the Serbian portion of the divided country, to hold a referendum on independence. This would have to include a lot of guarantees about future relationships, and be done as a complete package led and implemented by the international community..

I am glad to see a more realistic policy. But I would like to see a more realistic view of a multi-ethnic society: a multi-ethnic society can only exist when the rights for all ethnic groups are guaranteed. One can discuss about the situation before the war, but just after a war it is ridiculous to assume that the Serbs will not be discriminated if Muslim politicians get the chance. Just study the history of American South after the civil war. So there is a need for iron guarantees like the existence of the RS. The RS is not part of the problem; it is part of the solution and a similar solution for Bosnia's Croats is necessary.

Inzko recently has used his Bonn powers to veto a decision by RS parliament to take back the powers it had ceded to Bosnia's central government. Parliamentarians later claimed that their resolution was meant symbolic. What I totally miss is the ideological perspective in Inzko's reaction. The implicit message in the Serb resolution is "we have given up enough; now it is up to the other side". Inzko should either prove this message incorrect or come up with some Muslim concession to get things going again.

In a more recent article from Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Senad Pećanin, director of the news weekly Dani, gives three reasons why Bosnia should stay united:
- the division of the country would not be just. It would represent a reward for ethnic cleansing and genocide.
- the division would not happen in a peaceful manner; that would be absolutely impossible. It is something which could not be done without a new war. The part of BiH with a majority Croat population would want to have the same rights as the Serbs, that is, to also secede and eventually join Croatia.
- a sort of European Gaza would be created for the Bosnian Muslims. This would be a clear message for radical Muslims; a confirmation for those who say that the international community, for three and a half years, did nothing to stop the war, the mass killings and the deportations of hundreds of thousands of people because, in reality, it was all a big conspiracy of Christians against Muslims.

This requires an answer:
- the reward of ethnic cleansing argument is an old one. But it ignores that ethnic cleansing happened on all sides. Ethnic cleansing is not only ethnic cleansing when it happens violently. This fact that it happened on all sides makes it practically impossible to turn the clock back and let everyone return. Sooner or later one will have to recognize this as the new reality.
- the ethnic cleansing argument also ignores that already before the war there was a demand by the Serbs (and to a lesser extent the Croats) to have institutionally guaranteed minority rights. Yugoslavia had offered such guarantees. When denied such rights the Serbs started a cruel war to get them the only sure way: a clearly demarcated area where they were the majority. But those rights should not have been contested in the first place.
- the war threat: I think a split of the Federation is inevitable. I find it rather stupid that this opportunistic war alliance now dictates a highly inefficient configuration of Bosnia. For the rest - as Montgomery writes - it is a matter of profound negotiations. Negotiations that should have been held in 1991 or 1992.
- I find the last point the most problematic. When Bosnia secedes from Yugoslavia or Kosovo secedes from Serbia it is considered normal, but when a Christian area wants to secede from a Muslim area it would be considered a big conspiracy of Christians against Muslims. Sounds like nonsense to me.
- Before World War II many countries had territorial claims. It was a heritage of the colonial expansion when there was enough for everyone to grab in Africa and Asia. Countries that missed the colonial tried it closer to home. Germany became obsessed with Lebensraum and contracts for minerals from the Balkans. Italy "needed" South Tirol for defense. Czechoslovakia "needed" (and got) Sudetenland for wealth and defense. Many countries thought that they didn't have enough and made trouble with their neighbors (Yugoslavia suffered from this as Bulgaria, Hungary and Italy were financing terrorism among its Croats and Macedonians). And so on. After World War II it was decided that this was a very bad way to deal with each other. Free trade and open borders were offered as better solution. And now Pećanin tells us that the Muslims somehow "need" the territory of the Serbs and the Croats. Sounds rather strange to me. If he somehow claimed that the Muslims didn't get a fair share of Bosnia it would be worth considering, but this is absurd.
- Would a split-up of Bosnia bring radical Muslims to power as the article claims? I don't think so. There nothing evil in giving everyone his share. And what would converting to radicalism help the Bosniaks?

In fact I believe that it is one of the first things we should do with Bosnia: talking about a split as an acceptable solution for a country that never really existed. Just as Montgomery says, a split would need extensive negotiations and international guarantees. But removing the taboo is an essential need for solving Bosnia's problems. It even increases the likelihood that Bosnia will stay together because negotiations will finally involve give-and-take from both sides instead of one-sided pressure on the Serbs.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Does technology make us narcissists?

Computerworld asks "Does mobile tech breed narcissism?". According to the article technology makes it more and more possible to interact only with the people we like. Think of people talking on their mobile to some friend while ignoring those around them. The article quotes a research according to which yearly tests among fresh students has shown a steady increase in narcissism. It also believes that narcissism is an explanation why the young generation doesn't like Twitter: on Twitter anyone can react to your messages. The young generation prefers Facebook where only the only friends can react - and if someone is not nice enough you can throw him out. As a consequence nearly all reaction on Facebook are - often very - positive.

