Just today, I came across a prime example of symbolic politics in international affairs, and there’s a good chance you may have, too. Different versions of this picture (HERE) were reported on widely throughout the media (including The Guardian, NYTimes, Spiegel, Focus) and the web.
The picture shows a PAC-3 missile defense system, stationed in Tokyo, Japan, to defend the capital against any North Korean missile strikes. North Korea allegedly has the capability to fire ballistic missiles at least 4000km in range, potentially up to 9000km, even though they probably still lack the miniaturization skills to arm rockets with nuclear warheads. Nevertheless, North Korea’s capabilities pose a threat not only to the entire Korean peninsula, but also to US bases in the Pacific, even to Alaska, and certainly most of Japan.
Now, as you can see on this map, Tokyo is in the lucky position to be the Japanese metropolis that is probably furthest away from North Korea. If a North Korean missile reached Tokyo, depending on its flight path it would have crossed between 200 and over a 1000 kilometers of Japanese territory and territorial seas, and alerted all US defense systems, South Korean-based anti-missile radars, Japanese home defense outside Tokyo (I am very much inclined to call that “Japanese defense proper”), and a fleet of Aegis destroyers hanging out in between. If all these fail, why would three (maybe more) Tokyo-based PAC-3s make a difference? Apart from a more technical argument that has to do with the velocity and flight path of incoming rockets, they won’t.
But that may be not what they are there for. They are a symbol, and part of a largely symbolic policy that has two sides to it. One, reassurance. Two, (anti-)deterrence.
Positioning military systems in the middle of a city may not make sense militarily, but it makes defense efforts visible to a large public, including the Japanese, and, since we have all seen the photos, also the world. It reassures important audiences of the Japanese determination and capability to defend their territory against all North Korean aggression, no matter how unlikely such aggression might be. It sends the message to both domestic and international audiences that Japan stands firm in its will to not give in to North Korean rhetoric, no matter how absurd this rhetoric has been anyway. It also reassures the US that its main partner in East Asia supports its policies and will not ‘opt out’, matching the more hardline approach of the current Japanese government.
This leads directly to (anti-)deterrence. Readying one’s defenses would theoretically serve to deter North Korea from an increasingly useless strike against any of its declared enemies. Even the traditionally pacifistic Japan, the picture seems to tell us, is now prepared to answer any aggression accordingly. The threat of a rocket strike against an urban center such as Tokyo, the message goes, is futile, so tone it down. You have everything to lose, North Korea, and nothing in your hands anymore. Quite apparently, such a message could also serve as accelerant in other audiences: hardliners in the South Korean and US military might take symbols of Japanese readiness as carte blanche to strike first against North Korea.
Ultimately, symbolic politics serve important communicative functions. A picture of a rocket system in central Tokyo thus delivers a multitude of different messages much faster and to a much broader relevant audience than any official communication channel probably could, reaching out even to an ever more isolated North Korean leadership. On a very basic level, this might even serve as an example how military assets can be used not only tactically or strategically, but also employed in a larger political endeavor.
“The complex, fast-paced nature of UN peacekeeping today requires a new approach that emphasizes innovation, flexibility and accountability […] This strategy includes […] the better use of technology to support lighter, more agile deployment […]” – “New Horizon” Report
The “New Horizon” report, albeit in passing, hints at a fundamental potential for future development: the introduction of advanced, modern technology into UN peacekeeping missions. It identifies “critical shortages” in “observation/surveillance, including high resolution; night operations capability; data management and analysis”. Apparently, the trend that has become known as the latest Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) has not yet reached the United Nations.
What does RMA mean, exactly? How does the current situation at UN peacekeeping look like at the moment, and what impact could the RMA have on UN peacekeeping?
The commonly used definition of a RMA is Marshall’s “major change in the nature of warfare brought about by the innovative application of new technologies, which, combined with dramatic changes in military doctrine and operational and organizational concepts, fundamentally alters the character and conduct of military operations”. The transformation from the industrial age to the information age alters the way war is waged and understood in a crucial way: Information technology, precision weaponry, the use of unmanned weapon systems, robotics and network-centric warfare will enable modern militaries to lift the Clausewitzian ‘fog of war’. Most broadly speaking, the current RMA goes hand in hand with the “technologization” and “digitization” of these operations, with particular effects on three “layers” that are closely interconnected: command and control structures; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and advanced weapon technology.
To comprehensively summarize the current technological state of UN peacekeeping missions would certainly go beyond the scope of this article. Dorn (2011) suggests that there are three fundamental gaps between actual condition and target state when it comes to technological equipment of forces on the ground: the gap between the mandate and the mission, the gap between (developed) countries’ and UN capabilities, and, increasingly, the gap between the UN and its adversaries on the ground. So far, the UN system of command, control and communications is the only area that has evolved alongside the commercial sector. For peacekeeping missions, there has been no comparable progress. Indeed, Dorn says that “all too often, the international forces deployed by the United Nations are unprepared and under-equipped, unable to meet the challenges in the field, unaware of emerging threats and unable to take proactive action to prevent escalations of conflict”.
A transfer of the RMA into peacekeeping would facilitate and support peacekeeping. Already existing interconnected command and control enabled smooth information exchange: Dorn reminds us that “information technology offers [additional] capabilities that cannot be ignored in this area”, especially “scarce resources to assist those in the field: for example, image analysis, document translation and analysis, continually updated future planning, and monitoring of the progress of relief of national contingents” (p.25ff.). Intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance technologies offer the greatest potential positive effects on the ground both for traditional and more robust forms of peacekeeping. Most advanced weapon systems, however, are not yet adaptable to the needs and preconditions of present-day peacekeeping.
Our previous analysis leads us, logically, to the question why we have not seen a comparable “Revolution of Peacekeeping Affairs” so far? And if there were ways to bring it about?
1. The bulk of the TCC are developing countries. 8 of the 10 primary troop contributors have only very limited technological capabilities, rely largely on old technology from developed countries in their arsenals, and are notoriously underequipped. It is apparent that these countries cannot be expected to contribute to an advanced technology transfer to UN peacekeeping operations.
2. Developed countries could either attempt to raise the capacity of the developing countries by providing them with the devices and training necessary to meet the standard technological level; or they could chose to allow the UN Logistics System greater access to their advanced technology. In fact, they do both, but at very restricted levels. Countries have shown uneasiness with the UN acquiring advanced technology that may challenge their own technological superiority in specific areas, even though such fears may be seen as largely unfounded.
3. There are indications that despite the progress that has been made over the last decade, the mindsets of many at the UN may not yet have adapted to the RMA, especially because of low information exchange and communication between primarily nation-state military personnel and the civilian UN administration. The perceived institutional legacy and mission of the UN as an organization for peace may instigate fears that, as Dorn says, such “technology is too military […] [There are] worries about the over-militarization of operations” (p.186).
1. The reintegration of developed countries into UN peacekeeping seems to be an obvious solution to technological shortcomings. Where developed countries did/do deploy military personnel, their units were/are equipped with the highest standards, often introducing very advanced, unprecedented technology into the missions. However, developed countries have so far remained hesitant to contribute in greater numbers, presumably due to high risk averseness, material costs that the UN reimbursements cannot cover, and, at times, lack of trust in UN institutions. These hurdles are not easy to overcome. To foster developed countries’ interest in peacekeeping, and better communicate its benefits, could be starting points towards re-integration of developed countries into peacekeeping.