When reading the article it is good to remember that "increasing narcissism" can also be explained by the rise of individualism. It is caused by smaller families, urbanization, higher education that makes people pay attention to books instead of each other, longer travel times to work, people moving from one place to the other - cutting of their local ties, social security - that makes us less dependent on each other, psychology - that sets individual instead of social happiness central, etc.

Friday, July 17, 2009

On the death of Natalia Estemirova

With Natalia Estemirova yet another Russian human rights fighter in Chechnya has been killed. As usual there is no clue who did it, but human rights activists pointed to the prime minister of Chechnya, Kadyrov:

Lev Ponamaryov, a human rights activist, said the pattern of attacks on critics of Mr Kadyrov appeared to answer questions over who could be to blame.

“When they kill three people in a row in a short space of time who worked on the same subject, then all questions disappear,” he said. “Politkovskaya, Markelov and now Estemirova, they were all investigating abuses by law enforcement and the killings of peaceful citizens in Chechnya – and all these people have been killed . . . It is absolutely clear.

“This is either former or current security services or people connected to Kadyrov’s regime.”

Oleg Orlov, chairman of Memorial, the rights group where Estemirova had worked for a decade documenting abuses by law enforcers in Chechnya, had claimed that Mr Kadyrov, a former rebel turned Kremlin loyalist, was behind the killing.

“I know, I am sure of it, who is guilty for the murder of Natalia. His name is Ramzan Kadyrov,” Mr Orlov said in a statement on the Memorial website. “Ramzan already threatened Natalia, insulted her, considered her a personal enemy.”

I don't expect a speedy departure of mr. Kadyrov. But I think that the last sentence offers a clue how to start: threats and insults should not be tolerated from a politician. Enforcing that would be a big step to normalize Russia and its unruly Chechnya-

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The dirty effects of the white Schengen list

It has always been my position that the EU has played an important role in tearing Yugoslavia apart. And although the EU had its share of active harmful policies (for example the recognition of Croatia and the Bosnia "police reform") most of it was passive. If leaving Yugoslavia could bring you sooner in the EU: who could resist the temptation?

Now it looks like Schengen will have similar unintended harmful effects. People from Serbia will be allowed visa-free travel into the EU from 1 januari 2010 but people from Kosovo with a Serb passport not. But what will that mean for the refugees from Kosovo who live in Serbia? That they can better stay in Serbia? And what for the Serbs in Kosovo: that it is more profitable to take refuge into Serbia?

For Kosovo similar harmful effects apply. One of the reproaches is that Kosovo doesn't control its borders well enough. It sounds like the Kosovo version of the Bosnian police reform. Bosnia itself gets the same treatment: a dispute between the entities about issuing passports is one of the reasons for not allowing on the white Schengen list. In my opinion the EU is behaving in these cases as a manipulative third world dictator. It should allow the ethnic groups in those countries to find solutions for their own problems. The EU should offer a bit of flexibility in solving those problems. Take Bosnia: as long as it provides adequate procedures, what is the problem with two entities proving passports? This is just the EU doing the kind of grandstanding that made the Yugoslav conflicts so difficult to solve.

It is still a proposal and the final approval will only be in november. But I am curious how much the EU will be able to avoid of those pitfalls.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

An US hand in Xinjiang?

According to F. William Engdahl at Global Research the US might have something to do with the Uygur riots in Xinjiang. He points to NED funding of the main Uygur organizations in the US. I find his arguments a bit weak: it concerns 200,000 dollar. But Global Research has a good reputation so it is certainly worth paying attention to.

But what to think of the riots? China traditionally has relied on assimilating its minorities. In places like Urumqi, where the Chinese have the majority that seems to work reasonably well. But in the south-west of Xinjiang where there are few Chinese (and no oil to seduce them to come) that doesn't work. It were people from the south-west who made the riots. But even when assimilation works there is discrimination. All the good jobs go to the Chinese and Chinese employers don't want to do anything with Uygurs who they often see as terrorists. A final factor is the scripture. You have to learn Chinese scripture from your childhood - otherwise you will never really learn it and you very easily forget it characters. This means that the Uygurs are functionally illiterate for Chinese society and are condemned to jobs that require little or no literacy. China has tried to remedy this by introducing a law in 2002 that forces the Uygur to have education in Chinese. Obviously that will generate its own problems - specially for the Uygurs in remote regions who can't pick up some Chinese words on the streets. It doesn't help either that China is nervous about religion.

I would like it if the Chinese gave the Uygurs and Tibetans their freedom. But - given the minerals, oil and national pride involved - am pessimistic about that. Assimilating those people - as China's government wants - will be a hard struggle.
Since 2002 China has introduced that Uygur children will be educated in Chinese. It will help with the language, but on other fronts it may work alienating.

With massive immigration China is trying to make the Uygurs and Tibetans minorities in their own area. It may work for China in the short run. But on the long run it may hurt China just as the fate of the Indians keeps damaging the reputation of the US.

Some newspapers talk about the Xinjiang as if it would endanger the unity of China. I don't believe so. 10 million Uygurs and 5 Million Tibetans are nothing in a country of 1.3 Billion. When China has fallen apart in the past it was always because the central government was weak and provincial rulers made themselves (semi-)independent. Ethnic divisions didn't play a role in that. China does have have different ethnic groups and languages among the Han Chinese and that has occassionally led to war, but those occasions were rare.

Postscript 1: The NY Times has an article about Chinese immigrants in Xinjiang. They live in a kind of army city that has also defense purposes.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Propaganda for beginners

Newsweek has an article about how to sell the Israeli settlements in the Westbank in the US. It quotes from a report written by a polster for the lobby group The Israel Project (TIP). Newsweek also has the full report - titled "The Israel Project's 2009 Global Language Dictionary" - that was leaked to the press.

Among the tips: the traditional arguments don't work; talk instead about ethnic cleansing and compare the settlements with Arab villages in Israel. Everything has been tried out with focus groups.

Netanyahu is already applying the lessons.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

One-and-a-half-party democracies

A year old post on the News from Serbistan blog has a critical approach of Tadic and at one point calls him Serbia's Putin. It made me think that just as in Russia Serbia's opposition has been thoroughly demonized by the Western press:
- Just imagine how horrible it would be if the communists in Russia came back to power! Never mind that communists did come back to power in Poland and they proved quite able administrators who reformed more and ruled better than their liberal collegues.
- Probably even worse - the Radicals winning the Serbian elections! But we will never know how bad it really would have been. Having to rule might just as well had a positive effect on both the party and the electorate.

Both countries have now a situation where it is unimaginable what would happen if the voters got tired of the government and wanted something else. In this respect their democracy is not that different from that of Iran. They may use more refined means to prevent the unthinkable. But what all three have in common is a lack of faith in humanity. In my opinion that faith is the basis of democracy.

But what about the NSDAP, Hitler's party that won the elections and used its position to abolish democracy? I think that this kind of parties are very rare. After World War II you saw communist parties rising to power in Eastern Europe and then abolishing democracy - but this was led and coordinated by Russian troops. We will never know whether the FIS in Algeria would have really been so bad as it was painted in 1991 and it is hard to imagine that it would have been worse than the 160,000 casualties civil war. Turkey's Islamists had been painted in similar terms but since they rule the perception seemed to have changed. When Haider in Austria became in involved in government it caused a big upheaval in Europe. But in hindsight one has to ask what was the problem.

It regularly happens that democratically elected leaders become dictators. But usually they have rather midstream ideas and it is greed and love of power - not some absolutist ideology - that makes them cling to power.

What made Hitler special was that he had his own militias that he used to attack his opponents. I think it is very dangerous when a democracy allows some people to have military power outside state control. Iraq's Al-Sadr is an example. His militia has now been tamed a bit, but if he had gotten enough votes in the elections a few years ago I doubt whether Iraq's democracy would have lasted. With the help of their militias people like Hitler and Al-Sadr already exert power outside the democratic structures. Getting control over the government allows them to combine the two sources of power and take over everything.

I think that as long as we make sure that there are independent centers of power (like the army and the justice system) we shouldn't worry too much about radical parties getting some government power. And to be sure we should focus on building the foundations of a democratic state like an independent judiciary.

This does not mean that I condone extremist policies (of whatever type). But I believe we should fight primarily the policies - not the people. Of course one should avoid having ministers making racist slurs, but often that is possible.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Trouble in Iran

I haven't posted for a while and one of the reasons was that I was puzzled what to believe about the events in Iran. Nowadays I am inclined to believe that the official election results are somewhat fair. Fraud may have exaggerated it but Ahmadinejad would probably have won anyway. For other voices see for example here, here and here. Chatham House made an analysis of the election results. Here is a journalist who doubts. Although these fraud believers have some points (about 50% of the Iranians distrust the polls, the fast results, the violent reaction to protests), on other points I get the impression that they are manipulative (the claim that Ahmadinejad would end third in honest elections sounds hollow: this is very unusual for an incumbent who can gather large demonstrations).