2. It should be noted that there is huge potential for short-term technological improvement of UN peacekeeping even under proliferation constraints, namely in the field of low-cost dual-use technology. Concentrating on this technology branch does not necessarily mean to give up on other vital technological needs, but it would be a pragmatic way to swiftly improve conditions on the ground: many peacekeeping operations lack even the most easily accessible technological tools. These tools are often freely available, because they are commercialized for private use (off-the-shelf). They have no specific military component or application, but can be used for peacekeeping purposes (dual use). Apparently, such a solution would circumvent rather than address fears of proliferation, and thus constitutes a short-term medicine rather than an actual cure.
3. Intra-institutional reform might be necessary. Major advancements in the last years, specifically concerning the role of the Office of Military Affairs within the DPKO and the formation of the new Department for Field Support, may be seen as first steps to overcome such institutional boundaries. Peacekeeping “Doctrine”, however, only mentions the importance of advanced technology in passing. There need to be further efforts to integrate military expertise and communicate advantages of advanced technology in the core businesses of peacekeeping. An important step in transparent communication of clear structures has been made with the 2008 DPKO/DFSO policy paper on “Authority, Command and Control in Peacekeeping Operations”.
 Dorn, A. Walter (2011): Keeping Watch – Monitoring, Technology and Innovation in UN Peace Operations, Tokyo: United Nations University Press.
As I started this blog about three years ago, the European debt crisis was taking off. At that time I did not expect the problems to become so grave and so enduring. Today, it seems almost hard to imagine that the crisis will end any time soon. The reason is, that – while there certainly has been some progress – the essential dynamic or problem is still the same: enforceability / credibility, or the lack thereof.
In one of the earliest articles here I analyzed the negotiations between Greece and Germany/EU in simple game theoretic terms. I think the analysis was in many ways correct and still applies. Put simply, what we observe is a game of chicken. All, or at least most, sides want to achieve a coordinated solution to the problem and prefer any such outcome (be it a fiscal union or status quo with bailouts) over chaos. However, there is substantial disagreement over which outcome is the desirable one, and that is at the heart of the problem.
It is a messy game. The way it is and has been played over the last years is brinkmanship. In nice regularity either the German government, the IMF, or occasionally the EU will claim that Greece (or any other country) will not receive the next bailout package in order to put pressure on Greece, while Greece does the opposite. Whoever swerves first loses. Simple.
At this point I do not see this cycle to be broken, which is sad as it creates immense uncertainty permeating the entire Eurozone to a degree which is entirely out of importance of the Greek economy. In that sense, an exit could be beneficial. However, a Greek exit is likely to put additional pressure on the other southern nations, at least for a couple of months, and it is unclear if that additional pressure could be sustained. In terms of balance sheets, a Greek exit, however, should by now be manageable and would primarily affect governments and public entities. Nevertheless, Greece staying within the union still seems more desirable. But this will require more effort by the Greek government.
Of course, Greece is not the only problem. Spain and potentially Italy are the bigger issues at the moment. In both cases, however, I believe that they have the capacity to get out of the crisis more or less on their own (at least in the sense of being able to repay bailout money at some point).
To “solve” the crisis, all important steps are known. Banks need to be recapitalized (finally!), national governments need to credibly commit to reduce their deficits over the medium run – constitutional debt brakes can do the trick, if the judiciary is strong enough -, structural reforms need to be enacted, existing expenses and investment schemes need to be thoroughly reviewed to eliminate wasteful spending. To enable these actions, short-term aid will be necessary, maybe even some degree of collectivized debt.
This might sound relatively easy, but again the problem is credibility. Financial aid, i.e. bailouts, needs to be given now, while all the true remedies will be carried out later. Hence, what economists call time inconsistency can arise: governments pledge reforms, get the money, forget about the reforms (and then need more money). The potential return of Berlusconi and the like is not helpful here. But I remain optimistic that Spain and Italy can create a credible commitment.
So, what do I expect for the next three years: first of all, no sudden solution. The underlying causes of the crisis go deep and will not be solved in months (especially since many national politicians have strong incentives not to do that). Instead we will continue to see this tit-for-tat strategy as it is the only rational one for playing this game in the absence of credibility or the ability to enforce deals. But many steps have been taken, particularly Spain is in the process of painfully reviewing its finances, but also Italy is moving in the right direction (also Ireland and Portugal seem on track). Greece might exit the Euro, but I still do not believe that it will happen. The crisis will probably not be entirely over in three years’ time, but hopefully we will see a growth in most European countries again as well as receding unemployment numbers.
The current FP issue (unfortunately not freely available) features a longer excerpt from the Commentariolum Petitionis – “Little Handbook on Electioneering. The text was written by Marcus Tullius Cicero’s younger brother Quintus. The handbook essentially is a strategy memo to help Marcus lead his election campaign for Consul in the most efficient way. What I found most interesting (besides the general fascination with the fact that the book was written 2000 years ago but reads as if written today) is that Marcus implicitly uses many of the concepts employed in modern Game Theory.
Consider for example the following advice:
You [Marcus] don’t have to actually bring your opponents to trial on corruption charges, just let them know you are willing to do so.
This is exactly a deterrence-argument as used repeatedly in competition analysis or nuclear deterrence. Quintus knows exactly, that going to court could be a very time-consuming and potentially harming exercise. But he also understands that if Marcus can credibly pre-commit to always going to court if the opponents pressure to much, this will lead to an equilibrium in which Quintus will not actually have to go to court but still gets the opponents to take a step back. The key is a credibility.
In fact there are many, more sophisticated, arguments embedded in the text. For example, Marcus very well understands that a campaigner has to segment his audience and craft specific messages to each subgroup. Also, he advises Quintus to promise nothing specific, but stick to generalities in order to retain flexibility. One might even go further interpret this as a campaign for the median voter. For this just read the following excerpt:
[...] you should not make specific pledges either to the Senate or the people. [...] Tell the Senate you will maintain its traditional power and privileges. Let the business community and wealthy citizens know that you are for stability and peace. Assure the common people that you have always been on their side [...]
In other words: don’t get stuck in the extremes but conquer the middle ground and thereby the majority.
Finally, Marcus employs an interesting economic cost-benefit analysis using expected values (as we would say today) in order to justify his advice to Quintus never to refuse a demand:
If you break a promise, the outcome is uncertain and the number of people affected is small. But if you refuse to make a promise, the result is certain and produces immediate anger in a larger number of voters.
Again, this argument is because it uses concepts which today are common-place (esp. the treatment of uncertainty), but – even if we are not aware of it – are concepts of modernity, not least based on mathematical advances starting in the 16th century. Certainly, it is possible that it is just the language of the translation which adds a layer of modernity over the original that was not present at the time of writing. But I do not think that this is the case. Instead the handbook is an excellent example of how some concepts have always been used implicitly, before they were formally discovered and described in terms of math.
Especially in international relations theory it is relatively common to conceptualize states as agents. For example, realism portrays states as being caught in a (repeated) version of the prisoners’ dilemma. This effectively implies that “human” properties are attributed to an institutional aggregate. In the following I want to analyze the epistemic conditions embedded in such a view. Especially I want to discuss what kind of dynamic fits best to model the play of states over time. The reason for this analysis is that static game theoretic portray of state behavior is hardly fitting in most cases. Instead we should dynamic models. But to do that we need to understand which type of models is most reasonable.
I will thereby restrict the discussion to two different dynamic processes for repeated games. The first class consists of so called trigger strategies. The most common of which is the “grim” strategy (“if you betray me once, I will betray you forever”). The other class is formed by learning dynamics where agents are allowed to somehow adjust their strategies as they go.
Epistemically, the main difference between the strategies is level of “intellectual” requirements they demand from the agents. Trigger strategies can essentially operate without any form of advanced cognitive abilities. All that is needed is a mechanism which automatically triggers are certain sequence of actions once a defined event is observed (i.e. the doomsday machine in Dr. Strangelove). Learning dynamics on the other hand require at the very least a certain memory and a choice rule describing how experiences are translated into future actions. Both strategies, however, do not necessarily require rationality in any strict sense.