It looks like Iran is the next color revolution. Peter Ackerman is involved - although he doesn't believe it is a full color revolution. He "in 2006 sponsored a workshop in the United Arab Emirates for Iranians on the strategic application of civil disobedience.". Also the US spent a lot of money on "democracy promotion" in Iran and that started two years ago. But it finds it difficult to spent the money as no Iranian opposition leader wants to get caught with US money: it would devastate his reputation. The most extensive overview I found of America's anti-Iran policy was here on Cyrano's Journal. It mentions an US office in Dubai that serves as the center of US involvement. The Iranian government is well aware of this. The regime talked a lot about the risk of a color revolution months before the elections. Ahmadinejad recently received the speaker of the Belorussian parliament. I would be astonished if they hadn't talked about the success of Belarus in stopping its color revolution.

There is also some video training and there was even some conference. And then there is the 6 months old Persian television service of the BBC and the report that "a large number of Iranians with anti-government backgrounds were traveling to Iran from England in the lead-up to the elections".

One might wonder why Mousavi - a retired politician - has become the front of this would-be revolution. One reason may be that he was prime minister at the time of the Iran-Contra affair (and closely involved with it) and may have kept neocon contacts from that period.

This makes it difficult to decide what was first: a desire from the "reformist" side to fight the election results and use them as an excuse for a color revolution or the determination of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei not to let this happen and to even prevent it with violence and (possibly) election fraud.

Reports from Ukraine often mention that the color revolution didn't bring much political improvement, but at least it brought a much more open climate for political discussion. News reports on Iran now like to take the same line. They claim that the killings will undermine the legitimacy of Iran's leaders and that the enormous protests are a signal that the population wants change. It looks to me just as in the Ukraine the West is using a fight between two local clans to achieve its own goals. However, a lost revolution may mean less freedom and more repression.

I don't give a color revolution in Iran much chance. Revolutions succeed best when the regime is weak. In 1979 for example the Shah was ill and didn't take enough time for government affairs. The present regime is vigorous and has considerable support. And given the thousands who were killed by the regime in the 1980s I don't think they will feel afraid of using violence.

An interesting option was in this article. It claims the Revolutionary Guards seem destined to gain more power. And they already control a third of the economy. It would mean that Iran will look more and more like its neighbor Pakistan.

A lot has been made of the divisions in Iran's ruling elite. But these divisions have been there for a long time. Being diverse actually adds to the regime's strength.

Ahmadinejad is a populist. Populists are usually figures of transition. There policies are usually a mix that varies from very conservative to revolutionary. I have always been hopeful that the net result would be positive. Unfortunately the present upheaval makes me pessimistic about the chance for improvement.

I can only conclude that it looks like Washington's policy of blind hate against everyone who doesn't agree with them seems bound to produce once more counter-intuitive results. Counter-intuitive for the ignorant people who invented them that is. Here is an article about the situation in Israel that unfortunately is very similar to that in the US. While Israel has elevated Iran's nuclear program to diplomatic top priority it employs hardly any analist who can understand Farsi.

Postscript 1: Here an article about how the Chinese learnt from Iran's government about "information management" - in the Chinese case on the Urumqi riots.

Postscript 2: a good source for more information on the US role in Iran is the Burbank digest. It is a regularly updated blog with links to (and copies from) many articles.

Postscript 3: The US senate has allocated 50 mln dollar for browser technology to thwart Iran's web censors.

Postscript 4: The article "Quiet American behind tulip revolution" tells about the role Mike Stone from the American NGO Freedom House played in the Kirgyzian "Tulip revolution".

Postscript 5: The article Shy U.S. Intellectual Created Playbook Used in a Revolution points to the influence of Sharp and Ackerman in the Tunesian and Eguyptian revolutions.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Solving the Middle East

Last time there were serious negotiations about peace between Israel and the Arabs everything seemed to go well - until the issue of the return of the Palestinian refugees came up. Israel refused the return of all refugees and the negotiations were over.

So Israel is the bad guy? They cleansed some 800,000 Palestinians from their homes and now they don't want to give them their home back? Not so from the point of view of many Israeli Jews. They will point out that 40% of Israel's population are Jews who come from Arab countries. Some deliberately emigrated, but many were simply thrown out of their countries after the foundation of Israel - while all their properties were confiscated.

The number of Jews sho left the Arab countries is at least as large as that of the number of Palestinians. Yet no UN resolution has been dedicated to their right of return and their right of restitution of properties. Of course very few of those Jews want to go back: they live no in a much richer country and are no loger discriminated. But that doesn't take the responsibility of the Arab countries for what they have done away. While Israel provided a home for the Jews that they threw out they consistently refused to provide a home for the Palestinians that Israel threw out.

Yet even Israel-friendly America hasn't found the words to advocate such a point of view. But I don't think that the Israel-Arab conflict is solvable unless the Arabs take their responsibility.

All Palestinian refugee camps should be turned into towns with full rights. And Palestinians should get the right to become citizens of the Arab countries if they want. In my opinion that is the only road towards a solution.