The question then is what view makes more sense when we talk of states. Do states have memory? Can they learn from experience? My claim is that the answer is yes in both cases and that we should consequently use learning dynamics rather than trigger strategies.
To see that states have memory, consider that the actions of a state are ultimately prepared and execute by its bureaucratic institutions and these institutions have extensive memory – in fact record keeping has always been at the heart of their activity. Thus, this requirement seems to be met. But at the same time, the people working in these institutions are human and able to learn on past experiences. However, changes in leadership and especially the personality of the leader can lead to strong perturbations in the degree to which past experiences are translated into future action. Furthermore, learning can be biased. But these are challenged that can be implemented into the learning dynamic, i.e. through stochastic disturbance processes.
Consequently, it seems appropriate to understand states as agents capable of memory and limited learning abilities. Hence, learning dynamics may be used to model the behavior of states over time. However, as noted these dynamics should preferably be heuristic and bounded rational ones. Moreover, a certain fundamental unease connected with the aggregation of individual behavior into the behavior of just one agent – the state – remains unresolved.
Trigger strategies, on the other hand, are in my view too simplistic for most situations. If a state knows some share of the past and is able to update his strategies based on this past, a simple automatic action rule makes little sense as it does not reflect the “cognitive” abilities of the state. The only exception would be the strategic use of trigger strategies, i.e. in the context of nuclear deterrence (but one can argue that nuclear deterrence is also best portrayed by a static one-shot game).
Hence, I am convinced that using learning dynamics for modeling state behavior is epistemically reasonable and preferable to using simplistic trigger strategies.
Kim-Jong Il, dictator of North Korea, is dead, report BBC, CNN, NYTimes, Korean sites and other important networks. The dictator apparently suffered another stroke while travelling by train through his empoverished, isolated country.
The important questions are: what will this mean for the country, for the relations with the south, for the stability of the region?
Firstly, it can be assumed that his son (in his late 20s) will grasp for the power. But will this go smoothly? Could the military leadership take over? North Korea is a big white spot on the map when it comes to organizational and institutional structure, but it can be presumed that, in this ridiculously armed country, the military may well be one of the few properly functioning administrations. A unstable transitional period has major repercussions for the neighboring countries, particularly South Korea, that has raised its military alert instantaneously (WATCHCON 3 right now, 2 possible by tomorrow). The South Korean stock market has already reacted violently. A spillover of instability, and possibly thousands of refugees in the case that military factions begin to fight each other or the border guards defect: a nightmare for Seoul, especially since its northern neighbor holds nuclear weapons.
On the other hand, this is a very rare window of opportunity for change in this stagnant country. North Korea is ridiculously poor, isolated, and totally dependent on China: the PRC must leverage its influence for stability in the next weeks, and could try to pressure the new regime to a more beneficial stance. The six-party talks could resume. But I believe high hopes for democracy or even actual change are rather misguided. The new regime cannot dare to look weak, and at least in the first weeks, the shadow of the “great leader” will still be very present. After all we know, the North Koreans have been brainwashed in favor of this dictatorship for decades now. I assume that Kim-Jong Il’s son must establish himself as a credible leader as soon as possible, and that could prove dangerous for the stability of the region if such credibility comes from outward aggressiveness rather than internal change. I hope the best for the next days and weeks to come: another dictator falls in 2011. This year will truely go down in history.
Given the not ending stream of new “horror scenarios” for the future of the Euro and Europe as a whole, it seems appropriate to provide a little more optimistic outlook.
First of all, so far the Euro has not ended despite all predictions. Quite on the contrary the political regimes in almost all have the particularly threatened countries have changed in a way that makes a positive outcome more likely. At the same time, the Francogerman axis is getting up to speed with the France facing feeling increasing financial pressure itself.
Sure, the situation so far has not substantially improved. But this was also not to be expected. Still, all the so called “only solutions” a la ECB bazooka and so on are still on the table and could theoretically be implemented quite quickly. Thus, we still have the same last line of defense as three, six or more months ago. What has changed, however, is the willingness to actively move forward in European integration.
And this is what seems to me the only really likely outcome: a fundamental change of the EU itself. What I expect to see at the end of this process (that is in some months time) is a divided Europe. We will have a core and a periphery. The core will be essentially under central/northern European leadership (Germany, France, Austria, Netherlands) and be much closer to a fiscal union than the current state. That does not mean that we will see an economic government on a supranational level. But instead we will see a stronger set of laws and powers for the courts (-the obvious German heritage in solving problems). Thus we will see something like a rule of economic law on a European level which directly overrules national laws. States that violate this set of laws will be held accountable by the other states, the commission, the European Court of Justice and eventually face sanctions – economic or political.
The only truly effective sanction next to directly overtaking control would thereby be a temporary suspension of voting rights for countries violating the new rules. If this will be politically feasible remains to be seen. Especially since these rules would obviously also apply to Germany whose financial situation is not as good as it is often portrayed these days.
The situation in the periphery will much depend on whether the UK will decide to stay outside the core or not. Should it not, then the periphery will be a set of weak nations mostly consisting of the most recent members of the EU. In that sense this would correct the maybe too fast expansion of the Union. Should the UK decide to join the periphery then we would have a relatively strong counter player to the core. This could be good in terms of checks and balances. But there is a strong probability that this would ultimately hurt the UK’s interests, especially those of its financial center London.
Thus, to sum it up: I do not expect the Euro to end. While the probability of such an event is certainly existing I reckon it to be low (of course it also depends on what one would define as an end of the Euro). Quite on the contrary I see a positive trajectory for Europe at the moment. But once the crisis is ended (which will not be any time soon), Europe will look different. There will be a strong (and for some painful) adjustment for the too fast extensions of the past (in terms of monetary unification as well as in term of membership itself). Europe will return to its longer-term equilibrium state with a strong unified core and a set of countries around this core with varying degrees of association. The role of the UK in all of this is still open, though I suspect that it will eventually decide to increase its distance to the core (implying that the lib dems will again not be able to control the agenda).
The notion that war and crisis are a promoters of change has a long history. But looking at how Germany changed over the past decade gives an interesting and modern illustration to this.
By war and crisis I mean for one the ongoing wars and military engagements Afghanistan and in the sees around Africa. Crisis on the other hand refers primarily to the financial crisis and its European extension as well as to the years of economic stagnation at the beginning of the new century.
Before 9/11 Germany was strongly pacifistic with a military essentially still living in the cold war. German foreign policy was one of money and non-engagement. In Europe, consensus was priority, freely following French leadership while at the same time repeatedly giving up formal weight in order to appease smaller members. Now, this might be a bit too extreme, but the essence I think is right.
Today, Germany’s military – after already having undergone several restructurings – is finally on its way to become a professional army designed for forceful military engagements far abroad. The military today is increasingly led by a new generation of former soldiers who fought in Kosovo and Afghanistan. At the same time the public is slowly realizing that it needs to support its military, since they are fighting and dying in its name. Germany is thereby catching up with many of its Nato partners and on its way to fully re-recognize hard power as part of its weight in the world. This starts to be reflected in military and political doctrine which slowly introduce the notion of military engagements to i.e. protect trade routes.
Within the European context, Germany emerges as the undisputed leader which reflects its Economic position and performance. While the formal rules still hold that every state has more or less equal voting power, reality tells a different story. Certainly one can argue that Germany is not entirely in alignment with its new role, but at least the German parliament has so far readily accepted its responsibility for the survival of the entire EU.
The root cause for this new German power is thereby a third, so far unmentioned, transformation: that of the German economy. Instead of continuing the trend of rising wages, driven by years of stagnation and job losses the German industry but also the public realized during the end of the 90s that costs needed to fall in order to stay competitive in a globalized world. The relatively under-valued Euro certainly helped, but still this transformation required repeated and silent sufferings from the German public which had to see its per capita wealth fall behind many other countries.
Thus after close to 10 years of ongoing economic and military situations of crisis, Germany emerges as a fundamentally reshaped actor on the global stage. It is on its way towards developing a intervention-oriented military and has taken up the leadership role within Europe.
Over the last year an interesting transformation happened in German politics. Germany politics is getting Swiss in the sense that concerning all critical issues it is an informal grand coalition that decides.
It started with the energy policy after the disaster at Fukushima, where Chancellor Merkel suddenly decided to turn around her government’s position on nuclear energy. Later followed the decision on the european stability mechanism, which again was supported by basically all parties in parliament except for the extreme left. And now it seems as if Merkel might also get a broad majority for her plan to introduce a general minimum wage.
Two questions come into mind on this:
- Why did Merkel do this?
- What are the implications of it?
Concerning the first question, the obvious answer seems to be that Merkel is strategically occupying topics of the left opposition parties. First the abolishion of nuclear energy, which was a core topic of the green party, and now the minimum wage which is a key demand of the social democrats.
However, I think that this does not really capture the full logic behind it. Rather I would argue that Merkel has recovered her legendary sense for the public opinion. I say rediscovered because at the beginning of this coalition things seemed different. After four years of grand coalition work, Merkel seemed poised to get things done liberal-conservative style, even if the majority of voters did not really want tax reductions etc. This time is apparently over. The liberal democrats have been reduced to nothing more than side players.
Instead Merkel is again focusing on the “middle” of the political spectrum.Paradoxically, the debt crisis is helping her with this. High level diplomacy is what Merkel is best at and adds a strong presidential/senior aura to her person. In addition, the constant situation of emergency makes all other demands -which in usual times would catch lots of attention- seem small and insignificant.
The implications of this, to answer the second question, are positive in my eyes. Grand consensus on critical issues gives much weight to these decisions and is able to settle conflicts which woukd otherwise be dividing the spectrum. At the same time it takes away a good amount of the usual idological side battles. Now, one might say that this will lead to politics becoming boring. But first of all, there are enough issues on the agenda right now to prevent that from happening. Secondly, the feeling that the will of the people finds representation through the government should strenghten the trust into the system. And in all of the questions so far, the respective decision has been supported by a strong majority of the population – at least in its general notion.
Finally, it can only be good for Europe if Germany is internally united and able to act. Just imagine to the contrary the situation would look as divisive as in Greece or Italy. And it could easily be: fighting against bailouts could be used to fight against the current government – especially given its fragile state. That this is not happening is something we should be thankful for, and also pay respect for to all parties involved.
The Arab uprisings have confronted the international community anew with a question that has never been comprehensively answered since almost three decades ago Peace Support Operations came to the forefront of debate in academic and political circles that dealt with international law, security and development. When the international community perceives internal conflict, threats to peace and stability, even horrendous atrocities on the ground: is then intervention, be it diplomatic, economic, or military, the only viable alternative? To specify the question I want to deal with here: imagine a situation (and that shouldn’t be too hard, in the light of the situation in Libya and Syria), a government or state institutions massacring or threatening to massacre selected ethnical or political minorities, and continue to oppress vast majorities of their population: can we stand by and watch? Does not, if nothing else, human compassion and sympathy dictate that we try to help these groups with whatever means we can muster? In the aftermath of WWII, Karl Jaspers in his famous treatise on The German Guilt (1), stated the metaphysical guilt of the bystander: “There exists a solidarity among men as humans beings that makes each co-responsible for crimes committed in his presence or with his knowledge” (p.5). To act on this responsibility would mean to intervene in Syria as we did in Libya.
I am aware, and I assume the reader is as well, that against this simple concept stand at least 10 different legal, political, economic, and philosophical reasons, ranging from broad conceptual assumptions to detail, down-to-earth considerations of practicability. Most of them are well-known and are put forward in the political discussions that encompass the decision-making process of intervention. I want to focus here on three such arguments that stand out to me because of their exceptional, counter-intuitive, maybe even paradoxical nature, which does not necessarily include a clear conceptual linkage in between them. Each of the three following short paragraphs need to be read on its own account.
“Give War a Chance”
Edward Luttak in a must-read from 1999 that came with this title(1) proposed a surprising, some may say even cynical, perspective on Peace Support Operations that is persuasive in its clarity of argumentation. The essential point is this: the Peace Support Operation that has the best record of actually achieving sustainable peace is war, specifically a war that is won decisively by one of the parties: “An unpleasant truth often overlooked is that although war is great evil, it does have a great virtue: it can resolve political conflicts and lead to peace” (p.36). It is from this argument the deduction follows that outside intervention in conflict, while with the best intentions, may actually only lead to a prolongation of conflict because it freezes an unstable status quo. That is, even if some atrocities may be prevented, the long-run result may well be thousands of additional deaths due to continuing flares of unsolved conflict. Let one side win and stability (though at a price) prevails: intervene and the parties to the conflict will never come to terms.
Freeriding and Exploitation
The concernment of the international community and the public with human rights issues on the one hand, and the role of round-the-clock media coverage on the other has led to possibilities hitherto unknown to parties in conflicts: indeed it has, many argue, created the possibility for media warfare to warrant groups, particularly to non-state actors, to control and enhance complaisant coverage, and try to suppress critical voices. The general skepticism about authoritarian regimes supports the assumption of the Western public that any rebel groups must, or at least should, have the support of the masses of the populace, while in fact these groups may constitute only very small minorities in their countries. This leads to the theory of rebel “freeriding”: a term borrowed from economic theory to describe the phenomenon that it may be in the interest of a specific inferior group that the international community intervenes. An example given in this respect is the unclear origin of the shells that killed civilians in what became known as the Markala massacres: some analysts claim it was actually the Bosnian military that killed its own people to raise media coverage on atrocities that could be blamed to the Serbians, and that may lead to decisive foreign intervention into the conflict.
Lastly, we find arguments that question the underlying concept of peace as “a good thing” more anthropologico-philosophically. Even in the Western culture, the idea of peace as an ideal arguably emerged only with the utilitarian concept of well-being, whereas for example in antic and Middle Age Europe, martyrdom and a willingness to suffer was an important part of Christian mythology. All the “founding fathers” of Islam, including the prophet Mohammed, were proud warriors, as well as, at least in their presentation to the outside world, the Roman emperors and European monarchs of divine right. What may be derived from the general idea of this argument is that peace is not necessarily the state that is in all circumstances most attractive to all parties. The analogy here is: “Would you rather be slapped in your face, or get your house taken away? Would you prefer death to leaving your home country?” (p.41)
While I have not covered any of the three argumentations in much depth, it was my goal to outline the general idea of presenting challenges foreign intervention on a broader basis than just legal or political argumentation. There is considerable ground-work thinking on the very notion of goodwill as such. While much of it is in itself highly contestable, it shows that there can be no certainties in our dealing with practical situations on the ground. Even those that put forward what they think is the most benevolent, most morally routed and philosophically stable argument for helping others must be able to face, and react to, criticism that challenges not only diverse practical applications, but indeed the very basis of their thought. It is important to think beyond what seems logical, even imperative, and realize that decisions of such scope as a decision to intervene has need not be easy and straightforward to everyone.
(1) Jaspers, K. (1948). Die Schuldfrage.
(2) Luttak, E. (1999). Give War A Chance, in Foreign Affairs 78/4, 1999, p.36-44.